I mean… What a weird and terrible week. But also an amazing week. A week that (despite some difficulties, some unforeseen circumstances) I am glad happened the way it did, to a certain degree. Thank you all for being here.
I’m not even sure if this is the right thing to say at this sort of thing– but this is what I wanted to say and what’s important to me about my grandpa.
There was a moment this week where my grandpa was sleeping in the ICU and I think I had just gotten to the hospital to wait with everyone and be there. My cousins, my uncle and my aunt had been in the waiting room for a while before I arrived, or the Starbucks downstairs, I can’t remember. They said my grandpa was sleeping, so I went to check in on him.
Well, I went in to check on my dad.
My dad is a shoe salesman. He can’t spend more than 30 seconds sitting down. He can’t relax. This entire week he has not been able to relax. His whole life, he has not been able to relax. If he could, right now, he would be standing. But unfortunately, this is a funeral memorial whatever, and right now he’s not allowed.
He stands because he feels responsible and wants to be able to be responsible if we (my sister and I), need him, or if Sandra needs him, or if our family needs him, or if work needs him. And that day especially, and the day before, and the day after and the day after, he felt responsible for my grandpa, because my grandpa needed him. So I went in to check on my dad, because even though he holds the world on his shoulders I think maybe he needed someone, even though he would never ask or say it.
“Sit down,” I said to my dad.
“I can’t,” said my dad. “I’m a salesman.”
“Sit down,” I said again. So he sat.
We sat and talked about nothing for a while. We were just waiting. My grandpa was sleeping in the room next door– thin and pale and breathing quietly. And then I felt compelled to ask, because now was the time for questions like this.
“What do you think you got from grandpa?”
And he kind of took a pause (rare!). And then he said, “My memory. I remember everything. So does grandpa. And trivia and facts. Minutia. I love history. Your grandpa loves history.”
“I’ve got an awful memory. Carly’s got a good one, I think,” I said.
“I got the license plate game. Doing the crossword. My love of baseball. The Mets. Of course.”
“The only reason I know anything about baseball is because the boy I’m dating likes baseball,” I said.
My dad laughed and then paused again. “I got to be comfortable with failure, and with not being successful,” he said. I glanced at him. “Grandpa didn’t figure out what he could be successful in or interested in in life until he was in his 40s, 50s. It was very difficult for him. It drove him and grandma crazy. He always said if he could go back, he would have been a librarian. And then I was working in a shoe store until I was 31.” He shook his head. “Your mother didn’t think I could be anybody. She used to call me a loser.’
“Do you think I’m a loser?” he asked me. We have a relationship where he can ask me these things.
“No I don’t,” I said.
“Look where I am now,” he said. “If my life was different, we wouldn’t be here. I would not be who I am… you know what I mean.”
He kept going.
“I got my ability to drive and go on long trips. I love to talk and get to know people,” he continued.
“I hate doing that,” I said. “Well, I guess I grew into it.”
“You grew into it,” he said. “I got writing from grandpa. You and I,” my dad said, “We write with momentum. And we do that because we are passionate. We care. We tell stories– just like grandpa.”
That’s when I got really quiet and just kinda sat and let my dad talk at me for a while.
Something I say, all the time, is that I come from a family of writers. This holds a lot of weight to me. Because I feel things so fully and in a way that seems so real, and writing is the one way I can make them matter, I think.
My grandpa is… was… a writer. My dad is a writer. I am a writer. My grandpa wrote about Brooklyn during the Civil War, which I’m sure you’ll all hear about many times today. He gave speeches about this and about American Jewry and baseball and wrote and edited papers about Sherlock Holmes. He was an avid writer of letters. He would write e-mails to me and my sister– always asking about work, about what I was writing or working on. I wrote back sometimes, but not all the time. This is something I regret.
We are shaped by our parents– we are shaped by how we are raised. I am a storyteller and a writer because my dad is. My dad is a storyteller and a writer because his dad is– was. Is.
There was a moment where we were all standing around my grandpa’s hospital bed in the ICU, I think maybe that same day. I might have gotten the timeline of this wrong, but this all happened, I swear. Not when we were watching the Mets game, which you all probably know about from my dad’s post on Facebook. This has just been a crazy week, so forgive me. I do remember this was earlier in the day. Jacob, Kaitlyn, Ben, my aunt Julie, my uncle Peter, my dad. All around the bed. My grandpa was holding my hand and was holding Kaitlyn’s hand on the other side. We were all crying.
I said earlier that I am glad, to a certain degree, that this week happened the way it did. This is one of those things that if it happened at any other moment in time or with anyone else, it would make me nauseous. Or make me cringe. Or something.
My grandpa was holding my hand and was holding Kaitlyn’s hand on the other side. And he was talking to each of us in turn and saying what he wanted and what he was sorry for.
“I am this because of you,” I said to him. And I am so glad that I did say that, and I’m so glad that I could.
The man we are honoring today is my grandfather, Bud, Emmanuel Livingston. A man who single handedly kept American diners in business (kidding). Who sent funny birthday and Valentine’s cards with cutouts of people from magazines pasted onto printer paper and a scribbled message at the bottom. Who never waited for a waiter at a restaurant, but just headed to the back to seat himself. Who could not stand to talk with me on the phone, because not only could he not hear me, but he also couldn’t understand me because I talked too fast. Who always asked about my writing and where I was working, whether or not he understood it. Who was passionate about history and baseball until the day he died. Who loved all of us as best he could. My grandpa.
Just the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever read and absorbed
I feel it in my bones in my heart in my blood in my hair