David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #6
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

I read the obituaries.

I like seeing the lives, families, work, wars. This is not a morbid fascination with death, or a cheap way to feel lucky not to be reading my own name. This is the opposite, a writer’s intrigue for the eternal, lone question, and the billion billions of answers. How to live?

These thoughts have led me to announce that I will write for this magazine a triad about three funerals, my dad, my mom and my dog. In that order, they are the funniest, most touching, and saddest stories I know.

First, dad.

I have Sam Rabinowitz’s birth certificate. Born in 1915, his middle name was ‘NMN’. No Middle Name. In the space for ‘father’s profession’, it reads ‘Peddler’. In Wisconsin then, a rabbi was not a proper job, I suppose.

He died in July, 1985, while visiting his youngest brother Bernie in Milwaukee. Aunt Elaine called at one in the morning. Dad was dead of a heart attack, age 71.

Jews do not let the dead linger. Grave are dug fast. Services seem to wait only for the last shovel. I called my brothers and mother, made arrangements, and we flew out that afternoon for the funeral held the following day.

Arriving at Bernie’s house, he pulled me aside. I was only four years removed from being a lawyer, and was dad’s administrator. Bernie led me to a large room where only sofas, chairs and a television waited. We sat.

“Davey. You know where Sammy was sitting?”

“No, Bern.”

“Right there. Where you are. You know what we were doing?”

There is nothing else to do in this room. These men were not readers.

“Watching TV?”

Bernie slapped his knee with one hand, held back an anguished cry with the other as if moved that I had shown some kind of second sight from my own grief.

“Yeah. Yeah. Geez. You know what we were watching?”


“Sammy’s favorite. Night Rider.”

I bite my tongue at the double tragedy. My father has passed on, and his favorite show starred David Hasselhof, with Kit the talking car.

“How about that.”

“You know what episode it was?”

I did not remind him I was not watching. I just said, “No.”

“It wasn’t a re-run, okay? So there’s no way he could’ve known. At the start, there was this woman cop. Ten minutes in, Sammy, he knows something’s up with her.”

Distraught Bernie slaps his knee again and bites a knuckle. He has, in his estimation, seen a burning bush.

He continues. “Sammy says to me, Bern. She’s a hooker. Ain’t that something?”

“It is.”

“I pay no attention. A couple minutes later, he starts to snore. Davey.” Bernie loses his struggle with control. His big brother, after all, is dead. “I didn’t know. He wasn’t snoring. It was his death rattle.”


“You believe that?” Bernie lays his hand over mine. “Your father’s last words. ‘She’s a hooker.’”
I did not know this was where he was going. I would have stopped him, because twenty five years later, I live with this. I laugh at it, but I live with it.

“Bernie,” I said, deciding to speak in his Midwestern, grew-up-tough, four Rabinowitz boys shoulder-to-shoulder in the neighborhood way. Dad lived through Pearl Harbor, Bernie saw the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. They always thought of themselves as bookends. Dad was there when Bernie was born, Bernie saw dad’s death. Bookends.

“Bernie,” I said, taking his hand. “You tell my mom this. You tell anyone this. There’ll be two funerals today. Everybody’s already dressed.”

This raised a laugh, the first of many I got that day with this story, including mom.

When I returned home, I was overwhelmed by the duties of an administrator. I forgot to place an obit in the paper. Dad’s friends were not happy with me. I didn’t blame them.

A quarter century later, I write for Sam Rabinowitz/Robbins this column. It says little about him, he only has one line. But it’s funny, in a Groucho Marks duck-comes- down kind of way. My dad loved a good tale, I come from story-telling people. One hearty last laugh, one memorable exit line. What’s a better obituary?

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boom, boomer magazine, native son, richmond, obituaries, funeral, father


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