The Parting Glass, by John Ostrander
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite films is a fine Irish delight called Waking Ned Devine. The closing theme is a lovely version of the Irish tune Parting Glass, an appropriate song to come to mind for many different reasons on this, my final column at ComicMix. The refrain of it reads like this:
So fill to me the parting glass / Good night and joy be with you all.
An appropriate lyric in particular since, last week I was at the funeral of my Aunt Helen who died peacefully at the age of 101. If you’ve read the column regularly, then you might recall the column I wrote when Helen reached her 101st birthday earlier this year. She died peacefully in her own apartment in Chicago, sitting on the sofa, the morning paper beside her. The TV set was still on and she had, by all reports, a peaceful expression on her face.
My family was sorry to see Helen go, of course, but I wouldn’t say her wake was a solemn affair – nor would she have wished it to be. The youngest of the great grand nieces and nephews, ages two or so, played in front of the open casket, turning somersaults and squealing. Helen would have adored that – especially the incongruity of it. As my nephew, Fred Ludwig (who has a fine writer’s voice himself) wrote for part of her obituary, Helen “had a laugh that could fill a room.” I think I heard it there that night.
As I mentioned in that other column, at her 90th or 95th birthday, Helen received many a bottle of bourbon, almost all Seagrams 7. Enough whiskey to stock a liquor store. She laughed as she received each gift and said, “Oh, you know my brand.” She continued to have one highball a day, towards dinnertime, in the tradition of her father, who also lived to be 100. Her stash was found in the apartment – there was plenty left – and brought to the wake in a discreet side room where family and friends could repair to lift a parting glass to Helen without disturbing other wakes also being held at the funeral home. Helen would also have appreciated that – and the toasts.
She left bequests and had her funeral all organized – who was going to do what, what songs were to be sung, what readings at the church – the same church she had attended all her life – and who was to do them. My brother and I were both to do the eulogy. I began my part by “blaming” the Chicago Cubs for her death. Helen was such a Cubs’ fan. For the recessional we all sang “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.”
She also left different things to different members of the family and we were allowed to choose among the rest. I claimed some old shot glasses, not because I think they’re worth much but because I’m pretty sure they’re the same shot glasses both she and her father used.
There were other gifts as well, some perhaps not intended but gifts nonetheless. Some old friends of mine made contact or, if they were in the area, came to the wake. I appreciated them all – it had been a long time since I’d seen any of them. I’d say chief among them was my best friend from high school days. Rick went with me to my very first theater audition and, when I almost chickened out at the door, pushed me through it, growling, “Oh no. You haven’t brought me this far just to walk away now. You’re doing this.” That audition led to my first play and that path eventually led me to here.
After the wake, Rick and I and the lovely Mary went out to get a late dinner and I realized Rick was still one of my best friends, even if we hadn’t been in close contact for a long time. I love this guy. I’m not going to lose track like that again. It was Helen’s wake that brought us back together and, so far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the gifts Helen gave me.
All those who came to the wake – Annette, Jane, Barbara, Jerry, Patty and David, Rick – simply reminded me that with real friends, where there is kinship, there is no time or space. There’s the time we’re together and the time we’re not. When we’re not together, we still carry one another in our memories and our hearts. For me, the same goes with Helen and Kim and all the others. Their bodies are gone but I carry them in my heart and mind.
Perhaps, to some degree, that’s true here as well. As I wrote last week, between writer and reader there is a bond if the writing is done well. In all of my writing, I have always been mindful that I am writing for someone. No, it’s not the same as with Helen, or Mary, or Rick nor should it be. However, I do know that I carry something of the writers who have affected me in my heart and mind so perhaps we have shared something like that.
I will be writing more and I’ve gotten use to doing essays and may continue them at my message board at http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/ostrander/. And I have another series planned here at ComicMix as well as more Munden’s Bar stories. I’m still writing Star Wars: Legacy and have some other projects in the planning stages. This column, however, is done.
By way of farewell, I’ll quote the closing lines from Parting Glass, holding all in my heart and mind and looking forward to the future.