For months, Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update anchor Chevy Chase would look into the camera and announce “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.”
Steve and I were high school juniors back in the fall of 1975 when Franco died. We would watch the show each week in his parents’ basement at least through the fake news cast. This line resonated with us.
The line may have been created in reaction to all of those death watch stories where we were told week after week prominent aging or sickly person “is still alive”.
Hearing week after week that Spanish dictator Franco was “still dead” was pretty funny. It was a fact that didn’t need restating. After all, once you’re dead there’s no real need for an update. Things may change about your legacy or former possessions or family and friends. But you don’t have much of a choice. You remain dead.
Except that that’s not really the way it is for the family of a dead person.
After Elena died, friends suggested books that we should read. One of them was Joan Didion’s “Year of Magical Thinking.” At one point I picked it up and started reading it. I wasn’t ready then. I’m may be ready now.
This morning, CBS Sunday Morning ran a story on a one woman play based on Didion’s book starring Vanessa Redgrave. The story showed Redgrave on a sparse stage talking about shoes. She just couldn’t give away her dead husband’s shoes. What would he wear when he returned.
And that is the year of magical thinking. It’s what Kim and I have struggled with for a little more than a year now. In the news story, Didion puts words to this vague feeling that Kim and I have not been able express.
“I discovered that, literally, I was holding two contradictory ideas in my mind at the same time. One was that he was dead and the other was that he would come back. And I don’t mean come back in some — I’m not talking about religious resurrection. I’m talking about come back. Walk in the door. Wondering why I had given away his shoes, you know?”
And so thirteen months later, Elena Maxine is still dead. I think, however, upstairs in her closet we still have her shoes.