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June 18th, 2009
An Idle Word: Funeral food — So good for the soul

An Idle Word: A Column
by BILL CUNNINGHAM

It’s been a two funeral week and when you reach a certain age that’s two too many. And yet there’s certain reassuring quality about the celebration of life’s end that’s strangely reassuring as we contemplate the temporary storms of life that consume us as we go about our daily dalliances with the black dog that bedevils too many of us in modern society.

Friday I attended services for Steve Gregg, an old friend of my late father. Mr. Gregg was a successful businessman and civic leader, who I had gotten to know after coming here to attend college and staying on.

I got to know him well as he served on the Edwards Underground Aquifer Board of Directors while I worked as a grants writer and administrator, liaison with local governmental bodies and all-purpose go-fer for the Commissioners Court. It was easy to see how he and my Dad had gotten along so well.

Always smiling, he was, like my father, one who had contracted polio—the disease that killed or crippled thousands of Americans in the 1940’ and 1950’s and created a national panic that I doubt few readers of a blog can remember—yet conquered it and went on to lead a long and active life. Perhaps, it was that experience that shaped their positive personality—more likely it was the personalities that led them to their victories.

When Mr. Gregg decided to retire from the Board, he talked me into running for his place. Luckily, the wisdom of the voters provided the Board with someone who actually knew something about water—other than the fact that it a good mixer with bourbon– and I forgave him for his persuasive powers in putting me on the ballot.

We had lost touch in recent years and I recently learned from his son that he was residing in a rest home in Wimberley and had lost both his hearing and sight. Yet, judging from the eulogies, he never lost his love of life, friends and family.

As we stood in the tabernacle at the cemetery, I could hear off in the distance the mournful sound of the train whistle in the distance. I know in San Marcos, “train” is a bad word but there is nothing more reassuring to me at funeral than hearing that whistle, knowing that it’s the sound that marks a traveler being carried to his next destination.

Jeff Henderson didn’t make it to 93 like Mr. Gregg being only 67 at the time of his passing. Again for most blog readers “only 67” sounds pretty old but your time will come. And for a kid with rheumatic fever who was told he would never live to see 18, cheating the reaper for nearly half a century tells you a lot about what kind of guy Jeff was.

Jeff wasn’t the faculty advisor for The University Star when I worked for it during my own collegiate career. I wish he had been.

His predecessor was certainly a fine gentleman, a former newspaper publisher in Mississippi. He just seemed befuddled by my preoccupation with issues like the Vietnam War, students’ rights to demonstrate peacefully and open discussions about disagreements with university policy. In his own quiet way, I believe, he even tried to defend me and my fellow travelers on the staff, feeling himself under pressure doing so.

Jeff with his wit and sense of playfulness probably would have found a way to prick my sense of self-important seriousness and stave off the dissension that led to the Great Purge of 1969.

We became friends—not a hard task with Jeff Henderson—over the years when he assumed the job and oversaw the Star go from the era of linotype (look it up in the dictionary) to the modern paper it became, even taking it on-line. He’s probably reading the blogs right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a comment come in and I’m sure it would be a humorous one.

He taught many of my good friends—Kim Porterfield, Mark Hendricks and countless others. They loved the good times they had with him and I envy them. I even learned that Don Anders had a good singing voice at the services Wednesday.

I used to think the term “celebration of life” to describe funerals was some clever euphemism devised by an industry p.r. type (we all know what weasels they are) but this week has reminded me that they really are celebrations for those left behind—a chance to remember people who in some large or small way affected our own lives and to pay a final thank you for those reminiscences.

And lest you fear that the Idle Wordsmith is falling into a maudlin funk, I am always in line for what the Southern folksinger Kate Campbell sings about in her mini- portraits of Southern living such as the one used in the title of this column.

“Funeral food, it’s so good for the soul

Funeral food–fills you up down to your toes”

—————-

Idle Chatter

Last week’s blog about the controversial issue of voter I.D. being added to the planned special session of the Texas Legislature certainly brought out some lengthy comments from readers. I have chosen to address all in one bit of feedback. So.

TO J.G. HORTON, CHARLIE, CHARLES SIMS & JIM GREEN: I stand behind not adding this issue to the special session. That session needs to deal with the issues that need immediate attention and as the regular session clearing showed the issue of “voter i.d.” and “immediate attention” do not fit in the same sentence. I believe our democracy can stand another two years without it and then any lawmaker can bring it up. The issue in the session can only produce more procedural tactics, filibusters, and protracted discussions on mundane issues.

Loving nothing better than “why don’t you and him step outside and fight,” I did enjoy seeing my longtime friend Jim Green accuse me and Charles Sims of seeming to “be having a love fest condemning the late a ballot security issue.”

I’m not condemning this issue, and I don’t think Charles S., is either although I admit to reservations about the true intent of it. I think Jim just got wind of the fact that Charlie Sims has referred to himself in conversations with me as “the biggest right winger you know” and wants to prove that he owns that distinction.

Anyway, love you both so I’ll be figuring out ways to keep the quarrel going.

And one last word on the on the voter I.D. issue. If we change the law what are the Democrats going to do with the longtime mantra of “Vote early and often.”

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3 thoughts on “An Idle Word: Funeral food — So good for the soul

  1. Thanks for a great column, Bill, and for the memories of Jeff. As I told Diana and Don recently, I think Jeff probably taught us more about how to treat people than he did about journalism. And I think that is probably a more important life lesson.

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