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New Directions, 2010
192 pp., 47.00
Epitaph in a Box
Recently I attended a Renaissance literature conference in St Louis. It was my first time giving a paper at this particular conference, but I could sense immediately an esprit that existed between members long loyal to the organization. I hasten to add that the atmosphere was welcoming to newcomers, and warmly so. At the conference-ending luncheon, the current president worked through his agenda as we attendees ate our salads, awaited our grilled chicken and eggplant. After some words of thanks to organizers and local hosts, and a few general announcements, he turned to more solemn business: two memorials for past presidents who had died in the past year. For the first, he read a short eulogy compiled from others' memories. The second person was remembered by a former graduate student, now a professor himself. Clearly emotional, yet maintaining composure, he made it clear how much his mentor had meant to him, and how valued she had been by many others in the room. Yet she was clearly a character, and he smartly added a couple of moments of levity or mischief. (When he had told her about his recent purchase of an iPod shuffle, she said simply, "Jackass.")
We all thought he had concluded, but he had prepared a PowerPoint presentation to share her life, comprising many photos he had found in her home. (This detail made it clear to me how close they were, and how he had almost surely been an important presence in her last days, and likely a help to surviving family in the days following.) The slide show, which lasted the length of two sweetly jangling guitar songs, began with a baby photo and soon turned to a succession of grainy snapshots: little girl with family in vacation settings; adolescent with spirited pose in a long wool dress; shots from the early '60s of a new mother with newborn child; '70s cocktail parties (with the distinctly faded colors of photos from that period); bright dress and perky hair during the '80s, leading to several images of an older, more distinguished, ...