Poppa Comes To Visit Us

Dear Michael,

My grandfather Benjamin, from whom you get your middle name, came to our house in Fair Lawn every Friday afternoon for many years. Those visits, as I recall, always made me very happy.

He would always be in a good mood. He liked to clown around with me, my sister and our poodle Sparky.

For example, he would make believe he was chasing us around the first floor of our house. Our kitchen had entrances on two sides, one leading to the dining room, the other to our front entrance and the living room. So we had kind of a circuit and could literally run around in circles.

Sometimes my grandfather pursued me and sometimes, as I watched from the kitchen, my sister. I could see him materialize here and then disappear over there, my sister giggling and screeching all the while.
He had this funny move I loved. He would raise his hands near his face, bent at the elbow, like the mice in “The Nutcracker — maybe that’s where he got the idea – and prance along, lifting his knees high, in short stutter steps. He really cracked me up.

Why he visited every Friday was at least threefold. First, he had a standing appointment, as an accountant, with a client in nearby Paterson, a 200-store chain named Spotless Cleaners. Two, he always sat talking with my mother at some length at the kitchen table, probably about her life and her worries and woes, offering his reassurances and, equally important, slipping her some cash, maybe 50 bucks, a lot of money in the 1950s and 1960s. Three, he got to see us.

My grandfather really got a kick out of kids. I saw that when he was with my cousins Peter and Danielle, too. He never quite left behind his own sense of boyishness. So we looked forward to those visits from Poppa, as we called him. We would look out the window from our den and he would pull into our driveway in his Cadillac (fact: year in and year out, he never drove anything but a Caddy) and my sister and I would shriek and jump up and down with excitement.

Those visits made such a difference to all of us. Here came this man, then in his late 40s and early 50s, with his broad shoulders and manly stride, a man with an office and a secretary in Manhattan and money in his pocket, and he arrived as kind of a savior.

I know he was a lifeline for my mother, and more than financially. I’m sure he told her what she most needed to hear – that no matter what happened, he would always take care of her.

And he gave something special, in those visits, to me and Linda, too. He gave us his attention. He shared his joy at life – his joy at having grandchildren who adored him, at being able to help his deaf daughter in distress, at seeing his clients in Paterson and finishing his workweek at our house. He gave us those moments of joy, many such moments, and they meant so much to me, no less now than then.

That’s one reason we keep his photo out in the living room.

That’s why your middle name is his. He meant so much to me and maybe he can also mean at least a little something to you.

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