As Allen and I were filling out the paperwork for our niche at the Columbarium, we imagined a party to share our love for this historic San Francisco space.
Many, many months later our niche unveiling cum commitment ceremony ended up being exactly what we wanted, which was amazing since we had no idea what that was, even batting ideas around on the drive over.
Our friends Lawrence & Bruce helped us set up light refreshments: cheese & crackers, fresh fruit, sparkling juices that resembled champagne bottles, personalized pink & purple M&Ms, and beautifully decorated Day of the Dead skull cookies. We were intent on keeping everything festively simple.
Friends started arriving around noon, some all dressed up and bearing gifts, many not. They ranged in age from 7 to 87. Allen and I were resplendent (if I do say so myself) in our gold and black brocade jackets. Nancy had cleverly brought black headbands from which protruded “R.I.P.” providing just the right tone of insouciance. We had laid out a copy of the recent SFWeekly article. Tourists wandered through from time to time, which was most amusing. What must they have thought?
When the ceremony began we stood in the center of the rotunda welcoming everyone sitting and standing around us. I asked how many people had been to the Columbarium before. (About half). Allen and I took turns explaining what we were doing and why. Connie Champagne sang a beautiful, a cappella “Moon River”, which made me cry.
Allen and I spoke of our inspiration for the party: many weddings, an 80th birthday party, Renee’s “hoolie”… How we didn’t want this to seem like a wedding, though it did represent a profound commitment. Then Renee Gibbons sang “In My Life”, which made me cry.
We asked people to offer a word or phrase as a wish. Many people complied. Of course I can’t remember any examples right now, but they were humorous, heartfelt, and lovely. Doug (my ex) was very serious when explained that in his tradition… he asked people to stand up and… give us… a standing ovation. Cute. Then Connie harmonized with Renee’s version of “The Rose”, which made me cry.
Allen and I hugged and kissed and held hands throughout. Then we invited everyone up the small staircase to the second floor where we’d draped a cloth over the bank of nine niches. I read a quote from Ivor Novello that a friend had slipped me on the way up the stairs:
Sometimes on the rarest nights,
Comes the vision calm and clear,
Gleaming with unearthly lights,
On our path of doubt and fear:
Winds from that far land are blown,
Whispering with secret breath,
Hope that plays her tune alone,
Love that conquers pain and death.
We pulled back the covering and pointed to our niche. The weekend before we had installed a framed photo of the two of us, Allen’s 1940’s Pinocchio cylindrical metal lunch pail, his ceramic Jiminy Cricket figurine, my Holly Golightly bobblehead, and a small circular Heath yin/yang dish, one half filled with tiny green stones that Allen had long ago picked out of the sand for me at Tennessee Cove (a symbol of his OCD and a souvenir of a lovely afternoon, among other things.) The artist friend creating my ceramic, book-shaped urn hasn’t finished it yet, but will be added when it is. I had suggested somehow installing miniature red velvet curtains, acknowledging Allen’s life in theater, as well as the euphemism for death, but so far the nonexistent Decoration Committee hasn’t been very responsive. So the space is a work in progress that we hope won’t be put to use for a very long time.
People wandered around exploring the magic and mystery that pervades the space. Everyone congratulated us on the successful event (even our rabbi friend), and pointed out people they knew who were interred there (Geoffrey’s mother is just a few yards away). People started drifting away and by 2:00 everyone was gone and by 3:00 we were cleaned up (again with the help of Lawrence and Bruce (who by that point had bought himself a niche)) and on our way. Short, sweet, and miraculously just what we’d hoped for. After having been emotionally/psychically opened so deeply, I was totally fried for the rest of the day. I dropped Allen off (he hadn’t been feeling well, but did an admirable job of getting through the proceedings) and later my friends Laura & Roxi & their daughter Emma came over for a little while before heading back down to Santa Cruz, but otherwise I just snacked, read, and plotzed. There are more images on Allen’s Facebook page, Renee gave us a big batch of photos and hopefully soon some video.
The following day Allen asked if I felt any different. Neither of us seems to, but perhaps in some subtle way, we are more, well, committed.