My friend Aaron Ryesky, age 86, died peacefully at the Artman Home over the weekend. Today, Valentine's Day, his family buried him. Altho I didn't go to the graveside service in northeast Philadelphia, I sat shiva at their former residence in Maple Glen.
Funeral arrangements were made by son Ken, an Orthodox Jew, and his wife Tammi. Their own rabbi drove in from Long Island to conduct the service.
They brought food from Long Island. Mindful of my diabetes, I munched on pastrami and mustard, no bread, and delicious cole slaw that must've used vinegar.
I allowed myself one sweet: an apricot-filled hamantaschen. Is Purim on the way?
I wanted to do something for my friend Helene, Aaron's widow. What could I do? How can you comfort someone who has not only lost her lifetime companion but has been ousted by necessity from the home she loved so much.
Age does that to us. Some people can no longer care for themselves. I'm lucky that my 89-yo mom has my sister Ellen to watch over her.
Never, said Helene to me, have your mom move into a nursing home.
Helene at home in better days.
I decided to write a poem . I was really nervous and asked God's help to compose a decent poem, even though I don't believe in God. Before I began, I brewed four cups of decaf for strength.
Maybe god is in the decaf.
My first draft was really terrible. Then I worked on it some more, and read it out loud to two of my poetry critics - Judy Lipshutz and Aunt Selma in Cleveland. She's 93.
It passed muster, so I tucked it into my pocketbook and drove over to Maple Glen.
Cars lined the street and the cul-de-sac.
Childhood friends of Ken turned up. So did the neighbors and assorted friends.
THEY WERE MY BEST FRIENDS UNTIL AGE PULLED US APART
Note: in Jewish folklore, a dybbuk is an evil spirit
Come for dinner, she’d urge, but you mustn’t be late
down went my pen as I drove to the corner house on Bauman Drive
hi, honey, I'd joke, I'm home.
the African violets looked on
as we ate in the many-windowed dining room
Aaron, his shaggy-rug eyebrows gone white,
passed the grated beet and carrot salad
while we talked politics and god and the chuppah
left over in the backyard
age, that dybbuk,
let himself in
and made himself comfortable
the once-proud house shook
with his tricks
crumpled and fell
Helene and I drove to the rehab
- is her green Olds still in the garage? -
Behold the man
at rest in his room
and blue hospital gown
hi, honey, we’re here
his eyes opening wide
arms at his sides
the man who never complained
the man who effortlessly did
Times crosswords and jigsaw puzzles
I only made one mistake while you were
alive, dear Aaron,
I forgot to say "I love you"
I'll tell Helene
the artist you chose for your bride
engineer and artist: dynamite combination
Please pass the licorice.