In memoriam

Halloween 2022

Monday, November 7th, 2022

On Friday the 28, Jan and I visited the Reis Family Mortuary on Nipomo Street to complete the pre-arrangements for “immediate burial” in the gravesites we purchased last June in the SLO Cemetery. This is the bottom of the line selection. It includes transport and storage of the remains until the grave is dug, delivery to the cemetery, cotton shroud, cardboard box and death certificate for $1845 each, in keeping with our choice of green burial.  One option we added was permission to have a witness at the interment for an additional $250. Had we gone with the mortuary affiliated with the cemetery, the price would have been $3250.

The mortuary is located near the center of town in an attractive neo-colonial building.

LisaMae, the amiable Salesperson, made the lengthy process of filling out forms, upbeat and casual.  As it concluded, we were greeted by a gentleman in jeans and suspenders with a missing lower tooth, who introduced himself as Kirk, the son of the former owner. Though we both felt heavily in need of afternoon naps, Kirk insisted we tour  the museum his father had created. He led us down two flights of stairs, not into a dark crypt but  a riotous display of memorabilia–newspaper front pages going back to the 1930’s glued to the walls, collections of hash pipes, dolls, model trains, and bumper stickers–stored in three rooms connected by vault-like refrigeration doors, relics of the dairy operation which had occupied the site in the early 20th century.

Over the weekend, Jan’s brother stayed with us, two weeks after the memorial in Long Beach for his wife, who died recently after a year’s ordeal with brain cancer. I drove him to the RR Station at 5:00 am on the 31st and then went to the farm to tend the new lambs.  I came back home with a pumpkin and felt an unexpected need creeping over me to do something for the holiday. I emailed friends living nearby with an invitation to stop by for a drink while trick-or-treating with their kids and  set to work carving the pumpkin with the saw on my Leatherman, stuffing a warty squash in the hole for a nose.

As the afternoon darkened, I felt an urge to visit our burial plots just across the freeway. Since I expected she’d never been there, I invited my co-worker, K., to join me for a Halloween excursion. Hesitantly she agreed.

On the way, I delivered what had become my spiel about the place: its location between Central Coast Brewery and the Sunset Drive-In adjacent to a littered hobo highway, its use extending back to the Civil War, its inclusion of many SLO City notables, its Jewish and Muslim sections. We parked on Elks Lane and walked down the main thoroughfare toward the bizarre Dorn pyramid. I pointed out the sites close to it that Jan and I had purchased in January.

At the top of the serpentine outcrop on which it perched, I recounted the tale of  the husband who built it as a memorial for his wife and daughter after they died in childbirth with the intention of eventually joining them but soon afterward moved to San Francisco, started a new family and never returned.  I recollected being there 30 years earlier with students in my Shakespeare class who had chosen it for the location to video their performance of the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet.

Walking back to the car, I declared that this place felt comfortable to me because at my age death seemed  a natural and sometimes welcome prospect rather than the tragedy of dying young.  I’ve had the time to live out my opportunities and choices.

On the return drive, K. was quiet. I worried that my pressuring her to go there might have awakened the pain I remembered in her voice when she spoke about her father, who died when she was a teenager.

Back at Citrus Court the setting sun put on a florescent pink lightshow. I set the jack o’lantern onto the transformer in the front yard, moved up the slider bench for a ringside seat and poured wine for Jan and me.  As the streetlights came on, the Court awakened with costumed revelers.  First were our immediate neighbors, dressed as ’70s hippies, carrying their 2 year old, severely autistic child, who made an instant of smiling eye-contact, then turned away.  Then a group of costumed young couples and children paraded by carrying their own drinks. Other families, including a laughing grandma in a wheelchair, stopped to say hello.  Older kids dressed as media characters I couldn’t recognize, filled both sidewalks. The joyful street life recalled trick-or-treating in the poor New York district we lived in until I was eight.

Next morning at the Farm I was greeted by Miss J., the Waldorf outdoor school’s teacher. She asked me to look at the altar she’d created inside their little geodesic dome to observe November 1, Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead.

Her bright display of flowers and food, colored cutouts, and photographs of departed family members brought a shock of recognition. I’d forgotten that this was the holiday of jolly mourning, the mood which  stirred me into activity yesterday afternoon.  I’d forgotten that in the corner of my study I kept such an altar year-round on an antique washstand containing the ashes of my parents.

The 1950’s wedding portrait of Miss Jewel’s grandmother and and grandfather completed the epiphany:  combining festivity and grief, we find a bit of what’s beyond our grasp.

Postscript

Thanksgiving Day morning November 24.

Getting up early after a wakeful night, I look for something to do before it gets light enough for my holiday farm chores and randomly browse this blog.  Noticing “Lund Retreat 2007,” an unremembered occasion, I open the 7-entry set, and take some pleasure in the prose and the awakened reminiscence of that autumnal solo excursion to the place which, fifteen years ago, I still regarded as my true home.  The third entry is dated October 31 and chronicles a visit to the Uhlman’s house, where Ronnie said she assumed I knew the answer to her question about the proper Jewish ritual for unveiling a gravestone the first year after interment.  Slightly shamed I told her I had no idea and changed the subject.

Back at Knoll House I happily answered Jan’s phone call.  She mentioned she’d been grieving for Henry on this Jahrzeit of his death in 1995.  With a flash it came back: Halloween in the nursing home, the staff in costume, the arrival of the mortuary attendant who identified himself as “Neptune,” and all that followed– an event recorded twelve years earlier so as not to be forgotten, but nevertheless forgotten on that very day.

Reading that as the light comes up this morning, there’s another flash.  The memory that was lost a few weeks ago, despite the mysterious impulse and visit to the cemetery and contemplation at the shrine behind me and despite the next day’s surprise recollection–that purpose of the Jahrzeit was still unrealized…until now.

In Memoriam: Bob Kenas

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

December 1942-March 2022

Dear Bob

Deborah phoned me with word of your death a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, you’ve been more present to me than even during the intense emails we’ve exchanged since the reunion I attended at your home in 1996. I regretfully declined to join any more of them because of the difficulty I’ve always experienced relating to individuals within the framework of the group. With no one was that contradiction between social and individual relationships more pronounced than with you.

Back in Netherland Park your role as the classic alpha male made you seem larger than life and me to almost disappear as the tiny omega called “mousie.” And when the girl I’d been in love with since fourth grade started going with you the annihilation felt complete. (more…)

Nancy Lucas 1942-2021

Sunday, March 27th, 2022

On Sunday attended a memorial service at the Sangha for Nancy Lucas, my age. Retired before me, about 2006.  Lost contact as part of my withdrawal from English department but heard that seven years ago she was moved by her two sons out of SLO to an Alzheimer facility where the older one lives in Healdsburg.  They organized the memorial at White Heron Sangha in Avila because she was an early member who left before I first got there.  The event was announced through the Sangha email list, but not, it seems, through the English Department. I had the impression a number of those folks, who were closer to her than I, had been personally invited, but many others were absent.

This is the third memorial for Sangha members I’ve been to: Barbara Scott, Melody Demerit, the two others.  Women I had special connections with—Barbara my therapist in 1992 and Melody my copy editor in 1998 and 2005.  Those connections were mixed with admiration: Barbara for bravery in dealing with the unimaginable pain of her rheumatoid arthritis, Melody for her steadfastness in serving on the Morro Bay City Council. And affection: Barbara for her ebullience, Melody for her bluff irreverence.

With Nancy it was different.  The most prominent thing about her was a spectacular beauty and grace.  Her head, with its great green eyes and bright red hair, seemed to float with a buoyancy that suspended the rest of her tall body. Her voice, with its slight hint of Texas drawl, seemed to sing recitative rather than talk.  And as so many of the speakers remarked, she fully shared that celebrity presence with everyone who basked in it.  An illustration in that place of a Buddhist aspiration to be fully there for other people.

And a poignant irony that someone so present lived out her life growing steadily more absent. So absent that the two adored and adoring sons who took her in care remembered, in lengthy detail, her rare moments of partially being there in laughter and song.

A picture of her at our house October 1991 during an English Faculty play reading of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal together with Mike Wenzl (1939-2017)

 

Lionel Webb (1947-2020)

Monday, September 21st, 2020

Lionel, I think of you

as an old grizzly bear
all burly and tough
but also a teddy bear
full of cuddly stuff

or as my grandfather,
all seasoned and wise
but also my grandson
full of awe and surprise

 

I’ll Remember April

Friday, October 21st, 2016

(April Wells 1943-2016)

I loved you for your name–
the bloom of youth, the standing daffodil.

I loved you for your voice, in full Canadian lilt
Its high and low note chord.

I loved you for your strength,
To clear the brush and split the wood,
and raise those kids alone
in the dark house across the road.

I loved you for the gifts you brought”grace and song and dance

kenneth to left, april wells, debbie keane, steven marx, backrow joann sorenson, jan christie

And for the gifts you gave–confidence and joy

I loved you for your laugh.

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Brian Gavin, in memoriam

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

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There are not many people in the world I feel close to, and Brian was one of them, even though my relationship with him was formalized and very brief.  Shortly before receiving the news about his death I was thinking about contacting him to talk about a noticeable falling off in my meditation practice during the last two weeks, partially due to a cold that kept me up at night and disrupted my early morning routine.

I thought of Brian as my personal teacher, since he conducted most of the sessions at the three-day retreat I attended last February and agreed to have regular phone consultations with me afterward. Those conversations were always serious but also punctuated by laughter and irony on both sides. During them I felt I had much to learn and nothing to hide. At one point he mentioned that he was looking forward to a long retreat in September with anticipation and some apprehension. That was typical of the frank way we communicated, despite the distance I felt from the variety of samatha experiences that qualified him as a teacher and that he described with such scientific precision.  A few months later we both agreed to forgo the conversations until something I needed to talk about came up. Now it’s too late.

But then again, maybe not, since he remains present to me often during my practice, repeating the assurance that if and when I find the time to attend a longer retreat, a door to the reality he knew would undoubtedly open for me.

 

Michael Friedman: November 18, 1942 – September 5, 2014

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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Michael made me feel secure in Lund when I felt most exposed.  There was something about his domineering figure, his booming voice, his grandiose self-confidence and his awe-inspiring talents as artist, writer and chef that made me feel protected, as if by the big brother I never had. Even when he told tales of disappointment in love or family or career or business–with a puzzled shrug of the shoulders and lift of the eyebrows–his presence seemed sheltering. Never mind that he rarely showed interest in what I was up to, either at home or abroad.

Perhaps I placed trust in Michael because we arrived in Lund at nearly the same time as refugee idealists groping for space to rebuild the world in accordance with our own fantasies, each of us in flight from the world of friends and family back home, but still longing for their admiration. Perhaps it was that the large tracts of land we owned (or rather owed) shared a corner in common, and that we were both concerned with property lines and subdivision potentials along with goat milk and chicken egg yields. Or that our two first children, Jonah and Josh, lived within a half hour’s walking distance and were best friends. Perhaps it was that we were both products of a strong liberal arts education that we expected to put to work in the bush, or that we self-identified as non-observant atheist Jews. (more…)

Steve Ervington: Sept. 29, 1944 – Aug. 21, 2014

Friday, September 12th, 2014

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One of my strongest memories of Steve was his performance as Lomov opposite Frankie Rogers playing Natalia Stepanovna in Anton Chekov’s one act play, “The Marriage Proposal,” staged by the Lund Theatre Troupe in 1976. His portrayal of the gawky hypochondriac landowner suffering “palpitations”–first of nervousness and then of rage– remains the funniest comedy I’ve ever seen. Thirty-five years later, I can still taste the tears of laughter it set flowing at every rehearsal and performance.  That character’s awkwardness and hysteria perfectly offset Steve’s easy grace and cheerful equilibrium.

According to Peter B., Steve often said, it wasn’t about what you make or do, it was about what you are.  Steve never said that to me, but what he did say on several occasions was that he knew I was an achiever and he wasn’t.  In fact he was a major achiever”as an artist, a designer, an actor, a builder, a social worker”though his achievements never gained the professional public recognition they might have. It was his respect combined with his affection that made me feel so good.

Celebrations of Life are about loss and compensation.  The hole left by the person’s departure takes on a distinct shape that remains with us, one more firm and positive than that of many who are still living”people we’ve lost touch with because of distance and circumstance, people close by who we were hurt by or tired of.  Our connection with them awaits such memorials to be rekindled.

With Steve it was different. My grief is not about a past memory but a for a lost presence and a foreclosed future. It was his being here that helped draw me to Lund every year. It was his participation that helped motivate me to join in group adventures like climbing on the South Powell Divide, kayaking in the Broughtons, hiking the West Coast Trail and the Grand Canyon, and canoeing on the Yukon and Green Rivers. It was the expectation of his quirky and amiable company that I anticipated making it fun to grow old.

My last encounter with Steve was in his and Juliet’s house on August 7.  I held his hand and said, “Tomorrow I’m heading back to California.”

“Take me with you,” he whispered, then faintly chuckled.

For a moment, I was at a loss.  Then came the words: “I will.”

And then it dawned on me what they meant:  “I will¦everywhere that I go.”

Dusty Davis: 1976 – August 9 2014

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

 I met Dusty in Spring 2001.  He was a student in my English class at Cal Poly, “Ecoliterature: Reading and Writing the Landscape.” Though he looked no older than the others, it was clear from his quiet yet confident demeanor that he was a “mature student.” Our distant but warm friendship began when he took up my weekly invitation to extend our Thursday afternoon class hikes with a sleepout somewhere on Cal Poly Land. We wandered above the railroad tracks and discovered a fawn left sleeping in the tall grass by its mother, a bubbling spring, and a patch of rare Mariposa Lilies.

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Another Thursday we camped above Stenner Canyon and the next morning found our way down Dairy Creek and crossed fences to get back to Poly in time for 9 AM classes. He was wonderful company, easy to talk to, easy to be quiet with, open to adventure.

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At the end of the quarter I asked each student to submit one piece of work they’d completed for inclusion in a class anthology.  I was planning to copy and paste them into a crude Word document and pass out duplicated copies, but Dusty volunteered to do a real graphic layout and then insisted on hand-sewing and binding 40 copies in order to learn and practice those skills. I remember him staying up till the small hours to complete the job, along with Elena whom he’d recruited to help, and the gasps of wonder when these unique artifacts were distributed to his classmates at the final exam.

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Reminders of the “Good Old Days”

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

[Updated June 30 2013]

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Soon after their move to San Luis Obispo in 1989, my parents, Lise and Henry Marx, presented Jan and me with a gift they’d been working on for several years: a collection of German proverbs they had learned from their parents and grandparents.

I remember continually hearing these sayings from my earliest childhood until their final days. Each time one was uttered there was a moment of satisfaction”the speaker pleased to have found a way to make familiar sense out of some new experience and the hearer gratified to grasp the connection.  Growing up as a first generation American, I reacted to these old-world pieties with boredom and embarrassment.

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