I've been thinking about my grandfather. There's a picture on the fridge of me as a teenager, standing behind Grandpa as he sits outside in a lawn chair. His silver hair is parted, as always, down the middle. I'm wearing eyeglasses, he is not. I the background is the green Rambler.
"A-Robbie, A-Robbie, your Momma call-a you!"
He often said that to me, imitating an Italian woman in Scarsdale who used to yell down the street, apparently, after my father. She was relaying my grandmother's call.
My grandfather didn't have much of anything nice to say, really, about Italians or Blacks or anyone other than Germans. Germans were A-ok in his book, being one himself. He'd get on his "high horse" as my father would say and Dad would have to shush him. I was too young to see anything in all of it but humor. I'd just smile at Grandpa and love him some more.
He and my grandmother lived just a mile away from us, in our little town of South Salem, New York. I recall putting my pajamas and toothbrush in a brown-paper grocery bag, announcing my imminent departure, and walking over. Ours was always a full house and, by contrast, at my grandparents I got to be the only one. We watched Lawrence Welk and wrestling. Nana got so mad at the shenanigans taking place behind the referee's back that she nearly twitched herself off the couch.
"Oh, Tess," Grandpa would say to her, "stop it now."
When we drove into Ridgefield for groceries the cars lined up behind us. 25-30 mph was Grandpa's limit. He saw no point in going faster. Sometimes on the way home we'd pull over just to look at something, maybe a fence or a tree or a couple of cows in a field.
We played parcheesi and pinochle and every once in a while Grandpa got out his zither and set it up on the kitchen table. He played resolutely and sang in a quavering voice. I'd give anything to have a recording.
Nana had a stroke the summer of my junior year in college. She lost the ability to speak but I managed a visit and when she saw me, her eyes lit up. Grandpa hovered over her, making sure she was comfortable. I waited until I left the room to cry.
When I back-packed around Europe I made it, somehow, to the tiny village of Zeiskam, Germany where my great-grandparents had emigrated from. I stood outside the Neukirch homestead and had a photo taken. I'd learn later that the letter I wrote to Grandpa about my visit was a big hit at the Senior Citizens meeting.
After I became an actor, I'd visit from the city and Grandpa would announce "My grandson, the actor." Then he'd go into his Myron Cohen routines. "You make a living at that? What, you call that living?"
Grandpa lived to be 86. He liked a single Rheingold beer in the afternoon and day old coffee with breakfast. I introduced him to yogurt and bananas and he thought they were all right. When I took a job painting the outside of his house and the addition my parents added onto it, I always got started early. Grandpa would appear mid-morning in his pj's and I'd ask, "Grandpa, are you just getting up?" He'd scratch that head of white hair and look up the ladder at me. With a smile he'd reply, "What do I have to get up for?" And then, always, the question:
"How's my grandson, the actor?"