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Tag Archives: Les

“Be thou my wife”

LRK-DAK honeymoonIt is December 20. Seventy years ago today my grandfather, a rabbi, officiated at the wedding of my parents. In the scrapbook, two small documents mark the event, one a California Certificate of Marriage and the other a Jewish Covenant of Marriage.

There is no photo of the occasion. No gown. No towering wedding cake. No picture of the smiling bride and groom. For my mother, it was her second marriage and she would have considered it “unseemly” to make a show of it. My father was still finding his way home from a long war, and anyway would have shunned the fanfare of an elaborate wedding.

I’m not sure where the ceremony took place — in my grandparents’ home, perhaps — or who attended, though it was likely a very small, close gathering of family. The witnesses were the sisters-in-law, Helen and Charlotte, the wives of my mother’s brother and my father’s brother.

There was probably food, a toast, many mazeltovs, and then Les and Dorothy (she would have been Dottie, or Red, at the time) drove off to honeymoon in Death Valley, where this photo was taken.

I wonder what Dorothy was thinking that day. I know she was thrilled to be marrying Les, but did she miss the lace and tulle? Was she intimidated by the religious trappings of the ceremony? Did she feel welcomed by my father’s family or was she already constructing reasons to divide herself from them? How did she picture her future?

She spoke to me of many things, but she never talked about that day.

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Veterans Day

LRK tags and bronze star certificate

My father was a smart and honest man, quiet and hardworking, with a fine sense of humor, genuine warmth, and a profound love of family. He was a deep thinker and an avid reader. He approached problems with the orderly sensibility of an engineer. He fought for his country in a terrible war and, like most soldiers, saw too much that was unbearable. Whatever was broken inside him as a result of that experience remained — through strength of character, habit, luck, training, fear, or sheer stubbornness — contained and silent for the rest of his long life. I salute him and I miss him.

beginning

DAK - Death ValleyWho was this Dorothy? This boot-clad woman in the sweater I’ve never seen? What rough camp is this, with its big tables and bright windows? She isn’t posing, might be in the middle of saying something, in the middle of relaxing from a hike in the chilly afternoon.

The undated photo is likely from my parents’ honeymoon, December in Death Valley. They would have driven east and north from Los Angeles, across mountains and desert, filled with their own heat and promise, to reach this place of ghost towns and abandoned mines, this not-yet-a-resort. She was from a life of fur coats and Oysters Rockefeller, he the rabbi’s son with too many war years in the Army.

They would find their way, starting in this parched landscape of a zillion stars, set aside the familiar, the comfortable, to begin what might then have seemed the perfect union.

May 30

1954 - DAK-LRKUntil 1971, when national holidays began to wander the calendar in search of Monday, my parents each had a claim on May 30th: it was Memorial Day and it was my mother’s birthday.

By the time they met, the war was over; none of our family photos show them together with Les in uniform. The remnants of my father’s war were few: dog tags, Zippo, foot locker, sleeping bag, photos, and a slim folder of paperwork. His scars were not physical and, like others of his generation, he bore them with stoicism and little comment.

If my mother’s war had been a time of personal strength and freedom, she seemed equally willing to set it aside in favor of her new life with my father.

Each year on Memorial Day my father honored his memories, his lost family and friends, with a quiet walk among the headstones at the Veteran’s Cemetery. While my mother claimed to be unsentimental about her birthday, she never accompanied him on those walks, his brief abandonment of her like a small stone in the birthday cake.

But my father would return, soothed and soothing, and, wounds attended, the birthday would resume.

Each of my parents owned a part of the day, and a part of me. It seems we still celebrate together.
. . . . .
photo: Dorothy and Les, 1954

symbol

LRK Pisces sculptureAn engineer by training and trade, my father had a firm grasp on reality. He was practical and believed that problems had solutions. He had a fierce work ethic and great determination. At the same time, he was willing to entertain — on an intellectual level — all manner of thought. He was a voracious and eclectic reader and enjoyed pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Among the mysteries that intrigued him were symbols of all sorts. He studied them, sketched them and, eventually, carved them. He had little use for astrology, but its symbols were among those that interested him and when he was about 60 he began sculpting his way through the zodiac.

On my 22nd birthday, he gave me this Pisces sculpture. Balanced on a steel strap above a marble base, the piece stands about 21 inches high. The pair of sanded-to-a-gloss fishes — lemon and orange wood, according to his notes — leap from a teak sea.

Though years, and my father, have passed, and the wood has darkened slightly, the sculpture remains to remind me of his engineer’s precision, his wide-ranging mind…and his love.

seen and unseen

at 3 mos - jik-DAK-LRKI like this photograph. I like that it contains a little puzzle, though it took me a long time to recognize it.

That’s me, at about three months, looking skinny and serious in my mother’s hands, and that’s my father with the camera. He’s smiling and focused on me, I’m not smiling and looking back at him, and Dorothy is flirting with the person taking this photo, whose identity will forever remain a mystery.

This is a red-carpet moment for Dorothy. She is apparently (or at least momentarily) recovered from the ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth, she looks stylish and happy, and under the gaze of two cameras, she’s aglow with attention.

December 8

jik to LRK birthday insidejik to LRK birthdayMy father’s birthday and a card holds up the faded mirror of my young self. I don’t know how old I was when I made this card, but I was already coloring inside the lines. The heart and the figure of my father are carefully outlined in pencil, and there’s a pencil line to indicate the floor. I loved coloring, and had plenty of crayons and paper, but wasn’t allowed to have coloring books; I had to make my own designs. (The lesson must have stuck; I have no desire for any of the scores of “adult” coloring books currently on the store shelves, just astonishment at the size of the sudden trend.)

With its little brackets, the table is easy to recognize: it’s the card table in my mother’s studio, the one I had occasion to study most often, as I stood in the doorway, hoping she’d show some interest in me, but mostly just annoying her.

Perhaps the big hovering pink thing is a practice cake, where I was working out the concept of roundness. Anyway, the important parts are there: my father, the cake, and love. Happy Birthday, Papa.

deux femmes

1966 - DAK w Tête de femmeIt’s 1966. In Antibes, at the Grimaldi, my mother examines Picasso’s Tête de femme aux grands yeux. My father’s black-and-white photograph emphasizes the rough texture and stark volumes of the sculpture. His own woodcarving was much influenced by the abstracted forms of Picasso, Brancusi, Arp, Noguchi and Henry Moore, which he studied with an engineer’s eye — not to replicate but to understand.

In the photograph, through some trick of light, angle or scale, the perspective is slightly off. Dorothy and the Tête seem to vie for the same plane, advancing and retreating, one in front, then the other. Whether my father saw that, at the time or later, I don’t know. Nor can I guess whether he framed the image with tongue in cheek, these two commanding women caught side-by-side in the stillness of their unique beauty.

Veterans Day

LRK 1942 Camp YoungMy father, who served during World War II, did his military training at Camp Young — the headquarters of the Desert Training Center, in California’s Mojave Desert, and the world’s largest Army post. Although the work was serious and hard and dirty, the war itself was, for the moment, far away.

He wasn’t big on mementos and didn’t own a camera until much later in his life, but there remain from those months of training a small collection of 8-by-10 glossies of Les, age 31. He never said why they were taken — perhaps for a newsletter or Army recruiting materials. Some are informal, like this one; others are lit dramatically.

As with the rest of his military service, Les spoke little of these months in the desert. The one story I remember was the one he told me each time I pulled out his Army sleeping bag for a slumber party. Near the foot of the bag, on the inside, was a hand-sewn patch, about four inches square. He told me that a field mouse had burrowed through the fabric and dropped a litter of pups in the soft filling. The mother mouse escaped and Les removed the babies, putting them, he assured me, “in a safe place.” As my father watched, I would cautiously unzip the bag, spread it flat and inspect the patch for recent incursions.

The story, with its frisson of the wild kingdom, long outlived its smallest characters. But it was one he could share with his young daughter, and one he could tell without threatening the edifice of silence within which he — and so many soldiers — lived for the remainder of their long lives.

Good luck.

Dear MomWhat might have temporarily removed me from parakeet-feeding duty at age 8 is anyone’s guess; perhaps I was at camp. Blueboy was my friend and companion, but, more urgently, my responsibility — another way in which I might prove or fail.

With careful loops and links, I test newly learned script, forego “Mommy” for what I intuited was the more mature and less needy “Mom” and sign my name in reverse order — Yduj — not mirror-writing, but a turnaround that offered the possibility of a secret identity. I remember, at the dinner table, my father sounding out our “other” name — Grebnielk — with a kind of gutteral messiness that made me laugh.

It’s unlikely my mother would have forgotten to feed Blueboy, but she had no affection for the bird and I wasn’t taking any chances. Already, the written word was talisman against such failure.

an ending

2 September 1945Among the photos that trace the long course of my father’s life — many from his childhood, youth and family; some, formal or candid, from his military service; many from our years together as a family — are a number that seem like pieces of some else’s puzzle.

On the back of this photo, in Les’s very distinctive hand, are the words “Chicago on V-J. Day.” Whether it marks the day of “victory,” August 15, 1945, or the day of official surrender, September 2, 1945, my father was still on active duty, so how he came to have this photo, or who took it, is unknown. But it seems apt, somehow, as a symbol of the exhaustion that marks the end of a terrible war (and what war isn’t?): the sidewalk littered with papers, probably flung from windows earlier in the day, but here, a few hours later, everything back to normal, gray and slow, the long cleanup ahead.

My father never spoke of the war — only his friendships with fellow soldiers — and he served in Europe, but clearly this photo was important enough to keep. An end stop to so much he was unable to speak — or forget.

tools

mallets by LRKMy father was a fierce advocate of the tool-for-every-job philosophy. He also believed that owning tools was a partnership and that a tool would function well only if it was maintained properly. I can see him testing a knife or chisel blade against the pad of his thumb; a chisel that was not sharp was not worthy of the name.

An engineer by trade and nature, he also understood that things didn’t always work as intended. If the tool didn’t do the job, he would figure out a way to make it work.

Before repetitive motion injury had entered the vocabulary, tool handles were one of Les’s most persistent frustrations. A wood sculpture might require thousands of mallet hits against the chisel, hours of abrading with rasps and files and sandpaper blocks. If the tool didn’t fit the hand, the entire body paid the price.

So new or modified handles were one of his most consistent fixes. Sometimes it was just a matter of carving a smooth thumb-well into a chisel handle to keep the chisel from rotating; other times a new handle became a sculpture in itself. Or an entirely new tool.

Thumb testing the blade of this musing, I see that words are also tools. Practice, sharpen, adapt, invent. Repeat.
. . . . .
mallets by LRK, 1963

selfie

1980s DAK self sketchMy mother wanted to be a photographer. Not as a profession, but literally to “take” pictures — to bring home with her the abstractions of color, line and form she saw everywhere.

She struggled with one camera after another. My father patiently showed her and wrote cues to help her remember the sequence of buttons. He gave her his own camera, which looked so easy and which she was sure she could master, and when that defeated her, he found her a simpler one. But that, too, was just an incomprehensible box of buttons that she eventually stuck in a drawer, giving up the idea of taking photographs.

Dorothy would undoubtedly have found a cell phone equally daunting, but she would have loved the idea of selfies. In fact, she created hundreds of them, with pencil and brush, pastel and ink. If they did not provide the instant gratification she hoped to achieve with the camera, they left a record of how she saw herself, stripped of artifice — a harsh beauty seen through an acute and unforgiving eye.

Papa

LRK about 1951In this undated photograph, my father is about 40 — his hair mostly gone, his bow-tie askew, his signet ring from Case Tech in place. I don’t know why he had this picture taken and I’ve never seen the final print, if there was one, but he looks tan and serious and much the way he would look for the remaining 40-plus years of his life. He was a good man — intelligent, loyal, honest and affectionate — and I know I was very, very fortunate in having him as a father.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is, appropriately, full of sober remembrances to mark the challenges and sacrifices of military service. But as we honor those who served, it’s cheering to also remember that soldiering is a time of enormous camaraderie and, often, great good humor. In light of that, I offer this little treasure — a “Commendation and Recommendation for Soldier’s medal of the Soldier’s Cross of the Knight’s Cross, 2d Class (with palms and two oak leaf clusters)” — bestowed upon my father, Capt. Kleinberg, by his commanding officer, Col. Kaiser, in 1943.

Commendation

San Diego, 1970

1970 - DAK San DiegoMy father unseen, on a balcony perhaps, raises the camera to include the duck drifting out of the frame, and my mother, on the dock below, who has been enjoying the lily pads near her feet. At his request, she has taken off her hat, which is in her lap, and her sunglasses, which dangle from her left hand. She smiles, starts to turn toward his voice, and he catches her with her eyes closed.

There’s room for him on the seat and maybe he’ll join her, or maybe she’ll pick up a pad and sketch a bit. They’ll go for a walk. They’ll stroll up and down the docks looking at the boats, which my father loves, although he’s never owned a boat and never spent much time on the water.

They’ll eat lunch at a place with a view of the bay and go to the zoo, where he’ll take photos of a zebra and a hippo. They’ll go back to their room and read a little, and nap, and then have a glass of wine on their balcony overlooking the water, and then go to dinner, and then walk wherever it is people walk on these warm summer evenings.

Maybe they talk about the space race, the war in Vietnam, the recent invasion of Cambodia or the four students killed at Kent State. Maybe not. Maybe they speculate about the lives of people around them or comment on the play of color on the water.

Maybe none of this happens except the duck and the dock and the zebra and the hippo, which I know because of the photos — the tenuous armature of a story that can be told in so many ways.

noticed

1963 DAK - 1966 DAKMy father took these photos of my mother, the left in 1963 at the Pantheon, in Rome, and the right in 1966, the location unidentified, but perhaps a zoo. There are a lot of photos like this in the scrapbook, Dorothy turned slightly toward the camera. He would have used a nickname to get her attention — not Red or Dottie, which other people used, but Schnutzie or some other made-up name.

Much as she loved her Chanel suit, my mother was happy to be released from the sensible squareness of the 1950s. It would be another ten or more years before she was willing to give up her girdle, but the ‘60s offered a more generous, and welcome, range of expression. She still (and always) dressed well, with care, and her style was far from zany, but she began to recognize and test the effect of colors and layers and odd accessories. Until late in her life, she was torn between the desire to be noticed and the persistent voice of her own mother’s warnings to be good, quiet, invisible.

gift

LRK to jik 1997In his sculpture, my father returned repeatedly to this form — the object both joined and separate. Reflecting the natural shape of the branching tree, it suggests relationship as well as the individual standing with arms raised in praise or plea.

This small “WINGED FORM,” as he described it in his carefully annotated and illustrated log, was made from two pieces of black walnut “doweled and epoxied together” and affixed to a black walnut base. My father made it for my birthday in 1997. It was one of his last sculptures and it was the last of my birthdays we would celebrate together.

In addition to the “Love — Papa” signature on the bottom, the piece itself is carefully scribed on the four faces of the lower, joined, section: my initials, J and K, on two sides, 97 and his artist’s monogram, a conjoined LRK, on the other two.

It is conceived and crafted and finished with love, infused with memories and embodied with the calm strength of his warm hands. A gift that transcends time and loss.
. . . . .
LRK to jik, 1997, “WINGED FORM,” 10” high, base 3.25” diameter

making pictures

Dorothy in Venice, 1963My father, no doubt in sports jacket and bowtie, stands in a precarious spot to capture this quintessential moment of my mother’s Venetian happiness: beret, gloves, Michelin guide and two handsome young men in the picture. This was how she had imagined the trip, and herself in it.

Those months of making notes, bookmarking pages in the guide, asking my father whether he was interested in this or in that. But he didn’t care; this was her domain. In his heart, he would have opted to stay home, to putter, away from the office for ten days.

Though born in Hungary, he had left as an infant and had no nostalgia for Europe. The War — his un-discussed war — was still a raw scar twenty years later, reminders everywhere, even in places he’d never been. Like Italy. But he was a good sport and a good husband and, once committed to a situation, knew how to make the best of it. He enjoyed their travels, this trip a sort of celebration after a prolonged period of work and money difficulties.

Through it all — the belt-tightening, the going without, the slow recovery — Dorothy had continued to idealize each situation, each outcome, and her heroic role in it. The problem was that the reality seldom attained the ideal. She warned me repeatedly against looking forward to anything.

Yet in travel, when she could be anyone, be the person she envisioned, she came closest to the place where the picture in the scrapbook matched the picture in her mind: smile wide, attractive and excited and contented, a woman everyone would admire and want to know.

Father’s Day

LRK and Taco - 1964Put off by the weight of advertising circulars in each day’s newspaper, I think about how little my father relished shopping. He would find something he liked — faded blue denims, for example — and buy several at once, railing at the world when they eventually became unavailable and he was forced into change. He accepted my mother’s additions to his closet, mostly without notice or comment, though he was always reluctant to part with the clothes that had been wear-softened to perfection, with their frayed edges and incipient holes.

He readily got dirty with whatever engaged him and eagerly got clean when it was done.

He wore bow-ties for every occasion that required a tie, including work, but vastly preferred casual comfort, changing from street clothes into old favorites as soon as he came home. (I do this too.) When he retired, his ties retired, and except for the rare wedding, he never wore them again — sometimes being the only man in the room without one. I think he was not unaware that he was a handsome man, but never preened or fussed, his appearance being merely another given, like hair color or height. He was easy in himself.

I miss him.

. . . . .
photo: Les with Taco, a brand-new member of the family, 1964

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