Its been a long, long time since my grandfather passed away. 40 years or so, but there are memories of him that remain as clear as if they had happened yesterday.
During the last year of his life, some of the family were believing that he was losing his mind. There was talk of moving to a senior’s home, but when he got wind of it, he threatened to play chess with death, and lose on purpose.
My grandmother said that there were signs of his impending dementia. He would sit in the backyard all day and feed little carrots she had bought for soup to the squirrels. He would go into the basement, and stay there for hours at a time, refusing to eat meals. She was convinced that he no longer knew who she was, as he rarely spoke to her, unless it was to drone on and on about something that happened 50 years ago. I had spent a great deal of time with this man, and I loved him. We would often go to United Bakers,. He would order tea, and rugelach, and proceed to dunk each into the tea before he ate it. He had been doing this for as long as I had known him. I kept telling my parents that he was fine, but no one believed me.
In the mid 1970’s, I went to Miami Beach for reading week during my 2nd year of University. My grandparents, coincidentally, were sent there by my parents for some rest at the same time. During the week I was there, my grandfather became ill, and was hospitalized. I went to visit him, in an attempt to keep his spirits up.
I went in the room and sat in a chair beside him. “How are you feeling?”, I asked.
“Come here”, he said, pointing to the bed. “Come closer. I have something to tell you”.
I sat on the side of his bed, waiting for him to say something insightful “What is it?”.
“Your Bubbie is driving me crazy!” he said, looking to see if anyone else was in the room. “And I think she’s trying to kill me.”.
“What are you talking about?”. I asked.
“Ok. Listen.” he said with all seriousness. “She has been putting those little carrots in my soup.You know, the ones I give to the squirrels. I hate those little carrots. She knows I hate them. And yet, she keeps putting them in my soup. Who would put little carrots in soup?”.
“I don’t think she’s trying to kill you with carrots.”, I told him.
“Really? What am I doing in here then?”
I had no idea what to say. Could it be that my Zaidie was losing his mind? “What do you want me to do?”, I asked him.
“Throw out those little carrots. Better yet, throw out your Bubbie”.
I laughed. He laughed. “I’m not sure we would get away with it”, I replied.
“They all think I’m crazy”, he added. “I know what they say. I hear them talking. They can think what they want to think. Only me and you know the truth”.
“She’s a monster!”. he said. “I think I would like one of those Irish girls, you know, with the red hair. A young, ginger girl”.
“Well, you have to get better first. Then I will help you find you one”. I told him.
“You’re a good boy”, he said.
I flew back to school a few days later. My grandfather stayed in the hospital for another 2 weeks. He passed away the departure lounge of Mami International Airport. In his pocket was a picture postcard of Dublin. When I heard this, I smiled, and I chuckled.