BB's Bounty: A Father's Day Remembrance

BB GoldsteinThere are privileges and obligations to being a father.  My birth father accepted only the privilege, the photos of himself with his children on his desk. There are privileges and obligations to being a daughter. For much of my life, I was relieved not to feel obligated. When my father passed away, amid my sadness was relief that I would not be called upon to care for him in his declining years.

But there was a hole in my heart.  Enter BB Goldstein, my father-in-law.  For nearly thirty-five years he was the father I never had.  Not having any daughters, he relied on his two sons to bring them home. I think he was pleased with their choices. Because I didn’t grow up in his house, I missed some of the common place father-daughter adventures. But it was BB who taught me to drink electric-blue martinis at his favorite bar.

            In so many ways a man with traditional role expectations for women, BB supported me without question in everything I ever set out to do.  When my husband, Buck decided to go to law school, BB called me and asked if I wanted to go back to school as well.  He didn’t want me to have to work to support Buck if he could help me do something for my own education. He and Grace helped me with my graduate school expenses. Years later, he became my first business partner, a truly “silent one,” loaning me some of the money I needed to start my catering company.  Sitting at my dining room table, he taught me how to read my first financial statement. But unless I asked, he never told me what to do. 

My earliest memories of BB always revolved around food.  He was a larger than life presence in any gathering and especially the restaurants he frequented. He was tall and bald and carried a formidable middle girth and a sporty white mustache. He was partial to panama hats, or any kind of distinctive headgear for that matter, white linen suits and Lincoln Mark Five automobiles with blue cloth tops. BB liked nothing better than entertaining his family and friends at one of Miami’s best restaurants.  When I met him, he owned a linen supply business in Miami and eating out was part of the territory. In those first years of my visits, it was The Mutiny for lunch, or dinner at Gatti’s, famous for Italian food and their coconut cake, or Embers for ribs, or the Palm Bay Club. He prided himself to the very end of his life that he could get a table for eight with not even a five-minute wait at Joe’s Stone Crabs, carrying the cell phone number of his personal maitre d’ in his breast pocket.

When he wasn’t taking us to restaurants, then he loved taking us out for an afternoon on his boat, “The Bounty,” for cruising, bone fishing, and a picnic lunch of hard boiled eggs, cold fried chicken, sliced deli meats and Durkee’s Famous Spread. There are a plethora of family stories about boating misadventures with BB. One New Year’s Eve, having run aground off Key Biscayne, we somehow ended up standing waist deep in chilly waters under darkening skies. We watched anxiously as my brother-in-law, John, swam after the boat that had finally lifted off the sandbar without anyone aboard. 

One of the adventures I was fortunate to miss was when he decided to outrun a hurricane that was bearing down on the Keys.  He made it back to Miami handily, commenting that there was never a hurricane he didn’t like. He could skillfully dock the unwieldy cabin cruiser alone after an afternoon of fishing and martinis. He was the captain of his ship and wore his rank with pride and a “no nonsense from the crew” attitude.

Like most men I know, he liked grilling steaks. He approached this task the same way he did everything else, taking charge and doing it his way.  But the prospect of steak night was a bit touchy for the Goldstein family since he liked to have his done “Pittsburgh”, the meat fossilized with black char on the outside and a detectible pulse in the middle. As grillmaster, all the steaks were cooked the same. Being a quick learner, the second time I was to be subjected to that, I gently requested that I be allowed to cook my own steak. I just explained that I was a bit of an obsessive about steaks and I would be nervous if I didn’t cook my own. Everyone held their breath for his reply. If he was offended, he never let on.

Along with his steaks, he liked any kind of potatoes- mashed, fried, baked, you name it.  When my children and I were planning a birthday dinner at our house in his honor we decided that since he wasn’t partial to cakes, we would make a giant potato “cake” for him and surprise him with our “Happy Birthday” song during the main course.  He just loved it.

Going grocery shopping with BB was an awe-inspiring experience, especially for those of us jaded by the routine rounds of turbo shopping required just to keep the kids fed.  One summer, when the whole extended family gathered with grandchildren in Dore County, Wisconsin, for a week, BB went shopping for provisions after our arrival. I was sent along in a feeble attempt at damage control. Before the end of the first aisle I had failed miserably.  By then there were two watermelons, piles of other fruit and three bags of chips. Unable to reign in his delight and natural proclivity for excess, BB went on overdrive at the prospect of buying food for his grandchildren. We arrived at the checkout with two carts filled to the brim with poppycock, butterscotch candies (which he and the children came to know as “grandpa candies”), ice cream, sodas, assorted cookies (you get the picture) all in duplicates to make sure we had enough.  I never saw anyone so happy to get out his credit card. 

If men are by nature the hunters, then BB’s forays into the world of alpha males was to prove himself a good provider. Nothing pleased him more than presiding over a large gathering of family and friends around the table and picking up the check. It was in some ways the proof that he was doing his job. And doing his job was what BB lived for. He started a new career as a banker when most men are settling into retirement and went regularly to the office until about six months before he died at the age of 85.

When BB was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer early in the spring of 2004, the immediate topic of discussion was whether he could make the trip to Atlanta for Passover with us. He was determined to come, and while the family was divided about whether he should undertake such a strenuous trip just days after getting out of the hospital, there was no stopping him. Buck and I didn’t even try. Even the airlines couldn’t stop him. When BB had settled into his seat on the plane and inquired about the oxygen that they were to have for him in case he needed it, the attendant told him that it wasn’t on the plane and that he would have to get off.  He refused. Next, the pilot came back to speak to him. BB calmly explained that he was going to Passover to be with his family and that it was their mistake and not his and he would have to be carried off the if they insisted that he leave the plane. Needless to say, BB stayed on and made the trip.

He came, determined to join us as we celebrated the passing of the Angel of Death.  We told stories and recalled another Passover night when he had dressed himself in a sheet and slipped out to the front door after dinner unbeknownst to the grandchildren and their friends. When it was time for them to open the door for Elijah, near the end of the Seder service, Grandpa BB jumped out at them from the bushes. They screamed all the way up the stairs to the dining room.

Buck, his brother, John, our sister-in-law Pat, BB’s brother, Charles and I took turns looking after BB, who had a very able caretaker named Thelma Richards, during those last months.  I happened to be there for his first visit to the oncologist, which did not go well. The doctor thought that BB was not well enough for treatment and sent him home to get stronger.  It was a very discouraging start, to say the least. BB’s cancer was already quite advanced, and the course of chemo was only meant to buy a little time.

The appointment had been late in the day, and we went directly to dinner at Joe Allen’s, one of our family favorites in Miami Beach.  He ordered martinis, Grey Goose and blue Curacao, BB’s drink of choice and some much needed comfort food for dinner, lamb shanks and a side of macaroni and cheese. We looked at each other and then started, inexplicably, to laugh. At that moment it seemed there was nothing else that we could do. Perhaps it was the freedom of knowing that the worst-case scenario had already been set in motion.  BB would play the cards he had been dealt.

Finally BB asked, “Do you think I should write my obituary?”  “Only if you want to make sure we get it right,” I answered.  And of course, he did. So the next day, we sat down and he dictated his obituary to me on the computer. I listened and typed carefully, using the focus of his voice and words and the task at hand as an anchor in my own storm of grief.  I was struck in particular, listening to him detail the public points of his life, how much his World War II experiences had shaped and set him on his life course. The theme repeated again and again was how lucky he had been to have survived so many close calls.  I struck me what a good soldier BB had always been his whole life, and would be to the very end.

One of the last times I saw BB was in some way the first time I really saw him.

We had just gathered to celebrate his 85th birthday with him.  All the family had come. The grandchildren especially made every effort to be there, traveling from as far as France and Spain. They began arriving the Friday evening before the party, the same day that their grandfather had left the hospital and began hospice care at home.  Given his physical condition, we weren’t even sure if he would be able to attend the party and hoped to have a low-key dinner at home for him that night so he could rest up.

Shortly after getting home from the hospital late in the afternoon, and knowing that the first of his grandchildren was arriving soon, he had only one question: “Where are we going for dinner?” We were in a dither.  We hadn’t even considered the possibility that BB would be well enough to go out.  But we were wrong.  Having been invited to gather at his brother and sister-in-law’s home, he even suggested that he drive there himself since he knew the way.  He rested a while, put on his pale blue linen suit with his Bronze Star affixed to the lapel and presided over a beautiful candlelit table, his grandchildren all seated in a row across from him.

The party on Saturday night was festive and full of stories in tribute to our dear patriarch. There was champagne, and toasts and a whimsical cake shaped like BB’s “Bounty”, complete with a replica of him catching a mermaid on his fishing line. Waiters passed  BB’s signature electric blue martinis.  He wore a stunning white linen suit and a powder blue shirt. To look at him, no one would believe he was dying.  And until that night had passed, he wasn’t. It was the last time he left his apartment.

So Monday came and it was time for me to leave.  BB was dozing in his bed and I leaned over to whisper, “BB, I’ve come to say good-bye.  I’ll be back to see you soon.”   I saw the smile before he opened his eyes and then in a split second, the wink.  I had never seen him wink before and certainly not at me.  I’m not even sure he knew he did it.

But in that second, I recognized him, the part of him that was connected to me forever, the part that was an unimaginably profound gift to me.  Was it over the course of lifetimes or millennia that we knew each other?  It was a knowing of who he was beyond any possible earthly disguise or illusions. It was a knowing of what he really meant to me.

I have wondered since that moment how it is that we can know someone for decades and care for them and not know who they really are and what a gift their presence is and has been in our lives.  It has made me look again at the faces of those closest to me and search for the clues to their true spirits so easily disguised by earthly, everyday roles.

And in the world of magic and spirit, what I know as a beloved parallel universe, there are no coincidences.  Each act and moment has meaning, level upon level, and we see them and know them based on our openness to them.  Or maybe, by pure dumb luck we are caught unawares and without an umbrella in a downpour of grace.  And while I stood in that deluge, squeaky clean and all new, I remembered that my own father had always winked at me.  The dots connected. The circle closed. I had long since made peace with my own father, and that in turn had given me the gift of BB.

He would soon leave this earthly realm, but I knew I would see him again.

 

 

Click here for recipes: BB's Electric Blue Martinis

BB's Birthday Potato "Cake"

 

 

 

Comments

  1.  diane hise's avatar
    diane hise
    | Permalink
    Kay, Thank you!!!!!!!!! I feel as if I knew someone I never met & your writing about BB reminded me much of my Dad !!!!! Keep up the great work of making us cry & smile at the same moment !!!!Take really good care, love, diane
  2.  Jimmy Williams's avatar
    Jimmy Williams
    | Permalink
    Kay, this story was a gift - a gift to the memory of BB, for his family and his friends; a gift to yourself for his part in your life; and a gift to us, the people who are fortunate enough to have read it. Thank you for sharing BB with us!

    All the best,
    Jimmy

Leave a Comment