In Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments, they explore how moments can change our lives and how to be more intentional creating special moments in our lives. As I listened to an interview with Daniel Pink and Dan Heath discussing the book, I realized that my grandfather, whom I called Zeyda (yiddish for grandfather), was a master memory maker. Not only did he literally create our memories by always having a camera or video camera in his hand and singlehandedly capturing every single family moment—from birthdays to holidays to bar mitzvahs. But beyond that, he created memories in other ways as well. His creativity and zest for life benefited his eight grandchildren in ways that impact me to this day.

Embrace Silliness

Every Chanukah we would take a family picture with the grandchildren, grandparents and aunts and uncles. It was a whole crazy mess as we all tried to find our places by the fireplace and my Zeyda set up the timer so he could be in the picture (thank goodness because otherwise we would have even fewer pictures of him!). But he took these pictures a step further. With thoughtful planning, he would pick a theme each year. We would take a couple of classic pictures and then the fun would begin. One year we dressed up as clowns with full makeup and another year we wore Groucho Marx glasses. Laughter was the name of the game. There was no way to stay serious during this annual event.

Sunday Outings to I-Hop

Now that I am a parent, I appreciate even more how my Zeyda would throw all eight grandchildren into his enormous car and drive all of us to I-Hop for breakfast on Sundays. In would go the 8-track tape of Fiddler on the Roof or Cabaret and we would all sing along as he smoked his cigar out the window. My Zeyda loved the carefree nature of children and our laughter fueled him. I can still feel myself in the car surrounded by people I loved—elbows and knees banging into each other as we squeezed in.

The Shaky Bridge

I don’t know if the bridge was actually named that, but my Zeyda managed to find the shakiest bridge in Trenton and we would go and jump on it. I hesitate to imagine why it was shaky, but we weren’t scared at the time. It was our amusement park. Seriously this man knew how to find the fun in anything!

Once in Love with Amy

We would listen to the song Once In Love with Amy in the car, which of course I loved because my name is Amy. However, one day my cousin Micole asked if we could listen to Once in Love with Micole. Well, poor Micole did not have many songs named after her so my Zeyda was heartbroken. He did not want her feelings to be hurt. So he told us he had a song for her at his house and we all went back to his office and looked and looked and looked for the song. Of course we never found it, but Micole seemed satisfied. Crisis averted. Zeyda’s imagination knew no bounds.

Kindness Trumped all

My Zeyda was not a traditional grandfather.  He took us all to see the movie Animal House when we were too young; he had a subscription to Playboy “for the articles”, and he told dirty jokes constantly. He did not make rules or follow rules for the sake of rules. His only rule was kindness.  At I-Hop, all the waiters and waitresses loved him. He loved people and treated everyone with respect. The only time he ever lost his temper was if one of us was being unkind. That was completely unacceptable. A famous story of my Zeyda is when he hired a blind man to sweep his shop. Of course the blind man was not very effective at this task, but he needed a job and my Zeyda could not bring shame upon him. The consistency of his kindness sent a strong message to his grandchildren and I know kindness continues to be a guiding value for me.

As I think about these memories, I have perfection in my mind– we went to breakfast every Sunday and that we took crazy pictures every year. But I know that can’t be true in reality. But this imperfection is a beneficial reminder. We don’t have to be perfect in the traditions and memories we create for our kids. Some years we are more on top of things than others and that is ok. Making memories does not have to follow a strict pattern. My Zeyda did not make things difficult. He was inspired by what he enjoyed and was motivated by spending time together with the family he loved. My lesson learned from reflecting back on his life is to be intentional and authentic and the memory making will happen.

4 comments

  1. As only a son-in-law to Zeyda, I really felt like a son. My earliest memory was my first date with Aunt Barbara, meeting Zeyda at the front door on Vannest Avenue. He came to the door in his white under shirt and white boxer briefs. He had a warm hand reaching out to greet me and a big loving smile. Being a little nervous, Zeyda made me more than comfortable, I felt welcome to the family. During the early years of dating when I was in college, I worked for Zeyda by driving him around. From Washingtion, DC to northern New York to out towards Pittsburgh we would drive mile after mile together. These were more than excursions to purchase items to use at M and M Bumper Plating or resell, they were one of my greatest joys. He got to know me, and I got to know a very special person. One of which I will never forget.

    Zeyda, soon after Aunt Barbara married, stepped in to be my dad after my father pasted away just months after our wedding. I think you really understand and capsured whom your Zeyda was, and still is to all that were lucky enough to cross paths with during his life. I’ve meet many people who I’ve never known before coming through my office who remember Zeyda. Everyone of them loved him as a friend, as a good person and as a man with a happy heart for life, people and dogs.
    Your memory is shared with all of us. It makes us all smile, though with tears, to think of Zeyda, Something Bebe and I do everyday.

    1. Thank you for this awesome reminder of those memories. I did not include his love of dogs in my piece, but that was also a big part of who he was and something he passed along to so many of us. I am so glad you felt I captured him and your memories round out who he was even more.

  2. What a beautiful blog post — and what a gift for you all to have such a Zeyda in your lives. I wish I could have met him, though in some ways I feel like I have because his memory lives on so powerfully in the hearts and minds of his family (as evidenced by your blog post).
    After Muhammad Ali died last year, a famous sports columnist wrote: “He loved people and people loved him. What else can you ask from a life?” The same can certainly be said for your Zeyda, who created larger-than-life memories by focusing on the little moments that matter most. A lovely tribute, Amy!

    1. Eric, thank you so much for this! I am so glad you read it and Zeyda came alive a little more for you. He definitely lives on in the hearts and minds of our family. I love the quote about Muhammad Ali and that was absolutely my Zeyda. A bright light wherever he went. xoxo

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