Guest Post by Sidney Fenig, M.D.
Hi! Iʼm Sidney and I woke up one day, and realized that Iʼm now 81 years old. How and when this happened is an enigma to me! You see, Iʼm still not sure about the whole thing.
I remember being a little boy, in Newburgh, New York, the last of 4 children of Fanny and Samuel, both immigrants from Poland, unfamiliar with the language spoken around them, unfamiliar with the customs around them, and unfamiliar with the new world they found themselves in.
My dad was a window washer, abused and mistreated by the wealthy clients who took advantage of his illiteracy. My mom was a housewife. Education and goals for the 4 children were not their concern. Putting food on the table was! And religion was the backbone of their existence. Saturday was spent at the Schul. A day of rest and quiet.
My education was mediocre … I didnʼt excel in anything. In fact, I graduated with a commercial diploma, told by my guidance counselor to learn a trade! Ah yes, and what a trade I chose.
I loaded Coca-Cola into trucks! My downfall with that company happened when I tried to organize the workers to demand more money … and was fired! Not that that mattered much. There were other such jobs available in those days.
My sister Claireʼs husband, Harry, suggested I take the entrance exam to City College, as, for a reason I truly do not understand, he believed I was smart and needed to try to make something of myself! I took it, passed, and so began my new life.
I entered as an education major, but soon found the classes boring. I changed my major to pre-med. And, the new Sidney Fenig came into being.
I graduated with honors, Magna Cum Laude, and went on to apply to medical school. Being a City College graduate in those days, made this decision impossible … no medical school wanted us. So, undaunted in my new “psyche”, I applied to Brandeis University, and went on to get a masters degree in organic chemistry. Then, I was accepted into the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, newly founded that year!
So, the child of immigrant parents, a poor student with absolutely no goal in life … is now, a medical doctor.
And here I am, now 81 years old, reflecting on what I have accomplished in those astounding number of years! I think back about my parents. How fortunate I was to have been loved and cared for. How fortunate I am to have wonderful memories of days helping my Poppy wash windows with a Phi Beta Kappa key attached to my belt. How I wish he had lived to know how I succeeded.
I remember how my mother, in her unsophisticated, quiet way, was proud of her Sidney, telling all her friends about her son.
And I remember how, once I had earned my first few dollars, I went back to the store in Newburgh where my Poppy had washed windows, and bought my first new suit!
One reaches what we call “old age,” and we are left with the thought of those things we wish we had done. I have those thoughts also, but as I reflect on my life, I am in awe of where I started and where I am now!
The young people today spend much on the education of their children, offering them all kinds of classes and activities to increase their intellectual capacity and curiosity. I envy them, both parent and child. For those days are so precious and so fleeting. But, in my heart I know, that what was given to me by the quiet and often unexpressed love from my parents, made me the man I am today…
So, at the ripe old age of 81, I think of my Poppy and my mother, and know that I am blessed! And I think of my wonderful grandchildren, blessed by parents who give them the love only a parent can give. And I think of the days I have spent with them, hoping that the memories of those days live past me. For, as it says in the prayer book I read at Temple, “the acts of goodness live on in the hearts of those who cherish their memory.”
A wonderful thought at 81!
Father-in-law to Jenny Fenig, the publisher of this blog, Sid has taught her the meaning of generosity, grace and quiet wisdom.