Thursday, June 12, 2014

Goodbye, Grandpa Sy

Grandpa Sy with me when I was a newborn
My grandpa Sy (my dad's dad) died Monday at age 92.  He'd been declining for about 2 years- I can remember my dad calling me when I was pregnant with Charlotte telling me I should go to DC and say my final goodbyes.  Fortunately for us, he hung on for a while longer, and got to meet Charlotte.

I have never been as close to my dad's parents as I was to my mom's.  They seemed, to me, more complicated.  I always knew that they loved me, and they have always been beyond generous to me, but I never got to know them the way I knew my other grandparents.
Sy, my sister Elana, and me (1984)
Here are the things I know and remember about my Grandpa Sy:

When I was little, he smoked a pipe, and sometimes cigars.  After a visit to my grandparents' house in DC, my clothes and blanket always smelled a little smoky.  Now, the smell of a pipe always makes me think of Grandpa Sy.

Grandpa Sy drank what seemed to be a gallon of coffee each morning.  I think maybe his mug was 32 ounces?  I love my morning coffee, too, so maybe that is something I get from him.

I was his first grandchild.  My mom told me that when he met me for the first time, he said I looked like a monkey.  He wasn't wrong.

Sy did all the cooking for my grandma and himself, and whatever family was in town.  I remember not only the big things he made for our holiday meals- like his famous smoked turkey with gravy on Thanksgiving- but also the little things that followed; a tradition in and of themselves.  Thanksgiving turkey was followed by turkey tetrazzini or turkey soup, and Passover was matzoh brei and stewed fruit.  Each recipe was made with painstakingly precise measurements, in a process that took the entire day.  Tonight I made oatmeal fruit bars for the shiva tomorrow, in an imprecise manner that probably would have enraged him!

Sy's precision was legendary outside the kitchen, too.  Any story worth telling was worth telling down to each and every exact detail.  Don't ask a question if you don't want the full story!  I remember my grandparents driving home after Thanksgiving one year, and calling to leave my mom a message letting her know they'd made it home safely.  My mom said my grandmother was on the phone saying, "We got home around 3:45..." and my grandpa was in the background yelling, "Not 3:45, Tenny!  3:42!"

Grandpa liked fine wine and good food.  When I was 14, we went to France together and drove through Burgundy, buying wine.  Some of that wine is probably still in cases in my parents' basement.  He and my grandma were in a wine group in DC up until just a few years ago when his health really began to decline.
With my dad's parents at our wedding
He and my grandma were married 71 years.  This is an accomplishment.  They were certainly a case of opposites attract- where Sy is precise and measured, Tenny is slap-dash and impulsive.  This was always the source of much frustration and yelling, yet somehow they stayed together until the end.  My grandmother said she married him for the sex (yuck, I know), but I am sure that was a large part of their connection and marriage.  My grandmother once told me, "I treat him terribly, but he still loves me."  And it's true, every choice he made about his life in these final years was made so he could spend as much time as possible with her- he loved her.
Grandpa Sy holding one of the boys at their bris
Grandpa Sy with Benjamin, Thanksgiving 2010

In trying to remember my grandfather, I am mainly struck by how little I knew him.  Many parts of his history are a blank to me.  My sadness at his death is in large part a sadness that I never got to have the close relationship with him that I had with my other grandparents, and now I never will.  My mom pulled out pictures that show his satisfaction and pleasure at being a grandfather, and I don't think I fully realized how much he loved me, or how important I was to him.  I also have feelings of guilt that he didn't get to see my children, who are his only great-grandchildren, enough.

In Judaism we say, "may his memory be a blessing," and memories of my grandfather always will.  Every year at Thanksgiving, we'll make a smoked turkey and remember him.  And we'll remember him whenever we are generous and provide for our children and grandchildren, as he always did; and we'll remember him when we work hard and create a happy life for ourselves, as he did.

1 comment:

  1. You have articulated a lot of how I feel better than I think I could have. Thank you.