I was in Toronto just a week and three days ago - I had booked the ticket almost eleven months earlier and centered my trip around my nephew's bar mitzvah, not knowing until I got there that my grandfather would be admitted into the hospital shortly after I landed and that this visit would be the last time I'd see him. Although I'm terribly sad that I'm missing the funeral and that I won't be able to be there for my dad, my aunt and uncle and my grandmother during the shiva, I'm grateful for two weeks I was there, of which much of my time was spent sitting and talking with him in Sunnybrook hospital. By the end of my visit, the car was pretty much driving itself down Bathurst to Lawrence and then over to Don Mills, and my brother, Yitzi and I had become regulars at the Second Cup in the hospital lobby and experts at navigating the labyrinth of halls that make up the vast hospital.
My grandfather was a vibrant and vital man - until just before Rosh Hashana, he was still working full time at his business. He went to minyan every morning, made the daf yomi shiur before heading off to work. Then he came home, went to mincha before heading home to my grandmother and dinner. He ran his life like a well-oiled machine, a rigid schedule that he rarely strayed from. Except for the little hiccup of a pacemaker put in a couple of years ago which caused him to miss work for about a month, he was never really sick.
My memories of him are vast; a lifetime of memories. After all, I am over 40 and completely realize how lucky I am to be a woman this age with grandparents. In fact, I still had 4 grandparents when I was 34, having lost two - now three - just in the last 8 years.
I remember staying over for many a Shabbat when my parents went on vacation, sleeping in the blue room at the end of the hall from their bedroom. And how I would sit with him Shabbat morning as he took out all the layered cream cakes that he bought before Shabbat - no Kellogg's for me on Shabbat morning. It was chocolate and cream cakes or nothing at all... He was married to my grandmother for over 70 years which is staggering when you think about it. But more amazing was how still devoted and loving they were to one another even after all these years. While I'd be munching on my cream cake slathered in chocolate, he'd be preparing my Bubbie a cup of tea. Every morning of their marriage, before leaving for shul, he would bring her a cup of tea - no mug, mind you, but a bonafide delicate china teacup along with its matching saucer - and a peeled orange on a separate china plate. On a tray. Every morning without fail. I think about most marriages where couples have disagreements or arguments and just generally get sick of one another every once in a while, and I have to assume that they were a couple like anyone else. And yet, no matter what they were feeling, what disagreement they might have been having at the time, he STILL brought her that cup of tea and that orange. How you can stay mad at someone who makes you the FIRST thing he thinks about everyday is impossible.
He was a dapper man, and when he was younger he was movie-star handsome, a dead-ringer for Douglas Fairbanks, with perfectly pressed shirts and pants, a full head of hair combed just so and his trademark mustache, always trimmed and neat. But he didn't think twice about getting down on the floor to play with us. I personally loved the ancient, antique (and probably worth a small fortune) original Barbie set circa 1959. Oh how I loved to play with those dolls and their clothes. No polyester flimsy crap with Velcro fasteners for these dolls. The Barbie wedding gown was real satin with snaps in the back, and her going-away suit real tweed with a pillbox hat, a la Jackie Kennedy...
One of the things I admired most about him was his ability to talk to just about anyone. Anyone visiting Clanton Park shul would undoubtedly meet my grandfather - he had a sort of innate radar aimed at anyone he didn't recognize and he'd make a beeline over to them and introduce himself. When he came here for the last few Pesach holidays, he made some local friends from shul and he really enjoyed getting to know my community. He made such an impression on a good friend of mine, Ely Katz, that every time my Zaida would come for Pesach, Ely would take time out of his day and stop by for a visit and I know that they both enjoyed those visits. He was a real conversationalist and enjoyed telling stories and jokes and he loved laughing which was glaringly obvious considering the amount of laugh lines around his twinkling eyes...
He also had a generous heart - I remember a Pesach Seder we had ages ago - I must have been 11 or 12 and besides having my grandparents, we also hosted a girl from my class and her single mother - they were new to the community and not very religious and didn't have a lot of money. When it came time for the afikoman, my grandfather asked us all what we wanted and we all told him what we were wishing for. He then turned to the girl in my class and asked her what she wanted. She said she wanted a watch. He didn't forget. He bought us all what we wanted and then bought her a Mickey Mouse watch - I remember the look on her face, the shock that he actually came through for her when she wasn't even his grandchild. He was the greatest candyman that Clanton Park shul ever had (and ever will have). He didn't just hand out candy from a bag or his pocket. He'd make a weekly trip to the kosher candy store, buying pounds of every kind of candy you can imagine: lollipops, gum, chocolate, gummies, mints etc. and then he and my grandmother would spend Thursday night bagging and tying them into individual HUGE candy bags. I think his Tallis bag weighed more than anyone else's, weighted down with all that candy. He knew each and every kid in the shul and they knew him.
Every time I called, he always asked me about my kids - how they were and what they were up to. And then he asked about my husband. "Give everyone our love," is what he always said. He took a genuine interest in our lives and my kids really loved him. The fact that they came for Pesach for three years in a row strengthened their relationship and my kids loved listening to his stories about being in the British army in WWII, about how he met my grandmother, about his earlier businesses. And despite being decades older than when he sat down on the floor to play with me when I was just a little girl, when we went to Leket one afternoon (a volunteer organization that picks fruit and vegetables for the poor) he didn't just stand by and watch, but he got knee deep in those fields with my kids and my nieces and nephews and picked beets just like everyone else. He hadn't changed one bit in all those years. He, 90 at the time, stood next to my youngest niece Abby who was maybe all of 3 and picked alongside her.
I have so many more memories - how he bought me my very first hardcover Nancy Drew and then took me with him to buy the rest each time another book came into print; how he took me to my first movie, Snow White; how he loved chocolate and always gave me Chocolate Charm truffles and chocolate covered cherries; how he framed any artwork I had given him when I was younger and that they are still hanging in his house....they go on and on.
I am lucky to have known him for so long and even luckier that my kids had the chance to know him, as well.
He will not be forgotten...
ברוך דיין אמת