My grandfather, Pop, passed away on Christmas Eve. Over the last couple years, he had steadily declined. His short-term memory had completely disintegrated. Pop couldn’t remember the last time we had talked, but his intelligence and spirit remained till the end.
I last spoke with him a couple weeks ago. We talked about who he’d be voting for — Bernie Sanders — and how his favorite stocks were performing. After I asked these questions, I silently cried on the phone. I realized he’d likely not make another election cycle. He was all out of votes after 92 years of life.
Pop and I spent most times talking about politics, economics, and relationships. I shared countless moments across from him in his reading nook. He sat on a donut pillow for hemorrhoids; although, he didn’t have them anymore. His mug sat on a hot plate and was covered with a small plate. He savoured and sipped every ounce of tea or coffee. It was here that learning was done.
He was the single largest impact on my economic and social beliefs. I read Marx after he extolled the virtues of communism. I didn’t necessarily agree with it all, but that wasn’t what was important. In discourse, he gave me the tools to debate politely and disagree adamantly. And he opened my eyes to prejudice, social justice, and financial inequities.
At 17, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps (precursor to the Air Force) and flew some 30+ missions over France and Germany. As a Jew, he received maltreatment from those he served and fought. It wasn’t easy service. He shared experiences talking with broken Yiddish (an old, Germanic language) to German prisoners of war. Pop wanted to learn about them. This was a perfect example of his social respect for others — no matter how “bad” they were.
Later in life, he made a friend who worked for a biopharmaceutical company who recommended Biogen Idec. After contemplating the scientific merits of the company and their products, he made an investment. It paid many times over for the last couple decades. Pop wasn’t a financial genius, but he consistently made smart decisions that put his family and future first. It allowed him to retire to a small apartment complex and enjoy the smell of fresh Santa Monica air.
Years and years of conversations with him cemented an emphasis for economic and social justice in me. As a child of the Great Depression, his perspective was forever changed. In current society, Pop didn’t like that vast amounts of wealth were being siphoned from the majority of people. He disliked that politicians weren’t doing enough to protect the average, everyday American. Taxes were a social good — it prevented a select group from pillaging from others in need.
I silently said goodbye to him in summer 2015, when I visited. But he would live a few more months before passing. Frankly, it’s hard to capture him in a list of “10 financial lessons from my grandfather,” but as one of the biggest influences on my life, I couldn’t help but say a few words to honor him.
Pop, thank you for editing my first journalistic endeavors, hugging me so tightly, brilliant financial lessons, giving the best stock-picking advice, tutoring me on Jewish culture and the Yiddish language, always having Manischewitz matzos, providing a near-endless list of dessert options after dinner, sharing the joy of Bangaleri birds, educating me on Freud and Marx, encouraging my academic endeavors when I struggled to see the light, and being proud of me. I knew you meant it, and I’ll miss your excitement on the phone after I’d say, “Hey Pop! It’s Sam.”
You’ve given me a debt of gratitude that I’ll forever try to pay forward.
As we always said, it’s time to say “chachalakas.” I hate that it’s time, but we must.
So, with tear-filled eyes, chachalakas, Pop.
Your grandson and friend, Sam