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Talking to Gracie

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I once saw a television interview with George  Burns.  I think it may have been on 60  Minutes, but I’m not sure.   The reporter and the cameras followed him around for the day, and in the course of it they went to the cemetary in Los  Angeles where Gracie Allen is interred.  I can’t say buried, because she was cremated.  What’s there of her is a marble plaque in a wall, with her names and dates on it.

“Do you still talk to her?”  the reporter wanted to know.

“Of course I still talk to her,” Burns said.  “i talk to her every day.”

I’d like to say I had an odd day yesterday, but I didn’t.   It was a perfectly ordinary day, if a little on the depressing side.  The last class I teach before the week-end starts is my most remedial one, which means not only facing a lot of students with no writing skills at all, but students almost entirely hostile to the educational process.  What’s worse, it’s also my longest class, fully an hour longer than any other I teach.  I not only have to face the hostility, I have to do it in overtime.

It was, however, the beginning of the week-end, because I  don’t teach on Fridays.  And it was the beginning of a long week-end, because Columbus Day is Monday,  and the place I teach is closed.  So by the time I arrived at my younger son’s school to pick him up, I was in a fairly hopeful mood.

Then my son got into the car, and he looked depressed.  He’d just been out for two days with a cold, and I was worried the coming back had been a little rough.  He goes to a very traditional, “rigorous” school.  They don’t cut anybody a lot of slack.

“So what happened?”  I said.  “Were you too far behind?”

“It was okay ,” he said.  “i was just, you know, a little depressed.”

“Because you were out of school for a couple of days?”

He gave me the most comprehensively disbelieving look.  “No,” he said  patiently.  “Because it’s October ninth.”

And it was, of course, October ninth.

Twelve years to the day since Bill died.

I wish  I could said I’d spent the day with the nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something, but I hadn’t.  It was an ordinary day, and I’d forgotten, and that’s it.  

II don’t even know why I’m so upset that I forgot.  My older son forgot, too, and for him that was probably the defining day of his life.  And it’s not that I’ve been brooding all this time, and only rcently given it up.  i don’t brood about most things, and I’ve “moved on,” as they like to put it, in almost every way.   i have close friends that Bill did not live long enough to meet.   I do things–the teaching, some volunteer work, some kinds of writing–that Bill did not lving long enough to see.  I’ve fallen in love again, if that’s what you want to call it, and I haven’t felt guilty about it.

Maybe the problem is the part of me that hasn’t moved on, the part of me that does, indeed, talk to Bill every day.  Most of the time I’m not even aware of doing it.  There are just things that nobody else gets, that nobody else ever has and that I expect nobody else ever will.  It’s not that he never made any mistakes about who and what I am–in one case he made a doozy that I’m still capable of feeling hurt about to this day–but I made a few mistakes about him, too.

It’s just that he was the one person I ever knew who could see me for what I am.  The mistakes he made were not the usual kind of mistakes.   I hope I was the same for him.  He said I was.  It’s hard to know.

Sometimes I talk to him because I know he would get it, and  I’m not sure anybody else would.  Sometimes I talk to him because I know that, if he were here, he would talk me out of the obsessional self-criticism I’m prone to when things don’t go entirely well.  Sometimes I talk to him because I just do, because he’s here with me, all the time, somewhere inside my head.  

They say that when people die you forget what they looked like, you forget the sounds of their voices.  It hasn’t been true for me.  My younger son was fooling around in my office one day and accidentally turned on a small tape recorder with  Bill on it, interviewing somebody for what was supposed to be his last book.   I was a room and a half away, and I didn’t know what was going on, but as soon as I heard that voice I found it instantaneously recogniable.

None of this makes any difference, I suppose, to anybody but me, and it isn’t what you come to this blog for.  But I’m taking a day.

I’m going to drive out to Barnes and Noble and buy all the political magazines of every persuasion and then sit down in the cafe and have a frappucino.  Bill would have loved Barnes and Noble cafes, he always read all the magazines, and if he’d ever had a chance to get on the Internet he’d have been a world class blogger.

But mostly it’s just one of those days  we all have when there’s just something we have to do.

For George Burns it was talking to Gracie.

For me, it’s talking to Bill.

Written by janeh

October 10th, 2008 at 7:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Talking to Gracie'

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  1. Some people remember anniversaries. Some don’t. I used to feel a bit guilty that I didn’t remember death anniversaries, particularly as so many of my relatives do. I try not to feel guilty anymore, because I do remember my dead, sometimes very vividly. I just couldn’t tell you their exact death dates – sometimes not even the month or year, except the one who died on New Year’s Day.



    10 Oct 08 at 8:23 am

  2. I’m the same. I often find myself “talking to” my father who died in 1982. In fact there are so many “triggers” for these conversations that rarely a week goes by without me being reminded of something he said or did. I think of him so often that the actual anniversary of his death is pretty much just another day.


    11 Oct 08 at 7:25 am

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