Will You Remember Me?
My dad was my hero. He wasn’t a college graduate, but he was the most intelligent man I have ever known.
Instead of taking the train to school, he took it from Brooklyn to the New York Public Library. There he read and studied encyclopedias, dictionaries and books about presidents and leaders of countries. He read about the Universe, our solar system. He knew about gravity and delved into history: Roman history, Chinese, Spanish. He learned Italian and he learned how to cook. He also learned how to get into, and out of, trouble.
Dad loved his father, brother, and mother more than anything in the world. He always played second fiddle to his brother, who became a cantor at a well-known temple in Roslyn Heights, Long Island, New York.
In 1943, my dad was drafted into the Army. He was eighteen at the time and married to my mom.
After basic training in Paris, Tennessee, he was shipped off Germany.
He was one of the few who made it through the famous “Battle of the Bulge.” Then, in the Hurtgen Forest, in Germany, he stepped on a land mine, which ripped into his leg and side. Skin was grafted from his arm.
For most of the two years, he was in the hospital with his arm attached to his right side to grow the skin needed.
He came back to the States sporting a cane and had a four-year-old daughter (my sister) conceived in Paris, Tennessee, on a visit from my mom waiting for him at home.
I remember summer nights when my dad and I would sit out on the front porch of our house on Long Island. I learned most of what I know from my father, through those years of summer nights.
He never liked summer thunderstorms after the war. The lightning and thunder brought him back to the sounds and sights of the war.
He was, in many ways, a tortured artist. His artwork resembled Pollack and Picasso, Monet and Utrillo.
I remember the smell of his small studio. The oil paint, linseed oil, and turpentine. His paintings and sculpture were everywhere in our house. Hanging on the walls, sitting on the shelves, and tables.
My mother hated it.
I understood him. We were very much alike. He would get such bad anxiety in the morning that he would retch before work. He was a beatnik. He loved jazz and swing bands … Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderlly, and Dave Brubeck.
He loved to dance and was good at it. Everything he chose to do, he was good at.
Dad drank hard and ate richly.
We had a backyard Barbecue with family and friends. My dad always worked the grill and the bar. Onions sauteed with the butter and pepper inside a tinfoil cup. London Broil marinated in Italian dressing. Gin and tonic with lime, or scotch on the rocks, or neat.
We walked on the beach, we two, in summer and winter, talking history, philosophy, art, and geography.
One day as we walked on the beach in Florida, he stopped and looked out over the ocean … “Hey Deb,” he said to me, “do you think you’ll remember me after I’m gone or will I just fade away?” … It was more a statement than a question, as if he were pondering his own mortality.
Well, my father, you are very well remembered by me, and missed, and I will tell your great-grandson what a wonderful hero you were and everything you meant to me. I will tell him about the universe and our solar system, walk with him in your shoes on the beach and talk about history, philosophy and geography, hoping I get the chance to ask him that question, in my golden years, “will you remember me when I am gone?” as I ponder my own mortality.