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Sunrise... Sunset
By Lori Ada Jaroslow

I hugged my mother and thanked her for coming. Alma and I went out to the balcony, where we would chat, smoke Marlboros and take turns sitting on the broken Porta-Potty.

My father was a feminist with sexist leanings. He marched on Washington for women's rights, but I'm not sure if he was more interested in the women or the rights. "Alma, do you think he slept around on my mother?"

"You think my name is Alma?" she bellowed. "I been having trouble with this breast. So one day I lift up my shirt (she lifts up her shirt for a reenactment) and I say, Jerry, is this one bigger than this one? He get a BIG hard on and say, 'Why you don't get in the bed with me?' It's a good thing I don't like the older men, Lor, your father would have had me in TWO seconds."


"I aks him, Jerry were you a good father?" Alma said. He say, "Nah, Sylvia do that more." He say he not around when you were a kid. He worry about you, Lor… say you got it the worst." I excused myself, went into the bedroom and perched next to my father. "Daddy, I don't want you to worry about me. I have a lot of wonderful things in my life, a lot of love; I'm going to be fine. Hey, Dad, you feel like singing?"

"And how," he replied with more enthusiasm than I'd seen since my arrival. I turned on my tape recorder, and he began, his once beautiful baritone, scratchy and waning…

"Vee is du gesele vee is da shteeb,
vee is da maydele vaymin hablib,
us is da gesele us is da shteeb,
us is di maydele."

(Very roughly translated: Where is the little girl? Where is the house she once lived in? Where is the street the house was on?)

"Come on Dad, big finish," I encouraged him.

"VAYMIN, HABLI…oy oy oy oy oy." He grabbed his side in pain.

"Daddy, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Lorsch. I'm getting better."

On Mother's Day weekend everyone dispersed. Alma's friend Lena came to relieve Alma. I realized in hindsight that this was the weekend that Dad's body began to close shop. He was unable to keep food or liquid down. In the middle of the night, I heard him wretching. I opened my eyes and saw Lena's wig hanging next to me on Dad's clothes rack. She stumbled off the pullout couch, bald headed, her breasts, (NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I SEEN SUCH ENORMOUS BREASTS) each one the size of a newborn, jiggling wildly in a tight T-shirt, no pants, just pantyhose, as she ran into the bedroom. Think… Scary Movie Four. We stayed up all night with Dad. At 5:40 a.m. Lena threw on her hair and clothes and disappeared. At 6:00 a.m. she returned. "I got a surprise for you," she announced. "Happy Mother's day, baby." She carried two McDonald's platters with pancakes, toast and potatoes. Of course that week I was on a no carb diet, but it was such a sweet gesture that I ate it. She told me about her parole officer. When she first arrived in New York from St. Marten, she worked for the Social Security Department, passed on secret information and got caught. There I was… six a.m. on Mother's day, my father dying in the next room, sharing a McDonald's platter… with a felon.

My family and Alma returned to Dad's apartment on Monday. Alma took one look at my father and ran to the phone. "Rachel," she said to her daughter, "Jerry only gonna last a few more days. You come over and perm my hair tonight for the funeral? What I'm gonna do without him, Rachel?" she cried. "Thanks. Loves you too."

While Alma stayed with Dad, my sisters and I bustled about making plans. Chava Koster, the rabbi we chose, was out of town but assured us she'd be back in time. We communicated through e-mail, though secretly I longed for papyrus scrolls. She suggested we read a book of Jewish customs. There was so much to think about. Should he be buried in a shroud or a Brooks Brothers suit? The Jews like to bury the deceased as quickly as possible. Sometimes a family member sits with their beloved for twenty-four hours guarding the body, like a sentinel. It's called shmiro. I considered doing this, especially after I found out that Dad would be alone in a fridge until the funeral. Abby checked out the cemetery in Jersey. She learned that the plot Dad purchased forty-eight years ago for himself and Mom, which then overlooked a beautiful garden, now overlooked a Marshalls. We found out that if Mom was serious about not wanting to be buried adjacent to Dad, she could request a different location. The cemetery was not unlike a condo.

My sister Abby, who is an architectural preservationist and lives with her family near Princeton, is one year older than I and we were raised sort of like twins. Risa, nine years older, is a prominent choreographer. We piled into a cab and went to Riverside Memorial Chapel on 76th and Amsterdam to take care of business. People in the "death industry," are not hip and cute like Claire on Six Feet Under. They are expressionless and sun deprived. Cliff, a young Pacino type with a stutter, greeted us. First we had to choose the chapel. We picked the larger of the two because it had a piano and big, pretty, stained glass windows, and we were hoping for a good turnout.

"I'll t-t-take you to the caskets." Cliff said. The showrooms are in the basement." There were two of them. Think Anne Taylor and Anne Taylor's Loft. We entered the more upscale of the two. The first casket was horrifying, $60,000.00, gaudy, very Carmela Soprano. The next one was $70,000.00 and King Tut- ish. "Could we see something simpler?" I asked. And he led us into the Loft.

"What about th-th-this? Orthodox Jews are buried in a p-p-lain pine box," he offered.

"It looks like something you'd ship tomatoes in," said Abby, as I reached into the casket and pulled out a clump of hay--the kind they use in nativity scenes.

"It's only f-f-f-ourteen hundred dollars," said Cliff brightly.

"I don't care, my father isn't going in the ground in a freakin' apple crate," I said.

"I'm s-s-s-o s-s-sorry miss, um, knotty pine?"

"Too Crate and Barrel" replied Abby. We busted out. Weeks of anguish were released in torrential laughter. Since Abby has strong feelings about wood, we put her in charge of the decision. She chose a simple blonde ash casket and we went to the office with Cliff to do some paperwork.

"Are you interested in a c-c-casket nameplate?"

What's that for, I wondered, so the other dead people can learn his name?

"Aftercare p-p-planner book?" Cliff asked.

Even if there IS an afterlife, and it's a busy one, I thought to myself, a Dayrunner seemed excessive.

"We won't need any extras. Why don't we start The New York Times notice?"

Cliff helped us with the wording. For example... adored by grandchildren, or dear brother of … "OH MY GOD." Risa yelped. "WHAT DO WE SAY ABOUT MOM?" I made a suggestion. "How about, resented by former wife, Sylvia Walter Jaroslow?"

In the thick of it all, Risa's dance company had a benefit on the Lower East Side. Dad was a big fan of Risa's work, and this would probably be the first concert he ever missed. A bunch of us went. When we returned to Dad's that evening, Abby and her family and the hospice people had gone home for the day. Alma was still there and Risa, her kids Mara, 24, a statuesque P.I. and Sam, 11 going on 40, and I joined her.

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