Alexis Gutter and Irvin Cohen, March 1994
Alexis Gutter remembers fondly the stories her grandparents told, and the way that affected her life.
On June 3, 1958, Grandma wasn’t doing anything in particular. The phone rang mid-afternoon and a guy—a nice guy, but one who she didn’t know so well—asked her to join him at a baseball game that very evening. Like many of the self-respecting women whom I’ve come to admire, she was hesitant to agree. “That is so rude. Why would I go on a date given such short notice? Someone else must have canceled. I’m not a stand-in date! I’m not some girl! There’s no way I’ll even be ready in time. I hate baseball.”
But rather than launch a verbal diatribe of all these ideas that must have been populating her progressive mind, always a lady, Grandma simply told the man that she didn’t know that she could make it. And then the man said, “Well you see, it’s my birthday, and I’d really like to spend it with someone special.”
Six months later, Grandma married Grandpa.
I can’t begin to compute how many times I’ve heard that story, but with its lovely, timeless quality, each telling captivated not only my attention, but also my heart. Grandma, an unequivocal verbal showgirl, always told the story sparing no theatrical device. She would make eye contact with each member of her audience, use clever pauses, changes in voice intonation, and vibrant, though not excessive, gesticulation. And as Grandma finished with that punch line so beautifully romantic that if I didn’t know it to be true, it could only be assumed as false, I loved to watch Grandpa. He was always sitting next to her, close in every sense, and would rest his hand on the back of her chair, displaying a warm, subtle, closed-mouth smile. Their love was simply palpable.
Grandpa died recently. And I know that everyone’s Grandpa dies, but this was my Grandpa. My Grandpa, who wouldn’t speak for months at a time at Sunday night dinners, but every now and again, would regale us all with little gems from his life—like when he got lost for three full days in French trenches during World War II. My Grandpa, who was a veteran, a pharmacist, and a father who tried to help as many people as he could touch. My Grandpa, who was generous and smart and unpretentious and unassuming and kind and good. My Grandpa, who everyone loved, who had a musically contagious laugh, and whose heart was the size of his house. My Grandpa, who was lucky enough to meet his soul mate, and to be her best friend for 54 years. My Grandpa, whose mere disposition made this lonely world a little bit better, is gone.
There is nothing to do other than remember that warm, closed-mouth smile that quietly communicated his big love. And while there are so many things I would give to have more time with Grandpa, to hear his understated stories that were infinitely more inspiring than he would ever allow himself to admit, I will always feel blessed to have known such a wonderful man.
Alexis Gutter and Irvin Cohen, March 2012
Pictures courtesy of the author.