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A Tribute to My Uncle Walter

  • Cantankerous
  • Hilarous
  • Super-intelligent
  • A wealth of experience

No matter what anyone might be saying, Walter might at any point look over and half shout, “Well no, no, no, now wait a minute…..” and then, after silence had come to the room with a long pause, his expression would change to a half-smile, and I never could tell if the next thing he would say was going to be serious or a joke.

Walter’s memorial service was yesterday.  We did not attend as we are in New Zealand.

Walter is the last of the original Goldschmidt family to have passed on.  This is the family I’m descended from, the family who came over from Germany in 1938, leaving because they were Jews living in Nazi Germany.

My earliest memories of Uncle Walter come from a family trip to California.  I was 10 and this trip would be my first time on an airplane.  We stayed with Uncle Walter and Aunt Susie at their home in Burbank, California – swimming in their pool, eating fruit from their trees, and listening to Walter and Susie laugh.

They loved to laugh together.

And Chinese food…  No trip to visit Walter and Susie could be complete without a visit to one of their favorite local Chinese restaurants.

I remember eating a sweet red bean jello dessert of some kind.  It was the first time I had had sweet beans.  I thought it was weird that I had liked the dessert so much.  I didn’t really care for other kinds of beans I had eaten before.

Walter and Susie's backyard and poolIn 2003, Carrie and I planned a trip through las Vegas to California (to visit Walter and Susie, go to Disneyland, and visit my mom’s cousin Steve).

The week Carrie and I got to spend with Walter and Susie felt like looking at ourselves at some undetermined point in the future, people we’d like to be — two people who, after a lifetime of joys and sorrows, still found something exciting in every moment and found something to laugh together about every day.

We went shopping at Trader Joe’s, ate fruit from their trees, swam in their pool, and even spent a day at a mud spa with Susie and their daughters Laura and Ellen (my dad’s cousins).

Walter had a chuckle out loud at my expense that I was actually going to the spa with them.  When I started to defend myself a bit, he quickly came back with his “Well now, wait a minute… (LONG PAUSE)… … (Half-Smile)…” and then went on to talk about the benefits of actually relaxing and that a mud bath could be a good way to do that.

After that week, Carrie and I talked frequentlyabout our time with Walter and Susie, and how we needed to get back to California to see them.

We didn’t go together again until 2010.

We got to see Walter and Susie when they came to Colorado for Brian and Jamie’s wedding, though didn’t spend as much time with them as I would have liked.  Weddings are good times for seeing lots of people, but it’s hard sometimes to spend quality time with just a few during a wedding.

But I got to visit Walter and Susie after our wedding  in 2007 when I went to Los Angeles for a conference.  The time was all too short, but I got to spend two days with them which included my eating of a Kielbase sausage that Walter teased me should have feed half an army.

In his mock-German voice he said:

“You would sink zhey don’t feed zihs boy nothsing.”  This time with Walter and Susie also included, of course, a visit to a Chinese buffet.

Walter and Susie returned to Colorado twice after that… once to say goodbye to Oma while she was alive, and once for her memorial.

Oma’s death was especially hard on Walter.  He didn’t let on to that very much in the moment, but Oma was his little sister, the one he had always cared for and protected and tried to shelter from some of the harsh realities of being a Jew in Nazi Germany; and the harsh realities that came with relocating to a new country with a new language in a big city; and later on the harsh relaities of divorced parents (in a time and country when that was socially reprehensible).

The passing of Oma was hard on all of us, but it was very hard on Walter.

Our last visit to Walter and Susie’s was brief… all too brief… always too brief.

Can we ever spend enough time with those who have so much to teach?  Whose lessons were learned through a lifetime of bittersweet: the deepest of the bitter and the sweetest of the sweet?

I would have liked more time, and thought I was going to get it.  After all, our 5 hour stopover in Los Angeles between Denver and Tahiti was not enough time to go get Chinese food.

Walter had recently experienced a series of strokes and wasn’t really up to going out.  But even after a series of strokes, Walter (Wally, Walt) was still Walter – still joking, still laughing, still making the best of the situations life was throwing at him.

Living life with regrets is not a good way to live, and I’m so glad to have that afternoon we spent with Walter in May.

I do wish I had figured out how to spend more time with Walter and Susie, but I am really grateful to have had their influence and example in my relationship with Carrie.  Through Walter and Susie, I’ve also been able to connect to my German and European roots in a way that many people of my generation haven’t gotten to do.

I don’t know if it’s the way that Walter would have wanted it, but I’m deeply saddened by the loss of one of my favorite people, and I’m left feeling incomplete, like there was more I could have gotten and understood.

And all I can do about that is look forward to the next time when we will eat Chinese food together again.

10 thoughts on “A Tribute to My Uncle Walter

  1. Mom

    You would’ve loved to have heard all the tributes offered by family members at the funeral, but I think you included everything everyone else had to say right here! You have such wonderful insight and such a wonderful way of putting things down on paper! I know this particular post will mean so much to Susi, Ellen, Laura and their families. It means a lot to me. Even though you were in New Zealand, you were also in Los Angeles, believe me!

    1. strive4impact Post author

      Really would have loved to have been there with everyone. Definitely was feeling Walters loss here in New Zealand… thank-you for your reassurances I was there as I really felt I was (woke up with a dream about you, Dad, and Deanna at 11:30 AM Los Angeles time… not sure what you were doing then as the funeral wasn’t until 2, but I had a real feeling of connection when I woke up from the dream).

  2. Adam

    My favorite memory is meeting up with Walter and Susie in Vienna, Austria. Maybe I’ll write a longer post about that on our blog. They were so welcoming and generous. Laura and I planned on getting out there next summer if possible. We probably still will and go visit Susi, but wish we could have made it earlier.

    Here is the page I wrote at the time about meeting up with Walter and Susi in Vienna:

    Even though we didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with both of them, Walter will still be a missed presence.

    We look forward to seeing Susi next time we’re in CA though!

    1. strive4impact Post author

      You should write a longer post about it. The farther away you get from an event, the more difficult it becomes to remember all the little details which are what make the event most memorable and important.

  3. Laura Goldsmith

    Dear Carie and Jonathan,
    You brought tears to my eyes when I read your tribute to my dad. Thank you for remembering the real Walter…you captured all elements of him and I will keep a copy of this memorial for my own diary of my life and my family.

    We too missed having you both here, but felt your presence with your parents. Please visit when you are back in the states. Mom needs family near now more than ever
    Love, Laura (and my Walter, Gabriel and Claire)

    1. strive4impact Post author

      I am glad that it was a touching tribute. I will most definitely miss him.

      Looking forward to getting back to see you and family, Ellen and family, and Susie.


  4. Byron Hays

    Jonathan… this tribute to your Walter was golden. You brought me into your feelings, and I have been touched. Well spoken… well written my friend.

    As you with Walter, our acquaintance in Cuenca was all to brief and not nearly deep enough.

    To life.


    1. strive4impact Post author

      Hey Byron!

      Thank-you for making the time to read my thoughts about Uncle Walter and post a comment.

      Maybe we’ll have a chance to meet up somewhere in the world once again? You said you were headed to the Philippines/Malaysia sometime soon?


  5. maribel chasi

    Hola amigos como estan, como esta su español, espero que estén practicando los dos, y también espero que regresen pronto a Ecuador para comer otra vez los choclos….Jonathan tu escribes muy bonito, you should be a good writer.

  6. Mrigank

    WW II has dominated my mind for over 2 years though I wasn’t even born at that time:), and I really find it interesting to know someone’s personal life who has been a part of such an incident that has changed the course of history.

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