When I was a little boy my grandfather, who we called Pop, (I suppose because my dad called him Pop), used to talk about the “society.” I had no idea what a society was, but he would refer to it as a group of people to which he belonged. He was a proud member, and that was obvious because when he spoke of them either his eyes would shine with great pride from being a member, or they would well up when speaking of a member who had just past on. All I could gather from him at my young age was that his association with these people of the “society” was way more than being part of a group. It was part of who he was.
As time went on I came to understand that this was a group of people from the small village in Russia where he was born and where he grew up, and who immigrated to the United States. There was no question that they would stay in contact, even though some of them went to different cities in the US. They felt a kinship that spanned the world, their differences, and the eventuality of the rest of their lives. A poignant story about Pop that I always think of was when one day he looked sad and I asked him what was wrong? He told me that the society bought a part of Beth David cemetery in Elmont many years ago for the members to use when they died. He was in charge of giving the plots to the families when it was needed. Some of the members felt that he should give that job to a younger person. Pop was 85 and it was a request that made him acknowledge his mortality. Up to that time he, being such an upbeat guy, never thought of himself as getting older, and it was always the others who would need the plots and he would always be there to give it to them. He never saw the need to pass on this responsibility. That was the reason for his sadness.
Today because life deals tough blows I felt what Pop felt so many years ago. I too belong to a society. While I don’t know the name of Pop’s society (shame on me) I do know that mine is called Burnett Street. It’s not a village in another country, but a street in what others might consider a strange land. In Brooklyn, one block of four coop buildings, I grew up with so many people. I shared my childhood with friends that I am still close with for 60 years. Others grew up there of different generations and they too stayed in touch all these years. Burnett Street was a special place. We shared the most prized time of our lives. That of our childhood. In this current age of people harping on the differences between each other we all felt that we were the same. That’s how come we all feel as family today. And today the first member of our generation has passed on. (other than decades ago) Rhona was there for all of my life. She was my age, and my memories of her go back so far. Rhona was a pure golden soul. Goodness was all she knew. She only brought light to our world, and every time I saw her she brought light to me. She was one of many threads that created the fabric of Burnett Street. Now that Rhona is gone we will all feel that something is missing, and she will be missed. But her part of the fabric of our Street will always remain. I feel my mortality today more than ever. Just like Pop did, I realize that it won’t be everyone else that has to pass on, but me as well. I feel the sadness that Pop felt that day when he realized his mortality, and yet today more than I have in a long time, I feel the joy and pride of being a member of Burnett Street. Rhona, with just a smile would give you a good feeling when you saw her, and now that she is gone I get that same feeling when I think of her. I pray, that through all their wonderful memories, her family who knew her best can carry on this same way.