Obituaries Feed

Goodbye, Old Shoes

You served me faithfully for many years. 


This picture was taken about a year ago, when we were about to move to a new house, and I was trying to get rid of things that really had no reason to go with us. I am one of those people who find it difficult to throw away anything that might possibly still have some good use: if not useful at the moment, then possibly so at some future time, or, if near the end of its useful life, not definitively arrived there.

But those, whether prudent or not, are purely pragmatic considerations. My attachment to these shoes was a purer thing, a regard founded upon but not limited to merely material considerations. I loved them. But they were effectively deceased, inasmuch as they were no longer capable of serving as shoes, and so I reluctantly put them down, as one might a beloved dog who is in visible pain and can no longer wag its tail or eat its supper.

They were from a company called San Antonio Shoes, the model called Time Out, which is still in their catalog (click on that link to see what my shoes looked like, more or less, when they were new). This was at least the second pair I've worn out to almost the degree which you see here; possibly it's the third, but second seems to fit more closely into the possible span of time in which I wore them.

In 1992 I had fairly severe back problems (a ruptured disk) and had surgery to repair it. The surgery was successful, but I continued for years to have a certain amount of pain. Somewhere along in the following five to ten years I bought a pair of these shoes, and their cushiony sole and insole did great things for my back. I suppose some sort of athletic shoes might have done as well, but these were presentable for work. I wore them out, then bought another pair. The second pair, the one you see here (I think), was looking very bad by the time I stopped going in to work in 2016. They had the cracks in the sides which you can see in the picture, and the sole of the right one had twice come loose and been glued back. I still wore them fairly often around the house, enough for them to deteriorate further. When the sole came loose again, the upper was so far gone that there wasn't enough leather there to which the sole could be glued. That wasn't so very long ago, maybe a year before I had to make the difficult decision described above.

I now have two pairs of this same model, one brown and one black. I don't have occasion to wear them all that often, so at my age I don't expect to have to replace them. I notice that the company's price for them is now $209. I think that first pair cost no more than $60 or $70, and the second not much over $100. 

Earlier today, while thinking about this post and looking for the photo, I experienced a painful muscle spasm in my back which was one of the problems I had long before and long after that 1992 surgery, and which has not happened for at least the past ten years. Now, some hours later, it still hurts and I'm moving slowly and carefully, trying not to aggravate it.  It's as if the shoes have spoken to me from beyond the grave: don't forget us. 

A Remark on Jimmy Buffett

He was a smart businessman who made millions telling y'all it's okay to goof off all the time. 

That was my wife's observation, and I thought it was too funny to keep to myself. 

I mean no serious disparagement of Jimmy Buffett. I was oddly saddened when I heard of his death--oddly because I wasn't a great fan of his music, and never even heard much of it apart from the few songs that were played on the radio. 

Maybe it was because I loved "Margaritaville" when it appeared in 1977. My family vacationed on the Florida Panhandle coast when I was growing up, and I always had a sort of romantic relationship with that area. The crush had been dormant for some years, but "Margaritaville" caused it to flare up again. (I think it was the line about the flip-flop and the pop-top. And the shrimp.) It's a good song by any reasonable standard, and an awfully appealing vision of beach life without major responsibility, yet including that offhand serious movement from evasion to responsibility ("It's my own damn fault.")

I'd probably like more of his music if I heard it. The truth is that I was put off his work not long after "Margaritaville" was a hit. He played in Tuscaloosa, where I was living at the time, and I went to see him. It was the only concert I've ever left before it ended. Buffett seemed to be pandering to the dumb college audience, causing them to erupt in frantic cheering by saying the word "beer" or anything else to do with drinking. Or sex. I was hoping for something with more depth than simple-minded party music. The songs may actually have had that, but I didn't know them and of course couldn't hear the lyrics very well, and the atmosphere was brainless college party. (Isn't it sad that "dumb," "brainless," and "college" go so easily together?) It was disappointing and dull and I left early. I'm pretty sure his music, at least some of it, deserves better. "Margaritaville" itself is no shallow celebration of indulgence. 

A White Sport Coat And a Pink Crustacean remains one of my all-time favorite album titles, though as far as I remember I've never heard it. He was very good at that kind of wordplay, though the number of people who get that particular joke must be diminishing rapidly. 

Buffett grew up in Mobile and is thought of as a local  hero, but I have the impression that he didn't much reciprocate the sentiment, in part maybe because Mobile radio was not receptive to his music, especially in his early days. A few years ago I heard a snatch of one of his songs in which he complains about that. His family lived in the Mobile area called Spring Hill, the most affluent neighborhood in the city, and he went to the Catholic high school and reportedly was an altar server at the chapel of Spring Hill College, which in his day was the unofficial parish of the neighborhood. According to this article in Church Life Journal, "Catholicism left an indelible mark on his imagination":

O bless me father yes I have sinned
Given the chance I’ll prob’ly do it again

Yeah, I hear that. And the article continues, making a point similar to my wife's:

Once again there is a contradiction in the telling: in order to show that one can have a successful life by just having fun, Buffett commits himself to work hard...

He might be the world’s most famous beach bum, but he eschews excess in his personal life and is a driven, hands-on entrepreneur. 

You don't create the kind of empire that his Margaritaville restaurants and resorts became without being driven. I've never been to one (there's not one here), and probably wouldn't like it much if I did. But he gave a lot of relatively innocent pleasure to a lot of people, and our deteriorating popular culture is the worse for his loss. RIP.

Local lore says that the cover photo of this 1981 album, which I have never heard, was taken in Point Clear, up the road from where I currently live, which was, in Buffett's youth, where many affluent Mobile families had summer homes. It certainly looks like it could have been, apart from the phone booth. Piers like that are seen all along the shores of Mobile Bay, not at the Gulf.


Forty-five years after "Margaritaville," I live an hour away from the Gulf and don't go to the beach very often--once or twice a year, maybe--because of the traffic and the condominiums and the crowds. "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded." When I do go, it's in late fall and winter, when it's still pretty nice. 

Goodbye, Andy

Those cognoscenti who have been reading this blog since its earliest days may remember that back then I sometimes mentioned our two dogs, Andy and Lucy (who were not named for the Twin Peaks characters, as I had not seen the show when they were named). If I remember correctly, we also had three cats at the time. Over the years the numbers have fallen. The oldest of the cats, Jessie, died quite a few years ago, probably not long after the blog began--I've lost track of the time, but I think I mentioned the death here, though I can't find a post about it now. Another, Oreo, not too long after that, and at a comparable age, disappeared and was presumed dead. She had been showing definite signs of decline. And Milo died in 2014. I wrote about that one here. Somewhere during that time we acquired another cat, the result of a moment of weakness on my wife's part when someone offered her a beautiful snow-white kitten, but I don't think we ever had more than three at one time. 

For over fifteen years dealing with those dogs has been a big part of my life. Every day began and ended with taking them out for a short walk, usually the hundred or so yards down to the bay. It got tiresome at times, but it forced me to get up and out of the house, and I witnessed many, many pleasant scenes as a result: the moon over the bay, the mysterious ambience of morning fog.

Lucy was a medium-sized mixed breed dog, 55 or 60 pounds, very nice looking with a thick red-gold coat, very sweet, but a continual problem in one way or another. She died fairly suddenly in 2015, age 15 or maybe 16, going quickly from more or less normal to more or less paralyzed in the space of a few days. 

Andy was a bichon, a little fuzzy-haired dog something like a twelve-pound poodle, but more than anything like an animated teddy bear.

Andy ColorAndyrunning4-764997Young and exuberant

Now he's gone, too, "put down" (I hate that term but there is no good one) to spare him more of the pain he was in. He had been declining for several years, growing progressively more blind and deaf and arthritic. The twice-daily walks to the bay ended, because he didn't want to go that far. As I think I mentioned here, I began to see my treatment of him as some sort of test for me, that my treatment of him would somehow affect the way I would be treated if I suffer the same kind of long decline. Superstitious, I know, but I think I did reasonably well on the test: not perfect but not so bad.

He had always been a lot of trouble in various ways--chronic skin problems, for instance--and now he became more so, and in some not very pleasant ways. Since last summer he'd gotten progressively worse, and over the past few weeks rapidly much worse. Then last weekend he stopped eating and drinking. The vet thinks he was having kidney failure. By Monday night he was alternating between naps of an hour or two and spells of obviously pained yelping and trembling. I had hoped he would die naturally, just go to sleep and not wake up, but that wasn't happening. And so the deed was done Tuesday afternoon, and now he's buried on the hill behind the house.

I'm not a truly devoted pet lover, dogs or cats. And my wife is even less so, especially where dogs are concerned. Most of ours have come to us either because our children wanted them or in some half-accidental way. Andy was ours because of a good deed gone wrong. My wife knew someone who had bought this bichon puppy but changed her mind when he started chewing on the furniture. My wife suggested to her brother that his two young daughters might like a puppy. Yes, they would, and so the transfer was made. But one of the children proved to be allergic to him, so they didn't want to keep him. And the original owner didn't want him back. So he came to live at our house for the rest of his life. 

I got pretty attached to him. He was, as I say, a lot of trouble, but he was merry and lovable. He wasn't an hysterical yapper like a lot of small dogs. He somehow managed to be the alpha dog even with much bigger dogs: with Lucy, for instance. Once when we were at the bay someone came along with two standard poodles who were at least five times his weight, but whom he bossed around as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He amused, exasperated, delighted, and comforted me. As he got past middle age and wasn't much interested in running around anymore, his favorite place was wedged between me and the arm of my favorite chair. His happy place, my wife called it. It was a pretty happy place for me, too. 

His absence already makes me realize how conscious I was of his presence, and of course in recent months the need to tend to him in some way or other was always in the back of my mind. It's liberating, I won't deny. It was nice to drink my coffee this morning without feeling the need to get dressed right away and take him out. And we are now free to go away for more than a day without boarding him.

But I miss him. Now we're down to one cat, the snow-white one I mentioned. I'm pretty attached to her, too. MemeOnGreen

She's not young, either. She'll probably be around for several more years, at least. And then that  should be the last of pets for us. 

Sunday Night Journal, February 25, 2018

Billy Graham's brand of Christianity was not mine; it never has been. Even apart from the vast doctrinal distance between his evangelical Protestantism and my Catholicism, simply as a matter of what you might call style or culture, it was not for me. There was a time when I more or less despised him as a representation of American civil religion. That was the case when I was a non-believer and a political leftist, because his public image was so strongly associated in my mind with the confused and unhealthy mixture of Christianity and Americanism that's so common here. I started to say "common in some brands of Protestantism," which it is of course, but there are Catholic strains, too.

But that was a long time ago, and I think the picture of Graham that I had in the '60s became less accurate over the years. Maybe it never was really accurate, but, rightly or wrongly, the mention of his name had always conjured up an image of the American flag, or the American eagle, alongside his face.

My impression of him became more positive over the years, though. That had something to do, of course, with my becoming a Christian and sharing his most fundamental beliefs. But it also had to do with the fact that he seemed to remain the same as American culture declined around him, making him look better in comparison. I used to read his "My Answer" advice column in the newspaper: someone would write in with problems and questions of one sort or another, and Graham's answers were always solidly Christian. (I wonder if he actually wrote them himself, but whether he did or not, they appeared under his name and presumably reflected his views.)  On the same page I read Ann Landers and/or Dear Abby, and their advice, though it was often shrewd, changed with the cultural winds in ways that were often amusing. Not Graham's. He tried to be sympathetic and generous but he didn't compromise. 

It wasn't only the secular culture that was declining, either. The kind of mass-appeal non-denominational evangelicalism he proclaimed was changed very much for the worse by glitzy stars of dubious honesty like Jim Bakker. But Graham seemed to stick to his original Christ-centered style and mission and in the process became the sort of American character who is also an institution, like Jimmy Stewart, or Johnny Cash. You don't have to view them as the brightest stars in the firmament of Western civilization to appreciate them for what they were, and to recognize that part of what made them so appealing was the insistent, if not consistent, integrity they seemed to represent, even if or when they failed to exemplify it. 

And so I'm sorry to see Graham go. As characters in The Lord of the Rings say more than once, "the world is changing." As always, it is changing simultaneously for better and for worse. But I can't see America producing another like him, or Jimmy Stewart, or Johnny Cash. 

In spite of what I just said about the mixed nature of change, the truth is that sometimes it's all I can do not to turn this journal into a continual jeremiad about the deterioration of our culture and our nation, and prophecies of the doom toward which we're heading. That impulse is encouraged by something you may have read about: the writer for Teen Vogue who expressed the belief that Billy Graham is in hell, and, when challenged on that remark, dug in her heels and called him, with the grace that is so characteristic of the contemporary left, "an evil piece of s**t." The sheer hatred is like an icy wind blowing over a garbage dump, and of course there's a lot of that around. But perhaps more significant--I hope more significant--is the fact that she seems to think that there should be a hell. I remember when Jerry Falwell died reading similar sentiments from people who despised Christianity, no doubt for, among other reasons, its teaching that unrepentant sinners go to hell. Could it be that a need to believe in some sort of ultimate justice is part of our nature? 

Teen Vogue, you might think, would be a fluffy magazine about clothes and makeup. Teen Vogue, you may have heard, ran a piece a few months ago instructing its audience of teenaged girls in techniques for anal sex. It's difficult to imagine that a culture which regularly produces such monstrosities, and is very proud of them, can endure for very long. Whether it is accurate to see the producers of such stuff as being part of the same culture as those who are appalled by it as being part of "a culture" is another matter. 

Here are two obituaries for Billy Graham that I found worth reading. One, in Commonweal, is a fair-minded overview of his career. The other, at the blog of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society, is a reflection on his influence by someone who was a part of the evangelical world and is now Catholic. It gives us a picture of what went on behind the scenes in preparation for one of Graham's missions. Early in his career he seems to have been conventionally anti-Catholic, but by the time this writer was involved, at least, he seems to have changed his mind. RIP.


Turning from the foulness of our culture war as conducted on the internet (especially on Twitter, which I'm inclined to think is a force for evil) to The Lord of the Rings is like walking out of a gas station toilet that hasn't been cleaned for a couple of weeks into a cool meadow high in the Rockies. I'm about halfway through the last volume now, taking it still at my leisurely pace of a chapter or two a day, lingering over every page, reading it more closely than I have in the past. It has not diminished at all in my estimation; quite the contrary in fact. Since I was twenty or so I've considered myself to be a fairly good judge of literature. If this is not a great work, I'm no judge at all. 

Eowyn: "...may I not spend my life as I will?"

Aragorn: "Few may do that with honor."

How many of us today can feel those words? How many can even understand them? 


A misty moisty morning.



Pete Seeger, RIP

Dead at 94. One of my early encounters with the folk music movement of the early '60s was this song by Tom Paxton, sung, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, by Seeger. There was a little clock radio in the room I shared with my brother at home in north Alabama, and I often listened to it at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. I could pick up Chicago's WLS at night, and on Sunday nights there was a folk program. It's an extraordinarily vivid memory, of Seeger's clear simple voice and the poignant tune and lyrics sounding out in the dark.


Seeger's memory will always be a little tainted for me by his communism, and his clear sympathy for it that remained long after he had formally broken with it, something a wise man ought to have put behind him after the truth was known beyond any doubt. But he was like many, many others on the leftward end of the political spectrum in that. The music and his love for it remain.

Bradbury, Watson, Scruggs

The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who's there?

--John Berryman, Dream Song 36

Berryman wrote that sometime in the late 1950s or early '60s. Well, come to think of it, it must have been no earlier than 1962, when Faulkner died, as the poem seems to have been written after that. Berryman is lamenting the departure of his literary heroes. That's the way the deaths of Ray Bradbury, Doc Watson, and Earl Scruggs--and a few years ago, Johnny Cash--have affected me. It's not that I feel a personal grief, but that they were features of the landscape. They had always been here, already famous when I first heard of them, not mortals but part of the world that was there when I first became aware of things outside my immediate sphere. When they go, a part of the world goes with them. It's as if mountains had disappeared.

It just don't seem right. The passing of my parents' friends affects me much the same way. With my relatives it's more complex, because personal loss is added to the sense of something that I had thought was permanent having disappeared. The former one expects and understands; the latter is strange.

Sunday Night Journal — October 30, 2005

Rosa Parks, RIP

I was only a child at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott. I didn’t know what it was, but I was old enough to read, and I remember seeing the word “boycott” in newspaper headlines and being puzzled by it. Obviously it had to do with boys, but beyond that I couldn’t make much sense of it. It seemed to be something serious—I may have picked that up from the adults. I think I had some inkling that it involved people refusing to ride buses, and was puzzled as to why there was anything wrong with that. I certainly would have been more than happy to give up riding the school bus.

Ten years or so later, as a teenager in the middle of the ‘60s when the civil rights movement achieved its greatest successes, of course I understood. Those who never knew the segregated south have difficulty understanding what a different world it was, and how much has changed. Of course it’s easy enough to understand the bald facts, and easy enough to appreciate how wrong the system of segregation was. What’s hard to understand is not so much the horror as the lack of horror: the degree to which a superficial peace prevailed, the apparent stability of things.

A typical Hollywood view of the period involves continual acts of intimidation and violence and an all-suffusing atmosphere of vicious meanness on the part of whites. But it wasn’t like that, at least not in my part of the South—I’ve heard that in other places the reality bore a greater resemblance to the mythology. What I saw was far more subtle. Acts of racial violence on the part of whites were rare: I never saw one or heard directly of one, or of a lynching occurring locally, or saw a Klansman in his regalia, but it doesn’t take many lynchings or beatings to make matters clear. And in personal interactions a certain courtesy, not intimidation, was the norm. For the most part it was only when the rules were broken—when the black man failed to keep to “his place”—that the underlying brutality showed itself.

In the Hollywood version of the South, Rosa Parks would have been instantly lynched when she defied white authority to its face. That she was not, and that her refusal to move to the back of the bus launched a mostly peaceful struggle, says much about the complexity of the situation. (This is not to imply that she did not act with great courage—Emmett Till was murdered later in that same year, 1955.) White people had a bad conscience, and an underlying sense of decency that made the moral force of the civil rights movement something they could only avoid by giving in to their worst passions, which most of them, most of the time, did not do.

It’s a cliché to call the 1950s “a more innocent time.” Far more innocent, in more ways, I think, were the early and middle ‘60s, when it seemed that removing legal segregation would be enough to allow the South and the whole nation to attain racial harmony. The choice was clear: Bull Connor, firehoses, and bombs vs. a simple and peaceful request for basic rights. “Free at last!” cried Martin Luther King, and a few years later the specific freedom—legal freedom—for which he marched was obtained.

But the blessings of that freedom fell far short of expectations. Now, forty years after the passage of the crucial civil rights legislation, we confront a racial situation in some ways not really much better and certainly far more complex. White racism is far from dead, but it has no legal sanction or official power. For the most part it doesn’t dare show its face (although I’ve seen recent signs that this is changing, as some white people try to assume to themselves the prized status of victimhood). Yet far too many black people live in a state of cultural pathology at least as bad as that of the 1950s at their worst, and for which the blame cannot easily be laid upon whites. Now there is no straightforward measure to be taken, no law to be passed, no barrier to be removed, that anyone seriously believes could make a large and immediate difference.

I don’t know what the solution is—I don’t even in fact believe that there is A Solution, but I believe there must be and can be improvement. As Sly and the Family Stone sang in the late ‘60s, we got to live together. We don’t have a choice. Africans and Europeans are, in effect, married in the United States of America; we are, whether we like it or not, one flesh, and we must find a way to get along. As in a marriage, the only way to bring this about is love. And I suspect that the only avenue for the attainment of that love, or at least of an understanding of its necessity, is a broad and deep revival of Christian faith. Secular materialism cannot, in the long run, nourish or encourage much beyond the desire to take care of oneself and one’s own. Its love is a doomed impulse, not a law.