Archive for May, 2019

Letter from a Vagabond 27 May 2019 Thoughts on Memorial Day…

May 27, 2019


Unbelievably, it is here, Memorial Day, 2019.  I won’t be seeing much of it, as I am at the bookstore, taking on some managerial duties, lightly, helping out here and there. And as people wandered in and I asked them how they were, they often returned by asking me how I was and I would often comment: darn fine, I am alive, happy, and I enjoy being in the bookstore, though I have spent a bit more time in doing back room things lately and a little less with customers. But it’s a happy space.

Two of last year’s most wonderful people returned this year:  Alexander, who has just finished his first year of pre-med at Duke, and Courtney, who has just graduated from Furman and will be studying for the LSAT. Wonderful, responsible, charming human beings who know a lot about books.

Vlad, my Romanian comrade is returning, as is Tea, who is from Serbia.  It just feels good.

And it is Memorial Day.  And I do remember.  My brother sent me photos from the graves of our parents and our Uncle Joe, and I was grateful.  Far away, I cannot go and honor them though I would if I were there.  The last time I was in Minneapolis, I visited their graves, full of thoughts about the complexities of familial relationships.

Therapists have taken good vacations on the fees I have paid them to help me unravel my feelings about my parents.  Uncle Joe was the best damn uncle anyone could have, and saved me in so many ways.  Being German Catholics, we weren’t ever particularly good at expressing emotions.

The last time I saw him, we held each other and said we loved each other.  It was a remarkable moment and I would have found his passing unbearable if not for that moment.

Memorial Day is to remember the men in arms who have given their lives for this country and so I salute Greg Harrigan, a year ahead of me in high school, who died in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, a kind young man who teased me once and when he realized his tease had hurt me became a fierce protector of me.  I have never ceased to mourn him.

And Phil Taylor, a senior when I was a freshman, football star and Mr. Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” also dead in Viet Nam.  He and his friends taught me cribbage, a game now forgotten though he is not.

When, last fall, I was at Pont du Hoc, and learned the story of the men who fought there, I separated myself from the group so I could cry privately, so great was the heroism of those men.

If you don’t know the story, as I didn’t, read about it – it is a story of heroism and sacrifice and duty and honor and all the really great things we are sometimes.

Memorial Day is to remember all the dead who influenced our lives.  And they are legion. I am at the stage when my contemporaries are leaving the stage of life with a growing regularity.  This week I learned about the passing of a high school classmate of mine, Bill Sievert, who, in his later years, took in a familial group of orphans because no one wanted them.  God rest you, good sir, and gratitude for your generosity.

God smile upon us all and help us savor each day; one day we, too, will be being remembered on this day.  Personally, I hope I am remembered with some fondness, that I did my best, as Frank Sinatra sang, that I “did it my way,” without causing too much pain to others, that I gave smiles to some, helped some, was a good friend to most, an exceptional friend to some.  I would hope to be remembered well.  I think I will be…



Letter From A Vagabond 19 May 2019 Settling in…

May 20, 2019



The rhythm of the summer is beginning to reveal itself. I am mostly settled in the little cottage off Katama where I will live until I depart; the number of things I need to get is dwindling.  This season’s cottage is better outfitted than last year’s “most exotic Marigold Hotel” cottage.  It has heat, for starters, which is needed this time of year.  And it has wi-fi!

The mornings and evenings remind me of childhood weekends on the North Shore of Lake Superior, at a little resort called Erickson’s; little yellow cabins set among the pines, looking down on the rocky shore of the lake.  Cool to cold, fresh, with the smell of crushed pine needles in the air.

It is larger than a New York City studio, recently done over.  I think it was meant to be an Airbnb, but the owner must have decided it was less hassle to have one constant renter over the summer than a series of weekenders.  Just out the window, and across the patio, is a larger cottage, which is where Andrea is living.  She’s managing Behind the Bookstore, the restaurant which is directly behind the bookstore.  Cleverly named.

Andrea has a dog, Joey, who is actually a she and who has taken, thankfully, a liking to me.  Joey ran in and played with me for a bit just a few minutes ago before Andrea went back to the restaurant to do some paperwork.

I have entered the summer monastery of the bookstore, days there and evenings in my cottage, jazz and classical music, a lot of reading, a little video, feeling wrapped away a thousand miles from the rest of the wild world in which we live.  And right now, I like it that way.  It’s pretty scary out there. No, actually, it’s a lot scary!

The island is slowing coming alive.  The ice cream store on the corner of Main and Summer will be opening this week.  Behind the Bookstore will start dinner service on weekends beginning with Memorial Day, which is just around the corner.

Here I have both a sense of timelessness and an acute sense of time passing.  I will blink, I know it, and it will be Labor Day and I will blink again, and I will be on the ferry heading back to – somewhere.

The vagabond has not decided where he will go when he leaves the island, after a pause in Stuyvesant.


Letter from a Vagabond 15 May 2019 Too beautiful for madness…

May 15, 2019


It is May and I have arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, where I will be for the summer, selling books at Edgartown Books.  For the first time since I have been here, the sun is out, at least momentarily.  The Vineyard is beautiful and especially so when the sun is shining.

Last night, I started a letter and then hit delete – I was frustrated with the way the words were coming out.

The last time I wrote a letter it was a paean to my friend, Bill, who passed away unexpectedly.  Thank you for all the kind responses.  Inside there is a bucket of tears waiting to fall down my face and they have not come. To be truthful, I am a little afraid of when they might come, hoping it is not sudden and unexpected, though it probably will be.

Another friend is having a heart valve replacement today, probably as I am typing.  Another reminder of the tenuousness of life…

But it is morning.  I am on the Vineyard and I am taking a moment to be grateful for this moment of living because I don’t know what is going to happen in the next moment. It may be filled with inexplicable joy or that proverbial truck may come around the bend.

We all live counting on tomorrow, mostly deflecting the knowledge that the number of tomorrows is limited.  If we dwelt too much on that, we might all go collectively mad and it is too beautiful a day to go mad.







Letter From a Vagabond 05 May 2019 A Paean to Bill

May 5, 2019

A Paean to Bill


Definition of paean

1a joyous song or hymn of praise, tribute, thanksgiving, or triumph “unite their voices in a great paean to liberty”— Edward Sackville-West

2a work that praises or honors its subject ENCOMIUMTRIBUTE “wrote a paean to the queen on her 50th birthday.”

Merriam – Webster


Friday morning, before even beginning the day’s fight against gravity, I looked at my phone to see what emails might have come in during the night and found one from my friend William Epperson, Ph.D., scholar and charmer, teacher and student, a man who inspired me and whose laugh/giggle delighted me whenever I heard it, his voice a lovely mix of southern Missouri growing and Oklahoma living.

But it was not from Bill, it was from his wife Linda, also my friend, an elegant and gracious lady, born in New Jersey horse country, wife of Bill from the time they first climbed into their twenties.  She was letting me know he had died, succumbed to e-coli, sepsis and the accompanying shutting down of organs.

So, I write what I hope is a paean to my friend, William Epperson, who I met when I was nineteen; he was the best friend of my college roommate, Ron Morris, who was seven or eight years older than I, Ron, a Viet Nam vet, a medic, whose time there coalesced all his traumas and from which he never really recovered.

We went to Tulsa because Ron wanted to see Bill and Linda and I went along, not dreaming in my young mind, they would become lifelong friends from that visit.  They lived in a wonderful, 1920’s Dutch Colonial on Evanston Street in Tulsa, a home of which I have many fond memories.  In that dining room, I first learned to love artichokes and, in their kitchen, laughed my head off when, on one Thanksgiving, bent over to remove something from the oven and could not unbend.

They sheltered me on my way to California, on a journey that was fraught with excitement, hope and fear.  When I finally moved out of my cottage, I surrendered the letters they had written over the years to me, a correspondence that started that nineteenth summer.  At that house, their then youngest, Rachel, a toe head, with Bill’s wide wondering eyes, took me for a walk around the block while everyone else was busy.  There was some drama happening; I remember that but do not recall what it was – it didn’t concern me.  Or Rachel.  So, she took me on a walk to be sure I wasn’t lonely.

She had inherited that generosity of spirit from her parents.  Bill and Linda opened their arms wide and allowed people into their lives.

He kissed us with his incredible kindness and laughter, with hugs to be remembered, and cherished.  If I remember correctly, his dissertation was on American metaphysical poets of the late 17th century and early 18th.

He wrote poetry.  He helped me last year with a poem of my own.

He was a teacher and he was the inspiration for me to go to graduate school and to teach.  I wanted to be like Bill, to be the kind of adult man he was.  He cared for his students and some became lifelong friends

He helped me be honest about my struggles as he was honest about his and he encouraged me to be more daring.  He stood by me, literally holding me up, as I walked down the darkest alley of my life.

A fallen away Catholic, I eventually followed Bill into the Episcopal Church. I believe in God; it is due much to this man.

He had grown up in a rigid, southern fundamental religion. When painting his garage one visit, he told me he would not have been allowed to be my friend when he was growing up because I was Catholic, which caused me dismay, and which resulted in both of us laughing in the hot Oklahoma sun.

In that house in Evanston, one year, I lingered for some weeks after they had left to see Linda’s family because I had been bitten by a brown recluse and spent my time fighting fevers while listening to their collection of classical music.  I camped with them on the banks of an Arkansas river, on land owned by Linda’s parents, sleeping outside, under the stars on a cot, near a town where he fretted about me because I was northern, with longish blonde hair, driving a newish Mustang, and northerners weren’t much liked in that part of the world.

He was a sprite, Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” a prankster, laughing his unique laugh/giggle, who made merry, loved life and the pleasures it can give — good food, good drink, thrilled to be alive and sentient in this mad world, a man who loved to use words and to savor reading words.  He loved a good story and loved telling them.

My heart has broken.  In my stomach there has been a knot since reading the email.  And I feel indescribable joy he was in my life, that we threaded through parts of it together and tethered ourselves to one and another when were not physically proximate.

He was a fully human man.