This Whiskey Is Missing It’s Owner, and the World Laments

My dad died on Friday. It’s taken me 3 days to get to the point where I can type that statement without completely falling apart. At 1:30 AM on Friday, August 21st, 2015, my dad died.

I’m one of the luckiest people I know, I grew up with supportive parents who always taught me that I was not only allowed, but encouraged to be myself. This wasn’t just lip-service on their part: my dad in particular, his whole life, held one belief above others: that loving people regardless of, and more importantly *because of* who they are, is the one and only way that humanity will move forward. Celebrating our differences, indeed seeing those differences for the opportunity for us to grow as people, was sacrosanct to him.

He lived a fascinating life. Growing up depression-era poor, lost his own dad at 12, and found himself getting his first job. Between his under the table and odd jobs, and my grandma’s minimal waitress salary, they got by.

He was caught early by the learning bug, and it never stopped. He’s one of the few people I’ve ever met that wanted to KNOW (everything, anything). He found a delight in expanding his knowledge and experience that I’ve never seen replicated in anyone else. When he was that poor street kid, his refuge was the Springfield (Mass.) public library, as well as the planetarium. By the time he was 14, he’d sweet talked the librarians into letting him out of the kids section and into the full adult section. For hours on any given day, when he wasn’t working (or getting in trouble with the cops), he was in the library devouring it section by section.

His great intellectual love, from those early days on, was poetry. He read anyone and everyone, and when he was older and living in Boston, he was immersed in the poetry/art/counterculture scene of the late ’50s that centered around Beacon Hill. He met my mom there in the early ’60s.

His favorite poet of all time was W.H. Auden, in particular “In Memory of W.B. Yeats“. He always swore to me that no one recognized that the greatest line of text in the English language was contained therein:

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

He read this poem outloud to my mom, and the dog, about 2-hours before he died. It was a simple happenstance, as his death as sudden and unexpected, but wonderfully appropriate nonetheless.

He had quit drinking about a year before he died. An ongoing family joke was my mom asking if he needed anything, and him answering “I just need a damned whiskey”.  I hope if you are anywhere dad, that they’ve got Johnny in endless supplies.

In 11th grade poetry class I quoted

Cummings in Olaf’s voice

The teacher’s shocked look as

Olaf profaned the flag, and

Declared his defiance; later

I recounted it to your unrestrained

Roar of a laugh (that never failed

to charm a single soul)

Around cattle camps and Beacon Street pubs,

This whiskey is missing it’s owner,

And the world laments.

I later taught your granddaughter,

The same statement you

Had taught me, our secret family

Benediction against the evils of this

Fucked up world.

“Don’t let the assholes get you down.”

Our private spitting in the face of

Cruel absurd fate.

From morning ship decks to never-quite-made-it-to-Casablanca,

This whiskey is missing it’s owner,

And the world laments.

Mom told me that your

Last poetry reading of your

Life, to she and the dog,
(An audience you always knew

was worth more than any other.)

Was Auden lamenting Yeats.

Fitting, as you understood the

Poet’s soul better than any.

Oh aging beatnik from the Eisenhower Era

This whiskey is missing it’s owner,

And the world laments.

————

5 thoughts on “This Whiskey Is Missing It’s Owner, and the World Laments”

  1. I’m so sorry. I’ve always enjoyed reading your tweets about your family, you guys seem to have things figured out in a way I’ve rarely seen in my life. And thanks for sharing this beautiful farewell, your dad sounds like a lovely man. Best to you and your family.

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