I’m typing this in what is typically my favorite “state;” The state of riding the Amtrak along the southern coast of Connecticut for a weekend in NYC. I generally anticipate the adrenaline rush as the train enters the Penn Station tunnel and that first flood of mid city sunlight as we step out onto 34th street. The electric, energy rush of New York City streets is unmatched and indescribable. Though this trip will be a little different–a more somber tone for the weekend as the impetus for the weekend just changed from the usual chilly fall air-football-holiday shopping-people watching foray, to one that will include services for my dearly departed, 94 year old grandmother.
Simme Cynkin Klebanow, who I thought until this week was originally from South Africa, represented the very best, the “highest” in our family–who like most families-includes members all along the spectrum, from highly educated, class acts to the purely bat-shit crazy. They will all be there this weekend, for better or worse, as we celebrate this incredible woman and adopted and badass New Yorker, via Jerusalem-South Africa-Canada. She, the Columbia professor, activist, author, gourmet, voracious reader, modest art collector and incredible humanitarian; She who cried the day that Nelson Mandela was finally freed from prison. After my grandfather died too many years ago, Grandma moved from the suburbs just north of Manhattan, back to 57th street, where she hosted us at theater and dinner and her views of the Statue of Liberty (“On a clear day”) from her 31st floor view, where she remained for a dozen more years, until walking those streets became as cumbersome as keeping up with sky rocketing rents.
Seeing her for the last couple of years, seated endlessly in her wheelchair, staring out her (upper floor) suburban New Rochelle apartment windows, trying to remember the names of her (7) grandchildren and (8) great grandchildren, while repeating the same questions asked only moments before created such sadness–this woman whose still-bright eyes had seen so much, whose mind held vastly more information than the rest of us–a withering shell of her former vibrant, brooding, unflinching self.
I look forward to being all together on her behalf, to hearing the kind memories that so many will share, the laughter and the tears that she would have so much wanted to be a part of. And then I will enjoy even more, strolling the streets of midtown, retracing so many steps we have taken previously with her, to Columbus Circle, and Central Park–her favorite place ever–, to the theater district, maybe to a show, definitely to one of her favorite restaurants or diners, remembering all the while her incredible influence and generosity, her kindness and her great desire to see the very best of humanity. RIP Simme. I can’t help but imagine that your departure leaves a void in a city of nearly 10 million. You left us all better for having known you.