Sunday was a different day for our family. It was the only day my Dad didn’t work, except for Easter Sunday, Father’s Day and the Sundays from Thanksgiving through Christmas. My Dad and his two older brothers owned several men’s clothing stores and those specific Sundays were busy for retail business. It was an unsaid rule that on Sundays my brothers and I did not go off with friends or make plans that were not about the family, short of special events or activities, Sunday was our family/extended family day. Sunday was special.
Summertime Sundays were about the Dodgers, swimming in our pool, bar-b-ques, picnics, the Los Angeles beaches. If I close my eyes and take myself back to the late 1950s and early 60s, I hear laughter, noisy kids, I smell hamburgers and hot dogs and taste my Mom’s chocolate pudding pie and feel so much love, affection and togetherness. It was a TV show in the making.
Wintertime Sundays were more stay-at-home days, something my Father loved to do. He enjoyed building things from scratch and for a man who owned a men’s clothing store, his hobby allowed my Mom to buy him lots of power saws and building tools. The best Father’s Day gift she ever bestowed upon him was one he didn’t attempt to build but a new garage door presented with a giant red bow! OMG! He was so excited with that garage door!
My Dad was a talented artist, musician and writer. I have many of his art pieces hung in my home and love how they carry on his legacy. He taught my brothers and me to appreciate the music of George Gershwin, no, LOVE George Gershwin and how to hear his jazz/symphonic melodies—Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess and American in Paris. We would take road trips throughout the West Coast and whenever my Dad saw a river or lake or old trees, he went into an animated happy dance and we learned to have a deep regard and view of nature through his eyes. My greatest treasure is the diary my Father kept during WWII while he was in snowed-filled fox holes in Germany and France, writing about his experiences, feelings and emotions of what he saw in war-time terror. Everything aesthetic that I love and embrace is what my Dad gave to me.
My Mother was 4 feet 11 inches, a Betty-Boop-kind-of-figure, a bobby-soxer who swooned over Frank Sinatra, a great dancer, cook and homemaker. She was a typical 50s housewife, except, during the busiest times for our family business, she worked weeks at a time in the store. My Bubbe would come and stay at our house and take care of me and my two brothers. As mother and daughter, they were two of the most giving, loving and nurturing woman on earth, they were almost one, so it was no wonder, my brothers and I were overwhelmed with love, care and security. I learned from my Mother and Bubbe that giving love and nurturing others is not a natural quality, it is a learned behavior and with the right teachers, you have incredible role-models. We were blessed to have them.
My Mother and Father met in junior high school at the age of 12. They never dated anyone else. They married in Denton, Texas, five months after graduating high school while my Dad was stationed in the Army before pulling out for the frontlines in Europe. My Mom lived on the base with him and worked as a “soda jerk” in a local malt shop till he deployed. She came back to Los Angeles and waited for him to come home.
Fast forward 20 years. Life was good
And then, in a split second, life changed. Not just for me and my family, but for more people than any of us could have ever imagined.
One Sunday night, November 4, 1962, my parents were killed in a car accident.
Isn’t the word “accident” strange? I’ve thought about this word so often. When someone is driving under the influence of alcohol, with a pregnant woman in the next seat, to me, that is a disaster about to happen and different than, oh say, spilling a glass of water. Someone who gets in a vehicle drunk and drives 90 miles per hour defies Webster’s definition of “unexpected undesirable event.”
Webster also defines accident as “fortune” or “chance.” I would describe that November night, approximately 11:30ish-pm, as a chance of bad fortune for my parents and me to be driving on the 6th Street Bridge, over the Los Angeles River (a location continually seen as a backdrop to numerous TV shows, movies and most recently American Idol) as our car was hit head-on by a drunk driver instantly killing my Mother and Father.
That particular Sunday, three San Diego AZA friends of mine showed up at our front door at 3 pm. They were in LA for a conclave and decided to visit me. To this day, over 52 years later, I don’t know what part of LA they had come from or how they got to my house. My Mother, being the ultimate Jewish Mother, invited them to stay for dinner and then my parents and I drove them to the LA bus depot, 20 minutes from our house, for their return trip home. At the bus station, the 18, 17 and 16 year old guys were to stand in a yellow circle signifying the San Diego bound bus.
The bus was late. Knowing the boys were standing in the correct place, my Dad wanted to leave. My Mom, being the ultimate Jewish Mother, wanted to wait till they were ON the bus. My parents vied back-and-forth for several minutes, “They are old enough to step onto the bus,” “But we should make sure they get on.” After assuring my parents they were ok to get on the bus, we left.
On the ride back home, a few minutes from the bus depot, I dozed off, leaning on my Mom’s shoulder. I suddenly woke up hearing a terrifying scream that came from my right side, my Mom, and then I saw very bright white lights coming straight toward us. I do not remember the impact. I do not have the sounds of the crash in my head. The only thing I remember is exactly where we were because the cement railings on the Bridge had a picket fence effect while driving by, and my eyes caught that after hearing the scream and being thrown out of the car.
I awoke on the sidewalk, feeling my Mother right next to me as we were shoulder-to-shoulder. Her glasses were on my chest. She didn’t move. She didn’t make a sound. I heard nothing. All I saw was the side of our car to the right of me, not far, at an angle to the sidewalk, with the passenger door wide open. Everything was very still for what seemed a long time. I remember feeling like I was in a dream and couldn’t wake myself up so I tried shaking off the dream but very quickly realized this was not a dream but very real.
I don’t think I called out for anyone. I felt no pain, just an eerie sense of the unreal, like in a twilight zone. My Dad was a big fan of the TV show Twilight Zone, but it always frightened me so I would sit very close to him and he would shield me from the scary parts. But at that moment, I had a definite sense that because he was not already by my side, he could not protect me from this very scary scene.
In fact, there was no doubt in my 16 year old mind, that both my parents were dead. I had heard my Dad say many times, “In a bad accident, the driver is the first to go.” No seat belts, no jaws-of-life yet. To this day, June 2015, no one has ever looked me in the eyes and said out loud, “Sandy, your Mom and Dad are dead.” Psychology and grief counseling were not as readily part of our culture in 1962. This was an event that moved everyone who knew us to the core of their soul with no tools how to affectively deal with the tragedy. We all suffered for that.
I don’t know how much time passed while just lying there, I do remember trying to sit straight up but a very gentle voice said, “Don’t move, honey, just stay down, the ambulance is coming, just stay down, honey.” I could not see this woman as she was a blur to me and I don’t know what happened to her BUT on Monday afternoon, my family found out, by sheer coincidence, she was the secretary to one of my uncles! She had no idea who I was at the time until she went to work Monday morning and heard the news that her boss’s sister and brother-in-law had been killed the night before on the 6th Street Bridge!
The ambulance came and put me on a stretcher. VERY clearly and without hesitation, I rattled off to the police, who came with the ambulance, our name and address, the names, addresses and phone numbers of our rabbi, four uncles and a very close family friend. I have always been amazed how clearly I gave all that information.
AND I very distinctly told the police NOT to go to our house because, “My two younger brothers are home alone, PLEASE go to the rabbi’s house directly across the street!” Of course, they rang the doorbell at our house and told my 13 year old brother, “There’s been an accident.” He went running to the rabbi’s house.
I also remember hearing the ambulance drivers discussing whether they should take me to County General Hospital or White Memorial Hospital. I yelled, “White Memorial!” County General was, well, let’s just say, I didn’t want to be at County General and I knew White Memorial was a 7th Day Adventist hospital. It was all a surreal, dream-like vision but I knew what was happening
I was taken to the emergency room and after examining me, I had a broken pelvis bone, a huge gash over my left eye that was being sewn, one contact lens was stuck up in my eye and the other could not be found, and while trying to remove the one contact, they didn’t want to lift my head because they were certain I had a concussion. I was vomiting and it took forever for them to remove the contact and it was all awful. I had many harsh bruises all over my body, the whites of my eyes were scarlet but the worst procedure was yet to come, three “electroencephalograms” in the 17 days I was in the hospital. Wires were glued to my scalp while they took brain waves to check for the seriousness of the concussion and any possible head injury. Because they didn’t want to mess with my head, the glue dried and it took over six months before my scalp was free of glue! Miraculously, I had only a slight concussion. My Mother cushioned my fall to the ground.
The first familiar face I saw in the emergency room was our rabbi, then one of my uncles and by the time they put me in a private room one of my aunts’ was there who stayed with me till the next day, Monday. I so clearly remember thinking that afternoon, “On Tuesday, all my aunts and uncles will come to see me and they will be all dressed up.” The funeral. And I expected my relatives from Chicago to be there and they were.
Tuesday started off with the news that one of my heroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, had died. That was very powerful for me, as I had visions of her and my Mother and Father walking through heaven together. And then as I had expected, about 14 of my aunts and uncles, including the great aunts and uncles from Chicago, came to see me. They formed an unclosed circle around my bed, stood very silent, not a word was said while they just stared at me. After only a very few minutes, one aunt, my Dad’s sister, started to uncontrollably sob, so they very slowly, in slow-motion-like, drifted out, one-by-one and then they were gone.
Not a word had passed from anyone of them to me or each other. To this day, it is beyond comprehending the pathetic expressions to the depth of their grief. I feared if one spoke, they would all collapse. What could anyone say? There were no words to console what any of them was feeling. I did see love and compassion from their eyes and the truth for me in those moments was that I felt like the adult and they were the children. I knew something they were all trying to deny and I was aware of how vulnerable each person was:
It was written on their faces that I represented the shock they felt. Seeing me lying in my hospital bed was the unbearable truth they didn’t want to face: Marvie and Martha were dead.
We were all forever changed and plagued with the question of WHY? What was the purpose of their death? Who does it serve? Why do so many people have to suffer with such monumental grief? Why are three children left with no parents?
How do we live the rest of our lives with these familiar questions to G-d?
To be continued….
There are stars up above,
So far away we only see their light
Long, long after the star itself is gone.
And so it is with people that we loved…
Their memories keep shining ever brightly
Though their time with us is done.
But the stars that light up the darkest night,
These are the lights that guide us
As we live our days these are the ways we remember them.
Reform Prayer Book
Piece of the Puzzle
Everyone carries with them at least one and probably many pieces to someone else’s puzzle.
Sometimes they know it. Sometimes they don’t.
And when you present your piece to another,
Whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You’re a messenger from the Most High.
I am burdened by my experiences
And displaced because of my decisions
Which has forever altered my journey.
But I am not G-d
And can only let serendipity lead me.
The more blessed you are, the worse it is.
You mourn, you cry, you begin to eat and then you laugh again.
Ruchel Chinka Anne Zupnik Glabman