Our Family in Better Times
By Carol Steinberg
My father's stage name in high school was Kenny Stevens. Booking agents called offering gigs to the Kenny Stevens band and were told by my Bubbe in her Russian accent that there was no one there by that name. He was Maish. His name in English was Marvin.
To his high school friends, he was known as Marvelous Marvin. He told us he wrote the Lowell High School anthem and that high school was the best time of his life. He said people always said he sang like Frank Sinatra. He did.
My childhood family was a happy one. We sang in the car all the time--Marvin belting it out the loudest, mom crooning along with him, and us kids alternating between singing along and fighting in the back seat-- "With Someone like you", "Til We Meet Again", and the one which made it look like they were really in love- "Love Forever True."
As a teenager, after dinner, I would accompany dad's beautiful tenor voice on "Misty" or "Autumn Leaves" on the piano. Mom offered her voice from the kitchen while she did the dishes.
Every Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue, Marvelous Marvin would embarrass me and fill me with pride by standing up tall and booming out Adon Olam and Hayom Tamsaynu. Every Passover he royally presided over the seder with his Lowell, Mass. accent beginning with a Kiddush that brought tears to our eyes, and ending with a resounding rendition of Echod Mi Yodeah.
He supported the family with a small oil heating business inherited from my mom's father. But it was my dad's music that kept him Marvelous long after high school and throughout his sad, stormy life.
When I was in fourth grade, my dad came down with MS. He balanced himself with one cane, then two, as I grew up. When we would take a walk, he would sit in the sun, tanning easily and, it appeared, happily. We all would sing "Look for the Silver Lining" and "The Bluebird of Happiness" in the car to cheer him.
As time progressed, the sadness MS brought my dad grew. When my sister and I were in college, it exploded in anger. The family portrait shattered. The music paused.
He survived alone for a while after my parents broke up; then a series of aides cared for him in his house for several years. Eventually he sold his business and landed in a nursing home for the second chapter of his life. But, with a little help from us, his kids and grandkids, his music sustained him to the end.
Whenever we visited, Marvelous Marvin led us in standards, Broadway tunes, and classics from the synagogue like Ayn Kelohenu, in the nursing home courtyard or around the piano. Other residents often joined in.
Each year, we had a seder at the home. We brought all the fixings-a "seder in a box" - and dad ruled proudly with his remarkable voice.
By the time he reached his 80's, dad didn't believe me when I said he sold his oil heating business or that he and my mom divorced many years ago. But he remembered every word of Yigdal which he sang on the beema at his shul when he was 13. His parents were so proud.
He knew all the songs when we celebrated his 82nd birthday with a Frank Sinatra CD, spending the afternoon singing with Frank and eating cake with the staff. When my brother brought his saxophone and "Music Minus One" tapes, dad sang for three hours and didn't forget a phrase.
After we took him to see a local production of "My Fair Lady", we were waiting on the street corner for the van to take us back to the nursing home, belting out the score. He reminded us when we couldn't remember how the next verse of "On the Street Where You Live" began: "Are there lilac trees in the heart of town?"
The Sunday before he died, in bed with tubes in his nose he sang "Misty" with my sister, my daughter, and I. He hit those high notes like he did when I was a teenager and accompanied his beautiful tenor voice --a little fainter but the pitch was still there. We all joined him in a gentle chorus of Echod Mi Yodea one last time.
My dad died during the high holidays in 2008. The local cantor led the small graveside service. His tenor was lovely but paled in comparison to the voice of Marvelous Marvin which we will never forget.
from the May 2013 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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