If there is a teenage synonym for gentleman, it should be applied to my cousin Michael Crawford, the artist and New Yorker cartoonist who died aged 70 on July 12, 2016. We grew up near each other in Oswego, NY, with an age gap that made him a senior when I was a freshman in high school. I don’t know about you, but when I was a senior, freshmen were odd little things to be teased or dismissed outright. Mike was different, though.
My father died when I was a freshman, was waked at home, and Mike came to my rescue. In the midst of three days in a receiving line with my mother, sisters, uncles and aunts, Mike came up alongside me and said, “Want to get out of here?”
In a minute, we’d gone out the side door and up the street toward a soda shop, smoking Camels and talking about anything else at all. It was one of the best ninety minutes I ever spent – a light bit of companionship that made a heavy week easier to get through.
When his mother died, thirty years later, I reminded him of that and offered to return the favor. Instead of a wake, though, there was a gathering of family at Marge Crawford’s Covenant House apartment in New York – children, sisters, nieces, and nephews consoling one another, planning the funeral liturgy, and preparing a memorial program on the organization’s mimeograph machine.
Michael ducked out alone, unnoticed, and before long people were asking, “where’s Mike?” An hour or two later he was back and he asked me if I knew the lyrics to When the Saints Go Marching In. Why? Because he had gone down to the subway, looking for a musician to play at the funeral. He hired a trumpet player, who knew that number, and wanted to include the lyrics in the program.
The trumpeter was from Russia, not an English speaker, and Mike’s account of the negotiations was pretty funny. I wish I’d remembered it better, how he conveyed the time and the location and the overall requirements for the gig. The guy showed up the next morning, in the nick of time, and did a beautiful job leading the recessional parade through the corridors of Covenant House out to the hearse on 8th Ave. where he blew chorus after chorus while scores of mourners made their way onto the sidewalk.
Now, they’ve been reunited on a new and sunlit shore, and big Mike’s footsteps are with those who’ve gone before.
(Italics: “When the Saints Go Marching In” lyrics attributed to Louis Armstrong)
Dave Conlin Read; Lenox, MA July 21, 2016