Thank you all for coming. We all know that the last few years were difficult for our father. Fortunately, that was only a small fraction of his 85 years. Today, my family and I want to share memories of what he was like before.
Our father grew up in Brooklyn with his parents, older sister and younger brother. As he got older, he grew to love music, an interest he later passed on to his children and grandchildren. He especially enjoyed big-band music. He learned to play drums and practiced on the drum set he kept in the basement of his apartment building. This proved to be a convenient location whenever there was a good concert in town. He’d leave “for school,” go down to the basement, stash his books in the bass drum, and skip class to go see his favorite bands play.
Of course, years later, he wouldn’t have been pleased if any of his kids pulled a stunt like that. Although he did make an occasional exception if there was an educational excuse, like taking Laurie and later Jay to see parades of astronauts who were in town on a school day.
Later on, Jay and I both played drums for a while, though not at Dad’s level of performing in the Catskills. But he showed us the right way to hold drumsticks: the jazz way, not the rock way. [Can demonstrate] He was also enormously proud of my son Ben’s piano playing and bragged about that to everyone.
He met our mother in high school but soon after he graduated, he was off to serve in the Navy during World War II. He was trained as a medic in Corpus Cristi, Texas. He wrote poetry and songs to my mother. In later years, he wrote many more poems for his children and grandchildren.
While in the Navy, our father was the sole survivor of a plane crash, which is staggering. And so he was able to return home, marry our mother in 1946 – and remain married to her for the next 63-1/2 years – and have 5 children throughout their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Pretty soon, our parents had 3 little girls, my sisters, Alayne, Sharrin, and Laurie, to take care of, and there was a lot of housework to be done. After the kids were asleep, he’d borrow an extra iron and ironing board from a neighbor, set up the 2 ironing boards facing each other, so he could see our mom, and he and our mother would iron together. So here was this Navy man ironing cute little girls’ dresses. And he did so with pride: Our father was always neat and had high standards for grooming.
More significantly, he was always very giving and generous, and taught his children by example to strive to be the same way. Years ago, when my sisters were little, there was a milk strike in the neighborhood. He volunteered to drive to Pennsylvania to buy milk from a farm – not just for his own daughters, but for all the kids in the neighborhood.
Another time, during a snowstorm, he pulled the girls on a sled all the way from Parsons Blvd. to Main Street to buy milk and bread for many neighbors in their building. If someone asked for help, he never turned them down. No favor was ever too much trouble. He helped non-native English-speaking neighbors fill out forms and others with their finances.
One New Year’s Eve, maybe 10 years, ago he didn’t think the widows in the building should be alone, so he ordered in food, and he and our mother hosted a little party.
Our father worked his way up in the post office, from sorting mail, to supervisor, and eventually, to arbitrator of labor disputes, because of his well-known character traits of honesty, fairness and justice. But for half of his 32 years at the post office, he worked the 4 to midnight shift. So he was home during the day when other fathers were working.
In the early years, he taught the kids in the neighborhood to play punch ball and hit the penny. In later years, I remember I used to wait up for him when it wasn’t a school night – he’d get home around 1 a.m. – and I’d keep him company, eating ice cream while he ate dinner, and then we’d watch musicals on TV like “Easter Parade.”
He was an extremely hard worker, often working 2 jobs, 6 days a week. But he made sure to spend his day off driving to Nassau to visit his mother, sister and family. This is a consistent memory for me, my brother, and my sisters, across many years. Jay remembers playing catch with our father in Aunt Frances’ backyard, and I remember visiting such nearby places as Toy Town, Hicks Nurseries, and McGuiness Amusement Park with my nieces, Danielle, Kimberly, and Meredith. Our father loved taking us on outings and buying treats and toys for everyone. My nephew, Justin, remembers lots of egg creams, shopping trips for Transformers, and a trip to buy a scooter. And even when Dad wasn’t getting around as much, he’d order musical toys from catalogs for my son and bring them over, with breakfast, on his weekly visits to my house.
But our father’s giving nature was truly proven when tragedy struck his brother’s family. He immediately took his vacation time from work, and our parents went to spend time with them every day. Sometimes our father didn’t express himself with words, but he always showed his feelings with his heartfelt actions.
Our father helped raise a family of nurturing, caring people who look out for each other. Just as he showed devotion to all of us all those years, we have tried to reciprocate, especially as my parents needed more help.
He stood by while we made mistakes, but my siblings and I all agree, he never said I told you so. He just swooped in and did what needed to be done – to help us, to help anyone, really. He didn’t have a lot of money and yet his attitude was that money was no object for what his family needed and sometimes simply wanted – he had good taste – and also to give to charity. He treated us to vacations, and, during his early retirement years, our parents enjoyed many days out in the city, going out to lunch and seeing Broadway shows.
Our father’s attitude toward hard times was, “We’ll figure it out. We’ll find a way.” And he always did. That’s what he taught his family to do. And we are trying now.