Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Speech, speech!

Today I had to speak at Leonard Pennario's funeral. It was just the latest unbelievable experience in a very emotional week.

I was standing there at the lectern just about blanking out, looking at the casket covered with flowers, thinking: A year ago, I didn't even know this man. Ten months ago, I didn't know this man. This all happened so fast. Now I am standing before a chapel full of people, having to eulogize this brilliant, complicated, absurd, miraculous being, trying to put into words what made him great, what made me love him.

Let me tell you, it was not easy.

Because this Episcopal minister who had taken charge of the ceremony was in the front row, and he kept catching my eye and pointing at his watch. What a nightmare! I had been talking only two minutes! I had a stroke against me because one of Leonard's friends who couldn't make it to the ceremony faxed in a speech and I had been asked to read that in addition to making my remarks, and I am afraid the minister had counted that as part of my time. No fair. No fair!

How can you concentrate on what you're saying when as soon as you stand up, you're being given the hook?

This minister, Rev. Thomas Vanderslice, had flown in from I think Chicago and told us to call him Father Tom. He was a close friend of Leonard's -- that was why, as I understand it, the ceremony was Episcopal instead of Catholic -- so we were all nice to him. But he flew out right after the ceremony. He didn't even go to the lunch. Now I wonder if all the brevity was all about his making his return flight. The rest of us didn't care. We had nowhere we had to be. I have been speaking my mind to everyone this week and before the ceremony I argued with the Rev. Vanderslice that so many people had come from out of town, they would want something substantial, they wouldn't need to be out of here in, say, 35 minutes.

The reverend just kind of looked me up and down, probably thinking: I wonder where Leonard picked her up.

Everyone was probaby wondering that by the end of my speech, which was hurried and nerveracked. But then, Father Tom's speech was no great shakes either.

He told this odd story that Leonard Pennario hated to be called Lenny. I mean, that was just wrong. Pennario made this speech to me once that I thought very sweet and kind of awkward. He explained to me that he thought "Leonard" sounded so formal and that he liked being called Lenny. I am pretty sure that was a hint to me to call him Lenny but somehow I kept calling him Leonard. I was used to calling him that. That, or LP. Sometimes I called him LP.

A few people older than I am said that Leonard told them to call him "Uncle Lenny." No such invitation was ever issued to me, which I have to say made me smile.

The nice thing was, at the lunch that followed the funeral, everyone was so gracious, so welcoming to me. I took down dozens of names and phone numbers of people who would like to talk to me for the book. And more than few of Leonard's friends said they had heard of me, of this gal who came out to California to be with Leonard for three months last winter, who was writing his biography. They said Leonard was so happy about it, so excited about it. And they said they liked my talk. They said it was from the heart. Which was very nice of them.

Still, I really wish I hadn't had to deal with that minister and his watch-pointing.

Howard says I should have said, into the mic, "Excuse me, do you have something you would like to say, before I continue?"

Either that or: "Leonard told me not to let you ruin his funeral."

But I was nice.

I hope I get points in heaven because of that, and God lets me see Leonard again.


Anonymous said...

After reading this, I think the minister's behavior was very unfortunate and your behavior was very classy. You honored Leonard and that was the most important thing. Good job.

Anonymous said...

Just found out Leonard "finished the race" while looking for a recording. He was always "Len" to me and he knew me since I was born. I never knew anyone to call him Lenny, and I spent a lot of time with this wonderful man and his brother. As a pastor, I'm sorry there were difficulties with what should have been a joyous celebration of Witness to the Resurrection!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Goldman

Having known "Fr. Tom" far better than I wish, I am sorry you had this experience with this narcissistic deceitful man. It's always "all about" him. I knew him from the vantage point of being the Sr. Warden in a church he (dis)served. My nickname for him is "Vanderslies". I think that says it all.