We are Jonathan and Hilary Krieger, two siblings with an amazing set of parents who taught us to follow our own path even -- especially -- if it’s along the road not taken, a lesson we are applying now as we try to break into some of our planet’s landmark dictionaries. We are doing this in honor of our father, Neil, who passed away at the age of 78 on April 29, 2020, from Covid-19.
Our dad invented the term we’re trying to get in the dictionary while he was a student at Cornell University in the late 1950s. (If you’re wondering what the word is, a) it’s “orbisculate,” for when a citrus fruit squirts in your eye, and b) that means something about our branding is totally off.)
It was hardly the first time he expressed an affinity for food. As a child he spent time in and around the chicken coops of the poultry store his grandfather had started after immigrating from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. By 14 he was working in his parents’ restaurant at Brooklyn’s Bossert Hotel, where he also lived. The restaurant was a popular destination for many, including his hero Jackie Robinson. When the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series in 1955, they hosted the victory party.
We don’t know when our dad first became enamored of grapefruit, but his love for them only grew when he was put to work picking them while volunteering on a kibbutz in northern Israel while on a break from graduate school in Boston, where he was studying the circadian rhythms of bioluminescent creatures. Soon after he returned, he met our mom, Susan, who was working as a child psychologist at a community health center. He swore it was love at first sight, and they were together ever after. They spent 45 years happily married.
Our parents brought that love into our home and shared it with us generously. They also taught us creativity, humor, resourcefulness, and the importance of celebrating the moment and being ourselves. Our house was always filled with laughter and hugs, and every now and then we’d catch our dad looking at one of us with a proud smile on his face. When we asked what was on his mind, he’d simply say, “Just looking at you, kid.”
Orbisculate was hardly our dad’s most important creation. He also invented a safer form of anesthesia, pioneered an annual family greeting card that people actually enjoy getting and, we’d like to think, did a pretty good job raising the two of us. When he passed away from Covid-19, his (virtual) shiva was attended by dear friends from around the world who had known and loved him for decades, the ultimate sign of a life well-lived.
But there’s something very fitting about honoring our dad's memory through a word, since our shared love of the English language and writing came in part from him. Any time we’d type something up, he would be close behind with his pen, there to tear it all apart. “This is really dynamite,” he’d tell us, then hand back a document with so many cross-outs, move-this-paragraph-here arrows and word substitutions that we could barely read our original text.
Hilary’s been a journalist since about 10 minutes after leaving the womb, and Jonathan waited only slightly longer to commence his own writing career when he came along eight years and 10 months later. Hilary has covered the White House, Congress and international diplomacy for major publications, in between taking do-it-yourself sabbaticals to roam across 47 states, 59 countries and five continents (so far).
Jonathan has written a book called Odd Jobs about his life in the gig economy, with stories ranging from the time he dressed up in a bikini to deliver a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to when he served as a bathroom attendant in a public restroom. Whose career has been more prestigious will probably be a matter of scholarly debate for years to come.
A few years ago, Jonathan also borrowed a page from our father’s entrepreneurial book -- at 12 our dad started selling tropical fish, and then at 58, he left academics and started a business helping biotech firms get research funding. Jonathan launched a company called BoardGame Empire hosting board game-themed events, from corporate team-building to board game speed dating. When coronavirus hit, he pivoted to the world of virtual trivia nights.
We both love how we spend our days, and that’s a tribute to our parents. They always encouraged us to create the life we wanted and to choose the work that we enjoyed over something that gave us more pay or a fancier resume. They taught us that starting a board game events company was a wonderful idea, and that it’s okay to say no thanks to the job, I’d rather travel around Africa.
So it feels fitting to honor our dad in a way that’s unique, that captures his humor and creativity and shares those attributes with the world. We suspect that the mission we’re embarking on may take years; if we’re being honest, we realize we may never accomplish our goal. But life has always been more about the journey than the destination. We know, because our dad taught us that.