by Andy Mitchell
Recently I was asked to read an original poem at a memorial service for an old friend of mine. It was the third such occasion in the past couple of years. The first was for Dave Newman’s funeral in nearby Winchester. I had written a poem called, “American Pie,” after hearing of Dave’s death. I posted it on Facebook. His family saw it and requested that I read it at his service. I had never given a eulogy before, but accepted the request without hesitation.
Arriving at the Methodist church, I was relieved that Robin Lyons was the presiding pastor. Lyons, who frequents the bookstore, put me at ease as soon as I arrived, ushering me to my seat next to Jeff and Teresa Davidsmeyer, who were providing the music for the service. Between Lyons’ perfect homily and the Davidsmeyers’ perfect harmony, I managed to mumble my awkward tribute. In that November season of Thanksgiving, I was truly grateful to play my bit part honoring a beloved local legend, knowing Dave’s music had not died the day he did.
After my father died the following November, it sort of fell to my nephew, Gil, and me to offer reflections representing the children and grandchildren respectively. Thinking at first this task could prove mighty difficult, I found myself at home in my childhood church, talking about Dad, reading the lines which had recently poured forth unbidden, an instinctual answer to the loss.
Mary Jeane McGuire was someone I had known since I started hanging out with her son, Kevin, back in junior high school. Very occasionally over the years since those early days I would encounter her, usually briefly, often passing in a car, a fleeting exchange, a wave. Sometime after her first husband, Richard, died, I began to notice another gentleman accompanying her.
But it wasn’t until Mary Jeane and Bill (the mysterious gentleman) started frequenting the bookstore that I became truly acquainted with the mother of my childhood friend as a peer, a friend. Some of the bookstore memories I hold dearest are ones involving Mary Jeane and Bill, two of the gentlest, deepest thinking individuals I have had the great fortune to share so many heartwarming and enlightening times with.
I grew to think of them as the heart and soul of the poetry group that used to meet at OTB once a month. Mary Jeane’s condition and Bill’s schedule often prevented their attendance. Consequently I considered the nights they could both attend special occasions. Reading a poem at Mary Jeane’s memorial service I was reminded of all the times a read aloud in our group meetings, and how, invariably, she seemed to be the one who really “got it.” I wish she could have heard me reading that morning in the Congregational Church, reading a poem I had written expressly for her. It was the least, and perhaps the most I could do.
The morning after you died I turned down Westminster
in order to walk by your old address,
the one I visited countless times in my youth,
eager for neighborhood adventures with your son,
my best friend, Kevin.
It’s been altered significantly since then, that house of yesteryear.
Painted white, there’s a high fence running along the property line
where one summer I watered a newly-planted border.
It was my first job, tending
your humble grounds, while you and your family were away
somewhere, perhaps Kansas.
I felt so grown-up at twelve years-old, so responsible,
entrusted with the well-being of your young plants.
Now that you’ve gone away this time…
I wish I could do something for you once more.
But maybe there is… nothing I can do;
perhaps you are… nowhere at all.
And yet I know that is not so.
Indeed you are somewhere. You are here
in these lines. Therefore, I can do something for you –
I can keep you alive just as I kept your plants alive
(albeit barely, as I recall) I can keep you alive
here with these words.
So I will imagine
you showing your gratitude as you always did –
neither through grand explication,
nor through wordy sentiment,
rather with a quiet sigh of contentment.
I too will try to find contentment, knowing
you are still here with us this morning…
in all these words I’ve written for your safekeeping,
in all these heavy hearts assembled in your name.