When my mother told me that my 93-year-old grandfather would be voting for Hillary Clinton, I was thrilled. Russian Jewish immigrants of a certain age tend to vote for Republican candidates for a variety of reasons, and it gave me great pleasure that he and I were united on this election.
I always admired how my grandfather saw the world unsentimentally, rationally. A Holocaust survivor, he lived through a 16-month internment in the Dzhurin ghetto only to be conscripted into the Soviet army to fight the Germans. After the war, as a collective farm director in rural Ukraine, he was arrested by regional party officials for being unable to grow corn in his soil. When he finally decided to immigrate to the United States at 64, he was stripped of his precious war medals.
In his 70s and 80s, the Holocaust was all he wanted to talk about. Joyful dinner parties came screeching to a halt when my grandfather began reminiscing about the death and deprivation he’d witnessed. When he sensed his audience itching to switch the topic, he would take me aside and confide that he still possessed, among his belongings, a cyanide capsule given to him by his fellow Soviet soldiers. He was told that if it looked like they were losing and about to be captured by the Germans, he was to snap it between his teeth.
“If I get too old and senile, I know that I can always get my hands on that pill and it will all be over,” he would tell me. It was alarming when he first said it, but after a while, the repetition of the threat took on an almost comical quality. When he brought up the topic again and again, I would often be exasperated: “Isn’t there a date of expiration on that thing?”
As the years wore on, he dropped the subject. My grandfather, who was once active enough to climb a fifth-floor walkup to build me a set of accordion doors from old plywood or drive me out to the lake to reel in carp, now walks with a cane and has to be carefully monitored. He has been known to wander the streets or wait for hours on the weekends for the bus to take him to his shuttered senior center. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he never made it to the polls, forgetting it was Election Day.
But when I called him, my grandfather was convinced not only that he had voted but also that he had voted for Donald Trump.
“Why in the world were you going to vote for Trump?” I asked.
“I am a man and he is a man, and that is why I voted Trump,” he said.
For some reason, I was reminded of the pill again. I wondered if it actually existed or if it was really located among my grandfather’s things. I imagined it tucked into a special velvet box, like a wedding ring or a bomb, still waiting to be called into action.
Irina Reyn is the author of “The Imperial Wife.”