As with my father’s parents, I am the keeper of memories. George J. Shapiro, born in Brooklyn, NY, my mother’s father, was the sweetest, kindest man. He would be so easy to forget. No one seems to talk of him anymore. He died long ago: 1967. But he came to life for me again today, because now that I am a Jew, I am keeping yahrzeits, death anniversaries. That means I go to Temple, and their names are read on the public list, and we say Kaddish. I am keeping alive a yearly memory for three forgotten people.

So now that there is this day to remember my grandpa George, I found myself thinking of him a lot. I found myself realizing that a quarter of who I am comes from him. And I thought deeply about each thing I could remember about him. I only knew him when I was a child, of course, and only from vacation visits to New Rochelle once or twice a year. I shall list some things:

  • He loved his beautiful Collie-Chow rescue dog, Brandy, who looked like Lassie with a purple tongue and had a coat the color of brandy. I used to love petting his sleek fur under the chin. He was so well behaved, confining himself to the kitchen and breakfast room as was required — no doubt, by my grandmother. Now that seems cruel. That was not a large space for a dog of that size. And think how he would have loved sitting on the couch or on the bed with us. He loved people.
  • He took Brandy for walks every evening to Jake’s, “the corner store,” (to me, the candy store) to get the next day’s Standard Star, which he’d bring home to my grandmother. I imagine that was his peaceful time, being out with his dog. Now that I think of it, that was an unusual thing for an urban Jew, to have a dog. Maybe that’s where I get my animal-loving ways. And Anthony, too, with his greyhounds.
  • He brought me pistachios from Jake’s, because he knew I loved them.
  • He was the driver for a houseful of women: Grandma, Aunt Jo and Aunt Ann.
  • When my mother was working in Manhattan, he was waiting for her in the car at the train station each day when she got home.
  • He sold things like nylon stockings door to door during WWII. He was so not a salesman. My mother would go with him and wait in the car and get nervous when he didn’t come out for a long time and thought he might never come out.
  • When a glass broke in the kitchen, he yelled Mazel Tov!
  • He wore a napkin tucked under his chin when he ate spaghetti.
  • He worried I was going to choke and always said, “Chew it good.” He worried about everything, actually. He’d come downstairs and check all the locks again at bedtime.
  • It’s too bad I didn’t get to see him and Aunt Georgina and the NY relatives much when I was growing up. That would have been great stability for me. Maybe not surprising that I moved to NY on my own in my 20s in large part to be in touch with my roots.