Tonight, as the Yahrzeit candle flickers, honoring the 4th anniversary of the passing of my father Moish Weinstein, I have perused piles of pictures that represent several generations of my family. Parents, grandparents, my sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews all interwoven in each other’s lives. Some remain in body, some long since passed. Tears and smiles as I feel both fragile and strong, resilient and tumbling into renewed grief. A repository of memory, I’m the family matriarch of my immediate clan since my mother Selma died in 2010. At 53, I am grateful to have had my parents for as long as I did (84 and 86, respectively) since both of my grandfathers died before I was born and my parents became ‘adult orphans’ by the time they were in their mid-40’s.
I have written about my parents several times in the Bliss Blog since they have been such influences in my life that extends to every aspect. I was raised by people who lived their spiritual practice, not only by attending synagogue, but taking an active role there. My mother was in the Sisterhood and my father led the Tallis and T’fillin Club on Sunday mornings at our shul and was a man ahead of his time, since he welcomed girls (having two daughters that he raised as whole, well rounded individuals, not limited by our gender) to come to the breakfast of bagels, lox and cream cheese. He stood up to the sexist rabbi who when I came home from college for a Friday Night service, would not include women in the minyan…not that it changed the man’s mind, but I was grateful that my father was willing to tell him that his daughters should count. The guys I grew up with still remember that my dad taught them to box. He had been a Golden Gloves boxer in the navy and loved introducing kids to the pugilistic art. When my sister and I were young and would battle it out verbally, he would put gloves, head gear and mouth guards on us and tell us to go at it. We swatted at each other and I say that it is a good thing I am a pacifist, since I could have developed a mean right hook. When we would fall throughout our lives, whether it was from a bicycle, roller skates, a sled or from emotional heights, after making sure we were ok, he would encourage us to get right ‘back in the saddle’. He was a blend of tough cookie and marshmallow, growing up in South Philly (think the neighborhood where the character Rocky Balboa lived) and getting culture from marrying my mother who insisted this meat and potatoes kid eat vegetables as a condition of their marriage.
My father worked throughout his life as both a milkman and bus driver. My sister is a red head and the joke was that she was the milkman’s daughter; because, of course, she is. When he and my mother got engaged, he proposed to her by asking her to go the fridge and pour him a glass of milk. On top of the bottle was the engagement ring. I think he had run the idea past my grandmother to get her blessing. The interesting irony was that my grandfather had also been a milkman, but my father had never met him, since he died when my mom was 18.
When my parents were married 25 years, Jan and I threw them a surprise party (see picture above). I’m the one with the long hair on the left, next to my cousin Renee, her daughter Jennifer, my dad, my cousin Jody and my sister Jan. The day was filled with laughter and love, the ripples of which expand forward another few decades, washing ashore to this moment. Being with his daughters and nieces was among his favorite joys and he cherished his relationships with my cousins who dubbed him “Uncle Milky”. Even after he changed careers to become a SEPTA busdriver, the name stuck, since “Uncle Bussy” just didn’t have the same ring to it.
I was reminding Jody today that she and I had arrived in time to their South Florida home to be with him when he made his transition, holding his hand, reading to him from his favorite prayer book.
Trembling strength to sustain me, this tough South Philly street corner kid remains a fixture in my daily life, accompanying me in the car, singing along with his enthusiastic if not in tune voice. He is most especially present at the gym; his home away from home even nearly 20 years post official retirement as he worked and then worked out there even after the Parkinsons took over where he now cajoles me “Come on, doll baby, one more rep.” And so, borrowing his endurance, I oblige.
http://youtu.be/8A4W_iO2pB0 Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet by Ella Mae Morse