Sunday, March 10, 2013

{ 27 } "Farewell, hello, farewell, hello."

Hello dear readers. Sad news from Writer Land this week. My uncle, friend, and fellow Vonnegut-lover Gary Sellon passed away at the age of 62. He was one of my favorite people.

I was not able to go to the memorial. I really, really wanted to. Not just to pay my respects to my uncle (I can do that any day and time I want), but to be there for my family. Gary's passing has reminded me that life is short. It can end anytime, any place. Uncle Gary and Aunt Jody were visiting Mom in Vegas just before Gary got sick! As sad as it is, sometimes a death is the only way people that love each other can find the time to get together.

Alright, I'm not here to bum you out. I'm sure you have plenty of other factors in your life that can do a much better job.

Since I was not able to get to Iowa, I wrote a letter instead. I wanted Mom to read it, but she knew she would have started crying. So, she let the officiator, Pastor Jeni Bohls, read it.

When I wrote this letter, I directed towards my family but for Gary. Important fact to remember as you read it. It's rife with Vonnegut references, most of which, if you're not familiar with them, might seem a bit odd. But, as I said, it was written for Gary. If I had passed before him, and he had missed the opportunity to quote our mutually favorite author, I would have been spitting mad.

So here's what I wrote, posted for family that couldn't go, friends that didn't know Gary, and readers of my writings. I have annotated it in case you're interested in what the hell I was talking about. The first annotation is, of course, the title of this blog. You can read to annotations as you go, or view them all at the end of the letter.

As oxymoronic as it sounds, enjoy the eulogy.

* * * * *

Dear family,

Brecken here. I really wanted to join you today to honor and share in the memory of one of my favorite people: Uncle Gary. But, as you know and I know and I'm sure Gary would appreciate, life often gets in the way of living. This letter will have to serve as a tribute in my stead.
From early on, I thought my uncle was a cool guy. When I was little, for Christmases and birthdays, he would send me a sticker book and sheets of stickers. So, naturally, I thought Gary worked in a sticker factory! I was the envy of all my school friends. Mom never bothered to set me straight. Consequentially, I believed I had an uncle in the sticker business until a few years ago.
Then, when I was a teenager, Uncle Gary found out I liked Kurt Vonnegut. I had spent a summer tearing through book store shelves looking to fill the gaps in my aggregation. Who should come through? Gary. He gave me his entire Vonnegut collection, complete with titles that I had no access to, this being before the age of the internet. Again, I was the envy of my friends (the smart ones, at least).
I fancy myself an author, so I sometimes write articles, dissertations, what-have you. Whenever I would post something I had written on-line, Uncle Gary was the only person I knew for fact that would read it. It didn't matter if it was a review of a Fort Collins restaurant or a rant on how lax I'd been on actual writing, I knew Gary would see it. If I ever got discouraged or stuck, I'd just remind myself that I had at least one loyal fan.
While it's easy for me to get bogged down in self-pity, remembrance, and mourning for my uncle that I loved so much, my heart truly goes out to my cousins Ryan, Larkin, and Courtney and my aunt Jody. No matter how important to me he was, I know that Gary was infinitely more important to you.
Jayson and Amy, at first-blush, this family might seem a little wacky. And, in actuality, it is. I think I can speak for this whole weird-ass family, Gary included, when I say we are grateful that you joined us and brought a whole new generation of Beckers and Sellons.
Cole, Lily, Jaxon and Jacey, you had a wonderful grandpa that loved you very much. Kenadi, you're just going to have to trust us on this one. I know Gary was happy to spend as much time with you as was possible and I know you'll grow up to make him proud.
I'm going to miss my uncle Gary a lot. I know we didn't get to talk as much as adults as I would have liked, nor did I get to see him, or anyone of you, as much as I wanted to. We lost a really neat and special person this week. So it goes. I am very grateful that Gary was a part of my family and someone I'd consider a friend.
Gary always tried to live like everyday was just another day in Paradise. “If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.” Well, Gary, you have now been granted a one-way, all-expense paid trip to that Paradise. When you reach the end of the blue tunnel, know that Vonnegut is waiting for you there, microphone in-hand, to document your journey. Then you both can enjoy the dum-dums, shuffleboard, and beer.
In closing, I'll say to you, Uncle Gary, what Saint Peter said to Vonnegut on his last round-trip down the blue tunnel: “See you later, Alligator.”

* * * * *

1) "Farewell, hello, farewell, hello." - These are the final words spoken by Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist in Slaughterhouse-Five, as he is assassinated. It is the message of the Tralfamadorians, the alien race that kidnapped Billy. Tralfamadorians believe that people only appear to die; they are still alive in the past, and death is only an "unpleasant moment". In the further words of the text: "All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them."

2) "Cole, Lily, Jaxon, Jacey... Kenadi" - These are my cousins's kids, so my first cousins once removed (yeah, that's a real thing). Kenadi is the newest of the brood, born 16 August, 2012.

3) "So it goes." - This is probably the most recognised Vonnegut quote, repeted in Slaughterhouse-Five 106 times. It is another saying of the Tralfamadorians. According to the text, "When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes.'"  Per the Onion's AV Club, it's another way of saying, "Shit happens, and it's awful, but it's also okay. We deal with it because we have to."

4) “If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.” - This quote is originally attributed by Vonnegut to his "good uncle" Alex. But Vonnegut repeated it in A Man Without A Country. When you notice that you are happy, Vonnegut urges you to "exclaim or murmur or think at some point" that phrase. I believe that, while Gary might never have said it out loud, that phrase was constantly running through his mind.

5) "one-way, all-expense paid trip to that Paradise""blue tunnel", "Vonnegut is waiting for you there, microphone in-hand, to document your journey." - These are allusions to God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian in which Vonnegut (ficticiously?) dies multiple times at the hands of Dr. K in order to interview the dead "on the hundred yards or so of vacant lot between the far end of the blue tunnel and the Pearly Gates".

6) "dum-dums, shuffleboard, and beer" - another allusion. This time to Happy Birthday, Wanda June, the only play written by Vonnegut. The Wanda June of the play is a little girl who was killed on her birthday by a drunk driver of an ice-cream truck. She goes to Heaven and she loves it: she feels that dying is a good thing and everyone that is in Heaven should be thankful to the one that sent them there. She says that they can't be mad because they're all too busy playing shuffleboard and the dead soldiers in Heaven "just love the shrapnel and the tanks and the bayonets and the dum dums that let them play shuffleboard all the time - and drink beer.". So there's that.

7) "See you later, Alligator.” - A direct line from God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian. The "last round-trip" refers to the fact that it shall be the last time that Vonnegut allows Dr. Kevorkian to kill him and revive him for a past-life interview. It is the final line in the introduction and I believe the best last thing I could have said to my uncle.