My grandfather in 1929: would’ve been buried in a box-backed suit, straight laced shoes and a Stetson hat if traditional Jewish law allowed it.
This is day 11 of a New Year’s Resolution.
When I die, bury me in straight laced shoes, A box backed suit and a Stetson hat Put a 20 dollar gold piece on my watch chain; So the boys’ll know I died standin’ pat.
-St. James Infirmary
The first time I heard Louis sing that song, I was 15, only a few years after my grandfather died. I was impressed by the upbeat, even cheerful melody in the face of the maudlin lyrics. And I was impressed by the idea of a man who wanted to be buried in his box-backed suit and Stetson hat because life, after he was gone, went on.
My grandfather was a very dapper man. My dad recalls that Gramps would’ve donned a fine suit to go to the zoo, a quirk of dandiness that I have preserved to this day, with slight variations.
After he died, sitting in his condo, I felt (besides terrible loss) a sense of togetherness and community I hardly knew how to identify. We were all there, eating and shmoozing and being sad-happy, and I discovered that I really liked the “Being Jewish On Purpose” thing. Twenty-five years later, looking at my life, my years of building intentional community and years of learning and then teaching Jewish studies, I see that Gramps left me a legacy in his dying.
Just as he lived in style, he went out in style.
Unless you are Cameron Frye or my Uncle David, pick: suspenders or belt. Not both.
My Uncle David was no dapper man. He preferred loose and comfortable polo shirts, work pants, and wore both suspenders and a belt (a look you should not try unless you are Cameron Frye).
But his funeral and shiva have brought about a few things that I appreciate in the face of this loss. One: an echo of that same togetherness I felt when Gramps passed away, twenty-five years ago.
Two, while the elders were at the funeral home making arrangements, David’s grandsons (my first cousins once removed) and I got to spend a rare day together. Brunch. Bowling. Shopping. Video games. Conversation.
David was not a stylish man, but like Gramps, he’s going out in style.
First cousins, once removed. We wouldn’t be sitting here, reconnecting, if not for this unexpected “gift” from Uncle David.