Note: In May 2006 I was contacted by a woman named Mindi Anderson who had a Chet Helms’ story she wanted to share with me about her time working at Family Dog Denver almost four decades earlier. Mindi lived in Lodi, CA, and, as luck would have it, I was going to be passing by Lodi later that week. We arranged to meet for lunch at The Lodi Beer Company. We instantly became great and good friends.
A few weeks later, we took a road trip to Paso Robles, CA to visit her father, Seymour. Mindi and I spent most of the weekend listening to Seymour who, between stories of his childhood in Poland, delved into philosophy, ancient history, literature, religion and a dozen other topics.
We returned to Paso Robles the following New Year’s weekend to celebrate Seymour’s 87th or 88th birthday. Shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Mindi, Seymour and I went to the upstairs bar at the Paso Robles Inn just around the corner from Seymour’s apartment. The place was packed and the live music was blasting. Mindi and I finally found an empty table in the back far corner of the large room and were settling in when we realized we had lost Seymour. As it turned out, we hadn’t lost him at all; he had ditched us. And there he was, out on the dance floor, rocking out with not one, but two – Count ’em, two! – very attractive, twenty-something young women.
Seymour passed away a couple of weeks ago and his memorial service was held on April 23. What follows is the beautiful eulogy Mindi Anderson wrote and read at the service for her father. It is, I think, well worth reading.
THREE SIMPLE SHAPES
THAT WILL FOREVER REMIND ME OF MY FATHER
One is Straight; One is Square; One is Round
1) THE STRAIGHT LINE SHAPE – The straight pin
There is some interesting history about the little old straight pin. Published in the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith in 1776 is a description of the art of pin-making: the master craftsman first drew out the wire; then he straightened it; then he cut the wire; then he sharpened it; then he ground the opposite end for the head; then he attached the head; finally he would polish it. What once was an eight-hour ordeal to make just one by hand, soon went missing during the industrial revolution when machines and the assembly line took over and received the glory for a once upon a time art form. It was a time when quality was exchanged for quantity and a major compromise was made with the meaning of our work.
My dad was a tailor. Making, altering and mending garments was his specialty. He viewed it as an artful talent; a gift from God; a calling to contribute his best to society; his ultimate purpose in life. But like the little, forsaken straight pin, the meaning of his work got lost when hundreds of zippers or pockets were sewn into trousers by dollar-a-day laborers in the basement of New York’s garment district. So as to not allow the value of his work to disappear with supply and demand, he stepped out in faith and opened his own shop. He called it, “Seymour’s Fine Tailoring,” and later changed the name to, “Seymour’s; The Art of Tailoring.
My father was never about big business. He was, however, about big purpose. There were times when he worked all night on a suit coat, getting it just right. He never charged by the hour; he charged by the job. But most times, he got so much meaning out of what he did, that he practically gave his work away. But then, that was my Dad. I should know; I worked with him at his shop for years after school and even on some Saturdays. He made me do the same job over and over until it was perfect. After all, it was for his customers and they were always very special people. And because he viewed his customers as special his work ethic was impeccable. No cutting corners in order to make a buck. Time was never money for my father. Time was used to bring quality back into his line of work. And, I picked up pins. They were continuously falling onto the tailor shop floor. They will always remind of the perfectionist, the tailor, who never viewed his work as meaningless labor. Who took the simple out of ordinary and turned it into the extraordinary. Once I remember him pressing a pocket he had just made. He motioned for me to come see what he was doing. So proud he was of his masterpiece. “Look at this,” he would say. “I swear to God I have never made pockets like this before in my life,” even though he did, countless times before. Every time I see simple sewing notions, such as the button, the needle and thread, the thimble, the chalk and the straight pin, I’ll be seeing my Dad.
2) THE SQUARE SHAPE – The book
From nursery rhymes to the Bible, to poetry, philosophy, world and US history, to watching him role model the avid reading of every book he could get his hands on — throughout the day and into the night until he fell asleep in a book. Why? Because he felt he never had a proper education so he was determined to educate himself. And when is enough, enough? If you ask him, the answer would be, “Never.” He believed in ever-learning. He had delusions of grandeur about being “The Teacher.” But he was more like “The Rabbi.” And he made us listen to what he learned. And if our eyes were not focused on him, he would become silent until they were. Many times he repeated the same story, telling it as if it were the first time he ever told it, boring us to tears! But because of his relentless insistence, I know most every one of his stories by heart. Now, every time I see one of his books, or hear a children’s nursery rhyme, or read a poem, or listen with great feeling to lines from Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Thomas Gray or Longfellow, every time I am moved or stirred by what is in front of me, I’ll be seeing my Dad, tears running down his face, his voice raising to a higher pitch, probably due to some sadness deep in his heart from a long time ago that he saved for moments such as this.
3) The SQUARE MEAL – Dad and his snack.
No one was hungry until dad said, “UMMMMMM” and chomped down on a simple little thing like a slice of apple and made it sound like a hot fudge sundae. Then we were all over that apple.
He made us waffles, French toast, French crepes, pancakes and perfectly cooked eggs and he did this for us on most weekend mornings, making us watch, teaching us how to cook it perfectly, telling us the little secrets to his success. He instilled in us healthy eating habits and correct table manners at every meal. Dad believed we should eat everything on our plate. Some nights weren’t so tasty. But we had to sit there until we ate it all. There were nights when it seemed we sat there until 11 PM, in tears. Thank God my mother had a weakness for stray dogs. And one happened to join our family just in the nick of time. He loved to hang out – guess where? — under our dinner table where my sisters and I gladly let him explore our napkins, which lay on our lap after we daintily wiped our mouths, secretly spitting unwanted food into them. But Dad also allowed us to lick our plates clean when our favorites were served. We could do this right in front of our father without criticism.
It was always clear that he was the defining leader in our home. He ruled the roost with great authority. Yet he had a tender and sensitive side too. He insisted on a kiss from us with every good morning and every good night; and one from my mother with every hello when he got home from work and every good-bye when he left the house. And he didn’t view crying as a weakness. He especially cried when his heart was stirred with emotion while reminiscing about his past. And I will hear him in French folk songs, in the mandolin, the harmonica, the mournful violin, and the piano. Or when I go by car on a long trip, I will hear my father putting the kibosh on boredom with ‘Oh Little Liza, Little Liza Jane,’ ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ ‘Oh Susanna’ or ‘The Green Grass grew all Around, All Around, And the green grass grew all around. Now there was a tree . . .” And we’d all have fun singing together. From the singing of songs that he loved — among them being, Moon River and the Lord’s Prayer — to the listening of the grand masters of classical music, he saw to it that our attention was always on him. Every time I sit down to eat one of those ‘square meals,’ delicious or not; from food, to lectures, to lessons learned, I’ll be seeing my Dad.
4) THE SQUARE ANGLE – The making up the perfect bed.
The fold of the top sheet at the foot of the bed had to be the square angle-up-tuck-drop-tuck-and-fold method. This was the way it was done in the army. Still to this day, I fold the top sheet this way, especially for company. Bev and Scott Anderson, my former in-laws — who are here this morning — will have the privilege of sleeping in a bed made the way my Father taught me. So every time I fold the square angle at the foot of the bed, I’ll be seeing my Dad.
5) THE ROUND SHAPE – The moon
The last few days before my Dad passed away, I noticed his face looking vaguely familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. His face had become perfectly round. His eyes were bandaged with two gauze bandages. His mouth slightly opened, like he was blowing out a candle; his countenance, still. And then it hit me: he looked just like the man in the moon; that wise man up there, looking down on the world, providing just the right amount of light to guide us on our way. Every time I look up, my expectation is that the sun is up before I am; that the moon is there in the evening time, long after I go to sleep, that neither of them ever miss a day of work; and that unmistakable, unique expression that is fixed on the man in the moon, this is the face of my father – captured in a snap shot I will carry in the pocket of my heart forever. So every time I see the moon, I’ll be seeing my Dad.
We will all miss him. He instilled in me a deep understanding for things pertaining to culture and tradition and taught me to love, need and respect them in my life. May I be faithful to pass them down with the same reverence to my children: the music and the dancing; the food and the celebrating; the sitting around visiting, and the telling of stories; the hard job of doing things the right way, and the sheer delight of a job well done; The taking good care of self, while at the same time caring for people; the standing up for what you believe while respecting the beliefs of others; common sense and a keen sense of awareness and intuition; and that it’s good to be sensitive and OK to cry, whether they be tears of happiness or tears of sorrows.
And so now we cry remembering him. We are sensitive to our own feelings and to each other whose lives he touched, and changed, and made better. We will sit around and visit. We will eat sharp cheddar, apples and grapes, and good French bread, and laugh. We will sing and dance and remember his stories, and how he validated, supported and often times, saved us from the errors of our ways. In this way, he was like God, exposing us when we were wrong and then covering us in his love.
These are the simple things that shaped my life: the straight line, the simple square and the perfect round. I’ll be seeing my Father in straight pins and other simple things. I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you, Dad, I’ll be seeing you.
There is a saying that goes like this: “Sing like no one is listening, dance like no one is watching, and live every day as if it were the last day of your life.” My father sang only when people were listening, danced only when people were watching and lived everyday as if it were the first day of the rest of his life.
He was different. He was of the variety that puts the spice into life, and he was the sparkling light in some people’s darkness, mine included.
William Shakespeare wrote – (from As You Like It)
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
To Seymour the performer, who gave the entire world permission to validate him, Seymour the Toastmaster, who gave his audience permission to evaluate him, Seymour, both the ballroom and the folk-dancer, Seymour the opera singer, Seymour, the story-teller, Seymour, the Buddhist, the Baptist, and the Jew, Seymour, the father, grand father, great-grandfather, uncle and friend, and to the greatest tailor who ever lived: may you sew the wings of the angels, mend the silver lining of the clouds, and waltz forever across the sky.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU. YOU DID LEAVE YOUR STAMP DEEP ON OUR HEARTS, WHICH I KNOW WAS YOUR LIFELONG INTENT.