The Fedon girls drove close to 1,800 miles this weekend to turn back the clock and celebrate an old friend.
Stu Dance and his wife Jean were dear family friends. They had four daughters. My parents had five. Two other couples in their “group” had two daughters each. But it was more than the overabundance of Double-X chromosomes that held everyone together. We had fun! Both children and adults were each other’s best friends. Our Avalon, N.J., summer vacations cemented the relationships with Cooler-by-a-Mile escapades, and Stu was often the ringleader. And yes, there were lots of weddings with such a crew!
Stu taught us how to waterski, flounder fish, and sing along with his ukulele. He loved jelly-filled Kohler’s Bakery doughnuts (most of us were partial to cream-filled), Hatfield scrapple fried extra-crisp, and cocktail hour. We each signed the wall at the Avalon Avenue house as soon as we could write our names, sat on the front porch singing “Ja-Da” to Stu’s strumming, and walked to Stone Harbor for breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.
At Penn State tailgate parties, Stu always had a joke to tell or story to share. While other kids grew up posing for snapshots when the cameraperson said, “Che-e-e-e-e-e-se,” we hammed it up to Stu’s enthusiastic, “Walla Walla Whiskey!” (I continued the same refrain into adulthood and motherhood, however socially incorrect.)
Stuart Lee Dance III was born in Istanbul, Turkey, when it was called Constantinople. His childhood years were spent in Tokyo, Japan. His younger brother and parents returned to the U.S. just before Pearl Harbor.
Stu, Jean and the girls left and returned to State College three times during his career. In retirement he and Jean cruised the Chesapeake Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway on their trawler “Last Dance” and were active community members—earlier this year Stu was named Volunteer of the Year for his work with Centre County’s Aging in Place.
For 85 years, Stu taught everyone he met how to celebrate life. This weekend, he taught us how to celebrate death. Four years before his memorial service on Saturday, he sketched out the details. He even wrote his own obituary.
For a man known to wear gaudy Stewart-plaid pants, his funeral began with Scottish bagpipe music and progressed to the Presbyterian congregation and friends singing “Amazing Grace” with the pipers.
One of his granddaughters read his favorite poem, “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss, and a grandson read Stu’s favorite Psalm (23). There was a sharing of remembrances by family and friends, a prayer of Thanksgiving read by one of his daughters, other prayers and hymns recited and sung by those in attendance. The Celebration of Life ended with a grandson playing the ukulele as his grandfather had taught him, singing with his sister and cousin, “Bye Bye Blues.”
The reception was filled with old friends reconnecting, sharing Stu-Stories, singing the old ukulele tunes, and reflecting on a life well lived, down to the very last chord. Laurie Lynch
Southern Solution: My vegetable garden is booming with too many cucumbers, yellow squash and zucchini. I issued an edict to my sisters that they COULD NOT bring any of those vegetables to the house this weekend—they could only take some home. My sister Leslie shared the bounty of her Virginia Beach garden with all of us: a bag of okra.
I’ve had okra in gumbos, used as a thickener (or slime-er) depending on your attitude, but was at a loss as to how to prepare okra any other way.
“Slice them thin,” Leslie instructed. They look like pretty little green stained-glass windows with five white seeds circling the center. “Then, place them in a Ziploc bag with cornmeal and ground pepper, and shake. Sizzle a good amount of olive oil in a pan, drop in the discs of okra, and fry. Drain on water towels, and serve.” Mmm, mmm good!
Written On Slate: “There’s something about the ukulele that just makes you smile. It makes you let your guard down. It brings out the child in all of us.” –Jake Shimabukuro