It was a mistake by the funeral home. The traditional closed casket for an observant Jew was, in fact, not closed. It was open and I was the first to realize this. It took me a few moments. It didn’t look like him at all. Maybe it was the mask of death, but in my grief and sorrow I had a brief instant of respite. It wasn’t him. This was obviously someone else in the casket. It wasn’t my treasured Uncle Dave.
My relief passed immediately. I knew why I hadn’t recognized the beloved face that had been smiling at me all of my 23 years. There was no smile. There were no laughing eyes. There was no warmth. It was a body without its soul. And then the sobs racked my body.
Most of my relatives ran the normal gamut of emotions and expressions.Laughing. Anger. Frustration. You know how people display their feelings. My father was known to giggle when something was funny and definitely lose his cool when he was upset. My mother, with all of her education, was a master teacher of street language (which I learned too well) and anger brought out the profanity. My grandfather, known as Pop, had a few English/Yiddish gutter words of his own. But Dave! Never. He was the happiest person I ever knew. He was always smiling. It made made me feel safe to be with him.
For sure he was no smiling fool. He was intelligent and ran a successful business. And although his life didn’t always follow its owner’s manual, he always overcame the minuses and reveled in the pluses.
So his wife Fannie couldn’t have children. Plenty of people have triumphed over infertility. They adopted an infant son in 1939, a gray market adoption as it was known in those days, and lived forever after with the uncertainty that the biological mother might return for the baby. And she did! But it was many years after Fannie and Dave had left our earth and, for sure, it rounded out my cousin’s life to meet his other family.
So his business partner didn’t always see eye to eye with him. No matter. The business thrived and whoever said partners have to love each other?
So he endured the losses of his parents With grief, equanimity and smiles, knowing that they would have never wanted to see him cry.
So his wife was a bit of a hypochondriac, the kind that outlived him by decades! He thought she was adorable and indulged her kvetches with affection.
He, himself, never complained. He greeted each and every day as if the sun were always shining and this was the best of all possible worlds.
He was the consummate father. My cousin was the recipient of every treasure. His basement playroom was a source of wonder to the rest of us cousins. And at 17 the new Chevy was just icing on his cake! But, of course, it was far more than the material possessions that Dave bestowed upon his only child. It was the total love. Total. Unabashed.
As a son he was loving and devoted, a son to be counted upon. As a sibling he was loving and devoted, a brother to be counted upon. And as an uncle, he was a wonderful and beloved part of our lives. It wasn’t the gifts. It wasn’t the trips. It was the interest in all that we did and the pride in our accomplishments, without any sense of judgment if we didn’t succeed. We would succeed next time for sure. Dave knew. He believed in us so we believed in ourselves.
He greeted everyone he met with a broad smile. Everyone. The proverbial policeman on the corner. The neighbors. The shopkeepers. But he also could tell a great tale that would make us laugh!
There was the story of Mr. Klinkowitz. Every summer Sunday Dave would leave our place in Parksville NY and head back to Queens to operate his store. Mr. Klinkowitz always asked for a ride back to the city. Dave, after all, always had a shiny new Packard which was far more comfortable than the Shortline Bus……..and cheaper. So, as Dave told it, Klinkowitz didn’t stop talking the whole way back to New York, until, that is, the Packard approached the tolls. Those were the moments when Klinkowitz would snore away, oblivious to the world. But, once the toll was successfully paid, Klinkowitz would resume his dialogue. Nonstop until the next toll.
He was also the uncle who found time to engage with us kids when all the other grownups were too busy. It became a routine to climb up to the third hill of our property where Dave would make a campfire and we would roast potatoes. They were incredibly delicious. And the marshmallow desserts were not bad either.
So it was, one day in Parksville, when Dave was 56, he sat on the porch far too long. I asked him if he was ok and he replied, I’ll be okay. Not a good answer. Off to the doctor who diagnosed a mild heart attack. A few months later it was a massive heart attack and he was suddenly dead at age 57. Leaving behind many of us with our own broken hearts.
It’s impossible to capture this beloved man. He sounds too angelic but, really and truly, he was. He was a beautiful man who left us far too soon. We miss you Dave. Baruch Dayan Ha Emet. Zichrono l”veracha.