Surrounded by Books
(written at a time when my Grandfather was still alive, but adapted a bit since his passing in 2021)
When I used to visit my grandparent’s house, there were books everywhere. Not as many as there used to be as my grandfather realized long before his stroke, long before my grandmother died, that he should start to move at least some of them somewhere.
I was an all too happy recipient as I love not only books, but anything and everything that came from their house. I realized on each trip how much their familiar presence had been a staple in my world since I was born.
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Books have been a part of the fabric of my upbringing, their importance in the foundation of my life just by their lives on the shelves everywhere I looked. I started to notice the empty spots because my grandfather kindly sent many of them to me when I gave him my book grocery list. He was all too happy to find a new home for his collection and I was too happy to invite them in as a next generation who appreciates the stories they tell.
Many of the books from my grandparents’ home have Jewish themes, Israeli themes, Presidential themes and WWII history and one could likely tell from the titles that my grandparents were really invested in their Jewish culture and civic responsibility.
When I say Jewish culture, I do not refer to the religious aspect of it, but the traditions and history of Judaism. My grandparents were not religious Jews, but definitely cultural ones. Their belief about what is right and wrong and how to live a life that demonstrated this was most definitively led by their Judaism.
Books and Art
I have many friends who did not grow up with shelves and shelves of books. In my past married life as I made my way to their homes, I noticed this in my observations--books on the shelves along with art on the walls seemed to go hand in hand. Along with the books, my grandparents had art everywhere and this too has made its way to my home over the years.
Again a lot of Jewish themed art along with art from their many trips to places people simply weren’t going to in the sixties and the seventies. China in the late seventies when they finally opened their borders to tourism, Israel starting in 1966, New Zealand, Ghana and Timbuktu along with many other out of comfort zone places that shaped their world views.
In turn they passed their art and travel stories on to their grandchildren by their endless slide shows we had the fortune to witness. At the time though, watching a slide show of a safari made us groan, but it instilled a love of travel and adventure in all of the grandchildren that we wholeheartedly have appreciated.
Each time I visited my Grandfather for the past ten years, I have looked at all of the “stuff” and thought to myself what the hell are we going to do with all of this? He would reply with the simple answer, It’s not my problem, it will be yours and Bobby’s.
Haha, touche, I would think. While it seemed like his typical pragmatic approach to all things end of life would apply here, all of this went out the window because it seemed in that six foot body of his a small shred of sentimentality after all.
“You are an emotional girl,” he had been fond of saying to me over the years like it was some wart to try to remove from my nose or something. Ironically, it turned out that he too had a touch of emotion just like me.
Even though the pragmatic approach would be to start doling out the art and the trinkets, this would be admitting that death was at the door- waiting. It also would have taken my grandmother's essence out of the house, their travels and adventures, and for this, I conceded, it made complete sense to hold on as long as he chose. He deserved this. It was his stuff and his life. When the time came for him to move on, we found ourselves all be too happy to be reminded of his presence in the stories each of these items we would lay claim to.
Books as a Metaphor
The books were just the tip of the iceberg. There were so many beautiful items that would find their way into our homes for the next generations. For me it is wasn't the value, it was the sentimental that I would cherish, the kitchen gadgets of my grandmother, her incredible Corning Ware collection, useful, well cared for and endless reminders of briskets and salads and Jewish Holidays. I was in no rush for any of it because that just meant that the world as I have known and loved has come to an end. I surely would have nothing to cry about-- after all I had my grandfather way beyond my wildest dreams. The books were just the metaphor for the words and actions he and my Grandmother instilled in all of us and as long as all of the stuff was there, it meant that that he was.