Unlike the ones who have spoken before me, I am not an intimate member of any of the circles Fred belonged to. I have been on the periphery of DARE since I ended my year of fieldwork in August of 1968 and turned in the keys to my Word Wagon.
Unlike the ones who have spoken before me, I am not an intimate member of any of the circles Fred belonged to. I have been on the periphery of DARE since I ended my year of fieldwork in August of 1968 and turned in the keys to my Word Wagon. I do not know his family, though I did meet his wife and daughter when I came to Madison to pick up the keys to my Word Wagon in 1967. What I can do, I hope, is step back and give a broader perspective on the man and his contributions to his many circles.
This weekend should have marked the completion of a different sort of circle. A few years ago I was invited to tell stories at Borders Book Shop here in Madison, as part of their Storytelling for Adults series. When Fred heard about the program, he invited me to come to Madison early so that we could visit and he could take me out to supper and then accompany me to Borders to show me the way. I gratefully accepted, and he stayed to hear my stories. The part about showing me the way was especially welcome, because I always get lost in Madison.
This year Borders invited me to come and tell stories again on a Friday night–night before last. It would have been my turn to take Fred out to supper. Now, of course, that is a debt that will remain forever unpaid.
This is a small thing–a very small thing–when considered in the light of his long life and many accomplishments. I am sure many of you can tell similar stories about his acts of kindness and graciousness to you. If we totaled them up, they would amount to something not small at all. Nevertheless, let us remember these small debts one at a time, because we can at least measure their scope.
Personally and collectively, we owe him debts on a scale that means they could never be repaid, a scale that is difficult even to describe. On the personal level, when he made me a fieldworker and gave me the keys to a Word Wagon, he sent me off on the most memorable year of my life. Some of what I gathered that year became the raw material for my dissertation, making it possible for me to complete my studies and subsequently enjoy a satisfying career as a college professor.
The most massive debt of all is the one all of us, as lovers of words and the study of words, owe to him for all those years of careful, delighted attention to the language, the fruits of which he has bequeathed to us.
This occasion today provides an opportunity for the many circles that Fred was a member of to come together and intertwine. As we do, in addition to celebrating his life and expressing our gratitude for the gifts he left us, we need to begin the process of closing up the gaps he left–the huge holes that Joan mentioned earlier–in all those circles. The best way to close them is to share the very stuff we got from him, small and great, in our individual lives and in the circles we belong to.
Strangely enough, I feel I must have gotten something from him today. I went back to Borders today just before the service. They had paid me for the storytelling with a gift certificate, and I was loading up on books. Before coming here to the chapel, I stood in the parking lot studying a map of Madison spread out on the hood of my car. Some kind person asked, “Can I help? Do you need directions?”
I looked up, and in a voice full of quiet confidence, said, “No thanks. I know where I am. I know where I have to go. I’m just trying to figure out the best way to get there.”
Driving up here on my chosen route, I realized how thoroughly uncharacteristic of me that was, and how very much it sounded like Fred.