Saturday, March 5, 2016

Pat Conroy is gone now...

Last night, Bill and I went to the local steak joint, not realizing that there was going to be a concert.  We ended up spending 30 euros in addition to what we paid for dinner to listen to a German guy named David Hanselmann.  He was backed up by two familiar musicians who play at Tommi's all the time.  We hadn't planned to go to the concert; we just wanted to have dinner.  We ended up crashing a four top table with a German couple who spoke English and told us about Hanselmann, who evidently is a well known singer here and suffers from cancer.  At first, we thought he was American because he spoke perfect English with no accent.  He sang a lot of great songs from the 70s and 80s and we really had a good time.

I woke up to the news of death this morning.  Two famous people died yesterday, both of cancer.  One was 40 year old country singer Joey Feek, of Joey + Rory fame, whose battle with cervical cancer was chronicled by her husband in a blog.  I didn't follow the Feeks' career, but knew about them because several of my friends are fans and shared the news about them.  It sounded like Joey Feek went through some pretty tough times as she fought cancer.  I know her family is sad to see her go, but maybe there is relief that she is no longer in so much pain.

The second death was Pat Conroy's.  He was 70 years old and had very recently announced that he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  When I heard about his illness, I knew he wasn't long for the world.  Pancreatic cancer is devastating and has a very high mortality rate.  I didn't expect Pat would be dead within just a couple of weeks of his announcement, though.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you may know that I've long been a big fan of Pat Conroy's.  We had a lot in common.  We were both children of abusive military officers.  We lived in some of the same places.  Pat Conroy was a graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.   My father and quite a few other relatives graduated from The Citadel's arch enemy, Virginia Military Institute.  When I read about Conroy's experiences in a military college, I was reminded of the stories my dad told me about his time at VMI.  I couldn't follow in his footsteps when I went to college because VMI was all men back in those days.  Even if I could have attended, I doubt I would have.  Like Pat Conroy, I don't have much regard for authority.  Bill and I did get married at VMI, though.  The Lords of Discipline meant a lot to me because of the mark VMI left on my dad and other loved ones.

Pat Conroy taught English on an island off the coast of South Carolina.  I taught English in Armenia as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Amazingly enough, Pat also applied to serve, but either was rejected or never got a response.  So he taught people who needed him in his own country and then turned that experience into the wonderful book, The Water Is Wide.

Although I didn't exactly have the same military brat experience my sisters had, I have experienced life as an Army wife.  That's why The Great Santini left such an impact on me.  And The Prince of Tides was my first taste of Conroy's vivid and expressive writing.  When I finished it, I knew I wanted to read more.  I was not as impressed with Conroy's latest novel, South of Broad, but I loved all of his non-fiction works.  In fact, I think his non-fiction works moved me a lot more than his novels ever did.  I also loved reading about Conroy's experiences with food.  His use of language was so sensual and tactile.  You could almost taste what he described.  Whether the food he wrote about was decadent or disgusting, he had a way of making his readers experience it though words that wrung out every possible sensation of what they described.

I've read just about everything Pat Conroy ever published.  He had such a gift for expressing himself with words, even if his novels were basically the same characters placed in similar stories.  I remember lying in bed in Armenia and losing myself in his novel, Beach Music.  That book was long and convoluted, with many different stories within it.  It made me laugh as much as it grieved me.  Later, when I married Bill and watched his daughters abandon him in the wake of their parents' divorce, I was reminded of Beach Music and Conroy's own daughter, Susannah, who became estranged after he and his second wife divorced.

Pat was married three times.  His third wife is the author Cassandra King.  I wonder what it's been like for her to be married to Pat Conroy, especially with all the family baggage he carried.  He was definitely a complicated man who struggled with a lot of personal demons.  He ate and drank too much.  He suffered from depression.  His health failed, although I just found an article from August 2015 about how his health was on the rebound.  I guess he was in denial.  Today, the day after his death, I find it eerie to read about how just a few months ago, he'd been trying to get healthier.  He even opened his own gym.

Like Pat Conroy was, I am no fan of visiting doctors.  I haven't seen one in about six years.  I may end up suffering a fate like Conroy's myself.  In fact, I told Bill last night that I'd be surprised if I outlive him, even though a number of my family members have lived long lives.  As much as I hate the idea of going to see doctors in the United States, I'm even more hesitant to do it in Germany.  I've heard and read a lot of horror stories.

Well, this post is getting kind of morose.  I'm having trouble composing my thoughts this morning and I probably shouldn't sit here and dwell too much on the many great people who have already died this year.  All it does is make me depressed and remind me that I'm getting older.  Cancer sucks.  It's stolen too many great souls.

Rest in peace, Pat.  Maybe later, I will think of a more profound way to express how I'm feeling about the news that you're gone.


  1. RIP, Pat Conroy. The concert sounds as though it was fun.

    1. It was. I wrote about it on my travel blog.


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