May 19, 2014
For me it began with Laurie Frazer, a raw-boned, loud high school kid who was involved with a group of teens trying to put on a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” only they didn’t have a clue as to how they would accomplish this. Someone contacted my dear friend Art Gorman, a composer and musician. Could he help? Art and I couldn’t have known that call for help would alter our lives. We took on the project and became known as the “Underground Superstar,” by Chicago Tribune rock critic, Lynn Van Matre.
So Laurie Frazer decided I was the perfect candidate to be her older sister Pam’s boyfriend and she brought me home to dinner, in Winnetka, and I met my true family, over chicken ala king. And since Pam and I are siblings you know how that part came out. That fateful chicken ala king dinner would lead to countless adventures, in Winnetka and at their summer cabin, Frazer Lodge (room for seventeen), in Deer River, Minnesota, hometown of Judy Garland and, after Dick died, in Dover, New Hampshire, where Mardean moved to be closer to her kids.
Meet the Frazers: Dick Sr., deceased, one of many extremely eccentric Frazer men, prone to baiting liberals into robust debate; Mardean, his lovely wife with lovely black hair, who casually ruled the house from a command wing chair in the living room; Georgette, the oldest sister and the most practical, then away at college; Laurie, of course; Marion, model gorgeous and a typical teen, if there can be such a creature; and Eddy Jane, named after her uncle Ed, now called Edorah except I still call her Eddy, who was tiny and very funny, and I would end up carrying her to her bed and reading her to sleep. And there was one brother, Dick Jr., who was away at college, and his vacant bedroom would become a playhouse for me and extended Frazer clan.
Mardean died last night; this is my love song to her. She had a stroke a few months ago and was increasingly weak. How she feared strokes. And she is gone. She died in her 1700’s farmhouse, outside of Dover, a place I had been visiting every August and a few Christmases, for decades.
Mardean brought in stray animals and stray people. Her houses jumped with dogs and cats. Over many years the animal cast changed, from Spock and Foxy and Petey the cat to Juno and Shadow and Punkin Kitty and Seven the cow and many, many more. I remember an August in New Hampshire when there five cats and four dogs, all of them sleeping on or around Petey, who had maternal instincts of the highest order. I remember my guest room teeming with fleas, my skin alive with fleas, and Mardean saying, “Oh Blue, they’re just fleas.”
Our kid production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” was a smash hit. Mardean was the parent in chief, championing the cause and talking other parents into giving Art and me their kids, for long tours. I became artist in residence at the Frazer home. I composed the “Frazer Lodge Loyalty Song,” for the Minnesota cabin, for the sum of a case of beer. I sang at Laurie’s wedding.
On the night Dick died my wife Barbara and I were driving to the Frazer house, for an evening of games—Dick loved games and winning. We arrived at the house, along with an ambulance, and just like that our friend had passed. I remember sitting with him in the living room when Marion’s date arrived. The date was asked if he wanted a drink. No. Dick looked at me with his deep-set eyes and winked and said to the hapless boy, “Ahem, what is your intention with my daughter? Sex?” The hapless boy began to tremble and Marion came running down the stairs, shouting, “Daddy!”
Mardean’s command chair allowed for half-sitting, as cats and dogs took up the other half. She sipped rotgut sherry in an elegant aperitif glass, all day long. I never saw her even tipsy. At Frazer Lodge, her daughters would hold an intervention for her, and she quit cold turkey. She also gave up smoking. She loved smoking. Five years ago, in New Hampshire, in a new command chair, she asked me to light my pipe so she could smell the smoke. She would take hold of my beer can hand and smell the beer. She said she couldn’t wait to get a terminal disease so she could drink and smoke again.
Of all the human strays, including Art and me, the most memorable was a drunken motorcycle, Hells angel—looking guy, in a steakhouse/bar in Minnesota. We had driven there because Dick had thrown me out of Frazer Lodge for being a liberal. He did this with some frequency. And always, we would leave, wait a couple of hours, and all was forgotten. On this night, the motorcycle guy was falling down drunk. Mardean watched him for awhile then she walked to him, put her hands on his shoulders and whispered. And he came home with us. He slept it off.
Political debates were a feature of all Frazer homes. They could be quite heated, with lots of shouting and passion. But they all ended the same way: “Good night.” My dad and his wife visited Frazer Lodge one summer, and Dad used the occasion to verbally abuse and attack me. Mardean and Dick were aghast. Mardean wanted the National Endowment for the Arts to be killed. When I told her my funding for educating kids came from there, she said she’d support me but no one else. Debates were entertainment, not war.
Pam’s ex-husband Leo is a New Hampshire Democrat and sometime politician. He was looking for a place to entertain Walter Mondale, who was running for president. Mardean volunteered her house, which is how she and Mondale became friends. She had been afraid, she told me later, that the floors of her three hundred-year-old house were going to collapse and Walter Mondale would end up in the cellar. Yes, she championed Republicans. She also contributed to Leo’s campaigns and listened respectfully to my puny points of view.
Mardean always had tough men who lived near her homes, that could fix faulty electrical circuits or do plumbing or cut firewood. In Minnesota, that man was Walt, a taciturn, gruff woodsman with a heart of gold. New Hampshire required two men, Moe, a colorful local fahmah with a New England accent you could only understand if you watched his lips, and Peter Earle, a trash scavenging guy from Maine who moved into the guest house and never left. I never served as handyman; artists in residence don’t have such skills.
She almost singlehandedly supported the Dover no-kill shelter. She volunteered, often adopting any animal which she held. She said the shelter was a hotbed of liberals; they needed a conservative hand at the tiller. She grew up in class-conscious Winnetka. She and Dick played cards with W. Clement Stone. They played Scrabble with me. They treated all people with equal kindness. I told Laurie to introduce me as Gene. She introduced me as Blue, my nickname, and Blue it was. They came to parties at Barbara’s and my apartment, and the room would be filled with hippie musicians, and Mardean and Dick always wore their Sunday best, suit and tasteful dress, and they would clap and sing along and listen.
She was a humanist, a jingoist, a Capitalist, a Transcendentalist. She dated Charlton Heston, Chuckie, in high school. So many interesting, memorable people have I met, through my friend. Her daughters and son are my sisters and brother.
She loved sweets. If I said no ice cream or candy or pie while I was there, she would put Peppermint Patties on my bedspread and bring me homemade blueberry pie and Hershey bars with almonds. She never met a sundae she didn’t like.
She collected representations of pigs. I bought her a pig every time I came. She had pig dish cloth holders, pig earrings, pig coffee mugs, chocolate pigs that didn’t survive the candy shops they came from, pig book marks, pig baubles, pig jigsaw puzzles, pig refrigerator magnets, pig whistles.
She set free flies, mosquitoes and ticks. She abhorred cruelty. She said, “It’s good to have a man in the house.” She said, of my girlfriend Caroline, “She’s the woman for you, Blue.” She was right. I dumped Caroline, of course.
Our favorite restaurants were the Indian restaurant in Dover, the Loaf and Ladle (best homemade soup ever) in Exeter and a giant seafood house on the estuary that served eye-popping portions of fried clams and cod and calamari and—my favorite—scallops. She bought me my first lobster. We visited Salem, Worcester, Boston, Portland, Wolfboro, CapesCod and Anne, the mountains, the sea, LakeWinnepesaukee, the lighthouses, the artist’s stores, the homemade ice cream shops—especially the Dam Ice Cream Store below Mount Washington. We watched “America’s Got Talent.” We played games.
Life is a game.
And she is gone.
A way of life is gone. I fell in love with New Hampshire, with its mountains and wilderness, my upstairs bedroom overlooking the wetlands above the dam, with the acres of wild blueberries that flourished in her ponds and “back forty,” with the dump dating to the Revolutionary Wars, filled with old bottles and antique farm implements. Mardean loved the views but was not keen on walking. I was her eyes, in far-flung places. She loved hearing about the moose but not tracking the moose. She was a subscriber to virtually all animal and nature causes. Thank God she adopted strays.
She rests in Blue.