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A TRIBUTE TO MY UNCLE MURRAY ROBIN
I found a picture of my uncle Murray and me in one of my mother’s old shoeboxes. I’m maybe three, on roller skates and he’s squatting and showing me a kitten that he’s holding in his lap. I look interested, but also ready to fly away on those skates. Sure, I’m reading into it. But I think the photo says a lot about both of us. Even through the blurry photo, you get an idea about Murray’s character. He looks patient, steady, eager to share.
Murray died last week and it’s hard to think of our family without him.
Uncle Murray was always a big player in my life and the life of our extended family. He was in his twenties when I was born. I was the first grandchild and soaked up the love poured into me by grandparents, great-grandfather, aunts and uncles. In my earliest memories I knew him as my uncle, but there was something like a brother about him.
He was an exciting visitor. I remember waiting for him to come home to my grandparents’ house from medical school. I wanted to be near him, and recall peering over his shoulder watching him practice osteopathic massage on my mother and my aunts. They groaned and he twisted and pressed. And I wanted to do it too.
Murray got married and moved from Queens to Long Island. This was a big blow to my grandparents and me. “Why do you want to leave us?” I remember asking him.
After my father walked out of our house one spring evening and the screen door closed with a thud, my mother called Murray. I see him in our kitchen talking calmly to my mother. It was like that always. Murray was there for us. He was our everything.
He gave my mom the psychic support she needed to continue to live her life and raise her daughters. He and Aunt Phyllis often gave her a break and took my sister Hope and me to stay with them on Long Island.
During the frequent crises in our emotional household, my mother would bundle us into the little green Plymouth he gave her and say, “We’ve gotta go to Murray.”
She worked hard to support us and enrolled in college. During her last year, he helped out so that she could finish without having to hold down a job as well.
He didn’t always have the answers, or the soothing word. He often seemed put off by our decibel level and our raw emotion. But there was something solid and consistent about him even with me. He was curious when I went to the High School of Performing Arts. My father was a child actor, so our family viewed the school suspiciously. Murray sometimes seemed bewildered by the things that I did. When he learned that I refused to participate in bomb shelter drills, or that I traveled into the city barefoot, and later experimented with drugs, he would look at me with a puzzled expression and ask, “Why do you do that? Is there a reason?” How does a teenager explain?
He teased me and drew funny cartoons of my sister and me on napkins after dinner in our grandparent’s dining room. He teased my mother. But he was part of us. My sister Hope chose him to walk her down the aisle when she got married. And we all relied upon him to fill the roles that others didn’t.
Phyllis was an amazing cook and hostess and their home was often the center of our family gatherings.
He and Phyllis raised their children in what we thought was a magical place in Babylon, Long Island. The house sits on a pond that leads to an inlet to the Great South Bay. A big window in the living room overlooks the pond and Murray’s garden was filled with fig trees, and blooming flowers and shrubs. The house itself was chock full of Murray’s collections of scrimshaw, early twentieth century art, rare books, sculpture and Murray’s own whimsical carvings.
He never said much about my work as a TV reporter until he saw my investigative reports that targeted people who took advantage of others. “That’s very important work you’re doing. Keep doing it,” he said. His acknowledgement was a bigger deal to me than a shelf of awards.
At the military ceremony in Willamette National Cemetery in Oregon, Aunt Phyllis and their grown children, Paul, Jeanne and Laura, their children, spouses, friends and the rest of our small family sat in a shed surrounded by the brilliant green lawn and the giant evergreens. We listened to the three-gun salute and watched the soldiers remove the flag from the coffin, fold it in an intricate pattern and hand it gently to Aunt Phyllis.
He was a World War II veteran and this was what he wanted.
The rabbi was someone who didn’t know him, but Murray’s children provided the details. Like a lot of professionals who step in and touch families in times of sadness, this rabbi had a good feel for the material he received.
He talked about mitzvahs. It’s a Jewish word that describes the actions Jews were commanded to take to live good lives. Most of us use it to describe a good deed. One might say, “Bring the sick woman a good book to read. It will be a mitzvah.”
Under this shelter on this bright June Day the rabbi said, “In Judiasm, it’s considered a mitzvah to go to temple, to light the Shabbos candles…” Essentially, to follow the rules. But the rabbi explained that the real mitzvahs are the things you do to help others, or the way you respond to a crisis when you don’t have to do it. Murray, he said, lived a life of real mitzvahs. The rabbi nailed the very heart of Murray’s character.
Murray did a tremendous amount of good for a lot of people. I remember being with him, when a man called out, “Doc Robin. How are you? I’m John Ryan. You delivered me and my eleven brothers and sisters.” It was like that. Murray started his practice in the Lindenhurst-Babylon area of Long Island and remained a fixture in the community. He volunteered as doc until the last year of his life at a clinic in the local hospital. By then, the lymphoma was getting to him.
After Superstorm Sandy damaged their home, he and Aunt Phyllis found the idea of replacing the electrical system and the flooring and repairing the damage overwhelming. Their daughters helped them move to Oregon where they live.
My husband Nick and I missed them instantly. It wasn’t that we saw them all of the time, but we did enjoy their company. They were also where they were supposed to be. They were part of the continuity of my life. We shared a love of books, and art and an interest in politics and work that helps others.
The move was right for their family. Murray’s disease was progressing rapidly and when we talked to them on the phone recently Nick said, “Murray, we miss you.” Murray replied, “I miss me too.”
When that call was about to end, I said, “Uncle Murray, I love you.” He replied in the way he also did to what I imagine he thought of as outsized emotion, “Likewise,” he said.
The Imperfect Father
by Barbara Nevins Taylor
On his 75th birthday my father lifted a glass to his wife and the group that gathered around him in the private room of his favorite steak restaurant. “To my best friends in the world, right now,” he said.
“Right now.” My husband Nick and I exchanged a glance. The previous night, we had taken my father and his girlfriend to dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant in Atlanta. The friends, the girlfriend, the restaurants were all his favorite at the right now moment he was there with them.
After he died four years later, my sister and I were cleaning out his condominium and discovered that photos in the picture frames of his newest friends covered layers of previous friends in whom he'd lost interest.
My dad was an imperfect man and an imperfect father. But I loved him all the same. It wasn’t always easy. I still hear the thud of the screen door and see my mother’s face wet with tears and her body wracked with sobs as he walked out of the door of our house in Laurelton, a neighborhood of New York City. I was eight years old and my sister was three.
I adored my father until that moment. Any child would have. He was a charmer who’d stand on his head to get a laugh, or twist his mouth and distort his speech to transform into a crazy character. His hands would glide over the piano keys and he’d sing in sweet deep voice, “My little girl….” He’d been a child actor, appeared on Broadway when he was sixteen and graduated from the playwriting program at the Yale Drama School. Most of that didn’t mean anything to me when I was very young. But I loved the entertainer.
There was more. Maybe because he was half a kid himself, he talked to me just like he talked to my mom, or to one of the adults who peopled our lives. He always asked my opinion. “What do you think, Bobbie, is that something you want do?”
My mother taught me how to read, but my father and I sat on the front porch before dinner and read the newspaper. News was part of our lives.
He wrote radio news and worked on some TV shows and the TV set in our house was tuned to the McCarthy hearings in Washington. Every Sunday we watched a current affairs show called Omnibus, a kind of 60 Minutes of its day.
And then it was over.
He came around on Saturdays for awhile and took us out. A couple months after the screen door closed, he disappeared. After the divorce, my mother recited the details to her friends. My father married his childhood dancing school sweetheart in Miami Beach. “How could he leave his girls?” I heard her ask anyone who listened. “Why didn’t he wait until they were older? He just abandoned us all.”
My mother sat in the basement of our house making telemarketing calls. “This is Mrs. Lane from United Aluminum..,” we heard her repeat over and over. The telemarketing and then a bookkeeping job and rent from our tenants paid the mortgage, fixed the leak in the roof and paid off my father’s clothing bills at his favorite men’s store.
He sent no money. We’d get birthday cards, and the occasional gift.
Sometimes when I bounced the pink ball against the stoop, and I looked up to see an unfamiliar car driving down the street, I wondered if the man behind the wheel was my dad. The idea scared me. What if I didn’t recognize him? What if he were a monster and tried to take me away?
Our lives moved on. My mother went to college and became a teacher.
And then almost eight years after he left, he returned. He’d had success as a TV journalist in Florida and came back to New York to work for CBS News. My mother took him to court, won the house instead of back child support and got him to pay something every week for my sister and me.
I didn’t care about the money. I wanted the connection. But my father was a stranger. He was nice. He was funny. He tried to charm. But he was a stranger. And yet, I loved him because I remembered when I knew his smell, his touch and we shared a life.
It wasn’t that way for my sister. He was a complete stranger to her. There were few memories. She was cheated.
I worked at trying to get know him a little. It was tough because he’d made a life that seemed to exclude fatherhood. And as I got older we developed a different kind of connection. We shared interests. I followed him into the news business and that’s what we talked about it.
His intelligence, talent and wit made me proud. But the charm was too much sometimes. It made me groan and wince and I hated it.
There were too many women. He loved to take them to lunch, one at time. He’d sit across from them, hold a hand, and let them tell their stories, share their latest trauma or triumph. He’d offer a little advice and sprinkle in a glamorous newsy story or two. On the street, in restaurants, in parking lots, I recognized these women instantly. They shared a cult-like glazed expression and they’d invariably use the same words, “You have such a wonderful father. He’s such a wonderful man. You’re so lucky."
They really had no idea. I never felt that way. But I did love him in a giantly irrational way because he was my father. There are these teeny, dumb things that I remember that bind me to him.
I still see myself playing beside my parent’s bed, long before my sister was born. My parents are fast asleep and I'm tired of playing with my doll Betsy. My father is my friend and I want a playmate. I remember clearly climbing on his side of the bed and ever so gently peeling back an eyelid to get him to wake up.
Annoying, oh yes. Certainly. But back then, his grey-blue eye stared at me and he sat up and laughed. Imperfect. But he was mine.
If he were alive today, he'd probably hate this story and sent me a note that said something like, "Thanks for the Valentine."
I write with love, understanding and forgiveness.
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A GOOD MAFIA TALE
MY HUSBAND NICK'S BOOK SINS OF THE FATHER WAS JUST REPUBLISHED. IT'S A GOOD READ ABOUT A FAMILY RUNNING FROM THE MOB AND JOHN GOTTI
Nick is timely. With so many out of work, Americans need jobs. "American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the W.P.A.: When FDR Put the Nation to Work," tells the story of the federal government's response to the "Great Depression" when millions of Americans were out of work and people were starving. The government created jobs- all kinds. People worked as laborers building roads and schools, as artists, as librarians, as archeologists, as actors, as publicists. You name it. They did it. And they created projects we can still see today. Nick did a great job weaving together the stories and the politics. If you are a history buff, if you wonder why government doesn't do more to fix things now this is the book for you.
Take a tour of WPA projects with Nick Taylor
SAILING IN THE B.V.I.
I'm dreaming of green water and blue skies. Our annual trip to the British Virgin Island was done in by the emergency restoration on our house.
But I like to go back and read about how much fun it is to sail there.
I've posted my blog about it, and it remains on the site.
Nick and I took a ten day sailing trip alone aboard a 40 foot Beneteau in the British Virgin Islands. We began when the moon was almost full and we vowed to proceed with caution. We’ve learned from scary experience it’s best to be humble when you are in the water with boats. During this trip there was plenty to be concerned about. Small craft advisories were a regular feature of the daily weather report, and as the forecasters predicted, we experienced high seas, howling Christmas winds, at least one blinding rainstorm, a series of beautiful rainbows, and pastel sunsets. We were plagued with a weird toilet flushing system, a cranky dinghy motor that beached us on a night when Nick was dressed up in a white linen suit, and orange espadrilles. And of course we had our share of anchor and mooring escapades. Through it all we had a terrific time. We hope you enjoy our story, which is on my blog page. And if you are sailor looking for a place to go, we hope this offers useful insight.
BEAUTIFUL SKIN OF COLOR
I'm the author of "Beautiful Skin of Color," with two talent dermatologists: Dr. Jeanine Downie, and Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden. If you are Asian, African American, Caribbean American, Native American, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean from the Indian Sub-Continent, or from the Pacific, this book has important, useful information for you about your skin and hair.
You can find it online at Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. It's available in both paperback and hardcover, and we hope that you enjoy it.
You can purchase Beautiful Skin of Color on-line or at your local bookstore.
City Limits features a video investigation by my Hunter College Students
Adelyn Maldonado, Jullieo Paillero with help from Matthew Perlman investigated Gramercy Residence. It's a foster care group home for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens run by the not-for-profit Green Chimneys. The report got action immediately. The city launched an investigation, and it appears big improvements are underway.
I'm the author of "Beautiful Skin of Color," with two talent dermatologists: Dr. Jeanine Downie, and Dr. Fran Cook-Bolden.