Seldom do I feel jealousy towards the dead, but when I read the obituary for a friend, George Lane, written with both great affection and style by his grandson, James, I caught my breath.
“George Albert Lane set course for Elysium, Friday 3rd August. Loving husband of Janella, wanderlust father, revered grandfather and great grandfather, unfathomable friend, indefatigable bon vivant, George was born in a small fishing town, a world away, a time ago—Brixham, Devon, England, September 3rd 1933 …”
I met George through Facebook as he recognized my Anglophile tendencies regarding Christmas fruitcakes and from there we would chat back and forth about all things English. Both he and his effusive wife, Janella, came to see one of my stand-up concerts last November and catching who he supposed to be Paul waiting by the exit, introduced himself and insisted we join them at their home before Christmas, “for a proper fish and chips supper.”
“His children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and extended family — he brimmed with accomplished pride seeing them tack headfirst, headstrong into the world’s currents and cultures. Boasting of their exploits, bemoaning their culinary inadequacies …”
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And such a feast it was! Janella had decorated a Christmas tree in each room (claimed by various cats), and the food and drink was endless.
“Now, you’ve tried that cider, will you have some wine? Have another piece of fish, Paul.”
It was overwhelming in the nicest possible way, and with extended family members present, the conversational ball was bandied so quickly about that it was nearly impossible to keep up. It was, quite frankly, one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve ever spent around a table. To be honest, because I entertain the public for a living, I tend not to accept invitations from the public — both Paul and I tend to withdraw if only for the sake of decompressing.
Yet George’s charm was inescapable. In our messages back and forth, he often quoted Kipling among others, and when I told him “Grantchester” was one of my favorite English poems, without missing a beat he replied, typing the last line, “Is there honey still for tea?”
There are men, there are gentlemen, and then there are English gentlemen. No wonder Janella was so taken by him that day 35 years ago:
“George arrived in the U.S. in 1982, island-hopping off from Antigua and making a motley crew of lifelong friends. He met Janella in 1983 on his first night ashore mainland U.S.- St Petersburg, Florida. Love at first sight, they married a year later. George was a yacht Captain and together they worked charters and in yacht brokerage for many happiest years. Their life and love itself a chartership in adventure, enjoyment and boundlesss capacity simply ‘To.’ To go. To sail. To read. To recite. To surreptitiously nudge his golf ball out of a bad lie. To poeticise. To romanticise. To sophisticate. To befriend. To cook, eat, drink and be merry. To dance. To persevere. To laugh. To live. To love. Together.”
George had been giving cancer a real kick in the teeth when I first met him and was responding, at least to my eye, quite well. In the last few months, it began to take its toll, and he sighed that he could no longer enjoy the meals he once loved. He could, however, enjoy his favorite fruits puréed and so I would pop over and bring him his favorite, plums, and only two weeks ago, a little pail of fresh peaches.
He held one to his nose and inhaled deeply, rapturously. I didn’t realize his time was so close, but I think he did. As I rose to make my leave, he rose as well with the aid of his walker and followed me to the kitchen, where he gave me an embrace, then took my right hand, stepped back, and initiated a few dance steps. It was the last time I saw him. And I’m quite sure it was the way he wanted me to remember him.
‘Shanty, sonnet, archipelago, acapella. Wherever you found him, however he regaled you, George’s salty wit was never without the brine of his smile. He will be dearly missed, remembered lovingly in glints on the sea’s horizon and laughter floating on its crisp winds.
“I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
“To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
“And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
“And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.’
I’ve tucked my jealousy away and given way to admiration instead. Oh, to be loved like that.