Gramps: An Original Life

Gramps: An Original Life

By Dr. Stewart Bitkoff

 To refuse the gift is to refuse the Giver.
– A. Hussain

Over the holidays, one of my maternal aunts visited and we had a conversation about how the ‘older generation’ visited doctors much less frequently than this generation. Sometimes, I find myself going to doctors 3 and 4 times a week.

My grandfather (Louis) lived to be 104 and both my maternal aunts are now 90 and 98 years old. As we discussed Gramps’ longevity, and why this generation goes to the doctor so often, my aunt offered the following about changing lifestyles.

  • No Bad News. Gramps avoided stressful confrontation and never wanted to discuss any ‘bad news;’ he spent a minimum of time discussing those things that were wrong in the family and world. Also, he believed in accepting people as they were.
  • Simple Pleasures. Gramps was usually in good spirits and enjoyed people, family, special foods, and ‘a shot of vodka’ with the evening meal. He looked forward to simple pleasures. I often brought ‘smaltz herring’ from the local appetizing store- which he thoroughly enjoyed.
  • No Restaurants. He never ate out. Not trusting others, he wanted to know what was in his food and that it was fresh. Clara (his second wife) was an excellent cook; for many years, her family owned a restaurant on the lower east side of Manhattan. Nowadays just about all our food is pre-prepared with multiple preservatives and chemicals. Clearly, these man made chemicals are affecting our overall health.
  • Strong Faith. Gramps had a strong commitment to his religion and tried to be a good person. When Clara went into the nursing home and had dementia, he voluntarily went in with her. Family offered to have Gramps stay with them; he still had all his faculties. He refused saying: ‘upon his death, he could not face his God if he didn’t accompany Clara into the home and help her.’
  • Getting Out.  Before going into the nursing home, every Saturday Gramps went to Temple and during the week visited, along with Clara, 2-3 senior centers. Both were welcome in just about every senior center in Bronx, NY; and had many friends.
  • Grateful. Gramps immigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old, along with his older brother who was 10. On the boat from Russia, they were looked after and cared for by other immigrants. Contrasting their poverty in Russia to the material riches of the United States- Gramps was eternally grateful.
  • Living Close to Family. Gramps and Clara loved to have family visit. He was always available to help out and looked forward to our visits.
  • Zest for Life. Gramps by nature was one of those people who thoroughly enjoyed life; he had a loving, joyful spiritual energy about him.
  • Home Remedies.  Even though there were doctors in the family, Gramps believed in trying to treat with home remedies: chicken soup, ‘shot of vodka,’ and over the counter treatments like Vicks Vapor Rub. Rarely were prescribed medications the first line of defense.


Now we know that heredity, and our genes are major factors in health and long life. Gramps was blessed with good genes, lived a full, healthy life that kept him going. He was active, and enjoyed people; knowing that good nutrition, caring for others and multiple interests were central to living a full, original life.

The body thrives on activity
And a healthy person
Is an active person.

– A.     Hussain

To contact author go to Or read author’s latest book, Sufism For Western Seekers, which is available on

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