So, stepping back to last September 1, the mourning period ended on Wednesday, July 23. I'm no longer required to say kaddish for my father except during yizkor and yahrzeit, and his name will no longer be read, except for yahrzeit. Or, perhaps more accurately, I'm required to stop.
Over the days approaching July 23, I thought quite a bit about this particular end. Typically, there's a ceremony at the synagogue to mark the end of mourning, corresponding with the final day; however, due to some communications breakdowns mine has been delayed until the 31st. I get a gift (a daily prayer book signed by the minyan regulars), someone -- the rabbi and maybe a regular -- says a few nice words, then I say something. So I've been thinking what I might say. Typically, while hoisting the fruit picker up the apple tree, or while reaching in for the raspberries -- things I can't much imagine my dad doing (and, considering that his last visit to Michigan was during the height of raspberry season and he went nowhere near the canes, I'm thinking my imagination is reasonably accurate on that one). I haven't yet figured out what I'll say, but in the meantime...
My dad, as I first remember him. I was about 10 when I took this picture, and to me it's the iconic image of him from when I was growing up. Never mind that the camera wasn't level, that my perspective wasn't the best or that I was shooting straight in to the sunset. That's dad, before he grew old, on a routine work day having just come home in the '64 Bonneville (visible behind him), carrying that day's haul of Tuscan Dairy Farms products in his handy carrying case. That's a one quart carton of Orange Drink clearly visible in the front right (not Orange Juice, which in later years I would consume by the half gallon), and it looks like a quart of Pathmark label milk at the back right. There was room in the carrying case for 3 quarts on each side, and it usually came home full. The Omaga watch was missing from his hand that day. Couldn't even guess why. Behind him is the basket he had put up a year or two earlier; it is still in the same spot, looking quite a bit less robust. Ever so slight a smile; whether it's family pride or placating the young photography, I neither know nor care. This was him, in his element, in the spot he had staked out for himself and his family.
Of course, it's not so simple. Nothing ever is. So I thought back, also, to our altercations -- and there were many. Varied in level of seriousness, but what I focused in on was one that was particularly not serious... though I suppose it was different for me at the time: music. In the early '70's, I confess it: I liked Dawn. They weren't known then as "Tony Orlando and Dawn," just "Dawn." I can blame my brother. It started with a song called "Candida," which he decided he liked because it was about a hope for clean air.
But "Knock Three Times," that was my song. From 1971 -- not long before I took that picture. Every hour on WABC 77 radio! The great horn flourish to kick it off, and that classic opening line: "Hey Girl what 'ya doin' down there." The 3 knocks and the twice on the pipe, the dramatic break with strings and, and, and, the key change! How could it be better?
My dad, who had grown up on Benny Goodman, among others (see my note from last year), hated it. He didn't just hate it, clearly, it offended him. He would prance around the living room, intentionally mangling the chorus: "Knock three times if you want me on the ceiling!!"
So, Wednesday was the last day for kaddish. Last day for reading the name. At evening services, his name was read one last time. Then on Thursday, not there anymore. I sat for kaddish, and for the first time in almost a year, had the sensation of listening as others recited the old Aramaic formulations.
Thursday evening, I left work 'bout a quarter to 6. Got to the car, flipped on the XM, and it was on the '70's station. It's one of my presets; I figure it's the era I know best, and also makes it easiest to switch to the '60's and '80's with the least amount of effort. A song was just finishing up, and... the horn flourish!! Now, I don't believe in divine intervention, and if I did, I'd expect that it'd show up in other forms. But at that moment, it sure seemed that it was more than just the XM satellite that was out of this world. So I did the only thing I could: I applauded the transmission from above. Then I realized that, after all these years, despite having bought that old Bell Records single when it was new, that I didn't actually know the words.
So I listened. ok, ok, I always knew the kyrics were a little ridiculous (hey Tony, if you like the girl, why don't you just go downstairs and knock on her door? Why the heck you asking her to knock on the ceiling or the pipes? You expect her to bang the pipes -- twice! -- just to say no? Gimme a break!). But Thursday evening, I just couldn't help laughing at the 2nd verse:
If you look out your window tonightDangling a note out the window?? I see a restraining order in that man's future!
Pull in the string with the note that's attached to my heart
Read how many times I saw you
How in my silence I adored you
And only in my dreams did that wall between us come apart
ok, so all's forgiven. And that Tony, maybe he's liable to end up on the ceiling. Knock three times if you want him there.
Me, I still like the song. Call it a guilty pleasure.