“First Love (For Jennifer)” originally read as a eulogy on Saturday, May 12th, 2007 at 'The Fruitlands' in Harvard, Massachusetts in loving memory of our dear friend, Jennifer (Doran) Haan.
(Press the Play button on the icon at the bottom of this page to hear the audio recording of this reading)
We all know the significance of dragonflies for Jen but what do Japanese beetles and a coffee can full of gasoline have to do with her?
I’ll get to that very shortly I assure you.
But first, like many of you, I had the great privilege of growing up with Jennifer. I could tell dozens of stories about the times we shared and the memories we made together. However, I’ll try to stick to the one theme that I find central to what Jen’s character was all about --- and that was --- how easy it was to love her.
And, as a matter of fact, as a young man coming of age in the wilds of Acton, Massachusetts Jennifer was, indeed, My First BIG Crush.
And it was a good place to be.
Some highlights include my first time seeing her on stage in ‘The Sound of Music’ long before any High School plays, or even Junior High. She was already acting in the big leagues - with the community theatre - and she was only a grade school kid. This little angel with the perfect singing voice - the seasoned-beyond-her-years acting skills - and how did she remember all of those lines!? She was a star. She left me slack jawed.
I remember during little league baseball, me up at bat and going through a bit of a hitter’s dry spell at the time, when suddenly Kyle Anderson shouted out, “Do it for Jennifer!” ... I’d never hit a ball farther in my life. It’s true. And even though the right-fielder caught it I did manage to drive in a run and we won the game that day...
But, one of my all time favorite Jen moments was the one in which I finally reached that ultimate pinnacle: actually sharing the stage with her, and, get this, we were the leads! Together! Princess Camilla and Prince Simon. That same night she ended up bailing my sorry rear-end out of what was forever after known as my “Oh, ‘Crud’” moment. Lets just say I was never one for creative improv when it came to dropped-lines. But she, like the true Pro she was, absolutely remembered what Prince Simon had done: “Did you come in through the window?” Of course I did(!) - and with that ushered me right-quick out of my ‘expletive-parade’ and back on track.
Thank you, my Dear, you saved a budding acting career from completely crashing and burning that evening.
Speaking of burning...
So, what do Japanese Beetles and a coffee can full of gasoline have to do with Jennifer?
Well, you see, summer heat gets the best of young boys at times. And on one particularly muggy afternoon in August, many years ago, on the cusp of the neighbor’s vegetable garden harvest time, my friend Spencer Blaker and I were out “saving plants”. By “saving plants” I mean plucking those voracious little menaces known as Japanese beetles off of the vegetable leaves - which the sinister beasties handily made a sort of Swiss cheese out of... And, also by “saving plants”, I mean dropping each one of the little buggers into a Maxwell House coffee-can filled to the brim with premium grade lawnmower gas.
Did I mention the part about the matches?
Patience. This is leading to something.
It wasn’t long before our can was getting quite ‘topped-off’ with our quarry when our minds had begun to wander to that most important of preoccupations: infatuation. And, I was bursting to tell someone, anyone, what had been making my head spin for days on end. So, in fact, I declared at the very moment Spencer was poised with a single lit match dangling precariously above this can of ‘insects and Exxon’, ”Spencer, I’m in love.”
He looked at me a bit quizzically, “Oh, yeah, with who?”
“Uhhh, Jennifer Doran.”
“ Really? What does it feel like?”
“I don’t know.” I was at a loss for words, “I can’t possibly explain it. It’s too big. It’s like trying to explain ... the Impossible.”
He shrugged. The match fell, hung in the air – suspended, really. Never quite reaching the surface of the can’s contents... when:
Flames shot up like a canon blast! Reds, oranges and yellows lunging at the lowest tree branches! Fire like Fire you’d never seen Fire behave like before! A heart, and a mind and a soul of it’s own, I swear. So, we did what came naturally.
We ran in circles.
And, then, for some god-awful reason, we kicked that can right over on its side so that it spilt out all over everything. Did we actually think this would somehow stop it?
Fire spread everywhere!
The entire back yard, the garden, the patio engulfed in a ‘kid made conflagration’. We screamed some more until finally we had the good sense to roll-out the watering hose by the house and take some action. Let me tell you – we hit that ‘Thing’ with everything we had for what seemed like an eternity – and all the while making these stupid fire engine siren noises. It felt really, really scary, and exhilarating and fascinating.
Then strangely, I wasn’t scared anymore. I was overjoyed and I’m not even a pyromaniac...
The Fire finally did go out leaving a sad, smoldering, and charred lawn stretched out before us. Gosh, were we in trouble or what? But this is what I couldn’t help afterwards. It kind of just happened. I started to chuckle, then outright laugh. I started laughing so hard that Spencer eventually turned to me in a fury and shouted, “Dennis, we almost burned down the whole back yard, you idiot!”
“I know. But you know how I said I couldn’t explain before how it felt to be in love? In love with Jennifer?”
Then it dawned on him, too.
And everything was perfect.
Jennifer, it takes an extraordinarily special person to teach somebody about Love.
Your family, your friends, everyone gathered here who has had the pleasure of knowing you will surely attest the truth of this in you.
Your Fire will be sorely missed.
But all of our hearts that were touched by it will never, ever forget.
View Jennifer's Memorial Guest Book here.
(Piano music: "Together We Will Live Forever" by Clint Mansell from 'The Fountain')