YK Yizkor 5780
A Letter to My Grandfather
Pop, you have been gone a little more than 5 years and I miss you every day. You were an incredible person, not because of your job or wealth, but because of your character. I have been thinking about you a great deal over the past few months and felt the need to write, perhaps I simply needed to remind myself of some of the characteristics that made you such a wonderful person in the hopes of being able to put myself back on track.
You never forgot where you came from…
Whenever you would take me to DC and we passed P Street, you would slow the car down and tip your cap. You were born in small apartment to loving parents and you never forgot where you came from. You never forgot how hard your father worked delivering bread and taking care of your mom and your six siblings. You honored their memory every day of your life in the way you held yourself.
You loved Gram (his wife) your kids (and their spouses) and your grandkids more than life itself. There was nothing more important to you than family. Every day my grandfather would wake up early to leave for work, but before you left you would always leave Gram a note. Any time you were not at work you spent with family; from baseball games to trips to the zoo or the park on your day off, we knew how much you cared. You didn’t need to tell us, which you did, we could see it in your actions.
I remember as a child coming to visit you downtown at District Lock and Hardware. As a kid I could think of no greater place for someone to work then a hardware store, all of the tools, pipes, wood, it was a toy store. I remember you admitting to me on more than one occasion that while you could explain to anyone how to fix a plumbing problem, you yourself couldn’t fix a thing, you passed that trait down directly to me. I remember that even without a college education you took care of the business payroll because you were a whiz at math, by the way, that trait you did not pass down. You taught me about the value of a hard day’s work and that success is determined by the impact you make in the lives of others.
I remember when you got written up in the local paper as being the most honest man in Washington, DC. The world could use more honest men in Washington.
I remember that your older brothers went off to the war and then make their way in the world as professionals, lawyers, businessmen…etc, but you stayed close to home to care for your folks. You went to work early, not for your own benefit but helped your younger sister afford braces. I never asked if you were ever resentful, I sometimes wonder if you ever thought about what could have been? You never seemed upset, you were happy for their successes in life because you knew that inner worth was all that truly mattered.
I remember the great bedtime stories you would tell me about your time as an MP (military police) during the Korean War. Whether it was getting sick on the boat on the way to Korea, to seeing flying fish, to getting to celebrate your birthday twice since that was the day you crossed the international dateline. Yet, what I remember most was you telling me how hard it was it to leave your bride so soon after getting married. I remember once asking when you got your orders if you even knew where Korea was, you didn’t, but felt compelled to help others in need of assistance.
Yet what I will always remember is your love of baseball. A love that arose every spring and went into hibernation every fall. You would tell me stories about how your father would sit listening to the Washington Senators on the radio trying to predict what the next batter was going to do. You loved everything about the game, from the smell of the freshly cut grass to the sound the ball makes when it hits the glove. You loved the game so much, I believe in part because anyone could play, it was a connection to your dad, and in so many ways baseball followed the rules of life.
As a kid I remember thinking that the only thing we ever talked about was baseball. I think I liked it that way, but I was kid and needed to be difficult so I thought we should be able to talk about other things. You stuck with me, knowing that one day I would realize that talking to me about baseball was your way of allowing me to feel comfortable to talk about other things that were on my mind. It’s amazing how powerful playing catch can be. You were always there when I needed to talk
You taught me the value of playing all 9 innings. You were not one to leave a baseball game early, and you loved to keep score. I have memories of watching games that had gotten out of hand, yet you sat their diligently keeping score watching the game. You would turn to me and say, “anything can happen”. What I never understood, till now, was that you honestly believed anything can happen. Life to you, was a full nine-inning game; you can’t throw in the towel in the bottom of the sixth simply because things don’t look good.
You taught me, in one simple act, what it meant to be a Jewish American. Every year, Washington would host a spring training game, and without fail it was during Passover. Gram would pack us sandwiches, chips, bottled waters, and snacks so we could enjoy the game all while observing Passover. You were not especially observant, but cared deeply about being Jewish, and once again, whether you knew it or not taught me about life through the lessons of a game.
You also taught me to have heroes. From the time I was old enough to walk I knew the name of your favorite player, #5 Cecil Travis. I knew more about Cecil Travis than I knew about my own friends and family. You taught me that he played for the Senators from ’33-47, I knew he took 3.5 years off to fight in WWII and when he came back from the War he was never the same having lost the feeling in his hands from frostbite received while fighting in the battle of the bulge. I remember as a kid having to choose a number for my first baseball team and without thinking said #5, what other number could I choose? I remember the twinkle in your eye when we read a book about him and Ted Williams called Cecil Travis “the purest left-handed hitter he ever saw play the game” and I remember when he died in 2006 and we read his obituary together. Your baseball glove sits proudly in my office and when kids and adults alike come in and see it, it breaks the ice to begin a conversation.
I remember how much you loved meeting Shira and getting to hold your great-granddaughter. And while you never met your great-grandson, whom we named after you and Shira’s grandfather, please know most importantly he is a mensch, but he can sure hit a baseball.
I remember remarking to Shira that if I was a tenth the man my grandfather was, I would have done well for myself. I know I disappointed you with certain actions when you were alive and certainly with some since you have been gone, but I keep telling myself we are only in the sixth inning and “anything can happen”.
I love you and I miss you. Thank you for being my grandfather
The High Holy Days through Yizkor both today and on Shemini Atzeret give us the opportunity and space to think about families and friends who have passed away. It gives us the chance to think about our own mortality and how we want to be remembered. I encourage you to take the time today, not just during Yizkor, to think about those who gave us life and those for whom we now pass on life and traditions.
Yom Kippur is a dress rehearsal for our death, we refrain from certain pleasures because we act out our very own death and Yizkor is the eulogy. Yizkor allows us the opportunity to confront what we want our own stories to be. What do we want our children and grandchildren to remember about us?
Regardless of our age, remember it’s only the sixth inning and anything is possible.