A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt


Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave

My Dreams Are Made Of Iron And Steel


I don’t dream the way I did in past years.  I miss that because those nighttime adventures were something to behold.  The visions of H. P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and Steven Spielberg were mere cartoons when compared to the places I would go in the hours beyond midnight…when REM sleep was most active.

Very rarely do I wake in the morning with the words, “Holy Crap” on my lips and the burning desire to tell my wife what just happened inside my brain.  But, I found I couldn’t put my dreams into words that could come close to describe the worlds I wandered in while my eyes were closed and reality didn’t exist..for those moments.

Some people claim they don’t dream, but scientists find that nearly everyone does…they just don’t remember anything.  I still remember, in vivid detail, the landscapes of the night that I found myself wandering in sixty years ago.

Some of those after images are a delight to recall…but many are places I never want to revisit.

When I was a little boy, I had a great deal of trouble falling asleep.  I still do.  But, my dreams as a child were not of lambs jumping fences or riding across the prairie, bareback, on “Old Paint”.  No, I had odd dreams of odd objects that would sometimes chase me or kill someone I loved.  We had a long hallway in our house.  I had this one frequent dream that a giant ball was rolling down the hallway and if I didn’t move, I would be crushed.

I always moved.

There was a dream (?) I had in my youth that went like this: My brother, Chris and I were walking through the woods of Beecher Hill when we pushed through the trees and found ourselves in Evergreen Cemetery.  I remember being terrified enough that Chris had to carry me like a baby until we made it through to the front gates.  The odd thing about this, is that I’m not totally sure it didn’t really happen.

As a teenager, I began to have dreams that were intensely erotic.  Most males (if not all) go through this.  As I moved into adulthood, the nature of the eroticism changed, but it still left me with sweat on my forehead in the morning.  The females in these dreams were people who I knew, sometimes.  But, more than once, these beings were goddesses, sirens and dreamy forms of feminine beauty.  Alas, these kinds of dreams rarely visit me.  Perhaps its my mind’s way of giving me a visual demonstration of my lowering hormone levels that come with aging.

Too bad, I had some good times with some naughty ladies of the night.


But often, too often, my night-time travels would take me to dark and desolate places where death sat in old wing-back chairs, layered in dust.  That image comes from a monumental dream I had in the 1970’s or ’80’s.  I found myself on the edge of a city.  I needed to pass through to the other side of town…but to do so, I had to walk through an immense cemetery…a necropolis…a stone city of mausoleums and crypts.  In these large houses, I would encounter the dead positioned in the manner of their lives.  I recall a table of gamblers, covered in cobwebs and dust.

I hesitate to describe what the rest of my trip to the far side of the city was like.  Just know it wasn’t pleasant, but it was memorable.


When I went to live in England for a year in 1984, I knew I was only going to see my daughter at the Christmas holidays when she would fly over with my mother, brother and niece.  I had numerous dreams about her being in mortal danger.  Once, I was caught in a basement of a store in Owego, NY when tornadoes struck.  I looked out the windows and they appeared like black vipers, twisting and hissing and snapping at everything.  But my daughter was back at my home on Front Street.  I had to get to her and rescue her.  When I finally made it to the back door of our house I went into the kitchen and found her sitting on a stool crying.  Once, in an Owego that really wasn’t Owego, I stood and watched her being crushed by a flying Brontosaurus.

Now, that’s strange stuff, but the images are still with me.

When I moved away from New York City in 2011, I had frequent dreams of being lost in a Manhattan that didn’t look at all like the real place.  And I had these dreams over and over…so many times that I knew which subway I needed to take to get home…a home that wasn’t my home and in a city that existed only in my mind.

Well before I retired from teaching, I began to have the “teacher’s nightmare”.  It’s quite common.  I’ve spoken to a number of educators and they all say that when they dream about teaching, it’s always the same.  With me, I can’t find my class, I’m lost in the school, I’m on a field trip and something happens and I know I’m responsible for those kids.

It fills your school holidays with anxiety.  There’s no rest from a group of 5th graders.

But, the oddest thing about my dreams is that I rarely dream about the most important people in my life.  My wife shows up once in a while.  When my older brother Chris, died in 1995, I had only a few dreams about him…and in those dreams, he was almost always standing in the yard or in the room and not saying a word.  Silently, he watches.

I went through a period of intense nightmares…ones that would have me sit up in bed and scream.  Often, these involved someone or something coming toward me with a noose or a gun.  The threat was immediate.


Not at all like the one dream my brother, Denny, told me he had in the early 1960’s.  His nightmare was that he was being chased down Main Street in Owego, by Nikita Khrushchev who was shaking an axe at him.

No wonder he turned out to be a Republican.

But, I feel now that the nights of my truly fantastic, sometimes morbid dreams, of flying, falling toward the ocean or swimming with a mermaid are drawing to a close.

Maybe I’m all dreamed out.  Maybe the incredible visuals I experienced are spent.

Sleep, when it does come to me, is getting boring.


[Note: The title is a line from Bob Dylan’s Never Say Goodbye.  Appropriate.]

Don’t Cry For Me, Puerto Rico: My Final Postcard


If you want to use Google Earth to find me, just enter 18.44 N and 66.01 W.  That’s me, sitting at the beach bar waiting for an order of nachos.

I’ve licked my last stamp and stuck it to the corner of this postcard.  I won’t be writing to you anymore–from this place.  This is my last day.

So, I’ve spent seven days at Condado Beach.  I admit that I’ve done nothing that several million other tourists, before and after me, haven’t already done.  I didn’t find an undiscovered gem.  I didn’t walk a virgin path.  In fact, I’ve done less than most people who come here given our limited budget.  I’ll be washing the sand off my feet soon and in the morning we’ll take a taxi to the airport.

I only purchased one tee-shirt and eight postcards.  That’s really good for me.  Oh, I almost forgot, there is a new refrigerator magnet in our luggage.

I’ll be honest.  I really don’t want to go home just yet.  I found this island fascinating, fun and full of potential as the salve I need right now.

I’ve shared what I’ve done, but what about the places unseen and people I never talked to?  Those are left for the next time.

I can only think of those brief moments, scenes, people and impressions that I chanced to experience in this too brief a time:

A pretty teenage girl stood in a small park.  I asked if I could photograph her.  She was wary.  In five seconds, her family appeared.  I talked fast.  I snapped quick.  I walked on.


Inside a church, there was a small wedding.  maybe nine people witnessed besides the videographer and the priest–and me.  The bride wore scarlet.

The cobblestone streets of the Old City were said to come here as ballast in the ships that sailed centuries ago.  The ballast for the return trip to Europe?  Gold.


The buildings of Old San Juan were pink and mint green and yellow and pastel hues I couldn’t name.


There were homeless men on the streets, each one had a dog or two to assuage their loneliness.

I passed a small baseball park where Roberto Clemente played his first professional games.  There was a man on the beach with the entire (?) 23rd Psalm tattooed on his stomach.  There was room for all the text.

There was a young woman on the same beach in a slight bikini.  Her perfect shape and beautiful dark skin would have stopped a bus-load of Baptist ministers.

The graffiti on the walls reminded me of New York City in the 1970’s.  The tree frogs along Ashford Avenue sounded too perfect to be real–but they were.


My last thoughts?  They are like the last thoughts of these islanders.  My final memory is of a place where memories live, tears fall and dead rest.

Out on a large wind-swept lawn, with a historical site and light house, is a cemetery.  The San Juan Cemetery sits inside a 16-foot stone wall (the wall that protected the Old City for centuries).  The plots gleam white in the sun.  White and bright enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Beyond the thick wall, the sea waves crash against the rocks.  You look at the white cemetery, the white breaking waves and your eyes moves to the horizon.  There the sea makes a perfect line as it meets the sky.  Surely, the spirits of those who rest here must sit on their stones and admire the view of the moon-lit ocean.  As I stand on the high ground above, on the lawn where kite fliers run and laugh, I’m sure the spirits are down there in the daylight and watching the sea..watching the horizon..looking for the Final Boat that will take them away to whatever heaven they believe in.


I’m thinking these things but I’m finding my words are inadequate in describing this wondrous place.

I don’t think anyone down in the cemetery, watching their kites or watching the sea needs my tears.

They don’t have to cry for me, either.


World Gone Wrong

Change, its been said, can happen slowly like the pace of a glacier or as fast as a bolt out of the blue.  I’ve seen it come at me both ways.  Brushing my hair one day…and I saw the gray.  Another day, I heard the slamming of the front door and I never saw her again.  Yes, I’ve seen change passing me in many gears, like a semi on I-95.

But nothing prepared me for what I found in my little town the day I took the wrong turn and came home on a different road.

I was miles away from my garage apartment in a small lake town in the northern Adirondacks.  I was busy all day photographing the arrival of Autumn.  There was a certain location near an old backwoods cemetery where I had marked for my tripod.  I would set up the camera and take a photo a week, at the same time each day (always on a Monday).  My lens was pointing at a particularly interesting oak tree at the edge of the cemetery wall.  I planned on putting together a time-lapse sequence of the tree as it turned from deep green to a blinding red.  Perhaps someone would purchase the DVD.  I hoped so, because I needed the cash to complete the month’s rent.

Once my photo for the week was finished, I took to driving the back roads, stopping to snap an occasional picture of something that caught my fancy.  The rural landscape seemed immutable.  On a recent Monday, I discovered a red-headed teenage girl sitting on a wooden fence.  She appeared to me as the “perfectly innocent” child of her surroundings.  A red barn behind her was the hue of a fire engine.  Her hair was that of copper.  She blended in with the scenery like she had been planted there by her ancestors, yet she was so much a part of the living world that encompassed her.  It was a perfect match and she let me shoot several views of her while she stared across the road at the cows wandering the pasture.  We said only a few words to each other.  So much was left unspoken.  I yearned to tell her how fortunate she was to be here now in the present moment.  I thanked her and drove away.

On this day, I noticed a small unpaved lane that had escaped my notice before.  I wanted to see where it led so I inched my car through the hedges and across a cattle grate.  The narrow road wound its way through second-growth pine trees.  The layer of needles on the track muted the sound of my tires.  It was very quiet.  In fact, it was so intensely quiet I found it somewhat unsettling. The day had begun with a sky the color of the sea, clear and crystalline.   Now, however, a dark cloud, almost black in its grim presence in the sky, drifted overhead and made the afternoon seem like dusk.  I felt the need to get back to my apartment and have a cup of strong tea laced with brandy.  The road went on for a few more miles, passing abandoned farm houses, collapsing barns and truncated silos.  The cloud passed and I soon pulled out onto a county road that I vaguely recognized.  I took a left turn, relying on my gut instinct.

It turned out to be a wrong turn in more ways than one.

The houses of my town soon began to appear along the road.  As I drove toward the town center, something seemed wrong.  There were no people, anywhere.  Usually, I would see a guy standing beside a BBQ grill or a couple of kids tossing a football.  Not today.  There wasn’t a soul to be seen. I parked and went up the back stairs to my apartment.  Everything was quiet.  Even the neighbor’s dog was not barking.

I became aware of how hungry I was, so I decided to take a drive to Arnold’s Diner and get an order of french fries.  I pulled into the parking lot.  I  skidded to a stop in the gravel parking lot, shocked by what I saw.  The diner was closed, not just for the day, but shuttered tight and mute. ArnoldsEatsAthensPA What the hell?  I thought.  Business can’t be that bad. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, then I went looking for my favorite gas station.  Mike and Ruth would always be good for a laugh (the joke was on me, I guess, for paying their jacked-up price). Hey, man.  What the f….?  It too was closed.  Not just after-hours closed, but abandoned. EmptyGasStation And still no one on the road or sidewalks.  I was getting spooked.  I had been around this town and down these streets a zillion times in the past year.  But…but all was different.  Something was wrong.

In a near panic, I drove out to the Hi-Ho Motel.  I had been seeing Hilda once a week for about a year now.  She and her husband ran the place.  When Ralph was away at motel conventions, Hilda and I would check into Room 13.  This was where I stayed when I drifted into town.  It took me a week to find the garage apartment of my dreams.  Hilda made sure my sheets were changed every day.  Then she and I would pull apart the bedspread  again.  Room 13 has always been a lucky place for me, if you get my drift. Hilda would be behind the desk.  She’d help me make sense of what was happening.  She always did.  When I made the turn on the highway I nearly went head-on into the utility pole.  The motel was empty and nailed down. EmptyMotel I was getting desperate.  I was starting to panic.  Where could I go for help?  I know.  I’d go by the factory where I work three days a week.  Butch, the floor boss would set me straight.  That was his job.  I made a u-turn and headed to the Alpha-Omega Ladder Company. I felt nauseous when I pulled into the parking lot.  Instead of the parked cars of the poor folks on the second shift, only grass grew in between the concrete slabs. ClosedFactory I drove back to my rooms over the garage.  I peeked through the glass window of the automatic door.  Sidney’s ’54 MG was still there, covered by a blue plastic tarp.  Some things never change.  Upstairs, I poured another shot of Irish Mist.  It calmed me down and the panic subsided.  I had to decide my next move…when it came to me.  I would go back to the farm with the red barn and find the red-haired girl.  She lived in the country, a place where time stands still and change came slowly.  She would help me. She would take me to her parents.  They would give me something to eat and let me spend the night.  When morning came, they would explain everything. People who lived in the country, amid the slowly changing seasons, watching the barns fall apart at a rate that would take decades to notice, always knew best.  I needed gas, but I was certain I had enough to get me to the red barn.

I prayed I could remember the way.