On the way back to Anne Mei’s grandmother’s apartment after the funeral, I turned off Ten Mile Road on Mulberry to drive by Joe and Sophie’s old house. Anne Mei and I had spent many happy hours there in Rivkin family gatherings over more than 25 years. I wanted to see it one more time since this might be the last occasion for coming to Southfield MI.
Laura had wanted her parents to sell the house even before I met her. It was a money pit, built for California, not Michigan winters. But Sophie didn’t sell it even after Joe died. She loved having her own place to write and her plantings to care for. When cancer struck and she couldn’t manage a big house any more, she put it on the market thinking it would take months to sell, probably at a loss compared to all they had spent on disaster repairs. Instead it sold quickly and for a fair price. Luckily Sophie had been working on arrangements for an apartment in the Jewish community facility. She was still traumatized by having to downsize and move in time for a rapid closing. Many family mementos were lost in the process.
As we drove by, there was a strange car in the circle driveway in front and a strange person getting in the car, but the house had not changed much. We went past and down a ways before turning around for a last look. Strange, estranged feelings.
I didn’t drive by again on my way to the airport the next day, but a blew a kiss towards Mulberry as I went by.
I do similar drive-by’s on Copper Hill Road when I’m in San Antonio. Not final looks at the old family homestead, but an occasion for fond memories. The mesquite in the front yard is still there. I loved watching that tree through the Texas seasons, so much that I wrote a poem using that mesquite to describe a strong Texas woman, who helped our son Joe. Speaking of whom, I also check on the other big tree in the front yard on which Joe hoisted an engine that he’d bought in a junk yard to place in the old car he was restoring. When I heard that engine turn over, I knew he really would become the mechanic he is.
The bamboo I planted to screen the girls’ bedrooms from the yard next door is still there and still invading the neighbor’s back yard. Despite that, the lady next door is still a friend on Facebook. Our daughter Bibi calls her her “other mama.”
The street itself reminds me of the wonderful story our youngest, Roisin Gael, wrote about our black lab Jesse, who had a penchant for chewing up yard furniture and house siding. The story ended with Roisin getting off the school bus to be greeted by Jesse holding the last stick remaining of the house in his mouth.
These reflections were prompted by a poem I found in a collection of Yehuda Amichai’s poetry that I had given Sophie a few years ago. When her son Carl pointed to the bookshelf and said I could take something to remember his mother by, I picked this book. When I opened it, there was bookmark torn off the corner of a page of newsprint, marking two pages with poems about love. I like to presume that Sophie put it there deliberately. One of the poems “A Lit Window, the Dark is with Me,” captures the dynamics of my driving by former family homes.
The public park became a private garden.
You don’t have to return to the garden,
only to touch the gate without going in,
only to touch the gate without looking in,
as one touches a bound packet of letters
without undoing the string, without opening the letters,
as one touches with a kiss of the lips or a kiss of the hand
a rolled up Torah scroll, closed on its history and its wonders.
You don’t have to spread it out
and read it but only love
with all your heart and all your soul.