I went to lunch with my Grandfather today.
We sat in the same dark green vinyl booth we have eaten at for years.
Munching on pickles packed in small wooden barrels placed before us, I looked across the table and found myself staring through the same thick black rimmed glasses he has always worn.
He waited for me to look over the menu, which I always did, even though I had memorized the menu years ago and had, the whole drive up (over an hours time), to think and decide on what I would be ordering.
Just as he had in the past, he pushed the Matzo Ball soup and ordered from the server two macaroon cookies to go, one regular and one dipped in chocolate. They would come sometime during the meal placed on our table next to the silverware and half empty plates, tucked securely inside the same pink pastry box they had be placed in for years. I would take these with me when I left, place them next to my seat as I drove back home and savor them and their memories the following days.
Maintaining our well worn path of traditions I stared at him and asked him about his life. Where he grew up, how he met my Grandmother, and on a few occasions stories about his son, my father, who I lost when I was five- the day he dropped me of at school and decided to never come back.
I would listen as he started slow but steady in remembering his youth, hard as his childhood was he would always smile through the stories of his struggles as it was those choices and decisions that would carry him into meeting my grandmother, his Clara. His joy.
His gaze inevitably grew distant as he talked, laughed, and even cried within his memories. I love being able to become a part of his past during these lunches. Even the moment of the stark realization that brings him back to us sitting together when only moments before he was swept away in 1950 makes me smile.
“Its always so good to see you” he always says. “Your visits bring back the love of my life although I could never truly do so, it is so very easy to forget the little things that built our lives together each and every day” and even though it is clues to my father that I long for it is always the stories of my grandparents that end up sweeping me away. These are the stories that cause him to pause more, wipe his eyes and smile.
My Grandmother passed away over twenty years ago when I was twelve. I recall my mother sitting me down and telling me of her passing, though because of my fathers choices I knew very little of his family while I was growing up. Most of my memories of my grandmother are through my grandfather eyes, long after they had actually occurred, and many before I was even born.
Grandma was Jewish, a vast difference from my Grandfathers catholic upbringing. Together, they created a life for each other, shared traditions, and grew their own lives into a family. It was his love for her why we always came to this place, her place with the Matzo Brie and Potato Pancakes. The reason why after two decades he continued to honor her by eating Kosher.
They raised three children, lived for each other and loved completely. I become witness to that over bagels and lox staring into the eyes of my Grandfathers past and I am honored for the chance to know that there was good there.
Yet todays lunch was so very different than those before it.
My heart full of their memories and my belly stuffed with too many pickles I found myself looking across the table to an empty booth and I began to cry.
“I miss you” I said.
“I know, but its okay, it’s all the way its supposed to be”
“That doesn't make it any easier”
“It will someday” he whispered- and then like he did one year ago today, he was gone.
I blinked and he was gone.
I went to lunch to honor my grandfather today. I sat in the same dark green vinyl booth we had eaten at for years.