My grandfather, Nathan Ledewitz, died last week at age 94. He lived a long, wonderful life full of fun and friends. He was the type of guy that up until he was 92, he took his girlfriend dancing every Saturday night. When you asked him how old he was, he would answer, “I’m young at heart; I have all my hair; and I drive at night!”
Grandpa had this great tradition that I believe his mother started, which was to send a Hanukkah card with a check in it to every single grandchild every year. (Okay, I think in my great-grandmother’s case it was a crisp $5 bill, which was a lot of money not only considering the time, but also the fact that she had 20+ grandchildren!) Not only did my grandfather do that, but he also sent a birthday card and later anniversary cards to everyone, every year. Grandpa has three sons and daughters-in-law, six grandchildren, four of whom are married, and 8 great grandchildren. My dad’s brother divorced and got married a second time to an amazing lady with two children of her own. Grandpa just added them, their spouses and later their children to the birthday and Hanukkah list! Family is family.
My grandparents divorced and my grandfather remarried well before I
was born. His second wife died over twelve years ago, and my grandfather managed to do all that card sending alone for many years.
Just about five or so years ago, my cousin Jenn and I started helping Grandpa write his Hanukkah cards and the checks. It was a bit of a painful process since he wouldn’t let a check out of the checkbook without marking every piece of information down and then balancing the checkbook. Left to my own devices, I would have done the balancing once at the end, but not Grandpa – he did it with every single check. There was no compromising. That same year, he complained about the big job of getting the cards every month at the store. Driving wasn’t as fun anymore for him, and errands took him forever.
That very December, without asking him, I went to the card store and bought ALL of the cards on his list for the whole year. I then addressed every envelope, and put a sticky note on it with the name, occasion, and date. I put the cards in ziploc bags by month. I kept thinking that if he was mad or hated it, I would just return the cards – I didn’t write in any of them.
Well, he loved it. He found it so easy to just do the cards once a month. The upshot of it was that if your birthday or anniversary was right at the start of the month, the card would be a little late, but if your occasion was at the end of the month, it could end up being weeks early. Who cared? He took the time to write the checks, sign the cards and mail them. Plus, as an added bonus, I got to pick out the cards. I wouldn’t normally buy cards for all those people, so I would tell our family that they could imagine that a little of the card was from me, too.
This past year as Grandpa’s health worsened, he had someone else do the cards – a bookkeeper or my dad, who helped care for him. But he insisted the cards go out right up until quite recently.
This will be the first Hanukkah of my life without a card from my grandpa. He always signed them, “Enjoy! Love, Grandpa Nate.”
And this will be the first year in many that I don’t get to go to the card store and pick out cards for an entire year for him to send.
It’s silly, isn’t it? My grandfather did a thousand things with me or for me over the forty years of my life, and I am stuck on those damned cards. He had me at his house in Florida every February of my childhood. He would come with me on clothes-shopping outings when I was a teenager (brave man!). He was there when I walked across the stage with my college degree, my master’s degree and my doctorate. He said the prayers over the bread at my wedding. He held my son, his first great-grandchild, at his bris. He taught both of my children how to play gin rummy. And yet, after all that, it’s the cards that are on my mind the most.
Much of family – what makes up a family – is connection and tradition. So when a family member dies and the tradition dies or changes necessarily, it is those little aspects that are missed. The cards weren’t particularly meaningful for most of my life; what has meaning is that the tradition is over with my grandfather’s death.
I am so fortunate to have had the cards for this long. And I know they will remain as part of family lore for generations. That, my friends, is the meaning of tradition.