The man Who Made Me “Morts”
Please note: This was originally posted on Facebook, Tuesday morning 1/19
I’ve been trying to write this all morning. The problem is that I have too many things I want to say, and they’re all trying to rush out at once. Those who know me know that this is symptomatic of my personality. It’s one of the reasons I write- far easier to arrange my thoughts on paper than on the fly. Many people have lost patience with my freewheeling from topic to topic. Then there are those who find it more amusing than annoying, like the person I want to talk about today – my grandfather, Ben Osdoby.
I was lucky enough to grow up with both sets of grandparents. I’ve written about my father’s parents so often that a few people have remarked that I seem obsessed. They loomed large in my life and influenced me in many ways, so maybe I am just a bit. However, no-one should think my mother’s parents were any less an influence. Indeed, they may have been more.
When we would go to Woodridge, as we did frequently, I had a simple formula I followed – first I was greeted by Duchess (and later Blazer). Then I went into the kitchen for a cookie or eight. Finally, I went back outside, walked down the side path, and into The Store to say hello to my grandfather. The Store was like an amazing, other world to me. Back when the “Ben Osdoby Carpets” sign stood in front of the apple tree it was full of rolls and rolls of carpet. We’d bounce on rolls of padding and get chided (but do it again). There were fishhooks and lures all over, and the Tackle Box that I would peek through when I was certain he wasn’t looking. There was the wood burning stove, and the all-pervasive smell of pipe smoke. Even decades later, with the sign down, carpets long gone, and damnable pipe quit, it was still the first place we’d find my grandfather. When I began taking my daughter up, we’d follow the same simple formula – dog, kitchen, Store. I loved the way Daphna’s face would light up when we walked in, her eyes exploring the walls. She’d ask him what he was working on and he’d show her. He always made time.
That’s one of the things I loved about my grandfather – he always made time for others. Be it as President of his shul, a vocal participant and then spectator in local politics, a grandfather, father, and especially as a husband, he made sure other people were taken care of, or at least knew what they should be doing – sometimes whether they wanted to hear it or not. That’s not meant as criticism- that’s praise. Indeed, I would say that everyone who ran into my grandfather was impacted by him. Take my wife’s Aunt Lynda. She met him once, at my wedding. For the last ten years, every time she calls, she asks how “that grandfather of mine” is. Grandpa would confess to always being a bit jealous of my dad’s father for being able to poke a stick in the ground, drop a seed in, and get these amazing squashes. What I don’t think Grandpa realized was just how intensely my other Grandfather admired him. Frankly, I think he would have traded lives with him in a heartbeat.
I’m not trying to build my grandfather up as this perfect man. He’d be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect, and insulted if I tried to insinuate it here. I’m reminded of the time I called him on Veteran’s day and he shared a story with me from his days in Basic. It was the High Holidays and he wanted a Furlough to attend services. His Sergeant wasn’t eager to do so, and asked “That guy over there is Jewish – how come he’s not asking for a furlough?” Grandpa’s response was “I can’t speak to the kind of Jew he is, just the kind of Jew I am.” He got his furlough. Before I could respond, he said “And I was wrong. That Sergeant spent the rest of Training making that other guy‘s life a living hell for being a lousy Jew. I didn’t need to open my mouth about him and make his life harder.” There’s a tremendous lesson to be taken from that, one of self-awareness and honesty. I’ve learned so many lessons from him that I’m not even going to try to list them. I know every single one of my siblings and cousins likely catches themselves doing certain things and thinks “that’s me being an Osdoby again.”
I also don’t want to build myself up as some kind of favored grandchild. Aside from the simple fact that he didn’t have a favorite, I just wouldn’t be in the running. Other grandchildren were better about calling. I had a habit of calling him at random. I made a point of calling on Veterans Day like I mentioned above, to show my appreciation, but beyond that I called whenever. This was probably not great but one good thing came out of it: One day, my then five year old came up to me with the phone and asked if I would dial great-grandpa for her so she could tell him about something from school. This began a habit of her calling him regularly, telling him about her day. They’d talk for as long as twenty minutes, and then when she’d hand the phone back to me the first thing he would say would be “That little lady of yours… wow. She’s a chip off the old block,” and yes, he did indeed mean that as a compliment.
He also gave me my nickname. As long as I can recall, he’s called me “Mort”. I’ve long hated the nickname “Mordy”, so I took Mort and for reasons that now completely escape me added an “s” to the end and told everyone to call me “Morts”. When people asked why I’d just say “That’s what my grandpa calls me.”
This is usually the point where my grandfather would interrupt me and say “Get to the *point*, Mort. C’mon.” The point is that my grandfather, Ben Osdoby, passed away today. He did so in his own bed, in his own home, with his family, instead of in a hospital hooked up to machines and cared for by strangers. A man who lived his life on his own terms ended it on them as well.
May my family find comfort in his memory, in the continuation of his name, and in the lessons we have learned from him.
I will be at the Shiva for the next few days, and cannot promise there will be a WWTT Monday morning – I may need the escape, so it’s possible. Just please understand if it is not.