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The International Writers Magazine: Life Moments in Dreamscapes

• Martin Green
The church lobby was crowded with people, most of them from our Northern California retirement community.  George Baker had been a popular guy.   The doors to the auditorium opened.  Everyone filed in, led by George’s family, with me close behind. George’s oldest son was to give the eulogy.  I was going to speak next.  I had no idea what I was going to say.


I suppose George was my closest friend in the retirement community. We’d both moved there about fifteen years ago. I’d met him on the community’s tennis courts. He was five or six years younger and from Los Angeles while I was from New York. I think we connected so well because not only were we both tennis players we were both ex-handball players.  I’d grown up playing on park courts in New York. He’d played at some athletic club in LA.  He knew all the old handball greats and mentioned Vic Herschkowitz, giving me the opening to tell my Vic Herschkowitz story about the time he’d come to our courts in the Bronx.  Besides tennis and handball we were both sports fans. I still rooted for New York teams, the Yankees and the football Giants. He was a Dodger and Rams fan. We were to have many bantering conversations about the relative merits of our teams over the years.  

     There were differences between us, also. He was a big guy and looked like a Southern California surfer, tanned and fit, good-looking, blonde hair and white teeth. He’d been in advertising, an account exec, and I’m sure he’d been successful. I’d also worked briefly for ad agencies, doing research, in New York before coming to California and eventually settled down to a humdrum career doing research for the State.   

     George and I usually played tennis three times a week. We were doubles partners and over the years won our share of tournaments.  Our games meshed.  He played the net and I stayed back. J had a pretty good wide serve to both sides and he put away the returns.  George’s wife Brenda was also good-looking, also blonde and athletic. My wife Sally wasn’t blonde or athletic, but the two women also got along well and we’d see each other at least once a week, going to lunch or dinner or playing bridge or scrabble at each other’s houses.  

     Then came the impossible.  George began feeling tired and achy.  He went to his doctor and was found to have advanced and incurable pancreatic cancer.   At first I didn’t want to believe it.  How could a person like George, so fit, so athletic, and younger than me, have this happen to him?  But the diagnosis was right.  They began chemotherapy and for a while George showed some improvement.  Then another shocker.   Six months after being diagnosed, George died.      

     During those six months I visited George as often as I could stand.  I just hated to see him like that.  It was deeply depressing.  I also learned that his family was religious.  George and I had never talked about religion.   It just had never played any part in my life; I wasn’t sure about him.  I couldn’t see how anyone could believe in some supernatural being up there and in any afterlife.  This was it. After, you were gone.    Of course, I knew that most people did believe, although people in different religions believed different things.   That was okay with me.  If this made getting through life any easier and if it was any consolation in the face of death, let them believe.

     George’s family thought everything happened for a reason. So, why had he suddenly been stricken with cancer?  They didn’t know, but God had his reasons.  During the time George was undergoing treatment, they were resigned.  If he was fated to survive, then he would.  If not, then …  It was sometimes infuriating to me.  

     When everyone was finally seated, the pastor spoke.  He talked, far too long for my taste, about how George had been a good family man (that was true), how he’d been a faithful servant of God (what did that mean?), how his suffering was now over, he’d now gone to join Jesus.  His speech was full of the usual religious platitudes. After the speech, everyone stood and prayed.

     George’s son then gave the eulogy.  I thought it was quite moving.  He told about family picnics and camping trips. He said George had taught him to play tennis and that when he’d finally won a match from his father, George had been both mad and proud.  I had to smile at that; I’d had the same experience with my sons.  He mentioned that George had played high school baseball and had been given a tryout with the Dodgers.  I’d never known that.

     Then the eulogy was over and I realized that I had to speak next.  I went to the lectern and looked out at the audience.  They looked suitably solemn and reverent.   I was sorely tempted.  To say what?  That George shouldn’t have gone like that?  That it was unfair and unjust?  That if there was a God, of the kind the pastor had been talking about, he was a cruel one for doing this to George?  I was tempted.  But what was the point?  Even to myself, what I might have said sounded out of place, stupid.  The only thing such a harangue would accomplish would be to dismay George’s family, and they were grieving enough already.   So I said the expected things, about what a good man and good friend George had been.  How involved he’d been in community activities.  How devoted he was to his family.  I said I hadn’t won many tennis matches now that I didn’t have George as a partner and that drew a few subdued laughs.  When I thought I’d spoken long enough I closed by saying, “George, I miss you,” and sat down.

     As was customary, there was a meal, a buffet, after the service.  Sally and I went down the line filling our plates. We sat at a table with some friends.  George’s family was at the next table.  Someone at our table said he needed someone to fix his fence and there was a long discussion about good and bad handymen people had employed.  At the other table, I could hear George’s sons talking about what planes they were taking to fly back home.  Suddenly, the food I had in my mouth turned to cardboard.  I turned to my wife Sally and said, “I have to get out of here.  Someone will give you a ride home.”

     Back at our house I sat in the darkened living room.  Images of George flickered through my mind.  He was gone and everyone was going about his or her business.  I sat there in the dark for what seemed like a long time, until I heard the door and knew Sally was home.   No, I wasn’t crying, although maybe I had some tears in my eyes, too.  I was cursing.  “Damnit, damnit, damnit.”  Maybe it gave me some relief.
© Martin Green March 2013

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More stories from Martin and others in Dreamscapes

The Drink
Martin Green

We were at a bar, watching a 49er game.  “We” were a gang of young guys I’d fallen in with because I knew one of them, Gil Wexler, from the Army. The 49ers scored a touchdown. Everyone cheered and one of the guys, Hugh Ballard, threw up his arms, then picked up my drink and finished it off.  “Hey,” I said, “that was my drink.”
The Hitcher of '46   
Martin Green

It was 1946. He was 17, a high school senior. He’d been let off on the main street of a small Midwestern town. It was mid-afternoon. He hadn’t eaten since the morning.  
The Coward
Martin Green

Since grade school, Tom Newberry knew he was a coward.  It wasn’t anything he did but what he didn’t do.
Uncle Warren & Aunt Edie 
Martin Green

“I’ll have a second helping of that,” said my Uncle Warren.
My mother put another pile of beef stroganoff on his plate.   She knew this was his favorite and that’s why she’d made it.  Uncle Warren had been invited to this dinner because my father wanted to ask him for a favor.


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