Mendel Letters 82 — L’Chaim
June 18, 2022
I am in my seventies and a grandfather and want to acknowledge important life lessons I’ve learned from you that hopefully I can pass down to future generations.
From you I learned to work hard at a job, no matter what it is. Do an honest days work because you have to be honest to yourself. I started working with you when I was fourteen helping out at the Astoria luncheonette on Saturdays and moving up to counterman and short-order cook. Since then I’ve driven cabs, buses, and trucks, worked in libraries and warehouses, done construction, been a camp counselor and maintenance man, a teacher, and a college professor. Whatever happened, I always found another job and worked, for my own dignity, and to support my family.
From you I learned to deal with adversity and not to let anything defeat me. I can’t say my life has been as rough as yours, with your vision issues and losing a wife while you still had two young children. Mommy was sick for four years before she died when I was eleven and Warren was nine. You were always there for her and us as you worked long hours to cover the medical bills. You knew she was approaching the end, but she wanted a new car. You bought a brand new Ford that you couldn’t drive and she couldn’t drive anymore and kept it in a lot paying off the cost because you could not bear to undermine her hope for life.
I think your most important gift to me was your idea of family; it is all embracing. In today’s world there is recognition that there are different types of families including what we now call a blended family. When you married Fay, you became a loving stepfather and friend to her adult children and a doting and much loved grandfather to their children. For me, you modeled the true meaning of family and I have tried to live by your example with my own blended family.
I think I also taught you a life lesson. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s you were always politically cautious. I think it was residue of the Holocaust and McCarthyism and you felt it was safer not to attract attention. When I became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement starting in 1967 you argued with me not to get involved in protests, but three years later in 1970 you were marching with me. After you and Fay moved to Co-Op City you remained an activist and became a leader in a tenant rent strike trying to force the management company and New York State to make needed building repairs. As I always say, “You only walk this way once, so you might as well kick ass.” A gutn Mendel. L’Chaim.
Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.
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