Grandfathers have been really annoyed at me since my last column in Binah's Twirl Magazine where I write my quarterly column of “Relationships Matter.” Some have said, “Hey, Mindy, you spent a whole column writing about grandmothers. What are we, chopped liver?”
I have no idea how my column about grandparents, ended up being only about grandmothers, because the truth is, I adored both my grandfathers to pieces (although they were both a little bit scary, but more about that later!). So we gotta even things up for grandpas right now and make 'em happy. Because even though grandmas are the ones buying presents, guess who gives 'em the money for it?
Of course, I am just joking, because relationships are not about money at all, but about the stuff that makes that relationship feel all warm and fuzzy and nice inside. And all the money or presents in the world cannot give you that warm, fuzzy feeling if a grandchild doesn't feel a grandparent's (or parent's for that matter) love for her. Right? Right.
So here is to my grandfathers—and yours—even though they sometimes forgot my name “Esti, Suri, Leah'le, I mean Mindy...!” But I do that to my kids sometimes and I only have five to remember and I am much younger than my grandfather was when I was born, so he could be excused for that. Which he was. Because even though he forgot my name, he never forgot me. And that's the important thing.
So for that young person who told me, “Mindy, my grandparents don't care about me! They have sixty grandchildren!” I will tell you that you are wrong. They love you to pieces. But it may be true that if they have sixty grandchildren (gulp!), then even though they love and worry about all their grandchildren, they may have a closer relationship with some more than others, depending on the ones who make an effort to stay close and drop by to help and shmooze and kvetch. It's not about a grandchildren being LOVED; it's more about a grandchild being LIKED. All grandchildren are loved the same; but some may be liked more if there is a closer relationship that develops. And if grandparents have so many grandchildren, then yeah, maybe it's up to each grandchild who cares about a relationship to make the effort. And the effort is worth it, because grandparents are worth it. No money in the world can buy a grandfather.
But let me tell you about grandfathers. Because mine were very interesting people (interesting as in interesting, not as in interesting-weird, which is what therapists say when they mean weird. Like, “She's interesting.” But here I really mean interesting-interesting and NOT interesting-weird.)
My family lived upstairs from Zeidy Weinberger, my father's parents.. And I was awed by my grandfather's majesty. Whenever I came into the house, my grandfather was learning in the kitchen, seated at the table with a drink of tea or black coffee, my grandmother bustling away, doing her thing in his presence.
I loved coming back from the bungalow colony because every morning I would wake up to the sound of a shofar coming from my grandfather's little shul tucked away in our basement. And often, if I was up early enough, I would hear my grandfather practicing the Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur davenning in his study that was located right under my bedroom window. His voice was haunting and melodious and until today I search for my grandfather's niggunim on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur because yom tov is simply not yom tov without him.
Seder nights we walked downstairs to my grandfather's seder table. And I always appreciated that when it time for Karpas, he let me eat as much potatoes and radishes as I wanted, even if it was more than a k'zayis. Years later when I married and had my own kids, I told my husband, “If my Grandfather Weinberger, who was a huge talmid chochom, let us eat more than a k'zeyis, you can be sure it's okay for our kids to eat it too.” Which worked out well for me, because the kids were much less kvetchy at the seder if they were full on potatoes rather than starving all the way through the Haggadah. And I did not say a word when they snuck into the kitchen for more karpas, same like my grandfather smiled at me when I snuck away from his seder to eat the leftover karpas.
And it was nice that Zeidy Downstairs was very, very, very rich (he wasn't, but he was so generous, we thought he must be!) that when we needed bikes or roller skates or other very expensive stuff, it was Zeidy's afikomen we stole. And whoever stole it, passed it around to every other kid at the table to get a turn at asking for a bike or whatever was needed that year. And Zeidy said yes to everything.
Zeidy didn't talk much or shmooze with me, and sometimes I thought he did not know I was a grandchild. Because he was so quiet, he spoke only Yiddish or Hungarian, and he seemed really, really, really ancient. So when I wrote a letter to my grandmother during the summer, I only wrote, “Dear Bobby....”
When I came back from camp and went downstairs to visit, there was my letter proudly displayed on the wall on top of Zeidy's place. And squashed in between the words Dear and Bobby, my grandmother had written, “Zeidy.”; so as not to hurt his feelings that his name was omitted. I will always remember that camp letter with its squooshed Zeidy there because it made me feel delicious that Zeidy would have cared if his name was left out on my letter. Guilty too, but delicious for sure.
Now, my Grandfather Bikel, my mother's father, was truly unique. Hew was a very strong-minded, stubborn person with a lot of opinions and ideas (obviously I got his genes).
He hid the afikomen under lock and key so that nobody was ever able to steal it from him. I don't remember ever getting a present from him but our relationship was my present. He loved arguing with me about ideas that I had learned in school. Zionism. Communism. Girls learning Rashi. Girls taking regents subjects. Girls eating pizza or walking on 16th Avenue chewing gum (ah shanda!). Boy, did he make me nuts. When I went to him for Shabbos, he made me read from some Yiddish book until I cried in exasperation. Then he didn't let me read any books written in English, even if they were Jewish books. So I had to hide all fifteen of my Shabbos books under my bed until he left to shul Friday night, he went to sleep, and he left to shul again in the morning. It was pretty stressful as you can imagine. Luckily, during the time he was home, he was great company and I was fascinated by the stuff we would talk about. I absolutely adored him. When I was flying off to seminary, he was very upset at me. Of course because he would miss me, but really because he thought that a Bas Yisroel belonged at home and not in a dormitory in another country. He was pretty old fashioned in his ideas, but when I came to say goodbye to him, he gave me a beautiful white siddur to take with me. “Zeidy,” I said, “please write something in it.”
My grandfather gave me a mischievous smile and in a second gave me my siddur back with these words written in it, “Kol kevudah bas melech penima.”
I smiled my own mischievous smile and said, “No problem, Zeidy. I will be in the pnimiah (dormitory in Hebrew, a play on the word penima), so all is good.”
Years later, I was talking to my cousin, Esti, who said, “I always thought I was Zeidy's favorite granddaughter. And I guess I was.”
And I looked at her in astonishment. “NO way!” I said. “I thought I was Zeidy's favorite!” And I guess all of Zeidy's grandchildren thought they were his favorite...and if he made everyone read from that Yiddish book, then everyone felt special enough that he cared.
My grandfather's rich and colorful personality, his strength of character and strong opinions laid the foundation for my own. If I walk down 13th Avenue today, 25 years after his petirah, he still so alive and present in my life that I could almost promise that the six foot tall blond chassidish man walking in front of me is my grandfather!
Whew! I didn't remember all those things about my 2 grandfathers until I sat down to write this. So here is what you need to know about grandfathers:
They may be a little scarier to deal with than grandmothers. They may seem more strict or strong or old. They may not know much about granddaughters and their plays or performances or graduations because they are mostly not invited. But inside they have mushy hearts that love their grandchildren. And maybe your grandfather is like mine was, a little forbidding and aloof; making it seem normal that I only kissed him on the hand once a year before Yom Kippur. And maybe he is also like mine was, caring that his name should be on the letter sent from my ten year old self in camp.
So hey. When are you going to visit your grandfather?
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