To the editor:
I knew Hyman Goldfarb from the Salem YMCA, as did every other member over the last 50 years. I lost touch with him and found out a few years ago that he had passed away up in Vermont in 2001. He was 90 at the time.
"Hy's dead," David told me one Friday evening. I'd run into David occasionally, always asking about our mutual friend.
"Hy" was Hyman Goldfarb, a little, bald-headed, elderly, lively guy. A lifelong bachelor, his family consisted of a sister, a niece, and every member of the Salem YMCA. He came to the Y each evening after work from his private accounting practice.
Throughout my high school and college years, my teens through late 20s, I spent an enormous amount of time at the Y — my workout and social life combined. We members were a brotherhood of characters focused on health, hanging out and comradeship.
I first saw Hy leading a calisthenics class of 10 to 15 people in the main gym, all gently stretching, twisting, and bending to his directions.
I'd see Hy when I lifted weights, talking to him between sets. After a run, I'd cool down, stretch, and talk with him. Later on, in the steam room and in the locker room, I'd listen to him debate events of the day — the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon, affirmative action, the economy, conservatism, liberalism, freedom of speech.
He read voraciously, was a self-described "scientist," and loved political debate. He was a proud, unabashed, liberal. He was controversial, outspoken and feisty.
He refused to join the exclusive health club offered at the Y back then, preferring to be one of us regular folk.
One member made the mistake of telling Hy he was joining the health club in order to meet "the right kind of people."
"What are we, the 'wrong' kind of people?" Hy responded. He abhorred phoniness.
A group of us would go out after a workout to Pewter Pot or McDonald's for a muffin or hot chocolate or coffee. We once traveled to Newburyport to check out a new health food restaurant. Finding it closed, we ate at a local pub — two college-aged guys with our 70ish pal — mixing seamlessly with the leather-jacketed, tattooed and bearded regulars.
Once, as we left the Y for an excursion, Hy said "Don't say I'm your father."
Hy wasn't my father. He was a trusted, honest, blunt friend. As we got closer, I increasingly asked his advice, seeking his unique perspective.
We did have conflicts. As a biology major, I once bragged that vigorous exercise meant I could eat anything without worry of cardiovascular disease. He laid into me about how this made me seem unintelligent. It hurt, but made me question my deluded assumption. Hy strengthened my skeptical side.
When I saw him outside the Y the next evening I blew my car horn and waved. He later told me he thought, "Joe's alright," delighted we were still tight.
Hy continued to be a mainstay at the Y for many years, befriending new generations, while my presence dwindled as I began working full time, got married, and had three children. I assumed that when things settled, I'd once again see him, and we could catch up.
But now he's gone.
I wish I could tell him how he helped me when no one else could. That I read one of his favorite magazines, The New Republic; consider myself a liberal; eat healthy (usually); value all academics; believe in government's duty to help the disadvantaged; continue to work on my social etiquette; and often wonder, "What would Hy think about this?"
In a rare moment of regret, Hy told me that if he had married and had his own children, he wouldn't need to spend so much time with us. This would have been our great loss.
He believed in hard facts, so he got a kick out of challenging my beliefs about spiritual things like God and the afterlife.
Forgive me for saying this, Hy, but in us, your extended family, your spirit lives on.