After a quick trip to China, possibly my last for a few months, I made my way to New York City. The 12 hour Narita-JFK flight was something else, especially when the movie system broke 45 minutes into the flight, but I did get a big kick out of seeing a partial lunar eclipse from the plane. I was in New York for my grandfather’s memorial service, held Sunday afternoon.
I spoke there, and said this (or something close to it):
Those of you who know me know that as a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up. And it seems, in retrospect, that Howard perhaps felt the same way; as long as I can remember, he treated me like an adult.
By and large, this was a good thing, though occasionally it had its pitfalls. On one visit to Sharon, he took me with him to do the grocery shopping, and we stopped to fill up the car. He asked if I wanted to pump the gas (and what 4 or 5 year-old boy wouldn’t?), and then seemed completely surprised when I was overtaken by the fumes, which escaped the nozzle & tank right at my eye-level. I’m pretty sure it was the same trip when he was trimming the lilac bush in front of the house and asked if I wanted to help. Again, I don’t know any boy who’d say ‘no’ at a chance to use a chainsaw, but you can imagine this wasn’t the best idea. I think in some ways we’re all fortunate I never even got it going since I burned my finger on some metal part of the engine (which had already been running for a while and was quite hot).
But I’m left with no permanent scars, and the pros of being treated like a grownup far outweighed the cons. Howard & Marjorie had a very active social life, and they generously included me in that. I enjoyed meeting their friends and colleagues from all over the world at parties in Sharon and dinners in New York, and also enjoyed the hospitality of their friends all over the country when I traveled. It was through Howard & Marjorie that I got to know Amos Landman and developed a friendship with him over fishing in the rowboat on the pond in Sharon (starting around age 5). And more recently, family friends the Chelimers have become friends of mine, and helped ease my transition from Boston to Seattle.
I liked the different sides of Howard, and how they coexisted. I guess I have a hard time describing this well; perhaps the best way would be to say that I found him interesting in the same way it’s interesting to hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at once. He was a man of habit and enjoyed his traditions, but was in other ways quite opened minded and liberal. He was a part of a generation to be sure, but changed with the times.
In college, I came to visit in New York with my girlfriend at the time. I was pleasantly surprised when they asked, with no judgment attached, whether they should make one bed or two. This wouldn’t have been a common occurrence within my group of friends. Similarly, there weren’t many of my friends who could email their grandparents, but I could and did with some regularity and enjoyed greatly.
In the past few years in particular, I don’t think aging suited him much at all, but in the face of losing his partner in Marjorie, he showed remarkable resilience at the age of 89, taking on many of the day-to-day tasks he hadn’t done before. Now, you might say this isn’t a big deal, or even that perhaps he should have been doing more of these all along, but nonetheless I would have imagined that for such a man of routine, this kind of change would have been quite difficult. He handled it with relative grace and good humor.
Even as his health & hearing declined, he kept a busy social calendar and kept up communication with friends and family, which all parties appreciated I know. I have all the letters & cards from him saved, on his classic monogrammed stationery with his progressive, liberal-minded turquoise ink.
His death, relatively painless, at 93, was sad to be sure, but no tragedy; he lived a long, full life.
I’ll miss him.