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.
In 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.
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.