My wife Risa and I recently spent three weeks at my daughter Sarah’s home in Northern California, the privilege of the working-less class striving for family connection.
My teenage granddaughters were there, and to my surprise, they too cared about connection with us, hopefully not just because they saw it as fleeting.
A few days before we left, my oldest granddaughter, Eliana, and Sarah cornered me for a storytelling session in the kitchen that they recorded on an iPhone.
They wanted to know about my parents and growing up on the south side of Chicago. I told them about friends or the lack of them, what it was like to go to a grammar school with 48 in a class, seating arranged by how we scored on standardized tests.
Then my granddaughter wanted to get an understanding of how I got into davening every morning, a Jewish prayer ritual that I still do today, and why I still do it.
I told them that my interest in Judaism stemmed from an identification with my parents and their identification with their tribe, even if they never seemed particularly spiritual to me.
When I was in my teens, I began to take an interest in the Holocaust in Europe. It had still been going in 1944, while I was lucky enough to be born in America. Yet the emotional trauma of dreaming about the emaciated Jews headed to gas chambers and crematoriums, while I had the luxury of spending my time practicing my jumpshot on the basketball hoop my father built in our backyard, had a strong effect on shaping who I was becoming. I was always the loner. I never quite fit in with any group.
They also asked me about my college life, and I told them how much I enjoyed writing for the Michigan Daily. I told them how I was shocked when I was not appointed the sports editor for the daily when I was the best writer. Then I explained that I just wasn’t as friendly as the guy who got the job, although I ended up being the editor because my competitor did not come back for his senior year.
They wanted to know why I did not become a professional writer. I told them that I could have, I sold several freelance pieces to magazines, but I could not imagine myself in a newspaper setting where I would have to please other people. I just did not have that knack.
My father offered me the chance to work for him and his partner, Aaron Pinkert, in the used machinery business. I had worked for him for seven summers, and to my surprise I loved the competition with the other dealers and the possibility of traveling around the world looking for what in our mind were undervalued machines. And there were not a lot of other people to please in a small family business. I thought I could make a difference in a hurry.
I met my wife Risa in college and she married me when she was 19 years old. She continued college and grad school in Chicago while I learned from my dad.
Were my father and I the perfect team? I doubt it, but we were a team, loyal to each other and family, and determined to make the unusual used screw machine business successful. My dad and I argued a lot. My brother Jim joined the business and we made it work.
In the ‘80s and early ‘90s I started a small zine called the Graff-Pinkert Times. Then around 2000, I started a full length B2B magazine about the precision machining industry called Screw Machine World, which eventually took on the name Today’s Machining World. It was a financial failure, but an artistic success. It morphed into this Blog, and Noah joined me in the latter 2000s, lured in by the prospect of making video editorial content.
Eventually, Sarah’s camera ran out of battery, but it was a story worth telling. If you read this to the end, perhaps you have a better sense of why I still write this weekly blog and look for interesting machine tools to sell, more than 50 years after starting at Graff-Pinkert. Maybe nobody but family could “get me.”
Question: What events led you to do what you do?