I have to start this post with an apology. My camera was with me throughout my mother’s memorial service and the festivities after it. Unfortunately, I got to talking with people (something I am prone to do!), and the camera stayed in my purse! I do have a few of the photos of Taffy that were displayed at the service, and I’ll use those for illustrations.
Just over two weeks ago, on January 7, we bade our formal goodbye to Taffy. “Formal” may not be the appropriate word. Although the goodbye was official, it was far from stodgy. “Joy” was the word most often used in the hymns we selected. The word suited a person who embodied it almost every day.
To keep the service reasonably short and reasonably light my brother and I decided to limit the number of speakers.
Our minister, Cara Hochhalter, said a few gentle prayers and talked about Taffy’s life in general—her education, her work as a teacher and antique dealer, her love of the theater and acting (her favorite role was Kate in The Taming of the Shrew), the confidence she took from her family background, and above all her feeling for color.
“I recall seeing pink socks, red tennis shoes,” Cara said with a smile, “and that lovely jaunty straw hat with the bright yellow sunflower.” She went on to read a poem Taffy wrote titled “India,” a piece of verse awash with the colors its writer loved.
After Cara my Uncle Bruce charmed the congregation as he has charmed people as long as I can remember. My mother wasn’t the only theatrical person in the family.
He shared a few stories about their youth and early adulthood. Two and a half years younger than my mother, Bruce was her first and most constant playmate. He recalled waiting breathlessly for Santa with his big sister. He also remembered his awe at her command of Shakespeare and his warm feelings toward both her and my father when Jan Hallett decided to marry Abe Weisblat. Most of all, he displayed his own wisdom and whimsy, characteristics he shared with his sister.
Finally, our neighbor Alice Parker Pyle recalled summers spent with Taffy and the entire Weisblat clan at Singing Brook Farm—summers of children’s games and cooking and stories and music and OF COURSE poetry recitation. Like Cara, she also touched briefly on the last few months of Taffy’s life. Alice was a loyal visitor at the end, one who never failed to make Taffy smile.
Taffy loved music so of course the service featured songs. The church choir sang “Brother James’ Air,” a jewel-like setting of the 23rd Psalm. We all loudly and happily raised our voices in “Joy to the World,” Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” And I sang the verses to “In the Garden” and invited everyone to join in on the chorus.
“In the Garden” is disappearing from hymnals. It was a favorite of my grandparents, newlyweds in 1912 when it was composed by C. Austin Miles. Taffy often requested it at hymn sings; I think it reminded her of her childhood in what seemed a simpler time.
It comes across as old fashioned today, but we certainly had a blast singing it. I invite readers to join in the chorus on the video (well, really just a soundtrack with a still photo—but WHAT a still photo!) below.
Believe me, the song will sound LONG if you don’t sing along. My voice is still a little hoarse from a recent cold so I’m not at my best vocally, and I’m still working on recording technology.
Here are the lyrics:
And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
And he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.
After the service the church’s pastoral-care committee put on a lavish spread. We sipped and munched and caught up with our guests—Uncle Bruce and three of his children, Aunt Lura and two of hers (plus two grandchildren), honorary relatives, old friends, new friends, and neighbors. A few tears were shed, but the day was also one of laughter.
If you’d like to read about what we ate that day, visit my food blog, in which I muse about funereal comfort food.
We plan a huge memorial party in six months or so—a time of more food, more song (I am working on a list of songs Taffy loved!), and lots of memories. Not to mention a few cocktails!
On that occasion we will open the floor to anyone who wants to tell a story.
By summer people will be less sad about Taffy’s death, more inclined to laugh and sing and rejoice. Someone will surely recite the poem she started reciting at the age of five and still loved in her last months, “The Owl and the Pussycat.”
Meanwhile, my brother and I feel that we have done Taffy proud.
When someone dies the strangest part—to me, at any rate–is how “not there” he or she suddenly is. Where once there was color we are left with black and white. Where once there was a voice we are left with silence.
Memories fill in the spare lines and make the voice audible once again. And fellowship reminds us that we are never alone.
I’ll be back soon with some questions for readers about this project. For now I leave you with the poem Cara read at the service on January 7.
by Jan Weisblat
India is an artist’s palette,
Strong primary colors against a base of brown.
Brown women in red and gold saris,
Yellow wheat fields waving in the sun,
Emerald tanks below the white-washed village huts
And the tender green of new rice.
Yellow corn lies drying on red roofs in Kulu.
Browns mingle with gray and gold in the Rajasthani desert.
The bright orange-red of the gulmoher—the flame tree—heralds the spring in Bombay,
And the roof of the world stands white and purple in the North.
The dhobi spreads his wash of white, yellow, blue and red
On the dull green banks of the river,
And little brown children swim naked in the green waters of a pond
With their black water buffalo.
India is grey-blue crows in the garden
Shouting a raucous keep-away to other birds,
And sassy black robins flicking red-bellied tails.
The myna birds gather in chattering groups,
Yellow beaks, brown bodies and white tails in flight,
And a tiny green bee-eater sits on my telephone wire.
India is gold sun overhead,
Blue skies in winter,
Yellow skies, heavy with dust, in April and May,
And dark grey monsoon skies
Ready to replenish the parched earth.