Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 27, 2012

Solstice Son

Here in the U.S. the major mainstream holiday is the just-completed Christmas. I know the fact that Christmas neatly corresponds with the winter solstice hasn’t escaped your attention. Whether or not this conjunction of ancient pagan and Christian holidays represents some intentional or causal relationship is not clear at all, and is hotly debated by ecclesiastical scholars. This holiday season offers an equal opportunity for revelers saturnalian and Christian to rejoice. Its conjunction with the turn of the Western calendar year adds more weight to the emotional import of this time of year. The cycle of birth, death and renewal that is inherent in human life is never nearer to our thoughts than it is now. We look ahead to the uncertainties and hope of a new year, and we reflect on what’s been done or not done; we reach out to people we miss but haven’t communicated with, and we think of those we miss and will never see again in this life.

I always think of one person at both the winter and summer solstice: a friend I met in college. Warren was a fellow English major, and, if I didn’t meet him on my first day there, I certainly met him in the initial week; you couldn’t be there long without encountering that force of nature. It was the very end of the ’60s: a time of change in society and in behavior, and no one embodied the advent of new attitudes and behaviors better than Warren. The product of a small northeastern Ohio city, Warren was ready for change: imaginative, well-read, intellectually curious and a born seeker. If our class had an Oscar Wilde, a Thoreau, a Whitman, it was Warren, singing the student body electric. He read, wrote, drew, painted, and, like eager young undergraduates the world ’round, sought his avenue to change the world.

His transformation into an avatar of late-sixties freedom of expression didn’t occur all at once, but, from my first acquaintance with him, Warren was an avid pursuer of The New. Here he is in a faded 35mm slide at the end of our sophomore year, wearing his trademark motley jeans. I regret that I have no photo of him in his navy blue winter cape!

Warren Fessler, June 1971

Warren Fessler, June 1971

Warren and I maintained our friendship through our college days. We graduated. He returned to northeastern Ohio and I to my home town in the southwestern part of the state. The years rolled along. We corresponded intermittently, although when we wrote, it was at length. I still have some 7- and 9-page typewritten letters he sent me, full of news about what he was writing, drawing, painting, as well as about fishing and even the fortunes of his beloved Cleveland Browns football team. Warren found a way to put his writing to work — sometimes freelancing, sometimes on the staff of a string of ad agencies — earning his bread. It was demanding work, and not particularly well-paid. After a few years, I started making my living as a writer in the corporate communications biz. We’d both achieved our goal of being writers, though not in the way we’d imagined it during those undergraduate years. Warren continued to draw, paint and write creatively, always with the goal that his art would one day pay the bills, and not an agency.

I saw Warren once a year or so. Sometimes I made the drive to Cleveland. More often, I’d see him at the time of the summer solstice, when he’d pass through my town on his way back from an annual solstice gathering put on by old school friends of his from our alma mater, not far from where I lived. The summer solstice, with its thematic overtones of rebirth and renewal was an excellent time to reconnect with my fellow student of our halcyon past.

The winter solstice was Warren’s beat, too. Every year, he’d send a holiday greeting of his own design. Each annual installment involved a combination of graphics and text, cleverly designed to reveal an unexpected message as you unfolded the card he’d made. Unfailingly inventive, Warren’s solstice greetings were sometimes outright hilarious, sometimes seriously thoughtful. They all conveyed the same wish: peace.

More years passed, and I relocated to California. The advent of email made it easier to stay in touch at one level, but five, six, then eight years elapsed when it wasn’t possible to sit in the same room with my old college pal.

On a morning in January of 2001, I received an email from Warren’s girlfriend, whom I’d never met, but knew of from his letters.

Warren was dead.

I didn’t go back to Ohio for the memorial. I knew none of Warren’s connections. He and I shared a single thread. His parents were deceased, and his sole sibling, a sister, was someone I didn’t know. My only mutual friend of his was The Counselor, so we grieved together. The connection was cut, and this world offers no alternatives.

I still have many letters and some writing from Warren, and all his inventive, witty solstice cards. I’d like to share one of his greetings with you. I regret that Warren’s spirit, embodied in all his art and writing, now sits unknown — so far as I know — in a worn folder in my memorabilia file. For one day, I’d like to use this season of remembrance to let it live again.

Here’s the card — from 1985 — as it would have emerged from its envelope. The text reads, “Doors which divide people.” (click on photos to enlarge).

IMG_0139 Warren Fessler 1985 card front

The “doors” fold open left and right to reveal the message — a typical transformation of the sort that nearly all of Warren’s cards featured. The full text is revealed to read “Doors which divide people … imply portals to peace.”

IMG_0140 Warren Fessler 1985 card inside

The sun rises and sets. The face of the moon changes with every rising. Our tiny blue planet spins in its circle, tilting toward the sun that moves across its face. Each solstice brings a time of change and renewal. The turning of the year is our season to look forward. It’s also the time to reflect on the year that is past and passing and the year to come. We are here for a short season and then we leave only the works of our hands and minds. We remember the ones we miss, whether they are separated from us by space, or by a gulf that we can never bridge except in memory.

On behalf of Warren, and from The Counselor and me, peace to all of you.

© Brad Nixon 2012, 2017

Card design © 2012 Warren A. Fessler. No use of any kind without express permission is allowed. 

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Responses

  1. Very nice article and tribute to Warren. Your last paragraph is very well put… as I thought about lost friends and the “gulf that we can never bridge except in memory”.

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  2. Thank you for the wonderfully evocative remembrance of Warren. I also wish I had a photo of him striding around campus with that dark cape flying.

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  3. A spark of Warren has now been ignighted in many of us that read your story of him. In that respect he is a bit more alive in our memory.

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  4. That was lovely, Brad. Thank you for your words and the remembrance of your friend.

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  5. What a nice story. Warren sounds like he was interesting and his gifts show he was a vibrant part of your and many other’s lives.

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  6. I just read this article. I’ve been offline, so to speak, for awhile; so I’m just catching up.

    I did not know Warren well. It would be more accurate to say that I knew of Warren, saw him occasionally on campus — certainly, he was unmissable.

    Yet, after reading your moving article, and feeling that I now knew Warren, I felt consumed by a great sadness. If only Warren could have read your article before his far too soon passing. If only we all could read something about ourselves like what you wrote for Warren before we say our last goodbye. Let us all remember “. . . Never send to know for whom the bell tolls . . .”

    Like


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