My two daughters and their families are in Maine with me, a place that we have loved since their infancy and which my husband Dan also came to love when he joined our family. He and I traveled to Maine together only weeks after we first met, making regular return visits with and without family ever since. This summer Dan is here with us symbolically in the articles of clothing of his that we brought with us and in our many memories.
Here he is in 2019 enjoying a forest hike with our dog Dev and, at the trail’s end, a magnificent stone outcrop at the ocean’s edge.
On our family hike this week, I took Dan’s hat — he always wore it and we all teased him about how goofy he looked in it –back to this spot.
I played the song on my phone that he wanted me to remember, struggling to communicate it to me on one of his final days. It made both of us cry then, and as I stared out over the ocean it made me cry this time, too. It is The Dutchman, sung by Steve Goodman. The chorus is:
Let us go to the banks of the ocean Where the walls rise above the Zuiderzee. Long ago, I used to be a young man And dear Margaret remembers that for me.
It’s a bittersweet song about growing old and infirm and one’s life partner remembering the happier times of youth.
Dan could always recite the lyrics to the songs he liked, name the artists and even state the dates of their issue. I always marveled at this talent as I can barely remember the words to childhood ditties. My version of the same message, from the woman’s point of view, is from a favorite poem by Anne Bronte:
Farewell to thee! but not farewell To all my fondest thoughts of thee: Within my heart they still shall dwell; And they shall cheer and comfort me. O, beautiful, and full of grace! If thou hadst never met mine eye, I had not dreamed a living face Could fancied charms so far outvie. If I may ne'er behold again That form and face so dear to me, Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain Preserve, for aye, their memory. That voice, the magic of whose tone Can wake an echo in my breast, Creating feelings that, alone, Can make my tranced spirit blest. That laughing eye, whose sunny beam My memory would not cherish less; -- And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam Nor mortal language can express. Adieu, but let me cherish, still, The hope with which I cannot part. Contempt may wound, and coldness chill, But still it lingers in my heart. And who can tell but Heaven, at last, May answer all my thousand prayers, And bid the future pay the past With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?
And so I bid the future pay the past with joy for anguish, smiles for tears as the good memories of that goofy happy young(er) man flood in and a new generation of our family comes to love this beautiful place as much as he did.
Baby Ray is too new to have known Papa Dan, but my other grandson Vincent, not quite 3, asks about him regularly. We’ve explained to him that Papa Dan’s body stopped working because he was very sick and couldn’t get better. A toddler’s understanding of death can definitely lighten the mood. Vince has decided instead that Papa Dan was eaten by a dinosaur. Dan would have been so delighted by that.