Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Harold Friedman, RIP

Harold Friedman followed his daughter, Ellen, in death by little more than a week. His illness was a long one so his passing is not exactly a surprise. Harold was a wise and thoughtful man with a quick wit. In recent years, as his health had been waning, his mind became trapped by senility. His passing can be seen as a relief both for Harold and for his wife, Marge, who worked so hard to care for him and bring him what comfort she could offer.

Archie called me with the news last night. I was working, so he had to leave a message. "You're probably going to start avoiding my calls," he said and began chuckling. Hardly. I'll call him back today and touch base with him. We had interactions with Harold together and separately.

It probably wasn't the first time that I met Harold, but it was the first time that I ever had a lengthy conversation with him that has provided me with a tale to pass along to you. Ellen and I had begun dating and she invited me to her parent's house for dinner. Harold, Marge, Ellen's sister Claire, and her husband Ron were all there when we walked in. It was a typical meal prepared by Marge: simple and delicious. Soup, salad, and bread were the courses.

The rest of the family were gathering by the table when we walked in. Ellen and I went to the adjoining kitchen and grabbed our plates, utensils, and food. Ellen asked, "Do you want a small spoon or a large one?" Given a choice, I always choose the small spoon. At restaurants or formal dinners, I use the larger soup spoon. But at informal dinners, such as this one, I'll use the small one. Why? I don't like to slurp out of big spoons. It's a preference of mine from back in my childhood.

Ellen and I joined the others at the table. Harold was at the head of the table, steering conversation about work and business associates and friends. Claire, Ellen, and Marge were kind and introduced me to the conversation by asking me questions and changing the direction of the topics so that I could join in.

At one point, about halfway through dinner, Harold was apparently staring in my direction. Someone asked him what he was thinking about. Harold replied, "I'm just sitting here wondering...Richard, you're using a small spoon. Why?"

"Ellen offered me a choice of spoons. I chose to use the smaller one rather than the soup spoon."

"Yes, but why? Why use the small spoon instead of a soup spoon?"

"I don't know, exactly. I've always preferred using a small spoon."

"Why? Soup spoons are made for eating soups; not small spoons."

"If you'd prefer me to use a soup spoon, I'll be happy to do so. I didn't mean to offend."

"No, no. That's fine. I'm just trying to understand here..."

At this point, Ellen, Marge, and Claire had all begun giggling. I think it was Claire who jumped into the conversation to try and rescue me from Harold's questions. "Dad, what's the big deal? Ellen offered him a small spoon and he took it?"

"It's no big deal. I'm just trying to understand why, when a perfectly good and well designed utensil like a soup spoon is not the choice of Richard when he eats soup. I'm just curious as to why?"

Harold was staring at me the entire course of the conversation. I was becoming flustered. I didn't know what to say or how to react. Naturally, I eventually said the wrong thing. "I don't know why? It's just my preference."

"Well, there's got to be a reason that it's your preference," continue Harold. "Why do you prefer to eat with a small spoon rather than a soup spoon?"

"I don't know. I suppose it's because I don't like to slurp soup."

"Hm. Well, why is that? Soup is made to be slurped. A soup spoon is designed to bring enough soup to your lips so that you can slurp it. Slurping it, in turn, cools down the soup. So why not use a soup spoon?"

By this point, Harold's daughters and wife are laughing and wonder what is going on. Clearly Harold was not going to accept the "I don't know" excuse. As far as I was concerned, Harold had pinned me into a corner. I didn't understand why I was being grilled in such a manner. Oh, Harold was polite and he was just generally curious (it had nothing to do with me dating Ellen), but I felt on the spot and flustered.

"Well, why not use the proper tool for the job?" asked Harold.

After a pause, trying to quickly come up with an answer and left wanting, I blurted out with a note of sarcasm and humor in my voice, "Because I don't have a big mouth?"

Ron, who had been quietly enjoying his meal, put his spoon down and wiped his beard. I could see a look of astonishment and a smile appear before the napkin covered his lips. Claire, Ellen, and Marge all burst out laughing. Ellen, in particular, got this deep belly laugh.

Harold smiled at me and said, "You could've fooled me." He paused for that to take effect and then followed up with, "In fact, I think you just proved yourself wrong."

Marge patted Harold's arm and said, "OK, boys, we've had our fun. Enough is enough. Harold, do you want dessert?"

Harold looked at Marge with a face that spoke of innocence. "Marge," he began in protest, "I was just trying to understand why our guest, Richard..."

Marge was having none of it. "The conversation is moving on. What would you like for dessert? I have ice cream..."

Ellen got up from the table. She was still laughing. "You asked for it, Harold. And so did you, Richard. Now, vanilla or butternut?"


Aaron said...

Do you know how I may get in touch with the Friedman family? Harold's mother, Jo, was my grandfather's sister. We would just like to pay our respects. I can be reached at or 248-556-5163. Thank you.

Scott said...

This and Ellen's entries make me feel I know them a little now. I don't think you can ask for more than that.