Driving home from an old friend’s funeral this morning I reflected on a man named Sam. My old friend was not at all old. As a matter of fact he was only 57 and had an anguished passing. The man named Sam, on the other hand, lived 40 years longer than my friend and hardly knew illness, or bad luck, or suffering. He was a blessed man who happened to be my father.
It has now been quite a few years since my father died in Achuzat Bayit in Raanana. How he arrived there is a tale unto itself.
Born in a shtetl near Bialystok, his father left for the Goldena Madina when Dad was a very young child. As a matter of fact Zayda left his wife with five very young children, including the twins, Sam and Edith as they would come to be known. In Poland they were Yisrael and Itka and they were the fourth and fifth born, with the others not far ahead of them in age. Five children under 5 and the husband is off in America. How did the grandmother I never knew manage?
Zayda worked hard and prospered. He never learned English but he was a devout man and a faithful husband. Before long the family was reunited in Passaic NJ, leaving behind the Polish apartment with its mud floors. Zayda became a builder and landlord; yes the streets really were paved with gold.
So my father actually had an American childhood. He became an avid sports fan, something that remained with him throughout his life. He became a very serious reader, always non-fiction, and that too stayed with him. I can still conjure pictures of him in my mind: sitting in the green and white club chair engrossed in a history book, always learning.
He finished high school during the depression when Zayda was experiencing financial setbacks. Sam (Srolke, derivative of Yisrael) could not go to college. He abandoned his dream of a formal education and took off for California, another promised land. There he did all manner of things, whatever he could. And getting there was a serial story all its own. Suffice to say that he never passed a Salvation Army pushka without remembering how often they had helped him on his journey; and he always threw in some coins.
Three years into his California sojourn he was introduced to my mother. Her family owned a Catskills hotel and Edith and Edna (his twin and the next oldest sibling) who were employed there, decided that Ida, the owners’ daughter, and Sam, would be a good match. Years of letter writing finally culminated in a Brooklyn wedding and over 60 years of peace and love. It was more than a good marriage. It was made in heaven!
My father had many very fortunate characteristics. He never worried about anything. He used to say that he left the worrying to my mother, who really was an expert.
He was always cheerful and optimistic. Things would always be ok, in his mind. His health was robust throughout his life and he worked hard and was always very proud of his ability to take care of his small family.
He was a quiet man, preferring his beloved books to idle chitchat, but he was prone to very quick decisions which, luckily for him usually worked out in the end. He was never one to overly deliberate his next move!
I remember once when our garage roof was piled high with snow following a blizzard. With collapse imminent and his car nestled in its usual spot, he had a choice:: run in to rescue the car or watch it be smothered by snow and building material. With my mother trying to stop him, he charged into the garage, pulled out the car and smiled triumphantly at all of us glued to the window, as the garage instantly cascaded down our driveway.
In his 60s he made another seemingly quick decision. He would retire his driver’s license on his 80th birthday. Soon enough the 80th birthday became imminent and that’s when he made the pronouncement: Your mother and I are moving to Israel. Wow!
So just around his 80th, with my somewhat younger mother in complete agreement, they bundled all of their possessions and made the move that much younger people find daunting. And he never ever drove again, although he was alert, didn’t need glasses for reading or driving, and could have driven safely for another 10 years if he had chosen to do so.
The two of them settled in Herzliya which happened, no coincidence there, to be the home of my sister and her family. My father, the consummate oleh chadash, loved Israel, although, like his father before him, the new language was not to be. His vocabulary consisted of shalom. Period.
Life is unpredictable and he was never expecting my mother to die before him, but that’s what happened. And then he moved to Achuzat Bayit where he lived contentedly until almost 98.
He spent his life surrounded by women. Two daughters. Then, at first, three granddaughters, who loved him dearly. Then finally our son, followed by my sister’s daughter and son. He loved the girls but the sons, somehow, were victories.. It was mutual worship ……and terrible loss when he died.
None of us can predict whether we will have good lives or not. Things happen. It’s only when life is over that one can say he had a good life.My father who, at age 97, could walk miles in the Israeli sun, had a full mouth of teeth, enjoyed basketball games on tv, who took stairs instead of elevators and remembered everything, had a good life.
A few years after Dad died, our son was married to a beautiful and wonderful woman. Less than a year later their first daughter was born. Not surprisingly, her name is Sam.