Thursday, March 10, 2016

Take a Step Back into the Past

I interviewed Adam Blatner (AKA Grandpopala) via email. I asked if I could learn about his past and he was delighted to help. When I emailed him, I expected a lot of writing to answer my questions because he can talk for hours on end. That’s part of the reason I chose him. He is of course my Grandpa, my mother’s father. Him and grandma Allee live in Georgetown, Tx. with many friends surrounding him and Allee. He is a psychiatrist but he had to go through medical school before he could become one. He always did doodles during his four years in medical school, and soon was the head cartoonist for his school’s newspaper and yearbook. My mom always calls him pop and so Grandpopala’s name soon evolved. Whenever he comes over we make matzo-eggs together and they are always the best I have ever eaten. He has a wonderful blog called, that is creatave and enjoyable to read.

He is bald at the top of his head with clear glasses about the size of an inch protecting his dim brown eyes lighting up the world once you look into them. He has a bushy white beard and mustache covering about half of his face. He is one of the most joyful, hopeful, happiest people I have ever met. He is married to Allee Blatner (AKA Grandma Allee). She has short brown hair and round glasses covering her eyes. She is too one of the most creative, happy, joyful, people I have ever met.

My first question was, "How did you handle being sick when you were young? Was it scary? Did you understand what was happening, etc."
“I didn’t know I was “sick.” I was timid, a little whiny, but it was just me, immature me, and the idea that I was whiny or timid because I was very nearsighted and sick—very congenitally constipated—the condition is called “Congenital Megacolon”   also known as "Hirschsprung's Disease" — was not at all apparent to me. Sick was when I had the measles. But I did visit the doctor on occasion, and was fascinated by the gleaming tools. I drew pictures as a 5 year old of the gastro-intestinal tract, I think.. So, no, I didn’t understand what was happening; nor was it scary. It was more of an adventure. Thinking back, I think the discomfort at least at the Mayo Clinic and in the hospital was well offset by the opportunity to be involved with what I was very interested in, namely medical care.
Remember, I had said to my Mom that I wanted to be a doctor someday—from the age of three, she told me; so the visit to the Mayo Clinic—which was like the famous center for medicine in 1940s—was like going to the Super-Bowl and White House combined. A wonderful adventure.
As your Uncle David says, “If this is the sort of thing that interests you, well, then, you’d be interested!”  I was!”

I decided to ask next, "If you had to choose a different career what would it be and why?"
“I considered becoming a medical illustrator, because I liked to draw and was impressed with the drawings in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) of the illustrations of Frank Netter, M.D.
Also, I didn’t think I could do medical school. I was only getting B’s, and I knew you had to do better than that. Then in the 9th or 10th grade my pal Jacques pushed me against the locker and yelled at me: “The reason you don’t get A’s is that you don’t ever take your books home for homework!” “Oh,” I said. “Is that how you get A’s?”
“Looking back on it, I was so smart I could get B’s with zero effort. My mother never said I was smart. A smart-aleck, yes, but it was a criticism. I really didn’t realize I was smart until my 30s and even then only very gradually. Now, looking back, a lot of things fall into place.” His answer made me laugh because he has a photographic memory so it made since he didn’t know how to study.”

I have always wanted to ask Grandpopala, "If you could give me one piece of advice what would it be?" Before I had already picked a career, so this was a great opportunity.

“Pay attention to what attracts you, not what others have told you “should” attract you. This applies to classes, career, boy-friends, all manner of things. The best advice I ever got I read about in a medical journal: Find out what you don’t do well and don’t do it. Corollary: Pay someone else to do it if you need to; or work in teams and have someone else do what you don’t do well. Do what you do well easily. That’s your talent.”
My soon to be last question was, “What things make you most happy in this world?”
“Being with G’ma Allee. Getting a book or paper published, or hearing from someone that it helped them. Having a good turn-out for my lectures or workshops, and /or a good response. Also, hearing good things about you guys and David’s kids, occasional visits, lunch with friends, square and folk dancing; ballroom dancing with Allee.
I’ve learned to be happy with simplicity that isn’t fantastically fabulous. That sort of stuff borders on the painfully overstimulating and often requires big payments and travel. I find I’m content with a lot of ordinary pleasures. But I was taught not to be contented. That’s what being raised as a middle-class youth in the mid-20th-century offered: dissatisfaction. And I became used to believing that it was my dissatisfaction that motivated me and accounted for whatever I achieved. But it wasn’t so, I now realize. I achieved because I loved just doing it, and if I achieved, so much the better.”

"How did you meet grandma Allee?"
“We met at a friend’s home and she was the most haun-tingly beautiful girl I ever met, right from my half-dreams. The story then was complex. But we figure that our guardian angels needed to find the perfect match for us and we were ready, and we’ve been living happily ever after—though what that consists of is rich indeed.”
Finally, “How did world war 2 affect your family?

“The war affected our family only slightly, on one level. My father (your great-grandfather Abe) was too old to be a soldier, so he did his small businesses and we spent my childhood in the war peacefully.
“I remember paper drives and our small attempt at growing some vegetables, my main memory being the big tomato plant caterpillars that fascinated me. There was a searchlight placed outside our home for a short while, and we listened to the radio, and I "bombed" columns of ants with dirt clods the way I saw newsreels of bombers bombing columns of German troop transports. It was exciting for a kid-- I was born in 1937  ---
Later I found that my parents were worried indeed as they had heard of the persecutions of the Jews of central and Eastern Europe, where they still had distant family. I think learning about the extent and horror of the holocaust, the systematic torture-murder of the Jews, some of whom would have been extended family or friends, took a lot out of them. But they didn't talk about it to us. I learned about it later from books.

Nor did I learn that we nearly lost both wars, with the Japanese and Nazis. We were so far behind. It wasn't our military leadership that merited much praise, not at first. But we were bigger, had more resources, and some general said the way to win wars is to get there first with the most. Well, we had most, but the first third of the war we were retreating, and then we turned it around. I knew nothing of this as a kid, though; only after reading more history.
Because my parents were older than the draft age I knew no one who was killed or wounded as a soldier.”

Learning part of grandpapa's life really brought me to understand how he evolved as a human being. Going to medical school, growing up sick, being curious to learn makes him an intelligent wonderful person. His words of wisdom inspires me in his answers, to try new things, and do things that I like to do, don’t follow the crowd.

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