Time, as previously noted, always wins. Thursday morning, it beat my mom. But, like my dad before her, my mom took time into extra innings. Lots and lots of extra innings. Time took a licking; my mom kept ticking.
The obit notes are ordinary: Ruth Panitz, born April 7, 1926, to Sam and Minna (Berkowitz) Panitz. Married William Bromberg on June 16, 1946. Mother of Stephen (1950) and Judith (1954-2012). Grandmother of Joshua (1979) and Benjamin (1985), sons of Steve and his wife Linda Kallman. Great-grandmother of Tenzin (2014), daughter of Josh and his wife Marie Bromberg, and Julia (2020), daughter of Ben and his wife Molly Alig.
But the obit notes don’t even begin to tell the story of Ruth, starting with the fact that nobody — ABSOLUTELY NOBODY — who knew her called her Ruth. Born into an extended family with a few dozen Ruths, my mom was Bobbe from the day she was born.
The obit notes don’t reveal that she graduated from Tilden High School in Brooklyn when she was just 15 and Brooklyn College at 19. They don’t reveal that in another, more enlightened time, she could have been a doctor or a lawyer or anything she wanted — IF she’d wanted, because all Bobbe Bromberg really wanted was to be a wife and mother. She was Ruth when my dad met her, and he called her Babe. They adored each other for 69 years.
My mom was a New York City public schoolteacher, a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers who worshipped Albert Shanker, the union leader who fought for the benefits that benefited her greatly for decades after she retired.
Bobbe loved to read, and she loved to read to others. She must have read books to me. I can say for sure that she loved reading to my sons when they were young. They — and their wives and daughters — meant the world to her.
She played canasta. She played mah-jongg. And she played a killer game of Scrabble — she knew all the “cheat” words, including some that don’t exist.
She loved the beach. She loved show tunes. She wasn’t big on rock ‘n’ roll, but she never told me to turn down the sound. (Well . . . almost never.) She hated what the rest of us call room temperature; she kept the thermostat at hot or too hot.
Here’s something else you won’t find in the obit notes: I owe my career and my greatest passion to my mom.
When I was seven, all the kids my age had to learn to play an instrument. It was a rite of passage: Thou shalt not graduate from second grade unless you play an instrument. Your choice of instrument could be found behind Door Number One, Two or Three — piano, violin or accordion. Pick whatever instrument you want, so long as it’s the piano, the violin or the accordion. They were the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry of instruments.
Larry played the piano; Dean played the violin; Norman played the accordion. Michael played the piano; Linda played the violin; Tommy played the accordion.
My mom was the piano-playing music teacher at P.S. 194, but she had something else in mind for me — a weird instrument that none of the other kids had. My mom bought me a guitar. And so it happened that I went every week to Sea Gate in Brooklyn to take guitar lessons from Lou Stallman, the musician who wrote the Perry Como hit, Round And Round. A few years later, I took lessons from Herk Favilla, the luthier who built Favilla guitars. And a few years after that, I’d walk to Kings Highway and East 18th Street to take lessons from Sid Margolis, a former studio musician who just happened to also be teaching some guy named Dion.
Larry, Dean, Norman, Michael, Linda and Tommy all gave up their instruments before they got to high school, but I’m still playing my guitar more than 60 years later. Well played, Mom.
The guitar was the passion. As for the career . . .
One year after she put a guitar in my hands, my mom the schoolteacher took a look at my godawful penmanship and decided there was only one thing to be done: She bought me a typewriter.
It was a big clunky gray Remington with green keys that weighed about as much as I did. And my mom sat me down in front of it, showed me where to rest my fingers and told me, “Don’t use a pencil anymore. From now on, just type.”
And then she walked out of my bedroom, leaving me to teach myself how to type. I was 8 years old, so it was easy, and I acquired a skill that has served me well ever since. I typed papers for beer money in college, and I typed 50 or 60 pages a night when I got my start in newspapering. Well played, Mom.
Here’s something else you won’t find in the obit notes: Bobbe Bromberg was no quitter.
My mom got breast cancer in 1971. She underwent a radical mastectomy and was told she’d be fortunate to live another four or five years. She was unlikely to be around to meet my wife, or our kids, or their kids. She’d probably be gone before she turned 50.
But who the hell was Cancer to tell my mom how long to live? Cancer??? FEH!!!
My mom lived long enough to lose the other breast to cancer 25 years later. And then she lived another 24 years after that.
Bobbe Bromberg, my mom, lived to be 94 years old. It took a series of strokes and finally a broken hip to bring her down. It took time, and time always wins.
But cancer? Cancer wasn’t big enough to beat my mom.
How great is that?
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Please don’t send flowers. If you care to make a donation, we suggest the MJHS Foundation. Under “General Designation,” please select the Hospice and Palliative Care program, which cared for Bobbe for the final seven months of her life.
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