My dad, Willie, was a special man. He was hardworking, kind, and generous. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman. A wonderful husband to my mom, Helen, and a loving father to my sister and me, there could have been no better role model for a child. But having said all that, I know it was his sense of humor that had the most profound influence on me.
After a family meal he once looked directly at me and asked what I assumed was a serious question. “Hannah, wouldn’t you like to be somebody?” As I was only nine years old at the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of the question. But since it seemed like “yes” was the answer he was looking for, I said, “Sure.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Good, because ‘somebody’ has to do the dishes. So get to it.”
Several years later, when the entire family was gathered around our television, watching the evening news, the announcer said that there was a bulletin just in, interrupting the segment we had been watching. The bulletin was that Mike Todd (a.k.a. Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen), who was the third husband of Elizabeth Taylor, was presumed dead. His private plane had crashed somewhere in California. Taylor was a famous film star who had won academy awards for best actress many years earlier. She was also a much-admired beauty. Because Todd was Jewish, she converted to Judaism in order to please him. It was questionable whether her conversion meant much to either one of them, but it meant something to us kids. We were happy to learn that this beautiful and talented woman had become a member of our tribe.
Suddenly and without warning, my dad jumped up, ran to the coat closet, and grabbed his jacket.
“Willie, where are you going?” my mom asked as he opened the front door. Without missing a beat, Dad said, “Mike Todd is dead. He was Jewish. I am Jewish. He was short. I am short. This is my chance to get Elizabeth Taylor. Sorry, Helen, and so long, kids!” And out the door he went. He left us sitting there howling with laughter.
I never did become that “somebody” my father once jokingly spoke of. I never made a contribution to medicine, science, the arts, or politics. But I have reason to believe that I may indeed have become a person of importance.
Many years ago, I loved decaffeinated diet Snapple tea. Caffeine and I never got along, so whenever I wanted a refreshing drink, this was, for a long time, my beverage of choice. Then, one day, without warning, it disappeared from supermarket shelves. The diet Snapple drink is still available but it is no longer decaffeinated, so I’ve been forced to forgo it. At the time, I went from one supermarket to another and bought every last bottle that was available. And then there was no more. I learned to deal with the loss.
A few months ago, I bought a pretty new shade of lipstick. Since I always like to have a “backup,” I purchased two tubes, figuring that when I used up one tube, I would still have another and then I could buy more. No such luck! When I returned to the store, the lady behind the cosmetics counter informed me that the color had been discontinued. Realizing that I was disappointed, she spent a great deal of time trying to find something similar for me. There was nothing that came close to the color, but she did find a different shade that she thought might look good on me and she encouraged me to try it. Unsure of whether or not I liked it, I bought only one tube.
When I returned home, I didn’t use the second tube from my original purchase but instead began to use the new color to see if I really liked it. Happily, I discovered that it was indeed a beautiful color, even richer than the other. And best of all, it was a very narrow tube, which suited me perfectly. Since I don’t have full lips, applying lipstick from a narrow tube of color is much easier to do. So now I had a color I liked better as well as an easier way to apply it. Three days later I returned to the same store to stock up on my new find. You can guess what happened — the color had been discontinued! It was a different brand, but the company that manufactured it did exactly what the other company had done. My frustration was worse than it had been the previous time.
Thinking about it, I have decided that maybe I have indeed become “somebody.” Possibly the folks at Snapple, as well as the lipstick manufacturers, have done a survey of the likes and dislikes of Hannah Reich Berman. I envision these important people sitting around at a board of directors meeting and asking one another, “Now, let’s see what Hannah has bought recently. What does she drink? What does she eat? What are her favorite shades of lipstick?”
There is no other explanation for why it is that whatever product I eat, drink, or use frequently is so often discontinued. Dad would be proud to know that I am somebody. That’s the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.