09 April 2012

September Song

Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September
And the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to flame
And I haven't got time
For the waiting game

And, the days dwindle down
To a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days
I'll spend with you
These precious days
I'll spend with you.

Our Joyce scholar died last week.

Before my husband and I got married, there was the complicated issue of who was going to perform the ceremony. Being that neither of us is religious, or conversely, that both of us are atheist, it didn't really seem right to have a cleric performing the ceremony. I had the idle idea that we call in the three wise men from the neighborhood: the Methodist minister from across the street, the rabbi from next door, and the Joyce scholar from down the hill - it could have been a gloriously high-minded cross-cultural mess. When I called Eddie's widow to offer my condolences, I told her about this not-acted-upon scheme we'd had. She laughed uproariously, and said he'd have liked that very much.

Eddie's obituary was in the Times yesterday, and reading it, I was struck by how much they didn't know about him.

  • He read books while driving the car.
  • He knew a lot of stuff, really, a deep and catholic amount of stuff. 
  • I don't think I ever saw him wearing anything but a button down shirt.
  • He played the piano at parties, so everyone could sing along. His gift was that he never stopped, continuing on even when he made a mistake. He played "O Holy Night" and "The Holy City" and "Adeste Fidelis" and we belted them out and Christmas will never be the same.
  • He told me which sections of Don Quixote I could skip, and even armed with that knowledge, I never did finish reading it.
  • For years, he ran a book club of sorts: Eddie's class - an informal class, for serious study (with lots of cookies). Everyone in town went, or at least, all of my mother's friends.
  • He learned to drive as an adult, and he honked at stop signs, just in case.
  • He was idiosyncratic and fabulous and as low-key as they come.
  • At the end of every raucous singing-aloud party, he'd quietly play "September Song" and slip away.

Rest in peace, Eddie.Thank you for the precious days.


susan said...

I read the obituary yesterday! (I am an avid Times obit reader--both the featured ones, like this one, and the smaller ones. I like finding quirky details about people's lives. Plus, I am turning into my father.) How cool to learn of his connection to you. What a man. And what a neighborhood.

Bron said...

Thanks for that. As I think I mentioned to you, (did I?), I was in your Mom's house this weekend and while near the piano, I thought, "I should call Dad and have him walk up the block so he can play for us." Then I remembered. That piano seemed so much a part of him - as much as his own piano.

I know he read books while at red lights but he was also reported to have read while dancing and walking (once with 2 books in his hands). Crazy kid.

RIP, Dad. And thanks for the tribute, Magpie.

YourFireAnt said...

Can't imagine a better eulogy than that.


Unknown said...

So nice to read this Maggie. Thank you

Lucy said...

As my dad would say, pitch perfect. Thanks Maggie

Sally Wendkos Olds said...

So good to read your musings. Yes, The Times left out so many of the important things about Eddie. I was one of his groupies in the reading group, which had a huge influence in my life.

Mental P Mama said...

Wow. You should do a rewrite and submit it!

Kizz said...

So sad to lose a joyous accompanist. I'm sorry to hear he's gone.

Bibliomama said...

Really lovely.

Mayberry said...

Just exactly what Susan said. I'd ...enjoyed? What would be the appropriate word here? ... read the obit in the Times. How wonderful to know more about Eddie.

Jocelyn said...

I find I as am touched by the comments left by his family here as I am by the lovely coupling of his official obituary and this envy-inducing tribute.

Deb said...

This makes me wish I could have known him. Or at least someone very like him.

Beautiful, Maggie.

Russell Letson said...

I just learned of Eddie's passing today and found the remembrances here by way of the JJQ blog. My wife and I were grad students at Southen Illinois when Eddie was there and both of us have wonderful memories of him as a teacher and a friend. Our sympathies to his family and friends.

He was an office-mate and friend of another of my crucial teachers, John Gardner--my image of him as he was (a short beachball of a man in a black suit and white shirt) is inextricably overlaid with Herb Fink's portrait of him as a monk in the King's Indian illustrations. He was not only startlingly smart (photographic memory, omnivorously well-read, and such) but very funny (my first taste of Monty Python, the Goon Show, Marty Feldman, and other Brit comedy came by way of loans from Eddie's collection of English LPs) and quirky--when Tegwen was expecting their first child, he carried a little stick (just 8 or 9 inches of tree-branch) everywhere with him, for luck. And since he was in the habit of reading as he walked around campus, he would sometimes hold the stick in his teeth, as though he had been playing fetch and forgot to drop it at someone's feet.

I have had eight teachers whose gifts were important and individual enough that I think of them in particular, by name and lesson or technique learned. Eddie was one of them. The courses we took focused on poetry and music (Eliot's Four Quartets and the classical string quartet) and the connections among rhetoric, prosody, and linguistics (a hands-on approach to the construction and operation of classical rhetorical figures and poetic lines). Whenever I analyze the workings of a poem or song lyric or any piece of writing, I'm calling up as much of Eddie as I managed to absorb in those two seminars. Four decades later the memories (and the lessons) are still strong.

RuthWells said...

He sounds like a wonderful person. What a lovely tribute.

Lee Haiken said...

Dear Maggie,
Somehow, although a daily reader of the Times, I missed the obit...probably because i did not recognize "Edmund."
We lived across the street at 7 Reid and felt privileged to know Eddie and Tegwen. I remember his coming to parties at our house with a book or two in his pocket in case the conversation got dull. With the neighbors you describe however that was not likely to happen. On one occasion, I actually rented a piano so that we could all enjoy hearing him play.
Thanks for reminding me what a special neighborhood this was.
Lee Haiken

Stimey said...

So lovely. I am so sorry for your loss.

P. Brown said...

Hi, Maggie,
I went to Eddie's reading group all the time I lived in P.W.and learnt much. I still boast that with his help I read all of Finnegan's Wake.
Thank you for reminding me of Eddie at the piano in your mother's house on Christmas Eve and the good times we had then. It was a great neighbourhood.
Pauline Brown

Sydney Gurewitz Clemens said...

I met Dr. Epstein yesterday, in the third year of our Finnegan's Wake group in San Francisco. One member brought the book (first time) and I paged through to where we were, and found myself flooded with useful info.

So today I went to order the book, and found the JJ newsletter and thence here. I didn't know Dr. Epstein, but I do know Kurt Weill's music, and encourage those of you who found the Sinatra version ok to listen to Lotte Lenya or Kurt Weill (the composer) himself, singing this wonderful song.

My respects and admiration to those of you who knew the man. I'll go read his book, and keep it close for the remaining years of our reading group (We've finished Chapter Four of Part One!)

Sydney Gurewitz Clemens