Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Grampa So Loved his Lemon Tree…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 9:18 am on Friday, June 4, 2021

By Robert M. Katzman © June 4, 2021

Grampa Warman sure loved trees

I watched him as a child

On the South Side of Chicago

Come to my house

Dragging tree after tree after tree

Behind him, with his strong hands

Dig wide deep holes

Then plant them

Pear, Apple, Plum

And water them

Then stand back 

Look at them

And smile


He was about five foot four

Barrel-chested and muscular 

With bright white hair

His smile was wide

Deep creases framing it

A Yiddish accent shaping his English

He would knock my skinny elbows 

Off the table, over and over

When I sat in his kitchen

And then he would laugh


My Mother parked me 

At my Grandparents Chicago house 

Between 1955 and 1960

When I was five to ten

Until late in the evening

Where I discovered

Perry Como and Walter Cronkite

And watched them each night

During dinner


I watched my grandparents, too

My angry Gramma Celia

Her mouth a tight line

Her eyes cold and forbidding

She saw you and saw through you

She was four foot eleven

Snow-white hair

I did what she said

No hugs from my Gramma

I felt a shortage of love

And maybe Grampa did too


Gramma was born in Dobra, Poland

Spoke Polish there, and also 

Ukraina, A dialect

To the Jews, she was a Galitzianer

Grampa was born in Minsk, Byelorussia

Don’t know what Jews from there 

Were called by other Jews


He spoke Russian there

When they met

Yiddish was their common language

Like Greek and Latin were

 In Biblical times

English came later

Or, their version of it


Grampa told me in 1914

The year he left for America

The year it became worse for the Jews

That Minsk had:

One hundred thousand people

One third Russian

One third Polish and

One third Jews

Today, there are two million there

But only twenty thousand Jews

I did not learn I was 

One half Byelorussian Jewish 

Until I was thirty-five 

He only said “Russia”


My Grandparents spoke 

Only Yiddish in the kitchen

While I drew pictures or

Watched the news or the singers

I wasn’t supposed to understand

But over those years

I slowly began to comprehend


When I asked either a question

They would answer me 

In awkward English

I thought they were very old

When I was seven in 1957

But Grandpa was 66

Grandma was 56

Today, at 71, to me

Those ages seem young


Grampa crossed the cold Atlantic

August 21, 1914

When he was twenty

His successful family in Minsk

Objected to his leaving them

World War One began

August 28, 1914

When he was half-way to New York

They heard about it on the radio

He arrived in New York 

A week after that


All of his large family 

Who remained behind

Were murdered between 

World War One and Hitler

The Fathers, Mothers and their children

None were soldiers

I am here because he was defiant


I learned the date he left Europe

Later in my life

When it was a strange surprise

I too left home in 1964, but at 14

Also defying my family

Had to support myself

Opened a newspaper stand to do that

On August 21, 1965

Exactly 51 years after my Grampa left Europe

Bob’s Newsstand

Lasting twenty years

Once famous, now forgotten

Gone 36 years now

Just like newspapers, too

Time erases everything


Grampa’s home was forbidding

Cold and mostly silent

Gramma’s Father Moishe was 

Beheaded in front of her

In a Pogram in Poland

In 1914

By a Cossack on a

 “Big Black Horse”

With “A long sharp sword”

She told me many times

And I think Gramma’s soul

Died with him


Grampa’s three children 

Were busy, busy, busy

Some saw him seldom 

As years passed

Moving far, and one very far, away

There was no warmth

No celebration of family

Just a constant chill


In the 1960’s, Grampa

Bought a tiny Lemon Tree

In a slender black pot

Caring for it in his basement

Watering it, pruning it

Fertilizing it

Keeping bugs away from it

Letting the sun pour onto it

Thru a large basement glass door


For years and years

And the Tree grew

And the pot grew larger

And the Tree grew

And the pot grew larger

And the Tree grew

Thick branches spreading 

All across his wide ceiling

His basement like a forest

Branches heavy with fruit

Lemons as large as softballs

Bright, yellow and firm

My Grampa amazed me


No one could touch his Tree

No one knew the Tree’s pet name

He loved his Lemon Tree

More than anything else 

And maybe Grampa

Felt his huge Lemon Tree

Loved him back


When Grampa grew too old

Too ill, too fragile to remain

In his South Side Chicago brick home

He moved with Gramma to 

A faraway small apartment

With a nurse caring for him

Nothing mattered much 

To him about what 

They took with them

Or left behind them


But when Grampa

Suddenly realized, at 85

He would be leaving his 

Beloved Lemon Tree behind

Behind to Strangers

Hot tears fell from his dark eyes

And fell, and fell,

Streaming down the 

Deep creases on his face

Drenched his white shirt

And I watched his chest heave

And seeing this terrible pain

His helpless agony

Did something to me

Changed me


Grampa died on July 4, 1987

He was ninety-four years old

Proud to be an American

I inherited his big American flag

He hung outside of his home

Every day, for decades


Many came to his funeral

His three children

Their three wives

His seven Grandchildren

Their assorted wives

Their nearly dozen

Great-grand children


Later, when I was standing 

Near his two daughters

One of them my Mother

At the after-funeral “Shiva”

The Hebrew word 

For a Jewish Wake

I heard them, angry 

Whispering to each other:

“He loved that damned tree more than his children”

And I thought to myself

Yes, of course, and

Why were they surprised?


Over the seven decades of my life

In the many places I have lived

In homes where my wife and 

My four children were loved

And their five children 

Were loved

And all of them knew it

Because I said it 

Uncountable times

So my words would linger

Inside of their minds

Where they would be needed

In years to come


I have planted more than 

Sixty Trees

Six in Israel

Just outside of Jerusalem

Nine in Wisconsin

Fifty across Northern Illinois

One last week

A beautiful Purple Maple

Named for Celia

My Gramma’s name

Because though 

Maybe she couldn’t 

Give me love the I wanted

I can still, defiantly

Give it to her


But every other Tree

Some now huge


Millions of leaves

Swaying in the wind

Every other damned Tree

Is for my Grampa


Because I loved his Lemon Tree

As much as I loved him

And maybe they all

Will survive me

In the decades to come

And maybe he will know it


That I was my Grampa’s boy

That I understood him

And that even after he died

And even after I died

We would keep talking 

Talking to each other

Through our many, many

Tall, strong and proud

Beautiful Trees


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzmans two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998        (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.


Comment by Dan Perrone

June 4, 2021 @ 9:31 am

What a great storyteller, you are, Robert. Your writings are so well structured and the content so captivating. I look forward to every one of your posts – this was a particularly good one!

Comment by brad dechter

June 4, 2021 @ 9:59 am

Great story Bob- thanks for sharing. In this story, you “branched” out a bit and “leafed” up to your reputation as an excellent storyteller!
I see my Grandmas and Grandpas when you speak of yours. I am also partially Byelorussian Jewish- at least half, maybe 3/4’s. My Grandparents fled in the early 1900s.
It is a shame that your Grandma did not learn that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. It would have made both her and your Grandpa happier.
Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Jim Payne

June 4, 2021 @ 11:57 am

Sometimes trees are easier to look up to than people.

Comment by Kumari De Silva

June 4, 2021 @ 1:03 pm

Made me a little teary eyed. I have not forgotten “Bob’s News stand” and I have not forgotten WWII or WWI but I am disturbed by the way people now a days seem to forget so much. Thank you for your story

Comment by Beth

June 6, 2021 @ 1:48 am

This post will have me smiling in my dreams tonight. Who knew? A lemon tree growing in a basement in Chicago? Marvelous.

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