By David G. Firestone
I came across this recently, and I decided it would be good for a Tuesday feature. I’m going to talk about my grandparents. First up, grandma.
Adaline Firestone came from France during WWII to New York to escape from Hitler. She married, and started a family. She worked hard her whole life.
The period of time I knew her, she was descending fast. She had recently been release from her job, and had to deal with her mother’s difficulties as well. She would visit her mother daily, and do what she could to help her. She had a lot of love for her family.
I would call her every Sunday and talk to her for a few minutes. She knew who it was, and loved talking to me. I enjoyed talking to her as well. Sometimes she was not completely coherent. She was proud of me no matter what. She had pictures of our whole family all over her apartment. She was nearly deaf, and that led to some unusual situations. She had some social problems, and that led to other problems.
Every once in a while, she would come from New York to Chicago to visit us. We would go bird watching, to art museums, and other such activities. I went just to be with her. I guess you could say that I knew her time on this planet was limited, but I didn’t want it to be. She had a way about her. One of her traits that she passed on to me is the ability not only to speak her min, but to complain about things that need to be complained about. Sometimes her odd stances on life were confusing. Her logic is almost untranslatable. She would like something, and dislike something else related to that, for no real reason. She supported Bill Clinton. She hated Rudi Giuliani. She was not quiet about these issues. She would always complain about Giuliani and the “bad stuff” he did. There was no real logic there, but she complained about him anyway.
Her social skills, or lack thereof, led to some interesting visits. The last time she came to Chicago was for my high school graduation. During that visit, we went to a restaurant in Evanston for lunch. I’m not in the best shape I could be, and she let me know it. During the time we were at the restaurant, I started to eat a piece of bread. She snaps at me and tells me “I’m watching you!” After that, I picked up my water glass, and asked her “Is water alright?”
On an earlier visit, we went to Illinois Beach for the day, and we went to lunch. She looks at the menu, notices an item that is “crab meat and fruit.” She orders it. When it is served to her, she says out loud “Crab meat and fruit, Egh! Who eats this crap? What do they eat in Illinois?” We were looking at her thinking “You ordered it!” That was a unique experience
There were a couple of incidents that took place at the synagogue that I used to belong to. One incident took place during my confirmation. She is sitting 15 rows back from the stage. It was a very hot day, and the air conditioning was on. As I’m sitting up on the stage, I hear her begin to complain about the AC. “Egh! It’s Cold! It’s Cold! Turn down the AC!” I’m sitting there, hearing this, and trying not to laugh. The second incident took place 3 years earlier at my Bar Mitzvah. This fun little event took place close to the end of the ceremony. I was accepting gifts from the religious school, and the sisterhood. The two people in question are not small people. As they are speaking I hear a voice go “Look at all the fattys!” I’m sitting there, trying not to laugh.
One of her most memorable traits was her phone etiquette. Apparently she got some obscene phone calls. She then assumed all phone calls not at times she was expecting them were obscene. As such, when she received such a call, she would pick up the phone, yell “You Schmuck!” into the receiver, and slam the phone down. This happened to everybody who made that mistake.
I did double-cross her a few times. As I mentioned above, she was upset about my weight. She would talk about it. On more than one occasion, we anticipated this, and planned a strategy. She lived in a Manhattan apartment. Withing walking distance of her building, were a pizza place, a Subway, and a KFC. When we went out to lunch, I got something small. When we went back to her place, I said that I would like to go for a walk. I did go for a walk…to the KFC. My brother Steve went with dad to see Grandma. Steve is tall but thin. He had a decent appetite. For years, Grandma would say “My David, he is so big yet he doesn’t eat a thing. And my Steven, he is so little, yet he eats everything in sight. The best one was one particular trip to New York in 1994. Mom and dad had tickets to “The Most Happy Fella.” Grandma and I went to dinner. For dinner, I ordered a salad, with oil and vinegar dressing. The result was Grandma praising me for years on end about how I’m such a healthy eater. The salad move was a calculated risk, which paid off. When they came back, I explained what I did, and we ordered pizza.
In the summer of 2001, she began to seriously deteriorate. By the fall, it was apparent that it wasn’t a question of if, but when. 9-11 happened, and I don’t think she understood what took place that day. Two and a half months later, I went on a service project to Arizona. I was at an art gallery in Tuscon, when I got the news. It wasn’t a complete shock, but it threw me. I said above that I knew her time on this earth was limited, but I didn’t want to believe it. When I got the news, it forced me to realize that life is ever changing.
When her funeral took place, it was delayed by several months. I was in Arizona at the time, and I did not want to leave the trip, and fly back home. We had several members of our family fly in. One of the things that I have always loved about our family is that a funeral is not a “sadness of death,” but it’s a celebration of life. Our family went out and had a good time and we had a good time in honor of her. We still talk about her often. We have more stories about her than I can mention here. I know where ever she is, she can see us, and is watching over us with pride. When I walk across the stage in June to get my diploma, I will dedicate that event to the memory of Adaline Firestone, a woman who meant more to me than anyone can ever know.
Next, I will discuss my grandfather.
Henry Firestone not only came over from Europe to avoid Hitler, he fought in the Army in Europe against Hitler. He was in the Normandy Invasion. After the war, he came back to the states, and set up business. He worked his whole life, and he supported his family. He had a stroke, and that forced him to retire, as well as forcing him into a wheel chair.
I have more vivid memories of him after the stroke. He was in a bad relationship, and he got out. I remember the night when that happened. Dad was on the phone for most of the night. The next day, he came over from New York, and he came to live with us. He slept in our family room for a number of weeks. After that, we got him an apartment in Evanston. After his first winter in Chicago, he started flying to Florida to live with my uncle for winter. When he came back in the spring, we would see him all the time. Every Sunday, after religious school, we would go to the Botanic Garden, or other local attraction.
We would have cookouts every Sunday. We would all sit in the family room, and watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. I still watch that show, because when I do, it reminds me of the memories we had, and the fun we had. That’s my way of keeping him alive. Then we would eat. He would give me extra beef, and dad would object. Grandpa’s response? “AH Shut Up!”
We would take trips together. His stroke had left him half paralyzed. We had to work with the airlines and the hotels to accommodate him. One of the first trips we took was to Starved Rock. He purchased a whole bunch of art, and he didn’t have it shipped. We had to ride in a Ford Thunderbird, with a number of large paintings all over the place. After that, we forced him to ship the art he purchased, and he purchased a lot. Some of it can still be seen in my dad’s office.
Another major trip was to Canada. We flew to Canada, and we went to a number of parks, and attractions. We went to Lake Louise. Grandpa purchased art, and he had it shipped home. We only had one car, so we had six of us in it. We had to push his wheelchair all over the place, and it got tiring after a while.
We went to Colorado one year, and we did not have a critical piece of information. This was a nature trip, and we drove up a mountain. As we are about to drive up, his caretaker tells us “You can’t take him there, he’s afraid of heights!” We went up anyway, and the rental car we had died. There was one point where I had to push his wheelchair to a lookout point. We are 7,000 feet up. I push him to the lookout point, and I damn near pass out. We go back down, and then we finish our trip. One funny story took place at the Air Force Academy. We were walking through the museum, and he said “where do we check in?’ He thought the museum was a hotel. It was that same trip where we got stuck with a horrible hotel. Hot water was a wish. Running water was a wish. At one point, we were at dinner, and mom had said that she was able to take a shower. Grandpa promptly shouted “You took a Shower?” You must understand that because of the stroke, his speech was garbled.
The trip to Virginia was a fun one. This was more of a history lesson than a vacation. We had to get him into Monticello. We went to various places within that area, and pushing him was difficult sometimes.
The Badlands trip was by far the most memorable. For some reason we drove from Evanston Illinois to the Badlands of South Dakota and back. Our 1993 Chevy Cavalier, equipped with a wheelchair storage rack on the roof was more than able to complete the trip. We stopped at several tourist traps along the way. Keep in mind, this was a two-week driving trip, with six people going at the same time. Dad and Grandpa were in the front. Mom, Steve, and Grandpa’s caretaker Roz were in the back seat. I was in the trunk, which had a rear facing seat. This is South Dakota, so besides billboards, there really wasn’t too much to look at. We ate a decent amount of buffalo. We went to the Corn Palace, Mount Rushmore, and Wall Drug, among other places. He bought art, and had it shipped.
He was at my Bar Mitzvah, and that event was termed “the last hurrah.” We called it that because it would be the last time many members of our family were at the same place at the same time. One of the last pictures of Grandpa, Uncle Milton, and Uncle Bernard were taken at that event. The next big event was my middle-school graduation. We had a party to celebrate that event.
The next winter, 1997, he began to deteriorate. He was in Florida, and it became evident that it was only a matter of time. He has been hospitalized for various issues. Uncle Jeffy was taking care of him. One cloudy winter morning I go to school. I went to my first period cooking class. I was handed a note midway through telling me to go to the attendance office after first period. I knew what had happened. I go home, and fly to Florida. We meet up with my uncle, and prepare. You must understand that in our family, a funeral is not a sadness over death, rather it is seen as a celebration of life. We went to the flea market he went to, and we went to places he had fun at. The funeral itself was a somber event. We did have many memories of grandpa to remember, and talk about. When I got back to Evanston, I had to adjust to life without him. I caught up on all the work I had missed. I was acting in a play at the time. I did not miss a rehearsal. What I did do was dedicate my role in the play to his memory.
I know where ever he is he is happy. I also know where ever he is he is watching us, and protecting us. I think about him often. I miss him. When he was alive, sometimes I found his wheelchair to be a hassle. You don’t know what I would give to push his wheelchair one more time, and be able to say goodbye.