A voice from the past called this week to say he had a story to tell. Did I remember him? Eric Braverman? Absolutely, I remembered him.
A file photo of Eric Braverman with his son Adam. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
It had been 22 years since we last talked, and he was just getting home from Vietnam where he had gone with Wheels for Humanity, a local group of volunteers who collected used wheelchairs no longer needed by families, refurbished them, and brought them to Third World countries where they were gold.
Only the well off could afford one, and there weren’t many of those. The main means of transportation for children and adults who lost limbs to unexploded landmines left behind from the Vietnam War was a crutch. Just one.
They spent 13 days giving more than 1,000 free wheelchairs to the disabled and maimed. Only one chair was reserved for a specific boy, and Eric was there to find him.
Cerebral palsy had robbed Adam Braverman of his sight, speech, and ability to walk – and ultimately his life at 12 – but it never stole his laughter at the touch of his parent’s tickling and kissing him.
That’s the boy Eric traveled halfway around the world to give Adam’s wheelchair to. He found him sitting in his father’s lap in the middle of a rainstorm in front of a hospital in Da Nang. Everyone around them looked miserable, but not the boy and his father. They were smiling.
“That’s him, Adam, that’s the boy,” Eric said to himself. He was no burden to his family, he was a gift. Eric wove his way through the crowd with the wheelchair and stopped in front of the father and his son, who was 12 and also had cerebral palsy.
Eric Braverman stands behind 12-year-old Ton Hvu That, who fit perfectly in his son’s wheelchair. Ton’s family stands with Braverman. (Photo courtesy Eric Braverman)
They didn’t need to exchange words that neither of them would understand. A look would do. They knew.
“I picked him up and sat him down in Adam’s wheelchair,” Eric said. “He fit perfectly. I didn’t have to adjust one strap. He threw his arms up at me, and his mother and father were crying. We all were.”
So, yes, I remembered Eric Braverman, and his wife, Laura, who quit her corporate job to become a special education teacher. They’re the kind of people you don’t forget.
The story he wanted to tell me was about a 97-year-old woman named Gladys Blum living with her daughters in Florida. She had spent the last 20 years crossing off every item on her bucket list, but the last one. Now, it was time.
She asked her daughters to find a man named Eric Braverman living somewhere in the Los Angeles area, she thought. She had some papers, family photographs, and documents that belonged to his grandfather, and she was sure he would want them.
Just how much he would want them, even Gladys didn’t realize.
Eric was 12 when his grandfather, Ike, died. His father asked him to pick one possession to remember his grandfather by. Eric chose his ring. He put it on that day, and hasn’t taken it off in 56 years, except when he had it resized.
He and his family were sitting in the living room of their Porter Ranch home one night watching an old home movie of Eric’s parents wedding in 1949 that had been transferred to a DVD. All of a sudden his daughter, Madison, told her dad to stop and back it up.
There was his grandfather with his arm around Rose’ shoulder, his hand dangling down by her side with the ring on his finger. “That’s your ring, dad,” Madison said.
Laura and Eric Braverman with photos and documents he recently received of his grandfather and other family members. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Yes, it was. The only tangible thing his family had to remember his grandfather by. A ring. Where was everything else in his life? The history of who he was? His father never had it to pass down to him.
At the same time in Florida, Marian Hultgreen and Harriet Blum, Gladys’ daughters, were about to scratch off the last item on their mom’s bucket list. They had found Eric Braverman.
“Who are you?” he asked, when they called. He had no idea. Their mother, Gladys, was the daughter of Rose Blum, who married your grandfather, they said.
Rose? The only grandmother he ever knew? Ike had been married twice before, but each wife had died young. Rose was his third and last.
“What I really never thought of until then was that my grandfather and Rose were their grandparents as well,” Eric said. “I have memories of them being loving and kind, and this whole other family I never knew had the same memories.”
Gladys got on the phone and described the treasure trove she would send him of his grandfather’s life. She had no idea that he had been wearing his grandfather’s ring for 56 years.
“I sent her the biggest bouquet of flowers I could find,” Eric said. “How loving and thoughtful it was of her to want to find me. It’s like she knew how important all this was to my family.”
They made plans to meet, but Gladys Blum died a month later. And now, Eric Braverman sits at a table with his grandfather’s life spread across it. He picks up his phone and calls a newspaper reporter he hasn’t talked to in 22 years – asking if he remembers him?
Eric Braverman with his grandfathers ring he has worn since he was 12 years old. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
He’s got a story to tell.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at [email protected]
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