Baruch Meilik was my grandfather, my only grandparent for 20 years. We called him Aba (Hebrew for “father”), partly because we grew up in the bakery and that’s what everyone called him, but it was also a title he had earned. He was our leader, our guidance, our comfort. He was strong, he was wise, he was gentle and kind. He was father to my mother, aunt, and uncle by blood, and over the many years become father to my dad, uncle and aunt.
Aba passed away early Saturday morning. To celebrate his life and to help me through this difficult time, I wanted to share with all of you a few lessons he taught me and a few words about who he was. There was still so much I could learn from him, so many questions I wanted to ask, but I suppose this will always be true. I am grateful for the times we had, and for his guidance that helped define me as a man.
A Man Must Be Able to Support His Family
My grandfather was a baker, and ahead of holidays people would flock to his bakery for his bread, cookies and cakes. The line would extend out the door, down the block, and even around the street corner. A few years after my grandmother – his equal partner, passed away, my grandfather closed the bakery. Even years after he retired, my grandfather helped my parents defray the costs of me and my twin sister’s college costs.
Education and Hard Work Are Paramount to Success
My grandfather grew up in Romania where Jews were forbidden access to higher education. Despite this, he had incredible wits and his words imparted an unparalleled wisdom. Even at 90 years old, he spoke with unwavering clarity, and always taught me a thing or two with each conversation.
He taught me that education will open up doors, and that hard work would help me walk through them. With the opportunities these opened doors presented, I would be able to support my wife and future family.
Respect and Kindness
My grandfather always emphasized that I should respect my parents and show respect for others. Through his actions I learned about kindness. When someone down on their luck came to his bakery, my grandfather would send them off with food for their family. I remember my mother telling me that he would often slip a few dollars into their hands as well. As a child I did not notice this, but my sister did. My mother, aunt, and uncle at the front counter were so discrete, always careful to offer help without letting anyone suffer even an ounce of shame.
The bakery was closed on Saturdays, but I remember being there once and watching a truck pull up. I later learned that my grandfather regularly sent still-fresh breads, cookies, and other baked goods to places that served the less fortunate.
My grandfather didn’t have to give away so much, but he did so anyways. He worked many more hours in a day than I ever could, and shedding blood, sweat and tears he worked to provide for his family. That would have been enough, but was compelled to help others.
Tools Are Nothing Without Elbow Grease
Every now and then in recent years we would of course talk about tools. My grandfather of course used various tools to maintain equipment at his bakery over the years, and their condition reflects this.
Not as often as I could or should have, I enjoyed visiting him by myself. My family would get together almost every Sunday at his home, and when I was able to I drove in and joined them. But there was a different setting when everyone was together. When we were alone one on one, we could truly talk about anything and everything.
With a screwdriver on the table here, pliers in a basket over there, we would talk about tools and machines between talking about every-day things and the progress of my education. We would talk about how he carried a water boiler home on his back one day and installed it to give his children hot water. How he made parts for his first car himself because that was the only option he had. How he used to be able to look at the inner workings of a refrigerator or device and know exactly how to fix it.
He would then go on to recommend I consider working as a plumber or mechanic. I would of course then argue that my heart was set for a different type of hands-on work.
My grandfather didn’t care about brands or where something was made, as long as it worked. It’s almost a guarantee that his tools were all USA-made, but that’s not the point. Tools were nothing in one’s hands if they didn’t know how to use them. This goes back to his ideas of education and value for hard work. You must first know how to do something but must then follow through with hard work to get the job done.
Perhaps not directly, he taught me that a tool is just a piece of metal and plastic if one lacks the knowledge or drive needed to use it for repairs or to build something. Only with hard work does that piece of metal become a tool. Analogously, only with hard work and education and the ability to support his family does a boy become a man.
A Few More Words
One thing about my grandfather – he never showed an ounce of frustration over my tendency to argue. Except of course when I argued with my mother when everyone was together for a Sunday visit or holiday occasion. I am told that when I argue I tend to raise my voice. I certainly mean well, but my passion and stubbornness can sometimes be misconstrued as being disrespectful. My grandfather would then say something calmly to my mother in Romanian about going home or going shopping, and I would get the hint. I am glad to say that as an adult I learned to control my tongue a bit better in recent years.
When I got married three years ago, my schedule changed. I was accustomed to staying up late and waking up mid-morning, but began waking up at 7am to drive my wife to the train station. The first day I dropped her off, I got home at 7:30 and called my grandfather. Used to my “vampire-like” sleeping and work habits, he started cracking up. So then I called the next day as well. And again he laughed and laughed about it. So I called the next day, and again he laughed. And so I called every weekday morning since then. Every now and then he would laugh again, asking if I was going to go back to bed for a nap. What started off as a joke became a very pleasant routine.
Each morning’s phone call would only last 30-50 seconds or so on average, but they helped me start my day. My grandfather spoke quite a few languages, with the last learned being English, but his accent was subtle and unobtrusive. I was not always wide awake when I called him, so I feel that I heard his voice on both conscious and subconscious levels. Some people drink coffee to start their day, others have breakfast. I had half-minute phone calls with my grandfather.
For the first time in over three years I know that if I call he is not there to answer. I began this morning with a quick phone call to my aunt, waiting a few minutes after 7:30 so that I wouldn’t scare her. She lived in the apartment above my grandfather’s in their two-family house, and spent a great deal of time with him. Calling her brought a little comfort to me, but hearing the great pain and sadness in her voice I am afraid that not I or anyone else can help her through this.
I could not go on with the rest of my day as if nothing has happened, as if we had not buried Aba only two days ago. Not knowing what more to do, I started writing about some of the things he taught me, some of the things he did that made him the man he was. He was proud that I enjoyed writing about something I was passionate about, and so I decided it would be fit to share with you all a little about him.
My grandfather lived for 63 years before I was even born. In those years and the 27 since, he accomplished a lot – more than I could ever comprehend. He was a hero, saving the lives of his family as he brought them to safety. He was a soldier, fighting for the survival of his family and countless innocents. For most of his life, he was a baker, and with little to start with in America he touched many lives and gave joy to all that knew him.
Aba was my inspiration, my teacher, my friend. He had answers to life’s most difficult questions, provided guidance at the most difficult of times. If he could hear me now, I would ask Aba, where are you? He would raise his hand to his heart and then to mine and answer I am here, here, and here. I am among the goodness in your heart. I am with Ema and with Suzy, and I am okay.
Sorry for your loss.
He lives on through you and he just touched my life (a total stranger) through you.
Here’s hoping that we can be just a fraction of the kind of person he was, then we will have success.
So sorry for you loss. He sounds like a wonderful man.
Sorry for your loss, interesting how many of us look back on our Grandfather’s in regards to things like tools and the lessons we learn(ed). When my Grandfather passed away about 8 years ago I remember helping clean out the apt he shared with my Grandma. My Grandma looked at me and pointed to a pile of tools under a table and said “…he would want you to have those make sure you take them now.” It took me a while to work my way through all the tools, some had not been used for years and others were in great shape. I spent the time cleaning many of them back up to restore their oringinal luster. I took great pride in it and when I reach for any of those tools I still think of him. He was a very proud man who worked painting houses into his 80’s. Some of the other family members were a bit bitter about the tools going to me, but looking back on it I was the one that would sit with him and talk about projects and tools. I think he knew from a young age I respected what he did and enjoyed sharing his thoughts with me. He was very proud of his tools and was really the first person to buy me a set of “real” tools when I was young and made sure I know how to use them safely and corretly.
Really a beautiful tribute to your grandfather. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful grandfather who was a Nebraska farmer, and taught me how to use any number of tools, drive a tractor, fish, shoot a gun, etc., in our many summers on the farm. Lots that my city-slicker dad just didn’t know how to do. My best to you during this sad time for you and your family.
Your words were both powerful and poignant and i enjoyed that glimpse you gave us of such a great figure in your world! Sorry for your loss and i hope you will always keep him and his lessons in your heart so that you can continue to share them with us should you choose.
wow very well written
That was a beautiful tribute.
I’m very sorry for your loss. I am glad though that you gave your readership a glimpse of the man who taught you so much, and which you carry forward with your articles and comments here. That’s how a legacy gets carried on. Aba would be proud.
A good man!!! I’m sorry for your loss, and hope that his sprirt lives on in you.
God bless Stuey!!
Very touching tribute Stuey, you and your family have my sincere condolences. You were fortunate to have him so long, what a blessing. Very nice, these thoughts of yours. Your family is in my prayers.
A great man from the greatest generation, yes indeed. You were very lucky to enjoy all the time you did with your Grandfather. Thank you for blessing us with his words and feelings. Best wishes to you.
Thoughts and prayers.
Stuart – Thank you for your wonderful words. Absolutely hands down best post ever.
Your words brought tears to my eyes. Having lost a very similar grandfather 4 years ago, I all too clearly empathize with nearly every word, and every emotion behind those words.
This part of the circle of life is extremely difficult to deal with. Time will help with the intense grief, dulling the pain. I’m not going to lie, it still hurts, but nowhere near as much, and nowhere near as constant.
We are extremely lucky to have been blessed with such a presence in our lives for so long. I am grateful to have an opportunity to be a similar presence, and look forward to putting forth the effort to do it as best I can. I sincerely hope you do to Stuart. Good luck and Godspeed.
I am so touched by your thoughts and writings. Your grandfather was a remarkable man of HONOR and COURAGE.
My heart goes out to you and all your family. I am so sorry for your loss and respect the time you took to share your memories of your grandfather.
May God’s Peace rest on you. What an honor to have a grandfather who spent so much quality time with you one on one.
I didn’t want to blog about Aba. I didn’t know what to put up there that would do a good job for what I felt. Your post is wonderful and thank you for saying so many of the things I would have liked to share.
Upon reading your tribute to Aba, we sit here as a family with tears in our eyes and saddness in our hearts. Your Aba was a great man, who was loved and adored by his family. What more could a man ask for in life, then to have the love and devotion of his entire family. He would be so proud of you as you now are passing along his teachings and gifts.
All our love and prayers,
Robin and Family
I am so lucky to have a son like you. I did not realize how fast you
grew up to become a man any parent would be proud to acknowledge.
I miss my Aba every second of every minute of every hour of every
day. I now know that you will follow in his legacy of being a man of
honor and integrity. Even though I am very sad at this moment,
I know that in the future I will have many proud moments watching you
living up to your potential. I thank you for your words about my
Aba and I am blessed to have you in my life. Rucha
This was a nice tribute to Aba. It’s funny — you’re the scientist and the words flow freely — I’m the writer and I can’t compose. Aba would be proud of you.
Joe 'the Pro' Sainz
Thank you for your writing, and I’m very sorry for your loss. He reminds me of my grandfather, who before his passing, was able to leave a legacy of many children, grandchildren, and even some great grandchildren. I think that he will always be with you to guide you, and you will be reminded of his lessons until it is your turn to pass them on. May we all live long lives, and live them as Aba did.
Paul and Arlene
We are both so proud of you for expressing the purest and sincerest thoughts about our Aba. Aba was considered as the “Shomer” for every member of the family. One could always express his/her concern with the greatest of ease and Aba would always reciprocate with a knowledgeble response. Even though his body is no longer with us, we truly believe that he is still watching and guiding us, spiritually, in positive directions.
We truly miss Aba, but we’ll never forget his love and patience he had for every individual . I can assure you that Aba’s legacy will be followed continuouslyfor the rest of our lives. At least we have the “happiness” of reflecting back to the happy (and sometimes sad) times that we shared together. We’re both in tears as we read and re-read your shared expression.
I am proud of being your uncle as well as Arlene being your aunt for all your beautiful thougths. Arlene and I both love you dearly and we’ll always be together as Aba wanted us to be.
Paul and Arlene
I’m an online friend of Tam’s. She told us about your Aba’s passing and directed us to your well written blog post.
Thank you for sharing what your Aba taught me. I hope to do chesed and return to your writing for more wisdom.
Baruch Dayan Emet. May His memory be for a blessing.
Reading your comments about my Uncle touched me very deeply. He was truly a great man , that even though we did not see each other in quite a while, he was truly loved and respected by me. My uncle was my inspiration to get an education and to be a better person , and by his inspiration, I instilled that in my children who went on to get their education, and today we are all better for that. He wil always be in my heart forever, and you were truly blessed to have the time with him, because there will never be another man as good as your grandafther.
what a wonderful and touching write-up of your grandfather. How blessed you were to have him in your life. I plan to share this with my young son who can also learn the valuable lessons of your grandfather. Thank you for sharing.
With sincerest regards to you and your family.
My condolences to you and your family.
That was a wonderful story. I hope someday the rest of his story is published. I think it would be a good book to read.
Noel Hankamer (Papaw)
Stuey, your tribute to your Aba is a testament to his nurturing of your young mind as you grew into a man. We sometimes take our elders for granted, but they most often are the most influential entities we encounter in life. I have fond memories of my father, mother, and grandparents , who set me on the right path to adulthood.
Very moving. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for sharing, Stuart! It’s my first time on this site and I just had to leave my regards to You and Your Grandfather. Your invaluable experience and impeccable storytelling was truly heartwarming through these pixels alone ;).
I wish I had the opportunity to meet such a remarkable Grandfather!
Best post on Toolguyd.
Thank you Stuey