One of the things I missed noting here on the blog last year was that August 25, 2020 would have been my grandfather’s 100th birthday. I missed it because I wasn’t writing much at the time. Indeed, the only post I wrote last August was on COVID conversations. That means today, August 25, 2021, my Grandpa (I always knew him as Grandpa and that’s how I’ll refer to him from here on out) would have been 101 years old.
Well, maybe. There was some debate about his actual birthday. But when he obtained a passport later in life to travel, his passport gave August 25 as the date, and that’s what I go by.
I’ve written quite a bit about my Grandpa over the course of this blog. He passed away 17 years ago but I still think of him often. I used to have long conversations with him about all kinds of things: science, politics, religion. We traded countless letters, many of which I still have. His handwriting is almost indecipherable, but I’d recognize it anywhere.
I think about how I wish he could have seen my kids. He would have loved my kids and my kids would have adored him, the way I did, I’m sure. His life spanned a time of incredible technical growth. Born in 1920, like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, he saw the rise of the automobile, the creation of the Interstate Highway System, the dawn of commercial air travel, the heyday of train travel, the first satellites in space, the first men, and then the first women in space. He watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. He watched the space shuttles launch and construct the International Space Station. In addition, he watched communication change, from the days of letter writing all the way through email. He was spared social media, which is probably a good thing.
Grandpa marveled at technology. He was apt to say that Atlas, the titan who once bore the weight of the world on his shoulders, could hold that world in the palm of his hand today thanks to the power of technology and communications. He carried a cell phone in his last few years, but swore he’d use it only in emergencies. I often wonder what he’d make of smart phones, of the ability to watch whatever program you wanted from your phone; of the ability to take a picture from your phone. He enjoyed reading and I think he would have delighted in the idea of a Kindle. He would have liked the ability to increase the font size to suit his eyes. Grandpa was a mechanic. GPS navigation and self-driving cars would have amazed him. He loved encyclopedia and had he access to Wikipedia, I think he’d be as addicted to that as we are to social media. Advances in medical technology astonished him, and I think he would have appreciated how quickly science and medicine was able to produce vaccines for COVID.
With four of his brothers, he owned and operated a service station in the Bronx, on the Grand Concourse, across the park from Yankee Stadium. They operated for 35 years before retiring and selling the business. He was fond of quoting Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.” He would also say, “There are only two people I would never lie to: my doctor and myself.” More than anything, he was convinced that 99% of all people are good people.
He was good people. Among his papers were a stack of letters of recommendation from before and after his service in the Second World War. Reading those letters, which I do on occasion, says a lot about the kind of person he was.
These are just a few of the letters I found. There are others, but the themes are the same: “honest and trustworthy,” “character unquestionable,” “honesty, integrity, and loyalty have never been questioned.”
Back at the top of the post is one of my favorite photos of me and my Grandpa. It was taken sometime in my early 20s, on the palisades on the western side of the Hudson River, overlooking the George Washington bridge.
Happy 101st birthday!
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