Sunday, November 8, 2020

13 Cheshvan

My mother died on July 6, 2015. Two years later, the right books came into my life at the right time, and on her yahrzeit, 19 Tammuz, I found solace and was able to look back with fondness and humor at my mother's life and death. 

One of the books was Lesléa Newman's I Carry My Mother (Headmistress Press, 2015). I enjoyed the different styles and the candor with which Newman portrayed dealing with some of the unpleasant details of being responsible for a parent.

As Yogi Berra would have said, "it's like deja vu all over again." My father's yahrzeit is 13 Cheshvan, and this year, on the 23rd anniversary of his death, I read an ARC of Newman's forthcoming collection of poems, I Wish My Father (Headmistress Press), which will be released on January 2, 2021.

Both our fathers were named Edward. My father was Edward Robin. How my Polish immigrant grandmother came up with those names, I will never know, but my father was always more of an "Edward" than an "Ed." He grew up in the South, and loved the English language. He was an amateur actor, an amateur bird watcher, and a fan of movie stars and royalty. We both enjoyed The New Yorker - he for the short stories and me for the cartoons.

Newman's poem do not vary in style -- they are all narrative prose describing her father's decline, and those moments where his strong personality still shined through. 

At the end of "Without Warning My Father," Newman expressed what I felt as my father was in hospice: "but I don't know if the same God will forgive me for not knowing what's best: to pray or not to pray for the Book of Life to be inscribed at the start of the new year with my father's holy name underneath my own." 

In "For as Long as Can," Newman details her father's early morning routine. My father, a"h, was an early riser, also getting up at 6 am every morning, putting on a suit and tie, and then walking to work, with a stop at the candy store on the corner to pick up a daily newspaper. The stories deviate here, as my father predeceased my mother and needed full time care. 

As I continue reading, one phrase in "My Father Is Moving Out", in which Newman describes cleaning out her mother's closet and remembering which shoes and outfits she wore to which events, stands out:

"Such a long and short time ago"

As I light the yahrzeit candle, I can't believe it's been 23 years. I remember his morning routine so vividly. It's a strange mix of good memories and some sadness that I did not get to share so many life events with my father. My father's yahrzeit usually falls out close to Veterans' Day. He served in the army during World War II, and he was so proud to be a Jewish War Veteran, but, to him, November 11 was "Armistice Day."

Newman writes  "My Father Was Never on time once in his entire life." My father was the same. He usually arrived early, saying "Punctuality is the politeness of kings." He took pride in being the first person to vote at the designated precinct on Election Day. For those of us who don't appreciate standing around waiting for everyone else to show up, it was a challenge, but his acts of showing up on time were another facet of his reliability and dependability. 

So thank you,  Lesléa, for sharing your thoughts and memories so eloquently, and sparking some great memories for me. May both Edwards' souls be elevated, and may they continue to be strong advocates for us in the Heavenly Courts.

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