My Eulogy For My Dad, Abe Schumer
Welcome, everybody. We know it’s Thanksgiving weekend, and it may not have been easy for many of you to get here. But on behalf of Selma, Iris, Fran, Kevin, Bob, Pam, and the grandkids, we appreciate your presence.
Thanksgiving is a particularly poignant time for our family. Noah’s birthday was Wednesday, and I was born on Thanksgiving 1950. Mom was giving birth at French Hospital, then on 29th and 7th Avenue. After my father settled her in at about 8:30am, instead of going to the waiting room to await the upcoming blessed event, being the free spirit he sometimes was, he wandered over to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and watched it in its entirety. I was born mid-morning, and he showed up at the hospital in the early afternoon, precipitating the first fight my parents had over me. I guess it didn’t do too much damage, as they had 72 beautiful years together.
Every year after that, my father would take us to the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was a highlight of our year, as were the yearly trip to the Bronx Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, and the Planetarium, each of which we so looked forward to. On each trip, we were amazed at the extent of my father’s knowledge of astronomy, animals, natural history, and the like. He would explain these things to us in depth yet clearly and often brilliantly, and we remember much of what he taught us on those trips to this day.
But circumstances never allowed my father to use that knowledge and curiosity in a career. He was a child of the Depression and knew financial hardship and worry. And so when he returned from WWII in 1946, he immediately went to work in a small, not particularly profitable exterminating business that my grandfather, a great idealist, but not much of a business man, had purchased during the war from a German American who had left for Montana because he was sure the Nazis were going to bomb New York. The business was a tough grind every day, but my father realized his responsibility to support first his mother and two younger brothers, and then his wife and children.
Typical was an experience I went through working for him one summer when I was fifteen. I was sent to collect payment from a delinquent client — I’ll never forget his name — Mr. Waller. I took two buses on a hot August afternoon, arrived at Mr. Waller’s office and said to him “I’m Chuck Schumer, son of Abe Schumer of Century Exterminating; we’ve done a good job each month at your four apartment buildings — no rats, no roaches and you haven’t paid us for six months — I’ve come to collect.”
He replied, “Your father is only a small business man. He can’t afford a lawyer, and I’ll wait him out in small claims court. I’m not paying — get lost.” These were the type of experiences my father lived with every day but realizing the responsibility he had to his family — he never quit, he never cut corners, and never even resented others who might have had better, easier circumstances. He instilled in me a desire to achieve the opportunities that he never had and that he afforded me through his hard work and his example; I strive to employ the same values and work ethic that he employed every day.
The second half of my Dad’s adult life was much, much sunnier; he retired from the business, and he and my mom had a great 30 years. He took up golf; they had much more time to socialize with the many friends they had made over the years, and drove down to Florida every winter. In Florida, they enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, which allows senior citizens to enroll in any course for free. They took a course called “Humor” where each week some erstwhile comedian who never made it in the Catskills got up and told jokes for 45 minutes. Dad would call us each week laughing hysterically at the latest awful joke and said to me, “College seems pretty easy — maybe I should’ve gone!” It was a great, happy 30 years for my Mom and Dad.
So this Thanksgiving, we have a lot to be grateful for — at the top of the list is the beautiful marriage Dad had with Mom for 72 years — 72!!! years. They loved each other so deeply, carried each other’s burdens and only fought over small things — like which Chinese restaurant to go to. In the last few hours of Dad’s life, they were holding hands, looking at each other devotedly and yet in peace.
We are also grateful for all of the values Dad instilled in us — always by example not by preaching. The responsibility to others beyond yourself and the conviction that doing the right thing even when others don’t will lead to eventual success.
Dad was the quiet, strong glue that kept our family so close, and the kind of person that keeps our society strong, needed now more than ever. He was a shining example of the Greatest Generation. We love him and will miss him.