Widower finishes unchained melody

Love: More than two years after his wife's death, a man ends his ritual of trumpet serenades at her gravesite.

Coda for unchained melody

October 16, 2003|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Bernie Goodman promised that as long as he was well, he wouldn't stop. As long as he had the strength, he would not let a day go by without spending that hour at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cemetery in Reisterstown with his wife, Goldye.

He would stand amid the green, rolling slopes next to her graveside, lips pressed against a glimmering Vincent Bach trumpet, and serenade his beloved with a repertoire of melodies she loved best: "More," "There Will Never Be Another You," "When I Fall in Love," "Embraceable You," "Love Letters."

Goodman has never doubted that Goldye has heard every note of his 932 visits since he began the musical memorial in June 2001, eight days after her death from cancer. He placed in her casket, next to her left ear, a miniature gold trumpet.

But yesterday, on their 53rd wedding anniversary, the white-haired trumpeter raised his horn above his wife's grave for what would be a final daily performance. The trumpet solo that was once his welcome became his goodbye.

He will no longer brave rain, wind and snow to play by her side once, twice, sometimes three times a day. He will no longer be the cemetery fixture drawing the curiosity of groundskeepers and funeral processions. He will no longer be there to comfort fellow mourners, strangers all, who found solace in his harmonies and often requested a song for a loved one buried on the grounds.

Over the past six months, as the pages have turned to a new chapter in his life, the desire to linger at the graveyard on Berrymans Lane has left Goodman. He has come to realize he need not perform the cemetery serenades to feel close to his wife of 50 years. He is beginning to let go. "It's devastating in the beginning when you lose someone, but over time the grief lessens," says Goodman, who dreamed of becoming a musician but joined his father in the uniform-rental business. "I don't have to go out there as much. She's with me every hour, every minute, every day. I feel that. It's time for me to put my life totally together."

`Hi, honey'

So yesterday at 2 p.m., as he has done nearly every day for the past 28 months, Bernie parked his silver Honda Accord on the curving lane that surrounds Goldye's plot. He unzipped the faded burgundy "gig bag" in the passenger seat and gently pulled out his trumpet.

Across the backseat lay the music stand he usually sets up with sheet music and pictures of Goldye, but he knew it wouldn't withstand the wind. So he left it behind, opened the car door and walked the familiar 15 feet until he reached a bronze marker bordered by two red roses that read: "Beloved Wife, Mother & Grandmother."

Each time, his hello to Goldye begins the same way. Goodman picks up one of the 50 stones that frame her gravestone - each representing a year of their marriage - and kisses it. He bends over and looks down to the earth and then, after kissing his hands, touches the soil and says, "Hi, honey."

The cemetery is the only place where he talks to Goldye. As Goodman stood in the gusty wind under a tall green tree next to the grave, he told Goldye that he still remembers that moment 59 years ago when he first set eyes on her. Goldye Katzewitz, then a bubbly 14-year-old from Garrison Junior High in Northwest Baltimore, was at a party at Dolly Libauer's house. He recalls feeling the first inklings of love as he stared at Goldye, who was wearing a green sweater and leaning against a piano. (Goldye always recalled the clothing detail differently, once sending him a card that read: "Honey, it was a PINK sweater." He insists it was green. They never did agree on that.)

"I still love you," Bernie told her and then raised his trumpet to serenade Goldye. As he sounded the notes of "When I Fall In Love," the wind tossed his shock of white hair and rustled the tree leaves so forcefully that it sounded like waves crashing on the beach. "I have some reservations [about ending the visits], but I really have to continue with my life," Goodman said before his 933rd visit with Goldye. "I'm ready for it."

`Life goes on'

And so at 75, he is beginning again.

Most importantly, Goodman has a new friend in his life.

He also has a part-time job with a T-shirt company in Owings Mills. He volunteers at a prison in Jessup. He helps his son, Richard, with his janitorial supply company.

He plays in rehearsal bands and frequents his alma mater, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he was recently invited to practice with the jazz band once a week.

In short, life is happening to Bernie Goodman.

He confesses his blossoming relationship with a "lovely" woman affected the decision to end his daily memorials. The pair, both widowed, met last year, and after a few dates, Goodman said, he realized the "chemistry is right." He doesn't want to burden her with his grief. She, too, has lost someone.

"It isn't fair for me to have her subjected to that type of thing," Goodman says, referring to his rendezvous at the gravesite. "She loves her husband and I love my wife, but life goes on."

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