Beit Almin: Remembrance on the Eve of Yom HaShoah

My grandmother had sad eyes and a big mouth, and she sang solemn songs in forgotten German. She would take me on walks across the cemetery — “ the beit almin,” — right across from her house, and let me play with the pebbles and rocks in her right jacket-pocket.

Her name was Lucy, and she read the obituaries every morning. She told me it was to make sure her name wasn’t in there. I remember it scaring me, thinking that life or death was not decided upon before we had gone through every page. She read each name out loud as she sipped her coffee, and I followed her with bated breath, waiting to see if I would get to keep her.

I still take those walks. Cemeteries are like libraries, one of few places where people still lower their voices and think of an existence beyond their own. A place where you are not expected to meet the gaze of the passers by. But when you do there’s a nod, and then silence, once again.

I took him there. The boy I loved so much. He warmed his hands inside my sweater and it was like the middle part of one of those romantic movies. You know, the part where they laugh and kiss and talk all night. You know it won’t last. You know he’ll end up doing something stupid and it will all fall apart but you keep watching anyway. Because the middle part is so breathtakingly perfect.

I gave the boy a book. My first copy of The Great Gatsby, a hand-me-down hardcopy that my father had given me for my 13th birthday. I inscribed it and he pretended not to see; it was the most exquisite way that my heart had ever been broken.

We stood there from the last rain to the first snow, his hands under my sweater at the Beit Almin. It was the middle part of the movie, and it was perfect.

 

My grandmother had sad eyes and a big mouth, and she painted her eyebrows on every single day. She got confused with age, and they turned out different colors. One red, one green- a humorous contrast to that stern and wrinkled face.

I bet she was more than that. I’m sure she was more than red nails and traffic-light eyebrows, more than perfect beef patties and sunday morning walks. But I don’t know. Lucy was 1001 untold stories; some made up and the rest were best forgotten.

When I walk through the cemetery, I think of her. I think of the man with the cold hands and the stories I hope to leave behind at the house of eternity and what pebbles and rocks will become tales in the mouths of my grandchildren.

I have happy eyes and a big mouth and I read the obituaries every morning. I sip my coffee and I read the names and I know that I get to keep her.

CATEGORY: Sweden, Uncategorized

Annika Hernroth-Rothstein

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