I don’t think I have ever been distracted in a prayer by rounds of ‘Poor Jud is dead.’
And folks are feelin' sad
Cause they useter treat him bad
But now they know their friend is gone for good
How can a guy seriously pray, as one ought to do at a memorial, with that playing over the sound system? It wasn’t good at all that my friend was dead. Still, I should have expected it, attending the memorial of 92-year-old Barbara, who had once played in the musical Oklahoma. She had been in Lil Abner, too, as the back-up Daisy Mai, and also a few other venues.
After show business, she served as an administrator at NYU.
After retirement she became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and moved to upstate New York, probably because her youngest daughter lived there. She was 27 years as a Witness and became known locally as one of ‘the Golden Girls,’ pioneering with some other oldsters, none of whom had been show girls.
“We have someone in our audience today who once worked with Mr. Rogers” [of Rogers and Hammerstein], said the program director at Hochstein Music School. Barbara used to attend all the violin concerts of one of the elder’s children—the same elder who gave her memorial talk, as it turned out. Everyone made a fuss over her after that announcement, and for a brief time she was transported back to the day.
Only the Pioneer Service School conductor had been able to get away with calling Barbara (who never had a hair out of place) Babs—as in “So that everyone can have a share, please try to keep your comments to under 30 seconds. Except for you, Babs—15 seconds for you,” and by this tactic he managed to restrain most of her comments to under three minutes.
After recalling a few anecdotes of Babs’ life, the speaker presiding said that “We are here because she is not.” He went on to let the air out of a few suppositions that invariably fail under stress—such as ‘she is in a better place now.’ She is not. Death is an enemy, not a friend, he pointed out, and cited 1 Corinthians 15:26. He went on to recall how death had not been God’s original purpose, how it had come about in the first place, and how the resurrection hope would one day undo it. She is unconscious in the meantime, as though asleep.
I didn’t overlap with Barbara as much as had most others at the reception afterwards—people who had worked with her in field service for years. Probably the reason I struck a chord with her is that when she heard that I blogged, she did not say ‘Why in the world would you do that?’ (as many of the friends might) but she was very encouraging over it. Her son, too, was a writer, she said—the researcher and author of a book on a topic almost totally unknown to Western audiences, but the Eastern equivalent of Hitler’s concentration camps—Unit 731 in China under Japanese WWII domination. To this day relations between the two countries are strained. It became the subject of another of my blog posts.
The son was there at the memorial talk and reception, looking very much an author, with two satchels hung around his neck—whereas everyone else had managed to stow their gear elsewhere. “Oh, he just talks and talks—you have to interrupt him,” his sister had told me, so I did, briefly, to express condolences and to say that his mom had been very proud of him. The three daughters were there, too, and only the Witness one had I known, so I made a point of meeting the other two. They are both retired professional women and both lit up at my mention that a shared interest in the arts is what had attracted me to their mom. We even spoke some of Barbara’s 2nd husband, Lloyd Barenblatt, whose professional career as an academic was ruined because he wouldn’t name names during the McCarthy era.
Babs didn’t have a background typical of most Witnesses. More typically they have been raised on a farm out in the prairie or worked on a ship in the Atlantic or a workshop in Boise. I refrained from telling these refined daughters about Mickey Spillane, another writer who became a Witness, and who had observed of the ‘great’ authors: “What these guys could never get is that you sell more salted peanuts than caviar.” I wasn’t sure how they might respond to that.
The resurrection hope to an earth made paradisiac under God’s kingdom rule is something very real to Jehovah’s Witnesses, and is what attracted many of them to the faith to begin with—most other religions either being disheartenly vague on the topic or promoting everyone to heaven, where they will float around and—well, who knows what they will do there? I don’t think that I have ever heard a Witness question the resurrection hope. I look forward to seeing my old friend there again someday.
photo: Oklahoma - Mraz Center for the Performing Arts