Sunday, June 05, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

Memorial Day, twenty-eleven
the army airman, fighter pilot
and later race-car driver,
later still creator of the Fitch sports car,
to this day owner of the single prototype
curve-graced Italian open two-seater,
arrived at the parade
to pick up his compatriot,
fifteenth air force b-seventeen
bomber pilot out of Foggia
who until last year had always insisted on walking,
only to learn
from the man’s wife he had died
six months before.
The airman hadn’t known – he’d been away.
He grew quiet,
stared off into space.
He didn’t drive the car,
the widow and bomber’s daughter-in-law
told their son
over breakfast some days later.
She told me about it a couple days ago,
she said. Probably didn’t want
you guys weighed down by it.
Unusual to miss the parade,
but they’d been in Toronto…
Niagara in fact, that day, swept up
as one should be
by the great, life-giving waters.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Eulogy for my father, Bill Binzen, delivered in November, 2010:

Yesterday around Dad’s grave I heard many wonderful stories from my cousins of Dad’s indelibly unique way of connecting with them. And you’ll hear many such stories today, I’m sure. I think everyone will remember Dad for that twinkle in his eye, his sense of fun, his love of family and his genuine warmth.

I shared all those sorts of experiences, of course. But somehow it’s hard for me to talk about them right now in the same way. So I’d just like to say a few things about the trajectory of his life.

Dad was a person who remembered when the blacksmith shop was a going concern. How could he have imagined ending his days with a certain adeptness at Photoshop and email?

He saw Babe Ruth hit a home run, and attended the celebrated Joe Louis-Max Schmelling fight. (Well, so did my uncle Peter, who’s here today.) And he also watched a NASCAR race from pit row just two years ago.

He took in the performances of Benny Goodman and Glen Miller. But he also attended a Guns ‘n Roses /Metallica double bill. I was there with him. He was 4 times the age of the rest of the audience, and we did depart while Axl Rose was still singing, which I somewhat regret, but that was around one in the morning.

He flew 26 missions in a flying fortress over Europe, heading right into the floating box of flack in the target zone. He repeatedly witnessed planes just off his nose falling from the sky. And, he also stood many times in the anti-nuke, anti-war vigil just down the street from here.

Dad spent time with Cartier-Bresson, knew Diane Arbus before her photography career had even begun, and worked closely with David Ogilvy in the formative years of Madison Avenue. A part of him embraced these big-time, expansive experiences. But he didn’t dwell on them.

There were things that mattered far more to him. Family and friendships mattered more. His own creative motivation mattered more. I’d say it was beauty that mattered more to him – beauty in landscapes, in relationships, in images and compositions, and in the details of daily life.

Long summer afternoons by the lake on Mount Riga; trips up the Housatonic by motorboat; dinners around a big table with extended family; the hand-drawn letters and cards; his joy at being surrounded by his granddaughters; and the many, many phone calls just to talk about what happened today; these are the moments I’ll remember.

We’ll also remember his unceasing creative drive. He always had a project going. How many stacks of pictures I flipped through with him, learning his vision of composition and juxtoposition and focal interest. He never stopped striving or learning. At about 89 he took up the art of African drumming. What can you say? It’s not a sound I ever expected to hear in church in Salisbury, but he was right there in the vanguard.

Finally, though Dad was quite reticent about inner thoughts and such, and not given to advising, when the chips were down, he was brilliant at seeing what really mattered to me, and responding to it with the right words. Helping me along in life. One of the readings today is from Shakespeare, and it contains the words which I always felt he treated as his golden rule: “To thine own self be true.” Halleluiah to that, Dad. You lived it, and I’m working on doing the same.

To close, I think the use Dad made of his memory of his war experience grew more vivid in his later years. It certainly wasn’t about war as something glorious; more about the intensity of concentration and purpose that a mission demanded. If you ask my mother, you can learn how his re-envisioning piloting missions carried him through his recent suffering with great courage. “The wild blue yonder” really was a touchstone for him.

But when you think of him in the wild blue yonder, know that the memory of flying that he held most dear was the training hours he logged over Texas and Florida in his Stearman biplane, heading up into the crisp banks of sunlit clouds, free of the bonds of this earth. He carried that airy lightness with him always. On his last day with his eyes open to the world, he gazed a long time faraway into those clouds and that light. He seemed very assured; and this was very reassuring.