When I think of how to describe my Zaidy to someone who has never met him, I find myself at a loss. I don’t know how to put my grandfather’s presence into words in a way that will sufficiently describe the picture I have of him in my mind. The fact that my most vivid memories are from when I was quite young make the task no easier. He was, simply, “Zaidy.” Regardless of profession, history or future, he just was. His presence was one of the few things I was fortunate enough to take for granted as a little girl, in a way that marks the very sweetness and innocence of childhood – that I was important to the adults around me.
The memories I have of my grandfather are quite jumbled and out of order. He was very much the stereotypical grandfather, tall and thin, who I can easily imagine on the threshold of a country house, side by side with grandma, waiting to greet the grandchildren who are visiting for the weekend.
From the time I knew him; he had white hair and walked with a cane. He was a respectable figure, a successful stockbroker and active community member. Most important to me, however, was the grandfather figure he filled so well.
I have many fond memories of the lessons my grandfather would teach me, among them geography and basic multiplication. Other memories include the songs he would sing to me as I sat on his lap in the den, the coloring books he would buy for my sisters and myself, and the prayers he would say with us as he’d put us to bed when we slept over. I remember many early mornings when I’d wake up to the comforting sound of my grandfather going about his morning routine, which included the hum of his electric shaver and the newscaster’s voice from the radio. I remember the delight I felt when I met my grandfather on the avenue when I was out with my parents, and how important I felt walking home with him, hand in hand, while he taught me the meaning of the postal zip code.
From when I was quite young, my grandfather tried to teach me about the workings of the stock market, perhaps as a response to my asking him about his work. At five years old, I couldn’t quite understand any of it, and when he tried me again at eight years old I didn’t do much better. I have a vague memory of a family trip to the New York Stock Exchange, where my grandfather most likely gave the family a tour, or at least some explanations, which I just as likely didn’t understand.
Tied in with all the intellectual lessons I learned, or was meant to have learned from my grandfather if I could have understood at that age, are several stories, which, when put together, give me a vague sketch of my grandfather’s life.
My grandfather was born in Holland, where his parents had moved with their children for hope of greater financial opportunity than that which was available in their original hometown. When my grandfather was a young boy, the family moved again, from Holland to America, where they lived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I believe he worked at a local grocery or general store some time during his young adult years, after which he built himself up further with lots of hard work and some luck.
My grandfather had three siblings, all of whom I met, though one died when I was quite young. I am told that my mother brought me to see him when he was sick in the hospital, but I can’t clearly picture the scene. His sister and remaining brother both look somewhat like him, a resemblance I became more aware of after my grandfather died. It was quite a shock for me to notice that; seeing my great-uncle at a wedding ceremony of a cousin, looking like my grandfather – with the addition of a white beard. The closest my grandfather ever came to having a beard was when he was sick in the hospital at the end of his life, but that is not the image that first comes to mind when I think of my Zaidy.
Only occasionally do I stop and remember how it felt when my grandfather was sick, beginning with an unfortunate accident when I was around eight years old, and ending with his death after seven years of complications and medical drama. During those years, there were times when he was in a coma and it seemed he wouldn’t make it, times when I visited him in the hospital and he was awake and alert and even times when he was at home and relatively healthy. When I would hear him walking around the house with a walker or talking on the phone, it reminded me of when he was healthy, and I would begin to hope that he might fully recover.
He never did fully recover. He died in the hospital when I was in the eighth grade. By then, it was hard to remember him as a vibrant grandfather, and the lovely memories I had from when I was younger were mostly overshadowed by those of him being sick, and often withdrawn, due to illness, and I suppose, lots of pain. Throughout it all, he was always kind, and though he was often a little reserved I never had any reason to doubt the love I’d felt as a small child from him.
His death marked the passing of not only a great man, but also the person who was a hero to his granddaughter, who remembers him as a kindly adult in this otherwise confusing world. Though it has been several years since his passing, whenever I stop and think about my grandfather’s presence in my childhood, I once again feel the warmth of the kindness of the great man who I was fortunate to call my Zaidy.
In loving memory of my Zaidy, Mr. Leo Weiner, Eliezer Lipa Ben Boruch.Yocheved Michelson
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