Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Another Glimpse of Halberstam's Last Days

The author Connie Hale was one of the organizers of the Berkeley Journalism conference that brought David Halberstam out to California to speak. She spent Friday night with him and reflects on his mood, his thoughts, and the delicious food he ate.

I spent the better part of Friday afternoon and evening with him, and here are some of the reminiscences from that experience:

"I was deeply affected by Halberstam on Friday (I had picked him up at the airport and was his chauffeur that evening as a group of us took him to dinner). I'm not sure I ever met someone whom I would call such a prodigious intellect. He was also deeply cultured, talking with equal ease about Breaker Morant, Barak Obama, New York theater, jazz, and his favorite dinner of angel hair pasta with cherry tomatoes. Beyond that he was generous with his attentions and his resources. We spent almost the entire ride from SFO to the faculty club talking about the Korean War and my uncle who died there; he had promised to help me track down men who fought with him.

But I was also affected deeply because he is the exact age of my parents.

My father died six years ago, and was also a man of ranging intellect and understanding--as well as a veteran of Vietnam and a career Army officer.

(David and I talked about him, too.) I keep thinking that having David in the passenger seat was like having Dad there again with me. Dad would be this age, Dad's skin would have those same speckles, Dad would have used that phrase. Therefore, I was aware of David's frailty (he also spoke of his age and its affect on his memory as well as his heart attack last October; he seemed to be candid about everything) and found myself being slightly protective of him, as I would my father. I even stood watch by his blue canvas bag after the lecture, fearing he might forget it there under the seat. (Indeed he called me first thing Sunday morning when he realized he'd forgotten it, later, in Orville's car.)

So the tragedy of his death hit me at a deep, intimate level. I feel
profound sorrow for his wife, whom he seemed to insert into every third
sentence, the lucky woman, and for his daughter, who is only 26.

My last thoughts are that he lived well into his 73rd year. He had a three course meal at Oliveto on Friday night, ordering four glasses of wine and rhubarb tart with ice cream, while explaining how his blood thinning medicine, not his wife, was the occasion for his "black eye." And, rather than resting on his laurels (the galleys of a book sent back Thursday, speeches on Saturday and Monday nights at Berkeley) he was determined to do this interview for his next book. He couldn't stop."

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