Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Papa Romo 1913-2013

             Papa Romo 
    Like everyone here my heart is heavy and there are tears still unshed but I won’t cry today because I am indebted to this truly great man and he would hate sorrow on this day of remembrance. I owe him so much it could never be expressed with these few words but in representing the families connected with the Creasons I would ask for your indulgence in adding a few memories that might make you smile the way he always did when you saw him enter a room. To Myrna, Freddy, Nastassja and all of Romo’s blood kin I offer the kind of condolence that can only come from one who knew Romo’s love and cherished almost every single minute I spent with him over the past 30 years.
Where could I go for inspiration, to turn my sorrow back around to joy but to Al Jolson where I knew Papa Romo would be with me too and there I found a strange kind of peace listening to “among my souvenirs.” I heard the familiar voice and wrote down a few of my own memories. There are so many souvenirs I can only choose a few but every one will linger in my family’s hearts and mine until it is our time to leave.
It began for me back in 1983 in the fancy, mirrored, master bathroom of 2026 Serrano when Nastassja…sometimes known as Karen and I announced our engagement as Naomi gasped, “Thank God I thought you were just going to just live together!” From that moment on Romo treated me like his own. Being Chernoff family meant a lot of things, mostly good things except maybe for the trip to Elsinore for Hover crafting that involved inhaling carbon monoxide and hearing endless lectures on the future of hover-transportation. Being part of the family meant I got to hear Romo’s whistle at Passover and learn to “enjoy” matzo and pronounce hard Hebrew words at Pesach.  It meant I got to go to a surprise drag queen show for my Mother-in-Law’s birthday and thrill to “The Song of Norway” live on stage and learn about the joys of Grant Griffin’s powerhouse singing or Jackie Mason’s humor. It included some of the wonderful roller-coaster rides of dinners out with twenty family members who once they got past the orders for two pots of hot water and the bread extra crispy …. enjoyed great times at the Fish Shanty or Vitello’s or the Tam O’ Shanter or other kinds of meals at Kingsley Gardens. It meant sea sick adventures to Catalina or the Channel Islands and bus rides with giddy family who were never allowed to even reach in their pockets to pay for anything once. It was spending unforgettable weekends at the cabin in Skyforest with not one but two Jacuzzi’s, snow a foot deep outside and Santa’s Village a short walk away. I guess it helped that I participated in giving Romo a beautiful granddaughter but for one amazing week he even loaned me the Sunday Go to Meeting Cadillac Coupe de Ville that had a front end bigger than my entire car.
      Even after the judge said I was no longer family in 1990 Romo refused to let a piece of paper end our relationship and he never, ever treated me like anything but his son in law. I am sure he never realized just how great this made me feel.  I think he had a knack for making everyone in the family feel loved and the trick to making that work was that it came straight from his heart which was as big as the front end of that Cadillac.  Yet, there was much more to him, including great wisdom and comfort in times of need. From him I learned about Boyle Heights in Los Angeles History and what it was like to be a scared kid standing at Ellis Island without a word of English. He preached the gospel of Pritikin and the value of exercise… plus some Russian or Yiddish sayings that I still love to repeat”: “the first time it is funny…the second time...not so funny…the third time I punch you in the nose!” Or what man here doesn’t exclaim when standing up from a long sit-down in a hard chair “Oy…my alta beyner!” Because of Romo (and Auntie Teresa) I know what “Shtarker”, and “tchotcke” or when something is “ungepatchka.” It used to make him laugh to hear me attempt to pronounce these words with my Catholic mouth but he would pinch my cheek like I was a kid and give me a hug that tested my ribs just because I tried. I may have come into this play for just the last couple of scenes and I missed out on the hard parts of making his fortune and raising his family but the man I knew was one of the kindest and sweetest and finest I ever knew…in every respect.  He showed me what a real man was…even through the greatest sorrow… through the agony of losing two wives and a child he stood tall…twice as tall as any man should ever have to be. I know he was tough and stoic in the face of hardship and he drove himself to the hospital after a heart attack but what truly defined Romo was his kindness, his gentility and his boundless generosity.
     I would be remiss if I did not mention the huge role Romo had in my extended family that he sort of adopted, especially after my father died in 1992. Because he was so revered we decided one year we would draft a proclamation and make him an official Creason that we presented to him on Christmas Eve. In a group that defines the term “herding cats” I was able to get that proclamation signed by 30 family members in ten minutes because every single one of them loved that man and wanted to make sure their names were on the paper where he could see their devotion.  He was our guest at Christmas Eve for three decades and the traditional group photo of the family that was taken annually always centered on the smiling Jewish man in the suspenders.  To this day, at that celebration, we have a Christmas tree and a menorah that seems right for everyone.  I could go on for pages on all the help he afforded us and how he always stood tall when the chips were down because this man was like the rock of Gibraltar to the Creason family but the most precious thing he ever gave any of us was the light in his eyes when he greeted us at birthdays, ballet recitals, graduations, Father’s day brunches, free-throw shooting contests, parties at Laguna Woods or just a visit to Heritage Pointe. Everyone has said they cannot believe he is not going to live forever but he participated so thoroughly in life and love that his legacy will burn long after our flames flicker out.
      Back in the Serrano days I occasionally sat in his den holding Katya, marveling at the clocks and weapons while watching him pet Finder… just listening to some reel-to-reel tapes of music quite contentedly in between phone calls.  A sweet lyric I heard back then with him keeps repeating in my heart “there will be other songs to sing/ another Fall, another Spring/ But there will never be another you”


Blogger Alan Burkholder said...

Thank you.

6:20 AM  

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