There was a lot I didn't know about him. When my mom spoke on Wednesday on the funeral, it was the first time I heard that he had been a professional photographer at one point. Of course, I always knew him as a photographer. Pictures of us, of course, but just photographing in general. When me and my sisters were kids, he always looked at our drawings and photographs with a critical eye. Not cruelly, but he was genuinely looking at what we'd created, pointing out strengths in it that we hadn't even realized we'd done. He never made it as a photographer, not enough of a self-promoter. So for much of his life he worked as a book binder.
My sister recalls him napping sitting up with the New York Times crossword puzzle half finished in his lap. I remember mentioning authors I was interested in as a teenager and him pulling out books by them from the bookshelves in his house, most specifically a Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. When we were little, he'd play Clue with us if we needed a third.
When I was 18, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Her decline was slow, sometimes she knew she was having a bad day, and would cancel prior plans. Poppy spent most of his time taking care of her. It finally got to the point that he was no longer able to take care of himself or her, and they were placed in a nursing home near where my uncle lived in New Paltz. She died in January 2002. He died this past weekend. The last time I'd seen either of them was my sister's wedding back in 1992.
Yesterday, for the first time in over 15 years, my parents, my sisters and I packed ourselves into a car together, and went on a roadtrip. We chatted our way out there, joking and teasing each other. When we got to the funeral home we were subdued and uncomfortable. My oldest sister fussed with the static cling of her dress. There was a service. Aside from us, there was my uncle, his girlfriend, and my cousin. Some of my cousin's friends who were home from college also showed up. Midway through, we shared some things about Poppy. We recited the Mourner's Kaddish, and then followed the hearse to the cemetery. It breaks my heart that he's buried up there, when he spent so much of his life in Brooklyn and Queens, he seems out of place. When my mother dropped the first shovelful of dirt on the coffin, I felt a smattering of tears slip out.
From there, the family went to a diner. Away from the eyes of a rabbi and the funeral staff, we once again found our irreverent sides. Memories would pop up. How he had once taken pictures of Ava Gardner. The trains he set up for me in the basement. The ice skating lessons he gave my mom. But also, there was conversation and laughter. The things we do in our lives that honor how he bought my mom up, that she passed on to us. My sisters' crafts, my writing.
He was a good man, and I realize now how much I've missed him these past years, and how as time goes by, I'll only ever miss him more.
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