Random Observation/Comment #368: A successful life is one that positively influences the most people.
I’ve always known him as Grandpa because I called my own grandfather “Yea-Yea” in Cantonese. While Yea-Yea was an ideal grandfather who lived an amazingly rich life and led an amazing family, in some ways, I was not as close to him as I was to Grandpa Abolafia. There was always a cultural barrier within the Chinese hierarchy that’s not easy to stray from. The stories I asked of my Yea-Yea were always told to me as cautionary tales and we never really dove into the full thought process and experiences behind his conclusions. It was, in part, my fear of asking, but also his reluctance to show fallacy to anyone younger.
In American culture, I really respect the open honesty parents have with their children. They explain the real “why” behind things and provide the trust to let their children decide the right choices instead of simply telling them “don’t do this”. It’s this story-telling mentality that made me love going to Vermont with Jake and his family to visit Grandpa and Grandma Abolafia. It was truly during this time that I learned a new way of seeing how the generations of family should act together.
I spent my high school Christmases in Vermont skiing and celebrating Hanukkah with the best family I have ever known. The rustic cabin in the woods with the clearly delineated male and female roles made me understand how lovely a holiday could be with 3 generations under the same roof. While the women cooked dinner, the men were outside chopping wood, we all had a task and had to pull our own weight in order to be fed. In fact, I built my first fire under the guidance of Grandpa. I also learned how to sit on the couch and yell “Joanne… could you get me some tostidos and salsa?” (This has gotten me into some trouble with my ex girlfriends).
I remember that dinner table like it was yesterday. A beautifully prepared meal with extra mashed potatoes and the best brisket laid before at least 12 of us. Back then, all the cousins were still in middle school and had braces (Oh, how time has passed). While drooling over the smell and smiling because of the company, we would truly sit and enjoy a family dinner. We stuffed our faces, but did so over the course of 2 hours.
When the last pieces were divided up between our full bellies (and most of them pushed onto my plate because I didn’t know how to say ‘no thanks, i’m full’), Grandpa always kept the conversation rolling with fun games and questions. As the head of the table and master of ceremonies, he really entertained us and motivated us to tell our stories from afar. It wasn’t just “how’s school going?”, but closer to “I hear you’re dating that black kid from school.” Although awkward and borderline inappropriate, we surely warmed up to his undeniable charm. It made us change the subject faster than I ate all those mashed potatoes.
Grandpa made the family whole (And, yes, as the only Asian in Vermont, I felt perfectly at home and as family singing Hanukkah songs). He kept things lively and taught more lessons in that week than we would learn all year. Even if we would consider some of his tactics old fashioned, they certainly worked and all those little side conversations he had with us will always be cherished. i remember he pulled me aside and said “Clemens, you’re a good kid – keep Jacob and James out of trouble, will ya?”
And so I will, Grandpa. I will because I am eternally grateful that you’ve let me be a part of your family and I am so happy you’ve lived a successful life.
~See Lemons Love and Miss Grandpa