“It was the middle of the night, it was snowing, it was bitter cold, and I was in the middle of upstate New York with nothing but farmland around. And I was a couple of hours from my home. I managed to limp to a gas station, where my car promptly went stone dead. I went to the phone, called my house, and woke up my dad. After I brief explanation from me—’I’ll be right there.’”—Jerry Zimmerman
Squibs & Blurbs
By Jerry Zimmerman
Editor’s Note: This essay first posted on Weekly Hubris back on November 22, 2010.
TEANECK, NJ—(Weekly Hubris)—6/6/2016—Admittedly, this is biased, but I’m pretty sure I have the two best brothers in the world.
When I was younger, I assumed everyone had a happy family and that all the kids in a family fought and played, loved and hated each other, or got along or didn’t, depending on which week you happened to be talking about. My brothers and I were certainly all that and more, yet coming from a tight-knit and loving family, under it all, we knew we were family, with a capital FAM, not us-against-the-world but, rather, us-together-in-the-world.
As I grew up, I began to realize what a rare and extraordinary crew I came from.
Looking back on growing up in my family, I see what golden years they were; more amazingly, when I was in those years, I felt that they were golden! My mother was a loving mom with great common sense and quiet authority—we simply knew that we didn’t want to displease her. My father was the Rock of Gibraltar, hard working, dedicated to his kids and the most dependable man you’ll ever know. . . . and pretty damn silly: if he got mad at us, we would immediately kid around, knowing where his funny bone was—the result was him always trying to hide his smile as he pretended to scold us.
I am the oldest brother and, once my brothers, Steve and Corey, were old enough to be part of the deal, our house quickly became continuous lost scenes from every Marx Brother film ever made. My over-riding memory of our house is—laughter. Laughter every day. Laughter all day. The more serious the moment, the more hilarious it became.
We three aren’t triplets, but it seems our sense of humor was born whole from a common source. We each innately knew which slightest gesture or word would take the other two down to the ground in spasmodic fits, laughing so hard that tears squirted from our eyes between gasped breaths.
The best venue for this madness was our Grand Opera, our Yankee Stadium, our Radio City Music Hall: the dinner table!
When sociologists posit that families should make sure that they have dinner together every night to hold the fabric of the family together, they know what they are talking about. However, they have no idea what beautiful craziness it led to at my house.
My father had his own business and worked 6 1/2 days a week. He was home every weekday at 5:30 p.m. and, when he walked in, we all sat down to supper together. Dinner was eating and talking, joking, impromptu stand-up skits, 2- or 3-brother improv acts based on whatever was happening that week, or anything we had already mined for our delight in the past. Often, the older and more obvious the joke, the funnier and funnier it got, simply by doing it over and over and over again—I don’t know why, but to us it was simply hilarious.
Then of course there were the extra-curricular events: taking pictures of simply hard-to-believe-gigantic slabs of beef that we consumed, acting through famous Marx Brother scenes verbatim, watching my father have a helping of carrots, then turn out the lights and run around the table exclaiming, “I can see! I can see!” and, of course, almost taking out the Rabbi’s eye with a mashed potato ball as he walked in on a riotous, food-fashioned, baseball game in our kitchen when he came on a condolence call for my grandfather. No, really.
My mother and father would try to maintain some order by weakly yelling for us to stop . . . as tears rolled from their eyes and they desperately tried to stop laughing.
We had fun.
But that is only a small part of why my brothers deserve their title as “World’s Best,” and why I am lucky to have them.
Here’s the deal with my family. It stems from my dad. There has never been a time when I needed help from either Steve or Corey when the answer wasn’t, “I will be right there.” And from me to them. There is no lag time, no thought process, no weighing the facts: “I’ll be right there.”
It’s not hard to understand where this came from.
Here is a small example.
While in college at Syracuse University, I had a fantastic old Austin-Healey sports car, my dream ride. After having it awhile, my dream was for it just to continue running! Problems galore, especially with the famously unreliable electrics in it. While on my way home to my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, my beautiful car started to have a fit on Route 81. It was the middle of the night, it was snowing, it was bitter cold, and I was in the middle of upstate New York with nothing but farmland around. And I was a couple of hours from my home.
I managed to limp to a gas station, where my car promptly went stone dead. I went to the phone, called my house, and woke up my dad. After I brief explanation from me—“I’ll be right there.”
And this was not the first time he’d had to rescue me and my obstreperous obsession of a car, though it was the most difficult. (My love affair with this car endured, but not much longer: I was in love, but not insane).
I have had and continue to have many great friends, but a friend is not a brother, at least not like my brothers. When I was in the depths of despair after my divorce, they kept me afloat and tethered. When I was ecstatic with a new love in my life, they joined me in celebrating. When I started a new business, their encouragement made me confident.
Everything in life is made better by sharing. Period. Even the most difficult of times can be endured with someone by your side or protecting your back.
Each of my sweet parents has passed away. Their deaths were trying and sometimes just plain excruciating to get through. I don’t have to tell you that Steve, Corey, and I formed a united front in doing what had to be done. We were adults and experienced and strong but, sometimes, just one thing would catch one of us off guard. When it happened, that brother would turn to the others and just say, “I can’t,” and one of the others would do what needed doing. From talking to the funeral director, or speaking at the ceremony, or handling some affairs in the house, we each did what we could and passed the loads too heavy to bear to another. We were three-men-strong, and that’s pretty damn strong.
Last spring, I took my step-son and his wife with me to visit my brothers down in Virginia. It had been almost a year and a half since my second wife had passed away and I was doing OK, but not great. I had a need to see them, to be in the same room with them, to hug them and talk to them.
My brothers and their wives and the three of us had a big dinner together at Steve’s house. Delicious food, liberal alcohol, lots of talk. As the night wore on, time shifted and the old Marx Brothers routines resurfaced. New ad lib acts developed, and old jokes were repeated ad infinitum. We fell off chairs in hysterics, jumped up, and hugged each other in delight. We exorcised sadness and longing. We were awash in laughter and tears and love.
That evening, I came back to life.
That evening, I was with my brothers, and I was home.