A father's prayer

March 22, 1995|By Beverly Fine

THE POWER of love to overcome the lust for money -- something so rare today -- was demonstrated several months ago at a most unlikely place: a cemetery.

It is the custom among most Jews to conduct a memorial service (Kaddish) at the graveside of a loved one, usually a spouse or a parent, within a year after his or her death. At that time, a monument or marker, is dedicated; and this ceremony, conducted by a rabbi, is called an "unveiling."

The sky on the afternoon of Nov. 1, 1994, the date of my Uncle Aaron's unveiling, was as gray as the granite tombstones in the graveyard. Clusters of dark clouds hung heavily over his grave. Exacerbating the gloom was the rumbling of distant thunder.

When Aaron (not his real name), founder of a lucrative Baltimore business, became ill, the devoted father, then a widower, wrote his will. Though illness had weakened his body, his mind was sharp. In bequeathing his estate, however, my uncle caused a rift to develop between his two sons, who I'll call Neil and Ted to protect their privacy.

Neil, the older brother, had worked in the business since he was a teen-ager. A pleasant boy, he loved working side-by-side with his father. After graduating from college with a degree in business administration, it seemed appropriate that he enter the business.

For 14 years the father-son partnership proved profitable. Despite the influx of major competitors, most of Aaron's customers, appreciative of his fair business dealings and competitive prices, remained loyal to Aaron's business.

Ted, five years Neil's junior, found working in the business boring. Though Aaron offered him equal partnership in the business, he refused.

An adventurous type, Ted preferred to travel and live a carefree life. The handsome vagabond traveled around the country (subsidized by his father). Playing the slots in Las Vegas was a favorite pastime. Sometimes he became entangled in minor misadventures, but "good old dad" always came to his rescue.

In writing his will, Aaron, who loved both of his sons equally, spent soul-searching hours deciding upon the terms of disbursement of his estate. Believing his decision fair, he bequeathed two-thirds of his estate to Neil, who was recently married and soon to become a father. To Ted, he left the remaining third.

After Aaron's death, the family gathered for the reading of the will. There Ted became livid after learning of his inheritance. He slammed his fist so hard on the lawyer's desk that a decanter of water toppled, spilling its contents. Then he lashed out at Neil.

"You!" he shouted, pointing to his brother. "You knew exactly what you were doing all these years, didn't you? You had it all planned, playing the good son and buttering up the old guy, knowing it would pay off when he died." His eyes blazing, Ted hurled a further accusation: "I bet you skimmed some extra bucks off the top when he got too sick to notice. Pretty shrewd, pretty shrewd!"

Enraged by his brother's vitriolic attack, Neil replied: "How dare you accuse me, your own brother, of such despicable lies? It was your decision to leave. I never buttered up anyone in my life. And I resent your referring to our father as 'the old guy.' Have you forgotten how close we all used to be?"

Smiling sardonically, Ted said, "Well, big brother, I can assure you that we'll never be close again. I'm going as far away as I can get. And as for my lousy one-third, for all I care, you can shove it. . . ."

Ted stomped out of the office, slamming the door so hard that its glass rattled.

Almost 11 months passed before Neil, worried about his brother, hired a private investigator to locate him. A month before Aaron's unveiling, Ted was found working in a Las Vegas casino. Having obtained his address, Neil sent Ted an announcement of the time and date of their father's unveiling. On that gray November day, Neil was pleased to see his brother standing among the crowd at the cemetery.

Suddenly, as the memorial service was nearing conclusion, strong winds swept across the cemetery, sending the men's skullcaps (yarmulkes) skyward. A brutal rain forced the crowd to scurry for shelter in the chapel near the cemetery's entrance.

Neil had almost reached the chapel when he heard a cry for help. Upon turning around, he saw that Ted had fallen on the cement pathway. "Don't move!" Neil shouted. He hurried to his brother's side. "It's my ankle," Ted said, biting his lips in pain. "I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk." Neil bent down and said, "Put your arm around me, but don't put any weight on that foot." Carefully, he lifted his brother and, with Ted hopping on the uninjured leg, the two made their way to the chapel.

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