Grandpa lived a fascinating life. Why did he never mention it?
I might not have been there. But my grandfather miraculously survived a US Army Air Corps bomber crash in WWII, so this story can be written.
He never spoke of the details, but reports say it happened on the night of August 8, 1943, during a training flight. My grandfather’s plane plunged into the arid desert 120 miles west of Salt Lake City.
A few minutes later, the bomber was struck by a freight train, resulting in a pile-up of 26 cars and what the Associated Press called a “vertiginous pyramid of destruction. “A pilot was killed, but 10 others were dragged out of the wreckage and survived, including Irwin Landau.
When our family immigrated to America via Ellis Island, they stayed in touch with their Polish community by creating the organization Young Friends of Lentshizer. Last month, during Thanksgiving week, my 96-year-old grandfather was buried alongside his countrymen in the group’s dedicated plot in a New York City cemetery.
His death reminded me that he rarely, if ever, spoke about his origins. He was not brooding and was not nostalgic. The irony is that his life was actually fascinating.
Unpretentious, without sentimental: it was him
Irwin Landau was an unpretentious worker who broke his hump in the upscale Manhattan neighborhoods, selling and repairing jewelry for most of his post-military career. Blue collar workers were all we knew.
But many not-so-distant relatives were on the opulent side of the slopes. Like his cousin, Aaron Feuerstein, a famous textile manufacturer and philanthropist. Or the late Dr. Arthur Landau, who was part of the team of doctors who performed the first heart transplant in South Africa. Digging further, he descended from the famous Jewish philosopher of the 1700s, the Rabbi Yechezkel Landau.
However, grandfather stubbornly did not stay in touch with the family, beyond a few people. Not sentimental, he would throw away old photos. But he could also be fiercely loyal, looking after his immediate family with home loans, installing elbow grease by installing a floor in the living room, and often bringing food and gifts to our house.
Not the type to question things in general, I remember Grandpa’s response to one of the the biggest earthquakes in New York history. I happened to be sleeping with my grandparents in Queens the night of the Ardsley earthquake, October 19, 1985.
I woke up with a start and saw everything in the room shaking and making noise like something “Poltergeist”, my disoriented 9 year old self called for help.
“Go back to bed, it was just a big truck,” my grandfather from downstairs replied.
For the record, it wasn’t just a big truck.
Grandpa has a lot of catching up to do
My parents divorced in the 1980s and mom moved my sister and I across the country to Arizona. From there, until college, my grandparents wrote me a letterbook and even attended my graduation from Arizona State University. They have always encouraged me to focus on my studies to prepare me for success.
Grandpa was never the same after my grandmother’s ascension in 2011. He lost one of his three sons, my father Joel in 1991, and took it very badly. But losing his wife over 60 was most likely the final blow to his soul.
His health was always excellent until mid-2020, when he began to lose his faculties and parents moved him from Florida to an assisted living facility in New York City. Still running until 95, it was probably the last straw.
Losing his independence, in my opinion, made my grandfather quit.
Shortly before his death, we spoke on the phone. He didn’t remember much. But he told me that he had recently spoken with his late brother Norman.
Some would say he’s an old man losing his mind. But for me, Irwin Landau was passing to the other side and starting to interact with the souls there, including his brother who crossed over in 2018.
The more I think about death, the more I think that towards the end we have one foot in the tangible and one in the astral. The intertwining of these two realities would confuse anyone. After that last phone call, Grandpa said, “I hope I can meet you one day.”
I’ll see him on the other side eventually, but until then he has a lot to catch up to do.
Seth Landau is a journalist and screenwriter / director / producer / actor. His reporting has appeared in Voice Media Group, The Arizona Republic and more. His films have been released on all digital platforms. He can be contacted at https://www.youtube.com/c/SethLandauDivervation.