Monday, September 22, 2008

A Poem for My Grandfather

I never met my Grandfather, he died a little bit after my older sister, D. was born. He was my father's father and his name was Louis (Lew-ee).

He was born in 1890. My Grandmother was 13 years his junior, born in 1903.

One of the most significant things I learned from my un-met grandfather, was the idea of having the ability to rise above your circumstances. I'm inspired by what my Grandpa did with his life.

He was born in Lithuania and like many thousands of others at the time, came to America with his family for a better life. He and his family ended up in Chicago and settled into an insular life, surrounded solely by other Jewish families. My Great Grandfather was either a junk man, or a rag man--I'm not sure which. [NOTE: My dad just let me know he was a junk man. Thanks Dad.] But either way, it involved recycling--wait to go Great Grandpa, nice scrambling!

Whenever I see pick-ups driving around our town, the driver looking out over at the garbage at the curb to see what metal can be picked out, with their rusted bed springs and mangled misshapen metal poles sticking out the sides, I see my Grandpa's dad there. Poor, poor people who are trying to make their way now, just as my Great Grandparents did so many years ago.

My Great Grandparents had 11 children, two died in childhood, the rest survived and made good lives for themselves, but never really left "their" group. [NOTE: OK. Almost all of that is wrong. My Dad just wrote to me and said that they had had 13 kids and 9 lived to adulthood--ripe old ages too. Thanks Dad!] They never fully assimilated, which my Grandfather did do.

When my Grandfather was supposed to be going to schule, he would go and play basketball at Hull House instead. See? It's in my genes... He got good at basketball and eventually was able to get a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There, he kept himself by shoveling coal into the furnace at the Red Gym.

Later, he somehow got a job back in Chicago tutoring the Potter Palmer children, and accompanied them on a tour through Europe. Sweet gig, Louis!

In his school career, my Grandfather was befriended by a teacher who wrote him a poem. It's definitely romanticizing the notion of what it means to be a man, and yet I like it and think it's true. However, I also think it applies to women...

For Grandpa from his teacher, A. D. May 6, 1911.


To knit mighty muscles and furrow the brain,
To glory in hardship and laugh at the pain;
To scorn cowardly shirking, to hold fast to Duty,
Stern comrade, yet kindly, who turns life to beauty;
To be reckless of self in the battle for Right,
And to joy in the tumult and stress of the fight;
To care not for failure, if only it yield
Clearer insight to help win some other hard field;
To have faith that the laurels at last will belong
To him that endures--not merely is strong;
And to keep through the struggle, though fierce bruises smart,
A smile on the lips and a song in the heart.

That's nice, isn't it? Those are the attributes that I hope will grow and strengthen in my kids as they go through life. They already have some--they both have a strong sense of justice...woe to others if they think they've been wronged. But, they also have a sense of justice about others. My kids have joy.

I'm so glad I have this poem that obviously meant so much to my Grandfather that he kept it and I now have a copy. It connects me to Louis and my kids to him too. We can still learn from him and his life.

Thanks un-met Grandfather--love doesn't have limits, does it? Here's to a smile on the lips and a song in the heart!

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