George S. Eisenberg (1921-2014)
I Love You More…was always my father’s response to any of us saying I Love You. In recent weeks when Dad had trouble expressing himself, WE KNEW he was still present when in a faint whisper “Popi” would utter, I love you more.
Sometimes I thought my father was too nice…even annoyingly nice. With maturity, I Iearned he was just very wise; a gentle patient man who chose humor and thought, over anger. He didn’t hold a grudge and ALWAYS saw the glass as half full, if not overflowing. Dad was blessed with good health for most of his life, and knew how lucky he was. “if you have your health, you have everything.”
We always laughed calling “Popi” eccentric. In reality Dad was more grounded than the rest of us, as he didn’t get side tracked by life’s unproductive white noise. Instead he focused first on his beloved bride and family, friends, art, music, good food and lively conversation.
Dad could have cared less about what kind of car a person drove or the clothes they wore, although he usually looked very dapper thanks to Mom. After dinner Dad would often get in the car and go for an ice-cream-run, wearing his comfortable slippers, or in pants covered with dabs of paint on his right thigh where he blotted his paint brushes. Back in the day, Mom would say “George, you can’t go out like that.” In later years she just laughed claiming, “He can get away with it now that he’s old.”
Dad was truly the most patient and gentle man I have ever known. He never heard of the term “Mindfulness”… the art of living in the moment and withholding judgement. He just followed this now popular practice instinctively.
To George, every conversation provided a new opportunity to build on a foundation of knowledge or love and respect…..or to start over again and mend broken fences. He would say, “Turn your mistakes into stepping stones..not tomb stones.”
Growing up Dad shared stories about living through the Depression and WWII, always sighting the resilience of the human spirit and finding the good even during those troubled times. When the family lost their home in Chelsea and moved to their small summer cottage by the beach, he was happy. Dad didn’t lament over scarcity or lack-of. Instead he MARVELED how occasionally the fish would run along the shoreline. The water churned with so much abundance, he could reach into the ocean and catch a fish with his bare hands. In retrospect this memory is like a metaphor of how Dad viewed life.
Although his family lived frugally during the Depression, he never depicted that era as a time of personal loss. Instead he told us how he earned extra money for the family delivering newspapers twice a day, with his dog Stubby by his side. Dad loved to talk about the local characters he befriended on his paper route of 10 years, one of whom built him a camera from scratch, while another treated him regularly with milk and cookies. Some didn’t always have money for the paper, but he never stopped delivery.
My father was moved by innovation…not things. It wasn’t until Margot and Eric started surfing that Dad shared how he crafted his own surfboard by stripping down “Bubbie’s” (grandma”s) wooden ironing board. He liked to say, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
Dad shared stories about life aboard ship during WWII, always reminding us how war brought people from all walks of life together to fight for a common cause. Religion, color, social standing…none of it really mattered in battle or forever-after in his life.
Dad spoke about befriending the native Filipinos while stationed in the South Pacific, trading his navy issued underwear for strung shell necklaces and wooden carvings. His fondest memories were of jumping ship at night and paddling to shore in hand hewn canoes with native friends to break bread, talk and make sketches of children, parents and of course pretty girls. He cherished those experiences and the lush tropical surroundings that were the back-drop to the good he found in the middle of war. Depicting life aboard ship in several hundred drawings and paintings, was his productive way of coping with fear and making the best of a less than stellar situation.
Dad was our optimist in residence, always thinking, creating, inventing. He had a great sense of humor. No doubt some of you have received one or two of his home made cartoons marking a special occasion or softening a difficult message with a dose of comic relief. He wrote whimsical stories for Margot and Eric, love poems to my mom, and wonderful heart felt letters embellished with Daddy doodles. Dad was never bored. In more recent years he would say, if I ever go blind I’ll learn to compose music.
I have a vivid memory of my father coming home with an LP of prerecorded sound affects ranging from horses galloping to the whistle of a train. We used these sound affects to enhance fictional narratives that we recorded on a giant old fashioned reel to reel tape machine… still living somewhere in his studio. Yes…he saved everything…much to all of our dismay!
Given paper and pencil Dad could keep anyone entertained, turning a pre-schooler’s scribble into a magical creature, or teaching a child or adult how to sketch an eyeball. He believed you could do anything you put your mind to, including learn to draw. Margot remembers Popi turning a shoebox into a pin hole camera, once again making something out of nothing.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized how unusual our household was, living with parents who adored one another. Two creative souls who could finish one another’s sentences, dancing in the kitchen, singing love ballads, and exploring new places together. My father married his muse and Mom remained on his pedestal for 56 years. He admired her wisdom, artistic talent, beauty and sumptuous cooking. He recognized that it was Mom who researched and planned their great travel adventures. He was amazed by her ability to pick up any foreign language and find her way around in the most remote areas. Always with a pad and paper in hand, dad would communicate with pictures, sketching local scenery and more often drawing the children who crowded around him.
As an illustrator who worked from home, Dad was always looking for models and collecting props. My mom was his stylist and forever muse. She had wigs of all lengths and colors, dressing as a vixen for covers of men’s adventure magazines, to posing as a cave woman draped in pelts. It seemed pretty normal navigating around Dad’s office supplies. He even had a collection of Playboy magazines that he referred to for skin color samples, taping snippets of nudey photos to his drawing board. It was a pragmatic exercise that helped him close in on a color pallet for someone’s rosey cheeks or bare arm. Dad dignified Playboy, by using the centerfolds as research tools. Again, It all seemed very normal.
Over the years I grew weary posing for my dad, but our friends and family thought it was fun, especially when they saw themselves months later in books, advertisments or on board game covers. The angriest my father ever was with me, dated back to a modeling session when I was dressed as an African school teacher wearing a turban and holding a pointer stick in front of a makeshift blackboard. He was working on a tight schedule and taking snapshots to help him with an important illustration and all I did was make faces and laugh. He didn’t yell at me directly, instead out of maddening frustration, he growled deeply like a grizzly bear. That’s what George did on the very rare occasions that he was angry.
Dad LOVED classical music…Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Chopin. Despite his passion for music, he didn’t care for the Rolling Stones and Rap thoroughly alluded him.
He LOVED cowboy and Indian movies, always encouraging everyone in the room to root for the Indians. He admired President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Walt Disney, Albert Schweitzer, Einstein, Irving Berlin, Gershwin and especially Mel Brooks in the movie Blazing Saddles.
Nothing made Dad happier than having humorous and spirited conversations with good friends and family over a delicious meal; space travel, modern art vs traditional, science versus religion. It all interested him.
Dad didn’t believe in an after-life, despite my many attempts to compare the soul to an entity of morphed energy. Instead he believed in being a “mensch” while residing on this planet.
Yesterday my mom and I were sitting on the back porch taking in the beautiful air remembering how much Dad enjoyed breakfast on the deck. Reflecting on a life well spent she said,
“Julie…your father and I had a lifetime of fun, and when you ‘ve had that much fun and love…then dying is not so sad. There are no “if onlys” .. . If only we did this…if only we did that…I guess that’s what gives me peace and comfort now.”
In closing this lovely chapter, my only hope is that Dad was mistaken about the here after, and can hear us say, “We love you more.”
Gabrielle, Joe, Eric, Margot, & Cate too!
A message from Dad on the back of one of his many illustrated stories created on the spot for his grandchildren, 1998.