Friday, July 14, 2017

In Memoriam (Lunch)

i. The Menu 

Strong emotion makes me sleepy, and I've been sleeping a lot since my father died (gosh, only two-and-a-half days ago). I think some funeral rituals are helpful simply because they make you get up and get dressed... and maybe even clean the house. 

I was just now looking at an old glass peanut-butter jar full of pearl buttons, thinking that if I were someone else, I would be spending this afternoon hand-sewing a little, treasurable favor for everyone who is coming to the home-made memorial I am holding for my father in my small apartment tomorrow.

Instead, I am figuring out the ratio of sleeping-time desired to house cleaning–time required.

I did manage to go out and about to gather for the memorial some of the Italian foods my Sicilian grandmother served for casual gatherings:
salami, cheese, bread, fresh fruit, Jordan almonds (Italian in origin), and red wine.

Ignoring my grandmother's advice that "the cheapest wine is the best," 
I splurged ($65) on Amarone della Valpolicella, which we never drank.

I only tasted it a few years ago. 
It's amazing: made from semi-dried grapes (raisins), but not sticky sweet--it's a dry red wine (insert something about chemistry... )
Photo, right, of the grapes, drying over the winter.

ii. Marking the Change

Funeral rituals get you out of bed, but they're also important for me because I need to mark the event, to help make it real. Death is so weird---the psyche has a hard time accepting someone has gone forever.  It doesn't compute.

I woke up this morning thinking that losing my father to a natural death is a million times easier than losing my mother to suicide. 
 It was much harder simply to take it in, when my mother killed herself. I dreamed, and still sometimes dream, that she's not really dead: once in a dream, I ran into her in Australia, where she'd been living for years but hadn't bothered, somehow, to write.

I'd arranged a big funeral for her--I really needed the big guns to mark her death, and I very, very much appreciated the many people who came and the many cards people sent. Now, not being on Facebook, I haven't heard from many people and haven't reached out to many either. It's fine. I've invited only a handful of old friends to this memorial for my father--there'll be a couple readings, but mostly it's lunch. *

iii. Time and Chance

I think I'll read my father's favorite Bible passage---the bit from Ecclesiastes about the race not going to the swift, but chance playing a major role in how things turn out for people's lives. **

That sums up my father's political philosophy, that people who succeed give themselves too much credit if they think they are better than others: usually they're just luckier than others who're trying just as hard or didn't get a chance even to try. 

My father was a professor of political science, whose politics (everyone deserves the dignity of choice, I guess sums it up, even if their choices are dumb) were shaped by growing up during the Great Depression in the industrial city of Milwaukee, the son of hardworking but impoverished immigrants.
He always spoke with deep bitterness of the way the government relief workers would visit the family's home, to make sure they weren't lying about their need for clothes, and how the government-issued shoes had orange soles, so the children who had to wear them to school felt marked out. His father, my grandfather, was a violent, brutal man, but my father always said he was made worse because he was a proud man who'd been made to feel humiliated.

iv. Different Landscapes

My sister is writing our father's obituary for the newspaper. Earlier today we spoke on the phone, and she asked if I had any suggestions for quotes to include. 
I suggested the Ecclesiastes bit, saying our father was always an Old Testament Christian (insofar as he was Christian at all, which wasn't much)--he even said as much, and it summed up his odd mix of New Deal + Libertarian politics.

She paused. 
"I was thinking more of the Romantic poets," she said."Like 'Travelling,' by Wordsworth--it reminds me of our wonderful trips together."


I can't think of any sensibility much further from [how I see] my father's.
What can I say?
Every person is many different people; my sister and I share the same biological father, but we knew different ones. 

My father's favorite book, so far as I know, was The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa:
This tale of the decline and fall of the house of Salina, a family of Sicilian aristocrats, first appeared in 1958, but it reads more like the last 19th-century novel, a perfect evocation of a lost world."--NYT
My father even named his son Fabrizio, after the main character, the prince.

THIS, from the novel is the landscape--the psychological landscape, the Sicilian DNA-- that shaped my father:
“For over twenty-five centuries we [Sicilians have] been bearing the weight of superb and heterogeneous civilizations, all from outside, none made by ourselves, none that we could call our own.

This violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and even these monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing round us like lovely mute ghosts;
all those rulers who landed by main force from every direction who were at once obeyed, soon detested, and always misunderstood, their only expressions works of art we couldn't understand and taxes which we understood only too well and which they spent elsewhere:
all these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind.”

My sister's thinking daffodils, and I'm sure that's true to her experience of our father.

I'm thinking artichokes.
And wine that's made from reduction.

 * P.S. If you're a friend in town reading this, and I didn't invite you, I was probably asleep: you are welcome to turn up uninvited!

* * Oh! How 'bout that? 
I just now looked up the Ecclesiastes quote, to link here, and it follows shortly after,
eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart", which also fits my father, and is perfect for a memorial lunch!  

This is the bit he especially liked (KJV):
"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."


Anonymous said...

I am so, so sorry to hear about the death of your father. It sounds like he went as peacefully & easily as anyone can; yet I know, it is indeed a huge change for those of us left behind. It is like a sudden rip of hole in the universe, and everything rushes towards that hole to fill it & try to re-balance/re-calibrate the universe,and everything left behind is a little off-balance for a while, including us who knew the person.

I would love to be at your memorial service for him- please know that I am there in spirit. Maybe I'll open my bottle of red wine tomorrow and drink to him, and you, and the other survivors.
--Laura B. [in Glacier!]

Anonymous said...

You have written beautifully about grief and preparing for a memorial.Sleep and cleaning the house. Yes! It is strange how siblings see their parents differently, and think different things appropriate. The way you have writtten about your father recntly makes me doubt Worsdworth as a choice too. I love the passage you have chosen for a man who was a Professor of Politics. He had a tough upbringing.
Enough... making these decisions is important as it is you acknowledging the father you knew and saying goodbye. God bless you and your sister , may you have strength and courage through these days. I am sending you a rose through the ether for your apartment.x

gz said...

(O) xx

Fresca said...

YOu are all so lovely to write;
I can't respond at the moment except to say, THANK YOU!

Bink said...

I had read this post until Saturday fitting that I went searching for a quote from The Leopard to read this afternoon, and here you are quoting it too. So much more Daniele than Romantic Poets.

Fresca said...

BINK: Thanks for the Leopard quote too! I think the Romantic poets fit my sister, and her relationship with our father, but not so much how anyone else saw our father... :)