The Midnight Ghost Train Calling it Quits; Final Shows Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on April 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

This was a special band. If you ever saw them live, you know what I’m talking about. The first time I saw them, I was drunk as a skunk in a Bayonne, New Jersey, firemen’s hall or VFW or whatever it was. They were playing with a buddy’s band called L.O.M.F., and they took the stage, did “John the Revelator,” and blew my addled mind. This had to be around 2008, because I’m pretty sure that’s where I picked up their The Johnny Boy EP (review here). Over the next several years, I’d come to find out that the raucous kicking of such ass was just kind of how it went for The Midnight Ghost Train. Standard procedure.

Fronted by the gravely-voiced Steve Moss, The Midnight Ghost Train would go on to tour the world and release four full-lengths: a 2009 self-titled debut (review here), 2012’s Buffalo (review here), 2015’s Cold was the Ground (review here) and 2017’s Cypress Ave. (review here). With Moss and drummer Brandon Burghart joined by a succession of bassists — Mike Boyne was the last of them and an excellent fit in the band — each record was a step forward from the last, and they never put out the same album twice. As much as their reputation rested on their live delivery, and rightly so for the madness that ensued on stage and the electrifying nature of Moss’ player-persona, they could always be counted on to showcase thoughtful creative progression in their songwriting as well.

I could go on, but the point is I’ve covered The Midnight Ghost Train for a decade. Saw them open for Truckfighters in Philly and stood close enough to the stage to get hit by Moss’ hair as he headbanged. Watched them through the door at Roadburn Festival because the room was too packed to get in. I never saw them give less than their everything on stage. Never. And while I’m glad they drop the hint that they might return at some point in the future, and while I wish them luck in whatever endeavors they might undertake, I hope they do take a few years’ break and come back stronger than ever, I’m even gladder I’ll get to see what seems to be their final performance at Maryland Doom Fest 2018 this June.

As they’d also been confirmed for Electric Funeral Fest III in Denver on June 29, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening there, but in the band’s farewell message, they list three shows, and MDDF is the last one. Here’s that note from the band, who will be missed:

the midnight ghost train

IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO ALL FANS:
It is with a heavy heart that we announce to you that The Midnight Ghost Train is hanging it up and saying goodbye. Our personal family lives have become more important to us than being on the road. We feel content and successful in what we have built in the past ten years, our amazing dedicated fan base being our greatest achievement. We respect our fans and our music, so we’ve decided it is time to say goodbye.

We will be finishing our career as The Midnight Ghost Train with three final shows. So if you want to see us perform one last time giving you every piece of our soul that’s left, here are your chances:

June 22-Topeka, KS @ J&Js Gallery
June 23- Newport, KY @ SGHR
With our final show being
June 24- @ The Maryland Doom Festival

Maybe we will come back some day down the road, and storm back to the stage better than ever, but at this time that plan is not in place for the distant future. Right now we want to focus on our family lives, and continue on with our other dreams and aspirations.

Once again, thank you to all of our devoted fans for helping us achieve our dreams. Every one of you holds a special place in our hearts. We hope that we have given you the same love that you have given us.

www.facebook.com/themidnightghosttrain
www.themidnightghosttrain.com
www.napalmrecords.com
www.facebook.com/napalmrecords

The Midnight Ghost Train, “Tonight” official video

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Truckfighters Announce “Long, Long” Indefinite Hiatus

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Bummer news out of Sweden in that Örebro-based fuzz forerunners Truckfighters have decided at least for now. The band, helmed by the core founding duo of Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm and Niklas “Dango” Källgren, have spent the last decade-plus touring Europe and beyond, acting as a pioneering act proving that indeed there’s an appetite in the North American market for European heavy rock. Their latest album, V (review here), was the first in a licensing alliance between their own Fuzzorama Records imprint and Century Media. It may well be their last.

Hard to say what the ultimate impact of Truckfighters‘ work will have been — Cedermalm and Källgren working with a succession of drummers including Oscar “Pezo” Johansson, who was featured in the 2012 band-doc Fuzzomentary (review here) and would go on to do a stint in Witchcraft  — because, frankly, it’s still shaking out. Truckfighers made their debut in 2005 with Gravity X (discussed here), and between that and their ultra-well-earned reputation for on-stage calisthenics as captured on the 2016 live album Live in London (review here), delivering flawless sets while headbanging, jumping up and down — Dango could get some air — and generally physically engaging with their audience and their music itself, their influence continues to spread not only throughout Sweden, but greater Europe and the US as well. A new generation of fuzz rockers might have come along one way the other, but there’s no question its shape would be much different without Truckfighters spending the better art of the last decade on the road so actively kicking ass.

Truckfighters‘s studio work also became increasingly progressive over their five albums, Gravity X and it 2007 follow-up, Phi, signaling just the beginning of a sonic expansion that would continue steadily through 2oo9’s excellent Mania (review here), 2014’s Universe (review here), and of course V itself, which earned the band some controversy surrounding their video for “Calm Before the Storm” (posted here). That notwithstanding, V had a generally melancholic vibe in some of its tracks that left one wondering how the band would meld that with their high-energy stage presentation. As I was fortunate enough to find out for myself late in 2016 on seeing the band play in Oslo, they simply did it and it worked. I guess having more than 10 years under your belt lets you do that kind of thing and pretty much anything else you want when you’re actually just a really good band.

They pushed their sound pretty far with V, but it’s still a bummer to lose Truckfighters even for what they’re calling a “long, long” indefinite hiatus. Never say never in rock and roll — one doesn’t even have to leave Örebro to find Graveyard as an example of a band-breakup that simply didn’t stick — but if they are done, they went out on their own terms having delivered top quality performances both in the studio and on stage, and achieved worldwide notoriety and influence as a result. Frankly, that’s more than most get, when it comes right down to it. Still, they’ll be missed.

All the best to Cedermalm and Källgren going forward. Here’s their announcement from the social medias:

truckfighters

Sad news for some, but totally necessary. Truckfighters is on a long, long hiatus. Might come back stronger than ever (that’s the only way) or not at all! We’ve been releasing many albums that we’re very proud of and the key is that we’ve always played because of the pure fun out of it. That’s the only thing that counts and in the end made us do what we did so good for so many years… We’re not that kind of band continuing doing something just because we make money out of it ;)

A big THANK YOU to all the amazing fans and people we’ve meet over the years, some more amazing that others but you all deserve a big hug.

Fuzz n’ out!

http://www.truckfighters.com
https://www.facebook.com/truckfighters
https://twitter.com/truckfighters
https://www.youtube.com/user/TruckfightersTV
http://www.centurymedia.com/

Truckfighters, Live in London

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R.I.P. “Iron” Alfred Morris III, 1957-2018

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 10th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

iron man (photo by JJ Koczan)

Devastating news out of a Maryland doom community already reeling this afternoon. The passing of Iron Man founder, songwriter and guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III has been confirmed by the band:

It is with profound and immeasurable sadness that we let you know that Alfred Morris III passed away this morning. There are no other words at this time.

Morris, who would have turned 61 on March 9, had been dealing with declining health effects from an ongoing battle with diabetes over the last several years, and reportedly had an extended hospital stay in 2017 following the amputation of his left leg. While it is unknown as of this writing if this directly contributed to his death, Morris’ issues had been a major contributing factor to a stretch of inactivity on the part of the band following the release of their last full-length, South of the Earth (review here), in 2013.

Issued by respected UK purveyor Rise Above Records, that album represented a pinnacle for the long-running and influential Maryland doom outfit. With Morris’ riffs and solos ever at the center of their approach, Iron Man — founded as a Black Sabbath tribute band following Morris’ time in proto-doomers Force — issued their first demo 30 years ago in 1988 and would follow it in the subsequent years with four LPs prior to their final one: 1993’s Black Night (discussed herereissue review here), 1994’s The Passage (discussed here; reissue review here), 1999’s Generation Void (reissue review here) and 2009’s comeback outing, I Have Returned (review here), as well as a slew of EPs and other limited offerings along the way.

In addition to bringing Iron Man to a new level of prestige in terms of its release, South of the Earth also gave the band their first opportunity to play internationally, at Rise Above’s 25th anniversary celebration in London in December 2013. The band continued to make regular appearances thereafter at Maryland Doom Fest and other regional events, but would never embark on wider touring in support of the album, and word of a follow-up through Rise Above or any other label never materialized.

What the loss of a figure of Morris’ status means to the Maryland doom community can hardly be overstated. One of the longest and most loyal practitioners of the Chesapeake region’s particular brand of downtrodden riffing, in his tone and construction, Morris has served for decades as a blueprint for others to follow. To watch his smooth-grooving presence on stage and bask in the warmth of his guitar tone was to know a singular joy of traditional doom in its finest Sabbathian spirit.

On behalf of myself and this site, I wish condolences to the family, friends, current and former bandmates and fans of Alfred Morris III. He brought something special to Maryland doom that, to put it simply, will never be replaced and will be deeply missed.

“Iron” Al Morris. 1957-2018. The Riff.

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R.I.P. Rev. Jim Forrester, 1974-2017

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 19th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

rev jim forrester photo shane gardner

UPDATE 1:00PM: According to the Baltimore Sun, Jim Forrester was shot outside Baltimore Tattoo Museum, where he worked. Tina Giles Forrester also elaborated on the situation:

I know that there are many questions. I will not keep this private. I want everyone to know that Jim was murdered. He was shot to death by a gutless coward. This may seem harsh to put out there, but this piece of fucking shit is still out there. I will continue to tell each and every person until this waste of a fucking life is caught and has to look me in my eyes. I want justice. I will not stop until I have justice.

6:00AM Details are few and far between at the time of this writing, and it seems likely that one way or another some sort of memorial fund or benefit will be set up in his honor, so this post may be updated in the near future, but word has been made public about the passing of Rev. Jim Forrester, current bassist for Foghound and Serpents of Secrecy and a co-founder of Maryland-based heavy rockers Sixty Watt Shaman.

Born Dec. 5, 1974, Forrester, with his body covered in tattoos all the way up to the top of his shaved head — bandanna-clad, of course — his piercings and his wide smile, cut a figure that was both larger than life and deeply human. His wife, Tina Giles Forrester, made the announcement on social media:

Tina Giles Forrester:

I cannot convey the amount of sadness in my heart as I type this post. Tonight.. my husband was tragically ripped from my life, from all of our lives. I cannot express the amount of love he had for the music, his fellow artists, and fans. I am left with tragic sadness and a searing rage. I will use my last breath to make sure the animal who did this will be caught and held accountable for this senseless atrocity. I love you Jim Forrester my sweet dark prince.

While the exact circumstances of his death remain unknown — and from the statement above, it would seem some outside party was involved one way or another — the veteran heavy rocker had suffered numerous health problems over the course of this past year stemming from a blood clot in his liver, which he detailed here in an interview just over a week ago:

Jim Forrester on health issues:

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Sunday to be exact, I awoke from a dead sleep to the most abhorrent abdominal pain I’ve ever experienced… I had a blood clot in my portal vein (liver) that was cutting off blood flow to my liver, pancreas, intestines, and various extremities… Blood thinners saved my ass, but also caused esophageal varices to burst, resulting in me puking up half my blood supply, intubation, and a three-day medically induced coma in which I almost checked out a few times as well… Three days later I awoke to what I thought was a heart attack. Returned to the hospital to find a pulmonary embolism, and a grouping of blood clots behind my right knee. Another week in the hospital, and back home with increased blood thinners (self-administered stomach injections, very metal)…

I had liver issues back in 2012 that I had worked through, I thought pretty successfully… It’s no secret I previously was a drink and drug enthusiast (no hard drugs for years now I will note) as cliche as it is, and I managed to do some significant damage to myself over the years. At various points I’ve been a bit of a mess, and have a lot of regrets regarding that aspect of my time. That aside, I lived a pretty hard life for an extended spell, pushed myself physically in ways that have consequences, and some of that is a factor as well… (read more here)

Forrester was also waiting to undergo hip surgery in the New Year after dealing with long-term damage due in part to a past ACL tear, though again, whether or not any of this was a factor in his passing is unconfirmed.

After cutting his teeth in the mid ’90s and early ’00s in Sixty Watt Shaman, Forrester moved to from Maryland and took part in a band called Angels of Meth before eventually relocating to West Virginia and rejoining his Sixty Watt Shaman bandmate Chuck Dukehart in Foghound and Serpents of Secrecy. In 2014, Sixty Watt Shaman got back together to play Desertfest Berlin and a few other limited engagements to celebrate their three albums — Ultra Electric (1998), Seed of Decades (2000) and Reason to Live (2002) — but the reunion would be short-lived as old personal issues resurfaced and the band once again split.

In 2016, he added low-end charge to Foghound’s second album, The World Unseen, fueling a more aggressive take from that band as they made their debut on Ripple Music. The debut single from Serpents of Secrecy was released earlier in 2017 through an alliance with Salt of the Earth Records, and both groups had or have new material in progress for issue in 2018. His last performance was an acoustic set with Foghound on Dec. 17 at the Baltimore Tattoo Museum’s annual holiday party.

On behalf of this site and on behalf of myself, I send condolences and strength to Rev. Jim’s many friends, fans and of course his family. As a personal note, even aside from this recent interview, he and I have been in touch for years and I know he was excited to get his health problems behind him, get back on stage full-boar and get back in the studio to make new music with bandmates he truly loved. He was someone second to nobody in passion for what he did, and his death is a significant loss. As much as I’ve enjoyed his work over the years, I will remember more the sincerity of his character and the wholesome spirit beneath his gruff exterior, and like all who were lucky enough to know him during his time, I will miss Jim.

Rest in Peace Jim Forrester, 1974-2017.

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BREAKING: R.I.P. Jon Rossi of Pilgrim

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 27th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

pilgrim-at-roadburn-2013-Photo-by-JJ-Koczan

Confirmation has yet to surface at this time from either the band or their label, Metal Blade Records, but reports have begun to surface and tributes have begun pouring in marking the passing of guitarist/vocalist Jon Rossi of Providence, Rhode Island-based doom metallers Pilgrim. If true, Rossi’s death on Oct. 26 would follow just a day after his band joined The Obsessed and Cobalt Dusk in their hometown. He was 26 years old.

I’ll repeat that: 26 years old.

Pilgrim’s second and latest full-length, II: Void Worship (review here), was released in 2014 as the follow-up to their massively successful 2012 debut, Misery Wizard (discussed here),pilgrim-at-shod-xii-Photo-by-JJ-Koczan and pushed them to a new level of notoriety. A long tour with the reunited Spirit Caravan followed and reportedly nearly undid the trio on a financial level, but there was still hope that Rossi, who went by the stage name “The Wizard,” bassist Eric Dittrich and drummer Brad Richardson, would reconvene for a third album at some point, if one wasn’t already in the works. As there hasn’t been word from the band on Rossi’s passing, obviously any plans on their part are up in the air.

It goes without saying that the death of someone whose work had such an impact on doom, especially of one so young, is a significant loss, and on behalf of myself and this site, I’d like to send personal condolences to Rossi’s family, friends, bandmates and fans. I still remember seeing Pilgrim take the stage in New London, Connecticut, at Stoner Hands of Doom XII (review here), and though they were about half the age of everyone else playing, they absolutely owned the room.

Clearly a special band, and all the more exciting for the potential they continued to exude and the doomed spirit that was embodied in their songcraft. Rossi was a huge part of that presence, on stage and in the studio. He will be missed.

Once again, no word officially on his passing or the cause of death. As news comes in, this post will be updated with the latest.

Pilgrim, “The Paladin” official video

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Godhunter Announce Breakup

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

In no small way, the end of Godhunter is made even more of a bummer by the recent release of what will apparently serve as their swansong EP. That offering, the seven-track Codex Narco (review here), came out earlier this year via Battleground Records and Baby Tooth Records and marked a distinct broadening of aesthetic on the part of the band, who were once based in Tucson, Arizona, but who according to founding guitarist David Rodgers (interview here) had relocated as far as Washington and Georgia.

Likely that geographical challenge played a role in bringing about the band’s end, but either way, what Codex Narco represented in sound was a manifestation and further realization of the experimental impulse that Godhunter had previously shown on releases like their 2015 Endsville split with Destroyer of Light (discussed here) or their 2014 Gh/0st:S split (review here), distinct from the aggressive approach fostered through their 2014 full-length, City of Dust (review here), or their 2011 debut EP, Wolves (review here), but not entirely separate in its sense of atmosphere. Marked out by the inclusion of guest appearances by Nick Genitals of MethraCHRCH vocalist Eva Rose and Josh Thorne of Thorne, among others, it found the core three-piece of Rodgers, guitarist/keyboardist Matthew Davis and drummer Andy Kratzenberg bringing to life a sound that was as much ambient as it was scathing, and though the mood was persistently grim throughout the release — even the poppy cover of Tegan and Sara‘s “Walking with a Ghost” (video posted here) had a darker edge — it was hard not to be hopeful about what the band’s future might bring, distant though they might be in locale.

Codex Narco was already on my list of 2017’s best short releases, but it becomes especially poignant as the final offering from Godhunter (if in fact it turns out to be that; never say never in rock and roll). The band wasn’t going to make any kind of announcement, but I chased down Rodgers and basically bothered him into doing so. Sorry about that, but as a group whose creative potential it seemed was only beginning to really be explored, it seemed to me that the very least they deserved a proper sendoff. I’ll miss having the chance to hear how Godhunter might’ve followed up Codex Narco, but Rodgers has a new, extreme black metal outfit going called Taarna in Portland, OR — they recently shared the stage with righteous death metallers Vitriol — and their first demos are available now to stream. So there’s future productivity to look forward to, one way or the other.

Here’s what Rodgers had to say about the end of Godhunter:

godhunter codex narco lineup

David Rodgers on the end of Godhunter:

‘Ichi-go Ichi-e’ is a Japanese idiom that describes the idea that when people meet together for something, even if they see each other regularly, that meeting is unique and can never be replicated. It’s often translated as “for this time only” or “one chance in a lifetime.”

Since day one, back in 2009, this is something that Godhunter has always embraced both consciously and subconsciously. We have always tried to keep each musical release unique from the previous release, each piece of album art or each t-shirt design unique from that which came before.

In keeping with this idea, we have decided that this unique meeting of friends, this once in a lifetime experience, is over now. Over the past eight years we’ve given our most sincere effort to bring the world something unique, and now that we have said all that we had to say, our time as a band is over.

Thank you to everyone that shared this beautiful experience with us. You remain in our hearts forever.

http://www.facebook.com/godhuntersludge
https://battlegroundrecords.bandcamp.com
http://www.battlegroundrnr.com
https://twitter.com/BattlegroundRNR
http://instagram.com/battleground_records
https://babytoothtucson.bandcamp.com
https://www.facebook.com/babytoothtucson

Godhunter, Codex Narco (2017)

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Sophie Day Announces Departure from Alunah

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 26th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Bummer news out of the UK for fans of heavy forest rockers Alunah, and make no mistake, I consider myself to be one. Guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day has decided after 11 years to leave the band she and husband/fellow guitarist Dave Day started in 2006. Her stepping down from the frontwoman role leaves a significant void in Alunah, as she was also responsible for the lyrics and thereby the naturalist thematic that has become so much a part of Alunah‘s sound over the course of their four albums — the latest of which, Solennial (review here), came out as their first for Svart Records earlier this year — but the band has decided to continue on and search for a replacement with whom they’ll look to move forward on a fifth full-length.

Sophie‘s last shows with Alunah were this past July with Acid King, which seems fitting in terms of the influence that band had particularly on Alunah‘s earlier offerings. In a brief statement, Sophie says she has other avenues she’s interested in exploring, and in addition to general intrigue as to what shape Alunah might take in her absence, I know I for one would be interested to hear how she would/hopefully will manifest songwriting in the future. Maybe she’ll go acid folk. That would rule. She could pull it off, not a doubt in my mind. Songs of the wood and whatnot.

In case you’d like to rock some Alunah in her honor, all four of their albums can be streamed at the bottom of this post.

Best of luck of course to Sophie Day and to the band, who made the announcement thusly on their website:

alunah

Singer/Guitarist Sophie Day Leaves Alunah

25/9/2017

It is with a heavy heart that we announce the departure of our singer and guitarist Sophie Day; our gigs back in July with Acid King were particularly poignant, due to that fact that they were Soph’s final gigs with us.

As a founding member, Soph has been with Alunah since our inception in 2006, and she has been an integral part in forging Alunah into what it has become today. The remaining members of Alunah wish to continue, and invite applications to be sent to info@alunah.co.uk. Please only apply if you are serious and willing to commit.

Of her decision Soph said, “When we started Alunah I never realised how huge a part of my life it would become, how many wonderful people I would meet and establish lasting relationships with, how much music we would write and release, how much support we would get from labels and press, how many countries we would visit and how many of our favourite bands we would share the stage with. It has been my comfort blanket through personal trauma and have been moved when told how much our music has affected some of you guys. It has been amazing.

“However, there are other avenues I want to explore, both musically and in my personal life, and I can no longer give my all to Alunah, nor would it be fair to try and force Alunah in the direction I would like to go in. I continue to support the guys with design and marketing and of course through Dave’s and my label Catacomb Records, who have just co-released ‘White Hoarhound’ with HeviSike Records. I wish Dave, Jake, Dan and my replacement(s) the best of luck for the future, and I thank every single one of you for your support over the years. It’s been a trip.”

www.facebook.com/alunah.doom
http://twitter.com/#!/alunah_doom
https://alunah.bandcamp.com
www.alunah.co.uk
www.svartrecords.com

Alunah, Solennial (2017)

Alunah, Awakening the Forest (2014)

Alunah, White Hoarhound (2012)

Alunah, Call of Avernus (2010)

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Here’s the Eulogy I Wrote for My Grandmother

Posted in Features on September 12th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Before I get to the actual text of this thing, I’d like to extend a special thanks to my mother for her kindness in allowing me to post what’s obviously something very personal for her as well as for me and my family as a whole.

I wouldn’t necessarily do so, but I’ve spoken about the recent passing of my grandmother at the age of 102 a few times here in the last couple weeks, and the passion and ferocity with which she lived her life is something from which I will continue to derive inspiration in how I conduct my own.

If you need a tie into music or what I do here, that’s it, and if you’re otherwise not interested, I’ll please just ask you to give me this one and wait for the next post, which I’m sure will follow shortly and be about riffs. Thanks for reading if you do and thanks for the indulgence either way.

florence peterson parsippany nj

Florence Peterson Eulogy Sept. 8, 2017

The very idea of trying to offer some summary of Florence Peterson’s life is laughable, even though through the simple act of laughing, we’d already have a lot of the work done. Most likely it would take at least three weeks to do her scope and history any justice whatsoever, and while it might be fun to try, we simply don’t have that kind of time.

Telling people your grandmother, your mother, your aunt, your great-grandmother, your sister – because Florence was of course all these things and many more — lived to be 102 elicits a very specific kind of sympathy. Call it the “good run” response. “She had a good run.”

Actually, she had the best run. And that’s precisely why we although we can be sad at her passing and we can miss the person she was and the inimitable presence she brought to our lives, we can only celebrate the way she lived, the personality that was hers and hers alone, and the stamp she left on all of us as her family.

Because while the numbers are staggering – born 1915 on the kitchen table in the shadow of one impending World War, married 1936 under the church stairs in the shadow of another, daughters born 1942 and 1947, moved from Bronx, NY, to Morris Plains, NJ, 1960, and so on – even sum total of her full one hundred and two years does precious little to indicate the breadth of Florence’s life. She lived an existence marked in every respect by the full spectrum of what it is to be a person. Joy, pain, love, despair. Florence’s life encompassed this range of extremes and found milestones between them that for most of us would be impossible to fathom.

Imagine living 41 of your 102 years as a widow. Imagine watching as your great-grandchildren are born and begin to take shape as people, the way your grandchildren and children did before them. From the devastation at the passing of her daughter Susan in 2004 to the smile on her face earlier this year when my wife Wendy told her we were naming our son after her husband – this life that tested the boundaries of what a life can be was a touchstone that seems utterly unscratchable. A diamond of a life.

Several years ago, I made it a point to sit down with Florence on that god awful living room furniture she got for such a bargain and talk to her about growing up in New York, to hear her stories about meeting Joe Peterson as a boy from the neighborhood, a couple blocks away that might as well have been an eternity between them, about getting married, her relationship with her brothers and the divide in the family there, her parents, career, and beyond.

There was so much to talk about, but what it always came back to for Florence was her family, and it’s that core emphasis that speaks to who she was as a person. Florence said what she wanted to say, did what she wanted to do. Right or wrong. She had days where she behaved like a complete child and simply did not care because that was how it was going to be. As she got older, it was, “I’m 70 so I can say what I want,” “I’m 85 so I can say what I want.” I’m 90, I can say what I want. One imagines she had said the same when she turned 23, and there was simply no point at which she didn’t just say whatever the hell she wanted to say.

And though there are at least as many instances throughout her life when this worked to her downfall as to her advantage – certainly advantage in her work as a secretary, substitute teacher, an underage sales clerk selling alcohol at Macy’s, or just as building a firebrand reputation among her friends and neighbors, doctors, and a succession of managers and cashiers at Shop-Rite on Rt. 10 & 202 on whom she was quick to pull a fast one with expired coupons – what stands out even more from Florence is the sheer ferocity with which she felt what she felt.

No one loved family like Florence loved family. It was like she was angry about it. Maddening love. A fierce love. And yes, sometimes that love could take a quick turn and call you stupid, or fat, or both, and she could be cruel as well as generous, but this was what made her human, and it was love that defined her.

It meant taking care of Pamela even long after Pamela was taking care of her. It meant being proud of every single one of Matt’s career accomplishments – her baby brother made good. It meant that, years after Susan died, Florence rewrote the story of their falling out in her mind and when prompted with what actually happened, refused outright to accept it as the truth. “You’re making that up,” she said. “No.” It meant her telling you to be careful going up the stairs to her second floor in the same tone of voice from the time you were five to the time you were 30. It meant worrying about “that Walker” or complaining that you never came to visit her even as you were right there with her, then and there, wanting to shout, “I’m here now! I’m actually sitting with you at this very moment! We’re visiting!”

And of course, shouting would be required, because defined as she was by her love for her family, Florence was equally defined by her stubborn refusal to get a hearing aid. Ever.

It is fitting that as we honor her life today and stop to reflect on who she was to each of us that we should be surrounded by photographs. Not just because they show a small selection of the milestones of Florence’s life, her bright, camera-ready smile, shows she’d been in, things she’d seen and the various trips she took with Joe Peterson, Ken, Helen, Susan and Bob, Dr. Huster, the Gelpkes, Pauline, Bonnie Smith and other friends and neighbors – St. Thomas, “Ittly,” Switzerland, and so on as she traveled across continents – but also because these photographs themselves are cherished memories.

The picture of Florence leaning over Joe Peterson in his red jacket, smiling wide as if inviting us all to laugh at his bowtie. Florence sitting on the fireplace at Matt’s house at the lake on that family Thanksgiving so many years ago. Even the yellowed newspaper clipping of the time she won the computer from The Daily Record. Not only do these photos evoke the events they depict, but they have become tangible artifacts no less representative of the love she shared with her family than the memories represented in them.

Take a tour of the house at 2 Sherwood Road – that place that was so much a part of her life when she, Joe Peterson, Susan and Pamela moved from the Bronx to the suburbs – and nearly every room has family photos in it. Walker and Emmett, Rob Jones, my sister Suze and I as children. Pamela and Susan as kids, growing up, and as adults with their families. Though she spent so many years living alone, there was almost no space in which she wasn’t surrounded by this love that she was so ready at a moment’s notice to almost violently defend if it came to it. Really. Woman might smack you if you messed with her family. Or her pictures. Or her Entenmann’s doughnuts.

And at holidays, family events, whatever it was, it was Florence with her disc-film camera, then her disposables. Always documenting. Her scrapbooks are tomes – dusty treasures in her living room of the memories she stewarded and was so right to preserve in that house. They became expressions of the love that fueled their making – that fueled her – and for the rest of us they serve as yet another reminder of how much the improbability of Florence Peterson goes so far beyond the meager 102 years she lived and what she did in that span of time.

There is so much to remember when we remember Florence, and when I think of my Gramma I can still hear her complaining about money or Suze’s furniture upstairs, or talking about the O.J. Simpson trial, or telling a story about a Sara Lee apple pie she “passed off” as her own. I can hear her particular Irish glee at mispronouncing “macacroni” in the context of a “macacroni and cheese” that consisted of elbow noodles, Hunt’s canned tomato sauce and shredded cheddar that was a holiday staple for decades and never failed to garner anything less than rave reviews.

I can see her sitting on her front porch with my mother, all around her busy with a detritus of personality – yard schlock, from pink flamingos to that mysterious penguin to even the light-up Santa Claus that never seemed to leave the front window of the great red room at 2 Sherwood Road, tucked away in the back of which are more memories, of board games, fires in the circular fireplace, wood paneling all around and the bar on the side. How cold it was there in the winter, but what a great place to be.

How much that space was a part of Florence and how much that house, with the tree in the front yard planted by Joe Peterson – always “Joe Peterson,” never “Joe,” though sometimes “Daddy” to my mother or Susan – became the center of her existence. What’s astounding to think is that Florence, who stopped driving no fewer than 15 years ago and with much fighting finally gave up that wonderful boat of a white Oldsmobile with AM-only radio and the bench seats — I remember hearing “How Much is that Doggy in the Window (Arf Arf)” and singing along to it with her at what must have been seven years old – spent her final years inside that house and still seemed to outlive us all. For so long and in so many ways, she was undulled by time – that diamond life as hard and clear as ever.

And so it will remain. Because the truth is that while Florence has passed on, it is our memories of her that we share today and every day in ways we can’t even articulate that she helped shape who we are that preserve her, even more than these photos. It’s not just about recalling the time when I was five and she got lost taking me home from Denville to Parsippany because she refused to listen to my directions, or the way she got so solemn and serious in talking about her coin collection as though it was a treasure of Doubloons unearthed from the bottom of the ocean, or the way she used to tell me how worried she was about my mother, how my mother was just like Joe Peterson and Susan had been more like her.

It’s not just about these things. It’s about the love we continue to feel for each other. It’s about the tribute we pay to Florence in our own growing families, and the parts of her we pass along to each other in passing along parts of ourselves. She was never perfect and I don’t think she’d have claimed to be if you’d been brave enough to ask – though she might argue with you just to have fun doing so – but today, it’s about how unbelievably, unrealistically lucky we were to have had Florence in our lives and how lucky we are to still carry the memories: the sound of her laughing, or cursing, or telling some raunchy story as she said whatever she wanted to say at whatever age she was. The sight of her in some silly hat going out to dinner. The American flags that she seemed so eager to adorn herself with in patriotic zeal.

Most of all, how fortunate we are to inherit her stewardship of memory, and the stewardship of remembering her, because while even those who never knew Florence have to admit she had “a good run,” it’s those of us who will never be the same without her – and will never forget her – who know exactly how wonderful, and terrifying, and beautiful, and sad, and gorgeously complete her life actually was.

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