Last summer we went to New Jersey to visit my mom’s dad. He hates phone conversations and since we live far away, in person is the only time we get to talk.
Using this space to record some of the things we talked about.
Zadie knew Pearl growing up because she was friends with his sister Matilda. When he got back from the war, there was a big banner stretching down the block. Pearl was playing the piano, and they talked. He walked her to the trolley to go home and set up a date for the next night. He took her out 31 consecutive days. Three months later, they got married.
Zadie loved her his whole life. My Bubbie had breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy. Zadie told me, “She came out of surgery and I said, ‘well your breasts are gone,’ and that left her shaken. She said, ‘but you loved my breasts’ and I said, ‘honey, I need you to know, I love you as a person.”
She had a fetish, he said, for new bodies of water. Always wanted to dip her toes in somewhere new. They were traveling to Mexico after the surgery and the luggage with her prosthetics was lost, causing him huge distress at the airport. He was shouting at the attendant, saying, “you don’t understand what it’s like, my wife needs her suitcase!” When the attendant figured out what was going on he said, “I do understand. My wife had cancer, too.” I’m not sure if the suitcase was ever found.
Zadie told me, “She said, ‘If I die on a Thursday, you have to bury me on a Friday. Don’t wait until Sunday when you can’t handle it.’ She’s telling me!” He put emphasis on the first and last words. Bubbie did die from cancer. He told me, “I counted the number of cars. There were 103 cars at her funeral. You need to know what kind of person she was. It keeps me up at night, thinking about what happened and what didn’t happen. You don’t know if there’s life after death.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I offered up the truly terrible, “until you get there!”
Zadie said, “I’ll find out. 115 years old, I’ll find out.”
Zadie went to Bubbie’s grave every day for three years, until someone told him he had to move on. Even now at his retirement home, the Shalom House, he says he can’t talk to the women. “They all want a man!” he complains.
Zadie was a medical assistant who ran a field hospital in the war, and he was very capable. His supervisor wanted him to get a medical degree when he got back home, but ran a grocery instead, after a stint with a storefront darts game on the boardwalk. One day at the boardwalk, where they only made money in summer but made enough to last them the whole year, a man walked in and asked to play the darts game. You hit five balloons, you got a carton of cigarettes. It cost a quarter to play. The man hit all five. “He was gonna bankrupt me in five minutes, take all the cigarettes I had in the shop! But he just asked for one pack. He was a darts champion, that man, and just played because he wanted a pack of smokes. If I’d had a full shop when he did that, I would have made a fortune that day.” Zadie and Bubbie left the Boardwalk in part because Bubbie, a small Jewish woman, didn’t feel very safe in the area they were.
Zadie was stationed in Brussels during the war. I’ve been, and it’s an exceptionally clean city–I’ve never though about it not in peacetime. He went into town because he was told not to, and got stuck for hours crouching in a doorway hiding from a sniper. “How’d you know there was a sniper?” I asked because I can’t imagine spotting one. Zadie said, “Sometimes they miss.” He went back in peace time to look at what he thought was a huge place, and found that it was just a tiny mom and pop shop.
He also told a story about eating pigs feet and drinking scotch with another soldier, but I don’t remember the story very well.
All during our visit I was struck by how much he wanted to take care of all of us. He wanted to make sure we went to the beach, that we saw each other, that we ate ice cream, but only the good stuff. Zadie is so loving, and I’m thankful for him.