Forgive me if this piece is ragged and confused. The words will tumble out, borne of a strange intensity. Time is running out.
Uncle Bobby was buried today, one day short of his 94th birthday. He never suffered and, typical of him, was cracking dry jokes until a couple of days before he passed away.
Bob was one of thirteen children, East End Jews, who lived in a compact two up in Planet St. opposite the appositely named ‘Star’ pub. More secular Jews it would be hard to find. I never knew one of my uncles or aunties to visit a synagogue unless it was for a wedding or funeral. And yet they were proud to have been born Jews, and they stood up for the right to be proud of their heritage by using their fists. By all accounts, they did not lose many arguments.
Uncle Bobby never spoke about the war. He was a marine. He was ‘mentioned in dispatches’ for an act of bravery. Bobby NEVER mentioned it. Like all the other seven brothers, and Grandfather Ben, he ended up working in the family business, bookmaking (taking bets) at the dogs and horses, before moving on to running his own greengrocers in Mile End.
He is survived by Moina, his wife of 61 years and daughter Rita. When I was a kid, cousin Rita and I would be bundled into the back of Uncle Bob’s delivery van outside the Pepperhouse Pub in Leman Street, Aldgate, on a Sunday lunchtime while the uncles, aunties and various friends enjoyed one of their famous sing song parties. Occasionally, one of the crowd would bring us a lemonade and crisps to keep us sweet.
The family were ‘respected’. It was a special type of respect. No fear involved whatsoever. They were genuinely liked. It has taken me a long time to appreciate it and to understand it, but they all, to a man and a woman, treat people equally. Rich, poor, tall, short, black, white, Jew, Muslim etc. And, their way is ingrained with a gentle humour and charm.
Today, at Bobby’s funeral, the mourners included a higher than average number of over 80 year olds, some of whom were ‘characters’ in their younger days; Tommy, Sammy, Terry, Charlie, Maurice, Alfie plus surviving brothers Joe, Philly and Mark.
Age may have made them infirm and slowed down their movement, but the sparkle, wit, charm and dignity is still there. It was a privilege to witness it. RIP Bob.