In Memoriam: Robert Lee Biggs, Age 79

My dad, Robert Lee Biggs, died on January 2 after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was 79. I spent his last hours with him reading to him from his favorite books. He had a Master’s Degree in English from OSU and he was a life-long reader. I’ve often written about how he bought us boxes and boxes of discarded library books of all types and simply put them on our playroom shelves. Over the years, from my early reader days until today, I was able to drink from that deep well and still hope I will be able to put it to good use. This is us on the front page of a section of the Columbus Dispatch in about 1979 when they profiled my mother’s Polish rooots and all the good things she made for us to eat. That’s me at the bottom.

 

This is the last thing I read him. It’s called “Even This Shall Pass Away” by Theodore Tilton.

Once in Persia reigned a king,
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they;
“Even this shall pass away.”

Trains of camels through the sand
Brought him gems from Samarcand;
Fleets of galleys through the seas
Brought him pearls to match with these;
But he counted not his gain
Treasures of the mine or main;
“What is wealth?” the king would say;
“Even this shall pass away.”

‘Mid the revels of his court,
At the zenith of his sport,
When the palms of all his guests
Burned with clapping at his jests,
He, amid his figs and wine,
Cried, “O loving friends of mine;
Pleasures come, but do not stay;
‘Even this shall pass away.’”

Lady, fairest ever seen,
Was the bride he crowned the queen.
Pillowed on his marriage bed,
Softly to his soul he said:
“Though no bridegroom ever pressed
Fairer bossom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay –
Even this shall pass away.”

Fighting on a furious field,
Once a javelin pierced his shield;
Soldiers, with a loud lament,
Bore him bleeding to his tent.
Groaning from his tortured side,
“Pain is hard to bear,” he cried;
“But with patience, day by day,
Even this shall pass away.”

Towering in the public square,
Twenty cubits in the air,
Rose his statue, carved in stone.
Then the king, disguised, unknown,
Stood before his sculptured name,
Musing meekly: “What is fame?
Fame is but a slow decay;
Even this shall pass away.”

Struck with palsy, sore and old,
Waiting at the Gates of Gold,
Said he with his dying breath,
“Life is done, but what is Death?”
Then, in answer to the king,
Fell a sunbeam on his ring,
Showing by a heavenly ray,
“Even this shall pass away.”

In honor of him I’d like to share some of his favorite books.

Catcher In The Rye – I stole this book from my Dad while he was re-reading it for the hundredth time during a Polish trip we took in the early 1990s. I’ve re-read it yearly since. I still have his old marked up educators copy.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – I recently read his teacher’s copy to my son. He quoted from it at length and often.

Gulag Archipeligo – A title that I remember sitting prominently on his bedside table. It’s a striking example of early investigative writing.

Slaughterhouse Five – A world-changer for me. He gave it to me after re-reading it a few times and I fell into a deep love of Vonnegut and a new styler of writing.

The Oxford Shakespheare – My dad was a performer at heart and I remember him coming into my room some nights and reading to me from Shakespheare in a booming but melodious voice. I learned the beauty of the English language on those nights.

All the best in the New Year and many hugs. Hold close those you hold dear.

 

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