The Angels How They Fly
by Albert Huffstickler
Knowing there's only so much time,
I don't rejoice less but more. Knowing how many things will now
not happen, I wish them Godspeed and pass them on to someone
down the line. I honor my regrets, the part of me that
never happened or happened wrong and proceed on course though
the course is not known. Only the end is known and some days
it's a comfort. We live on love, whether it's there or
not and rejoice in it even in its absence. If I had known,
I'd have come here better equipped - but that's another one of those
things you can't change - as we can't alter that part of us
that lives on memory, knowing all the while that time is not
real and that what we are we never were in the light of that
timeless place where we really belong, have belonged always.
And what's left then is only to bless it all in the light of
what we don't and will never know or at least not here where
the light is only a shadow of that light we almost see sometimes -
that light that's really home.
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic, which took a whole life to develop and market --
the quips, the witticisms, the slant adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings, their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned. The jokes over the phone. The memories
packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act. Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.
At The End
He was so old his bones seemed to swim in his skin.
And when I took his hand to feel his pulse I felt myself drawn in. It was as faint
as the steps of a child padding across the floor in slippers,
and yet he was smiling. I could almost hear a river running beneath his breath.
The water clear and cold and deep. He was ready and willing to wade on in.
At the end of the service,
we played one song: "O Death", a traditional Appalachian song performed by
We had thought of using some
music for the service; I had been listening to some music frequently
in the past few days (see below). I had thought of this song, for
obvious reasons, but when I found a YouTube link using Stanley's
version, the image used with the audio told me this was the song to
It was a
photograph of an old man in bed, and a younger man standing beside
and looking down on the dying man. It could have been taken at my
father's bedside during the first few days of that week.
There is other
music I will associate with the week of my father's death. Beginning
in the days when he was in hospital, I found that, unplanned, I
played a few CD's repeatedly. They were ones that I hadn't recently listened
to frequently, or for some time.
But over that week, I frequently listened to
Song, by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, in collaboration with Michael
Brook, and My Life, the 1994 CD by Iris Dement. That album
was dedicated to her father who had very recently died. (Her
father, ironically, was born about two weeks before mine). Although
none of the personal stories told on that album were at all similar
to my situation, her clear, pure voice just seemed right, and I have
continued to play it occasionally since then.
Here are the opening tracks to both of
those CD's, from YouTube:
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan/Michael
Brook: "My Heart, My Life" (you can ignore the accompanying graphics)
Since my father's
death, we've heard from many people with remembrances of Jack:
family, friends of theirs or ours, and from some people whom we
hadn't seen for years, or had never met. There were a few who wrote
comments such as those one of my cousins wrote, "You always had
to be on your toes around your Dad. He was a special guy!"
I've included a note below written
by another cousin of mine, Pat Young, the daughter of Dad's late
sister Alice. I enjoyed it particularly perhaps because I was at
the same Beatles concerts she talks about (although with not such
good seats!) Pat went with my sister, Anne:
You painted such a clear picture of the man I remember. Uncle Jack
made a strong impression on anyone who met him. He was so full
of life, and energy, and had a mind that moved so quickly it was
a challenge to keep up with him. I always loved visiting Aunt
Eleanor and Uncle Jack despite always being a little
unsettled on the way there as I never knew just what trick he
would get up to next. Fortunately, life with my father and
three brothers prepared me for teasing, and I always came away
from these visits exhilarated and happy.
I well remember standing in the animal clinic back in the summer of
1965 when he demanded I hand over my precious tickets to the
Beatles concert later that day at Maple Leaf Gardens. I was
naturally not a little hesitant to do so but Dad said to go
ahead. Uncle Jack then presented me with tickets, given to him
by a client, for seats on the floor of the arena about 15 rows
in front of Paul. I was in heaven. I can still see
him standing there in his white coat, asking me to give him my
treasured tickets, with that daring-me-to-do-it grin on his
Another memory, which comes
to me every time I cook a steak, is of Uncle Jack
(while preparing that particular treat for me while I was a
student at U of T) advising me to put a little butter on top in
order to give it that extra special flavour. I suppose that
this is probably not the healthiest bit of advice according to
today's standards - but then again this technique does not seem
to have harmed him. So many memories.
You should see the smile Aunt Margaret gets on her face when she
talks of her brother Jack, and the things he encouraged her to
do when they were both young children back in Walkerton and
Guelph. You can't really call it a gentle smile - more of a
warm, affectionate twinkle at the excitement her big brother
brought into her life so many years ago...