This pandemic has changed the way we recognize — not to say “celebrate” — milestone events in the lives of friends, loved ones, even our own.
And very soon will come the day I’ll be joining in a car parade to recognize the 95th birthday of a dear old (in both senses!) friend. This will be my third such “event.”
The first one was for Ethel Gruen — the recognized titular “mother” of Congregation Beth Torah, who sat in the window of her own house on her 100th birthday, wearing a crown and a smile as we rode past and saluted her with honks and our own smiles. That was in June. July was the time of honoring for No. 2: Walter Levy, a former head of our Dallas Jewish Federation, welcoming the age of 98 by standing in the doorway of his Forum retirement home, receiving — along with the honks — the many cards thrust through open windows into his waiting hand.
My third will be what’s now being billed — formally — as “a curbside birthday parade.” On Sept. 9, it will roll past the home of a dear old (in both senses!) friend, Tom Walker, a long-retired Hockaday School English teacher and a master of poetry. After leaving the world of formal education, he began leading a monthly group at his church, Northaven United Methodist, for any and all who were interested in learning more about the “mysteries” of poetry’s many forms and their uses.
I first met Tom’s late wife, Charlotte, in their home some 40-plus years ago. She was hosting a meeting of local members of the National Federation of Press Women. I had been active in that organization in the Chicago area, and was eager to become the same here in Dallas. And I was not disappointed — in fact, I was thrilled: The group was warm and welcoming, and Charlotte and I immediately forged a friendship that endured until her passing just two years ago, when I was privileged to speak in the church at her memorial service.
I shared Judaism with the Walkers, who were eager to learn, and they were guests of Fred’s and mine for what they were happy to call “a REAL Seder!” And Tom, knowing my love of poetry, invited me to become a member of his group. It’s that group that has planned — and will carry out — his birthday tribute. It’s so much more important now than ever to take advantage of any opportunity to honor another member of that dwindling group: those who served in active duty during World War II.
What’s in a name? Walker is common enough; Minadeo is not. But I know it from Pittsburgh, so was saddened to see it under the heading “Antisemite of the Week” from the organization I recently wrote about here. Californian Jon Minadeo II recently hung some banners over Interstate 405 near Los Angeles, inviting drivers to “Honk if you know the Jews want a race war.” He and his crew then appeared shirtless at a Chabad Center in Marina Del Ray, with bullhorns spewing more Jew-hatred. Worst of all, First Amendment protections are protecting them!
The elementary school I attended as a child in Pittsburgh was demolished due to age, then rebuilt and renamed after a local hero: another Johnny Minadeo. He was a sixth grader, proudly wearing his white crossing guard belt, when a truck coming down a hill lost its brakes just as he was shepherding a group of kindergartners across that street. This Minadeo virtually threw those little ones in front him, pushing them all to safety, losing his own life in that successful last act. I can only hope and pray that the similarity of names is nothing more than that — no blood relationship, and certainly no sharing and shouting of Jew hatred.
In a few days, when I honk my horn for Tom Walker, I’ll also be honking in honored memory of Johnny Minadeo.