I just read on Roger Ebert's website that Lou Jacobi died. Ebert reminds us of two of Jacobi's great roles: the cross-dresser in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex and the outraged Uncle Gabriel in Avalon--and for me that is the lasting image, the uncle standing there, railing at everyone for carving the turkey without him, the big shots out in the suburbs leaving everything behind--everything, not just him. It is a painful scene for me to watch, familiar from my own childhood--my grandparents in South Philadelphia, the Sicilian block with the water ice stand on the corner, little pieces of lemon rind in the sweet snow, sneakers hanging on the wires, the alley behind, the wine cellar below. But the older I grew, the less frequent the visits, until it was all suburbs, and no more Mifflin St.
Still, even after I was an adult and married, my wife and I would occasionally visit my grandmother, who slowly receded, tinier every month. The row house was the same, sweet-smelling in an old-wine kind of way. I remember going to the little glass-paned doors of her china cabinet, and opening it, just to catch the whiff of some long-gone brandy in the little cut-glass decanter, with a few abandoned Jordan almonds behind the nick-knacks and set of aperitif glasses, dusty pale pink and yellow and white.
So when Lou stands shouting in the suburban lane, tearing his garment over the effrontery of the thing, I hate him for ruining Thanksgiving for everyone--and ruefully thank him for showing us what it's like to fade away. Jacobi does it in style, not gently but with his eyes up, asking God if He can believe such a thing could happen to a family, whether it comes from Minsk or Pinsk or Enna.
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