Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | August 20, 2011

a repost: Flowers of August (flowers for Jeff)

[ Today, August 20 2011, is two years since Jeff’s “memorial gathering”. ]

It wasn’t a funeral. It was a party. He would’ve loved it, and been in his element, surrounded by friends and family, food and memorabilia. Our dear friends Mary and Eddie offered us their restaurant, Pepperclub – home of my very first wholesale account, way back in 1988, and where little Anna helped Jeff deliver strawberry rhubarb and bourbon pecan pies, mocha hazelnut dacquoise, carrot cake, lemon cheescake, and spicy chocolate chili pepper cake every week for a decade or more until after-school field hockey practice lured her away.

On August 20, 2009, Mary arranged the tables with her most beautiful food, all so clearly made with love and intention, and opened the doors as wide as her heart. She and Eddie provided cases and cases of wine, beer, fancy sodas and juices. The house was full all afternoon, ebbing and flowing. Some came for an hour and a beer, a snack, a chat and a hug, catching up with old friends. Some came early and stayed late, watching me purposefully drink far too much wine.

People we hadn’t seen in years showed up; the place was packed. With a few notable exceptions, all our friends and family from a lifetime in Portland and elsewhere were there.  Armand had built a computer slideshow of old snapshots which ran all day to an ever-changing crowd. Matt brought stacks of postcard size prints of his paintings featuring “the Big Man” – I still see them everywhere: propped on chair rails, thumbtacked to walls, on friends’s fridges.

Friends brought pictures to share and musical instruments for jamming. Mike and Phyllis organized a dozen or more musicians who played Dylan, the Dead, and Miles for many hours. Hearing (and I imagine playing) ‘Forever Young’ was a little fraught, to say the least – Anna, on piano, and Jeff, on guitar, had played that song hundreds of times together over the years, until he couldn’t play anymore. All who played that day knew this, and knew how much it meant to those listening.

Forever Young

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

(Gets me every time.)

A few guests in particular I will always remember. An elderly man arrived bearing a newspaper clipping photograph of a piece of furniture. I didn’t recognize him until he started explaining. Thirty years ago – long before we were a couple – Jeff had built for this man a lovely small chess table: of burnished red cherry, with graceful cabriole legs, inset with the client’s two-tone marble chess board brought back from some exotic locale. I remember Jeff learning to carve the cabriole with a book propped up on his workbench. He had been happy to get the job because then he’d had an excuse to learn to carve the complicated curve. The client had been delighted with the commissioned piece, and had sent Jeff a framed proclamation “Jeff Flanagan, Furniture Maker Extraordinaire”.

There was the wholesome young chef of an erstwhile restaurant account, with whom Jeff had exuberant back-of-the-house play-by-play discussions of Red Sox Nation. The bald, burly father of two teenagers [and now also the father of a brand new baby boy], he wrapped me in his big arms in a giant bear hug as our tears mixed on our cheeks.

There was the woman, a good customer and friendly acquaintance of many years, herself a widow, who had sent a condolence card extolling the “testament to strength, love, and the personal choices you both always made”  while building our tiny family business. She had enclosed in the envelope a generous check, to spend however I wished.

And there was the cluster of high school field hockey players attired in shinguards, jerseys, and cleats, who arrived en masse after pre-season practice to support one of their own. They thronged, their mass of blue and white school colors surrounding my girl until I could not see her in their midst. I can’t even type that now without crying.

The room was decorated with photo albums, with Jeff’s handmade wooden toys and small furniture, with his threadbare black Converse hightops and old basketball score sheets, with his guitar still and solitary in its stand behind the musicians. With a commemorative bottle of Jack, full at the start and drained dry from numerous Slaintes by dusk. And with flowers, lots of flowers.

Our farmer friends Carolyn, Ramona, and John gave us armloads of the most beautiful blossoms, and we also had flowers from Lenny, Joe, Robin & Jimmy, and from our own yard -yes, our gardens bloomed anyway, regardless of any attention from Jeff or from me, as we were otherwise engaged.

With his dying.

words from August 2009:

I’m rebuilding bouquets from last week’s flowers. Jeff loved flowers, I love flowers, and we had lots of them at his memorial, held one week ago. The flowers tell the story of August- we have multicolored glads whose colors morph over time; sunflowers plain and fancy; cat o’ nine tails; airy Queen Anne’s lace; red, yellow, and white achillea; gorgeous droopy ‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth- a substitute for my poetic first choice of ‘Love Lies Bleeding’; pink turtlehead; wild black eyed Susans; bright and cheerful zinnias; dusty pink eupatorium; densely hued snapdragons; clear yellow, green-centered willowy rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, taller even than my very tall husband; green and white hydrangea; stiff purple statice; magenta loosestrife; grasses of every color and stripe.

Anna walked into the room and asked,

–Are you writing about the bouquet?

-HOW DID YOU KNOW?

–You’re looking at it.

-Oh.

But does she know I’m looking at it as a metaphor: for our life together, for the kindness of friends, for pulling out what’s done and over and fashioning something usable out of what’s left? And it’s still beautiful. I’m the only one who knows this fresh lovely bouquet was built of what is not yet decayed, dead, rotten from what we had before.

Even the vases we chose for that day had meaning. The vessels are things we used every day, each special in its own way: the white stoneware pitcher of Jeff’s mother’s which always had pride of place at our house, the giant galvanized watering can stenciled with a big black #10 that Jeff gave me many years ago for our tenth wedding anniversary-in the running for best present ever: tin or aluminum is the traditional gift for the tenth year of marriage- and a cobalt blue glass vase that for me, and for him, symbolized our marriage and our home, the life we built, the things we collected together.

There is immense kindness about, and love – I am bowled over by it every day. These flowers are a powerful and tangible symbol of this kindness.

It is not logical that the beautiful and the good are what cause me to cry continually. I feel like I cry anytime I come anywhere near the truth. A woman who is a “conscious channel” told me last week that Jeff is very near, and surrounding us with love that is bigger and more pure than we who are living can even imagine. And of course the tears came again and they have not stopped yet.

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