The audience spanned generations of faculty and students who had come to the new (now 14 years old) science building atrium to celebrate the life of Dr. Bruce Maclaren—Renaissance man, colleague, friend, and mentor.
The college president, who in my opinion seemed much too young to hold that position, renamed the Chautauqua lecture series that Bruce had founded on campus and then cajoled me into speaking there on my sixty-ninth birthday. I gave a rather non-traditional talk, to the delight of Bruce who had edited my speech and to the chagrin of Chautauqua’s new director at that time. The president also announced an endowment in Bruce’s name; from the university’s perspective, it would assure his legacy as well as provide a source of revenue.
One of the celebrants who spoke envisioned Bruce at the head of a celestial table. Sitting with him were Jim Webb, a physicist, and Frank Williams, a philosopher—both of whom have since passed on. Along with them were Bruce’s BFF, philosopher Ron Messerich, and poet emeritus Harry Brown. In my mind, I was there as well. I used to take a Xanax just to be able to join these men at our weekly Saturday morning breakfast. They could enlighten me on everything from the best The cat litter to String Theory.
While the speaker imagined a celestial location, my mind’s eye saw us in the small local restaurant off Main Street in Richmond, Kentucky—a hangout for everyone from bikers to local lawyers . . . and us. Others showed up occasionally at Bruce’s invitation. He loved bringing people together and, as one speaker said, his vision of the world was inclusive of everyone. He took what others said and stowed it away to integrate with other knowledge for future use.
I wanted to cater the memorial with White Castle hamburgers, a guilty pleasure I shared with Bruce, but the university wouldn’t allow it because it had contracts with its own food services. Despite the official prohibition, I snuck in a White Castle and fries to Bruce’s widow, Marcia.
Several dozen other people turned up. However, Bruce was a force of nature and, if legacy is measured by the people whose lives and hearts he touched, thousands should have come.
My daughter drove me the six-plus hours from Douglasville, Georgia, to Richmond, Kentucky. We spent the night there; she worked remotely the next day while I visited with friends and played Santa Claus, leaving presents at the homes of those I had no time to see. I went to the memorial with two friends who knew Bruce and then got in the car for the long, dark night trip back to Georgia. Samantha concentrated on avoiding trucks and speeders while I contemplated my legacy and mortality. I wasn’t optimistic. I doubted whether a dozen people would notice my passing, and even fewer would want the treasures I’ve collected over the years. The older you get, the further you are in distance and time from the people you love, until you fade into a memory long before you are even dead.
I pulled myself up and out of bed in the morning. Dressed and drove an hour to stand on a busy street corner in Smyrna, Georgia, with a group of women and men I had never met, to demonstrate for reproductive choice. It’s messier this year because the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are using the topic against us to say that they should also have “choice.”
I might already be disappearing, but I am not dead yet!