So What Did Your Grandfather Invent?
Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/08/2010
Sometimes I get emails asking me: “Who the hell are you to tell us what you think?” Well, I may not be as important to Kentuckians as Lexington native George Clooney, but my ancestors were noteworthy. After all, my grandfather discovered the sundial.
At the time, he was about 82 years old, give or take a month. Grampops was living in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, where he spent a lot of hours hanging out near the ocean. His primary interest, he’d say in his thick Russian-Yiddish accent, was “lookink at vimmen. But the sky’s not so bed, too.”
No matter how long or how often he sat out on the sand, his skin color never changed from its Eastern European pallor. “Jews don’ boin, but ve also don’ ten.” That sounded very suspicious to me, so after I voiced enough skepticism to satisfy even him —Grampops was an atheist and an anarchist — he confessed that he always dressed himself up in long winter clothing. He chuckled as he admitted that he probably looked like “a heskymo vit a sun-het.” I could see him as a sort of lascivious Nanook of the North, cruising the ladies and chewing on blubber dipped in chicken fat.
I asked him why he didn’t wear a bathing suit like everyone else did. “I got sotch a terrific chest, dey nid a semple? Believe me, brains I got. Poisonality, I got. Maybe ivven a nice face. But a body like from Charles Hetlas, I don’ got. Who nidz it? At mein age, I’ll gonna peek up dumballs?”
Still, he seemed to have a surprisingly high degree of success with Eastern European “leddies” of a certain age. My father once asked him, “You’re having a lotta dates, huh, Pa?” Grampops responded, “Mm-yah, but dey don’ all vind up vere I vant dey should.” He wasn’t talking about the bedroom; he was actually referring to his kitchen. Grampops was a sucker for homemade gefilte fish.
But I was telling you about his discovery of the sundial.
It may not be true that “behind every great man there’s a woman,” but it was for Grampops. In fact, the female in question was literally breathing down his back when he got the idea for a sundial.
“So I’m sittink on a blenkit de odder morning. Dere’s a voom’n I know a coppel towels down de byeech, an’ she kips giving me an eye like she’s maybe takink an hex-ray. So I tink, vot’s vit dis crazy goil starink at me like I’m sotch a Castle Nova?’
For Grampops, being pursued reminded him too much of his experiences with the Cossacks. He liked to think that here in America, he was in charge of all romantic liasions. This particular woman, Ida was her name, had thrown herself at him on the beach a number of times, but he’d always metaphorically tossed her back into the ocean. She was not a gefilte he cared to catch.
“So Ida gets hup and starts comink over by me, vit a vink dat I should maybe get hall egg-sided from sotch a regular Jan Mensfeel. So I’m payink no attention, playing vit de send, follink arond vit a steek. ‘Oy,’ she says, ‘dat’s some beeg tveeg you got dere.’”
Ida’s conversational gambit didn’t work. Instead, she was treated to short dissertation on sticks, and shells, and seawood, and all the other kinds of wonderful debris available there for the taking if a person was trying to avoid feminine attention. “So before you could say Jackie Rubenstein, she goes avay.”
In the meantime, though, Grampops had become completely fascinated with the shadow cast by the stick as it stood upright where he’d shoved it into the sand. “It vas just like a clock. By mein reestvotch it sad a leetle afteh vun, and lo and be hole, de sheddow sad a leetle afteh vun, too.” At two o’clock, he looked again. “De sheddow moved! An’ guess vat it sad? Not four ah clock, not three o’clock, not iffen two-thoity. Two o’clock! On de button. Ho boy, I’m feelink like a real Thomas Elvis Hedison.”
As the sun continued its journey through the sky, the shadow imitated its course. Grampops watched in amazement. At the end of the day, he took his prize magic stick home.
“So,” he told me proudly, “the next day, I got a pants’l and a piss paper, and I drew meinself a byoodiful soicle vit numbers like a clock. An’ vit a leetle Alma’s glue, I put de steek in de meedle.” Then, proudly, he positioned his contraption in the window.
“It voiked. I discovered how to make a clock vit only steek.” Grampops now had something in common with the ancient Babylonians, besides being vamped by Ida. “If I nid to know de time, I just pick at mein vindow.”
But even the greatest geniuses have to deal with obstacles now and then. “It don’ voik so good at night or ven it’s rainink,” he complained. “So ho K, I’ll batter kip mein reest votch, too ”
That’s my pedigree, and the reason why I have the right to criticize those whose grandparents did not make any earth-shaking scientific discoveries. I’d write even more condescendingly, if I had the time. But I’ve worked on this post long enough, at least according to the stick in my window.