T here are those with tweed caps and mellow eyes.

There are grumpy grandpas who mutter when your baby tantrums as you pass them on the street. In the dusty heat of Brooklyn summers, you’ll find the scraggly chinned types sitting on discarded sofas outside the car service stations, playing chess or reading the paper. Then, of course, there’s our breed of Jewish zeidies; yellowing-white beard, eyes that have seen too much, cracked lips, and gentle smiles.

Chezkel Falkovitch lives across the street from my house. He’s an old man, too, but he doesn’t fit any stereotypes. Sure, he’s got the white beard, the slight stoop in his shoulders, but he always reminds me of a young bird. He’s a little man with bright eyes that shine like a child’s. He sings, hums, beams at every annoying little fellow who comes his way, whether he’s clutching dripping ices or shlepping tricycles.

His house is small, with a tiny garden full of trees and benches, surrounded by a white fence. And this is Boro Park. His wife can’t be too young, either, but she wears heels and gold bangles and a softly curled sheitel.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that with all his sweetness, Chezkel is an enigma. I watch him laugh like a young man, ruddy-cheeked and happy, standing around with a bunch of men half his age, gesturing with his hands, animated. I hear him calling his children in the morning, relaxing in the shade in front of his home. “Good morning, my beautiful daughter!” he sings. I see him deep in conversation with a bochur one Friday evening on his way home from shul. Crowned in his shtreimel, eyes dancing, he’s shaking his head in wonder, and when he passes me, I overhear, “Hoidi laShem ki toiv!”

Every morning after Shacharis, my husband tells, Chezkel drinks a l’chayim and entertains the early morning crowd with charming titbits from der heim. Never a mention of dark years, of the pit of human suffering. Not even wistful, loving recollections, dusted with sorrow.

He only seems to have mild memories to share, cheerful memories of sun-swept days, sharing plums under a tree’s shade, running his fingers along the battered benches in the old beis haknesses, searching for loose nails, his melamed with glasses slipping down his nose and sugar cubes in his palms.

His mother ran a vertzhoiz, a tavern-style restaurant, he tells my husband. Every morning, she would give him a glezele schnapps, a shot glass filled with liquor. He stops and smacks his lips, as if he could still taste the syrupy golden liquid, the sweet fire in the back of his throat.

“Mein mamme,” he says, shaking his head, cheeks glowing, “zi iz du mit mir yetzt. She’s here with me, even now.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 579)