Rice Pudding with Golden Spoons

My Uncle Saul died in September of 1982. He had just celebrated his 70th Birthday three days before, and he was laid to rest in a small Woodbury cemetery near the home that Saul and Aunt Meggie had owned on Carthage Rd.  When Meggie retired from teaching a few years before, the house was sold and they moved permanently to their summer place in Chatham. Permanently?  Hold that thought, I will return to it a bit later.

The day of his burial was the type of mid-September day you dream about.  Sunny, the sky blue, the trees beginning to turn… and if anything, maybe the mid-day sun a tad too warm. Meggie and Saul loved the sun, and she had said on that sad day of farewell that it was impossible not to smile on such a sunny day. 

After Saul’s death Meggie rarely had occasion to return to Woodbury.  Or maybe she stayed away because she wanted one less reminder of the vacancy in her life.  If she did go back… perhaps at an invitation of an old Woodbury friend, she tried to have the visit coincide with Saul’s birthday.

In one of the many conversations we shared over the years when I went to visit her on the Cape, we enjoyed a bottle of Sancerre on one sunny spring day, and I can remember Meggie saying: “people think cemeteries are for dead people… but they are not.  Cemeteries are for the living.  It is a place for us. A place to focus on continuing the connection we feel to people we love, and will always love.” 

She looked up from her glass and continued, “Jimmy… I know that you don’t have to visit the cemetery to have that sense of connection, any more than you have to visit the Grand Canyon to know of its beauty.  But seeing it – the Canyon’s mental image comes to life, or visiting the grave side and placing a small stone in memory, can enhance our sense of connection.”

And yes, I could clearly picture Meggie visiting Saul’s place of rest, and placing a small stone on the footstone of Saul’s gravesite, as is the custom among Jews, and being caressed by that sense of connection.

In 2002 Meggie called me and asked if I would drive her up to Woodbury for a visit.  She said it was Saul’s Birthday and she was feeling a powerful tug in her heart.  I agreed.

When we reached Woodbury she asked me to pull into LaBonne’s IGA before heading over to the cemetery… “I want to pick up a couple of things – I won’t be but a minute.”  

Small bag in hand, we proceeded on to Saul.  On the drive she felt the air coming in thru the window, then glanced skyward and said, “One of my favorite books is Styron’s Sophie’s Choice… and in it there is a line that I just love.” {I knew this, she had shared this with me once before}… “Nathan has just given Sophie a sip of 1934 Château Margaux… and she says to him: ‘Mmm. You know, when you… when you live a good life… like a saint… and then you die, that must be what they make you to drink in paradise.’”

I parked the car near the cemetery’s pebbled walkway, we each made a selection of a small stone and zig-zagged thru the silent footstones & headstones the 20 yards to Saul’s permanent address.  Meggie placed her stone on Saul’s footstone, looked skyward again, remained motionless for several moments, eyes welled… she sighed, and looked at me and smiled, “You know Jimmy, before we were married Saul and I lived in Paris – this was before World War II.  I was studying dance and Saul was playing the clarinet anywhere he could. {I knew all this}  Oh, the stories.  The people we met.  We were young, we were poor and we were in love & we were in Paris!  And one night I can remember telling him that I was so happy that this had to be heaven!  And he just laughed and laughed and told me that I was mistaken!  In heaven you eat rice pudding with golden spoons.” 

I placed my stone next to Meggie’s and looked up to her.  The warmth of the recollection glowed on her face. 

She touched the footstone and then the headstone, felt the carved letters cut into its face, “Well, Saul… sorry to say no Margaux ’34… but I have something even better.”  And with this Meggie took out 3 cups of rice pudding from the brown bag, she handed me one, placed one down for Saulon the densely carpeted green grass before his stone; and she kept one for herself.  Then she opened her pocket book and took out three small golden spoons and passed one to me, kept one and placed one next to Saul’s cup.

 “Happy Birthday Saul! I love you always!” She smiled at me, “It’s a sunny day Jimmy! Dig in!” And then she threw me a precious wink, “And you may have to help Saul finish his cup of pudding”.

Postscript — I wrote this piece in September 2015.  It never made it into the Ash Creek Papers: Summer of Jim site.  It just got lost. And now it’s found. The inspiration for this piece came from Betsy Moss Driebeek, someone who I have known for decades.  She had posted a family photo on FB showing her family gathered about a grave site (I think this is right).  It was their tradition to honor a memory of a twin child, Gregory, that she had lost a mere week after his birth.   One twin, Julian, has survived (and is doing quite well).

The family tradition (Betsy, husband Jim, Julian and younger brother Kyle) to honor Gregory’s memory continues to this day, 24+years later.  And part of this tradition is bringing golden spoons, and other symbolic connections to graveside.  Betsy’s Jim shared a belief he inherited from his grandmother… in heaven, people have a grand time eating rice pudding with golden spoons.

It was a profoundly touching sentiment for me. I loved the image. I wrote the piece.

jrw: 01/03/23

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Always Remember Whose Grandson You Are

It was just one of those arbitrary feeds I got on Facebook.  But this one stopped me cold. It was an advert for a gift that would be a grandparent type of gift.  A simple key chain, with a “dog tag” message attached, “I can’t promise I’ll be here for the rest of your life.  But I can promise that I’ll love you for the rest of mine.”  There were more words. But it’s the concluding sentence… “Always remember whose grandson you are.”  For you who know Disney, it’s very “Lion-Kingesque”. Or, even without the Lion King reference,  maybe you are just blessed to be descended from Sophie Fleischner.

I am drawn to other images, far apart from Mommie Soph making  potato latkes and lighting Sabbath candles with my Mother on Friday nights.

It’s from the film “Saving Private Ryan.”  The aged Ryan with his family returns to the resting place near the battle grounds in France, to the graveside of the Captain who saved his life…

“My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge [earn this]. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me… Tell me I have led a good life… Tell me I’m a good man.”

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This is the Wine to Open

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October Leaves

There was something special about late October and early November Saturday’s for me.  Particularly if Yale was playing at home.  Walking back from the Bowl in the declining light, the air crisp and dried leaves underfoot.  I loved it.  Some of the homes had neat piles of leaves gathered curbside along the street.  And on occasion there would be a homeowner shepherding his leaves into a low smoldering fire. Carefully monitoring the consumption of leaves.  Slowly adding more as needed.  I think of it in the way that a pipe smoker carefully keeps his bowl of tobacco lit.  

I loved the smell of those burning leaves.  Too bad that the air from burning leaves is as bad, if not worse, than the fumes of a diesel bus.  Well, burning leaves smell a lot better than the exhaust of a New Haven City bus!And then there is this.  Bessie told me that when she was a child in North Carolina, that they would put potatoes at the base of a leaf pile that was on a low flame.  I think of Bessie as a young child finding joy in that.  And I can imagine that there wouldn’t have been a potato to surpass the ones that she enjoyed from that leaf pile.

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