My grandfather was a hero, technically speaking. He was awarded a medal of honour for fighting in WWII but he was also one of my personal heroes. Unfortunately, last night, he passed away. And he did so, stoically. At 92 years of age, he went to bed after going about his day and fell asleep. I think we all need a hero sometimes. Someone to learn from, to admire and look up to and my grandfather had many facets that I remember fondly.
When I think about him, there are many stories that make me smile and remind me of his generosity and kindness. He loved the sweet things in life. He had a candy drawer that was mainly for us but also for his massive sweet tooth. My grandmother would tell him not to snack so much so he would invite us over to enjoy gummy bears and chocolate together. He would make so called 'Pischinger', a Polish dessert in which you carefully spread layers of butter cream or chocolate cream on very thin wafers, stack about 10 of them on top of one another and then cool the 'torte' before eating it. It never lasted long, so he made sure he always had enough wafers (brought back from Poland) at home to whip up a new one.
He was my compass for manners and morals. Very strict about certain rules. Elbows were not to touch the table at any time, hunching as well as slurping were strongly discouraged. Soup spoons had to be brought up to the mouth and not vice versa. We were not to speak with our mouths full and singing at the table... well, that meant we were going to end up spinsters (we are four girls at home, so this argument weighed heavily!). A child was never to approach their elder, but wait to be asked to introduce themselves, "yes, please" and "thank you" were a given. So to not embarrass him.
He knew how to take 'me' time for the things he enjoyed. On Sundays, was the only day he wasn't on call for us. He would get up, do 20 minutes of exercises on the ground for back strength and core and then put on his Sunday best, and leave the house looking dapper to head for ballroom dancing. He loved to go for long walks but dancing was his passion.
He cared for his family deeply and felt very responsible. Whenever he wasn't busy, he was available for us. He was retired and loved to drive so he was one of the first people to drop me off at the train station to go to regional track & field events. When he did, he insisted on parking the car, walking up to the platform with me where he would stand and watch the train drive off, and shed big tears. It always made me well up too, even though I thought it a bit silly for a separation that would only last half a day.
The older I became the more I learned about him as an individual, and it seemed a bottomless well. He had lived in Poland, fought for the Germans, was freed by the British, then fought the Germans in the battle of Montecassino. He lived in London briefly until his mother asked him to return, so he moved to Poland and later to Germany. In the 70s after having two children, he decided to assist Polish efforts to help the mining industry in India and lived and worked there for a few years. He wasn't much of a story teller but he brought back many things and so my costumes at school dress-ups were Indian saris, Polish mountain folklore dresses, we watched my mother put on Indian jewelry and use scents from little soap stones.
He loved deeply. We often asked him to just tell us bits about his life; about this or that. And he was stubborn and declined, especially about the war. One story however, he told over and over again when prompted: of how he met my grandmother. "I saw her and I knew I had met the love of my life. It was love at first sight". His face would light up even over 60 years later.
He took care of her until she had to go... and then he followed. To be with her.