Friday, August 16, 2013

Celebrity Profile: Grandpa David

Grandpa David as a young (and handsome!) man

Unfortunately, my grandpa David isn't doing well.  He started to decline about a month ago, but then seemed to recover.  Now he seems even worse.  While there is no real physical cause for his decline, it seems like he might have just given up on life.  I can't say I blame him- he is 89, and his wife of 69 years passed away 4 months ago.  What's really worth living for?  He's had an amazing and wonderful life, so living alone in a retirement home must be incredibly depressing.

Grandpa David was the most brilliant person I knew.  As a child I was somewhat scared of him- he was impressive, somewhat domineering, and would quiz me about my multiplication tables at breakfast.  He didn't tolerate bullshit, or monkey business.  And he was the boss- his seat was at the head of the table, he ran every Passover seder and said kiddush every Friday night.  He did have a softer side- he would read to us grandchildren, and was physically affectionate.  He adored my grandma, and I mean adored.  Where she was often critical of her appearance, he thought she was the most gorgeous woman on earth.  He loved her from the moment they met and never stopped.
Grandpa as I remember him- authoritative and always right

I really got to know Grandpa when I lived with my grandparents in Paris.  Initially, we butted heads.  Although my nuclear family is "traditional" in many ways- my dad works but my mom has worked part-time or not at all, my mom was responsible for all of the cooking- my parents also have a fairly egalitarian marriage.  I was accustomed to my dad doing the dishes, taking out the garbage, and doing other jobs around the house.  I got to Paris and found that Grandpa's only job was his job as professor and to buy toilet paper (we called him the "Paper Goods Fairy").  Grandma did everything else.  I used to stomp around, upset that Grandpa didn't help and that Grandma let him get away with it.  I was 11.
The view from the balcony of our Paris apartment

While I lived with them, my grandparents took me many places, including Jerusalem.  I remember going to the Western Wall and putting a note in the wall, asking to please stop fighting with Grandpa David.  Whether my prayers were heard, or from then on I made a conscious choice to be more agreeable I don't know, but our relationship shifted.

He was always generous, with his love and with his time.  Like Grandma Sonia, his family was always so important to him, and where others were often greeted with skepticism, his family was always welcomed with open arms.

What always struck me about Grandpa David, other than his brilliance and academic success, was his deep love for Grandma.  Their love for each other- and for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren- created a culture of its own.  When faced with difficult decisions or situations as a child, my mom used to tell me, "Remember you're a Landes."  Which meant, essentially, be a mensch.  There was such a vibrance to their lives, and a sense of adventure.  Travel, good food, good friends, and a wonderful home- and these are all things that their descendants carry on.  All 3 of their children are also hubs in their social circles, and everyone in our extended family knows our homes are always open for visitors, for a night or even just a meal.

As much as I have known that Grandpa wouldn't be around much longer, his death will be the end of an era for all of us.  At night before I fall asleep, I can picture their house in Cambridge as it was, with my grandparents sitting side by side on the love seat, watching something on TV while drinking their tea.  It is almost unbelievable to me that their house, and the people who lived in it and made it a home, are gone from my life.
The door to their home in Cambridge, MA
Their house had a tower, and hid behind a tall, white wall.  I always told my friends that my grandparents lived in a castle, and they certainly were a king and queen in my eyes.  In many ways, their lives were like a fairy tale, with trips to faraway lands, meetings with distinguished people wherever they went, and family and friends who visited them in all of their homes.  It's been my good fortune to have been born into their royalty, and my responsibility to carry on their values.

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