My dad left the building here in St. Paul 3 years ago. I still have trouble reconciling the fact that my folks are gone, and I guess this is pretty normal stuff. But he died on Thanksgiving night, and this year, his yahrzeit begins on Wednesday at sundown and runs until Thursday at sundown. Almost a lunar and solar match. Almost. Not quite.
I've been thinking about Thanksgiving with my dad. When we were little and still living in Bayside, he would hustle us into the car to get away from the Wrath of Mom who usually had at least three, maybe four knuckles jammed into her mouth as she panicked over having a houseful of people. His job was to get us outta the house, out from underfoot, and outta sight. My best memories of those escapes from Mom's kitchen perennially include Lollipop Farm out in the hinterlands of Long Island...although nowadays, Syosset is just another bedroom of the city. The had a miniature railroad and big, white, Long Island ducks that would grab your fingers along with the popcorn you held out. (Duck bites are not duck kisses no matter what Grandma Sarah told us.) But I digress.
Those were great adventures. We laughed at escaping, we laughed at the ducks, we laughed at the cold We rode the Lollipop Train. No kid knows it at the time, but when we get old, those parental moments... good or bad...are the moments that stick with us. Only you know which are which. They belong only to you.
Missing my folks these days is more about dealing with my own status change. When my Grandma Bessie died suddenly on the Sukkot right after my wedding, Mom (who lost her own dad at 14) turned to me at the graveside and said, "I'm an orphan now." I held her hand and mumbled something quasi-meaningful, but I didn't understand, not even when I said pretty much the same thing to my brother at Mom's funeral. This concept takes time to fully grok.
So it's three years without my dad and his pocketful of commas. I try not to think about the fragile old guy who faded way. I'd rather remember the guy arguing grammar with me on the phone, reviewing the daily word game from the NY Post on the 7 a.m. wake-up call, plotting ways to slip him the Final Jeopardy answer without Mom knowing, and laughing at Black Adder and Are You Being Served.
But remembering is a lousy substitute for being part of a live group. The truth is that me and my gang are all the same age as the old people at the Survivor's Table at weddings and b'nei mitzvah. We are the Survivor's Table.. Yeah, we're in better shape, but we're still old people by comparison. We know we get humored more than we'd like to admit. And we remember the dead. That is part of living.
As Thanksgiving swoops in this week, I am keenly aware that my dad died on Thanksgiving night. I am thankful I spent the afternoon reading his favorite English poets to him. I am eternally grateful that I had just escorted Mom to have a bite to eat but returned to be with him when he took his last breath. And when I went to tell Mom that Dad had gone on to Aunt Ruthie's (our euphemism for the world-to-come) without her, I think we were, in a strange way, relieved it was over.
Mom followed a few months later, the week before Passover. Suddenly, there was no one to talk to about covering the counters. There was no one to talk to about lots of things. Nor would there be, ever again. There is no one who can answer that age old question, "What happened to Vanilla the rabbit?" Only my mother knew the real answer and she refused me. Even when I was 50. Parents are collective memory. When one goes, sometimes we get lucky and the remaining parent becomes the receptacle. You try to ask all the questions, but you won't remember all the answers. There is always something you forgot to ask. Holes are created that are never really filled.
Not having Ziggy is an overwhelmingly huge hole. Even not having my gruff'n'grum FIL leaves an empty space. Holidays, Jewish or secular, tend to be long on memories; we miss the missing because we can no longer ask the question.
This is not a unique experience. Everyone who lives goes through it in some fashion, and somehow we come out the other end. No two experiences are alike. No one can tell us how to process. No one does it better or worse. We just muddle through. It's part of living. No, actually, that's wrong; it's part of surviving.
Three years later, I get it.
I am an orphan, I am a widow, and in many, many small, fragile ways. I am alone. Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining about being on my own, I rather like it, but there are moments when something funny happens and I'm the only one laughing. It doesn't mean I'm lonely, because I am not. It doesn't mean I don't have people in my life, because I do. I have kids and grandkids, and thank G-d, they have their own lives and mishugas. They don't need mine. If Ziggy and I raised them even remotely right, they are kind, respectable people. More importantly, they are independent. This is important.
Still, every so often I wonder if I don't wake up in the morning, how long until someone notices I didn't show up for something?
I don't know of a single widow who hasn't wondered the same thing.
The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.