Just last week someone asked me if my personality was more like that of my mother or my father. My first thought was that I was certainly more like my mom, the woman who understood the importance of family above all else and from whom I definitely inherited my helicopter parenting and extreme worrying genes. However, upon further reflection I began to realize that there are many ways in which my behavior is modeled after my father, as well. So in loving memory of my father Yitzchak (Isidore, Izzie or Irving to his friends), Brier, whose 25th yahrzeit we observed on the 7th day of Cheshvan, here are just some of the many things I learned from my father.
My earliest memories of my dad are in our apartment on Ridge Street, on the Lower East Side, in the bedroom that he, my mother, and I shared. Yes, you heard right. Until my big sister got married when I was 9 years old, I slept in my parents’ room. There, on Shabbos mornings, the only day he didn’t have to get up at five in the morning to go to his dairy store, he would entertain me in the big comfy bed near the window by telling me fascinating and funny stories, mostly about the silly behavior of pigeons and mice. My father was a great storyteller and jokester who also treated his wife, his customers at the store, and his friends in shul to his expertise in spinning tall tales. No doubt it is from him that I inherited my storytelling gene. Just ask any of my grandchildren about the Yachenflaster family stories that I created for them when they were little–with all the characters named after actual Brier family members.
Most nights when my father returned from work his jacket pockets would be filled with what he called “Toyalach.” These could range from metal windup toys he bought from a street vendor on Delancey Street outside his subway stop, or a gold watch for my sister bought because she borrowed my mother’s new watch. It might be a pastrami sandwich from Schmulka Bernstein’s for me or an occasional pair of ugly flannel pajamas he purchased from his friend the Dry Goods Man who owned the store next to his. Sometimes he might stride in with a bright, loud, plaid sports jacket for himself and explain to my horrified mother that it only cost $22.74, “honest.” As I said, this dapper dresser was a teller of tall tales. From a page of his style book, no doubt, all three of us children learned to love buying cool clothes and dressing up and how to decorate our homes with eclectic and often unusual items.
I recently found one of those 3-D photo key chains, a favorite souvenir of guests at Grossinger’s, which displayed a photo of my parents in it. There they are, dressed nattily in full vacation mode, he with his Ivy League cap and turtle neck shirt under the previously mentioned sport jacket, she, smiling broadly, wearing trendy white, pearlized cat’s-eye glasses and a blue dress sporting a large white bow. I couldn’t help but recall that each time we visited them and joined them at the hotel for dinner how much my Dad loved those super-rich desserts served at each meal. He would order ALL the proffered desserts and devour each one of them, even though he had just completed a generous three-course meal and though my mom tried heroically to stop him. Alas, I, like Izzie, possess the very same sweet tooth. Give me anything chocolate, some whipped cream or icing, and I’m in heaven. We still all use my father’s phrase, “eppes tsi-tsebaysin,” when we’re hungry for a “little something,” to nibble or snack on. Another frequent phrase of his was, “I need a little something.”
All of us Brier children definitely inherited my father’s weird sense of humor. Every one of our friends had pet nicknames, most coined by my dad, and I often had to shush him when they came to my house and he wanted to call them by these names. So Fradie was “My name is Friday, I am a cop,” for anyone who remembers the title character in the TV program Dragnet. Blima was “Langa Nuis,” because she unfortunately had a long nose, and Sarah was “Tighta Tuchesul,” because her skirts were, I suppose, a bit tight. Was it from Dad that my brother learned this behavior and then went on to give his friends names like “Kitty” and “Jenny” and “Pepsi” and unfortunately, “Metzorah,” to a boy the guys didn’t like?
I also remember my father in his store trying to convince a customer to buy a new kind of cheese that she was inquiring about. He was a dairy man who hated cheese, so he would pretend to taste the product and admire its flavor and then cough slightly while surreptitiously spitting it out into his hands. Often the ladies were so charmed by him that they didn’t know what exactly they were buying.
Like me, my father was a romantic, and I loved hearing stories about how he swept my mother off her feet at a Mizrachi boat excursion, as they called the boat ride where they met. He often showered her with gifts that she didn’t necessarily seem to want and never expected. An affectionate man, he could never bear to see me or any of his children unhappy or cry. Even at the end of his life, when his memory was gone, he would still somehow be able to see when I was troubled and sad. He would then look at me and ask, “What’s the matter, ‘My Zys Kint’? I love you. Don’t worry, everything will be all right,” this when he couldn’t even take care of himself. “
People in my writing class all know that I have a particular problem with endings. I get to a certain point in my stories or essays and then I’m at a loss. What do I say or do? I don’t want what I’ve written to be too sappy or too unclear. My father seemed to have this problem with endings as well, because every time we watched the ending of a TV show together, especially a mystery like the then popular Alfred Hitchcock Hour, he would scratch his head and ask, “That’s the finish?” Yes, Dad, that’s the finish. For now I’m done. I thank you for all you’ve taught me about fun and style and good food. Most of all, I appreciate your ability to work hard in order to make your family feel special and loved. Even to the end you managed to always make me feel like your “zeeseh maydeleh.”
Estelle Glass, a Teaneck resident, is a retired educator who is now happily writing her own essays.
By Estelle Glass