In memory of…

Rachel LaVictoire, 18, is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a freshman. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center. Rachel will be contributing regular commentaries and d’var Torah reflections, which will be posted on the Jewish Light’s website, — some of which will also be included in the Jewish Light’s print editions.

By Rachel LaVictoire, Special to the Jewish Light

This week’s Torah portion includes the death of both Sarah and Abraham, a matriarch and patriarch. In this spirit, I would like to reach out to all of those who have recently lost someone, and to anyone who is currently observing a yahrzeit.

I would also like to take this time to say a good-bye to my grandpa, Lawrence Charles LaVictoire, who passed away last Tuesday (October 23rd). He was born in Flint, Mich. on April 25, 1926. I never heard about his life as a kid. He was part of a big family– four brothers and two sisters. He was a twin, and the two of them were the youngest of the siblings. All five boys fought in World War II.

He married my grandma, Margaret Hurley, in 1951. She had spent a long time hiding her age from him. It wasn’t until the two of them went for a marriage license that my grandma revealed she was three years older than he was. It didn’t matter and they were married on May 5th. He was 25 and she, admittedly, was 28. Just a year later they had their first son, my dad. After that they had five more kids for a grand total of five boys and one girl. The seven of them lived their lives in a three-bedroom house in Flint.

Grandpa never left Flint, so we went visit about once a year (at the time, we were living in Ann Arbor). When I was little, I sat on his lap and kissed his old wrinkly cheek. He could make a “U” with his thumb and pointer finger, slide them back into his mouth, and take his teeth out with no effort. Not understanding the concept of dentures, I would try to do the same thing. It didn’t work, and therefore there was only one logical explanation: my grandpa was magical.


Fifteen years ago my family moved to Atlanta, and my visits with my grandpa grew less frequent. We went up one December for the holidays, and I was taken back by how little that mattered. My grandparents had moved houses and my grandma shuffled around to “wow” us with her walk-in closet, her somewhat up-to-date laundry appliances, and, of course, grandpa’s chair. Grandpa had been silent up until this point, sitting patiently at the kitchen table alongside his oxygen tank. This chair however, seemed reason enough for him to get up. Alongside my grandma, he led us into the family room where he pointed to an olive green corduroy-esque chair. He playfully hit my brother on the shoulder and told him to sit down.

“Watch this,” he exclaimed with as much as excitement as his lungs would allow him to express. He pulled out a white plastic controller that been squished between the cushions of the chair. He held down one of the buttons, watched the chair recline and the footrest pop out, and then looked to my brother’s face, searching for amazement. My brother humored him, told him how incredible such a chair was.

A year later we returned. The house hadn’t changed, but when I walked into the kitchen, I saw the strangest thing: some sort of shriveled up, reddish brown oval, about the size of my palm resting on three toothpicks that had been pressed into it to create a tripod of sorts. Upon further inspection, I saw its face, drawn with Sharpie. I had to ask: “Grandpa, what is that?”

I gave him a sort of I love you, but you’re weird sort of look– head tilted, eyes confused. “That’s George,” he said plainly. Obviously that answer did not satisfy my curiosity, so I persisted. It turned out that George was an apple… in an earlier life. My grandpa had been curious as what would happen if he left an apple out for a very long time. When George stopped being able to stand on its own, Grandpa built him the stand with toothpicks. He explained all of this with an unwavering voice. He thought what he had done was entirely normal.

It came time to head back to Atlanta. I could feel the bones in his back as I wrapped my arms around my grandpa. He told me to take good care of myself and of my family. He always said that. Then, as always, he sat back down in his chair and stared blankly at the wall. I always wondered what he was thinking, but he rarely said much. I spent the next couple of minutes asking G-d to take care of him, and to allow me to come back to visit just one more time.

In December we knew it would be our last visit with him. He knew it would be his last visit with us. I sat with him at his small white kitchen table. I wanted to do most of the speaking so he could save his energy, but there was too much I wanted to know. He had lived 86 years, and I’d known him for only 17 of them. I asked about his dates with my grandma, and about their marriage. I asked about some of his on-the-side jobs like scooping ice cream, and asked which was his favorite. I asked what the happiest time in his life was. He said this to me, “there were a few years when me and your grandma went to live up north. The kids were grown, so we quit our jobs and went up there. We had about four thousand dollars in the bank. If something had happened, we would have been S.O.L, but nothing happened and we were happy.”

When Abraham dies in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read, “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and G-d had blessed Abraham with everything… Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years” (Genesis 24:1…25:8).

Abraham was forced to leave his home, then faced a famine. He had a barren wife and after finally being blessed with a son, he was asked to sacrifice him. Likewise, my grandpa and everyone else who has set foot on this earth, suffered during his lifetime. And yet we say, “G-d had blessed [him] with everything” because G-d did give him life, and we are thankful. G-d, thank you for sharing my grandpa with me. He is now in your hands, please take care of him.