This week’s Torah portion includes the deaths of both Sarah and Abraham. In this spirit, I would like to reach out to all of those who have recently lost someone and to anyone who is currently observing a yahrzeit.
I would also like to take this time to say goodbye to my grandpa, Lawrence Charles LaVictoire, who passed away in late October.
He was born in Flint, Mich. on April 25, 1926. I never heard about his life as a kid beyond that he was part of a big family – four brothers and two sisters – and that he was half of a pair of twins who were the youngest of the siblings.
All five boys of the family fought in World War II. After his return, Grandpa married my grandma, Margaret Hurley. Interestingly, she hid her age from him for some time; it wasn’t until the two of them applied for a marriage license that my grandma revealed that she, at 28, was three years older than my grandpa.
The age disparity didn’t matter, though, and they were married on May 5, 1951. Just a year later, they had their first son, my dad. They went on to have five more children together – four more boys and a girl – and together, all seven of them lived in a three-bedroom house in Flint.
Grandpa never left Flint, so we visited him about once a year. When I was little, I sat on his lap and kissed his wrinkled cheek. He could make a “U” with his thumb and pointer finger, slide them into his mouth, and take his teeth out with little effort; then, I would try to do the same thing, but my teeth wouldn’t budge.
I knew there could be only one explanation: My grandpa was magical.
Never Lost His Spark
Fifteen years ago, my family moved to Atlanta, and my visits with my grandpa grew less frequent. Eventually, my grandparents moved to a different house, and on our first visit to their new home, my grandma shuffled around to “wow” us with her walk-in closet, her somewhat up-to-date laundry appliances and, of course, Grandpa’s chair.
Grandpa himself had been silent up until this point, sitting patiently at the kitchen table alongside his oxygen tank. This chair, however, seemed reason enough for him to get up.
Alongside my grandma, he led us into the family room, where he pointed to a chair upholstered in olive-green, corduroy-like fabric. He playfully hit my brother on the shoulder and told him to sit down.
“Watch this,” he said with as much as excitement as his ailing lungs would allow him to express.
He pulled out a white plastic controller that been squished between the cushions of the chair. He held down one of the buttons, watched the chair recline and the footrest pop out, and then he looked at my brother, searching for any sign of amazement. My brother humored him and told Grandpa how incredible the chair was.
A year later, we returned. The house hadn’t changed, but when I walked into the kitchen, I saw the strangest thing: a reddish-brown oval, about the size of my palm, resting on three toothpicks. After looking closer, I noticed it had a face drawn on it with a Sharpie.
“Grandpa, what is that?” I asked, offering him an “I love you, but you’re also very weird” sort of look.
“That’s George,” he said, doing nothing to alleviate my confusion.
It turned out that George had been an apple in an earlier life. In an unwavering voice – as if his story described an entirely normal series of events – my grandpa explained that he had been curious what would happen if he left an apple out for a very long time. Then, when George the apple stopped being able to stand on his own, Grandpa had built him the stand with toothpicks.
When it came time to head back to Atlanta, I could feel the bones in my grandpa’s back as I wrapped my arms around him. He told me to take good care of myself and of my family; he always said that. Then, as always, he sat back down in his chair and stared blankly at the wall.
I always wondered what he was thinking, but he rarely said much. I spent the next couple of minutes asking G-d to take care of him, and to allow me to come back to visit just one more time.
Time Together is a Privilege
Last December, we made what we knew would be our last visit with Grandpa. Too, he knew it would be his last visit with us.
I sat with him at his small white kitchen table. I wanted to do most of the speaking so that he could save his energy, but there was too much I wanted to know; he had lived 86 years, and I’d known him for only 17 of them.
I asked about his dates with my grandma and about their marriage. I asked about some of his part-time jobs, like scooping ice cream, and asked which was his favorite. I asked what the happiest time in his life was.
“There were a few years when me and your grandma went to live up North,” he told me. “The kids were grown, so we quit our jobs and went up there. We had about $4,000 in the bank – if something had happened, we would have been S.O.L – but nothing happened, and we were happy.”
When Abraham dies in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read that “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and G-d had blessed Abraham with everything…Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years (Genesis 24:1 and 25:8).”
Abraham was forced to leave his home, then faced a famine. He had a barren wife; then, after finally being blessed with a son, he was asked to sacrifice him.
Likewise, my grandpa – and everyone else who has set foot on this earth – suffered during his lifetime. And yet, we say, “G-d had blessed [him] with everything” because G-d gave him life, and we are thankful.
G-d, thank you for sharing my grandpa with me. He is now in Your hands; please take care of him.
BY RACHEL LAVICTOIRE / AJT Columnist
Editor’s note: Rachel LaVictoire is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.