An Envelope Marked ‘Death’

Published:May 9, 2013 by Brendan Wolfe

Tom Wolfe, ca. 1980

Forgive a bit of self-indulgence here, but last August this blog lost one of its biggest fans when my dad, Tom Wolfe, of Davenport, Iowa, died. You may remember him for his silly notes or for his provocative (and perhaps not entirely defensible) comparisonof Robert E. Lee with Hitler and Stalin. Now I’ve published an essay in The Morning News about him, those silly notes, and our often very complicated relationship. It begins:

The policeman, having just kicked open the back door, missed it. So did the EMTs and the out-of-sorts neighbor lady, her eyes all fear and water. Instead, it took Mom and Sara, with damp washcloths over their mouths, to finally notice it the next day—just sitting there on the table by the recliner in my dad’s house: a standard-sized manila envelope marked in Dad’s sloppy cursive:


Inside the envelope was a typed letter dated almost exactly a year earlier.

“Dear Bridget, Brendan, and Sara,” it begins.

“This is my latest update on my funeral plans should I decide one day to depart this land of milk and honey […] I have prepaid my funeral expenses. Halligan/McCabe’s will handle it all: a mild wake and an even milder funeral or memorial service whenever you want them—all nonreligious. I don’t care what you do in this regard, but try to make those attending show some degree of remorse over my passing, even if you need to pistol whip them. Also, try to make it a festive occasion, although those gathered will probably think that anyway! If I have any money lying around to finance it, make it a party.”

IMAGE: Tom Wolfe, ca. 1980