My grandfather sat at the foot of my bed
At six years old, my tongue bumbled over my anglicized versions of the Yiddish that he tried to teach me
He was six when he learned his second tongue and I can barely see the first now
I fell asleep to it
My grandmother sits in her chair, in her memories and in solidarities
Her entire family died in the Holocaust, she said, but they would have been so proud of you
I was eight then, and I turned on the television because why should her memories become mine
The rest was drowned out
My grandfather, the doctor, the American, answered our childish questions with patented Jewish humor
Do you have a middle name? My sister and I (eleven) asked
No, he said, we were too poor
Why didn’t we understand why didn’t we see it
At Passover dusty labeled bottles lined the bending shelves around Seder, filled with silent and ancient prayer
At twelve, I learned that glass was what remained of the Kristallnacht when the family pharmacy was smashed in
How do you pronounce Kristallnacht?
My grandfather had donated his body to science, true to himself even in death
We stood in the living room, sitting Shiva
One of his friends stood up
Bob was a mensch, he said
A mensch is someone who is grumpy, and a curmudgeon, but he’s the best guy you’ll ever know. You can’t quite place it, but he’s one of the best friends you’ll ever have
Mensch, was it
He’s gone and I am fourteen and I have memorized the Hanukkah prayer
I say it with my grandmother for all eight nights
I am fifteen now and I am moving from America to London and I have to go through hours of footage from silver, dusty labeled tapes
I press play and there is my grandfather, teaching me how to spread cream cheese on a bagel when I was four
I cried and cried and cried because that is all I have of his teaching now
And I see now that after his death was the only time that I appreciated what he was during his life.
I am sixteen and I finally talk to my grandmother about the Holocaust and her family and what I am
We go to the Synagogue, seemingly for the first time
Sitting in the car with her, I ask to put on the Barry Sisters when I had asked to turn it off years before
Can you hear the clarinet in Rhapsody in Blue? That is Klezmer, that is in your blood, that joy is where you come from
When I am twenty, if my grandmother bubbe is still here
Have I listened to her words and said them like I should and like he deserves?
Will I have taken the time and respect to my own blood to carry the star that pained me?
Will I have learned?
As my grandfather passed on his language to lifeless air as I fell asleep in front of him
How would I have known that out of all the phrases, his real name, it is reduced to almost nothing
Only the numbers remain
Eyns Tsvey Dray Fir Finif Zeks Zibn Akht Nayn Tsen
How could I have known that
The decade I didn’t speak cost me a tongue.