Sunday, August 18, 2013
I'm floored. And I love it.
On a rather innocuous-looking stone in a quiet cemetery off a busy street rests Mr. Theodore G. Lovell. Poor Mr. Lovell passed away far too early, in his fifties, but I can tell you one thing. His family was there when he went, and they deeply cared. In fact, it says so, right there on his tombstone: "We all wuv you."
I sincerely doubt that Mr. Lovell has an Elmer Fudd-like speech problem and that his family was making fun of him (technically, when someone substitutes "w" for "l" the trouble is called a "gliding of liquids"). I also am not sure of whether or not his family knew of the Betty Johnson song "The Little Blue Man" from 1958:
One morning when I was out shopping
Though you'll find it hard to believeA little blue man came out of the crowdAnd timidly tugged at my sleeve.
"I wuv you! I wuv you!" said the little blue man"I wuv you! I wuv you to bits.""I wuv you!" He loved me said the little blue manAnd scared me right out of my wits.
But in the end it doesn't matter, for they wuvved him. They wuvved him with all their hearts, and had the guts to put it on his marker for everyone to see. I only hope that when my time comes my family feels the same way as Mr. Lovell's. Everybody deserves to be wuvved.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
With simple and beautiful words - "The love of my life" - Mrs. Milani said goodbye to Mr. Milani.
Mr. Milani, himself, was a giver. I never met him, but I've seen at least a part of his legacy. He was a hunter, and he donated many of the animals he had mounted to the South Shore Natural Science Center. We - I'm currently the director of education - use them to teach kids about nature.
So even if with all this information you still can't figure out a good connection for yourself, think about the last time you visited the Science Center and stopped in to see "the bear." (And if you haven't visited, what's been keeping you? The bear is now 45 years old!). Yes, Mr. Milani donated the Alaskan Brown Bear standing in Vine Hall to the Science Center, and it has become an interior landmark for children of all ages. Preschoolers who bring their grandparents into the building for the first time often say they want Nana and Papa to meet "the bear."
That was Mr. Milani's gift to my life. We never met, but he has helped connect kids with nature, which gives me a running start when they come to one of my programs for the first time.
Friday, August 16, 2013
If I've found anything out about myself during this year of epitaph-inspired self-discovery, it's that I am very susceptible to humming. I just need to read a few words and I am off and murmuring the rest of the lyrics to songs that are anything from vaguely familiar to lodged in my heart and mind. Douglas Mangone's stone reminds us that "To know him is to love him."
Admit it, you're singing.
There is a weird force at play here. Let's travel backwards through time. We all know that the Teddy Bears recorded the song and sent it to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts back in 1958 (preceded by the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" and knocked out of the top spot by "The Chipmunk Song." Ah, simpler times.). From that time forward everybody from Gary Glitter to Amy Winehouse recorded it, including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, who are credited with "resurrecting" the song after a decade or so in rock 'n' roll purgatory.
But it's back to the Teddy Bears we must go. One member of the group, Phil Spector, wrote it, and, of course, went on to write many other hit songs over the next decade. Where did he find the words? On his father's tombstone.
But there is another odd strain we must follow. Although the words do not appear in the Bible in this specific order, students of the Bible do find passages that carry the theme, and refer to them by using the title of the song. So we have an interesting reversal of roles. The Bible has inspired much of our modern world, in ways we often overlook. In this case, the modern world is influencing the way we look at the Bible.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Elsewhere in Norwell, back at the Washington Street Cemetery, we find the final words of Marjorie B. Harter, sharing space on her stone with her husband Loren. I'm assuming they're her final words, as the cute little poem is tagged with her initials, M.B.H. And it's a good thing she put the "B" in there, otherwise I might have considered Marvin Hamlisch as the possible writer.
Anyway, Marjorie, if she is the poet, understood the finality of everything, how death is inevitable, as her words gently slide toward her belief in the afterlife as the short lines progress.
Life - We have been long together,
In pleasant and in stormy weather.
It's hard to part when friends are dear,
Perhaps I will cause a sigh - a tear,
Then steal away, give little warning,
And in some brighter clime
Bid me "Good morning!"
I don't believe I'll be going with a poem as my epitaph, mostly because I'm just not good at the art. There are some - like Marjorie - who can pull it off. My one saving grace is the notion that there are no critics lining up in cemeteries to scour tombstones and harshly evaluate what people are choosing as their final words...except for me. So maybe I'll give it a shot. Nah, probably not. Hey...
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Every Thursday afternoon, back in 2000, Rob Sayrs would shuffle into the Scituate Historical Society's Little Red Schoolhouse at 43 Cudworth Road. It was his turn to volunteer, three hours every week, ad nauseum. At the time, I was the only paid employee of the organization.
So we would talk. He would tell me about his work in Philadelphia as a young man, and his days in the Army. And so it went on his stone, "S Sgt, US Army, World War II." He would talk to me about his wife Connie - who I'm pretty positive I never met - and about his passion for historical research.
It was a focused passion. Rob tuned in specifically on one thing: double-chimney Capes. He was so interested in the topic that he wrote a pamphlet about it, covering the architectural details of the handful of examples that could be seen on the South Shore of Boston, small Cape Cod-style houses that had, instead of the central anchoring chimney, one at each end.
A few years later, I cycled out of Rob's life. I went to work across the river for Mass Audubon, literally 10 minutes away, but in a completely different world. I had no idea Rob was gone when I walked into his cemetery, but it made sense. He was more than 80 when I knew him, and that was 13 years ago.
Besides, if I ever want to talk to Rob again, I'll just go pull his pamphlet off the Scituate Historical Society's shelves on Cudworth Road. I'm sure it's still there. Those guys keep everything.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Quincy, Massachusetts, can lay claim to the birth of John William Cheever - yes, that John Cheever - but Norwell is where he resides permanently.
Cheever had a tumultuous, at times torturous life. He came of age when the Depression hit and his family was tearing itself apart. He wrote when he was young, then learned to hate his younger writing self. He transformed over time to become a talented short story writer and then an author. For many of us, the association is Falconer, one of his novels. For others, it was the role he posthumously played on Seinfeld as the lover of Susan's father. Although written for comedic effect, the truth was there. After his death, Cheever's daughter outed him as bisexual in her own memoir. The fictitious Susan found out about her father the way that the Cheever children had found out about their father, from letters long held secret.
Again, though, we have an author without any words. Instead we have a marker signifying his military service during World War II, and a weeping willow tree, that ever-symbolic carving found so thoroughly across the New England landscape.
Reading about his life, the term "rest in peace" really has meaning. One can only hope.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Such an unassuming stone for such a remarkable man. And I don't just say that because I work for the nature center he founded so many years ago.
No, Captain William Gould Vinal has long been a hero to me. He was a champion of open space preservation, once envisioning a "South Shore State Forest" that never came to be - at least not all of it. Parts of the land he coveted for conservation are today's Wompatuck State Park and Black Pond Bog Nature Preserve, among other parcels.
He was an old soul at an early age, keeping diaries, learning about the history of the region he grew up in. He has left us scores of written works, from books to pamphlets, about nature guiding, nature education and anything else related to nature. I carry some of his work around in my car with me at all times. He was a giant in his times, yet here he is in Norwell - bis beloved Norwell - buried in an out-of-the-way corner, under a stone that is hard to see without a weed whacker.
And there are no words. He said enough in life to deserve the break from having to deliver any final inspiration.