An American story

Until last year, you would find George Jaber at Encinal Hardware Store and Pharmacy, either poking around in the rows of inventory helping a customer or behind the cash register, ringing up a sale.

In the latter part of 2008, he took more breaks, sitting in the chair by the pot belly stove, while his sons remained busy. Philip, a pharmacist and Michael, who learned the hardware business at the hands of his father. And also advising customers was George’s wife Frida. Other relatives, including daughters Kathy and Linda, and some of George and Frida’s 12 grandchildren, as well as the non-family employees always made (and still do) customers feel welcome, as if they were stopping by neighbor’s place to chat a little about what was going on around town. That’s the way it still is, whether you’re buying a 10-cent bolt or a new barbecue or picking up a prescription.

George died last December. Frida followed this month. The family’s store and pharmacy are still busy with customers who have learned to rely on the personal service and advice for those of us who didn’t know a sheetrock screw from a ball-peen hammer

George was born in 1925. In 1947 he emigrated from Ramallah, Palestine to the United States. He attended Tulsa University in Oklahoma, and was one of the first Arabs to receive a degree in Petroleum Oil Engineering. In 1954 he returned to Ramallah, where he met and married Frida, who was born in 1938 in Jerusalem, Palestine. She was the youngest daughter of six children. After George worked for a few years in Oklahoma in the oil industry, and then in Kuwait, the couple and their children moved to Alameda.

Daughter Kathy Adranly says her parents were traditional old world people. Their pleasure during non-working hours was to be with their families. Frida loved cooking what her grandson George calls “big Arabic meals.” When George wasn’t working at the store, he worked in the garden. The couple didn’t watch a lot of TV, but George did enjoy “Sanford and Son” and Frida had recently taken a liking to the celebrity dancing competitions. The family, except for daughter Linda, who moved to San Jose last month, still lives in Alameda.

They left a legacy for everyone in town. A sculpted water fountain bubbles on High Street at Encinal Avenue. The couple had traveled to Italy, and, impressed with the fountains there, donated a three-bowled fountain studded by lion’s heads. In fact, they wanted to give the city one or two more of the watery works of art, but because the city has to pay for the upkeep, the couple stuck to giving one fountain.

Another gift came after the entire family battled with the city to have a stop sign placed at the much-traveled intersection of Encinal and Versailles avenues. From the store windows they saw too many close calls between speeding vehicles and pedestrians. They finally won their request, but only after one of their own employees was knocked down by a car and suffered multiple injuries. Fortunately, she recovered.

In George’s and Frida’s wake is a non-fictional history of an American success story, evidence that hard work and honesty and families really can persevere. It surely wasn’t always easy, but it was right. As headlines focus more on scoundrels and scammers and general sadness, theirs is a refreshing and much-needed true story that, like many supposedly small stories, carries the biggest, and most hope-filled, messages.