Three of them died before I was born:

Alexander Benfield, diabetic complications.

Sara Goldberg Benfield, uterine cancer.

Margalit Castel Kalinhoff Sales, plane crash. (The same 1949 Air France crash that killed Édith Piaf’s lover, boxer Marcel Cerdan.)

The only grandparent I ever knew was Grandpa Felix, the owner of a bicycle repair shop in Caracas. He was known for his fierce temper as well as his uncanny facility with languages… he spoke 13 fluently. 

He kidnapped his son at the age of ten, from his mother in Portugal, due to marital disputes, and fled to South America. No more might have been heard from that son had his mother’s sister, an employee of the US Department of Immigration, not tracked him down in Venezuela and sponsored his entrance to the USA.

The son, after stints at university and the Army, decided to become a musician. Grandpa promptly cut him off, saying “that’s a faggot career” or some such. The son writes his father long monthly letters for years that are never answered. It wasn’t until my father turned to teaching music that they reconnected, because in Felix’s opinion, teaching was a respectable profession, unlike music.

Felix only wrote to me a couple of times. He kept me subscribed to National Geographic, a gift I never appreciated until I was much older. He hated my mother (his wedding gift to them was a German-Norwegian dictionary, no joke) but was quite fond of my stepmother. I only met him in person when I was a small child but have little memory of the event.

He died in Caracas in 1990 due to Alzheimer’s. The bicycle shop was sold and continues to operate under a different name.

I wish I’d known my grandparents more.



  1. krulac

    Wow – it’s really sad that three of your grandparents died of either disease or accident – and before you were born. It sounds like Felix was a hardcore dude.

    • Sasha

      Very hardcore indeed. Felix’s father was a tiger hunter. For reals.

      I had several substitute grandparents, including three great-aunts, but nobody I could confidently call grandma.

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