A Proper Goodbye

Jeff passed away.  

Frank Dicksee's Funeral of a Viking. Dicksee is best known for his pictures of dramatic literary, historical, and legendary scenes

Older Brothers.  What can I say?    You grow up being terrorized by them.  They laugh at you right in the face, resent your presence, and when the cat was given away by my parents for my overwhelming allergy to the tabby, he walks over to you and says, “I wish they took you and not the cat.” 

So life goes on, and when you think you know them, when you really think you know them, he transforms into a human being.  For years, upon returning from military duty (I got mobilized close to 12 years) he dutifully picks you up at the airport.  He has breakfast with you before taking you home to meet the rest of the family.  When you need a favor he comes through for you, without complaint.  What happened?  Is it just that we got older? 

I remember him when he was younger.  I remember him when he was wilder.  In his room he kept two of his favorite books:  The Hobbit and Commentarii de Bello Gallico.  

The work has been around a long time.  The first line must have been translated from the Latin by thousands of students:

“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres”, meaning “Gaul is a whole divided into three parts”

He loved that book.  I remember he even took Latin in high school.  I have a memory of Jeff.  I was sitting on the floor (in the 1960s) watching BEN HUR.  A triumph takes place in the streets of Rome.  

“What are you watching, kid?”  Jeff asked.

“Ben Hur.”

We silently watch the pageantry of the passing horses and legionnaires.  The music of Miklós Rózsa flows over us.  If you have never heard of Rózsa’s music, he has an impressive list of film scores that are quite thrilling.  Check out his score for Metro-Goldwyn-Myer’s King of Kings.   In Ben Hur as the chariot came to a stop at the steps that led up to the Emperor, I asked my brother without looking at him the following question.  “Do you think it was like that?”

“I think it was better,” he said.    I remember his voice.  It was filled with wonder – true and undiluted wonder at the thought of it. 

I asked him once how he wanted to be buried.  He said cremation.  At the time my Father ran a Church Camp up in the Warren Dunes State Park Area.  Jeff told me to take his body up there, and burn his remains on the edge of Lake Michigan.    The camp itself was on the edge of huge sand dunes running up and down the shore.  He imagined himself a Roman pyre, and he instructed that he wanted me to read the first page of The Gallic War as his body burned.  

Chapter 1

All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third. All these differ from each other in language, customs and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani; the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae. Of all these, the Belgae are the bravest, because they are furthest from the civilization and refinement of [our] Province, and merchants least frequently resort to them, and import those things which tend to effeminate the mind; and they are the nearest to the Germans, who dwell beyond the Rhine, with whom they are continually waging war; for which reason the Helvetii also surpass the rest of the Gauls in valor, as they contend with the Germans in almost daily battles, when they either repel them from their own territories, or themselves wage war on their frontiers. One part of these, which it has been said that the Gauls occupy, takes its beginning at the river Rhone; it is bounded by the river Garonne, the ocean, and the territories of the Belgae; it borders, too, on the side of the Sequani and the Helvetii, upon the river Rhine, and stretches toward the north. The Belgae rises from the extreme frontier of Gaul, extend to the lower part of the river Rhine; and look toward the north and the rising sun. Aquitania extends from the river Garonne to the Pyrenaean mountains and to that part of the ocean which is near Spain: it looks between the setting of the sun, and the north star.

I couldn’t burn his body on the beach – health laws.  However, maybe some day I’ll sneak out to the shore from between the sand dunes and build a pyre to his memory.  I’ll set it alight.  I have a small box of his ashes.  The box will go on the pyre and burn as I read the designated passage…“between the setting of the sun, and the north star.” 

Good bye Jeff.  I’ll never forget you for your small kindnesses, for that is all little brothers want. 

Mors est A.P. Style dux

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