I have been eulogizing my own losses entry every year for the past few, the inevitable shortening of the bench that comes with time. I knew that if I kept up the blog I would eventually write something about my father, Jules Pinkus Gross. That time is now because he passed away on Canada Day this past year. It happened early in the morning and he was by himself which is sadder than sad but he went quietly at the wonderful age of 98 years young.
His health had not been great and he was recently sent home from the hospital after I had that conversation with one of the residents. There would be no heroics if things went downhill and they did as the dementia impacted his swallowing and he was remanded to blended food for the last weeks of his life. Given my father’s penchant for eating I knew this would be the deal breaker. He couldn’t walk, he was diapered and cathetered, a few teeth were gone and his pill intake was substantial but that didn’t stop him these past couple of years spent in a very comfortable seniors residence in the city with the ever present ‘Princes Joy’ beside him.
I got to his room after the call from the home and saw the lifeless shell of a once very robust man known to all as ‘Big Julie’. I sat and cried by myself and then cried some more when Joy showed up and more still when my father’s eternally loyal and loving companion Fradell Epstein arrived. No, this last frame wasn’t the substance of the man’s life but for me, it cued up a tsunami of feelings that are still with me all these months later.
We became closer in the last few years, when I was his part-time chauffeur and he would regale me at various bagel joints with stories of his early years in the rubber business, going as far back as WWII before he enlisted when my grandfather moved him to Buffalo to buy scrap inner tubes. He was just a kid but apparently the Polish women in the yard took a liking to him. But to that point, everybody took a liking to ‘Big Julie’. That was the key to his success. “Never talk business when you are taking a buyer out for lunch” was his motto and, from my experience, he was right. Host them like a friend would and the business will follow. I learned from those conversations.
I will say that I owe my father just about everything. Seriously, anything that I have achieved (or not) in this life was due to my father. I remember him taking me to my first hockey game in the old Original Six era. Oh, the color in a black and white era. I remember when he bought me my first set of golf clubs, slightly used Spalding Executives, forcing me to play right even though I was a lefty like him. I cherish the precious few times my father allowed me to play with him; he was a wonderful golfer though he feared that looking at my swing would cause him to suffer the same fate as Lot’s wife.
I really had only one paying job my whole life and that was because of my dad who came home one night while I was in college where I excelled at little besides being the sports editor for the campus paper. “Herb Solway and Lionel Schipper are on the board at the Toronto Sun and I told them about you so they are going to set up an interview.” Took the secretary three months to find me but she did and I remember the interview with the City Editor who hit me with just one gut punch of a question, “Do you play hockey son?” I answered in the affirmative and I was hired, for the summer first, and then full time a little later, always with skates in tow because the team was short a right winger, though the editorial pages were full of them. Nobody, I mean nobody, had more fun than I did when I was in my 20s thanks to the old man.
The only reason that I’m a boater is because of my dad and the only reason I drive a motorcycle is because we barreled down the 401 on his Triumph many times. Oy. Same goes for my penchant for Partagas No. 5 cigars. Even my current business was made possible by a customer from an earlier venture my father had in the VHS tape business.
He was a man of simple pleasures who never complained and did the best he could for those around him. No he wasn’t perfect and he had his appetites. But this is not a report card. I will leave that to a higher power. I will share one story: I moved dad to a home about three years ago and his arrival was timed nicely for a birthday party for one of the residents who kept a scrapbook which was at the party. Inside the scrapbook there was a picture of her on a date with my father….in 1940. He must have left an impression.
Nobody, but nobody had a better sense of humor than the old man who was a star at the country club shows all those decades ago. My dear departed sister harnessed that inheritance for a pretty good career in comedy while she was here. Perhaps I was funnier in my youth but lately I smile at the memory of laughter which is okay, particularly that night my dad came home from work almost 50 years ago and hustled us into the car because we were going to see Don Rickles in Buffalo!
When you bury someone on a Friday afternoon it is somewhat frowned upon in the Jewish faith to recite any kind of lengthy eulogy so close to the Sabbath. Or so I was told. With all of his friends long gone, I mumbled through a few tears to the handful of attendees that a man leaves this earth with nothing but his relationships and I said that the one I will remember my father for was not that which he had with me, or my sister Marjorie or my poor mother or his second wife Grace or their daughter Lauren. He was a loving ‘Papa Julie’ to my kids (that’s my daughter Madeleine in the picture above taken decades ago), never uttering a discouraging word. Yet It was his love for my brother ‘Adam Ira Gross’ as my father would announce every time I brought him around that was his most consistent. See, Adam is severely autistic, seriously enough that many other families would have merely abandoned him in an institution back in the day when he was misdiagnosed many times. But not my father, who followed in the footsteps of my mother and made his youngest son a big part of his life and that of others whether it was at the golf club, the cottage or on his boat or just weekends in the city. There would be no graduation ceremonies for Adam, no wedding, no grandchildren. All that was in it for my father was being a father. And that was enough.
The torch was passed to me and I now do the best I can with my younger brother who has a better short game than I do. I even joined a board at Kerry’s Place where my father was very influential in the early years of the group home organization that now has dozens of facilities in the province. Probably should have done it years ago. I owe my father that much.
I could go on but the bottom line is that I have suffered some losses these past few years and it’s both good news and bad news that the pain doesn’t go away. I knew a long time ago that I was gonna miss my dad something terrible.
Howard Hessman died this past January 29th. I was a huge fan but I mentioned him for one unforgettable evening in New York many years ago. I was doing some work for Rolling Stone publications and found myself at some publicity event at the then trendy Cafe Luxembourg sitting directly across from one ‘Dr. Johnny Fever’ from the great sitcom WKRP. And Hessman and I then engaged in what is remembered as an intense discussion about one Chuck Berry that lasted well into the evening. Life boils down to a few good nights and this was one of them.
Gilbert Gottfried left the stage for the final time on April 12th and it seems like yesterday that my sister dragged me down to some club in Lower Manhattan, maybe it was The Duplex, to see Gottfried whose act back then, over 40 years ago, was the comedic equivalent of watching that proverbial kid in the schoolyard eating worms. You couldn’t turn away. But you liked him because there was no one like Gilbert and perhaps that’s what earned him a career on several different platforms, my favorite of which was his Amazing Colossal Podcast which lives on as a definitive archive for interviews with many showbiz greats from our youth. Too many of Gil’s guests have gone to ground since their visit so it’s a double legacy. I attach a photo of us when I last saw him in L.A. a few years ago. I owe my late sister for that one.
Back on March 24th we lost the great Canadian rock critic Peter Goddard who faithfully chronicled the Canadian music scene through three decades with the Toronto Star. He was the gold standard of three chord commentary in this country and for that he was the only writer Dylan would talk to north of the 49th. When I got my stripes we would run into each other at various gigs and he would suffer a few minutes of my unleavened opinions. I ran into him a few years ago on the street, happily disheveled and enjoying his retirement in France. Nobody cares about serious rock criticism any more. Very little popular music today even merits a review. Who will remember Goddard? I do and I will.
I used to run a shinny ‘league’ as it were, for my friends forty plus years ago and over the past few years we have lost enough alumni to field a pretty good team. The latest was Bruce Pomer, a tall skater who I counted as a friend a hundred years ago. He passed away from a heart condition in Japan where he was transplanted decades ago.
I also lost ‘Jambo’, Jamie Geller, to a brain tumor this year. Always good for a laugh and a couple of hours on Pearl Jam.
As far as the family is concerned I am shy a couple of cousins – Sheldon Mandel and Freddy Dunkleman. Mandel cheered me faithfully on Instagram and though I hadn’t seen Fred in years, I remember his humor. Yes, we could use some right now.