For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard legends told of Grandpa Louie. He was debonair and movie-like, with style and panache and way about him that was as alluring as any mythic character can be.
He is my namesake and the man who stole my parents’ wedding from them, as he dared to die the week before their big day, and my grandparents were so distraught, they wept into their cloth-covered mirrors rather than dance around their eldest daughter’s shining smile.
Today is my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. On my office wall hangs a collage of old-time pictures, including four of Grandpa Louie in authentic brat pack look-away stances.
Grandpa Louie was a treyfe butcher in Detroit’s Eastern Market, hefting pork meat from its bones and selling it for family tables. Although he was not religious, eating pork was not something Jews of his ilk did in those days and so he traded with his friend the beef butcher down the street, to set his table in finery and silver, with candles gleaming and the shining eyes of his children.
My grandmother and her brother are the only ones left. Their sister, my husky smoker-voiced Auntie Barbara, has long been to rest in the ground. I remember her Southfield ranch like tinny echoes of a memory, the sound turned off, the reels moving faster than life could keep up with.
I am back in the community of butchers these days, among people who remember the wet footprints of my late great-grandfather. What goes around comes around. In my solitary dreams, I believe that Grandpa Louie’s legacy for me was something multi-dimensional and textured, something I have yet to define or understand but which I will in time.
Life was simpler then, and perhaps it is supposed to be for me today, too. There were only clean, sharp knives and the taint of blood on the floor, a silhouette of repetition from days spent doing what one knew how to do. There were people to come home to and neighborhoods with children balancing on the handlebars of their bicycles. The houses backed to alleys where sticks became trophies to swing with and the picket fence was not a metaphor.
I have a fence and the wind blows through its metal twinings. My house backs to quiet. The children climb the fence in summer to play with neighbor kids but we watch them closely, unlike in my grandmother’s childhood afternoons, when safety was assumed and usually true to the touch.
The air is hinting at spring. Soon, the wind whispers like a lover just beyond reach.