EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTER 12, 1987– 1997 MY EIGHTH DECADE, Part 1
HE WROTE IT, THEY DID IT, HE SAVED IT; TRANSFORMING AMERICA!!
“JOE SEFEKAR’S INSPIRING STORY OF AN IMMIGRANT’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE HEALTH, WELFARE AND ARTS OF THE UNITED STATES.”
On February 20, 1987 I reached this milestone; my 70th birthday. I had accomplished much but still wanted to be relevant; even though I was so very lucky. There is my wife Thelma of 45 years, my son, Billy, daughter Bonnie and her family Lee, her husband, her two daughters Diana Jill and Beth Eileen were part of our immediate family; my extended family and hordes of great friends past and present.
I had been blessed with many close family friends, brothers and sisters and friends for a lifetime going back to Canarsie, the War, Thames St., Rose Street across to Long Island, Washington DC and Maryland. In the 10 years since we moved down from Maryland after my retirement from the Smithsonian so many wonderful things have taken place. I was able to grow in other areas and to be part of my wife’s golden years but I could tell there was something in the wind. Things were changing and after my retirement from my second major assignment at Ruth Eckerd Hall, PACT, I re-visited some of the highlights and few low lights and sort of plan things that I would work with Thelma to see if we can make the most of these autumn years.
THE TRIP BACK NO. 1
We were planning trips and also milestones in the foreseeable future; Our 50th wedding anniversary in 1992 and in the back of my mind I had an inkling that I would love to take Thelma and put something in the works in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day landing in Normandy. This would be a retracing of the Allied advances starting in Bristol, England where I was stationed with the First Army Rear Echelon and fighting through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and finally into Germany where victory and the final throes of Third Reich. Yes, to plan something back to Europe and have her share this with me.
So on May 18, 1994, we departed Luxembourg for French territories the first big stop was Rheims we stayed overnight, the next morning we headed toward the city. We passed an old train and 97 years that someone had painted “boxcar” on the side of the old car. The treaty signifying the end of World War I was signed here later, when Germany entered France in 1940, the French were humiliated by having to sign their surrender in the same car at the end of the war in 1945 when the German’s surrendered to Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, Cmdr. of the Allied forces.
Figure #12.1 1st Army Operations Europe 1944-1945 Figure #12.2 Itinerary 50 years later
Figure #12.3 Letter to my very dear Army buddy Irv Bagatelle Figure #12.3 Describing the “Trip Back 50 Years Later.” Page 1
Figure #12.4 Describing the “Trip Back 50 Years Later.” Page 2 Figure #12.5 Describing the “Trip Back 50 Years Later.” Page 3
THE TRIP BACK NO. 2
In the Jewish religion we perpetuate our family ties by remembering those who have pre–deceased us.
It was an Odyssey that I thought of two months ago. I had a feeling that it was time to visit our parents. On the one hand, it wasn’t a happy anticipation – they had died in 1970. On the other hand, it became a happy obsession inasmuch as we had not been to visit them since 1976, when we moved to Florida. I had decided that it would be a special trip to New Jersey, my wife’s mother had also died January 1970 – her father had died in November 1939, at a comparatively early age.
Our trip required some planning because flying to New York was the easiest part. The difficult part was convincing my brother Al to drive us to the cemeteries. It was a good effort because he is 75. I didn’t realize the energy and concentration required. I was only 77 Lol.
We flew into LaGuardia Airport Queens then to New Jersey where they lived in Lakehurst, 7 miles from Toms River, where my father, Jack Sefekar in 1917, was hurt in a truck accident while working at a munitions depot.
When I first started writing this life story I began by saying – “my parents were poor immigrants in a new land”. They were not “poor” and were not “immigrants”. They were poor in wealth, but rich in foresight and using their innate knowledge acquired through the ages. My parents were not “immigrants” despite their exchanging one physical location for another. Their journey took a logical path within the content of a “new land” in a world that their ancestors had a ready traversed. They paved the way for their offspring, and their offspring to become a permanent fixture and as the star trek manifestation proclaims, “Go forth and prosper.” Over the millennia I’ve had these opportunities to absorb my heritage, of my country and my birthright and blend and weave together into what will be the building blocks of the man I would come. My wife of 50 years played a big part in smoothing out the rough edges even though I wasn’t such a “young Turk” as I would’ve thought. And as you can see from the following guideposts I had tempered with the basics of being part of the larger community or as is bandied around an “expanded village.” But I resorted to the basic building blocks when coming face-to-face, one human being with another.
WORDS TOO LIVE BY
I’ve developed my own set of constructs that have got me through as I say in order to reach the magic number.
HOW TO REACH THE MAGIC NUMBER
- A lot of patience – helps to maintain or heal a relationship.
- It’s helpful not to be too judgmental.
- Learn how to forgive.
- To practice compromise on a daily basis.
- Hold on to a sense a humor for dear life.
- Never give up on hope.
- Let love take precedence over hate.
I won’t say that I’ve been particularly successful in dealing with women but my advice to men in dealings with women that there are three. words for men to remember – “Compromise and give in.”
Figures #12.6 and #12.7 My philosophy on how to reach the “magic number.”
Funny thing happened on the way to the finish line, actually it was the starting line. The reason I mention this is that my Sonny boy when he first came down Florida 1983 would get into jogging and was inspired by the husband of one of our staff people at Ruth Eckerd Hall who left early from Arnold Bremen’s July 3 party to run in the “Midnight Madness Run” at Honeymoon Island on the Gulf of Mexico. He began in earnest running upon his arrival here and fast-forward nine years later in 1992 also partook in the fun for these midnight races and decided to make it a family affair which meant I was dragged into the fray. I had my own personal trainer, actually physician, monitoring my progress. One of the dearest friends of our family, Dr. David Kalin overseeing my progress. What made this so memorable was a few weeks later I received a letter and a plaque acknowledging I was the oldest participant in the auspicious Kiwanis Midnight Madness Run (**see attachments).
Figures #12.8 Letter to the St. Petersburg Times on my physical triumph
1992- 1ST Gulf War, visit from my Dad’s brother’s nephew Haim and his wife Yona. They have visited us before but with the Scud missiles reigning down on Northern Israel and the city of Haifa where they lived it was very threatening since Haim suffered from a bad heart. So for over 2 months they stayed with Thelma and myself while the war raged. While he and his wife visited I had an opportunity have him recall his harrowing story about how he survived the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It wasn’t all that easy since his English was not that good and we couldn’t speak Hebrew that well. We settled on a mixture of Ladino the Spanish spoken in Spain back in the 1492 when our ancestors left Spain during the Inquisition and some Yiddish terms that Thelma remembered. Bill and I compiled the notes and transcribed to include the more pleasant part of the story of after being freed, how they managed to make a worthwhile rest of their lives and flourish in their new homeland of Israel (**See Attachment of Haim’s Story).
This also offered me a chance to delve into my family genealogical chart and piecing together a litany of my heritage. It got me to thinking of my visit to Salonika 10 years earlier. Also the many others that passed through this city on the Aegean Sea hundreds of years before and back to Spain eons ago . It just so happens that a book was published a few years later on just that; a “A Greek Jew From Salonika Remembers,” Which I hope to provide some reflections on.
Figure #12.9 SEFEKAR (Seficha) Genealogical entry as best as can be determined
During this time, I began to realize how important the memoirs, recollections, writings, documents and notes that I had accumulated over the last 60 years starting back in the 1930’s and continuing up until today and hopefully beyond. What I recommend to others that are interested in tracking their own life story is to keep tabs on things that are important, interesting; making a difference in their lives and the lives of the loved ones that make it all worthwhile. The article that I’m attaching had an impact on me. It is Written by John A. Cutter entitled, “Consider Writing About Your Life’s Legacy.” He spells out important guideposts that are easy-to-follow in keeping your life story moving or a play of words, a moving life story. There are many support groups and agencies, libraries, writer’s group’s available. At this time there was the foundation called the Leibowitz Foundation that encouraged such efforts and even had a contest for those that wanted to try their hand in mind that such writing in its “National Legacy Contest.”
Figure #12.10 John A. Cutter’s Article; “Consider writing about your Life’s Legacy.”
So I became immersed in this “Legacy” project gradually. It wasn’t a baptismal under fire. Organizing my files in little cabinets, my letters and writings, etc. It wouldn’t be for another 10 years starting in 1997 sitting down with my son and transcribing the notes into a typed format with our newly acquired personal computers (PC’s). However, let me transgress which is the first thing not to do but I will take a little editorial liberty. I’ll share a song that became near and dear to Thelma and me. We had a ritual of calling my daughter Bonnie, husband Lee and their two daughters Diana and Beth and all our relatives and friends up north when this song became popular it forged a special place in our hearts: “I just called to say I love you.”
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart
No New Year’s Day to celebrate
No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away
No first of spring, no song to sing
In fact here’s just another ordinary day
No April rain, No flowers bloom
No wedding Saturday within the month of June
But what it is, is something true
Made up of these three words that I must say to you
I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care
I just called to say I love you
No summer’s high, No warm July
No harvest moon to light one tender August night
No autumn breeze, No falling leaves
Not even time for birds to fly to southern skies
No Libra sun, No Halloween
No giving thanks to all the Christmas joy you bring
But what it is, though old, so new
To fill your heart like no three words could ever do
I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care,
I do I just called to say I love you
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart,
of my heart, of my heart.
I just called to say how much I care, I do
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart
Figure #12.11 Words to “I Just Called to Say I Love You” Figure #12.12 My hand-written lyrics of the song
Some of the material was original such as my reminiscing on taking Billy to his initial baseball game and contemplating what has transpired all these years after that first indelibly marked outing.
Letter submitted to the St. Petersburg Times
Long Time Between Innings, Circa 1992
As we walked around to the Stadium I wonder to myself, when was the first game that he and I went too? He was six, active for his age, (today call it hypertensive). He was great to everybody, and everybody thought he was great. A real boy – my problem was that I was his parent, and it’s the parents job to keep striving to make him probably the best behaved. Well, he behaved alright to everybody, which prompted me to ask him “to please treat me like a stranger”.
We arrived at Ebbets field, located in a certain borough in a certain city, with the always the throaty crowds, and we proceeded to our seats on the third base line. Not being as knowledgeable as my Little Leaguer, how did I know that third base wasn’t the most desirable location? That little miscue caused me a most active afternoon. No sooner as were seated that my charge disappeared. Where do you start looking for the champ base stealer in the league, especially when he reaches only 4 feet high and streamlined to boot.
Figure #12.13 Ebbets Field that fateful day
I could have used the Mills Brothers taxi, as I started my way to make my way around the stadium, and looking up into the cheering faces above, everybody intent on the action on the field. As I walked and looked around Ebbets field I unbelievably heard my name called “hey Joe,” and I recognized friends I hadn’t seen in years – from the neighborhood, high school classmates and also one person I worked with. In a baseball field full of thousands of people, how could this possibly of happened. However, I had to continue on my main mission, which is to find my son. He wasn’t the type that would go to the authorities and report a lost father – so I continued my search which after my second circle around the stadium was successful.
He was in a row in the middle of the section behind first base, encircled by a group of adults, who are listening to the radio while the game was going on, my son was describing the play that was going on below, and is explaining what the announcer was saying – sort of an instant replay. I was glad to find him and I was happy to get our third base seats and enjoy the game.
Now that I remember the first game, my mind is hopscotching through the intervening years, to the last game we moved from Long Island, New York, to Washington DC, in a major career move. My son, now college-bound remained behind and the surroundings he grew up in; but the people who thought he was great, and who were happy to give him room and board. Usually children leave home to go to college – we left home some so he could go to college (and not to have to leave town). But he loved us, and after a short visit to Washington DC he decided he would openly” treat us like strangers”, so We gave him room and board, and he enrolled at the University of Maryland. We did our parental duty, and assisted through school. After he graduated, my wife and I decided to make a major life change and retired to Florida. He stayed behind in Maryland, with his many friends, who although they were not different from previous comrades, thought he was great.
Following a visit to us in Florida, he decided that this was a good a place as any to lay anchor, so he located a few miles from where we lived, got a job, with a sailboat and settled into the good Florida life. People thought he was great, and we do too, because he treated us “like strangers”.
Last week after 37 years so on his 45th birthday, I decided to take a chance and taken him to another ballgame the dream of all transplanted Floridians to see a yearly grapefruit league game. We packed a lunch including some peanuts (who had heard that they were now two dollars a bag) without reserve seats we went to see the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros. This time I got the seats right above first base, and I was the one who scooted around to third to see how things looked from my favorite baseline.
Since it was too sunny, I returned to where I sitting on the first base side, but not at the same gate as yours truly. Coming back, huffing and puffing, I realize you can’t wait 37 years to take your son to a ballgame. Thanks Florida, for making it possible, and making it a good all around the bases day; happy 45th birthday Bill.
Figure #12.14 Letter to the St. Petersburg Times “Long Time Between Innings”
So with Ruth Eckerd Hall behind me and plenty of time beside me I plunged into what could be called my Don Quixote attacking windmills phase. Whereby I would fire off letters on a regular basis trying to make a dent in the social issues of our time. On a not so serious note, I kept busy with keeping track of my fledgling investments system that was based on-no market plunging. And having the time to prepare my lifespan of innuendos, idiosyncrasies and nuances into an enlightened journey that spans the EPOCH of time.
And so concludes, Part one of Chapter 12; My Eighth Decade. The next installment deals with the myriad of projects; community work, building a Public Library in Palm Harbor and activities for Thelma and I at the Temple.
So many remembrances, highlights and philosophical deliberations to elaborate on. There was Thelma and my 50th Anniversary trip to our original honeymoon getaway in Miami Beach; a seven-day Western Caribbean cruise; party at the Hilton and some great family gatherings including my granddaughter Diana’s, Bat Mitzvah in Maryland when she turned 13. And of course correspondence and pronouncements with some very important people to divulge.
Copyright © 2016 William Sefekar
** Material will appear in book.
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