Edie Kerouac Parker (1922-1993), Jack Kerouac’s first wife and a strangely occluded Beat figure, died on this day, thirty years ago. We remember and salute Edie Kerouac Parker
Edie was there from the very beginning. Lucien Carr had met her in the fall of 1943, around the same time she started dating Jack Kerouac. By early 1944 Lucien brought William Burroughs over to her apartment – 421 West 118th Street, which she shared with Joan Vollmer – to ask Jack about working in the merchant marines. It was at that same apartment Allen and Jack would meet a few months after that, tho Allen and Edie were well acquainted by then.
Edie was at Allen’s side on crucial occasions that summer with the unfolding of the infamous Columbia Carr-Kammerer incident (Lucien charged with Kammerer’s murder, Jack summarily arrested and held as a material witness, spending some time in the Bronx County jail since he was unable to make bail)
“I’ve been escorting la belle dame sans merci (sic) around all morning”, Allen writes, “first to Louise’s (sic – Joan Vollmer’s), now to jail, I haven’t a permit so I won’t visit you…Edie and I looked into D.Klavier (sic – David Kammerer)’s old room – all of the penciled inscriptions on the wall had been painted over by some philistine house-painter. The little graphite mark above the pillow is no more – it once bore emblem (where plaster had fallen off the wall) “Lu-Dave!” The snows of yesteryear seem to have been covered by equally white paint..”
On August 25, 1944, Jack and Edie were married while Jack was still in police custody. Edie was then able to borrow money from her trust fund to post Jack’s bail.
Jack to Allen – “Let you not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments – love is not love which alters when it altercation finds – O no! ’tis an ever fix’d lark…. Our wedding anniversary fell on the day of the liberation of Paris…. I’d like to go to Paris after the war with Edith, Lucien, Celine (Young) – and a little money for a decent flat somewhere in Montparnasse. Perhaps if I work hard now, and establish my fortune swiftly, I can realize that transcendent ambition. You yourself may lay down your legal labors for a while and join us there. The new vision would blossom..”
Kerouac’s “Satori in Paris” would come later. First, the newly-weds decamped to his mother-in-law’s in Michigan (Grosse Pointe). Edith would spend a significant part of her life living with her mother at Grosse Pointe.
from the transcript of the Naropa 1982 Jack Kerouac 25th Anniversary Conference:
AG: So the question is how did you first meet Jack, first time?
Edie Parker Kerouac: I first met.. I first met Henry Cru. I first was with Henry Cru, who lived in my grandmother’s apartment 438 West 116t Street, and his mother and my grandmother were friends, and me and Henry Cru liked each other, and he was going to Horace Mann with Jack (Kerouac), and he wanted me to meet his best friend. So he took me and he asked us out to lunch and we went to a New York delicatessen which I’m not used to and I sat down and immediately had six sauerkraut hot dogs and from that time on he fell in love with me
AG: You said that the other day
EPK: I know and I…
Gregory Corso: What year was this?
AG: That early, ok. Do you remember any of the first conversation at all?
EPK: I don’t think he said much at all.
AG: What was the first conversation you can remember?
EPK: To me?
AG: Or with anyone?.. (It’s hard, actually.. thinking about..)
EPK: I’ll tell you what he did, Allen. He liked me. So the next day he wrote me a love letter
EPK: …on one page
AG: So fast!
EPK: He delivered it by hand and he gave it to the bell-boy who brought it up to me and I was.. it was gorgeous. I wish I’d..
AG: What did it say?
EPK: Oh, oh my god, he called me his birdnote and his..
AG: His what?
EPK: Birdnote. He always called me his birdnote..
AG Bird note?
EPK: Uh-huh. and he talked about when he first met me that I walked on Amsterdam Avenue and that I fed a horse that was a beggar’s horse, a junk man’s horse, and he talked about that and he talked about that if I went into the deepest deepest part of the forest under the (den) where there was the deepest part of the forest, and I lifted up a rock, there I would find his heart.
EPK: I remember that.
AG: And do you remember what book he was writing then?
EPK: Oh, I think it was The Sea is My Brother
AG: Yes..now do you remember anything about that book?
EPK: I’m really not kidding you Allen. I think it’s in the attic of my house.
AG: You have it?
AG: (Do) you have The Sea Is My Brother?
EPK: Yes, I think so.
AG: That’s a revelation. The long-lost manuscript! [Editorial note – The Sea Is My Brother – The Lost Novel was finally published in 2011]
EPK: I..when we moved from one house it was on the top of a shelf and it was thick like this and my sister and I would recall reading it..constantly.. but it did go on and on – and on and on and on
AG: That was his first novel, which he was writing when he was a sailor going up the.. around..sailing around Greenland.
AG: That was his big symbolic novel while he was reading Thomas Mann –The Magic Mountain. But The Sea Is My Brother is like a..sort of classic title, and it was his first really Romantic prose, and it was the first extended work before The Town and the City.
Gregory Corso: Eighteen? Eighteen years old?
EPK: Yes. Yeah. He never.. As long as I knew him he never stopped writing, never. He was always…
AG: Well how did you get that manuscript, did you just… he left it with you?
EPK: No, he lived with me in Grosse Pointe and he handed it to me.
AG: But when he visited, when you got married and he visited there, he just left it there?
EPK: Yeah, that’s right, he left it there and he lost it. That’s where the picture is in my little book, of the merchant marine with the white hat. It’s in my little book..*
EPK: I think Jack was very moral
AG: Very! It wasn’t just his mother
EPK: Squeaky moral
EPK: Allen, can I tell you how he learned how to scat?
EPK: Do you remember Seymour Wyse?
AG: Yes, sure.
EPK: Seymour Wyse was from Liverpool, England.
AG: A Liverpool Jew.
EPK: Yeah and he used to scat, and he and Jack used to do this together. And the first time, it was terrific. They’d get one side of the street, Seymour, and he’d get on the other, and they’d walk down the street, and everybody would listen, it was beautiful. And then, the first time that Jack ever smoked pot , we went from the Village Vanguard at about four in the morning with Lester Young to Minton’s (Playhouse) and he gave Jack pot for the first time
AG: How did you know it was the first time?
EPK: Oh yeah, he told me so because he said so.
AG: Who gave it to him?
EPK: Lester Young
John Clellon Holmes: Lester Young
AG: Quite a transmission!- Well that’s a new fact.
“Edie Kerouac Parker, Henri Cru and Allen Ginsberg” – more from that “Boulder Summit” from Brian Hassett
Her must-read memoir You’ll Be Okay, (enhanced with enlightening essays by co-editors Timothy Moran and Bill Morgan and many photographs from Edie’s private collection) was published posthumously by City Lights in 2007.
from Mark Terrill‘s review of the book for Rain Taxi:
“Neither scholarly tome nor critical analysis, Edie Kerouac Parker’s new memoir is a warm, intimate portrait the embryonic journey of Jack Kerouac..”
from Booklist – “Kerouac’s first wife, Edie Parker, played a pivotal role in his literary evolution, but her side of the story hasn’t been fully known until now. . . . Fascinating in her own right, and writing with compelling lucidity and soulful sweetness, Parker vividly recalls her posh childhood, life in Queens with Kerouac and his parents…”
and Andrei Codrescu – “This is a wonderful memoir of a girl in love. When she wrote it, Edie Frankie Parker was no longer a girl, and her love, Jack Kerouac, was long gone. But Edie, or Frankie as her intimates called her, remembered everything about her brief marriage to Jack, as if a bubble of resilient sunshine had encapsulated those few years during World War 2, and kept intact every detail. She remembers what they ate, what they wore, what movies they saw….”
The book opens with an account of Jack’s wake and Jack’s funeral (in Lowell, in 1969):
“Before long Allen Ginsberg came in with Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky. Allen was all hair with sandals, no socks, and a lute (sic). He walked over and kissed Sister and me and recited a prayer to us with his hands clasped tight.I was comforted by his presence. At that time I didn’t know Gregory or Peter.”Where’s Lucien and Willy B?”., I asked Allen.He told me that Lucien was so upset by the news that he had almost bitten his tongue off and could not make the trip. I never did hear where Burroughs was.”
of the funeral parade – “They brought Jack in. Allen was a pallbearer, the other five people I didn’t know – New York businessmen probably, merchants, not a playboy among them. Everything was grey, black and bronze.My back was to most of the people there but I didn’t see any of the friends of our youth – only Allen”
“The eulogy was very long and I couldn’t concentrate on it. I decided that I would read it in the paper the next day. At last the service mercifully came to an end. Allen turned and smiled at me – a very sweet thing to do – he knew what I was feeling. We all of us , were, and always will be, very close, and a big part of us was lying in that casket”
“Suddenly, Allen was standing before taking my hand, and leading me into the open where we stood beside the casket.He was chanting. a mantra and gave me a red rose and held one himself. He threw his on the casket and then waited for me to throw mine. I did, then turned and walked away….”
Her final self-assessment – “Money has always been my center of gravity – a sad but true fact. My mother held the money even when Jack Kerouac captured my imagination, and I was unable to reconcile the two. My mother,a tenacious, heroic, indomitable woman outlived Jack by ten years and I lived in her house until the end, just as Jack was to live with his own mother.”
“Jack Kerouac was the fulfillment and nemesis of my youth. He was not a rebel by nature but was curious and fascinated by those unlike himself and could not resist the lure of those temptations.My heart was with him always, but my values ultimately lead me back home. I was never able to reconcile the dualities within myself. I never will.”
In 1991. Edie was diagnosed with diabetes. Within the year the diabetes began to take its toll and she was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, and again, with several hospitalizations, (including finally a fatal one), in 1993.
The University of North Carolina currently holds the Parker-Cru archives. For more on Parker (and on Cru, for that matter), see there.