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Alan D Busch

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These Are The People: Harry Austin, My Maternal Grandpa
By Alan D Busch
Wednesday, April 02, 2008

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Had you known him, you would have liked him too.

"These are the Lives that Have Touched Mine ... "

"My Maternal Grandpa, Harry Austin, (originally "Astrinsky"

Harry Austin, I suspect, had already hidden himself from his private reality by the time he left my grandmother Jean, mother and Aunt Iris on their own.

It was at a time, I am told, when something like this just did not happen very often, and if and when it did, it was pretty well hushed up. "Such a shanda!"

Grandpa Harry, young man that he was, I am sure, gave no thought to how this might come back to haunt him in the future. And as far as I can determine, he didn't but it did.

A slightesh man who wore a green iridescent suit with brown wingtips for far too long, double vents in the back, my mom's dad smoked cheap cigars, loved a shot or two of vodka straight up now and then and suffered from a Parkinsonian tremor in his later years


My grandpa loved tea, and I enjoyed watching him. There was something, a mysterious and intangible quality that attracted me to Grandpa Harry. Although by no means a large man, he always impressed me as such a tough guy--kind of like Edward G. Robinson from the era of the 1930s gangster movies. Such was my grandfather but without the Thompson submachine gun.

Though he did know my name, he called me "boy."

"Hand me the sugar cubes there boy."

"Grandpa, what are you doing?" I asked, as he placed a sugar cube between his lower lip and gum.

"Having my tea, " he answered, sounding as if he had  several marbles rolling around in his mouth.

Now Grandpa Harry was hard enough to understand much of the time even on good days. His "Henglish" was definately of the Russian variety, having arrived here as a young boy, he once told me, between the two Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

His trembling right hand desperately seized his tea cup. It shook so much as if it were afraid of him.

His hands were as roughly hewn as the bricks he had once laid, his manner gruff, coarse, an unschooled man about whom my grandmother Jean never stopped obsessing.


Grandma Jean never did remarry, and she would always inquire with me if ever-when he'd take his grandsons out for dinner-- he inquired about her. In truth, on all my excursions out with Grandpa Harry, I don't recall any inquiries he ever made with me about his one-time wife. It was as though he had put her out of his mind a long time before.

"Oh, hi Grandma! I didn't realize you were here," I remarked, caught by surprise because I had just seen Grandpa Harry who was staying by Aunt Iris, my mother's sister.

"Alan Dear," Grandma called me over by her on the couch. "Does your grandfather ever ask about me when you are together?"

"Oh sure Grandma." Her eyes brightened. "He knows you're here," I said, rather deftly skirting the question put to me, but you know what? It made her happy. After all, she was my grandma, and even though she wore too much makeup, I had to protect her feelings.

Now there were instances when Grandpa simply crossed the line.

“Grandpa, don’t ask her? I pled, whispering loudly from behind my menu.

We were out for pizza with my older brother Ron and cousins Craig and Neal, Uncle Marvin and Aunt Iris's boys.

“Why not? he retorted gruffly. "It’s dark in here. I can’t see the menu," he complained somewhat justifiably. The place was dark. Each table had but one rather puny candle.

"Ambience" I think they call it. Oh, Grandpa Harry Austin was as irrepressible as that pizza place was dingy. We sat giggling.

“Missy, do you have a flashlight?"


 ("He called her 'MIssy!' ") 


 We were sniggering from behind our greasy menus.

"What, Sir? she asked unsuspectingly.

"A flashlight," he repeated.

"Why Sir, may I know why you need a flashlight?"

We groaned. He said it. He really did.

Grandpa Harry was a man I dearly loved in part because I felt bad for him. He had made it very hard on my Grandma, aunt and mom in their earlier years, but he was always good to me as well as to his other grandsons. I know he knew I loved him.
Upon his passing, each of us received a tidy sum of money, but I alone was the grandson to whom he had bequeathed his diamond ring.

Alan D. Busch

revised 4/2/08





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