Once every autumn, on my way to Brant Lake, I visit the rural cemetery on the outskirts of Albany. It is a journey into memory. The cemetery lies beyond a meadow where horses graze and September asters, blue and delicate, pay homage to the evolving seasons. Last year, a small tractor, its young driver mowing the last of the summer grass, wove in and out of tombstones with the names Barnet, Muhlfelder, Boocheever, a chronicle of families who had settled along the red brick streets of early Albany.
As I left my car the youth turned off his lawn mower—perhaps out of respect for my pilgrimage. By the side of the path I found the stone for which I was searching. Letters were incised into the gray granite:
Rabbi Samuel Wolk
Rabbi of Congregation Beth Emeth
My father was a gentle man who served his people with warmth and understanding—one of a generation now departed, yet dad continued to be a part of the congregation, whenever his story was told and retold.
On the rough crest of the tombstone a row of small stones, perhaps a hundred or more, lay along the surface. Placing stones, a tradition when visiting the grave of a Jewish person who has died, makes a simple statement: “I was there.” The stones intone, “You are not forgotten.” Why stones instead of flowers? Perhaps because stones never perish. They are indestructible, and as long as we tell tales of those we love, even when they no longer walk within our midst, their legacy is also indestructible.
Who placed those remnants on my father’s grave? Not family. I have a small family and they are scattered in distant places. Probably the stones were left by members of dad’s congregation. The young. The elderly. Those who were part of the story. Those who my father touched. I also placed a single stone, taken from the ground but, symbolically, stored in the deepest recesses of my heart for that is where our departed dwell.
So, each year I visit the rural cemetery on a country lane outside of Albany. I place a stone on my father’s grave, and this year I heard, high on the branch of a tired beech tree, the gentle cooing of a mourning dove, an elegy in song, resonating in the land of silence.
Generations come and go, vanishing into eternity, but they never disappear. It is written: “As long as we live, they too shall live, since they are now a part of us, as we remember.”