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Uta Harnisch 1942 – 2015

September 16th, 2015 · 9 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats, Real-life Adventure Tales


“Life is good.”




A few years ago I became friends with this cool 70-year-old German woman who lived a few doors down.

It was one of those:  recognizing each other from the moment we met — another member of the tribe — kindred travellers – explorers – pranksters – leprechaun twinklers.

And as the trip unfurls . . . turns out, her favorite author is Jack Kerouac!

And not only that — she’s got a shelf-full! — from Town & The City to Book of Dreams — front & center in her living room — the only author in her entertaining social center of the house so honored.

I mean — I live in a sleepy little out-of-the-way town . . . and 3 doors from me is this little wiry full-of-energy living ruth weiss . . . with a shelf fulla Jack!

So we hung, and talked road, and her adventure life out of Germany, and having the wanderlust — which is of course a German word — and how Jack spoke to her, and how he got her on the road and was the voice that inspired her — The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angles, On The Road, she even liked Satori In Paris because it was the one book set in places of her youth.

And I got to show her an advance proof copy of my “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” — but I knew she was a super literate reader — who was actually already reading e-books over print — and so I had to wait to get her a finished copy after the big week-long book release party in Indiana — that turned into a 3 week book release party!

She had the keys and was checkin on my house n stuff — and because I’d been so focused on producing the book, I hadn’t even thought about actually performing it — but had jotted down a few notes on what parts might work — then left town without them.  Once I realized I was expected on stage (!) I had to email her to go into my mad writing studio and find a specific note in a specific pile in front of a specific lamp — and find it she did!  and typed it out and emailed it to the site and the writer got it just in time and dashed to rehearsal in the Bertha Bus and turned in a performance that is truly dedicated to her because without her it never woulda happened!



And she was planning a book release party for me at her house — and everything was going along fine — and then all of sudden — early May — I’m still away on this same trip — when I could tell everything changed.  It was a rockin ride up to that point — her and I as exuberant and pro-active as teenagers — both of us bouncing in our seats at a combined 120 years.  And then it stopped.  The emails, the phone calls — and it was one of those rare times you hoped it was something you said.

But it wasn’t.  And I knew it.

And shortly after came the call she was in the hospice.


I’d just gotten back from 3 weeks On The Road — Marin, S.F., and Chicago for the Grateful Dead’s Farewell — where I’d written this quote into the story I wrote about it that I knew she’d lived — and I thought of her when I included it — and I read it to her on her deathbed: 

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one well preserved piece, but to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out and shouting, ‘WOW! What a ride!!’”

To which she was smiling, from before I even started reading it and all through the set-up cuz she knew … she knew where I was going with this — I almost didn’t have to read it — it was such an obvious articulation of what we both already knew — and lived — and just seeing the joy in her face . . . one week from her body saying No More — there she was beaming at the truth of The Adventure — the whole point of life.

“That’s it,” she said.  “Enjoy every day you’ve got to the max.  Life is good.”




And then her daughter Karen came by, and we had this challenge of tryin’ to track down Uta’s friend from Quebec — and we finally Get It Done — but her husband tells us she’s out at The Rolling Stones concert!

So — here’s one of Uta’s friends sitting beside her just back from three Grateful Dead shows, and her other friend’s out dancing to The Rolling Stones!


And then there was the part where she couldn’t drink alcohol once the cancer was diagnosed, but in her fridge she always had alcohol-free Beck’s, as well as regular for visitors.  And she’d be hip to crackin’ ’em at the crack of noon!

And so was her brother!  One day at the hospice, he and their sister were arriving from Germany at the same time I was from Bronte.  And among other things, I explained to them how the communal fridge works, and how I wrote Uta’s name on a buncha the real McCoy Beck’s I brought over cuz she wanted ’em now that there was no turning back.  So I take Homes over and show him the fridge and beer, and he goes, “You give me one now?”

“You want one now?” I ask in noon nursing-home hospice disbelief.

“Yes,” he says, in that German-English way, where it goes up at the end.

And Boom — we’re off!  Sis is there.  They’re working out shit.  Talkin’ in German a mile-a-minute.  I’m in the corner on the laptop surfin hospice wifi — the ball boy at the tennis match, the “runner” in showbiz, on hand for whatever needs doin’ — as they keep riffing tales in their native tongue, the three siblings united.  And every once-n-a-bit old Otto or whatever his name was, wanted to go out for another smoke, and we’d cluster with beers n butts at the creek-side gazebo and he’d tell me stories about how she was always different, and they knew she’d never stay grounded at home, and she never did, and how she was always the big sister that they watched in amazement at all the things she was doin’.  All life long.  “Life is good.”




Her son-in-law said to me at her memorial — Uta was one of those people who always saw life as the glass half full.

I corrected him.  “No — she saw it as three-quarters full — and she was topping it up while you were busy asking the question.” He liked it so much he put it in the center of his eulogy. 


And then . . . the most amazing part was . . . her family wanted me to have her Jack books!

And thus, beatifically — this German Adventurewoman who ‘got’ and lived Jack will live on as these are preserved and celebrated in her honor.  And if a young Uta should cross my path, and I see the same sparkle in the eye that’s there from youth to sign-off, I can pass on these secret sacred texts, the Road map, via Uta, to the young ones following in her path just as sure as she did Jack’s.






Here’s an ode to another AdventureWoman – Carolyn Cassady

And here’s a tribute to yet another AdventureWoman – my Mom, Enid E. Hassett

And here’s one to my AdventureDude Dad, Vernie V. Hassett

Or here’s one done in video . . . 


by Brian Hassett


9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Randy Turley // Sep 16, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    As Jack said — “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous Roman candles across the sky …”

    As many of us know, it’s the journey, not the destination. Friendship like love reaches beyond … and you just helped me make a new friend.

  • 2 Roxanne Leinhauser-Brennan // Sep 16, 2015 at 3:51 PM

    I love it when I hear about Jack being adored around the world!

  • 3 Dale Topham // Sep 16, 2015 at 10:11 PM


  • 4 Tom Lake // Sep 17, 2015 at 1:36 AM

    In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Much love

  • 5 Sarah Welch // Sep 18, 2015 at 4:40 PM

    You always meet the most interesting people!
    But sorry for your loss. 🙁

  • 6 Spirit Mentalist // Sep 20, 2015 at 8:51 PM

    So gracefully written. A heartfelt tribute to the Den Mother. Inspiring for me to want to run away with my mom for a long journey into the unknown. How blessed you are to have shared time and stories. Thank you for sharing pieces of your heart with us. Here’s to lighting up the night till dawn!

  • 7 Linda Breen // Sep 21, 2015 at 1:39 AM

    Blessed to have her love Brian …

  • 8 Leah Chava Hobbit Reiner // Sep 21, 2015 at 6:07 PM

    Thank you.

  • 9 N Ryner // Nov 3, 2016 at 10:27 PM

    Thank you for this tribute to Uta who was related to me through marriage and who I spent some happy times with & her daughter Karen in late 70s Montreal.

    Uta was a metallurgist, specializing in aluminum and had worked for Noranda & Alcan, living in Montreal & Chicoutimi, Quebec and Kingston, Ontario.
    She loved the outdoors and taught me the basics of cross-country skiing what seems like a lifetime ago.
    But I didn’t know much about her life or her siblings although I did meet an elderly aunt of hers in the 80s.
    I hadn’t seen Uta in a very long time, more than 25 years & I regret finding out this way that she’s no longer with us.
    But I’m glad she had a good friend at the end.

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