Silent Film Music and other Sounding Off

Talking about music, consciousness, silent film, Italian food, travel, good books, married life, kids, and more

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Happy 90th, Dad!

Gene Sosin, May 25, 1925

July 24, 2011. Hard to believe it's been 90 years since my dad was born. He has lived through the Roaring 20's, the Depression, World War II, the Howdy Doody show (my folks got me into the Peanut Gallery when I was 5), Tic-Tac-Dough (he won some good money, then was a casualty of the quiz-show scandals as his opponent was fed answers), the Beatles (Dad donned a great wig at one memorable party). Owned an Austin, a Dodge, a Chevy, a Rambler, a few Peugeots, Oldsmobiles, He grew a beard and ditched it. He got a toupee and ditched it. But he never ditched his youthful outlook on life. He looks nowhere near his age, and though he walks with a cane a lot these days, his mind is sharp and his wit quick. He takes pride in the captions he regularly submits to the New Yorker cartoon competitions, and is a whiz at the Sunday puzzle on NPR, writing song lyrics for family get-togethers, and telling great jokes. He played bridge and tennis for years, and has a phenomenal memory for music, poetry, details of conversations and memories of the many trips we took abroad.

He and Mom took us to Munich for a few years in the mid-60's with his longtime job at Radio Liberty, and thanks to him and Mom we learned some German, how to ski, traveled all over Europe, went to innumerable fantastic concerts, met Rostropovich, Marceau, Jessye Norman, Stokowski, and other notables.

But Dad himself is notable. Born in Brooklyn, he was the valedictorian of his Flushing High School class, a Latin scholar, Phi Beta Kappa at Columbia where he majored in French. During the war he joined the Navy, went to the Japanese Language School in Boulder and worked in D.C. decoding secret messages. After the war he went back to Columbia and got a Masters in Russian, meeting my mom in a Dosteovsky class, as they have often recounted. After a short stint at the Voice of America, he joined the fledgling station Radio Liberation in 1952. It went on the air on March 5, 1953, coincidentally the day that both Stalin and Prokofiev died. In 1959 he resigned so he could go to Russia to do research for his dissertation on Soviet children's theater. Of course he got his job back; it was a precautionary measure, as he had been attacked personally in both Pravda and Izvestia!

Dad was one of the main figures at Radio Liberty for 30 years, first in programming and then Director of Broadcast Planning. Under his leadership the station broadcast in sixteen languages to the people of the Soviet Union. His book, Sparks of Liberty, is a remarkable account of his time at the station, which spanned the entire duration of the Cold War, and includes photos of the many personalities that broadcast on RL over the years, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Louis Armstrong.

He has contributed many book reviews and articles to such publications as the New Leader, the NY TImes, and the Saturday Review. But I think his most important contribution during his long lifetime has been the work he and Mom have done in helping emigrés, many of them Soviet Jews, many of whom became dear friends. Mom and Dad interviewed displaced persons for the Army during their first stay in Munich from 1950-1951, just after they got married and just before I was born. They were on the board of NYANA, the New York Association of New Americans, and have always been extremely generous and gracious hosts to dozens, if not hundreds, of immigrants and exiles.

No dinner at their house, either in Rye, Munich or White Plains, has ever been bereft of talk of people they have just met, or have corresponded with, or heard at a lecture (they are both intrepid lecture and concert attendees, sometimes three a day, in addition to having lectured in many different arenas themselves). I can't count the number of times my sister and I sat (and sometimes fidgeted) at the dining room table while my folks conversed in animated Russian (or German, or French) with the latest arrival, or a colleague from a university language department.

As a son, I have wonderful memories of our family trips to Florida, Williamsburg, and over to England, Holland, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austira, Israel, and Greece. I remember well our childhood games, from baseball in the back yard, to sledding down Hill Street in Rye and being pulled back up to our house at the top of the hill, which at one point gave Dad a nice case of bursitis. He commuted into NYC for many years and I would wait for him on a stone ledge outside our house, running to meet him when he walked up the hill. He told great bedtime stories, which I absorbed and then carried on the tradition with our son Nick, and am starting to do with our baby Mollie. Dad and Mom love being grandparents to both of them, and we have been fortunate to have them near enough to visit often these past two decades, sleeping over, hanging out, being fed delicious meals, and watching the latest clips that Dad has taped from his TV interview show, or an installment of Jeopardy, or a classic mystery.
Dad is always ready with clippings from the print media: the Times, the New Leader, and his comments are always insightful and informed.

My folks have been members of Community Synagogue in Rye NY since its founding in 1950 by my grandparents among others, and have been active in all phases of its religious and social life. Dad did not have a religious upbringing but was Bar Mitzvah at the age of 83, and studied Hebrew in adult ed classes.

His 90th birthday is in no way a culmination of his long, productive life, it's an important milestone but only a momentary pause in what seems could continue to be a joyous and fruitful life for many years to come, even, as we always say in our family, biz hunderd zwanzig yor!

Here he is at home a month ago, telling some of his favorite Soviet jokes at my request. Happy Birthday, Dad, I love you always.

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