Miles of memories

Ifind it interesting that select childhood memories remain with you well into adulthood while others fade into obscurity. The recollection of the year we bought a Cadillac limousine is definitely one of the former; it never fails to bring a smile to my face and a faraway twinkle to my eyes. Allow me to share it with you. We were the poster children for middleclass, hard-working folk. My father juggled myriad jobs, somehow managing to excel in each and give his all to every single one of them. During the year, he was a rebbe in a frum elementary school around the corner from our home, and later the principal of a Bais Yaakov high school. Legends abound about his challenges and successes, but those are the stuff of an entirely different story than the one I set out to write today. On Shabbos he wore a different hat, literally, as he served with dedication and love as the rav of a shul some distance from our home. The congregants were like our extended family, and he embraced them with genuine warmth and care as he drew them ever closer to Avinu Shebashamayim. Baruch Hashem, dorei doros of frum ehrliche Yidden are a living, breathing legacy to those many years of sacrifice and devotion. But that is not the focus of today’s introspection either. During the summer months and the many Sundays leading up to them, my father wore still another hat. He was busy from morning
until night with his most lucrative venture of all: day camp director.

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Every Sunday saw him welcoming prospective families, describing the program, giving them a personal tour of the facility, and hopefully enrolling their children for the summer. My sisters and I took turns accompanying him to the camp office and play-acting at being his secretary for the day. Come July and August, the intensive labor began in earnest. All able-bodied family members were drafted into active service, with job descriptions ranging from head chef to art counselor and everything in between. The official title of Camp Director in no way captures my father’s indispensable role. He somehow seemed to be everywhere at once: supervising hundreds of campers, checking the chemical balance in the juniorOlympic-size pool, all the while giving his attention to counselors, parents and campers who needed it. Although there were dozens of employees, from the head counselor to the bus driver, my father, always seemed larger than life, like he was carrying the responsibility for the entire operation on his broad shoulders. It was precisely at this juncture and for this reason that the Cadillac limousine came into our lives. Among other things, my father was extremely organized and level-headed. He was the paradigm of “Hechacham einav b’rosho”; thinking and planning ahead were an intrinsic part of his nature. Consequently, he always drove an oversized station wagon, even when our family could have managed with a smaller car. His reasoning was, “What if I need to drive some campers somewhere at some point?” So he made sure to have the appropriate license and a spacious vehicle, just in case. Over the course of a few decades, his foresight paid off time and again.

One year, however, our father invited us to come on a family adventure up the block to where he had parked his surprise purchase. Station wagons and other varied yeshivish cars were ubiquitous in our small frum neighborhood. But a Cadillac limousine? Virtually unheard of! That is what made that nocturnal trip up the block particularly memorable. En route to where he had parked our new-old limo, our excited delegation incredibly passed another Cadillac limousine, but this one was a more recent model in pristine condition! When we laid eyes on our own limo, some of the wind had already been knocked out of our sails by the bizarre coincidence. But admittedly, we were still pretty excited by our new set of wheels. We piled into the long black vehicle, tested the window that divided the driver’s row from that of the passengers, flipped the folding middle seats back and forth, and marveled at the controls that were in the back of the car. One of my brothers stretched out on the comfortable rear bench and adjusted the radio dial with his foot. When we finally piled out of the car, he forgot to shut it off! The following morning, when my father got behind the wheel to begin his busy day, he discovered that the battery was as dead as a doornail! Another memorable encounter with the family limo was when my father dropped off Mommy and the girls for a day of shopping at Alexander’s. Those were the prehistoric times before sprawling malls sprang up like mushrooms as far as the eye could see.

Even so, he would have preferred to have all of his teeth extracted without Novocaine rather than spend even half an hour with his wife and daughters in a large department store. My brothers were likewise not eager to accompany us on our protracted shopping expedition. So we were unceremoniously let off at the curb and the “men” continued happily on their way. A few blocks later, my father stopped at a red light as a couple of teenagers were crossing the street. Their eyes huge as saucers, they did a double-take, looking from my father to my little brothers and back again. “Those kids must be so rich!” one of them
exclaimed. “Unbelievable! Two little boys with their own chauffeur!”  Truthfully, I do not remember much more about that black car with the pronounced old-fashioned wings. But the memories of those more wholesome, simpler times never fail to warm my heart. And I sincerely cherish the recollections of my father, a veritable black-suited black-hatted superhero, who was always there for his family and for everyone else as well.

The passing years have left their indelible mark on my dear father. His cruel decadelong adversary, Parkinson’s, has robbed him of his strength and balance; every step comes at an astronomical price, and even getting out of bed has become a supreme struggle.The same man who somehow singlehandedly ran everything in my sphere of existence and made it all look easy, now needs an aide to help him shower and get dressed. His vibrant sense of humor, which once left us all cringing and rolling our eyes, was a secondary victim of this insidious disease. What we would not do to hear another of our father’s oft-repeated corny jokes once more! Most troubling to me is that our children and grandchildren have few, if any, memories of him. The Zeidie they know is frail and weak, a mere shadow of his previously invincible self. For them, especially, I try to keep these stories alive and pulsating, so that they too, can share my fondest memories of our beloved father.

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