Not long ago, I attended an uncle's funeral. It was sad, but Irv lived to be 95 and led a remarkably full life.
Born in 1917, he was the youngest of nine children. The exact date of his birth was never known, since records were poorly kept back then. He always celebrated his birthday on Thanksgiving, which was a measure of the man.
He grew up in a lower middle-class neighborhood in New York. At 9 years of age, he ran away to go to Vero Beach, Florida, the spring training camp location of the Brooklyn Dodgers. An excellent baseball player, he wanted to try out for the team. He got as far as Philadelphia, was picked up by the Children's Aid Society, and was returned home. He left school after the eighth grade to help support his family.
He worked hard at various jobs, and was drafted into the army during World War II. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
After discharge, he told his wife Ruth, "I never want to have another boss." So, they saved every penny, and he eventually was able to open his own business, manufacturing corrugated boxes. Irv was immensely successful and those who worked with him loved his gregariously jovial nature.
A fond memory from when I was 7 years old was visiting Irv and Ruth in the Bronx. Irv and I passed a schoolyard on Briggs Avenue where teenagers were practicing baseball. My uncle joined in and began hitting balls to them. His fly balls soared sky-high, and I saw with my own eyes how far a baseball could be clobbered in an asphalt-covered Bronx schoolyard. The joy he felt in slamming the ball was evident on his face.
At age 57, he was forced to retire because of a heart condition. But he maintained an optimistic view of the world and wanted to live every moment to its fullest.
Thanks to modern medicine, he enjoyed his life for another 38 years. Irv and Ruth often hosted large family gatherings at restaurants, and he frequently booked all-expense paid junkets to Las Vegas where family members were his guests. He never lost his love of baseball (and most other sports), enjoyed going to Las Vegas, playing cards and above all, cherished being with his wife, daughter and grandchildren.
He was a joyous presence and a force of life, always emphasizing that life is filled with chances and you must grab them while you can.
I talked with Irv many times over the years. If I expressed a negative thought about something in life, he'd say, "Just remember, we're only passing through, kid... so enjoy it and make the most of everything."
Mark Rubinstein is the author of Mad Dog House and Mad Dog Justice