Schmaltzy


My mom called last Sunday. She got the self-portraits I sent for their 45th wedding anniversary. She cut her trip to the Oregon Coast short so she could say goodbye to her dad. “The pictures were a really nice surprise. Thanks for that.”

My mom’s parents are divorced. They separated when she was 12, and her dad moved to Idaho. We’d get to know him really well only when we moved there…when I was 7 and my brother was 5. He and his lady, Doloras, had a lovely split level home with a pool in the old part of Boise. We spent hours in that pool. Hours. We lived within walking distance. I used a lifetime’s worth of pool time up in those five years.

My brother, Eric, is named after my grandfather, who was the youngest of four children born to Paul and Elizabeth, German immigrants from Dresden and Singen respectively. They would meet in Chicago.

Their third child, Billy, died as a two-year old when he chocked on a chicken bone at a family picnic. We’d take my great grandmother to visit his grave in Pottstown regularly when I was a kid, and my mother and I would find a locket of his blonde hair when we cleaned out her dresser after she died.

Eric was born soon after. 

All three boys were entrepreneurs. My grandfather owned a repair shop that fixed outboard motors and propellers. His first employee, Mark, bought the business when he retired. He was a gregarious and easy-going business owner who would take a boat or car in trade for work completed. His shop was always full of interesting things — motorcycles, classic cars, a commercial-grade rotisserie.

He liked to eat and drink and entertain, and his waistline showed it. His older brother Woo called him “Schmaltzy.” He was the kind of person utterly unbothered by such a nickname.

My grandfather was one of the few relatives that frequently came to visit Jeff and I in PA. He stayed at our house and always slept on the couch even though we offered him a bed. He’d watch tv all night and nap with his computer in front of him on the coffee table. He was an early adopter of technology and left three laptops behind.

My mom said a year ago that his heart was failing. The family in Idaho was tag-teaming to take him to his doctor’s appointments — my brother even showing up for one in a pickup truck filled with his goats.

My mom said she had a nice conversation with him just before he passed. He told her he knew he wasn’t leaving the hospital, and he didn’t. He went quickly but with time for a kind word for everyone who visited. You can’t really ask for more.