Family, Family Matters, Love, Plain Speaking, Quote of the Day

The Last “First”

A few months ago, on the occasion of 2021’s Easter Sunday, I wrote a Ricochet post called “First Easter,” in which I reflected on the fact that, following the death of a loved one, there’s an inevitable year, 365 days, of “firsts.”  It begins thus:

I learned, many years ago, that when a loved one dies, the twelve months following is a year of “firsts.”  My first birthday without at least a phone call from Dad.  The first Christmas without one of Michael’s slightly off-color cards (which he loved so much, and at whose awful jokes and our pained expressions, he laughed with such glee). The first Mother’s Day without lunch or dinner at Eat ‘n Park, an establishment so beloved by Mr. She’s mother that she’d eschew a meal at the finest restaurant within a hundred miles for their meatloaf and mashed potatoes, washed down with a root beer float. The first winter without my own mother’s frequent and apocalyptic predictions of weather catastrophe. The first 4th of July without Sam in charge of the pyrotechnics, every year putting on a fireworks show for the ages.

And this year, my first Easter in over forty years (gosh, that’s a long time) without Mr. Right at my side.

He died, a year ago today.  So this is the first anniversary of his death, and the last “first” of those sad reminders.

For solace today I turn, not to the great writers of Western Civilization–some of whom Mr. Right introduced me to, and some of whom I found on my own; nor to my beloved family and friends who’ve done yeoman’s work propping me up, letting me wallow, and prodding me onward, at the various points over the last year when I’ve needed one or other such forms of support; but to Joyce Grenfell, a 20th-century English comedienne who exemplified, perhaps more than any other of that era, the good humor, determination, madcap enthusiasm, and unquenchable optimism of the people I grew up with and who did their best to form my character from birth onward

Joyce Irene Grenfell was born on February 10, 1910 to an American socialite who’d married into an upper-class British family. (One of her maternal aunts was Nancy, Lady Astor, and the young Joyce spent much of her childhood at Cliveden, the Astor estate.) Her rather unconventional choice of career must have dismayed those close to her but, like Vera Lynn, she followed her heart, touring Europe during the Second World War to bring laughter, song, and a sense of home to the troops as she built her own reputation as a first-rate entertainer.  Following the War, she enjoyed success in several venues, including in the movies– beginning with her turn in The Happiest Days of Your Life as the gawky, horse-faced games mistress Miss Gossage (“just call me sausage”) which endeared her to generations of nostalgic British boarding-school girls); on the stage, where her popular one-woman shows regularly sold out and ran for years; on radio and television as a popular monologist, game and quiz-show contestant; and even making her mark for a few years as a recurring guest on the Ed Sullivan Show in the United States:

Among other things, and in her spare time, Joyce wrote a bit of poetry.

Here’s what she had to say on the subject of her own death–sentiments that I think Mr. Right would echo and endorse:

If I should die before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must, Parting is hell,
But Life goes on, So sing as well.

I’ve been part of a singing family all my life. The one I was born into, and the one I married into.

And so, on the “first” anniversary of his death, and as part of the continuing celebration of his life, about which I like to make as much noise as possible, I present you with some of Mr. Right’s favorites.  Please remember him along with me, by joining in wherever you feel so inclined:

For times that came before me:

Honestly.  If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t think I want to know you:

For the kids:

And, for both of us, for our favorite movie, and for the memory of it all:

The fundamental things apply.  Even, or perhaps especially, as time goes by.

Here’s to more song in all our lives.

1 thought on “The Last “First””

  1. One of my favorite series of Joyce Grenfell’s monologues is “Eng Lit,” in which she plays a university chancellors wife at tea with a(n) (invisible) chap who serves as a foil for her routine. She excelled at a certain type of eccentric Englishwoman whose type I instantly recognize, because my own family is full of them, and because I aspire even to just a small fraction of her oeuvre, demeanor and affect.

    I’ve always thought that her remarks on the shortcomings of anarchy as a political ideal were spot on. They occur in this piece, in which she’s interviewing “Mervyn” the editor of the university’s underground newspaper. We learn, as their chat progresses, that Mervyn is trying to see the chancellor in the hopes that he can get the paper banned, to therefore become (in his dreams) much more influential. The bit that always makes me howl with laughter starts at about 6:52. I’ve tried to tee it up; but sometimes that doesn’t work. Still, the whole thing is well worth a look.

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