Saying goodbye to the last of our four parents

Emmitt B. Feldner  for The Review

My siblings and I were fortunate to grow up with two sets of parents - and it wasn’t the result of divorce, blended families or any other modern features.

Our parents were close friends with another couple, Sam and Jerry Wood, who had three children of their own who grew up as quasibrothers and sister of the five of us Feldner kids.

My dad was chairman of the math department at the high school, while Sam was chairman of the science department, and both their wives were transplanted Southerners - our mom from Texas and Jerry from Florida.

The four of them conducted what may have been the world’s longest-running weekly four-handed pinochle game ever.

Every Saturday night they would get together to play cards and the five Feldner kids and three Wood kids would get together to play - and either not to cause too much mischief or see how much mischief they could cause without getting caught. Meanwhile, my dad kept detailed statistics of the all-time wonloss record for their card games.

It all began before there were even eight of us, when the two families lived side-by-side in the same triplex. It continued over the decades as the number of kids grew, then the kids grew up, got married and began bringing new kids into the world.

It even continued after they retired, as both couples moved to South Carolina - payback for uprooting two Southern girls and making them live up in the frozen, snowy north.

We went on camping trips together, went on sleepovers at each other’s house and generally grew up as one big family. It was a standing practice for my mom and Jerry to count up kids in the house at night and, as long as the total for the two houses added up to eight, everything was all right.

There was even one occasion when Wendie Wood - who is my age - came down with the chicken pox and my mother, wanting me to get them and get them over with, made me spend the entire day with her. Alas, I never got sick with the chicken pox, although Wendie surely got sick of my company.

It did prove a challenge for all of us when we got to high school, where we had to remember to Sam as “Mr. Wood” and the three Woods had to remember that it wasn’t George in the halls or classrooms but “Mr. Feldner.” And when our moms went to work at the high school - Jerry as an office secretary, our mom as a substitute nurse - it became twice the challenge.

The Woods had an additional challenge as well.

In order to pass my dad’s math class - and we all had him for two years of math - you had to laugh at all of his jokes. Unfortunately for the eight of us, most of his material was not new, but old jokes that he delighted in telling over and over again on camping trips, cookouts and other Feldner/Wood gatherings.

Wendie fell victim to that early in her first year in Mr. Feldner’s trigonometry class. He interrupted some dry dissertation on a trigonometric theorem to start a joke, trying to lighten the mood.

He had only gotten through the first line,” of the joke when Wendie started giggling and blurted out, “This is a good one!” Yes, there were actually a few good, funny jokes in the George Feldner repertoire - although most would admit they were a distinct minority.

Anyway, at that point Mr. Feldner abruptly stopped the joke, saying, “Since Miss Wood seems to know this joke already, you can all ask her after class to tell it to you,” and went back to the boring theorem he was trying to teach us.

But there were many, many more advantages to the extended Feldner/Wood (or Wood/Feldner) family then the eight of us probably recognized at that time - although we have come to cherish more and more over the years as we have gone on with our lives.

The passing of the years has also meant, unfortunately, the passing of our parents. Our mom went first, in 2000, followed by our dad in 2008, then Jerry in 2010.

The last of our four parents, Sam, passed away late last month in South Carolina, which triggered a flurry of e-mails and Facebook remembrances between the seven remaining Feldner/Woods and Wood/Feldners.

Most of them made some mention of the fact that a long-standing four-handed pinochle game was being resumed in earnest in a better place.

As I noted in one e-mail, in the case of Sam Wood, RIP stands for Rest In Pinochle.

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