To Be Honest
Fortitude and Delicacy
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After the Soviet Union crushed Hungary’s rebellion in November 1956, thousands fled the country; one family, the Luksanders, eventually came to Urbana, Illinois. They had escaped in a novel fashion: Mr. Luksander had brought his pregnant wife across the border on a motorcycle, then gone back and rescued his nine- and three-year-old daughters, piling them both on the motorcycle with him. The Luksanders were almost penniless when they made it to Urbana, and soon were joined by a newborn daughter.
The Catholic Church sponsored a certain number of refugees, promising them work and housing till they could adjust to America and get to their feet. The sponsoring committee discovered that Martha was a native of Kolozsvár and could still understand spoken Hungarian quite fluently. (George sometimes needed to have a phrase repeated before he could figure it out.) Martha befriended the Luksanders and became their interpreter, accompanying them to supermarkets and Woolworths where they would look at every object on the counters, amazed and intrigued by the plenty everywhere in the United States.
There was not plenty of room at the Mlinariches’s apartment, however, crowded as it was with three people and two dogs*. In November 1957 they moved to a house in “the suburbs”: Fithian, a rural community some fifteen miles east of Urbana. “Oh, what bliss!” Martha wrote her parents. “This place is beyond description, and we resent having to leave it tomorrow to go to school.”
1957 Nov. 28, “Thanksgiving day.” My Darling Sherry! You and your parents were here for the day, we hadn’t seen you for three months now... Somehow you are getting to be so grown up, and smart too. You helped Grandpa do a lot of work, writing out a storage list... You also brought your school papers to show how well you are doing in your new school in Fithian. Every page shows the mark a 100. We are so proud of you darling, and so’s your Mother and Nicky. You were wearing a T-shirt with Illinois and an Indian head on front. Nicky bought that for you as a surprise with a date 19-??? Grandpa figured it out, it will be 1966 when you will be old enough to enter the University of Illinois. Hope we all will be here to enjoy that date with you my sweet... So long my dearest, till next time, we are planning a Christmas reunion with you all and George, Jean, and Paul at your house. Till then all our love to you from us both.
Just after Christmas, George and Mila Jean brought Paul to Urbana to visit the Holshousers (“Paul charming, but schedule shot to hell,” read the Baby’s Diary entry). Then Joseph and Mathilda came down from Chicago and all went out to Fithian to stay with the Mlinariches. This was the first and, as it turned out, the only so complete an Ehrlich family gathering to ever take place.
In May 1958 Martha sent Joseph the results of Sherry’s Stanford-Binet intelligence test, showing her reading at a ninth-grade level. “The enclosed little chart should make you very happy,” Martha wrote, “and proud enough to pop a few vest buttons. If you're not wearing a vest, I’ll wait till you put one on... By the way—are you planning to teach her algebra this summer? I hope not...”
1958 June 21. My Dearest Sherry! Your parents picked you up today and took you home again after a three weeks vacation with us here in Chicago. Darling I have to tell you what a wonderful time we all had together. We took you to see the Adler Planetarium, Grandpa took you to see the Science & Industry Museum and the Field Museum too... Grandpa gave you $2 for your birthday, and told you to buy what you wanted with it. So we had lots of fun, you and I went to shop in a toy shop. After a long time, you chose a set of chess game, and of all things, a cap pistol. But I let you buy it, because we want always for you to be a happy child. I never let your Mommie or Uncle George buy any, when they were small, but I let you, even though I don’t approve of children playing with guns... Grandpa took you fishing and you caught one little perch, but it made you just as happy as if it would have been a real big fish, and Grandpa was just as happy you could catch anything, it’s hard to fish in Lake Michigan, the fish stay very deep down in the water.
Nick got his industrial education degree in 1958, but he and Martha were not allowed to both teach in the Urbana school system. Moreover, Nick lacked certain credits and his teaching credentials were therefore limited. The first place to make him a firm job offer was Mojave, California; Nick accepted and the Mlinariches prepared to move west.
Coincidentally, the extended family was doing likewise. After Marcus Temmer died, his son Ernie had sold the laundry business in Wisconsin, moved to southern California, got himself and wife Ruth and their children settled, and then persuaded his mother Margaret to move there too. By 1958 the others had followed: Rose and Béla Ruhig, their daughter Evelyn with husband Albert Sessler and their kids, Ted and Nan Ruhig and theirs.
Joseph and Mathilda were the last to leave Chicago, but they had quite a different coast in mind for their retirement. St. Petersburg, Florida, had been their haven and vacation spot for over twenty-five years, and long ago it had been decided that they would move there in due time.
1958 July 27. My Dearest Sherry and her Parents! We just got home from Fithian seeing you all and for the day before you are leaving Illinois to go to live in California. It was a lovely day together, but oh, when the time came to say goodbye, it was a sorry affair. We too left feeling very sad, thinking how far away you’d be from us. Even though we didn’t see you too often while here, we still could get together four or five times in a year. Now who knows how long we will have to wait till we see our little Princess?... It took all my willpower to keep my tears from spilling out, and I sure cried on the way home. My darling children I do hope you will all be happy in your new home, and you Sherry will find a lot of new good friends there. We both love till it hurts. Your Grandparents.
Nick took to Mojave and the desert atmosphere very quickly, but his womenfolk decidedly did not. Sherry never would—“There’s nothing green out here!” was her initial reaction, and it was not to change. As for Martha, when her first days in Mojave featured 85 m.p.h. winds blowing semis off the roads, she responded with: “Let me out of this place!! I want to GO HOME!!!”
The local high school’s junior high wing was not yet finished in 1958, so there was no teaching position available for Martha. Principal Tom Kelly, who had hired Nick to teach shop, gave Martha a job working half days in the high school office; the other half days she worked in the elementary school office. By October she had adjusted somewhat to the desert. “So far, the L.A. weather reports have nothing to do with Mojave,” she wrote her parents. “We definitely have no trace of smog, and though it is summer weather, it’s not a bit unpleasant and evenings are wonderful. The only hitch to our staying here permanently is the California philosophy of Education. Things may get better in our school, but it’s still too early to tell. Maybe by mid-semester we’ll know whether we stay here, try another town in California, or try another state.”
She would witheringly define the California Philosophy of Education as “Pass the kids on—no challenge.” And Nick, who had come home from Illinois classes “bitching about the tripe they came out with concerning teaching,” went to war with it. When he’d gone for the first time to the Mojave High shop, he found the boys there making brass knuckles and switchblade knives. Hoodlumism was a major problem and not merely among boys; certain girls “with razor blades in their hair” were conducting a reign of terror over other students. How was hoodlumism dealt with at Mojave? “The administration never did beans, ever—the teachers did it all!” Martha was to snort. She made an exception of Tom Kelly, who did his best, but in the Mojave shop it was Nick who ended the Reign of Terror with his own form of brass knucks: flunking everyone one semester, an action almost without precedent and completely contrary to the California Philosophy of Education. And, despite a storm of protests, Nick stuck to his guns.
“He could outshout anybody in that school, anyway,” Sherry would observe.†
In the summer of 1959 the Mlinariches revisited the Midwest, and Martha re-encountered its humidity. After that she wanted nothing more than to return to Mojave, and from then on it was her desert. That September they moved to a ranch-type house at 8125 Nipa Avenue in California City, a new community about fifteen miles northeast of Mojave.§ The high school’s east wing had been completed by this time and Tom Kelly hired Martha to teach science. Joseph captioned a photo of his daughter, back in the classroom, as “My favorite teacher.”
“Erratic behavior during the day,” went the entry in Paul Stephen’s diary for November 28, 1958. “Very active—alternates charm with brattiness.” What with teething, temper tantrums, and toilet training, life with Paul sometimes had all the intensity of Wagnerian opera. This did not ease life-in-general for Mila Jean or especially George, who was unhappy at KCU but had decided not to seek another job until completing his Ph.D. And he was struggling to do this, wading through the necessary preliminaries while having to keep up continual enrollment at the University of Illinois. George had just sent off the current term’s $80 check in May 1959 when a genuine financial crisis overtook his family.
They had perhaps ten dollars left in the bank. Bills and debts were straining George’s limited income, but had to be promptly attended to; that was a lesson he’d learned well from his parents. He did not have tenure at KCU and so his job there, however unsatisfactory incomewise and opportunitywise, was by no means guaranteed. Mila Jean did not have an outside job, having “more than enough to cope with” at home with Paul.‡ George had little more than a year left to complete his doctorate; the Ehrlichs’s old refrigerator chose Memorial Day weekend to give up its ghost; and the family was left “really in a don’ t-know-which-way-to-turn” situation.
(Paul would later claim that when his parents read him “Hansel and Gretel” at this time, and came to the part about abandoning the children in the woods, they got a dreamy look in their eyes.)
Then the telephone rang. It was Homer Wadsworth of the Kansas City Association of Trusts and Foundations, getting back to George a year after he had applied for a small grant. Wadsworth offered him a “discretionary gift” of $500.
“Even now I get a strange feeling when I think about it,” George would say years afterward. “How did he know that I was at the edge of financial chaos, filled with despair, wondering what next to do? Or was it pure coincidence? I never had the nerve to ask; some things are best left as minor miracles unexplained...”
So, despite everything, Martha and George were each set and established by 1959, though both would have many more adventures and moments of doubt along their individual paths. These had become widely divergent in various ways, but both were teaching—with the likelihood that they would be able to continue teaching—and this was a great and deep satisfaction to their parents, particularly Joseph.
He celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday on March 17, 1959, and promptly retired from the fur business he had diligently (if not wholeheartedly) pursued for over thirty years. Among his final productions as a furrier was a miniature raccoon coat for Paul, whimsically echoing George’s “collegiate” one in the 1920’s. Joseph and Mathilda sold their house and shop on Western Avenue and also their furniture, partly to save the expense of moving it, but more because they wanted “nice new things” for their new home in Florida. The front pages of the Tribune that Joseph had collected over the decades were sold too, and he realized a small but tidy profit—as indeed he and Mathilda did from their fur business.
They had lived frugally all their lives, and now they were going to enjoy themselves. By April they had begun a happy retirement in St. Petersburg, living comfortably and (thanks to the Nice New Things) a bit plushly in their little pink one-story house at 2451 36th Avenue North. Joseph had always carefully provided for their Social Security, anticipating the future, and though the elder Ehrlichs did not have money to burn, neither did they have financial worries. Mathilda, outgoing as ever, quickly began joining clubs and making friends; Joseph fished and read the St. Petersburg Times and worked out algebraic equations to his heart’s content. “He loved to do math problems very much just for his enjoyment,” Mathilda would say. “It was his Hobby.” For awhile he tried getting her interested in it, but “I got tired of dealing in thousands when we had sixty dollars a month.”
When people asked Joseph what he had done for a living, he told them he was a retired teacher.
The only cloud on the Ehrlichs’s horizon was having their family spread across the continent, but there was always the promise of vacation visits; the Mlinariches came for a stay every summer. Sherry enjoyed a wide range of recreations in St. Petersburg, from swimming in Tampa Bay to watching Joseph make fresh orange juice with a gadget on the garage wall, to fighting a fullscale paper-boat war with him on the dining room table. Joseph devised the various boats, including battleships complete with smokestacks. And sometimes he would share snippets of the past with his granddaughter, for instance telling her about his little sister Eszter with the long blonde hair, and that Sherry reminded him of her.
In February 1960 Martha underwent a hysterectomy, and Mathilda journeyed to California to be with her. Mila Jean’s mother Ada Louise Smith wrote a letter of cheerful commiseration to Joseph in Florida, and on February 24th he wrote back, having labored over his reply to George’s in-laws, trying to weed out errors in grammar and spelling:
Dear Folks: It is a big relief to know that Martha’s operation was a success. To tell you the truth I was very nervous but helpless, glad Matyu was with her. The next few days will be painful for Martha, but time is a good doctor.
If you feel blue and lonesome you really can appreciate your neighbors, who like to help you in every way. We have wonderful neighbors and we are like brothers and sisters. Our 36th Avenue blocks are occupied with old couples, no children. [On the] fourth of the month in every mailbox is a check from Uncle Sam. We all live in the present and talk about the past, our children, grandchildren, our sickness. Maybe you would not like this kind of life, but wait till you will be in our ages.
Right now everybody is talking, Matyu Ehrlich went to California and lonesome Joe maybe need some help. Yes I am very lonesome. I don’t think our house is not so nice no more, the rooms are so big and cold. I wonder why??
It would be a good idea, to go to K.C. and wait for Mother there. If I could drive I would do it, but my driving days are over for a long trip. I would love to be with my grandson Paul, play with him, teach him [a] few tricks but this has to wait. When Matyu will see him, she can tell me all about him.
Excuse my shaky handwriting. Hope you can read this letter. Thank you for your letter it is a pleasure for me to read it. My love to you all. Joe.
In October 1960 George at last received his Doctor of Philosophy degree.** After all the years of pressure and frustration he sorely needed a sabbatical leave from KCU, and when the University awarded him tenure that fall he was able to arrange for one. The Ehrlichs acquired a Volkswagen Bug and took off on a trip to St. Petersburg in February 1961. Paul had begun to read by this time, providing his parents with considerable relief in the ensuing quiet.††
George brought his dissertation along to show Joseph. His father was not especially interested in its topic (the influence of technological development on 19th Century American pictorial art) but he turned Technology and the Artist’s pages lovingly and wanted to keep it. Over the years Joseph had built up the status of “teacher” in his mind until it ranked with—if not above— “movie star,” and this token of his son’s Ph.D. was a precious thing indeed. However, it was a considerable disappointment for Joseph to learn that George’s students did not stand up when he entered the classroom.
While George and Mila Jean explored Florida in the Bug, Paul stayed with his grandparents in their little pink house. He took note that they used foreign words such as “cushion” when everybody knew the thing was called a “pillow.” He would recall watching Joseph fish, and making fresh orange juice with the garage-wall gadget (juice that Paul did not care for, since it had Things in it); and Joseph trying to teach him to whistle, and long fascinated periods of observing the ant colonies working away in their back-garden hills, and being taken to the Tampa Bay beach and refusing to wade, certain that creatures with pincer-claws were going to assault his feet.
One night Joseph and Paul were sitting on the front porch and Paul decided to start barking like a dog, which caused the lights to go on in the house next door. “They think you are a little dog,” Joseph told him, and Paul stopped, and the lights went off, and Paul began barking again, and the lights went back on—and the two boys had a fine time until Mathilda came out, her hair in pins, to take them by their ears and put them to bed.‡‡
1961 Mar. 12. [Martha to her parents] Dearest folks: This is a nostalgic day somehow. I was thinking of Dad’s birthday, and reread bits here and there of my baby diary—of our troubles about my practicing, reading in bed too late at night, teasing George, and the stories you told us at night about Laci Pali and Sanyi. I’m sure you remember too. In a way it’s almost impossible for me to realize you’re 67, Dad, and I’m in my 40s. When I really think about you—not just “daily thinking,” I’m still in my early teens and you’re the one in the 40s. I wonder if you realize what wonderful parents you were, and how very much I have to thank you for...
Spring is coming rapidly to the desert. Our trees are budding, flowers beginning to bloom, and though the nights and early mornings are still cool, the days are warm and sunny. Two weeks more until Easter vacation. I need it, and so does Nicky. Then only ten more weeks, and another year is over... Happy birthday, Dad. We love you. Martha.
The troubles about Martha’s piano-practicing had not been in vain: at the 1961 Mojave High School baccalaureate services, she was able to provide selections from Sibelius, Beethoven, Chopin, the “Triumphal March” from Aida, and “Pomp and Circumstance.”
In the spring of 1962, Mathilda gathered together all the letters and other memorabilia saved from Sherry’s first thirteen years, and put them together in a book:
1962 May 1. My Dearest Sherry: Sorry, this book isn’t as pretty looking as I would have liked to make it. But I’m hoping you’d like it, after you browse around in it just the same. Your dear Mother and I tried to record the most important happenings in your life ever since you were born. She sent me letters from Miami, and wherever you two lived, to tell us how you were developing, and I saved them all so when you got old enough to understand, you could see how much happiness you gave us all, and how much we loved you at all times. Now you will be thirteen years old this coming June, and old enough to enjoy reading about when you were a little baby. To your Grandpa you still are a baby, but I know better than that. I know you are a young lady, and soon you will be completely grown up. We just hope you will always be our darling Princess. We both love you more than ever, and miss you even more.
1962 May 10. Well, my Darling, your book’s put together, I read nearly every page over, and enjoyed it so much to reminisce, and live over those lovely years with you. I can still see you as you were. Such a tiny and so sweet a baby, and what a joy to us all. When you and your parents moved out to California, and we here to Florida, it seemed we just couldn’t stand the distance between us. We both missed your smiling face, and still do. Grandpa and I feel terribly lonesome for you, and Paul too. More so for you, because we know you longer, and saw you grow up. So now we just have to live on the memories of those days, and hope we could spend a few weeks each year with you. As the years speed by, you are growing up to be a fine girl. And your grandparents are growing old (gracefully I hope?). All I have to say my dearest, is that you be happy, and love your Mother as she deserves to be loved by you. She was a very understanding and a loving Mother to you. Hope you will think of us kindly too. We always will love you with all our heart. Grandma and Grandpa.
By the spring of 1962 rumors were circulating that the University of Kansas City, which seemed on the verge of going under fiscally, might become affiliated with the University of Mssouri in Columbia. This would necessitate KCU’s losing its autonomy and changing from a private to a public institution, but George decided that such a merger could only mean improvement. He had not been enthusiastic about returning to KCU for the 1961-62 school year; the Art Department “had not grown or improved one whit” in seven years, “and the university was seemingly going down into a whirlpool of a deteriorating fiscal crisis.” George had felt there was no future for him there; now he resolved to stick around awhile longer.
There was also the fact that Mila Jean was again pregnant (this time with the Little Stranger) with a resulting need to find a larger place to live. The Ehrlichs bought a two-story house at 5505 Holmes, a few blocks south of the University and Nelson Elementary School, where Paul began kindergarten in September.
Matthew Carleton Ehrlich was born on October 30, 1962, and George went to see his new son expecting another dark-visaged infant such as Paul had been. He was bemused to find a red-faced reddish-haired blueish-eyed boy, whose resemblance to Winston Churchill was stronger than the average baby’s.
Meanwhile the tremors affecting Joseph’s hands were growing worse. They had been diagnosed as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease, a mysterious and baffling disorder; no one could say for certain what caused it, and there was no known cure. Many cases were traced back to 1918 and the Spanish influenza epidemic that had caused encephalitis, damaging nerve cells deep at the base of the brain. Its effects sometimes took forty years or more to show themselves, and such was the case with Joseph. The past had caught up with him.
Parkinsonism was being intensely researched and neurosurgeries of various experimental sorts—using radioactive beads, electric cautery, or proton rays—were showing some promise. One of the field’s surgical pioneers was Dr. Irving S. Cooper, who had successfully treated Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White by injecting drops of alcohol that permanently deadened the brain’s damaged cells. But Dr. Cooper now considered that method outmoded, and in July 1962 Time, Newsweek, and Look magazines were featuring his new technique: cryogenic surgery, the rapid deep-freezing of a pea-sized portion of the brain. Dr. Cooper emphasized that this could not cure Parkinson’s disease or guarantee improvement; but his prospective patients were eager for any chance to relieve the uncontrollable shaking of their rigid, half-clenched hands. The prospects were all carefully screened before being sent to Dr. Cooper, but he operated on only seven out of every ten; he felt that sufferers of Parkinsonism should be treated early while they were still strong, and doubted that surgery would be beneficial for those deemed too old or too severely handicapped.
Joseph went to New York and was examined by Dr. Cooper, who told him there was no way that further deterioration could be prevented. Worse than this bad news, however, was Joseph’s seeing patients with advanced cases of Parkinson’s disease, and learning what fate awaited him. Parkinsonism, though not itself fatal, was progressively degenerative and made helpless invalids of its victims. They grew stiffer and more bent each year until they could not get up and walk alone, or dress or bathe or feed themselves unaided. Minds and memories were not notably affected, but faces would take on a wide-eyed unblinking stare, mouths half-open and drooling saliva.
“It was terrible,” Joseph said. “What I saw was terrible.”
He decided to sell the house in St. Petersburg and move Mathilda to Los Angeles, saying he would be unable to rest until he saw her standing between her cousins Margaret and Rose. Mathilda was reluctant to leave Florida, and it was not really necessary for her to be looked after and taken care of; but to Joseph the idea of turning to the family for support was by now the unquestionable key to survival.
Since their lifestyle had not changed much in retirement, Mathilda had been able to continue saving here and there from her housekeeping allowance, and she contributed these rainy-day savings to help finance their departure. It was at this time that she discovered Joseph had been deliberately destroying relics of the distant past. Gone now were most of the carefully-captioned photos brought from Kolozsvár, the pictures of comrades on the Eastern front, of relatives lost over time and in the Holocaust; gone too were old glass negatives Joseph had kept from his childhood in Győr, and the little silver wine cup he’d had in memory of his father.
A mult idő nagy mezein,
On great fields of the past,
Hervadt lombok emlékeim; dried leaves of my memories;
Ősszeszedem őket, I gather them
Kötöm egy csomóba, into bundles
Ugy vetem bele az and cast them in
Égő kandallóba. the burning fireplace.§§
George was acquainted with an osteopath, Joe Markine, who attended the Unitarian church and taught physiology part-time at KCU. Markine was working with a team at the University of Kansas Medical Center, experimenting with Parkinson’s treatment using ultrasonic waves. One day over lunch George mentioned his father’s case, and Joe Markine said he could arrange for him to be examined by the ultrasonic team’s principal physician and so get a second opinion, at least.
In April 1963 Joseph and Mathilda stopped in Kansas City on their way to Los Angeles; it was their first opportunity to see their newest grandchild Matthew. George took his father to the KU Med Center for examination, and the doctor pronounced him a candidate for ultrasonic surgery. Since there would be a fairly lengthy convalescent period, it was decided that the surgery should be performed in California, and the doctor made arrangements with a friend doing similar surgery at UCLA.
So there still was hope, and cause for somewhat renewed optimism. Joseph did live, after all, in the rational and enlightened world of reality; the world where modern technology would find cures for all diseases; the world where science held all the promise to solve all the problems. Jedes warum hatte zein darum: every question did have its answer.
He hoped at least to ease the palsy in his hands, which by now was so bad (and so embarrassing to him) that he spent much of the time with arms folded and hands tucked tightly under his armpits. Having turned sixty-nine in March, he told George, “I have lived longer than any man in my family has lived, and I would like to reach seventy.”
The elder Ehrlichs went on to Los Angeles and got an apartment in Hawthorne, choosing this community because the Ruhigs lived there. In due course Joseph underwent the first half of the ultrasonic surgery; two operations were necessary when both sides were afflicted. After it was over he took a look at his hand, found it still palsied, and shrugged a little.
On Sherry’s fourteenth birthday in June, she and Martha and Nick went to visit Joseph in the hospital. Sherry would recall that he did not look like himself; he had a vacant expression, unfocused on what was going on around him, and he did not have much to say. Nor was he eating, so Martha “in her best schoolmarm voice” told him that he had to eat, and fed him. He was taken back to the Hawthorne apartment, still in an invalid condition; and he died there on July 6, 1963. The funeral took place at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles on a bright sunny summer day. Mathilda and Martha were devastated by it all, but to Sherry it did not sink in—it didn’t seem real.
He would not have viewed his fortitude in adapting to life as an accomplishment, because he had not been able to achieve the goals he had set for himself. First and foremost he had wanted to be a teacher, and to a lesser extent a musician and an artist; Fate (as he saw it) had frustrated him in all these pursuits when he was a young man.
To the end of his life Joseph wanted to go back to Budapest, if only to see the school he had taught at, to see if it was still there. Otherwise he stopped dreaming of what he could have done. Instead he dreamed for his children, hoping they would want to achieve what he had not, and be able to achieve it with his and Mathilda’s encouragement and support. And the dreams came true—if not in the most straightforward manner—and this gave Joseph that great and deep satisfaction which is born of fulfillment.
At the end of the Spring 1963 semester, Martha and George had between them been teaching for twenty-five years. Martha had just received a Life Diploma from the California State Board of Education, allowing her to teach for as long as she lived; George’s hopes for his own academic future were renewed as KCU merged with Missouri and became the new University of Missouri at Kansas City. Twenty years after Joseph’s death, both his children would still be teaching.
“The fatalist in Joseph would mean he would shrug his shoulders, not give in but reconcile himself to the fact that he had once again to cope with adversity, this time without any hope of winning,” George was to write. “But he had seen more than Canaan from the hill; he had actually enjoyed, if briefly, the milk and honey of the promised land. He saw his children successful in his eyes. Therefore, I think he died relatively content.”
In June 1962 Martha had received a certificate noting her fifteen years as a schoolteacher, and she had sent it to Joseph for Father’s Day with a note:
Dearest Dad: During observation of Public Schools Week this year, I was awarded a certificate which rightfully belongs to you. Since my name is on it and can’t be removed, we’ll have to share it, just as we’ve shared so many things during the past forty-plus years. This then is my own “Certificate of Appreciation” to you for all the love, sacrifices, and wonderful philosophy of life given so generously and unfailingly when I deserved it, and also when I didn’t.
On Joseph’s birthday in 1976, George wrote Mathilda a letter in which he remarked:
How different my life has been than Dad’s had been. I think he would have liked to be able to skip the bad parts, but still our lives and experiences were very special and it made us the type of people and family we were (and are). Despite all the problems we face these days, I know it has been a good life and things for us are really pretty good. And my Dad had a lot to contribute to the fact that this generation has a good life together. When I think of the things we can do and have done I really marvel.
Writing to Paul Stephen in 1974, Sherry Renée said of “our mutual grandfather”:
I have one of his fountain pens. I never use it, just keep it put away in a drawer. It’s all I have that was his... He had to have been one of the really good people of the world. He was always so gentle though and always had time to care... He was quiet too, but fun, and he had so much love in him. I guess he had his faults too—people do—but I never saw them.
And when Mathilda wrote her own brief history of the Ehrlich family in 1976, she concluded:
Our firstborn daughter’s a graduate with a Master of Biology from the University of Illinois. Our son is also a graduate of Illinois, an Art Historian and Professor with a Ph.D. They’re both teaching school and love it just as their father hoped for. He learned to be a furrier in trade here, but he never stopped being a teacher at heart. He died in 1963, but never forgotten by his family. Thank God he at least had a chance to see his children succeed also, and to enjoy the three wonderful grandchildren...
The marker at Hillside Memorial
Park reads BELOVED HUSBAND AND FATHER / JOSEPH EHRLICH / 1894-1963. To
that, alongside the tributes from his family, might be added a line from
Shakespeare: To be honest, as this world
goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.
Proceed to the To Be Honest Afterward
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* Mike (no longer so Little)
and Gypsy. In Fithian they were joined by Wimpy the raccoon,
Caspar the lamb, and June Bug—about whom Sherry wrote her grandparents:
“I have had my wish come true. I have a beautiful black
horse!... She is 23 years old!”
† In Mojave that first year, Sherry "scored so high, and [had] so much poise," she was skipped from 4th grade to 5th. Paul Stephen later skipped 2nd and his brother Matthew skipped 1st; all three skips ultimately being of questionable benefit to the children involved.
‡ Mila Jean did receive her master's degree in June 1957, and appeared in two KCU Playhouse productions directed by Al Varnado the next two seasons: as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing in May 1958, and as Dorimène in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in March 1959.
§ In California City, no-longer-Little Mike ran off and met his fate as one of a pack of wild desert dogs. His place at 8125 Nipa was taken by a puppy called Augie.
** Having spent the summer painstakingly typing a dissertation free not only of errors but erasures. (George drew upon his experience as a draftsman to eliminate both.)
†† By now The Shari Lewis Show had premiered, and Paul regarded his cousin—an automatic target of Lamb Chop jokes—as “the OTHER Sherry Lewis.”
‡‡ The elder Ehrlichs visited Kansas City in August 1961, where Joseph read Paul an early Flintstones book, obligingly doing Wilma's lines in a falsetto voice (and needing Mathilda to come rub his neck afterward).
§§ Translation of Sándor Petőfi by Anton N. Nyerges; Copyright © 1973 by Anton N. Nyerges
Last updated August 22, 2009
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