Saturday, September 19, 2009
Here’s the eulogy I gave at my father's graveside funeral
My father used to like to remind me that when I was a little girl growing up, I’d tell him to “be funny” thinking he could get a job upgrade that way.
Most people here knew that comedy for him was a serious pursuit on some level. In the last decade when he was blind and often miserable about that condition, it was always touch and go as to whether he’d be in any mood to tell jokes or sing his medley of songs which consisted of “My Buddy,” “Old Man River,” “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime” (a cross between George Burns and Rex Harrison), “Me and My Shadow” and recite the whole poem of “Make new friends, but keep the old.” I’d reply over the phone if it was funny, “That was funny.” He’d ALWAYS correct me, “That is funny.” (Tedious corrections). He always took requests and I was amazed at how many songs he knew, lyrics and all.
If it hadn’t been for The Great Depression of the 1930s, and Daddy’s need for steady employment, he coulda been a contender for stand-up comedy. He felt the need to support his parents, (his father was also blind), his numerous siblings, my mothers siblings and relatives, and later, my mother, brother, and me.
He loved entertainment, and always was able to find a Broadway show ticket for me when we went to New York or the National Theatre in Washington. He loved telling jokes, even to strangers in elevators. He especially loved comics like Phil Silvers, Don Rickles, Jackie Gleason, Buddy Hackett, and Shecky Green. Unfortunately I was the object of some of his insults. He didn’t hate Letterman, but disliked Paul Schaffer, his second banana.
He worried when I expressed desires to entertain professionally. In fact, when I asked him why he never pursued his love of show biz, he said, “one in the family with hallucinations is enough.” Daddy belonged with that Borscht Belt of mean comics and loved to go to Las Vegas and Atlantic City to swim, play Black Jack, steal jokes and be part of the night life.
I have inherited the Goldberg wing of joke books and hundreds of 3 x 5 cards with only the punch lines written down. You had to figure out the set-up.
In typical Jewish humor, he was a huge believer of “Kenehorah”, the evil eye, so if, say, my photograph was on the cover of a NY Times arts section, he’d quip, “It’ll never last.” He wasn’t the greatest advocate of positive thinking.
He only came to see me perform once, in NYC, in my show Sole Sisters in 1985. He liked to quote the great philosopher, Buddy Hackett, that “It’s bad luck to have close relatives in the audience.” I kept telling him, “Daddy, we’re not that close. That one show he did come to, he started writing new material for me.
We were “that close” though –an interest in politics, eating, laughing, swimming, and I was a Daddy’s Girl, until it became clear to him I wasn’t going to work for the government.
My father visited my mother every day at The Hebrew Home for the Aged in Rockville, taking long bus rides to and from our home in Silver Spring, Md. He wasn’t supposed to stay on weekends, but since buses ran so irregularly on weekends, he’d tell management that he was going to Florida, meaning he was going to sleep on my mother’s floor.
He grieved silently right here on March 26, 2001, and seemed pretty inconsolable. Mommy, you see, was the love of his life, the one woman he liked to brag was patient enough to wait for him while he continued to help out his folks financially.
I remember him at my side at the hospital when I broke my leg diving, driving me to college, freaking out when I became active in the anti-war movement, asking me about guys I might be interested in and whether he was “M.O.T” (Member of the tribe). I’m glad he lived long, although he always said he had had too many birthdays. I truly hope and pray that he may finally rest in peace.