Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ceremony for Richard English

A picture of Richard with his dog, Pie-O-My; a vase of
flowers; a wooden box containing our friend's
earthly remains.  The pink tablecloth is from
Cafe Mews, a restaurant that both Richard and I,
in the early eighties, worked in.

Waiting for people to gather; forefront: Channing Wilroy.
Kevin Johnson chatting with Richard's sister, Darlene.

On left: Richard's brother Vernon and Vernon's girlfriend, who live
in Sonoma, California; on right, Darlene, Richard's sister,
who lives near Mobile, Alabama.
I'm thinking, "Come on, gather round in a semi-circle."

Time to say some nice things about a nice guy.

Thank you all for coming out to honor a good man. And thanks to Mother Nature for this perfect day.

Richard and I were soldiers in Germany when we met 54 years ago. I liked him right away. He was open, ready to laugh, interesting and interested. We were to become buddies for life…together in Muenchweiler, in Lansing, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and, finally, in Provincetown and Wellfleet.

In October of 2013 Richard, Jim Rann, Rodney Reetz, and I celebrated fifty years of friendship by having dinner together at Fanizzi's. I have always thought of these guys as "the core" of my friendships … the ones who go back the furthest, the ones who know the most about the others of us. I've always appreciated that it was through Richard that I met Jim, and through both of them that I met Rodney. These guys have always been special and dear, and it was my friendship with Richard in Germany that set off having a wonderful core set of friends throughout all these years.

Like many of you, I cared for Richard deeply. I loved him like he was an ideal brother, and never doubted that he loved me. Loyalty could have been his middle name. Sometimes I felt like he held me in a higher esteem than I deserved to be held. But I think he did that with others too. That's just how he was … If he liked you he liked you all the way. I honestly can't remember him ever saying an unkind word about another human being. And for a guy who … and this was rare, especially in the seventies and eighties … for a guy who did not socialize in bars, he gathered an amazing and incredibly varied collection of friends. A lot of us, I bet, have almost nothing in common except an admiration for Richard.

I remember a time in Lansing in the early sixties when Richard told me he would like to be a painter but that he didn't think his imagination could be contained within the rectangular lines of any frame. I had no idea that Richard had any artistic talent … I'd never seen him draw, I'd never even seen him doodle … but I thought that was a really neat thing to say. And eventually, in his late thirties, he saw a way to become a painter, using talent more than any wild imagination, just painting what was beautiful to him, and painting it beautifully. I'm one of many who think his paintings are amazingly good.

I also had no clue that Richard had it in him to become a fine finish carpenter. I know a real estate agent in town who's seen the gentrified interiors of a lot of homes here. Often when she saw exceptionally fine cabinetry or beautifully crafted stairs and such, she would ask who'd done the work. The answer was often "Richard English.” His wonderful gift let him "see" results ahead, and he was adept at applying those visions to both woodworking and oil painting. 

Many many times in the sixties I read to Richard poems or bits of literature which I liked. I'm not exaggerating in saying that he glowed with appreciation when I did this. He loved literature but reading was difficult for him … he could write a beautiful letter but reading daunted him. I eventually came to speculate that it was some sort of dyslexia that made reading difficult. But now I would like to read one more poem for him. I'm not sure Richard is approving of this little ceremony in his honor … he was such a private sort of guy … but I know for certain that he will love hearing one more poem. It's by Emily Dickinson.  

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My leisure and my labor too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain;
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.*

A few others spoke; the man on my left, Peter Robert Cook,
mentioned huge amounts of hoota smoked and lots
of fun and laughs.
I loved it that dogs were listening.  Richard was as kind
to animals as a person can be.

Kathy, the woman in pink, remembered Richard
teaching her, in the early seventies,  the correct pronunciation of Scallop,
which happened to be the name of one of his cats.

That's Pie-O-My at the top, now adopted
by Jim Rann and Peter McDonough; and,

in gold,Tom Cullen's Chihuahua.

Darlene carries the ashes and I the flowers
to Tom who is waiting in his kayak.

I loved having one of Richard's dearest friends taking him
out to the sea which Richard loved so much.  Thanks Tom and Kevin
for thinking this would be the best place to have
the ceremony. You were absolutely right.

Darlene and me watching as Tom paddles out to
where a current will carry Richard beyond the breakwater

to open sea.

After the ceremony Tom treated us all to Mediterranean finger foods and dips
at The Harbor Lounge … which is part of the site of the old Cafe Mews where Richard and I
worked at one time.  And I treated myself to a martini. (Of that pink tablecloth from Cafe Mews I said,
"It could be the one that was on one of the tables used by either Eartha Kitt or Grace Jones on the
autumn night each of them came into Cafe Mews with separate parties, sat across the aisle from one another,
without acknowledge the other diva's presence.)

Four Amigos is now Three Amigos.  Jim Rann, Rodney Reetz, and I
celebrated fifty years of friendship with Richard in 2013.
*Anyone familiar with this Dickinson poem will notice that I took liberties; because I'm so fond of Dickinson I've always felt a little guilty that I usually prefer any version of her poems that was edited by one of two other people after Dickinson's death; Dickinson's original of this poem is difficult to recite; the edited version is much easier; my changes make it even easier yet. (I change 'my labor and my leisure too" to 'my leisure and my labor too.' I also like to say 'civilitay' for civility, forcing the rhyme with 'away.'
All photos by Mark Jurentkuff

1 comment:

  1. That "Darlene and me" photo...speaks volumes ....x