The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Remembering Papa

Always generous: Papa shares a sandwich with me in 1972.

As many of you may already know, my beloved grandfather Dr. Max Henry "Papa" Tischler passed away after a brief illness on October 18th at the age of 95. He leaves behind my Grandma (Elaine), two children (my dad and my Aunt Diane), two grandchildren (me and my sister Jessica), and three great-grandchildren (my beautiful nieces Alana, Ashley, and Chelsea)—not to mention countless other family members and friends who were touched by his gregarious soul. Below I have simply reprinted the words I spoke at his funeral on Sunday, which pretty much says everything I can at this time. עליו השלום

One of my favorite stories about Papa happened before I was even born. The family was flying up to Montreal for one of the Kattleman boys’ Bar Mitzvahs. There was horrendous turbulence; everyone was terrified. But while everyone else was hysterical with fear, Papa sat calmly with his eyes closed and his hands neatly folded in his lap. He served as the ideal example of calm under pressure as everyone said to each other, “Calm down! Look at Papa—he’s sleeping.” That is, until Papa replied, “I’m not sleeping…I’m praying!”

Today we’re the ones saying prayers, and this time for Papa.

What can I say about Papa? How can we summarize 95 years of life—not just of life, but of living—in just a few words? My earliest memories are of visits to 2314 Avenue S, and—when we were very lucky—to his office downstairs from Aunt Judy, where we could play with tongue depressors and reflex hammers. Sometimes I would get to sleep over at their house in Brooklyn, and by the time I’d wake up Papa had already brought back fresh bagels and bialys. It’s funny the little things you remember, like the smell of those bagels with butter and hot coffee, or the sound of the floors in that house creaking as everyone woke up and came down to eat them while morning sun streamed into the kitchen.

By the time I knew Papa he was already a senior citizen; most of his life had already passed. But from old photos and the vivid stories he would tell I came to know a boy who lost his mother to breast cancer at far too young an age; a teenager who played football like a champion (or so he claimed); a young man who pursued his dream of becoming a doctor by going to medical school in Scotland when quotas prevented his admission to a school in the US because he was a Jew; a handsome bridegroom; a stern but loving father; an always-dapper gentleman-about-town with a wife who was as beautiful and as special as him, inside and out; a man who gave us one terrific Aunt and the best father in the world; and a man of conviction and strong opinions who always spoke his mind and appreciated the finer things in life (not to mention the Mets).

Henny Youngman once said, “My grandfather is over eighty years old and still doesn't need glasses. He just drinks right out of the bottle.” well, my grandfather did need glasses: he was practically blind for as long as I can remember. I know it frustrated him, but it didn’t change the way he felt toward the world. In fact, it might even have helped. In the book The Little Prince, the fox tells us the most essential secret of life: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; the most important things are invisible to the eye.” Maybe because Papa had no choice in the matter, he knew that better than anyone. He was the ideal grandparent: he loved my sister and me unconditionally. He seemed to relish and appreciate every minute he had with us. When we would visit Grandma and Papa in Boca Raton, they doted on us—and then on their delicious great-granddaughters. Even when I visited him last week, as he lay dying in the hospital, his only worries were whether I’d had enough to eat (as if that were something to be concerned about!) and that I wouldn’t miss my flight home. And while it was sad to see him so ill, there was a wonderful hour when he recalled for me and Jessica some of our favorite stories from “the olden days”—about Lundy’s and Flatbush Avenue and the such—and we all smiled, and we all laughed, and that sparkle of life came back to his face one more time.

The day I learned that he passed away, I cried a lot. But when I got in bed that night and thought about so many of the times we shared, in Brooklyn, and Somers, and Monsey, and Boca, and Cape Cod, I could only smile and chuckle instead. And that’s how I’ll always try to remember my Papa.

Even on a sad day like this, I’m very lucky. At 35 years of age I still had three of my grandparents. I never knew the fourth, my Grandpa Hirsch. And while I’m sad that I never knew him, I never felt cheated: Papa was the only grandfather you could ever need, and he had all the love for me that I could ever want.

It may seem inappropriate to quote a musical at a funeral, but I can’t help but ask: “Papa, can you hear me?” I don’t know where you are right now, but I do know this: you have a dry Beefeater martini in one hand, there’s golf on the television, and you have enough love to keep you warm for all eternity.

I love you. I miss you. Goodbye.

The whole mishpacha:
the family all together for the last time in May, 2007.


  • That's beautiful, Doug. I'm glad you knew him and he was blessed to have known you!


    By Blogger Colleen, at 12:32 PM  

  • Can you not make me cry at work?

    By Blogger Elisa, at 1:40 PM  

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