Tuesday, September 30, 2008

732. My cousin, part 1

No, I'm not sitting here blogging on Rosh Hashana, but set two posts to appear automatically today and tomorrow. Tomorrow is the yahrzeit of my cousin Jerry, and here's a short essay I wrote about him a few years ago. It seemed a fitting day to share his memory, may it be a blessing, with the wider universe.



On Sundays we’d pile into the’67 Chevy and head to one of my uncles’ interchangeable apartments—musty furniture, plastic slipcovers, tassled lamps. I was the only niece, and all my aunts and uncles were much older. Everyone complained about sciatica and arthritis, and I had no one to talk to except my cousin Jerry, who was sweet but said little. When I was 9, he had just come back from a year of fighting in Vietnam. He’d sit on the other side of the room in a heavy chair and smile shyly; sometimes we’d play gin rummy. I imagined that his silence accompanied wise thoughts, as he absorbed without complaint all the shrill laughter and babka-filled kisses that swirled around us. There were always whispers, rumblings: Jerry was Not Right. “It’s the war,” said my mother. “Who the hell knows what went on over there?”

One Sunday we were late. My father paced in front of our apartment door as I was getting zipped and swathed into layers of clothing, as if Brooklyn were the North Pole. The phone rang. My mother ran over and picked up the receiver, and after a moment I saw her body seem to get smaller, her eyes wider.

“What do you mean?” she yelled into the receiver. “How could someone just disappear?” She leaned into the doorway, and I thought she might fall.

“Are we going or not?” my father demanded. “Jerry’s missing,” she answered, in almost a whisper.


My mother and Jerry’s father tried to find him, keeping a few private investigators gainfully employed. They determined he was in San Francisco; beyond that, no clue. Thirty years passed, and I paid the price of having old relatives: my aunts and uncles died, and then my parents. Jerry’s few belongings, including a small, blue velvet bag emblazoned with a frayed, gold Star of David, ended up in a corner of my bottom drawer. Inside were the accoutrements of male Jewish adulthood: a prayer book and a tallit, a prayer shawl, “Pure Silk” embroidered white on white. Except for the picture in my mind of soft eyes and dark hair where everyone else’s was gray, nothing else remained of my cousin.

(Continued here.)

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