I recently read a blog post on The Rest Is Still Unwritten about the blogger’s relationship with his grandmother. The two had been close his whole life and were connected by the stories they shared. It really got me thinking about my relationship with my own grandparents and particularly my relationship with Zaydee, my paternal grandfather. Similar to this grandmother-grandson duo, I’ve always felt extremely close and connected to Zaydee. As he tells everyone he introduces to me, I would fall asleep on his bare chest as an infant when no one else could get me to stop crying. Twenty-three years later, we have a relationship different from any other I’ve ever seen between granddaughter and grandfather. We call each other just to say hi and chat. We constantly nag each other when we’re together–He jokingly yells at me when I eat “his” food, he tells me I will give all the old men at his retirement community a heart attack when I walk around in my bathing suit, and he always pretends to take me up on my offer to pay the dinner bill. I tell him when he’s looking exceptionally hairy, I always side with Bubbie when the two of them are arguing, and I let him know how pathetic it is that he uses his computer multiple times a day and still types with just his two fore fingers. The relationship we share is more of a friendship than a formal one based on “respect for your elders” — although I still won’t friend him on Facebook until he gets rid of his pseudonym virtual identity. However, I truly do respect Zaydee with all my heart. I marvel at his accomplishments and I give him –and everyone else in his generation– so much credit for accepting the evolving world and putting the time and energy into learning our technologies and ways of life that are so different from when he was in his mid twenties. But above everything else, I respect Zaydee for his writing.
Over the past few years, Zaydee has written many short stories. Some are true accounts of his life and some are fictional. While most of his written creations are simply shared and enjoyed between family and friends, Zaydee has submitted some to newspapers and writing contests, making him a published author. He writes each story on a pad of paper and then transfers it to the digital world, putting a lot of time and energy into those two pointer fingers of his as he brings his thoughts to life one letter at a time. I read and keep each story that Zaydee writes. Although I thoroughly enjoy them all, my favorites are the true accounts that teach me a little bit about my Zaydee and about my family. One of these, titled “I Remember,” is Zaydee’s account of being 17 and asking my Bubbie out on a date for the first time. Zaydee’s detailed recollection of this night many, many years ago and his ability to express himself in writing truly take my breath away. “I remember a spur-of-the-moment decision that I made on a warm night in August 1950. It was not a major decision…just a small one, the kind we make hundreds of times each day,” the story beings. Although it is a mere 583 words, I can vividly hear James Garner’s voice narrate the occurrence similar to how he tells the story of young love that stood the test of time in The Notebook.
Another one of Zaydee’s short stories, Coming Full Circle, is one that brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. This story relives a family trip to the beach we took a few years ago:
One day we all gathered on the nearby beach where we had spent many summer days
during the 33 years we lived in the neighboring town of Marblehead. As is typical of New
England’s rocky coastline, the north end of the beach provides a monstrous outcropping
of building-sized boulders that jut into the ocean. When my sons were toddlers and
adolescents, I had taken them to many such beaches to fish, swim, and hunt sea
creatures in the tidal pools.
And, during prior family gatherings, I had participated with my sons as they repeated the
process with my grandchildren. No big deal when you’re 50. Or 60. But what about 74?
After helping to set up the chairs, blankets, and umbrella, the “men” of the clan walked
to the rocks with the fishing rods that they had brought from home, some mussels
collected from the beach, and the purchased clams, squid, and herring to
hopefully tempt the Striped Bass that populate these waters in the summer. As my sons
scampered with their sons up and across the seaweed-encrusted rocks with their fishing
gear, I cautiously eyed the slime, barnacles, and jagged surfaces.
“Should I, or shouldn’t I?” I muttered to myself.
My machismo responded first. “Go ahead. You can do it.”
To which my arthritic knees screeched, “Are you crazy? We’re in trouble on stairs, even
with railings. You strain our balance and support when you’re on inclines because your
eyes have lost depth-perception; besides, you left your glasses back at the blanket.”
So, I bowed to the voices of discretion, and, shouting down my manly valor, called out
to my 49-year-old, number-2 son.
“Scott, I need help. I’m not steady enough to climb up.”
Scott stopped taking pictures of the others getting set up along the rocks at the water’s edge, and bounded down the rocks to reach his hand out to me. As I squinted up at him, I thought I saw a flicker of somber sadness flash across his face. Scott, who shares our family love of dark humor; lovingly calls me “old man” and often jokes, “You’re on your way to becoming just a photograph, Dad.”
I felt a twinge of sadness, too. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was the bounding hero
reaching out to rescue him?
Gripping my hand, he began to pull me up the rocks. As he guided my climb by pointing
out where I should place my feet, he offered encouragement. “Hold my hand, Dad. Step on that flat rock over there, Dad. Don’t step on that seaweed, Dad. It’s slippery.”
His cautionary chatter ignited my twinge into a full-blown flashback. Back, back, I went,
back 45 fast-flying years, to the days when I had introduced my sons to adventures
offered by ocean rocks. Back when Scott was a toddler holding onto my hand as I
uttered the same warnings to him and his brothers. “Hold my hand, son. Step over there, boys. Watch the seaweed.” Me, solid and safe. Me, young and strong.
I was awakened from my reverie by Scott’s hoarse whisper, “It all comes full circle,
doesn’t it, Dad?”
There are many things that will always remind me of Zaydee –spiritual Rafiki from The Lion King. My T-shirts and magnets that he airbrush painted. Distant memories of spending summers in Boston’s North Shore, riding bikes and being at the beach. Countless family photos and home videos. But Zaydee’s stories are something extra special. They are a tangible piece of him, of his thoughts and memories that make him who he is. They are immortal and in a way they will allow part of him to live forever, too.
There is no doubt that Zaydee and I will share many more memories and experiences over our lives together and his stories are something that I will hold onto and cherish forever. They depict who Zaydee is as a person, but they also form a little bit of my own identity and show who I am: I’m a Bolotin. The granddaughter of a writer, a believer, a thinker, and a doer. So keep on writing, Old Man.