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As Much as He Could Live

To the kids, he was the candy man. Every Saturday in synagogue he came with his suit coat pockets filled with sweets, and everyone at the service knew it. All of us grandchildren sat next to him, but every kid would stop by at least once to reach into his pocket. He would always fall asleep during the sermon, which provided ample opportunity to grab a little extra candy. But he always gave us what we wanted anyway.

I spent the night at his house as often as I could. My grandmother and I played card games like “War” and “Go-fish.” Afterwards, I would stay up late eating popcorn or ice cream and watching Love Boat and Fantasy Island with my grandfather. He would sit there in his boxer shorts and white T-shirt and laugh. When bedtime came around, I got to pick a book from his bookshelf in the hallway. There were lots of science fiction books, a whole host of Asimov novels, and I’d usually take one and fall asleep trying to read the one I chose.


I remember the New York Times always resting on top of the toilet, folded in half and then in half again so that just the crossword puzzle was showing, with a pen resting on top. He would sit in the bathtub in for what seemed like hours, working on the crossword puzzle. I was content to spend time in the bedroom adjoining the bathroom. There was a huge mahogany bureau, with two doors at the top. On the bottom there was a drawer, full of treasures. I had to grab both knobs and lean with all my weight, and work the drawer from side to side to get it open. Inside were red velvet boxes containing mysterious coins, old Air Force paraphernalia, bills and tokens from around the world, and a couple of pocketknives, one of which would be my first pocketknife. The blade couldn’t have sliced Wonder Bread, but with it, I could have fought a grizzly bear.


I remember most my grandfather’s stubble, the five o’clock shadow that showed up closer to two or three o’clock. He would come near me and lean over he was a big man, over six feet tall. He would rub his cheek against mine. I don’t know why I loved it but we both laughed. He’s the only person I remember ever tickling me. I don’t think I’m ticklish anymore.


My grandfather had a brain tumor. It was removed with surgery and a shunt was placed in his head, from which fluids could be drained to relieve pressure. He had a bump on his forehead, which I guess was closer to the top of his head considering how far back his forehead reached. I thought he was going to be fine, and for a few months he was. But he had contracted hepatitis in the hospital. It didn’t make sense; they got rid of the brain tumor but now they couldn’t get rid of this disease. I wasn’t allowed to visit him in the hospital; I wasn’t old enough.


He died on the last day of the year according to the Jewish calendar. It is said that on the first day of the year, God decides who shall live and who shall die in the course of that year. My grandfather held on until the very last day; he lived . When he died, I didn’t cry right away. He had always made me happy and I didn’t want to cry. My mom thought I wasn’t upset. But at night, by myself in bed, I would think about him, and then sometimes I would cry. At the funeral, the World War II veterans folded the flag, saluted, and handed it to my grandmother. After the prayers and eulogy, they lowered him into the ground. I helped bury him. Finally, as I looked at the dirt covering the plain, pine box, I cried. I stood looking at my mother and my uncles and my grandmother sitting underneath the tent. I leaned against my father and buried my face in his side, right between his hip and his rib cage. He rested his arm on my shoulder, holding my head towards his body.


The next year, my uncle was married in Columbus, Ohio. The stone raising at my grandfather’s grave was the day before we left for Columbus. Ivy had started to grow on the dirt-a good sign, according to tradition. A small United States flag had been placed near the stone. I cried again, remembering the plain, pine box. A stranger attended the stone raising; he asked my parents if I was a grandchild, because he could see my memories. We missed my grandfather at my uncle’s wedding. We’ll still miss him at mine.