My grandfather died last week of a massive heart attack. He would have been 93 this Friday. 93 sounds old but he wasn’t. He was very active and fit, lived with my grandmother (whom he was married to for 72 years) in the same house they have been in for 20 years without any help, went to the gym multiple times per week to work out. He swam miles per week until a year or so ago when the chlorine really was bothering his skin, which had thinned out.
I jumped an airplane the next day and spent the week in Ohio with my grandmother, my dad, stepmom, and family. It was a weird week. The pain and remorse and what ifs that often goes along with death weren’t there. He lived a full life and died a fast and painless death.
My grandparents have been an integral part of my life. If it wasn’t for them there would be no powerOne calculator and no Infinity Softworks today. Besides the constant advice and input about business issues from a man who ran his own company for 30 years, there were two events in particular that made Infinity possible.
The first came when I finished my undergraduate degree and was trying to figure out what to do next. I wanted to get Infinity Softworks off the ground but couldn’t do it and pay back my student loans. My grandparents gave me a great opportunity, paying for me to go to graduate school (and thus defer my loans) while working on Infinity Softworks. In other words, Grandpa gave me a full-time job while I started and grew Infinity. By the time I graduated with a technical MBA in 2001, Infinity Softworks was ready to grow.
The second time Grandpa came to my rescue was in 1998. My business partner decided he wanted to leave the company and I didn’t have the money to buy him out. My grandparents lent me the money, even offering to be a partner instead of a lender. I paid him back in nine months even though the loan was for two years.
I will miss my grandfather dearly. He has been a great role model and friend for 37 years.
This is the eulogy I gave at my Grandfather’s funeral:
When I think about my grandfather I think primarily about the six places where we interacted.
The first was the house in Massillon. My predominant memory there was passover and the endless stretch of tables that spread from the family room to the dining room to the living room. Passover at the Freedman house was always such a fun affair. Everyone participated, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, reading from the Haggadah, eating and talking and of course, the thing all of us kids spent all of dinner anticipating: finding the matzoh and the special treats that went along with that. Grandma, to this day, I still have a couple of those towels you and Grandpa gave me.
The second was the house in Canton. This memory revolved around my grandmother and food. Grandpa and I would sit at that table in the kitchen eating your matzoh brie and tomato slices — Grandpa always loved a tomato slice — until we were too stuffed to eat any more.
My third memory is of the golf course. It is my father and my grandfather who taught me to play that wretched game. Grandpa never could hit the ball far — 150 yards straight ahead — and I always played from the fairway to the right, eventually meeting up again on the green. We always kept score but Grandpa always told me, when we get home and Grandma asked how we did, tell her we tied.
My fourth memory is of this place, Shaaray Torah synagogue. I was young when I moved from Ohio so my memories here are of my very early youth, of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when it felt like a million people were here for the high holiday services and chairs stretched through the sanctuary and into the room next door.
And Shaaray Torah was always linked, in my mind, to the Jewish Center. I have lots of memories of the Jewish Center. One is of Grandpa playing racketball until Grandma made him quit because he was playing people half his age. And I always wondered what was through that Men’s Club door at the top of the stairs, the doors that we were too young to go through, until one day Grandma sent me in there to tell Grandpa something and I found out there were only naked men in there. But my overriding memory is of Grandpa swimming. I was in the pool near my home one day a year ago and a fellow swimmer stopped me and complimented me on my beautiful stroke, how I cut through the water with barely a splash. All I could think of was that I inherited that from my grandfather. He should have been born with gills and fins.
But my last memory — Tappin Lake — is the most powerful. Interestingly, though, it isn’t Grandpa specifically that I remember about that place. Instead it is the textures, the sounds and smells. Grandpa used to get this dark tan from being in the sun all summer and it was so amazingly offset against the wispy, white hair of his. It was the sound of the reel-to-reel video projector that played all those cartoon shorts Grandpa would rent from the library. I still remember how happy we were the day Joshua and Matthew were finally old enough to work the projector so we didn’t have to wait for an adult to switch movies. It’s the smell of Grandma cooking or the barbeque going, the sound of sizzling food ready to feed the army that descended on weekends. It was the oddity of Grandpa mixing two cereals together in the same bowl. Grandpa used to love to torture the poor soul who would sit in front of the driver’s seat on the boat. He’d blast that horn right in your ear as we went under the road and out into the wider lake. It was the smell of gasoline in that little shed to the back of the house where Grandpa kept the skis and fishing poles that rarely caught a fish. It was those chimes that were outside the kitchen window, the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of the revving motor as Grandpa yelled “Here we go!”, the rope tightened and up we went on skis.
I have other memories, too — looking around to see my 91-year old grandfather on his hands and knees playing horsy with my daughter, the fact that he would always ask me, “How’s my little boy?” whenever we would talked even though I was taller then him by the age of eight, the advice he gave a budding business man.
But these are small. It is these six places, each and every one of them infused with Grandpa’s unique sense of humor. I will remember that most.
For the record, I had six notes on my page — a bullet for each place — and the final paragraph. The rest I did off the top of my head. I made it through the entire eulogy until the last line. The word “humor” stuck in my throat. I stood there for a few minutes unable to say anything. I even stepped back from the podium trying to regain the ability to speak. I regained my composure just long enough to say the last sentence and get off the stage. People who came up to me later asked if I had planned that pause. They said it brought everything right back to the present and made it feel like he was in the room.