Friday, December 18, 2009

A Good Man

A good man died.

He showed up in my life when he showed up for my grandfather’s memorial service in 2005. Despite years of hardship and illness, he came to say goodbye to his best friend… and to make sure I knew my grandpa.

He told me stories; stories that were familiar but not how I’d heard them.

Once, my grandpa told me a story about a man in the concentration camps, who saw his friend selected for the gas chambers.

“He was a good employee and a good friend, so of course the man had to save him,” Grandpa said. “So he took a corpse from the barracks – someone who had died during the night – and put it in the gas chamber. Then he grabbed his friend and took him away. The Nazis counted the bodies. They didn’t care who was actually in there.”

“Your grandpa, he was a good employer and a good friend,” came the new version of the story. “So of course he had to save the man. He was smart, your grandfather. He knew the Nazis would only count bodies.”

Story after story transformed in each new telling. My grandpa was the hero in all of his own stories. His best friend wanted me to know.

He sent me a card when I graduated from college, telling me confidently that his best friend would be proud of me.

He came to my grandmother’s memorial service, and praised me for working on my master’s degree. “You are very smart, like you grandfather. Him,” -- here he gestured toward my then 12-year-old brother -- “He’s a ladies’ man. Also like your grandfather.”

The last time I saw him was this past March at my cousin’s wedding. It was hard for him to speak, and he tired easily. His wife confided that he came mainly to see his best friend’s grandchildren.

We sat down, and he told me more stories. One was about how my grandfather stole his name, but he forgave him. He told me that if I chose to pursue my PhD in New York, I was welcome to stay with him and his wife.

“I wouldn’t want to cause you any trouble!”

He gazed at me for a moment before speaking. “How could I not do something good for my best friend’s granddaughter if I had to the power to do it? What would I say to him? You aren’t trouble. You are Jack’s granddaughter.”

He was a good man who wanted to comfort a grieving grandchild. He was a good friend who wanted stories and a legacy to continue.

You might not notice the difference, but I do. The world is poorer without this man in it.


Dave said...

You have done him honor with your words.

Monique-aka-Surferwife23 said...

That was beautiful and very touching. I'm sorry for your loss.

christianne said...

Wow, Christina, this is a powerful story. I'm glad you shared it. I'm glad you knew this man.

Anonymous said...

Christina! I'm so sorry to hear about your loss...seems in life there are more losses than gains sometimes; you always manage to find the beauty though! Will miss you in VA...

Sara said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. It sounds like he had a very important and positive impact on you.

Thank you for writing about him as I really enjoyed reading little bits of his story.

"Julie" said...

So sorry to hear about your loss. Enjoyed reading about him, thank you for sharing!

Erin said...

I am so sorry for your loss, but I'm glad you found out your grandfather was the real hero!

I am Jewish and found this especially moving.