Maxie's Recipe for Happiness

Willson, Meredith, 1902-1984


  • Meredith Willson remembers his friend Max Terr to explain why one does not need to be famous in order to leave their mark on the world.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. From the grassroots of Mason City, Iowa has sprouted a no more versatile citizen than maestro Meredith Wilson. One of radio's best-know musical directors, he has composed both popular hit songs and symphonies. He has written a best-selling autobiography and a novel called "Who Did What to Fidelia?" and, he has done some thinking.
I guess the creed of all human beings embraces the desire to leave their mark on the mortal world, when they pass to the immortal one. Maybe this is even the strongest of all urges of the human soul. Many men feel a fervent need to leave a son to carry on their name;
noncreative people envy the Shakespeares and the Beethovens, as draftsmen envy the Frank Lloyd Wrights, and as the commercial artist envies the Rembrandts and the Raphaels. Maybe it's this kind of frustration that caused Henry Thoreau to remark, "The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation." Hmm?
Well, I had a friend by the name of Max Terr. And Max taught me that genius is by no means an essential for escape from this "quiet desperation." Max had been associated with me as choral director for the past twenty years or so. Max was interested in almost everything, and, uh, considering that he was also a perfectionist, his interest was always a very intense one--even if it was only in a pencil.
Being a composer and orchestrator, he was constantly writing at the piano and he could see no reason to live with a clumsy pencil or a bad light, so he puttered and he searched until he found a graceful, dependable, thoroughly efficient pencil and a fine light for his work, completely comfortable and satisfactory in every respect. Now, Max very casually included his friends in this continuous research of his, and no one who knew Max ever took any of his suggestions lightly.
Since Max has gone, not a day passes that isn't a pleasanter day because of the things he left behind him. I have his particular kind of pencil in every pocket of every suit, on the desk, on the night table, and on the piano. Couldn't live without them. I have the light with the flexible stand Maxie insisted I buy, so I no longer strain my eyes.
We have the world's greatest cookies at our house which Max sent one Christmas, after shopping all over town to find the best items to include in a basket for us. He found the cookies in a little shop, as only he could patiently unearth such things. Now all our friends keep them around all the time. They call them "Maxie's cookies" without ever having met Max Terr.
"Tristram Shandy," Max told me one day, "is an old story with a tremendously inventive style. You like to write in the experimental forms. You have to read that book--it'll give you a lot of courage in doing things your own way"--and it sure did. Another day, he said, "The colors in your music room make it difficult to have just the right kind of a picture in there, but you know, Meredith, I picked up a print in a little art store that I think will just do the trick. Here it is. Take a look at it--didn't cost hardly anything either."
In every room of our apartment, there are memories of Max Terr. And lots of our friends swear by his patiently discovered items, passing them along to their friends--praising "Maxie's cookies," 'Maxie's music paper," "Maxie's pencils and piano light" without ever having known Max Terr. So I guess I believe pretty firmly that you don't have to be a Beethoven or a Rembrandt, or even a father, to leave a heritage to the mortal world. This isn't a creed exactly, nor is it a complete personal objective--or is it? Anyhow, I think if I leave behind me any part of the kind of things that keep Max Terr alive in the hearts of his fellows, I will have justified my brief hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage.
That was Meredith Wilson, composer, conductor, author, radio star, and most of all perhaps, a very human being.