The wedding album does not lie. There is no picture of Pop.
Pop was destined to live 77 years. Of course we didn’t know that at the time. If we had, we would have scheduled the wedding for an earlier date.
When I pulled up to our home on Newark’s Aldine Street, that fateful May day in 1960, in the midst of my final exams at Newark Rutgers, and three weeks before our wedding, there was a hearse parked right in front. My heart was pounding as I ran into the house. Everyone in that building was dear to me. Everyone.
I feared the hearse might be there for Pop, my mother’s father. He had taken to his bed the day before, telling us he had a cold. No need for Dr. Brotman. He would take an aspirin (my family’s treatment for everything from a minor scrape to death) and be fine in the morning.
But there were other plans for Pop.
I left for school early and didn’t even knock on his door. Let him rest, I thought. I’d catch him after the day’s exam.
Pop had been living with us for most of my 20 years. He had his place in our family. He was the major worrier, the ironer, the tailor, the fixer, and the one who nudged us about our outerwear! We never got it right. We were always at odds with the weather, according to him, usually underdressed. Put on a sveater he would admonish. He was a major part of the fabric of our lives, an exceedingly active and healthy man, with no chronic diseases. None of us could or would imagine life without him.
Our household was in an advanced stage of wedding planning. The wedding was called for June 4, 1960, three weeks hence. I was on a starvation diet, working feverishly to lose five pounds, and focusing on my hairdo. I went to a neighborhood beauty salon each week to let the hairdresser practice different styles. These were the trifling items on my pre-wedding to-do list.
Pop was also deep into wedding preparation. I would be the first of his five grandchildren to have a big wedding. He adored my husband-to-be who met all of Pop’s parameters. This was good fortune since if Pop was not satisfied we would have heard it, unrelentingly.
Pop’s shoes were shined to a brilliant gleam, like a mirror, reflecting his joy. His blue pinstripe suit, immaculately tailored and worn only to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was cleaned and pressed to perfection and wrapped in a garment bag, hanging outside the closet door, a reminder that he’d need it very soon. Even his starched white shirt, belt and tie, were affixed to the door. This man was ready. No last minute frenzy about missing something. It was all there! Only a trip to the barber awaited, and then this spiffily dressed gentleman, grandfather of the bride, would be ready to walk up to the chuppah at Steiner’s on South 13th Street in Clinton Hill.
That closet door haunts me to this day, when I myself have greatly exceeded that 77 year allotment.
I urgently raced into the house as the body was being carried down, with my mother standing at the top of the steps sobbing. It was indeed Pop and he had indeed been taken from us. We would eventually feel blessed that his death had been merciful, fast, and without suffering. But those thoughts were for later. That day, we focused on the shock and the bewilderment and the rituals of his passing.
In a panic I called Rabbi Eidenbaum to tell him we had to postpone the wedding. How could we celebrate a magnificent joyous event in light of the profound loss of Pop? It just wasn’t possible. And that wise man taught me that the wedding could not and must not be postponed. We would have to carry on. And so we did!
Thus, three weeks before our wedding, our house became a shiva house, as my mother and my two uncles mourned for the grandfather I loved. This was no abbreviated shiva. No shortcuts because a wedding was being planned. Minyanim twice a day and a constant stream of visitors. The wedding was definitely pushed to the background. Even my weekly trip to the hairdresser was set aside.
These memories are like a waterfall, reaching a crescendo after a heavy rain. So long ago, but seeming like yesterday, the emotions pounding. We expected perfection on our wedding day and instead we were dealing with profound loss. Mixed in with the tears of joy was pain and sorrow. Often I tried to negotiate with myself! What if he had lived until the day after the wedding? Would that have sufficed? No, of course not. We would have thought it painful to start our lives together with such a giant shadow.
Ok. What if it had happened a week later? Still a stain on our joy. There was no case to be made, no argument. There was never a good time.
The other day we found our wedding album. It had been misplaced and neither of us had any idea where it might be. We searched and searched, feeling frustrated. This was an important piece of our lives and we desperately wanted to find it.
Finally, sof sof, as they say in Hebrew, it turned up. When we had given up hope of ever seeing it again, there it was.
And there were we, looking into the unknown, as all of us do, all of our lives.
The old black and white photos captured so much. And palpably we saw what we already knew, that Pop was not the only one lost to us. These many years later the photos in the album showed so many missing links to our lives when we were young. Parents, aunts, uncles, friends. Missing pieces of a puzzle, now gone and replaced only in our memories. How lucky that we found that album. But there are no pictures of Pop at that wedding. He left us too soon.