“Daddy, come back,” my little sister demanded, as the last of my father’s ashes splattered into the Coney Island waters.
Fishermen at the end of the pier caught on to where my father was headed, and let us”have it” in Italian expletives.
It had not been a good year.
First, the good news: My sister gave birth to a baby girl named Sophia.
The next day, Mom died. A few weeks later, Dad followed suit.
My mother had the perfect New York funeral: Frank E. Campbell’s on Madison Avenue, with whispering white flowers, eloquent elegies from family and friends. She wouldn’t have had it any other way. If we had even said the words “Coney Island,” she would still be haunting us.
My father, on the other hand, left it to our imagination as to where to dispose of his remains. Directing his own funeral must not have been high on his priority list.
“I can take his ashes back to Palm Beach with me,” I offered.
Our family had spent time there, and Palm Beach is, after all, Palm Beach.
My aunt asked to take him to East Hampton where my father had lived, loved and died.
Cut to the New York subway. “We’re going to Coney Island with Dad,” my brother Michael informed us.
No one had the energy to question or challenge this decision. Vulnerability loves a leader.
Coney Island: Native Americans named it “Narrioch, the land without shadows.” But, shadows there were: shadows of other times, of magicians, actors, jugglers, Yiddish theater and vaudeville.
Now there would be shadows of my father, his humor, kindness, his New York nativity and life.
So there we were on the subway: my brother, my sister Sam rocking Sophia in a baby carriage, my cousin Peggy, and her daughter Claire. My aunt had been invited along but declined because she’d “had enough.”
Within seconds of dispersing the microscopic bits that had once comprised our beloved dad, my sister exclaimed, “Dad, come back!” Right then, a wave hurled the ashes back into her face. It was New York Gallows’ humor at its deepest, darkest, and most flirtatious. And it felt right.
It was a brutally hot and humid day.
Claire swam in the ocean, and Peggy settled in to Nathan’s where she ate….frogs’ legs… a lot of frogs’ legs. Nathan’s very own cuisses de grenouilles. Who knew?
My brother chowed down on a lot of something especially repulsive to the mourning eye. I declined to eat at all.
I’d never seen ashes before. They had arrived as I was leaving for the airport to go back to Florida. The doorman nervously said that he had a package for me and then played hot potato with my dad-in-a-box.
They were addressed to my aunt at our address. It was a miracle that we ever received them.
The day we left the apartment for our Coney Island goodbye, we ran into my parents’ friend, Cynthia, who lived in our building. She looked at the box of ashes and greeted them with a wave and a “Goodbye, Lewis.”
Thankfully, he didn’t answer.
Ashes to ashes.
As we left for the subway at the end of the journey, Peggy and I led the way out. After several pointless circles, Claire, who was not quite ten, took over and maneuvered us out of there. If not for her, we might still be wandering.
As much as my mother would have loved the Campbell’s touch, my father would have applauded the Coney Island send-off.
A famous director had escorted Jackie Kennedy there for a nosh at Nathan’s: the only appropriate outing for the First lady who had everything.
The roller coasters, the memories, the funky history and its own remains. Most importantly, the children he had raised, who had enough New York chutzpah to smuggle some mischief and a touch of joie de vivre into his denouement.
“Goodbye, Lewis.” We miss you very, very much.
Featured image courtesy of Fine Art America