Last weekend, I had the honor of attending the memorial services for Morgan Lucas Schuldt, a man I knew through his reputation as a poet and editor, but more than that, through the place he held in the heart and life of one of my oldest, closest friends. I traveled to New Jersey to be there for Mark, my friend, and his wife and child as they mourned. There was no escaping the sadness of the occasion, of course, but there was poignancy and sweetness and unexpected connection, too. I met people I had only heard about for years and felt instantly welcomed and embraced. I feel like I’ve made new, real, lasting friendships, and renewed old ones and this feels like nothing short of magical. Thank you, Morgan.
One of the people I met and talked with at length was another poet, and while our conversation began there, we somehow realized (around the second glass of whiskey, maybe), that we grew up a few towns away from each other in CT, that he lost his mother too early just as I lost my father, and that his father and mine worked for IBM in (possibly) the same location during the late 1970s and early-mid 80s. He left and promised to ask his dad (whose first name is my father’s middle!) if he did indeed know him. I feel so comforted by the idea that there are other people out in the world who knew my dad and who might still remember him. This feels powerful to me in a way I’m not sure I can articulate just yet. It reminds me of the far-reach of a life, I suppose. My father’s life surely reached far beyond mine or our family’s.
Poetry does this, too, of course. I left NJ holding Morgan’s last chapbook in my hands. I have been reading and re-reading and am just mesmerized by it. Partly, I’m sure, because of the context, the poignancy of knowing I am holding a finale of sorts in my hands. But also, the poems are good, moving, challenging, intelligent in the best ways. If I treasure this artifact (and I do), I can only imagine what comfort it will bring to his family and closest friends.
When I got home I had lunch with another dear writer friend who, I believe, has handed me the key to finally completing my artifact–the one I have been struggling with, writing down for eight years and in my head, now, for almost 20–the memoir about food and my father that I am calling Dead Dad Day. I have been “almost done” with this project for at least a year. Stuck, stuck. Too close to it. But this is the year. He’ll have been gone twenty years in August. Incomprehensible, and yet I have lived it and written it and it is so much part of who I am that I don’t remember who I was before. A friend said to me yesterday when I pointed out the anniversary, “Almost as long now without him as with him.” Yes. That’s, incredibly, right.
But I have the key now, I think, to finishing this thing by August 6: recipes! Dead Dad Day is an eating holiday, a day of indulgence and gluttony that usually happens once a year. But this year, I am going to do it up. I have gone through the book and have pulled out ten meals and I am going to cook! I am going to cook from now until August–five months of cooking and eating!– and I am going to write about the process (and blog about it!) as I go. Don’t be surprised if you get an invitation to dine with me, because that is the other part of the holiday–connection.
Or, in this case, re-connection: to my writing, my love of cooking, my important friendships (new, old), my memories of my father and my promise to keep him vital through language and to celebrate him bodily, heartily, with audacious love for as long as I have.