My sister Anne’s husband, Michael Towbes, was honored recently at a lively event celebrating his 60 years in the construction biz. Hence, my presence in Santa Barbara.
The weekend coincided with the yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) of Bob Smith, Anne’s first husband. Umpteen years ago, Bob and I were sub-committee chairs of Winter Weekend at the U. of M. I suggested Bob take my younger sister as his date. The rest is history, involving years of relentless pursuit on Bob’s part and artful dodging on my sister’s.
Bob bought, sold and operated radio and TV stations. Anne taught for 9 years at Cranbrook’s Brookside Elementary School. In 1991, they moved, full time, with children, Jennifer and Michael, from Birmingham, MI, to Santa Barbara. They’ve lived happily there since. Sadly, Bob came down with a form of pancreatic cancer. After 5 brave years, he died.
Which brings me to the subject of this column…
On Oct. 28, the anniversary of Bob’s death, my sister observes an annual tradition I thought you’d find meaningful. Anne, Jen, Mike and their spouses, plus Bob’s beloved assistant Dee, gather at Bob’s grave. They reminisce about their late spouse and dad. Usually, Bob’s best friend, Les Goldman, attends. This year, a business crisis (he’s an attorney) prevented his being there. He listened and commented from Washington, D.C., via iPhone.
As rain was (eagerly) expected, the cemetery had set up a small tent and several chairs. Son Mike acted as rabbi. We all shared thoughts about Bob. I quoted Burton who’d said, “Bob always wanted the best of everything. With his family, he got it.” Jen, a magazine publisher, and Mike, an entrepreneur in the music biz, talked about how their father inspires their business and personal lives every day. Jen and Nick have 2 little girls; Mike and Nati, 1, with a baby boy on the way.
I gazed at the family gathered there. In a Robert Frost moment, tears brimmed. I thought about how fond I am of my niece and nephew, how eloquent they are, how well they’re doing. How blessed I am to still be alive when Bobby wasn’t so lucky. And how none of us would have been there if Bobby and I hadn’t Gone Blue or signed on for Winter Weekend. If we had taken a different road.
The ceremony concludes every year by playing a CD of “The Family Tree” by Venice The Band. When Bobby died, the band happened to be performing in Santa Barbara. A music producer friend, Hale Milgrim, asked the band to dedicate the song to Bob. He recorded the dedication and the song and sent the CD to Bob’s family. The melody and lyrics are beautiful enough to rate required listening at every funeral of a loved one.
“…And when we say goodbye/To one of our own/We may be lonely/But we’re not alone./Though the leaves will fall/And the tears will flow/May it always comfort us to know/The family tree will always grow/It’s stronger than the wind can blow./The family tree will always grow.”
It’s Jewish tradition to place a pebble on a gravestone when a mourner visits. My sister puts her own spin on the practice by substituting shells she’s collected from the beach in Longboat Key, FL, a place she and Bob loved (and owned a condo). This year, I brought shells from Siesta Key, FL. We each placed one, plus a peach colored long-stemmed rose.
After, we headed for the Wine Cask, an annual destination, a favorite of Bob and the family. It turned out to be closed for a private event. We diverted to another of Bob’s faves, Ca Dario. We sat enjoying fine Italian fare and chatting about Bob when (Godsign) a couple came up to our table. Anne hadn’t seen them in several months. They’d brought his 95 year old father to lunch for his birthday. They were the very couple who’d arranged the dedication of “The Family Tree” and recorded it 11 years ago, the Milgrims.
A fitting coda to a lovely memorial. You’d be so proud of your family, Bobby. Rest in peace, my friend.
Want to hear the song?
Here’s a YouTube version of the song, which may start with an advertisement (but is worth the wait):