Memories of my Grandfather

Loren Kantor
6 min readAug 19
Grandpa Al was a seminal figure in my life. (Woodcut print by author)

My Grandpa Al loved to tell the story about his first job when he was 16 working at a Brooklyn hospital. One day he was asked to carry a recently deceased corpse from the basement morgue to the second floor autopsy room. As he was hauling the heavy body up the stairs, rigor mortis set in and the body’s stool loosened causing a bowel movement. Al dropped the corpse onto the stairwell and said, “If you can poop, you can walk.”

My grandfather was a seminal figure in my life. The youngest of 12 children, he was born in 1913 in Austria-Hungary and came to America at age 2. He was raised in a poor Jewish neighborhood, the son of a Hasidic scholar who spent most days studying in a Yeshiva (Jewish seminary). His mom worked as a seamstress in a garment factory. As a result, Al was raised primarily by his older sisters. At an early age, Al made deliveries for his Uncle Sam who owned a grocery store in Brooklyn.

Family grocery store in Brooklyn.

As a teenager, Al snuck into Ebbets Field to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers play baseball. He loved the music of Louis Armstrong and Al Jolson and was one of the first kids in the neighborhood to own a record player. He became an accomplished dancer and an amateur boxer.

Al as a teenager holding his cousin Irv.

Al met my Grandma Stella at a Jewish youth group event in the Bronx. Al wore a canary yellow suit with white fringe. He dazzled guests with his exotic dance moves. According to Stella, “all the girls wanted to dance with him but he asked me.” They went steady for two months then married while still teenagers.

My grandparents moved to Reading, Pennsylvania during the Depression. They had three daughters, my mom being the oldest. Al became a door-to-door pasta salesman. He carried a leather satchel with samples of spaghetti, linguini and macaroni. He sang Italian songs to local housewives then charmed himself into their kitchen where he cooked sample pasta dishes like pasta con polpette (spaghetti and meatballs). When he later told these stories to me he’d say, “As soon as they tasted my meat I’d get a big…

Loren Kantor

Loren is a writer and woodcut artist based in Los Angeles. He teaches printmaking and creative writing to kids and adults.