My grandfather was a mild-mannered man. He had big, powerful hands he used for years professionally in the delicate art of egg candling. He held an egg in front of a bright light, (a candle at one point, one supposes) and inspected it to see if the yolk had the shadow of a spot in it. If so, this spot of blood indicated it had been fertilized and wasn’t fit to eat. I don’t know if this was under Jewish law or American health law, but he sat with cases of eggs, in the basement of his friend Al’s (who my grandmother once said smelled like a camel), grocery store, or Julie’s appetizing shop, picking them up in his large hands one by one, gently turning them in front of the light and looking through their shells to see if they could be sold.
The year I was born, Pop, at one time a prodigious cigarette smoker (Camels, if memory serves), underwent late stage lung cancer surgery. They removed one of his lungs. I was a few months old at the time and remember only what I was later told about it. We have the snake plant that was delivered to Pop in the hospital as he recuperated from the surgery. The plant is almost 63 years old and doing well. Pop had an excellent recovery from the surgery and lived twenty-two years with only one lung in his powerful body.
One of his doctors recommended that he add bacon to his diet, for health reasons. There was some kind of bullshit rationale involved, which my grandfather explained to me at one point. So in addition to his usual kasha, boiled flanken, boiled chicken, soup and several slices of whole wheat, pumpernickel or rye bread Pop ate a few strips of bacon from time to time, at his doctor’s recommendation.
Pop was a well-built, trim man who weighed 168 pounds for his entire adult life. One year at his physical he weighed in at 169 or 170. He and the doctor were both surprised. The doctor asked pop how many slices of bread he ate a day. My grandfather counted and told the doctor seven. The doctor said, “eat six”. Pop did. At his next physical he was 168 pounds.
The lived philosophy of that, food merely fuel for the optimum running of your body, still fills me with wonder and admiration. Pop would eat a Danish from a bakery from time to time with his coffee, but couldn’t care less if he did or he didn’t. He always handed my sister and me each a candy bar (it was Chunkies for a long time, a chocolate chunk filled with peanuts and raisins, then mainly Nestle’s Crunch Bars with the occasional Mr. Goodbar thrown in) as soon as he saw us. For himself, he never ate anything just for the taste of it.
Pop was retired for most of the time I knew him. His favorite pastime in those years was watching a good shooting picture on TV. He’d scan the TV Guide, a small booklet that came out every week and told you what was coming up on each of the seven or eight stations available in the media mega-market of New York City and later Miami Beach. When he spotted a good shooting picture, also known as a Western, he’d tune in and watch the good guys triumph over the bad guys.
“Sit down,” he’d say, if I asked him who was who on the screen, “watch and you’ll know.” In most of the shooting pictures Pop watched, Hollywood movies of the 1940s, 50s and early 60s, it didn’t take long to figure out who was wearing the white hat and who was the evil, sadistic, murdering bastard who needed killing, the one glaring provocatively from under the black hat. Simpler times.
Pop loved Bonanza, and Gun smoke, two shows he caught every week, my parents and I loved those shows too, my sister would also watch them. Outside of those, he’d catch every western on Million Dollar Movie, a show where they played the same black and white movie several times in a given week. Pop would watch pretty much any movie where good guys and bad guys dressed like cowboys, (or Indians, for that matter), chased each other around in the dust of their horses and shot it out at the end.