These are short excerpts of obituaries and other tributes I have written. Names and some details have been changed.
…Roberta (LeClair) Drozdowski didn’t have a degree in counseling or a well-appointed rehabilitation facility. What she had was 22 years as a recovering addict and a lopsided blue corduroy couch in her Springfield apartment, where many a friend shivered and wept through the first days of sobriety. She died on October 15 following a long illness, just two days after securing a grant to support a nonprofit opioid-treatment project for young mothers. She was, according to her daughter, “either 59 or 61 years old …depending on when you asked her.” (Official records say 60.)
…It takes a particular blend of confidence and musical derring-do to learn to play the bagpipes, and John Stuart Buchanan had both. Better still, he had the ability to bring others under the spell of this tricky and ancient instrument, a fortunate skill while living in a series of apartments with thin walls and many neighbors. John died January 8, secure in the knowledge that the entire street had heard and appreciated his enthusiastic rendition of “Good King Wenceslas,” performed at sundown on Christmas Eve. He was 72 and died of a rare form of prostate cancer that also took the life of his father.
…Joshua Feinberg had a need for hard work matched only by his capacity for joy. As an architect and developer, he envisioned new, sustainable ways of building and planning residential communities, and he brought his innovations to his clients in a refreshingly polite and unpressured manner. A longtime resident of Northampton, Massachusetts, Mr. Feinberg died on February 4, as a result of injuries he suffered while skiing in January. He was 59.
…Mary (Smith) Jones, of Hilton Head, South Carolina, and formerly of Boston, Massachusetts, set her own course and stayed true to it all of her life. Living independently, playing expert bridge, swimming laps, and arguing about politics with her beloved children, she made the most of her very long life. She died on September 4, after a brief illness. She was 99.
This is an excerpt from a eulogy of a veteran, who struggled with the effects of war for many years after returning home:
We rightly use the word “courage’” when we remember Robert. And we would do well to think hard about what that word means. Over the centuries the word has taken on a lot of different shadings. Most of us use it to describe risk and bravery in a dangerous situation, and it is that.
My big dictionary, with its long explanations of where words came from and how they changed along the way, tells us it is a very old word, with a Latin root meaning “heart.” A courageous person, by definition, is driven to throw themself into challenge; to stand up for the weak even when they are ungrateful; to seek out life’s most difficult situations and push through them.
But courage is not just standing up in a foxhole to take a bullet for a fellow soldier, sometimes it is searching, over and over, for a foxhole in need of a hero. That was how Robert lived.
There is a dark side to this courage business, a price to be paid. The courageous among us do not have an easy path. When the lives are saved or the fire put out or the houses rebuilt after the flood, the heroes who rushed to help are left at loose ends, wondering if they could have done more. The family and friends who stayed safely behind don’t always understand the restlessness of the returning hero.
We did not always recognize Robert’s courage, but we loved him, and love him still.
From my book, Carolina Israelite: How Harry Golden Made Us Care about Jews, the South, and Civil Rights, (UNC Press, 2015, 2018)
Golden collected stories all his life and kept them close at hand. He toted countless contradictions throughout his life as well: He tricked people out of money and reneged on promises.
Yet the people Golden wronged continued to give to him and forgive him. He revered his pious Jewish mother, who spoke only a few words of English, and married a quick-witted Irish Catholic at a time when “mixed marriages” were discussed in whispers, as if such unions were serious illnesses.
He found fame, was discovered for the ex-felon he was, and found bigger fame. Women were drawn to him, a not-handsome, short, fat, cigar-smoking, bourbon-drinking know-it-all. He loved the ethics of the great journalists and eschewed objectivity.
He was a Jew who believed the black Christian clergy would lead America out of its racist past. He was a blatant self-promoter who loved nothing more than a quiet hero. He was a cool pragmatist and sharp political handicapper with a wide sentimental streak.
He was also a success, by all manner of measures.
Sometimes our greatest losses are the canine variety.
A life well lived
The yellow Labrador Retriever formally named Blackthorn’s Houseafire, and known to all as Hottie, has passed away after a long and full life. She was nearly 14 years old.
Hottie began her life at Blackthorn Labs in Washington State. She was raised in that bucolic setting until she was two and a half years old, benefiting from the many lessons and loving care so tirelessly given there.
With her noble head and chest, impressive paws, and her coffee-table-clearing “otter” tail, Hottie had the best physical traits of both her yellow-coated mother, CH Laurglen Ivory Gale of Blackthorn, known as Ivory, and her father, Hyspire Hotter than Blazes, a black dog who answered to the name Blaze. While understandably proud of her pedigree (among her grandparents were BISS GR. Ch. Sureshot Hyspire Impressive and Ch. Langshott Gale Force from Kimvalley), Hottie wore her lineage lightly, preferring to be known for her own accomplishments and drawing her friends from all backgrounds without prejudice or judgment. She rarely felt the need to raise her voice, instead communicating through eye contact, and nudges with head and paw.
Hottie’s early years began in the family business where she showed promise in the show ring. She soon acquired a new human family and moved into her own version of social work — seeking and comforting those in need of her attention – but also continued throughout her life to maintain the busy schedule of a devoted amateur athlete, seeking tennis balls and any other tempting objects that might, possibly, somehow, fit in her mouth.
Her middle age was spent in the Pacific Northwest, where swimming and frequent rain provided the seemingly constant wet and fragrant coat in which she felt most comfortable. She took a late life move to New England in stride, even as she puzzled over the unfamiliar heat and snow.
Hottie remained a maiden lady with close but platonic male companions. She is survived by many cousins. She is mourned by her grateful human companions, including her many friends in America and Northern Ireland.
Those who will miss Hottie dearly are encouraged to have a large piece of cheese in her memory while reflecting on her generous and optimistic nature.