My dear friend Andy Hurvitz, of the indispensable HereinVanNuys blog, has been writing beautifully this past year about his mother’s twilight surrender to cancer, her denial of her illness, and their relationship to each other as he cared for her. The Dark Wit, he called her. Louise passed away last week. They had a wake for her yesterday at his brother’s house in Marina Del Rey. I had never been to a wake, so my sense of what to expect was informed by films, and in this case I was misled. No one was shrouded head-to-toe in black. No murmuring organ. No flasks hidden inside of jacket pockets. No receiving line of weeping well-wishers kissing the hand of the bereaved. There were tears, but they were of the authentic, cathartic kind.
It was more of an in-gathering of celebration. There was a surfeit of delicious food, and no shortage of good wine, and bittersweet joy was the prevailing mood. Look closely and you will see a teen-aged Andy with Louise on the screen in the left hand corner, his Andy-ness already evident in protozoa form.
First her sons spoke. Then her friends. Two women who were her sorority sisters at Delta Phi Epsilon, University of Illinois, sixty years ago spoke. I don’t even follow my college friends on Facebook. I can’t imagine a friendship of sixty-four years, but apparently she had several. Two brothers who hadn’t spoken in years were there, and they sat together and ended up talking to one another. I learned she was a feminist before there was a word for it. That she ran an office in an era when female college graduates worked the steno pool. That she once sold airplanes. That she worked for CBS news during the Nixon-Kennedy debates. That she read the New York Times cover to cover then hoarded all her back issues. That she enjoyed making prank phone calls. That she loved denying that which displeased her to the point of arguing to a judge the woman in the red-light camera photograph was not herself.
She had three sons, a long marriage, and a front row seat to American history, spanning WW II to Barack Obama. The people she loved also have people in their lives in turn, for whom they care and who get drawn into the circle of memory, and so after eighty-plus years, you have quite an eclectic group of people sharing the pathos under a rubber tree on a postcard beachside afternoon. Exit ghost.