Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tombstones and Fairgrounds

Two events to report this week. First, last weekend Ellen and I went to Milwaukee to attend a Jewish service/ceremony called "Setting the Stone." It is a custom among some Jews not to put up a tombstone until a year has passed since a person’s death. Ellen and I had a friend named Sherwin Kader for many, many years – I used him as a character in my first published novel, Murder at the War, and used his real name (at his request) for a character in Ashes to Ashes. I knew him as Solly (for his SCA name of Solomon ben Jacob the Levite – he was very proud of his Jewish faith, can you tell?). Solly took up everything he did with passion. Not only was he a passionate Jew, he was a passionate member of the Robert Burns Society. So at the ceremony of the unveiling of his tombstone, not only his son the Rabbi spoke, so did the president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Robert Burns Society, an authentic Scot with a brogue so thick he was difficult to understand. It is also a custom when visiting a Jewish cemetery to put a small stone or pebble on the tombstone marking the grave of the person visited. There were a great many stones put on Solly’s marker, ranging in size from thumbnail to fist, a touching thing to see. We went back to his house after, where there was an awful lot of food waiting to be eaten, another Jewish custom -- but one shared by my Irish ancestors. The whole time Solly's spirit was so strongly present I could feel his strong arms around my shoulders and hear his powerful voice in my ears. We came back home on Sunday and I can still feel him near. The odd thing is, I wasn’t his closest friend, and I’m wondering if everyone who came is being haunted (in a warm, friendly, unnerving way) by Solly.

Second, I’ve made two trips to our State Fair, researching a short story I want to write for a new anthology from the editors who brought you Silence of the Loons and Resort to Murder. This will be called Murder on a Stick, and I want my short story to be called "It Slices, It Dices." I’m sure if you’ve ever been to a fair you’ve seen those booths with a man using a small knife to work miracles with fruit and vegetables. Making a palm tree out of a carrot and a green pepper, a rose from a radish, turning a potato into a pretty coil of circles. "Tell ya what I’m gonna do," he’ll say and make you a package offer of the potato peeler, the paring knife, the filet knife, and the hollow thing you stick into an orange to make it possible for your child to suck the juice out – and, of course, the CD to tell you how to do all those wonderful things with the Handy Dandy True Steel Eversharp Knife. He makes it look so easy! Part of the secret is the extreme sharpness of his blade. Which, naturally for a mystery author, turns her mind to murder. The interesting problem of murder at the Minnesota State Fair is, of course, what to do with the body? The place is crowded, fenced, and has few places locked against casual visitors. Even at night, when paying customers go home, there are police patrols, people taking care of the animals, and vendors straightening up for tomorrow. Well, I think I’ve found a place to dump a body, if my murderer can get it over there. It's a place everyone tends to stay away from or, if forced to visit, doesn’t look close or stay very long. Think about it: there are hundreds of cows, pigs, horses, sheep, llamas, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and God knows what other varieties of animals entered in competition for blue ribbons at the fair. They have to be fed and watered, and you know what happens to animal that’s been fed and watered. It was an interesting trip down among the animal barns, trying to find out where the effluent is put, and who takes it away, and how often. It was interesting to discover our fair is so big it has its own police department. It was interesting to find out how many booths offer knives, and who runs them, and how they have two barkers who switch off every hour. It will be interesting to see if I can get the doggone story done by the deadline of October 1.


Camille Minichino said...

I wonder how long he spends sharpening his axe -- I mean blade before he cuts with it! :=))

I'm on an Oct 1 deadline too, Monica. Maybe we should form a support group!

Monica Ferris said...

Only problem is, getting to the meetings will seriously cut into writing time!

traveler said...

I enjoyed your blog today about Solly. Yes, the stone is unveiled 6 months to a year after the death. After the service at their home they always serve a great variety of food. The family sits Shiva for a week. Thanks for this lovely and interesting memorial. Loved it since I am Jewish.

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm a little late with a comment since it's Thursday night almost midnight. I like your posts as I feel like I'm getting to go with you.

Good luck to you and Camille on your deadlines.