Don’t Fear the Reaper: 250 Anecdotes

Introduction: Notes Left Behind

  • In August 2007, six-year-old Elena Desserich died of a rare form of brain cancer known as brainstem glioma that afflicts mostly children. Her father, Keith, said, “They told us at the very beginning that she had 135 days to live.” As the brain tumor progressed, Elena lost the ability to speak, but she retained the ability to draw and to write notes to her parents and to her younger sister, Grace, to say, “I love you.” Her mother, Brooke, said, “That was her way to [let] us know everything would be OK.” After Elena died, her family discovered that Elena had left notes hidden in the house for them to find. Keith said that “they would be in between CDs or between books on our bookshelf. We started to collect them, and they would all say ‘I love you Mom, Dad, and Grace.’ We kept finding them, and still to this day, we keep finding them.” Elena was clever in choosing hiding places for the notes. Keith said, “She would tuck them into bookcases, tuck them into dishes, china you don’t touch every year and you’d lift it up and there’d be a note in it.” Each parent has a sealed note that has never been opened. Keith explained, “We always want to know that there’s one more note that we haven’t read yet.” Keith has written a book titled Notes Left Behind: 135 Days with Elena about Elena’s notes. It includes the journal that he wrote during Elena’s last days so that her sister Grace would have something to remember her by. Profits from the book go to the Desserichs’ cancer foundation: The Cure Starts Now. Keith said, “They [readers] should take the time to listen and not get caught up in the day’s rush. […] I’ll never forget that lesson. Wish I would’ve learned it earlier.”[1]

Activism

  • In February 2011 protesters massed in Madison, Wisconsin, in response to Wisconsin’s union-busting governor, Scott Walker, a Republican, who gave massive tax cuts to businesses, then declared a fiscal emergency and tried to make ordinary employees be the ones to pay for the tax cuts. His way of doing that was to remove the collective bargaining rights of many public employees. According to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, some public employees — the kind who tend to be Republicans — would still retain their collective bargaining rights. Being a protester means staying on the scene for long periods of time, and of course protesters get hungry. Ian’s Pizza in Madison, Wisconsin, received a request at 3:30 a.m., asking if it had any leftover pizza. It did, and so the hungry protesters got fed. Word got around that Ian’s Pizza had gone above and beyond what an ordinary place of business would probably do at 3:30 a.m., and soon orders flooded in from people who wanted to order pizzas to be given to the protesters — a way of showing support for them. On Saturday, February 19, Ian’s delivered more than 300 pizzas to the protesters. The calls to order pizzas for the protesters came from both near and far. The far places included Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Korea, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the UK. Ian’s Facebook page thanked the people who wanted to feed the protesters and added, “Believe us when we say we are not really accustomed to getting pizza orders from the entire country (let alone internationally!)”[2]
  • Riot Grrrl Suzy Corrigan was bullied in high school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fortunately, some punk girls came to her rescue by telling the bully, “If you have a problem with her, then we have a problem with you.” Many of the girls in her high school were annoyed when a man started passing out anti-abortion propaganda just outside of school grounds. A few girls asked him why he was creeping around schoolgirls who were way too young for him. Many girls discovered that the propaganda could be chewed up into spitballs, which they launched at him with McDonald’s straws.[3]
  • When Joan Baez was 23 years old and already a successful folk singer, she publicly announced that she would no longer pay in federal income taxes the 60 percent that went to armaments. Of course, the federal government sent tax collectors to each of her concerts to get money to pay for its war machine, but at least Ms. Baez had made the government aware of her beliefs. (The government also had to spend money to collect the money — money that would otherwise have gone to armaments.)[4]
  • Feminist and riot grrrl Red Chidgey performed a notable piece of activism one Valentine’s Day. She set up a table as if for a dinner party complete with plates and silverware settings. On each plate she had written two things: 1) a myth of rape and 2) a reality of rape. The activism was successful: Many people worked their way around the table, reading each plate.[5]

Actors

  • When Bette Davis — not widely regarded as beautiful — first arrived in Hollywood, the official greeter did not meet her. Oh, the official greeter was at the train station, but as he explained later, “No one faintly like an actress got off the train.” By the way, Ms. Davis wanted to rise to the top of whatever field she was in and to be the best she could be. She once said, “If Hollywood didn’t work out, I was all prepared to be the best secretary in the world.”[6]
  • Comedian Bert Lahr worried about other actors trying to steal a scene from him, so when he was a star other performers were under orders not to move when he was speaking. Once, he complained to a theatrical producer that a certain actor had been moving, but the producer denied that. Mr. Lahr said, “You’re wrong. Tonight he was moving his facial muscles.”[7]
  • When Audrey Hepburn appeared as Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady, she was made to appear dirty as the flower girl Eliza. Her costume was made to appear dirty, and it even appeared that she had dirt under her fingernails. However, Ms. Hepburn always insisted on wearing perfume although she was otherwise in character.[8]
  • Sometimes Tallulah Bankhead had a weak grasp of reality, as when she said, “Cocaine isn’t habit-forming. I should know — I’ve been using it for years.” At other times, she had a firm grasp of reality; for example, in her later years, when a fan asked if she was really the “famous Tallulah,” she replied, “What’s left of her.”[9]
  • While Bob Hope was filming The Road to Hong Kong, he met Zsa Zsa Gabor, who told him, “Bob, darlink, I understand that there is the most vonderful part in your picture for me.” Mr. Hope replied, “There sure is, honey. We’ll have it written tomorrow.” Then Mr. Hope told his writers to create a part for Ms. Gabor.[10]

[1] Source: Karin Johnson, “Family Finds Letters From 6-Year-Old After Cancer Claims Her Proceeds From Book To Go Toward Cancer Research.” WLWT.com. 10 December 2008 <http://www.wlwt.com/health/18248330/detail.html&gt;. Also: “Girl’s ‘Notes Left Behind’ Made Into Book: Elena Desserich Left Parents Notes Before She Died.” WLWT.com. 28 October 2009 <http://www.wlwt.com/family/21429609/detail.html&gt;. Also: “Young Artist Loses Fight With Rare Brain Cancer.” WLWT.com. 13 August 2007 <http://www.wlwt.com/news/13882934/detail.html&gt;.

[2] Source: Paul Krugman, “Wisconsin Power Play.” New York Times. 20 February 2011 <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/opinion/21krugman.html?_r=1&ref=paulkrugman&gt;. Also: Ian’s Pizza by the Slice. Facebook. <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ians-Pizza-by-the-Slice/72866932924?v=wall&gt;. Accessed on 22 February 2011.

[3] Source: Suzy Corrigan, “Art, Politics and How One Grrrl Joined the Feminist Riot,” pp. 154-156, 158. Collected in this book: Nadine Monem, editor. Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now!

[4] Source: Roxane Orgill, Shout, Sister, Shout!, pp. 77-78.

[5] Source: Red Chidgey, “Riot Grrrl Writing,” p. 101. Collected in this book: Nadine Monem, editor. Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now!

[6] Source: Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes, pp. 47-48.

[7] Source: Darryl Lyman, The Jewish Comedy Catalog, p. 142.

[8] Source: Stanley Holloway, Wiv a Little Bit O’ Luck, pp. 210-211.

[9] Source: Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer’s Book of Quotes, p. 15.

[10] Source: Bob Hope, The Road to Hollywood, p. 91.

 

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