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A Painful Loss


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Last December, I received an email from a gentleman who had been reading Dance of the Wicked Boys on Awesome Dude. He told me how much he enjoyed the story and went on to describe how painful and yet encouraging it was to see how young gay people today have so much more freedom to express themselves and their sexuality. He described how he was unable to do so, growing up in Oklahoma during the forties and that, even though my stories are set twenty to thirty years after his own childhood and adolescence, he felt he could live vicariously through my characters. We developed a nice email friendship, over the course of which, we discovered who we were.

Peter was a childhood friend of my father's whom I knew from several visits during my childhood when we would spend the weekends or holidays with my grandparents. Indeed, it was Peter, who worked in bookstores for much of his adult life, who gave me The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh. It was Peter who started the family habit of referring to me as "Christopher Robin."

Peter told me how, when he was in junior and senior high, my father was one of the few who treated him with dignity and respect as so many others taunted and bullied him for being sensitive and artistic. When my father died, Peter wrote a poem for the family, a tribute to my father's decency and kindness.

I had not seen Peter since my grandfather died. He had moved away and felt uncomfortable keeping in touch because my mother didn't care for him. I did not know until we began correspondence that he was gay. Nor did I know that he had such a love for the joy and exuberance of boyhood. He had a particular fondness for me, but was limited in his contact with me because he didn't want to arouse suspicion. And, so, for decades, he repressed his feelings until the rise of the Internet and the arrival of Nifty and Awesome Dude.

In his last email to me, Peter said that the saddest song he had ever heard was Puff the Magic Dragon because it expresses so eloquently the loss of those who love that joy and exuberance of boyhood and then see it dissolve away with the maturity and adulthood of their beloved.

Last night, I received an email from Peter's companion informing me that Peter passed away in his sleep Friday night, just a couple of days before his eighty-second birthday. And so, and you will forgive the mixed metaphor, Christopher Robin wishes Puff the Magic Dragon a safe journey. I wish I had been permitted to be his young friend for longer.

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What a marvellous tribute you have written. We should all be so lucky to have someone like Peter in our lives.

I would add that we are more than fortunate to have you in our community, Free Thinker.

We can but offer you our comfort in your loss. :hug:

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Very well said, F.T. Be glad for the time you did know him and the positive exchanges you had with him. Cherish the memory and hang on to the good things as long as you can.

In his last email to me, Peter said that the saddest song he had ever heard was Puff the Magic Dragon because it expresses so eloquently the loss of those who love that joy and exuberance of boyhood and then see it dissolve away with the maturity and adulthood of their beloved.

Yes, even when the song came out in March of 1963 on their classic Moving album, when I was only 8 years old, I grasped the sadness of the story, particularly with the line, "dragons live forever, but not so little boys... painted things and giant's rings, make way for other toys." Very poignant lyric, written by the great Lenny Lipton (who is still alive, and is one of the world's leading authorities on 3D filmmaking).

I can recall the cartoon version of Puff the Magic Dragon coming out a few years later and kind of rewriting the ending, showing a new boy coming to the cave -- possibly the offspring of Jackie Paper -- and being the new friend for the Dragon. But even as a kid, I said, "this is a lotta bullshit that completely goes against the sentiment and emotion of the original song." I've argued for more than 40 years that the song isn't about marijuana or anything like that, but simply the loss of innocence -- which Lipton and Peter Yarrow have also said since day one. Great song, one of my favorite folk songs ever.

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I heard Peter Paul and Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon, but I also remember the Australian group The Seekers with lead singer Judith Durham singing the song.

I guess it would depend which one you heard first as to the one you like best. I like them all.

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I'll never be able to listen to the song again. It's too painful because its a metaphor to me for the love that truly cannot speak its name and the love, in my case, for what might have been. A kind and decent man afraid to show an interest in me because it might be misconstrued, even before the current hysteria, a love that could not be expressed until decades later and at the end of his life, when a chance encounter with a story on the Internet and the exchange of emails brought the truth to light. Even writing this post makes me cry. Thank you for your kind words.

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