Tuesday, February 21, 2017
My Grandpa Bill died two weeks ago. He was 92 and had been in really good health for his age but had been falling down recently. He fell in his backyard doing some gardening and spent a week recovering in the hospital. Then he was sent to a rehabilitation center to rebuild his strength. While he was at a rehab session, he had a stroke and went back into the hospital, where he died somewhat unexpectedly after a few days. I'm very sad about his death. I was close to him when I was growing up. I don't have very many photos of myself with him. I think my mom must have a few that I don't have, but I have always liked this one, taken when I was about two months old. I can't believe how young my grandparents look in this picture! They were in their early fifties when I was born. I was their third grandchild; there are two cousins older than me. My grandpa looks a lot like my dad here, though my dad is now more than a decade older than my grandpa was at the time of the photo. That kind of blows me away. Sometimes I forget how old I am too.
My grandpa was a really interesting guy. He came from Indianapolis and was raised mostly by his grandparents, who were relatively prosperous during the Depression because they owned a coal-and-ice business. Everyone needed coal and ice. My grandpa joined the US Coast Guard during World War II. He was mostly stationed around the northeast but spent some time in coastal California as well. Like many men of his generation, he was self-educated and his interests ranged from gardening to cooking to tropical fish-breeding.
He met my grandmother toward the end of the war, when he was stationed near Brooklyn, New York. She was sixteen, the daughter of Jewish immigrants from Latvia, and the president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Frank Sinatra Fan Club. She and a girlfriend decided they wanted to cook dinner for a couple of sailors so she called the Coast Guard base and asked for two nice ones to be sent over to her parents' home. Can you even imagine? I'm trying to picture this happening today and I just can't. They did turn out to be nice sailors and my grandmother was married to the one named Bill a couple of months later, just after she'd turned seventeen. Again, I can't imagine. They had their first son within a year of their wedding, followed quickly by two more. My dad is their youngest son. They raised their family in Brooklyn; my grandpa never went back to Indiana after he met her. He converted to Judaism but was interested in every type of religion and read voraciously on that subject and many others.
When my dad was in college, they left Brooklyn and built a house upstate, near Rhinebeck, on several acres of land. There, they raised chickens and goats and did lots of gardening. My grandpa built a small greenhouse in the backyard. He grew herbs and veggies. They bred dogs and learned to sail. My grandma worked in a local hospital and knew every doctor in the area. My grandpa was an auto mechanic who worked in a few of the big car dealerships and also taught aspiring mechanics in the local vo-tech school. Kids around my age were the last group he taught. Everywhere you went, people in the car-repair business knew Pappy, the name he always went by. I had famous grandparents. My friends loved them; I invited them to my parties.
Most of my childhood was spent about thirty minutes away, in Poughkeepsie. I loved sleeping at their house and helping with the dogs. They took me to plays and museums. When I was about nine, they took me window shopping in Trump Tower. My grandpa said a very rich man lived upstairs. I loved my grandparents' house and land. I don't remember the chickens or goats very well; they mostly had those animals while my parents lived in Georgia for a few years (I was born during that period and lived there until I was five when my parents returned to New York). I remember well the times my grandparents came down to Georgia to see us; Grandpa loved his Southern food and always ordered banana pudding, which he shared with me. He hated turkey. On holidays, my grandmother would make a ham just for him. He loved lamb with mint jelly and always gave me some jelly, but didn't make me eat the lamb. He always took a shower before dinner and combed his hair. When I met my husband, I noticed that he combed his hair the same way. It was a nice association between two good men.
My grandma is doing okay. She sounds good and seems optimistic about her new life but I know it won't be easy. They were married for 71 years, since she was a teenager. I think that will be a difficult adjustment for her. I'll do whatever I can to help. I'm glad she has my uncle and aunt nearby for support. She has a lot of friends and a dog who makes her happy. I'd like to visit her soon. She lives close to the beach, which was a dream they both had for a long time. They lived in North Carolina for a few years before finally settling in Florida. They loved the beach and wanted to be near it again when they finally retired in their seventies (only to begin working again when they got there! I tell you, they're amazing).
Thanks for letting me talk about my grandpa. He was a positive influence in our lives. My husband came to love him as much as I did. I'll miss him very much but I know he had a good, full life.