My daughter Emily (Emmy) just had a big week. She is mastering the art of rolling over (though still occasionally gets her arm caught in the process). She started eating solid foods, first rice cereal and then green beans (yuck), and is already less picky than her dad. She went shopping for a new car seat and a high chair because she is beginning to outgrow the current ones. (Unfortunately, for me, she and her mom really seem to enjoy these shopping excursions together.) She attended her first The Little Gym class and is a proud and competent “Bug” (though I pulled a few muscles in the opening stretching exercises). She has developed a hearty laugh (more distinctive than her previous coo, shriek, and giggle) and melts our hearts every time she “performs.” She met several new relatives and family friends (and tried to restrain her slight irritation from the constant poking and prodding from these strangers). She also said goodbye to her beloved “Pop.” Pincus Brounes passed away on Thursday March 15, 2007. He was my dad.
Emmy only met her Pop on a few occasions, though numerous photos of her (including one of them together) hung prominently in his room. During their brief visits, she sensed a feeling of utter joy and pride and even noticed him shed a tear on two when it was time for her to leave. She is sad that she will not have the opportunity to get to know him better because she has heard what a kind, wonderful, and gentle man he was. There will be no nightly Hanukkah gelt during her favorite holiday or the occasional chocolate snack (over Mommy and Daddy’s objections). He will not be able to attend grandparent’s days and various programs at her school or participate in the milestone events through the years. Mainly she will miss out on the ordinary day-to-day visits, lunches, and dinners where they would have discussed the issues of the day and shared those secrets that only granddaughters and grandfathers have between them (and then enjoyed an ice cream cone as their just rewards). Her cousins, Lori and Leslie have told her how much he relished his role as Pop and how he had always looked forward to having another “Little One” to play with and spoil though he undoubtedly began to lose hope when his son (that’s me) turned 40, 41, 42, etc. Over the past few years, when his smiles became more rare, nothing could bring joy to Pop’s face faster than the mention of (or, even better, a visit from) his grandkids. Despite the void she suddenly feels, Emmy continues to hear so many wonderful stories about him, mainly from Mamaw (Grandma Brounes), Aunt Tootie, and Dad.
A LASTING LEGACY
I’ve talked to Emmy in great detail about the standing room only crowd at the funeral and how so many friends and family members came to pay their last respects. I explained how the value of a man’s/woman’s life should not be measured by dollars held in a bank account or possessions accumulated over time, but rather by the friendships formed and relationships maintained over a lifetime. By those measurements, her Pop was an extremely wealthy man. He touched so many people during his 86 years; the memorial allowed me to take one final snapshot of his life through the faces and voices of those folks he held so dear. Without exception, everyone had kind words to share with our family and it was obvious that their affection and admiration were genuine and not merely lip service paid to grieving mourners. He was the Will Rogers of his generation, never met a man (woman or child) he didn’t like. But even more appropriately, Pop never met a man (woman or child) who didn’t love him in return.
As I looked around the sanctuary, I saw the faces of his lifelong friends, the people who dined with my parents on weekends and traveled with them near and far (including the occasional Texas A&M game in luxurious College Station). They celebrated happy occasions together and comforted each other in trying times. They raised their children together and shared heartwarming stories of their grandkids’ exploits. I saw the faces of his old Friday lunch bunch, the men who meet each week to solve all the problems of the world over a corned beef sandwich and piping hot cup of coffee. Pop looked so forward to these get-togethers (and not just for the corned beef). They represented opportunities to “schmooze” with those people he loved.
I saw the faces of the many members of our synagogue (his home away from home) who had served on committees with him and knew him as a righteous man and a pillar of the community. I saw the professional associates he knew from his 50-odd years in the trenches of the retail furniture business. I saw the caregivers who brought great comfort and dignity to his life even during the challenging times of the past few years. I saw his many in-laws, but remembered that those words were not really applicable to Pop. Brothers-in-law were brothers; sisters-in-law were sisters; and his son-in-law was every bit a real son to him for over 25 years (except the days after each Thanksgiving when they were football rivals). He considered my sister’s in-laws to be more than just dear friends. They were his family, his “mispucha” (family in Hebrew) in the truest sense. I saw his extended family members who knew him as the patriarch of the entire Brounes/Garfinkel clan; they attended countless holidays and other occasions at his home where he served as gracious host by greeting his guests at the door and filling glasses of Mogen David. His nephews honored his memory by serving as pallbearers at the funeral. When I saw my wife, I became saddest because she never really had the chance to get to know him. Yet, I think she realized that he was the same warm, gentle soul even in his declining state. His face always responded when she visited and I am convinced that he recognized her and understood just how happy she made me (and the rest of the family).
I saw the faces of my immediate family and remembered how Dad was home with us for dinner every night promptly at 6:00 pm, regardless of how busy he was at work. He helped us with our homework nightly. (Interestingly, my grades suffered at college when he was no longer there to call out spelling words or use those flash cards.) He tried to enhance my athletic abilities (one of his rare failures) and attended every one of our sporting events, speech tournaments, and school functions. Emmy has heard how family was of utmost importance to Pop. He instilled that feeling into us and was so proud of how close we are today. Pop was most happy when the entire family was together (and, as most people know, we enjoy an awful lot of togetherness).
I saw my mom’s face and thought about the great team they made for almost 50 years. Theirs was a love affair that great romance novels are written about. Dad had no real hobbies; he was not in a weekly golf game or poker group. Instead, my mom was his hobby and, as long as they were together, that was all the excitement and enjoyment he ever needed. Over the past few years, she faced the challenges of becoming his caregiver, a burden he would have never wished on anyone. She was selflessly there for him every day and night, never complaining, always cheerful. She remained his life partner, his best friend, his constant companion.
EMMY’S STRESSFUL WEEK
Nothing can help bring happiness to a somber room like a little baby and Emmy fulfilled her role quite masterfully. She smiled at the most appropriate times; provided a warm cheek for Mamaw’s kisses; and rarely fussed when passed incessantly from new friend to family member. She flirted with the handsome men (mainly on the Brounes side) and babbled endlessly with the chatty women. (She fit in well with the family.) Emmy even seemed impressed to learn about Pop’s proud Aggie (Texas A&M) background. She joins her Longhorn Dad in one final heartfelt tribute in his honor…GIG EM AGS. We love you and miss you, Dad, Pop, Pinc.