Samantha Alessandri calls her grandma “one of the most important people in my life.” Elizabeth Weiss, a well- known Detroit stage and radio actress, died last fall.
Sam and Liz’s birthdays were one day apart. “I always looked forward to sharing our birthdays,” Sam says.
Last fall, Liz would have turned 90. One day before, on Sept. 18, the whole family (including aunts, uncles & cousins) gathered at Sam’s parents’ house to celebrate Sam’s 30th birthday. Sam’s mom had planned a Comedy Central Roast. Everyone stood up and did a funny bit. “We were performing—my grandma’s favorite thing to do,” Sam says. Grandma Liz, too weak to come, was home with her beloved caregiver. While the family were “performing, laughing, just being together,” Sam’s grandmother passed away in her sleep.
“Any other night, just my mom or aunt would have been there. I think Grandma knew that would have been too tough. She left us while the people she loved most were doing what she loved most. Getting used to life without her is one of the hardest things I’ve done.”
Liz’s husband, actor Rube Weiss, was also renowned in Detroit (voice overs, Santa Claus in Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Shoutin’ Shorty Hogan on Soupy Sales). Liz and Rube lived in Huntington Woods in a house much visited by their 5 children and 16 grandchildren. When Rube died in 1999, Liz moved to a condo in West Bloomfield. She continued to host family dinners “filled with fun and laughter.”
This Mother’s Day, the family gathered at Liz’s apartment to go through hundreds of photos, cookbooks (well used) and books including a huge collection of Holocaust literature. Sitting in Liz’s den—“where I’ve sat no less than 1000 times,” Sam noticed a framed drawing behind a lamp in the corner. She had never seen it before. She took it off the wall.
“It was a drawing of an old-fashioned country house. My grandma Liz had done it when she was 14. She was an incredible artist, so the drawing was no surprise. The surprise was I’d never noticed it in the 20 years she lived there.” Sam flipped it over. A piece of paper taped to the back read, “To my Bubbie on her birthday, from your granddaughter, ‘Libess,’ September 18, 1939.”
“Chills came over me. Tears welled in my eyes. My birthday, her Bubbie’s birthday, gifted 76 years ago on the day before she died. How had I never noticed this picture? Why had I never flipped it over? A Godsign, that’s why.”
The picture now hangs in the Royal Oak, MI, house Samantha shares with sons Lucas, 4, and Ryder, 2. It hangs “right by my door, so I can look at it every time I leave and every time I come home. It inspires my own inner artist.” (Sam went to art school at MSU.)
Sam is manager of client development for my son David’s company, Carbon Media Group. At the recent Farbman Group 40th anniversary celebration, Sam shared this amazing Godsign with me.
In Yehuda Avner’s The Prime Ministers, the author quotes from the eulogy for then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s beloved wife, Aliza. Rabbi Dr. Yosef Burg said, “In Judaism, memory is everything. No less than 169 times does the Torah command us to remember the past. The significance of memory is that, by it, the past is made part of the present. If you erase the power of memory, you shatter the sense of time. Time is past, present and future. And the existence of a future in Judaism is netzach—eternity. To the bereaved the future is also a ma’aseh chesed—a divine act of loving kindness… because even as one remembers the passing of a loved one, the future is a promise that the agony of grief will, in time, mellow.”
The Oakland Press ran an obituary on Liz Weiss. The obit notes Liz’s moniker, “Woman of 1,000 Voices.” She was also one of the youngest draftsmen in World War II, producing plans for fighter plane parts.
Liz had a long career as a performer. In addition to countless commercials, she voiced roles in many TV dramas including occasional appearances on The Lone Ranger, Challenge of the Yukon and The Green Hornet.
Even at age 88, Liz appeared on stage in a Michigan Opera Theater production of Brundbar, directed by her grandson Michael, first performed by the children of Theresienstadt concentration camp in occupied Czechoslovakia during the Jewish Holocaust.
Because of a pen drawing, the Woman of 1000 Voices still speaks, every day, to her granddaughter.
Thanks, Sam, for sharing a touching remembrance that illustrates Dr. Burg’s words. “Time is past, present and future.” I hope you’ll tape a copy of this Godsign column to the back of your picture. Someday your grandchild will discover it and likewise feel chills.