A letter to my grandpa
Hello dedushka, Happy New Year! I’m writing you a letter like I used to when I was little in school, before we all started using the internet and Skype. I remember Mom would buzz me and Masha: “You have one more day to finish your letters for Grandpa. I’ll send them tomorrow.”
I am sorry I couldn’t come to your birthday again! This year, it was because of the pandemic. It’s the worst year of my life, I swear! Mom says that her grandmother (your mother-in-law, well, you call her your biggest enemy after the Communist regime), used to say that leap years are cursed. She always told Mom she would die on a leap year, and she did!
You know, I was so curious, about what this thing with the leap year is all about, and I asked many friends whether they also heard about this superstition, and if it has anything to do with Judaism. After all, babushka Leah came from a small shtetl and a family of rabbis. She used to tell Mom, that for her God died in Oswencim, but she believed in leap years’ bad luck?!
Listen, there is a secret I never told you about. One winter vacation, when we were visiting you in Minsk, I was 6 or 7, and you came dressed as Ded Moroz (Santa Claus), I immediately recognized you. I’m sorry but you can never hide your Jewish eyes and thick lashes under those fake white eyebrows.
I think it was the first time I remember being confused because, on one hand, it was disappointing that you grown-ups were deceiving us, but on the other, I was happy you were there with us, after I wondered where you disappeared to that night.
You are responsible for the most memorable moments of my childhood, including the embarrassing ones. Like the time when I was a teen, and you were saying very loud in the park to repeat after you the word, “sex.” “You shouldn’t be ashamed to say this word,” you said to me and Masha. “We don’t live in the Soviet Union anymore where they didn’t allow us to pronounce many words.”
I remember more walks in the park when you taught us Yiddish romances and Russian curse songs. You were the most fun, open-minded grandpa with the cutest classic grandpa-look. I was so proud that this is my grandpa who the clown chose to draw out of all other grandpas in the circus. We had this drawing hanging in our room like a pop icon. Later, it hung there next to the posters of Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Eminem, Blink-182, System of a Down, Green Day, replacing each other every year, all of them but yours.
I remember that summer when my dog Charlie died, and you said: “It’s just another leap year. It shall pass.” I cried so much. You are the one who always told me that dogs are our best friends. Yours was Jerry. You couldn’t take him with you when you moved to Germany. You should have gotten another dog there, but you were afraid you couldn’t take good care of it.
I wish I visited you more, I wish I’d made it to your birthday last year, and not just to greet you on Skype. I wish you had reminded me that we have a leap year in front of us, and nobody knows what might happen.
Apparently, our favorite Yiddish writer Shalom Aleichem also mentioned the leap year in one of his stories. I am now reading all of them to find that one. Everyone else told me, it’s not a Jewish thing to believe in the leap year’s bad luck. But one friend, a rabbi, had this version. He said that perhaps, it might be because the Hebrew leap year adds another month, Adar Bet. It is considered an auspicious month for dying because your yahrzeit only happens seven times in 19 years, so mostly it is observed on the wrong date. There are apparently a lot of sayings about dying in Adar Bet being bad luck, which is weird, since dying, in general, is bad luck. The weirdness of this idea makes it so Jewish for me and calms my mind after a long search to explain where my great-grandma took this idea from.
When you had to flee Minsk like everyone else, you chose Germany instead of Israel or the USA, because you thought of us, that life in Germany was better and more secure, and we would follow you. I know that what kept you strong all these years is waiting for us to come to you. I know that mom, Masha, and I were your very best friends, and losing hope that we would come this year is what broke you in the end.
Many of my friends lost their grandparents this year, not from the virus, but I now understand from what: from the loneliness and hopelessness waiting for their grandchildren to come and visit. I hear you telling me, in your manner of speaking, being all cynical, big deal, Solomon Moiseevich Pereplyotchikov died this year, you think the world cares. Then you try to calm me down, “It’s just another leap year. It shall pass!” But my pain of losing you will never pass, dedushka.
And I am so sorry again, I didn’t come to your birthday last year. Why didn’t you warn me that a leap year was coming!