3 Mantras For Bev & Syd

20/10/2015 § 3 Comments

This past Sunday we had a celebration of life for our folks, Bev & Syd. When our Dad passed, Mom wanted to celebrate his extraordinary life and not mourn his death. So that is what we did a few years back. And she produced an affair with readings, and music, and food. After this excruitiating winter, and then a crazed summer, my brother, Phil, and I finally got around to booking Waveny Estate, the property that one of the muckety-mucks who started Texaco sold to New Canaan for a pittance in 1997. Yes, New Canaan is that kind of town, rich, and bucolic, and sedate. And then Syd Greenberg came to town. But, that’s later. For our celebration had BBQ catered in, Phil printed out hundreds of pictures from Bev and Syd’s excellent adventure; living through Brooklyn and New Canaan and that war to end all wars, WWII and through the lives of so many friends and he put together a video from home movies, slides, and this cool film he created for Syd’s 90th birthday. Since Phil lives a bit closer to New Canaan, he did most of the heavy lifting. All I had to do was write, and give, a speech. The writing part usually comes naturally, the speechifying not so. And this one? Most everyone’s folks are amazing in some way, but, and this is not bragging, my folks were phenomenal—though it did take me a long time to realize that. Just read this little bit about my Mom and this one about my Dad and you’ll get a better picture of what I was up against to get them down into a speech. As well, since this would be after the drinks and the food, I also had to be succinct and pithy. Terse is not in my toolkit, that’s for sure. And then still have some of their soul and joy seep in between the lines? A big task. Here is my take on Bev & Syd:

bev syd at 1955 floodbw

What I learned from my folks would fill up, well, a lifetime. And since we haven’t booked Waveny for that long, I’ll just give you three bite-sized morsels to go with the BBQ.

One: Chance, as in take a chance.

Two: Caring.

Three: Don’t Give A Fuck. (Yup, that’s the Syd section)

And, you know, nowhere in our growing up were Yiddish expressions or Hebrew swear words. What is it with 2nd or 3rd generation immigrant families? I guess Mom and Dad wanted us to assimilate our Jewish selves into this Wasp enclave. Because that was so easy to do in New Canaan.

Like teachers asking, “David, your mother told me you can bring in the menorah on Monday. Can you do that? Do you know the prayer?”

Or this one during a Passover presentation: “Why is there gefilte fish on that plate?”

“Because God told Moses, it’s a long trip and little fish balls wrapped in jelly travel well?”

And every Jewish Holiday you were sure to see in the Advertiser a Syd Greenberg picture of his FAMILY. Yes, us, celebrating whatever it was we were supposed to be celebrating. Teaching the goys all the Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach. I can just hear Syd now…Philip, David…Smile dammit.

All that, but no Yiddish. Had to learn what Schmuck meant out on the playground at the Temple. On a Saturday Morning. For what you goys call Sunday school. Saturday morning. When all my goy friends were having fun.

In spite of all that…I proudly call my hometown, New Canaan. Even though our most famous graduate of New Canaan High School this news cycle is Ann Coulter.

[Luckily, there were groans in the audience for this joke. Out there in the suburbs of Connecticut, one never knows. The town has never voted Democratic in my lifetime and more than a few facebook friends take my liberal rants and try to shred them with the sharp fangs of conservative nonsense. Since I heard a few groans and thought there were a few boos I added a…]

Thank you.

But…how did the Greenbergs get to New Canaan? Sheer randomness, serendipity, chance. I think I told this at my mom’s funeral, but as I thought it was a doozy, I wanted to repeat myself.

How did the Greenbergs get to New Canaan? I always thought it was a methodical choice, due to the amazing schools, the wonderful shops on Main Street, the safe neighborhoods – never once locked our doors until I got to a college dorm, the spur of the New Haven Railroad that zipped commuters like Syd into Manhattan, the nice folks, the friendly smiles, The Police Department that could use a professional photographer like Syd, the Fire Department that could use a professional photographer like Syd, the Newspaper that could use a professional photographer like Syd, the EMTs who could…

Nah, my folks saw a listing for homes that were going to be built and Mom asked her Dad where this New Canaan was in the state. Apparently it was perfect, as it is kinda halfway between Brooklyn, where Syd’s family were living and New Haven where Bev’s were. Oh, and they were building with good materials, her Dad saw from the ad, and it had radiant heating!

So, this wonderful life that Phil and I lived here in the Next Station To Heaven, the town’s tagline by the way, our life spent in this bucolic suburban life was by sheer chance. Like throwing darts. Though throwing darts with the proper spin on it So, the first mantra from my folks? Take a chance. A whole new life could open up for you.

Second mantra: Caring.

I just realized one Chanukah present we should have gotten for Bev was a tee-shirt emblazoned with “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. Because that is what she wanted to be for everyone. Everyone.

Even if you wanted Clam Chowder, or Gazpacho. Or, no-soup-at-all. Nope what you got was Bev’s caring. Which is the only reason we have so many “aunts” and “uncles,” why Scott Benjamin was their third son, why she was so beloved, why she lasted all those years at Center School, why New Canaan loved her, why all of you came out today. Aunt Bev.

It didn’t matter what age you were, or who you were, you got the same 110 percent of Bev in your life with advice, empathy, tears, hugs, advice… and letters. And cuttings from the Advertiser of some article you needed to read. And calls. She was always worried she was missing someone’s birthday, or to thank them, or…Truly Mom cared about everyone and worried and worried. It was not about her, it was about them. It was if she had to care, more than they need you to care.

Third mantra? Don’t Give A Fuck. Okay, repeat after me. Don’t Give A Fuck.

[I know you out there, reading this, you’re not saying it out loud, why would you? I’m not there to goad you on with the microphone like I did at the celebration on Sunday. But it will do you good, really. Say it now.]

That’s too soft guys. Hey, this isn’t a memorial service, my mom asked for a celebration…LOUDER…


When you are growing up, you get embarrassed by a lot. Okay, by everything. Especially Parents. Here we were living in New Canaan, back then it was the land of Izod and Sperry Docksiders, crisp khakis.

Syd? Murray Space Shoes for chrissakes. Big brown slugs on his feet. And you would never see Syd without his camera, or for that matter, looking crisp. And loud! He was from Brooklyn, he didn’t know from soft. And friendly! Who has so many friends? I surely didn’t. It’s not that he didn’t care — Mantra Two, remember. He cared. At times, he just didn’t…repeat after me…

Give A Fuck

Syd knew it really doesn’t matter what people think of you, what you think of yourself matters the most.

You and I would see the CEO of a very important multi-national company on the train. You’d probably stay seated, read your book. I know I would. Maybe play Candy Crush on your iPod. Syd? He’d kibbitz with the guy. Give him shit about some news piece about his company that the CEO would rather have not talked about. Especially on the train. In public. But Syd could give him shit, joke about it, AND GET AWAY WITH IT.

I remember he had to shoot pictures of some guy, so I went to help him. Some guy. I find out later he was palling around with Norman Cousins—editor in chief of the Saturday Review. Pundit extraordinaire. Nice guy too. He had Philip Johnson show us around his estate after taking pictures of his Glass House. Brian Williams gave him an NBC jacket for his 90th Birthday. That’s the truth! And Syd said it was too small, could Brian get him a larger size?

Dad treated all those people, the CEOs and VIPs and VFFs (Very Famous People), just like he treated the guys who picked up their garbage, the guys and gals who taught their children, who saved their houses from fire, and those who, well, maybe…arrested their kids; he treated them all as equals and with respect.

He gave a fuck when it mattered, to him and them.

It’s just that he didn’t hold back. He took a chance. And cared. They both did.

Now one more thing. Mom called this a celebration of life when we had it for Dad. Everyone here has lost a loved one at one point and another. We’re here to honor our folks, yes, but Mom would also want us to celebrate all the loved ones who are not here with us today.

L’chaim. To Life.

By the way, that’s Yiddish too. Though, they did teach us that one. It just took me a while to figure it out.


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§ 3 Responses to 3 Mantras For Bev & Syd

  • DON’T GIVE A FUCK! Great story Dave. I remember your dad. What a cool guy. Muzzle Tuff. ( we didn’t speak Yiddish in my house either, maybe because I grew up Italian, but that’s another story)

  • Laurie Beaty says:

    Awesome speech, sorry we were unable to be there. Sounds like you all honored Bev and Syd in a great way. The best to you all, Laurie & Terry.

  • Rob Chabot says:

    I couldn’t be there, so I’m very happy to read your speech. Well done!

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