This I have learned

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” Clarence, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Life was good for Ted Swartzberg and his family during the early part of the 20th Century. Eventually, however, life would have other plans for my father-in-law.

Ted was very well accomplished: he was a singer, he was an excellent swimmer and he received a football scholarship to Arizona State University in Phoenix. But the Arizona heat derailed his scholarship so Ted returned to Toledo.

The year was 1935 and America was emerging from The Great Depression. Money was tight and finding a job was almost impossible. But, in due course, Ted found a job working for Feldman’s Bakery, a successful family business located in downtown Toledo. To become a professional baker Ted attended the American Institute of Baking in Chicago.

Eventually, Ted met and married Joan Eisler. Life was wonderful for the newlyweds. But, Mr. Feldman’s son-in-law knew that where the bakery was located was where a planned downtown parking lot was going to be constructed. With that in mind, he closed the bakery, putting many family members (including Ted) out of work.

Ted and Joan struggled, especially because they had taken in Joan’s mother, who was a widow. There were many ups and downs, including a bankruptcy.

During the ensuing decades, however, through hard work and determination, Ted and Joan made a wonderful life for themselves and their two children Barry and Michelle. And, in 1966, Ted and Joan bought a Baskin Robbins’ franchise, which became one of the most successful Baskin Robbins’ stores in the country. They sold the store in 1986 and moved to California.

In 1991 Ted, at the age of 74, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he died in December.

My husband and I hosted a reception in our home for those who attended Ted’s burial.

A week later there was a knock at our door. Upon opening it we saw an elderly man, dressed in a 40s style brown suit, brown shoes and a brown fedora. “Is this the Swartzberg home?” he asked. We invited him in.

He said in a soft voice that he had worked with Ted 50 years ago at a car dealership in Toledo and he related many stories about Ted of which my husband never knew.

After a while I offered a cup of coffee to the soft-spoken man. He declined my offer because he wanted to get home before dark. And then we saw him walk down our driveway to his car and drive away.

We were grateful that this little brown-suited man made the effort to come to pay his respects. And, after he left, we tearfully reflected on the many lives Ted had touched.

While the loss of a loved one creates a chasm in our lives, reminiscing about the individual can help fill the void we feel. This I have learned.