Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A Small Town Man Goes Home

My West Virginia grandfather passed away in 1987. A year later, a woman named Becky Gorsettman, a woman who my grandparents had been close to for many years, passed away. The following year, 1989, my grandmother married Isy Gorsettman.

From the start we all liked Grandpa Isy. He was friendly and helpful, and we could see the light was back in my grandmother’s eyes. Isy moved into her home on Kanawha Avenue, across the street from the Kanawha river, a river that cut through Charleston, where we would watch coal barges pass by on their way to the Ohio river whenever we visited.

About four or five years ago, Grandpa Isy started forgetting things. Small things at first, but soon his visits were marked by conversations repeated over and over again. My grandmother was pressured by my uncles to put him in a home, but she refused. That’s not how West Virginia women treat their men.

Patiently, she watched Isy, repeating herself over and over again, watching and wondering what would happen. Both his first wife and my grandmother were named Becky, and when he talked about his wife Becky, we were never really sure which one he was talking about.

They came to my sister’s Bat Mitzvah, in January 2003. While Isy’s mind was soft, he was still physically strong at 85, and my grandmother showed no sign of slowing down, despite being 92 years old.

The next week, she died.

Isy had one son, a guy we would jokingly call Uncle Freddie, and tease my dad that he had a whole step-family that he rarely saw. Fred lived in New York, and planned to take Isy back to New York, and put him in home that specialized in residents with Alzheimer’s disease.

But the people who had been Isy’s friends and neighbors for decades had a different idea.

They had thirty volunteers who would take care of Isy. One per day. For as long as he needed them. Thirty people who would give up one day each month, and spend the day with Isy, watching him, taking care of him, letting him live out his days in the city he loved, with the people who knew and loved him.

It remains the most generous offer I have ever heard, and one that I will be forever grateful to the people of Charleston, West Virginia for making.

But Alzheimer patients need structure and consistency. It was Fred’s decision, and he decided it was time for Isy to come to New York, to Riverdale, where he would live in the Alzheimer’s unit at a nursing home.

Over the past few years we visited Isy a few times. He seemed to remember who we were, and loved holding my little daughter in his arms. He asked about my family, but Veev and I both thought he was faking. Living with Alzheimer’s had taught him a few things about pretending to remember. The right questions to ask to seem knowledgeable.

Grandpa Isy had a stroke last week. Yesterday, he died. And tomorrow, he will return home, to a spot next to his first Becky, across the lawn from his second Becky, to Charleston’s B’nai Israel cemetery.


Blogger Krunk said...

Baruch dayin emes.

September 13, 2005 11:11 AM  
Blogger Gebrec said...


September 13, 2005 12:40 PM  
Blogger Rolling hills of green said...

you can't win for losin'

Hail to granpa Isy

September 13, 2005 2:12 PM  
Blogger Just Shu said...

i may be slow but I get there
- Grandpa Isy on his way to shul with us whenever he was in town

September 13, 2005 2:27 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

Another great post Air. Stick around.

September 13, 2005 5:12 PM  
Blogger da shevster said...

are we going to the shul across the railroad tracks?

then came batsheva's bat mitzvah, a week later bubba died

now i feel special... :'(

September 13, 2005 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

alzheimers sux, man.

September 14, 2005 3:06 AM  
Blogger rockofgalilee said...

what time is mincha, do i need my hat?

September 14, 2005 5:22 AM  
Blogger Just Shu said...

wait, are you going to mincha, and what time is it?

September 14, 2005 10:24 AM  
Blogger Rolling hills of green said...

slow as molasses and just as slow

September 14, 2005 10:57 AM  
Anonymous redshev03 said...

are you going to mincha?
60 seconds pass
hey what time is mincha?
another 60 seconds
hey joel, when are we leaving for mincha?

good times, good times

September 14, 2005 1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to see the forest for the trees.

September 14, 2005 6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have to see the forest for the trees.


September 14, 2005 6:18 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...


September 15, 2005 10:39 AM  
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February 05, 2007 5:45 AM  

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