Friday, June 19, 2009

My Grandfather

Certain people bear mentioning in this blog because of the huge contribution they've made to my life and the lives of many other people. My granddad easily sits with those at the top of the list. He's a giver. One of the most generous people I know. He's spent his life working hard for the sole benefit of other people. Many of you that read this know him (and are related to him) but here's a quick list of accomplishments for those that don't. I apologize if I get some of the minor details wrong. I've never had a strong memory for them.

Grandpa was in an orphanage in Long Island for a lot of his youth. At fourteen he ran away, eventually being unofficially adopted by the parents of a friend. He lived through the Great Depression, working on farms and other odd jobs as a young teenager to help the family. When World War II broke out Grandpa lied about his age (he was 16 or 17, I believe) and enlisted.

His tour was brutal. He fought, as I understand things, at the Battle of the Bulge. And he came through odds that were strongly stacked against him. I'm going to scramble the numbers and terms on this next statement probably, but it's worth mentioning anyway because it really shook me to the core. The numbers will be close enough for you to get the idea. He once told me that his Battalion (or Company) went in with 300 some men (around about there) and when it was over that number had been reduced to around 40. He told me about times when he and his group were attempting to advance the line. Between attempts he'd spend endless hours sitting in foxholes just deep enough to cover his head, in the rain, with German bullets literally wizzing past the top of his scalp. With no end in sight. Grandpa still gets choked up talking about the war. It's only in the last five or six years that he has been willing to talk about it at all. I just can't imagine how strong you had to be to endure that sort of torture and come back a sane man.

But he did. He and my grandma (who passed away a few years ago) raised three sons. My Dad was oldest of the three. Grandpa at one time worked three jobs to support the family, allowing my grandmother to stay home with the kids. As a matter of course Grandpa would get up early, early in the morning, head from job to job throughout the day, and not return home until very late at night, when he'd immediately retire for the night and do it again the next day.

Eventually he and my grandmother purchased a ServiceMaster carpet and furniture cleaning franchise, ServiceMaster of Suburbia. That soon became his sole occupation, with Grandma running the office. And here's the kicker. He worked that franchise will into his 80s, still doing the heavy labor. Maybe five years ago he finally sold the business, although he continued to help out cleaning where necessary. I used to joke with friends that my 80 year old grandfather could probably wrestle me to the ground. And he probably could.

All his life Grandpa's been an avid gardener. His front and back yards are botanical masterpieces, bearing the mark of decades of love and attention. Even now, nearing 90, Grandpa can be found outside most days tending and prodding, trimming and planting. He's intensely proud of his work, and loves to give tours of the yards to friends and family. And there's so much to see, they never get old. I think Kate and I have gotten three or four tours now, and there's always something new you didn't notice before.

He's also been a stained glass enthusiast for decades. He has a whole section of the basement devoted to it. Over the years he's created an innumerable number of lampshades, windows, garden stones, and other decorative items that can be found all over his house and the houses of most of the family. For a while I was going to his house once a week, and he was teaching me the art. It was fascinating. But more than stained glass, that time taught me about who my grandfather was.

He is an amazing man. As a kid I always thought of him as goofy grandpa. Always cracking silly jokes to make us laugh. As I got older I was surprised that the jokes didn't stop. It wasn't until I really started to spend time with Grandpa as an adult that I realized what a deep, wise soul resided behind the jokes. I suspect grandpa's exterior is something of a protective shell. He's had so much in his life that should have destroyed him, that didn't. But once you sit down and really talk to the man behind the eyes, and he peels that exterior away, you are treated to a passionate man whose experiences have shaped a caring, strong and fiercely committed individual.

I can only hope to be able to live a life as fully participating as he has. His kids and grandkids, and now great grandkids, have the perfect role model in my grandfather. His work ethic, love of family, and concern for humanity make him one of the most important people in my life. His generosity is unmatched, his sense of humor is...unique, and his heart is as big as they come. I love you Grandpa. You're the greatest guy I know...for a young man.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this beautiful post about Grandpa. He is truly the most genuinely kind, loving and caring men on the earth. I didn't know many of the details you wrote about Grandpa during the War, especially the part about him lying about his age and enduring the foxholes. Just to add to your depiction, he showed us his scrapbook once and explained that he also served part of his time in Panama as a cook for the army.

    Another thing that I really loved about Grandpa was that all his hard work was for his family. Not so that he could buy a new car or move into a more luxurious house, but it was so his children could have toys on Hannukah and Christmas like the other kids or put good food on the table for his wife and three boys.

    We love you Grandpa!