by Barbara Sherf
If you believe in reunions in the hereafter, Ethel (Decovny) Goldis, 90, is now with Albert, or “Doc,” as he was known, who died in 2009, also at age 90, following 65 years of marriage. The couple worked side by side; he filling prescriptions and she running the front of the West Oak Lane pharmacy that bore their name. The establishment that also housed unique gifts lovingly selected by Ethel was later renamed the Glen Center Pharmacy after moving to Maple Glen. The young couple settled down in Springfield Township in 1955, where they raised three sons, Gary, Stuart and Michael.
On June 26, I accompanied my husband, Brad Shapiro, to Goldstein’s Funeral Home in Southampton to pay respect to the family as Mrs. Goldis was the mother of my husband’s friend of more than 50 years, Stu. They met as boys at Cub Scouts where my mother-in-law, the late Anne Shapiro, was den mother. Stu would walk a few blocks from his Frazier Road home to my husband’s family home on Greenhill Road for the meetings. Stu and his wife, Cheryl, moved into the same Frazier Road home in 1977, raising their two daughters, Melissa and Staci.
While I had met Ethel and Doc at several weddings, funerals and bat mitzvahs, I regret not sitting down to really get to know them. Why is it we often learn so much more about a person in death than we did in life? Busy schedules? Generational differences? Not wanting to pry?
At her funeral, Ethel was described by Stu as “a classy lady.” The first speaker was Ethel’s sister, seven years younger, Ray Dobkin-Green, whose memories were very much intact. Rabbi Adam Wohlberg, of Temple Sinai in Dresher, then delivered stories from the family’s history in a carefully crafted eulogy. What a gift to the entire family.
A niece, Jane Dobkin, spoke lovingly about how she always idolized Doc and Ethel’s relationship, honoring them at her own wedding in a unique way. While preparing to marry late in life, Jane decided not to throw the wedding bouquet into the hands of a group of single women but to honor Doc and Ethel Goldis by giving it to them.
Next to speak was a grandson, Edward Goldis, who observed that nobody could ever match the brisket his grandmother had made, urging anyone in the audience who had the recipe to “please come forward.”
At the graveside, our red-eyed friend, Stu, summed up his mother in one word: classy. He noted that even when she went into a nursing home two years ago, she always dressed beautifully to go to the dining room, receiving compliments on a lovely sweater or piece of jewelry she wore with her head held high.
Then came a small woman, Eileen Goldis, who had traveled to the funeral from Florida, even though she had not come to any family gatherings since the sudden death of her husband, Gary, in 2003 at the age of 54. She offered an olive branch during the interment at Shalom Memorial Park in Huntingdon Valley.
There had been issues after Gary’s death over, what else, money. Eileen believed that Ethel was at peace in the end, and she hoped that all family members could put aside their differences and rest in peace when their final days came. What a gift.
The rabbi then asked family members to throw a shovel of dirt on the casket, and up hobbled another classy lady, who clearly was not biologically related but who had become part of the family. She was introduced as Hattie Surginer, an African American woman who helped raise the boys and keep house while Ethel and Doc were running the pharmacy. A comment she made to me afterwards gave me goose bumps.
“My employer turned into my best friend,” Hattie said, choking back tears. Hattie had clearly dressed for Ethel in a sequined outfit. We learned that Hattie had traveled weekly from her North Philadelphia home to the South Jersey nursing home where Ethel resided to visit her “best friend.”
Upon returning to our car, I stopped to chat with the best man at our wedding 25 years ago. I told him I’d never forget what he did after another classy lady, my beloved mother-in-law, died at Chestnut Hill Hospital in 1999. Despite her long battle with ovarian cancer, my husband and I and his sister were not prepared for the shock of life without her.
My sister-in-law, from Lancaster, had spent several nights on a cot in her mother’s hospital room and now wanted to go home to her husband and daughter. The best man at our wedding 25 years ago, Mark Seltzer, a Mt. Airy resident, proceeded to drive the three of us to Lancaster to take my sister-in-law home, then turned the car around, chauffeuring my husband and me safely home as we grieved in the back seat.
“I think of that every time I come to a funeral, and I thank you for that,” I said.
“Thank you for the gift,” he responded.
It was both a sad and joyful day filled with gifts of remembrances and peace. Contributions in Ethel’s memory may be made to Hadassah, 1518 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is a legacy planner and personal historian who can be reached at 215-990-9317 or CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.