My eulogy for my mother-in-law.
Mina Cohen was born, at home, in Dorchester on February 16, 1910. As she noted, everyone was born at home in those days. She died peacefully, at home, in Brookline, in her own bed, on May 26, 2014. Mina died on the 41st day of the Omer, five weeks and 6 days into the 7-week period when we count our way from freedom to redemption.
Mina was born before Tel Aviv was established, before Penn Station opened, before the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. She was born in the year that the electric washing machine and the traffic light system were patented; and neon lights were first seen publicly.
When Mina was born, William Howard Taft was president, Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria, was king of England and Cy Young was still playing baseball.
Mina was born over two years before the Titanic sunk.
Mina was older than Fenway Park. (And whenever I said that, Bob would add, “She’s older than dirt.” But he never said that when she was within earshot.)
Born to Russian immigrant parents, Mina was the eldest of four siblings. Her father hadn’t yet opened A. Cohen, his watch and jewelry company in the South End. The family was Orthodox and her father wanted his children to grow up to be real Americans.
Mina attended the New England Conservatory where she studied piano. She was very talented and was an accomplished pianist. Rather than making a career of it, she chose to work in her father’s store. Burt remembers her playing when he was young – her favorite piece was the Blue Danube Waltz.
Mina worked at A. Cohen until she married Harry Weiner. She was one month shy of 40 when she and Harry married. A year later Burt was born and two years after that Bob was born. Mina and Harry had a strong, loving marriage. Harry’s wedding ring reads, “Mina to Harry 1/7/50 with all my love.” She kept the ring in her jewelry box for 20 years after his death until giving it to Bob for our wedding. One of Harry’s cards to Mina reads, “With all my love on Valentine and Birthday.” Inside the envelope there’s a newspaper clipping she gave him. It’s a poem and it begins, “No other man could thrill me dear . . . one half as much as you . . .” and in her handwriting at the bottom it says “To My Love.” They loved to travel – especially on cruises. For their honeymoon, they took a cruise to Bermuda. It became one of their favorite places.
Everyone in the family speaks of Mina and Harry’s home as an open, hospitable place. The Weiner cousins would come by the apartment on Comm Ave after school. Mina would always welcome them and give them something sweet to eat. Her house was always filled with candy and sweets. (In her later years we would joke that she lived on chocolate cake and Ensure.)
By all accounts, Mina was not a great cook. Bob said that she cooked vegetables until they were well and truly dead. But the Winnicks and the Weiners, cousins Joanne and Melanie, and Bob’s friends from high school all tell the same stories – of stopping over at Mina and Harry’s home and being welcomed at their table. Mina was the “glue in the family.” She held everything and everyone together. She was a caregiver to her cousin Tilly. She and her sisters Esther and Edna talked all the time. There were multiple calls back and forth each day. Mina was there for Esther and Joanne when Esther’s husband died and would often have them over for dinner. Melanie speaks of the love and support Mina gave to her. Friends talk of coming over and finding acceptance, welcome and a listening ear.
Mina had an expansive definition of family. Whether you called her ‘mother,’ ‘grandma,’ ‘Aunt Mina,’ ‘Tante Minya,’ ‘Mrs. Weiner,’ or ‘Mina,’ you were warmly greeted. When Burt married Marcia, Mina’s family spread to include not just Marcia, but her siblings and, most especially, her mother Nancy. Nancy and Mina went on cruises together and also on trips to Foxwoods. When Bob and Sue divorced, Sue remained part of Mina’s family, even living with her for a time at her apartment in Wellesley. And she welcomed me and always asked after my parents and siblings, especially my sister Barbara.
Mina was open-minded and understanding. She kept confidences. She did not speak badly of people, although she could be clear-sighted about their failings. Her social graces were with her until the end. Even when she didn’t know you or recognize you, she would say, “It’s so nice to see you dear,” or “Thank you for coming.” She had the most polite way of suggesting you were being foolish. Before she moved to Goddard House, she needed to be evaluated. The nurse came to see her and administered the “mini mental status exam.” One of the questions was, “What is this?” (Pointing to a wrist watch) Mina said, “I’m not going to tell you.” I was thinking, “Oh no. They’re going to think she doesn’t know and is trying to hide it by being belligerent.” And Mina gave them a look. Then she said, “My father was a watchmaker.” That said it all. We all knew that the last thing Mina would ever forget was a watch. Marcia notes, “— a watch was Mina’s ‘must have’ accessory, but time, and the amount of time she lived, was never important to her. It was the quality of each individual moment she spent with us that set her apart.”
Mina lied about her age. Her driver’s license shows her year of birth as 1917. She told people that she was the third born after Irving and Edna. She looked younger than she was and refused to say just how old she was. When Marcia’s sister Julie interviewed her for a paper for a class she was taking, Mina was 84. She told Julie she was 74. And Julie was surprised because she thought Mina was in her late 60’s. When Mina had her first serious illness, a heart attack at 90, the medical staff would look at her records, look at Mina, look at the records and ask her if the date was correct. In cross checking records after 9/11, the Commonwealth discovered the discrepancy, because, as Bob said, “They never lied to Social Security,” and her driver’s license was revoked. She was no longer driving so it didn’t matter. At 97, Mina began to tell the truth about her age because, as she said, “I’m going for 100.”
Mina enjoyed travel. Burt says that whenever she drove him to the “T” to go on one of his trips, she said she wished she were going too. But she had many travel experiences of her own. In addition to her beloved cruises with Harry, she would tell of her Hadassah trip to Israel with her sister-in-law Gertrude. She traveled to London with Burt and Marcia and Bob and Sue. Perhaps her most memorable trip, or at least the one she always spoke of, was her cross-country car trip to California in 1946 for a family wedding. Mina’s version was that the trip was non-stop. She was so exhausted when she got to California that her aunt pointed her toward a bed and she took to her bed for three days
Mina always loved children and they, in turn, loved her. After Harry’s death she began to volunteer in the library at the Ward School in Newton. It gave her something to do after the “best 32 years” of her life came to an end. The large thank you note signed by all the children when she finally retired from her volunteer work had a prominent place in her home.
Mina played a special role in the lives of her grandchildren and in the lives of Joanne’s children. She shared Matt and Kerri with their grandmother Esther. Matt loved to spend time with Mina and Harry and later both he and Kerri would sleep over – one at Esther’s house and one at Mina’s. Then the next night they would switch homes and sleep over again.
When Juli was born, Mina was delighted. Juli describes her as “the best grandmother in the world.” She says, “I used to spend overnights or weekends with grandma and we used to have the best time. We would go shopping in Newton Highlands at the fancy kids clothing store, pick up some candy at indulge and head home for dinner. She would cook (or pull a Stouffers Mac and cheese out of the freezer!) and then we would have warm ginger ale in glass mugs. She wasn’t the best cook but made a mean meatball and delicious soup. We would play gin and then go to the den where we would watch “Murder She Wrote,” “Walker Texas Ranger” or “Perry Mason.” I was way too young to watch but I loved them because she loved them. She would read me stories before I went to bed. I loved being there.”
When Mina was in her 90’s and no longer driving and Juli was a teenager with a learner’s permit, they would go out together to the mall. Mina was the “licensed driver” whose presence allowed Jules to drive her around. Later, Mina could not have been prouder than when at 100, she walked down the aisle at Juli and Jonah’s wedding. Last fall, when Jules told Mina she was pregnant, Mina had a moment of full awareness and was filled with joy at the prospect of being a great-grandmother. When Juli put baby Maisy into Mina’s arms, Mina may not have known the relationship, but she knew that there was a new baby for her to hold and love.
Mina was 83 when Phil was born. She was his regular babysitter for the first years of his life. His pictures and cards adorned her refrigerator. And there was a memorable trip with Burt, Marcia, and Phil to Washington, D.C. Phil says, “My favorite times with her would be when we would all go over to her apartment for dinner & I would play card games with her. I’ll always remember how happy / joyful she was all the time we spent together. And, of course, how she was always offering me candy / ice cream / cake every time I went to see her. From my memory she was just a really caring person & loved her family a lot!” In recent years she would marvel at how tall he was and smile with pride every time Burt would remind her that Phil was studying at Tufts.
Mina’s greatest blessings, the ones she cherished to her final days, were her two sons, Burt and Bob. She had the best kind of dementia – she believed that they were there with her, every day, for supper. They may not have been there for supper, but the truth is that Burt and Bob were there for her, always. Whether it was Burt finding her the volunteer job after Harry died or Bob fixing watch after watch; whether buying her groceries when she would call Bob one day and Burt a few days later to request the same things – bagels, strawberry cream cheese, and chocolate cake; whether taking her to the doctor or the dentist or being with her in the ER and hospital, Burt and Bob were always there. They responded to phone calls, sometimes in the middle of the night. They made sure she had where to go for Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, Passover, and Mother’s Day. There were weekly Sunday family dinners at restaurants with Mina slipping her credit card under the table to Bob so that he could “pay” or Sunday take out at Mina’s apartment at Phillips Park. With very few exceptions, they never took vacations at the same time so that there would be someone at home to take care of Mina. And those few times they were gone at the same time, they made sure that cousin Leslie, z”l, was on “stand-by” to meet Mina’s needs.
Mina lived a long, good life. Perhaps it was her openness to new people and experiences that led to length of years. Maybe it was due to the crossword puzzles she did each day – in ink. Perhaps it was the stairs in the house on Andrew Street, since she explained often that the only exercise she did was going up and down the stairs. But let’s give her the last word. When she was asked why she lived so long, this was her response: “I never smoked, I never drank, and I only had one man.”
We were so blessed by her life and her love. May her memory endure as a blessing.