Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Jewish Funeral

Some of you have met Jenny’s “new” boyfriend, George, but for those of you who haven’t, I’ll introduce him.

Jenny started dating George about a year ago. It was a big relief to me when she told me she was seeing someone new, because her former boyfriend, Eric, was ten years older than her, had four kids, had been to jail several times, and a recurring problem with drug addiction (which led to frequent unemployment problems). I’m not saying I didn’t like Eric; he was very charming (as people like him tend to be) and actually had been an active member of our church for a while. But the future didn’t look too promising for Eric, and I was happy to hear that Jenny had met someone new. When she told me about him, my first questions were: Does he have a job? (answer: yes) Has he ever been to jail? (answer: no). Had he ever been married, does he do drugs, does he have any kids? (answer to all: no). My response (before having even met him): I like him!

When I did meet him, I liked him even more. He joined Jenny, Jimmy and me when I took her out for lunch and a movie for her birthday last June, and guess what? He likes seafood! (Hardly anybody in my family does, so that was nice, someone to join Jared and me in scarfing up our favorite food.) He seemed nice, too, and accompanied us to see “Up” without much complaint. He’s originally from New York, so he also has an interesting accent.

George and Jenny joined us for our 4th of July celebration last summer. Jill and Jared were here, and we had fun with a little barbecue and few fireworks. George offered to help cook, and as soon as we finished eating, he jumped up and helped clear the table! I don’t know about Jenny, but I fell in love with him immediately. The picture at the top is Jenny and George in front of my house during the fireworks “display”.

As we got to know George better, we found out that he was raised by his grandparents. His parents are divorced; his father lives in the Seattle area and his mother has always been “messed up,” as Jenny said it. Apparently his mother has had an ongoing drug problem. As a result, George has been very close to his grandparents. His grandfather died three years ago, not long after the family moved from New York to Vegas. His grandmother obviously taught him manners! Several months ago, Susie and her daughter Carolyn and family (husband Erik -- not to be confused with the Eric mentioned above -- and baby Alice) came to visit me, and I invited Jenny and George over to my house for breakfast so Jenny could see Carolyn, since they used to be good friends. George couldn’t come because he wasn’t feeling well. That night my phone rang. “Hi, Karen, this is George.” I’m thinking George … George … George? Then he went on to say, “I wanted to thank you for inviting me and tell you how sorry I am I couldn’t come …” Then it suddenly hit me, THAT George, Jenny’s boyfriend! I was amazed that he was so polite that he called like that. (I couldn't resist posting a picture of cute little Alice, sippin' my favorite soda, CF Diet Dr. Pepper!)

Jenny and George came over on Christmas. At breakfast that day, he told us about having leukemia as a child. He told us a funny story about how the Make A Wish Foundation came to him and asked if he could go anywhere in the world and do anything he wanted, where would he like to go? He hollered “CHUCK E CHEESE!” His mother stepped in and said that he really meant that he wanted to go to Disney World. They had a fun trip, first class all the way, special treatment and lots of fun things. He went through four years of chemo, radiation, all the stuff. I asked him if it was really bad, and he kind of shrugged it off. He lost all his hair, and he apparently liked it like that, because he has kept his hair really short ever since.

Here is a picture of Jenny, George, and Dad opening presents and such on Christmas morning. It’s a favorite, MAYBE, POSSIBLY because my doggie Chica is sitting on George’s lap. Obviously he’s a great guy! Chica likes him! (As if she didn't like everyone -- except other animals, of course.)

George’s grandmother died suddenly on February 6. She had been diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer, and she only lived two more weeks. They had taken her home to die, and Jenny and George sat with her all day. She waited until after they left to go. It was a big shock to all of them; George is really sad. I told Jenny that Jimmy and I would like to go to the funeral, and that’s when I found out that George’s grandmother was Jewish and a Holocaust Survivor.

The funeral was held at the Boulder City Veteran’s Cemetery. Even though Jimmy and I got lost trying to find it, we still beat the rest of the family there! It turned out that we had the time wrong and were a bit early. They have two chapels in the building where her service was held, and a military funeral was being held in the other chapel while we waited in the foyer. We didn’t know where to go or what to do, so one of the soldiers who was waiting to go inside for their part of the service told me where to find George’s grandmother’s name on the schedule and where to go. Then it was a pretty emotional sight, watching those soldiers march inside, unfold, present and refold the flag and handing it to the soldier’s grieving family.

George’s family finally arrived, and we met them. I put my hand out to shake George's uncle's hand when we were introduced, but he exclaimed, "Put that away!" and gave me a hug. Everyone was standing outside the chapel when the funeral director said that they needed six males to be pall bearers. I made a quick count of the people there, and they didn’t have six. I did what I normally do – I immediately volunteered Jimmy for the job. He objected at first, whispering to me that he felt strange about it, since he had never met George’s grandmother, but I told him, “You will if you’re needed!” Ten minutes later, there was Jimmy, helping carry the casket with a yarmulke (one of those little beanie hats) on his head. I was so proud of him! I wanted to whip out my cell phone and take a picture, but I was afraid it would be just too tacky of me.

The service was interesting. It was conducted by a rabbi; his yarmulke had silver symbols on it. Some of the service was in Hebrew (or whatever) and he sang some of it. George’s uncle gave the eulogy. Unfortunately, George’s mother kept interrupting him, putting in her comments or exclaiming over something he said. I was wishing she would be quiet so we could hear the story! He kept asking her to settle down and let him tell it, but she wouldn’t. Eventually George’s uncle gave up and sat back down; I’m going to have to get the rest of the story from George the next time I see him. But here is what I got:

George’s grandmother was born in Budapest, Hungary. She said she lived in the "pest" part of Budapest and that the Danube River (which divides the city) surely isn't blue! As a young teenager she worked in the Jewish underground, helping to smuggle people out of the ghetto. She eventually escaped to Italy herself. That’s where she met George’s grandfather, and they eventually immigrated to New York City. George’s uncle said that she was “really a Pip.” She was strong willed and determined. I later asked Jenny if George’s grandmother had liked her, and Jenny said yes, that his grandmother told him that he had better be good to her! I was glad to hear that. I told Jenny that I would take over and start telling George that myself (and you know I will).

After the funeral, the rabbi attached little cloth pins on the George’s mother's and uncle’s lapels. It’s Jewish tradition to tear your coat when someone dies and wear it that way for seven days. If you change your coat, you’re supposed to tear that one, too. Instead he put a cloth pin on their coats and tore it. He said they needed to always wear for the next seven days. Then they put the casket on a trailer being pulled by a little golf cart-like thing and we followed it to the grave site. There was more praying and singing and stuff, and then they lowered the casket into the grave. The rabbi led the family members in tossing some dirt onto the lowered casket. He told everyone that it was like putting someone into bed and pulling up the covers and saying goodnight. I thought that was so sentimental and wonderful.

At the end of the gravesite service, the rabbi told everybody not to come back for 30 days. He emphasized that several times, so apparently it was important!

It was a wonderful and beautiful service, and quite an interesting experience. I just wish I could have met her.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Really Fun Weekend

I really wanted to get this post done before Neal left, but I don't think I'll make it! Oh well, I guess that doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. I'm sure he had more important things to do than catch up on miscellaneous blogs!

I had great fun last weekend. I went down (oops I meant UP, sorry, Dad) to Caliente for Neal's missionary farewell. I know, I know, it's not PC to call it that anymore, but it's an easy way to say it. Neal was talking in church before leaving on his mission to Brazil. A good excuse for everybody to gather in Caliente and see each other, and I like to join in those gatherings whenever I can! Kevin's kids and their families are especially dear to my heart.

But before I get going about the trip, I just have to post this little video I just found, featuring Neal, Cory, and a little game of catch. Remember this?!

The Joanna Toss! Ahh, good times, huh? That didn't happen this past weekend (I assume it was Thanksgiving 2006), but the three main characters were there this weekend, too!

Anyway, I was going to do my usual procedure of describing the whole weekend in minute detail, including all information about the guy I tried to set up with Vera on a blind date (she couldn't come), but I'll spare you that and just give the weekend highlights. (Maybe I'll do that in my next post -- there were a few "Adventures with Grandpa" classics.) It was great seeing everyone. There were a lot of adorable babies, little kids, and some of my very favorite people. Mainly, though, I was so impressed by how grown up Neal has become. On Saturday afternoon I walked into Kevin's house and, seeing Neal seated on the end of the couch, I did my usual greeting -- I flicked his ear. I fully expected his usual response of jumping up and chasing me around the room to get back at me, but he merely said hello. When I wanted to check to see if he had a fever, he said he was merely tired. Tired? Whoa! My baby nephew has grown up! (I don't know what that says about me and my method of greeting people, though. Maybe I need a little maturing myself!)

A bit later, Neal spent a little time with me and showed me his four-wheel motorcross pictures (I think that's what they were called) and the book that Vera made him for Christmas with pictures of his family that he can show around while on his mission (very nice job, Vera). I told him about my one experience in driving a four-wheeler on an excursion in Mexico and the meltdown I had at the first rest stop (I wanted to GO HOME and never drive that thing again, but the only way back was to get back on the bike). Yes, I adjusted a bit by the time that tour was over, but I'm still not overly anxious to do it again! At any rate, I was so pleased that Neal took the time to talk to me. There were so many other people there that wanted his attention.

Neal did a wonderful job in his talk on Sunday. What I remember most about it was that he mentioned his father, my brother Kevin, a couple of times, and how much he loves and appreciates him. I got a little tear or two when I heard that. I tried to tell Kevin and Neal how I felt at the dinner they had after church, but I probably bungled it, so I'll say it now. I am so glad that Neal recognizes what a wonderful guy his father is. I have loved and admired Kevin for many, many years. He is a kind and gentle soul, and a forgiving one, too. My main criticism for Caliente in general is that I don't think they properly appreciate my brother or my father. I have great love for them both. Back to Kevin, though, there have been many changes in my oldest brother since he used to chase Susie and me while he was riding his bicycle, swinging a baseball bat!

In closing, I send all my love and best wishes to everyone who was there -- and those that couldn't make it -- and especially to Neal. You do the family proud.