My grandfather’s funeral was yesterday, that’s why I didn’t write. And today I don’t feel much like saying anything..so instead, here’s what I said yesterday, before we physically buried the body that was once my grandfather’s home. I never thought I’d be able to get up at his funeral and say anything outside of sobbing, but I miraculoulsy made it through with just a few, short breaks. I miss him terribly.
I always said I didn’t know how I would handle this day, today, the day that I have to say goodbye to my grandfather. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of the best way to say see you later, because I know I eventually will, but I don’t think there is ever really a best way. So I’ll just say what I can about a man who meant the world to me.
We called him Sonny, and although I know the reason was because none of his siblings could pronounce the name Israel, I always felt it was a bit ironic that sometimes such a grumpy man could have such a bright nickname. He would always tell you that there was never anything good on TV, even if he could sit and watch the screen for hours. When it came to the newspaper, he read the comics first because the real news was never as satisfying. He could tell you what was wrong with my generation without ever blinking an eye, and he could love you with his one big hand and his one regular size hand and pinch you or squeeze you to the point where you’d have to tell him to stop loving you so hard.
He was also kind and gentle and he loved his family very much. He never understood how we could travel as much as we did, how we could choose to live so far from our families, when he had grown up so close to his. He used to tell me how he would visit his grandmother every day when he was a kid, and how grandchildren should see their grandparents often. I knew he wished his children and his grandchildren would always stay closer to him than we sometimes did.
One of my grandfather’s favorite pleasures in life was his walks, and I got to take a lot of those with him. When we walked, I’d ask him questions about his life. He spoke of the time when he almost got kicked out of the army for talking back to his superiors, and how he got to spend most of World War II sitting on the beach in Italy. I loved hearing stories of how he told the army he could read Morse code, even though he couldn’t, and how he told his friend to take care of my grandmother because he knew he was going to marry her when he returned from overseas. He wrote my grandmother beautiful letters and he sometimes included sketches, and I loved looking at both the pictures he drew and the photos of him back in the day, because he was the most handsome soldier I’d ever seen.
On our walks he’d teach me Yiddish, although the phrases I’d ask him to teach me are probably things I shouldn’t repeat right now. He had grown up learning this virtually extinct language, and it wasn’t until our trip to Israel in 1993 that I even knew that both he and my grandmother spoke anything but English. It was discoveries like that, that made me want to know more about him. My grandfather wasn’t one to volunteer a lot of personal information, so I learned to ask him questions. I’ll never forget a few years back when he and my grandmother let me record their lives. I spent hours videotaping both of them so I could learn their stories. It was the closest I ever felt to them, and even if he may not have volunteered the information, my grandfather loved to talk when you let him.
I know that he was sick these past few years, and I know it wasn’t easy for my grandmother or his children, but he still knew how to entertain a crowd. This past Thanksgiving we all sat around the dining room table and listened to my grandfather rant about the same things he’d been talking about for the past few years. We all laughed and enjoyed his company, and even if he wouldn’t remember it the next day, I know he loved feeling like he still belonged. I won’t forget how sweet he looked as he slept (something he did often), or how hard he tried to remember while his brain was making him forget.
He had survived cancer, war and life for 84 years. And while I know that is as full a life as any of us can ever wish for, there’s something that will always be missing now that he’s gone. I wish our last conversation hadn’t happened over the phone, even if I hung up and went back to my party and told my friends how funny my grandfather didn’t mean to be. It was New Years Eve and I had called to wish my grandparents a happy, healthy new year. My grandfather asked me, “Are you still as pretty as I remember?”
“I just saw you on Thanksgiving.” I told him. “Don’t you remember what I look like?” I asked.
And as he was responding with an “oh” I cut back in…..
“Do you know you’re my favorite grandfather in the world?” I asked. “Do you know how very much I love you? Promise me you won’t forget, even if I know you really will.”
“Okay,” he said, “I love you too Jame.”
And with that…he was gone. And while I know that now he’s not coming back, and while I know that now he’s finally at peace, I selfishly wish he never had to leave, because, he was and is my grandfather - the cutest old man in the entire world.