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Andy Lippman: Saying Goodbye to Dad

Mort and Mimi Lippman were married for 53 years

I’ve heard friends say how hard it is when your last parent dies.
I now know the feeling.
My dad, Mort, who lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, died on March 1 at age 97.
I’m fortunate that I got to share him and put off that lonely feeling for a lot of years.
But he fell and broke his leg two weeks ago, and a lot of complications, plus old age, brought his life to a close.
My dad never met a stranger. That doesn’t mean that he was a party person. He wasn’t big on parties. Rather, he was extremely outgoing. My mother, brother and I might be out the door of a store, and my dad would still be talking to the clerk. My mom would roll her eyes and say, “There goes your father again.”
I once introduced him to an old-order Mennonite family in northern Indiana. He took such a liking to them that every year he sent them a box of lemons that grew from a tree in his backyard. They returned the favor by baking him lemon cookies.
My red-haired dad grew up in Brooklyn, New York. By age 10, he was bringing lilacs from his backyard to the girl across the street, Mimi, whom he married when he was 19 and she was 18.
She followed him across the country while he served in the Army during World War II. Any story about my dad is a story about my mom, my brother Glenn and me, and later, his second wife, Nancy.
My dad suffered from gunshot concussion during Army training and spent time being treated in hospitals during the war — along with being tapped to learn Japanese in case America had to invade Japan.
But he never put himself in the category of being someone special. He didn’t even apply for military disability until he was in his mid-80s — and even then, he had to be convinced to do so by a longtime friend. A Veterans Administration employee looked at him as if to say “Where have you been all these years?” before approving his request.
Every Thanksgiving, the family would sit down to dinner and my dad would tell what my brother and I called “the story” of how he and my mom during one Thanksgiving during the war had to make do with a few dollars’ worth of food for the holiday meal.
My dad was definitely a Greatest Generation guy. He had a strong work ethic and never complained outwardly about what was bothering him. We would hear only after the fact about the time he continued working despite having a bloody sock because of an infected toe.
He was a pharmacist, and owned a drug store in Alexandria, Virginia.
Despite his long hours, I remember times when he came home and played catch with me. There were occasional days off when we had what my mom labeled “Men’s Day Out,” and we went to lunch and a movie.
I grew up in the 1950s in a home where dad worked and mom took care of the home front.
But, my dad and mom rarely thought of going away by themselves.
Vacation meant going with their two sons, and so we got to go to Arizona for baseball spring training (my dad loved baseball), and Ireland.
Often in the winter, we’d get in the car and travel from our home in Bethesda, Maryland, to Williamsburg, Virginia. In the mornings, my dad and I would walk the cobblestone streets of the colonial town.
We’d also go back to his old stomping grounds in Brooklyn, and hear stories about his hero, the New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig — another guy who never complained about an injury; about his mother’s cooking (we were always delighted to confirm his judgment); and listen to stories about how hard he tried both in his studies and in sport. He was often one of the shorter guys on a team at 5-foot-6.
My dad, after the war, went to college on the GI Bill.
My dad’s credo was that he’d work as hard as he could to get the customer what they needed, and he wanted those who worked for him to do the same. Every Christmas, he’d get cards from young people who had worked for him and remembered the experience.
That proved to be a winning strategy when he and my mom moved to Arizona in 1970, and opened the first of four Hallmark card and gift stores around the state. He genuinely enjoyed most of the customers and they were often effusive in their response. He offered new products. One time when he was visiting me in Kentucky, he discovered a Southern candy called “Goo-Goo Clusters” — which is a mass of nuts and caramel bathed in chocolate. Wouldn’t you know it was a hit with the folks in Phoenix.
My mom died in 2001. She was 73 and they had been married 53 years.
The years that followed were lonely, but he tried to stay involved both socially and with the public. It was while working part-time at a local bookstore that he met his second wife, Nancy, who was also working at the store.
My dad doted on both of his wives. He kept a closet where he put gifts for future occasions. I know that when my mom died, he was several holidays ahead toward presenting a gift. I know the same is true now. If I told him that there were daffodils available at Trader Joe’s, he’d tell me that he’d already been there and bought some for his wife. He brought Nancy flowers every week.
My dad wasn’t perfect, and neither was my relationship with him. There were bumps along that road, and my dad could get mad and wasn’t afraid to say if he thought I did something wrong.
But, after my mom died, I started calling my dad almost every afternoon about 4 p.m. I did it at first thinking it was for him. I realized after a while that I was doing it for me, too.
I’m glad that my last conversation ended with my telling him that I loved him. My dad was not the kind of man who often said those words to me. This time, he answered, “I know that son. I feel the same way.”
My dad once told me that he’d like his epitaph to be “I tried” because he tried so hard to do well in his life.
Dad, you succeeded.

Andy Lippman alongside his father Mort who died last week at age 97

First published in the March 8 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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