Two days ago, my phone rang. This is no longer a common thing, as people today mostly text. The call was from my sister, who rarely phones, not even for my birthday or holidays. She told me that she got word of a death in our extended family. The man who passed, nicknamed Simi, short for Siman-Tov, was a 2nd cousin of my paternal grandmother.
When Simi was a 28 year-old bachelor and I was a girl of 10, he came to New York. My parents greeted him warmly, as they did all relatives and friends, and he became a permanent fixture in our home, spending holidays and many weekends with us. He occasionally brought whichever lady friend he had at the time with him but usually not for very long. I do remember one exceptional woman, Fran, an American teacher, whom he wanted to marry. We all felt that Fran was also a part of the family. She hesitated at his proposal and when she finally said yes, he told her she waited too long and it was too late.
It wasn’t until much later that he became a father with an Israeli woman who first became his partner and later his wife. Simi had a strong, Sephardi-Israeli personality. He was quite handsome, with a full head of black curls, dark brown eyes, light brown skin, very intelligent. He sang, danced liked a good drink, played cards, gambled and had many friends. Other than that, his life was rather unremarkable, as he worked for years as a superintendent at a high-end co-op in the heart of Manhattan. He lived there, rent free and basically responded to resident complaints by calling tradesmen to maintain the premises. One day, he was injured in a work related accident, for which he sued and won a sum of money. Some time after that, he returned to Israel before the birth of his daughter.
One day, he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. He, his partner and baby girl went to the USA for a progressive treatment, after which they returned to Israel. During their stay in the USA, he married his daughter’s mother, in case he died. He wanted his daughter to inherit everything he had, no questions asked.
Growing up, I admired him and knew that if he was visiting, the atmosphere would be lively and friendly. For one of his birthdays, I bought a needlepoint canvas and embroidered a picture that I had framed and gave it to him as a gift. In selecting the canvas, I thought of him. He enjoyed clubbing, gambling, drinking, smoking, so I chose a picture that reflected that lifestyle.
After some years, I moved back to Brooklyn and visited him on occasion. During these visits, I would see the picture hung in his home. I eventually returned to Israel, as did Simi but aside from phone calls and a few family affairs, I didn’t see him.
He made it painfully clear that we were not in touch, so I did not reach out to him when he had his troubles. The last I’d seen him was when my dad was in ICU in Hadassah Ein Kerem and Simi, who worked as a security officer there, came to see my father on his break. I happened to be visiting at that time, so it was a chance meeting. I was not more than politely friendly and expressed no particular interest in Simi’s life.
Suddenly, out of the blue, I was told of his passing. The following day, I phoned the woman who told my sister of the news, to ask until when they’re sitting shiva. She told me that they’ll rise tomorrow. To be honest, I debated, since I was conflicted. I was not inclined to pay them any respects or condolences, as none of them took any interest in me for a good number of years now. I also knew and reasoned that G-d extended his contract a long time ago, by very many years.
I took a deep breath and remembered the times back in New York, when he visited us or I visited him. I remembered that his staff treated me like a VIP and that whenever I needed, I could sleep over, instead of riding the trains late at night to Brooklyn. Finally, on a day when I did EVERYTHING one could possibly do in one day, I drove to his address to give my condolences. His family observed the custom of sitting shiva in his home.
Simi had rented an apartment in a rundown building. It was on the ground floor but uphill from the sidewalk. I found parking and walked in. His family observed tradition and kept the door open. Upon entering, his two sisters looked at me and asked who I was. I said “I’m not telling and I’ll sit here until you figure it out.” One sister then said “You’re Chanan’s daughter!” I then replied “All the time.” We all smiled, laughed and I sat on a very uncomfortable plastic chair with a high back.
Suddenly, looking at the wall right in front of me, I exclaimed “That picture!” They asked me “You know that picture? Do you know who did it?” I said “Yes. I did!” They then asked me if I wanted it. I would have taken it, since they showed no interest. Suddenly, his daughter said she wanted it. They told her she had to ask me for it. I told her that of course she could have it and asked whether she wanted me to write her a dedication. We found a sheet of paper and I wrote her a dedication remarking that when I did the needlepoint, it was many years before she was born and who would have known that she would then have it. I wrote her that I am glad to pass it onto her and that she should always remember her dad when she looks at it and that we are tied by blood, even if we don’t meet. Dated and signed, they affixed the note to the back of the picture and hung it back on the wall.
I was stunned, to tell the truth. Not only had I completely forgotten about that picture but I was touched that he hung it front and center, the first thing anyone would see upon entering. It could symbolize so many things, I’ll let you readers find your own inferences.
Thank you for reading.