My father-in-law Chase Decker died the day after New Year’s.
We buried him on Friday at Hollywood Cemetery. The service was held in an open-air chapel on a hill overlooking the James River.
The weather broke, mid-winter, for a freakishly warm day. We watched the steam rise off the river. Everything felt mythic and heightened and strange. Like we were at the edge of the world, casting a spell.
We loved him and now he was gone. And there is really no way to get over that.
We brought Chase’s paintings, we brought pictures of him painting and making sculpture. We brought opera and played it.
My children wore jackets for the first time. There was water on the floor from the rain.
My husband spoke and read the Saint Crispin’s Day speech from “Henry V.”
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
I spoke briefly at the service. I left out some parts, because I got nervous.
The whole time I just kept thinking: don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. I didn’t want to be a blubbering mess. Even if I felt that way on the inside. I wanted to be strong. To bear witness to Chase and his life and how important he was to me.
I loved being with Chase. He taught me about art and music and being an artist.
He was always pointing something out, offhand. Just little things that caught his eye: the view behind Warsaw, the salt house and the meat house, the flowers he had planted. He’d help you see the beauty he saw, the beauty of the world. And that was a gift.
He was always listening to something I’d never of. He had a mountain of CDs pouring out of his chest at Warsaw. He loved tuning into the opera on WCVE on Sunday afternoons.
Chase was easy to be with. He liked to cook with you in the kitchen. Sometimes he’d statue dance. Or do his funny shuffle step.
He loved coming to our house in Church Hill. It was easy for him to get to, a straight shot to Warsaw. He called it the Chase Decker Studio East. We’d come home from work and find that he’d have changed all the paintings off our walls. And I loved that – knowing that Chase had been there and that I got to see new paintings.
He did whatever he wanted. No matter what you told him. And I’ll always admire that.
He could make an enormous mess, wherever he went.
He’d drink all the wine in your house.
He loved going to the opera to cry. He would grab your hand – whoever was sitting next to him – and cry during all the arias.
He loved going to the art museum, the opera, and the Thrift, in that order. He loved looking at his grandsons and drawing them, while he could. He liked Chinese food and art books and picnics at Warsaw down by the pond.
He was playful and a partier, but he also had an incredible work ethic.
He was always making art. Never stopping.
He lived in the present, very much. I think that’s where much of his happiness, his joy, his humor in life came from.
A few years ago, we took Chase to Merroir, the little oyster bar in Topping.
Gus was just a baby and we took turns holding him in our laps.
We ate oysters and drank white wine in the sun. We all got a little tipsy and high on life. When we got back to Warsaw, Chase served us moldy old orange juice from a pitcher mixed with brandy.
He called them Death Cocktails.
He fixed me with a steely stare and said, “Van Gogh drank these.”
We felt very much like death, shortly thereafter. But it was so much fun while it lasted.