Obituary: Robin Ostfeld
To state the obvious, Robin had a green thumb. I am not only referring to her skill regarding anything containing chlorophyll.
Robin understood about growing things of all kinds. She and Lou raised two splendid daughters, only one of whom reached her full height. And although randomness robbed Robin and Lisa of the complete harvests we all see as our birthright, Robin kept turning the earth over as long as she could. And over. She did not want help. Robin, my sister, was strong. Lou may be even stronger than that. And Sharon. Survivors, both of them.
Robin was funny. She loved to relate stories about the occasional odd customer or purveyor of service. The stories were never mean-spirited, but they were often wickedly funny. She used to recall a customer who regularly would order the following items at the Blue Heron Farm Market stall:
Robin was irreverent and she was brave. Robin nicknamed everyone, all her much-loved pets, many times over. She loved words. She read more words per minute than you and downed novels like so much water.
Robin, who was shy as a child, had to push herself to speak out publically. But against injustice, she did so with vigor. It cost her to put herself forward in any way and yet she strove. Even when she was little, if a teacher was wrong, a nine-year old Robin would force herself to raise her hand.
As kids, my brother Rick and I were afraid of our dad. Not Robin, ever. Once famously when our dad demanded a glass of water from the adolescent Robin, she responded, get it yourself, you male chauvinist pig!
Robin had no truck with artifice. Unless a particular sheen came from the sun or from natural iridescence, it was tawdry.
Mascara, eye liner, high heeled shoes, bras with push-up cups…These were so much male-inspired frippery, designed to distort and contort women, to make them into some male notion of the feminine ideal. So although she wanted her blue jeans to fit, they were Dickies or LL Bean or Duluth Trading Company, rather than something chic or anything made through the agency of abusive or unfair labor.
Robin would get mad if you were an enemy of planet Earth. Or if you couldn’t support strict gun laws or abortion rights. If you didn’t understand the evil legacy of rich, conquering white guys and their behavior with regard to OTHERS, she would be friendly, but NOT your true companion. If you couldn’t em-brace global efforts to feed the hungry or to work for human rights, you would not be Robin’s brother or sister. If you were mean to your dog or negligent with regard to your cat, Robin’s friendship would not be yours.
This was not due to upbringing, although we were taught proper human values in our household. It was not due to religious training, although Reform Juda-ism rocks.
It was due to her natural propensity to do good and right. Robin, the person who was constantly self-correcting, was also constantly aiming for wisdom, for discernment and for kindness. If she fell short, I didn’t notice. These attributes were her sun and she grew towards it. Robin, the one who was good at growing.
Robin was no wonder-working wise woman or paragon of perfection. She had her addictions. She overdosed on Fiction, as you’ve heard. Orchids. She needed to mainline Phalenopsis and Oncidium on a frighteningly frequent basis. To a lesser extent rex begonias. Perhaps oxalis. Nero Wolfe consulted Rob-in Ostfeld when his prize orchids languished, just so you know…
Berries were a lifelong temptation for Robin. Her first sentence was, Daddy, pick a berry. On the Blue Heron Farm Facebook Page, you’ll see pornographic berry photos and even an explicit pic, yes, a selfie, of Robin’s palm cradling some plump strawberries.
When Robin was dying, she continued to think of ways in which we siblings might ease the mind of our mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She emailed my brother Rick and me a link to an NPR Science Friday article called Tapping into Musical Memory. The article is about a documentary which looks at the effects of music on people living with dementias. In the film, Oliver Sacks and Dan Cohen explain how music acts as a conduit to memory. Robin then in-vestigated the kinds of music our mother would most like and pushed us to move the project along. At a time when most people would simply have focused on themselves, Robin was thinking about our mother, whose memory is limited to a 30-second loop. We will move on this music project, I promise.
Rick and I both think that we have not been good enough older siblings to Robin. We loved her. We admired her, but we counted on more time and didn’t want to think about running out of time. We hope that the intensity of our love made a mark on her because she made her mark on us.
Lou-of-the-healing-hands. You might have the best hands on the planet. Your hands loved her, they soothed her, they massaged her, they held your babies, they swatted her in play, brought out something in Robin that otherwise would have gone unseen. Lou-of-the-healing-hands.
Okay so Robin had a minor crush on Jon Stewart. Don’t all of us?
Lou, you weren’t threatened, were you?
It is fine to say we will fight cancer, but all most of us can do, we who are not scientists who study cancer, is to clean things and grow things the right way in the right places, like Robin did. Robin recycled, composted, re-used, re-purposed, watered, fed, weeded. Lou goes around doing the same and picking up trash wherever he sees it! These are things we ordinary people can do to be like Robin, to green this one globe on which we all take our one spin. Robin’s one spin was too short, we’re angry about its brevity, but she sowed seeds, made the green more vivid and it is for us now to take up her task.