The Bitter and the Sweet

Backyard Roses. Photo by Beth Ben-Avraham, Beersheba, Israel, 2019.

On March 24, 1976, two policemen knocked on the door of my apartment in student housing at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. The policemen told me that they had received a message; I was to call my father’s music store in Jackson. Both my former wife and I were attending MSU. I had recently completed my time in the Army. We hadn’t much money and didn’t have a phone. Together, we walked to the laundromat, where there was a public telephone. I dialed my father’s store.

We had spent the previous weekend visiting my father in Jackson. At the time, he was living alone at my childhood home on Killarney Street in South Jackson. My sister lived nearby. My wife and I cleaned the house a bit, and I had the opportunity to talk with Dad. I always enjoyed our conversations. He was in ill health, but as my wife and I walked to the phone, I consoled myself with the idea that I was to call his place of business. He must be OK, I thought, but still I wondered why I needed to call.

My late brother-in-law answered the phone. “I have some bad news, buddy,” he said. “Your dad had a heart attack this morning and died.” I lost my ability to speak. My wife, standing beside me, asked what the matter was. I couldn’t tell her. I handed her the phone.

After the call, we walked back to our apartment to close it up and get ready for our drive to Jackson. Jackson is about 130 miles from Starkville. It would take us about two and a half hours to get there. I would need to do the driving since my wife didn’t yet have her license. It was raining. Our truck’s wipers didn’t work well. I had to turn them on and off repeatedly during our drive. From time to time, overcome with grief, I would scream out the window into the Mississippi countryside, like a sick or wounded animal. My wife sat beside me patiently in silence.

Ever since my father’s death, spring has given rise to mixed feelings in me. For many people, spring is their favorite season. After a long, cold, winter, to feel the change in the air, to see the trees waking from their sleep, and the blossoming of flowers is glorious. Life begins again. But for me, since Dad’s death, the season always comes wrapped in a shroud.

Not long ago, I posted a blog about finding a collection of William Wordsworth’s poetry one summer in Canada. One of Wordsworth’s poems, Lines Written in Early Spring, captures much of the emotion I experience in spring. Wordsworth wrote and published the poem in 1798. The first stanza is as follows:

I HEARD a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

Lines Written in Early Spring. Wordsworth’s Poetical Works, Oxford University Press, 1928.

If you would like to read Wordsworth’s complete poem, you can find it here. I encourage you to do so. Time spent reading Wordsworth is time well-spent.

My dog, Kulfi, takes me for a walk three times a day. The middle one is our favorite. Conditions permitting, we go to a park near us. He lingers over all the plants and flowers. Sometimes, he will stop and face into the breeze, his nose twitching all the while. I sit on a bench in the sun, close my eyes, and feel its warmth. I am in that sweet mood, as Wordsworth describes it, when pleasant thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind. As I sit here in a park in Israel, my dog beside me, my eyes closed, I remember. For me, springtime will always bring the bitter with the sweet. But then, so does all of life.

At our wedding, my wife Beth walked down the aisle to meet me under the chuppah to the perfect song, Al Kol Eleh, written by Naomi Shemer. “Over the honey, over the bee sting, grant a blessing!” My wish to all in these difficult times.

All the best,
Gershon

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