Uh-oh, Wrong Funeral
January 8, 1960
Viewed through the wiper smudged windshield, outside, striated with streaks of black, the sky appeared to be muddy gray. Too cold this morning for any accumulation, a light granular dusting of snow speckled the windshield of the Ford convertible.
Leaving a bit less than an hour ago, well before the start of the viewing, condolence period and service, due to the fact that the family deemed Morris no longer able to drive safely, because their apartment was on the way, Walter, Myra and Morton had stopped to pick up Myra’s parents on the way to the mortuary.
Michael left in the care of the Brandt’s, – a neighbor of Myra and Walter who had a child the age of Michael – thick plumes of vapor streaming from mouths and nostrils, Marsha and Mitchell in the front of the frigid car with Lawrence and Emma Lipensky’s oldest and dearest surviving friend, Libby Leibowitz in the rear.
Having been in America since the age of nine, “Nu, Mitchell,” cold, but for Libby more than cold, impatient to be at the funeral of her oldest and dearest friend, speaking with a slight Russian accent, “are you going to be able to make it start?”
“You probably got it flooded now.”
“What the hell do you know?” Glancing at his brother in the rear view mirror, “You don’t even drive yet!” Looking at Libby over his right shoulder, “It always starts!” he said, muttering to himself, “Almost.”
“Yeah, it always starts...” Crossing his arms across his chest, Larry beat his hands on his shoulders in comic, or, because it really was freezing in the car, maybe not such a comic, exaggerated motion to keep warm. “...except today.”
Having stopped pumping the accelerator, now holding the peddle firmly against the deck, “Shut up, twerp!” Mitchell said as he turned the key that always... well, usually gave ignition to the motor. But today, rather than what usually occurred on frigid days: the metallic humming of the starter, a moments hesitation, then, until he eased up on the peddle, would come the simultaneous roar of the ‘V6’ motor along with a fart of noxious, blue-gray exhaust that emitted from the tail-pipe.
Today, though – with the possible exception of the sound of a shotgun shell being pumped into the breech of a shotgun in a dark room to one that should not be in that dark room – Today, though, came one of the most repugnant sounds known to any human-being: the nerve-shattering, diminishing sound of a rapidly dying car battery.
“So?” Her voice tinged with not only impatience but anger, too. “Nu, Mitchell?”
Turning the key to ‘Off’, lifting his foot from the accelerator, turning in the seat, “Libby, I can’t help it! I’m doing everything I can... Okay,” he conceded, looking at his brother, “It probably is flooded, so...”
“And now you’ve killed the battery!”
“So...” he said, gazing angrily at Larry – his look telling his brother to ‘shut the hell up’ – “before I kill the battery altogether, why don’t we all go back in the house and wait a few minutes, then I’ll come out and try again.”
Going to this funeral because she knew it was the right thing to do, but really not wanting to attend another funeral that soon after the death of her father; knowing the memories that were still so vivid in her mind would completely resurface. Truly not caring, actually hoping the car wouldn’t start, “Yeah, good idea.” Opening the door, stepping out of the car, holding the back forward, thinking, I’ll let her sit in the front when we go, if we go. Marsha helped a muttering Libby Leibowitz out of the rear seat.
Back in the house, their coats off, sitting impatiently, forced to hear a muttering Libby Leibowitz mutter, “I knew I should have gone sooner! I knew I should have gone with Walter!” Glaring at Mitchell, “Nu, Mitchell, how can I possibly miss the funeral of my oldest, dearest friend?”
Having nothing to say, looking at her, shrugging his shoulders, Mitchell looked away.
Waiting five minutes, “Okay,” Mitchell put his coat on. “Let’s see if she’ll start now.”
Back outside, getting in the car, fighting the temptation to pump the gas, pressing the accelerator to the deck, thinking God, please, God, let it start! Turning the ignition key from vertical to horizontal, overjoyed to hear that, indeed, the battery had resurrected itself, holding his breath...
The metallic humming of the starter, then, with a shudder, the simultaneous roar of the ‘V6’ motor along with a fart of noxious, blue-gray exhaust....
Sitting in the rear, “ ‘Uh-oh’ what, Mitchell?” Marsha asked.
“Where we going?”
“To the chapel!”
“Yeah, Libby, I know! But which chapel?”
Most Jews living on Chicago’s north side gave their family business to one of two funeral parlors: ‘Weinstein’ or ‘Piser’.
“Piser!” Libby said.
“No,” Marsha corrected, “Weinstein! I’m sure it’s Weinstein!”
“I d’know,” Larry added. “I kind’a think it’s Piser, too.”
Thinking a moment, “Yeah, me, too.” Mitchell said.
“I’m sure your bubby’s at Weinstein!”
“It’s three to one.”
“Mitchell, I’m telling you, the funeral’s at Weinstein!”
“Know what, Marsha? You’re not always right!”
“Okay, Mitchell, whatever you say. You’re driving.”
The attending funeral director at Piser said, “Lipensky? There’s no Lipensky internment here today. You must want Weinstein.”
Rushing a, by this time, more than just a muttering Libby Leibowitz, a sheepish Larry and an, oh, yeah, more than slightly smug Marsha back to the car, leaving the mortuary on Peterson Avenue, thinking, A cop – where ya goin’ buddy ,to a funeral? – Yeah, maybe, if they get stopped by a cop, maybe they could get an escort. But as the Ford convertible sped the few miles from Piser to Weinstein... Where’s a cop when you need one? When they finally did get to the mortuary on Lincoln Avenue, Uh-oh! the parking lot was all but empty.
Telling everyone to wait in the car this time, running into the mortuary, “Lipensky! When’d the Lipensky funeral leave here?”
The black suited man, in an appropriately somber voice said, “The Lipensky procession left for Waldheim, oh, five, ten minutes ago.”
“Where do we catch them?” In near panic, ”How they going?”
“Well, if you rush...”
Sure pal ,Mitchell thought, what the hell you think I’ve been doing?
“...you may be able to catch them someplace on Peterson...”
“Peterson? We just came from Peterson.”
“Or,” the funeral director went on, “on Cicero. They’re taking Peterson to Cicero, Cicero south to Roosevelt, then west on Roosevelt to ‘Waldheim’.”
The Jewish cemetery is located south-west of Chicago, between the cities of Forest Park and Berwyn; seemingly, so Mitchell had always thought because of the distance from wherever he’d lived, Waldheim Cemetery was– and in a way it is – at the end of the earth.
“Peterson to Cicero, Cicero to Roosevelt.” Mitchell repeated as he turned away. “Yeah, thanks.”
Grabbing his elbow, “Hold on!”
“When you catch up, if you catch up, if you don’t want to be stopped by the police for following
the procession through lights...”
Who’d, Mitchell thought, want to get stopped by a cop?
“... you’ll need a tag.”
Following the man into an office, Mitchell was handed a white, 9X9 paper placard with a Star of David and the word ‘FUNERAL’ printed in dark blue ink, with sticky strips along the top and bottom.
“So?” Asked Marsha as he got into the car.
“Nu?” Asked Libby as he got into the car.
“Peterson,” he said, sticking the placard onto the windshield. “The guy there said we should be able to catch up with them on Peterson or Cicero,” adding an unheard, “maybe.”
Speeding west on Peterson – and still no cop – breathing a sigh of relief, sure enough, about two blocks ahead, “There they are!” He saw a long, unbroken line of cars making a left turn onto Cicero Avenue without stopping for the light – but, some small portion of his brain telling him this was too easy – speeding up, pushing harder on the accelerator, scooting through the amber light as it turned to red, the mud splattered, dark blue convertible became the last car in the procession.
Relaxing for the first time in well over an hour, “Good!” Libby said, “It’s good I’ll be at the funeral of my oldest and dearest friend, Emma.”
“Yeah, we’re glad we’re here, too! Ain’t we, you two?”
Enjoying the drama, “Yeah, Mitch!” Larry said.
And, “Oh. yeah!” Marsha said.
As always, the ride from the far north side of Chicago through the south-west side of Chicago and the cities of Cicero and Berwyn confirmed Mitchell’s opinion that, yes, Waldheim Cemetery is at the end of
Finally, approaching the area of the cemetery, the procession turned right onto Desplaines and, taking a left, the line of cars slowed, then stopped altogether as the hearse and lead cars funneled through the gate into the cemetery complex.
On the south side of the roadway, to the left was a long, eight foot high concrete wall. On the right, to the north, a black, seven foot high wrought iron fence.
Now, because the cars were stopped... “Uh-oh!”
“ ‘Uh-oh’, Mitchell? What’s with the ‘uh-oh’?” Libby asked.
Quiet, staring to be sure what he saw he was really seeing but, “Uh-oh!”
The placards stuck onto the windshields of the cars before him were not white with the Star of David upon them but rather, dark blue with the white emblem of a Cross.
“Uh-oh!” Because rather than turning to the left, passing beneath the entrance with the Star of David above it, the procession of cars were passing through the entrance with the sign of a Cross above going into, “Uh-oh!” Concordia Cemetery.
Waldheim being huge, with at least six entrances, Mitchell did not find the funeral of his grandmother, and Libby Leibowitz did not attend the funeral of her oldest and dearest friend, Emma, and because of this: Not caring why the car wouldn’t star, nor understanding how anyone with any intelligence could possibly fall in line and follow the wrong funeral procession... a ‘goyish’ funeral procession yet, Libby thought Mitchell Lipensky an idiot and true , he did feel bad about it, but also knew he’d done everything possible to get to the funeral on time... Besides, he thought that rushing to, then following the wrong procession was kind of funny, in a macabre way.
As for the two in back: Thinking this was just about the funniest thing that had happened to Mitchell since he’d accidentally stepped into the bucket of water at Polk Brothers, grasping the other’s knee with one hand, trying to hold it down for Libby’s sake, not doing a really great job of it, Larry and Marsha had their other hands clamped across their mouths to keep from laughing hysterically.