This was originally written in September,2001. It was one of the first pieces I wrote after I made the decision to try to return to journalism after a 20 year sabbatical.
The moment my daughter Berit saw me standing on the steps of her summer school dormitory, she broke into a huge grin, and started running toward me. But, within a split second, she stopped dead in her tracks, her shoulders slumped, her grin turned to sobs—she knew why I was there.
As I came to her with a consoling hug, she said, “Bubba died, didn’t she?”
Ten hours earlier, sitting in the jam- packed lobby of the Original Pancake House in Minneapolis, I’d gotten the phone call from my former husband informing me his mother had died and, in Jewish tradition, would be buried the next day.
We talked details: he and our son Noah would fly to Savannah that afternoon. He said his sister sounded good; he hadn’t spoken with his brother; he said it was really a blessing— at 82, Rose had been in failing health for a long time. Finally he asked, “What should we do about, Berit?’ I volunteered to make the call.
Before leaving for camp, Berit and I had talked about the very real possibility that Bubba Rose might not survive the summer. I thought I had prepared her (and myself) that it would be a logistical nightmare to get her from camp in Chicago in time for the funeral in Savannah.
Now that it was a reality, I wasn’t so confident about our plan. I began envisioning my 12-year-old on the other end of the call. She wouldn’t know what to do. Do you go to class when your grandmother is being buried? Who would comfort her? How does a 12-year -old say good-bye if she doesn't attend the funeral? Twelve-year- olds, I decided, shouldn’t be by themselves when they learn their grandmother has died. So instead of calling her, I called the airlines.
Ten minutes after Berit spotted me on those steps; we were in my rental car, heading toward the hotel. That’s when I realized we needed to have our own memorial service for Rose. The service, I told Berit, would consist of us doing the things Rose loved to do the most.
As soon as we settled in our room, we began our service with jokes. Rose was a great joke teller. As Berit reeled off one joke after another, I reminded her she had inherited her grandmother’s gift for joke telling.
Next we ordered room service: one piece of apple pie a la mode and one cup of coffee.
Rose loved desserts but would never order one unless you agreed to share it with her. Rose also had a rule about coffee: always have a fresh pot ready, and she never drank decaf. Despite the evening hour, I ordered high-test in Rose’s memory.
During our shared dessert, we played the Celebrity Game: one person names someone famous – say George Bush —and the next person has to name someone with the first initial of that last name say, Bill Clinton. Then the next name has to start with a “C,” and so on, and so on. Rose was the quintessential game player – cards, mah- jongg, scrabble, crosswords —it didn’t matter… she loved them all. I reminded Berit that Rose used to play the card game “war” with her.
Next, we watched a movie. Movies were a big part of Rose’s life. Every Saturday night Bubba Rose and Papa Bert would go to dinner and a movie. It was a tradition. When the Academy Award nominations were announced, Rose had always seen every movie.
And finally, Berit and I took out our books. When we lived in the same town, Rose and I would regularly exchange books. On this July night, Berit was reading a John Grisham novel. She asked if I thought Rose had ever read it. “I’m sure she did,” I said. “She loved mysteries. In fact, I added, that’s another thing you inherited from her – she was a voracious reader.”
Later, as we lay chatting in the darkness, I asked Berit how she was feeling. Sounding somewhat guilty, she said, “I thought I would feel really sad, but I don’t. I had fun tonight.”
And with that, I knew we had remembered Rose the very best way we could.