So. I’ve been asked to talk. I don’t have a problem talking. My students would certainly back that one up, with an eye roll or two to boot. I’ve spoken in front of 100s of teachers. I’ve spoken at my sister’s wedding (made that speech up on the spot). I’ve spoken to small, intimate groups.
But I’ve never spoken at a funeral. I remember asking myself how they could do it without falling apart when witnessing others speak at the funerals of their loved ones. And here I am, about to do so myself.
My grandfather passed 2 days ago. He was in his 92nd year. His nineteenth with his present widow, and that after 3 months shy of 50 years with my grandmother. He was born in Poland but made it here as young child somewhere between the 2 world wars, luckily before his home town of Chelm was occupied by the Germans. We never did know his exact birthdate as pretty much everything in Chelm was destroyed during the war and his mother didn’t have the best memory. He grew up on the plateau in Montreal, where he spent much of his youth making a few extra dollars playing pool and he continued to play pool with ‘the boys’ until not too long ago. At one point when I was a kid my family got a pool table and I can clearly remember him saying, Tracy, come, let’s play a game. We’d go in the basement and I would stand there watching him break, then proceed to very calmly sink all of his balls. All the while with his cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, the ash curling longer and longer. I never did get a shot, but he liked the company.
My grandfather was a tailor by trade and he owned a fektry (read factory), also on the plateau, where he made a line of woman’s sportswear. He was a great tailor, but didn’t really have an eye for design. When I was in elementary school I asked him to make me a pair of jeans. He did, right away. In a plasticky purple fabric. I was mortified but wore them to school the next day anyway. Don’t think I wore them again after that though.
As children my sister and I loved spending our weekends with Bubby and Zaide, much to my parents’ delight. We’d spend Saturday with them at their charcuterie in Le Cartier building on Peel and Sherbrooke in Montreal. We’d sit squished in the backroom with Monty, their Saint Bernard, eating candy and playing with old ledgers and calculators. Sunday I’d go get bagels with Zaidie while Bubby cooked up a mess of eggs and breakfast and then we’d go bowling. My Zaide Jack would chauffeur us around everywhere, he did whatever we wanted and especially whatever my Bubby wanted. All she had to do was call – Jacky… and he’d come running.
He would do the same for his 2nd wife, who he married within a year of my Bubby’s passing. He wanted to spend the winter with her at her condo in Florida, she didn’t want to live in sin, so they eloped. He had a happy 2nd life with her. Yesterday, when talking to the Rabbi, she said – he was a good man. In all of our time together we never had a fight. We had our disagreements and he would go in the other room to think. After a few minutes he’d come back and say, you’re right. He was a good man.
2 weeks ago we thought he had a stroke, which turned out to be seizures caused by a brain tumour. He was whisked from Florida to Montreal by air ambulance. He was in and out of consciousness for a week or so, then started getting stronger. They took out all of his tubes, thankfully granting him the humanity of no longer being tied down to save himself from ripping them out of where they needed to be. They had him standing up, even walking. He told a funny story or two. Monday morning he felt bad, at 4pm that same day he died.
My mother has asked me to talk at his funeral. I guess I’ll think some more about these stories and just talk about my Zaidie. I can’t imagine writing a speech.
Jeck (read Jack) Perelmutter Sometime in July, 1917 – February 16, 2009
He was a good man who lived a good life.