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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Have you ever heard strange sounds in the middle of the night? Not like squirrels in the chimney, or mice in the walls. And not like thunder and lightning followed by a deranged dog trying to crawl under your bed. More like footsteps out on your porch at 4 am?

Well, that’s how our weekend began. Someone was clomping around on our porch – but let’s start from the very beginning.

On Friday I really wanted to see the Groom. We’d called, texted and Zoomed and Facetimed, but he was finally out of the Tower and back in the bosom of his family. I had to make sure he was doing well and warn the Bride not to expect too much; he needed to rest after all. Covid can take a lot out of a person. I mean just walking to the mailbox could be exhausting.

But you can’t keep a good man down for long because on Friday he had already been teaching the Love Bug how to ride a bike, setting up their “tiny school” at home, and then he took the dogs on a 30 minute walk! So I rewarded my Son-in-Law’s enthusiasm with a big plate of chicken parmigiana that night. As we were leaving, the Bride began to take the Grands blood for a study at the university.

We have at-home kits to take blood, but not to test for this virus?

As we drove home from our socially distanced dinner on their front porch, we passed a long Catholic parade on the streets of Germantown. An official Bishop-type led dozens of priests and altar boys carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary adorned with flowers, there were at least a hundred people following the procession – the Assumption of Mary. Many of the women wore a lacey head covering, but virtually nobody wore a mask. Everyone was singing!

As I opened the car window and looked on adoringly, thinking about all those years at a Catholic camp singing with nuns in the woods on our way to a grotto, Bob yelled, “Wear a damn mask!” breaking the spell.

And that was the night, or actually early the next morning, we heard the intruder on our porch. Bob immediately went downstairs and I immediately thought to myself, “My phone is plugged in downstairs, what if I need to call 911…”

Then I heard Bob’s voice, he was talking to somebody. Prompting Ms Bean to leave her cozy bed, she led the way downstairs; so much for our little guard dog, she never uttered a peep, not a growl or a bark! Bob had already locked the door and sent a young man, who was surely a drunk tourist, on his way.

“What did you say?” I asked him.

“I asked him what he thought he was doing here,” Bob said. Sometimes the NJ vibe just cannot be contained. I was stunned. What if he had a gun? What if What if What if…..

Once before, in the Blue Ridge, a large van pulled up to our house at around midnight. Bob got up and looked out the window to see an elderly man standing there, putting on a jacket. We opened the front door and the man said, “We’re here for Mr Young.” Now Mr Young was actually an older gentleman farmer and former UVA professor who lived down our country road a piece, and he had died in his sleep. The van was from the Cremation Society of Virginia.

Would it be wrong to say how relieved we were – that the van wasn’t coming for us? We were living on 14 acres in the middle of a forest, still Bob wasn’t scared. And he had no fear in the wee hours before daybreak on Saturday, in fact, he went back to sleep! While I stayed up replaying all the different scenarios in my head. Maybe we should move out of the city? Should we start looking for a beach house, again?

When in doubt, cook! Yesterday I sent Bob to Whole Foods for tahini because the Insta people voted on Baba Ganoush as an appetizer. Although zucchini season was done, Bob’s elegant Japanese eggplants were just getting started. I haven’t made this yummy hummus-like spread since the 70s and it was a major hit at our party for two.

How many lives do we humans get? I survived a car accident in 1949, the Groom survived Covid in 2020. I wonder if our democracy will survive this political pandemic season.

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When I first met Wendi, she was holding her baby boy. Her smile was like sunshine as she showed me around the property. We had finally moved to Virginia, and when the Bride and I first saw the house, she had been away on a business trip. My soon-to-be landlord was a fabulous designer, she flew all over the country installing the dreams of her famous clients.

Strangely enough on that crystal clear day in Charlottesville, Wendi was in New Jersey.

But at our first look, her husband, wanted us to rent their guest cottage. He knew the Bride was starting at UVA Medical School, and he was psyched about our Duke connection. As he led us through the main house and into the dining room, where an old Dutch master-like portrait of a man with a beard hung over a sideboard, I wasn’t prepared for this revelation.

“There’s a building at Duke University named after my ancestor,” he said pointing up to the painting, “It’s the Allen Building.”

In fact, Bob and the Bride were well acquainted with the Allen Building. Turns out it was named after a good friend of JB Duke in the early 1920s, a man from Warrenton, NC – George Garland Allen. Allen had started out as a bookkeeper for the American Tobacco Company in 1895, working his way up in the Duke organization.

My new landlord’s Great Grandfather, on his Mother’s side, had been known to say it was easier to accumulate his wealth than it was to give it away.

This didn’t stop us from moving our Welsh Corgi along with big Buddha Bear and Bailey Dawg (the Bride’s Lab) into the smaller “cottage” on their property. Wendi welcomed us with open arms, in fact she collected a menagerie of dogs too – from a sublime Great Dane to another ridiculous Corgi! When we finally built our house overlooking the Blue Ridge, Wendi had 2 small boys, and 2 matching Labs.

In contrast to her husband’s Southern lineage, Wendi was a California girl. She didn’t come from money; she had been a nanny in NY and then went to school for design. She built her own business from the ground up, and juggled 2 children with the demands of her world-wide clientele. I remember distinctly when she told me about this woman who would come in and cook you a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday and put them in the freezer.

Aha, so this was how working women who might jet off at a moment’s notice took care of their family. This was before GrubHub.

Wendi would throw great Gatsbyesque parties around their pond behind their home. She sent her boys to the public school and became one of the fiercest football moms around. She loved keeping tabs on the Rocker, and made sure her boys knew all about his band. When the Parlor Mob stopped by on a swing through Virginia, she treated them like royalty. When I became secretary of the local book club, she’d make a point of attending if she was in town.

She was one or two decades younger than most of us; a doctor, a few lawyers, a few teachers, and me, the one who could make an email list-serve. Wendi’s California blonde exuberance would always add the fun component to our gatherings. After her divorce, she started a new business of high-end consignment pop-ups that housed many of the pieces Bob and I couldn’t carry with us to Nashville.

Last month, after saying goodbye to her oldest son, who was heading to Australia for his college semester abroad, Wendi died tragically, she was only 53 years old. That baby, that I first met on her hip, is now in high school. When my old friend and neighbor called to tell me the news, I was shaking. How can this be? Didn’t I just talk with her about our trip to Tulum? Didn’t I just see beautiful pictures on Instagram of her December holiday in Puerto Rico? She’d found a new love, and life was looking good for my friend.

How can a light like that be extinguished? My lovely, vibrant Wendi, how can this happen? I hope you knew how many people loved you. Your outstanding sons are your legacy, your Valentines in football jerseys. Sleep peacefully dear heart.

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What would you want your gravestone to say about you?

Hillary Clinton has been making her mark lately; traveling on a book tour with her daughter Chelsea, and speaking candidly with Howard Stern. Her latest Hulu docu/series teaser has her answer to the question about her legacy, from the cemetery’s point of view; https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/tv-news/hillary-clinton-hulu-docuseries-documentary-925106/

“She’s neither as good or as bad as some people say about her.”

So what IS she anyway? Does she walk the middle road? Is she milquetoast? I think what our final sentiments are can be quite telling. Consider that Thomas Jefferson insisted his stint as our third President NOT be etched into his gravestone:

“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.”

I mean you do have to be crazy to want to be president. I like a sense of humor; there’s that grave in Key West:

“I told you I was sick.”

So what does one put on one’s grave – our greatest hits? The accomplishments of our life’s work? For me, Ive been teasing my kids forever, saying I wanted to be remembered in this way:

“She had a heavy metal band in her garage.” Or

“It could have been worse.”

Bob’s Grandfather Pinky wrote a book in Yiddish titled, “Better it Couldn’t Be.” But whenever life throws me a punch, I usually take the long view. The dog has fleas? She could have had tapeworms. I fell down the stairs? I could have broken my back. I think it’s an optimistic approach to things…hmm, what’s worse than a hard core heavy metal band? Disco?

I once heard a rabbi say that we don’t fully reach adulthood until we buy our burial plot. This isn’t true because Great Grandma Ada already bought my plot when I married her son, and I wasn’t quite ready to devote my afterlife in The Good Place to a Jewish cemetery in my hometown. After all, maybe I don’t want a plot of land with moss and stones all over it reminding people who never knew me that I existed.

We grow up to adulting when we decide it’s time to take responsibility for our lives. We stop blaming others for all our problems. Our generation is more realistic when confronting such momentous, end-of-life decisions, we consider the cycle of life, the overpopulation of the planet, and the generalized toxic waste of the funeral industry.

Have you heard you can get wrapped up in muslin and feed a tree? Or cremated and made into a diamond? Bob wants his body to go to a medical school, I’m not so sure I like that idea even if the Bride and Groom got to know each other in an anatomy lab at Mr Jefferson’s school. On a positive note, I leave you with this little ditty:

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The Seder went off without a hitch. Except for one of the ten plagues; tornado sirens were shrieking when darkness descended and then, hail! What, you were thinking locusts? After 36 years, I have finally seen my daughter make the haroses. I made the chicken soup with explicit instructions on making matzoh balls from Grandma Ada and they were delightfully soft!

Then the next day I heard that my half-brother in Germany had died. Brian was the Flapper’s second child, her first born son. She was widowed soon after he was born, returning to PA where she met my father. And since I was the last of six children, raised by foster parents, I never really got the chance to know my oldest brother. But I do have a few memories.

I remember when Dr Jim, my closest in age sibling, was pinned with his First Lieutenant bar in the Army. Jim was the first to finish college, Columbia University, and later he would go on to a doctoral program in psychology. Jim would also be going to Vietnam, but no matter. We were all there to celebrate his officer status, and Brian and Michael, who passed away recently, had to salute Jim. Even I could tell, there was some malicious Irish humor in that subservient salute.

He and his wife Hildegarde found it difficult to travel from Germany, but he did get to meet the Bride at Walter Place when Mike and Jorja hosted a wonderful Lynn family reunion. He and Mike were the last remaining smokers of the crew, but sometimes I could catch one of them early, before they were confined to the smoking porch. And I would hear stories of my parents, stories that I treasure to this day.

Brian was born in 1929 and he was Air Force all the way. Exceedingly confidant, tall and straight-talking. He actually taught avionics and radar technology, and after retiring from the service, he had a great job with Texas Instruments. I imagine he looked like his father, the handsome Italian the Flapper married on a dare at the age of 16.

We lit three yartzeit candles, never knowing it should have been four.

Last night we all went out for some delicious Nashville barbeque, and I helped the Love Bug climb her first tree. It was a stately, old magnolia that spread her limbs low and invited children into the natural world. I see a flash of the Flapper’s resilient spirit in my grand daughter’s eyes. Taking risks, we see it early. Will this child be the one running headlong into the ocean? Or will this be the one clinging to your knee at the water’s edge?

I’m sure Brian’s fearless, joyous spirit will live on in his children and his grandchildren and in generations to come.

(from L to R) Dr Jim, Kay, Brian, me and Mike

(from L to R) Dr Jim, Kay, Brian, me and Mike

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