"He was a man. Take him for all in
all I shall not look upon his like again."
The words are from Hamlet, talking about his own father, the King.
But they express very well my own feelings about my grandfather,
Papa Harry. He was simply the best and finest man I ever met.
And it is no accident, as we come to bury and to praise him, that
I look to Shakespeare for words about him, since Shakespeare was
his favorite author. Papa Harry, whose vocation was a plumber, but
who was in every way a teacher, loved Shakespeare, and throughout
his life would recite passages that he had memorized as a
schoolboy. And, in fact, I owe Papa a little Shakespeare.
Of course, I owe him much more than that, more than I can ever
repay, except to pass on what he has taught me to my own
grandchildren someday. When I was a small child, Papa used to tell
me that I owed him a dollar. He said this because he thought it
was funny the way I pronounced the word "dollar." It just made him
But I specifically owe him some Shakespeare because, when I was
thirteen, he and Nana took me back to London, where I was born.
And Papa wanted to take me to the theatre, to see some
Shakespeare. But I wanted to see the musical, "Oliver," instead.
Well, needless to say, we went to see "Oliver."
And so, today, a little Shakespeare.
It is, of course, easy to hear Papa's voice when Polonious gives
his advice on how to live to his son Laertes. He said:
"These few precepts in thy memory look thou character. Give thy
thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportioned thought its act. Be
thou familiar, but by no means vulgar. Those friends thou hast,
and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of
steel, but do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each
new-hatched, unfledged courage. Beware of entrance into a fight,
but, being in, bear't that th'opposed may beware of thee. Give
every man thy ear, but few thy voice. Take each man's censure, but
reserve thy judgment. . . . Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the
egde of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, and
it must follow, as the day the night, thou canst not be false to
I think I will always hear those words in my grandfather's voice,
along with those he coined himself.
But, Papa did not just teach us how to live. In the last few
weeks, he also taught us how to die. Papa told me that he was
ready, and Hamlet said the same thing when he knew that death was
around the corner. He said:
"There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be
now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it
be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man
of aught he leaves knows, what is't to leave betimes?"
I could go on. It all seems written just for him. >From him to us.
And so we are twice blessed. But, since "brevity is the soul of
wit," I will leave you with one more passage that Nana might say
"Good night sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy
What my grandmother, Nana Geri,
loved best in the world was having her family and friends all
together, everyone playing nicely with one another--and eating.
So, I think, seeing all of you here today would have made her very
That she died so soon after my grandfather, Papa Harry, is not at
all surprising. The two of them were truly inseparable,
intricately compatible and wonderful together--even though they
were really quite different from one another. It just seemed to
work. For example, even though he stood about a foot and a half
taller than her, they danced fabulously together. So, it's hard to
think of them separately.
But, Nana really was her own person, distinct from Papa, in her
own right. Nana was as smart as Papa was wise. And she was as tart
as he was sweet. Nana was as enthusiastic and Papa was steady. And
she loved to stay up late as much as he loved to get up early.
They both loved to play cards. Papa was a great bridge player,
tournament caliber. But Nana loved to play cards with me. At a
very early age, she taught me to play gin rummy. And she did me
the great honor of never letting me win. Over the years, I managed
to beat her occasionally. Each time well earned. But even after I
went to college, and to law school, and was playing poker every
week--and even when she could no longer see or remember so
well--she still beat me almost every game. Drawning the winning
card, she would look at me and smile, and say, "What's the name of
And, if Papa passed on his wisdom about the big questions of life,
Nana was full of very practical advice regarding everyday living
that I still carry around with me and consult regularly.
Much of this advice centered on shopping--an activity at which she
excelled and, in fact, considered a sport, which she elevated to
the level of virtuosity. "Buy it when you see it, not when you
need it." "An extra formal in the closet is like money in the
bank." Words to live by. And I remind myself of the precepts
whenever I am trawling through Costco, or see a suit, the last of
its kind, it's in my size, 50 percent off, that I don't strictly
need. I see her in my mind's eye, and she smiles, and I buy it.
But shopping was the least of it. As a travel agent, she was a
magician. And for years I studied her tricks of the trade. In
trouble at an airport, I will still occasionally invoke her:
"Well, my grandmother is a travel agent, and I was led to believe
that we could work something out here." And, amazingly, when
before there was no flight, or no seat, or no reservation, presto
it works out.
One time, when I was fifteen, my mother woke me up in the middle
of the night. It was winter time, a school night. She said, "Your
grandmother is on the phone." It must be some kind of emergency, I
remember thinking as I rubbed my eyes. "There's a cruise. In the
Caribbean. Last minute travel agent rate. Twenty dollars per
person per night. Everything included. One week. You'll have to
miss some school, because we'd have to leave tomorrow. Do you want
Of course, we went. The three of us. My mother, my grandmother,
and me. Nana had just had surgery on her knee, and was in a full
leg cast. But she still went on the cruise. During the day, I went
sightseeing with my mother. And in the evening, Nana and I went to
all the shows, and stayed up late playing cards.
And, so, be happy, Nana. We're all here with you. We're playing
nicely together. And afterwards we'll all go have something to