In 2005 my father died peacefully in Raanana, Israel. He was almost 98 and lived an inordinately good life. He was healthy until the very end, loved a pot of hot soup and watching basketball games, and looked forward to visits from his great-grandchildren. He enjoyed walking through town, never admitting that a hat or a bottle of water, even in intense summer heat, was in any way necessary. And with his penchant for reading nonfiction, especially history, he would have loved today’s remarkable political yarns unraveling daily.
It would have been so terribly tragic if he had died at the age of 40, in his backyard on Aldine Street in Newark’s Weequahic Section. Besides his own lost moments, how would my mother have managed? Her happy life would have ended in an instant. And for my sister and me, the rock and steady hand that guided us would have suddenly
Dad would have missed the weddings, the births, the good times, and also the sad. He would have been absent from our old pictures — the beaming and handsome young grandfather, the still handsome great-grandfather. Fate’s scissor extricating him from all of our family events.
This came very close to happening.
No one who lived in Newark on Dec. 26, 1947, needs a reminder of the day’s events. Our weathermen hadn’t predicted anything exceptional, but on this day we were pounded by the Great Blizzard of 1947, the two feet of snow representing the northeast’s largest haul since 1888.
I remember a soft, feathery snow, not a gusty blizzard. It kept coming, fast and beautiful, and soon everything outside was covered. Cars were huge, white curbside humps. Then the curbsides ceased to exist altogether, the front stairs of our house disappeared, and the driveways on either side were no more.
Our geriatric dog, Phoebe, who, unbeknownst to us at the time, still had a lot of living left to do, insisted on going out for her walk, but this was no day for man or beast, especially a sheltered mutt. We let her out and she returned in a flash, faster than I’d ever seen her move.
My mother, as usual, could be found in the kitchen heating a pot of soup. She was particularly skilled in this area, but this occasion demanded her best. We needed the sustenance to warm our bodies chilled by merely looking out the windows.
To entertain ourselves we relied on what kids did in those days. No electronic devices, no television. There was Ping-Pong in the basement, a couple of board games, and our beloved books — I was in the midst of a series of chapter books known as “Maida,” and Maida and I could have easily spent the entirety of the blizzard together, warm and cozy, with the aroma of the soup wafting through the house.
But suddenly there was a disturbance. We all rushed to the back window of the bedroom I shared with my sister and saw the roof of our detached garage sagging under the heavy snow. The garage was about 20 years old, and it should have been capable of withstanding the assault. It wasn’t. It moaned and creaked, and made sounds that even a 7-year-old like me could tell did not bode well.
Trapped within the garage was my father’s ancient Buick. As an insurance salesman, the car was his assurance that he would function, get to his customers, and keep all of his supplies. He needed that car. It was his lifeline.
My father didn’t get alarmed easily, and he used to say that he didn’t need to worry, as he said that my mother was much better at it than he was (which was true). But not this time. Rescuing his car was imperative.
My mother, compelled to worry, despite my father’s contributions to the cause, begged him to stay inside. “Sam, it’s just a car. Don’t go.”
It fell on deaf ears, and my 40-year-old father rushed to the garage. He seemed to float above the snow drifts and quickly made it to the car, all of us staring out the window, terrified.
He opened the door, sat down, and struggled to get it started before backing out. The instant the car cleared the roof the garage collapsed. Had the Buick remained inside it would have been pulverized, with my young father at the wheel.
Would have been. Could have been. None of that happened. Both he and the car survived; he for another 57 years, smiling in our photos and taking part in our memories.