My father was born in 1930 to Rebecca and Benjamin. Rebecca had three miscarriages and two sons born to her…all boys. My father was the youngest.
My grandparents were poor, they never owned their own home, they always rented a house. He was police officer then detective in our town, she stayed home. I remember thinking that was odd. My grandfather gambled. They didn’t drink alcohol, but on a rare occasion my grandmother would splurge and order a “pink squirrel” if they went to a restaurant. I have no clue what is in a pink squirrel to this day.
My family’s eating habits were unique. I guess that’s a nice way of saying we all had food issues. One particular day when my dad was very young, he left his bicycle in the middle the driveway. My grandfather came home and was furious. My mother always said he had a kind heart but a bad temper. My father inherited the same traits.
My grandmother was making meatloaf and my grandfather walked in the kitchen and smacked my father directly across the face causing him to have nose bleed. No bikes in the driveway! Needless to say blood spattered right into the meatloaf being mixed and from that day on my father never ate chopped meat again. He wouldn’t eat chicken, potted meat, basically most of the foods my grandmother gloriously cooked for her family throughout his eighteen years living under their roof. He made this clear to my mother early on in their marriage that he would not eat these foods under any circumstance.
They didn’t have enough money to send my father to college, I’m not even sure he was interested in going. So he set off in a box truck with his cousin Jackie in 1948 to sell goods around the country. He made a lot of friends, loved seeing the country and loved being out of the family home, so he thought.
One special friend he made was Burt Lahr. They fished together and I remember seeing pictures in our den of the two of them in a boat on a lake, I think it was in New York. It stays with me as he had such a kind face. My father told me he was a hard working actor and a very nice gentle man. One of his most famous roles was playing the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. I watched that movie as a child, but never allowed my son to watch it during his childhood. Those flying monkeys scared me!
My father went to bootcamp, but not to war after his road trip of several years. I have letters that he wrote home to my grandmother saying how much he missed being home with them. The total opposite of his initial desire to “be free” and go on the road. But an eighteen year old teenager always thinks in most cases, “the grass is greener on the other side”.
My father met my mother while she was a nursing student. They were married for many years then divorced (when I was sixteen) then got back together after a year apart. That was a very tough year for me. They drank a bit too much and I was the buffer between them.
My father was a happy drinker, while alcohol turned my mother into a person I had no desire to be around. My father loved to travel, he pushed my mother to go, she did. We stayed with my grandparents while they were away. Every Saturday evening they either went out to dinner or had luxurious dinner parties. They both worked hard, lived well, only the best.
My father had a brilliant mathematical mind, something I certainly did not inherit, although my brother did and my son has. He loved life, loved people and really loved my mother. I didn’t know that until the night he passed.
My mother had been through so much by the time she was sixty one years old. She had severe arthritis in her wrists and she wore a leg brace, diagnosed at thirty something. She was also diagnosed with lung cancer at forty eight.
My father retired early at sixty two. He seemed a bit lost to me afterward. I told my mother his coloring was “off”. She asked him to go for a check up, he refused. I talked to him and he still said no. I remember it so vividly, that gray color tone of his face.
On a friday night, my parents had dinner, watched some television and went to sleep. They would come for morning visits the Saturdays my father didn’t work. My mother would get her hair done and my dad and I had breakfast with (his mother) my grandmother. I would bring all my grams favorites. Smoked salmon, whitefish, sable fish and her favorite rolls. She was a phenomenal baker. Those Saturday mornings were golden.
I was going to call my parents that Friday evening but then I said I will see them in the morning, it can wait. It was around midnight, my mother called me screaming, “daddy is dead, daddy is dead”. My heart sank, I was alone in my apartment and started to panic. They lived 45 minutes away and I knew I had to get there fast. I did. The neighbors told me she was in the parking lot screaming for help. I thought my mother? She was tough like steel. She was a nurse, no pulse, no life I thought. That really ripped me.
He told my mother he had some ingestion and was going to sit in the kitchen for a while. She fell back to sleep. She got up a few hours later and found him dead on the kitchen table. His arms crossed and his head down. He was sixty two years old. He had a massive heart attack. Widow maker. I never knew how much my mother loved my father until that night when I was 30 years old.
I am so glad he lived his life on his terms. He was basically a happy man. He had many good friends and helped those in need without many people knowing it. His friends placed a few cigars and bottle of Chivas Regal in his plain pine box and all said their goodbyes.
I had to tell my grandmother that her son died that next morning. My uncle that his only brother died. No one would step up. I was always the one. Her heart broke and a piece of mine was lost forever.