Rodger French, a long-time friend of Jo Carson’s, sends out occasional emails to an ever-growing list of readers, under the headline “Dispatches from DC.” While he was in Africa, these were published as “Greetings from Ghana” and “Postings from Pretoria.” Enjoy.
Dispatches from DC #13
I’ve lately had the privilege of being asked to play at memorial services for two rather extraordinary women, one of whom I knew pretty well, one of whom I never met. So, in remembrance of the recently departed, please permit me to offer a few thoughts.
Josephine Catron Carson: October 9, 1946 – September 19, 2011
Jo Carson was the finest writer I’ve ever known. More erudite observers than myself have written about her contributions to the world of letters and you would not regret doing a search and having a look-see. Her work is simply wonderful. And Jo was also a really interesting character. The stories told at her memorial reflected a life lived well, with a keen intellect and great good humour.
I had numerous interactions with Jo over the course of 30+ years and she was never shy about offering encouragement and constructive criticism, sometimes whether you asked for it or not. I sincerely appreciate that she made me a better bandleader. (Her critique of the early days of The DeLuxe Vaudeville Orchestra? “Too many damn tangos.” She was correct, of course.) She also told me that she liked my writing (specifically “Greetings From Ghana” and “Postings From Pretoria”). I can only begin to express how much that means to me.
Jo was felled by colon cancer that had gone untreated for too long. But even while dealing with that pain and terror, she managed to brilliantly orchestrate her passing. Her last days were spent surrounded my friends and well-wishers, among them some of the most creative artists in the country. Her memorial service was moving, inspirational, and a really good show.
And the accordionist played a tango in her honour.
[Sidebar - The service also featured perhaps the best line ever spoken in a church. Citing Jo's fatal illness, one of the speakers opined that Jo's passing should be used by members of the congregation as an incentive to "stick your head up your ass and take a good look around." Righteous.]
Emily Clevenger Haseltine: May 31, 1912 – August 15, 2011
In addition to playing accordion with the Washington Balalaika Society Orchestra, I occasionally sub with a smaller group, Ruuskie Musikanti. It was in this context that I learned about Emily, who had taken up the balalaika at the age of 84 and performed with the WBSO for several years.
Over the course of 99 (!) years, she also raised four children (followed by eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren), spent fifty-four years in the church choir, and worked enthusiastically on civil rights and immigration issues as a volunteer coordinator. She was, by all accounts, a great lover of life, a bit of a scamp, and a wonderful and entertaining person. I left the service wishing I had had the opportunity to make her acquaintance.
Reflecting on this posting also reminds me of words spoken at a memorial in Atlanta some years ago for a musician friend who passed on unexpectedly and too soon. The gist was that it is shortsighted to put off visiting people you love and respect; the end can come anytime and you may spend the rest of your days regretting your lack of initiative. And then the speaker proffered this simple advice: “Spend the money. Go.”