A good friend of mine calls me "Levine," the name Mama used to address Daddy by when she was unhappy with something that he did -- or did not do.
Levine" was their surname, and also my maiden name. Samuel Levine, formerly Schmuel Markovsky, died in the Bronx in l949 at the age of 62. His brother, also named Samuel Levine, passed away in Brooklyn several years later.
How did two brothers come to have the same name? Bedtime stories are wonderful things, and Daddy loved to tell them to us when we were little girls. According to Daddy, it all started earlier in the century when Schmuel and Schmerel Markovsky arrived at Ellis Island from Russia.
"It was easier for them to call us 'Sam' (a real American name)," Daddy related, in his thick Yiddish accent. "And as for the name Markovsky--they changed that to Marx."
How "Marx" became "Levine" is still a mystery to me, but Daddy was proud to say that Louis Marx was our cousin. Louis Marx, he explained, was the toy manufacturer who invented the beanie, atop of which sat a small propeller.
Johnny, the little man on the Phillip Morris commercials (who shouted, "Call for Phillip Morris!") was also our cousin, and his last name, too, was Marx.
Daddy was a ladies' tailor who worked in Manhattan's garment center. And although he stood only five-foot-two-inches tall, he was a great man in our eyes.
He was an "intellectual," as Mama described him, who loved the music of Beethoven and Mozart, and the novels of Dostoevski and Tolstoy.
His favorite mottos were "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," and "Honesty is the best policy." He was proud of the fact that he "practiced what he preached."
As he was walking down the street one day during the Depression, a wallet containing several hundred dollars "fell out of a car," he said. “I brought it to the nearest police station and the cops told me to come back in six months and if nobody claimed the wallet, the money would be mine," Daddy told us. "When I returned six months later, they said, 'Who are you mister? We don't know you.'"
I don't remember Daddy's small tailor shop, which was located on Southern Boulevard, several blocks away from the Bronx Park Zoo. But I remember quite clearly how the store was sold -- to the lowest bidder. Mama said that Daddy was crazy, but Daddy claimed he couldn't be anything except honest.
It seems, Daddy told us, that he wasn't doing well in the business, so he put the store up for sale. He was offered a good price for the shop – too good a price.
"I told the buyer the truth, that business was bad and his price was too high," Daddy loved to recall. "So I sold it to him for much less -- and he ended up making a good living there."
Daddy, who loved nature, spent hours with us every weekend, walking through Crotona Park or Bronx Park, where we also fell in love with the birds, the animals, the trees and the flowers.
Crotona Park was also the place where Daddy “discussed politics.” He was a staunch “Socialist,” and I
remember the countless times I found him standing in the center of a group of men, shaking his fist and shouting about the "dirty Communists."
For some reason, my memories of Father's Day in those years are vague. But I do remember Mother's Day as if it were yesterday.
Every Mother's Day, Daddy took my sister and me on the train to Delancey Street on New York’s lower East Side. I remember the pushcarts loaded with hot, baked sweet potatoes, our special treat. I remember the beautiful plants we examined so carefully, choosing the prettiest ones to bring home to Mama.
We knew that Daddy had diabetes, high blood pressure, and a "bad heart." I remember, as a teenager, standing by the front door of our apartment and worrying if Daddy was late coming home from work, that maybe he had a heart attack.
I was a young married woman expecting my first baby, when Daddy had his first -- and final -- heart attack.
My cousin telephoned me early one April morning. "Your father is sick," he said. "You'd better come right over."
When we arrived at the apartment, we found that he had suffered a heart attack during the night, and was rushed to Fordham Hospital where he died several hours later.
As I grow older, I realize Daddy never really left. When I look someone straight in the eye, listen to beautiful music, get lost in a good book, write a poem, or take a walk with my grandchildren on a spring day, I know he's still around. The memories he left behind will always be part of me.
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