“Heaven has become a more interesting place with Bobby there.”
Liza Pence’s note offered sympathy for my brother’s sudden death. Because so many folks asked, Robert Parson Paine is today’s topic — along with Greater Salem’s incredibly kind community. Though I won’t presume to decipher him or Salem in 500 words, here are random thoughts:
* Too many of you know this personally: No parent should have to bury a child, no matter how old. He was my younger and only sibling. “It’s wrong; it ain’t the right order of things,” says Wabun Holler philosopher-friend Jimmy.
*“How one phone call can change your day!” Daddy has always said. Bingo.
*“Project: Death” takes time and money. There’s quite the pile of tasks in its wake (Bobby would like the pun). But kudos to kind Roanoke County Sr. Law & Probate Clerk Rhonda Rogers, and to others helping attack the danged paperwork, etc.
Still, you could call me “Nerves Wide Shot.” Example: I fussed when his obit got littered with wrong punctuation — but at least it distracted me from real woes.
*Salem indeed knows how to comfort; you dear folks have defined “community” and we are so grateful for ALL.
Some things surprised us in good ways: Say, friends waiting for my devastated parents after making funeral plans. Infirm friends’ coming to visitation (some had to pay caregivers); childhood pals driving in from afar. My young grandkids’ giving graveside eulogies. Just how much folks’ sharing any memory means: You do remember him.
*Right, Liza, he was interesting — more than I! “Smarter too,” Mama still insists. Say, in a long-ago Georgia Tech think-tank he thought up “Pi Day” (March 14 = 3.14). He earned three degrees and worked in Saudi Arabia.
“Quit asking questions,” a Broad St. Elementary teacher told him. Favorite North Cross-in-Salem teachers Betsy Darden and Nelle Oakey Gardner noted he had trouble staying in line. (Late diagnosis: Asperger’s.)
Early on, he campaigned against child labor and nuclear-waste pollution. He had a tender heart — maybe too much so. He seemed to give up — as if his huge, weary, heart finally broke.
Though his thoughts were complex, simple things pleased him (they’re listed in his obit). He remembered details keenly — again, maybe too much so. But mention an item once and it would likely appear under the Christmas tree.
He detailed his Salem childhood in his book, “Hollywood Ate My Brain” — which also chronicles his claims of inspiring some famous movies. Maybe he went overboard; scriptwriters do glean goodies from here-and-there. But giving him credit: I remember someone recording his story in a Mensa meeting, and that his girlfriend was kin to a Hollywood insider.
He tested to track his film notions: He sneaked in such clues as a deliberately wrong physics definition. And names: Did first-crush Ginny become Forest Gump’s “Jenny?” He claimed “Emily Paine” morphed to “Amelie Poulain” in “Amelie”; I laughed and thanked him for the undeserved compliment.
Though he told a reporter he was just glad the movies were made, he craved recognition that his life mattered.
Others stole: Oh, valuable baseball cards. Grandparents’ keepsakes. Inventions. His car — treasured, from our late aunt, he held on and was dragged down an Atlanta street (yes, he was badly injured). Maybe thieves congratulated their cleverness; he marveled at the evil.
*The depth of some sadness surprised me. Like, over his few personal effects: A great-nephew’s photo alone on the small refrigerator. His glasses. His Christmas gift list. One Christmas card. The only photo in his wallet: his ex-wife’s. His worn Andrew Lewis High School letter-jacket. Our dad’s old dress-coat on the rack.
And that Bobby was the last of our “Paine” surname. He missed our first good snowfall (we recalled James Russell Lowell’s poem about the first snowfall on a grave). Wryly, I noted that — like our aunt — he missed his first Social Security check by mere days. And his first Sunday New York Times delivery.
*Yet some thoughts console me: That he had moved back to Salem. Folks said he was found kneeling, as in prayer. “God didn’t take your brother; He received him,” said a friend who lost her son.
Some comforts are weirdly whimsical: Bright blossoms burst forth on my Christmas cactus; from namesake Parson grandparents, in its 20 years it had never bloomed. Dry curly willow in a friend’s flower arrangement up-and-sprouted leaves and roots. And as I left the cemetery, my car radio launched into the Grateful Dead’s “I Will Survive” (“here’s to sunbathing in Light Perpetual,” I smiled).
Deacon Dr. David Dixon’s funeral homily was about Hansel-and-Gretel’s path. I think of my brother’s favorite childhood book: The Puppy Who Found a Home. Bobby has found his.
An old hymn: Sweet after bitter. Song after fears. Home after wandering. Praise after tears.