Skip to main content

Paul Nossiter

Yesterday, I learned that Paul Nossiter, my mother’s first and last boyfriend, had died. Now, when I say that Paul was my mother’s first and last boyfriend, I don’t mean that he was her only boyfriend. She certainly had a number of boyfriends [1]. I just mean that they dated when she was about sixteen [2] and that they were dating when she moved to Grinnell. They also dated off and on for the thirty years between my father’s death and my mother’s death. They clearly cared deeply about each other. But they both had strong personalities that clashed and they often had different priorities, so theirs was an on-againx off-again relationship.

How did I hear? I received a notice of a Paul Nossiter Memorial Jam Session. So I did a Web search. It turns out that he died a year ago today. I cried to hear that Paul had died. In part, it was the sense of losing someone who was close to the family. In part, it was discovering that he’d died a year ago. In part, it was regret for not being more in contact with him. Paul was not an Internet person. And I’m bad at sending physical letters. The two don’t align well. I’ve also only been out east once since mom died, and that was for a whirlwind tour of colleges. Michelle would occasionally try to figure out something about him by doing a Web search, but couldn’t find much.

Although mom and Paul were close, I don’t feel like I ever got to know him as well as I might have. He loved jazz and was a great player. I appreciate that when William started clarinet, Paul worked with William a bit. I enjoyed seeing Paul play the few times that I got to see him play. I know mom and Paul spent a lot of time together on the Cape, playing Scrabble, walking on the beach, discussing politics, and more.

I appreciate that Paul was always willing to open his house to my family, even though it wasn’t necessarily suited to children. I particularly appreciate that he hosted us when we went down to the Cape to scatter mom’s ashes. With Paul gone, I’m not sure that anyone will remember which particular pond he told us was her favorite [3].

Yesterday, I watched Youngest Son play bari sax in the school jazz band. At the time, I thought to myself how much my mother would have appreciated hearing him play. I’m sure that Paul would have, too [4,5].

I was surprised that there was not more about Paul in the obits. The New York Times and the Globe had perfunctory announcements. On the other hand, there were both an obituary and a separate story in The Cape Cod Times. That makes sense since he spent much of his adult life there. But mom used to tell me that Paul had a big hand in the creation of the Newport Jazz Festival, and I see nothing about that mentioned anywhere. I do see that one article mentions his collaboration with George Wein on a Storyland Cape Cod. Since Wein is credited with founding the Newport Jazz Festival, it could be that mom was conflating the two, or it may be that Paul worked behind the scenes and didn’t need the spotlight. I expect it’s a combination of the two.

I had only occasional encounters with Paul’s children Celeste, Mark, Steven, and Emily. I know Celeste best because she came to visit mom in Grinnell for an extended time [7]. In any case, my thoughts are with them and their families. I know how hard it is to lose someone with a personality as large as Paul’s.

Postscript for self: I really do need to find the time to stay in touch with mom and dad’s cohort, since there are many of them who mean a lot to mean. How do I find time to do that when work and family already take more time than I have? It’s something I’ll need to figure out.

[1] However, she told me that my father was really her one true love.

[2] They were both students at the Fieldson Ethical Culture School, or something like that.

[3] Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

[4] I’m also sure that Paul would have had some helpful critiques for the band.

[5] Given that Paul’s primary instrument was the clarinet, I’m sure that he would also have had some pointed comments about the absence of clarinets in Iowa high school Jazz bands [6].

[6] I know, I bring up the issue every time I discuss high school jazz bands. But it bothers me. The clarinet is really an awesome jazz instrument.

[7] Or maybe she and mom both came to Grinnell for Thanksgiving one year. My memory is never great.

Version 1.0 of 2018-03-04.