Saying a final goodbye to a treasured friend is never easy. Audrey Clarke was my English pen pal when we were in our young teens. (Do kids today with their text-messaging, etc., have pen pals?) Later we met many times over the years. She set the date of her London wedding for Thanksgiving weekend so I could be a witness as she married. (Her husband died a few years earlier than she.)
Audrey loved the United States, especially San Francisco, her favorite city in all the world—and having traveled widely, she had seen many of the world’s metropolises. Early on she insisted that one day she wanted her ashes scattered in San Francisco Bay. So it came as no surprise that before she died she arranged for that to happen. Several months after a ceremony celebrating her life in England, her friend Tony Feld arrived in San Francisco with her last remains.
I and another friend met him at Pier 40 where the three of us boarded a 25-foot boat manned by two very personable young men. Getting Wilma and her arthritic knees into the boat was no easy task, but we managed. It was a beautiful day, though a bit warm. We cruised the bay to the far side of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the young men plied us with food and drinks as the other piloted the boat. The pilot suggested we actually scatter the ashes in a small cove very near the bridge as the wind was likely calmer there. He cut the motor; I read Dylan Thomas’s “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” to mark the occasion. (Audrey, originally from Northern Ireland, was reared as a Catholic, but as an adult she had little patience with organized religion. However, I thought she would appreciate something.) Some of my favorite lines:
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
. . .
They shall have stars at elbow and foot
. . .
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
Tony emptied the urn into the water and said “Goodbye, Audrey” and it was over.
As we returned to Pier 40, we swung around Alcatraz Island where the buildings looked naked and bleak. Back on the dock, we again struggled to get Wilma off the boat, but managed with a strong young shoulder to lean on. All in all, it was a lovely excursion. Audrey would have loved it—except for the unseasonably warm sun. She never handled heat well. . . .