W.C. Fields & Me
Posted October 21, 2009on:
Oh how I wish I had a straw hat to wear today.
Yes, this is the opening day for the Association of Personal Historians’ annual conference, which this year is in Philadelphia. It would have been my fifth conference, but alas, not this year.
Of course, I want all my buddies in APH to have a great time, learn a lot and just enjoy five days with folks, who like me, see stories anywhere and everywhere. We can learn from all of life experiences – good, bad and ugly.
Just a year ago at the conference in Salt Lake City (or was it two years ago in Portland?) a speaker challenged us to write and preserve our own stories, not just the histories/memoirs of our clients.
She made the point that we can be like the cobbler’s children who have no shoes. We capture these important stories for others, but not for ourselves and for our own families.
I can attest to that. There are big holes in what I know about my own family’s history.
And a year later, I am capturing my story through this blog. I find myself weaving in bits of my early life as I write about what’s going on with me today.
So why do I want a straw hat? It was the trademark of comedian W.C. Fields, who responded to a question in Vanity Fair magazine in 1925 about what he wanted on his gravestone: “Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia.”
According to Wikipedia and other sources, the line was an apparent reference to an old vaudeville joke: “I would rather be dead than play Philadelphia.”
William Claude Dukenfield was born in Philly in 1880 and made his living with jokes about his hometown. According to Wikipedia, he said in the movie My Little Chickadee: “I’d like to see Paris before I die… Philadelphia would do!”
The quote about his grave was stretched over time to, “I would rather be here than in Philadelphia.” Also attributed to him was “Philadelphia, wonderful town, spent a week there one night.” Apparently, he never said either of those lines.
And when he died, W.C. Fields was cremated and his ashes buried in Forest Lawn, the cemetery for the stars in California. What did his marker say? “W. C. Fields 1880 – 1946”
As I have chemo on Friday, I definitely will say, “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
And you can quote me on that one.
Oh, let me add one thing: Each year at Passover, Jews say, “Next year may we be in Jerusalem.” While I have not had a burning desire to visit Israel (I’m a chicken), I have to say that much of my life right now is thinking about next year.
As I’ve said and written before (I think), it is not good to wish your life away – meaning don’t rush; enjoy each minute – but I think chemotherapy is an exception. Let’s get is over with.
But once this is done, I want to celebrate and will entertain suggestions – even visiting Philadelphia or the next place where the APH conference will be held.
Of course, I also want to visit family and friends. I’ll entertain suggestions once again.