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From The Vault Of Art Shay: A Valentine For Florence

By Art Shay in News on Feb 13, 2013 8:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, wistfully reflects on Valentine's Day.)

The past will not stay in the past.

Valentine's Day was and is the birthday of my beautiful late wife Florence—dead now these five lonely months. She would have been (is) 91 tomorrow. I will light her yahrzeit candle in the morning, by my own calendar of our life, not the rabbi's complicated, varying Hebrew calendar. Her beloved bookstore of some 40 years, Titles Inc., is gone, its rare books fluttering into the collections of old, beloved customers, friends and strangers knowing that Florence's final price reductions, and those imposed on her estate by the auctioneers, gave them something of value, aside from having been touched by the wonderful lady herself. The man who bought the Einstein letter, I hear, is still exulting.

I drove by Florence's resting place two days ago, in swirling snow, but couldn't bring myself to visit her grave during her first snowfall under the earth. "I know you're not in pain any more, sweetheart," I said to her spirit I imagined recognizing me and enjoying my visit. I told her aloud how I just remembered a song from my childhood that moved me to tears by the composer MacDowell. It was called "The First Snowfall," I think it was part of a sonata tragica, and he wrote it after looking away from seeing his little daughter's new gravesite filling with New England snow.

Quixotically, while slowing down but not turning in for a tearful visit and to place on her white-blanketed grave, one of the little dark stones she collected at some long-ago house sale because they were pretty, I told her about my memory of the song, and in the mock-serious tone we used between us a lot, I explained I couldn't hum it but would play it for her on my harmonica some summer day. Or when my soul catches up to her.

This very night (Wednesday, Feb.13) I have an exhibition of Nelson Algren- Simone de Beauvoir and Marcel Marceau pictures and am introducing them with a speech at the Alliance Francaise, 54 W. Chicago Avenue at 6.30 p.m. It's free, but call first. It's also a great opportunity to see the Croix de Guerre document, along with the medal, the government of France awarded me and my bomb group. Col. Jimmy Stewart was my squadron CO(!) for helping them win their country back.

No, the past will not stay in the past.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.