My grandfather Sydney my mother’s dad was about as irreligious as they come. Not only was he personally agnostic, he was generally skeptical of anyone who claimed, or appeared, to be pious or altruistic. One of his favorite sayings was, “The world is not peopled with angels; it’s peopled with people.”

Raised a Jew, he grew up in Manchester, England, and after he was “sent down” (expelled) from Oxford, his father sent him to learn the family lumbering business in the wilds of Virginia.  He had rejected his faith as a teenager and was never religiously observant after he left his parents’ home.

Once he landed in the United States, Grandpa didn’t take long to abandon the lumber camp for other, more appealing pursuits. He also did not return home as expected, but became a naturalized American citizen.

He met my grandmother Grace (no one was ever more aptly named) in Tunica, Miss., when he was a traveling salesman for the Real Silk Hosiery Company, and she was a secretary for the firm. Grandma was a Methodist her whole life, could play hymns on the piano and I doubt she ever took the Lord’s name in vain. Their 60-year marriage was all the proof you could ask for that sometimes opposites do attract.

Now don’t misunderstand me, Grandma wasn’t some superficially pious, gooey-sweet type in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt. She’d grown up poor, having been orphaned early and adopted by a farm family; she knew the meaning of hard work, and she had been sent by the Methodists to secretarial school so she could earn a living. She combined dignity, humility, warmth, humor and kindness into an irresistible package and was one of the truest Christians I’ve ever known, or ever expect to know. Her faith was deep, solid and personal, evident only in how she lived and who she was.

But back to Grandpa. He did many things in the course of his life to support his family (including giving bridge lessons and playing cards for money during the Depression), but a large part of his career was spent as a real estate appraiser, which probably appealed to him because he could be his own boss, and there were certain procedures to be followed. He liked numbers, precision and doing things just right.

When he retired, he and my grandmother learned to fly-fish, got waders and traveled around a good bit, fishing rivers in Michigan, Arkansas, Alabama and elsewhere. Fishing, besides being a pleasure in itself, fostered Grandpa’s natural bent for storytelling. He had told stories, some of which he made up himself, as long as I’d known him.

After he and Grandma started fishing, he created a character who was a rainbow trout named Marcel. Now, of course, Marcel could talk, and, improbably enough, he had a French accent, though I’m not sure if he was actually French. Anyhow, the beauty of having a character who was a fish was that Grandpa continually ran into Marcel in whatever river he happened to be fishing, and that would occasion another story. I’m sorry to say I don’t recall any of the stories, just that they were long, involved and very entertaining, and they often had a humorous twist at the end.

I suppose his penchant for stories was a part of his Jewish heritage, like his fondness for chopped chicken livers, that my grandfather kept, even after he left home. He would use certain Yiddish terms, like goy (a non-Jew), mensch (a good person, one who does what is right), chutzpah (a quality of extreme gall), meshugah (crazy) and perhaps one or two others less polite, and he enjoyed “Jewish” jokes.

Grandpa could also be very generous. He and Grandma made many, many friends on their fishing trips, and he not only kept in touch with a number of them, writing marvelous letters in his fine, copperplate handwriting, he also gave away dozens of the beautiful, meticulously tied flies he made. He even named some of his lures for friends.

Maybe some of Grandma’s religion rubbed off on him when he wasn’t looking. Or perhaps he learned to be a mensch at home and never forgot.

In any case, he was true to his convictions to the last. He outlived my grandmother by seven years, and my mother was with him when he died. He told her, “I wish I could believe that I’d see your momma again.”

I like to imagine him surprised by Grace.