That Cold, Uncaring Grandfather Condemned To The Shadows


         He was on his deathbed, lying motionless, a silent blanket-covered mound in the shadows. The room was semi-dark and I was alone with a grandfather I did not know in that gloom-filled dying space. I was a ten year old, alone with that man, a grandfather in name only, for whom I had no feelings and for whom my memory bank was empty.

         I had two grandfathers named Max, Max Lopatin (my mother’s father) and Max Flicker (my father’s father). Max Lopatin, was the personification of family love and devotion and the other a cold, mysterious unknown, never spoken of by his four sons when he was alive or dead.

         Although I was only five years old when he was killed in a train accident, Max Lopatin remains fixed in my memory. (See Two Killer Trains) I have warm, caring memories of him with me together with so many, wonderful family stories.

          I remember to this day, 76 years later, the numbness I felt when I stood in that darkened room viewing a dying grandfather whose last name I bore. He was the grandfather I did not know or care about. How could that be?

         We (my parents, my two younger brothers and I) lived, for a short, crowded time with Max and Becky Flicker in their apartment on Vise Avenue in the Bronx, N. Y. I was eight years old then and have no memory of that time. I do remember my mother telling me that she overheard Max telling my grandmother that he wanted to move out, without telling us, and abandon us in an apartment we could not afford.

         I think it is most important for my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to know, what little I know, who Max Flicker was and how he affected our lives. He did, indeed, affect all of our lives, without our realizing it, in the most consequential ways and will continue to do so many generations of Flickers to come. I will attempt to explain:


I feel (since I am the last one left able to do so) the only way for me to expose who he was and how he has and will continue to affect his descendants, is for me to engage his ghost.



ME             I know you are there. You are still in the shadows but I can

                  feel your presence.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             Why is it that none of your four sons would ever speak of you?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             Your eldest son, (my father) Sidney, would tell me a story or 

                   two as to how you treated him when he was a boy on the

                   farm. Who am I? It doesn’t surprise me that you don’t know  

                   who I am. – Oh. Was there a stirring in the shadows? Do you 

                   know my name?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             You probably didn’t  know my name, (your first grandchild) 

                   when you were alive. (You distracted me.) I was about to 

                   relate my father’s story how you treated him on the farm. He 

                   would tell me winter stories of how he would get up early on a 

                   freezing morning and break the ice in the water bowl next to 

                   his bed in order to wash. – Did you know that or even care? 



MAX          (Silence)


ME             Many years later he would find humor in the fact that he had

                  to wash in ice water before his farm jobs, early each morning 

                  before heading off to school. It wasn’t humorous then when he 

                  had his farm chores and then had to drive you to the train  

                  station for your commute to New York City. – What were you 

                  doing in New York City? Hmm?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             Before I get to your activities in New York City, let me ask you 

                   about your other three, younger sons, Howard, Irving and 

                   Shanley. How do you feel—What a silly question. I get the 

                   sense that you hid whatever feelings you had when you were 

                   alive if, indeed, you had any at all for your sons. 


MAX          (Silence)


ME             The sense I have is that you were hardly a caring husband. My 

                   grandmother, Becky, was alone on the farm except for her 

                   children. (See An Egg to Remember) How would I know that? 

                   –  I was there. How can that be? you might ask—if you could.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             All right Max—I’ll call you Max since I don’t feel you were 

                  much of a grandfather—it may not have been the same farm 

                  but it could have been. How? (Did I see the shadows move?)


MAX          (Silence)


ME             You were hardly a demonstrative husband, father or 

                   grandfather so why should I assume you would be curious 

                   about my visiting the farm? My mother Rebecca who 

                   preferred being called Rae or Ray (She spelled it both ways 

                  —but that’s another story, not for your ghostly ears. She and 

                  Sidney were married when  they were both 19. Did you know 

                  that? How could you not? I, was born nine months later and 

                  visited the farm five years after that. You were not there. 

                  Where were you? New York?


MAX          (Silence)


ME            Even to my young eyes, it was not much of a farm. I remember 

                 the dim lamplight at night and the smell of the kerosene. There 

                 was no electricity. I remember the wood-burning stove in the 

                 kitchen but I don’t remember you being there. I am sure there 

                 were electric lights where you were in New York City. What 

                 were you doing there, away from your wife and family?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             Sidney gave me a clue. There was that time when you gave 

                  hurried instructions to your sons. Men were coming to the 

                  farm. Next came the frantic orders. There were many, many 

                  rolls of artificial leather stacked in the barn. Hide them in the 

                  cornfield before those men arrived. What was that all about 

                  Max? – As if I couldn’t guess. Were you a crook Max? Were 

                  those rolls of artificial leather stolen?


MAX          (The shadow shook)


ME             It happened long ago Max. I have no proof, so I wont call you 

                  a crook. I will call you an austere, unloving husband, father 

                  and grandfather with dubious streaks of honesty.                            


MAX          (Silence)


ME             Believe it or not Max, you fathered a dynasty of four caring 

                  sons. How did that happen? I suppose the credit goes to 

                  Becky. Caring didn’t seem to be strongly imbedded in you and 

                  your two brothers and two sisters. There was a third brother, 

                  Benno who did not emigrate from Romania when you did. He 

                  stayed in Europe and married. Am I right? How did I know? My 

                  father (Sidney) told me the story of what you and your brothers 

                  and sisters did to Benno and his family.


MAX          (The shadow stirred)


ME             Do you remember the meeting at your house with all of your 

                   brothers and sisters, except Benno, of course? That was 

                   about 1921; just a few years after World War I. According to 

                   my father, who was about 14 years old, the family meeting 

                   concerned Benno, his wife and two young sons who were 

                   living in Italy.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             You are probably wondering how my father knew. He was 

                  listening at his bedroom door. He heard and remembered 

                  everything important that was said all of which he recorded on 

                  tape, decades later. What have you got to say about that or is 

                  that too much to ask?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             I’ll remind you. Benno and his family were starving. Why they 

                  were in Italy starving my father did not say. Nevertheless, 

                  Benno was writing to his brothers and sisters here in America 

                  desperate for help. You remember that Max?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             After much deliberation, with those for and against helping, a 

                  compromise was reached. Do you remember that compromise 

                  Max?  Shall I remind you? -- (What was that?) My pen rolled 

                  off my desk and on to the floor. – Was that you Max?


MAX          (Silence)


ME             This is what Sidney heard while listening at his bedroom door: 

                   They (the committee of brothers and sisters, including you 

                   Max) would write back to the starving Benno and family with a 

                   question—One Question. His answer would determine 

                   whether or not they would receive help. In the interim they 

                   would continue to starve. – What’s the matter Max? If you 

                   didn’t have guilt feelings then I doubt if you would have them 

                   now, as a ghost in the shadows.  


MAX          (Silence)     


ME             Oh yes, the question. Sidney received the results of Benno’s 

                  answer years later in his office in New York. Surely you 

                  remember the question you and the others wrote back to your 

                  starving brother and his family in Italy. Let me remind you: 

                  “Were your two sons circumcised?”


MAX          (Silence)


ME             You and your brothers and sisters played the roles of the   

                  Roman Emperors at the Games. Thumbs up for circumcision, 

                  thumbs down for having failed to do so. And that meant no 

                  help and money saved. You remember that Max even if you 

                  are a ghost. If you can speak, now is the time.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             Somehow Benno and his family survived. How they survived

                  without you and your brothers and sisters aid is unknown but 

                  none of you seemed to care. That brings me to the visit my 

                  father, your son Sidney, received in his New York office many 

                  years later. You were already dead and forgotten.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             There were two young men, brothers, with foreign accents 

                   (probably Italian). Somehow they located my father at his 

                   office at the F.A. Ringler Company. Their last names were 

                   Kraft. Can you guess who they were, Max? They were your 

                   nephews, Max; Benno’s two sons.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             I don’t know if it was Benno or his two sons who changed 

                  their last names from Flicker to Kraft but the point they made  

                  to my father was because of the way they were treated they 

                  no longer wanted the Flicker name.


MAX          (Silence)


ME             It had to be Becky who managed to overcome your unloving  

                  austerity and imbue her four sons with a sense of love and 

                  caring. That love and caring was our most important 

                  inheritance we the children of your four sons received. We 

                  have guarded and nurtured that inheritance and passed it 

                  down to our children who in turn pass it on with accrued 



MAX          (Silence)


ME             So Max, I leave you to your cold, shadowed world knowing, 

                  through your sons, that this FLICKER CLAN continues to grow 

                  and prosper with love and caring.



Bob Flicker

Sidney’s and Rebecca’s son

Max and Fanny Lopatin’s grandson

Becky Flicker’s grandson

Barry, Lee, Jonathan, Joshua, and Lauren’s father

Jai, Kier, Blair, Keaton, Lenox, and Logan’s grandfather

Dotty and (known in May) great grandfather

and the beat goes on

 © robert 2014