Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Alexander Sartwell

I hate death's guts, I really do.

There is no elegy elegant enough to address the death of Alex. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent around his table, listening to his stories of old muntGUMree and the stories and dishes of Evalina. There is a gone-South that I would never know any other way and I felt honored to be in his sunny kitchen, watching light play through the cobalt vases propped in the window. I felt lucky to be invited early, help prepare the food, to laugh with him and to drive to Birmingham, to flea markets and thrift shops and with Alex in tow, for treasures to feel more treasurey. The Bear loved him dearly and he, The Bear and I felt kind of safe and caverned up in a cave of quilts when I was with them both.

Alex could tell a mean tale, write a brilliant passage and cook such food as to make you "slap your baby brother" when you took that first sensuous bite. I heard the south in all of its conflicted dialects, understood race and class from the inside. Alex made me feel less like one touring Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana, as one who got it and was in certain ways, dumb yankee no more. His backyard was alive with the gorgeous collection of plants that only a professional can whip up and when we left, hearts in hands, it was the French tarragon that dear Bear dug up and planted for Alex that made the leaving behind of such a glorious plant a bit more bearable.

There is no way to say goodbye to what knowing Alex gave me, or how he made me feel transported through time to where good manners, lovely clothes and books and recipes and stories reined supreme. To have one more day in that dining room, the crazy-good chickens that were melting off their bones and swaddled in flavor, the good china, the bright silver, the candlelight and the peals and peals of laughter. With him goes a whole era, a continent or two of knowledge, a gift of gab and memory and a, for lack of a better word, bonding-force. Alex made his table and the selected guests a work of art. He built friendships like cities that interconnected and expanded both the history and resource of both. Some people are spokes, others are hubs and Alex was a super-hub for a wheel so large, that time and space are both along for the ride. I felt, and still feel, as if I knew the living-Evalina for the way she was brought back to life through Alex's telling. She, the Sayres, my beloved Zelda, Tallulah Bankhead, whole swaths of neighborhood where I had never walked and ghosts long-dead before I ever arrived, were vivid, breathing-again and before you when Alex invoked them. I hope some of us can do the same for him. I was so lucky to have known him.

You were truly one of a kind and you cannot know just how you will be missed, Dear Friend.

5 comments:

lilyprof said...

Thank you for this! You knew Alex well. He will be missed by many of us.

kidneypress said...

I found your blog by googling Alex's name upon learning of his passing, so I don't know who you are, but you encapsulate certain things that I felt as well, in the short time that I got to know Alex. I will miss him.

a-smk said...

Thank you. I feel like we are different tribe: those to whom Alex reached out and reeled-in. A lucky and enrichened tribe.

Ernest Laird said...

Alex was a quintessential college town character. I enjoyed roast chicken and conversation around his Riverside Drive apartment table regularly between 1977 and 1983 before moving away. A late summer gin and tonic usually reminds me of nights on his screened porch with kindred spirits he assembled. Rest in peace, Old Sport. I hope to see you at a Chukker Nation reunion. But not soon I pray.

Ernest Laird said...

Alex was a quintessential college town character, charming, erudite, with a reach that included folks of all ages and every ilk. Several were the roast chicken dinners I enjoyed with kindred spirits he assembled around the table of his Riverside Drive apartment between 1977 and 1983 before I moved away. One haberdasher is said to credit him with the reintroduction of khaki trousers into the wardrobes of many college men. I seldom drink a late summer gin and tonic without a pleasant flashback to his screened porch. Rest in peace, Old Sport. You made the world better for many of us. Thank you.