"Let us sit upon the ground – "
As readers know when faced with startling turns in life, I turn to Shakespeare. The column's title is taken from "Richard II" and is part of a speech in the third act:
"For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings..."
Charles Smelser and Erni Nasher ruled over nobody. They couldn't have been more unalike. Neither was to the purple born, a natural king; each had qualities of majesty about him.
Six years before Charlie was born in Carroll County, Ernst (anglicized as Ernest) Nasher told me his family left their home in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, near Vienna, and visited the United States. He provided few details.
Only since his death last week has the possibility been raised his father may have been running from the imperial draft. A priest from my New Orleans school days was the first to broach the reality; his Catholic parents fled to America to avoid the husband's conscription. In the ancient Roman fashion, when snapped up draftees could count on spending most of their lives in the emperor's military service where Christians had a much better time of it. Erni's progenitors were Jews.
In any event, the Nashers' timing could not have been better. Before their visas ran out, the guns of August 1914 made their return impossible. Their first home was in New York. As World War II loomed, Erni moved south to Frederick. By the time we met, he and his pizza parlor, opposite Fort Detrick, close to Hood College, had become local institutions.
In personality, my long-time friend was the essence of a boulevardier; his turned up moustache was a clue. He had the manner and the attitude of an old world sophisticate; everything about him cried class. Our secret liaison was rooted in German, actually Yiddish. That's what he said when he opened his mouth. His version of the Teutonic language was not "echte." The Austrian Jewish sounds that came out of his mouth were ever arched, amusing and self-amused. Erni loved playing mental and intellectual games, his eyes dancing.
After Frederick's first genuine pizza parlor turned into May's Hardware, I saw him only now and then, always in the company of daughter Rosalind who was the staff and rod, the caretaker of his later years. Around the time his century birthday rolled around, his eyes stopped dancing; he could no longer see, which was a heartbreaker. He coasted toward death, his glide interrupted and slowed by "Roz" and his friends.
Erni Nasher was a genuine – although mostly private – adornment for Frederick and his adopted country, the United States.
State Senator Charles Smelser also had dancing eyes, even when serious; they were always reacting to life. He may just have been the most "vibrant" human being I ever met, in the exact dictionary sense: "pulsating with life." Even sitting, he was not still. He had an extremely active "intellect" – were he still around Charlie would probably pull a long face at the word. Still that's how he came across to me.
While the senator and I talked frequently when he was still politically active, I never did a soul-search on him, even an interview. There was no need. Much of his personal doings was clearly off-limits; I agree that a public person's private happenings should not be spread over the media. And he was a very private individual, more befitting a bank president, which became his profession, for years, when the General Assembly was out of session.
Although cautious and conservative were the hallmarks of his life and career, Charlie Smelser ever dealt from the top of the deck; his state business was frequently conducted behind closed doors; but the outcome and results became widely known. He was not the type to play with people's destinies or their purses. He epitomized the politician who remained a gentleman that retained majestic qualities – at least a candidate for a king's crown, in my books.
The celebration of Erni Nasher's life was generally restricted to this community, while the tolling of the funereal bells for Charlie Smelser reached farther corners of the state. In a very personal way I sit upon this cyber ground and share my grief and sadness at both "kings" death.
They are missed.