Saturday, June 28, 2003

In Memorium

We're literally on our way out the door for a two-day on Long Island, where, in keeping with Jewish practice, eleven months after her burial, my grandmother Martha's gravestone unveiling takes place on Sunday afternoon, thus marking the official end of the mourning period for her passage. Tomorrow will be only my second visit to a gravesite for more than picnic and grave-rubbings; the first was Darcie's maternal grandmother's funeral, several years ago in a small ceremony outside Montreal.

It's different, somehow, when it's someone I knew all my life.

I missed the funeral last year -- missed it very much, in fact -- because Willow's birth was literally moments away, but in my stead I sent along the following Eulogy, which my brother graciously agreed to share with those loved ones assembled.

When I was very, very young, about 3 and a half, Grandma Fanny – my last living great grandmother -- passed away. Some of you here today knew her. I don’t remember her at all.

But I know about her. I know what her recipes tasted like through my mother’s cooking. I know her face from the photos that my mother and her parents collected and hung in the houses of my childhood. And I know her through her grandchildren and her children, who loved her, and who tell me about her so that I may love her in and through them.

I have always been interested in the cultures, families, and history which formed me. When, in March of my senior year in high school, I came to Florida to stay with Martha and Jerry, I was nominally there for vacation. But really, I was trying to find myself though our shared histories. I was a mess – a typically adolescent life-shattering mess – and I wanted to know more about Mom, and her mom, and this family, in the hopes of understanding myself better.

Boy did Grandma come through. From this haphazard but comprehensive archivist, I got a tour of photo albums and sketched a family tree, now mostly committed to memory. And stories – oh, so many stories. I listened for hours, asking questions, watching her hands move in the same way that mom’s hands move when she talks. I came home with a Brooklyn accent, I listened and learned so much that week.

In the years since, every time I saw Grandma, she gave me more pictures or mementoes. The first time Darcie and I came down to stay together, she sent me home with a whole album of pictures – of her childhood, of mine, of my mothers’. More recently, when we came down to Florida the last time to help them move up north, I had to talk her out of giving me too much of her mementoes and family artifacts just to make packing easier.

I owe Grandma so much. I owe her thanks for accepting Darcie readily when first introduced – “such a beautiful girl,” she called her – and never asking if she were Jewish. I owe her for bringing humor into my life inadvertently, whenever she came into my own house, went right to the fridge, and started offering me my own food. I owe her for helping to teach me the joys of family, and the joys of knowing everything one can about everything there is to know. She was a generous, vibrant, tough old lady who lived life on her own terms, opinionated and strong, a fighter, a model for much of who I ultimately chose to embrace and become as an adult. And I know this is true for many of us here today.

Now families grow and move on; that’s just life. As most of you know, our first child is due July 15th. We don’t know if it is a boy or a girl, but her middle name will be Myla; his middle name will be Miles. It is an honor to be able to name this child after Martha in this way.

I very much wanted Grandma to meet this child. I wanted her to tell me what a beautiful boy or girl. I wanted my child to know the generous and tireless woman I knew. I wanted him or her to find themselves one day presented with far too much food and urged to eat.

I have been blessed by this family in so many ways. Knowing all of one’s grandparents isn’t something that everyone can claim. My wife, for example, has already lost three of her own grandparents. But I know them all through her. As Darcie reminds me in my grief, Martha will always be with us, and my child will know her as I knew my great grandmothers and Darcie’s parent’s parents: through photographs and recipes; through anecdotes; through my own behavioral quirks, through the occasional oy or other Yiddish-ism. Martha will live through all of us, and live to be a vibrant character in my child’s history and identity. And as I have loved Fanny through – and in – my own parents and grandparents, so with all of your help will my child love Martha. It’s the least I can do for this tough old lady, in thanks for the most she could do – and did do, and, through all of you, will continue to do – for me and the rest of her family. Thanks, Grandma.

The unveiling may mark the end of mourning in a spiritual sense, but there is no law to govern the love I have for my Grandma, and the ache I feel when I realize she is no longer with us. I miss Martha every day, and am proud to share in her legacy. If you would, please think of me Sunday as I say goodbye one final time, be-suited in the hot sun. And if a glass is handy, raise it to fine old gal.

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