VERY MUCH AWAKE. (the reading I did for my grandfather’s 100th birthday party this past weekend)
I turned on my laptop yesterday to give this reading tonight one last go through. Along with the computer, I started up my surround sound music system and got ready to make sure that this piece was exactly what I wanted to say. The song that was my first guest was “What a Wonderful World.” How appropriate that this would be the song that would accompany me and my final thoughts about HERBIE HOROWITZ. Appropos indeed.
I am a fifty two year old woman who has a grandfather who is 100 and for mathematical perfection 100 and one day. You made it, grandpa.
Every time I say this familiar word, Grandpa, I am transplanted like I am in a time machine to my earliest of memories of my very large life growing up as Herbie’s first grandchild. I always add the extra word, favorite, even though these are my injections not his. After all we are all his favorites in each of our own way and this is one of the glorious traits of Herbie. He makes everyone of us feel like a favorite.
When I say the word grandpa, I don’t feel 52, I feel like his five year old granddaughter running through the factory and excitedly yelling grandpa and jumping into his comforting arms as he wrapped them around me; I am at Archer Street sliding open the well organized kitchen cabinets and taking down the jar of prized Macadamia nuts that we would sparingly share. When I say grandpa, my brother and I are searching for the afikomen at Passover and hoping that Herbie had just a little too much Scotch in the evening to pull out a 20 for the find rather than a 1 or a 5.
When I say Grandpa I am leaving as a precocious and somewhat spoiled 12 year old who would have the unrealized privilege at the time of an almost one month trip to Israel and Italy where I would meet Kalman and the Goldner tribe, our Israeli family since my grandparents first trip in the late sixties. When I say grandpa, I am 17 driving with my brother in my 1963 Volkswagon bug for the first time by ourselves on our own to Maine where Herbie and Isabelle come out of the back door and greet us at the Hydrangea bushes and I am automatically calm and at peace. This has been Herbie’s influence on me. Stability, consistency, calmness, knowingness of behavior. There is something to be said for these wondrous traits.
The list goes on and I am leaving off at adolescence. Otherwise I would be up here all night and Herbie would be shouting keep it short. It is almost impossible to keep it short when my experience as the eldest granddaughter of Herbie Horowitz is so rich and full. But I will do my best.
Herbie was four years younger than I am today when I was born and as I look lovingly at my son, Herbies oldest great grandson, Michael today at almost 20 he is the age that my father, David was when he decided to elope and subsequently 11 months later, I was born. The shock of getting a telegram because that was the email of 1964 must have rocked Herbie’s sense of what was right from not right. And I am happy to report that at this point, Michael shows no signs of eloping any time soon.
Life is like this though, the best laid plans of Mice and Men. How things are supposed to be is seldom how they end up. Becoming a grandfather at 48 and because of this having a span of great grandchildren from Ronan our newest member less than a year, to Austin and Helena our Kindergartner and first grade representation all the way to a college sophmore. Herbie has witnessed many things that I am sure were not in his radar or his best laid plans. Watching people he deeply loves get cancer diagnosis and unearthing the common denominator of the brch 2 genetic mutation were not in his plans. Surviving his son, David and his grandson, Michael, almost 22 years ago to this weekend by the way, and his younger brothers Bernie and Irving for sure were never in his plans either. Isabelle checking out before him was definitely not in his plans. “Your grandmother screwed me up” was a phrase I heard him say the last time I was visiting reminding me that the plan was for him to go first, but that would be Isabelle, getting the last word ultimately even on her way out.
I have watched his strength as he survived a stroke that compromised his physical strength, but his mind is as sharp as a tack. My grandfather is the one who gives me great pause in my life. More than anyone, he has taught me lessons I could never list on a piece of paper As I go forward in my life, it has taken on a sense of busy ness because I can’t help but be pragmatic in my approach. I am a realist on some level which would surprise many who know me especially my grandfather who thinks I have walked around with my head in the clouds as he has reminded me often, “Alayne, you are an emotional girl.” Spoken totally from an old school man born in 1917 who has different outlook on the way men think versus women surely. I mean think about it, he was born before women even had the right to vote. He was born to Russian immigrants who came to America so they could have religious freedoms as well as opportunities they couldn’t even imagine were possible in the early 1900s. He was born before WWII was even a glimmer. He was born before television was invented or before people even had cars or credit cards, movies, or stereo systems and records and rock and roll and headphones. Never mind the internet and email and cell phones.
Herbie is not the type of man who lives in the past though. He is my pragmatic grounding go to advisor for much advice that requires the removal of my emotions. When I had the devastating flood at my business he reminded me that this was what insurance was for. Oh yeah, I don’t have to freakout, it is not useful. His business advice over the years has been like getting advice from a Harvard business school professor. As I get older, I have found myself replaying its wisdom and actually listening to the majority of it more and more. This is the greatest thing about maturity and getting to still have you around, I get to take advice finally and let you know while you are here and very present that it has been good sound advice.
I have spoken about my grandparents since my voice found me probably at isabelle and herbies 50th wedding anniversary that many of you who are here tonight were in attendance back at the Gulf and Bay Club. Speaking at these events lots of anniversaries and of course the natural life events of eulogies has become one of my most cherished excuses to talk about the people in my life who have been the most influential. To list all of the lessons you have taught me is almost cliché at this point because having you for my 52 years has taught me by your example to say it aloud by my actions not words. My life that I live is so much the result of your actions not words and my deep love and admiration for its potent influence not only in the way I move through the world but the way I have raised my son. This has been mainly because of you and your solid presence in my life. I have said this often because I had such young and wacky parents who were like the anti advice sort. However with the swiftness of a bird protecting its nest, you and grandma never failed to show up and protect with an under the radar elegance.
Probably the highlight of my writing life is that I am here tonight speaking not at your funeral, but at your birthday. I finally get to say what so many people who have left us don’t get to physically hear. My father taught us this as he boldly went where no Horowitz went before when he (and I) decided we would construct an awake wake before he died so he could have his funeral and see it and be in it. This was a startling concept, but for those who attended, we were all enlightened. Even Herbie and Isabelle who as you all may imagine had many misgivings.
This last three years post Isabelle and post stroke have shown all of us what life is really about. Like a Dickens character being visited by the ghost of Christmas past, Herbie has observed the speed of light of his life with the replay of a life well lived. Herbie is an icon and is revered among anyone who knows him. If it is the truth that what you give out you get back, this would be what I have reminded Herbie of despite the health trials and tribulations. He has had the priveledge of seeing the showing up of the tribe in a non stop parade of visits and phone calls. Like the sun rising and setting, Bill Gadreu calls every day at 6pm without fail. Bobby who has developed a deeper relationship with herbie yes because of his personal sense of responsibility sure but more because of his admiration and love for him. This is because of Herbie’s incessant and consistent trips and visits to all of the people he has cared for and about since I remember. Weddings, funerals, births, birthdays, bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversary parties and any excuse to keep in touch.
Patriarch almost feels garish to say. For a man who is not demonstratively emotional, his consistency and his ability to show up whenever possible, has been the most stunning example of a demonstration of love. Love comes in many forms and Herbies non verbal way of showing it speaks louder and bolder than 1000 I LOVE YOU’S. I can see this by the relationships he has formed with the wondrous women who lovingly and patiently care for him in the most intimate of circumstances. Brenda from Belize, Spritual tonya, the writer, nancy, the queen of nighttime crafting, and Anika the warrior aka bad ass anika who never lets anything get by her these women have played a significant role in Herbie’s care, but also in the ease of which we as his family have kept things as normal as we have known them to be in our continued visits and phone calls. Even though he has to write these exhorbitant checks for this care, the man who told me at 25 to start a mutual fund and an IRA (and I actually listened) is my role model for saving for a rainy day (which I don’t usually listen), these beautiful women are like family now in our lives surely. And fortunately for us, his frugality over the years have allowed him to live in his home with this personal care and we too reap the benefits of is financial prowess.
We can see this tonight with over 80 people in attendance. This is significant in a life well lived. His ability to form relationships and maintain them for a lifetime is something that facebook and twitter could never compete with.
There has never been a shortage of love induced language around, towards, above and below you. An omnipresent force in my entire life and if I dare to live to your benchmark I am at the half way point. It is hard to imagine living an entire one of my lives again yet life is like this, the speed of light, a speck on the planet and it is what we do with that speck that ultimately matters.
This is Herbie. More than anyone in my life. This is my grandfather. The largest speck I know surely.