Bracing for meals…
Yesterday, my brother-in-law, Ted, dropped off a few boxes of old family photos.
They are selling their house in the Hamptons, and these old family mementos have been stored there for years.
Pawing through the archives, I came upon a photo of my old man at the Citadel, in South Carolina.
The Citadel is the West Point of the South, and both my father and his brother attended.
Today my father spends his days in a hospital bed tucked into the corner of my parents’ condo in Florida. He is on a feeding tube. He has lost the ability to swallow, to walk, and generally to comprehend what is going on most of the time. He has 24-hour, full time care.
It was not always thus.
For as long as I can remember, by father started each morning with 25 push ups, and 25 sit ups. It was a remanant of his military training. He used to drive my sister and me nuts with his demand for precision table manners at every meal.
My father got out of the service early. He sold insurance, but whenever a cop stopped him for speeding, he would always show his military ID instead of his licence. He never got a ticket. He left as at Lt. Colonel.
His brother stayed in the service and retired a few years ago as a Lt. General. Three stars.
Most NY Jews don’t contemplate a life of service in the military. How did this come to pass?
My grandfather, Abraham Rosenblum, grew up on the Lower East Side, went to City College (which was free) and then to Columbia University Law School, class of 1914. When he graduated from Columbia, he was deeply disappointed to discover that the white shoe law firms on Wall Street did not hire Jews. But, as WWI was starting, the US Army had no such reservations. He joined, and as a Columbia Law School grad, was immediately commissioned as an officer and placed in the Judge Advocates office. At the end of the war, he was military governor of Okinawa.
Having found a home in the US military, he stayed. The US Army was and always has been well known as the place where prejudice dropped first, long before the rest of the country.
He retired a full Colonel, and died a year later of a heart attack, at age 56. His obituary was in the box as well. But that is why he sent his sons to the Citadel. He wanted them to be Americans.
After his death, my grandmother established an award for ROTC students at City College in NY in memory of my grandfather. We used to go each year to the graduation ceremonies for the presentation of the award. I can still recall the last time we went. It was in the early 60s, and grandma was shocked… shocked.. that ‘a colored boy’ was winning the award.
Grandma was no liberal.
The ‘colored boy’ was Colin Powell.
Today, my father’s life is measured day by day. I expect a phone call from my mother at any time now. Meanwhile, Barack Obama is the President of the United States.
As my grandfather would have said, ‘what a country’.