Leon Saner 1914-2011
Leon Saner died on Saturday.
I can’t begin to describe how much that fact has impacted my life. He was my mother’s father — and so much more than those words might suggest.
The number of stories that have come to mind and been told by family in the week
since we took up a vigil at Grandpop’s bedside could fill a book; perhaps one day they will. For now, I’ll just share the eulogy that I managed to read at the service held in his honor:
Stella & Leon Saner, in their mid 80s, in the mid ’90s.
I get laughter sometimes in response. And it’s not that people are being disrespectful, just amazed. Grandmom herself says that it’s ridiculous; she has a point.
When folks say that at 96 it wasn’t unexpected, though... Yes and no. If you’ve made it to 96, there’s no telling how much farther you’ll go. This is true even if you’re not Leon Saner, in all of his resilience and dichotomy — the man who expressed a desire to go to sleep for good in one breath and a hankering for corned-beef hash in the next, who got embarrassed by the limelight but is surely looking down at the fuss being made over him as proud as a peacock.
I also get skeptical looks when I remark that, until Grandpop’s stroke, he and Grandmom never really seemed old to me. Part of that is due to the blessing of seeing them so often that there was never any shocking change in their appearance; part of it is because, despite the natural ailments that did come with age, they remained so vibrant. Even the care providers who dealt with them these past few years often assumed that I was Stella & Leon’s son, not grandson, since — and I don’t mean this to be self-deprecating — you wouldn’t look at me and assume that I still had grandparents roaming the earth.
I mean... 96. He and Grandmom have outlived three brothers and three sisters
between them — as well as, much more cruelly, against the natural order of things, a beloved son-in-law and daughter. He is survived by his devoted wife and a dozen-and-a-half uncommonly good-looking progeny: Sherie, five grandchildren, their spouses, and eight great-grandchildren.
Anytime someone did refer to Grandpop as my father — including, as frequently happened through a slip of the tongue, Grandmom herself — I couldn’t argue the point. The description was apt even if unintentional. I lived with my grandparents at various times throughout my life, and whether the circumstances were happy or sad it was only ever an opportunity to rediscover the amount of love one soul could harbor towards another.
We all, my sister and cousins and I, have countless precious memories of Grandpop both private and shared. I hope you’ll take it as nothing more than a token of those memories, and not a selfish act, if I offer a personal one of mine in closing.
The memory dates to the days before we spoke man to man, before I was allowed to
see him soften, before the roles of parent and child blurred. In those days Grandpop was still Pop-Pop and — for all the games of catch, all the pancakes cooked on a griddle on the kitchen table, all the old songs sung in the car — he was still a bit aloof, simply because that’s how men of his generation were, not distant so much as bearing the inscrutable mantle of a family patriarch whose own boyhood came during the Great Depression.
I am sick with some bug at the pink house in Wildwood. Most likely it is stormy out, which is why Grandpop comes home wearing the fedora and trenchcoat that are so prominent in another memory — the evening we braved the driving rain together to shepherd a deposit bag across the street from the store on Pacific Ave. to the night-drop slot at the bank.
Grandmom is fussing over me when Grandpop walks in and tentatively, I could almost say apologetically, hands me a comic book.
He loved to slip us change for some penny candy, the arcade, or any number of
other childhood wonders, but although I knew that he appreciated my creativity, my obsession with reading about fantasy worlds and dreaming up my own, he never gave any indication that he really understood it. Even as a grandfather, back then, the job description was still to provide more than to nurture. So to realize that Leon Saner had stopped off himself after work that night to select an issue of Four-Star Spectacular from a spinner rack somewhere, reaching out to me in what to him might as well have been another language — it probably cured my fever on the spot.
Leon Saner gave me many things. From that Four-Star Spectacular to the Kennedy half-dollars in my paycheck, from my singular mother to my double chin, I treasure all of them. I want to say that I could not have loved him more, but every time I think of him I somehow do exactly that.
Related: Bing! • Nick of Time • Stella Saner 1916-2016