My grandfather Asher painted this in the last year of his life, a few months before I was born. I am named after him, in accordance with the Ashkenazic tradition of giving child a name that starts with the same first letter as a dead relative. I have bits and pieces of the grandfather that I never knew. I know that he was born in (what was at the time) Ukraine. I know that he was the only member of his very large family to survive the Holocaust. His skill for mending shoes allowed him to remain in a labor camp when the rest of his family was sent to Bergen-Belsen. I know that he led an escape from this labor camp to Russia, where he served in the army and forged passports to help other Jews escape. After the war was over he came to Brooklyn, where he married my grandmother and worked as a taxi driver. I know that he was a hero. I know that he had blonde hair and hazel eyes. I have heard his voice once, on a recorded interview that he made for the Holocaust museum. My family tells me that he was funny. Sometimes they tell me that I am like him. God, I wish that I had more than this to share with you.
One last detail that I have about my grandfather is that he smoked when he first arrived in America. Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille is one of my greatest treasures because it is one of the few things that helps me to feel as if I knew my grandfather. I put on the warm, rich tobacco scent and imagine that this is what he smelled like when he came home at night. Unlike the darker By Kilian Back to Black, Tobacco Vanille is a perfume meant to comfort. It is sweet, lightly spiced, and achingly wonderful. I wear Tobacco Vanille and feel fierce pride and love for my grandfather, my namesake. A man who survived and helped others to survive. A man who witnessed the revolting worst of humanity and was still able to paint something so beautiful.
This post was inspired by this touching review of Tabac Aurea, in which Olfactoria’s Travels remembers her grandfather.