My Grandfather, the Body Builder

Through a series of events, mainly the outbreak of World War II, I moved in to my grandparent’s house in 1939. I was 6 years old and very impressionable. Grandfather was 5 foot 3 inches tall and 66 years old, ancient in my eyes.

I found him strange. He started every morning by sun-bathing in the nude for half an hour. There was a cellar under the house and he would sit on the cellar steps, shielded from view on the sides by canvas screens. This was followed by a half-hour of exercises in the living room, a morning bath and dressing routine which included fastening on a thick leather belt to contain a protruding hernia. He then drank 2 glasses of boiling water. Breakfast consisted of a plate of thick oatmeal porridge on which he sprinkled ‘iron’ powder, explaining that the iron kept him strong. He finished his meal with a glass of carrot juice, freshly squeezed by the cook. He came home from his shop at lunchtime, and had an hour’s siesta before heading back to the store for the afternoon session. All this in the 1940s and at an age when many men are thinking of retiring.

Grandpa was a follower of Bernarr MacFadden who lived from 1868 to 1955. He was the predecessor of Charles Atlas and is credited with beginning the culture of health and fitness in the United States. MacFadden is described on the internet as a, “Body-builder, Health Advocate, Nutritionist, Teacher, Author, Publisher, Resort Owner, and Founder of Physcultopathy”. He founded the magazine ‘Physical Culture’ in 1899 and grandpa was an avid reader and disciple. MacFadden became the most successful magazine publisher in history.

Both men are long gone, but their devotion to physical fitness lives on.

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2 responses to “My Grandfather, the Body Builder

  • Roslyns Email

    My father was a health nut too! When I was little, he made us all lie under a sunlamp for a while every Sunday morning in the cold winters to get vitamin d! He would tell us stories of growing up in Europe and foraging for mushrooms and potatoes to survive WWI. My grandfather had left for Canada by then and my grandmother had 6 kids under 11. My father would hide the potatoes under the wooden floor and make them into whiskey. My grandmother traded the whiskey for food from the Russian soldiers to feed the family. My father knew a lot about natural remedies, plants and health foods and was an endless source of useful information. He exercised all his life, did a whole face slapping routine every morning after shaving, never had a cavity and lived a healthy and active life until shortly before he died at 92.

    In 1958, a year after I was married, my parents went to MacFadden’s resort for a week. Harvey and I joined them there for a few days. They were on a watermelon diet to “cleanse” their systems! They had a great time and lost weight! I had to be on a protein diet because I was pregnant with Alan. I could not have a massage which I really wanted because the therapists worried that they might break the capillaries in my legs and cause varicose veins. Bummer! I think the place was in Upstate NY and rather seedy by then.

  • thenicethingaboutstrangers

    I love “I found him strange.” I’d think the nude sunbathing would do it, but the boiling water was somehow more shocking. Thanks for sharing this!

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