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In this story from September 1975, the popular game show host celebrates his mother's legacy of love.
A lot of thoughtful people nowadays are worried about this land of ours. They’re afraid that values are crumbling, marriage is becoming outmoded, family ties are weakening. “What’s the answer?” they ask despairingly.
There is an answer, one that has strengthened and sustained me all through my hectic years in radio and television.
I learned it from my mother, who in turn got it from ... well, let me tell you about our family, and particularly about my mother, that dark-haired, dark-eyed, wonderful woman who kept whispering the answer to me all my life.
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Ours is a Jewish family, and as I grew up in the Canadian city of Winnipeg I became aware that I had been born into a very strong family tradition. Some years ago when I saw the musical Fiddler on the Roof, I said to myself, “That’s it! That’s my family.”
And in my imagination I see that even now we are playing out the sequel of what happened after Tevye and his brood left their small Russian village of Anatevka–only our Russian village was named Pavelitch.
My grandfather David came alone to Canada from Pavelitch in 1901. He left my grandmother and their three children, the third of whom was my mother, in Europe.
Eventually there were to be six more children, but that was years later, long after the train had pulled into the station at Winnipeg and my grandfather had answered the call “Se du Yidden? Se du Yidden?” (“Any Jews? Any Jews?") that used to ring out at the depots in those immigrant days.
Grandfather was taken home by a welcoming stranger, given dinner and a night’s lodging. The next day he started work peddling apples and oranges.
In time, as he progressed from foot to pushcart to horse-and-wagon to a flourishing wholesale produce business, he brought over his family, then paid for others to come, until in a small way Pavelitch lived again in Winnipeg.
My grandfather was our patriarch. His family gathered around him every Sabbath and on High Holy Days and other holidays for the meticulous observance of our ancient religious customs.
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I think of my grandfather’s house in terms of four generations, for both my grandfather’s parents and my grandmother’s parents lived there. I can still see my great-grandfather at the age of 90, patiently, tenderly feeding my great-grandmother, who was 88 and blind. They had 70 years together.
And I remember many nights after dinner looking up from my homework to see my grandfather and grandmother sitting together on the couch holding hands. They had more than 50 years together.
And then there was our own family unit, my parents, my younger brother, who is now a lawyer in Toronto, and myself. My father, who also was born in Russia, arrived in Canada in 1906.
He and my mother had been sweethearts since they were children of 10 and 11. They were married when she was 20 and he 21. My mother was a schoolteacher then, but she gave that up to have a family.
My father wanted to be an accountant and he did manage to become a bookkeeper for a large lumber firm until his eyes went bad. He also suffered from terrible headaches, so bad that he often passed out from them and he had to quit work for a while.
For a time he went into the meat business with his father, and then into his uncle’s business, with little success.
Finally, in 1929, at the age of 30, my father made a last desperate effort to make something of himself by driving a half-ton truck all the way to Los Angeles where a boyhood friend had prospered in the milling business.