In memoriam

In Memoriam: Steve Caldwell 1941-2009

Saturday, March 21st, 2009


click on picture for full-size image

more pictures from 2008 and 2000

quotes from a correspondance:

July 15 2002

I’m in the process of preparing to sell my rather nice
first-edition collection, regretfully but to the immense relief of my
heirs, I think.  It sits today in the dining room here, in 100 cardboard
boxes, each numbered, so I can’t even see the books, but it wouldn’t
surprise me if we’re in a bit of a bubble in firsts, which the popping
of the stock-market bubble could in turn pop.  I plan to sell to offset
my considerable marketing losses and hope it will assure I can stay on
here indefinitely without counting on an inheritance–a good idea, since
my mother may indeed be immortal, unlikely as that seems.  As may I.
But neither’s a very good bet.

December 24 2002

We’re a mess, but life is, and fortunately not just a mess.

March 8 2003

The war does seem all but inevitable.  Bush may have been right about its
necessity, but his lead-up has been a travesty.  It would arguably be
necessary (if you accept any rationale for war) if the war was to serve the
purposes of the U.N., which likely needs teeth to work well, but Bush from
the start has seemed to be intent on undermining the U.N., now seems likely
to go to war when the U.N. attempts to forbid him.  The NYT columnists have
been excellent from the start, Krugman best and Friedman, except that he
obviously would applaud an attempt at a just war to establish a moderate
Iraqi democracy (as though that was doable and as though a democracy has any
way of forcing its electorate to be moderate), very good.   But whether X
might wage a wise war, Bush seems very unlikely to, seems to be bent on
isolating the U.S. and assuring us a semi-permanent terroristic opposition.
He can win the war but the peace we’ve reason to think he’ll butcher.

…Mom uses my experience a lot, my early radical dependence on others in
effect pioneer work for her and you of my generation.  There are just more
and more things she can’t do, and she’s very good, or seems to be, at
focusing on what she can.  Also, at 91, she can’t help but wonder now and
then, as she did one day all day this week, whether a temporary aberration
won’t prove permanent, a wonder I’ve known myself now and again.


Phantom (of the Opera) Marx 1992-2009

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Phantom 2007

We had  Phantom put down today.  She’d been meowing loudly on and off for several days, though still friendly and purring.  The vet said she had cancer and would soon  be unable to eat.

Joe gave her to Claire in 1992 as a replacement for Moonshadow, who was mortally wounded in a fight the day we left for our five month trip to Europe. Claire remembered feeding her as a kitten with milk dripped from her mouth.  She named him for the Phantom of the Opera.

Phantom was a great family member–independent, friendly with everyone, affectionate and tolerant with both grandkids.  She remained an outdoor cat her whole life and helped us control rodents.  We couldnt spoil her.  A scoop of cat chow per day was all she could digest.

Here are some pictures from various times in her life.

Ron Yamauchi’s Eulogy for Kenn Law

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

I thought to do something different: bury Kenn not praise him. I think he would have liked that “ he liked things that annoyed most people, like that trancey music and spelling his name with 2 Ns. Being the world’s biggest expert. Forgetting things “ like 10 bucks. Being the vegetarian that can’t eat tofu.

But you could not stay angry at Kenn. I mean look at us – Here we are.

So I am just going to stick to my role.

Judy has spoken about Kenn’s professional life, Steve about Kenn as a friend and lover.

I’m here to talk about the Kenn that I knew, which was in some ways his most shockingly unexpected persona, that of the wholesome family man.

We three are not the complete experts on Kenn, but we’re giving briefing notes in the phases of his life. At the reception there will be more stories and hopefully lots of interaction. There’s so much I don’t know about Kenn as an artist, or art collector, just as some of you may want his recipe for broiled eggplant.

Kenn Law met Sharon Goddu (as she then was) in 1975. He’d have been about 21 years old. He’d returned to the Lower Mainland after some years as a hippie camp director and schoolteacher in Lund, BC, and was applying for a job as a child care worker. Sharon, one of the CCWs, objected to his hiring “ she said that there was something kind of intimidating about his charisma and energy “ she knew that he could change her life.

Well, he did get hired, so Kenn and Sharon became coworkers, then friends, best friends, roommates, and ultimately co-parents to her two young daughters, Rachel and Willow.

Ultimately, Sharon moved her family up to Desolation Sound, north of Powell River. Kenn told me he blamed himself for making the Sunshine Coast seem so alluring that he’s sent his precious daughters into a pre-technological world of cold water, oyster digging, and bear evasion.

Later, the girls came of age and started to attend Simon Fraser University. This is where I came into the picture.

Rachel and I worked on the student newspaper together, starting around 1987. She was very friendly and nice, and invited a bunch of us to a party at her place, an old house in Burnaby they called the Pender Palace. And Rachel introduced me to Kenn.

He made a striking impression: tall, broad shoulders, with the shaved head and a menacing expression. I also remember that he was incredibly curt with me. It could be that he was angry about the music “ there was this sloppy jam band playing, I believe they were called the Gonch Messiahs “ we know that he was particular about music.

But I also think he really didn’t like me. He was still reserved years later when I was dating Willow. Now that I am a dad, I really respect his frostiness towards whippersnappers who were hanging around his daughters. I don’t believe he really trusted my intentions until 1995, when we got married. And of course he did all these super-elaborate flower arrangements for the reception.

After that, he was a wonderful father in law and grandpa. He’d come over and cook us big meals, accompany us to shows, coo over the babies when they came, bring us coffee in the morning when we were up all night with a newborn, buy them clothes, volunteer at their school. I’m glad that Sophie and Flynn are almost 6 and 9. They will keep real memories of their Poppa Kenn.

As for Willow and myself, Kenn’s still a real presence in our lives.

This morning, I woke up, looked in the mirror upon which he’d written Go Beyond and Choose Happy in phosphorescent paint, see the tattoos he’d cajoled me into getting together, walk past the kids’ room he decorated, went to the kitchen he painted, ate bacon from the frying pan he left here, drank coffee from one of his mugs, put on the shirt and shoes he gave me, and walked to our car through the garden he planted, from the house he helped me paint.

I know what I’m supposed to feel about that. I ought to be taking consolation from the gifts he’d given us, to feel grateful that we got to know him for a considerable portion of his life. To acknowledge that his life was lived more intensely, passionately, dangerously, creatively than the theoretical average person for whom one day is much like another.

But that math doesn’t make sense to me. Heightened ability to give and to feel should have earned a reward. Those who don’t waste life, should get more years, not less.

I guess I am starting to come out of my shellshock over his quite horrible and protracted death, and into realizing that I am without my friend. He loved gossip, furor, huge emotional scenes. If anyone should be here, with us, it would be Kenn.

And if you’re a religious person, maybe you think he is here. If so, I envy your consolation. For myself, I say, Kenn “ forget the ten bucks. I’ll always owe you. Goodbye.

The Family

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

[click pictures for full size images]

Early Tuesday I got a ride with Keith, Sharon’s husband and Pat to attend the memorial in Vancouver. Kenneth’s first visit to Lund in many years came last summer to attend a memorial for the death of Mike, one of Pat’s sons, who had also worked at our camp. Soon thereafter Pat had lost another son. She bore the weight of these tragedies with great strength.

We arrived at the spare but stately old Vancouver frame house, the home of Willow, Ron and their children, with some time to spare. Ron had corresponded with me about the old pictures and journal excerpts they had read on this weblog, so I felt immediately drawn into the family. Ron and Willow disappeared, and I met Ron’s father Henry, his sister-in-law Rachel, her 15 month old son Dash, and her husband Cameron. She has a Ph.D. in English and he’s finishing one. For two and a half minutes we discussed her dissertation topic, the Semiotics of Multicultural Rhetoric.

In the midst of the hubbub, Sharon, whom I’d first met two days earlier, prepared me a grilled cheese sandwich with pickled green beans and a cup of coffee, and poured me a shot of her 25 year old prized Canadian Whiskey.

The Unitarian Church at 49th and Oak was packed with 250 people attending the memorial. We were greeted by a shrine outside and four kids handing out programs, two of them Kenneth’s adopted grandchildren, Sophia and Flynn.

The service began with a quotation from Mary Oliver:

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

The lay minister didn’t know Kenneth but was awed by the intensity and range of his legacy. The program included a harp introduction, recorded music, an operatic rendition of “Ave Maria,” and a beautiful piano and voice performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” by Ron.

There were three speeches, one by his professional mentor, one by a former lover, and one by his son-in-law. From these I learned that he worked with child protective services and in an alternative school for severely disturbed kids; that he founded and managed “After Hours,” a drop in center and hotline which became a Province-wide institution; that he organized teams and competed as a runner, a hurdler and a softball player in the Gay Olympics; that he was a textile designer; that he earned an M.A. from Pratt Institute of Art in New York; that he was a famous D.J.–“Poppalizard”– in young people’s clubs. Ron spoke of the way he remained as part of the family after Willow married: Poppa to the grandchildren, cook, party organizer, gardener and house painter. It struck me how many of these life accomplishments were there in germ during the time we knew him in his early twenties.

Following the three speeches and a candlelighting and quenching ceremony, Ron presented a DVD with musical accompaniment including a dozens of pictures and film clips of Kenneth from infancy to grandfatherhood.

At the huge reception afterward, I ran into Mara, Janet and Rhea, Lund people who now live elsewhere. I would have loved to stay for the roasts and tributes, but I had a plane to catch.

Winter Journey

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

The impulse that started this weblog gained strength over the past week and propelled me back to British Columbia for a rare Winter visit–only one other since leaving in 1979. Encouraged by welcomes from Rosemary who was organizing the Lund memorial and by Lou Stevenson, whom I hadnt met, but who told me that Kenneth had spoken fondly of his time with us to his later family, I flew from San Luis Obispo to Powell River on Friday. Peter and Margaret took me home to their beautiful cabin on the beach, and we stayed up late laughing at CBC political comedy on TV.

Next morning, Peter and I roamed the trails of our summer home at Knoll House, breakfasted at Nancy’s Bakery and explored the old Marx farm with permission of Ed and Maggie, who’ve owned and lived on the place for many years. During the time we lived there it was called the Bleiler farm, for the residents prior to us. Brambles and alders had grown in close to the house, you could hardly see the stream, and alot of stuff had been collected and strewn about. But the place was in working order; there were chickens, a horse, more light on the pasture since the logging after we left, and the pear, apple and cherry trees, ancient and decrepit in 1970, were still standing and producing.

I recognized the staircase to the loft in the abandoned shack Kenneth had decorated and inhabited during 1973, but the old gate with the heart-shaped hole–the entrance to our homestead that kept the goats out and welcomed the people–was gone.

We walked out of the woods and drove to Rosemary’s bright new home overlooking the water on Ralph Road, the location for the Lund memorial. Rosemary worked with Kenneth at the Lund School as instructional assistant. Also in attendance were Darrel, his partner for the last year, who had come up from Vancouver for the celebration; Vicky, whose cousin Joanne Kenneth had almost married while living on our farm; Debby whom Kenneth had married to allow her to emigrate to Canada as an eighteen year-old; Lou, who had met Kenneth in Vancouver and came to Powell River at his instigation; Sharon, who also came to the area as a result of Kenneth’s influence and whose two daughters were adopted by him in Vancouver; Pat, Rudy, Sherry, Steve and Juliet, who were friends with Kenneth when he lived in Lund during the seventies.

After enjoying the sunny vistas and the food and drink, we sat in a circle and shared old photos and stories of Kenneth: grateful stories of his generous involvements in families, of his inspiring creative community activity, of his way with children, and hilarious stories of his outrageous sexuality and gender-bending, his falling in and out of love, his tendency to appear and disappear without warning.

While this memorial took place another historic event was unfolding in Lund: a meeting of 75 people to try to halt the logging of old growth trees on the Malaspina Peninsula. Steve, Juliet and I attended the last hour, retired to the pub with two organizers, Eagle and Pam, and then went back to Malaspina Farm for dinner and conversation which mixed talk of Kenneth and the political future of this area. Next day, Sunday, Peter, Steve and I went cross country skiing for seven hours on the Elk Lake loop. I spent Monday recovering from that and reading and writing at the Behrs while they were at work.


Monday, November 28th, 2005

I learned this morning of Kenneth Law’s death. Though we were close friends for only a year long ago and though I had no contact with him at all for the last twenty five years, the news made me realize how much I regret losing touch. I’ve tried to find some of that lost connection in old pictures and journals that I’ve scanned or transcribed here. I hope to find more by sharing with others who knew him, perhaps by attending memorial gatherings in Lund and Vancouver and perhaps through this website. If anyone reading this would like to contribute material, please email me words and pictures and I will post them.

Words on a Page

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

Fossils in rock
Footprints in sand
Paths in a chamber of cloud.

To mark the beginning of early retirement, I’ve spent the summer clearing out shelves and file cabinets at home and in my office at the university. On a table in the hallway I left dozens of books bequeathed to me by my retiring predecessor in 1989–hardcover volumes of Shakespeare criticism he longed to have someone take off his hands, only one of which I ever read. This morning I said goodbye to a multivolume German gothic print history of European art packed into their lift van by my parents when they fled Berlin in 1937 and a 75 pound 1955 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica that I asked for as a Bar Mitzvah present. Our second hand bookstore proprietor had no use for them and told me that unlike junkmail, you cant recycle books, they have to go to the landfill.

I’ve written three books. When the first one–Youth against Age–went out of print, the publisher sold me the last 40 copies for five dollars each. Thirty five are still in the closet. Yesterday I went to the local Borders to try to get them to carry the two books that are still in print. The young store manager looked at me mockingly and told me to get in touch with his assistant, who would need to see hard copies before making the decision whether or not to order one of each.

A friend died of lung cancer a few years ago. He was my digital mentor. I was delegated to clean out his office to make room for a replacement. I filled a dumpster with stuff, and saved what I could on a website called Legacies When another friend was stricken with mesothelioma and given about a year to live, I said in his situation I would spend part of the time assembling an electronic archive of my life. Six months after he died, the college secretary gave me a CD which contained his memoir, easily uploaded. I expect to maintain this site until I become part of it.

Though disposing of the past has become a preoccupation since I turned 60, passing into a new stage of the life cycle excites me about the future and prods me to produce more. I take alot of pictures, especially of my grandsons. Not having a captive audience of students for six months of the year makes me look for other listeners. Prosperity and health send me on new adventures. And the end is always nearer.

In four days my wife and I will embark on a trip we have planned for a year–our Italienreise to Florence, Venice and Siena. At first I thought I’d leave my laptop home, save photos in a portable hard drive, and write in a journal. But instead I’m trying something different.

in Memoriam: Richard Simon

Thursday, April 7th, 2005

Richard Simon

November 19 1944–April 4 2005

Dick Simon taught in the English Department at Cal Poly from 1988 to 2004. He inspired respect and affection in colleagues and students. His life was celebrated at a ceremony in the College of Business auditorium, the venue that filled for years with people eager to hear his multimedia lecture presentations. Brief asbestos exposure during his college days caused his untimely death. He met it with courage and grace.

Dick’s website archives his extensive intellectual legacy as teacher and scholar. He published two books and was working on a third. His Memoir, produced during his last year and completed a month before he died, provides a 304 page illustrated retrospective of his life and times.

Richard Simon’s Website

Richard Simon’s Memoir

Publisher’s website devoted to Dick’s second book, Trash Culture: Popular Culture and the Great Tradition

Program for Memorial Celebration

Cal Poly News Obituary

Mustang Daily Obituary

Eulogy by Steven Marx

Eulogy by Dean Harry Hellenbrand

“The American Debate over Mass Culture, 1947-1960”–Draft of a chapter of the book Dick was working on at the time of his death.

To add to this memorial, please contact

Back to Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts Legacies Page

Louise Marx–Obituary

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Louise Marx  of San Luis Obispo,  died at the age of 94 on Wednesday January 19 2005 at a San Luis Obispo Care Center after several years of failing health. She was a devoted and loving wife and mother.

Louise (or Lise) was born in Stuttgart Germany September 6, 1910, daughter of Adolph and Mathilde  Gruenwald.  After the early death of her mother, she was raised by her father and stepmother Paula, who bore three siblings,  Hannelore, Gabrielle,  and HansPeter.  She attended public  and private schools in Germany and Switzerland where she learned English,  French and Spanish, and she also completed two years of business college.  During the early 1930’s she moved to Berlin to work for a sheet music publisher and to be near her fiance, Henry Marx, businessman.  Because the Nazi regime outlawed Jewish marriages, she and Henry married in secret in 1934.

Louise and her husband emigrated to New York City in 1937 and after one year brought his mother from Germany to live with them.  Her father, stepmother and siblings fled Germany to Sao Paulo Brazil, where the family continues to reside.  She worked as a secretary and then parttime as a masseuse after their son Steven was born in 1942. Besides serving as a Den Mother for the Cub Scouts, she was active in Hadassah, the Jewish women’s service organization, and was one of the founders of the Riverdale Bronx Chapter.

When their child left home, she worked  as a secretary for physicians,  scholars, the Jewish agency and the Leo Baeck Institute.  Later she tutored elementary school students in Harlem and attended to veterans in hospitals. In 1972 Louise and Henry retired to Denver Colorado, taking full advantage of its opportunities for hiking and skiing. She volunteered and took several Community College courses. In 1989 they moved to San Luis Obispo to live near their son and his family.  Here she continued  to do volunteer work and to take college courses, now at Cal Poly.  Her husband of 63 years died in 1995. Shortly before he died,  she completed  a memoir of her life experiences that spanned most of the twentieth century.

Louise Marx is survived by her sisters Hannelore and Gabrielle,  her son Steven and daughter in law Jan Howell Marx, her grandchildren Joe and Claire,  and her greatgrandchildren Ian Fisher and Ethan Marx.

The Day My Mother Died

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Louise Marx: September 6 1910”January 19 2005

I wake up at 3:30 am  praying for Lise’s smooth passage, knowing the end is near.  When the alarm goes off at 5:30 I feel weak and vulnerable from a lingering cold that  I suspect results from teaching anxiety,  stage fright about two presentations last week,  and unconscious stress from the impending end.  Instead of my regular swim,  I  take a hot bath to relax tense muscles and  reduce sinus pressure.  I decide to wear a white shirt, tie and sport jacket and carry a cell phone to work in case the call should come today.  My morning meditation brings a burst of tears when I think of Jan and the transiency of life.

I give my all to the morning composition class and a lecture on Shakespearean  tragedy. When it’s over at noon, I’m drained but exhilirated.  As students leave the room, the phone rings in my pocket.  A person at the nursing home reports that Lise has just died.  I say I’ll be there soon.  I phone Jan while walking to my office; she’s just pulling up to Cabrillo to check on Oma on her way to the gym.  I tell her the news and she comes to get me.  I reluctantly decide not to try to get back in time for my 1:30 class and ask the secretary to run a videotape of Othello for the students to watch.

We enter Cabrillo for what may be the last time, the odor more pungent than usual.  Josephine, the reserved  nurse’s assistant who tended my father Henry in 1995 and who has been with my mother for the last four years,  is tearful and gives me a hug.  Curtains are closed around Lise’s bed.  She lies flat, skin silken smooth, facial bone structure,  nose and closed eyes in fine relief: a perfected mask.  There is still color in her cheeks and warmth  on her brow.   She feels receptive to my stroking and comfortable with my presence for the first time in many years, the ever- thickening wall between us now departed along with her spirit.  I feel free to start replacing the resistant body and resentful soul that it irked me to call Mom with  memories of the delight I enjoyed in her presence as a young boy”the one she called “Schlumbie.” Those memories have been recalled lately when  I am with  Ian,  our three year old grandson.

We sort through the closet and nightstand, selecting the few items to keep, the rest to leave in the communal  pool of nursing home laundry, hearing aids and spectacles.  Long ago we’d liquidated Lise’s condo and then her unit in the Assisted Living facility at Garden Creek. While Jan takes a load to the car, I go to the storeroom to find the scissors I used to cut the stem bottoms off the flowers I brought every week.  I clip a lock of her white  hair, which is still thick and wavy.  The empty hearing aid box I place it in slips into my pocket.  By 1:15 we  leave  through the main lobby making no eye contact with  those remaining.

At home,  I collapse on the bed, sleep for an hour and then walk to Cal Poly for my 2:50 office hour.  Thankfully nobody shows up, and I meet Jan at the Benefits Office at 4:00 for a long planned conference with the retirement  counselor.  We spend an hour figuring out how to maximize the monthly sum we will receive until our deaths.  Neither of us mentions that we have just come into an inheritance.  Right now,  loss means gain.  May it be so too for Lise.

We walk home and I nap again,  then call our son Joe.  He knew this was coming,  and finds words to amplify the positive that  we  no longer need to think of her as the presence in the nursing home, the wraith awaiting transport across the river, but as someone we can remember fondly.  There will be no funeral or memorial,  though he’d be willing to come  for one.  He suggests a scattering of ashes on a mountain  in the Rockies, which she and Henry made their own, when we visit in March.

I phone our daughter Claire, who has asked about Oma at one of our infrequent encounters.  I leave a message suggesting this might be an occasion for her and Jan and me to get together for the first time in a year.

As evening comes on I feel briefly energized for the task of remaking Mother,  of undoing some of her last ten years.  It was at the memorial for Henry in November 1995 that she said her life was over.  A year before that she concluded her autobiography, “My Story.”  I will go back to it, add some scanned photos and print a second edition.

Jan and I go to Tsurugi’s for Sushi dinner and walk in the dark along the creek downtown.   We share our sense of the solemnity of the day, of our own mortality,  of the awareness that gain also means loss. Recent long-needed rainstorms have caused the creek to crest and wipe out a large chunk of the bank.  The fence protecting the natural riparian vegetation will have to be moved  back.

When we  get home there is a voice message: Ethan, our two year old grandson in Idaho, warbles  “Hello Boppa, Hello Boppa, I love you.” It’s the first time he’s spoken to me on the phone.  This is followed by expressions of sympathy from Amy his mom.  A few minutes later,  Claire calls and agrees that we three should meet.  We are,  as always during these conversations,  halting, guarded, over polite.

I open the packet that had arrived in the morning from British Columbia.  It’s Steve and Juliet’s Christmas letter and photo calendar loaded with pictures of  Lund folk– including three generations of Marxes–and news of deaths and grandparenthood among our contemporaries.

I dig in the closet and find the pictures that Jan had put together for Lise and Henry’s sixtieth anniversary showing them in their twenties and eighties,  radiant in both pairs.  I set them on the bureau and get into bed with “My Story,” which I havent  looked at since editing and typing it with her.  For an hour, I read and marvel  and pity and laugh.