Note: This is a personal post about my only living grandparent. If hearing about his life and how it relates to mine sounds boring, skip this one and you’ll be returned to your regularly scheduled program next time.
This is an extra special post.
It’s inspired by, created for, and lovingly dedicated to my grandpa…who just happens to turn 100 years old today!
Let me tell you what I (and most other people who he’s interacted with) have learned from Irving Zaslofsky – affectionately known as “Big Irv” – at some point in the past 100 years.
First, a Story
You probably don’t know this, but I almost have no business existing. You see, my grandpa just about died 93 years ago while leaving Ukraine to escape from the Communists.
If it wasn’t for some miraculous Jewish doctor in Harbin, China, both he and my great-grandmother wouldn’t have made it to Brooklyn.
He caught pneumonia in both lungs in the dead of winter and, for most people trekking across Russia with paltry support and copious fear, this would normally mean death.
But he made it, married a truly wonderful woman (my grandma Etta of course) who gave birth to my father, and the rest as they say, is history.
A Classic Rags to Slightly Better Rags Story
Education wasn’t exactly a priority growing up in Brooklyn in a poor immigrant family. Joining the work force (if you call unregulated and dangerous child labor the “work force”) after 9th grade to help financially support his family was more important.
When I look and listen to the wisdom accumulated over 100 years, you’d think he is a well-educated man. But his destiny was not one of rags to riches. It was one of tedious and hazardous work.
I won’t try and impress you with how gritty grandpa is. I can’t dazzle you with heroic deeds, at least, not in the amount of space I have to write here. I can’t begin to tell you how graciously and humbly he’s aged since three heart attacks decades ago and pneumonia 93 years ago almost brought him down.
I just want to pay tribute to a man who embodies so much of what’s right with humanity. A man who has given me a template for how to grow old with confidence, stoicism, exuberance, and humor.
He’s Just One of Those People
Do you have family members who, even if they weren’t related to you, you’d still love to have as a friend, mentor, or confidant? You know, the kind of person who enriches not just you, but everyone else around them?
Yeah, that’s my grandpa.
Just ask the pilot who laughs at his joke as he exits the plane. “Just like a taught ya” he’ll say with a smile, wink, and a nod.
Just ask the waitress who he effortlessly charms (before asking her whether the soup he wants to order is “sharp”).
Just ask his neighbors who would take a bullet for him.
And just ask me, who counts as an enormous blessing what a bottomless treasure he’s been.
Grandpa, in honor of your 100th birthday today, here’s a short list of all the things you’ve taught me and ways you’ve enhanced my life. To give a full list would take writing a book, which you probably wouldn’t pick up because you’re too busy reading the New York Post and watching Judge Judy.
What You’ve Shown Me
- How to smile through emotional and physical pain
- Why family and health are often the two most important things
- What not to worry about in life (since you’ve already worried about it for me)
- How to be generous with others, even when you think you have nothing left to give
- How to age with the grace of a ballerina
- Why we should all laugh at life and get people to laugh along with us
- How strong of a grip a 90-year-old man can have
- How to think about what my actions will do (or not do) for the working man
- How to stay loyal to a sports team, even when the players and owners take a dump on you (go Mets!)
- The importance of staying humble and remembering who got you here
- Why honest people don’t have to fear the truth
What You’ve Shown Others
- How big events (like the birth of great grandchildren) can invigorate a man (who already swore off travel) to journey long distances
- How the size of your legacy can be inversely related to the size of your bank account (hint: grandpa’s bank account is not large)
- Why getting what you need by talking is better than getting what you want by force
- What it takes to create unflappable habits and an unshakable routine
- How to be a serious person without taking yourself too seriously
I could seriously go on and on. But any list wouldn’t do justice to 100 years of such an amazing person.
You’re a Special One, Big Irv
Although I try, words and pictures can’t express how special you are to me and our entire family. But I’ll give it a shot anyway.
I’m so thankful to still have your presence.
When Grant is old enough to experience gratitude, we’ll make sure you’re at the top of the list for reasons he’s grateful.
And some day, when you’re no longer with us, we’ll remember a man who left a legacy greater than just about any of us can hope to leave.
I love you.
Happy birthday grandpa!