My feelings, of course, were based on the fact that my dad was a lawyer, and since I loved and admired him then by extension lawyers must be good people. Dad was a sort of wunderkind as a child and graduated from high school at age 15. He then whizzed through Columbia University and Law School, becoming a lawyer at the tender age of 21. At that point he was the youngest lawyer ever to come before the bar in the State of New York.
When Dad turned 90, he was still taking continuing studies law courses at Pace Law School in New York. On his birthday we slipped the dean a press release outlining Dad’s 69-year legal career to be read at the end of class. The assembled group of lawyers, probably 50 or so of them, gave my father a five-minute standing ovation.
I’m allowed to brag a bit at this point because my father, Gerry Weiss, is about to turn 100, and if you can’t sound the trumpets then, when can you? In fact, when someone turns 100 you can say whatever you want — and you’d better hurry up and say it!
The Weiss Family is in quite a flurry as we organize a family birthday party to celebrate this milestone. Family members are coming from England, Germany, British Columbia, and several U.S. states. My husband has been working on a “This is Your Life” slide show complete with music and captions, and some recently unearthed pictures that most of the family have never seen. We’ll also be reading from old newspaper articles, family poetry, and other writings, and singing family songs as we gather in the activity room at the long term care facility where Dad lives in Pennsylvania. (He only moved there after falling and breaking his neck…in two places…at the age of 98. He still wears a neck brace, but was out of hospital just a week after his fall).
Yes, Dad is one Energizer bunny, as I often say. At age 89, he was annoyed at me for suggesting that he shouldn’t get up on the roof to clean the gutters and should instead let someone younger than him do the job. “You make me feel like an old man!” was his complaint. He flew across the country to visit us in BC nearly every year until he was 96.
How do you sum up and celebrate a century of full-throttle living that has included both World Wars and the Depression; the invention of the refrigerator, television, fax machine, computer, and smart phone? During the Depression, my grandmother snagged a job for her son, Gerry, translating a German bridge building textbook into English — this, despite the fact that Gerry spoke no German! Grandma had a German friend and figured that with her son’s persistence and her friend’s help, Gerry could do it. He did, and as far as we know, that textbook was used in American universities. To this day when I hear of a bridge collapsing in the US, I admit to a few qualms.
My dad remembers Armistice Day in 1918 and all the hooting and hollering. He was caught in a dentist’s chair with a mold in his mouth on June 13, 1927, the day Charles Lindbergh returned to a hero’s welcome and the biggest ticker tape parade ever in New York City. The whole dental office staff ran out to cheer, returning only after the dental mold had hardened and had to be chiseled from Dad’s mouth.
Gerry arrived in Paris on V-E Day and lived in post-WWII Berlin (where his family joined him) while he investigated the war crimes of the huge chemical company, IG Farben. He interviewed Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, in prison, and described Speer as an arrogant man even then. Later Dad went on to a distinguished career in corporate law.
There are whole other swaths to Dad’s story, like his lifelong love affair with my mother, Emily, his wife of 69 years; his wholehearted devotion to his family of five children, 11 grandchildren and now, three great-grandchildren; and his endless curiosity about the world around him and everything that makes it tick. When the fax machine was the hottest new gadget around, Dad gave one to each of us kids for Christmas, in the hopes we would all start faxing each other.
As we prepare for this family watershed in February, it’s as though the family has been put on rerun, each of us reflecting on so many turning points, family stories, childhood mileposts. I’m a great believer in celebrating life whenever we have the chance, so thanks Dad for this opportunity to appreciate not only you, but the life weaving you’ve helped to create for all of us.
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