Eulogy of Remembrance
Burial Service for Bruce Edward Hall

Saturday, October 29, 2005; 3:00 p.m. by Herbert Hall

It does not seem to have been two years since Bruce died. His last days are still etched in my mind: an uncertain, searching face in a frail, wasted body; seeking answers, looking for the truth. Images of his earliest days come back: a child, seemingly serious, searching but quick to humor. As a young child, Bruce had a stubborn resistance to eating most foods, and his long-remembered comment, made in all seriousness upon passing a certain Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia, was: "That's where I had my delicious Chinese Cheerios and my delicious Chinese banana", which we had brought when we went there for dinner one night. (This was the same child who grew up to be a published restaurant critic in his later years.) He seemed to be sure of himself; busy, happy, often argumentative, confident in what he was doing, very competitive in table games, not interested in throwing or chasing a ball possibly revealing his early intelligence. He decided very early in life that he wanted to be an actor. In one of his later summer experiences with a Shakespeare troupe in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where he played Ariel in The Tempest, he wrote for his program bio that his "first acting job was as the Letter 'H' in a fourth-grade Easter pageant". Our family came to Madison in 1967 when Bruce was thirteen. To our surprise, Bruce got the job of writing Youth in the News, a column that appeared weekly in The Shoreline Times, in 1969 when he was a sophomore at Daniel Hand. We were, frankly, unprepared for the quality and depth of his writing: observant, terse, irreverent and, above all, distinctly original and rapidly paced. He ended each column with a "Chinese Proverb of the Week", which he first copied from a booklet but later wrote himself.

In one column he commented, "As Calvin Coolidge said in 1944, 'I speak softly but carry a big stick.'" Of course, a gentle lady in Madison wrote to the Times that the paper should "... please tell Mr. Hall that the quotation was attributed to Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 and that Mr. Coolidge had died in 1933". The Times then printed the following: "By way of explanation, Bruce Hall, Youth in the News columnist, quotes this instant, ancient Chinese proverb: He who has Cheeky Tongue can also have Tongue in Cheek." Bruce pursued his acting career avidly, through Syracuse University and in his early years living in New York City. He originated the character, Up-Up, a hand puppet, in the long-running children's television show Romper Room, and continued in puppetry with nationally known groups including a part in the movie The Muppets Take Manhattan. We had always felt, however, that Bruce's true talent lay in writing. His Youth in the News column was early evidence. To our surprise, a long article by Bruce appeared in The New York Magazine outlining the history of his family in New York's Chinatown warts and all from his great-grandfather's emigration from China in 1873 through his grandfather and his parents. We were startled, yet felt honored. He presented his family proudly, as examples, perhaps, of the Americanization of an Eastern culture, without preaching or commenting -- just something that had occurred. The article turned out to be the first glimmerings of his book, Tea That Burns, a history of his great-grandfather's or my grandfather's -- arrival and the early days of New York's Chinatown. He had spent countless days poring through immigration records in New York City, San Francisco and Massena, New York, a frequent entry from Canada. He found documentation showing my grandfather's travels back to China, my father's trip to marry a pre-arranged bride and their return, as well as documented stories about the Tong Wars in New York and my grandfather's part in settling these early disturbances. The events were built into the narrative detailing the fabric of life in early Chinatown. He had two other books published, plus many short stories and magazine articles.

The Episcopal Church was important to Bruce. While living in Madison we came to St. Andrew's for Sunday worship. Bruce continued to attend an Episcopal church through college and in New York, where he was an acolyte and a regular at Grace Church in lower Manhattan, and later, at St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue. He was active in at least one prayer group that met weekly, and though he did not evangelize, he was strong in his belief. In Bruce's last weeks, when he knew his days were numbered, we had some deep, heart-wrenching discussions with him. He said at one time in early October, that he was not yet ready to die. He asked Jane Ann why he was not permitted, at the age of five, to attend the funeral of our eldest son, David, who died of kidney problems in 1959. He reluctantly accepted her response. I apologized to Bruce for my misunderstanding in his early adult years, a fact that had weighed heavily in my heart. We discussed Heaven, and he said he was not sure if there really is a Heaven. I told him that I was not sure, either, if there is a physical Heaven, but I was sure that we continue to live in the minds and hearts of those nearest to us and those with whom we have made serious contact. The day before Bruce died, I leaned down closely as he whispered, "I'm ready." He died the following morning. Bruce is in Heaven. I think of him very often as in, what would Bruce's reaction be to this, or to that? I pray that I will think and speak the truth, as Bruce would expect. More than two-hundred people attended his memorial service at St. Bartholomew's Church the week after he died, an astounding number to me, but a following that showed the breadth of his sphere of influence his Heaven. Bruce is with us here, I'm certain, and is now probably coining an Ancient Chinese Proverb to fit this occasion.

Herbert Hall

 

Literary Work

Tea That Burns : A Family Memoir of Chinatown 

Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District 

American Heritage A Walk Through Chinatown with My Great Grandfather

TimeOut The Forbidden City

Also by Bruce Edward Hall

curriculum vitae

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