October 19th, 2010
Eulogy for Harriet Simon Kabat – by Jacqueline Kabat
March18th, 1920 – October 15th, 2010
Harriet Kabat, the selfless force of nature truly grateful for the world around her. My Cousin Elaine’s husband Brad summed her up with precision. “She keeps the light on for everyone.” Why? Because that’s what family does .That’s my Grandmother.
She devoted her life to maintaining a joie de vivre and making every member of her family feel special. The most special.
She taught the world (by example) that we have the choice to experience a joyful life when we devote every moment to authentic compassion, strength in character and laughter.
“Honey,” She’d tell me. “We’re a laughing family.”
During this last month, she didn’t want tears. Only laughter. And that we shared with her.
Even as her physical health rapidly declined, she remained strong in emotion. Strong in spirit. And very much at peace. As her final gift, the matriarch who had been our constant cheerleader and nurturer gave us the opportunity to discover a strength in ourselves by allowing us to care for her. Without words, we knew that she was sighing in contentment and thinking, “My family…I am so lucky…”
Jewish tradition and philanthropy were ingrained in her ethical core values. Last week, we discovered a Beth David Synagogue newsletter from 1961 where Grandma and Grandpa were welcomed as newcomers: It read, "We are very happy to announce that MR. AND MRS. JULIAN KABAT have joined our congregation. We hope that they will participate actively in our many programs.” That they did. Grandma maintained strong ties with Beth David throughout her life, served as the President of the Sisterhood and was a life member of Hadassah.
I was truly blessed to grow up around the corner from my grandparents. Their house was home. To her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, their friends, our friends and even travelling rabbis who they would welcome into their kosher home. My heart feels the fullest when I recall our shared holiday meals of eating grandmas brisket, lamb chops and matzo bri. Another Grandma signature dish were her apple and cherry pies (that later we discovered were premade Mrs. Smith’s from Winn Dixie.)
Grandma loved games. Scott, Elaine and I would sit around her kitchen table for hours playing cards, dreidel and, of course, the Grandma signature… heated and competitive rounds of rummy cue.
We’d lay in bed with Grandma and Grandpa for cuddly sleepovers and Scott and I would be in awe of the impressive hot water heater at their house at 610 Woodvale Drive.
Grandma believed in us. Grandma laughed with us. Grandma hugged us. Grandma listened to us. Her reply to many of my profound and inane little girl statements were “How about that?!”
Grandma and Grandpa cheered on their grandchildren at t-ball games, piano recitals, swim meets, gymnastic tournaments, soccer games and exhibited the most heighted form of love with their willingness to sit through my 2 minutes of stage time during 6 hour dance recitals.
My grandparents were part of a beautiful love story. In the morning, Grandma would sit at the kitchen table in her robe (braless), drinking a black cup of coffee, eating toast and laughing out loud while reading the comics. Even then, Grandpa would praise the woman he adored by describing her as “a vision.”
In 1944, Grandpa proposed to Grandma at the Copacabana while they were dancing to the song, String of Pearls. During her last days, we played this song over and over for her. Even without words, it was clear that she heard it as she held my Aunt Roberta’s hand, pulled it up to her cheek and peacefully smiled.
In her last week, we also read to Grandma the 50 years of profoundly tender, passionate and humorous love letters that Grandpa sent to her.
37 years ago, on Mother’s Day, he wrote the following:
On The Thirteenth of May in Seventy Three
The Kabats were gathered around the tree
No, that would be a Christmas song
And for this time of year, t'would be wrong
The family is gathered in celebration
For the greatest mom in all the nation
She may have grown gray from all her trials
But she's OK for a lot more miles
A set of girls and a set of boys
Has given her boundless and endless joys
In the race of "moms", she's an easy winner
So tonight we'll take her out to dinner
And to show our love, by golly, by heck
We'll tell the waiter to give her the check.
This past March, 35 relatives gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina for Grandma’s 90th birthday celebration. For three days, four generations of Kabats just “hung out” eating the 60 Omaha steaks Grandma bought, drinking from Elaine and Brad’s “rockin’” bar in their basement, taking family portraits and watching little girls dance in princess dresses. As Grandma sat in her thrown like chair, people kept circulating to visit. She looked so happy and said, “Grandpa is looking down and watching every move.”
At this birthday celebration, I sat with Elaine’s two angelic children (Lila is 5 and Joanna is 8) and asked them a few questions about their Bubby.
Jax - What do you want to tell Bubby?
Joanna – I’ve lost seven teeth now
Lila - I love her
Jax - Do you like cuddling with Bubby in her bed?
Lila & Joanna - Yes. Because she’s cuddly.
Jax – What’s your favorite gift from Bubby?
Joanna – The money. For my first tooth
Lila –A baby the doll
Jax - What’s the doll’s name?
Lila - Baby Harriet
Jax – What do you like best about Bubby?
Lila – She is funny
Joanna – She is very funny and makes me laugh a lot. When I think of Bubby I think of her kindness.
On the last night of Grandma’s birthday celebration, the family participated in a formal tribute and all shared funny stories, sentimental memories and even video footage from her cousin Barbara’s wedding at her house in 1954. It was happiness. It was real. It was an overwhelming reminder that we have had so many good days.
Everyone was s laughing. And crying. The kind of tears Grandma would approve of. There was a collective understanding that this was a pivotal weekend dedicated to the woman who flowed through life humbly and gracefully.
As I conclude, I’d like to share an interview I had with Grandma at her 90th birthday that I feel captures the essence of Harriet Kabat.
Jax - You had an accident a few years ago that resulted with a “dead pinkie”…tell us about that day?
Grandma Harriet – That’s true. I was having a mahjong game and my ladies were coming for lunch. I was making a very lovely lunch of stuffed tomatoes with tuna salad. And then I was making iced tea… the pitcher dropped, broke and cut my finger. I wrapped it in a sanitary napkin and continued to fix my lunch for my ladies. They suggested that I call the doctor. But first I played Mahjong because there was money involved. I left for the hospital in the middle of the game. My pinkie needed surgery and it’s never been the same since.
Jax - Have you ever repeated any stories?
Grandma Harriet – Oh noooooo…
Jax- -When did you know that you were in love with Grandpa?
Grandma Harriet: The moment I met him. He worked at a firm in Paterson, NJ which is where I grew up. He knew the same people that I knew. And we were married seven months later.
Jax - You tell long stories. Do you feel it’s important to treat it like an endurance sport and hydrate in between?
Grandma Harriet – (laughing) I just like to talk.
Jax– If anything happens in life that is hard…how do you deal with it?
Grandma Harriet–Deal with it
Jax – Any regrets in your life?
Grandma Harriet – None. No regrets.
Jax- You ran bingo for years at your independent living. What was the biggest scandal?
Grandma Harriet – People were talking too loud at the wrong times so I yelled, “Be quiet!”
Jax– Any word of advice for your family?
Grandma Harriet– Just be happy with each other. Nothing makes me happier than the fact that you are all very close. I want it to stay that way. Or else you’ll hear from me. I’m the luckiest lady at this point in anyone’s life. I have more than anyone. I have all my children, grandchildren and great children. Everyone around me is very special. Each and every one has their little way. And they make me feel special.