It is better to watch Gunsmoke than to curse the darkness

Posted: October 21, 2020 in music
Tags: , , ,

This is my new, not-favorite holiday: the first yahrzeit, or anniversary, of my father’s death. In the Jewish tradition, you light a 24-hour candle the evening before the day. The day is determined not by our Gregorian calendar but by the Jewish calendar, which rises and sets with the moon.

A lunar calendar means 28- and 29-day months. This is why Jewish holidays never stay put. Philip Roth, writing about his childhood, said that the adults always talked about Passover being early or late but no one ever said it was on time. Wilfrid Sheed in My Life as a Fan wrote that the Jewish holidays roamed the calendar like shortstops.

On the yahrzeit of your parent, there are prayers to say and visits to make – to the synagogue. I might have appreciated the latter, standing in solidarity with the other mourners, though of course there are no visits to the synagogue just now.

I remember my parents and grandparents lighting the yahrzeit candles for their parents. This practice seemed disconnected from me when I was young. It was something the Old People did, along with moving slowly, not understanding anything I wanted to do, and talking about their vanished world.

[The play] succeeded because it made people laugh and cry and remember the past, all at the same time. And even though one always heard how bitter everything was in the past, the old people were still crazy to relive it. (Emanuel Litvinoff, from his short story “Fanya”)

I felt so disconnected from this ritual and for so long that it only occurred to me while writing this that when my grandparents lit candles for their parents, they were keeping alive the memories of people who had been born in the 1870s.

So now I’ve lit my first candle and said some prayers. Though I recognized years ago that this train was heading my way, it was still a shock when it stopped to pick me up. Also, I’m not sure that lighting a candle and reciting some prayers hold the right meaning for me and my relationship with my father.

Next year, we’ll light a candle and then watch one of Dad’s favorite movies: Stagecoach, The Big Country, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Patton, Sink the Bismarck!, Sink the Hindenburg!, The Enemy Below, The Enemy Above, The Big World War II Movie, The Way Bigger World War II Movie, and The World War II Movie Where We Win Again But You Kids Will Never Understand. Dad also liked Get Smart!, All in the Family, Westerns, the Red Sox, shows about animals or ancient Egypt, and everything that delighted his children. Some of these entertainments might be a tough sell for certain people I live with.

Looking back over this blog, I may have been at my best when I was memorializing family, friends, dogs, musicians, and other writers. I hate to think that I’m turning into A.E. Housman, but you have to go where the writing takes you, and apparently this is where it’s taking me. I even managed to work Run-DMIrving into my music column.

I’ll change the mood in our next exciting post. Brace yourself for 10 Things I Hate About Dogs!

You can live in a box from Costco and chew it up.

  1. Philip Dickey says:

    Hi Steve, I really liked this story as well as the one about your dad buying you records.

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