In which we learn tolerance
| In her last year on earth, my grandmother became smitten by Ramar Of The Jungle. Grandmom died in June, 1953 and by that date, all the episodes of this TV series had been shown countless times, and not in prime time. Before there were daytime soaps, there was The Great White Hunter Ramar. She would watch them over and over again, never realizing that she was seeing the same story that had been shown the week before.
Ramar was portrayed by Jon Hall, a B or C player from the late thirties. In the first season, he lived in Africa with his two buddies, a handsome doctor and a cantankerous old man who was played by neither Andy Devine nor Walter Brennan. Ramar must have exterminated all the animals on the Veldt in this go-round, for the next set relocated Hall and his cast to India. Thankfully for the North American Grizzly Bear, poor ratings killed the show before he could move on the North America.
My sister and I, both under age ten at the time, were aware that the shows were re-runs, but daytime television then consisted of what we would today call infomercials, test patterns and Ramar. Grandmom wasn't in the market for products and found the test patterns too slow, so she settled for Jon Hall. To her two children, my father and aunt, it was a source of amusement that Wilhelmina Lidle would get wound up in the same simple plots she had seen the week before, shouting in German at the tiny black and white screen..
Ich spreche ein bischen Deutsch, but every day I am growing closer to Minnie, as she was known. I have a stable of fifteen or twenty videos I watch again and again. My choices are a cut above Ramar. I get a thrill when Spade strips the gunsel of his rod and presents the guns to Casper Guttman. STOP!! Put on the brakes. I don't want to write about films, but of funerals, and so I must leave Grandmom and Ramar for the moment and turn the clock back to the mid-90s and Jeanne and Carl.
Jeanne was a frosted-hair woman in her mid-seventies who came to have her taxes done each year. She worked for non-profits her whole life and still spent a few hours a week answering phones for one. She dressed to the nines but from her income, she had to be living a life of genteel poverty. She was thin and very well spoken, but in a Chatty-Patty way. Wind her up, ask a question and off she’d go for the next twenty minutes. As she babbled, I would finish her taxes. They were rather simple; even without a computer, her returns would only consume a quarter hour.
Since each client was allocated an hour, this meant her filibuster would ramble on for the next forty minutes. I doubt that she watched television, and even had she, Ramar was long gone from the screen, thus her subject was her late cousin John, or her little bit of stock, or the Episcopal church she attended. I would have forgotten about Jeanne, but for that day in 1997 when her conversation took on a sense of the surreal. She began to discuss arrangements for her funeral.
In her mind, and perhaps her will, she had chosen the church for her service, the readings to be given and the hymns to be sung. As she spoke, her voice became full of enthusiasm and delight. I felt that I had to join her in this enterprise, especially when she asked me what I was doing about my last rites. I had to admit to myself that I had never given it a thought, but I began to make notes and soon I was directing my memorial.
"Into The Mystic", with its wondrous sax solo, would be a bit of a jolt to those expecting a war horse out of a hymnal, and a reading of Brautigan's "44:40" could jar the senses, but they were my choices. If the weather was good, the ceremony could be held under the half-dead birch tree out back, but at the time of that interview, I didn't own this house. I believe I suggested I’d use the Clifton Heights Republican Club.
Jeanne and I ran over her allotted time hatching these plans, giggling at each other like secret lovers. Then she left my office and I never heard from her again. This was a pity for I had hoped to match her up with Carl. He was a gay male of eighty who looked no more than sixty-five. He had a very quiet voice, but he also loved to talk and was an Episcopalian to boot. Unlike Jeanne, his favorite subject was not the immediate future but the past and present.
He would regale me with tales of his upbringing and emphasized how his mother taught him to be tolerant. “Mother would never allow us to use the ‘N’ word,” he stressed. He was thrilled to live in his retirement high-rise with many diverse people: Why there were Blacks, Whites, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and even Episcopalians like himself. He bubbled that his situation was wonderful, with so much diversity and tolerance shown by all, and "by the way, what nationality are you and what part of Philadelphia are you from, Mr. Lidle?"
"I am German and Italian. I was born near 23rd and Lehigh in what was called 'Swamp Poodle'." "Oh, yes, I know of that area. That was Saint Columba Parish. Weren't there a lot of 'MICKS' around there?" I grabbed the arms of my chair and held on with all my might. I coughed politely, but my thoughts remained inside me. Nonetheless,they were loud. PARDON MY TOLERANCE. Everyone has to have someone to despise, even gay, white-bread Episcopalians.
It was about then that I decided he and Jeanne, these two High Church members, belonged together. I mentioned my idea to the man who referred Carl to me. "But he's gay! I met him at a party and he asked for the name of a good tax accountant. I don't think he needs a woman in his life" I told my friend that it would not matter, neither Carl nor Jeanne would notice.
I never had a chance to act on my plan. Carl tolerated life for eight more months before passing on. I knew of his death because I saw an obituary, but I never did learn what happened to Jeanne. I suppose she stopped coming because she did not want to have to invite such an apostate as me to her funeral.
So now I write of the past, slowly morphing into the person my grandmother became, but continue to think to the future. Since my meeting with Jeanne, I have refined my ideas. I want to keep "Into The Mystic", and if I hit the lottery, hire Van Morrison to sing it, but 'The Wild Birds Of Heaven" will replace "44:40". I am looking now for videotapes of Maltese Falcon for the outer lobby, but to please Jeanne, should she come, a bagpiper will play "New York, New York" at the graveside. If Jeanne can't come, there is always the Governor.
Valatie, August 23, 2001