by Lisa Balderman
Being a child of the suburbs I lived a very uneventful existence. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred in my quiet neighborhood with its beautiful poplar tree, its manicured green lawns, its tall elegant houses and its civilized, friendly neighbors. My loving parents and grandparents were never far, and I was surrounded by my four playful siblings, two sisters and two brothers. My maternal grandparents lived not too far from us, and they would tell us a few stories of their lives, which included the story of their origin in Nazi Germany and how they escaped. They were very protective of us, however, and left out the worst of the disasters which they had experienced. Their reminiscences seemed unreal to me, like a happening that one would read in a book.
Five years ago, my life changed
in a strange way. My 93-year-old grandfather was moved into our home from
On days when he had a few quiet
moments, Zadie would tell me about his wife and five
children who were killed before his very eyes. He would describe each one and
the joys they brought him. He would retell their little antics, their laughter,
his joy at the very sight of them and finally the horrible death that was
theirs. At the telling of the last he would hang his head and he would be in
another world, another place, and another time. He would be in the world of the
The nights were the worst for this poor old man. His pain would involve all of us since he would knock on the ceiling where our bedrooms were and scream out something about some "Swedish sisters" and some others who disturbed his overworked psyche. We would all awake. I would hear one of my parents walk down the stairs to feed him. Food would usually comfort him for a little while. He would sometimes eat seven eggs during one meal and would often pick up the cooked food with his thick, gnarled hands. It wasn't long before he would knock on the ceiling again with a broom handle to fight his inner turmoil with the Nazis and the atrocities he lived through.
There were times during the day
when Zadie told me about his inner youth. He had lost
his father at a very early age in
Living with my Zadie was a life transformation for me. As a child I always believed that all people were good and kind; that love was a given, that there was never any hunger or evil in the world, and that there was no hatred or malice. With the coming of Zadie, I realized what life is all about.
There is good, there is evil, there is death, and there is survival. In my own small world I learned to appreciate all that I have: food, clothing, and a comfortable home, cherish all my friends and family and all human beings, whatever their ethnicity or lifestyle. With the coming of Zadie, my eyes were opened and my life was transformed into a new reality.