Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Hyacinth for the Departed Soul

Marion Wade, who was an active member of Pinewoods Folk Music Club and a founding member of People's Voice Cafe, was a fine and feisty woman. After several careers, paid and unpaid--as a journalist, a bookseller, a left-wing activist and the mother of Don--Marion became a folk singer at an age when most people retire. Singing unaccompanied, Marion performed around the country, at cafes and union halls, festivals and conferences, schools and libraries. She sang traditional songs and contemporary political songs that others had written. She did little songwriting herself, but--good atheist that she was--she did write rousing new political lyrics for the Protestant hymn "What a Day of Victory," and that became her signature tune, and the title of her tape.

In her final ilness, Marion had surgery at Roosevelt Hospital. To cheer her, nine of her friends decided to visit Marion in the hospital and sing her version of "What a Day of Victory" to her. One of us was a minister, who could pull the right strings to get us all into Marion's hospital room together.

On the appointed afternoon, we gathered outside the hospital, and one thoughtful person, handed out xeroxed copies of Marion's song. While the minister went inside to arrange our visit, the rest of us rehearsed on the street.

A few minutes later, the minister rejoined us. "Mariion died an hour ago," she said. "Her body has just been removed to the hospital morgue. I will not feel right until I go to visit her. Does anyone wish to go with me?" Two of us joined her.

In the morgue, an attendant pulled open a green metal drawer, and there, swathed in a sheet, with only her face visible, was Marion. We had come to the hospital to sing to Marion--so there in the morgue, the three of us sang her song to her. After her well-lived life, and her gallant struggle with cancer, it was indeed her day of victory.

(This is not an account of all the events of that afternoon. Each of the people who assembled at the hospital probably has a different, deeply felt key memory. This is mine.)

Carole Rose Livingston

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