November Anniversaries

This week brings two anniversaries to mind, not of the wedding kind.

A birth and a death, both. A man I knew well and one I never met. I’ll concentrate on the former.

My dad would have been 108 had he lived another 19 years. When I think of him, it is not as a man near life’s end, but the middle-aged version. Perhaps that’s because he was 35 when I walked on stage, and never less than 40 during my school days.

I think of the challenges he faced getting a job in the Great Depression and his wartime service in the army. I recall how hard (and how much) he labored to make a living for his three boys and our mother. I witnessed how the responsibility was like a machine-lowered ceiling pressing down on him.

Milt Stein was a sweet man. My brothers and I saw him express that affection to my mother with tender words and embraces. She occupied his world. We were satellites circling a planet named Jeanette.

How might one celebrate his memory?

I could revisit the video interview I did when he was about 75.

No, too weighty. Moreover, the four-hour recording won’t fit my schedule right now.

I might arrange one of his favorite hot meals and uncap a lava flow of ketchup on top of it, as was his habit. My mom, you see, was not a master chef.

Another possible homage would be to stir a creamer in my morning coffee as he did, for what seemed like minutes at a time, almost long enough to wear his metal spoon to a nub.

The bell-like sound echoed too early and too long inside our two-flat on Talman Avenue. You knew dad was home — so announced the clanging — as it did that by 5:30 AM he’d be off to his job at the downtown post office.

If I had the urge to go to Chicago’s Loop today, a visit to the main library would serve as a symbolic honor. He borrowed books there and read novels and the Sun Times on public transit to and from work.

My memories take me to all these places and more: to excursions on the elevated train beginning at the Western stop, to trips on the #11 Lincoln Avenue bus, to Riverview Park’s high-rides, and Cubs games at Wrigley Field.

In the bag full of a lifetime’s remembrances, those ritualized, repeated events stand out. One such repetition occurred at the baseball contests. We understood the drill, though Milt Stein never failed to remind his boys of an essential feature.

The relative poverty of dad’s childhood required continued focus on the dearness of a hard-won dollar, even as time moved him away from the economic challenge of America in the 1930s. Thus, this man told his three sons we could each have only “two items” on our day at Wrigley.

Mom packed us all lunches. Corned beef on rye bread was typical, maybe a banana, too. But if we wanted ice cream or a Coke or a hot dog, my father limited us to any two of these, not more.

Ed, Jack, and I thought the restriction unreasonable, but we’d never experienced want. Our sire got categorized as a miser. Only years later did I recognize his limitations offered protection against a future when food might be a question not of how much, but whether we’d have any.

This little story leads me to salute Milton Stein’s 108th birthday anniversary the way he’d have advised. I intend to shop at the grocery, especially those aisles filled with all the goodies I likely wanted on a day at the ballpark in, say, 1959.

You know what I’m going to do, don’t you?

I’ll buy just two items.


The top image is a sign of The Four Candles, a Wetherspoons pub in Oxford named after The Two Ronnies comedy sketch. Matt Brown is the author. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

18 thoughts on “November Anniversaries

  1. Your dad sounds like an amazing husband and father. Poverty is not a human experience that one easily forgets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Yes, poverty and trauma have a long reach in any life. Sometimes it is even a multigenerational effect, as was certainly the case with the Great Depression, the hyperinflation suffered by Germany in the 1920s, and the Holocaust. There is an old, ground-breaking book on the last of these by Helen Epstein called, “Children of the Holocaust.”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a wonderful tribute to your father’s memory! My dad was an octogenarian when he passed away from diabetes type 2 complications. He was patient with his last months. Our family misses him, but we have treasured memories. My father always encouraged and supported my professional goals. I am most grateful that he loved me, stayed “patient” with Life and believed in my dreams. Your story touched my heart! Thank you, Dr Gerald Stein !!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, mb. Your dad sounds like someone special. Indeed, men like him still live inside of us and offer there own remembered support, plus a few laughs!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the wonderful stroll down memory lane of our dear Dad. I am certain that he is smiling from above after reading your story in his honor. It brought me to tears by the way!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I remember it exactly as you wrote it, right down to the ringing of the spoon on the coffee cup (hot water mixed with the Sanka) Great memories, much simpler time. Thanks for reminding me brother.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for this. “Soon the memory of these people is lost, and then all the people who loved them die, and all the memories about them are lost and they pass into nothingness but the love remains. Love is the bridge, the only connection, the only meaning.” ~Thornton Wilder

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was such a sweet post about your dad, Dr. S. I wonder what two items you picked. 🙂

    Poverty is not easy to deal with, as I lived there myself at times. I am sorry you and your family struggled with that.

    Does your family celebrate his birthday, too? That sounds like a wonderful tradition!


    • Thanks, glb. We don’t formally celebrate my dad’s birthday, but my brothers and I note it in emails to each other. My mom’s, too. We weren’t poor, rather lower-middle-class; but heard enough stories about the Great Depression to have some concerns, as my parents’ did, as to whether there might be another one. These kinds of “second generation effects” are present in lots of people, not always about economic challenges, but particularly with respect to wartime and any other personal trauma. And, to answer your first question, they were both ice cream.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yum – ice cream! 🙂 Your thoughts on “second generation effects” makes sense.

        When I consider the traumas that military families face, I also consider the traumas that veteran families also face. Veterans may not deploy, but their own symptoms post-war or post-combat or post-other-traumas affect their families, their ways of relating to the world, etc.

        Those who are civilians living in a warzone prior to their migrating as refugees also have post-traumatic reactions to the war that can affect their children. Worst yet, the discrimination, hate, and other historical traumas add on to their originating traumas when they relocate to another country as refugees. Worst yet, when they fear having their family separated. I wonder what their children feel, especially as they grow in two or more very hostile worlds – warzone worlds and bigoted worlds. It is sad.


      • Sad indeed. Many in our country are taking on the bigoted world and working against it. Good reason for everyone to do so.


  7. Dr. Stein this article is so moving that I got chills as I finished the last sentence. My parents are living and well at present and yet I know I do not treat them with proper kindness and respect. Most of the time I can’t feel a loving feeling towards them (or any people in my limited people circle). But also I know very well of the saying “you never realize a good thing till it’s gone”. It’s amazing that you kept all these bright moments in your “bag full of a lifetime’s remembrances” that you shared with us. Thank you


    • You are welcome, Danny. I certainly wasn’t always nice to my mom. We argued a great deal during my adolescent years. It was never an easy relationship, though I became more understanding and better able to handle it over time. I would say it is easier to love some people at a distance, which may partially explain your notion of not realizing a good things until it is gone.


  8. Such a lovely post.


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