I didn’t get to see Hamilton last night, but I am forever grateful for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius production (which we fortunately saw it with him in it on Broadway when it moved from the Public Theater).
Not only am I grateful for the production and for everything that has been praised about it, but in particular, I am thankful for the song, the refrain about “who will tell your story?” As readers of this site no doubt know, I have taken that question, that thought, and made it my mission, my responsibility to annually tell the story of my mother (Esty) and my father (Sam) in order to keep the memory of their stories alive.
And so once again I post the eulogy I gave at Samuel Miller’s burial at Temple Beth El Cemetery, Chelmsford, MA on July 7, 2011.
Sam died, as he requested, peacefully and without pain, in his own bed, in his apartment, surrounded in the last months, weeks, days, and hours by three generations of his family. His daughter, son, son-in law, daughter-in-law, four grand children and their spouses, four great grand children, and of course his wonderful caretaker, all of whom were able to spend time with him at the end of his life.
When we were last here, it was for Esty. And when it came to talk about her, it was pretty easy.
It was clear what to say about her. She was a caretaker and a builder of family.
Sam, on the other hand, is not so easily categorized. He was a person of contradictions and (seeming) opposites.
He was not religious, yet he tried to volunteer for the Seven Day War.
He played football – a lineman – in high school and college during the day and read and memorized poetry at night while listening to classical music.
He was a gambler, in business, at the dog track, and at jai alai, yet husbanded his money carefully to provide for his family and especially for Esty and himself for their later years.
He could be arrogant, intolerant, stubborn, judgmental, and certainly impatient, but he was caring, compassionate, and involved with his family, and could and did cry like no man I have known.
He was a tough businessman who also played chess, read voluminously, and remained liberal in his political views all his life.
As Esty often said, he was a loner but not lonely.
He was self-centered but fiercely family focused. (I’m sure everyone assembled here could tell stories about Sam’s intimate involvement with each of you.) At Daytona he taught many of us to drive, to play chess, and he watched endlessly as many of you yelled, “Watch me Sammy” as you jumped into the pool. And there were many long walks and talks on the beach.
He was not close with his parents growing up, especially not with his dad. Then later, in Bebee and Tom’s later years, he moved them from Boston to Orlando where he and Esty were living, and he saw them everyday.
He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day but quit when his sister-in-law Caryl was dying because he said he wanted to see his grandchildren grow up, at least until their 20’s (they’re now in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s).
He loved to ask questions and sometimes even waited for the answer. He was often thinking of the next question before you answered the first one. But you always felt he wanted to know about you — as one person wrote on his 92 birthday: “When I talk to you, you make me feel that I am the most important person…I can ‘feel’ that you are with me…you take a deep interest in what I am saying…you are present to the moment and you live the moment.”
He was an intellectual who read two or three books a week, went to the dog track frequently, and walked two or three miles every late afternoon well into his 80’s to maintain his good health.
He was a ‘Yankee’ (not the baseball kind, thank God) who loved Florida (much to Esty’s chagrin).
He was basically a ‘homebody’ yet visited his son in West Africa because he said he always visited his kids in camp. He traveled to Central American for business and to Europe with Esty. With various family members, he traveled all over the US, including Alaska, and to the Caribbean, India, China, Russia, Mongolia, Egypt, Lithuania, and Israel. His trip to Lithuania was to see the place from where his mother and her family had emigrated.
Although he was ‘technically challenged’ and could barely screw in a light bulb, he learned to use the computer in his 80’s and emailed well into his 90’s.
He enjoyed good food and liquor, yet took good care of his body and lived longer than any Miller in his extensive and extended family.
He was taken care of by Esty, and then took care of her over the final difficult three years of her life, never leaving her side for more than an hour (and then that was usually only to exercise).
He was very involved with his own kids when they were small, wasn’t around so much when they were growing up as he left for work before dawn and had to spend the evenings on the phone to buy fruit and get picking crews for the next day. Then in his kids’ adult years, he again became involved with them intimately as well as with their spouses, their children, and finally his great grand children, all four of whom he saw within the last few months of his 93 ½ years.
He was a man of seeming contradictions but not of excesses and rarely of unkindnesses. In fact, I believe he mellowed a bit in his later years and became more tolerant, a bit less stubborn, and even patient at times.
So if it can be said that Esty took care of people and family, it must also be said that Sam did too, especially family, in his own way.
And as Esty taught us how to deal with medical and physical difficulties with wonderful grace at the end of her life, so too can it be said that Sam taught us that one can age with grace and softness and love.