Because they were Holocaust survivors -- but not the only ones in the city -- the service was always special for our family. And my mother was featured -- either making a speech or reading her poetry -- almost every year of the first 27 services.
|The Gilbert family, with my mother on her final birthday.|
That Ron would be the one speaking about my folks isn't a surprise. He wrote beautiful tributes for each of their memorial services. He knew them as well as anyone.
It is appropriate, too, because he is a grandson of Abe A. Gilbert and Rae Gilbert, and he is part of the extended Gilbert family. In our eyes, they are the First Family of Shreveport. That's how much they mean to us.
Among those at Sunday's service were 91-year-old Pauline Murov and 88-year-old Ruth Nierman -- the Gilberts' daughters. They are the family matriarchs, still bright, still active ... and still generous.
I look at them, and it takes me back many years because Ruth looks exactly like their dad; Pauline looks exactly like their mother.
When plans were made to have dinner with Ron and wife Jackie, and Helaine (the Niermans' daughter) and son-in-law Bill Braunig, Pauline and Ruthie said that "if you'll let us come, too, we'll pay for the dinner." That was a deal.
And then they good-naturedly argued about where Pauline's car was parked. They're still feisty, too.
Ron and Bill now run A.A. Gilbert Pipe & Supply, where my dad worked for 28 years. But he didn't just work; we became part of the family.
Mr. Gilbert didn't provide the Shreveport Jewish Federation with the original sponsor money that helped bring us from Holland to the United States. That was someone else. He did offer to provide a job.
My dad knew nothing of oilfield pipe, and he didn't speak much English. He would learn, but it would take time. The start was difficult.
The outcome of our lives in Shreveport and the U.S. is a heckuva success story. But we owe Mr. Gilbert and his family a great deal of thanks. They became our true sponsors.
On the Sunday of our first weekend in Shreveport, my dad asked for directions on how to find the pipeyard on Mansfield Road. He wanted to see it and know he could get there to start work the next day. We were told to take the Line Avenue bus that ran just a block away from our new little duplex on Jordan Street.
Off we went. In a strange new place, the bus ride seemed to take forever ... like we were going to the end of the world.
We exited the bus at Mansfield Road and Kings Highway, and walked to the pipeyard from there. It was perhaps about a quarter mile, but again it seemed like a long, long walk to an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old (my sister). After we saw the yard -- with stacks and stacks of pipe -- we walked back, then took the bus ride home.
My dad went to work as a laborer with the crew -- loading pipe, cleaning pipe. It wasn't what he imagined. After a few weeks, he told Mr. Gilbert -- and the Shreveport Jewish Federation -- he wanted to look for something else.
He became a carpenter's apprentice, or so he thought. Again, it didn't work out. Perhaps the language barrier got in the way. On to a new job.
By now, someone in Shreveport had told us of a Dutch native who worked in town. Ed Vandenberg was a plasterer who lived outside Arkadelphia, Ark., but was working on the Beck Building then being constructed. He and a daughter, Janet, in her early 20s, worked in Shreveport during the week and went home on weekends. They would become our first good friends in this country.
Ed helped line up a job for my dad on the Beck Building construction crew; just a cleanup-type job. My dad didn't like that much, either.
And here came a critical point. My dad went back to Mr. Gilbert, asked for another chance. Mr. Gilbert, with his sons-in-law Lazar Murov and Neal Nierman helping run the business, decided they would teach my dad -- his English somewhat better -- the insides of the business, aiming to make him a foreman.
The rest is sweet history. Not only did they take him back, soon they provided him a car. And many cars over the rest of the 28 years. And gasoline, repairs, bonuses, time off, time to attend sports events when they just happened to coincide with where he needed to look at some pipe (amazing how often that happen).
He rewarded them with hard work. He traveled thousands of miles to look at pipe, recommend whether the business make a purchase, get the crew to load the pipe on trucks, paid the fines for overloads, did many favors for people who needed second-hand pipe for various reasons, and helped run the yard at home.
The Gilberts gave us our first TV, helped us buy our first home just a year and a half later, treated my mother and Elsa and me like we were their own.
When Mr. Gilbert passed away in 1966, Mr. Murov became head of the business (Mr. Nierman had gone back to dealing in investment and stockbroking -- his first love). Eventually the business passed to Ron and Bill, who became my dad's best young friends and, at his request, were pallbearers at his funeral.
(There's another neat connection to the Gilberts; they were longtime Fort Worth residents. Bea and I have lived in the area near TCU for the past six years. Before they came to Shreveport in 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert, Pauline and Ruth lived in this very neighborhood; the girls graduated from Paschal High School.)
There were lots and lots of people who greatly enriched the Van Thyns' lives, and I hope to write about more of them soon. But all the Gilbert family is at the top of the list, and their love has never diminished. To be thought of as part of their family is indeed a privilege.