I know this is sort of recycling, but I thought I’d share what I wrote for my grandfather’s memorial service, which was yesterday. He died August 14 at 94. He had a very long life. I wonder if he would say it was a good one. I hope so. He certainly did it his way, to borrow a phrase. Anyhow, here’s what I wrote — and struggled to read aloud — for the occasion:
I am Ray’s oldest grandchild. The hospitality industry was never an option for me – I’m not that polite – so I became a journalist, instead. And in journalism school, one of the first things they teach you is, “Show, Don’t Tell”.
I knew what they meant, immediately, because that’s my grandfather. He always spoke through his deeds, rather than his words.
There are some funny family stories about that. My mom remembers waiting years to get up the courage to hug her father in law. Finally, at our cousin Lory’s wedding, she approached him – and dove in for the hug. As she was embracing him, she heard Ray mumble something and thought, “Oh, finally! An expression of emotion! Our big bonding moment!”
Not quite. He was saying, “You are standing on my foot.”
Everyone in the family has a report card story about my grandfather. I knew the drill well, even before I was old enough to get one.
“What?! Ten As and one B plus? What happened?” And then the trademark Grandpa, “tsk tsk”.
I used to try it, just to test him. Always the same.
My second-favorite personal memory of my grandfather took place when I was in third grade. I remember the day all too well. I was wearing my absolutely favorite outfit, a teal-green skirt and top with a Snoopy appliqué.
I threw up all over my desk.
They must have called every number on the emergency list and come up empty, because I will never forget the image of my grandfather nervously walking into the nurse’s office, carrying a stack of white towels, straight from the Paradise Valley Guest Ranch. Even more towels lined the entire inside of his Volvo sedan.
I don’t remember him saying a word, but I’ll never forget that rescue mission.
My all-time favorite memory of my grandfather, though, is one I think I shared at the time Gommy died. I have to tell you about my grandmother, in case you never knew her.
She was the most glamorous person I ever met. She had a bathroom vanity with metallic wallpaper and bottles of makeup and perfume, and she let me stay up late to watch HBO before anyone else had HBO and she always had at least a dozen different kinds of crackers in the pantry – for poker night, of course.
I don’t know that I ever saw my grandparents cuddle, and one of my dad’s favorite stories is about how the phone would ring in the middle of the night – with a problem at the guest ranch – and Gommy would stagger out of bed to run to Grandpa’s nightstand to answer it.
But once, toward the end of Gommy’s life, I saw something I’ll never forget: I watched Grandpa carefully draw on her eyebrows. He did it every day, once she was unable to do it herself.
That is true love.
Grandpa literally stayed by Gommy’s side throughout her long illness. The only time he left her was Saturdays, when he went to Vegas. He loved to shoot dice; he learned as a teenager, in the alley behind his parents’ store in Chicago. When he went to Vegas he never, ever stayed overnight. He always went to the Riviera. I got to go along once. I had a great time. Everyone called him Mr. S., and the casino manager gave me a tour of the surveillance room, where we took a picture of Grandpa. He got a big kick out of that.
I blew through the cash he gave me in about 15 minutes. Good thing I had a book with me, because his strategy was to stand over the craps table for hours at a time, waiting to jump on the two or three hot rolls that typically came along. At least, that’s how he explained it to my dad. I have no idea what that means, or how well he really did, only that when we’d see him on Sundays, sometimes he’d give us grandchildren a little cash, saying it had been a good day in Vegas.
Eventually, Grandpa’s sciatica got so bad he stopped going to Vegas. Good thing the Indian casinos came along.
It will take us all a while to regroup. This year, at Passover, Grandpa was in the hospital, and when it came time to pay out for the Afikomen, my dad hunted me down in the kitchen. “You got any singles?” he whispered loudly.
“What kind of self-respecting grandfather are you?” I whispered back, as I dug in the bottom of my purse. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to go to the bank and get silver dollars like Grandpa did?”
Grandpa probably wasn’t supposed to make it out of the hospital, that time. Or the time before that, or before that. Two years ago, after a particularly long hospital stay, the doctor sent him home with a warning: You will need someone with you 24/7. You will need a walker for the rest of your life. You’ll never drive again.
Three weeks later, he’d fired the caregiver, thrown out the walker and signed a three-year lease on a Cadillac.
That is why you’ll have to forgive me if I keep expecting him to show up here, today. I’ll always imagine that he’s still living in his penthouse, atop his hotel — like Eloise, the girl who lives in the Plaza, in the books my daughter Annabelle loves.
My grandfather was one stubborn guy. Independent. That’s how people try describing my own daughter, Sophie. You might not have met Sophie, but trust me, at first glance, there couldn’t be two more different people than my grandfather and my younger daughter, who just started kindergarten. And yet, she reminds me of him.
I don’t know what my hard-charging, success-driven, straight A’s grandfather thought of having a great granddaughter with Down syndrome. He never said. But he always listened carefully when I detailed her accomplishments, and seemed just as proud of Sophie’s scribbled get well card as he was of her older sister’s carefully penned one.
I like to think that Sophie inherited even a little of her great grandfather’s drive and passion, whatever it was that let him stand on this corner in 1953 and envision what his business – and his family – could become.
In Judaism, I know that you’re technically not supposed to name someone after someone who’s still alive, but hey, there are a lot of Rays in my family, so we cheated.
And today I’m really glad to be able to tell you that my grandfather has a namesake – Sophie Rae.