When the phone rang, it was my nephew Michael in
In accordance with Jewish (and Muslim) custom and law, the funeral and burial would take place as soon as possible. Both would take place in Shreveport, our old hometown, and not just because the run-down old orthodox cemetery there held the graves of our family, but because Lillian loved Shreveport and everything about it. As she did the South itself. Especially after she'd moved to
When the police escort held up traffic for a funeral cortege, she'd say, "Isn't that just like Shreveport!" As if unaware of the custom throughout the rural and small-town South.
Her polyglot language was special itself: a mix of her native Yiddish, Suthuhn, and the Arabic phrases she'd incorporated into it by way of her Syrian girlfriends who, like the rest of us, lived above our families' stores on
After the rabbi's eulogy for my late wife, Carolyn, she suggested we make a nice contribution to his discrepancy fund. "Well, you know what I meant!" she would say, and indeed we would.
If, in conversation, some bad news or a sad story came up, Lillian would add poo! poo! poo! to imitate spitting three times in order to ward off the evil eye.
On the news of her death, out came the family scrapbooks. But the snapshots in my boyhood memory remain more vivid. It is always the unbearable Shreveport summer, submerged in the kind of heat that requires a towel wrapped around the steering wheel. My sister wheels me along
Later I can remember Lillian and George's festive wedding at the house on
In her old age, big-hearted Lillian was fired from at least two volunteer jobs. One was a prison literacy program. Lillian mailed a prisoner's letter to his girlfriend, which was against the rules. The second job involved making milkshakes for a charity. The machine made 10 ounces of milkshake at a time; instructions were to pour an eight-ounce milkshake for the client and discard the two ounces left over. True to her mother's waste-not-want-not ethos, Lillian drank the excess from each milkshake. So she was fired from that job, too.
Lillian's indignation could prove as admirable as her love for family. "We're privileged," one of the well-indoctrinated kids in the family once informed her. Lillian's lips would form into an unmistakable sneer at the word Privileged. You bet they were privileged kids, but not by race or class or doubtless by any other currently fashionable way they may have meant. They were privileged to be members of this extended immigrant family. Privileged because their grandmother had made it to this country just as the golden gates began to close with the onset of a whole new set of immigration restrictions in 1924. Privileged to be born free, American by birth and then conviction.
Now she is gone, and yet she leaves behind such a sweet savor.