Bebe Webner

Bebe Webner died last night at the age of 86.  Our hearts and thoughts go out to my cousin Tony and his family, Uncle Mack and his family, and the other members of the Webner clan whose lives were touched by this good person.

Aunt Bebe has been a fixture in our lives for as long as I can remember.  She and Uncle Tony were frequent visitors to our house when we were kids, first when we lived in Akron and then when we moved to Columbus.  She was a sun worshipper who always had beautiful tan, a deft bridge player, and a huge sports fan whose biggest passion was Ohio State football.  Our family gatherings were frequently punctuated by her laughter and her memorable voice, with just a touch of gravel at its lower registers.

Aunt Bebe was one of those people who taught you a lot just by how they lived their lives.  She worked for years for an Akron doctor, babysat his children, and became a beloved part of his family.  She was widowed for 27 years and lived frugally, yet remained relentlessly positive about her life and the world at large.  Her birthday and anniversary cards always had words of support and were signed with her trademark closing, “hugs, Aunt Bebe.”  She was an everyday example of self-sufficiency who mowed her own lawn and kept her house in spotless condition until she moved to a smaller, more manageable apartment only a few years ago.

Even Aunt Bebe’s celebrity status as “Buckeye Bebe,” a huge fan and pen pal with former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, had an important lesson to impart if you were paying attention.  Aunt Bebe didn’t write to Coach Tressel to try to get an autograph or some item of memorabilia that she could sell on eBay.  Instead, she wrote because she cared and wanted to provide words of encouragement to a person she admired.  She figured that Coach Tressel could use some uplifting words every now and then — just like the rest of us.

Aunt Bebe’s final days had their own valuable lesson, too.  She knew the end was near and was fully prepared and at peace with her life.  She welcomed the chance to move beyond.

God bless you, Aunt Bebe!

 

His Way Was “My Way”

NPR has been running a series on “Mom and Dad’s record collection,” where celebrities and average folks talk about a record their parents had that was associated with a particular memory or otherwise had a special meaning.

In the Webner household of my youth, Mom and Dad had an eclectic album collection — including some 78 rpm records — that featured classical pieces, swing, big beat, and the OSU marching band.  They didn’t often listen to music, but when they did, one song stood out ahead of the rest:  Frank Sinatra’s recording of My Way.

My father was by nature a quiet person, but give him a drink or two and My Way would be taken from its place of honor on the record rack and played like it was the national anthem.  If my Uncle Tony were in town, he and Dad were likely to stand up, spread their arms wide, and belt out the song with great gusto.  The lyrics, about a dying man who reflects on his life and the blows he’s taken but is proud that he did things his way, obviously spoke to something deep within them.  To others, the song might seem like a maudlin and over-the-top bit of self-congratulation by a stubborn egotist.

What was it about My Way that has such resonance for a car dealer and a stockbroker?  How many shopkeepers, pharmacists, accountants and other members of the corporate culture of the ’60s and ’70s similarly identified with the character in that song?

I think the attraction of the song was aspirational.  These were men who had their jobs and did their jobs, providing for their families and, in the process, undoubtedly making countless compromises.  They might go out for a drink after work, but for the most part they played their well-defined role in the world.  They identified with the rugged individualist in the song who insisted on doing what he pleased, even if their lives didn’t necessarily permit them to be that person.  When the song was played, it was a chance for them to let that tamped down inner individualist roar, in a way he never could in real life.