Believe it or not, I’ve been writing these columns for 10 years. (Which has to be a typo, because where did all that time go?) Over this decade, I’ve been fortunate to interview many interesting Santa Monicans. Some have lived through the Great Depression and World War II and some were even Nazi camp survivors who went on to lead inspiring lives.
It’s been an education and honor. Unfortunately, I’ve also had to say a sad goodbye. Today is such an occasion as my charming friend and former neighbor, Beverly Schulman, passed last week at age 85. I wish you could have seen petite, but feisty, white-haired Beverly drive her bright yellow VW bug as it would have brought a smile to your face. Ruth Gordon in “Harold and Maude” had nothing on Beverly.
Beverly wasn’t actually her real name. While she enjoyed being mentioned in my columns, she insisted I give her a nom de plume. The same with her husband of over 50 years, Norman. He was a retired radiologist who, as a young man, had been in a Polish Nazi concentration camp.
Norm once confided that, during the liberation of his camp, General Eisenhower had townspeople marched at gunpoint through the camp. This was so they would have to bear witness to the horrors, lest others dispute it. (Like Mel Gibson’s father.) Thankfully, decades later and seemingly a million miles away, Norm and Beverly were such a cute and loving couple, it was a joy to be around them.
One time, when I phoned, I jokingly asked Norm for “Beverly” but he had forgotten she went by the alias and was convinced I had the wrong number. Just before he hung up I persuaded him it was me. Playfully, he went along with the joke, saying to his wife, “Bev, it’s for you.”
Oddly enough, my first contact with Beverly was via email. She had read some of my columns and thought my writing reminded her of Bill Bryson, whom I’d never read. A humorist at heart, he’s written numerous best-sellers, including “A Walk in the Woods,” recently made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.
At Beverly’s insistence, I got a Bryson’s “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” out of the library. It’s a hilarious memoir of growing up in 1950s Iowa, in Bryson’s colorful family, including his eccentric father Bill Sr., a longtime sportswriter for the Des Moines Register.
Bryson has spent much of his adult life in England with his British-born wife and children. His writing has yielded him the prestigious Order of the British Empire and a Fellow of the Royal Society. After finishing his book, I emailed Beverly, thanking her for her complimentary comparison but acknowledging, a la Lloyd Bentsen, “I’ve read Bill Bryson, and I’m no Bill Bryson.”
Beverly and soon I became fast friends. She fell in love with Oscar, my golden retriever buddy from the 14th floor, and the three of us would often walk to the pier. An excellent walker, on occasion, she would even take Oscar by herself. She was a pistol.
Often Beverly and Norm would invite me to their apartment for ice cream, Kahlua and conversation. A nice combination, if I may say so. Norm always seemed to enjoy my various stories and I definitely enjoyed their company.
But alas, as they were getting older, they reluctantly moved to La Jolla into an elegant senior complex. Before leaving, Beverly gave me her favorite plant she couldn’t take, a rather rare and exotic plant. As I’m not great with plants, I worried it would soon perish. Seven years later, it’s still thriving. Saying goodbye as they were leaving, sadly, I got the sense Beverly already regretted moving. I felt the same.
As Norm and Beverly were private people, I never knew much about their extended family. When Norm passed away a few years ago, Beverly asked for my help in writing the obituary. I was honored to do so.
As her health declined, Beverly moved into an excellent care facility in Westwood. On our last visit, she had her caregiver drive her to the Shores. I even brought Oscar down to see her. He absolutely remembered her and she was tickled. She and I would also talk on the phone as often as we could. Unfortunately, Beverly had a stroke last year, and, though she was fiercely determined to do so, she never fully recovered.
Last week, Beverly passed peacefully with friends and caregivers by her side. I didn’t get to say goodbye, so this will have to do. I just wish you could see a photo of her behind the wheel of her yellow VW. As I mentioned, she was a pistol. May she rest in peace. Now I better go water her plant.