Sunday, May 01, 2016

In memoriam, Frank Miller

Friday evening a bunch of Slavist and other sundry geeks gathered at Columbia to celebrate the life of Frank Miller. And celebrate we did.

I went there sensing that, whatever Frank stories I had, they probably weren't extensive enough to merit trying to grab the mike, even if it was an open mike affair, which it wasn't, though exceptions were made. But there was no need. Excellent stories abounded, of Frank's jokes, devotion to his students and colleagues, and generally infectiously good spirits.

For me, the best moment came from Jason Galie, who recounted a trip to Frank's lakeside dacha upstate sometime back in the aughts. Frank drove them up there, they got their stuff out of the car and into the house, and then Frank took Jason out behind the house to a blueberry bush that was laden with berries, and they proceeded to stand there and eat berries off the bush for an hour, while Frank launched into a deeply Frankish discussion of blueberries, lingonberries, and god knows whatever berries, then the conversation moved on to rodents, fish, trees, folklore, and, almost certainly, interludes of the scabrous.

There were plenty of other poignant moments. Frank's sister told of lying in bed with him the day before he died, listening to opera, and Frank telling her that if he had it all to do over again, that he would be an opera singer because, for him, "opera sparkled."  Lynn Visson told of him laying in bed in his last week meticulously preparing for his upcoming lessons. Elizabeth McLendon spoke of the deep bond Frank had formed with her family in their shared native South Carolina, of how Frank had becoming and adoptive sibling and never forgot her mother's birthday.

There were plenty of allusions to the jokes but, for the most part, people exercised restraint in actually telling them. Or, if they couldn't do that, they left out the punchlines.

I don't know. There were lots of great stories. I'm sure I've already lost many of the most important details. The main tenor was the strength of devotion and relationships Frank fostered with a bunch of folks. Frank was one of those people for whom, so long as you were on his good side (and I remember a select few who weren't), whomever he was talking to was his best friend, and I mean that in the very best way.  He is, and will be, deeply missed.

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