Parting Glances: Goodbye and Mama Mia

By |2018-01-16T17:39:53-05:00June 30th, 2005|Opinions|

I last saw my friend Tony five years ago, leaving an art gallery. He vanished into seclusion: reading, watching TV, doing crossword puzzles, dealing with aches, pains, depression — rarely seeing anyone, abandoning his life’s great passion: painting.
His sister Helen called two weeks ago to say he died in his sleep, just days after celebrating his 82nd birthday, “seemingly content, thinking of sketching again.”
“He’s been cremated. The memorial’s secular. Marianne suggested a lesbian minister. ‘Too religious,’ I told her. Everybody knows about Tony, anyway — though he’d probably find her comments a hoot. It’d be nice, Charley, if you’d say a few words. Share memories. If the spirit so moves you.”
Said spirit so moves me to wear a bright red shirt decorated with bold white-print flowers, on . . . .
WEDNESDAY: About 100 people gather at the funeral home — more like Tony’s retrospective than his wake: artists, musicians, jazz great Bess Bonnier, interior designer (former Interchange owner) John Wertman, physique photographer Tom Frank — and an Opa! worth of gregarious Greek first, second, and third cousins.
Several paintings are displayed and photos from Tony’s boyhood, youth, World War ll days, college teaching career, and bipolar artist-about-town “periods.” An early self-portrait is subtly gay. As I listen to tributes from nieces Marianne and Diane, a voice joyfully pontificates in my head: Tony’s — answering his phone with one campy word that sums up his life — “Speaking!”
FRIDAY: The Scarab Club garden wedding of Junoesque Sandra Roman, manager of Royal Oak’s Lotus Import Company, and handsome Michael Rome begins with a recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing George Gershwin’s “Love Walked In,” followed by Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
(I think of Chicago, 30 years ago. A guy named Ted.)
Standing under a canopy I watch the mostly straight celebrants. A stylish woman at my right looks like a young Angela Lansbury. (I tell her so later.) The wiccan minister wears rose-tinted glasses and reads selections from Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and Rumi’s poems.
A rock band tuning up at nearby College for Creative Studies unintentionally embellishes the ceremony with snippets of tune. As Sandra places the ring on Michael’s finger, stray notes of melody underscore the moment. Guests laugh, a bit startled; then fall silent. Roman and Rome pledge their allied hearts. She with happy tears.
Inside I sit next to a friendly woman who teaches English at Wayne State. She was born in Paris. We talk about Cocteau films and composer Eric Satie’s bizarre passion for collecting unopened umbrellas. [On Sunday I run into Sandra and Michael at a health food store. They say my wedding gift hangs in their bedroom.]
SATURDAY: I join friends of BTL publishers Jan & Susan for their Windsor (Ont.) wedding, in sight of the sprayful Peace Fountain and winding lanes of perennials. Neil Hodgins, Canada’s version of our Justice of the Peace, officiates. He’s “family,” and a nurse caring for his invalid mother. His gentle remarks include a poem by a two-spirited Native woman who lived a century ago. Rings (already worn for five years) are re-exchanged. Complex marriage documents are signed. God save the Queen!
We lunch at Brigantino on Erie Street, greeted by owner Sam and Emilia, an older mama-mia-type waitress. We are the only customers. The three-course meal is perfection. “What are you celebrating?” asks Emilia. We tap glasses; look at Jan & Susan. They kiss.
“Ah!” she replies. “Last week it was two American gentlemen. Che bella.”

About the Author:

Charles Alexander