My grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein
March 1, 2020: My late grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein, was born on this day in 1886 I was only ten when he died, but we had a special bond.
You see I was Benny’s first grandson after he had been blessed with five granddaughters, and that made me very special in his eyes.
My mother often described how Benny was overjoyed when he visited her in the hospital. He so hoped to have a grandson, and there I was.
My sister Rochelle, who was 13 ½ when he died, remembered her grandfather this way in a high school essay; “Looking 50 while being 70 my grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein, was the handsomest man I ever knew.”
Benny could fix anything, an ability that sadly was not passed down to his grandson. Miraculously, though, remnants of that gift do manifest themselves in his great grandson who carries his name, our son, Benjamin Fuchs.
Our Ben gently chides me when I have trouble fitting something into somewhere, “Don’t force, Dad, never force.” When he tells me that, I can hear my grandfather’s voice.
In 1914 my grandparents and two other couples bought a patch of land in what was then far remote Dover, NJ. During the summers the three families lived together in Dover to escape the teeming heat of the Bronx. The women and children stayed the summer, and the men joined them on the weekends.
They were by no measure wealthy. My grandfather worked as a cutter in the garment industry, but land was cheap back then. If only our family still owned that property.
For us grandkids who have childhood memories of the place, “Dover” was a miniature Eden.
Next to the cow pasture of an adjoining farm there was a field perfect for me to play catch with anyone whom I could corral into joining me. There was a wonderful chestnut tree that I loved to climb, and there was a brook a short walk away where we could cool off, and there was a dairy farm up the road that sold the most delicious chocolate milk. Our visits often included a drive to nearby Lake Hopatcong for swimming and a picnic.
My memory of Poppy at Dover is of him walking purposely from the house toward the tool shed on his way to fix something or other.
Poppy’s favorite holiday was Simchat Torah, and I can still see the pride in his face as he carried the Torah around the synagogue! I have no doubt that in that memory lie the roots of my love for Torah to this day.
Poppy was also an integral part of my first solo bus trip.
My mom and dad sent me when I was nine to visit grandma and Poppy. I was going to ride the bus from East Orange to New York City all by myself.
I stocked up on comic books at Rosen’s Candy Store, and my mother walked me to the bus stop. I was excited to get on the bus, but once Mom was gone, I was scared.
Seeing Poppy’s face atop his blue winter coat and underneath his gray fedora when the bus pulled into the Port Authority terminal was the most comforting site I have ever beheld.
We went to the circus, “the Greatest Show on Earth” at Madison Square Garden … just my Poppy and me. I could not imagine anything more wonderful!
Living in Grandma and Poppy’s small Bronx apartment was a revelation. They squabbled with each other quite a bit. That was a shock because I never saw my parents argue.
When I came home, I asked my mother, “When are Grandma and Poppy getting divorced?”
“What?” my mother responded. “They are not getting divorced. They love each other very much.”
“But they always argue.”
Don’t worry, “ my mother comforted me again. “They will never divorce because they love each other so much.”
All of their four children and their spouses took Poppy and grandma to the Concord Hotel in the Catskills (a place where years later I would subsequently work as the Assistant Tennis Pro) to celebrate their forty-eighth and, as things turned out, last anniversary.
Poppy died on July 11, 1956 when I was away at camp. Wisely or not—and to this day I have mixed feelings about this—my parents chose not to tell me until camp was over.
That 1956 summer at Camp Minnisink was a banner year for me!
I was the only boy (it was a boy’s camp) to earn the highest YMCA swimming designation, “Sea Horse.” The previous summer, I only got past “Minnow.” But in ’56 I soared through the remaining tests, “Fish,” “Flying Fish,” “Shark, “ and the ultimate, “Sea Horse.” I still remember having to tread water for thirty minutes. But the coup de gras for me was being named the most valuable player for the summer on the Minnisink Braves softball team.
I felt like I was on top of the world. The Triple Crown won by Mickey Mantle that same year hardly seemed more significant, and surely the Yankees and the Olympic swimming program would look for me in the not too distant future.
But it all came crashing down the next day when my parents picked me up and, after kisses and hugs, my father told me, “Your grandfather has died.”
I cried and cried.
And I was not the only one.
Grandma cried for him frequently during the subsequent five years that she lived.
In those days on Yom Kippur those whose parents were alive did not stay in the synagogue for Yizkor (the Memorial Service). I vividly remember that when I would come back in for Neilah (the closing service) my mother’s eyes were wet with tears, a sight I rarely saw.
Wonderful memories of Poppy live on in my mind. Just as my birth brought him joy, I try to act in ways that continue to bring him joy in the world beyond!