Born 3/14/1916 - Died 5/19/2007
Once again, I stand before my mothers grave now to have her beloved husband, my father, join her in these hallowed grounds.
Not being a religious family, we were however one that cherished many of the Jewish traditions. Although dad was never given a formal hebrew education, nor did many of us, I am sure we often wonder if there really is a life after death.
I want to share a story with you that some of you have heard before. When mom was buried here 8 years ago, I was driving dad back to the Airport. We were on the Garden State Parkway (I remember the exact spot) and we were very distressed and crying in the car talking about mom. I explained to dad that I knew that mom was indeed watching over us and that we should take comfort in knowing that. At that very moment a car swerved in front of us and I noticed the license plate on the car began with the letters FAY [my mother's name].
I was in disbelief and showed dad the car and exclaimed that this was surely a sign that mom was in fact looking at us now and would take care of us. Now for a family that never practiced or even believed in organized religion, this was a sign that there are some things we just can’t understand or explain and just maybe their is another world we all go to when we transition from this one.
In 1931 when dad was 17 years old he made mom’s sweet sixteen party. Mom was his first and only love while they were married and he was truly devoted to her and our family. Of course he was a hard man at times, but we understood this and probably learned much from his strength. After all his child hood was not an easy one. He lost his older brother Freddie when he was very young due to a horse and carriage accident. He watched his father who owned a successful millinery business go out of business and struggle to support his family during the great depression. The Rapoport’s didn’t have much and Ruby [my father's older brother] and dad shared a bed each night while aunt Rose [his younger sister] had her own in the little bungalow they lived in in Coney Island in the 30’s and 40’s. They didn’t have enough food for the table and they used to tell me that bubby Mollie would say to them in Yiddish (when they would grab for some meat on the table) to “Eat Bread, Don’t Stuff Yourself On The Meat”.
Our generation can’t imagine how hard it was for a family to survive, but this is what the Rapoport’s had to endure growing up. So we wonder why they were tough when they had to be. They were all hard workers with a strong family bond and love and ones that never took a dollar for granted. Some may say, dad was a penny pincher, or a man that never liked to spend money and I would agree, he was. Unfortunately this condition was out of his control and was a result of a hard child hood. He knew the value of earning an honest living and even sold confetti during the Coney Island parades each summer to feed his family. Later he would pack up his car, taking out the rear seat to have more space for merchandise and drive two hours to the Farmers Markets in Long Island. He would set up a few tables with his own hand painted signs and sell women’s and children’s clothing that he got from Kiev and Rose’s dry goods store. Alan [my older brother who passed away at age 60] and I ended up going with him on many of those trips and we sold comic books we got from his uncle Lou’s candy store. I will always remember when we arrived home very late at night and my father would throw a big bundle of bills on the table and mom would count how much he made that day. This was exciting times for us and I will never forget them.
Although as a young man he worked as a salesman for a paper distributor selling the local bakeries and stores their wrapping paper or other paper needs, he still gave us a rich child hood. Living in Coney Island, walking to the beach in the summers and enjoying all the rides at Steeplechase Amusement Park was indeed a child’s dream. We never had to go away to summer camp, our lives in Coney Island were better then any camp could ever be and we all ended up working on the Boardwalk each summer. I worked at Shatzkin’s Knishes and Alan worked at the nearby Skee Ball arcade. Alan always gave me free games and extra tickets for prizes they had in their showcase.
Dad was a shy man, a man that didn’t like to go out much and socialize. Mom would be the one to force him out and encourage him to enjoy others. My fathers best friends were his family. His brother Ruby and his wife Yetta and his baby sister Rose and her husband Kieve and all the children in our families. It was all about family in the early days when we were kids growing up in Coney Island. We spent the weekends with our cousins and family. We slept over each others houses, we stayed home and enjoyed the beach and boardwalk in Coney Island or we went away for the summer to the bungalow colonies in the Catskills or to Lake George to spend a few weeks on a real farm. Our family was one extended family and we did everything together.
Dad loved to entertain and invite company to our home. He would take great joy in preparing platters of food and we always had company in our home. We certainly weren’t rich, but dad was a good provider, we had what we needed. When we were old enough to get a work permit, we worked on the board walk in Coney Island and the money we earned was ours to use for our own own needs.
I remember when mom’s, mother, Grandma Dora took illl and couldn’t live alone in Coney Island, my father offered to take her into our home on Avenue P. He was a good father, husband and son-in-law. He would even bail out my uncle Mike who had a tendency to always gamble and get into trouble with the shylocks [illegal money lenders]. I remember my father on the phone with him late at night offering him the cash he needed to stay out of trouble.
We enjoyed a wonderful adult life with mom and dad too. We spent so many happy days in their small home on Ave. P and then when they decided to move to Florida, we spent many cold winters at their home in Tamarac. Dad was a devoted and loyal husband. When mom got sick and her Alzheimer’s became so bad that she was a danger to herself and dad, he finally agreed it was time to send her to a home. I am sure this was the most difficult decision in his life. It was the realization that he would now lose his wife and best friend of over 70 years and it was heartbreaking for him. He did not give up on mom and made sure to visit her every day and bring her something to eat. He often told me that it was important to come each day not only for mom, who at that time didn’t even recognize him, but to let the care givers in those homes know that she did have family that cared about her and would be there each day to check on her.
He would point to all the other listless souls in the room and say to me, these are the forgotten ones, who’s family is up north and don’t come to visit. You now understand why I am here every day. He befriended all the staff and they took care of mom as if she was family. He taught me the importance of being a care giver for a loved one and it was his example that I followed all these years in taking care of dad.
He also met his second great love, Arnell at mom’s nursing home. Arnell was the activities director and would help mom in her exercise classes and keep her mind working as long as she could. She would share stories about mom with me and Arnell soon became the closest of friends and a member of our family. It was this 16 year friendship that I am sure, helped dad live as long as he has. Arnell became his most important contact with the outside world. She became dad’s care giver too and took him to the doctor’s when he had an appointment and offered him the love and companionship that gave him a reason to live.
When mom died after suffering for 8 years with Alzheimer’s it still tore him apart even though he had expected it. Then Alan died shortly after mom and this was the moment that he began to decline in his mental and physical health. Although he was shy, he was a man with great dignity and independence. It killed him to have to depend on anyone to help him do the simple tasks like zipping up his jacket or putting on a seat belt in the car, he wanted to do it himself. “I can do it, I am not a child” he would yell at me. Each time I would ask him how he was doing he would tell me he was O.K. I would ask if he thought he needed to go to assisted living and he said he would tell me when he did. He never did...the same when he was failing and couldn't lift himself out of a chair or bed when I asked if I could move him to a long term care facility and he once again told me...I will let you know when I am ready. He wanted his independence, his dignity and his strength, but these things could no longer be his.
If we were asked to define his life, it would be simply a loving father, a loyal husband and a good friend. He was a man that thought about his family right to the end. He told me many times that he didn’t want to ever be a burden to me. Imagine, he felt guilty about me visiting him or taking him to the doctors. He used to tell me not to visit him so often and that he understood I had a life too. I always told him I didn’t think it was a burden and I did it because I loved him. He kept telling me it was hard getting old and that he would never have imagined living this long. He was tired with the stuggle of these past few years, fighting his heart failure and other medical and physical issues, but never once wanted to be a burden and told me over and over how he loved me and didn’t know what he would have done without me. This is what kept me going when I thought I didn’t have any strength left to give him.
He gave me more then I gave him with his love, support and sage advice. I always felt better after discussing my problems with dad, he knew how to cheer me up and get me back on track. I could talk to him about anything and he listened with concern. He never stopped being my father, right to the end, when he reminded me I was getting too fat. He loved Gladys too and always told me how lucky I was to have her. He thought she was so beautiful and told her this each time he saw her when we went to visit him. He loved his grand children and some years ago told me not to wait to give the children a gift on his death. He said they might need it now and instructed me to send a check to each one of them, no matter how well they were doing financially, this was going to be a gift from their grand father.
He was a charmer to be sure and all the nurses in all the homes he lived in these past few years always told me that “Your father is such a nice man, a true gentleman”. Even at the very end, we saw him blow kisses to the aides and nurses at the nursing home and told me how kind they were to him. He looked at photos of him and mom when they were younger and kept telling me what a beautiful and wonderful woman she was. In his last days, the hardest days for him and us, even in a semiconscious state he still kept his sense of humor.
When Arnell arrived, he was slumped over in his chair and she called to him, Julie, Julie, wake up, I am here. With eyes still shut, he took his weak and discolored hand, put his thumb between his two fingers and wiggled it at her. You know, the gesture he used to do when he said, I got your nose. On one of his last remaining days, he suddenly awoke to see Arnell standing over him and he grabbed her and kissed her. He knew we were there for him even if he seemed to be unconscious.
I only wish this gentle man will now be able to join mom, Alan and all of our other friends and family and enjoy a new life, one without pain and suffering.
Dad please watch over us all and protect us as you did during your life, Rest in Peace Dad, I love you.