Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The funeral caper
Today is now funeral+one and like a fool. I was up and at ‘um this morning all bright eye’d and bushy tailed. Now I am dragging and need coffee to bolster my flagging energy. Oh, Yuban, where for art thou?
Well the funeral yesterday was wonderful.
My hometown doesn’t have a Rabbi of its own, instead they use a Rabbinical student. We didn’t know what to think, and wondered how the Cadet Rabbi would do (“Reporting for duty, SIR!”), but once we met him my fears were set aside. He was a wonderful man and gave us a memorable service that was like Mom – very light on sentimentality, but educational. My mother loved to teach, and because most of the people in my hometown have never been to a Jewish deli, let alone a funeral, I asked Rabbi Phillip to use the moment as a teaching experience. And he patiently explained to everyone what was going on and why it was done as it was.
That takes me back to our three old hens who sat perched in the back of the room, their eyes scanning about to see who came in, who sat where and with whom.
Before the service we did the Keriah – a ceremonial tearing of the cloth. In this case a black ribbon worn by each member of the family which is then slashed and then worn for seven days to signify our mourning.
Then the service began and I gave my eulogy, which I was told was beautiful, and which I do not remember very much of, even though it was written down.
Because Mom had a beautiful smile, I ended the eulogy with a story that was my mother, in spades:
About a year into keeping company with the man who become my step father, she called me one Sunday morning and had to tell me something.
Mom: “Guess what the two of us did together for the first time last at about midnight?”
Me: “Oh, God…”
Mom: “Well, the two of us..." she paused, "went to Kroger to look for food that was going out of date the minute after midnight. If you find something and take it to the service counter, you get one of these items – fresh of course – for FREE!”
Me: (relieved that it was something else that they had done) “You two wacky kids.”
Mom: “We have steaks that are just beautiful, and fresh milk and butter. I have six jars of capers for you.”
Me: “When would anyone use six jars of capers in a lifetime. They’ll go bad before I use them.”
Mom: “Oh, these things are canned – they’ll never go bad on your shelf…”
Me: “Well the store seems to think that they go bad, otherwise you never would have gotten these in exchange for the out of date one you found, right?”
Mom: “Oh, yeah…”
The room cracked up, because that was who she was, and they knew it.
Yes, she was proper, and always on the mark, but then she would do these random things. But she always thought about me, or my cousin, or her bridge buddies, or someone she had met through a friend.
This, the joy, is what we should remember when the people we love pass on.
And even though those three old hens annoyed me so, I realized that in a way, they too brought their own kind of joy – finding opportunities for life in death.
Before they left the "after party" that was our meal, the lead hen came up to me and started on about how she had these local history books that she was sure that I could have used when I wrote my two (real) books on our hometown. She made the mistake of bragging about them in front of another town historian who is a family friend.
"These books are very old, and very rare. I should take them on the Antiques Roadshow - they must be worth a small fortune!" she said.
Never mind that the books had been reprinted, or that the library had them on the shelves, or that the local historical society tried everything they could get people to keep them rather than denoate them (they had a number of copies), Old Henny Penny was just certain, that like everything else, she just had to be right.
As she walked away, my friend said to me, in a lowered voice, "And who is that fabulously unaware lady and her entourage?"
Still, the poetry books have a date with destiny’s dumpster. Despite their assertions that their “Lord, Sweet Jesus” poems were my mother, they didn’t know the woman I knew. And that woman would have found a use for all those capers, lest they go to waste, and she didn't suffer fools, wisely, or otherwise.