A brief eulogy for myself, hear ye, hear ye

Column for 4.22.21

I go out in public as a masked man and look forward to the day we can show our faces again but at least I have a masked woman alongside me whose hand I hold and when I saw that heartbreaking picture of Queen Elizabeth sitting masked in a long pew at the funeral of Prince Philip, alone after years of matrimony, after reading the cranky obituaries, I felt bad in behalf of my wife when she loses me and has to read in the obit that I once walked out onstage to do a show and emitted audible bursts of gas at every step. Twelve strides, twelve explosions. It happened. A number of people who were sitting in the front rows have recalled it to me and I can imagine an obit headline, “Keillor, Radio Tail-Gunner, Succumbs At 99.”

I did distinguished things in my life. I once did a little video essay for CBS-TV, which was covering the NCAA basketball tournament that year, which I concluded by tossing a ball over my right shoulder, without looking, and hit a swisher from the free-throw line. People assumed it was edited; it was not. I once sang a duet with soprano Renée Fleming, of “Love’s Old Sweet Song.”

I am, I believe, the most accomplished living writer of limericks, some of which I’ve seen in print attributed to Anon but they’re mine, including:

A vegan who lived in Seattle

Avoided fish, fowl, and cattle.

No flesh, blood, or bone

Or vegetables grown

On or near the site of a battle.

And also:

Sadness is just like carbuncles:

Yours is the same as your uncle’s

Whereas the hilarious

Is wildly various

Like the wildlife found in the jungles.

That is rather profound for five lines, twenty-five words, and I’m proud of it.

I hope the queen’s mourning period is brief. A month at most, and then donate his stuff to the church rummage sale and hand over the crown to Charles and sit down and write a tell-all memoir under the name Liz Mountbatten and give us the inside scoop on Philip and how funny he was and what a pleasure, as you are monarching around in a stately manner, to have that irreverent voice in your ear. He was the man who had a kitchen put in the family quarters at the palace so he could fry up eggs for breakfast. He and HRH enjoyed long hikes in rugged countryside, rain or shine. For a sailor/horseman/athlete whose main duty for seventy years was maintaining good posture as he walked a few steps behind the queen, the man did well indeed.

My older brother, Philip, died at 71, in a fall while skating, and our mother sat weeping in the church, 92, and there was such grief in the room, there was no need for more, and the three relatives who spoke gave humorous eulogies, a great mercy. I’ve spoken at three funerals and three is enough for me, I’m now retired. At my teacher LaVona Person’s, I recalled her 8th-grade speech class in which I stood and recited three limericks, two by Anon and the third by me:

There was a young man of Anoka

Who tried hard to write a good limerick.

He tried and he tried

And some were not bad

But something seemed to be missing.

And she laughed hard from the back of the classroom and thus a career is launched. At Robert Altman’s memorial, because the other speakers were famous actors recalling films in which they had starred, I talked about Altman’s having enlisted in the Army Air Corps at the age of 18 and flown B-17 bombers in World War II, something old Hollywood lefties ought to hear. And for my friend Harry, I did as his daughters requested — I sang the two lullabies he sang to them at night when they were little, “Toora-loora-loora” and “The Whiffenpoof Song.” I sang solo, a cappella, in a big church in Washington, and the audience, out of a sense of mercy, sang with me. Harry was a Supreme Court justice and so Bill and Hillary were there, both singing, and other notables, and eight members of the Court, in black robes, in a row, not singing, looking at me judiciously as I sang, “We are little black sheep who’ve gone astray” and though I wouldn’t swear to it, I am fairly certain I heard low rumbles from that row, low grumbly rumbles. We’re all human, exchanging gases with the atmosphere, hear ye, hear ye.

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