My folks would take me along when they visited family who were buried at Mound Zion Cemetery.
When we arrived, usually between the High Holidays, dad would park the car and we would walk to the family plot. Dad would have picked up two small stones and then placed them on the monuments to his parents, Bessie and Louis Wolkenstein. They told me it was an old Jewish custom by leaving a small stone to share with other people that the site had recently been visited. I liked that custom.
Shortly, after, Mr. Anshul, who was the sextant of the original Beth Israel Synagogue on Teutonia Avenue, would come by and he would stop and talk to my dad. I never knew what they discussed, but Mr. Anshul would slowly walk to each headstone and say some prayers in Hebrew. He would move to the other grave and repeat the prayers. I would notice my dad weeping and as I looked at him, my mother gently turned my face away. “Alan, it is not nice to stare at daddy when he is mourning the loss of his parents.”
“OK, I said, I don’t mean to stare but I never see daddy crying.” She put her arms around me and said that it was right and good that he did so. My dad told me that the next day he would send Mr. Anshul a check for his prayers on behalf of his parents. “Oh,” I said. I wondered why he did that and dad said Mr. Anshul was a kind and good man and did these blessings to not only help people mourn, but to ask G-d to comfort the souls of parents in Heaven.
On the way home, I asked my mother about her parents and where they were buried. She told me it was a sad story and would tell me about her parents and her brother Irving when I got older. Being inquisitive, I pressed the issue. She turned around from the front seat and told me that it was a sad story, and she didn’t want to share it right then.
Years later, I realized she never did share it and my dad who survived her told me that he didn’t know either, but it was something she just did not want to share. “Maybe mom would have felt too sad to share it.” I always wondered what happened. To this day I don’t know and apparently never will.
Later in life I wondered why she thought it was proper for dad to openly mourn but she would not or could not share her loss. I guess there are things in life we just can’t quite figure out. I will tell you now that I saw dad cry other times. Always while visiting the cemetery, once during his parents 50th wedding anniversary party (mom said this was a happy cry,) and at my mom’s funeral. I learned to honor him by not staring.
Alan S. Wolkenstein, Mequon, is a retired clinical professor of family medicine.