My grandfather came to this country from Eastern Europe in 1904. He had no education, no money, and no English. He was, in other words, typical of thousands of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island at that time. He made his way to Boston, and later to New Hampshire – Littleton, Berlin, and finally Claremont. He learned English, but he never lost his accent.
He loved the Red Sox and saw Babe Ruth pitch at Fenway Park. Baseball helped Americanize him, and he passed his love of the sport on to me, as I have to my children and grandchildren. He spoke perfect baseball English. A lefthander was always a “southpaw,” and a new player was always a “rookie.”
He would drive me to Boston to see games, the Red Sox and the Braves too. We talked about the players, Ted Williams especially. He was so proud of the fact that his son (my uncle), a fighter pilot in World War II, had taught Ted how to fly. We went over the teams, eight in each league back then, and the batting averages of our favorite players. He would tell me about Ruth and Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker.
Having retired from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company at 65 (he ran the Claremont office), he had time to read and to learn. He was completely self-educated, and his interests ranged far beyond baseball. One of his proudest moments was when he was sworn in as a member of the New Hampshire Legislature in the mid 1950’s. How far he had come in half a century. Another was when he had an idea – Claremont should have a Jewish cemetery – and brought that to fruition.
He was proud of his three children (my mother was the oldest), and he adored his grandchildren. We learned so much from him and his indomitable spirit. He was an avid reader, American history mostly, and when his eyesight failed he simply switched to talking books. He always asked me the same question, “What did you do to earn your keep today?” It was a good question, and I tried to give him a good answer. When my mother offered me a quarter, or maybe it was a dime, for every “A” on my report card, he offered to match her for every time I didn’t get an A. He never explained what he had in mind, but I think it was a message that grades aren’t everything, and also a way of telling me that in his eyes, I was perfect.
When he became gravely ill in 1970, I went to see him at the Mary Hitchcock Hospital. He sent me away: “I don’t want you to remember me like this but as I was.” I have done as he asked, and I think of Maurice Firestone every day, with gratitude and love.