Monday, June 19, 2006

A Real Mentsch

Sadly my Mother's father passed away a few days ago. He lived a full and wonderful life. Here are my remarks from the funeral. I am in Philadelphia with my family. The shiva has been really beautiful in its outporing of love and in the stories about Sam that flow. It is bittersweet.


In the past day and half I have been thinking about Grandpa Sam a lot. As I think about him it always comes back to stories he told. Boy did Grandpa love stories. Many of them were personal, like his pilgrimage from Brooklyn to North Dakota. Some of his stories where from elsewhere. Sam used to read a lot. Once on a trip to Philadelphia, when i was about eight, Sam had recently read The Firm, a thriller written by John Grisham. He thought the story was so entertaining he told it to me in bedtime size pieces each night when he put me to bed. Some of Sam's stories were seemingly personal. When I was about six he told me this long involved story about how he used to live on an Indian reservation, could track animals, spoke Cherokee, etc etc. I didn't know any better and thought this was the most amazing thing, possibly ever. He pounded the story home by taking me and some friends on a hike. We found sticks and stones and he made tomahawks with us. Whether he ever lived on an Indian reservation or not didn't really matter, it was an amazing experience. For years neighborhood kids would ask when Sam was coming back.

More than anything else, when I think about all the time I was blessed to spend with Grandpa Sam, I remember his joyful, excited, sometimes even mischievous, way of showing the world to us. He led us to see that it was so full of things to experience, and experiences to share. With Grandpa, everything was fun. For instance, one morning while visiting San Diego, I went to say good morning while Sam was shaving. Not missing the opportunity, he made a shaving cream nose, did a clown routine, and from that day on i looked forward to when i would be old enough to shave. It turned into a routine. For years, when we would come to visit I'd keep him company while he entertained with increasingly complicated facial hair removal maneuvers.

It was not only the fun side of Grandpa that made the shaving routine work, but also his patient side. Shaving with all the flourish that made it fun for a young grandson to watch made it take a lot longer. The fact that it took much longer was okay, perhaps even an advantage, because the primary point was to connect, and he saw that. He was similarly patient with regards to games. He taught me to play casino over a very very long afternoon where i wouldn't sit still for three minutes. It is amazing that he had the drive and patience to make such a situation work. I don't know how he did it but he did. I still think of him sitting at his dining room table overlooking the garden in his Rancho house, waiting for me to play a card, making sure no "funny business" would transpire.

Sometimes as in the case of cards he wouldn't look the other way when funny business would occur. Other times he would happily indulge in trouble making. The first time i visited him alone he asked what i liked to eat. We went to the supermarket and bought waffles chocolate milk and lucky charms. He had to have known that my parents wouldn't feed me lucky charms and the extremely sugary chocolate milk one buys pre-mixed. He didn't ask, and he just went ahead and bought it. He must have considered that it was for a few days and why-the-heck-not. Alternatively he might have thought of it as a good opportunity to teach a lesson. I never had chocolate milk with lucky charms ever again.

I was blessed to learn from Granpa Sam's deep love of life and his belief that you needed to combine silliness and seriousness to fully appreciate the gift we have all been given. I continue to think of Sam when I tell stories and hope that I always will. Sam was a light in my life. Traditionally when we say the name of someone who is longer with us we follow it with the words zichrono livracha, may their memory be for a blessing. It is a puzzling phrase. Once I remarked that I really appreciated the way a friend took the time to congratulate opponents on good plays in a football game I played in. My parents said that I ought to think about how I enjoyed that and make sure I did it myself. Perhaps zichrono livracha is a challenge to remember what was beautiful about a person and bring it more deeply into our own lives. I am remembering Granpa Sam's life and thinking about the ways it will be a blessing for ours. If we can share his quickness to connect with kids, his willingness to be silly, his patience with those he loved, his eagerness to share stories, and his commitment to concentrate on connecting--we will all truly be blessed.


At 6/19/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

i'm glad to hear about your grandpa, sad to hear about his passing.

may the Makom bring comfort to your entire family, betoch she'ar ha'avelim.


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