No one has ever written a public tribute to Pop, my long dead grandfather, my mother’s father. When he died in 1960 there were no blogs and the NY Times obituaries were for the rich and famous, as they remain to this day. Pop was neither rich nor famous. He was a Jew from Poland who became a clothes presser in the garment industry. Definitely not Times subject matter. But to his grandchildren he was an amazing gift, a treasure. His love for us knew no bounds and he became the paradigm for the kinds of grandparents we were destined to become.
When our grandmother died, Pop was still in his prime, in his mid 60’s. Of course to us kids he seemed ancient. That’s how it was in those days. At age 60 one became old regardless of stamina. And Pop had lots of stamina, continuing to work, shlep around the subways and fix things that needed fixing. I still have somewhere a top of a soup pot with an empty spool of thread serving as its handle. Pop’s work.
As a matter of fact, after he moved in with our family of four, he became the resident fixer, never trusting my father to even do the most elementary repairs. Apparently he was right. My sister and I still have vivid memories of the day the light in the bathroom of our Newark apartment blew out. Surely our father could assert his manliness and change the bulb. Pop had no faith and sat grumbling on the living room couch awaiting disaster. He was not disappointed! A few minutes into the procedure we heard an earth shattering crash which was immediately followed by torrents of water flooding the apartment. That’s when I learned from Pop the word “avalutzia” which I assume means flood. Our dad had stood on the sink to change the bulb.
The sink collapsed. The water flowed. The river was in our living room…..and kitchen……and bedrooms,…..and down the stairs. Water water everywhere! A flood from top to bottom instead of from bottom to top.
Our dad was a true saint. Pop lived with us for many years and interfered in everything having to do with child rearing. That’s probably why we adored him so much. Dad never ever said a harsh word to him. I remember one evening being sent to bed without supper by my parents for some major infraction of which I have no recall. What I do recall, however, is a knock on the bedroom door. I opened the door to see Pop carrying a tray of food and instructing me in very hushed Yiddish/English: Here kint. Nemt tzen dollars. Here child, take ten dollars. He always had an unlimited supply of ten dollar bills and we kids were always the recipients of his largesse.
He fulfilled so many roles in our family that living without him seemed impossible. He was the dog caretaker. He was the full-time worrier, looking out an endless series of windows awaiting whomever was not yet home. He was the nudge, preparing us for whatever the weather might be PLUS. If we needed a sweater, better a winter coat! If we needed a raincoat, better galoshes and an umbrella. He did all the ironing in the house and the sewing as well. Both my sister and I smuggled our sewing assignments from elementary school home so Pop could finish the jobs. To this day I cannot sew or iron…….for which I remain grateful!
I loved him deeply. And when I was twenty and about to get married I rejoiced that Pop would stand with us under the chuppah. His nice striped suit was pressed and hanging on the door of his room, ready for the big event. He died three weeks before the wedding. Age 77.
I know Pop is not reading this but I want to say that this piece is in loving memory of Isadore Bauman, mentsch.