When I was a small child, Walter and Rebekah Kirschner, my mother’s parents, were my favorite people in the world. They were kind and generous and interested in what their young grandson thought about things. Visiting them in Philadelphia at their big house on Carpenter Lane—my grandfather was a retired carpenter, and he lived on Carpenter Lane, a bit of serendipity that I found marvelous—I would go to bed late, usually after my grandfather and I had watched an 11 P.M. rerun of Benny Hill
on the snowy UHF channel, and rise early. Coming downstairs in the morning, I would find my grandmother in her...