Time and tide

 

There were two more this week – former First Lady Nancy Reagan and legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Mrs. Reagan, I didn’t like, but I was still impressed by the array of people who showed up for her funeral, including President and Mrs. Bush, Rosalyn Carter, Michele Obama, and even Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer. As for George Martin, I’d long thought of him as a genius – the man who lifted to greatness such songs as “Yesterday,” “A Day in the Life” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” but I all of think of this week was 1) OK, I was just starting high school when The Beatles split up, but still 2) George Martin was 90 years old? 90?!

Friends and I have talked about which celebrity deaths would be front-page news and probably the lead story in The New York Times. I’m talking about folks who die of old age, not your John Lennon and Princess Diana-types who die suddenly and way before their times. I’d say the Pope and Queen Elizabeth and Fidel Castro and the Dalai Lama, for sure, and all of the former presidents — Carter, Bush, Bush and Clinton.

After that, it’s a mish-mosh of names, possibly consigned to the bottom of the front page, some of them possibly “above the fold:” Muhammad Ali, Little Richard, Warren Buffett, Chuck Berry, Willie Mays, David Rockefeller, Kirk Douglas, I.M. Pei., Billy Graham, Dick van Dyke, Dan Rather, Hank Aaron, Doris Day, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Betty White, Barbara Bush, Ralph Branca, Gloria Vanderbilt, Hugh Hefner, the other Pope who’s still alive, Tony Bennett, Sidney Poitier, Jerry Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Neil Simon…You get the idea….There are dozens and dozens more.

But I’m at the age when the deaths of ordinary, run-of-the-mill celebrities – sometimes even “celebrities” in quotes – have made me very aware of the passage of time. George Martin was one of those. But I was also just a little disturbed to learn of the deaths of Pat Harrington, the handyman from “One Day at a Time;” David Bowie, of course, but also Keith Emerson from Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson, both of the Airplane; Frank Gifford; E.L. Doctorow; Leonard Nimoy; Leslie Gore; and, oh my God, Abe Vigoda, and Donna Douglas, who played Ellie Mae on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and even – how could it be? – Yvonne Craig, the original Batgirl on TV.

Part of this, I suppose, is that I’m afflicted with baby boomer syndrome. When Roger Daltrey sang “Hope I die before I get old,” I guarantee you that he didn’t think he’d ever really get old. The youth culture really started with my generation, and now my generation is getting old. We used to read the birth announcements, the graduation announcements, the help-wanted ads, the wedding announcements. Now, just like our mothers and fathers before us, we read the obituaries, and shudder just a little when we realize the people our age – and younger – can and will die. Which is a real bummer.

 

 

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Songs of Ourselves

I’m pleased to report that Blue Heron Book Works has just published a new anthology, “Songs of Ourselves,” which features a variety of personal writings works by 24 different contributors  — including a collection of essays by me on death, mortality and bygone lives remembered.

My contribution is gleaned from a larger book project, still in the works, titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death,” a title inspired by a 1920s-vintage newspaper headline describing the death of one my ancestors, 23-year-old Thomas Crooks — my great-uncle on my mother’s side.

Young Thomas had met his fiancée for a picnic lunch, and was returning to his job at the old Alexander Smith carpet mill in Yonkers, New York, my old hometown.  According the newspaper account, “As he was returning to work, he turned to her and said, ‘I am going in. But I shall be carried out.’ ” Within a half-hour, my ancestor had “fallen” into a vat of acid used to cure the fibers used in the carpets. He died soon after at a local hospital in the arm’s of his devastated mother — my maternal great-grandmother.

Two of the essays I contributed to “Songs of Ourselves” contemplate the awful fate of poor Thomas Crooks.

Sounds kind of gloomy for holiday reading? Not really. My contributions to the anthology aren’t grim. They’re sometimes melancholy, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes nostalgic, and mostly a celebration of life — and the fact that I wish it didn’t have to end.  I think it’s a perfect reading material for sitting in a comfortable chair — by a crackling fire, perhaps, or sitting near a window as snowflakes swirl and the winter winds whirl — and thinking long, long thoughts of a long, cold winter night…

And that’s just my contribution! “Songs of Ourselves” features an impressive array of works by 23 other very talented writers representing a variety of voices and experiences that would impress even the good gray “Songs of Myself” bard himself!

Here’s how to order the book from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Ourselves-Americas-Interior-Landscape/dp/0996817743/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449013561&sr=8-1&keywords=%22Songs+of+Ourselves%22+Mary+Lawlorhttp://www.amazon.com/Songs-Ourselves-Americas-Interior-Landscape/dp/0996817743/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449013561&sr=8-1&keywords=%22Songs+of+Ourselves%22+Mary+Lawlor

 

 

Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go…

Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide…

The title of this post — of course! — is from the song “Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead.

Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to…
I’ve been staying recently in my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.

A time to mourn…
One morning a few weeks ago I acted on an impulse and visited my father’s grave — more specifically his pullout drawer high up in the marble wall of a creepy mausoleum in Hartsdale, N.Y.

To everything there is a season…

The depraved piped-in organ music and the sickly funeral-home smell of flowers got me thinking about my own funeral plans.

Little trip to heaven…
Basically I have no plans. I do know I’d like to be cremated. I do know I don’t want a funeral.

Imagine all the people….
I think I’d like my friends and family to gather for an informal nondenominational memorial celebration.

May you stay…forever young…
I’d like my younger daughter to read one of her poems. I’d like my son to play something on his guitar. I’d like my older daughter to choose and read some samples of my own writing.

No need for greed…no hunger….
I’d like donations to me made in my memory of anti-hunger groups, peace groups or literacy groups.

And…most important of all perhaps…

May your song always be sung…

I’d like there to be a really good sound system set up
to play these songs (in no particular order):
“Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles
“Little Trip to Heaven” by Tom Waits
A Bach cantata
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan
“Turn Turn Turn” by Pete Seeger
“Amazing Grace” (no bagpipes, please!)
and, of course, “Imagine” by John Lennon

Someone who’s more than dear to me wants her final farewell to include Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World…”

My poor father requested “Ave Maria.”

So many other songs would be appropriate and meaningful and sprung from the heart. So maybe I’ll add a few more songs and someone can burn a CD…it would make a nice departing gift for everyone in the studio audience to take home — and take to heart.

Having the last word…

What words would you choose to utter if you knew they would be the final words you spoke in this mortal realm?

Novelist Victor Hugo declared “I see black light,” which isn’t exactly encouraging.  Thomas Edison, on the other hand, reported: “It is very beautiful over there,” which I suppose balances out Hugo’s dark vision.

The very first Queen Elizabeth probably had a whole bunch of castles and crowns and ermine capes and….well, you know the stuff queens own. Nevertheless, she tried to cut this deal when her time came in the early 1600s: “All my possessions for a moment of time.”

Good attitude, right? But then along comes the film producer Louis B. Mayer, who on his deathbed declared, “Nothing matters. Nothing matters.”  Let’s add James Joyce to this gloomy mix. The great writer died with this question apparently unanswered:  “Does nobody understand?” And, OK, we might has well mix some doom into the gloom…Edgar Allan Poe’s final plea: “Lord help my poor soul.”

Whew. Time for something a little lighter.
The great Henry David Thoreau probably had something profound to say when he heard the Grim Reaper’s knock? Nope. Henry’s last utterance: “Moose…Indian…”

I like poet Emily Dickinson’s farewell:  “I must go in, the fog is rising” spake Amherst’s belle in 1886.

But this may be my favorite. President James K. Polk, when he died in 1849, told first lady Sarah Polk: “I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.”

That’s what I want — I want my heart’s true fulfillment right there by my side, close enough for her to hear me whisper those three perfect words: “I love you.”

Just dying to hear one last song by Dylan?

It’s the holiday season, a time for good will toward men, so let’s not laugh at the notion that the city of York, Pa., actually had its own poet laureate.

No, let us instead debate whether the poet laureate of York, Pa., 86-year-old Gerry Meisenhelder, chose the right Bob Dylan song to be the soundtrack for his passing, which took place on the day after Christmas at York Hospital after a battle with leukemia.

According to an article in the York Daily Record, Mr. Meisenhelder, as he lay dying, dictated one last poem to his grandson — as Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” played in the background.

Sorry. I feel sorry that York, Pa.’s poet laureate has moved on to the Great Literary Salon in the Sky. But his choice of Dylan songs was rather trite.

How about these titles? “Are You Ready?” “Dead Man, Dead Man.” “Death Is Not the End.” “Dirge.” “Desolation Row.” “Going, Going, Gone.” “In My Time of Dyin’.” “See That My Grave is Kept Clean.”

I could go on, but I won’t, except to say that my choice would be “I Shall Be Released.” To wit:

I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released.

Now that would be a lovely Dylan song to have echoing in my ears as I head to the highlands, as I rage against the dying of the light, as I travel beyond the horizon, when it comes time to  say my restless farewell.


Sarah Palin, Bob Dylan and the Federation of Light (and, oh, did I mention the Apocalypse?)

OK. I admit it. My name is Nicholas D. and I am addicted to continually checking to see how many daily, weekly and monthly visits have been recorded by the ever-increasing legion of fans who faithfully read World of Wonders.

OK. I’m indulging in a bit of hyperbole. “Legion” might be a stretch and “fans” might be overstating my case. But I started this blog and this Web site just about three months ago, and all I can say is I’ll be damned — hundreds and hundreds of people have found this site and taken the time to read my writing, and the number (and this I’m not exaggerating) of visitors has ALREADY DOUBLED for the month of October.

Doubled? Doubled! How did that happen? I’d like to think it has something to do with a spreading public perception that I’m a provocative, witty, entertaining and shockingly under-published writer of essays and fiction.

But I also know that whenever I write about certain topics, search-engine generated visits soar. A lot of people google various terms and expressions and topics related to death, for example. A decent number of people have found my site when they looking for information about my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.  A lot of “hits” have resulted when I wrote about the great singer and activist Pete Seeger or when I’ve described my travels in the great state of Vermont.

But four topics have proven to be the hottest topics of all: Bob Dylan, UFO visits by the Federation of Light, Sarah Palin and the Book of Revelation’s description of the Apocalypse. Anytime I mention one of those topics, I generate hundreds more visits to my Web site.

So that’s why it’s incredibly fortunate that I just happened be browsing the Web and found this news report that I’m sure everyone’s already talking about:

Sarah Palin has announced that she’s left Todd Palin, and is moving out of their home in Alaska, and is moving to Malibu to live with her new boyfriend Bob Dylan. What’s more, when Bob Dylan and Sarah Palin held a joint conference this morning in Alabama, where Dylan was performing and Palin was campaigning, they also announced that Palin had been appointed ruler “of Alaska and Russia and all of the rest of those other countries that I know are out there” by the leaders of our great alien masters, the Federation of Light, and that Dylan had been give the job of writing the new world anthem.  Palin also added, and I quote,”Thanks to the great folks with the Federation of Light, and I’d specifically like to mention Andy the Alien and Eddie the E.T. and Ray the Ray Gun Operator, those great alien mavericks, we’ve also managed to postpone what would have been the Apocalypse if we hadn’t complied with our alien friends of the Federation of Light!”

Don’t believe me? Can thousands of readers of Nicholas DiGiovanni’s World of Wonders be wrong?

You say potato…

This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death”

A friend reports: “My first memory of death is having to kiss my dead grandfather’s forehead and thinking it was like a cold potato.”

My own first memory of death: My kindergarten teacher at P.S. 9 in Yonkers pointing to an empty desk in our classroom and telling us that the little girl who sat there had “gone to heaven.” I don’t remember the little girl’s name. This was more than forty years ago. But for some reason I have a memory of a somewhat chubby little girl with dark curly hair. And I remember hearing from my parents later, when I was older, that the little girl had died in a fire along with six other children and an invalid grandmother who was babysitting the brood when the blaze broke out. All of the children were buried together. I’ve seen their gravestone at a cemetery in Yonkers – seven little angels are carved upon the stone.