Piano Man – Remembering Herb by
(309 Stories)

Prompted By That Summer

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Piano Man – Remembering Herb

My memories of that summer between college and grad school,  when I took a camp job with my friend Liz,  are bittersweet.

Liz and I were co-counselors for a bunk of kids,  and I had also signed on as drama counselor.   When we arrived at camp I was introduced to Herb,  the music counselor I’d be working closely with.   He was a wonderfully warm,  bright and funny guy and I liked him immediately.   Music was Herb’s avocation and I soon learned what a talented pianist he was,  even on the tinny rec hall upright.

Together Herb and I decided on the shows,  and then cast,  rehearsed,  and directed the campers in three musicals  – The Mikado,  Oklahoma,  and Guys and Dolls,  mounting a new show every two weeks.   And to this day when I hear tunes from those three great musicals,  in my mind’s eye I see Herb sitting at the piano that long-ago summer,   patiently teaching the kids to sing in key.  (See Theatre Dreams)

Meanwhile Liz and Herb were fast becoming a couple,   and unlike many summer romances,  theirs seemed destined to last.   As Liz’ good friend,  and as Herb’s work partner,  I became their natural go-between and confidante.   And while working with Herb on such a creative and challenging endeavor,  he and I came to know each other well and became good friends,  much to Liz’ delight.

In the fall I started grad school in New York,  Liz was also in New York,  and she and Herb were still committed.   But Herb was soon to return to Indiana to finish a graduate program,  and after their wonderful summer together he and Liz were resigned to a long-distance relationship over the coming year.

Herb did fly back to New York to spend Thanksgiving with his family and to see Liz,  and after the holiday weekend he headed for the airport for his Indiana flight.   But he and I hadn’t had the chance to see each other,  and he called me from the airport to catch up.   We spoke for awhile,  and when he heard the call for his plane we said good-bye and he ran for the gate.

Hours later I got the awful news from an inconsolable Liz.   After landing at the Bloomington airport Herb had picked up his car,  and then driving to his apartment was in a fatal crash.   I may have been the last person he’d spoken to.

Herb’s untimely death was tragic for his family,  for Liz,  and for all of us who knew him.   But the scene we witnessed at his funeral was the most heartbreaking  –  as others tried in vain to restrain him,   Herb’s weeping,  disconsolate father jumped into the open grave as if to stop the shovelfuls of earth that were landing with mournful thuds on his son’s coffin.

May your memory be a blessing Herb,  for those of us you taught to sing that bittersweet summer.

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Camps, Funerals
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    OMG, Dana, what a tragic ending to a wonderful summer. The image of Herb’s father jumping into his grave is so painful. It must have been a terrible bridge for you between undergrad and grad school. So sorry.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh Dana, this goes from a story of sweet summer love to unspeakable heartbreak in the blink of an eye. I love the musical choices you and Herb made for the kids to present over the summer (I’ve been in all of them). The wrenching scene you describe at his funeral tears at one’s heart. I echo your sentiment; “may his memory be a blessing”.

  3. Marian says:

    I can’t but echo the other comments, Dana, what a violent swing between happy and traumatic memories that summer. I am so glad that you have sweet memories of Herb.

  4. Suzy says:

    One of the reasons we did this prompt was that you had a summer camp story you wanted to write, but we had already done a “Camp” prompt twice. I had no idea that your story would be so emotional! As others have said, from the delight of the summer to the tragedy in November was a heartbreaking swing. So sorry for the loss of your dear friend. I’m sure his memory IS a blessing!

  5. Oh, ouch! Dana you told this tragic story so well! That took a great deal of balance and you did it beautifully. The last person — what a sad notion. Thanks.

  6. What a poignant, perfectly and delicately balanced story, Dana. I was sure Liz and Herb were just going to drift apart, which would have been sad enough, but his death actually brought me to tears. I’m so glad you’ve brought him to life in a sense with this very touching story…thank you!

  7. Risa Nye says:

    A touchingly tragic story, Dana. But what sweet memories you have.

  8. Susan Bennet says:

    Thank you for remembering Herb, Dana. He lives in your memory and now he will live in ours. A fine and beautifully written tribute.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    Such a shocking and sad twist to the ending. I unfortunately also know the feeling of being the last friendly voice a person ever heard. It is a strange burden and gift.

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