Aaron and Alvah

Marsa, Catalunya, June 1938

Left to right: Nikolas Kurculiotis, Aaron Lopoff, Alvah Bessie

Photo from Alvah Bessie’s Spanish Civil War Notebooks

Edited by Dan Bessie, The University Press Kentucky, 2002.

That quote is from Men in Battle–a conversation between Alvah Bessie and his captain, Aaron Lopoff. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and Aaron, and I finally nailed the ending to Julius thanks to Alan Warren’s research.

Alan lives in Catalunya and is the author of the blog, Porta de la Historia, which centers on the Spanish Civil War. According to his other blog, Hill 705, Alan used to renovate an old chapel in the Welsh valleys, but later moved permanently to Catalunya. In July 2003, he began publishing reprints of hard-to-find books on the International Brigades as Warren & Pell Publishing.  When he isn’t writing or publishing books, Alan is found researching the battle of the Ebro, and offering tours around the various battlefields to those interested in the Spanish Civil War.

I know Alan from the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives Facebook page. He has posted a number of events occurring in Catalunya that commemorate the war, as well as posting videos of documentaries. We recently were part of a thread wherein I mentioned Alvah Bessie. The exchange led to Men in Battle and Alvah’s relationship with Aaron Lopoff. For some time now, I’ve been asking around if anyone knew where Aaron might be buried in Spain, but no one knew. This was also a question that Alvah had in Spain, Again, and tries to find the mass grave where Aaron was buried, but had little luck.

No one at ALBA seemed to know when I revisited the topic, but then I thought that maybe Alan—through his own research—might know. Eureka! This is what he wrote:

Alvah, in Spain, Again goes to Santa Coloma de Farners hospital. But Aaron is not recorded as having been admitted (lists of all the brigaders admitted month-by-month are held in the town archives after a room in the old hospital was discovered with masses of papers when the Thermal Spa was refurbished a few years ago, and Aaron’s name does not appear, nor does his name appear in the burials at the ajuntament). We have since discovered that Aaron died at Sabinosa hospital at Tarragona (a TB hospital after the war and a ruin now, but soon to be developed into a hotel) and is very likely buried in the mass grave of the old cemetery at Tarragona cemetery.

Now, the operative words are “very likely” but that’s a lot closer to “we have no idea.” In Julius, I have Alvah telling Corinne about his frustration of never having the opportunity to say good-bye to his friend and that in his ghostly wanderings, he’s never encountered Aaron. Of course, there’s a bit of snappy back and forth between Alvah and Corinne because that’s what they do, but Corinne is touched by the fact that Alvah—although he’s dead—is still bothered that he can’t find Aaron and pay his last and final respects.

One of the things about the ending that bothered me was that Alvah was still hanging in limbo, even though he’s seeing his dream of Men in Battle become a film, but I wanted something more that would come as a wonderful surprise for him and readers. So now I’m fooling around with that final “The End” and the last words that Alvah speaks. I have an idea that I hope will touch readers’ hearts. I don’t want it to be sappy, but I am basing it on what Alvah wrote in his addendum for the 1975 edition of Men in Battle:

I am still thinking about him. For at least four years after we returned from Spain Aaron appeared to me in a dream —always the same dream: We were huddled together for warmth, asleep under that tree the second night after we cross­ed the Ebro. I awoke in the dream with a start and saw he was not there. I sat up and stared into the darkness, listening. After a moment a figure emerged from among the olive trees. It was Aaron. He came quietly out of the night, stopped a few feet from me. His right arm was extended, his forefinger beckon­ing. He spoke quietly, saying, “Alvah . . . Alvah . . . come . . . come …” I always awoke with a gasp—sometimes with a scream.

After I read that I knew I had to make it the impetus for Corinne to find Aaron’s grave, and to end the novel with Alvah and Aaron finally reuniting. So a happy ending for my two favorite characters, one that I hope is believable and makes readers a little weepy (I made myself cry when I came up with it).