Obituaries reveal precious little about the people whose deaths they duly record. Paul Zimmerman was a retired meat cutter, a man whose passing warranted no more than a few lines in the newspaper's death notices. Yet he led the kind of quiet , industrious life that touched many friends and family members. His daughter-in-law, Diane, an Agoura teacher, wrote the following as a tribute to her father-in-law, an ordinary man.
His name was Paul Zimmerman. It was a fairly common name, which he shared with a well-known sportswriter. But he was not famous--just an ordinary man.
He was born in the Midwest, in Oklahoma, in 1915. He had a fraternal twin sister, Pauline. They were so different and yet so alike. He also had an older brother and sister, so, in a way, he was the baby of the family. He lived in Oklahoma for the first 12 years of his life. But then his father died and he came to California with his mother and his twin sister to begin a new life.
Those first few years were tough. But 1927 to 1933 were tough years everywhere for everyone. He went to work at age 17 as an apprentice meat cutter to help out the family financially. He always regretted that he had not finished high school. It embarrassed him. If he could do it over, he would do it differently because he did believe in the importance of education. But there was no going back.
Proud of Work
He learned the trade of meat cutting well. It was not a prestigious white-collar profession--just an ordinary job requiring long hours and hard work. But he was always proud of his knowledge about meat and his talent to do a quality job in what he did for a living.
He married in 1940. He was a young man of 25 but mature beyond those chronological years. His first son was born in 1942. Paul gave that son his father's name as a middle name. Oh, how that pleased his grandmother before her death.
These were the war years and Paul served in the Army. He was sent to Japan from October of 1945 to November of 1946. He was not a famous hero. He was just an ordinary soldier, an Army cook, serving his country as best he could. When he returned to Los Angeles and his family, he went back to meat cutting. A second son was born in 1947. This one had the blond look of his Norwegian wife.
Nine years passed. Nine years of working in meat markets and supermarkets for other people. Nine years of saving for a dream. The dream was to own his own store. And in 1956, the dream came true. He leased a small building in Studio City and opened his own meat market. At first, he had a partner, but eventually he bought the partner out and owned the store himself.
He and his wife worked together in that store for more than 20 years. They had many regular customers--people who appreciated the expertise and honesty of this ordinary man. They also had many holiday customers--people who wouldn't go anywhere else for that holiday ham, roast beef or turkey. He started early and worked late, like so many ordinary, hard-working men.
He made a good living at meat cutting. He raised two fine sons--teaching them to respect themselves and to respect others. He also taught them that education was important but that they should never be afraid of hard work. He always wanted the best for his family.
When he retired, he didn't know how to take life easy. He had always worked so hard that he hadn't made time for recreation and hobbies. He was a little lost without the store and his life's work. But his body was tired and needed a rest.
So he tried to rest and to think. Sometimes he would sit for hours and just think. I wonder about those thoughts. Did he think he had led an ordinary life? Did he enjoy watching his five grandchildren growing up in the world of today? Did he worry about them?
What did he want most from his life? Probably not fame. Or money. Like most of us, he probably wanted love. And I think he wanted to feel that his life had somehow made a difference in the world and been worthwhile.
He shared his opinions, his love, his laughter with the family. He celebrated all the family milestones of pride and growth.
As time went on, he slept more and more. He complained about his vision and his glasses. He ended up in the hospital very sick. And finally, less than one month after his 70th birthday, he peacefully slipped away. The notices in the newspaper of his death were short and factual.
But in retrospect, he left his mark on the world. It was definitely a better place because he had been alive. His wife, his sisters and brother, his parents, his two sons, his grandchildren and his other relatives were all touched by him in some way.
Although he never saw himself in that way, he was not just ordinary. What seemed on the surface to be an ordinary life was special enough that his memory will remain with those who knew him for many years to come.