Remembering Karl Friedrich Schmid

Picture of Karl Schmid

November 11, 1937 – May 8, 2023

Karl is my uncle, married to my mother’s oldest sister, Anne, who many call “BB” and I call “Beeb.” These are just a few memories I carry of him.   

A staunch New Yorker, Karl was eager to share his love of the city. The son of German immigrants, he grew up in Queens. After an army career that kept him and his family on the move, and a stint in Ithica, he lived in Manhattan and welcomed everyone to join in on the fun. He spent the final years of his life in Los Angeles.

To know Karl, was to know New York City (NYC). To love Karl, you didn’t have to love NYC, but if you didn’t, you better not be very vocal about it. And if anyone could change your mind, it was him.

Uncle Karl and Beeb hosted me in their apartment on the upper east side in 1994, the summer before I turned 19. After high school, I left the suburbs of Los Angeles and moved to Spain to chase a dream of becoming a supermodel. When I landed in New York, I had worked as a fashion model for a year in Barcelona but had no idea how competitive the NYC market would be.

My aunt and uncle were generous hosts. They gave me keys and let me come and go without a curfew. They helped me decipher all the maps to use public transportation to get where I was going. Of course, this was long before cell phones or Google.

Every weekday, I’d pound the pavement looking for my big break. No matter where I was in the city, I’d make sure get back in time for a home-cooked meal by Uncle Karl. As soon as I walked in the door, Beeb would welcome me and scoot me into the bathroom to wash the city’s grime off my hands and face.  

Arriving home in time for dinner was a treat. As soon as we’d sit down, Uncle Karl would take a sip of his wine and ask, “So, how did it go?” A veteran and engineer, Karl knew nothing about modeling or fashion—and honestly, he could have cared less. But he cared about me and my goals. The interactions around that table offered me a daily reset and reminder that I was okay despite the day’s defeat.

An added bonus was that Karl was a great chef. I credit him for my love of fish. He’d cook in a white apron and BB would do the dishes after dinner. The contents of their fridge were sparse because he’d stop on his way home from work every day to get the freshest ingredients. He’d walk some 20 blocks home because he loved the bumble of the city and found the summer heat in the subway oppressive. Towering at around 6’5”, he had a great view of whatever was happening no matter the block.

I have never seen someone yell at the nightly news like Karl could. The first time I heard it I think I literally jumped, not expecting such a gentle giant to rage at the television. Something about the corrupt politicians ruining the boroughs. His passion for NYC saw no limits.

When it came to the weekends, I can’t even name all the firsts that Uncle Karl made sure I experienced that summer. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. We saw the musical Cats on Broadway. We took the train to see a Yankees game with my cousin Hansey, Karl and BB’s youngest son, who had just graduated from college and was staying with his parents that summer too. Karl didn’t hold it against me that the Dodgers had moved to my side of the country or that my nuclear family and I were Dodger fans.

No matter the outing, Uncle Karl eagerly shared all the history and context he could to help me better comprehend that we really were at the center of the universe. Part of the fun was seeing the city through the wonder of his eyes.

One Sunday afternoon, Karl and Beeb took me to see a ballet at Lincoln Center. It was a moving performance, so I was surprised to look over and see Uncle Karl asleep. Afterwards, as we walked down the stairs of the plaza, Karl said, “Well, I had a really good nap—an expensive one, but a good one nonetheless.” He smiled from ear to ear. BB rolled her eyes and we all had a good chuckle.

Years later when my husband, Tommy, and I went to the theater, and he fell asleep next to me, I immediately got mad and elbowed him awake. Then I remembered how much Karl had enjoyed his rest, and I let Tommy sleep. I did learn to measure which shows we went to see in order to avoid paying for a very costly cat nap.

Karl and BB were avid fanatics of the New York Times (NYT) Sunday crossword puzzle and would hand that paper back and forth to each other all week long. I can imagine him in his chair with his long legs crossed, staring at the folded paper with a pencil in his hand. When they got a word, their satisfaction would be short lived because there was always another clue that needed to be solved. I think they had four-inch-wide dictionaries to help them in their quest. I don’t know how they felt about the NYT Daily Mini Crossword, which came out a few years ago. If they had played that, I may have been able to keep up with them.

A few years ago, a short letter I wrote to the LA Times editor was published. Two weeks later, I called BB for her birthday. Karl answered and before passing the phone to her he said, “I appreciate what you had said in the Times.” I was taken aback by how he could be so learned, supportive and matter of fact all at the same time. I was also shocked to hear that he was reading the LA Times, but I bet he still read the NYT first.

Though I never did work in NYC or become a New Yorker, I am a big fan of the Big Apple. And according to my mom, after several years in L.A., Uncle Karl and BB finally gave in and became Dodger fans.

Just a few hours before Uncle Karl passed away, I had a sweet dream about my brother, Peter, who passed six years ago. Petey was in his chef coat walking towards the train to get on the gold line going west. In the dream, I thought he was on his way to work in Pasadena. Several hours later, it brought me great comfort to think that he was actually on his way to pick up Uncle Karl and that they’re now cooking up a storm and toasting us all from beyond.

After I texted my cousin Hansey about it, he responded: “A lot of good food is being made between Peter and Dad. Heaven’s lucky.”

God bless Karl Schmid and all who loved him. He was a generous man who loved his family and hometown. I am a better person thanks to having known him.

Our Beloved Tita

Our beloved Juana Clarisa Vera Birba has been called home. She is technically my “grandmother-in-law,” but from the moment I met her she’s been my abuelita, my Tita.

There are so many things I love about Tita. For example, her quirks – what she called “tiki-tikis.” She was unapologetic about them and turned them into ritual. Ours was the fact that she never learned my name. Every time I’d see her I’d ask: “Tita, como me llamo?”

“Ay, chica, esperate, no me digas,” she’d say, as if it were on the tip of her tongue. (more…)