Sunday, November 27, 2005


My friend Richard called from Hollywood, upset….His mom had died. It was his first important death, and the first death he witnessed. He was clearly rattled and drifting……and Richard is our go-to guy in any emergency. He and his wife Kate and kids Danny and Jenn have the unit nuclear family everyone checks in with every holiday……

He scheduled the wake, the shiv’a, for the following Sunday. “I want you there…..” He even scheduled it around my flaky Sunday catering schedule: 2pm. Bring nothing. Just a gathering of friends and family to share memories of Lucille.

Then the bombshell…….”I am sure you will have a story or two to tell……..”

So I did some research. This did not help. The traditional shiv’a, or funeral process, lasts a week from the funeral, and preferably happens in the morning, right after morning service. Already Richard was moving the thing back to accommodate me. Jesus. No guilt here…..

The problem with telling stories about Lucille was that she scared the living shit out of me, and I always stayed back on the fringes. We did a bar and a bat mitzvah for the kids, Cousin Joey's wedding, and innumerable family gatherings....but I always gave Lucille a wide berth. First, I am not sure she was completely comfortable with the goyisher caterer so close to the heart of her family, but also there was an almost visible……ferocity about the lady. The Spanish say it best: Feroz! Like a mama tiger, you knew not to get between her and her people…..and I am enough of a natural fuckup to stumble right into that zone. No way….Clumsy but not stupid.

So I had little interaction…..and no stories.

We Irish take the whole toast/speech thing seriously, as befits a culture that was only recently weaned off the pure oral tradition for dusty, tacky print. A proper toast requires that the recipients both laugh AND cry….Having to give a wedding toast means a week of preparation…..none of this “Here’s to Bill and Nancy, what a couple….” Shite.

I checked John Donne, an always reliable death guy. Meditation XVII is the ‘no man is an island’ one everyone has heard.....good, but there is another nugget:

All mankind is of one author and is one volume;
when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.
God employs several translators;
some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice;
but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

I was hoping this passage might help Richard see his mom’s passing as part of the greater continuum.

Ho hum.


Day of the event, I really brought nothing…..Sunday brunch, meetings, another wake….I barely got there, my Donne printout mashed in my pocket.

People yakked a bit, drank a little, knoshed a little, then Richard got to it. He had a nice memoir of Lucille’s life…complete with revelations.

Lucille was a Mendoza...not your usual Jewish name. The Mendoza's survived Isabella's purge in 1492 in Spain, and still hung tough.

Lucille’s brother was a physician at 21 in Pittsburg, and enlisted in the Army in WWII. He was killed in action, and Lucille was changed forever. She became a hard-core anti-war spirit. She was against the Korean War, forget Vietnam….She went to Israel with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 to meditate for peace in Jerusalem. Wow!

When Richard graduated from college in 1968 he was prime material for the draft, and it was prime-time Vietnam. He was going on to law school, and the day he drove off from home in Hollywood, Lucille ran out to the car just as he was driving off. She pounded on the window. Richard rolled it down, and she grabbed his arm: “They will NEVER TAKE YOU! I promise! THEY WILL NEVER TAKE YOU!” Ok, Mom….Sure, calm down…..

Not long after, the North Hollywood draft board was bombed, and burned to the ground. Richard never heard a peep from them. As it turns out, that same draft board had the files of many of my friends: Richard; Michael Sherman the local jeweler; and Stuart Thompson, my co-Stanford guru and Hopkins professor, among others. I tried to picture those guys taken out of my life by war….

Now, no one is saying that Lucille……..well. John Donne was looking kinda peeked about now…..

And of course, Richard then turned to me and said, “Michael, I’m sure you have something to say…….”

Fuck. Here goes:

Amanda and I were talking today about parents and kids. We have a couple of different people that work for us whose kids are complete nightmares, and the parents have no clue. The warp their lives every second to support and cover these kids who are ungrateful, even criminal…with no care or concern for their folks.

And then we have kids….you all know Ollie…whose parents have no clue how great they are. The kids operate in a vacuum, with no support, no real love, no appreciation from parents with no care or concern for their children.

This was clearly not Lucille’s way.

I can’t share little anecdotes of her, because she scared the crap out of me, and I stayed out of her way. But I learned something in all these years of working for great photographers: we don’t ever actually see objects. What we see is just the light that is reflected off them. We infer their presence and shape from the light they reflect…shadow and light.

This tells us all we need to know about Lucille. Look at her life’s work: this beautiful family that all of us here love, and this beautiful home that is filled with enough love that all of us here constantly come back to it like hummingbirds.

I don’t want to say that Lucille cast a shadow…because shadow implies darkness…But right here before us you can see the reflection of her light in all that we see here today


Here’s to you, Lucille.


Blogger jacek walicki said...

a. you're writing again. good.
b. your story is very good. very good.
c. thank you.

8:48 PM  

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