Monday, August 15, 2016

Three sweet women ... our treasures

       We count our blessings daily, especially for our family and so many great friends, but there is a special love for three "old" women in Shreveport.
    Because they were so special to my parents, our love is never-ending for Pauline Murov, her younger sister Ruth  Nierman, and Lou Gwin.
    We lost Pauline a week ago today, not unexpectedly because she was 96 and her life extended nine months past when we thought it might end. She was, as her niece Helaine Nierman Braunig posted on Facebook in announcing her death, "sweet and hilariously funny."
    We were in Shreveport, at B'nai Zion Temple, for her memorial service last Thursday -- a beautiful and touching service, sad as all memorial services are, but also, befitting Pauline's personality, containing funny moments.
    Saying goodbye was the hard part of the day. The good part: seeing Ruthie, at 92 recovered from a recent broken hip. And then, an hour later, a visit with Lou, who at 89 is at a rehabilitation center recovering from pneumonia.
Pauline Murov and Ruth Nierman: the beloved Gilbert sisters,
three years ago on a visit to Colorado Springs
    As with Pauline, the wonderful aspect is that even after all these years, Ruthie and Lou are as sharp-minded as ever, no signs of aging mentally, still daily looking ahead.
    We have known them all for six decades.
    Pauline and Ruth are the daughters of Abe A. Gilbert, who had a job (at the Pipe & Supply company that carried his name) waiting for Dad when we arrived in the United States. We met them the first week we were in Shreveport (early January 1956).
    They would be the biggest benefactors we had -- the best of our support system. The only one who would match them was Janice Cahn, who became like the mother my mother no longer had after 1943.
     If Mrs. Cahn was mother-like, Lou Gwin was like my mother's sister -- her best friend almost from the day we moved to Sunset Acres (July 4, 1957), a next-door neighbor for a decade, a neighborhood neighbor the next 40 years.
     These women were our treasures.
     We think of them, and we think: kind, generous, upbeat, positive, lovely. 
      I wrote about Pauline and Ruthie four years ago, and our connection to the Gilbert family:
      The connection carries on because we now live within walking distance of where the Gilbert girls grew up in the 1930s and early 1940s, in Fort Worth, in the TCU neighborhood. I walk or drive past their old home a couple of times a week.
      During the memorial service Thursday, I remembered that Pauline outlived her father -- my Dad's first boss here -- by 50 years, and outlived her husband Lazar -- my Dad's second boss at the pipeyard -- by 20 years.
      To open the service, our favorite rabbi -- Jana De Benedetti, of B'nai Zion -- said: "Beautiful full room of people who don't want to be here. We are sad to be saying good-bye, but she -- Pauline, Aunt Sissy, Aunt Peshy -- lived an incredibly wonderful life filled with amazing experiences, lots of wonderful family ... "
      Rabbi Jana added how that most of us "wish we could have the kind of blessed end that she had. Peaceful. She thought she was going to die many months ago, and didn't.
      "... She had this extra time to talk to people, and the things that she said to people, and the things that people got to say to her were really wonderful, important things."
      A little later, she had us lift up our imaginary cups in a symbolic toast -- "l'chaim." Wine, someone suggested -- Mogem David wine. Rabbi Jana laughed and said, "I wasn't thinking wine." Pauline did like her occasional drinks.
      And then our co-favorite rabbi, Jordan Braunig, gave the eulogy. He is one of the six grandsons of Ruth Nierman, and  Pauline, he noted, transitioned over the years from beloved great aunt to surrogate grandmother to them. 
      "My grandmother (Ruth) has instructed me to speak into the microphone," Rabbi Jordan began. "I can think of no better way of honoring Aunt Sissy than to speak very loudly."
      He then told of her last birthday gathering, a surprise planned by the family and her caretakers. 
      "For those of us who spoke to her that day, there was something bittersweet in her voice," he recalled. "She absolutely loved the party they made for her, and at the same time, it would most certainly be her last. Pauline had months of knowing this day was coming and she lived them bravely, reflecting on the arc of her life. She lived them with pleasure, continuing to have dinner with her sister and accepting the many visitors who called on her.
      "She lived these days maintaining her one-of-a-kind sense of humor. In one of my last visits with her, we were joking about her healthy appetite, and she waved her hand at us and said, 'Make fun of me all you want, I can't hear you anyway.' "
      He spoke of her sister connection to so many old friends and groups, the love for so much family -- immediate and extended -- and the strong connection she and Lazar had for 49 years of marriage.
      It wasn't all perfect -- whose life is, after all?  There were family problems and disconnection.  
      As Jordan said, though, "In easy times and hard, she remained devoted, hopeful, loving."
      And he added, "There were many ways in which Pauline also grew funnier and more honest and more reflective as she got older" and, in many cases, delivered "the God-honest truth.
      "She was delightfully honest and funny, and had a self-deprecating side to her humor that was endearing," he said. "She was the least bit self-conscious, and she knew who she was.
      "Arriving at a restaurant, she would reach into her purse and pull out a bib that said, 'Miss Clean Pauline.' Unless, of course, it was a fancy restaurant, in which case she would reach for the sequined bib."
      "She always claimed she wasn't trying to be funny. She was just saying what she thought, speaking her mind. And whether it was intended or not, she brought out joy and laughter in those around her. She increased happiness in the world she encountered."
      What sticks with us most is the connection with Ruthie. The Murovs and the Niermans were part of our lives from 1956 on, so influential in my Mom and Dad's lives.
      For years, after Mr. Murov's death, Pauline dined with Ruth and Neal almost nightly and that continued after Neal's death in 2008 (just a month after my Dad's death). The girls, remarkably healthy for most of their 90-plus years, were traveling, shopping, Temple-going and -- mostly -- emotional companions.
      "To witness the lifelong friendship between these two sisters is to know what you can aspire to in your familial relationships," Rabbi Jordan said, pointing out the daily -- hourly, maybe -- phone calls.
      "At some point in their lives, they made the decision that they were in this together, and they would do all the work that it takes to be sisters, and to be friends.
      "Pauline would joke that when their parents were old that they asked her to take care of Ruthie, and that she agreed." Then, a laugh, "But she didn't expert her to live so long."
      When they last visited three weeks ago, with Pauline talking about memorial service plans, she told Jordan "not to go on too long. If she were here, I'm sure Pauline would wave her hand at me and 'say whatever you want about me, I can't hear you anyway.'
      "What I want to say, loudly and into the microphone, but what I believe she already knew, is that she was loved by a wide community of friends and family, that she was worthy of that love, and that her memory will continue to be cherished."
      Yes, it will.
      In my mother's final days, as she was in a rehab center after a broken hip and surgery, Pauline and Ruthie were almost daily visitors, bringing gifts and treats -- and conversation with Mom and her main caretaker, Beatrice Van Thyn.
      Another everyday visitor: Lou Gwin.

      I also wrote four years ago about Lou, recalling all the friends we made in our growing-up neighborhood:
Our dear friend Miss Lou,
with great granddaughter Brooklynn
         Here is what I said then: :" ... And Miss Lou remains in South Broadmoor; we saw her a week ago. She's the wonderful, simple country girl who understood how much of a friend my mother -- an often-fragile Holocaust survivor from a faraway place but also a dynamic, forceful Holocaust educator -- needed her to be."
      One other sentence from that blog: "When my mother's health declined, Lou Gwin was about the only person she really trusted (other than my wife Bea) to do anything she needed."
       She has been, since her husband Howard's death 27 years ago, living by herself -- an independent force, until a few years ago still cutting her own grass, driving (carefully) to the store and faithfully attending church, and best of all, spending lots of time with her beloved great granddaughter, Brooklynn.
        A pacemaker installed a year ago slowed her a little, but our visits with her nearly every time we were in Shreveport were much the same. 
        So we were concerned when we heard about the pneumonia and hospitalization a few weeks ago. She is bouncing back, taking well to the rehab (she acknowledged with a laugh and a shake of the head that it is a daily test), and there is a ways to go to get her back on her feet.
         We are, to say the least, rooting hard for her, hoping she can return to her own home, on her feet. Just as we continue to cherish the ongoing days of Ruth Nierman.
         Here is how the Van Thyn family -- mine and my sister Elsa's -- feels about Pauline, Ruthie and Lou: forever grateful, forever loved. They are our treasures.


  1. Nico--thank you so much for taking the time to craft this incredible tribute. I wish that I had seen you guys last week in Shreveport at the funeral and had a chance to talk. Again--thank you for your heartfelt post, which honors Aunt Sissy's memory beautifully.--Evan Nierman

  2. From Al Miller: People like this are the true treasures of our lives, and many times we never see it until it is too late. I had a couple of mom's friends that were the same to me as I was growing up and lost them all last year. Great people, with giving and loving hearts, that had a LOT to do with me growing up correctly (or as close as I could get).

  3. From Ron Nierman: Thanks for the beautiful words. My mother loved it.