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Jen's World: Crossword is daily reminder of Grandpa

In last week's Jen's World, I wrote about finding a home movie I made of my grandparents. In the column, I wrote about how thrilled I was to find this little piece of history — how awed I was to watch my grandma with my nephew and hear my grandpa reciting a poem in German.

What I didn't tell you was that the poem my grandfather recited, by Heinrich Heine, was called "The Lorelei" and that my grandfather also gave me a translation during our conversation. He told me that the poem was about a boatman on the Rhine who sees a beautiful maiden — the Lorelei — singing on a mountain. And because he watches her instead of his course, he crashes on the rocks, losing his boat and his life.

The column I wrote about this poem, about my grandparents, was right there on B1 last week, as always. I read it, along with the rest of the section, and then I tossed it in the recycling.

Days went by. Saturday came, and my son and I sat at the kitchen table with the weekend P-B spread around us. As Christian paged through his half, he stopped at the puzzles. "Do you want the crossword?" he asked.

The paper's daily crossword puzzle is one of my hobbies — not the least of reasons is because working it reminds me of my grandfather. My memory is filled with images of my grandfather sitting back in his recliner, feet up, a pen in one hand and a neatly folded, one-quarter newspaper page in the other.


When I'd visit, I'd offer my help. He'd throw me the pop culture questions ("The Material Girl?" he'd ask. "Madonna!" I'd answer, pleased to know any answer that he did not). And then he'd humor me with the literary clues ("Baudolino Author?") that he already knew, but I rarely did.

When my husband and I first moved to Rochester, I worked at Mayo High School as a writing coach. Every day at lunch, I'd take the crossword puzzle from the paper in our staff room, carefully fold the page in quarters, and get to work. I rarely finished it — but when I was close, I'd call my grandfather for help. A few times I mailed him an almost-finished puzzle with the last two or three stubborn clues circled. The first time I finished it on my own? I mailed that one to him, too.

He's been gone four years now, and I still think of him every time I sit down to solve a crossword puzzle.

Back to Saturday. When my son asks me if I want the crossword puzzle, I say, "Not that one!" Saturday's paper has the New York Times Crossword — far too advanced for my rudimentary skills.

Instead, I begin rummaging through the recycling and say to my son, "Let's find one from earlier in the week." I pull out the Thursday paper, but for some reason I keep digging anyway. The next piece I pick out is the Wednesday B section.

The Jen's World about my grandparents is on the front, but I page through to B7 and find the puzzle. I fold the page in fourths. I curl up under a blanket with my pen. The puzzles get progressively more difficult as the week goes along, but Wednesday's is still pretty easy. Many of these clues are old hat.

1 Across: School dance. Clearly, we're talking about PROM. 14 Across: Writer Anais. Duh. This one, NIN, is a common early-week clue. 34 Across: Rock producer Eno? Burned on my brain from watching U2's Rattle & Hum video 500,000 times in high school: BRIAN.

I'm buzzing through them, until I get to one that stops me in my tracks. 38 Across: Lorelei's river.


I read the clue again. And then again. I don't remember ever seeing it before. "Rhine," I finally say out loud, but my pen hangs in mid-air. And then I say, to the room, to the heavens, to my heart, "Thank you, Grandpa."

Related Topics: POEM
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