Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

Life Plus 99 Years: on the public display of emotion

One of the earliest family traditions I can remember concerns the death and funeral of my maternal grandmother. She died way back in 1882, when Mother was a girl of fourteen. Apparently up to that time it had been traditional, at Jewish funerals at least, for the chief mourners to wail. Often one or more of those most directly affected fainted; if there was no loud wailing and mourning, it almost meant that one was wanting in proper affection and respect for the deceased. But when Mother and her eight brothers and sisters were assembled at Grandmother's bier just before the funeral, Grandfather raised his hand and said, "Kinder, kein Laut [Children, not a sound]!"

And during World War I there was the case of Mme. Schumann-Heink, the famous concert contralto. Her case was tragic, indeed, for she had sons serving in the armed forces of both sides. She felt herself and American, however, and took an active part in wartime activities. Specifically, she often sang at Liberty Bond rallies. But repeatedly she broke down while on the stage. Now my mother had three boys at war too. It was tearing her heart out, but she controlled herself. No one ever saw her weep in public; she reserved any outward show of grief for the privacy of her bedchamber. I'd heard Dad criticize Mme. Schumann-Heink. Everyone sympathized with her; everyone felt sorry for her. But if she was unable to control herself in public, she had no right to appear in public. There is always something a little cheap, a little tawdry, about the public display of emotion.

from Life Plus 99 Years, by Nathan F. Leopold.

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