I have a really cool dad. Ask any of my friends. It’s one of the very first things you learn about me.
I always felt that way and I still do. In fact, today I feel it even more strongly than ever.
There is so much to say about this man who lived (and died) in a 27th floor Brooklyn Heights apartment with a sumptuous view of the NYC skyline he adored.
A man of many passions, including his wife, his children, grandchildren, relatives and many friends, my dad enjoyed an eclectic array of culture both high and low including painting, sculpture, literature, music of all kinds, philosophy, film, bird watching, horse racing, food, wine, the natural world and so much more. One has only to browse his huge collection of books and records to see the scope of this man’s interests and the places his mind liked to travel.
To say he was smart would be a vast understatement. This was a man who read almost constantly and always knew what was going on in the world, the city he loved, as well as what was going on at the museums, the Chelsea galleries, the local film houses, jazz clubs and concert halls.
A connoisseur of both the pop and the esoteric, the atonal and the swooningly harmonic, my father loved Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington as much as he appreciated Debussy, Bach, Schumann, Schoenberg, opera, Roland Barthes, William Butler Yeats, Martin Heidegger and Theodor Adorno.
He loved the new as much as the classic and always liked to be—no, needed to be—up to date on the latest thing in the cultural zeitgeist.
But the classics were his passion and he knew his way around the Metropolitan Museum, where he loved to peruse the 19th century paintings, the ancient Chinese art and the New Greek and Roman sculpture Galleries on the first floor.
And then there were the horses.
This is a reprint from March 11, 2009, the three month anniversary of Madoff's arrest. Today is the one year anniversary.
Here they are: my first words on OTBKB about Madoff, the man who has brought so much anguish to members of my family.
Today, EXACTLY three
months to the day that Bernard Madoff was arrested for running the
largest Ponzi scheme in history, Madoff will plead guilty.
will be music to my ears. The last three months have been a horrendous
whirlwind of shock, disbelief, pain, disappointment, economic fear,
loathing and sadness that I've barely had time to actually feel angry
at the man himself.
But now I feel angry and vindictive. I want
the worst for this man. I always thought it was ridiculous that he got
to remain in his penthouse. Brooklyn petty criminals suffer more than
this man who stole from thousands of people.
The New York Times
asked Eli Wiesel, who's foundation and personal savings were invested
with Madoff, what kind of punishment would fit Madoff's crime: “I
would like him to be in a solitary cell with only a screen,
and on that screen for at least five years of his life, every day and
every night, there should be pictures of his victims, one after the
other after the other, all the time a voice saying, ‘Look what you have
done to this old lady, look what you have done to that child, look what
you have done,’ nothing else.”
I like his idea. but I'd also
like Madoff to know that he didn't just hurt the investors themselves
but he hurt their husbands, their wives, their children and
grandchildren. He hurt the people who depend on these people. He's hurt
the people, issues, organizations, who benefited from the many
charities that had invested with Madoff
He hurt people very close
to me and caused them acute anxiety and sleepless nights worrying about
their future. The pain has been both emotional and physical.
would I like to do to that guy? On behalf of my father, who left this
world thinking that his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren were
in decent economic shape (and that's what he wanted for us), I would
like to personally like to claw his eyes out.
–For my father's memory
–For the emotional and physical pain
–For the disappointment
–For the anxiety
–For the economic insecurity
–For all the time this is taking to sort out.
father would have been devastated by what has happened since his death
on September 7th. So I think Madoff should have to listen to an endless
loop of our conversations with lawyers, accountants, doctors, friends,
family about the fallout from this mess…
Sometimes I'm just
glad my father didn't live to see this. But then again, maybe we could
use his humor, his smarts, and his always interesting perspective on
things. Truth is, I'd do anything for a funny line from my dad right
Because, you know, he was a really funny guy.
We arrived an hour late for my father's unveiling after getting terribly lost on the highways of Queens.
The Google directions to the cemetery were all wrong. Somehow it seemed metaphorically correct that it should be so difficult to get to the cemetery. Resistance. Dread. The fear of facing something painful and sad.
Going in circles, we kept passing the cemetery from afar and then getting whisked off onto the Van Wyck, the Grand Central, the Long Island Expressway.
We were exhausted and cranky by the time we got there. To make matters worse, the cemetery caretaker seemed unable to open the door to the mausoleum. He thought he might have the wrong key.
'There are two keys. One in the office and one that the grounds-keeper has," he said
"Where is he?" someone asked.
"He's not here today. It's Sunday."
How strange it was not being able to get in. Like getting lost on the way to the cemetery, this struck me as another form of resistance and dread: the fear of facing something painful and sad.
It is Jewish custom for the grave marker to be put in place and
an unveiling ceremony held approximately a year after the death. We decided to keep the guest list small—it would be easier that way. We'd visited the cemetery on September 7th, the actual anniversary of my father's death, but the gravestone wasn't ready and we knew we'd be back.
Despite the fact that we were locked out of the mausoleum, we began the ceremony on the steps, which overlook a a nice lawn and two trees. My sister spoke beautifully about my father. Actually she spoke to my father telling him how much she missed him and how she appreciated the love of art and culture that he'd given her. (She mentioned thinking of him during a recent Yankees game and watching Fred Astaire in "Top Hat" the night before.)
The mood was broken when the caretaker returned with another worker and they noisily attempted to open the door. Finally they were able to get it open and we cheered—a strange thing to do at a cemetery. Then we all went inside.
It was cold inside the mausoleum but we were glad to be able to view the engraving on the white stone: Monte A. Ghertler. January 16, 1929-September 7, 2009. Adored Husband, Father, Grandfather.
We gazed at the "crypts" of my paternal grandparents and great grandparents, my great aunt, uncle and cousins. An urn holds the ashes of my father's beloved cat, Rupert.
I said a few words and recited the lyrics of the song "You Can't Take That Away From Me" by George Gershwin. To prepare for the unveiling, I'd searched through "Reading Lyrics" a celebration of the greatest American songwriters from 1900-1975, for a song that would be appropriate. My father was passionate about many of the songs in that book. I have great memories of reading through it with him and singing the songs. Finally, I stumbled upon this
The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The mem'ry of all that
No, no! They can't take that away from me!
The way your smile just beams,
The way you sing off-key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no! They can't take that away from me!
As she did at the funeral, my sister read the last three pages of "The House at Pooh Corner." We recited the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead in Hebrew led by a kind friend who said the Kaddish for my father all year. We stood around for a few minutes talking.
Finally, we placed small stones in the mausoleum, which is a Jewish custom to indicate that someone has visited the grave. According to My Jewish Learning, "This
tradition may also reflect the biblical practice of marking the grave
with a pile of stones. Or, it may be the end result of the custom of
writing notes to the deceased and pushing them into crevices in the
headstone just as notes are pushed into the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
When no crevice could be found, the note was weighted down with a
stone. In time, the paper disintegrated or blew away leaving only the
stone. Thus, some began to think that the leaving of a stone was the
custom… and so it became the custom."
It was a relief to be done. We'd been talking about the unveiling for months. None of it was easy. Communicating with the cemetery, choosing the typeface, the words. Forms had to be signed, faxed.
Planned for last week, we rescheduled the event due to the rain. But what a beautiful sunny day we had yesterday to visit with my father, say a few words, a little Winnie the Pooh, the Kaddish and this from Gershwin:
We may never, never meet again
on the bumpy road to love
Still I'll always, always keep
The mem'ry of–
The way you hold your knife
The wa we danced til three
The way you changed my life
No, no! They can't take that away from me!
No! They can't take that away from me!
I went to Met Food to buy a Yahrzeit (Memorial) Candles. They have them on a low shelf right near the dishwasher detergent.
A Yahrzeit Candle is a special memorial candle, which is traditionally lit for deceased relatives for whom one recites the Mourner's Kaddish.
It is a Jewish custom to light a Yahrzeit candle at sundown on the eve of the anniversary of your loved one's death. I lit mine a little late: at 12:20 am. And it is sitting in the center of our dining room table. I feel like I should put a photograph next to it or something.
According to custom, one should also light a candle on the sundown preceding the start of Yom Kippur, Succoth, Passover and Shavout.
Special Yahrzeit candles, like the one I got at Met Food, can burn for 24 hours. It is a candle in glass not unlike the colorful Santeria candles you see in the Santeria shops on Fifth Avenue.
Only one Yahrzeit candle needs
to be lit per household. Some people use an electric bulb instead of a
candle today for safety reasons.
Apparently there is no special prayer that must be recited while lighting a memorial
candle. Every time I look at it I think about my dad. I am inspired to read a poem or a psalm or maybe look at one of his letters. Psalm 121, 130,
142 is suggested. I took out the copy of "The House at Pooh Corner" that we read at my dad's funeral last year. We read the last page and a half, the part that begins:
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred…"
My dad loved that section of the book and suggested that I read it at my high school graduation, which I did.
So what is the meaning of the Yahrzeit candle?
According to About.com:Judaism:
see similarity between a candle's flame and a soul. The connection
between flames and souls derives from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 20,
verse 27): "The soul of man is the light of God." Just as a flame is
never still, the soul also continuously strives to reach up to God.
Thus, the flickering flame of the Yahrzeit candle helps to remind us of
the departed soul of our loved one.
Smartmom’s first Father’s Day without her dad wasn’t easy. They
always did something special on that night. Usually, her dad — aka
Groovy Grandpa — and Mima Cat came over for dinner. While Hepcat
cooked risotto or lamb, she and her dad would stand in the kitchen, and
he’d tell tales of his college days at U.C. Berkeley, or working at
Papert, Koenig and Lois, that 1960s advertising firm where he wrote ads
for Robert Kennedy’s Senate campaign, Quisp and Quake Cereals and the
New York Herald Tribune.
Groovy Grandpa would gingerly sip from Hepcat’s collection of Scotch
(some Oban, Balvenie or Laphraiog) and compare them, like the
connoisseur he was. He always gave Hepcat a bottle for his birthday.
Smartmom loved those evenings with her dad at the apartment,
especially when her father would sit down at the Casio piano and play
his free-form jazz. He had no formal training and couldn’t read music,
but somehow he managed to bang out tinkly renditions of some of his
favorite Cole Porter songs.
For a Father’s Day gift, Smartmom would usually go to the Community
Bookstore and buy him a book on one of his favorite topics like
philosophy, jazz, bird watching, or horse racing.
He’d immediately start reading it and confirm that it was a very good choice.
“How’d you know I’ve been wanting to read this?” he would ask.
A couple of years ago, Groovy Grandpa told Smartmom that he wasn’t a
big fan of the Father’s Day holiday, but he appreciated the fact that
she and Diaper Diva made such a big deal about it. Now Smartmom wonders
why he wasn’t a big fan. Or maybe he was just kidding.
Last year, Smartmom didn’t write a column about her dad for Father’s
Day because when he first got sick, he asked her not to mention his
illness in her column. She thought a Father’s Day column would be too
maudlin, sad and elegiac.
About a week later, Groovy Grandpa said, “I thought you’d write a ‘Smartmom’ about me for Father’s Day.”
Smartmom was startled and stricken. There was something so poignant
about hearing him say that. So this Father’s Day, she kept flashing on
that conversation and feeling guilty and sad.
Truth is, she never wanted to admit to him that she knew he was
dying. Now Smartmom feels bad about all the conversations they didn’t
have. And terrible that she didn’t write about him last Father’s Day.
Not a day goes by when Smartmom doesn’t think of her dad. There’s so
much she never got around to saying. That’s life (or death).
But it still doesn’t make her feel any better.
Smartmom found herself feeling low energy on Father’s Day. In the
quiet of Sunday morning, while Hepcat and the kids were asleep,
Smartmom went through a box of old letters that her lovable and funny
dad wrote to his parents just weeks prior to the birth of Smartmom and
Diaper Diva in 1958:
Birth is expected in a couple of weeks, and I am pretty nervous
about it. Up until now, the idea of a baby (babies) has been pretty
much taking them to their first ballgame, dressing them in Eton suits
and listening to their first gurgles of gratitude.
But now, the day-by-day reality becomes clearer, and I wonder
how we’ll handle such things as squalling nights, plastic ducks all
over the bathroom and shelves full of those terrible picture books. To
say nothing of colic, uninhibited bowel habits and stubborn refusal to
eat. In addition, the idea of pacing the hospital waiting room for
hours, without knowing what’s happening to Edna, doesn’t strike me as
better than going to the movies.
Oh, well, it will all be over soon and the joy of having them
will, I suppose, put the doubts away. Did you like me at first, or did
it take a few years?
Smartmom wonders how long it took her dad to like her and her
sister. From the black-and-white photos, it looks like he was
quite fond of his twin newborns quite early on. But who knows?
There is so much children don’t know about the inner lives of their
parents. When you’re young, you can’t even imagine them having a life
before you were born. Finding letters, notebooks, and journals is such
a powerful way to learn more about the parents you think you know.
The night of Smartmom’s first Father’s Day without her dad, there
was no standing in the kitchen hearing vintage stories. There was no
jazzy tinkling of the plastic Casio keys. There was no tasting of
Hepcat’s special Scotch.
But there were memories. Plenty of them. And the letters. They're no substitute for the
man but they offer a coveted insight into what was going on in his head.
Father's Day without my dad. It's not easy. We always did something on this day. Often he and my stepmother would came over for dinner and we'd eat Hugh's risotto or lamb. My dad would take a few sips from Hugh's collection of scotch (some Oban, Balvenie or Laphraiog) and we'd stand in the kitchen and talk. I loved those dinners with my dad at my house. Especially when my father sat down at the electronic piano and played his free-form version of jazz. I usually bought him a book I though he'd enjoy from the Community Bookstore — something about philosophy, jazz, birds, or horse racing.
What did I get him last year?
Why can't I remember what we did last year?
Yup. I'm missing my dad on Father's Day. He told me that he wasn't a big fan of the holiday but that he appreciated the fact that we made such a big deal about it. I wonder now why he wasn't a big fan. Or if he was kidding.
And I'm feeling bad, bad, bad. Last year I didn't write a Smartmom column about about him on Father's Day. That's because early on he'd asked me not to mention his illness in the column and I guess I thought a Father's Day column might be maudlin and sad and too elegaic. In some ways, I never wanted to admit to my dad that I knew he was dying. I think we acknowledged it by not acknowleding it. It makes me sad to say that but it's true (I think we were very close that way). Also, Gersh, the editor of the Brooklyn Paper published, a piece by a dad about Father's Day instead of Smartmom. After the fact my dad said, "I thought you'd write a Smartmom about Father's Day." I was startled and stricken. There was something so poignant about him saying that. I forget now what I said. Now I just keep flashing on that conversation and feeling so very sad.
There's so much I'd like to ask him now that I never got around to say. That's life (or death) I guess.
Here is an excerpt from a letter my lovable and funny dad wrote in
1958 to his parents just weeks prior to the birth of my sister and me.
My stepmother gave me boxes of letters from my dad to his parents. They
are absolute gems and I treasure them!
Especially this letter. It's amazing being inside his head just before that momentous event
Birth is expected in a couple of week and I am pretty nervous about it. Up until now the idea of a baby (babies) has been pretty much taking them to their first ballgame, dressing them in Eton suits and listening to their first gurgles of gratitude.
But now, the day by day reality becomes clearer, and I wonder how we'll handle such things as squalling nights, plastic ducks all over the bathroom and shelves full of those terrible picture books. To say nothing of colic, uninhibited bowel habits and stubborn refusal to eat. In addition, the idea of pacing the hospital waiting-room for hours, without knowing what's happening to Edna, doesn't strike me as better than going to the movies.
Oh, well, it will all be over soon and the joy of having them will, I suppose, put the doubts away. Did you like me at first or did it take a few years?
My job is about as eventful as Death Valley on a slow Tuesday. It's really the most boring place in the world and what reason I can't tell. The people are all nice, the accounts are not bad, the office is pleasantly bathed in southern light and the coffee wagon appears twice a day. But it's boring. I feel bored driving up in the morning and bored as I leave at night. Maybe it will get better. Maybe it's my mood about the babies that's causing it. The twins are all I can think of and writing ads only seems silly in comparison…
Photo of me looking at a picture of my dad, Monte Ghertler, from the Brooklyn Paper.
"Hugh and I both have mothers-in-law with a June 10th
birthday. So, I added that tidbit of information about your mother into
my family tree and one thing lead to another and I came across a nice
picture of your maternal grandparents. I thought you might want to see
it…Oh, and wish your mother happy birthday from me."
Hilary is a geneaology buff and has created a a huge family tree of her and her husband's family, which includes nearly 1,500 people. I was so excited to see this photograph of my grandmother and grandfather Anna and Samuel Wander. And I was touched that it's included in my sister-in-laws family tree. We called them Nanny and Poppy.
Nanny was born in 1898 in Cohoes, NY. Her mother died when she was a young girl, a trauma she never forgot. She moved to Westminster Road with her father, a stepmother and three stepbrothers. She studied education Adelphi University and briefly worked as a kindergarten teacher.
My grandfather was born in Albany in the late 1890's. He started a plumbing business called Hercules Chemical Company and was a lovely, kind-hearted man who was always well-groomed from head to toe. The company still exists, it was run by my Uncle Jay for many years, and it says on their website: "Sam Wander was known for “walking the
tracks” when he started Hercules in 1915. He went diligently and
enthusiastically from town to town, on foot, selling Drain Pipe
Solvent, Hercules first product. His creed was “I’ve got to take care
of my customers.”
Nanny and Poppy were married in 1920
at a fancy hotel in Manhattan. This picture must have been taken around
that time. She told me stories about their honeymoon; I believe they went
to Cuba on an ocean liner and she was seasick the entire time. They lived with their daughters, Rhoda Hortense and Edna Mae (my mother who was teased "Edna Mae Wander but not very far") in a two-family house in the Midwood section of Brooklyn and later moved to a single family home on Avenue J, where they lived for many years. Later they moved to the Fifth Avenue Hotel in Greenwich Village in the 1960's to be near my grandfather's business on 14th Street My grandmother worked with Poppy at the company.
My sister and I actually spent our first year of life in that house on Avenue J, while my parents looked for an apartment in Manhattan. There are pictures of us in our enormous twin baby carriage being strolled down the streets of Brooklyn.
Once Nanny and Poppy moved Manhattan, I spent many Saturdays with my grandparents and have a vivid memory of going to the Central Park Children's Zoo with my grandfather when a llama ate a banana out of his pocket.
After my grandfather died in 1967, I spent just about every Saturday with my grandmother. She'd take my sister and me out to lunch at the Automat on 57th Street or Schrafts on Madison Avenue.
At the Automat, I'd always have mashed potatoes and carrots from the steam table (and probably a piece of layer cake from one of the the coin operated compartments).
At Schrafts I'd order a turkey sandwich on rye bread with Russian dressing. Funny the things you remember. And for dessert: a hot butterscotch sundae.
We always went to see the exhibitions in the basement of the Hallmark store, which used to be on 56th Street and Fifth Avenue, right next door to Doubleday, another great bookstore no longer in operation.
We'd also go to FAO Schwartz and look at the Steif animals on the first floor. I always longed to own the life-sized giraffe. Nanny did buy me a much smaller one that I still have.
One time Nanny said, "There's a group called The Beatles on the steps of the Plaza Hotel across the street. Would you like to go see them?" I guess she was curious.
The year was 1964 and we had no idea who the Beatles were so we declined. I imagined these large bugs. Can you believe? One year later I remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and screaming along with all the girls in the studio audience. The next morning my cousin Meg called, "Did you see them? Did you see them? Did you scream?"
The Fifth Avenue Hotel became One Fifth Avenue, an elegant coop apartment building int he 1970's. I frequently had dinner with my grandmother in One Fifth, the restaurant on the first floor. She ate there every night and it was a beautiful Art Deco style restaurant with a nautical theme and was quite the chic place to dine in the late 1970's and early '80s for the likes of Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe and others in the downtown scene.
Nanny always dined at 6 p.m.. at the front table near the dessert display. The Maitre'd, whose name was Richard, always said, "Mrs. Wander you look so lovely tonight."
And she always did. The young staff was so nice to her there. Many were gay men in the arts who later died of AIDs. The restaurant was generally empty when we dined there because it was so early. She'd tell us stories about her life in Cohoes and the sad death of her mother. I can still feel the texture of her soft skin when I held her hand.
I was so happy to see that picture of Nanny and Poppy that my sister-in-law found. Thanks, Hilary.
An old friend, who now lives in California, wrote to say she saw the article in the Sunday Times about my sister. That's how she found out about my father's death; she wrote me a lovely email full of memories.
thinking about our childhood together and your Dad today. In
particular, remembering sometimes when I would come to dinner, and how
funny, and warm, and yet awe-inspiring your Dad was at the same time.
Perched on the moderne black dining room chairs with the cold leather
and the wind whistling outside from the Drive, the Fiesta china, and
your Dad's understated and really keen questions, observations,
hilarious jokes, until he had had enough, and his attention went on to
other things. At those dinners, I felt really intimidated and yet
excited at the same time.
memories of your apartment in the 1960's start to wash in, from the
texture of the carpet in the entrance hall, rough under the feet, and
the piano, that takes me to the bright sound of the Thelonius Monk
improvising on through the wall… oh too much to put in email. And
memories of you guys — though, I have those at least three or four
times a month, thanks to a Nika Hazelton cookbook of American food you
once gave me that is my Bible for good American home cooking- my
younger boy makes a mean chocolate cake from it.
My father was a huge fan of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I mean, he LOVED everything about it: the questions, the contestants who came on the show, Regis Philban and the life-lines.
I think he loved the theater of it and the humanity; the suspense, the drama, the real life being lived out on the tiny screen.
He loved: "Is that your final answer?"
My father was a high/low culture kind of guy. He was equally intense about an opera at the Met, a show of paintings at MOMA, a day at the races, American Idol or a book about Wittgenstein.
It was fun when he became obsessed with something on TV like Millionaire or American Idol. He’d call during a commercial break, "Are you watching?"
And he always like to test his own knowledge. So that was also a draw.
I thought of him last night watching Slumdog Millionaire, which we saw at a friend’s house. (Yup, we’ve got friends in high places who get copies of first-run films).
Slumdog is about a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and it’s an incredibly colorful film that manages to be simultaneously depressing (poverty, abandonment and cruelty) and feel-good in a mesmerizing, Bollywood way.
Last night, I was reminded of the time my dad was a contestant on the Who What or Where Game, a daytime NBC game show that was on in the 1970′s after Jeopardy.
That may well have been one of the most exciting times of childhood. He was on for three consecutive days and as far as I was concerned he was the smartest man in the world.
I remember when he came home after acing the test required to be on the show. And the way he studied the World Almanac for weeks in preparation.
We were devastated when he got an important question wrong on his third appearance and didn’t win the car. He did come home with $2000 dollars and lots of weird give-a-way dry skin products.
I will never forget that time and the sense of excitement that was in there air.
Slumdog Millionaire is an incredible movie that I urge you to see even if your dad was never on a game show.
Last week my sister and I went to my father’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights to pack up some more of the LP’s from the back of his closet. There were more than 100 in there and I went through them carefully and pulled out some for myself. The rest we packed up to take to Housing Works Thrift Shop on Montague Street in a variety of shopping bags.
The process was easier this time than last; it wasn’t quite so fraught for me emotionally. I actually enjoyed pulling out an eccentric and eclectic mix including Svajatoslav Richter (my father’s favorite classical pianist), Francis Faye, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Lotte Lenya, and Paul Robeson among others.
While in the closet, I noticed about 30 small boxes of jazz 78′s as well as two small duffel bags stacked with them. Jazz was my father’s passion. He loved Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Sidney Bechet, Bessie Smith, Teddy Wilson, Duke Elllington, Charlie Parker. The list goes on…
These were his heroes, jazz was his passion and he knew a great deal about it.
When my stepmother asked that we pack up those 78′s and bring them to Housing Works, too I got a lump in my stomach. Later she told me that those were the 78′s my father collected in Los Angeles when he was a teenager.
At the mention of that I knew that I definitely didn’t want to make any decisions about those records; I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t really want to look at them let alone lift them out of the closet and bring them downstairs. It made me sick to even think about it.
I imagined all the places these records had been. He’d moved them from Los Angeles to Berkeley where he went to college and then back to UCLA, where he went to grad school. Then he moved them to various apartment in the West Village, where he was a young bachelor. Then he moved them to University Place where he lived with my mother; to Midwood Brooklyn when my sister and I were born (and we lived for a year with my mother’s parents). Then they traveled to Riverside Drive and finally Brooklyn Heights where he settled with my stepmother.
They obviously meant a great deal to my father but he never mentioned them to us or said anything about them in his will.
I was overwhelmed with confusion and sadness for those traveling records.
My sister felt differently. It’s not that she wanted to cart them off to Housing Works with the LP’s, but she wanted to find a good home for them. So she packed them up in two large blue IKEA totes and lugged them down the stairs.
I was furious because I thought they should stay in my father’s closet a little while longer. What was the harm in that? Time is a good thing. Perhaps we’d know better what to do in a few weeks or months. Maybe Teen Spirit would want them in the future. Or OSFO.
But when we got them into the car I understood my sister’s motivations.
"Let’s make some calls. Let’s find out what they’re worth, if anyone wants them." she said.
After dropping off the LPs at the thrift show, we had lunch at Theresa’s, the Polish luncheonette on Montague Street. Over bowls of cabbage soup, we agreed that we didn’t want to sell them but we wanted to give them to a place that would honor my father’s habit of collecting.
That evening, my sister already had a list of possible places, including the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, Jazz at Lincoln Center, a jazz record shop on West 26th Street. She even called Phil Schaap at WKCR, Columbia University’s radio station.
The next day my sister got a call back from Phil Schaap. My father loved his jazz shows on WKCR, including the Louis Armstrong Centennial Festival Part I (June 30 – July 7, 2000; 184 hours), the Duke Ellington Centennial Festival (April 23 – May 1, 1999; 240 hours) and a two-week John Coltrane Festival is currently planned for the spring of 2004.
He also loved the 14 annual ‘Birthday Broadcasts,’ 24-hour marathons that celebrate the birthdays of the pivotal figures in jazz history as holidays, as well as the Memorial Broadcasts’ which pay tribute to musicians upon their passing and alert the jazz community to memorials and funeral plans.
Schaap said that he didn’t want the 78′s and that he was pretty sure that Lincoln Center, where he is a curator, wouldn’t want them. He did say that he could probably find some graduate students that would be happy to take them off our hands.
"My father really loved your show," my sister told him.
"Thank you very much," he said obviously moved.
In the meantime, I mentioned the 78′s to my friend Betsey who said that her partner Tom would be interested in keeping them. They have a house in upstate New York, where Tom has a turntable that plays 78′s.
It seemed like a good solution. I imagined that we could make occasional pilgrimages to their house and listen to the 78′s.
Later that day, my sister, who was eager to get the two Ikea bags full of 78′s out of her car, drove them over to Tom in Carroll Gardens, who seemed excited to go through the records.
Hours later I understood why bereavement experts say not to clean out closets, or give away clothing until you feel ready. I felt angry that we had to make a decision about the 78′s. I wanted to call Tom and say, I think we made a mistake, I want them back.
I felt bereft because this evidence of my father’s teenage self in the used record stores of Los Angeles was lost forever.
Thankfully, those feelings passed. Later I felt grateful that a friend had the 78′s and that they would stay together in a nice house in upstate New York. Sort of like a museum. A museum to Monte Ghertler as a teenager, obsessively going around Los Angeles looking for the music of his heroes on these heavy old records.
photo by Caroline Ghertler
On a personal note, tomorrow my family goes to the cemetery for the unveiling of my uncle’s grave stone.
It is customary for the grave marker to be put in place and
for an unveiling ceremony to be held after the Kaddish period, approximately one year after the death.
According to custom, there is usually a recitation of psalms and various Jewish prayers. The veil covering the headstone is removed.
Before leaving the grave-site, family and friends will place a
small stone on the marker to indicate that someone has visited the grave. In these ways, we will honor my uncle, Jay Fidler, a great son of Brooklyn, who died on October 31, 2007.
He is remembered by a large community of friends, neighbors, and colleagues, who
were touched by his robust spirit—at work, at play, at Brooklyn’s
Madison High School, in the Army, at Brown University, in business, at
home in Westchester and all the other places where he shared his warm
personality and zest for life.
He was a leader in every sense of the word. Jay projected strength
of character, good humor, kindness, smarts, and strong moral and
ethical values in every thing he did.
A born athlete, he was a great storyteller, a respected boss, a
loving father and grandfather, and a wonderful and devoted husband to
my Aunt Rhoda, his wife of more than 60 years.
Born in Brooklyn, Jay was the son of Irving and Beatrice Fidler, of
Lefferts Gardens. He attended Madison High School, where he played
football and distinguished himself in the arts.
Jay married his high school sweetheart, Rhoda Wander, and attended
Brown University, where he was a football hero and later served on the
Board of Trustees.
During the Second World War, Jay served in the US Army. Afterwards,
he started working for Hercules Chemical Corporation at its office and
factory in lower Manhattan in New York City. The company, then a small
family-held corporation started by my grandfather, Samuel Wander, grew
substantially under his leadership.
In the 1950′s Jay designed his family’s home, a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house, built with glass, brick and cement block.
Jay leaves behind three loving and devoted children and his wife
Rhoda, who advocated for his health and well-being during a long
illness with vigilance and dignity until the very end.
He also leaves behind five exceptional grandchildren, a wonderful brother, and many loving relatives and friends.
The bulk of them will stay in the shelves in his Brooklyn Height apartment. For now.
I also took home his phonograph, a light weight old gray plastic General Electric Automatic, which he’d recently moved into his bedroom so that he could listen to music.
Now it’s in my living room.
It was tough to select just twenty of my dad’s records. After much deliberation I took a nice mixture of German lieder, Italian opera, art songs, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart. I grabbed an album from 1966 called My Favorite Hymns by Leontyne Price, which includes Amazing Grace, Lead Kindly Light, What a Friend I Have in Jesus.
The records smelled of age and mildew and were suffused with that distinctly vinyl odor. Dust gathered on my fingers—even cardboard pieces falling off the albums—as I browsed quickly. The gap between my knowledge of classical music and my father’s felt huge and unpleasant. I didn’t know which to take as I acknowledged that the person who could advise me died two months ago.
I found myself gravitating toward Schumann, Schubert, Bach—my familiar loves—even as I wanted to expand my taste and know which of these albums were most special to my dad.
I had lost my guide.
My father had many versions of Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti; I reasoned that he must have really loved this opera so I grabbed one boxed set with a beautiful cover (sung by Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano).
When I got home I set up the phonograph on the coffee table and put on the real treasure of my haul, a 1949 album from Columbia records in a simple pink and white record sleeve. My muscle memory directed me to put the LP on the record changer. It didn’t seem to work so I pressed the album down somewhat clumsily and moved the needle by hand toward the first record groove of the album.
The performer is Bidu Sayao, a Brazilian soprano with Milne Charnley on piano. It contains My Encores and Folk Songs of Brazil (Emani Braga).
That exquisite artist of the Metropolitan Opera Association, Bidu Sayao here sings with infallible taste and charm two groups of songs, the first comprising nine songs that are favorites of her audiences’ and of her when sung as encores and the second consisting of eight fascinating songs drawn from the vast folk literature of Miss Sayoa’s native Brazil.
My father played this album for me in August. We listened without speaking to the side called Folk Songs of Brazil, which he loved. Sometimes music just hits me in spontaneous perfection. This music sounded triumphant for that moment in time.
One song especially, Capim di Pranta is, according to the liner notes, a song sung by weed pickers from the Province of Alagoas. A woman overseer warms them not to be lazy. When her back is turned, the workers answer her with "an impudent chorus."
On this incredible album there are spirituals and children’s street songs, funny songs, haunting and sad melodies. Listening to Sayao, I found myself beginning to feel some of the grief that has been difficult to access since my father’s death on September 7th.
The weeks after his death felt almost festive with the funeral, the shiva, and lots of time with family and friends. I I threw myself into writing the eulogy and an intense level of social interaction. Afterwards there’s been much business to take care of. There still is.
Last week I observed that I was down. Really down. My energy level dipped enormously. Like many others around me, I had a host of flu symptoms—fatigue, sore throat, sneezing.
Those symptoms went away but then I began to feel a certain deadness, like I was living outside and away from the living. I felt old and depressed and deeply sad. Like I was watching a movie of my life without me.
Election Day afternoon, as I lay on the couch listening to the Bidu Sayao album the tears came. I cried for my father and for the way that music was the love of his life (as it is mine).
I cried for the way that music had consoled him during his illness. I cried for the way that he moved that very phonograph into his bedroom so that he could listen to his favorite records.
I cried for the fact that for my father, music was not an option but an essential part of his every day.
For me, music is a pathway to my emotions as it moves me more than any other art form. I know I have been avoiding this grief, flicking it away because I’ve been determined, I guess, to survive his death without the pain that is necessary to go through.
But lying on the couch in the living room, watching the phonograph twirl, listening to Bidu Sayao’s sumptuous soprano voice, I realized that there is no way to avoid the powerful emotions that I must allow myself to feel.
That made me happy. And, of course, it seemed appropriate to me; I was touched, too. How better to memorialize my dad than in a book. I wanted to know what book she was reading silently hoping that it was a book my father loved.
But I didn’t blurt that out. I waited for her story.
She explained that the night I gave her the picture, during the shiva, she was starting a biography of Nicholas Tesla called Man Out of Time. So she stuck the photo in the book.
Immediately I wondered if my father would have read a book about Niklas Tesla, the legendary mechanical and electrical engineer, who’s work formed the basis of modern alternating currents and electric power and has been called the man who invented the 20th century.
Yes, I decided. He’d pick up the book, and even read it. My father’s curiosity was boundless as was a desire to understand things like engineering, not a natural interest of his.
Okay, it wouldn’t be his first choice to read about electrical power—he loved philosophy, literary criticism, art and music history, poetry and fiction—but I decided he’d give it a go.
My friend is still reading that book. She confessed that she’s having a tough time with it: “I don’t like the writing at all.” Still, I had the sense that she intends to finish the book. And in the process she has forged a connection with my dad through that picture.
A talented graphic designer, when my friend was just starting out, she revered the ad creatives of the 1960′s, the golden age of American advertising. Those were her heroes. My father was a copywriter and later a creative director during that legendary time.
In fact, a wonderful pro bono ad he created for National Library Week, while at Doyle Dane Bernbach, is featured in the book, When Advertising Tried Harder, The Sixties. The Golden Age of American Advertising, a book this friend lent me a month ago.
My friend loves that small picture of my dad.
“I took it,” I told her proudly. Only a sometime-photographer, I am pleased that my portraits of my dad came out so well.
“There’s something about that picture,” she said. She struggled to articulate it.
“The book. The blue book.” I said referring to the turquoise book that is on top of a stack of books behind my father in the picture. It’s a nice, inadvertent compositional touch.
“Yes, the book,” her eyes lit up.
“The book,” she said again. “The blue book.”
It’s so interesting the many way my father lives on.
Well, I have my father’s Subaru Impreza now and it’s like, well, it reminds me of My Mother the Car. Sort of.
It’s not like he’s reincarnated as the car or that there are spirits in there but there is something. When I’m in the car I feel a connection with my dad and the way he did things. Little discoveries:
–Oh, that’s where he kept that card he used to get into the garage.
–Why did he put the tire gage in that dashboard compartment? It makes so much noise when it rolls around.
–What are all those books he bought at a library sale in the back?
Truthfully, when I think of my father I don’t think of the Subaru. The car I think of is the light blue Austin Healey, which was our family car from the time I was born until I was about 8.
Now that was a great car (like the one pictured except in a light sky blue). My mother and father bought it on a trip to England in 1957. That was during what I think of as the "Two for the Road" phase of their marriage. In pictures, my mother looks very Jean Seberg with her short, dark hair amd my dad is awfully handsome with his neatly trimmed beard and tweed jacket. They drove to Italy and later shipped the car home to New York City. After a while my sister and I got too big to fit in the tiny back seat of this sporty, four-seat convertible so my father sold it.
My father didn’t have a car for years after that (we always rented). But when he got a house in Upstate, New York, he bought a few cars over the years. Finally the Subaru Impreza, considered a very good car.
On August 19th, just weeks before my father died, I was backing out of the driveway of the house we rent in Sag Harbor very, very slowly. Suddenly, there was a huge Land Rover in the rear window and CRASH: the right rear tail light of the Subaru was SMASHED. The Land Rover had no damage whatsoever.
It was like hitting a brick.
The car looked awful and I cried like a teenager. "My dad is going to kill me." All the way home on the Long Island Expressway I was in a panic about telling my dad.
Finally when we got back to the city, I nervously called my dad and started to tell him the story "Don’t tell me now, I’m not feeling well," he told me.
Phew, that was easy I thought to myself.
When I got to his apartment he didn’t want details. The next day he started to ask questions and worried about his insurance. He wanted me to get some estimates for repairs. When I called from ABC Collision with a rough estimate of $2,000 he said angrily, "Are you kidding? Leave. Go to another place."
Hugh was out of town at the time and my father told me to wait for him to get back (my father was a bit of a sexist about women drivers). "Let him take care of it," my father told me.
I hated to bother him with the details of this silly fender bender when he wasn’t feeling well. But on some level it was a welcome distraction for both of us. Something to talk about other than symptoms, medications, chemotherapy. And yeah, we had a couple of fights about it. He was a little patronizing, "Why were you driving the car anyway? Your sister is a better driver."
Not long after that he went into the hospital for two weeks, where we talked about it a couple of times. My father died at home on September 7th.
I couldn’t even think about the car for a while. Finally I called the insurance company and they sent an adjuster to look at the car. The guy called and said that the car was a "total loss."
Total loss. I know about loss. My father died just weeks ago. What did the guy mean?
He meant that cost to repair the car (estimated at $3,000 by ABC Collision) exceeded the value of the car. He offered me a check and said that the insurance company would be happy to take away the car.
Something about it felt wrong. We wanted to keep the car and we believed that we could have it fixed for less money. Finally, we were referred to a collision place on Sackett Street called Gino’s. They were able to fix the car for $750. They did a very good job for the money. We didn’t want a new paint job and as extensive a repair as ABC suggested.
We picked up the car on Friday at 5 p.m. My father’s car. I am happy to have it. The car is now parked on Third Street in front of our apartment building. My father the car. It makes me happy just to see it.
During the summer my father saw me buying a copy of New York Magazine at the newstand at the Clark Street Station subway station.
“I can’t believe you’re buying that crappy magazine,” he said.
It really bugged him that I was spending money at the newstand on a magazine he loathed. Mind you, my father wrote ads for the Herald Tribue (Who’s says a newspaper has to be dull?), the newspaper that spawned New York magazine. At one time, probably during the Clay Felker years, he enjoyed the magazine very much.
In fact, I know that we had a subscription to the magazine for much of my childhood and I can remember the issue that spawned Ms. Magazine. What a milestone that was. I’ll never forget that first issue of Ms.
Back at the newstand, explained to my dad that I enjoy New York and I consider it essential reading since I am a Brooklyn blogger and I need to keep up to date on what’s going on in the city.
I also told him that there’s plenty to like about the new New York Magazine edited by Adam Moss. I love the Look Book, Kurt Anderson’s column, the Approval Matrix, their restaurant reviews and the special issues. I know my dad like the special issue about Clay Felker, the original editor of New York. And I think he would have enjoyed this week’s 40th Anniversary issue. A love letter to New York, the current issue is stunning round-up of New York history from the last 40 years.
I know my dad and I would have talked about it.
One caveat: he might have been bugged by the feature, The Most Memorable Advertisement Madison Avenue Ever Sold (page 114). I scoured it for an ad my father wrote. Nope. Dad would have had his own interesting list, no doubt.
When we got back to my dad’s apartment he dialed the subscription department at New York and bought me a subscription.
Wasn’t that nice? It’s not that he liked the magaine (though I think he was a subscriber; probably for the art, music and theater listings that were essential to his life) but he hated the idea of me spending so much money at the newstand.
So now I get my New York Magazine on Tuesdays. I loved hearing my dad speaking to the phone operator about my subscription, giving my name, my address…
I felt very loved at that moment. And now it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Every Tuesday. A message from my dad: don’t waste your money at the newstand!
My father’s voice is still on his answering machine and I love the way he delivers the message. Especially the way he says: Thank you. There’s a slight squeak at the end of the you.
I helped him install that machine a few months ago. His old one had broken and he always relied on me for electronic installations. I was his computer geek and phone machine expert and I must say I enjoyed the somewhat misbegotten confidence he had in me.
And I did not want to disappoint.
I sat with him when he recorded the message. He was already sick with cancer but going through a good phase.
He sounds very healthy on the message.
Friends are pressuring my stepmother to change the message. They tell her that’s it’s disturbing to them. My stepmother doesn’t want to take it off. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Also, she doesn’t hear it because she never calls herself.
My sister wants to keep it there. So do I. We both enjoy this daily encounter with our father. I don’t think I can bear the thought of it not being there. He was always the voice on their answering machine.
Pastor Meeter wrote this morning with a similar story:
My father-in-law died from multiple mialoma almost three years ago.
His distinctive voice is still what I hear whenever I call my
mother-in-law and she’s not home. His voice is the one who gives the
outgoing message on the answering machine.
What I would give to have a recording of my own grandfather’s voice.
His voice was unique, he spoke from somewhere back in his throat, but
high in the back and yet low in front, and with his distinctive
Amsterdam accent, which he could never shake, having immigrated at age
16, and never wanted to shake, being an Amsterdammer. I think it’s why
he so loved to visit us in Brooklyn, because it was the place in
America most like Amsterdam.
My cell phone was ringing and I looked down at the phone. It said “Dad”. It was my stepmother calling. She was using the Nokia cell phone I’d tagged as “Dad.”
It’s the phone my father barely used. He never liked cell phones; never remembered to turn it on. It was strange to get the call more than two weeks after his death.
I’ve heard about signs; messages that come from the dead. When I looked down at the phone it said “Dad” and my first thought was: I wonder what he has to say.
That was a question that came my way yesterday from a very thoughtful and well-intentioned man.
Ah, well, uh, oh. I didn’t know what to say. I think I stuttered a bit. Talking about love, sex and money is one thing. But talking about G-D? That’s private.
My friend persisted. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in the soul?
It was an interesting pop quiz about that which is most on my mind right now. What does the end mean? Where did my father go? What about his soul?
Right now, I told this friend, my father is more present than ever. I am not feeling his loss yet because I am obsessed with him. He is everywhere as I piece together the last year; as I piece together our life together.
And then the lack hits. The sense of something missing. Yesterday I cried quietly reading the ad he wrote for National Library Week. I cried realizing that I would never see him rub his hands together when he embarks on the punchline of a joke or the crux of a good story.
I even cried that I wouldn’t get to hear his reaction to the current financial crisis. There is still so much about his childhood, his years in Los Angeles, his college days, advertising and more that we never got around to.
There is so much to come that I won’t hear his reaction to. News. Articles in the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books. Music. Movies. Theater. American Idol.
Yeah, American Idol.
I’m even going to miss the calls we exchanged during American Idol. "How’d you like that?" or "That was pretty awful." or "Did you hear Simon?"
Do you believe in life everlasting my friend asked again. All I could think of was what that old boyfriend of mine said to me last week on the phone. ""I think we have memories because it’s so hard to vanish from one another," he said quietly.