I am the bald man on the left of the picture—or I could be. He is my grandfather, Isaac “Ike” at approximately seventy-three, the age I am now. Maybe he’s a few years older–but not many.
I am the young man on the right, home for a visit after four years in the Air Force and two in California where I was an Air Traffic Controller. Gramps does not understand when I tell him I get paid to talk to airplanes. He smiles as if I’m teasing him.
I didn’t have any children yet when this picture was taken. I was twenty-six, married a year, and used to understand my grandfather better when he spoke Yiddish to me. Now, from lack of use, I miss some words. I speak English back to him and he gets the majority I’m pretty sure.
Both my children are in their forties now. Gramps lived to be eighty-eight. I would like a picture of myself with some of my grandchildren sitting with me and me looking as content and happy as Gramps.
Little things appealed to him: a shot of schnapps (any liquor from Scotch to Crème de Menthe was Schnapps to him), a meal where he could suck the marrow from the bones. I liked that too and at times he’d hand me the bone and watch me work at getting the marrow out. A walk after a meal followed by a nap lying down in the grass or anywhere—he wasn’t fussy. I like my naps too and my schnapps.
Gramps was a carpenter and taught me a lot and allowed me to work with him summers and weekends. He told me he was still working but no more big jobs. He talked about when he was starting out on his own he’d ride his bike to work carrying lumber on one shoulder and holding his tool box and handlebar with his free hand. He always stopped at the lumberyard where he knew everyone, put things on his bill, and ride off to work—miles most days. If he needed any more he’d come back at lunch but would never leave any extra lumber on site for fear of having it stolen. He looked so proud the day I told him I wanted to be a carpenter like him.
People thought he was illiterate because he spoke with an accent. Every day he read The Forward, a Jewish newspaper written in Yiddish. He could also read HebrewenrewHebrew, write and speak Polish, Russian, as well as English and of course Yiddish. Not bad for a man with only a few years of education.
My grandmother died when I was four or five and while I was in the service he remarried. He was pursued by a three-time widow who wanted a man with his own house. Most of his children did not like her but she was always nice to me and Gramps was content.
In the picture I like how I have my arm pressed against his back and he has a hand on my leg.
We used to watch wrestling together on TV and once when I was sitting on the floor and he in his chair swearing in Yiddish at the bad guy when he sprung off the chair and pinned me before he realized what he did. That was during his six foot, pot bellied days. He’s not six footer in this picture and doesn’t have a pot belly but he still liked his schnapps, a good meal, a walk afterwards and a nice nap. And he loved me and me him.