Upon returning Saturday from Corolla-on-Sea, I found stuffed in my little mailbox the new edition of the latest Garden & Gun magazine. I looked for the obituaries, memorials, and encomiums for the newly departed Julia Reed.
But then it hit me, that reality of “publication lag.” Things are written, edited, and submitted to the editor, then laid out and sent to print. When it’s a magazine that I think is too stuffed with glossies of high end realtors, Elysium-like resorts, and plutocratic libations that I can only look at (like Randy pressing his nose up against the Higbee’s window in The Christmas Story), the lag time can take a month (or more).
It turns out that this new “Oct/Nov 2020” edition of G&G was sent to press right before the premature passing of Ms Julia Reed.
Which meant that this issue still had her alive, still on staff, still writing her inestimable columns: a veritable banquet of wit, a “feast of reason and flow of soul.”
But in a mashed up style of Faulkner, Tate, Welty, and Percy, that banquet went a tad creepy. The active writing presence of Ms Reed became eerie, in a Spanish moss, languid cypress, magnolia-murmuring kind of midnight way, with fey laughter dancing on the midnight breeze, punctuated by the clink of ice in a martini glass.
Her last column is entitled, jarringly, “When Life Bites.” As in the subtitle, “Things Might be Rough Now, but Try Adding a Swarm of Creepy Vermin.”
This lapidary essay chronicles her last struggle with — horrors — bedbugs. Bear in mind that “last” here is something that she probably did not know about, or rather, didn’t let on knowing.
I already miss her aplomb, her genteel pranksterism. Who else can get away with stuff like this? --
“Clearly it was time to leave town, a move that required me to take a steaming hot shower, cover my feet in garbage bags, and walk out of the house completely naked, whereupon I put on a set of brand new clothes, got in the car, and left for New Orleans. It was, a website assured me, the only way not to take the bugs with me.”
I’m not at all sure whether the website stipulated that she go to New Orleans, but having read her enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. Or if she made the web folk change it to say so. I’m even less sure I want that picture floating around in my head of one of her last strolls out to her car, au naturel in flagrante, but there it is, her suave insouciance shod in garbage bags. Cue the kazoos.
She’s one of those people who probably benefited from leaving this planet when she did, since she was possessed of the eminently good taste of a classic Southern debutante. The cosmic neighborhood was getting a little too ripe:
“After the fact,” she continues, “nothing is ever as awful as you think it is, but I could have used a little help, a breather, a place to blow off some steam and take the immediate edge off. Which brings me back to the lunacy of our great leaders and the legions of folks who were drawn to the words of a woman who warns against ‘demon sperm’ and believes Big Tech is suppressing a cure and masks are unnecessary (though it’s sort of irresistible not to warm to her theory that reptiles are running the government).”
I’m sure she didn’t mean leaving us in the lurch when she did. But it sure would have made it easier, with her wit still lively, to deal with the reality TV bedbugs of our immediate present, all our reptilian politics and Q closets haunted by demon sperm. In a November when the election will be not just about the President but even more about the soul of the nation, it would have been nice to know that her sardonic pen was still noting the mordant irony of nice pious folk flocking to a morally dappled, pied piper strong man.
I guess we’ll have to make do without her being on staff.
Yes. We could all “use a little help, a breather.”
This was her last note, albeit from the other side.
I had a premonition about Julia’s threnody on Friday at the ocean sands. The last day at the shore is always poignant.
At that moment on Friday afternoon in the gleaming blue silver sun, my granddaughter had already labored for hours at sandcastle construction (I recommend her highly as a contractor for faerie sand works, if anyone’s interested).
On the last afternoon by the sea, I meditated upon the battlements of Evie’s castle standing bravely against the tide.
There are indeed inevitabilities. Houses built on sand always go their way back to the strand.
Still, the castle was pretty, the scallop and clam and oyster shells took on a second life as exterior decorations, beautifying for an afternoon the mythopoetic work of a little girl,
Who glimpses things as they should be, in a castle that stood by the sea.
The next morning, early, I went out to the whitecapped Atlantic surf before packing the car. The wind from Invest 94L had thrashed the tide against the shore, and there was nothing left of our little encampment from the day before. The princess castle had dissolved into time and tide.
Things come. Things go.
Here are Ms Reed’s last words in her final G&G column. They hint at the nearest of futures, with that uncanny blend of spectral gossamer and Yoknapatawpha comedy, undergird with melancholy finality, that only Southern writers know from their bones how to set down in black and white:
“So let us strive to fill these beacons of light and life soon and do anything we can to help keep them alive in the meantime. Until then, I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the pasture.”
Here’s to you keeping that promise, Ms Debutante — or rather, Miss Doyenne — of the literate South. It’s just like you to send a note a whole month after the fact.