Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11, 2017--Irma & Cousin Murray

I have about a dozen relatives who live all year round in south or southern Florida. Mainly cousins. 

Two live in Miami-Dade but almost all the cousins are in Palm Beach County, not far from the ocean. And so this past two weeks my thoughts and emotions have been there with them as Hurricane Irma approached and then made landfall.

I have been calling and emailing through the days to see where they are--a few evacuated--and how they are faring. And of course I have been glued to the Weather Channel both on TV and via the Internet.

The oldest cousin is 93. He has begun to show his years and so I have been focusing much of my attention on him, Cousin Murray. He can be a bit fragile and now, with his wife in rehab, happily recovering well from a recent stroke, under pressure to evacuate, he resisted, not wanting to leave her even though she was more secure and sheltered than he. 

A friend of the family convinced him to leave for his wife's sake, Cousin Elaine, to head for Tampa where it was thought to be safer than where they live in Delray Beach. 

Quoting Rona who drew an analogy to what they tell passengers on airplanes--"In case of an emergency and oxygen is needed, put your mask on first before attempting to help others."

In other words, you're not much good to others if you yourself are in danger.

So they drove to Tampa ahead of the storm and then when Irma drifted west, returned to Ft. Lauderdale, where Cousin Murray's friend has a solidly constructed house. Another advantage--this allowed him to be closer to his wife of more than 70 years.

I have been blessed with many wonderful cousins. A number of them are among my best friends. Cousin Chuck, four years older, was like a big brother. We essentially grew up as if in one household, living just two blocks apart in East Flatbush. We did everything together from playing street games, to taking marathon bike rides, to me "managing" and "training" him when he became obsessed with boxing, working out relentlessly so as to get good enough to become the next Jewish world middleweight champion.

I put manage and training in quotes because I knew as little about what they meant as he knew about boxing. Needless to say, Chuck never made it even to the Golden Gloves. But everyday was a sweet adventure following in his footsteps.

Unfortunately, he died suddenly more than 10 years ago and as a result forever there will be a vacancy in my heart.

Cousin Murray was an idol to me. He was a GI during the Second World War and when he came home on leave I huddled close to him so I could hear every word of his stories about his training and wartime assignments. Fortunately, he was not sent overseas but in his crisp uniform and spit-polished shoes, was a hero to me.

After the War, the extended family together rented a small house in the Catskill Mountain village of Tannersville. Murray worked in the city in a family business and commuted to the country on weekends. More than anyone else I looked forward to his arrival. Among the many big-cousin activities he included me in was golf (he taught me to play and let me use his clubs) and the exploration of the local countryside. He was the first and only family member to have a convertible. A green Plymouth with a black rag top.

With me in the passenger seat he loved finding open roads to run it at full speed. At that time, the New York State Thruway was being built in sections. He would learn about a completed five to 10 mile stretch before anyone else knew about it and we would head for it. 

It was the most beautiful road I had ever seen and much of it, straight as an arrow. It was irresistible to floor the accelerator pedal and get the car ripping along at more than 100 miles per hour. The first time I had experienced that velocity. Among other things, though the car's buffeting made me feel at risk, sensing this, he would turn to me and simply wink. That wink settled me and made me feel I was safe no matter what in his protective presence.

He still makes me feel that way, so many years later, in spite of his inevitable physical weakening.

And so when I finally managed to reach him again Saturday night, I could hear the roaring wind, not unlike the way the wind sounded and felt as we raced along the Thruway, eliciting in me some of the same fears, hearing that in my voice, my 94-year-old cousin, still unhappily separated from his wife, likely feeling vulnerable himself, in a south Florida bungalow that had already lost power, to calm me he said, "I don't want you to worry about me. I'm fine," he chuckled, "We're as snug as a bug in a rug."  

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