My father was never one to make an entrance. He was always on the periphery - in the second seat while someone else drove, in the kitchen when the action was in the living room, in Production when the Account men were making their pitches...
He was someone you had to listen to closely and watch carefully to get to know. This occurred to me lately when I heard the caregivers talk about their midnight conversations with him at his gathering in Pittsburgh – how well they knew him.
We were often too busy to do that much; we were on the move, as he wanted us to be, while he preferred to stay in one place, winding his clock, eating the same breakfast every day, reading the newspaper, paying the bills each week, doing the crossword, while his sisters kept him company. We rushed around and beyond him, stopping in for a kiss or a hug or a handshake, full of love, but on our way. He was always there, though, and somehow over the many years we absorbed what he had to teach – some of the best of him came to us just because we loved him so much. His curiosity about the world: no matter what the topic you talked to him about, he was interested. Last week, he asked me, “what’s that?” looking at my computer, and we explored. We are a curious bunch, the five of us, like him, and our children are too. His admiration of thorough, solid work: “if you’re going to do something, do it right!” like all of us, who have jobs in which we do our absolute best. His sense of humor, ironic and subtle: when asked in the hospital last week what his secret to being old was, for the hundredth time, he answered, “How much money will you give me if I tell you?” And finally, his calm acceptance of whatever came his way, which I can only hope to possess someday.
All of his strengths helped him weather the last few years, when he lost Florence and had to live alone. I never realized how courageous he was until that happened. Each week, he literally pulled himself up our front steps and down again at the end of the night, took himself down to dinner when it was not what he wanted to do, but knew it was good for him. He never complained – except the last day I saw him, when it had been a terribly difficult week and they had been trying to get him to walk and he said they had been mean to him. Other than that, he didn’t say a negative word to me - about the many caregivers, the 24-hour company when he didn’t want it, the indignity of having people he’d never met dress and undress and boss him around. He calmly put up with it all, accepting with grace and courage and dignity and good humor the difficulties of being an old man in a world that had raced ahead of him. We are glad he was our father, and grandfather. He brought out the best in all of us. We will miss him terribly; he was our center of gravity, like the clock he wound each week.
I don’t mean retirement from his job, although he was retired from that for so many decades that retirement came, in a way, to define him.
He was retiring in the best sense of the word. No one I know is that way; no one is, or can be, the way he was. “They don’t make them like that anymore,” people said. In reality, people do not make themselves that way.
He retired from all sorts of things: from worldly ambition (he had none), from worldly noise and noisy people. He found his own quiet wisdom.
He retired from vanity and pride, from “damn nonsense” of any sort, from “the whole ball of wax.” Went to a thoughtful place, deep inside himself, and came out when we needed him.
He was a retiring father whose absence was a steady calming presence that kept us all on course.
He would ring the bell for “happy hour,” set things in motion, freshen them up, serve us all, retire to the kitchen.
When he withdrew into himself over these past years, Holly and Paul, Anna, Laura and Emily coaxed him out again and brought out his kind smile. Thanks to them for caring for him, for making his last years so good, for allowing the rest of us peace of mind.
He curled up contentedly under the quilt of love and kindness they stitched together for him, one year after another.
Even from a distance, we felt uncommonly proud of him.
Happy hour. He is gone, and we will remember him that way. In his absence he is more himself than ever.
--Christopher Herman Maurer
. . . I could talk for hours about what a great man Herman was. But I cannot do that; I promised Monsignor Sweeney I would keep this brief…. So just a few words.
Those who knew Herman Maurer saw
He was both a true Gentlemen and a very Gentle Man
Pure generosity. Herman never had a lot of money but you would never know that because he was so incredibly generous and his generosity had no barriers.
His love and thoughtfulness touched all he came in contact with. It crossed all races, all religions and all classes,
He had the ability to find good in all.
Herman lived a simple life and the simple things in life gave him the most comfort and joy.
He had a keen eye for art- and loved to look for and buy beautiful paintings.
Herman loved music and in fact was a musician? We loved to listen to him play his cello. When he hit a wrong note we can all hear him whistle……. Herman loved to whistle….. and used to whistle to express so many emotions
He had a beautiful bass voice. How we all loved to hear him sing.
He loved to read and he surrounded himself with great books. All the reading he did helped keep him mentally sharp. Until recent years, he was still completing the New York Times crossword puzzle daily
He was a disciplined man…. he loved good food but never over ate, he loved a good drink but always stopped at 2, he smoked a pipe most of his life but quietly gave up tobacco in his 70’s.
Dad liked to fly under the radar. But his quiet and strong leadership was powerful and always there.
He was not only the smartest man I knew but also the wisest
He could be counted on for good and sometimes very pointed advice. I will always hear him telling us: that was… or don’t be,….or that is, …. or you are…...dumb as hell.
Dad was also brave and fearless. At the age of 90 he was held up at gunpoint while working home from the store in the city. The robber saw an old man as an easy target. Herman punched the robber in the face and the robber ran off. When we asked dad why he would do such a crazy thing he told us that guy was not going to take his rump roast! (True story)
Herman was a great cook and at 100 years of age still loved to prepare meals for his family. Always buying the best ingredients he prepared wonderful dinners, breakfasts, and as all in the family knew….. Herman hosted the world’s best happy hours. His tradition of happy hour has been passed to all of his children, and all of his grandchildren, and I am sure will be passed for many Maurer generations to come.
We loved when Herman would ring a little bell and send the call... Happy Hour! So many great family conversations and so much family love were passed during these special gatherings. A happy hour always led to a happy dinner and happy evening. After the second martini he would always shut it down and say that two drinks were enough. His sisters would always push back… “Oh come on, Herman, it’s the weekend….Let’s just have one more.” OK….sometimes he folded for one more.. Dinner was then pushed back to 10:00 pm.
Finally, Herman was a man of great faith. Recently when I asked how he was he happily told me that he was waiting for the angles to ring the bell. He was somewhat amazed himself at living so long. When reminding him that on his next birthday he would be 105 and how we were all looking forward to that, he said something like “Oh no, really? Oh geez….105 really? Holy smokes!”….And as he laughed,he said…… “That is too damn old!”
I last saw my dad about a month or so ago. We had such a nice visit that evening. I stopped to see him as I normally did when I was in Pittsburgh for business. He was downstairs at dinner when I stopped. In recent months it took him a few minutes to know which son was near. His caregiver had told him that his son was going to stop and he thought it was going to be my brother Christopher. “Christopher?” he said.... “Hi, Dad, no, it’s Timmy.” “Christopher?”... “Nope Dad, it’s your youngest son, TIMOTHY!!
As I showed him pictures of Anne and the kids the light came on and he was so happy. It was after I showed him Anne’s picture he said, “Oh….sure... that’s Anne. (Dad always had a special place for his children’s spouses) After dinner I went back to his apartment with him. He was now clear and we looked at more pictures we had a nice conversation. When I left I gave him a big hug and kiss and said I love you dad. He very clearly looked at me and said I love you too Tim.
The angels rang the bell and Dad died peacefully very early Monday morning. He was not sick or in any pain. It sad for all that Herman Maurer has left us but I find great comfort knowing he is now reunited in heaven with my mom and with his dear sisters Hildegarde, Florence and Kate, whom he loved so much. . .