Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Watery bookends

Our drive to New Jersey on Friday was punctuated by frog-choking downpours, mostly on the Mass. Pike. On Sunday in New Jersey, there was another FCD, but fortunately it held off until everyone was back at Ben's brother's house having brunch. An hour earlier, and dozens of people would have been drenched, standing outside at the cemetery for the unveiling ceremony for Ben's aunt, who died last September just 22 days after being diagnosed with stomach and liver cancer.

Unveilings are apparently a uniquely American Jewish custom. Traditionally, family members bury the deceased within 24 hours and sit shiva (mourn) for seven days (shiva means seven in Hebrew). Some think the unveiling evolved as another life-cycle occasion to bring together geopgraphically scattered members of an extended family. Or if you're more cynical, you might see it as a way of saying "It's been a year, let's move on." In any case, it was very moving for the adults and sort of sobering for the kids, not so much the ceremony itself as being in a cemetery where they somewhat ghoulishly sought our the small gravestones of children. Mourning a 79-year-old woman is sad, but it's even sadder to see a gravestone with birth and death dates of a two-year-old, with a rain-sodden teddy bear propped up at its base.

In between rain and sadness, however, there was one of those euphorically perfect times -- Saturday, which was hot, sunny and clear, with perfect surf conditions at the beach across the street from Ben's dad. The water was clear and warm, the pebbles were pretty, and the waves were just the right size for body-surfing. I was transported back to the beach in Ft. Lauderdale near my grandparents' house. We would go there on winter vacations and go to the bdach twice each day. When we got home we'd wash off the sand with the outdoor shower and use a turpentine-soaked rag to get the tar off our feet (leaky tankers offshore, apparently). The garage had a flat roof surrounded by a low wall, so you could go up there and see the ocean two blocks away. Or steal a hammer and screwdriver from the garage and try to break into a coconut that fell on the lawn. The only downside was that Sarah got a mild ear infection which necessitated a trip to the walk-in clinic and thus no time to go to the boardwalk at Pt. Pleasant... but maybe later this month.

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