Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Home

Today wasn’t the morning I thought I was going to have. With both children safely off to school for the next three hours, it was a race against time to see how much I could accomplish. So when my father called just a minute after I walked back into the house, I was surprised and truthfully a little annoyed when he asked if I wanted to go take a ride over to the Tower Avenue cemetery and visit Bubby and Grandpa.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery where my grandparents were buried in far too long and hearing his voice asking on the other end, it was clear laundry was going to take a backseat to the request. The cemetery, in a section of Hartford that was once heavily Jewish and immigrant, is tucked away behind the old Weaver High. It is a mishmash of tiny congregations that have long since dissolved and come together on a small section of land in Hartford. There are a few more recent burials, but not many.

In Judaism, when you visit the dead, you are asked to bring a stone with you and place it on top of the marker rather than flowers. While it is decidedly less aesthetic, like most things in Judaism I suppose it serves a practical purpose in that the rocks don’t wither, they don’t die. They are a lasting symbol of those who have come to visit, pay respects, say Kaddish. At Tower Avenue, there are very few stones to mark the presence of those who have come. Many (not all) of the graves are so old, that there just aren’t very many family or friends around anymore to make the call.
So we walked, finding as many parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins and friends that we could; stop to say Kaddish and leave our stone. It was strangely peaceful and almost nice. So many familiar names and faces from the past. After, dad asked if we wanted to drive through the old neighborhood. For a second, my mind turned back to the ever looming pile of laundry and the ticking clock back at home. No, let’s keep driving.

And we did: through Acton and Vine, Garden and Magnolia. There was the stoop on Irving where he’d sit with his brother, the three family home he shared with his cousins and the Tannenbaums, the block he’d walk down to get to the old Kosher market, the Synagogue, the park where they’d cast away their sins every year, the Vine Street School, the expansive old high school. As we drove down a winding street behind the old Weaver just off Blue Hills Avenue, he wistfully talked about how he felt so proud when his parents rented a home around there – as if they had really come up in the world. At that moment, it struck me that this little drive was actually one of the greatest things I ever did with him: seeing his world, his beginnings, through his eyes. Here he was, sharing a piece of himself, his memories – giving them like a gift to me.
When you read about the North End or drive through or hear about it in the news, it’s the same story, different day. Another shooting, heartbreak, another chip in the armor of this proud neighborhood. But in many ways, the North End is like those rocks marking the headstones: strong, solid, lasting, rooted in a history that it might not even know, but anchors it still today. And this morning, for the first time I truly saw it through his eyes, of what it was to him, of what it still is to so many families, and of the hope and promise that still lives there. Being there – imagining those long gone names on the headstones from Tower Avenue bustling around this neighborhood, loving and learning and shopping and growing and living I felt what he felt: I felt home.   

2 comments:

  1. Jenn . . . I admit that I have trouble often relating to your posts on parenting since Andrea and I don't have children, but this is one that I can completely relate to. Thanks for this today. We're on the very tip of the generation that understands the North End-West Hartford migration and we grew up in the synagogues after they became great fortresses in West Hartford hearing about how they all started as one room in houses in the North End. This actually made me cry today. Thank you for that.

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  2. Jon - thank you so much for the comment. So grateful and humbled that you stopped and took the time to read! Of course I didn't mention it, but the other half of my dad's heart outside of the north end belongs at Old Colony. And so many of my own memories are there as well, many of them at Valdemere :) Hope you and you are wife are well!

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