Pappy Smith died while playing chess at ninety five with a twelve year old girl. Pappy's legal first name was Wolf but everyone called him Pappy for so long that few people knew that Wolf Smith was born Wolg Schoychat in Riga, Latvia. He was the younger brother of Bear and Lion. His dad, a traveling rabbi, married late in life was born near the turn of the nineteenth century.
As soon as Wolf could break out of the traveling rabbi show he moved to England, changed his name to Smith became an athiest and learned English. Pappy followed the lure of the 1890's Gold Rush to South Aftrica. We heard from his children that Pappy laid the cornerstone of the South African Parliment building in Johaannesburg. He confirmed the story with a nod and didn't elaborate. The Boar War of 1905 signaled it was time to leave, so Wolf moved to St. Agathe near Montreal where he bought a farm, met my grandmother Rebecca and started pumping out girls.
World War One happened in 1914. Because Canada was part of the British Empire they entered at once. American President Woodrow Wilson kept us out until 1916 which give Pappy time to flee once more. This time he donated the farm to a local TB Sanitarium and had his wife walk across the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit with three little girls and one on the way so she wouldn't draw attention. Pappy sneaked in some other way never to be explained and started a new life as a Ford Motors employee in Detroit.
All told there were six girls and one boy living at 9201 Delmar Street on Detroit's Near East Side. Pappy had not been in a synagog since he left Latvia but when Uncle Davey's Bar Mitzvah came around Bubby Smith demanded he attend. Pappy showed up, walked up to the Beemah and recited all the liturgy to perfection shocking the entire congregatioin.
When the depression came and the utilities were turned off, the older girls had to leave home, marry young or go to work. At one point my mom told me Pappy sat at the dining table looking at his insurance policy wondering if he would be more help to his family by not being alive. Thankfully that didn't happen and the family muddled through.
Because Pappy was just over five feet tall but incrediibly strong, he was hired back at Fords at seventy three during World War Two to work in the nose of American bombers. By the time I knew him he was long retired, a little lovable old guy always reading, puttering around the house or playing chess. And Pappy was cool. One time he had this huge tent for sale on his front lawn. Four young punks came by and thought they would mess with him. I was about ten years old and worried. No problem. In about a minute he had the punks laughing histerically at a story he shared then strolling on their way.
Bubby died of a heart attack while dancing with Pappy at the weekly Jewish Center dance a few months after their 50th Anniversary party. Pappy lasted eleven months. On his last morning on earth Auntie Belle woke Pappy from a deep sleep.
"How come you slept so late this morning" she asked.
"I'm getting in practice"
He died at 95 in good health. Without Bubby why go on? There are only two people still alive who remember Pappy, my cousin Diane and myself.
Causes Don Surath Supports
Alzheimers Association, Jewish Home of San Francisco, Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education, American Bone Health, American Diabetes...