Sunday Stealing: If…

xenophobia

The current iteration of Sunday Stealing is If…

1. If you could change the ending to one movie you have seen, which one would it be, and how would you reshoot it?

At the end of Titanic, Rose is brought back to the site three-quarters of a century after the disaster. She drops the Heart of the Ocean necklace into the ocean. I think this was supposed to be romantic. It feels like the last three-quarters of a century in her life, with children and grandchildren, was meaningless.

But it’s better than an alternative ending which was filmed but not used. “Lizzy (Rose’s granddaughter) spots her grandmother climb up on the railings. She rushes forward with Brock [the expedition leader]… Rose tells them not to get any closer. She holds up the Heart of the Ocean and threatens to drop it.

“Brock pleads with Rose to let him hold the diamond just once, but Rose tells Brock that he ‘looks for treasure in the wrong places,’ telling him that life is priceless and they should make each day count.

“Rose tosses the diamond overboard while Brock’s team shows up and watches on incredulously. The same scene of the gem hitting the water is used before we cut back to Brock and Rose. The former laughs at his team before asking Lizzy to dance.”

Vegetables

2. If you were to select a food that best describes your character, what food would it be?

Spinach. Green, crunchy, underappreciated.

3. If you could cure any disease, which would it be?

Cancer seems to manifest as several different diseases. My father died of prostate cancer, but I know several people who have died of other cancers. My dear choir friend Marion Motisher died, and I was a pallbearer on my 39th birthday.

4. If you had to describe the single worst thing a friend could do to you, what would it be?

I have a current example of someone I considered a dear friend. They accidentally butt-dialed me some months ago but promised to call me soon—radio silence. 

5. If you could be a contestant on any game show, which would you like to be on?

The $100,000 Pyramid, no doubt. I tried out for it in the 1970s when I was living in NYC, when it was the $10,000 Pyramid, but I never got past the first round. I enjoy watching it when it returns each summer.

Funereal

6. If you could choose the music at your own funeral, what would it be, and who would play it?

I’ve actually thought about this a lot. I would like a pianist I know to play Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude” Op.28 No.15. Of course, my church choir would sing. I have a few possibilities. I Will Not Leave You Comfortless by Titcomb,  which the choir just sang at the funeral of a choir spouse. Or How lovely is thy dwelling place from the Brahms German Requiem (in English), which I sang with others at my former church for Jim Kalas; there are probably other choices.  I want hymns that have harmony vocals; no unison stuff. And I want an Amen; we don’t sing amens – maybe a Sevenfold one.

7. If you had to spend all of your vacations in the same place for the rest of your life, where would you go?

Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I was there in 1991 and 1992 but not since.

8. If you could ask God a single question, what would it be?

This is a serious answer because all the Big Questions about the afterlife would be self-evident. When I was about twelve, I walked down the street in Binghamton, NY. Suddenly, a lens on the glasses I was wearing cracked. What happened? I heard nothing. It couldn’t have been a BB gun, I don’t think. Was it a tiny meteorite? In any case, my eye was fine, but I was greatly startled.

Almost picked ice cream

9. If you could eat one food in any quantity for the rest of your life with no ill effects whatsoever, what food would you choose?

Pie because it is the perfect food. You can have savory like a chicken pot pie. You can have a variety of fruit pies, and I would eat them in rotation. Then there’s pizza.

10. If you could have a year anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, where would you go?

New Zealand. It’s about as far away from me as you can get. It’s a reasonably safe place. They speak English there. And I could meet Arthur.

11. If you could forever eliminate one specific type of prejudice from the earth, which would it be?

May I pick xenophobia? No? Okay, I’m going with sexism because the current manifestation of it, in big ways (Iran) and small, diminish men as well as women.

12. If you could own one painting from any collection in the world but were not allowed to sell it, which work of art would you select?

The Scream by Edvard Munch. I relate to it sometimes.

13. If you could ask a single question of a dead relative, what would it be, and whom would you ask?

That would be Pop, my father’s dad. Someone told me something about him I had never heard before, and I wanted to verify it.

DVD on DVD

14. If you had to choose the best television show ever made, which one would you pick?

I will pick The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966). It’s one of three programs that ran longer than a season for which I have the complete DVD set. Not incidentally, I just discovered that you could see the episodes at  https://www.youtube.com/@FilmRiseTelevision/playlists FilmRise Television.

15. If you could write letters to only one person for the rest of your life, who would receive them?

I’m a terrible letter writer. And I used to be quite good before the advent of email. I’ll say my friend Mark because he writes lovely and loquacious prose.

Planning the funeral of Dick Powell

The late Dick Powell, me, the late Les Green

His family held the funeral for my father-in-law, Dick Powell on May 22, 2021. It was precisely 13 months after he died. Ah,  death in the time of COVID, even non-COVID-related death.

The planning meetings, of course, were on ZOOM among my MIL, one of her sons and his family, my wife, my MIL’s pastor, and me. Dick had jotted down notes in his own hand from months before he got sick. His specific plans involved his four grandkids singing a specific song together, but that was requested pre-pandemic. The choir recorded the song, remotely, and other hymns as well.

Who’s going to read the Scriptures? I volunteered for Ecclesiates 3:1-8. Blame Pete Seeger, or maybe Roger McGuinn. Others selected Psalm  23 and 1 Corinthians 13.

Who’ll speak? Someone from his church, a few people from the extended family, and a few from the immediate family. My wife would certainly cite her favorite scripture, Micah 6:8, which is a motto of Dick’s church, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

At the end of the service, there was a committal to the columbarium, a word I’m certain I’ve never written before in my life.

The immediate family mentioned, plus my daughter was at the church in person with the pastor, the organist at a distance, and one techie, likewise remote, and all fully vaccinated. Everyone else – the church members, the rest of the friends and family – was invited to participate via ZOOM.

The obit

Meanwhile, one family member had worked on the obituary for Dick Powell. If you think writing it a year after someone’s death would be easier, you might be thinking incorrectly. Noting all of his activities and accomplishments had the effect of dredging up some of the feelings of loss, but also of pride.

There are many schools of thought about what’s appropriate content in an obit. Having read thousands – I love a good one – I’m rather non-prescriptive about them. Except that I do like the listing of the familial connections, which will be useful for future generations of genealogists.

In general, waiting to hold the funeral and write the obit a year later than normal created a case of  dolore interrumpitur, grief interrupted. And that was undoubtedly enhanced by a certain family estrangement; I shan’t dwell upon that here.

Arthur wrote regarding the death of his husband a year and a half ago. It is pretty much what I realized some months after my father’s death over 20 years ago. “The thing about profound grief is that it’s not linear, and it has no timeline. How many times have I said that now?” Not linear; I’ve said that a LOT.

Dick Powell would have been 85 today.

Keith Barber (1941 – 2020)

service Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, ALB

If you read the comments about Keith Barber on his Facebook page, you’d detect a common theme. He was kind, gentle, friendly, compassionate, gracious, funny, loving – that’s about right.

Keith was a strong supporter of equality and social justice. As an ordained deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), he worked for years for full inclusiveness in the church. At our church, First Presbyterian of Albany, he chaired the committee on Social Justice and Peacemaking.

Quite recently he posted on his Facebook ‘The Slaves Dread New Year’s Day the Worst’: The Grim History of January 1. His comment: “A bit of Truth that my own white privilege has previously deprived me of knowing.”

Keith Barber could be a raconteur. He told stories about his time in radio broadcasting, including at WROW in Albany. He shared details with me of stories that took place in the Capital District that took place before I got here. Notably, there was a plane crash in an Albany neighborhood in the early 1970s, which he talked about in astonishing detail more than 30 years later.

Keith was a booster of New York, especially upstate. His Quora page made that quite clear. Although he moved to Florida for a time, he belonged in this region.

The train, the bus

His fondness and support for public transportation was very evident. We shared a love of rail travel, though he did so more than I. Keith became the first public relations officer at Capital District Transit Authority. I’d see him occasionally on the bus, counting people or taking surveys.

The church attempted a Thursday evening Bible study almost a decade ago. Though it started with a half dozen folks, it eventually dwindled down some weeks to just the two of us. Naturally, Keith pulled out his Message Bible written by Eugene Peterson.

Keith LOVED reading from Peterson, because it was “designed to be read by contemporary people in the same way as the original koiné Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were savored by people thousands of years ago.” Genesis 1:1 reads: “First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see.”

If I’m particularly saddened by Keith’s passing, it’s that, less than a month ago, he “graduated” from getting chemotherapy. It’s likely that the chemo helped create the situation that ultimately killed him, if I understand correctly.

There will be a service for Keith Barber on Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m. in the First Presbyterian Church, 362 State St., Albany. All are welcome to celebrate a life well lived.

The black funeral home in history

In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director, and a family is in need of your services.

Indianapolis-Recorder-November-5-1938-Hoosier-State-Chronicles
Indianapolis IN Recorder-November 5, 1938
In response to a reference question, I discovered that 10% of undertakers/morticians/funeral directors were African-American in 2016. But that fact doesn’t get to the historic import of the black funeral home.

US Funerals notes: “In the United States there is a rich cultural heritage of black-owned and operated funeral homes. Indeed black funeral parlors were some of the first businesses to be set up by African-Americans after the abolition of slavery.”

Funeralwise agrees: “Since few white undertakers would serve the African American community, black undertakers created independent businesses to fill the need. During the Civil War black soldiers were often assigned to burial details, recovering and burying the dead, but also assisting with keeping death records and finding ways to preserve remains to be sent home to other parts of the country for interment…

“These experiences prepared many soldiers for work in the burial industry, not only allowing them to serve their brothers and sisters in their time of grief but also allowing them to preserve numerous funeral customs associated with their African heritage.”

Edwin Jackson, a licensed black funeral director, and embalmer, shares a more recent history: “The local sheriff is on the other end and says he needs you to pick up a body… You’re used to putting your evenings and sleep on hold. In this case, you’re Chester Miller, a funeral director, and a family is in need of your services. Today you have been called to pick up a body that was found floating in the Tallahatchie River. You arrive on the scene and immediately you see the battered, broken, and decomposed body of a young boy…

“I use this story surrounding Emmett Till’s death to show how death has been used as a catalyst within the civil right movement and emphasize the role black funeral directors have played in such movements. Sixty years later, we see the maturity of a new movement that now flies under the banner of Black Lives Matter. We also see a new generation of black funeral directors… looking to support our community in the undertaking of such movements.”

While cultural changes are hitting black funeral homes, the institution has long been a business of loyalty, especially in the South. When they died, both my parents were tended to by the nearby African-American mortician in Charlotte, NC.

There is a group, the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, founded in 1924. Though by 1957 it had taken on the new name, its history makes clear that it is geared to the black funeral director.

Rev. Robert Pennock (1926 – 2019)

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC.

Bob PennockThe third funeral I will sing at this calendar year is for the Rev. Robert Pennock.

At the FOCUS churches service in early February, I happened to be sitting behind Nancy, an alto at Trinity United Methodist Church in Albany. I used to sing with Nancy there until 2000 and “the troubles.”

Nancy enjoyed my familiar voice behind her. It prompted me to say that back in the 1990s, that Trinity choir was really good. And Bob Pennock was a large part of that.

I generally sat near Bob in the choir loft. When I joined the ensemble in early 1983, my choir singing skills were rusty. As the bass soloist and section leader, he was quite helpful in getting me on track.

He and his wife Holly often hosted choir functions at their home. I watched his younger kids, David and Jessica, grow up in the church.

There was a move at Trinity in 1997 or early 1998 to consider changing the organizational structure of Trinity. It was allowed by the United Methodist governing body. But it was Bob who rightly said, “Where are the checks and balances?” The proposed plan, it seemed, gave too much power to the pastor.

As a minister ordained the year I was born, he immediately recognized the potential for usurpation of congregational authority. He voiced what I, who had served as chair of the Administrative Board, had only been thinking.

Someone said, “Give [the new structure] a chance,” and it was passed. Just as predicted by Bob, the pastor achieved more control without accountability, which led to my departure and that of others less than three years later.

I would see Bob only sporadically after that, including at least twice at a small rural church he served as pastor in the early 2000s.

The funeral of Robert Pennock will be on Saturday, February 16 at our old stomping grounds, Trinity UMC. We will sing two John Rutter pieces, The Lord is My Shepherd from the Requiem, and The Lord Bless You and Keep You, music I first learned while I was singing with Bob and Holly.

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