Memento Mori and Mori

Happy ninth month called “seven.” Next month, the tenth, will be called “eight.”

One of the fascinating things I note about my movement towards the grave is that no one bothered to prepare us for aging and dying, obsessing purely on youth and perfection for as long as I can remember. A cover of Look Magazine in the mid-fifties — when  I was born — was the apotheosis of that worship of Youth:

LOOK-Magazine-1955 grace

Look Magazine, December 11, 1956

The obsession with youth, beauty, celebrity and royalty isn’t anything new. But then, neither is aging. And, of course, when I was informed that I had presbyopia, naturally, I asked: what do you mean “naturally”? I’ve never even BEEN a Presbyterian! (God’s truth, that is, verbatim what I said. And they didn’t laugh, either.)

Presbyopia is that hilarious condition wherein you require reading glasses in a world, increasingly, of medication instructions written in 6-point type. The problem with child-proof caps is that the only people who need instructions to open are elderly, who need their reading glasses to read how to get to the pills.


Click pic for “The Moosterious Stranger”

Look at the perfect, pretty blonde movie star literally blotting out the rich Prince Charming, in a round formal portrait surrounded by as giltish a cover as LOOK’s printers could manage. That must have been a festive week at the newsstands, all but translating soon-to-be Princess Grace to Heaven in a Fiery Chariot of steady tabloid sales for decades to come, and to her children and perhaps her children’s children the sublime incense of a world that no one actually lives in, of princes and castles and fame and riches and eternal youth.

And the reaper came for the Princess at a time no one expected. As comes the reaper for us all. That, of course, is the moment of the turn: when you no longer look forward, but look backwards instead. Because what lies ahead is too grim to contemplate.

Gustave Doré - Death Depicted as the Grim Reaper

Gustav Doré

At any rate, the grim reaper comes in his own time to young and old, to each man and woman alike at a time known to none.

So it is that I must mention that since going back to my 40th high school reunion, with 11 of 13 attending and two on permanent leave, TWO of my classmates have had their mothers pass away.

lucas water tower

Memento mori means, literally, ‘remember that you will die.’ It comes to us from the Latin, and the Romans, who were big into the whole death thing.

Wikipedia tells us (but you know Wikipedia):

Popular belief says the phrase originated in ancient Rome: as a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph, standing behind him was his slave, tasked with reminding the general that, although at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall, or — more likely — be brought down. The servant is thought to have conveyed this with the warning, “Memento mori“.

It is further possible that the servant may have instead advised, “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!“: “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you’ll die!“, as noted by Tertullian in his Apologeticus.

And, as with all good Roman advice, it is our American custom to ignore it in favor of commemorative plate designs of youth, beauty, royalty and celebrity.

The latest of my classmate’s mothers to pass away was a member of my father’s graduating class. Back in my father’s home town, in that gym they’d been the first class to use, still used for the alumni dinners and the grade-school that occupies the old grounds, I had listened to the presentation of classes and when his class was called, saw that two members were present.

lucas gym 1948

I made it a point to go over and speak to them. One I knew, from many vacations her family had spent visiting my family in Laramie, Wyoming. The other I knew through her three children, one of whom was in my class, one of whom I played football, basketball and track with, and the eldest, who had become a doctor. 

We had a pleasant chat, and they recalled my father in high school — as much as I could coax from them — and now I read that she has passed away.

lucas class of 48

Dwayne Claussen. My dad. Now dead.

My friend Dave’s mother passed away a month or so ago, and he found himself returning  cross-continent to the same place twice in a month. He had at least seen her before the end.

I know what it is to lose a parent, and that grief is a long thing, not the dramatic “bursting out in tears” that the histrionics of stage screen and pixel would have you believe.

the dark angel comes for us all, eventually

And I will try not to think of what lies up the road, and instead remember an evening in the old Legion Hall kitchen, with men my age — whose hands were now giant paws from a lifetime of hand work, hard work and farm work — gestured in the air with their catchers’ mitts and remembered their scores from high school typing class.

Now I must get back to exfoliating.


Mr. Williams has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.


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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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