First Person: My Grandpa Bill, 1900-1975

Cheri Marcovitch and her Grandpa Bill in 1953. Courtesy photo
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By Cheri Marcovitch
For The Signal

I have sweet memories of my Grandpa Bill. He loved people and enjoyed talking and joking with everyone, even if they were just in line at the market. I am kind of the same way, talking to everyone, including to strangers who are in line with me at the grocery store. Apparently, there is a genetic component. 

Bill was very loving to all his grandchildren. My sister, being six years younger, most likely has different, but equally sweet, memories of him. I have been told by my mother that he ran away to join the Navy when was only 16 years old. He was too young to be accepted so he joined the Canadian Merchant Marines. At the age of 18 he went back and joined up in the U.S. Navy after all. 

Canadian Merchant Marines, 1916. Courtesy photo

Can you even imagine leaving home at such a tender age? I never heard anything negative about his home life, so I guess he was looking for adventure and it was the start of World War I.

When he served in the Navy he worked in the news/editing department. Grandpa loved to write and his work showed his passion. After the Navy years he wrote articles and stories for the Reader’s Digest and later, a newsletter for the Topanga Mobile Home Park where he lived.

How he met his wife, my Grandma Nettie, was due to my grandmother having a very persuasive friend. Grandma Nettie was invited to a Halloween party but she had planned on washing her hair. My grandma was always “cautious” about her hair-washing routine. The weather had to be warm and the house just the right temperature or one could catch a cold. Her friend pleaded with her to forget about her hair and attend the party instead. Nettie resisted at first, but thank goodness, eventually she relented and changed her plans. It was there she was to meet her future husband Bill. I do not know how long they dated, but they were married in the local rabbi’s house on Halloween, 1922. Both my grandma and grandpa were born the same year, 1900. Unfortunately, no photos exist of the ceremony.

U.S. Navy, 1918. Courtesy photo

Grandpa was very kind, loving and a lot of fun. He always called Grandma, “Dolly.” He used to leave little notes on scraps of paper in the kitchen drawers and other places in the house with the simple words “I love you” for my grandma to find. One of my most precious possessions is one of the little love notes he wrote to my grandma. 

My grandpa was extremely intelligent. When he took the civil service exam, the proctor told him he had scored the highest score ever. Grandpa worked in the post office as a clerk. He could have been anything he wanted, but seemed content enough to be away from his cold birthplace of Minnesota to live in the warm temperatures of Arizona. 

A few years after they married, he was promised a position at a pharmacy in Los Angeles and moved his family to California from Arizona to interview in person. They were ready to hire him, but after they found out he was Jewish, they told him the position had been filled. I cannot imagine the anger, pain and disappointment. 

Cheri and Howard Marcovitch at the pool, 1968. Courtesy photo

Another memorable incident occurred when I was about 5 years old and I was visiting their house. I needed to go to the bathroom. Somehow, try as I may, I could not get the doorknob to turn so that I could get out. I was locked in. I panicked and called for my mommy to get me out. Through the door I listened to my daddy telling me how to turn the glass doorknob, but it would not turn. The linen closet, unbeknownst to me, had a door on the outside hallway that connected to the bathroom. Next thing I knew, my daddy crawled in the closet, sliding between the shelves and opening the connecting door. I gather they had to remove all the linens for him to get in there. Thank goodness he was very thin. He was my hero, just like Superman, he turned the knob and got me out.

I can also remember Grandpa telling me silly things, and being so young I totally believed him. He made the mistake of showing my sister and I that he could remove his false teeth and thereafter we regularly begged him to do it for us. He apparently grew tired of that game long before we did so he told me that he left his false teeth in and that they grew in permanently. I am embarrassed to say that one stuck with me for a very long time, until my mother told me he made it up. 

In the dining room of the little duplex where they lived, they had a Murphy bed. It was hidden behind what looked like beautiful French doors and when I stayed overnight Grandpa would get it ready for me. He pulled the bed down, fixed the sheets, and added cozy blankets. He told me to be careful, that the bed could go up by itself if I was not in it. Again, I believed him and, even until this day, I have that stuck in my head.

Grandpa Bill, 1937. Courtesy photo

In my teen years I was excited for my boyfriend Howard to meet my grandparents. At that time, they were living in a mobile home park in Woodland Hills. It had a recreation room and pool for the seniors only. Somehow Howard and I went in as guests. I cannot swim, so I held on to the edge. I have a photo of me in Howard’s arms hanging on for dear life, hoping he would not take me into the deep end.

Grandpa Bill loved Howard and bonded with him at their first meeting. There was a shed on the side yard where Grandpa had some paint cans, tools, and other odds and ends, nothing of great value. He would take Howard aside and say, “Howard come with me, I have something for you.” No one else was invited to go with them. Like I said, nothing really valuable, but Howard might come back into the house with an old hammer or screwdriver. If my memory serves me right, this was the usual way it went every time we visited.

Grandpa Bill got cancer and passed away in 1975. I had no idea that I was pregnant with my firstborn when he passed. I like to think that when one loved one passes another love is born. I will always treasure the most valuable gift he gave me, the love and sweet memories.

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