He always wanted that to be his epitaph. If you knew about his life - no dramatic hardships, but all the career setbacks, all the family difficulties, all the financial anxieties, a few years of retirement that turned into caring for my mother during her illness, then falling almost immediately into his own - if you knew about that, you'd understand.
Unfortunately there's no room for an epitaph on the urn or the facing of the niche. So this post will have to stand in for it.
We got him home. The rest of the trip was uneventful. I didn't wind up buying him a beer - sorry, Al B., but that'll have to come later, when it's warmer. I did take him to a couple of magazine stands. You couldn't possibly pass up a visit to a magazine stand. When he was putting out his magazines, he'd stop into every magazine stand and candy store he could find and ask the owner what was selling and why.
Another story: one Saturday afternoon in the early 70's, my parents and I were taking one of our regular family walks on Broadway. The magazine business was going south at that point and my father was very concerned. For some reason we'd gotten into a discussion about how the magazine consignment business worked. I'm not sure if this is still the case, but at the time, the magazine distributor was on the hook for all the magazines that went to the newsstand. The distributor bought them outright - on consignment - from the publisher. Then, week after week, the distributor would pull the magazines that hadn't sold off the newsstand racks, send them back to the publisher, and collect a refund. If a magazine wasn't returned, the publisher kept the money. That was true whether the magazine had actually been sold, or if it had been damaged or stolen. From the publisher's perspective, a theft was as good as a sale.
My father, in his frustration over the crashing sales figures, pointed this out. "That's the trouble with kids today," he said, loudly. "They don't steal enough magazines."
Right at that instant, a very proper-looking elderly woman passed us going in the other direction. She heard this, was startled, then, until she was more than a block away, kept turning around to glare at him.
So today he and I went over to Hudson News to see what was on display and what people were buying.
Then I walked him through Penn Station. I made it a point to go through the Long Island Rail Road waiting area - small tribute to all those years when he commuted out to Atlantic Beach during the summer when I was growing up.
I got slightly concerned again during our two short subway trips. The station at Times Square was full of the NYPD's black-suited death squads (a technical term that a friend who's a former NYPD lieutenant sometimes uses). But no one paid us any attention. We stopped briefly at Grand Central, then boarded the Metro North train to Woodlawn. A few last images on the way: when we came aboveground at 96th Street, we immediately rolled past Mt. Sinai Hospital, and I thought about watching the trains from a window on 11 Center that Monday afternoon when we brought my mother there two weeks before she died. Then, a few minutes later, we rolled out of Manhattan for good and into the Bronx (fitting - he lived in the Bronx 'til he was four) and I caught a glimpse of the Polo Grounds Towers and remembered his telling us about all the time he'd spent at the Polo Grounds. There was 1933, when he was 11 and the Giants won the pennant, and 1934, when he was 12 and they didn't ("Do you think Bill Terry is crying tonight?" my grandfather asked him). And there were all the afternoons when he was a reporter and he and the other guys in the newsroom would blow off work and head up there for day games. Toward the end of one of them, they left early and came back to the office and were greeted with a note from the chairman, Louis Fairchild. "Thought you gentlemen would like to know the Giants won it on an infield hit in the bottom of the ninth." He'd been sitting a few rows behind them the whole time.
From the Woodlawn Metro North station, it takes just a couple of minutes to walk through the cemetery gates and into the office. That's what I did. And then it was back into formalities - more documents to be signed, the certificate of cremation to be handed over. Finally I gave them custody of my father - handed over the canvas bag, actually - so they could transfer him (decant him?) into the permanent urn.
The sales representative - a slightly nervous, well meaning guy who used to sell insurance - drove us over to the mausoleum. It's nice, but different - open air, with a bit of traffic noise. That's OK - my parents were urban people. The staff had set up chairs in case I brought friends or family with me (I didn't). They set up the two urns - my father's and my mothers - on a small table, and I stood with them for a couple of minutes. Then they placed them in the niches and I stood with them a little longer. Then I gave the nod to tell them I was done. I didn't want to linger. This wasn't really a contemplative event - not with the granite removed, and the sales rep and the groundskeepers standing off to one side, freezing. They would have given me as much time as I needed, but it didn't feel right to press. Come the spring, or the summer, when the engraving is in place, I might take a trip up there when it's just me, and spend some time by myself. It'll be a nice walk from the Jerome Avenue gate, once the trees are all in bloom again.
I shook hands, and thanked them, and then walked down to the gate and took the Number 4 train into Manhattan. I rode with a bunch of loud junior high school kids who'd just gotten out of class. That's as it should be. Life is for the living.
And that's that. Seven years, one month and five days after my mother died and I became his caregiver, I helped him get where he needed to be. He got where he's going, and now he's resting.
To paraphrase Eisenhower - I always liked the directness of his communiques - the mission of this allied force was fulfilled at 1429 hours local time, March 3, 2010.
Now I'm back on Amtrak, just north of Baltimore and ready to be done.
Thanks yet again to all of you who decided to travel along with us.
I'll be back in a couple of days with some thoughts about where we might go from here.