Jack Berger, a Flushing resident and brother of TimesLedger columnist Alex Berger, died at North Shore University Hospital in Plainview, L.I., on April 3. He was 90.
Jack was the oldest of eight children. I was the second youngest. We deemed him the family patriarch. What had he done to deserve such an honor? Let me count the ways from a baby brother’s perspective:
1. When Jack was a bachelor in his late teens and early 20s, what did he do every Sunday, his only day off from work? Did he date girls? No. Did he carouse with the boys? No. Did he listen to baseball games at home? No.
He took his four youngest siblings — Miriam, Shirley, Alex and Milton — to the movies and dessert at the ice cream parlor.
2. Every Thanksgiving meant being grateful to be living in America, the land of plenty, for our financially struggling family of two parents, eight children, one cat, and one permanent boarder.
But we did not enjoy the fruits of this plenty. Our Thanksgiving dinners usually consisted of an extra potato tossed into the pot of cabbage soup Mama prepared for the family.
Jack, beginning at age 18, worked at a job paying $8 a week. From this salary, he contributed $7.50 of it to the family coffers. On one ensuing Thanksgiving, he watched Mama cooking the family dinner.
“Your cabbage soup is good, Mama,” he said, “but we need something special for our Thanksgiving dinner this year.”
So with 50 cents in hand, Jack raced down to the vegetable market, glanced over the wide assortment of fruits and produce, and finally spied two affordable choices: large, plump chestnuts and succulent sweet potatoes. Jack bought 25 cents of each and raced home with his bag of goodies.
“Mama, today is Thanksgiving, and in America everyone eats a special meal,” he said. “Put away the soup for tomorrow. Today we celebrate Thanksgiving the American way.” He handed Mama the bag of chestnuts and sweet potatoes.
It was not long before the sweet smell of the roasting treats filled the air. The whole family rushed into the kitchen to see what their noses were telling them.
Mama promptly chased us away. “Don’t come back until I call,” she mildly scolded.
Finally, she said, “Everyone, come and sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner.”
Everyone came, sat down and enjoyed the feast. No subsequent Thanksgiving dinner we ever had was as delicious.
3. Jack was one of the first young boys to be drafted into the U.S. Army. It was in April 1941, eight months before Pearl Harbor. On the day of his departure, with bag packed, Uncle Sam was forced to wait a bit for Jack’s arrival.
He had a family duty to attend to before reporting for duty — namely, accompanying his father and younger brother, Alex, who had been stricken with appendicitis, to Bellevue Hospital for surgery.
After safely depositing Alex in a hospital bed, he bid his father and Alex goodbye, disappeared out the door and did not return for 4 l⁄2 years.
4. Jack was an impartial peace maker and the secretary of state of the Berger family. Assisted by his wife, Eve, Jack always calmed any brewing storms that would erupt among siblings and in−laws.
As hard as it is to believe, we Bergers did fight with one another from time to time. He handled disagreements with diplomacy, tactfulness and respect for both parties objectively, calmly and wisely.
5. For the millions of other things he did for his parents, siblings, friends and me, thank you, Jack. You earned the stripes to be called the patriarch of the Berger family. God bless and sleep well.
Services were held April 5 at the Sinai Chapel in Flushing with relatives and friends. He is survived by his wife; two children, Alan and Arlene; seven grandchildren; and two great−grandchildren.
Contact Alex Berger at news@times
©2009 Community News Group
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