Silence, This Week

Image: A portrait of my mother. Photo courtesy of my niece, Ashley Parkes. Unfortunately I do not know the name of the original artist.

Baruch Dayan emet. [Blessed is the True Judge.]

The blog will be silent this week, as I observe shivah for my mother, Valere Potter Menefee. Her funeral will be Monday, July 3 at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville TN. Because of my recent health difficulties, I am unable to travel. I will be observing shivah here in California beginning Monday evening.

Jewish mourning practice dictates that I spend a several days quietly doing the work of grief. Therefore this blog will be silent while I am busy with that work.

A few words about my mother:

Valere Potter Menefee was born June 21, 1931, the youngest of three children. She was predeceased by her parents, her brother Justin Potter, Jr., her sister, Anne Potter Wilson, and husband, Albert L. Menefee, Jr. Mama attended the Peabody Demonstration School, Ward Belmont Preparatory School, and Vassar College.

Mama studied dance with Albertine Maxwell from a very early age and danced as an adult with the St. Louis Ballet Company and with Adolph Bolm in Los Angeles. She also danced with a company that performed traditional Indian dance to the accompaniment of Ravi Shankar. Mama’s high standards for professional behavior in the arts were a major influence on me growing up. I wasn’t built to be a dancer, but her disdain for what she called “tricks” and cheapness in performance have stayed with me all my life. She used to say that the most miserable days of dance rehearsal were by far the most productive, a maxim that has carried me through many a challenge.

After her graduation from Vassar and her time as a dancer, she went to work for WSIX (now WKRN) in Nashville, TN. Her job, she used to say, was “chief cook and bottle washer” – she did a little of everything, writing ad copy, marketing, voice-overs, and a bit of on-air work in a pinch.

Mama married my father, Albert Menefee, Jr., in June of 1954. She used to tell the story that she met him on a blind date set up by their mutual friend, Bill Baird. She loved raw onions, and forgot to skip them when she ate dinner before he arrived. So she greeted him at the front door with a green onion, saying, “Eat this.” He liked green onions, and he liked the woman offering the the green onion – it was a match.

Mama had five children in eight years. I cannot really fathom how exhausting that must have been, to have so many little ones and be pregnant yet again, to drive all those children all the places they needed to be, and to keep up with all of us.

Mama loved the arts. She was emphatic that literacy meant being able to read English and music, so we all had piano lessons. I was terrible at the piano but when I switched to playing classical guitar, she was very supportive.

Mama converted to Roman Catholicism while she was a student at Vassar. She was deeply serious about it, serving as president of the Nashville chapter of the Ladies of Charity, and in later life serving as an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister for the Cathedral of the Incarnation, taking communion to parishioners at Baptist Hospital and area nursing homes. She insisted on Catholic educations for all three daughters, and drove us from our home in Williamson County to St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville every day. That was a round trip of 25 miles, twice a day, often including stops to chase the neighbors’ livestock out of the road and back onto their property.

She was devoted to the Dominican Sisters who owned the school. One rainy day she lent her raincoat to a bedraggled young sister. Only later did she realize that she had left a pack of Camels with a lighter in the pocket. She was horrified, and so was Sister Assumpta when she got to the Motherhouse and found she had a pocket full of contraband!

Mama taught me how to let the air out of tires. We had a problem with “city people” who’d come to the farm to hunt without permission, or just to torment the livestock. We’d find buckshot in the cows’ rumps, and occasionally the visitors would start a forest fire. Mama’s approach was indirect but effective: people soon learned that if they left their vehicle parked on our land, they’d come back to four flat tires. The offenders never returned, and word got around – an elegant solution, really.

Mama had her imperfections, as we all do. Many of hers came from a lonesome childhood with troubles no child would have survived unscathed. She once turned up at my dorm room in college, demanding (that’s the only way to put it) that I take her to the library to look up “something” in the newspaper files. It turned out that what she was after were the newspaper accounts of her brother’s suicide in 1941. “Weebuddy” was 15 when he died; I knew she had worshiped him. It turned out that the adults had chosen not to tell her why he disappeared. I guess they couldn’t figure out what to tell a 10 year old or were so lost in their own pain that they couldn’t tell her. The topic of his death was forbidden at home, so she had only scraps of information about it until we read the story in the microfiche of The Tennessean archive at UTK.

Mama and I had a difficult relationship. I’m not going to get into that, out of respect. I just want to acknowledge it. I loved her, and I’m glad that the last time I saw her I had the opportunity to tell her so.

So this week I’m grieving. Obviously I’m no longer a Catholic, I’m a Jew, so I’m mourning as a Jew. Sitting shivah is what we do. It’s elective if the parent who died was not Jewish, but I learned when my father died that it is a mistake to skip shivah. Big losses need big acknowledgement.

So this blog will be silent until next Shabbat. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading.

 

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rabbiadar

Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

48 thoughts on “Silence, This Week”

      1. So very sorry about Mama. She was a lovely lady and quite a character!! Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

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  1. A lovely memorial. I am so sorry that you cannot travel to Nashville, and I hope your health problems resolve soon.

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  2. How beautiful. And you have details I had forgotten, or never knew. Next time we see each other, I would like to share the experience of her last week plus some. It was truly a lesson in love, both ways. I had the honor of being physically in touch with her in her last moments.

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  3. It’s always stunning to lose a parent. The loss is a small seizmic shift in generations. When my mother died, six years after my dad, my brother and I realized that we were not only grieving for our mom, but for our parents, as a couple. My heart goes out to you, as you grieve and remember.

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  4. I’m so very sorry, Rabbi Ruth. May her memory be for a blessing to you and the rest of your family. Hugs and wishes for a speedy refuah shleimah to you as well. I found Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel to be a very welcoming place for a woman saying Kaddish for a non-Jewish mother, for what it’s worth. Rabbi Cohen and Maharat Victoria Sutton were both very solicitous. I went there on Sunday mornings, and to Beth Abraham on Mondays and Thursdays, and early on to Netivot Shalom on Wednesdays. I think all would be accessible to those on wheels.

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  5. Sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. Your profile of her was lovely. It was also typical of what you write; specific, compassionate and always willing to embrace the complex. All the best to you this week. Much love and appreciation.

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  6. Dear Rabbi Ruth,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. May your mother’s memory be for a blessing.

    I know from personal experience that the death of a parent with whom we have a ‘challenging’ relationship can raise unexpected issues.

    I hope you find solace and peace at this time.

    Fran

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  7. As others have so beautifully stated, you wrote a lovely and loving tribute of your mother. It truly gave us a sense of who she was – and I know now where your kind and loving attributes came from.

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  8. Hi I lost both of my parents last year my mom first and then my dad 4 months later…I liked your comment about honoring the space for their accomplishments..also honoring your grief. Totally made sense. Hang in there. Therese

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      1. It comes and goes between trying to heal from two operations and my parents dying and now …My daughter who found out she’s has endomeitrosis and is always in pain or overwhelmed with life ( her view right now is tha that all of life’s possibiltes have been torn from her hands-work as a chemist, chonic pain, not being able to finish up her PHD, or have a child . She’s overwhelmed. I think that life didn’t give me much time to heal -so my mom and did ” come and go” if that makes sense.It’s been a very strange year and half. I’m sorry for your loss as well therese

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        1. I am so sorry. I do not understand why hard things so often travel in packs, but they do. Endometriosis is horrible, and watching someone you love with a broken heart is, too.

          Healing sometimes means “getting all better” and sometimes it means getting to a place of peace. I thank you for your good wishes and I wish you and your daughter a refuah shleimah, a profound healing.

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