June 20, 2013 by Katia
I grew up with two ghost grandfathers. One was a real ghost, whereas the other one was a ghost by way of geographical circumstances. I want to talk about the first one. My ghost ghost grandfather. I called him Dedooshka Mikhoels, grandpa Mikhoels – which was his last name, and he was actually not my grandpa, but my great grand father, last alive in the late 1940’s, but very much alive as far as we were concerned.
You know how in dreams it’s totally not weird how your husband is your husband who has your husband’s face and history and he is everything you mean by “my husband”, but at the exact same time he might also be Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs with that person’s face, name and history? I think that kids’ perception of reality, has that dream-like quality, because I still remember thinking at a very young age that it was totally normal that my great grandpa was this man:
But also that one.
My great grandpa of the two faces was a very tangible character constructed of stories and objects. The building blocks of his character were the very vivid and passionate recounts loudly told by my grandma’s sister through bursts of laughter, hand gestures, some pathos and a lot of giggles to make up for it and the contained, ironic, sometimes self deprecating tales delivered by my grandma herself, as she was most likely holding a lit cigarette in her right hand and letting the tobacco ashes build up. Everything else I’ve learned about him was through newspaper clippings and yellowing magazine covers, black and white photographs, books and even a few movies. Some of the photographs of Dedooshka Mikhoels were burnt at the edges. Another strange yet normal detail in the eyes of this child.
The objects that made him come to life, at the same time deepening my own with a layer of provenance, were few. Some hand written notes. A majestic cape of dark blue, or maybe black colour, a wrist watch gone violently silent and the object I remember most vividly, a violet coloured, round shaped plastic box that contained theater make up of some very bright colours and sweet and sharp smells. There’s a movie of my great grandpa applying it as he was painting his face in preparation to play the role of Shakespeare’s King Lear.
My great grandpa was a Jewish actor and the director at the Moscow State Jewish Theater, one of the most prolific theaters of its time. He was also the Head of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee during World Word Two and was sent to the United States by Joseph Stalin to assist in raising funds in the Jewish community, for opening another front in the war against the Nazis. My great grandpa’s speech in Russian, one that never fails to inspire awe in me, so clearly loaded with historical significance, was such a huge success, that the crowds stormed the stage, causing it to collapse and my great grandfather to break his leg. He came back from that tour on crutches and I wonder if he knew that this undeniable success brought him a few steps closer to sealing his fate. I would probably ask him that, had I met him for dinner.
My great grand father had all the makings of what a paranoid dictator would consider a threat, and the fate to go with that. My grandma often mentioned his almost paralyzing sense of responsibility. He was hyper actively and all encompassingly responsible, always accepting visitors at what very little time he had away from the theater and his public engagements, and those visitors would ask for help, advice, anything from the wise Solomon and he would always try to send them away with something. I bet he was so exhausted. My grandma tells us that he once referred to himself as “laden with destinies”. I would ask him if I get my sense of responsibility from him and our shared birth date.
My grandma and her sister talk about his wonderful sense of humour and how he loved to make his daughters laugh. I would ask him if ghosts have a sense of humour and if he said yes, I’d know that he was responsible for those lights going on and off at night in my mom’s apartment, in the most un-menacingly possible way.
I would tell him he’s the only ghost I’m not scared of meeting. I think. I would say thank you for so much, and tell him how proud I am. And then I would probably just shut up and start listening.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post on the subject “If I could have dinner with any historical figure”.
I am incredibly proud to co-host my favourite blog hop. Please don’t forget to visit our wonderful hosts:
Janine at Janine’s Confessions of a Mommyaholic
Stephanie at Mommy, for Real
Dawn at Dawn’s Disaster