Midsummer Merriment

Three weeks ago I decided we need to have a party.  Summer’s half over and aside from family, there’s been no contact with people I love to be around. Always some new brushfire or obligation, and nobody invites me, and how can one celebrate in times like these when Claire lost her job and the wolf ‘s at Joe and Amy’s door and mother-in-law Ruth keeps heading downhill, but oh so slowly, and the news is of crises compounded and solutions refused.

Well my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Time out of Mind, Bob Dylan

But the tomatoes fatten and turn red, and the green beans feed us every night, and we’re between illnesses, and four grandsons grow and laugh.



Both of our birthdays fall in July, Jan’s on a Saturday far enough away.  We wont announce it but perhaps on the day itself.  I send an invitation to 30 people


and fifteen say yes.

In the meantime, while Jan’s second cousin Ivy visits for a few days, Ruth is sent by ambulance to the hospital to get treatment for a bladder infection”perhaps misdiagnosed”and then returned to Garden Creek Assisted Living. In Switzerland, the eighty five year old healthy conductor of the London Philharmonic has just taken a potion to join his wife dying of cancer on the next stage of the journey, surrounded by family members saddened but content.  The British authorities are considering prosecution. The reported scene reminds me of Socrates saying goodbye to his friends and drinking the potion of hemlock. Ivy’s 28 and she’s worked for awhile with the frail elderly.  We agree with what the conductor has done. She’s from enlightened Oregon, where two doctors have to make a determination that death by illness is imminent and inevitable in order to allow any such choice.  Might ending it before such a time, even when in good health, but at a predetermined age, say 85, be an even better idea?

As party time approaches it looks as if the tomatoes and beans will provide food for everyone.



Three days before, Ruth is again ambulanced to the hospital because of blood in the stool.  It’s determined she has bleeding ulcers probably caused by the Celebrex she takes to reduce the excruciating pain in her knees”unsuccessfully. The night before, Jan is  told Ruth will be released from the hospital on the day of the party and cant return to Garden Creek but will have to go to Cabrillo Nursing Home, the last stop for my father and mother and Jan’s aunt.

Early in the morning, we go to the farmers market for fruits and vegetables and Jan marinates the chicken and Greek Salad.  In response to her straightforward request for help, Claire invites us for brunch at her new home and agrees to help her move Ruth to the nursing home. After the brunch of buns and blackberries picked in the trailer park, mother and daughter go to the hospital, and I stay home with the baby cleaning house and preparing the rest of the food.

Tom, my ex-student and then ex-office mate at Cal Poly, shows up early with a friend and a friend of the friend to sit in the backyard and drink beer.  He’d said he couldn’t come because of a prior obligation to attend a baptism in L.A., but the baptism was canceled because the grandfather of the child was hospitalized with a stroke. This is a fine portent.  Our party will go forward despite all.  Tom and the boys go to work moving furniture, buying more beer and helping with the barbeque.  When the rest of the guests start arriving on schedule”including our eighty-something neighbor from across the street making it up the steps with her walker assisted by her sixty-something son recently out of rehab”the merriment ignites, and with the taste of the barbequing summer harvest it flourishes.


As we cook and drink together, Tom, whose memory is total and ineradicable, reminisces about a party here with my father, whom he knew quite well.


Suddenly I flash on some of the only lines I’ve ever memorized”spoken by the Old Shepherd in The Winters Tale, that Tom had taken parts in and helped me stage in the Old Mission downtown in 1992:

You have undone a man of fourscore three,
That thought to fill his grave in quiet, yea,
To die upon the bed my father died,
To lie close by his honest bones

The older I get, I tell him, the more those lines come to mind as I look at the photo of Henry on my wall.  Though his death in 1995 keeps receding into the past, as every year passes I feel closer to where he is now.

The celebration climaxes with the late arrival of Claire and her seven-year-old,


just in time for the surprise announcement of Jan’s 64th birthday with the Beatles song on the stereo.

When i get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine.
If i’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When i’m sixty-four.

You’ll be older too,
And it you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride,
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more.
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When i’m sixty-four.
Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the isle of wight, if it’s not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera chuck & dave
Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When i’m sixty-four.


more pics

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