Eulogy for Grandpa Greene

Ernest Charles Greene May 9, 1911 – February 8, 2004
Ernest Charles Greene
May 9, 1911 – February 8, 2004

My grandfather died last Sunday evening, and for me, this marked more than the end of one man’s life. It marked the end of Granny and Grandpa, the only couple I’ve ever known that loved each other so much and stayed together for so long, seemingly without ever fighting. Grandpa’s death also marked the passing of the last of my grandparents. Though I count myself lucky to have had grandparents well into my thirties, I was nevertheless deeply stung by the final disappearance of an entire generation of family.

Ernest Greene was actually born Ernest Greenberg, and his father changed the family name in 1918, when Grandpa was seven years old. I can only guess the name change was a safeguard against anti-Semitism or enmity toward Germans. He had a younger brother named Howard, a father named Abraham, and a mother I was lucky enough to know until I was four years old, Grandnanna Gertrude Greene. In photos I’ve seen of Grandpa in his youth, he was a striking young man with a full head of blond hair. He was a boxer, and he was also a jazz trumpeter and harmonica player. As I heard it, he met my grandmother, Helene Kupferman, at work; she was the boss’s daughter. Early photos of them show a playful young couple striking poses at the beach—him showing off his biceps and her kicking a leg to the side like a flapper doing the Charleston. When I looked through these photos with Granny years ago, she said, “Weren’t we cute?” They were.

I first met Ernest Greene when he was only 57 years old—a mere 20-odd years older than I am now. I remember him as a robust, jocular fellow with a quick wit and a humble but confident stride. I remember watching him work in the garden, play golf and tennis, and I remember him roughhousing me when I was only two or three. There are a few childhood memories I have of Grandpa that I’ll always cherish. One was the times he tucked me in and told me “Ynnad” stories. Ynnad was Danny spelled backwards, and Ynnad stories were simple adventures with morals at the end. I think one of them had something to do with a bicycle—either losing the bike or having an accident, and the moral was something like, “take care of what is yours and you’ll have it for a long time.” Grandpa certainly exemplified this in his dealings with family, his business, and even—all things considered—his health. I also remember silly things like when Grandpa played “This little piggy” with my toes, and when he told jokes like, “What did Shakespeare say to the bowlegged cowboy? ‘What, ho! What men are these, who wear their trousers on parentheses!’” I also remember walking up the steps to a country club for dinner with Granny and Grandpa when I was only about four years old. Grandpa was holding my hand, and he gave it a squeeze. He said, “You know what that means?” And I said, “No, what?” “It means,” he said, “that I love you.”

That wasn’t the sort of thing Grandpa would say freely after I outgrew my cute little kid phase, but I think it’s a nice insight into his softer, more vulnerable side that we all know he must have had. He certainly showed that side to my grandmother. Most of us know Ernest Greene as a successful businessman, but Granny didn’t marry him for his money. When she met him, he didn’t have a penny to his name. I remember Granny saying, “I kissed a lot of boys before I married your grandfather. I didn’t marry the first man who came along; I chose him.” They chose well. Together, they raised my uncle and dad, built a business into a very profitable venture, scrimped and saved, traveled the world, grew old together in their own home, and still had enough fortune to provide comfortable lives for their children and grandchildren. There are many opportunities I’ve had in this life that I never would have had were it not for the man we remember today, and for that I am forever grateful. In the long run, though, what’s important is not the money Grandpa made, but the family he created with his wife. His passing marks the end of Ernest and Helene Greene on Earth, and for that I am sad, but if there is a heaven after life, I am happy to imagine Granny and Grandpa reunited and rejuvenated, the way I remember them for the first 18 years I knew them.

It was very sad for me to see my once healthy and strong grandfather become frail and thin with age. He even began losing his memory the last couple of years, though he never lost his charm. A couple of Thanksgivings ago, at the end of the meal, Grandpa turned to Uncle Chuck, and asked very politely, “Do you have a place in your house where I might lie down to rest?” He might have forgotten it was his own house, but he certainly didn’t forget his manners!

I’ve been told you should always say, “I love you,” to the people you love when you talk to them on the phone, lest it should be the last time you ever speak to them. About a month ago was the last time I spoke with Grandpa, and thanks to some coaxing from my partner Andy, the last thing I said was, “I love you,” and the last thing Grandpa said to me was, “I love you, too.” I feel at peace with Grandpa, and I’m glad he is now at rest.

My best friend, Paul, lost his grandmother just two weeks ago, and I would like to share with you something he quoted when he eulogized his grandmother. The Native American Ishi people of the Pacific Northwest imagined that their dead spoke to them saying “When I am dead, cry for me a little, think of me sometimes, but not too much. It is not good for you to allow your thoughts to dwell too long upon the dead. Think of me now and again as I was in life, at some moment that is pleasant to recall, but not for too long. Leave me in peace, as I shall too leave you in peace. While you live, let your thoughts be with the living.”

I choose to remember Granny and Grandpa together, healthy, active and always in love. Granny and Grandpa are gone now, but their marriage will always be an inspiration to me as I go on to create my own family. Goodbye, Grandpa, and as a contemporary of yours once said, “Thanks for the memories.”

Those who are interested may make contributions in memory of Ernest Greene to the following charities:

Eulogy for Granny Greene

Helene Kupferman Greene May 8, 1911–October 31, 1999
Helene Kupferman Greene
May 8, 1911–October 31, 1999

My grandmother, Helene Kupferman Greene, lived to the age of 88, and is survived by her husband, Ernest Charles Greene (my grandfather); her two sons, Ernest Charles Greene, Jr. (my uncle Chuck) and Andrew William Greene (my dad); her two grandsons, Daniel James Greene (me) and Benjamin Furman Greene (my cousin); her dog, Whiskey II, and close friends and family members, most notably Elaine Patterson, who has cared for my grandparents ever since my grandfather’s stroke in 1985. Elaine became like an adopted daughter, and her two daughters, Michelle and Marta, became like granddaughters. Granny was so happy to finally have some girls in her family!

My grandparents would have been married 65 years this February 2000. In addition to being a superb wife to her husband, and mother to her two boys, Helene Greene was a model, saleswoman, real estate agent, award-winning painter and interior designer. She was a woman of great passion, creative talent and patriotism. She loved her country, family, pets and friends dearly. She had a soft spot in her heart for animals and contributed generously of her time and money to organizations such as The Humane Society and many others.

Granny had an uncanny memory for the lyrics of songs. She wasn’t the best singer in the world, but when she half-spoke/half-sang a tune, her face lit up, her outstretched hands swept the air, and her enthusiasm for the song filled the room with “razzle-dazzle.” I remember when I was a small child she would tuck me into bed and sing to me, “Sweetest little fella / everybody knows / ain’t no use in telling you / he’s mighty like a rose.” I will always remember Granny’s love for me. Believe it or not, I have a few vivid memories of my infancy, and I recall how she doted on me from day one. When I was very little, Granny used to bathe me in the deep brown porcelain laundry sink in her house on Kensington Court. I also remember the interest she took in encouraging my artistic development. When I was about 5 or 6, she enrolled me at the Arts Academy in Kensington, where I learned acting, movement, and creative arts. Granny also helped me financially when I first went to UCLA right out of high school. When I was young, Granny took me shopping for clothing when she knew my mother couldn’t afford to get me new clothes, and she sent me to summer camp in the Adirondacks when I was 8 and again when I was 10.

Granny didn’t have to take to me the way she did. When my mother met my father (adoptive father, technically), she had given birth to me a few months prior, as Granny would say, “out of wedlock.” My biological father had disappeared. Granny didn’t feel my mom would be right for her son. As she put it in her own words, “we did everything we could to fight the marriage, but once our son decided to marry, we did everything we could to support it.” I believe this is true. I remember how gracious she and Grandpa were, and have always been, to my mother. Granny was passionate about either approving or disapproving of what anyone did. I remember when I was about 4 years old, my mom and Granny had a fight on the phone, and Granny got angry with my mom and shouted, “Well then you’re a bad mother!” But it wasn’t 30 seconds later she called back and said, “I shouldn’t have said that. You’re not a bad mother at all.” My mother has her faults, but has been a marvelous mother to me. Granny and Grandpa were probably right about the marriage, though. My mom and dad used to fight so much, I remember (and Granny remembered too) that, when I was about 3 or 4, I asked Granny, “If Mommy and Daddy keep fighting, can I come live with you?” Luckily, my parents divorced when I was five. I went off to live with my mother, but my dad, along with Granny and Grandpa, remained true to me as ever.

Skipping ahead several years, I came out to my grandparents when I was 16. Within a year or two of receiving the news, Granny started going to the Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays group at the Unitarian Universalist church. She eventually brought Grandpa and helped to bring him around to accepting me as well. I am eternally grateful to Granny for this. I’m also grateful that, soon after I told her I was gay, she showed a bold and loving interest in my health. One day, as we were out for a ride in the golf cart in Sun City, where Granny spent the last 19 years of her life, she said, “you know there are kinds of sex that are safe and kinds that aren’t, right?” I said yes, and she just took my hand in hers and said, “Good. I just want to make sure you’re having the safe kind.” For several years now, Granny’s farewell to me has been, “Be good! And if you can’t be good, be careful!” I’m happy that, with my family’s love and concern, and my own self-protection, I have indeed been careful and have not only been blessed to have a grandmother at the age of 32, but also—thank God!—to be able to bury her, rather than vice versa as happens too often these days.

Granny was up front and demonstrative with people, for better or worse. She could be a terror with waiters! I do recall, however, that she made friends everywhere she went. Whenever she took me with her on her errands, the shopkeepers who knew her would light up and shout, “Mrs. Greene!” The ones she didn’t know, she got to know. Speaking of errands, Granny used to keep her entire household in mint condition. The moment a button fell off, or a bit of yarn became unraveled, or she realized a lamp needed a new finial (I never even knew what a finial was until Granny showed me)—off she would go on her errands. Whether it was a chestnut brown leather button to match the buttons on a cashmere cardigan she had bought in London or a piece of lavender wool thread to patch up a needlepoint pillow she had made, she was one of the most resourceful and optimistic people I’ve ever known. She would either find it, find out where to order it from overseas, or she would invent a brilliant alternative. The words “shy” or “quitter” never, ever applied to Granny! In terms of her love, she was always demonstrative of that with me. I can’t count the times she took my hand in hers, and looked me straight in the eye, locking in on my gaze, and smiled, saying, “You know I love you very, very much. You know that, don’t you?” I’d always say, “Yes, Granny, I know. I love you too!” Because of these many expressions of love, I feel complete about Granny’s death. I spoke with her on the phone a few weeks before she died, and we once again expressed our love for each other. We had our share of “bones to pick” over the years, but we always picked them clean. I have no regrets.

I have Granny to thank for instilling in me a love for foreign languages and a respect for the proper use of my own language. Granny and Grandpa traveled all over the world, and they studied the languages of the places they went before they went there. One time, when Granny and Grandpa had traveled from France to Italy, Granny ordered a piece of cake after dinner in a fine restaurant. The only problem was that she used the French word for cake, “ gateau”, which sounds just like the Italian word for cat, “gato”! I wish I’d been there to see the horrified look on the face of that waiter! Granny once told me a joke about cats and dogs: a mother cat is walking down an alley with her three little kittens. Suddenly, from around the corner bounds a bulldog, baring its teeth and growling at the cat and her kittens. The mother cat, wise as she was, opened her mouth and bellowed, “Woof! Woof!” The bulldog put its tail between its legs and went running away, yelping. The mother cat turned to her kittens and said, “Now, children, you see the advantage of learning a second language!” Not only did Granny love foreign languages; she loved her own. Hardly a soul in her midst could escape her grammatical corrections. If anyone were unsure as to whether to use I or me, he would be sure to find out the right way when Granny intoned, in a dignified and certain voice, “them and me,” or “they and I.”

Last but certainly not least; I must mention that Granny was very patriotic. She lived through the depression and both World Wars. In her last years, she had extreme difficulty moving around, sitting down, and getting up. She also lost a lot of her short-term memory and her ability to discern the past from the present. The last time I was over for a visit, we were watching a videotape of songs from the WWII days, and one of the clips showed an announcer introducing Kate Smith, “singing a new song!” Granny beamed with glee, watching the black-and-white television screen, and exclaimed, “Oh! A new song!” The song was “God Bless America.” Before Kate Smith could finish belting out the third word—America—Granny stood bolt upright with her hand over her heart, matching Kate word for word! This is my last vivid memory of seeing my grandmother in person, and it is one I will cherish forever.

Those who would like to make a donation in my grandmother’s name should send a check to their local chapter of The Humane Society. Or volunteer!

Here is a list of some of Granny’s favorite things:

  • Scottish Terriers (she had four in a row: Meg, Tammy, Whiskey, and Whiskey II)
  • Frogs (she had an extensive collection of figurines, including the Lalique frog and the Waterford frog)
  • Tab and Cheez-Its (a favorite afternoon snack)
  • Bagels and cream cheese with Nova Scotia smoked salmon, capers, lemon juice, and freshly ground pepper
  • Tanqueray and Tonic (in a restaurant, she would order a shot of Tanqueray gin, a small bottle of tonic water, a tall glass with ice, and “lotsalime.”)
  • Häagen Dazs coffee ice cream
  • Show tunes and pop songs
  • Hawaii
  • Navy blue

(These are some of my favorite things too, only I’m not partial to Scotties, and I don’t drink cola.)