Victoria’s Secrets: Goodbye Pebe, my dearest cousin

My dear Pebe, whose real name was Pearl Betsy Silverman.

It’s hard saying goodbye to my baby cousin Pebe, who was more like a sister to me and was six months younger.

We grew up in the same building — she on the second floor, me on the first — and we were totally connected.

Pebe, whose real name was Pearl Betsy Silverman, had the same first name as me. Our mothers were both pregnant at the same time and loved their mom and decided to name their newborns after her. So I was born Pearl Victoria and she was Pearl Betsy.

Because we lived so close and confusion reigned, she became Pebe and I became Vicki.

Living so close, I can remember the aroma from watching the daily ritual of her mom washing her hair in chamomile leaves to keep her long golden hair like flax. It worked! She remained a beautiful blonde throughout her childhood, getting only a few shades darker as she got older.

A childhood treat was to make a hidden visit to her apartment for liverwurst sandwiches. My family was kosher, so we never ate liverwurst, but my Pebe’s house was not kosher. There was something wickedly delicious about them. What a delight!

Our parents bought houses on Lake Oscawana and we spent every summer together there from age 3 until I went to sleep away camp. Our summer days were filled with swimming, boating, fishing, reading, knitting and digging for worms near the lake. Being together forged a bond that would last forever.

My favorite story growing up foretold our different styles. When angora hats were all the rage, we went shopping for one together. I wanted the glamorous beret, but Pebe chose one with ear flaps. I can remember, like it was yesterday, her saying, “I want to be warm,” and me responding, “I want to look like a movie star!” Our styles never changed — she the realist and me the dreamer!

As we became adults, we both chose to become teachers. I got a great job at a school in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. But in my third year, I switched schools to where Pebe taught in Bedford-Stuyvesant because, like her, I wanted to “change the world” and help children who I thought needed me more. We drove daily to school together.

It was a tranquil life until I got to P.S. 138, which was known as an MES (“More Effective School”) because of all the extra support they offered the K-6 students. But my class of 23 third graders was filled with kids who had emotional and learning problems that were way beyond my professional skills, as I did not have the experience to know how to meet their needs.

When one teacher suggested that I should bang a student’s head against the blackboard to control the class and make the kids listen, my heart and spirit were broken. It was my worst year of “teaching.”

Pebe somehow found a way to cope and tried to guide me through that difficult time, but I quit in June and found a teaching job on Long Island soon after.

Both of us were newlyweds at the time. She was my bride of honor wearing my chosen color  — a bubble gum pink dress — and then I was her matron of honor.

Even as married ladies, we lived only blocks from each other. But life was about to dramatically change.

It started when she told me she was pregnant — as was I — and was going to be moving.

One of the saddest days for me was when she bought a new house in Marlboro, N.J. — a foreign land to me. But her husband Jan, a pharmacist, worked in Bay Ridge and a New Jersey home worked best for them.

I had my first child and moved to Bayside and within a week of each other, we both had baby girls.

Sadly, my daughter Lara turned blue in the nursery and at 3 months old, suffered from seizures. When we visited each other, I saw Pebe’s daughter Dana developing much faster than Lara. I soon found out that, developmentally, Lara would remain a 3-month-old.

Fast forward to years later, Pebe and Jan had three grown children living in California, so they decided to move there permanently. The barrier of distance and our very different lives physically separated us, but the love never ended.

After Pebe’s death following a devastating few years of battling lung disease, I know our love will live on. I will miss our confidential weekly calls complaining about the issues of the day like raising our children and talking about whatever was on our minds. But a bond is a bond, and I will love you eternally, Pebe.

She was a precious friend, so I was particularly interested in an article my friend, Dr. Peter Michalos, sent me from businessinsider.com. The article reinforced for me the importance of friendship. 

The study of 300,000 people found that living longer and happier lives isn’t just a result of diet, exercise, or even genetics — it found that friends can affect your health more than family. For me, I was blessed that many family members like Pebe were my dearest friends, too!

I laughed when the report said that real friends are not Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

Researcher Robin Dunbar reported that the key to good friends is to have three or four really really close friends. To keep them, he said you should “think about what you can do that will help the people closest to you be happier, then do it!”

While Pebe lived in California, we didn’t see each other in years, but our bond was so tight and survived. In the last months of her life, we did FaceTime chats every week, which brought joy to both of us. 

So, I pass on the words of the researchers: “If you want to have closer friends, make ‘care’ a verb. Support. Encourage. Help.”

Goodbye, Senior

We lost a powerhouse of a man when John “Senior” Koufakis passed away at the age of 94. He was the true Horatio Alger success story, selling used cars on a Carvel lot he had bought and built an auto empire with the “Star” brand, consisting of multiple car dealerships and service centers. 

He brought his three sons into the business, which has now extended to his grandchildren. 

John “Senior” Koufakis

His love of his Greek church made it possible for them to have artists create a golden mural on the dome’s ceiling.

I loved talking business and getting his sage advice during our lunches and dinners.

His legacy will live on through his loving family and the extraordinary business he created. 

Meeting Senator Joe Lieberman and his wife Hadassah at the Hampton Synagogue’s shabbos brunch with synagogue president Carol Levin. Hadassah had been there to do a presentation of her book, “Hadassah: An American Story.” It was my delight to meet the senator, since I had the honor of going to the Democratic convention where he was nominated to be vice president. All my Jewish friends at the convention cried with joy at the possibility of his hopeful election. He came so close. He remains a very engaging person to this day.