So here we are at this momentous and wonderful occasion, the celebration of my older brother Benjy’s 80th birthday, orchestrated by his lovely wife Gudrun, with all of my brothers able to join and celebrate. So let me now recall some special memories of my relationship with Benj that always will remain indelibly etched in my mind:
1) Our wonderful Aunt Cookie (i.e. Ruth Slaminsky) the mother of my cousins, Marcia and Jane, was married in February of 1952 when I was 6 and Benj was 10. Soon after we (Dan was not with us yet) all traveled up to Great Barrington, Mass. to visit the recent newlyweds when the baseball season had started. On the way up, (and I absolutely remember this), Benjy had a pair of red socks (I have no idea where he got them from) and said something to the effect: “See these red socks that’s the team near where Cookie lives that you have to root for.” When you are 6 and your brother is 10, whatever he may have to say has an element of finality to it. So, yes, I took his words most seriously and literally and became a diehard Red Sox fan from that day on. Unfortunately, coming from New Jersey, most of my peers were Yankee fans. and most of you are too young to remember that the Yankees were forever victors in the 50’s. I waited 52 years, when in 2004 the Sox at last would win a World Series and end the torture of being a Red Sox fan.
2) It is July in 1954 a month before our youngest brother, Dan, is born. My mother, in her 8th month of pregnancy, probably is wanting some peace and quiet (that with 3 boys there was little of) so my father relieves my mother by taking us all to see the Yankees and the Red Sox play. I am very aware of the date because at the end of the 1st inning of the game, the Yankees were beating the Red Sox 8 to 0. There was only one such score in baseball history between the 2 teams, who had played 2300 times, so it was easy to google and find the date. On a hot day, my father, Benj, Andy and myself are sitting in the bleachers (named because of the sun beating down on the heads of fans) and before the game starts, Red Barber, the Yankees sports announcer, is beginning a televised interview on channel 11 in which he quizzes fans in the bleachers with the winners getting Yankee memorabilia (hats, bats, autographed baseballs etc.) Benj, not at all intimidated, though he knew zilch about baseball, immediately sees what’s happening and goes up to Red Barber to participate (about 30 feet from where the 4 of us are sitting). Red Barber is asking questions that both Andy and I knew the answers to such as: How many home runs did Babe Ruth hit to set a season record (60); what was Joe Dimaggio’s nickname (Yankee Clipper); how many consecutive games did Joe D. hit safely in (56) etc. Meanwhile Benj is looking over his shoulders to me because he knows I knew the answers but he is too far away to make out what I am saying. He made a TV appearance, but, needless to say, did not win any Yankee memorabilia.
3) It is summer, Benjy is 16 and I am 12. We go to our elementary school to play stickball. Benj had finished his sophomore year on the Jeff wrestling team at the time. We take a break, leave the court where we are playing to buy some sodas. We come back and the court is taken by two kids probably 13 to 15 age wise. When they refuse to give us the court, Benj loudly asserts that our stick and bat were there first and possession is 9/10’s of the law. When they refuse again, Benj says we are not leaving, and then they challenge us to a fight. Benj says sure, why not (at which point I can’t believe what I’m hearing as these 2 guys are at least ½ foot taller than the both of us). He tells me not to say anything. Easy for me to do as I am petrified. Benj confidently says the fight has to be out in the lawn where you can wrestle better. When we get there, Benj then instructs them how they have to start getting into the referee’s position (not standing). When they start doing this, Benj then says no that’s not correct stating: “You have to follow the rules,” exclaiming he had been on the high school wrestling team. When he says this, I shudder because earlier in the year he had made a headline in the Elizabeth Daily Journal, having been pinned in 11 seconds by Ernie Finzio, the fastest pin in Union County. Benj is relentless in correcting the stance of the bigger of the 2 bullies that has challenged him. Finally, the bully gets frustrated says “if we see you two around here your ass is like grass,” and with his friend storms off. When Benj and I leave, he tells me you can talk yourself out of any fight if you have to, thereby proving that the mouth is mightier than the fist.
4) I am now just turning 17 with a driver’s license. Taking an early at bat, I was smooching with my date in her veranda upon escorting her home. It was apparent that she wanted more than a kiss so I began fumbling with her brassiere trying to get my not so nimble fingers to unhook the clasps. Sensing my frustration, she gives me a backhand assist. Later, somewhat embarrassed, I consulted with my more experienced 21-year-old brother in the art of unhooking a bra strap. Borrowing a brassiere from my mother’s closet, that had, I dare say, an ample number of clasps, Benj puts it on and in front of my parent’s bathroom mirror, I role played the removal of a brassiere where Benj’s assistance proved most helpful in my future pursuits.
Let me conclude by saying since the number of people that are alive that are older than I seems to be shrinking with each year, I am hoping that brother Benj stays alive for many many more years so I can point to someone older than I. So, let’s all lift our glasses and toast to Brother Benj and Gudrun for many more years of happiness.