These are some thoughts I shared at one of the shiva nights for Gerald Bloom, my paternal grandfather, who passed away in late January 2016. This November he would have been 100.
My earliest memories of Poppa Bloom, or Poppa Boom, as I was best able to pronounce it back then, are of playing trains at his house with my brother, Ashley. We found endless delight in repeatedly closing and opening the sliding doors to his main sitting room. Or jumping from his stairs to try and touch the wind chime hanging in front of the room. Those early memories also include being bounced on his knee to the tune of, “If I had a donkey,” which I know many people in this room can sing off by heart. Or being babysat by him, by then with my sister, Jody, also. Giggling at the thought of the late night, and pushing the chairs together to make beds to nap on until Mum and Dad picked us up.
As I got older, I started appreciating who Poppa was, and later memories include seeing how he loved watching the sports on telly, calling up his sons in the evening to talk about the results.
Poppa was practical and resourceful. He would watch me struggling with some problem, and I could almost see the cogs turning as he pondered possible solutions. “Wait there a second,” he’d say, and then disappear into his cellar, returning with rubber bands, perhaps, or pieces of wood. He would fashion whatever device he’d come up with and present it to me, asking, “Will that make things easier for you?” He was always delighted when it did. Poppa took pride in the little things, in a job well done, and you could be sure, if he embarked on a job, that it would be well done.
Memories of Poppa will always include his refrains. If I were to hold up a plastic ruler, we all know what Poppa would say: “I use this, as a rule!” There will be many ‘Poppa would says’. Not least the, “Four, one, double seven!” whenever he answered the phone.
I will remember Poppa bursting into renditions of songs from decades gone by. I can hear his deep voice, pure pleasure on his face as he sang out the melodies. It was Poppa who taught me what a palindrome was, and told me whenever he had a new one. I would write them out, just to make sure they really did read the same backwards as forwards. “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama,” was his favourite.
Memories of Poppa would not be complete without ‘chips and crips,’ which you could be certain he would cook for you whenever you came to visit. Then there’s crib, the card game he taught us. He taught it to me several times, since I would invariably have forgotten since the time before. You can see some of the many crib boards he made on the table in the corner.
As I mentioned, Poppa liked things to be done properly. When you arranged to visit him, he would know the day and the time, and be expecting you. He would be cross if you weren’t on time, though not in a bad way.
When I left home for Spain before uni I was promised, “You’ll get letters from Poppa!” And I did; then, when I went on to study in Exeter, and even in Peru on my year abroad. Handwritten in that familiar all-caps print: “TO MY DEAR TAMMY…” There is one thing we know Poppa will be remembered for: his jokes. Ability for which many of us have inherited. Whether or not that is a good thing is, I suppose, for our listeners to decide.
When Poppa finally became unable to live as independently as he had for so many years, he started a new chapter at the Spring Lane residential home, Fortis Green. He was happy there, thanks to the care of the wonderful staff, and the love of his family, who were constantly there to see him.
It was at Spring Lane, while talking to him once, that I made a comment about how he used to do his daily crossword puzzles, printed off for him by Aunty Rochelle. He looked at me, eyebrows raised; “Did I?” and I knew that Poppa was changing.
Changing, but he never stopped being Poppa. Watching me fight with a piece of needlework I’d brought once, he said I reminded him of his sister, and proceeded to give such an energetic impression of her trying to thread a needle that it sent my mother into hysterics, much to his satisfaction. Another time he teased dad by copying his gestures, gesticulating wildly and relishing the effect his act was having on both my parents.
Although Poppa’s short-term memory by now was not what it had been, his recollections of the past were still strong, and I was still learning new things about him. Once he told us about the fire safety company he worked for before becoming a barber. He knew the name. Dad looked it up that evening, and found it still existed.
I will remember Poppa’s blue eyes, which communicated so much more than words can. I’ll remember his smile, conveying unadulterated joy. Smile which I was grateful to receive when I saw him for what would be the last time. I was visiting him while home over the Christmas holidays. He was asleep for most of the visit, but gave that smile when he opened his eyes and saw us. I wished him Happy New Year; he listened, registered, then smiled again: ” ‘Appy New Year!”
My favourite story about Poppa was one I heard before he left Dresden Road. I had gone to see him with Dad, and he told us about being out at a dance with his good friend Alec Cohen. Poppa had heckled the MC, who promptly called him up onto the stage and ordered him to sing in front of all present as forfeit for the offence. As Poppa opened his mouth and began to sing, Alec became the new heckler, shouting out, ”’Ere! He’s not paying forfeit – we are!”
Alec was right in more ways than one; the last weeks and months of Poppa’s life were not easy, and now, as he finally rests peacefully, it really is true that he’s not paying forfeit, we are.
But I don’t want to end on that note; the same point can be seen from a different angle. For if we’re now paying forfeit, it’s because of the difference this man made in our lives. He has changed who we are; he brought us up.
There’s a song that basically says, if I can help somebody; if I can have a positive impact; if I can make the world a more beautiful place for those I come into contact with, then “my living will not be in vain”. We can’t complain about the time we had with this man, who reached ninety-nine years. I know that you will all agree with me that for Poppa, his living truly was not in vain.