i read a poem once that said, in short, people cannot live their lives for their children. they cannot protect their children from pain or mistakes. all a parent can do is walk ahead of his child and shed light on things to come.
my grandfather, herbert levy, passed away two years ago. although some of my other family and friends have died, my grandpa was the first with whom i was very close. i am startled sometimes by how suddenly and severely i still miss him.
he was an artist also. a painter who made his living as a fashion designer. he and my grandma were cosmopolitan. they had friends and stories from every corner of the world. unlike my grandma though, herb was regarded as a grouch. curmudgeonly is the word we preferred. he had very little patience for my siblings and me when we were children. as we grew older though, he warmed to us OR we recognized the warmth that had always been there.
i was raised in and around my grandparent's house. we lived with my grandparents when my dad left our family. we moved out eventually but our new homes were still within walking distance. herb picked me up from school almost every day. he kept a tally of the chauffeur bill that he would charge me when i finally "get rich." he would add combos and slurpees to that tally whenever i asked. almost every week, he would swing by our house to take the family to lunch and a movie. if we didn't meet him at the door, he would drive away. in this way, he taught us not to be late.
in world war II, my grandpa served as a navigator on one of the first planes equipped with radar. on his last mission, he was shot down over germany and held as a prisoner of war until his camp was liberated by general patton. he credits the red cross with saving his life. so, i do too. he rarely talked about the war but our friendship deepened every year. at my request, he told wonderful stories about his childhood. we were always very honest with each other. the stories he shared about his sexual adventures were funny and educational. eventually, he even told us some of the more amazing details about the war. it wasn't until he passed away and the veteran's hospital sent us his medical records that we realized how much he had suffered his whole life because of it. he was a very, very strong man.
in the days before he died, my grandpa's crusty edge disappeared. he poured his heart out to all of us. i have never seen such a pure and hopeless display of true love. he gave each of us his attention. he held my hand while he slept and told me repeatedly even when it seemed like he was sleeping that "your chuckle, rama. i love to hear your chuckle." he was in a lot of pain at the time. he asked for my grandma again and again. "help me," he asked her. "i'm trying," she said. "i know," he smiled, "i need you to help me some more." she sat with him and remembered out loud everything about their life. he held her hand and smiled and fell asleep. i wasn't there when he passed away but my brother reported that one of the last things my grandpa said was "let me out of this cage."
before my grandpa died, my brother told him that he had been like a father to us. when our dad left, herb picked up the slack. he opened his home to us. he took care of us. he had fun with us. "you were a dad to us," my brother said. "that's what i wanted to be," herb said.