The day my grandfather died, it populated on to Facebook so quickly that the news went live before my brother woke up on the west coast. I remember confirming the news to him as I was picking up a chicken salad sandwich and hot tea from the Walnut café. It was Monday morning. We were sad.
My parents had flown back East just in time. My dad said he made eye contact and received a glorious smile from my grandpa. Grandpa closed his eyes and went to sleep. Susan and Dickie arrived to also be with him in his last hours. The next morning, he was gone. He was 99 years and 11 months old. That’s a long time to be alive. We knew it was coming, yet it was still shocking and hard to believe when it finally did.
I dropped my takeout lunch all over the parking lot as I tried to open my car door while juggling my cell phone. At least I didn’t hang up on my brother. And spilling everything else seemed oddly appropriate given the day.
It’s taken me awhile to come up with the words for this post and I apologize in advance if I seem to ramble.
It turns out that I don’t remember a whole lot of detail about his life. I know he was in the Navy and captained a minesweeper on the Chesapeake Bay. I know he started his career in advertising for a department store and that’s how he met my grandmother, Virginia Harris. They eloped because 1) interoffice romances were not allowed and 2) they came from different religions.
I found this amazing article from their company newsletter dated a week after they got married:
Their first house burned to the ground and grandma’s sapphire engagement ring was lost in the fire. I know this because when I showed my grandpa my engagement ring, which I thought was the ring he bought my grandma, he acted like he’d never seen it before. He was in his early 90s, so at first I thought he just didn’t remember that it was his ring. But no, it really wasn’t his ring. Turned out it was my great grandmother’s engagement ring. My grandpa was actually quite sharp ‘til the very end. Certainly in the last few years of his life, he was more confused. But age only seemed to soften the sharp, witty edges of his mind to mildly more clever than anyone else. Oh, that man could be ever so clever with his words!
But back to his history, I know my grandpa opened a store on Cape Cod called Tree’s Place with my grandmother. I know he wrote many short stories that were published in the Atlantic Monthly. He was a prolific writer – poems, short stories, a few books including The Caregiver, which he wrote about caregiving for my grandmother during her long, slow decline into Alzheimers. My grandpa was also an inventor, though I’m sure anyone else in the family could go in to far greater detail about his adventures in inventing, so I’ll stop there.
While I could go on about all the things E.S. Goldman has done in his life, I realize it’s even more important for me to tell you what his life meant to me. While a life of accomplishments is one important way to remember someone, I’m going to take this time to remember why I love my grandpa so much.
He was the best grandpa ever. I may be biased (okay I am), but I’m confident that he was one of the best if not the best. Why? Because I always felt like my grandpa accepted me for who I am and supported me unconditionally. I never felt judged and found lacking. He just plain loved me. He loved his family. I love my grandpa because when we would go bowling when I was young, he would cheer me on and proudly yell out, “that’s my girl!” I was terrible at bowling. Gutter ball after gutter ball. But my grandpa taught me to love trying and to not feel self conscious if I wasn’t the best…even if I came in last. I didn’t even think about quitting or giving up because he so enthusiastically cheered me on. I love my grandpa because he made me feel special. In case you didn’t know, having a birthday on Christmas Eve can often lead to feeling kind of like you don’t get to have a birthday at all. Everyone has other holiday parties to go to. Combination birthday/Christmas gifts become common at a pretty young age. In fact, you may develop a lifelong complex about this issue 🙂 Anyway, somehow my grandpa knew that this could be a sensitive issue for a girl like me. The first year it started happening, my Grandpa spontaneously approached me and said that if I got skipped over, I should tell him and he would make sure I got more presents. I never took him up on it, but I loved him for asking.
I love my grandpa because he was easy to talk to. In high school, I finally asked him a question that had festered for years. “Why do you and grandma sleep in separate twin beds – it’s just like the old movies but no one really does that except you?!” I was really tactful 🙂 Without hesitation, my grandpa explained that early on in the marriage they realized that they both tossed and turned so much that neither of them was getting much sleep in the same bed. So they decided on separate beds. There was a pause and then he finished by saying “but each night one of us always found our way into the others’ bed.” Grandpa!
I love my grandpa because when I was young he had the most delicious aroma about him of pipe smoke. I can’t stand cigar or cigarette smoke, but I somehow loved the smell of that pipe. I love my grandpa because he always had some kind of chocolate smeared on his glasses or lapels. I love my grandpa because every year he handed us a big fat LLBean catalog and had us pick a Christmas present. I loved my grandpa because he pretty religiously wore a bolo tie and suspenders. When we were younger, my brother thought that bolo was soo cool!
I love my grandpa for how he cared for my grandmother til the very, very end of her life. And how he had to teach himself to “cook” in his eighties when she could no longer cook for him. In the later years of his life, I sometimes felt that he was lonely and sad watching his wife and peers pass on. However, he always perked up and appeared serene and happy whenever his family gathered around him.
In December 2012, we flew back to Boston so Bailey could meet his great grandpa Goldman. A lot of the extended family came out to visit and although my grandpa seemed more tired and frail than ever, he looked damn good. I really thought I would see him again despite the fact that he was almost 100 years old. As he held Bailey on his lap, and they stared into each other’s eyes, Grandpa said to me, “You done good kid.” He gave Bailey a thumbs up and said he was a great kid, as if he firmly believes he will be a great human being. An affirmation that somehow carries more promise than any other.
“You done good kid.” Throughout my life, he has said those words to me many times and they have always signified his highest praise. Four simple words, but said with such faith and clarity at all the right moments. Well Stan, you done good too. Your worth is clear as day in the amazing children, grand children and great grand children you leave behind.
I’m not one that really believes in god or a higher presence or whatnot, but I do believe that you are with grandma again, the greatest love of your life. I will always aspire to live and love the way I watched you live and love life.