March 3, 2014 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Couple of folks have rightfully pointed out in memail that the brevity of this post makes it mystery meat. Sorry about that, everyone.

This is an essay written by someone who learns that an ex-stepfather he has lost touch with has passed away, and his journey to disperse (or bury) the man's ashes.
posted by zarq at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks, Zarq. Beautiful essay.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 9:26 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is a lovely story. For all the inadequacy the writer seemed to feel he actually went through more trouble than many would for a man that had only a passing influence on his life. I am usually pretty unsentimental about death, i.e. "Funerals are for the living," and "dead is dead," but this was somehow very satisfying.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:27 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, Zarq.
There are some impressive moments of honesty and self-examination on the part of this writer that make it stand out, in my opinion. The intersection of life and death is, by nature, a fertile topic for both banality and the mystical and I really appreciated the perspective in this piece.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 9:34 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a life-long vegetarian, there's nothing wrong with a mystery meat title
posted by growabrain at 9:37 AM on March 3, 2014

I've been collecting old photos at antique stores for a little while now. I only buy the ones that really stand out to me, but the fact of them in general makes me sad. I have one that's quite a mystery. It shows a sort of still life scene, of a photo of a soldier, placed beneath a cage with a pet bird, and next to it a cake with candles. I hope it is a photo of a party held in absentia, sent to a faraway soldier to let him know his family and his pet remembered him on his birthday. I fear it may be a party held for a dead man. I have another of a boy, standing in front of a house in a woods. He has a face that is strangely without expression, neither smiling for the camera nor seeming to be bothered by it. He's dressed in a very dapper suit, and it takes a moment before you notice that the boy has one arm that is much longer than the other, and that he stands at a strange angle, obviously the marks of severe scoliosis.

Somebody loved this soldier. Somebody loved this boy. And yet somehow the photos ended up in an antique store. Somehow, when somebody's terminus came, there was nobody left for whom these images meant anything. I don't understand it and I don't like it, so I buy the photos, and I puzzle over them, wondering how something that feels so profound to me -- an image of war, an image that couples disability with tenderness -- suddenly went ownerless, its story lost, its characters forgotten.

I guess this story gives me a sense of how this can happen, but I still don't like it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:58 AM on March 3, 2014 [9 favorites]

We all die alone, and funerary rituals are about the living. Some things never change.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:02 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this.

Also, I appreciate that the post wasn't adorned with anything other than the link. Feels appropriate.
posted by gwint at 10:09 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

The brevity of the post actually makes it *more* interesting, not less. I'm just confused as to the use of "The Fireman" as the title of the blog post is all.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Somehow, when somebody's terminus came, there was nobody left for whom these images meant anything.

Memories aren't a finite resource; there could just as easily be fifty pictures of that soldier, smiling and surrounded the friends and family whose grandchildren still treasure them.
posted by mhoye at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2014

I'd like to imagine that to be true. Too often in my current job as a history researcher I see that time has swallowed memory. People come in to the archive where I work searching for evidence of past family members and sometimes nothing exists.

I think it's why I do the job. Because every time I manage to chase down a story that has been forgotten, I feel like I have mined a treasure.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:24 AM on March 3, 2014

Great story. I know this feeling of being useless. It happens whether you're related to someone or not.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:27 AM on March 3, 2014

Old'n'Busted, towards the very end of the essay he discovers that his stepfather was a fireman.

Thought it was an interesting choice, because the entire experience obviously taught the writer a great deal about who the man was. And in using "The Fireman" as the title, he's choosing to be very specific about the way he's defining his stepfather's identity.

(Not sure if I should be saying 'ex-stepfather' or just 'stepfather' here.)
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on March 3, 2014

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