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Eulogy for John Gimesh

AndreaGardenAndrea Seiden and her Father at the Botanical GardenThe following eulogy for John Gimesh, father of Andrea Seiden and Cynthia Samwick, both of Scarsdale, was delivered by Andrea at Congregation Kol Ami on Monday November 1

My father, John Gimesh died on October 29, 2021 at nearly 92. He lived through the Holocaust, boldy immigrated to an unfamiliar country seeking opportunity, watched the twin towers fall, enjoyed economic booms and weathered downturns. He was a survivor. Most recently, he survived the pandemic and years tethered to a dialysis machine. He was a multi-faceted man. He did not have interests or hobbies, he had passions and obsessions. He was a proud Holocaust Jew, renowned medical antique collector, world traveler, doctor, loving father, husband, and grandfather. When writing this eulogy, several stories about his life came to my mind which are a testament to his strength and remarkable life.

Dad the Yid

My dad often said that the Holocaust had given him a unique perspective on life. Allowing him to be positive in the face of adversity and never take anything for granted. However, he had a complicated relationship with his past.

We had flown separately to Hungary; Mark and I from NY and my dad from North Carolina via London. Our plan was to meet in the lobby of the Hilton located in the historic Buda Castle District. The hotel, which was originally a 13th century Dominican cloister and monastery with its gilded furniture, layers of staff, and Gypsy violinists roaming the dining halls and serenading guests. It was formal and intimidating. I worried I would pick up the wrong serving pieces at breakfast or wipe when clearly I should dab.

We waited in the lobby for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, my dad arrived. Rather the gray slacks, vest, blazer and tie he typically wore, he had grown a scraggly gray beard and was wearing small coin silver glasses. A black cap sat on his head. I was horrified. Cringing, I whispered, “Dad, what the hell are you wearing? And why didn’t you cut hair before the trip? You look like Tevye the Milk Man.”

He looked at us and said, “When I dine in a 5-star restaurant or stay in a first class hotel in Hungary, I want them to know that they are serving a Yid.”

Dad the Collectorgimesh1John Gimesh with daughters Cynthia Samwick and Andrea Seiden

My father was an avid antique collector who took his hobby to a clinical extreme. Every square inch of our apartment in Germany or his home in NC served as exhibition space. Walls were reserved for old clocks-- grandfathers, regulators, mantle, black forest, and coo coos. When wound and synchronized, high noon was a deafening experience. Showcases housed everything from porcelain chamber pots to Hummel figurines. There was an eerie nursey of bisque dolls settled into prams, infant cradles and wooden highchairs. The little kitchen space was no exception. Hanging from hooks, were delft baby feeders and OBGYN instruments; on the windowsill were rows of forest green pharmaceutical bottles.

On Saturday mornings the kitchen was a staging area where Dad would clean and catalogue his latest bargains. Cynthia and I would wake up early to the sound of Victorian hand crank music boxes. We wanted nothing more than a bowl of Captain Crunch and to curl up on the cozy horsehair couch and watch American cartoons or HR Puff N’ Stuff.

But Dad had other plans for us. We were to help him clean his latest acquisitions. In a ten gallon pot intended for pasta or soup, old pewter dinnerware was boiling in a mixture of water, baking soda and vinegar intended to dissolve the grime that coated the pieces for the last 150 years. Frothy scum rolled over steins, plates and ladles that were hiding below the waterline.

While the pewter was tumbling, Dad would teach us to clean and deworm old chests using a syringe filled with poison that we would inject into the neat, little holes created by the larvae incubating deep in the dark oak.

Dad the Traveler

My dad was a very curious person and loved exploring people and places. During his lifetime, he explored much of the world.

JonChairJohn Gimesh at his grandson's Bar MitzvahHe hiked Machu Picchu, the pyramids of Egypt, bargained in Tunisia, Marrakesh, Jerusalem toured and Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. He loved being an American and made it his business to take us to numerous national parks and cities such as Charleston, Savanah, Santa Fe. He spoke five languages somewhat fluently and was proud that he had working knowledge of profanity in many other dialects. He had a natural way of ingratiated himself to people of different cultures and customs, usually disarming them with a dirty joke. He loved when Mark or the boys would reel off a litany of dirty words when meeting other Hungarians. My dad would proudly instruct them, “Tell them what I taught you boys!”

His favorite means of exploration was from behind the wheel of a car. He loved the freedom of driving. And he drove everywhere. He raced on the autobahns when we were living in Germany, drove the Pacific Coast Highway stopping to take family photos at virtually every point of interest and intimately knew I-95.

But the truth is, even though he liked to drive, he was not the type of driver who concerned himself much with passenger comfort. Like most Europeans, he rode the break, aggressively passed, and leaned on the horn. To stay awake on long trips, he would roll down the window and let the cold air in and slap his face.

As he got older, even the bravest of passengers riding along with my 90-year old father in his Mercedes found themselves bracing at every turn and holding their breath as he dodged in and out of lanes with only sporadic use of a signal. It was easy to imagine swerving into an oncoming car as he motored down a one lane road gripping the steering wheel and simultaneously searching for a classical music radio station. We begged him to stop driving, but he would not even entertain the idea. “How would I get to dialysis”, he asked,

Shortly before the onset of the COVID pandemic, my father had a minor auto accident. He hit a tree while driving out of his independent residence. While he did not break any bones or hurt anyone, the air bags banged him up and he was hospitalized for a few days. In a symbolic passing of the torch, he called me from his hospital room with tears in his voice, and said, “I lost control. You can take my keys”.

Dad as Dad

The role that meant the most to me was my father as a dad. After my parents divorced, he picked us up every weekend to take us hiking, to lunch, or to go to Cross Creek. Often I wanted to hang with my friends, but he wanted us to be together and resorted to bribing me with a trip to the mall and buying corduroys at the Gap. When I got older and attended college, he hopped in the car and came up to see me – taking me and my friends to dinner or the Raleigh symphony. Once when I accidently ate pot laced brownies and was certain I would die of a heart attack or be carted off Dorothea Dix, the state mental hospital, in an effort to calm me, he immediately raced up to my dorm, armed with the latest medical articles on the hazards of ingesting cannabis. We laughed about that for years. We talked about everything – nothing was off limits and nothing was uncomfortable.

He was a sweet, loving person. Calling me every day to check in to see how I was doing and always asked about Mark, Josh, Greg and Alli. He endlessly thanked me for everything I did and ended every phone call with “I love you”.

Even in his hospital room as he faded in an out of consciousness, dad held my hand and told me how much he appreciated everything I did for him since moving to NY. Perhaps the best compliment I can receive is when people say, “I am a chip off the old Hungarian block”. Dad you will remain an inspiration to me for the rest of my life and I will miss you dearly.

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