To my mom
My eulogy at her funeral:
RIVERDALE, N.Y. — As my mom would have said, “I can’t believe the whole thing.”
She would be the first to tell you she left too soon. There were still so many places to go, things to do, places and people to see. But she also would have been the first to admit she had a long, full and happy life.
She went out just the way she wanted to. She went to sleep for a surgical procedure and never awoke. No anguish. No knowledge. No real pain. She never wanted to finish her life in a home like my father did. She didn’t have to. Only a few days before her death she was clear as a bell. She came. She did. She keveled. She loved and she was beloved. She never complained.
She told my brother and I all the time how lucky she was to have two sons like us who cared so much about her. My brother did the yeoman’s work day to day. I came in out in, took her to the ballgame and, thanks to my loving wife, Alicia, gave her a homemade family of grandchildren and ultimately a great grandchild she always wanted.
She loved those kids, Raphi and Joanna, from the time they were little, and adored the glorious Mr. Fox. We spent a fun afternoon together with the baby just two weeks ago. I sent her pictures of Fox every morning on my brother’s cell phone and on the day she died she kissed the final one she saw, my brother said. It was one of the last things she did.
The kids were her grandchildren come hell or high water. She often told the story about when she first met them. They were little tykes, around 5 and 2 years old at the time, and they clamored out of the back seat of our car in San Diego to hug her.
“Nanny,” Joanna said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
It was love at first sight and no turning back after that.
She was our nanny, great grand nanny and mommy. She was a good friend and a wonderful relative, loved by everybody. She spent hours on the phone with people talking about their problems and giving advice. She was the ring leader of her knitting club and was renowned in Riverdale for her care and shear expertise. She was the most honest person I ever met. Really, I can’t recall ever catching her in a lie. She told you what was in her heart and on her mind even if you didn’t want to hear it. She once told my wife, one of the most beautiful and elegant women on earth, that she didn’t know how to dress. No kidding, no joke.
From the moment my father died about two and half years ago, she made it a point to live life with gusto, not looking too far back. My father had a tough time in his decline and was miserable almost every day. Not Nanny. Life is short, she figured. And she enjoyed every minute of it. With Steve as her constant companion, they traveled to visit relatives and friends. Her oldest friend Gloria in Fort Wayne, Ind. Mim’s birthday bash in Columbus, Ohio. She felt uneasy until she saw many of them for what turned out to be the last time. Then she felt a lot better. She was at peace.
Baseball was always such a constant. In the last 20 years of her life, My mother became a huge Yankees fan. Go figure it. When we were kids and our dad took us to several games each season, she’d stay home. No interest. Then came 1996. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and the run of Yankee World Series championships. My father took me to my first game in 1960 at what I fondly call the original, original Yankee Stadium. The one that Ruth actually built. Paying it back, in 2008, I took him for his last game at the rebuilt Yankee Stadium. There was no way my mother was staying home.
She watched the games religiously on television. When my father became ill and was living in the Hebrew Home we’d spend plenty of time watching them together. I realized she hadn’t seen the new Yankee Stadium, so about three years ago, I told my friend Randy Levine, the president of the club, about it. Graciously, he invited her, saying she could sit anywhere she wanted. She wound up in the owner’s box. She was thrilled and dressed in a beautifully flowered dark shirt that showed off her features. She was beaming. So cute.
It was a Tuesday night against Cleveland and as it turned out we were the only ones in the box. As fate would have it, Hal Steinbrenner, the team’s principal owner, was in town. I took her over to meet Hal and Randy. The team was in a slump and had just lost a string of games to the Red Sox and Mets. Gloria Bloom wasn’t pleased. Without missing a beat, she asked them what they were going to do about the team?
“You’re right Mrs. Bloom, we’re trying,” Hal said. “We’re going on an important road trip and we think we’re going to play better.”
“Well, I hope you do, this is terrible,” she responded.
“I know Mrs. Bloom, you’re right,” Hal said again.
Later in the game, the Yankees brought in Joba Chamberlain to defend a 4-0 lead.
“I can’t stand Joba Chamberlain,” she said.
Why I asked?
“Because he can’t pitch,” she said.
Within minutes Chamberlain let up a three-run homer to make it, 4-3.
I went back to Hal’s office and reported any mother’s assessment.
“We’ve been trying to trade him,” he said. “Now I know where you get it from. Maybe someday you and I will be as wise as your mother.”
I’m still trying. My brother’s a Mets fan and mom wasn’t fond of the Mets. But often she would watch them with him “just to keep peace in the house.”
Not a telephone call went by during the baseball season when she didn’t ask me about the Yankees. I have the perfect job for that.
“Did you see the Yankees last night? she’d say after a loss. “They stink. What’s wrong with them?”
Sometimes I’d try to explain to her that baseball is a long season of 162 games. Even the best of teams are going to lose 62 of them. It’s only in September when the days grow short that each loss gains in significance, especially in a pennant race. Especially when it’s the loss of such a dear loved one that we’ve come together to recall, mourn and celebrate today. That’s the beauty of baseball. It mirrors life. It has its ebbs and flows. It breaks your heart. It’s designed to break your heart. It comes again in the spring and it goes away in the fall when you most need it, the great Bart Giamatti once said.
I will miss those conversations. I already do. Nanny was born in 1927, the year of the Murder’s Row Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig. She lived through DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Maris, Jackson, Munson, the Fab Four and even the notorious A-Rod. She lived through most of their 27 World Series titles.
We were blessed to have her. She was blessed that she wasn’t a Cubs fan.
I love you mom. Say hello to dad for me. There’s still half a baseball season left. Tell him the Yankees are really trying hard to play better.
Postscript: As we were returning from the cemetery and just as we drove past Yankee Stadium, Starlin Castro hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Rockies. Gloria Bloom would’ve been pleased!