Dinner with Grandpa of the Two Faces


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.


Finish the Sentence Friday

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

Kate at Can I Get Another Bottle of Whine?

Dawn at Dawn’s Disaster

41 thoughts on “Dinner with Grandpa of the Two Faces

  1. Your great-gradfather sounds like a very wonderful and interesting person indeed. I was lucky enough to actually not only meet my great-grandfather, but have him alive for 13 years of my life. He was 90 years old was I was born and lived to be 103 years old and he also was an interesting character and was just so blessed to have had him in my life for so long. But know what you mean and it would very much be a trip to have one more meal with my own great grandfather and could only imagine for you what this experience would be like. Thank you so much for sharing and for also co-hosting with us this week. Really just so happy to have you join us!! 🙂

    • Katia says:

      How lucky to have known your great grandfather! It would have been interesting to read what you remember of him! 🙂

      I am thrilled to be here, Janine, it’s a bloggy dream come true!

  2. Oh my gosh, how fascinating! What an interesting man your great grandfather was. So, of course, I had to Google him. And he came right up. Then I read more about him on Wikipedia. Did your grandmother write the biography about him or was that her sister? This is so totally fascinating. Loved it!

    • Katia says:

      Hey Kate! Yes, it was indeed my grandma, the more reserved and writery-type sister who wrote the biography. That’s another childhood memory I have, my grandma carrying note pads everywhere and filling them with words 🙂 Thank you so much for Googling him. I initially thought of placing a link to wiki, but then I thought it was too much and just figured whoever is interested will look. I am not surprised it was you. xo

  3. Betty Taylor says:

    That was a great story! You have some fantastic family history to pass down to your children and grandchildren. Congrats on co-hosting FTSF.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Betty! Yes, I’m so proud of him and can’t wait for my sons to reach the age where I can talk to them about him.

  4. Karen says:

    WOW…what a great family history, that would be a fascinating dinner and to talk to him now that you are an adult.

  5. Beautiful. Such a bittersweet part of life that often when we are “old enough” to most appreciate and yearn to hear our grandparents stories, they are gone.

    • Katia says:

      So true, Sarah. As I was writing this I was thinking of all the questions I still have to ask my grandma and regretting that she is no longer in the mental shape to answer them.

  6. Zenith says:

    I love that … What a character! I never knew my Grandparents … I feel that void.

    Great post!!!!

    Warm regards
    Collette in Cape Town
    Zenith … http://zenith-thinking.blogspot.com/

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Zenith. Yes, I never really got to know my grandparents on my father’s side and I agree that it’s a huge void, especially for a child. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to know yours.

  7. Considerer says:

    He sounds incredible! What a life! I bet he’d have some amazing stories.

  8. How fun to know such detailed family history. I do not know any except for my parents’ experiences. Not only because I was adopted, but {I have my grandparents and had great-grandparents} they never talked about other family members…past ones anyhow. I hope the Beanie Babies grow up hearing stories about their great-grandparents from me and the Hubs and can look at them as fondly as you do, even though they aren’t famous or very “loud” in history.

    Thank you so much for being a co-hostess of #FTSF this week!

    • Katia says:

      It doesn’t matter who your great grandparents are, I totally agree with you that it just helps a child to know they were once there, it helps to have a sense of belonging to something larger than immediate family. With my own kids especially, I think, because we’ve immigrated and they are growing away from their grandparents, so stories are going to be key. Thank you so much, Dawn, for having me!

  9. What incredible family history! I’m in awe. What a perfect way to answer the question.

  10. Wow, what an interesting man! It’s funny, I have a great-grandpa whom I’ve never met, but whose shadow haunts me. He was an artist, like me, and an alcoholic, also like me. In a way, I feel as if I’ve known him my whole life, as he’s always been a part of who I am…

    • Katia says:

      Yes, that’s exactly how I’d put it – a part of who I am. Let me know if you ever write about him, sounds like a fascinating story. There are several generations of artists in my family (and not enough business men…) and I know talent often comes with a price or with its demons, if you will.

  11. As always, loved it. Your grandpa sounds fascinating. I just cc’d and pasted his name into a new window so that I can learn more about him. How wonderful to grow up with such powerful stories about an amazing man. Can I have dinner with him too?

  12. Nice choice, and he sounds like quite and interesting character. I’ve bookmarked this post so I can look him up after I’m finished wandering the #FTSF posts for the day. And yes, that is a weird phenomenon in dreams. I do that with places as well as people.

  13. fascinating person/relative/historical figure… I get a lot from the vitality of your family history, as it comes across in this Post. We all have parents, and they are fundamental and some of us, have grandparents and they are somehow…of the family as a whole, a reference point to the personal history of the family as it exists (and as it has existed.)
    Great Grandparents! surely they are a bridge between the world that is ‘out there’, that is described in books by strangers and yet there is a personal connection. How very cool.

    the holographic character of dreams is so intriguing. You wake up slowly, returning to a everyday consciousness and if lucky you have dragged a remnant of a dream…that you know is ‘impossible’ know… just the sense of it’s non-rationalness, before it turns into nothing.

    • Katia says:

      Thank you so much, Clark. I truly enjoy your comments every week! Very accurate description of the state of transitioning from dream to reality as well.

  14. libbylives says:

    He sounds really interesting, and I ended the post wanting to know more about him. You *tease* you to say something like “it sealed his fate” and never relate what his fate was. I WANNA KNOW MORE!!!!

    • Katia says:

      Hey Libby! Thank you so much for asking. I kept it out of the post for purpose thinking it would make it overly dramatic and remove the story even further from the readers’ reality, but I can definitely share the rest of the story. He got assassinate by Stalin in a staged car accident, a fact that Stalin’s daughter writes about in her memoir. According to my grandma she realize din hind sight that my great grandpa knew it was going to happen. He was very apprehensive about going away (he was summoned on a trip out of town) and this is where he was met by his destiny. He was wearing the wrist watch I’ve mentioned in the post.

  15. Jean says:

    What a huge presence this man has in your family! Katia, is this who you get your way with words from? “Laden with destinies” beautiful.

    • Katia says:

      Yes, I was having a hard time translating what he said into English, but I’m glad it works. I often think about that saying when I feel burdened by too many things I know I shouldn’t be preoccupying myself with. At the same time it’s very gratifying being reminded of him 🙂 Thank you so much, Jean!

  16. I love how your family kept his memory alive for you! I could see why you’d want to meet him.

  17. I think it is wonderful that his spirit and his memories are passed along to you. How important it is to keep that lineage with the family.
    I love hearing about the family members that I’ve never met. I would definitely agree that some of those people I would love to have dinner with.
    He sounds bad ass.

  18. The Waiting says:

    I would like to be a fly on the wall if you got to have a talk with him. What a huge, wonderful presence he has in your family’s narrative! The way you describe him and the memories and facts surrounding his life – well, they are just so intriguing and beautiful. You make him proud, Katia.

  19. Um. Wow. What an incredible legacy to honor.

  20. Jen says:

    What an amazing story, so lyrical, your grandfather word be proud! It seems you and I have some similarities historically. I am fascinated by the tidbits you offer and a little jealous of your memories.

  21. […] on January 13th we would welcome guests to my mom’s apartment, where we would gather to remember my great grandfather. On August 12th you would find us on a Jerusalem-bound bus, headed to a commemorative monument to […]

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