4

To Grandma, On Her 103rd Birthday

Dear Grandma,

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Grandma, happy birthday to you! It’s your best grandson here, and your only grandson.

It has been almost nine years since you’ve been gone, but I still think about you all the time, especially today, on what would have been your 103rd birthday. Time flies, doesn’t it?

So much has happened since I’ve last seen you. When we last talked, I had just moved to Washington, DC. I ended up switching out schools and finishing up at UMass Amherst, when I started writing plays. In 2008, one of my plays won a competition and was performed in downtown Baltimore for a whole week! I know you would have been there with Mom, Dad, and Aunt Ruth in the front row center, and you would have been so proud. You would have also been proud when I decided to move to Jerusalem for a year, and when I would call you every week, you would immediately call my parents and all of your other friends, telling them that your grandson called you from Israel. You would have baked a challah and sent it to me and it would have been delicious. You would have been puzzled when I moved to Houston for two years, but proud when I successfully graduated with my master’s, and got into the University of Wisconsin, where I sit today, on my way to become the first of your grandchildren to get a doctorate. Well, Susan technically has a doctorate in pharmacy, but never used the title. I will most definitely refer to myself as Dr. Jacob when I get that degree in my hands. I think you might have been confused over what I am deciding to get my degree in, and what I am going to do with it. You would not have been alone. But you would be proud nonetheless.

I don’t know how you would have felt learning about our family trip to Germany and Prague two years ago. I think you would have listened patiently on the phone or on Skype (if you knew how to use it) but you would have been sad not going with us and maybe a little worried for us. You would have loved to have seen the pictures and videos, and you would have felt much better about being here in America seeing how much things have changed. You would have been amused by our dinner at the American Embassy in Prague, and you would have not wanted any souvenirs at all.

You would be pleased to know how much all of us have grown up. You would be proud of my sister’s cooking and her job, and if you were feeling up to it, you would be right there in her kitchen helping her. She might also feel better about herself, since you were really close with her, and you would probably say things to her that would have helped her get through things. You would be so proud of having a great-granddaughter with a degree (and a job!), two great-grandchildren in college, and two others in high school. You’d also be happy to know that your name comes up at every single family function, and we are constantly asked by those outside the family if we remember you, and that you are remembered by others as a “tough lady” even though we all know how much you love us.

You would be very concerned about events in Europe and the Middle East, so I am glad that you are not here to worry about those things.

I don’t know how you’d feel about my decision to apply for German citizenship. You would probably not be happy with that choice, since they gave you nothing. But you might support our decision after we explained to you about the job market. Even still, you probably would be kind of weirded out. But you would love us all the same.

You would be shocked to learn that Cookie died, among others, but not at others who have also left. You would be pleasantly surprised by some of those from your generation who’ve stuck around, like Irma and Bluma.

Finally, you’d be happiest to learn that we still celebrate Jewish holidays together as a family as much as possible. Usually we have a few who are absent (I’d be the worst offender, so sorry about that :-/) but Thanksgivukkah was a blast. You know I’d call you every week and visit when I got the chance. You’d still be happy knowing that we’re keeping the family jokes alive and passing them on to the younger ones.

From your greatest, best, and only grandson, as always, with love,

Jacob

6

Heard It Through The Laptop

Today, I heard some voices through my laptop.

No, it wasn’t Marvin Gaye. Nor was it Gladys Knight and the Pips. Nor did it tell me to plow under my corn and build a baseball field.

My dad sent me a link to an mp3 tonight, and with him and my sister in the room, I opened it.

And what I heard amazed me.

The crackle of the static and the whistle of the feedback yielded to the first voice, accented by the chirp of a parakeet in the background.

“Stanley? Stanley…Stanley?”

It sounded like a sweet old lady, but not at all who I thought it was. But as she began her recitation, it became clear exactly who it was.

“Dear children, and grandchildren, and the children who will come after we are gone…”

It was my grandmother. She identified herself, and announced the date as November 17, 1972, and began to tell the story of how she, along with my grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandmother, and aunt (a baby at the time) escaped Nazi Germany in 1938.

I’ve heard this story many times, from my grandmother before she passed away in 2005 at age 94, and then from my father. Even I have retold the story, a few times. First, shortly after my grandmother’s death, to a group of students from my college, and then one day to my friend Stacey over lunch at Franklin Dining Commons, during my junior year at UMass, who listened with wide eyes and a spoonful of cereal that never made it to her mouth. My grandmother openly told the story at school assemblies, in synagogue, and even on camera for the Steven Spielberg Holocaust Archives at Yale University.

But this was the first time I heard it through the voice that my father knew, that my aunt knew, before age deepened and roughened it slightly. She spoke slowly, with grace and dignity, adding dramatic pauses for effect and choosing her words very carefully.

After a few minutes, another voice emerged from the background.

It was not a familiar voice, but it was one that I felt like I had known forever.

My grandfather.

My grandfather, whose name is in mine, who died in 1973.

I had never heard his voice…until now.

For the next twenty or so minutes, we listened to the story that we all knew, now told by my grandfather. His voice was slightly more accented than my grandmother’s was, but it wasn’t hard to match the voice with the photos I’ve seen of him, notwithstanding the fact that I always imagined him speaking in a deep voice with a German accent, which is exactly what I heard.

But listening to him, it was like hearing the story told for the first time.