After Life’s Fitful Fever

“Elegy: Blind Musician” by Mikhail Vasilevich (photoshopped by I-and-I)

. . . I need not rehearse
The rosebuds-theme of centuries of verse.

                                                                        Richard Wilbur, “A Late Aubade”

Although posthumous fame is essentially worthless to what Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger call the decedent,[1] humans tend to want to be remembered after their deaths, hence tombstones, epitaphs, and those memorial verses we find on obituary pages. As I have no doubt mentioned before, I actually enjoy reading the obituary page, even the obituaries of complete strangers. Perhaps it’s the poet in me who is interested in how the writer goes about compressing a life into the narrow confines of a column of newsprint.[2]  Generally, however, I skip the memorial verses, which are generally godawful jingles heavy on end rhyme.

For example, below you’ll find a bit of elegiac verse I copped from a publication called National Post. On its website, I found a page devoted to “Memorial Verses” with this option:

Choose a verse from the appropriate category. Alternatively you may want to copy and paste the verse into the place a notice order form. When placing a notice, please identify the verse by its number to your Classified Telesales Representative. You may also change any of the verses or write your own.

Conveniently, the editors have classified verses by relationships: “Mother, Sister, or Daughter; Father, Brother, or Son; Wife or Husband; Children; Friend or Kin; Armed Forces; Prayer Corner.”

Here’s the first choice listed for a mother.

A wonderful mother, woman and aide,
One who was better God never made;
A wonderful worker, so loyal and true,
One in a million, that mother was you.
Just in your judgment, always right;
Honest and liberal, ever upright;
Loved by your friends and all whom you knew
Our wonderful mother, that mother was you.

Of course, in my native state of South Carolina, not many would want to tar the woman who labored to bring them into the world with that vile word “liberal.” Last night during the debate between Nancy Mace and Joe Cunningham, the former used the word “democrat” and “liberal” as they were synonymous with depravity.

Thank (in this case, given the diction of the verse) God that the purchaser has the option of changing the diction.

Just in your judgement, always right;

Honest and reactionary, ever upright. 

Indeed the alliteration in “right” and “reactionary” and “upright” is an auditory improvement. 

So it has occurred to me that in my retirement from teaching, I could make a few extra bucks composing memorial verses.

Let’s face it, almost anyone could do better than whoever wrote the above abomination.  I mean, the syntax of  “One who was better God never made” is so tortured it’s possibly in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Perhaps I could target sentimental agnostics and atheists who want their loved ones remembered, but less hyperbolically. 

Our mother has succumbed to a terminal disease,

A mother who taught us manners, to say “please”

And “thank you” and “may” instead of “can,”

Who raised us without the help of a man,

Our deadbeat dad who skipped town one night,

Forever disappearing in dishonorable flight.

Yet, Mom endured life’s hardships with stoic good grace,

An exemplary example for the human race.

Loved by her friends, her children, and pets,

We appreciate that she tried her very best.

Good night, deceased mother, may you rest in peace 

Safe in the cliché of death’s eternal sleep.

What do you think? Should I give it a try? Bill myself for the hours and then write it off my taxes? Anyway, if you’re in the market – fortune forbid – you know how to get in touch.


[1] This reminds me of a bit of dialogue from a WC Fields movie I ran across yesterday thanks to my pal Ballard Lesemann. A patron at a bar says to Fields, the bartender, “I understand you buried your wife a few years ago,” and Fields replies, “Yes, I had to. She was dead.”

[2] Unfortunately, I myself have become a somewhat prolific obituary writer, having composed posthumous bios for both my father and mother-in-law, my own parents, my maternal aunt and uncle, and for my beloved Judy Birdsong. The stylistic part is not easy. The memorialist needs to deftly insert introductory subordinate phrases and clauses to break the monotony of fact-filled declarative sentences.

A Round-Up of All the News That’s Fit to Skip

cohen headline Post & CourierI feel very fortunate that Charleston, the nearest largish city to Folly Beach, boasts an excellent daily newspaper, the Post and Courier, which won the 2015 Pulitzer for Public Service.

Now that I’m retired, I spend about an hour each morning perusing the paper, starting with Section A’s front page, which focuses on local matters like our Governor’s mandate that bars close at eleven to flatten the mission-to-mars trajectory of South Carolina’s Coronavirus infections.[1]

Then on Page 2A we have one of my favorite features, “Today in History.”  This section is rife with airliner crashes, coal mine cave-ins, capital electrocutions, and other notable incidents of mayhem that occurred on this date in history.  For example, today (11 July 2020) marks the 216th anniversary of the Hamilton/ Burr duel and the 487th anniversary of Pope Clement VII’s excommunication of Henry VIII.  Henry had incurred Clement’s wrath by annulling his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, making possible his union with Anne Boleyn, an important milestone in his accumulation of spouses.  423 years later Henry’s many marriages would lead to the Herman Hermits hit “I’m Henery (sic) the Eighth, I Am.” (see below)

On a more pleasant note, Big Ben first chimed on this date in 1859, and the word “jazz” appeared in print for the first time in 1915 when the Chicago Tribune ran an article titled “Blues Is Jazz and Jazz Is Blues.”

“Today in History” winds up with a list of celebrity birthdays (Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, 73) and a quotable quote: “He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home” ­– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.[2]

goetheundderorient

Not to be confused with Wolf Blitzer

The next few pages are devoted to spillovers from the front page, and you don’t really get to national stories until A8 where you can check out Trump’s latest Molotov tweets or learn that the US Roman Catholic Church received 1.4 billion in tax payer backed Coronavirus aid to make up for payments dioceses had to fork out because of sexual abuse. Meanwhile Lindsey Graham is adamantly opposed to unemployment extensions because shiftless former bartenders might sit at home whupping themselves up bloody marys after sleeping in on the dole.

International news brings up the rear, as a sort of looking through-a-telescope-from-the-wrong-end perspective.

Finally, the A section ends with the op-ed, including Letters to the Editor, which I merely scan given I suffer from hypertension and devoted my working years to correcting imprecise prose.

Rather than going to the B section, I skip to C, Sports, which has been reduced to two pages, given that there are virtually no scores to report, just idle speculation about upcoming seasons and nostalgic remembrances of Carolina and Clemson highlights.

So, I save the B section for last, for dessert as it were.

B1 is devoted to business. Today’s main story announcing the expansion of a Columbia company seeking a vaccine is counterbalanced by this melancholy below-the fold-headline: “Charleston’s only magic club closes its curtains over coronavirus.”

The party doesn’t really get started until B3 with Dear Abby, who unlike her mother and her mother’s twin sister Ann Landers, is non-judgmental and offers a wealth of good ol’ common sense.  For example, to today’s first correspondent, concerned that some beachgoers might find the large tattoo of a naked angel on his side off-putting, Abby sagely suggests he “go for it” but “use sunscreen,” then allows that not all beachgoers will not be thrilled to see “a large naked angel getting roasted on the sand.”

Despite what I wrote earlier about avoiding amateur writing, I do read three or four obituaries, which appear on B4 and B5. Making an obituary engaging is difficult and most suffer from a paucity of introductory subordinate clauses. I’m always curious to see who “has entered into eternal rest” as opposed to who “has entered into the loving arms of Jesus” or who has simply “died from complications of Parkinson’s disease.”  What I keep looking for, as hopelessly as Ponce De Leon seeking the Fountain of Youth, is for someone to pass away after a long cowardly battle with cancer.”

My daily journey through the paper comes to its end with the comics and puzzle pages.  I start at the very last comic, “Andy Capp,” move up to the top, taking in “Dilbert” and “Zits” “and Baby Blues” back down to the left-hand column and reading upwards “The Wizard of Id,” “Luanne,” and “Mary Worth,” who has really turned out to be a looker in my old age. Even though I don’t enjoy “Judge Parker” and “Beetle Bailey,” I read them anyway, but what I really enjoy is “For Better or Worse,” which features well-developed characters. Making the final turn, I head up the right column enjoying traditional fare like “Blondie,” “Hagar the Horrible,” and “Peanuts.”

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[cue wolf whistle]

Finally, I do the one-panels, “Dennis the Menace,” “Bizzaro,” and “Ziggy.”

All that’s left is “Jumble” and “Scrabble.”  I’m always a little bit sad when the journey ends, when I figure out the punny caption in “Jumble” and tally my score in “Scrabble.”

What I dread is the day when the Post Courier goes belly up.  I only hope that it outlives me.  I realize I can get the comics online and obituaries from funeral homes, but it’s not the same.  I want to hear the crinkling of the paper as I open Thursday’s Entertainment supplement to discover what’s going down this weekend, read new album reviews, take the head-on-head Trivia Contest, and enjoy Kayln Oyer’s excellent prose.


[1] I know if I’m drinking in a bar past eleven, I’m much more likely to spraying my words like Sylvester the Cat as I nudge loser to whomever I’m regaling with my slurred wit.

[2] Pronounced “Gur-ta,” not “goth-ee” (or “Blitzer”).