I believe it was Fran Lebowitz (although I could easily be wrong) who once quipped that, if you happen to be attractive when you’re young, make sure to take lots of pictures as proof, because people won’t believe you when you’re older. Well, maybe I’m biased, but I think my sister Reissa and I were pretty cute kids.
She was born nearly two years before I was, on December 21, 1954, and didn’t give me the best reception when I showed up. In fact, she told me that I wasn’t really her brother, that our parents found me in a trash can, felt pity, and brought me home. But as the picture above shows, we have clear physical similarities. And looking at her hands and feet in the hospital where she spent her penultimate days reassured me that we were indeed brother and sister. In many ways, there was nobody nearer to me.
Reissa Gibbs-Rogers (nee Vineberg) passed away peacefully in Toronto on March 17, 2022, of complications of lung cancer.
As children, we ate together, we played together, we even took baths together. Later on our paths diverged and we led very different lives. We didn’t always get along — but we never lost touch. She took loving care of our mother in Mom’s final years, and looking after Dad (who turns 90 years old in September) brought us closer more recently.
Because I was considerably taller than Reissa, I often thought of her as my little big sister. If either one of us needed a kidney, we knew whom to turn to first; I have no doubt that she would have donated one of hers if I needed it. She was artistic and had a lovely speaking voice. The thought of never hearing it again gives me great sorrow.
And because it’s possible to be sad and angry at the same time, I end with this admonition: If you smoke, please try to quit; if you don’t, please don’t start.
Recently, I strolled over to a local chain drugstore to get my seasonal influenza shot. There was little waiting and no out-of-pocket expense, thanks to my comprehensive (albeit costly) medical insurance. Back in March I received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 exactly three weeks apart, without any side effects to speak of; a third “booster” jab is in the cards for this autumn.
During my lifetime I’ve been inoculated against smallpox, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, shingles and pneumococcal disease, among others. I’m fairly certain that, so far, I’ve never suffered from smallpox, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and B, shingles, pneumococcal disease, or even the flu. Nor have I endured an acute reaction from any of these treatments.
Months before the COVID-19 vaccines were available to me, I began protecting myself by wearing a mask whenever in close proximity to people outside my household; for almost two years I’ve rarely logged a temperature above 98.3 degrees Fahrenheit! Upon returning from Japan in February 2020, I was bewildered by the resistance in North America to the use of cheap, almost weightless masks, which seemed a likely reason why East Asian countries had limited the spread of the novel coronavirus quite well. The opposition to COVID-19 inoculation is a more complex matter altogether.
Ever since Edward Jenner pioneered immunization against smallpox in the late 18th century, fear has spawned powerful vaccine foes. Long before Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., became the contemporary face of the movement, the National Anti-Vaccination League rose to challenge Britain’s compulsory-vaccination laws. But the safety and efficacy of medications have improved tremendously over the decades. Often featuring some ludicrous claims, the central thesis of most “anti-vaxxers” – that the injections are more dangerous than the diseases they’re meant to prevent – has never been less valid.
(It’s a credit to medical science that the last time I inquired, a virologist said the risk of getting infected with smallpox from inoculation was greater than by living unvaccinated because the once-dreaded disease had been virtually eradicated – by vaccines!)
On the other hand, is it illogical for informed people to reject questionable Chinese, Russian or Indian vaccines — or even hold out for an mRNA vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna when only those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are offered? As for me, I would gladly accept the first one available and approved by credible regulatory authorities. Yet this obviously high comfort level has a rather old backstory that needs telling.
Perhaps my earliest childhood recollection is of a trip to Atlantic City with my sister Reissa, my mother’s young sister Ruth, and my parents. All I remember of it was watching my mother and father ride off in the motel’s golf cart, presumably to tour the property. My attempts over the years to reconstruct the trip became a Rashomon-like experience, as all of the participants recalled certain details differently.
However, everybody agreed on why our Atlantic City vacation ended so badly. It was the late 1950s or early 1960s, and Reissa, Ruthie, Mom and I had all been immunized for polio – but not my father. Dad fell deathly ill, although he was fortunately spared the paralysis often associated with that sickness. I heard that Uncle Ralph drove down from Montreal to bring the children home while Mom waited as my father recovered well enough to return.
When asked why my dad alone was unvaccinated, my late mother always gave me the unsatisfactory answer that he was too busy with work. Since then, he has confessed to believing that he really didn’t need it. “I thought I was a big shot, and it almost killed me,” he stated, having learned the proverbial hard way. And so earlier this year, at the age of 88, he rolled up his sleeve twice for Pfizer-BioNTech jabs without hesitation.
I regret profoundly that I was not an American and not born in Greenwich Village.
It was almost five years ago when Chris suddenly passed away. Since then my life has changed — yet remains much the same.
Looking for a picture of her on this occasion, I found one from our trip to England and Wales with our friends James and Nicky just weeks before she died. That was the last time she saw her mother Cathy. She posed next to a statue of John Lennon we had found in a Liverpool street. Gazing at the photo I can’t help but imagine the two of them having a conversation somewhere. Chris could win over anybody.
In December 1980 I was driving from graduate school in California to an unknown future in New York City. At nighttime in the middle of Nebraska I heard on the radio that John had been shot in front of the Dakota apartment building. This made me wonder: How could I go there now? John was an early idol of mine, along with Bob Dylan and all the other artists that have drawn me here since my youth.
I came anyway, followed by Chris several years later. Nearly 40 years after my arrival I imagine her with me, walking the Greenwich Village streets we both loved. Like John she left us far too soon. But I doubt I’ll regret spending the rest of my time in the city that became our final home.
It is a new year but I still don’t feel remotely ready to write about losing Chris, who passed away without warning less than four months ago. Yet something familiar that I heard over the holidays has compelled me to begin. It was the song “Moon River” from the 1961 movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song, making hits for Andy Williams and other crooners.
Moon River, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way
Despite our lives together in various Manhattan apartments, Chris and I were little like Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly and George Peppard’s Paul Varjak, just as the film was quite different from the Truman Capote novella that inspired it. We were married over 15 years ago in Savannah, Georgia, having met by sheer accident on the island of Saint John in the U.S. Virgin Islands on July Fourth more than a decade earlier.
Both born in the late 1950s, we really didn’t come of age until such innocently romantic songs were already considered passé. Still, “Moon River,” whose lyrics were penned by that native son of Savannah Johnny Mercer, always seemed right for us. It captured the essence of our relationship, and became our song. Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after that same rainbow’s end, waiting, round the bend
My Huckleberry Friend, Moon River, and me
For a quarter of a century Chris and I lived an adventure, sort of like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. My “Huckleberry Friend” is gone now, and I feel lost myself, but I will always cherish her in my memories.
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind …
Christine Ann Clark, 54, died of cardiac arrest in the early-morning hours of September 22, 2013, in Manhattan. Born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in south Florida, Chris moved to Manhattan from Houston in the late 1980s to pursue her advertising career and be closer to her future husband, Gary Vineberg. A University of Florida Gator and Zeta Tau Alpha alumnus, she served as an account executive at several prestigious agencies, retiring from Ogilvy Health World in 2008. For more than three decades, Chris worked tirelessly on campaigns for a variety of clients, including airlines and pharmaceutical companies, becoming an expert in women’s healthcare along the way. Never one to be idle, she later joined Corcoran Group, launching a second career as a real-estate salesperson. Chris was passionate about her city and Greenwich Village home, working on her building’s roof garden. She could often be spotted in the Village shopping, picking up a Patsy’s pizza, or sipping a frozen margarita with her husband during Sunday brunch. She and Gary traveled the globe together, counting Cambodia, Ecuador and South Africa among their many destinations. She always looked forward to her annual “3B” reunion trip with college roommates Jan Healy and Joanne Gelfand, a tradition that lasted 30 years. A few weeks ago, the couple, joined by Chris’s mother, explored northwestern England and north Wales with local friends they had met in Fiji. Her creative side was generous, as she would shower family and friends with photo montages and videos on special occasions. She enjoyed socializing — “Build Me Up Buttercup” never failed to get her up to dance – as well as skiing and working out at the gym. Overflowing with love and good cheer, Chris was cherished by so many and will be sorely missed. She is survived by her husband Gary, her mother, Catherine Clark of Dallas, her aunt Janet Mather of Denver, and her aunt Joyce Clark of San Francisco, as well as other relatives and countless friends. A service will be held in her memory at the East End Temple, 245 East 17th Street, at noon on Tuesday, September 24. In lieu of flowers, please remember Chris with donations to research and treatment of heart disease or other worthy causes.