Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | December 9, 2014

Plot and Counterplot

When I toss a story out into the world, I never know if it will take wing, or where it will fly.   I’m still amazed and grateful that Johan Lebichot found me via a post I’d written about my father.

 

 Last year my sister and I traveled to Belgium to visit the Lebichot family to honor a friendship that reached across the ocean and seventy years back through time.

Lightning struck twice when I was emailed by a stranger who works at Machpelah Cemetery, where my father is buried.  Kim wrote:

“While doing research on unused burial spaces here at Machpelah Cemetery in Ferndale, Michigan I googled your family name and found you!   When I found “A Box in the Attic,” I realized I’d found the family who owns the space.  I must tell you I couldn’t stop reading, to be able to put a face and story with these people was a gift…”

The plot thickens. My father died fifty years ago!  The burial plot Kim wrote about was intended to be Mom’s final resting place. But when she died twenty-five years later, she wasn’t allowed to be buried beside my father because she wasn’t Jewish.

My dying mother said, “It doesn’t matter.  He’s not there.”

What followed reads like the plot of an Afterlife Soap Opera.  My mother Eleanor’s mother, Rhea, was buried next to her first husband, William, the true love of her life, and my grandmother’s second husband, Gus, was buried in another cemetery beside his first wife, Laura, but Mom’s stepdad, my Grandpa Gus, ended up with an extra burial plot, probably because his son Karl wanted to be buried beside the love of his life, Barbara, but Grandpa had always loved my mom, his stepdaughter, and so he offered it to her, since she couldn’t be be buried by her one and only, which is why my mother was buried next to her stepdad and not her husband, Harry, who was the true love of her life, but that’s okay, because Mom loved Grandpa too.

Last year, when visiting Mom’s grave, we spent nearly an hour kicking around the weeds before we found it and cleared away the grass. Mom would say, “It doesn’t matter. I’m not there.” In a way she’d be right. All her kids left Detroit long ago. After Aunt Loena is gone, I doubt I’ll return. But I decided to replace her headstone with one easier to find, just in case someone, maybe even from the next generation, wants to leave a pebble on her grave.  Kim’s email was an eerily timely message, or at least a poke with a sharp stick.

Kim said we could plant a tree in the empty plot or even engrave Mom’s name on the glaringly empty space on Daddy’s headstone. “We could do that?” I asked. “If you write ‘In Memory…’ so people will know she’s not actually buried there,” said Kim. “I’ll consult my siblings and get back to you.  It could take awhile–there are seven of us. In the meantime, please don’t bury a stranger beside my dad!”

I admit there were undercurrents of resentment because Mom was denied her place by Daddy all those years before. But times change, rules relax, Kim probably wasn’t even born when this drama occurred, and the people at Machpelah were eager to make amends.  Our parents’ lives were hard, their story bittersweet, but no one could deny their love was true.  Why not be grateful for the opportunity to give them as close to a happy ending as can be expected?

Most of us were onboard, and the others simply abstained as we discussed ideas for the inscription. It being my mom, “Wish I’d Brought a Book” would’ve been fitting.  And at the start of each road trip, she’d say, “If there’s something we forgot to pack, we’ll buy a new one or do without.”  This was a monumental journey for our mom, but we finally settled for the simple truth. “In loving memory.”

No bones about it, after fifty years or even just twenty-five, all that remains is ashes and dust.  And their story.  In West Africa they say, “One is not dead until one is forgotten.”  Dear Mom and Dad, that which was surely connected in spirit has been commemorated–and written in stone.  And now I’m lovingly sending your story out to the world.  May it take wing, land where it will, and never be forgotten.

All words and images copyright 2014 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone, But Not Forgotten.

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Responses

  1. What a story. No-one can make stuff up like this. Truth really is stranger than fiction. Never a dull moment in the Bultack family, now or ever, it seems. You breathe so much life into your stories, they’re inspiring. ❤ ❤

    • Thanks so much for your generous response, Tess! Coming from a very fine writer that means a lot!

      • Thank you, Naomi. That’s awfully high praise. I still have a lot of growing to do, but I appreciate your kind support. ❤ ❤

  2. I really enjoyed reading your story, Naomi. It feels so good to have closure and this sounds like a perfect way to close the gap. How sad that rules are made (in the name of God) that hurt people instead of bringing healing and peace.

    • Hi Pat,

      I hadn’t thought about it that way, but, yes, it is definitely closure. It’s gratifying to see rules relax to be more inclusive and welcoming.

  3. It’s funny what you learn in the after-story about people: cemetery plot ownership, grade level attained, and who the father of that child really was are just some of the biggies that have popped up in my extended family. It’s as good as fiction, anyway!

    • It is very interesting, isn’t it? We keep a three foot tall skeleton in our front closet, for fun, and as a reminder that we all have them.

  4. Sometimes it takes awhile for things to be made right, but it will work out in the end.

    • Hi Carol,
      That’s similar to one of my mom’s favorite sayings. “Things always work out for the best.” Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. It’s always good to hear from you.

  5. I’d forgotten that story! Such an amazing one. So glad your parent’ names are engraved in stone together, forever. 🙂

    • Thanks, Sue. Me too. It was also a great comfort to my Aunt Loena, who knew and loved them both.

  6. What a lovely, improbable story. So many coincidences to reach the only ending that creates the perfect, heart-warming conclusion. Imagine, after all those years!

    • Dear June,
      I think my mother was okay with the way things originally played out–she was very pragmatic. But somehow it seems a gentler kinder end to their story. Thanks so much for sharing your very thoughtful response. It is always good to hear from you!

  7. Great story! Did your kids know about this before Kim contacted you?

    • I had taken the kids to Detroit to see both their Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves–in different cemeteries–and explained how it had happened. They were good with it, but we are all glad to have resolution, and as close to a happy ending as we could expect.

  8. What a fascinating story, Naomi! And such a beautiful couple with such wonderful children!

    • Dear George,
      You are too sweet! Thanks so much for the visit, and for making me smile.
      xoxo
      Naomi

  9. I’m glad you have this opportunity to share their story. I’m glad you were allowed to engrave the memory of your mother on the headstone.

    • Hi Patti,
      I have had this story in the back of my mind since it was resolved last summer, but never got around to it. Then when the Weekly Photo Challenge theme came up, ‘Gone But Not Forgotten,” I knew there would never be a better time. Talk about a poke with a sharp stick! It did feel very good to bring my folks together in name and through story. When all is said and done, that is what we have to remember them by.

      • I wondered how you always come up with such well-thought out stories. Nice work, Naomi.

  10. Wonderful post, and I really loved that photo of the stair-step family! z

    • Thank you! That was in the days when they could line us up by age and height at the same time. Couldn’t do it any more–I’m the youngest of five daughters and the tallest.

      • ha! i am the youngest – and tallest – of four girls!

        did you learn to answer to any name?

      • We all answered to ‘dear’!

  11. This is great story dear Naomi, great! Beautiful photographs. Thank you, love, nia

    • Hi Nia,
      Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your really dear comment! It is always good to hear form you!
      Love,
      Naomi

  12. Really, few things stranger than life, Naomi! They are secure in each other, wherever their spirits may have flown. Love a happy ending! Hope the festive season is good to you. 🙂

    • Hi Jo,
      I like to think that is so. I also love a happy ending! Wishing you a wonderful holiday! I am always a little reluctant to let go of autumn, which is my favorite time of the year, but once I do, I love this season of celebration of light that overcomes the darkness.

      • It takes me a while to embrace it, too, but it’s hard not to get excited by the magic of Christmas. Have a lovely one 🙂

  13. Wonderful story; thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Lisa,
      Thanks so much for your generous response! I’m so glad you could stop by.

  14. What an amazing story, Naomi! Cute picture of the whole family. And, I love the bottom picture of your parents looking so happy. 🙂

    • Thank you, Naomi. I am so glad that things worked out for them. I do love that photo of them too.

  15. So beautiful. I love the the West African saying – “One is not dead until one is forgotten.”

    • Hi Lesley, thanks so much for the visit, and your generous response. I hope you are well, and wish you a great holiday season!

  16. Naomi this is a fascinating tale in itself with so many layers that leaves me wanting to know more but am not forgetting that this is very human story too and a touching reunion – I feel like leaving a stone too

    • Dear Laura,
      That is the most wonderful thing you could say, and every bit as meaningful as a pebble on a headstone. Thank you so much for your visit, and for your sharing your generous response.

  17. What a lovely story. thanks for the share…

    • Thank you so much for stopping by! Best wishes for the holiday season!

  18. Dear Naomi,
    I am not sure to have understood the soap opera 🙂 but the it is a great pleasure for us to share this wonderful story with you. Thanks again for having visit us. I am kooking forward to do the same and cross the ocean to visit you!
    Your friend.
    Johan

    • Dear Johan,
      It was a privilege to be able to come meet you in person, and it was so kind of you to take my sister and me to the place where my father and your grandmother met so long ago. I look forward to the opportunity to show you around Seattle.
      (And I should tell you–a soap opera is a melodramatic daytime television program that features tangled interpersonal relationships.)

  19. A very intricate and interesting family story, Naomi. I love that West African saying. 🙂

    • Hi Sylvia,
      Thanks for the visit. They say the wisdom and essence of a culture can be boiled down into a proverb. That one gives me comfort. Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

  20. My dearest, your is an impressively simple directness, with a hint of typical british irony (if you allow me to say so), with which you express the ineffable… “basically not even the bones are there”.
    I think of my beloved father, whose ashes are enclosed in a container in plain sight, in the small family library.
    The cats run around it, my mom talks to the vase, almost dad was really in there to listen to her…
    And every time, always, I’m so aware to realize how important live is… by catching the instant.. right now, in the present!
    After every life, there are others which follow one another… but we can’t know… since all is related to our karma.
    a hug 🙂 claudine

    • Dear Claudine,
      Thank you for sharing your really sweet story that makes me smile and think I would like your whole family very much! Best wishes to you all for a very happy holiday season!
      Hugs to you too!
      Naomi

  21. I am touched! A beautiful, poignant family story!

    • Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your kind response! Best wishes for the holiday season Cybele!

  22. Great story and I love the family photo!

  23. Ahh Naomi, look how it has taken wing and touched us all!!! I love the family portrait, your mom’s sense of humour, and most of all the happy ending. Beautiful writing as always 🙂

    • Hi Madhu, Thank you so much for your visit. I am deeply touched by your very kind and thoughtful response.

  24. Nice post, pulling it all together. I have always loved that picture of them at the end. I will send this link to my kids in case they don’t see it otherwise.
    Thanks, Naomi, with love from your big sis.

    • Thanks, Lee. I love that photo too. The photo of them both that I’d love to find and copy is the one Mom used to keep under the paperweight on her nightstand, with her hair done up in a braid. They looked so young and happy and in love!
      Much love to you and the kids,
      Naomi

  25. Awww, in loving memory is right!
    What a touching and heartfelt post. My heart feels it.

    I love the photograph at the end of the post.
    Your mother so astute in her words. Thanks for sharing Naomi.

    • Dear Ruth,
      Thank you so very much for sharing your very kind and thoughtful response. Hard to put into words how much it means to me.

  26. Thanks for the beautiful story, Naomi. I like to think someone will put a pebble on your Mom’s headstone one day, intuiting how many people loved her. We have a cemetery out here with headstones dating from the late nineteenth century, and it’s rather moving to walk through that section and reflect on how much feeling went into the engravings. Cheers to your mom and dad!

    • Dear Laurel Leigh,
      Thank you for the very sweet words. Whenever I go somewhere new, I like to go walking through the cemetery because the stories just spill out the gates, hang in the air, and call to me. You can learn so much about a place and the people who have lived there. Best wishes to you for the holiday season and the New Year.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

      • Dear Naomi,

        I’m glad to meet another cemetery walker. Despite all the ghost stories we all grew up with, they are such truly wonderful places for finding stories and quiet reflection.

        You have a lovely holiday season as well, and I hope 2015 brings you many smiles and much laughter.

        xo Laurel Leigh

  27. Wow. What a story! I can’t imagine all the feelings that hearing from a stranger brought up. And to try to change thinngs at thos point must have been disconcerting and conflicting. I don’t know what I would have done in the same situation.

    • Dear Juliann,
      Thank you for sharing your response to this post. It was really surprising to hear from Kim at Machpelah, especially because it was something I felt I needed to attend to, but the solution was quite simple. I never doubted for a moment what I wanted and needed to do–but I did feel that I needed to at least consult with my siblings. Those who did not support the idea at least did not obstruct us, and for that I am thankful.

  28. very touching Naomi – Canyon

    • Hi Canyon,
      So glad to hear from you. Thanks for taking the time to comment–it’s interesting to hear what you think. Your mom says you are writing your story, which I think is GREAT! I look forward to reading it.
      Love,
      Naomi

  29. What a beautifully written story! Thank you Naomi.

  30. […] Writing Between the Lines Plot and Counterplot […]

  31. This is so uplifting, Naomi, and shows how complex yet simple life and death are. Thanks for sharing the post with us.

    • Dear Jean,

      Very well said! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing a very thoughtful perception. Who was it who said, “It ain’t over till it’s over!”


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