Posts Tagged 'Cemetery'

Plays, Cemeteries and Dinner

Sunday was our day at the Ahmanson.

Daughter Nancy and I have been series subscribers since Ila died. Ila loved musicals and we often found ourselves several rows back from the stages at LA’s downtown Music Center, the Ojai Art Center and the Rubicon in Ventura. Before we moved to Ojai and the schlep became a bridge too far, we had great seats at the Hollywood Bowl including coveted reserved parking.

As her illness progressed, Ila found the noise, regardless of the decibel level, and the milling crowds too much to handle and we stopped attending live plays and movies. Even a simple visit to the band shell in Libbey Park was, for her, like living through the height of the Luftwaffe’s 1940 London blitz.

Our final venture into entertainment was a trip to Hollywood’s rococo Pantages Theater to see Beautiful, the musical about Carol King. Ila lasted less than five minutes into the performance. Signaling her discomfort, she covered her ears. We rose from our center section seats and excused ourselves to each of the fifteen people we trod on as we slogged past them. We then spent quality time seated on a lobby bench while daughter Nancy remained through the first act. Mercifully, we left the confines of the theater before the second act and drove home.

My day for the Ahmanson routinely begins with a trip to Conejo Mountain Memorial Park to visit Ila in the cemetery section reserved for Jews. Authors of bereavement guides are quick to remind me that Ila really isn’t there under a blanket of Saint Augustine grass; rather, she lives in our memories. To which I respond…how do you know?

With ten dollars, I buy cut flowers at the Park office, picking a bunch that I think Ila will like. I arrive at the grave site and arrange the flowers in the container embedded at the foot of the grave. I clear some dead leaves from the site onto a currently unoccupied neighboring plot. I stand and look at the inscription on the grave marker…We love you up to the sky and beyond.  I speak to her and ask how she’s doing, knowing there will be no audible response. I remind her of my upcoming marriage to Jackie and I feel guilty. I remember the bereavement group facilitator saying that Ila would want me to be happy…and I wonder.

I place a small stone on the corner of the grave marker. I had carefully selected it from the array in front of the house. It was smooth, a pleasing brown color and about two inches in diameter. There are several Jewish theories why a stone is left behind. Flowers are rarely put on Jewish graves; I’m an exception. Flowers are impermanent while stones, like memories, are lasting. My personal belief is a bit selfish; it’s a tradition that tells others I was here.

I took a photo of the grave and the flowers. I take one during each visit. I occasionally send one to the kids with a note that tells them that Nana says that she loves you. Some I just keep in my iPhone memory, helping to keep track of my visits. I say good-bye and tell her that I love her.

On the way to my car I pass Naida’s grave. Naida and Ila shared illnesses, became an odd couple of fast friends, and now lie together twenty feet apart. I bid Naida good-bye but am out of stones.

It took thirty minutes to arrive at Nancy’s Calabasas home where coffee and deli stuff waited. Finished downing a combination sandwich of Gelson’s corned beef and hard salami, we left for the Ahmanson, got there with time to spare and, despite murmurs about the Corona virus, found a packed theater waiting to see The Book of Mormon. We had seen it years ago, and although laden with some embarrassment at its rapid-fire jokes about a little understood religion, had thoroughly enjoyed it the first time.

As usual, our seats were centered, ten rows back from the stage where the scenery was highlighted by a horn blowing statue of the angel Moroni calling people to the gospel of Jesus. Early in the performance, it became apparent that I needed more than a golden horn to hear the lyrics of the show’s now familiar tunes.

Although fitted with hearing aids, more than half of the spoken words were a great mystery to me. Laughter rose throughout the theater while I too often sat idly by wondering what was so funny. Nancy tried to lessen the impact of my affliction on my psyche by assuring me that she too could not understand everything. Yet whenever I leaned toward her and said, “What did he say?” she was able to tell me, albeit too late to enjoy that joke while the audience had moved on to another unintelligible phrase. Resigned to the inevitable, I sat back, clasped my hands in my lap and settled for half a loaf.

Like senses competing for attention, my eyesight in dimly lit settings is no better than my aging ears. As though encouraging pratfalls, the Ahmanson puts a half height step at the end of the darkened aisle and another one at the foot of the exit ramp. My recourse is to slowly shuffle my feet while seeking those challenging steps. I sometimes lose the contest and half hurtle forward into the waiting arms of a stranger.

My adventure with senescence continued after the play with a dinner trip to the Wood Ranch restaurant in Agoura. Once again, my reading skills were tested by a dimly lit environment intended to create a relaxing atmosphere for everyone other than Mr. Magoo. Although a light beamed from the ceiling, it focused like a laser beam on the tiny center of the table. It required that I lean forward with my elbows in the complimentary bread bowl to stand a chance of capturing some lumens.

Dinner conversation was highlighted by the possible whereabouts of my misplaced hat and concluded with the realization that I had lost my Visa card. Capping my Emmy winning performance, I gracefully rose from the table and unknowingly dropped two napkins from my lap onto the floor. Perhaps a bibb next time.

Nancy and Kevin were unwilling to allow me to go solo to locate my car for fear that I might be found at dawn, frozen in the parking lot. Better safe than sorry has become the law of the land. I drove home without causing a pile-up on the 101 and, displaying an as yet intact smidgen of independence, refused to call the kids to let them know I had arrived safely.

I suppose I enjoyed the play.

Uncle Nathan

I remember this photo hanging on the bedroom wall of our West Rogers Park two-flat.  We only had two bedrooms and I shared it comfortably with my widowed grandmother who made up for the crowded condition by rubbing my back.  The eight by ten room had a closet on one wall, windows on another and a door on the third.  A corner of the fourth was occupied by the photo.

A smiling, pudgy, twentyish face filled the frame.  The photo, taken in a day when color photography was in its infancy, had been colored with pencils to overcome the starkness of black and white.  Dressed in a tie and sweater, the young man’s hair is a light red and his eyes a bit blue.  If you had a daughter, you wouldn’t give a second thought to his dating her.

Whenever I asked my mother about the young man, she’d say “that’s your Uncle Nathan.  He got sick and died.”  A few years younger than my mother, he like her had come to this country  as a teenager just before the Depression.  I’d usually react to my mother’s terse description of Uncle Nathan with mild interest and with a small pang of regret that I’d never met him.  But, under the surface, something seemed to be missing from her story of my uncle’s demise.  Just what his illness was and where he was buried were two elements that seemed unmentionable.

Many years later, after I had traded my grandmother’s company for Sweetie’s loving arms, the story of Uncle Nathan grew legs.  A darker picture emerged.  He had not simply gotten sick and died.  He had run afoul of the law, been caught, sent to prison and died there.

A July 12, 1936 article in the Los Angeles Times chronicles the adventures of Nathan and several accomplices whose names would fit nicely into a movie about Bugsy Siegel, Dick Tracy or Meyer Lansky.  Multiple robberies, an unfortunate demise, and extradition from Chicago to Los Angeles play prominent parts in the recital.  Conviction and incarceration in San Quentin quickly followed.  Case closed…but not quite.

About a year ago the State of California was kind enough to exchange a copy of Uncle Nathan’s death certificate for my $10. Clinically, the certificate announces that Nathan departed this mortal coil on April 6, 1941 just a month shy of my second birthday.  Done in by fellow inmates, he had been in the Big House four and a half years.  Twenty-four when he got there, twenty-eight when he left.  Interment at Eternal Home Cemetery, Colma, California.

How many degrees of separation?  His “Usual Occupation” was listed as “Photographer”, my brother’s occupation for many years and a hobby that occupies a good deal of my time.  Eternal Home Cemetery is walking distance from the first house we rented in Daly City.  The coincidence ends there as I have yet to be incarcerated in a public institution.

We visit our Berkeley kids a few times a year.  On a number of occasions, I promised myself that I would make a special trip to Colma to find Uncle Nathan.  Last week, I fulfilled that promise.

Sweetie and I hopped on BART at the North Berkeley station.  Fifty minutes later we exited at the Colma station, walked about a third of mile and arrived at the Eternal Home Cemetery.  Sandwiched between the Italian Cemetery, the Serbian Cemetery and Route 82,  Eternal Home is a basic Jewish institution that has been there for at least seventy-five years.  With not a tree in sight, it has a somewhat arid appearance perhaps appropriate to our middle-east heritage.

A few days prior to our adventure, I phoned the cemetery and was assured that indeed Uncle Nathan was in residence.  Section 8, Row A, Grave 23.  Upon our arrival we found the office, a room about the size of the bedroom shared with my grandmother, and the lovely Lisa the office manager.  Using a yellow highlighter, Lisa pointed us in the right direction and off we went.

Arriving at the approximate location we scoured the various gravestones for a sign of Nathan.  Twenty minutes of futility led a trip back to Lisa who, the sign announced, was off to lunch.  It was sunny and  quiet, a rare day.  We sat and absorbed the memories and electric energies in silence.

Upon Lisa’s return she accompanied us on our search.  Her records indicated that Uncle Nathan resided between Mr. Small in grave 22 and Mr. Kaplan in grave 24.  Arriving at the correct spot, there was only bare ground.  No marker, nada, nothing.  Residing in anonymity for seventy-one years and shunned by those ashamed of his deeds, we were perhaps his first visitors.

Sweetie and I looked at each other and almost as one we said “he should have a marker.”  Seventy-one years is long enough.  Forgiveness is in the cards.  And won’t Bubby be pleased.  You bet.


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