Nothing is inevitable, as they say, except death and taxes. We all pay our taxes to support our democratic government, right? Well, apparently everyone may get taxed, but if you’re high enough above the huddled masses you may get away with not paying them – unless you get picked for a top government post.
Enough of politics, what I really came here to talk about is the one part of life that IS inevitable – death comes to us all. One drawback to getting older is that many of our friends and loved ones, as Kinky Friedman so poetically puts it, start “stepping on a rainbow.” I’m not for sure about what happens to them after that, but I’d like to think they go to a very nice place and reunite with everyone they’ve ever loved, including their dogs and cats and other assorted pets, except snakes. I HATE snakes. And all the pain and all the regret and all the unfinished business they had on earth will be forgotten.
Why this gloomy topic, you ask? Let me tell you — In the last 2 months I lost two people who were very dear to me, and I’ve been wondering where they are now and if they’re okay. They were two very different people, but they were both part of my family – one by birth and one by choice.
I met Dennis Lachappelle almost 20 years ago in an Indian restaurant in NYC. A group of people who were mostly strangers to each other had gone to Europe with Arlo Guthrie, who wanted to avoid the hype and commercialism of the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, and we were having a reunion at Arlo’s Thanksgiving show at Carnegie Hall. Arlo treated us all to dinner after the show, and I saw Dennis sitting by himself, looking kinda lonely and shy. That’s the last time I’d ever think of him as shy. He was Arlo’s bus driver for many years, and he and some of the people from the trip and people we met later at Arlo gigs truly did become family – complete with feuds and fusses like all families, but with lots of love too. At one of Arlo’s October concerts at the old church in Great Barrington, he said that a lot of people in the audience had started out coming to the concerts to see him, but now we came to see each other and he was secondary to our get togethers. He was right.
Dennis was a part of our family, even after he stopped driving the big red bus and started working for the state, driving snowplows in the winter. He always had a big smile and a bear hug for us; he rarely got angry, and when he did, he exploded for a brief moment, then got over it in an even briefer moment. He’d always wanted a family, and children, and he finally got that wish a few years ago when Deb “Fitzi” Fitzgerald came into his life. They were married at the old church last summer, with Arlo performing the ceremony. It should have been the beginning of a beautiful life – they should have had many more years together – but one evening in early December, after driving the snowplow almost 24/7 for days, he called his boss and said he wasn’t feeling too well. He never made it home – a co-worker found his truck at the side of the road, and called for an ambulance. Dennis died in the hospital, his big heart worn out trying to help others. He was that kind of guy.
Mary Hart, my first cousin, was a gentle soul, quiet but determined and resourceful. Her mother was many years older than mine, and she was 13 years older then me, so I didn’t know her as well as the cousins more my age, but when I started getting interested in our family genealogy she was right there to offer me all the help I could ask for. She’d worked in big cities, Dallas & Houston, until they just got too big for her, and she returned to our hometown, Comanche, Texas. She started helping out at the library, and before too long she had become a vital member of the staff. About a year ago, after feeling bad for a long time – she never liked to make a fuss – she went to the doctor and found out she had advanced lung cancer – no, she wasn’t a smoker. She called her brother to get her house ready to sell, put all her affairs in order- that was easy, she was always orderly, and checked into the hospital. She went into hospice care a few months later. When we visited her, she was matter of fact, upbeat, ready to go, and made us promise there would be no funeral, no memorial service, no hoopla after she was gone.
I’ve become friends with the Comanche librarian, Margaret Waring, who loved Mary like a sister. She said Mary left a note for her friends and family that said:
“Message from Mary: I love you all, AND NOW I FLY!”
When I started this post, I didn’t realize I might be closer to taking flight than I’d thought I was. My doctor had some tests run, and it seems I have a heart problem. It’s something that can be managed and treated without any drastic measures, but still …
Songs about flying:
I’ll fly away
Don Conoscenti – go to the right side & click on The Other Side:
Poems about flying:
By Pilot Officer John G. Magee Jr.
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings …
Goodbye, dear Dennis, sweet Mary, I hope you are flying high now. As Arlo Guthrie’s song goes, My old friend, I’ll see you again … now you’re just around the bend, my old friend
And I will see all those dear to me … when it’s time for me to take wing and join them
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