Posted by Chava Tombosky
How does one measure a life? Is it the good people that one has left behind? Is it the kind deeds they have done in their lifetime? Is it the amount of things a person has acquired? For the first time I am left having to answer these questions.
My father died this past Friday night unexpectedly, suddenly and tragically. And I keep asking myself, how am I supposed to measure his life? Growing up with Ta, as we used to call him, was the greatest privilege that any daughter could wish to have. Although death is not the sort of conventional topic you discuss, it hovered over our home like a grey veil all the time and seeped into discussion on more than one occasion. My father was an orphan at age nine. So he frequently asked us growing up, “Will you miss me when I die? Will you remember me when I’m gone?” We always changed the subject, usually with a joke or handed him a sandwich to shut him up. We understood what he meant was, “I don’t remember my own father well, and all I want is that my own children remember me.” And remember him we will. I don’t think we could forget him even if we tried.
He had rituals and words and inside jokes that will keep all nine of us siblings linked to each other forever. “Egbok” stood for Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, which he would say to us every time we were scared. “Am I as fat as that guy?” was a frequently asked question he asked us, usually in Disneyland while waiting in line for a ride, while people watching, as we licked something sweet. Tonight during Shiva, a friend who had survived her two sons being inflicted with cancer told me that my father, who was also a brilliant Doctor, comforted her by saying “Remember to replace your fear with faith, and the key to health and well being is CHIPS”, which he said stood for “Chocolate, Hawaii, Ice cream, Prednisone, and Sex.” His sense of humor was contagious.
Much like Patch Adams, he was always making practical jokes. His favorite treasure was his plastic poo and his plastic throw up he would hide for the nurses to find during their late night shifts, hoping it would make their working environment caring for the sick and dying a little easier. This week I sit pondering his life, and have listened to person after person say, as they conjure up memories of my father, “No one was as sweet as your father, no one made us feel more comforted, or more loved then your dad.” As my brother said at his funeral yesterday to the well over five hundred guests that attended, “I believe no one is here to pay respects to my father out of obligation, we are all here because we truly truly loved him.” His business partner of 25 years said it perfectly when he described my father saying, “He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was perfect enough for me.” This was the same business partner who shared a doctor’s office with my father, a partnership that was based on a simple handshake. Twenty-five years of private practice, and they never had one single written contract.
Every person who has visited us during Shiva told us his or her own “Ta” stories. There are so many moments and so many memories that have flooded our ears and filled our hearts with great comfort. Like the time a young boy was crying after his father left to New York to attend the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s funeral in 1994, and I learned today, it was my father who spent several hours comforting this boy, speaking to him, and giving him love when he couldn’t make sense of losing his only Rebbe.
He truly loved the underdog. He was the greatest advocate for the flawed man, and felt every person’s pain so deeply. As my husband said tonight, Ta was a man who knew how to hug. When you kiss someone, you kiss his or her face. But a hug is embracing a person’s back, every person’s entirety, even their flaws. To get a hug from Ta, was the greatest most enveloping embrace because we knew he was truly embracing all of us, even our mistakes. I will surely miss those hugs the most.
I’m not sure how to measure a life. I’m not sure if anyone can really measure what a life is. But I do know, if we had to measure my father’s life based on the amount of people that loved him, the amount of comfort he gave to SO many during his lifetime, if we had to measure his life based on how much acceptance and total unconditional love he gave to everyone around him, we would not be able to measure it or quantify it, for it would be an infinite and an unaccountable amount.
My dear father, wherever you are I know you are watching over us. You are waiting for us at Dawning, you are enjoying peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, and you are hugging every person who misses their loved ones up in heaven. And I promise, I will never ever forget you- not ever.
I love you Ta. I love you with all of my heart.
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July 14, 2010 | 5:36 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
My kids and I regularly discuss philosophy and metaphorically inspired concepts during carpool. I find it easier to infuse these small budding minds with a little culture and inspiration while they’re trapped by a seat belt in a spellbound trance imparted from the monotony of a car ride as I pilot them North on the 101 freeway. This hypno-inspiration treatment really works. Also, it distracts them from erupting into fist fights. And it allows me to “torture them to death” with wildly huge ideas that they rarely seem to think is relevant to their own lives. Yet, they put up with it since I promise them slurpees. When all else fails, and you want your kids to memorize poetry and important quotes said by famous people, bribe them with 7-11. Whoever decided to open up that chain clearly had kids and realized icees and Laffy-Taffies were necessary parenting tools never to be underestimated.
Recently I was quoting the great German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who said, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”
All was quiet in the car as they absorbed this very deep and insightful wisdom. The car came to a complete stop as the traffic stalled past an accident on the other side of the center divider. Our heads turned to watch the crushed vehicle as we entered “sympathy traffic.” My 7 year old son piped up : “What if you jump off a cliff?
“Is jumping off a cliff a metaphor for taking a leap into life after learning to stand, walk, run and climb?” “No,” he says, “It’s just jumping off a cliff, kinda what I’d like to do right now. Are we there yet?”
July 12, 2010 | 6:44 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
My grandfather has always been the most loyal friend. Since he was in grammar school, he has literally kept those same friends in his life through adulthood. Over the years, many have passed away making him very emotional over losing his confidants, and close buddies to old age and illness. It has always been a huge source of inspiration to all of us grandkids that he was able to maintain the same relationships for so many years.
For the past 15 years, my grandfather has celebrated life by having huge grandoise birthday parties every five years. This year for his 90th birthday party, you couldn’t help but notice the huge and drastic change to his once famously large party shrinking as a result of so many friends gone. What once used to be a roomful of 200 friends has dwindled down to 60. He has always said, that getting old for him was never hard physically. He doesn’t take any pills. He is in great shape. He doesn’t need a cane or a walker, and he has never felt better, but the saddest part of my grandfather’s old age has been the fact that so many of his dear friends have died and he has outlived them all alone.
My grandparents moved to the desert after retirement to live in a beautiful area with a golf course so he could spend his golden years on the putting green surrounded by all his friends. Unfortunately, he stopped playing golf, because golf for him was a buddy’s game. Without the buddies, it would never be the same. His friends have always had the greatest sense of humor and I know so much of his life has been enriched because of them. But most of them are gone now which has left him very sad and heartbroken. I would even venture to say that his old age has been a result of having great friends. I couldn’t help but want to get a piece of yesterday’s party on video history for the whole world to witness the last of my grandfather’s friends who were able to come to the party. My friend Seth Menachem has a blog called “Life Advice From Old People”, and when he found out I was going to my grandfather’s 90th birthday party, he asked me to take some footage for his blog. You’ll notice my grandfather’s friends are a bit younger than him, a result of losing old friends is he had to make new ones, younger ones. These guys have the greatest sense of humor and a really wonderful take on life. It is truly an inspiration. Here’s what they have to say about success, love, and happiness….. Check out “Life Advice From Old People.com “, a great blog with wonderful life advice on success, happiness, love, and life…
July 12, 2010 | 6:05 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
Yesterday my Grandpa Ritchie turned 90 years old. He’s always been a virile and strikingly handsome man. His vanity has been a source of laughter and inspiration for all of us. So much so, that he never allowed us to call him “Zaidy” (the Yiddish word for Grandpa) cause he thought it was entitled for old people, which he never considered himself to be. Which is why we all call him Papa, a much more youthful grandfather title indeed. People often ask me, what’s it like to have a 90 year-old Grandfather who looks like Brad Pitt?
It takes Pop forever to get dressed in the morning, and not because he’s old, but because he spends so much time primping.
He smells as good as he looks. He’s bought so much stock in Jinate’ over the years, they’re paying him to wear the bath splash.
Like Brad Pitt, he has many children whose foreign non-native names are impossible to pronounce. Can you say Menachem Mendel, Alta Shula, Yehudis Chana, Chava Tziporah Chaya Feige, or Yosef Yitzchak? That’s okay, neither can he, which is why he usually refers to us as “dahling.” There are 7 billion people in this world, 3 billion of them are Pitt-Jolie’s the other 4 billion are Shallmans. (I’m the eldest child of 7- all from the same mother and father. So far there are 8 grandkids and counting- 5 are from my one younger brother alone.) And much like the actor, my grandfather doesn’t make a move without getting permission from his director. Just ask my grandmother. He’s been married to my grandmother, also a beauty for over sixty years.
There are a lot of great stories that come from this man full of personality. He’s always had this Godfather persona but without the New York accent. He was born in Boyle Heights in 1920 to a very poor family and decided he would never be needy or destitute on his own. By the time he was 16 he was making so much money selling newspapers and hocking anything else he could get his hands on, he was making himself custom made suits. We’ve always had a lot of respect for the fact that he became a self made man and he always shared his wealth by giving charity to Israel and to Jewish education in a very gracious and generous way. But he expected us all to work hard and have serious careers. He expected us to go to college and figure out how we were going to support ourselves early on. So the day that I was 19 and brought home a poor Yeshiva boy in training to be a Rabbi who had yet to fulfill his path towards finding a lucrative career to marry, was a day that he didn’t particularly like very much.
As my husband says, “Dating Chava was the easy part, it was dating Grandpa Ritchie that was hard.” For the next 5 months, every time my husband to-be would see my grandfather, Pop would be holding his routine vodka on the rocks with a swig of tonic, stare Robbie down with a suspicious and intimidating glare and say, “So son what are you gonna DO?” And my husband would reply, “I’m not sure yet. But I’ll figure it out.” Not the right response for Papa Ritchie. I could tell my grandfather was holding it together for the sake of not rattling my very happy world. My grandmother kept herself close by his side each time Robbie was around practically pinning him down- keeping him in submission from leaping across the floor to beat my young Rabbi in-training into discovering a more lucrative path. (Or maybe to just beat him to a pulp just for being in the same vicinity as me.)
He even put my uncle on the job of sitting my fiancé down and grilling him for several hours on how he would support me. Robbie came through with flying colors of course, being that he was just as witty and smart and savvy as my grandfather the salesman. As my husband always says when asked how he got me to say yes to his marriage proposal, he replies, “What did you think I’m stupid? I got her at 19 before she knew any better- plus I’m a great salesman.”
My husband is a great salesman, but he is also the kindest person. He is loyal, loving, and is one of the greatest people I know in this world with the biggest heart. Who else would put up with raising almost all my teenage siblings over the last ten years?
So I was surprised to learn five years after we were married that my grandfather was more rattled over my marrying this sweet inexperienced Yeshiva boy more than I even realized. One night, years later, my husband finally confessed, realizing that time had been on his side the real story of how my grandfather “coped” with our marriage. The night before our wedding, my grandfather approached my husband with this proposition- “Robbie, you’re a great kid. I really like you. But let’s face it, you got nothing. You make nothing. And you are nothing- well that is yet to be determined of course, but I’d like my granddaughter to marry a somebody, maybe marry you even one day, but just not tomorrow. I’d like to see her get married when she’s older and when you have a small oh I don’t know, PAYCHECK. So here’s the deal, I’ll give you $10,000 bucks if you leave tonight and never come back. My granddaughter will get over it. I’m sure of it, you’re not that memorable.” Feeling proud like he just made the easiest deal of his life, my grandfather sat back sipped his vodka tonic and waited for the young lad to take his money and run. Little did he know my grandfather was dealing with just as smooth of an operator as he was, and my almost- husband replied, “Pop, how ‘bout we just consider the 10k my paycheck and go on with the wedding?”
My grandfather paused, he laughed and finally put his hand out to shake Robbie’s realizing he saw a little of himself in the young man for the first time. “You’re not too bad kid, welcome to the family. I’m keeping the 10k though.” Then my husband to-be did the smartest thing he could ever do upon sealing the deal with the hardest bargainer he’d ever have to face. He asked my grandfather to give him advice on getting older. All you have to do to get on my grandfather’s good side is make him feel like “Charlie potatoes” as he calls it, chum it up, compliment him on his youthful looks, and you got him in the palm of your hand. At this point Robbie was feeling pretty confident that he had won the old man over. To which, my grandfather looked squarely in the eye of the young groom and said “Rob, you know why I look this good at 75? Cause I don’t get heart attacks, I give ‘em. Let that be a warning.”
Congratulations Pop! Here’s to another 90 years! (Although he’s already informed me that after 100,he’ll be done. “No one belongs living that long. You gotta leave on a high note.”)
Here’s the link to the video he made on his birthday sharing his life advice with the world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv2CqKP5ajY
July 9, 2010 | 2:05 am
Posted by Chava Tombosky
I’m totally okay with admitting that I have had a serious case of angry PMS for the past 6 days. Not only am I okay with admitting it, I have worked on getting help, and am ready to even accept the consequences of writing this quite opened essay about my nasty rage that arrives once a month in the form of an angry pitbull foaming at the mouth, snarling inside my body like a cryptic monster who has escaped the dwellings of her nasty dark dungeon. Of course I’m writing this with the hopes that other women will come forward and admit they too receive an unwelcome visitor that arrives in the shape of some ugly incoherent crazed step twin just as hopeless and maleficent as mine is. This essay is riding on pure validation.
Normally my kids are happy, my husband is whistling and our home is filled with birds that sing and fluffy white mice who dance ballet numbers. For a good part of the month, you can call me Snow White. But when PMS hits, it’s like the sun sets leaving in its wake a nasty, angry, obsessive, female who can’t get enough salty crunchy or gooey chocolatey calories inside her mouth more scary looking than the Evil Queen. Not even the Evil Queen herself can bear to look in the mirror this time of month. I swear there are words that leave my body I never even knew I was capable of uttering. Everyone knows this other female exists. They all fear her. They all loathe her. Even I can’t stand her. Everything suffers when she comes to town. My relationships, my cooking, even my writing suffers when this choleric wench arrives for her visit. Everything I write is filled with critical adjectives and dark nonsensical humor that looks more like an angry rant written by Tova Reich. There’s a perfectly good reason why I haven’t written an essay in the past week. (well I did, but it was scary and non-coherent, like a Coen Brothers script on steroids. I may post it just to prove this other psychopath exists.)
Do you know what it’s like to have your blood boiling so much all you want to do is use a machete on every creature that comes your way? Do you know how hard it is not to picture yourself shooting every dog that barks with a BB gun? PMS is a very serious and awful Disease. (This term, disease, is casually used for people who like to hide behind their bad behavior with a medical phrase hoping it will get them off the hook of being a horrible human being. I am allowing myself the use of this pathetic cop out of an excuse term as well being that PMS is a qualified medical state of insanity.) But I am not gonna take it anymore. I’m taking vitamins for now on. I’m gonna exercise so hard that if it kills me, at least I’ll be dead and nice instead of alive and mean. I plan on beating the nasty out of me if I have to. And not just so that Snow White can live on and the Evil Queen will finally perish a swift convenient death, but so that I will have children who don’t roll their eyes at me, snarl rude comments or attack my parenting skills all because they’ve witnessed the uncontrollable evil beast that lives inside my body 6 days out of the month. You know you need to tackle PMS when your kid sends you an email that says “Please take a moment and listen to this”- a soundtrack of “If your happy and you know it clap your hands” plays. Now at first I was thinking how much I wanted to rip the computer out of the wall, hall it across the room, beat the living snot out of the singer who sang that song through the mp3 player, but then I came to, and realized the underlying message that resided within me was my kid was literally begging me through email to get happy. (Don’t think I didn’t notice he was too afraid to tell me this message in person.)
It’s not like I enjoy these 6 days of hiatus with anger, rage, and an over all ill attitude towards anyone who says “Just look at the bright side,” but it is a chemistry inside me that I can’t control. I may not be able to control it coming, but I can control it leaving quickly. And If I don’t take some serious proactive look at how to put down this beast, than I am seriously afraid that one day I will be driving on the 405 in bumper to bumper traffic and as some little Nissan tries cutting me off to get two inches closer to an exit she is not entitled to, I will open my door, haul a huge axe towards her sedan and split her transmission in half while listening to that song “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” plays on the radio. Not that I’ve ever been in that situation before and have ever thought of doing that, but I’m just saying, you never know what might happen if I don’t start taking vitamin B12.
July 7, 2010 | 11:29 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
My eldest son wears a sweatshirt every day. Maybe he’s cold, maybe he hates his figure, or maybe he just likes the comfort of some old ratty jacket. Either way, I’ve told him that I refuse to buy him another one. It’s time he looks normal, and stops hiding in a big ugly chocolate brown sweatshirt that has frayed cuffs and smells of teenage sweat. It’s 80 degrees outside.
Today he came home with a bright idea. He found a sweatshirt that zips up all the way past the hood. In other words, it zips up over his face. He really wants me to buy him this jacket that makes him look like some psycho freak show from Silence of the Lambs.
As the little clever lawyer in training that he is, he swore this was a perfectly normal article of clothing- his un-weird proof? This sweatshirt has holes in the hood for his eyes- perfectly safe. What should I be more worried about- that my Jewish son wants to look like a member of the Ku Kux Clan, or that he is most comfortable wearing a snuggly at age 13?
July 7, 2010 | 11:14 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky