Before the sun has peeked its late Winter’s beams from behind clouds and the stars have melted back into the black, I am offering Birthday greetings to a man who would have been 89 today. A fitting time to be tapping away as words spill forth from my grateful heart, since more times than I can count, my father was up before the crack of dawn to go to jobs that supported his family; first as a milkman (Abbotts and Milkmaid Dairies) and then as a bus driver (SEPTA in Philadelphia), through ‘streets broad and narrow’) . A blue collar working man with a high school diploma, time served in the Navy as an electricians mate, he was a life long learner who wanted to be able to converse with anyone about nearly anything from politics to science, from culture to religion. Born Morris (Moish) Harry Weinstein to Russian Jewish immigrant parents who came to the U.S. for a better life and escape the pogroms, he grew up in the multi-cultural ‘hood of South Philadelphia. Think the streets where Rocky’s pounding feet hit the ground, where women swept and hosed down the areas in front of their brownstones, where people sat on their ‘stoops’ to converse until all hours, where kids played kick the can or stick ball and the sounds of various languages and aromas filled the air.
My father loved fiercely; his parents, his two brothers and sister, his nieces (two of whom-my cousins Jody and Renee who to this day refer to him as Uncle Milky; a reference to his career path) his friends growing up, were all part of the legacy I inherited. When he met my mother at the party of a mutual friend and they ‘rose’ in love and married, her family was added to the fold; and what a big one it was (my maternal grandmother was one of 13 children) and he had many names and relationship connections (who was married to whom and whose kids were whose) to remember. My father quickly became a favorite and was considered the life of the party. Sometimes he showed up late since his working schedule was unpredictable at times, but arrive he did, often wearing his blue SEPTA uniform and was greeted with hugs and hellos and the idea that now the festivities could begin. Ironically, a few months ago, at the funeral of my cousin Ron, another cousin, Diane stood next to me as we cried and she made a comment that transformed our tears into laughter. She said “I was looking around, expecting to see your father. It wouldn’t be a party without Moish.”
When Jan and I were born, he became a devoted daddy. He wasn’t ‘the babysitter’; he didn’t ‘help my mother with the kids’, as was the norm in the 50′s-70′s. He was a fully responsible parent who changed diapers, fed, bathed, educated, played with and loved with all his heart. Interesting juxtaposition, since he raised us both as girls and kids. He expected ‘lady like’ behavior in certain settings, but encouraged rough and tumble playing; taking us sledding, skating, bicycling and kite flying. I think some of it was vicarious living, since he didn’t have some of the toys and activities we did when he was growing up. He used to listen to Yiddish music on the radio and I came to think of it as “Jewish folk music”.
Philosophically, we were at odds at times. I think I was born a tree hugging hippie and he, a bit more conservative (having grown up in an Orthodox home), but he mellowed as he grew older and was open to more liberal ideas. We argued about politics and religion mostly. At the end of each one, we would agree to disagree and he would comment as if to seal the deal “As long as we love each other.”
I could write for the rest of the day, heck, the rest of my life about my father; his deeply passionate relationship with my mother, (when she died in 2010, I found a notebook that had two sweet love notes in it, although he had written likely thousands throughout their nearly 52 year marriage) his protectiveness of his daughters, his huge gathering of friends and the ways he attracted them like a magnet, the ‘give you the shirt off his back’ generosity, his messy garage that had baby food jar collections of nuts and bolts and screws, since “You never know when you might need them.”, his blue and white striped coveralls that he would wear when digging in the dirt, planting strawberries and veggies, or sliding under the car to change the oil. When I was in college, I would come home for him to do that. Instead of going to Jiffy Lube, I would call the service he offered “Jiffy Moish”.
His connection with his Creator was immovable as well. He didn’t go to Hebrew School in his youth, since his parents couldn’t afford it, but he learned the culture and religion throughout his life and treasured it. Friday nights brought us to synagogue as a family and he and my mother were active in the congregation (Beth Torah in Willingboro, NJ). He studied and prayed fervently, each night reading from his Bible before bed, sometimes with us, sometimes on his own. He lived his faith, not just talked about it. At 52, he became a Bar Mitzvah and I have the photo in my dining room. A proud ‘kvelling’ moment for all of us.
When he passed, on April 3, 2008, I read to him from a book of prayers that I had given him years before and then placed it in the casket, since ya never know how long you might need to wait in line and a little reading material might come in handy(:
As much as we had our head butting moments in my adolescence, I treasure what I inherited by way of lifelong friendships, running into people I know wherever I go, curiousity, a get-it-done attitude, child like wonder about life, the Universe and everything, a belief that anything is possible, the importance of phsyical fitness, seeing the good in everyone, deep spiritual faith, work ethic and the ability to be silly. This “goofy kid” as he liked to call me at times, said with a lilt in his voice plans to celebrate her Daddy today, perhaps with a Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew…one his favorite treats.
http://youtu.be/6F-LqT3c-Ag Oh My Papa by Eddie Fisher