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Dan Aaron - - Dear Friend PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, June 16 2016 10:43

One of my dearest friends died last week.  He had been one hundred and three years old.

I considered knowing Daniel Aaron a blessing. About himself, he had many things to say, virtually all worth keeping.

Some of them he put in a small folder called “Mortuary Airs.”

“Can you tell me what it’s like to die?”

“I’ll try, but not the dying part—

Rather the charm of being dead

After you’ve sawn through bars,

Cast off what encumbers,

And sailed past stars

Anonymous as numbers.”


He also coined a short playful set of words “DANIEL’S DICTIONARY.” Here he packed those like “airling,” “blackguard,” “daymare,” “gorbelly,” “munge,” and “quawk.”

I was not equal to his wordsmith character but he allowed me the pleasure of it all. Of course he wrote bigger stuff for the academy than I could ever do.  His “The Americanist” was a special memoir to let him be known to what he had accomplished.

That Dan was so accomplished in the world of study (whereas I was not) did not hurt our conversation.  For some twenty years, we talked together, each of us enjoying the other’s ideas and discoveries.

Most of the time we sat up close in his office.  That’s where he went virtually every day, even when his health was violated. Sometimes, in warm weather, I would take him to a small park where he could enjoy the shade and the sun.

On one such occasion I remember worrying about tipping him from his traveling chair on to the sidewalk. Had he fallen, that would have caused me trouble galore.

When we were together I especially enjoyed the history that he and I shared much of. Since his birth went back to 1912 and mine to 1928 we could discuss a whole lot of what had happened.

In his earlier time as a professor, Dan taught during the years at Smith in the years 1939 - 1971.  From then on he became a Harvard faculty member.  One could not have expected he would last so long after staying as a retired person.

He held his knowledge remarkably long thanks to his powerful abilities. I loved hearing him use his prose and poetry. My own such use did not compare with his.

However he did have interest in what I knew. As a former Jesuit. I could tell him a fare amount about thingsCatholic . Though he was Jewish, he did not stress it in much of our conversation.

I enjoyed hearing Dan recite the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. That Jesuit favorite of mine also pleased him greatly.

The “Windhover” caught his special interest as it did mine. “I caught this morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” was one of the lines that he had memorized long before and kept with the rest of it.

He knew well the Catholic novelist J. F. Powers who had a following during the middle 1950s. That writer helped him understand some of the clergy and the laity during that era.

We both loved politics and reached back for memories of politicians he knew either directly or by recall.  FDR got a lot of our interest but so did Foster Furculo (a Massachusetts Governor based in the western part of the state.)

When I gave Dan a copy of my memoir, in 2010, he received it with pleasure.  In fact, he placed a copy of it on his desk where it drew interest.  I was not sure that all the parts of this effort held his interest but it seemed to come close.

I would have enjoyed his times of producing his best books.  And hearing from him the times that he traveled and came close to his famous literati.