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Jewish World Review
Oct. 24, 2007
/ 12 Mar-Cheshvan 5768
A pear for my father
By Andrea Simantov
Its midnight, and I just finished reading your article.
Reading your article and thinking about you makes me regret that I decided to forego any more travel, since that means I won't be able to see you again.
But I guess at 92 I should also count my blessings: in the last week three acquaintances, each one of whom I've known for over 60 years and all younger than me passed away.May you continue to have fruitful years.
Your note hit me like a ton of bricks. But I'm not surprised. You've always been a really straight shooter, and your simple, honest, and totally Midwestern ability to see things as they are could always make me roar with laughter. How is it that although I've always known you to be so old, you are one of my "youngest" friends?
I have a confession to make: the evening you insisted that I come over for dinner, I didn't want to go. Although I am over fifty years old myself, I have an unresolved childhood fear of "old people" houses and food. I had an elderly aunt who smelled like mothballs and served us gefilte fish with little mold spores at the edges. This is how I saw "old" and only wanted to sit in a fluorescent-lit restaurant with you as in the past. But you were adamant and, stuffing my pocketbook with antacids, I hoped into a cab and came over.
Oh, Frank! It was a wonderful evening and, sitting in Jerusalem on this October night more than a year later, I can't remember if I ever thanked you. You are some cook, buddy!
You regaled me with wonderful stories but what I remember most is the way your eyes filled with tears as you spoke of your late wife. I defy anyone to tell me that passion has to dwindle with age. As you spoke, I was able to see the young and dapper you through Freda's eyes and, amazingly, felt a twinge of jealousy. What you built together the children, the business, the legacy of unparalleled philanthropy that filled many pages of my last Google search is what makes me need to see you again, hold your hands in mine and say to you, "Frank, thank you for calling me 'friend.' Thank you for finding me worthy enough to have shared so much time with me."
I callously took for granted that you'd always return to the same Rejwan apartment. Or sadly but not unexpectedly die. But I never thought you'd be tired and frail and wax poetic about the waning years. I never thought you'd start saying your "so-longs" while still sitting at a computer monitor, able to deflect my "pshaw, pshaw" and offer me exactly the blessing for which my heart aches.
Your note came, eerily, on the same morning that I awakened from a strange and sad dream. It seems that I was running around trying to organize things in my new house when my father walked out of a bedroom. It was about four o'clock in the morning and, seeing that he was nattily dressed, I asked, "Daddy? Why are you awake?" He answered, "I don't get up too often but I wanted a pear." I felt terrible because I didn't have any pears in the house, and he was asking so sweetly. Refusing the grapes and plums I offered, he said, "Never mind," and went back to the bedroom from where he'd emerged. I didn't want him to leave, but people were demanding my time, and I had no way to ask him back.
The truth is that my father died four years ago this month, and I wasn't there to say goodbye.
I recently read a book that beautifully articulated my personal beliefs about death and the afterlife. When I had the great merit to meet Dr. Bernie Kastner the author of Understanding the Afterlife in This Life he asked me if I'd learned anything from the work. After a few moments of reflection I was able to answer, "I learned that I'm not alone in believing that this world is merely a corridor to another level of existence."
This conviction isn't new for me, Frank. I've always found great comfort in reading about near-death experiences and other unusual occurrences that clearly suggest to me the existence of a tactile world-to-come. As both an observant Jew AND a card-carrying citizen of the Planet Earth, I've never found the subject either morbid or frightening. No, oddly, the more I learn about other cultures and religions, the less lonely I feel and the more comfort I find in knowing that the ones I love so much and who have enriched my every today will be part of my eternal tomorrows.
I just moved, Frank, and it made me tired. Too often I thought, "You used to be so strong! You used to move furniture! What happened to you?" I often questioned the enormity of this decision to, again, relocate as I continue clawing toward some sort of finish line that creeps a few inches further away every time I almost reach the tape. What is this all about, my friend? Have your 92 years given you a glimpse of what this obsessive striving might mean to a Type-A babe who is merely a half-century old? Are there any "big-picture" vistas that are available to you as you stand atop the mountain and straddle "both sides"?
I will continue to send you jokes, Frank, especially the spicy ones that elicit your most musical and robust howl, the kind of laugh that would be embarrassing were it to come from a forty-year-old man. I'll be happy to discuss with you your list of charitable donations. Most important, for as long as you live, I shall continue to yell at you for wearing Bermuda shorts and ridiculously gaudy suspenders. Cover up those knees, man!
(Someone should write a How-To book called "Geezer Duds: The Do's and Don'ts of Dressing for the Over-Eighty Crowd.")
The Jewish Holidays have come and gone, and even in Israel, the air is growing crisp. I love you and miss you every day.
Please forgive me if I choose not, yet, to say goodbye. After all, you are still an integral part of my mailing list, and I've not, yet, learned how to operate the function called "Highlight/Delete."
And Frank? Just in case you change your mind about visiting once more until we meet again, I have a lovely guest bedroom and an Open-All-Night kitchen.
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JewishWorldReview.com contributor Andrea Simantov is a Jerusalem-based columnist and single
mother of six. Comments by clicking here.
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© 2007, Andrea Simantov. This column first appeared in Orange County Jewish Life