In the summer of 2012 the Dutch composer Walter Hekster and his wife Alice van Leuvan Hekster who had been a fellow classmate of my wife, Jean, and me at Meriden (CT) High School, class of 1952, came to visit us in Dresden Mills, Maine, from their summer home in Higganum, Connecticut. The four of us had a fine time, but Walter began to feel under the weather.
After their visit we were all supposed to attend our M.H.S. 60th class reunion, but when Jean and I arrived we discovered that Walter had returned to The Netherlands to see his doctors because he felt so ill.
I was in touch with Alice all fall, keeping tabs on Walter -- for whom I had on several occasions been librettist, so we had been expecting the sorry news of his passing. When I sent our condolences to Alice she replied, “Oh Lew, thanks. You know how sick Walt was, and it just got worse. I was with him and his Light just went out on New Years Eve.”
On Feb 8, 2013, Alice wrote, “We are going to put Walt's ashes into the harbor here on Sunday the 17th (his wish)…. My Auntie Margy is coming and I hope Marie [Delemarre Ho, also a classmate]. One of my friends wrote a poem for the occasion, in Dutch. Could you?
Love to Jeannie too,
On the same day I sent this to Alice:
R.I.P. WALTER HEKSTER
March 29, 1937 – December 31, 2012
Here we scatter all these motes
Of his ashes like the notes
He composed, like the sands
Of time that passed through his good hands,
Both the sinister and dexter,
Of our dear friend Walter Hekster.
Alice wrote afterward,
Aunt Margy and Marie came [from the U. S.] yesterday! I can't believe it. Marie and Margy and I loved it [the epitaph]! It was a beautiful day and a swan came by with signets and got covered with Walt's ash.
This is the playlet I wrote that was first published in Polemic of Western Reserve University (now Case-Western Reserve of Cleveland, OH) Vol. XI, No. 1, Winter, 1966; it was used as the libretto for The Fog: Chamber Opera in One Act commissioned by the Twents Conservatorium, Enschede, Holland; music by Walter Hekster, libretto by Lewis Turco, Amsterdam: Donemus, 1987. Folio, paper.
THE FOG: A CHAMBER OPERA IN ONE ACT
Dramatis personae: Character A, Character B, and a Voice.
House lights down, curtain up.
Scene. A bare stage. Two figures are seen standing center stage. It is difficult to make out whether the figures are male or female, for a thick mist rolls in from both stage right and stage left. One of the figures speaks.
A. Aren’t we supposed to get somewhere sometime? When are we going to get there?
B. It’s too soon to tell. Not enough time has passed.
Voice (it is big and resonant). You’re almost there now. Don’t give up. You’ve almost made it.
A. Who was that? What was that voice?
B. That was some Being who watches over us. I think it was God.
A. What kind of Being? It’s hard to make out any shape in this fog. I can heardly see you, let alone a Voice. You look as though your body is made of shadow.
B. It’s possible I’m not even here. You could be talking to yourself. On the other hand, perhaps I’m here and you’re not. Maybe the mist is a mirror.
A. I’ve thought of that. I’ve given that very thing a good deal of reflection as we’ve been going along. But I can hear you breathing. Are you making this mist with your breath? If so, I wish you’d cut it out so I can see God. I’d like to find out who it is that’s talking to us.
B. We’re talking to each other. There’s no one else on this road.
A. But I think I heard a third voice. It came from somewhere overhead, I think.
B. Pay no attention. Just keep going.
A. The voice gave me courage. I’d like to hear it again.
B. What’s wrong with my voice? Isn’t the sound I make enough for you?
A. Yes.... No. That is, maybe. But what if it’s not your voice? What if it’s just an echo?
B. Then it’s an echo. It’s you giving yourself courage. So what? Isn’t that enough?
A. I don’t think so. I don’t want to be alone with myself in all this fog. It’s a frightening thing to think that I have to make it on my own. I don’t think I could do it.
B. Where is it you think you’re going? Do you have a map?
A. No, and that’s why it’s frightening. I don’t trust my sense of direction.
B. There doesn’t seem to be any direction out here. Every way looks like every other.
A. That’s the other thing that’s bothering me. Even if I could trust my sense of direction, I couldn’t trust the directions themselves.
B. Then why bother worrying? Just keep going. Follow me and don’t look back.
A. That’s the third thing. If I follow you, who am I following? And why should I trust you any more than I trust myself? You might even be myself — we’ve been all over that. I’d rather follow God. Maybe He can see better from up there — I wish He’d speak again.
Voice. Keep going. You’re almost there.
A. There! There He is again. Let’s go.
B. Lead the way. I’m right behind you.
A. I thought I was following you! I thought you knew the way.
B. You’re leading now. I didn’t hear Him.
A. That’s very strange. His voice was clear as a bell.
B. He must have been talking to you alone. You’re in charge now. Which way?
A. The way we’re going must be right. He said we were almost there.
B. We’ve been standing still. We haven’t moved an inch.
A. That’s the fourth thing. The fog seems to be getting thicker. We’d better hold hands so we don’t get lost. It would be death to be separated.
B. Now I’m beginning to be frightened. Here’s my hand.
A. Something solid at last! You’re not just my reflection after all.
B. Perhaps not. Anything is possible.
A. We still haven’t moved. Do you suppose we should try?
A bell begins to ring offstage, and it continues to ring throughout the next speech.
Voice. I was wondering when you’d get here. How do you do? I’m very happy to meet you both. This is it. This is the end in view. (The bell stops ringing.)
A. Did you hear something just then? I thought I heard a bell ringing in the fog.
B. It was the wind, I think. Perhaps the mist is lifting a little.
A. Maybe so. Let’s wait here a little while and see if it clears up.
B. All right. I can wait.
The figures stand together in the fog. A bell-buoy begins ringing somewhere offstage and continues to ring for a while after all stage lights fade out and all house lights down and out. Curtain.