My Dearest Hugh:
The world feels shrunken without you. When I go out, I feel like a massive presence is missing. I’m talking about you, Hughie.
Am happy for you, but sad for me.
For your eulogy, I chose to talk about my favorite poem, and specifically, my favorite verse. “On My First Son” is an elegy written by Ben Jonson, England’s first Poet Laureate, after the death of his young son.
“Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy
Seven yeeres thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I loose all father, now. For why
Will man lament the state he should envie?
To have so soone scap’d worlds, and fleshes rage,
And, if no other miserie, yet age?
**Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say, here doth lye
Ben. Jonson his best piece of poetrie.**
For whose sake, hence-forth, all his vowes be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.”
Jonson was a celebrated playwright and poet in his time. Even Shakespeare acted in his plays. But here he writes that he considered his magnum opus, his best “piece of poetry,” to be his young son.
Hughie, you accomplished so many things in your life. As Steve Jordan wrote in his tribute:
Soldier of the Queen
Brother in adversity
But what was left out is “poet”. You wrote so eloquently about the people and things you loved. Some of the passages in your letters are too painful to read. I showed my friend, Jonathan, something you wrote about your little grandson.
I said, “Isn’t this beautiful?” He responded, “Sad. That’s what it is.”
Hughie, you were the Poet Laureate of this community.
You distinguished yourself in so many ways: as a master chef, a virtuoso organist and a brave soldier. You won awards for all of these. The list was a page long. You even took the kids with to when you went to Buckingham Palace to accept a service medal from the Queen.
Hugh, you produced many fine works. But, like Ben Jonson, you considered your best “pieces of poetry” to be your children. How sweet were the “fruits of your loins.”
“I Am SO proud of them ALL,” you wrote.
I don’t even know for sure how many “poems” you wrote — seven maybe? I know so much about you, yet so little.
Allow me to cite from your poetry:
“He has a really heavy head of jet black hair, light-green hazel eyes, built like a boxer and lips that were meant for kissing girls. And when he sings, in his rich tenor voice, he sounds just like Andrea Bocelli.”
You had to leave the room, didn’t you, so you could weep in private, “for the beauty of it all.”
“My little grandson (he’s 11-years-old), wants my aviator watch. ‘HEY Gramps, can I get that watch, please?'”
You were reluctant at first, but:
“His cheek is amazingly refreshing, and his curly hair so nice to scratch — and he lies back like Tiger and almost purrs like him too!
You took off your watch and handed it to the boy. And then you “gave the wee guy a huge ice cream for his efforts.”
Couldn’t contain yourself. “Derek joined the British army this week, Royal Engineers. How handsome he looks in uniform.” And Derek is writing *his* first poem, a work in progress. You sent me pictures of it in the womb. Hope they do name it after you, Hugh, because “Delboy’s” creations, like your own, can only be perfect.
You cherished *every* one of your poems. But which was your personal favorite? Your last work.
A mere lad, just turned 18. The one who cared for you so faithfully and tenderly. Your fortress in times of distress. The rod and staff that comforted you, wrapped his arms around you, when you wept in church. And out of church.
It was this poem, your masterwork, who accompanied you whenever you went to see the doctor. Asked the tough questions, while you did your best to distract yourself from the horror of it all.
It was Alan who saw to it that you rode your bicycle 15 miles a day. Insisted that you practice difficult pieces on the organ.
The thing you wanted most in the world was for your last and best creation, Alan, to be happy. “Settled down with a loving partner,” preferably. Even if he is a man. “I love my kid, and hope he has found something good in his life.”
A few weeks ago you were angry with Alan. I reminded you what a fine, upstanding son you had — one who would be the envy of many parents. Suggested you forgive the boy and do what you do best — prepare him a nice meal — a feast.
The next day you wrote:
“I took your advice my Dear, about cooking something nice for the lad.
“One of his all-time favourites is Pakora — Indian spicy fritters deep fried. He loves them with a light coconut & Peanut sauce.
“Little florets of Cauliflower and Broccoli, Onion Rings, slices of potato or sweet potato, roundels of courgette. Whole unseeded chillies! — his particular favourite and mine, all dipped in a thick batter made from gram flour, wholemeal flour and a mix of flavouring spices with a tiny dash of saffron. The oil isn’t too hot, or the outside is burned and the inside rawish.
“Anyway, I cooked them all and kept them hot in the oven, made the dip with peanut butter, yoghurt and coconut milk with chopped cilantro and parsley and a bit of holy basil.
“When he came home looking hungry and sniffing the air — I put it all down in front of him with a beer. I sat down, too.
“Then a lovely thing happened. He sat for a few seconds with his head down. When he looked up, there were tears in his eyes. He grabbed my hand so hard, and then he went back to his food. No need for anything to be said. He knows another of life’s little crises is over.”
You wrote that Alan and you went swimming together one recent Sunday morning. Alan dove into the loch, and said to you:
“See you on the other side, Dad.”
The double meaning of this phrase made you cry.
Then Alan swam back, and you couldn’t help but admire the boy’s physique and health. You wrote:
“A drop of water that had fallen on his impossibly long eyelashes was hit by a sunray, and it was causing rainbows in my own eyes. It felt so good to be alive.”
You can no longer write poems, Hughie, but know that the gift of poetry has been passed on to the next generation.
Alan wrote on the day of your funeral:
“The rest have gone on to the funeral breakfast, but I just felt so sad, I came home. I was just now sitting and looking through Pop’s old photographs, and one in particular of him teaching me to swim. I still remember that one big hand under my chest, holding me up.
“Now the tears are starting for the first time. l’ll not forget my big, gentle, lovely Pops. Nobody has any idea how much I loved him and still do. Always will.”
Hughie, Alan was your favorite piece of poetry. And you were his. As Blake wrote, “The child is father to the man.” And so it is. It was your child who held you up with his big, strong hands when you could no longer stand alone.
Ultimately, you got what you wished for. You had your best poem with you, by your side, when you died.
Rest in soft peace, my dear, knowing that your works will live on forever.
See you on the other side.
Your friends always,
Leah and Ted