Last night we had the pleasure of celebrating my grandfather’s 94th birthday, but if you ask him how old he is he’ll tell you that he is actually in his 95th year. In a couple of weeks my grandmother will join him in beginning her 95th year. Come this June they’ll celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary.
Oh, did I mention that they have been friends since they were eleven years old.
As we sang happy birthday I watched the glint in his eye grow brighter. A gaggle of great-grandchildren were there to help him blow out the candles. They see an old man who doesn’t walk real well. They see a crankier man than the grandfather I knew.
They don’t see the man who would sing and dance to Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. They haven’t the heard the stories of his time playing Lazar Wolf or other tales of the Yiddish theater.
That grandfather is still there but, he is clearly begun to slow down. In some ways the changes are so dramatic that you can’t help but notice. I remind myself that he is 94. It is natural. It is ok, but it is still hard.
I am not mourning his death. He is very much alive, but now it is clear that he is closer to the end than the beginning. I suppose that I could blame some of this concern upon him. He does talk to me about death more than he used to.
Most of the time it is his fear of what will happen to my grandmother. He has a fierce and burning love for her. He confessed that he sometimes feels frustrated because he is not the man that he was. To paraphrase, “If your grandma fell I couldn’t just pick her up, not anymore.” And then with a bit of a smirk he said, “you know, I used to do those sorts of things. Don’t think that it is just you younger people.”
And so he made me promise that if he should die before my grandmother I would see that she is taken care of. I did, but I won’t lie and say that for a moment I didn’t choke up. He was teary eyed, “You see an old woman, but I see a girl that I still love.”
Inside their bedroom are a ton of pictures of the family. There are all sorts of shots of my siblings and I. My kids love to look at them. My daughter looks at some and says “there is baby daddy.” My son smiles and asks if the little boy with the curly hair is really me. I nod and smile. He knows that it is me, but it is hard for him to reconcile the pictures of the boy with the father he knows.
My grandfather points to pictures of his grandparents. He shakes his head and says that he can’t believe that I never met them. I shrug my shoulders and say that they must have passed something onto him, so I must have a small taste of who they were.
There are pictures on the wall of my Bar-Mitzvah. My grandparents are dancing. They danced at every party. Every time there was a band the two of them were out there gliding around the floor.
I was about 11 when he told me that if I learned how to dance the girls would learn how to hold onto me. I asked him if remembered that and he said yes. Then he laughed and said “and once they learn how to hold on they never let go.”
After he blew out the candles my grandmother asked him if he had any money on him. He asked her why and she made some excuse. For a moment they sniped at each other and then he realized that she had been teasing him. She smiled and told him that she’d buy him a gift some other time.
They kissed each other and shared a moment.
I’d like to write more. I’d like to give you a better description of who they are and what they mean to me. As the eldest of their grandchildren I feel a bit of obligation, but I think that for now this is enough.
The sun is setting, but the darkness hasn’t quite come, not yet. One day I’ll come back to this blog and ease my pain by writing about them. But not yet. For now this is still a celebration of their lives and the joy they take in each other and their family.
We should all be so lucky.