When I received the invitation for his 90th birthday party — a surprise party at the East Midwood Jewish Center — I immediately replied, because Dr. Strauss was more than my doctor, he was my confidant, and has been my friend ever since I came to visit my cousins in Bensonhurst — which was considered the country for this boy from Little Italy — in my teens.
More than 120 friends and family came to the very happy birthday party — which was more like an Academy Awards celebration, with song, dance, and a video show, including special sing-a-long lyrics written by his daughter-in-law, Karen.
A letter dating back to 1981 was reproduced from Bensonhurst families that said: “There are some things in this world that should always remain: the Yanks in the Stadium, the Parachute Jump in Coney Island, Carnegie Hall, and you, Dr. Strauss, taking care of the people in Brooklyn.”
My nephew, Anthony Vento, was asked to speak about Dr. Strauss, and gave a heartfelt speech:
“The one and only Dr. Strauss — long before Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey and Marcus Welby, long before specialists and pediatricians, there was Dr. Carl Strauss. A big man with a bigger heart … he upheld his Hippocratic Oath to the Nth degree, devoted his life (and that of his beloved family) and gave 200 percent. I would know, as I am one of ‘his babies’ now almost 58 years old, but still one of his babies, nonetheless.
My first memory of Dr. Strauss was watching by the window as his big-finned black Cadillac pulled up by the curb on Bay 41st Street. Out he steps in a long, black leather coat knotted in the middle with his belt, a black fedora hat with a feather, and a pipe, clenched in his mouth. In his hand is his black leather doctor’s bag “full of tricks.”
Before he even enters our apartment, the smell of his favorite cologne — Canoe — precedes him. I panic at the thought of what he’s going to do to me as I burn with fever and a sore throat.
Sure enough, my fears are confirmed as he checks my ears, nose, and throat with his cold instrument with the light, then my heart — front and back with his dangling stethoscope — and finally, I watch in horror as he pulls out a needle, sucks up the antibiotic, rolls me over and jabs me in the behind. He tells my mom to keep me in bed, drink lots of fluids, and take St. Joseph aspirin and lots of Robitussin every four hours … AND THAT’S IT! No CAT scans, no MRIs, no X-rays, no referrals to any specialists, hospital or emergency room … NEVER! … and I got well in two days.
This scenario repeated itself hundreds of times over my lifetime … and I’m still here, so obviously he was right!
I also distinctly remember his office on the corner of 25th Avenue and 85th Street, which he shared with a dentist. The large waiting room was always crowded with his patients. His walls were covered with copies of paintings by Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh.
You entered a long dark hallway into his office with it’s massive desk forever cluttered with papers, files, fountain pens and models of hearts, lungs, skeletons, and his collection of pipes in their rack, along with the lingering smell of tobacco and cologne.
Most important was the framed photos of his family, which he was always so proud of … his beloved Shirley in her heyday, son Elton and his beautiful Bonnie. They were all he spoke of!
The stark white medical examining rooms contained scales, examining tables with stiff white roll down paper, and an old Fluoroscope machine. Throughout almost 50 years, if not more, he was not only our doctor … he was our family. He delivered, God knows how many, babies in the neighborhood, his patients, primarily Italian and Irish. He knew more about our heritage, history and religion more than we did. He could speak on any subject and never let you get a word in edgewise. He talked, and talked and talked, until you forgot what you went to him for. He made house calls, you could call him at his office or home at any time of the day or night, weekday or weekend and he would come — and CURE YOU!
He wasn’t just any GP, he was a specialist in his own way. He a surgeon … with his specialties being circumcisions, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, counselor, rabbi, priest and minister … all at the same time. When he retired some years ago we panicked … what are we going to do now? Who’s going to take care of us? There will never be anyone like Dr. Strauss and there isn’t!
To his family, Mrs. Strauss, Dr. Elton, Bonnie, Eric and Elisa, we also want to thank you for sharing your husband, your father and grandfather with us … and to always love, honor, treasure and cherish him as we, his “other family” always will.
So on behalf of the Vento, Santa Maria and Zazzali families, we thank you and God for Dr. Strauss, for being such an important part of our lives and taking care of us. We wish you and your family only the very best of health, love and peace for many, many more years to come, and also thank you for being part of our family.”
A lifetime of hard work and love needs more than one column, to be continued.
Screech at you next week!