Friday, September 20, 2013

34129. Smith/Keith

If, like me, when you first saw the words on the Smith/Keith gravestone, you thought they had misspelled the famous phrase "Che sara,, sara," you would be half right.

If you think in Italian, or Latin, as Christopher Marlowe probably did when he wrote Doctor Faustus, this spelling is generally correct. But if you think in Spanish, you probably scratched your head a bit, envisioning the words as "Que sera, sera." Now, if you're thinking in that other language of romance, Doris Day, well, that's a little bit "Que sera, sera" as well. And that's probably where we get confused; we think Doris Day before Doctor Faustus on most days. So it goes in America.

But, no matter how you spell it, it comes out meaning the same: "Whatever will be, will be." And so it goes in cemeteries all around the world.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

34096. Eleftherios and Mary Andriotis

There's nothing out of the ordinary on the Andriotis' gravestone, it's what's in it. The stone has an arched window cut through it that acts as a mini display room. The family can open it with a lock from the rear, and can create a rotating exhibit of their lives, a really novel way of looking at the mourning and remembrance process.

I'm telling you, soon it will be QR codes and push-button PowerPoint presentations.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

34037. Eileen Gillis

Jim Gillis was a good man. Better than most, by like 99 percent.

I knew him as two things: a World War II D-Day vet, and the ultimate hometown do-gooder. I can't tell you how many times he stopped me in town and implored me to get involved, to do good things for my community. He was the kind of guy I was simply proud to know. I miss him. So does Hull.

I had no idea of the hurt he carried inside. He wrote this epitaph for his wife Eileen:

I often wonder why my pal chose me; 
As it turned out, she was mt need to be.
I now reflect with the passage of time
That she was never, never truly mine.
The aura that emanated was larger than life.
Every man should have such a wonderful wife.
She gave of herself without restriction
Never succumbed to her affliction.
She belonged to an exclusive sorority:
Faith, hope, love and His supreme authority.
Advice to her children concerned love and caring,
Always positive with very little bewaring.
Not concerned of dying and physical strife,
Just afraid she had not given enough to life.
A decree was sent from heaven above.
She was my need to be and to love.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

33720. Frank Burns

So, you're cruising through life, hitting 55 years of age. It's been a good run. Then, suddenly, Hollywood smacks you upside the head.

Your name is Francis Burns, but your friends call you Frank. You sit down to watch the new TV series based on the movie M*A*S*H, and in episode 1/18, your namesake, Frank Burns, M.D., gets drunk. It's bad enough that the TV Frank Burns is a doofus, the foil of the beloved main characters of Hawkeye and Trapper. But then out it comes. Burns says that his brother used to call him "Ferret Face." For the next three-and-a-half decades, your name is tied to the iconic all-thumbs military doctor, and you run the risk of sharing his nickname. And you know that even if people don't say it, they're probably thinking it.

I don't know if our Frank was ever called Ferret Face, and I hope not. All I know is that Hollywood should know that it ruins lives! It should check the phone books across the United States and see just how many people it's impacting when it chooses to demean a common name.

Think first, Hollywood. Think first.

Monday, September 16, 2013

33713. James Russell

I want to know how you get a nickname like "Riverboat" Russell did. There really are two ways, as far as I can see.

There's the literal way. Although he lived in the wrong century to be in its heyday, James Russell could have been a riverboat captain. He could have gone west to the great rivers and driven one of the big old sidewheel steamers. But hey, there are riverboats on the Charles, in Boston, even if they don't quite fit the opulence of the days of old. Maybe he ran from from the Cambridgeside Galleria out to the harbor. Not as glamorous, but more than I've ever done.

But the nickname "Riverboat" typically stands for a gambler, either literally or figuratively. Think of Bret Maverick, from the 1950's TV show or the 1994 movie. One of the most recent nationally known examples is "Riverboat" Ron Rivera, head coach of the NFL's Carolina Panthers, known for his super-aggressive defensive play calling. I suspect that there was a little alliteration at play as well, as it had to be with our friend "Riverboat" Russell.

Either way, I want a nickname. I don't know if it ends up on my tombstone. Perhaps this is just the super geek in me wanting to be seen as cool, but that will be a book for another day.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

33553. The Hunt Family

Is the "H" for Hull, or for "Hunt?" The Hunt family stone is just that, a huge capital "H," and my only confusion comes with the words below the little brown wiener dog left on the pedestal supporting it: "God's country." If the "H" is for the family, cool. If it's for the town, well, I can see that, and I don't just say that as a townie at heart. Hull is a peninsula awash with the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean. For someone who enjoys such a life, it is God's country. You may have your Rocky Mountains, your deep woods of Michigan; give me a storm-tossed sea any day, and I'll be just fine.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

33503. Vincent G. Brown

Vincent was one of 28 who lost their lives to a single engineering failure, recognized a half century after their deaths by President Barack Obama.

Vincent was working aboard an offshore radar platform known as a Texas Tower for its similarities to oil drilling rigs seen in the Gulf of Mexico. His duty station, Texas Tower 4, was built in Portland, Maine, and towed to its place off Long Island, New York, in 1957. During transportation to position, rough seas caused structural problems that would herald the doom of the men who served on the tower. The Air Force tried top repair them, but successive storms in 1959 and 1960, including Hurricane Donna, kept up the assault. As if the vibration from the constant rotation of the radar system, meant to give the Air Force a thirty-minute jump on Soviet bombers should they arrive, the tower swayed with the power of the waves.

Weakened by the battering of the sea, "Old Shaky," fell into the sea during a winter storm on January 15, 1961, dropping all 28 men then working inside into the freezing cold waters. No one survived. And so Vincent Brown leaves us with the harrowing words "Lost at sea from the Texas Tower." Now you know the tale.

What's amazing to me is that the same story unfolded 110 years earlier in nearby waters, and we didn't heed it. The first Minot's Lighthouse dropped into the sea on April 16-17, 1851 (no one knows for sure on which side of midnight it fell). Both towers featured structures on long legs sunk into the earth. Both were supposed to allow water to rush through those legs, rather than capture the sea's wrath full force. Both fell into the sea when the legs gave way. Both claimed lives. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, as the saying goes. In this case, it cost the lives of 28 hard-working men, and caused grief that flowed exponentially outward. How needless.