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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Larry

My friend, Larry Taber, died on Thursday. He was 81 years young.

I'm so going to miss him.

You could ask Larry a question - any question - about the history or politics of the place of his lifetime residence of Madison, NJ and you'd be certain to get an answer about 'Rose City'. Indeed, he was known as "Mr Madison" in some circles because he knew everyone - and their parents and grandparents and even great grandparents - and which houses they lived in and whether or not they were in the 'Blue Book' or Social Register.

I used to tease him unmercifully about being a bit of a snob in that way. It's not that he was obnoxious about it, but more that he was historically curious about America's own brand of 'royalty'. Indeed, he had a copy of the Social Register on his bookshelf, right next to the other historical books he kept and among the countless antiques he collected.

The very first time I met Larry, way back in 1991 when I first came to the Diocese of Newark, he asked me where I was from.

"Massachusetts," I said.

"Cabots or Lodges?" he asked, then took absolute delight in repeating that old rhyme about Boston snobbery:
"Boston, dear Boston, the land of the bean and the cod
Where the Cabots speak only to the Lodges,
and the Lodges speak only to God"
My family will never be in any Social Register anywhere, but that didn't prevent Larry from loving me. And, when Larry loved you, he loved you without condition or concern for your social lineage or status.

Larry was one of the hardest working, most dedicated people I know. He spent countless hours helping me sort out the books at St. Barnabas AIDS Resource Center, getting the financial reports ready to apply for IRS 501-C-3 tax-exempt status. Once he finished with that, he started working on the books for the church.

Mind you, that was in between the work he did for the Madison Tree Commission - he was passionate about not cutting down ANY tree unless it was so diseased it was beyond care and might become a danger. He was also past president of of the Board of Trustees of the Hartley Dodge Foundation and served for many years as Treasurer and in other various capacities and activities at Grace Episcopal Church. He made the best Deviled Eggs which was always his contribution to parish events.

He was also very active in the Diocese of Newark, serving as Assistant Treasurer as well as on the Building Committee of the Department of Missions and member of the Ward J. Herbert Board of Trustees.

"Mother Superior". That's what he called me. It was his way of lightly and humorously underscoring the difference between my catholic proclivities and his staunch protestantism as well as his respect and admiration and fondness for me.

"Mr. Curmudgeon". That's what I called him. It was my way of lightly and humorously underscoring the difference between his conservative Republican proclivities and my progressive Democratic perspective as well as my respect and admiration and fondness for him.

Just about once a month, he'd take me to lunch at the local Charlie Brown's Restaurant. He always made sure I'd have a glass of white wine and then we'd have the Salad Bar and occasionally, split a decadent dessert of ice cream with chocolate sauce with a crust of chocolate cookie crumbs.

We always had the same waiter, Henry, who loved to tease Larry almost as much as I did. 

Larry and I would catch up on things diocesan, share some memories, and then, Larry would tell stories about "the good old days" of the Gay Community of the 50s and 60s in Manhattan, complete with afternoon Tea Dances in posh hotels where the rich and famous but deeply closeted would mingle with their adoring fans who kept their identities secret.

He and his partner, Bill, were together through it all - "over 50 years of uninterrupted unmarital bliss" - as I would tease Larry. Bill died in August of 2007.  Because his funeral was over Labor Day weekend, I missed it. Larry completely understood. He was just more concerned about my making a contribution to Grace Church in Bill's name. That's just the way Larry was.

Larry worked for many years at Carbide. Bill worked for many years at Chase Manhattan Bank, taking the train in every day from Madison to Manhattan. Sometimes, in their younger years, Larry would take the train into see Bill after work and they would have dinner and catch a play together.

"You're a classic," I would say to Larry.

"You mean, I'm a relic," he would say.

"Okay, you're a classic relic," I'd say and we'd laugh and laugh and laugh and then he'd tell me another story.

This was my and Larry's favorite "Bill story" which I would often beg Larry to tell:

One of the women in the secretarial pool at The Chase celebrated her 50th birthday by taking a trip with several of her friends to Atlantic City. They planned to take in a few shows, play the slots, have a great dinner and walk the Boardwalk.

She played a few of the slots and suddenly, magically, hit the jack pot. It was reportedly a huge sum, so much so that she was a bit nervous getting on the elevator alone to return to her room and tell her friends of her amazing good fortune.

When the elevator door opened, she saw two Very Large Black men standing in front of one smaller Black man. She hesitated for a moment, considering whether or not to wait for the next elevator. Her excitement finally outweighed her anxiety and she got into the elevator.

She clutched her purse close to her chest as the elevators doors closed and waited for the cab to begin to move.  She could hear the men behind her, breathing heavy and shifting their weight impatiently.

The elevator didn't move.

Finally, from behind her, she heard one of the men say, in a very gruff, agitated voice, "Hit the floor."

With that, the woman fell right down on the floor of the elevator, face down, pocket book up, saying, "Here, take it all. Just don't hurt me. Take my money and let me go. Please don't hurt me."

The next thing she knew, she was being lifted up under her arms by four very strong hands who were saying, "No, no, lady. I meant, hit the button for the floor."

They all laughed nervously, she 'hit the floor', the elevator moved and she got off in front of her room.

She immediately called her friends to come into her hotel room, to tell them the story of her good fortune as well as the embarrassing scene in the elevator.

Just then, there came a knock on the door. One of the bellboys was delivering a dozen long-stemmed red roses to her room. As she looked at the bouquet, there was a $100 bill attached to every stem of every rose.

Stunned, she looked at the card which was signed, "Eddie Murphy" and had the phone number to his room with the note, "Please call me".

Turns out, it was, in fact, Eddie Murphy who was the smaller of the three Black men in that elevator - the other two being his body guards. He wanted to get the rights to that story so he could use it in one of his movies. Apparently, he was being very cautious after being sued for one of his films - "Coming To America", I think.

I never grew tired of Larry's telling of that story but, over the years, we didn't even have to tell the story.  "Hit the floor" became our code commentary on a situation where someone completely missed the point. We'd use it about bishops or clergy or laity whose anxiety kept them from seeing the whole picture and overreacting.

We'd laugh and laugh and laugh, just at the memory of how much we laughed at that story.

That's the sort of cement that keeps friendships together: Shared stories. Laughter. Meals. Memories. And a passion for whatever work it is that God calls us to do. All despite our differences.

I didn't get a chance to say a proper goodbye to my friend. I heard about the seriousness of his illness last Tuesday. I had just cleared my calendar to run up to NJ on Monday night, visit with him on Tuesday, and then come right back home Tuesday afternoon.

He died on Thursday. I will try my best to move my calendar around to be at his funeral over Labor Day weekend.

A 'classic relic curmudgeon historian' has just passed through our midst. A member of the "Silent Generation" who had to remain silent for many years about the fullness of his being and the nature of his love has just slipped silently into that Good Night.

I'm just now feeling the full weight of that loss.

Of your mercy and kindness, please keep the peaceful repose of Larry's soul in your prayers.  You might also give God praise and thanksgiving for the gift of his life and his dedication to the church and his community.

See you on the other side of Eden, Larry. I'll look for you at the Tea Dance and we'll have a glass of white wine and share decadent chocolate desserts and tell stories for hours.

Maybe even for the rest of eternity.

When that happens, I know I'll be in heaven.

24 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, what a lovely tribute to Larry. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Mimi. I could tell "Larry stories" for days . . . .

Grandmère Mimi said...

What are our lives but a series of stories?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I can't remember this red hot second who said it but someone much wiser than me once noted that the world is not made up of atoms but stories.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"The World is Made Up of Stories, Not Atoms". -Muriel Rukeyse

susan s. said...

Thanks for this! What a wonderful man he must have been. May he rest in peace and rise in glory!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

He could be difficult and a real curmudgeon but I loved him dearly and miss him terribly.

whiteycat said...

Elizabeth, this is another of your beautiful and wonderful stories that need to be in "the book." My sympathy on the loss of your friend.

Mary Beth said...

Thank God for Larry's life and witness.

gerry said...

A fitting and lovely tribute to a remarkable person!

Love the quote by Muriel Rukeyse.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Whiteycat - Oh, Larry would be so embarrassed if I talked about him in a book! That might just be the best way to really honor him.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MaryBeth - AMEN!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Gerry - It IS a great quote, isn't it? That's because it strikes such a deep cord of truth.

Muthah+ said...

I have already asked Elizabeth to preach my funeral. Maybe I should ask her to write my obit too.


wv: dipsated : someone who has had too much icecream

JCF said...

RIP/RIG, Larry.

"his conservative Republican proclivities": I can never quite square that w/ being gay . . . but I guess, as much a "classic" as Larry was, he was more formed in a time when there wasn't any significant difference on gay issues between the parties (they were both equally bad).

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah+ as I have said, I'll be happy to preach your funeral only if I precede you in death. Just don't make it too soon, okay? I got lotsa stuff to do before I check out of here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Larry was much more an Eisenhower Republican than a Dubya one. It was a different time, different generation.

the cajun said...

This is such sad news. I had no idea he was 81! The last time he visited RB and we spent some time together, he was as feisty, and witty as ever.
Although every conversation somehow ended up about St. Gregory's and our involvement in the soap opera of the same name.
I had not heard from him in over a year. He and his sensahumah will be sorely missed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Cajun - Was it just last year that he came to visit? He always went to Key West - even spending Christmas there after Bill died. He was looking for someplace closer that wasn't Fire Island but he never really "clicked" with the RB vibe. Well, now he's in Paradise. Forever. Thanks for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Prayers ascending.

Yes, book it and pay trubute to Larry.

Maria

The Rev. Dr. Christian Troll said...

A beautiful tribute to one more wonderful person I look forward to one day meeting beyond these shadowlands.

Thank you.

Diane Rhodes said...

I got to know Larry while we both served on the Board of the House of the Holy Comforter (now Canterbury Village) Assisted Living Center in West Orange, NJ. Larry's obit didn't list that gift to the community, and I suspect there were many other gifts he gave to the Church and and world that most people just didn't know. I found him to be intelligent, witty and unwilling to suffer fools gladly (or any other way!) His passing is a loss to everyone lucky enough to have known him.

Jerry said...

I've waited and no one else has mentioned this, so I think I have to. That elevator story -- it's a well-known "urban legend" (see Snopes at http://www.snopes.com/racial/mistaken/hitfloor.asp). I agree with the assessment that appears there: this is racist, pure and simple. It may be "funny," but it's racist. -Jerry

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jerry - I've been hearing Bill and Larry tell this story for the past 15 years or so. I know it's true. I'm not at all surprised it's made it to SNOPES. Of course it's racist. That's the point of the story. That's why we can laugh at the woman. That's why Eddie Murphey wanted to buy the story - because by laughing at racism, it blunts its power. It's not racist, however, to repeat the story.

I'm not sure of your point.