Death is always with us, and sometimes it feels as if it's way too much with us. Got word this morning of the death of poet and novelist D. M. Thomas, not a young man, born in 1935, two years before my late parents were, but who was an impressive poet and will probably be most cited for his bestselling novel The White Hotel, which I have to wonder how many of its purchasers actually read. I read it, liked it but thought it wasn't quite up to what William Kotzwinkle did, somewhat similarly, with his shorter novel The Exile. Both time-travel fantasies with grim relations to World Wars and similar ways to reduce the population, and both worth your time. I have a couple of other Thomas novels awaiting me on the shelves and in the storage boxes.
In 1973, when the George Mason University literary magazine published Robert Bausch's "Funerals", the magazine was two years old, and I haven't yet ferreted out who was editing it at that point, as the Phoebe website that posts the insufficiently copy-edited, as a result of optical character recognition, electronic reprint of the story doesn't worry its youthful head about such trivia. The magazine, apparently still published in paper format as well as online, was named, as the campus story goes, for the long-term mistress of George Mason, who refused to sign off on the initial draft of the U.S. Constitution because it didn't have what would become the Bill of Rights in it. In the summer of 1973, I lived in Hazardville, CT, was between third and fourth grades in school, mowing our large lawn weekly (my biggest single chore), reading a lot, and had discovered radio drama and comedy in a big way, vintage and then-contemporary. The Vietnam War ground on, because why not, and the twin Bausch brothers, Robert and Richard, military brats and themselves veterans, rather than, like myself, a Federal brat, were on the initial 1971 staff of Phoebe, pursuing their early degrees and publishing some of their early work. Little did I know that I would be first paid for my writing in contributing a concert review of the original, reunited Animals, in their 1983 tour making a stop at the University of Hawaii, to the campus paper at UH Manoa, Ka Leo o Hawai'i, "the voice of Hawaii". having earlier that year been appointed editor of the little magazine Hawaii Review for one month, while the UH Board of Publications argued whether it should be discontinued (it wasn't, but I was, and I went on to run successfully for UH student senate, as part of the Green Slate of students, running largely in response to the misrepresentation of evangelical, Reagan-worshiping Xian students who had taken key roles in Associated Students of UH administration the previous year). Mostly, in Summer 1973, a lot people were not dealing with the Vietnam War any longer if they could help it, as the Nixon Admin crumbled, and high time.
"Funerals" deals with a US Army detail of veterans' ceremonial funeral riflemen, at the graveside service for a young casualty in Illinois. Told from the POV of an easily-distracted and no little disaffected Burns, the possible nod to M*A*S*H as easy to register as to forget at this point, inasmuch as he's burning for slightly different reasons than the novel's and film's hypocritical evangelical, replaced in the tv series with a somewhat less psychopathic hypocritical mainline-denomination churchgoer. He's feeling the pressures of working the funerals, notes to himself how much he dislikes his sergeant, his fellow detail members, the rituals of the rifleman's salute and the presentation of the flag, the clumsy theatrics of keeping the bugler playing "Taps" out of sight of the bereaved. He fumbles his duties slightly, while finding himself too thoroughly drawn to the young widow.
It's decent early work, with convincing detail, and probably not what Bausch would seek to be remembered for, but nothing to be ashamed of, either. He did not include it in his only collection, The White Rooster and Other Stories.
For more of today's short st0ries, please see Patti Abbott's blog.