“Three words can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”.

Robert Frost

This year marks a half-century since JFK’s shooting and the media will be scrutinizing yet again how it all went down. 2013 is also the semi-centennial of another loss—one that hit closer to home. It is 50 years this summer since an unsuspecting 8th grader learned his parents would divorce. It’s a scene replayed as often as Zapruder’s.

It occurred to me recently that just as the naïve country accepted at face value the “lone gunman” theory, Hal and I too, accepted the tight, neat package we were given when the marriage dissolved. But kids didn’t hear the truth —not back then. What if, I wondered…what if God commissioned a “round-table” to study the matter. What answers, years later, might perspective bring?

On a beautiful day, they each got a call: My Mom and her kin—Grandpa Irv and Grandma Cele, and My Father (Who Art In Heaven), and his mother, Grandma Bogart. ‘Round adjoining card tables, the five, none of whom had spoken in decades, found seats. Irv, at one end, unwrapped his cigar while our mother, already sobbing, hovered. On the far side was Dad, tapping an unfiltered Camel and eyeing the clock while his mother stood stoically by.

And then there was Celia, our mom’s mom. Cele settled—no surprise— mid everyone. (She always liked my dad, she’d tell you—but you had to ask privately).

“Choose among you an arbiter,” The Lord spoketh, “To adjust your differences.” My mother suggested her Uncle Irv. “You liked him Al. You trusted him.” “Yeah,” urged my father, “But he wasn’t in the lodge.” “Let’s leave,” said the other Irv. “He’s still no good.”

Pregnant silence ensued, and then the phone rang.

Cele: Al, it’s for you.
Elaine: What’s she say?
Albert: I’m not here.
Irv (to Elaine): Probably a bill collector
Elaine: What’d he say?
Gladys: We must wait for Helen.
Albert: Ma, please.

Thunder was heard as rain fell outside. God’s frustration reverberated.

Irv: Let’s get started.
Cele: Wait. Let me put in my teeth. (She actually left the room,
returning with knitting as well).
Irv (to Elaine): Your husband gambled away money he didn’t have.
Albert: Old news, you mumser. Things would have been ok.
Gladys: Albert. Don’t lose your temper. Your face is red.
Albert: Please Ma.
Cele: It was better for the kids.
Gladys: Elaine could have waited. Rabbi Cohen could have helped.
Oh, if Pa were alive.
Albert: Ma, please! If Pa were alive he would be dead.
Cele: Al, you had your good points. You were always there for
Elaine through her ear surgeries.
Elaine: What’d she say?
Albert: Thanks, Mom. There was plenty we shared. No one got
divorced back then. Couples worked things out.

The phone rang again and my grandpa answered. Grumbling, he gave my father the phone. The conversation would be short.

Albert: It was Dr. Brothers. She wanted to be here but she’s still unpacking.
Gladys: What’d he say?
Elaine: He said it was my brother and he wanted to be here but he’s
still unpacking.
Albert: Joyce Brothers says that you were depressed, but people
didn’t talk about those things in the 60’s.
Irv: You’re full of apple sauce.
Albert: Get Irv Ungar on the phone!
Gladys: Elaine WAS depressed. There weren’t words for it then.
Cele: Gladys…
Gladys: Cele—
Albert: Please, both of you. Mom, (to Cele) I’m sorry, but Irv had been divorced. He thought that was the answer to everything.
Irv: I’m leaving. Nothing’s changed.
Albert: You’re right, Porter. Nothing’s changed.
Elaine: I just wanted security.
Albert: I just wanted understanding.
Elaine: You wouldn’t listen.
Albert: You couldn’t hear.
Irv: It’s his fault.
Gladys: It’s no one’s fault. But it wasn’t necessary.
Cele: It was better for the kids.
Albert: I’m sorry for my part. Sam was good for you.
Elaine: I always loved you Al, but Harriet was good for you.

The phone rang once more, but they let it ring. My dad had stopped grumbling and mom had ceased crying, and as a calm set, Grandma Cele even removed her dentures.

But the bell kept ringing…

And then I awoke. It was MY phone I heard—that’s all. I’d been sleeping—dreaming if you will—about people and places a long time ago.

And it didn’t matter if it’d been one gunman or his fault or her fault or no one’s fault. We all survived, I’d concluded, and ultimately thrived

This was God’s world, I remembered… and through rain and thunder He takes care of his children.


3 Responses to “FIFTY YEARS ON”

  1. Raymond says:

    Brilliant essay. One of the best. But two comments. One negative, one positive.

    “If Pa were alive he’d be dead”. That is bordering on plagiarism. Noted critic, The Rebel Critic, wrote essentially the same phrase in his February 15, 2013 article in The Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. His article “If James Dean Were Alive Today, He’d Be Dead” was written in a similar style. Coincidence? As you once told me, “to thine own self be true”. (I naively thought that was original, as well,). Bottom line, I know this was a mistake of the mind, and not of the heart. (Another phrase that you coined.)

    While some might perceive your homonymic pun of Brothers (Dr. Joyce) and Elaine’s BROTHER Bob as making a mockery of your mothers auditory handicap, I personally view it as an example of something very Dorothy Parker-ish. Witty and with style.

    All in all an excellent essay. The writing, not the actor Morales.

  2. Up From Dysfunction says:

    Hey Raymond,

    1. I don’t read the Indianapolis Monthly, truly. I think I may have heard that expression over the years and the perhaps the Indiana writer should look in the mirror.
    2. “Mistake of mind, not heart” not mine. Never said it was. YOU should have gone to more lodge meetings.
    3. Call me after you take Marie Barone shopping.


  3. alan wieder says:

    Powerful stuff 50 years later — all said I love the words you give Al and Elaine at the end of the essay

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