blogitto ergo sum

June 25, 2011

#190 – my grandpa Moshe Wagner [AKA My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner part II]

Filed under: family affairs,life matters — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 17:03
Tags: , , ,

It started with sharing grandpa [‘saba’ in Hebrew] memories with friends over dinner.  a day later, honoring Peter Falk’s passing, I watched this:


after watching it for the 2nd time, i Skype-called my parents.  “tell me a saba story,” i begged.  “no way” was my father’s predictable and immediate answer.  once again it was my mom who told him he had to, and that I wasn’t going anywhere.  “i will write it and mail you” he tried.  neither of us was buying.

if the above lacks context, my Nov. 2010 blog-post about my dad will fix it.   #160 – My dad’s name isn’t Jakob Wagner  can be found HERE.

to get my dad to open up, i tell/remind them one of my saba stories:

It was a summer afternoon.  i rode my bicycle to my grandparents, about 15-20 minutes bike ride.  to my surprise and disappointment, they were not home.  Inconceivable.  I’m maybe 8 or 9 years old.  forget the spoiling i am not going to get.  how will they know that i came to visit them?

at the corner of the balcony, on the lower shelf, there’s my saba’s shoeshine kit.  without hesitation, i take the black shoeshine and the matching brush, and write in large clear letters on their porch’s floor “i was here. yael.” [floor graffiti is still a non-concept, right?]

later in the evening, I’m back home, and the phone rings.  I’m summoned to go back to my grandparents NOW and face my furious aba [dad] who is not at all impressed with my communication method.  I’m told to get down on my knees and scrub.  two grandparents are watching, feeling my [pained] knees and humiliation as much if not more than me.  with his protests getting louder and louder my saba is arguing w/my dad [in Yiddish] to stop my “torture”.  things that grandchildren do out of love should not be punished is his lead argument.  it’s an Israeli summer, the shoeshine is well dried by now, and each [~1 sq. ft.] letter requires 15-20 minutes of scrubbing.  needless to say, as my saba’s voice got louder and louder, my aba’s firm views of my lesson to be learned became weaker.   I was finally released before the porch’s floor was restored.

apparently, my memories of this story are much more vivid than my parents’.  hindsight, i now realize that in our family, when one says “saba”, there’s no need to ask which saba one refers to.  I still miss this amazing special man.

and before i know it, i remind us another saba memory.  probably the worst one.

it’s the  fall of 1979.  along with a group of my high school peers, i’m landing @ Ben Gurion airport, back from a 2-week youth exchange trip to England and Scotland.  With my retrieved luggage, i  step out to the curb, to meet my dad and go home.  one after another kids around me are getting picked up, and there’s no sign of my dad.  getting uncomfortable, i approach Chai, the husband of one of the chaperons that went with us.  “Chai, did you see my dad” i ask.  in a manner typical for a guy who deals with animals more than with people [he is a veterinarian], chai says: “you grandfather died, your father is sitting Shivah, Yoram is here to pick you up.”  [Yoram is my dad’s business partner]

to which i immediately respond with breaking into a loud rainy cry.  my saba is dead, and instead of attending his funeral i was on a stupid school trip to England?!  later i found out that my parents didn’t want to interrupt my trip and decided that it’s OK for me to miss the funeral.  meanwhile, it’s Ben Gurion airport and I’m standing by my suitcase alone, loudly crying.  in the Israel of those days everyone used to care for everyone, and I’m not alone.  “hey, do you need help?  is there anything i can do?” asks someone that looks like a nice taxi driver.  between my tears and sniffles i fire “can you bring someone back to life?”  the shocked man disappears.   meanwhile, one of the more tactful parents finds Yoram and directs him to me.  he apologizes for not seeing me and taking so long, but what’s that compared to the loss of my saba?

by now my parents are both seated down in the home office, the volume of the Skype’s speakers and mic are set to everyone’s satisfaction, including the aba who refuses to get a hearing aid, and another NEVER TOLD BEFORE part of my dad’s life is about to be shared.

wait please.  part III is coming.  very soon.



  1. Can’t wait for the “never told before” story. That sure is a tough way to learn about Saba’s death. Sorry 😦

    Comment by ellen cohen — June 26, 2011 @ 21:22 | Reply

    • one of the bigger challenges, among the many, is learning about my dad’s childhood and realizing that some of what he went through was not horrible, depressing or involving threats on life. and yet, he didn’t share it. until now.
      to make things worse, only last night i learned that just before Shavuot he almost passed away, and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and spent 5 days there. maybe that death scare makes him talk more? i don’t know.

      more than the typical Jewish parents, survivors have this idiotic need to over protect their kids from bad news. regardless how hard i try, i can’t make them see/accept our-their kids- need to know. long sigh.

      Comment by yael [ya-el] wagner — June 26, 2011 @ 21:41 | Reply

  2. Wow! did your stir up old memories! I lost both my grandfathers when I was 9. One I barely remember, while the other I have very fond memories of. Now I’ll have to email all my brothers, sisters, and cousins to compile their stories to paint a better picture of them both.

    I don’t think Jewish parents have the corner on protecting the kids from bad news. It happened in my family too. But our generation, I think, is doing a better job to include the grandkids in the good and the bad events.

    When Jan’s father died in 2008, we gave our grandchildren (at the time, ages 2 to 12) the option of being there in the hospital room to say goodby to their Great-grandpa. But this death was so sudden, that they didn’t make it in time.But, all of them knew, loved, and were aware of the impending death of their Great-grandpa. As for the grandchildren, one of my daughters was there, the other two were en-route but did not make it in time.

    Thanks for the memories, can’t wait for part 3!

    Comment by ruabelk — June 27, 2011 @ 06:32 | Reply

    • Thank you Paul. comments like yours are the best reward i could hope for. thank you for your sharing too. nothing compares to knowing that somehow sharing my words and experiences touch people. thank you.

      as for part III, it’ll wait until after “i take you, part II” is done and posted 🙂

      Comment by yael [ya-el] wagner — June 27, 2011 @ 08:18 | Reply

  3. I did not meet either grandfather. My dad ran away from home at age 12 after his mom died of influenza; my other grandfather died before I turned 2 yrs old. I am so glad you are sharing your memories and hope your dad will share a few more. I am only sorry you did not continue and that I have to wait for part 3.

    Comment by Pat — July 15, 2011 @ 17:23 | Reply

  4. it’s much harder than i imagined. even though part III is easier to digest than the following one. yes, there will be part IV too.
    once part IV is done i’ll be ready to approach my dad for more. who’d imagined.
    thanks for the encouragement.

    Comment by yael [ya-el] wagner — July 15, 2011 @ 17:52 | Reply

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