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Family

I’m looking at the title of my Tuesday post, “A busy day,” with some amusement.  Man, that was nothing compared to the last couple of days.  A bunch of relatives came into town on Wednesday for the memorial service for my father on Thursday.  On Wednesday, after doing a good amount of writing in the morning and afternoon, I drove out to meet them at their hotel, which for some reason was way, way up to the north part of the metropolitan area, and we went out to dinner and then came back to the hotel room, all told for several hours.  In addition to my sister Kathleen and her fiancé Larry, we were joined by my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Clarence from Detroit (my father’s older siblings) and my aunt’s daughter Cynthia (my cousin) who’s staying with her.  Another cousin (also named Cynthia, confusingly) and her husband Mitch were coming in, but I had to leave before they arrived.  I’d been hoping to get home before dark — I hate night driving — but the conversation just kept going and going, so I had a half-hour drive at night, mostly on the freeway, which was kinda scary.  Then when I got home, I managed to get in another substantial writing session before bed.

Which was probably a mistake, because in the wake of all those things, I was just too wired, my mind racing too much, and I barely got any sleep.  Thursday morning, I managed to do a little writing — I tweaked a particular character’s earlier scenes to weave in some personality/backstory insights I sorted out on Wednesday — but that was about it, since I was contacted by Aunt Shirley.  The family (excepting Kathleen and Larry) was planning to drive around the city and revisit their old homes and landmarks from when they lived here, and they asked if I wanted to join them.  Most of their destinations were in my neighborhood, more or less, so I agreed and drove down to meet them at Burnet Woods, the big park or small forest just north of the University of Cincinnati.  They were curious about a high concrete slide they used to know, one I knew well from my college days, so I took them to see it.  Cynthia (the first one) and I took video of each other going down the slide, and I really hammed it up.  Then we drove around to a few other houses, but eventually I had to get home to wash up and change for the memorial.

The funeral home was also way out in the boonies for some reason, so it was another half-hour drive.  And I had very little time to get ready, so I’m glad I pre-tied my new tie and loosened it so I could just slip it over my head.  This is the first time I’ve worn a tie since, I think, my high school graduation, and the first time I’ve ever worn a full suit.  (Well, a 2-piece suit, no vest.  A lot of people at the memorial reminded me of my father’s habit, before his retirement from WGUC-FM, of always wearing a 3-piece suit to work, no matter what.  A coworker told the story of how he could always tell when winter changed to spring because my father switched from his dark grey suit to his light grey suit.  I’d forgotten about that, since he became more informal in dress after retirement.  I’ve just realized that the amount of time that’s passed since my father’s retirement is almost as long as the amount of time between my earliest memories and his retirement.  It’s startling that it’s been so long.)  It wasn’t too uncomfortable, but the padded shoulders of the jacket and the heavy shirt collar and tie made me a little warm.  (I didn’t put the jacket on until I got indoors, though.  This is the hottest week of the year so far in Cincinnati.)  And I was told I looked pretty good in a suit.

The memorial was an informal gathering of family and friends, just talking among ourselves as the occasion moved us and offering reminiscences to the group.  In addition to the family, most of the attendees were colleagues and friends from his broadcasting days.  It was a pretty good turnout, and I saw a number of people I haven’t seen in ages.  We even had a brief visit from Carlene, the hospice nurse who’s been so helpful to us during my father’s last days.  That was sweet of her.  My sister arranged to have music my father liked playing on the PA, and we had a live keyboardist doing some jazz piano, and we played “The Rainbow Connection” from the DVD of The Muppet Movie, which was one of his favorites.  I wish we’d thought to include some Sondheim in the program.

But perhaps the best musical tribute we listened to was “Dialogue for One,” an experimental piece my father composed and performed.  What he did (with help from engineer Bruce Ellis) was to set up two reel-to-reel tape recorders several feet apart, with the tape going across from the feeder reel of one machine to the takeup reel of the other.  As he played the saxophone, the first tape deck would record the sound, and then the second would play it back a precisely timed interval later, echoing it with a delay of several seconds.  This would allow my father to accompany himself.  And the first tape deck would not only record the next live phrase he played, but the playback as well, a little quieter than originally due to the distance or the playback volume.  So each phrase echoed repeatedly, fading out a little in volume each time, as it was joined by new phrases played on my father’s sax.  After setting up a few basic phrases, he began improvising.  The accumulating echoes interacted in unpredictable ways, creating novel melodies and harmonies, and he riffed on the interesting bits that were created.  It’s a slow, eerie, haunting piece, sometimes with moments of dissonance, but a fascinating one.  It was the kind of music he loved, the kind that makes you think and pay attention rather than just being background atmosphere.  And he loved the idea of music emerging spontaneously rather than being consciously created, something he learned from his idol, John Cage.  (The BBC Radiophonic Workshop used the tape-echo technique to create sound effects sometimes, such as in the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio serial, but I’m not aware of anyone other than Myron Bennett using it to create music.)

So anyway, once the guests had come and gone and it was down to just family, we talked a while more and then went out to dinner at another fairly fancy restaurant in Walnut Hills.  It was a long drive and I didn’t know the way, but we formed a convoy of four cars and I tagged along at the rear, only briefly letting another car get between me and Cynthia’s car a couple of times.  Just in case somebody in one of the other cars needed to call me and give directions, I plugged my headphones into my cell phone; they come with a built-in mike for hands-free use.  But they proved unnecessary.  My phone bleeped at me a couple of times, but not a ringing or message sound — more like the “battery full” sound, I think — but I couldn’t take it out to look at it because I was going 45-50 MPH along route 50.  And when we did get to a stop light and I took a look, there was no message or anything.  It was probably a glitch of some sort.  The headphones are a bit wonky anyway.

So we had a nice dinner, all eight of us, lasting over an hour, and then we said our farewells, most of us.  Shirley, Clarence, and possibly Cynthia (the first one) are staying on through the weekend, so I’ll probably see them again before they go, but the rest were leaving for their various homes.

All in all, it’s been a heady couple of days.  It’s nice to reconnect with all these folks, but it’s a big change for me, somewhat overwhelming.  I’ve never been the sort who thrived in large crowds, and over the past several years I’ve become something of a hermit — one of the many ways I’ve ended up taking after my father without really realizing how much of him is in me.  (Looking at old pictures of him, I’m struck by the strength of the resemblance, and lots of people have reminded me that I sound strikingly like him.)  After all of this, I’m kind of exhausted.  I do need to make some changes in my life now, reconnect more solidly with other people, but right now I’m looking forward to the chance to get back to my quiet, solitary life for a while just to decompress from all this.

Still, at a time like this, it’s good to be in the company of family, and friends of the family.  I realize I’d taken some things for granted about my relationship with my father, things that are part of family — having someone around who thinks like I do, who groks the Bennett sense of humor, who just naturally accepts me and lets me be myself.  It’s a good thing to have that kind of connection.  And now that my father’s gone, I’m glad to know the rest of the family is there.

You know, I never would’ve expected that the time following a person’s death could be filled with such life.  I guess it’s at times like these that we need to reaffirm life, to make the most of it.  There hasn’t been any weeping or gnashing of teeth, not that I’ve seen, anyway; we’ve just gotten together as a family, enjoyed our time together, commemorated my father in a positive and upbeat way.  It’s really added to my understanding of how the grieving process happens, and I imagine that will help me in future writing projects, let me present it in a less monolithic or cliched way.  (I’ve already incorporated some of it into the scenes I wrote on Wednesday.)

To wrap up, I just want to extend my thanks to everyone who attended the memorial service and everyone who’s sent their thoughts and remembrances to the family and to WGUC.

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  1. Barrie Suddery
    August 14, 2010 at 6:20 am

    It is nice to be around those who accept us as we are, rather than what they wish us to be. Finding people like that, I’ve found can be quite difficult so when I find such people, I make it a point to stay in touch and maintain those relationships as best I can.

    Our father’s influence in our lives often goes unnoticed until we get older. I’ve recently realised that my enjoyment of classic cars and nature/wildlife is something my father tried to encourage an interest in when I was much younger and I resisted at the time for, frankly, idiotic “rebellion” issues.

    I’m glad you’ve been able to reconnect with your family and hope you have many happy years together.

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