A Man named Winter Eases the Pain of Winter Mourners in Detroit Cemetery
Easing The Pain
Joe Winter maintains Beth El cemetery
with compassion in every season.
| Stacy Gittleman
| Special to the Jewish News
Winter, especially the record-breaking one Detroit just endured, can be isolating and depressing. It is harder still for those observing an anniversary of a loved one’s death to visit their grave in a snow-covered cemetery.
Fittingly so, a man named Joe Winter, caretaker at Beth El Memorial Park in Livonia, eases the sorrow of the mourner bymaking sure that certain graves and the paths leading to them are cleared of snow.
For almost three decades, Winter, 56, has cared for the cemetery and lived in a house just outside the ground Joe Winter where he and his wife, Claudia, raised their four children.
Trained as a horticulturist, Winter always enjoyed working outside and saw his occupation as a peaceful one. He started out as a groundskeeper at Gethsemane Cemetery in Detroit and then became superintendent of the Beth El Memorial Park in 1985.
Growing up, his children never thought the location of their house was odd.
“They always just considered it as one quiet backyard. I’d let them ride their bikes
on the paths after the gates had closed for the day,” he said.
As superintendent of the cemetery, Winter’s responsibilities include keeping in daily contact with local rabbis and funeral directors to schedule burials. He also is the cemetery’s main record keeper.
The cemetery is open every day from morning until 5 p.m., except Saturday. If a mourner needs to linger a bit after 5 p.m., he says he does not mind keeping the cemetery gates open a bit longer.
As the weather warms, Winter and his staff keep the lawns mowed and the bushes trimmed. He provides a supply of American
flags come Memorial Day weekend and makes sure they stay up on each grave until Flag Day on June 14.
“Of all the mourners, the toughest ones to see when they come here are the parents of
young children,” Winter said. He recalled a woman who lost a young son and visited the
grave nearly every day for eight years.
“Joe Winter deals with human beings during the most vulnerable moments of their
lives,” said Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El of Bloomfield Hills. Syme, who has
worked with Winter for 17 years, said overseeing a cemetery is a job that not many can
“He supports all who come to the cemetery at a time when they are looking for
kindness, when their own inner coping resources are not there,” Syme said.
One such person Winter has comforted in his work is Julie Unatin of Huntington
On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2000, Unatin gave birth to a son, Ryan. Five days later,
baby Ryan died. What should have been the happiest of days for her, husband, Brian,
and their two daughters turned out to be the worst.
In March of that same year, Unatin, a teacher consultant for the blind for the
Oakland Intermediate School District, learned that another co-worker, Kate
Salathiel, also had lost a child. The deaths of their children have created a special bond between the two women.
Each winter, they support each other as they visit their children’s gravesites in different
cemeteries — not on the anniversary of their death, but on the day they were born.
Expecting her arrival at Beth El Memorial Park, Winter clears a path to Ryan’s grave
in advance of her visit. Winter also makes sure that any snow is brushed away from the
“Every year I know what I will find,” Unatin said. “A beautiful stone that has been
dusted and cleared; sprinkled with 14 years’ worth of small tokens. Without even being
asked, Joe makes my unbearable Valentine’s Day a bit more bearable.”
Still Cold, Still Snowy in Detroit
About a week ago, a friend back in Rochester asked how the weather has been in Michigan. It’s really not that much different than the winters spent in Rochester. Except this winter, there really has not been much of a break from the frigid cold. In Rochester, I remember weeks of cold, but broken up with weeks (or at least a few days) in the upper 30’s and 40’s.
This winter, we long for a day just in the 20’s.
But extreme cold does have beauty.
Last week I got a call from my son at school. He said his eye was “goopy.” Now, his eyes weren’t nearly as bad as fellow conjunctivitis sufferer Bob Costas,
Bob Costas Benched Due to Pink Eye
but it was enough to spring him out of school for a day.
The night before, temperatures plummeted again below zero and created this phenomenon known as freezing fog. The result was a frosty ice-coated world, if only for a few hours:
First Photo Challenge for 2013: Resolved
Happy New Year!
now, if you could hear me say this to you from behind my stuffed nose it would sound more like “Habby Dew Year.”
I have yet to have a healthy day in 2013.
Before I can start on this year’s goals: decluttering and cleaning my home to get it ready to sell, going to the gym at least three times per week, I resolve to get HEALTHY!
That’s why my answer to this photo challenge is this:
This is a bowl of eucalyptus leaves I pulled off a bouquet recently purchased at Trader Joes. I mixed it with some dried lavender from this year’s garden, plus some Kosher salt. I poured boiling water over it and voila! A home spa remedy that will hopefully relieve my misery.
Before I do anything else this year, I resolve to get healthy again!
The Edge of January
We have had the wimpiest winter in Rochester, NY in anyone’s memory. Being the transplant that I am, I asked lifelong Rochesterians if they can remember a January where they could go outside with just a sweater. A January where the temperatures barely went below freezing. They can’t.
But this warm winter seems no less longer then the cold snowy ones. It’s just dull. There are no bragging rights when you are stuck with a wimpy winter.
There is just the weak light. The sun is runny in the sky, like a pale broken egg yolk in a pan:
There is no point to winter in Western New York if you can’t tell people elsewhere how you had to remove snow off your roof with a roof rake for fear of it caving in or have icicles hanging off the eaves of your house the height of a professional basketball player.
It’s just not winter if you can’t build your own igloo on the front lawn:
we have not yet experienced any significant storms or accumulations.
The official snowfall count for the season: 18.9 inches.
How much snow should have normally fallen by now? 55.7 inches.
In years past, it was if we were living in a snow globe.
It would snow a few inches every day for weeks at a time.
But not this winter. Everyone is missing the snow:
- Up on Lake Ontario, the Webster Ridge runner snowmobiling club has had to suspend its season because off lack of snow.
- My daughter’s youth group trip to go snow tubing was cancelled.
- My daughter also joined the high school cross country ski team this winter. At best, she has skied on the slushy man-made snow at Bristol Mountain. At worst, her team has spent the winter jogging outside or practicing on roller skis.
Ironically, in one of the few strong winter systems that passed through, our school district cancelled all sport practices, including cross-country skiing. Imagine that, ski practice was cancelled on account of SNOW!
But last night we were hit with several bands of fast moving lake-effect snow squalls. One particularly strong squall showed off its wintry moxy with a show of snow thunder and lightening that is completely out of place in the middle of winter.
Now, this is more like it:
Goodbye, Summer. I’ll See You in my Freezer
During the long Rochester winters, what I miss most about the summer is my garden. One fall day in early October, when my older son was very small, he accompanied me into the garden as I pulled out the last annuals and put the soil to bed.
As I yanked out the last withering tomato plant, he burst into tears and cried:
“It’s really OVER!!”
One of the favorite dishes of summer for my family that smells as good as it tastes is Pesto.
Take one leaf of basil and rub it between your fingers. The powerful scent it gives off is the stuff of summer. Then, when it is crushed into a paste and mixed with pine nuts, olive oil and cheese, it makes any boring pasta meal a celebration.
To live without basil all winter would be too cruel a reality.
Sure, you can buy yourself some hydroponically-grown basil in the middle of January. One plant, that has about 20 good leaves on it, will cost about 2.99 these days at the supermarket.
You can get out to your nearest public market, like the Rochester Public Market, one of the world’s greatest public spaces. Buy the biggest bunch of basil you can find for about $1.50. It will be waiting for you in a big bucket filled with water and if it’s fresh, will still have the roots attached, dirt and all.
Then, take this green bouquet home. It’s so pretty you may want to photograph it, like I did:
It isn’t long before basil leaves wither. As harsh as it may seem, pick all those leaves off (I amassed 3 cups of basil leaves with this bunch), wash them well in a colander, and place them in a food processor.
I also put in three cloves of garlic that I roasted. Roasting the garlic cloves brings out their sweetness.
Add to this puree 1/3 cup of some very good olive oil and 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts or walnuts. You can add 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese here, but this can be added when you are ready to use your Pesto.
Then, pour the mixture into an ice-cube tray sprayed with cooking oil. (My children think this is very strange and have at times placed a pesto cube, in error, into their water. I don’t recommend this.)
Yes It’s Hot, even in Rochester
A few months ago, were we ever really complaining about the snow and cold?
A few months from now, will we long to feel as hot as it will be today?
When I visit friends and family “downstate” New York, I get a lot of jabs about living in Rochester.
“So, it’s June… has the snow melted yet?”
“You know what the two seasons are in Rochester? Winter and July 14.”
“Do you get snowed in all the time and how do you go grocery shopping to get food in the snow?”
But guess what, folks? We really do get summer in Rochester, and it’s just as hot as anywhere else, especially this year.
Today, if temperatures reach 100 or above, as forecasters are predicting, it will be the hottest recorded day on this day in Rochester since ….. 1894
One of the many advantages of living in Rochester – less traffic, one of the nation’s most affordable housing prices, and great cultural resources – is our pleasant summer. Usually, after a brutally cold winter, our summers are pleasant and comfortable.
Since I moved to Rochester in 2000, we have had summers where the rain fell more than the sun shone. Some summers, the temperatures barely climbed out of the 70’s. Some summers, we feared we would never get a summer.
Right now, I am glad that I did not sign up for a spot in my community garden, as this has been the driest summers in some time. There, gardeners must haul water in cans to quench their crops. I’m content with my little garden that is watered with several yards of irrigation tubing.
Instead of hauling buckets in the heat like a peasant woman, all that is required is connecting a hose and turning a spigot.
So far, I’m getting plenty of tomatoes – though still green,
a few pumpkins
and some peppers.
Most summers, I complain about the limited hours of sun my garden receives. This year, it is getting just the right amount of heat to grow and the limited sun is preventing it from completely shriveling up and dying.
The only thing, or person, I’m worried about shriveling up or wilting in the heat is my son, who is on his first overnight at day camp. I slathered him up with sunscreen, slapped on his white, sun reflecting hat, packed his frozen metal water bottle, and will hope for the best.
“Mom, is this the hottest summer of my life?” The seven-year-old inquired at the breakfast table.
“Yes” I said, popping his Eggo waffles in the toaster.
“Will summers get hotter than this even?”
For that, I don’t have an answer.
So, besides sweltering day campers, what will most Rochesterians do? They will survive just as they do in the winter:
They’ll duck inside a mall, movie theatre, or museum, if not a chilly office
At camps, they will stay inside and play board games, do lots of arts & crafts. And only brave the heat for a dip in the pool.
But in Rochester, we’ll take the heat. After all, the burn of summer’s swelter is better any day than the bite of winter’s wind chills.
As for me, I finished writing and filing my two newspaper articles for the week. I’ll catch up on some summer reading and spend time with my oldest son, already packed up for summer camp. Then, I’ll settle down for a long summer’s nap.
I’m not waiting until Spring: This is what I’m Planting Now
Another week of winter and another tease by Mother Nature. This past Friday sent temperatures soared into the high 50’s, reducing the snow to piles of slush. The birds were chirping, and I took a long walk – my first outdoor walk in almost a month.
My garden re-emerged from under the snow and revealed daffodil shoots peeking up, as if to extend a long finger to winter saying, “curse you winter! Spring is coming whether you want to leave or not!”
But winter isn’t letting go. The weather will fight with itself for another month before it turns spring for good.
It’s this time of year when gardeners like me really need to get our fingers dirty in some soil. I need to plant something. I need to see that moment when a new plant breaks through the soil. After months of unrelenting white, I need to see something green (besides the moldy lemon hiding in the back of my refrigerator).
Hence the garden shows that come to cities around the country this time of year. This includes the Rochester Home and Garden Show March 26 – 27.
I start seeds of flowers vegetables and herbs in my living room. Newly planted seedlings keep warm thanks to the floor vents in my house, which was built in the 1920’s. As they sprout, I bring the seedlings down to the grow lights in my basement. These grow lights are visible from my basement window. So, if you are a law enforcement officer trolling the Internet, let me assure you that I grow NOTHING that is not legal.
So, here is how I start:
I begin with seed pellets. You can buy these at the big box home improvement stores or seasonal sections in a good grocery store. These pellets will puff up with some warm water. Kids like this step because these flat pellets grow right before their eyes.
Then, I filled the pellets with seedlings of
Even the tiniest basil leaf, if you run your fingers over it, carries that strong, sweet aroma and reminds me that in a few months, these leaves will become the ingredients of a Caprese Salad or Pesto when they grow up.
The tiniest arugula leaf also carries that same zippy, peppery taste of its grown counterpart.
And, for a little color, this year I’m going to plant
Not to mention ‘carnival’ bell peppers. And I feel most obligated to grow a tomato variety developed at Rutgers University.
I’ll be taking pictures of my seedlings as they grow.
I Hereby Declare February Sickie Month
Looking for tips on how to not get sick in February? Good luck!
I am sure you know the drill: Wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating and preparing food. Use hand sanitizer when getting to a sink is not convenient. Opt for the elbow shake or an air kiss. But there comes to a point in the winter, especially February, where if you haven’t gotten sick yet, you are just plain lucky.
Sometimes, the best way to stay healthy and build up that immune system is not to lock yourself away until spring thaw but to dance straight into the fire. In other words, you can spend a lot of time with preschoolers, like I do.
Entering the preschool classroom in February is like entering the lion cub’s den of viruses. The rhino virus comes to play with the blocks while his friends influenza and roto hang out by the toy kitchen. Streptococcus and the dreaded Conjunctivitis like to frolic in the water table.
I guess I’ve developed a sense of humour along with the immune system. Because thinking back to when I was a young parent, the germful world was a very fearful place.
I remember being so worried of my children catching something when my kids were in preschool.
“Did you hear?” I asked another mom one day during a Yoga class that was scheduled during preschool hours. “The stomach bug is going around in class. What if my daughter gets sick?” As luck had it, I, the novice and neurotic first-time mommy, presented this question to a veteran mother-of-three mommy. I was feeling a bit guilty because despite this worry, I still dropped Jolie off because I wanted to go to my Yoga class.
“Don’t worry,” said veteran mommy in the middle of practicing Triangle pose. “They get sick. They get better. That’s why they have immune systems.”
This was probably some of the best advice a new mom could get. And as my kids get bigger, they get sick less often, but February is always the time they get sick. One February break, when my kids were in preschool, I cancelled nearly every playdate we made. The week was spent watching movies and reading books between doses of Advil for fever reduction and ice pops for hydration.
One year, my lucky husband was away in California for a conference just in time for the rest of us to get the dreaded stomach bug. I spent a wild Saturday night dragging sheets from my son’s bunk beds into the snow so I can hose them off.
I probably should NOT say this, but these episodes of illnesses seem to grow more seldom as my kids get older. So preschool parents, hang in there!
But if you are a younger family, this is the time of the year where a preschooler’s immune system gets the most rigorous of workouts. Unfortunately, that little 3-year-old may also take their whole family down with them. Siblings get sick. Parents have to reshuffle work commitments.
This is why I proclaim February as Sickie Month.
It is Sickie Month because it is the time in school when we see the most absences. I hear it in the lingering coughs when sick kids come back.
I see a sick day coming when the boy who usually roars like a tiger with his preschool pals loses his roar. I see a sick day coming when the girl who usually bubbles and twinkles with all the enthusiasm and glee of a little girl loses her twinkle. I’ve sat with kids as they shiver with fever and wait for their caregivers to pick them up. Now that I’m a veteran mom of three, my maternal instincts know that a dose of ibuprofen will make the child feel right as rain, though I know my school policy makes me as a teacher unable to administer any medicine.
If you have any doubts why it is necessary to have a February break, just ask a preschool teacher.
Snow Blower vs. Snow Shovel
So here we go again. Another week, another snow storm.
And this time, Rochester isn’t going to get off Scott-free like we have so far this winter. As we await the next deluge of snow, I know you are all sick of it. But up here in Rochester, we’ve only had 77 inches fall this winter. Only. But only in terms of “lake effect” showers and flurries. Never a mention of a storm. Just enough snow to fall each day to cover the ugly grey snow. And not enough to justify a snow day.
But our day may be coming this week. Finally!
This is a piece I wrote a few years back that I figure would be very timely right about now. I know it’s tough, but do try to enjoy and appreciate the quiet and beauty of the snow. Because in a few months, we’ll be wishing for some cool weather.
We actually do have a snow blower. A Toro Powerlite snow blower that our relatives gave to us as a housewarming gift when my husband and I moved to Rochester from New Jersey with our two small children nearly a decade ago. It is nestled on the left side of our Tudor’s tiny one-car garage – a garage that was built to fit 1920’s model cars, not today’s SUVs or minivans. Over the years, it has certainly served us well. My husband uses the snow blower on mornings when he has to get out early On early winter mornings I often wake to the sound of him repeatedly pulling on its cord to get it whirring to a shuddering start, the smell of the gasoline seeping upward from the garage directly overhead to our bedroom.
But I left the snow blower in the garage today and opted for my ergonomic snow shovel. If I used the snow blower, I wouldn’t have delighted in the soundlessness that a snowstorm creates, the snow’s ability to absorb noise in our motorized world. I wouldn’t have had the chance to watch the snow change from white to the slightest tinge of blue when it is pushed aside by the shovel’s blade. Or hear the chickadees chirping in the backyard and think about how I may at some point want to train them to feed out of my hand.
The snowy weather does get a bit old here in Rochester, here at January’s end when at least two more months of snow await us and with the knowledge that we could not afford plane tickets to Florida for this year’s February break.
You can’t stir a sleepy child out of bed at January’s end with the exclamation of
“Look! It snowed last night”.
Maybe you can get away with that in November, or even mid-December, when snow is still a novelty. But when one’s alarm has been buzzing before dawn since November, and grass and brick and garden beds have not been seen for over a month, the child looks at you as if to say “big freaking deal, MOM” and rolls over in a vain attempt for one more minute of sleep.
We are not bears. And we cannot sleep all winter. So out we go into it. Whether it is to school, work, food shopping, we must.
And you know something? If you are wearing enough layers, and there is no bitter wind to bite your face, shoveling snow by hand, and then taking a walk in it can be very invigorating, just about as invigorating as the Zumba class that I decided to blow off today. As I walk, I turn my feet outwards, and then in, just like that boy in Ezra Jack Keat’s beloved children’s book. (Need I tell you the name?) I think about diverting my children from the television and getting them into the snow to play as they get off the schoolbus. I feel the gentleness of the flakes hit against my hat. And when the one other person out walking today in my neighborhood passes me, we smile at each other knowingly, as if we are privy to a very well kept secret.
As I turn home, an enormous truck with an eight-foot high snowplow turns the corner and packs the snow bank blocking our driveway even higher. Okay, there is no romanticizing anymore, and I head to my garage to start up the noisy, smelly snow blower.
At the beginning of January, Mother Nature gave us Western New Yorkers quite the tease.
Every flake of snow melted away. Temperatures soared — SOARED – into the 50s. People were out everywhere that first week in January. We thought – so this is what the outside feels like again. So this is what it is like to go outside minus the hat, the fleece gloves, the silk thermals. This is what it is like to walk outside without guarding every step from a trecherous icy patch.
But we knew it couldn’t last. And the cold, along with the winter blahs, is hitting many of us as hard and unrelenting as this winter.
This week, temperatures refused to budge above the 20’s and the sun made a few cameo appearances, starring as a pale egg yolk in a grey sky. As tempting as it is to fly away and visit my parents in Florida over February break, the $600 plane tickets say we are in the cold for the long haul.
Turning on the TV doesn’t seem to help matters. The grim news from Arizona, plus the loss of the contemporary Jewish song composer Debbie Friedman made the week even tougher to bear.
Did I say that the days were getting longer in a recent post? Well, the darkness still seems to come very early these days. And though I do try to get outside, I’m tired of fighting Old Man Winter, and he is starting to win.
I posted just how blah I felt on my Facebook status and was thankful for all the friends who wrote in their suggestions: exercise, a drink, getting out with other people, or staying inside with one special person : ).
But there, in the seasonal aisle of Wegmans, I saw it. My cure for the winter blues.
A Jiffy Greenhouse Seed Starter!
With that, and a purchase of some organic Parseley and Arugula seeds, the smile returned to my face. Let the 2011 gardening season begin.