23 June 2021

Is That All There Is?

In Memoriam Truman Peebles
1912 - 2021

There was a tragedy yesterday, outside our house.  My wife and carer returned from a walk to find a wood pigeon stretched out stiff in the porch, with two flightless squabs expired beside her.  Something, most likely a crow of some sort (I nearly said of some kind), had attacked and slain the adult in the nest, which had been barely concealed above our front door.  And the adult in falling had caused the two immature babes also to flip flop to their deaths.

Sad.  Yes.  But a tragedy?  Not strictly.  Life has to end somewhere, and not all terminations are anything but the natural process of the universe, which is at all times in motion, flaring up and dying down.

Consider the butterfly.  The splendid Red Admiral.....

Having survived earlier stages of existence (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, etc) the adult butterfly may live for some months....  Some months. Maybe a flurry of nights and days, some sunny, some wet, some cold. And then?  Extinction.  

What is expected? 

And it isn't much different for the Painted Lady, despite its migrations.....

Or the Small Tortoiseshell, though some adults will survive winters and perhaps live for nine months (I nearly said moths).....

So what is my point (I hear you call)?

Well, to be a duck-billed platitude, I just want to say that life has its limits, and not one of us has yet managed to break out of this world alive.

So, although I report this with great sadness, it is not a tragedy that my dear friend Truman Peebles will not be celebrating his 109th birthday this summer, at least not in person.

Truman, who I have mentioned in previous pieces, will not be partaking of a Jack Daniels old No.7 Tennessee sour mash Whiskey this evening.

Truman died, aged 108, just the other day. But while my instinct is to mourn, I know the right thing to do is to celebrate (even if the two states are not mutually exclusive).

The family lives on.  Memories survive.  Friends go about telling stories.  The influence resides.  

As I have recorded elsewhere, Truman was born in 1912, in New Jersey.  By the time I hit the light of day he was already a father of three.  When I was four he sailed from the US of A to take part in the foundation of the Food and Agriculture agency which became part of the colossal United Nations agencies in Rome.

When I first met him, thirty-something years ago, at a dinner at the home of Mario and Catinka Cassola, next door to us in Il Quadrifoglio, he was already retired.  I noted the bootlace tie, held in place with a stylish silver clasp.  At that time he would have been a sprightly seventyish - the age I am now.  He then lived in a hut in the garden (where they grew avocados) of his friend Nazareno, who owned the successful Grotta Azzura restaurant in the village of Trevignano.  I recall his regular joke that Nazareno's biggest challenge in the mornings was to decide which of his several large motors to drive to his restaurant (a bare mile away)....

Truman's own car failed him not long after, and, since we had moved into the village, I took to being the chauffeur on our occasional outings to neighbouring villages for dinners in quiet, rustic trattorie.

These outings were an education for me.  At the time Truman was studying (at Fielding, I think) for a PhD and our conversations were the friendliest of tutorials.  If I understand anything of psychology it is most probably down to those comfortable and enlightening evenings, quaffing vino sfuso and indulging in the niceties of la cucina laziale, served, sometimes, by the sexy daughter of a the padrone of a tiny trattoria in a side alley in Sutri, or by the chuckling grandmother who tended the fireplace in Barbarano Romano.... 

And then sometimes we would eat at La Grotta Azzura, where for years Truman dined every Thursday, cared for in generous terms by Nazareno, and often surrounded by family, and by beautiful women.....  

We left Trevignano in 1995, to bring our children up nearer to their grandparents, but Truman remained a surrogate grandad to our girls, and a great friend to the last.  When I left, I remember saying that I would not be able to join him for his ninetieth birthday party, but that I would be there for his hundredth.

And we made it.  Indeed that was a great party (please see a separate blog piece) and he was in superb form that night, passing for a man a good decade or two less than the anagrafe would allow.....

It is hard to believe that that was nearly ten years ago already.  Of course the years began to tell, and he was less quick on his feet, and the recent scourge of the pandemic affected both him and his family in that contact and interaction were limited and he needed to be cared for by professionals.  But the last time I saw him he was as bright (almost) as ever.  I called on him at his little apartment in the old part of the village, up the steep steps to his front door one hot morning.  I knocked on the door and, after some shuffling he stood before me, dressed in a ten gallon hat and a sort of dhoti, beaming welcome.  We agreed a meeting in the evening and sure enough we met on time, drank Jack Daniels and continued on to a convivial dinner.  As ever, conversation was focussed and from time to time his eyes sparkled with mischievous fun.  

If only time could stand still, and we could meet again.

We cannot escape the sadness that falls around us when friends pass.  But then we have to remember the good times.  I write this with a tear in my eye, a glass of Jack Daniels on ice in my hand, and Peggy Lee singing Is That All There Is?

As I said before, "Hey, that's my wife!"

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

Songwriters: Leiber Jerry / Stoller Mike

I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

In Memoriam A. H. H. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Truman and Hannah in 1991 (that's him on the left!)

With love to all the family and wonderful memories of a top friend.

For more....


  1. Richard,

    Very nice thank you! Roger and Giovanna

  2. Richard,

    Thanks! Very nice!

    Roger and Giovanna