The holiday season always recalls things from the past: Things we do traditionally, special events, and occasionally an odd moment. And while we welcome them all, the kind many people value the most recall people who, while gone, reappear in our mind’s eye.
You know these people: Grandparents, and if you’re my age, parents. And often, sadly, friends, spouses, and tragically, sometimes kids. These people appear in memories (as Tevya sings about in "Sunrise, Sunset" from "Fiddler on the Roof"): “Swiftly pass the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.” So true.
In this spirit of seasonal memories, I’d like to share two recollections of Zadie, my paternal grandfather. Zadie is the Americanization of the Yiddish word Zadeh (meaning grandfather).
I recall his once asking me, about age 5, what I wanted for Channukah, and then laughing heartily, as Zadies of all backgrounds do in such situations, when I asked for a real lumber yard.
But that’s not my best recollection of him. That came when he retired and moved from Chicago to Florida.
Since that was before computers (and so live, face-to-face conversations) and cell phones (more face-to-face as well as texts and conventional phone calls), calls were long distance and so more expensive and less often enjoyed. That was the time when letters, most often handwritten by people like Zadie who were immigrants to the U.S.
Zadie’s letters came mid-morning, and Ma set them aside until dinner. Then, when my parents and sister were seated for dinner, Pa would open the letter and read it aloud to us all.
It always began with the same three words: "Meineh liebe kinder" which, in English meant “my dear children” with “children” including children-in-law, grandchildren, and sometimes even close family friends. The words both implied a depth of love shared with and concern for all those hearing Pa read and allowed those listeners to feel as if Zadie were in our dining room and not 1,800 miles away.
I recall all this because, now being the age Zadie was when he wrote those letters, I both better understand Zadie’s affections and need to act on them in dealing with my kids, kids-in-law, grandkids and even great-grandkids when there are opportunities to describe what’s happening, recount past adventures, and report about the things old guys discuss with such people. And so I’m going to take a page from the album about Zadie I carry in my heart of hearts.
How will I do this? Well, I have a collection of written out stories, anecdotes, and so on, about my life and the people I’ll be communicating with. And at some point in the future, I’ll be giving a copy to each of those people. And do you know how it will begin?
With the words "Meineh liebe kinder."
And this leads to a question to you, my reader. How have you changed due to the people and events that come to your mind during this holiday season?
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.