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.

On the Road to Curmudgeonry

Although I don’t think my cantankerousness is robust enough to earn me the title of curmudgeon, I do, like everybody else, have my pet peeves. With any luck, however, as old age increasingly enfeebles me and the Charleston area accumulates more visitors and residents so that I am exposed to more and more Late Empire Americans, I may end up producing enough bile to earn the designation of curmudgeon and join the ranks of my beloved WC Fields, HL Mencken, and Winston Churchill.

WC Fields

WC Fields

To be a curmudgeon, I think you once had to be an idealist, an idealist who got taken, taken by a lover, a con artist, a pastor, or merely to summer camp against your will.

Also, Curmudgeons tend to be physically unattractive (see above list) since very attractive people have a much easier path in life. They get out of more speeding tickets, have more audience members pulling for them in game shows, enjoy more frequent admiring looks from strangers, etc. Of course, if you happen to be good-looking and long to be a curmudgeon, don’t despair. Old age will undoubtedly ameliorate that problem as these two before and after photos of Ginger Rogers demonstrate.

images mqdefault

In my case , I can’t blame falling short of curmudgeonry on rugged good looks or athletic prowess. No, I blame my wife Judy Birdsong for holding me down, providing me with love and care (not to mention family money) so that I’ve lived a prosperous, fulfilling life doing more or less as I please. It’s really hard to hate the world while you’re gazing out over a gorgeous river view

Now, if she had run off with the produce man at Piggly Wiggly or suffered from a shopping disorder or developed a penchant for crystal meth, I no doubt by this time be bitter enough to make Andy Rooney look like Mr. Rodgers.

Yet, I do have the potential. Just this afternoon as I rode my bike to the abandoned Coast Guard Station at the end of the island (sounds like a Hardy Boys’ adventure site), rather than enjoying the scenery, I found myself grumbling over a number of irritants from which a competent Buddhist would detach himself.

In fact, when I got home I compiled a list of my 9 most cherished irrational hatreds, and I thought I’d share them with you because, as they say, disgruntlement enjoys company. The list begins concretely but becomes more abstract as we hit home.

#9 – Golf carts on city streets, especially golf carts driven my attractive couples with black labs. I encountered 5 golf carts on my 6 mile ride, one of which I had to pass because it was going so slowly. I dunno, there’s something smug about puttering around on one of those goddamn things. I don’t mind the old crone who feeds the islands’ feral animals using one because she’s got to be at least 90 and probably is unable to operate an automobile, but the rest of you, get a blanking bicycle.

#8 Hummers – These monstrosities, the anti-golf carts, roar self-indulgence, scream fuck the planet, exude a menacing militarism that give drivers of Mini-Coopers like me the heebie-jeebies. Plus when they park next you, you need a periscope to back-up safely into traffic.

#7 Leaf blowers – gardening’s equivalent of the Hummer, these infernal replacers of the rake create a Dresden-scaled bombing assault on the ear drums of anyone a hundred yards away. Plus, they simply blow leaves into gutters or the woods without properly recycling them, robbing future generations of the pleasant aroma of burning leaves in autumn (and the occasional exciting newspaper story of someone’s house burning down).

#6 – Bottle rockets – These goddamn irritants ought to be illegal. Wait, on Folly they are illegal. Nevertheless, for hours on end on holidays, they’ll scream their way upward and pop their pops, sprinkle their colored fire, and terrify dogs, frogs, marsh birds, minks, otters, deer, and schizophrenics.

#5 – The sound and smell of dentists’ drills doing their work.


#4 – The idea that the greater the number of people praying for something, the more likely God will grant the prayers. For one thing, God is a monarch (that’s why he’s called Lord) not a little-d democrat. When little Bentley flips his three-wheeler and breaks his neck, I doubt if lighting up the switchboard of God’s consciousness is going to make a difference if Bentley recovers or not. It’s really not giving God too much credit, is it? I say pray, but pray for wisdom, guidance, “thy-will-be-done.”

#3Forcing people to use euphemisms. Hey, people, words that describe unpleasant phenomena take on negative connotations, and no matter how many euphemisms you come up with to replace those tainted words, their shelf-life of political correctness is going to be short. Already, I’m getting dirty looks whenever I describe my flip phone as “a special needs phone.”

#2Patriotic bumper stickers. This irritant seems to be less of a problem now that Obama is president. For whatever reason, I don’t see as many “Proud to Be an American” stickers brandished on the bumpers of pick-ups, but guess what, Daddy-O, if you had been born in Iran, you’d be proud to be an Iranian.

#1Numbered lists on the Internet like the 10 worst Movies no one should have to ever sit through again and my 9 most cherished irrational hatreds. That’s a meme that’s got to go. Use your imagination you hit-starved bloggers!

Well, dear readers, there you have it, my stab at curmudgeonry.