Not titled yet
My grandmother's funeral was the third time I had been in a synagogue. The first was for my grandfather's yahrzeit. It seemed I must have been at temple the year before for his funeral, but apparently not— and no wonder. My grandmother had had him cremated. I'll never be sure if it was because she was being practical and saving money, or if anger built up over their fifty-some-odd years of marriage found its expression in posthumous desecration. Regardless, a year later she had repented of her decision and, after observing the one year anniversary of his death in a more traditional manner, made certain that her sons wouldn't follow her example by making all her own funeral arrangements, down to paying for her name to go on a plaque beneath my grandfather's.
But that was when I was around ten and too young to be bar-mitzvahed—even if I'd been a boy yet, even if I'd understood the least thing about Judaism, even if my fully-assimilated father and Baptist-but-not-churchgoing mother had wanted me to grow up observant. More recently, with my grandmother's death impending, I'd nervously gone along with friends to Rosh Hashanah at their Renewal synagogue. There I'd prayed for her, and after the Rabbi's talk about I-Thou consciousness, we had sung songs of peace and freedom for the Palestinian people and of healing for Israel all over the world. That was the second time in my life I'd been in a synagogue— the first time in my life as a man, the first time in my life I wore a kippah, and the first time in my life I ever felt Jewish.
Compared with that (and with the occasional queer shabbos with my friends, who argued about the order of the prayers and broke down in laughter and tears singing to the One who is a woman on Friday night but male or neutral the rest of the week) going to the Reform Jewish congregation my grandmother had helped to build in her retirement community was a bit like stepping out of a hot-tub into a cold rain. Fortunately, though, it was not all awkward and painful. My uncle referred to me while giving his eulogy, after a slight stumble that I took as a sign of the effort he was making, as his nephew. And when I nervously with knees like water went to get my kippah, my father took one from the funeral director and handed it to me. Someone might have confronted me, had I asked for one myself— I'm young, obviously ignorant, maybe willfully rebellious or worse, feminist. But no one was going to challenge my father at his mother's funeral.
Following the reception, as my grandmother's friends, some close to her 95 years but none more senior, said farewell to us, tiny Edie came up to speak to my mother. Her voice was a rasp but I and my sister could hear as we stood on either side of my mother. My sister had just had her hair cut a little shorter; a feminine cut and one that made her look older, the better to command a measure of respect from her fourth graders' parents. My grandmother would have said it made a nice frame for her face. She would have said the same about my hair, which had not threatened to get long enough to frame my face in at least three years.
"Your hair is so beautiful," Edie said to my mother, reaching up from her perpetual stoop to take my mother's hand. "I'm so glad you haven't cut it. I don't know what this country is coming to these days," she said, looking at me, "all the girls are cutting their hair so short."
My grandmother's hair had been short since 1941. It had always made such a nice frame for her face.
Two weeks later was Samhain, when my Erastes and I attended Spiral Dance. The San Francisco Reclaiming Wicca community is a diverse group. One of the ritual leaders wore a kippah with his ritual robes. Witches, pagans, part-time pagans, and folks who had only come out of curiosity filled a gymnasium with our bodies, dancing, from which we journeyed to the Land of the Beloved Dead in varying degrees of trance. Stepping out of my boat of bones, I met the ones I knew. We gathered under the apple trees and greeted each other gladly.
"Granddaughter, grandson, who cares?" Grandma said as we watched my friend Julia sport along the shore with the dolphins that had been her life's passion. "I knew you were one of those when you went out to San Francisco to live with your uncle."
"I'm not living with my uncle, Grandma; I'm in Berkeley."
"It's one big gay place. And now they have people dancing around with their bodies all painted pretending to be witches. Who cares. When you're dead it doesn't matter. Witches; that temple you go to; that girl you make shabbos with; it's all the same when you're like me."
She looked at me for a bit.
"You had better be a better grandson than that dog. He never listens."
I laughed out loud, startling the woman closest to me who was communing with her own ancestors in her own way. "I love you too, Grandma."
"You take good care of yourself. Keep your health. One day you'll be old like me, G-d willing."
At the funeral, I saw a photo of my grandmother at twenty. Her hair is long, and wet straight with the water of the fountain she's dancing in. She's wearing short shorts and a tight blouse over her always-prominent "boobs." She looks over her shoulder at the camera with a mischievous smile, daring it to judge her. She looks like photos of my mother as a hippie; it could be 1969 in San Francisco, instead of 1931 in New York.
When I am 95, I will wear a tweed jacket with elbow patches made of cloned wool and suede grown in a vat. I will smoke a pipe in defiance of anti-tobacco legislation and my doctors' orders. (Grandma ate fried shrimp and fried fish and fried cheese until she couldn't swallow solid food any longer, then simply stopped eating.) I will walk with a cane with a phallic silver handle, and when the cane is not enough I will get something like Grandma's cherry-red racing walker. I too will be 86 before I give up my electric hoverscooter. I will have fond memories of my 80th birthday, marked with a vacation in Hawaii where I danced nonstop to ancient EBM in clubs with retro-retro ambiance. I will be luckier in love than my grandmother; I hope I will be married to two or three soulmates of various genders who will still be in great health and madly in love with one another long after I'm gone. When at 95 I finally grow close to death, my grand-niecephew will go to a combined Rosh Hashanah and Eid service at the New Radical Syncretic PolySemitic-Pagan Temple and awkwardly mouth unfamiliar prayers for me, thinking that at least this is something close to what Great-Uncle Kerr knew.