You may have noticed that I didn’t post anything on Father’s Day about our father, Harry Brass. Sheila and I both thought about him on Father’s Day and the fact that he will have been gone 40 years this September.
I’ve often said that time smooths out the rough edges of sorrow, and we really believe that’s true. We love to remember all the good things we learned from our father and the good times we had as a family.
The Brasses, especially the females, we have to admit, had a bit of the “drama queen” about them, but Daddy was the calm in the middle of the storm.
He supported his mother his whole life, and she outlived him by a year. He provided a stable home with his wife, Dorothy, for his two daughters and we still value the advice he offered us. Why does his advice seem even more appropriate now that his daughters are 75 and 80 years old?
Daddy was a hospital pharmacist for more than 50 years. He was known as one of the top three graduates of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy.
His first job in the field was Chief Pharmacist of the Beth Israel Hospital, in Boston. He ended his career as the Director of Pharmacy at Tufts New England Medical Center. He taught a course in Prescription Writing to students at Tufts Medical School, and a course in Pharmacology at Northeastern University.
His first job was at the age of six when he worked at a Chelsea, Massachusetts ice cream cone factory. He made six cents a day, some of which he gave to his younger brother, Barney. Most of what he earned he gave to his mother. There were five children in the family, and they all worked. Our father also worked with our Grandfather, Sam, in his junk shop, in Chelsea.
He told the people at the Boston City Club that he was 16 when he applied for a job as a bell boy. He was 13 years old. He never grew taller than 5 feet 3 inches, but his height was never a problem for him. His father was over 6 feet tall.
He nearly went blind while attending pharmacy school. He went to classes, worked at the Boston City Club, had three hours sleep, and was grateful that doctors were able to prevent permanent blindness.
He could bake a good cake, once producing one that was moss green, as an experiment with green food coloring. He made Sunday breakfasts often, and his fried lox and onions were spectacular. His waffles and pancakes were superb. He taught me how to bone a tomato herring when we had our Eastern European breakfasts.
On Sunday mornings after breakfast, he’d read the funny papers (comic strips) from the Boston Herald to me on the front porch on Sea Foam Avenue, in Winthrop where I grew up. Often t
here was the scent of apple blossoms in the air from the tree our grandfather had planted years before.
One of my proudest moments was when I informed him that he no longer had to read the funnies to me because I could read them myself. Friends often brought over the Boston Globe, and I’d ready the funnies from that newspaper too.
Some of his best advice was, “Don’t lose yourself!” We’ve followed that advice religiously. “Don’t talk about money.” “Respect other people’s beliefs.” “Don’t spend money you don’t have.” “Pay your bills on time.”
Like most of the fathers of our contemporaries, he fought a losing battle with comic books. Many of our friends had to hide their collection of Superman, and Archie comic books to prevent their fathers from discarding them. We achieved détente! Our father had his own collections of pharmacy journals and we had our own collections of Felix The Cat and Donald Duck. He was even in one issue of the journal during the 1940s when he was mentioned in an article about how he and his colleagues helped make quinidine injectable to treat heart disease, while he was at The Beth Israel Hospital in the 1940s.
Some of the best memories I have of our father are the Horatio Alger-like stories he told at supper. The hero was always a poor, but good, young man who was able to overcome adversity and become successful. I knew that his stories were rooted in the story of his own life.
The greatest legacy he left me were the not-so-numerous letters he sent me full of encouragement during hard times and praise during good times. He always signed them, “Love, Daddy.”
This is a photograph of our father, Harry Brass in the Pharmacy at the Beth Israel Hospital during the 1930s and the 1940s.