As much as I appreciate my parents’ investment in my education and acknowledge their influence in my life, I would be remiss if I didn’t look even further back and examine the contribution my grandparents offered to the shaping of my character. To this day I feel the results of their inspiration and legacy.
My maternal grandfather, who passed away fifteen years ago this June, was an amazing individual of many talents and accomplishments. I have always considered him a true “Renaissance Man,” in the sense that he possessed a wide range of interests and seemed to master them all. Born in 1913 to immigrant parents, he rose from difficult circumstances to succeed in school and excel in his educational pursuits.
It’s rare to find someone who excels strongly in both math and language, yet my grandfather was a brilliant mathematician as well as a linguistic genius. Although my family knew that he worked as a code-breaker during World War II at what later became the NSA, he was always very tight-lipped about his work there. His natural inclination was to be modest about his accomplishments, and I think that for a long time the notion of war security still lingered in his mind. It was not until many decades later that we gradually discovered that he had been on the team that broke the Japanese code. He was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the greatest minds of his generation.
He was also a prolific wordsmith. He spoke seven languages, wrote poetry, carried on correspondence with numerous eminent authors (and occasionally pointed out errors in their published works, which often were corrected in subsequent editions), submitted and edited puzzles to logic and games magazines, and wrote extensively on a variety of topics.
He was a master chess player who taught me to play chess, but he never would let me beat him. He even invented several games of his own, many of which our family still plays today. (In fact, I may have to devote a future post to some of those games, which are quite fun and can be enjoyed by all ages.)
Ironically, as intellectually aware as my grandparents were, they were originally very skeptical of my parents’ decision to homeschool. They were able to think outside the box in so many areas, but it took many years of demonstrable results before they finally acknowledged that yes, homeschooling was a good option for their grandkids. However, they were always very supportive of our educational endeavors, encouraging us to get a good college degree and even underwriting music lessons for a time. Their heritage includes a passion for self-improvement and a love for lifelong learning.
I’m sorry that my children never knew my grandfather, but they know so much of his character through the deep imprints his vivid personality left on my life. My mother, who grew up under his tutelage, was a stickler for grammar with her children, and now I automatically drill my children in correct speech and language. My children’s own passion for chess can be traced directly back to my grandfather’s legacy.
His memorial marker is aptly inscribed: “A scholar and a gentleman: a man of few words, who knew so many.”
Photo Credit: Second, third, fourth, and fifth photos copyright Rose Focht.