Archive for December, 2015


Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

I’m always fascinated how people, places and things are placed in my path just when I need them. Most recently, it was a CD gifted us by our friend Bruce H.

Thanksgiving time it was, before this dour December. Heading downtown, listening in the car I heard words — the strength of which I recognized on sound: “Chop wood, carry water”.

Again: “Chop wood, carry water.”

The message on the tape was clear: when times are rough we’re to just chop wood and carry the water. Oh, and when times are good, the question was… what do we do then? And the answer: just chop wood, and carry water.

(Like most sound advice: easier to say).

How many times over the years has Stacy rolled her eyes when I’ve told her my serenity is directly proportionate to my ability to just keep pedaling, no matter what’s going on? Indeed, when as a kid my father would counsel that “This too will pass” he was typically trying to cheer me from upset. Conversely, a sponsor once cautioned me that the best of times: these too will pass. And that I should just keep pedaling.

This was just such a month.

Aunt Helen’s decline, descent and death were inevitable. Still…

Arguably I had more regular contact with this woman in her final months than I did with either of my parents in theirs. My Dad was my lifeblood, but was living in Columbus and at 59 one day just woke up dead. My Mom, 81, had been bedridden and rusting. Only Helen of this holy trinity, at 101 seemed timeless; only my aunt did I see daily. Thus, the void.

Don’t get me wrong. Devastated I’m not. God knows the right time. Nor do I mean to saint her post-mortem.

(But I’m flat).

Carries’ been great. Kids and grandchildren thrive. Life is full.

But I’m flat. Emotionally plateaued. Lethargic.

We went through her home last weekend. Old food. Older furniture. Even older books and letters.

I cried.

People tell us (H and me), that we were good nephews; we were. Our Dad, looking down, saw it all. It helps.

And still ….

In the office as noon approaches I pause, thinking of the lunch I’m no longer delivering. After full days in court I find myself driving uptown thinking “I’d better stick my head in”. Moreover, in Columbus this past weekend I kept thinking about how long it had been since provisions for my absence weren’t required.

“You won’t be calling your aunt this New Years”, Carrie noted. “I used to call my Dad, my Mom, both grandmothers.” I drifted….

Monday I busted my ass. Elyria at 8:30. Downtown Cleveland at 9:30. Up to the office, then back downtown. Dinner … a meeting … Bed.

This day I got up with a smile to do it again.

An odd parallel there is: Helen Bogart’s century of lonely travails and the lessons of this month. How fortunate am I that, enveloped by love, family and friends I got to wake up today …

To chop wood and carry water.


Saturday, December 19th, 2015

The words of the Nurse Practitioner were unambiguous: “Please call me regarding your aunt’s code.” Wednesday morning … just 9 …. and I walked out to face the day.

10:30 AM We sat at her bedside, the two of us. Carrie held her hand as I handled the small talk. Nonsense it was. (“Narishkeit”, my aunt would have called it), and how enjoyed it! From the cot’s other side, conversing ‘cross-torso, I narrated for the umpteenth time the idiocies of Helen Bogart’s shopping regimen.

“First stop,” I reminded, “Was the Roma tomatoes. “Not too hard, not too soft, not too round…” One hundred one and immobile, the Old Dame’s cheeks rounded. “Then the bananas,” I continued, “Not too yellow, not too green, not too long. If they only had large we got 4 and not 5.” ‘Neath the tubing on her face she was, I sensed, tasting every word. On a roll (so to speak), the shtick went on: “It was usually Cheerios, but only if they had the big box. If not, we would get the Tasteeos. Small. And you know what, Carrie? Aunt Helen doesn’t think Marc’s knows how to merchandize.”

1:30 (more or less). Medical procedures mandated our short absence. They’d be giving her morphine, to ease the slide.
Rising to leave I squeezed her left palm. “Don’t get up,” I admonished. (It would be her last smile). Our return minutes later found her dozing in peace.

Carrie sat. I sat. Quietly, oh so quietly, life ticked away.

“Is she gone?” we asked the nurse. (It was now pushing 4). Nodding quietly she paged the physician.

Tears fell. More hands were held. The doctor signed off. We were three once again.

Standing to her right I read The 23rd Psalm. Kneeling, kissing her forehead…was it goodbye to her or much more? Good bye (perhaps) to an era?

Hal. Family. Bart. Arrangements. Thoughts. Memories. No regrets.


A day later this Jewish Violet Crawley (think: Downton Abbey) — this oft chided, oft feared, always loved paragon of rigidity …. this frail fixture we thought would live forever —- was laid to rest. With verbal precision Rabbi Marcus’s narrative recaptured Helen Bogart’s century of living for the modicum of family and friends gathered graveside. No fanfare…no prolonged service. Indeed, like everything else in her past century’s being: exactly as our aunt directed.

We “sat” at our place. They came and they went: one rabbi, two deli trays, three Diamonds.

Family, friends, kinship —

Thursday. Friday.

Sabbath nearing, Shivah ended.  4:15 it was, give or take, as my brother went home. The days had been long but the ending was instant.

I hugged Carrie, thanked her for being there, and … and … it wasn’t a voice mail I heard, but — let’s say — a “virtual” loudspeaker …

Like at, perhaps, the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium—

The words, however, like those of Wednesday’s message from the Nurse Practitioner, were unambiguous:

“Now heading from the on-deck circle”, it said, “…..”


Monday, December 14th, 2015

I couldn’t wait for the week to end. The brisk pace having peaked late Wednesday, I’d knocked down final barriers on Thursday to set up a stress-free Friday. It would be court at 10, the office and food to Helen by noon, and then… (drum roll) … the weekend.  But as they say: People plan and God laughs.

Court ran quickly last Friday, as did the office pit-stop. Bounding to my car — only a quart of mushroom barley and a drop at my aunt’s separating me from the weekend I’d chafed for — I made a mental note. “No sense confirming to Walt that I’d be there”, I figured, “Until I’m done with Aunt Helen.” (Then, I’d deduced, there’d be a firmer grip on timing).

I pulled up to her house — the home she’s clung to since Nixon held the White House. I parked and walked in — no more knocking. (Ed. Note 1: With her increasing immobility, this protocol had ceased. She’d acceded to letting us just enter. Her pride, of course,  had rejected both Marv Baskin’s cane and the Hal-purchased walker. Sachel in her second century convinced her that if she heard a noise it would ONLY be one of The Boys.  As such, from wherever she was, upon hearing our entry, she would wade through her maze of strategically placed chairs, push off from one to the next, and meet Saint Harold or Just Bruce at the step’s top).

“Aunt Helen,” I announced, breaking the plane of her sanctum.
No answer.
“Aunt Helen – I brought soup.”
Still no noise.

Three steps later I saw her … prone on the floor in the kitchen. She was breathing, but barely and semi-conscious. What to do?

I called 9-1-1.  And Carrie. And my brother.

EMS appeared … and a uniform. Taking information and then my aunt, they carried her out as I locked the front door.  No matter.
By the time they’d secured her in the back of their truck I was driving down Cedar en route to the hospital.   Passing Taylor Road, I was, speaking to H,  when the siren screamed by. “Sort of funny,” I told him, as I moved to the curb, “This may be the only time in her life she drove in a car moving faster than mine.”

Catching up with her in triage, I was comforted by the care she was getting.

“Your aunt may have had a stroke,” they advised as they warmed her body, monitored her being and touched all bases.

(Ed. Note 2: I’m still an idiot. Looking at my watch, noticing the time, it occurred to me — if only for a second — that maybe I could call Walt and ask that they “blind me out”— that I’d speed to Aurora).

(Ed. Note: 3: I didn’t act on the above thought — either because I could picture Carrie later saying “Really?”, or with an eye on the distinct likelihood that had I run out to play poker at that moment —even as she slept peacefully — my father would have shot down from heaven faster than he would have bound out of his apartment to jump in Paul Podell’s car for gin games, and given me “that look”).

Alas, I did nothing of the sort. I stayed for a while, cried for a while, and went home. I am 66, I am….and perhaps growing up.

It was a weekend sans rhythm. A couple meetings,  on Friday, a little work, a lot of Carrie, a walk – NO TWO – yet as for Aunt Helen: “No soup for you!”  (What?  Too soon?).

How odd it was Saturday, not going to her house. How weird it was, not interrupting daily regimen (if ever so briefly) to scoop up food, schlep to her home, kibitz a bit, and then kiss her and run.  How flat!

Carrie and I were down there yesterday. The guts of the day.

She was up, only barely. She knew who we were. Only barely.  Yet she smiled.

“Do you know where you are?” the doc asked her. “Do you know what month it is? “Do you know what this is?” (he was holding a pen). They would pivot and leave.

Carrie knelt by her side.  My aunt’s eyes were open.

“Aunt Helen,” I inquired, “Do you know how to get to Carnegie Hall?” (The lady didn’t hesitate.  Not for a bit.).  “Practice, practice, practice” she mumbled, still smiling.

She slept away Sunday, in respite and quiet. I read by her bedside, but her eyes remained shut.

I drove home up Cedar — the road often travelled.  I passed by her house; it looked dark and empty.  No reason to stop, I knew.  No food to bring.  Nor a light bulb.

No, on this day it was just a house — and not a home.


Monday, December 7th, 2015

Carrie’s friends Dan and Fred (Mark’s fraternity brothers) stopped by Thanksgiving and shared a beautiful story. Years ago Dan had assured his mother that upon his folks’ ultimate demise the remains would be kept together. As such, when each died in recent years their ashes were secured and mixed as one. The beauty of the story, however, is what transpired next. Four siblings then went on a “field trip”, crossing state lines, and distributed the ashes at some seventeen spots between the east coast and Ohio —places of import to their cherished parents.

Hard not to well up when I heard the story. Difficult too not to wonder what seventeen places I’d like to hit. (Ed. Note: Not to worry, kids. I’m getting planted. Looking hard at Chagrin & Richmond, ‘though Arlington National would really make a better story).

Here then, in no particular order, are the seventeen places I would have gone:

Mt. Sinai Hospital, East 105 & Ansel Rd., Cleveland. Birthplace of Michael, Jamie, and Stacy. The three best moments in time.

4249 Bayard Road, South Euclid. (The first bedroom on the left, where H and I played sock basketball).

Brainard Field, Lyndhurst (Hitless in the regular season, like all roster members, I was still mandated to play two innings in the field and bat once in the World Series. Starting in the opener, (common practice: they got the weak guys on and off the field early, God forbid the game went to extra innings and they’d be stuck with us) … I popped my bunt over the third baseman’s head — a bases loaded double! (Perhaps he’d underestimated my power.) ‘Twas perfect ending to 1960, witnessed by my father’s best friend Max Mitchell.

The Arlyne Manor, Warrensville & Shelburne Rds., Shaker Heights. Apartment building named for Aunt Etty, it housed Grandma Cele and Grandpa Irv and Mr. and Mrs. Adelman (Uncle Bob’s inlaws) — and many memories.

The Riviera Swim Club. Solon & Richmond Roads (SE corner). No, our parents couldn’t afford the luxury. It was owned, however, by a card-playing buddy of our Dad’s, so summer afternoons we were always on “Sunny Riviera Time”.

Madison Field, Ohio. Michael won his first softball title!

Home plate, the softball field behind Morrill and Lincoln Towers, Columbus. Where Wieder appealed the runner with the broken leg. Forget the ’64 Championship game, the ’63 and ’82 MLB All Star Games, the Cleveland Opens, and even the Purdue and Michigan football games of ’68— this instant was the greatest single sporting event I witnessed in six-plus decades of fandom. (Ed. Note 2: Doubters may call me collect. Or Walt. Or Snyder).

3158 N. High Street, Columbus. Former home to Pacemont Marathon, (patronized by our father because it was first to extend credit to this man on the rebound)… the sight of Stuart’s funniest failure. Fenton’s brainstorm— load 5,000 Highlights For Children to the back of a U-Haul annexed to Al Bogart’s station wagon — ended abruptly when they all spilled on High Street. If you weren’t there with Stu, H and me…if you didn’t spend that next half hour reloading magazines from street to car … then your life’s been cheated. Ask Stuart.

Kirtland Field, Cleveland. Sol’s Boys’ upset of Angelo’s Pizza vaults our crew into the PD’s Sweet Sixteen. (Don’t ask what happened the next game).

20 East 14, Columbus. (College days’ home for H, B, Dad, Dick. Where Marilyn made latkes as we boys met Harriet … and where the infamous Supremes tri-fold hung).

King Solomon Memorial Park, Clifton, NJ. I loved them like parents— Ben and Lil. They’re forever held dear.

St. Francis Of Assisi Church, Gates Mills. Sight, in ’97, of my first Twelve Step meeting. Memorable? Maybe. Seminal? Yes. I haven’t looked back.

Clairmount Diner, Princeton, New Jersey. When Hal and I met Steve Fromin for breakfast… as far as we were concerned … we had made life’s map. To this day people ask us about it!

Highland Park Golf Course, Cleveland, Ohio. Wied and I would hitch down Green to putt for free on the practice green. Oh so much better it was than…let’s say… biking up Mayfield to pay at Lyndhurst Golf Course.

San Antonio Zoo. Spring ’72, and as my heart bled from a broken engagement, an equally hurt Al Bogart flew to meet me at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In an afternoon midst animals and sun he put his arm around me, made me smile again, and showed me yet again, what fathers do.

House Of Wills Funeral Home, 14711 Harvard, Cleveland. Honored I was to give the eulogy for family friend Horace Holly.

Cain Park, Cleveland Heights. My world changed forever that first night of August, 2012. Was it a “date” that night? She and I disagree. What it was most definitely however, was a date with destiny.

So there it is: the stops my ashes won’t make. No, I’ll stay here when it’s done. Safe at home.

(The way I lived).