Herbie

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it’s time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

Who Knows Where the Time Goes by Sandy Denny

My father-in-law, Herb Weiss, died this past Tuesday evening, and his funeral service is on Friday. Herb’s death was not a surprise; his health had rapidly declined over the last couple of years. And yet, his death was surprising. Because Herb was a force of nature, a fixture in the lives of his loved ones and friends and associates. A part of me could not allow for a world without him.

To be in Herbie’s orbit (so many of his family and friends called him Herbie, a name of endearment), was an exceptional experience. To be in Herbie’s orbit meant that you would always be greeted with real affection and pleasure. When he said, “It’s so nice to see you!”, he meant it: every single time. His face would light up and his broad smile would spread across his face like sunrise.

To be in Herbie’s orbit was to be given tchotchkes all of the time. Keychains. Little flashlights. Luggage tags. Tote bags. Pens. It was stuff that came from various trade conventions he attended. All of his progeny have drawers stuffed with Herbie’s offerings. We’d always say thank you and then store it away.

He also had a thing for gloves. Maybe he knew someone who sent them his way. Maybe he was part of a glove underground syndicate. All I know is that he would show up at a family dinner or on the Cape and pull tons of gloves out of his trunk. Of course, he would also pull out sweaters, sunglasses, purses, wallets, and other items.

Herbie loved to give. He relished the role of patriarch and provider and did a damned good job of it. It was a way he could open his heart and tangibly share his affection with others as he fulfilled his role in life. His generosity was moving and authentic.

Herbie knew a thousand jokes. I should know. Like most of his family I heard them all: several times. We would beg him to stop. We’d tell him we’d heard it already. We would roll our eyes until we looked like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. And yet, he persisted. Because he wanted to give us a laugh, because he liked to entertain us. And even as we groaned, he would laugh, and then we would laugh, because his own enjoyment was such a pleasure. Most of the time, anyway…

One of the first things I remember about Herbie was watching him do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, a task I’d always considered Herculean and frankly, impossible. Yet he’d plough through without breaking a sweat. This, I thought, was a smart man. And indeed he very smart, a true Renaissance man. He knew so much about everything. He loved classical music. Herbie could sing along with most of the great symphonies. He read voraciously: history, biography, politics, fiction and more. Herbie inspired me with his intellectual perspicacity.

Herbie’s politics were progressive in nature. He cared, desperately cared, about the future of our nation and the world. Over the years he was involved in local and national politics and philanthropy and did his level best to make a difference. He was a very patriotic man. He had endless gratitude for the nation in which his immigrant father rose from poverty to great success. He never lost faith in the possibilities inherent in the American dream.

My father-in-law was a deeply committed Jew. He did so much in his lifetime for the Jewish people. Herbie particularly loved Israel and traveled there several times. He was so very proud of his daughter, the Rabbi. Her sermons, her skill leading services, the very notion that she was a rabbi! thrilled him to no end.

Herbie was proud of his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. And his many nephews and nieces. Their accomplishments thrilled him. He always appreciated their attention. While he may not have been a classic family man, he unabashedly loved us all.

Herbie hated being hamstrung. The fact that it got harder for him to walk infuriated this proud, active man. He told me not so long ago that his life had become an obstacle course and that he was sick of it, sick of the pills and the rounds of doctors and most of all, sick of needing help. The limitations were torture for him.

So when he quietly died on Tuesday after a good dinner and a glass of scotch and a nap, I was relieved for him. I thought how blessed he was in the end to go quickly and without drama. It was a fitting end for a man who was ready to go.

For those of us left behind, a piece of our lives has forever disappeared. We are all celebrating his life, so happy that he no longer suffers. But we grieve for what we will no longer have: the jokes, the tchotchkes, the banter, the passion, the smile, the love – Herbie.

My own father was in my life for only 14 years. Herbie was in my life for over 40 years. He infused my life with his warmth and kindness. He didn’t want to be my father; I didn’t want to be his son. And so we became friends, enjoying each other’s company, talking about books and politics and the world at large. We sat in the sun on Cape Cod, smoked cigars, and gave thanks for the little pleasures that make us whole.

I will miss him so.

Who knows where the time goes?

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