22 March 2014, Melbourne Australia
I remember Dzia Dzia's retirement party when I was about 7 years old. When the then state minister for education Tom Roper gave a speech I realised the Dzia Dzia must've been pretty important. Then growing up, hearing the stories and reading his book, I came to learn what a brave man he was, considered a hero by many. 12 years ago, at the age of 82, he was proof reading my masters thesis and advising me on some pretty hard-core statistical analysis, I really became aware of what a sharp and intelligent guy he was.
But those aren't the things that define Dzia Dzia for me.
When I think of Dzia Dzia, I think of what a generous, loveable and unself-consciously quirky person he was. And to be honest, it's always been hard to reconcile the guy that evaded the Nazis for 5 years, but was barely able to change a light-bulb, let alone a tyre.
I think of Dzia Dzia the swimmer, well into his 70s banging out 800m a day in the Brighton Sea baths, and swimming deep into the colder months. But if you've got the image of Dzia Dzia slicing through the water like a seal, I'll have to shatter that illusion. His was more a hybrid of breast stroke, and, let's face it, dog paddle. But he didn't care about the aesthetics. He just loved swimming and that's the point. He kept swimming in the sea baths until getting rescued became such a regular occurrence that the life guards politely insisted he look at other options.
I don't think Dzia Dzia ever owned a pair of Reeboks, but their old slogan "Life is not a spectator sport" suited him perfectly. For him, sport is about participation, not watching.
But not all sports were created equal. I remember once he walked in when we were watching cricket, he watched for a minute, and then he said "I don't see the point of this game, sometimes they hit it, sometimes they don't, sometimes they run, sometimes they don't". And he walked out leaving us dumbfounded. After such a brutally succinct dismissal, cricket has never been the same for me.
I think of Dzia Dzia's infatuation with the Centre Road shopping center in Bentleigh, which he claimed was the best in Melbourne. Multiple fruit shops, multiple butchers, and each with their specialty. And a shopping trip would consist of a visit to whichever had the cheapest price of whatever he needed. If that meant green apples at one shop, and red apples at another, so be it. And if he had to sacrifice quality for price, that's wasn't an issue either.
Not that he saw it that way. Dzia Dzia was always adamant that expensive wines, whiskeys and perfumes were a waste of money. Why spend $100 on bottle of Channel No 5 when you can get a perfectly good replica for $15. But getting mum a bottle of Channelette perfume for Christmas was a mistake he only made once. And whether or not he really believed this, it was a good way to torment my dad and uncle Peter - I don't think you guys ever did manage to arrange the double blind whiskey test.
I think of Dzia Dzia's massive repertoire of jokes. A couple stand out, but not as much as Babcia's immortal observation: "with these jokes you can hang yourself."
And his driving?
Well, I had a bit here about his driving. But before the service I noticed that as the funeral director was wheeling the coffin through the door back behind me, he miscued and bumped the coffin into the door frame. I thought that was a lovely tribute. Especially the way he sheepishly checked to see if anyone had noticed, and then continued as if nothing had happened.
Remarkable for the fact that he kept his license deep into his 80s, as much as that he got it in the first place. Mum says you'll take 1000 reversing dings over one serious accident. But I say, just turn around and have a look.
But lastly, wherever Dzia Dzia may have moved onto now, I hope the waitresses have been forewarned not to bring out his tea before his dessert. Dessert can wait, but the tea goes cold and you've got nothing to wash down your dessert with. And if the waitresses haven't been forewarned, they'll find out pretty quickly.
So Dzia Dzia, I know you were a hero to many, but you weren't to me. You were our Dzia Dzia, I love you for that. And I say with deep affection, there will never be another like you.