On August 5, 2014, a very special man passed away. He was my father and he was buried exactly 100 years to the day from when he was born.One might call Joe London an extraordinary ordinary man. He was a product of parents who left Russia during the Pogroms to come to America fearlessly facing the unknown. A breadwinner in his teens, he supported his widowed mother and later, additionally, his wife, her younger sister, his mother-in-law and then, yet another female – me!
He was tall, dark and handsome. He looked like a movie star but could work like a longshoreman. He joined the New York City police force during the early 1940’s to support his family and took his job seriously. He was shot, knifed and suffered sundry bruises over the years and was the last one to ever believe he would live a long life.
He fell in love and stayed in love for almost 70 years. My mother was his soul mate and despite adversity, loss and hard times, their marriage was rock solid.
In the early years of my marriage, he became a father to my husband, taught him how to drive, build things and fix things. I think he had much to do with my husband, Bernie, becoming an exacting builder and cabinet maker. He could figure anything out and taught me to never give up when things weren’t easy. He did the same with his grandsons David and Jason. Poppy was no pushover but his boys were his world and his pride in them was boundless. Then came the grandchildren, blessing on blessings, Katrina and Neal – heaven and earth to Poppy.
My father could weave a story or a joke like no other and he could master any trade he put his mind to. At 6’1”, he was a natural athlete and loved sports, especially baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers. When they left New York, he never forgave them and lost interest in the game. Although, he did play first base on a senior team until the pitcher went blind and the catcher died.
He loved music, especially the voice of Mario Lanza. He also loved books. My father had a way with words, the spoken and the written. To keep his mind active, he would do crossword puzzles.
We feared when the time came for him to no longer drive, there would be a war. Mercifully, he misplaced his driver’s license when he was about 95 and took it as a sign and decided not to drive anymore. (Thank you, God!) By that time, his car was only 5 years old with about 4,000 miles on it. At 90, he had decided to buy a new Saturn (of all things) and took his grandson, Jason, along to negotiate for him. After about six hours we were worried. No car – no Dad – no Jason. Finally, they arrived – victorious from the war. Jason got him a 5-year deal (at age 90), and my father’s reply to the salesman? “You’re a sharp guy, fella. Now you have to bank on me living to 95!” In February of my father’s 95th year, we celebrated his full ownership of the car I still drive when I come to Florida. It died, briefly the day my father died, until I replaced the battery. Interesting.
My father also relished food and was a good cook. But in his last years, he would love to go to the Festival Flea Market for his favorite – a hot dog, potato knish, and a diet Dr. Brown’s cream soda. On this one day, when he was about 96, a TV crew spotted us at the food court and asked my father if he’d like to film a spot in a commercial for the mall. His response, “Sure, if my daughter can be on TV, I guess I can too.” He was told if they chose his segment he would be paid $200 flea market dollars, but if not, he’d get 20. “It’s OK, son,” he quipped to the director, “it won’t put me in another tax bracket!” Of course, his segment was chosen and friends in Florida in the Boca area kept calling me to ask if that was my father on TV.
Joe London was a “man’s man”, but he loved women. He would say to my mother – isn’t it OK if I look as long as I don’t touch? He especially loved blondes. After my mother died, I made my father a yearly birthday party. He’d open his presents and I’d ask, “Is there anything else I can get you, Daddy? “ And his reply was always the same – “A 35 year old blond!” It became a standing joke in our family. One time, I asked him the usual question – “Anything else I can get you, Daddy?” His reply was,” Did you bring me a 30 year old blond?” When I asked him why 30, not 35 – his reply, “I’m feeling pretty good today!” While celebrating his birthday at one of his favorite haunts, in the year Barbie turned 50, after he opened his presents I asked the, by now, famous question, and he gave me his famous answer. This time he got his wish. I had provided every guest with a blond Barbie doll face on a stick.
In the end, I feared for his death, not for him but for me, my family, and all those who knew him throughout his life.But – my father never feared death and I believe after my mother died, he lived for his family more than for himself. He would walk by the little hallway leading to my parent’s bedroom and kiss my mother’s picture “good-night.” Often I would hear him say,” I’ll be there soon, honey, but not yet.”
The “soon” has come and my father died peacefully in his own home as were his wishes. He died as he lived, without fanfare, but with dignity.My father will be remembered by many who have “Joey” stories to tell, but most of all, he will live in the hearts of my children and theirs, my cousins who saw him as the handsome cohort of their colorful grandfather, by the women and children whose lives he saved in the projects of Brooklyn, by my friends whose lives he touched becoming part of their life tapestry, and by one loving daughter. He told everyone, at the end, that he made only one child, but a good one.Thank you Daddy for the legacy you have passed on to me and our family. There will be Poppy stories as long as we all shall live.