Posts Tagged With: death


A few years ago I was in the habit of walking my dog just before dusk closed in. On one particular late afternoon we walked past our local baseball park and I noticed that far beyond the field in the grassy back corner under trees a half dozen portly men were sitting at a picnic table. It seemed they were all dressed in black. It was autumn, and the sky was darkening and they looked like silhouettes perhaps playing cards.

This became a daily scene, and more young boys on skateboards showed up. I was uncomfortable. I notified the local law enforcement agencies. They promised to do a drive by but did not seem to be concerned: there was no law against gathering in a public park in daylight.

My arthritic spine ended my dog walks, and I turned my mind to other things. During which time my 15 year old grandson, who attended school in my neighborhood, began asking if I would bring him a sandwich and some juice a big jug so he could share. His parents both work odd hours and the kids are left alone in the mornings to get themselves dressed, pack a lunch and off to school. So I did this, never EVER considering that they might be pouring a liter of vodka in it. My grand-daughter enlightened me of that scheme. I’m from the 57 Chevy days, I guess. All my boyfriends and both husbands had a 57.

One day my daughter stopped by on the way home from work, concerned about the fall in her son’s grades. They had never been great, but now they were a disaster. I said I could help, if he could come over to my house after school, have a snack and do his homework. He had always loved to come to my house,   but now he only came a few times.

He said he preferred to do his homework at home, as his house in a cul de sac undisturbed by street noises, and he quit coming.

My spinal issues got worse and I stopped walking with my dog as I was having a hard time remaining vertical. l forgot about the picnic table in the park for several months.

Grandson got consistently poor grades. He cut school. There was nobody at home until evening.  And he was suddenly an angry child.

I spoke with my daughter a number of times, reminding her I had taken a 60% cut in salary just so I could have access to the school: my boss allowed me to take lunch any time I wanted to. I was likely to show up at 9:00 am, noon, or 3:15 pm, carrying a sweater, book, some cough drops or a hanky that I “thought” they forgot.

Of course I was checking up on them. And I sacrificed: I worked locally for 1/3 the wages I could have made had I continued working in San Francisco. I was not going to let them snow me like I did my mom!

I took the salary cut, my kids were worth it to me, and the results prove my decision.

What was very different from the ‘80s, when my children were in junior high and high school is that fewer parents know enough to make themselves “unexpectedly available.”

Too often a common reason is they feel compelled to keep their jobs are fear of losing a great paying position or just unwilling to sacrifice. It’s important to note that during my parenting time employers were a lot more flexible with allowing parents “parenting” time.

These are days requiring a different set of values for child rearing, and I am first to admit that my big-fat-watchful eye did not catch one of my children before they got in a very precarious “predicament”.   This is no perfect plan:   perhaps because of this, I was more watchful.

Well, despite my efforts to keep grandson in line, I was not up to today’s standards: not alert enough to begin questioning the middle school kid about drugs & alcohol.

Hence, the purpose of this blog.

The grandson I knew “disappeared”.

Nobody knew where he was, or if they did they didn’t tell me. He was picked up by the police, wandering in the dark as a minor, (several times.) There were physical altercations at home, and he was now a surly and disobedient child, very tall child, and way too brawny.

Finally he disappeared. Parents had given up: he was violent, and he refused to follow family rules. The cops had been called and it looked like he was heading for Juvenile Detention. To his father’s credit, he did everything he could and more to keep grandson from going to Juvy. And then he disappeared.

So it was Grandma, going places nobody wants to go.

I started with the Vice Principal of the High School, who was pleased to see me proactively searching for a solution to a terrible problem.

His hope was to have Grandson back in school, and on track to college. Instead Grandson ran away.

His parents were worried, the police couldn’t find him and I was terrified.

So, I worked from home: I had already made him dependent on me and my wheels, and there was a method behind it: “in case of emergency….”

I now knew who grandson’s friends were, and who their parents and sometimes neighbors were: I got their addresses and cell phone numbers from him… because he asked me to cart him around in my car & gave me all my phone numbers which I promptly put In my address book under G for Grandson.

So I started my searching: I drove from Tom’s house to Jim’s house to Kevin’s and Damon’s asking the same questions of the parents: When did you last see him? Do you know where he went? Do you know of other friends that I might not know?   And can you give me addresses/phone numbers please. They gave it all to me.

I searched for a couple of days. Then came the evening, a dark and rainy night, when I was driving down a street near home. It was nearing midnight, and I recognized that long lanky frame. No umbrella, no jacket, wearing only a soaking wet hoody for warmth.

I pulled over and asked if he wanted to come home with me and warm up with something to eat and some hot chocolate.   He snarled at me asking me why I was bothering all his friends.

What was I doing! I said I was finding him, of course, so do you want something to eat?

I was unwilling to engage in a battle with him.

When we got to my house, I explained I wanted him to do an online search for me, feigning Elder Web Idiocy. I led him to the office and sat him down, saying nothing.   And when he snarled at me again, asking what I wanted him to look up, I said the name of Jeffery Dahmer.

I spelled Dahmer’s name for him, and he quickly typed it in, gasped and fell into horrified silence.

Finally he breathed “..He, he ATE THEM?” He looked at me, a really tall little boy now.

“You bet Grandson that is what he did: he searched or shall we say “shopped” for troubled young men wandering the night and invited them to his home, literally for a meal.   Get it?”

He nodded his head, shaken and pale.

We talked about growing up and the things one needs to learn, and how for a while longer he was going to have to check in with family or friends parents when he had questions, doubts and problems.

“It’s all about your brain growing up, you know. You’re plain risky when you don’t have an adult brain!”

Today he is working only two jobs, he dumped the third. He wants to buy a car and stashes most of his paychecks in the bank; and he is busy working on his GED.

I can tell by his voice and demeanor he likes the man he is turning into and that light-hearted bond between loving parents and child is definitely improved. He is no longer angry with me.

Melanie Wood

1388 Words

Blogged 8/28/15

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USS Goldsborough, DDG 20

USS Goldsborough DDG-20.jpg

USS Goldsborough, DDG 20

It was my brother’s ship. A big old destroyer. I was living in Honolulu, and spent a lot of time on that ship when it was in dry-dock. Bill and I hung out together all the time for over a year; much of that time was spent on the Naval Base, as my husband was out to sea on an old pig boat sub off the coast of where I was not supposed to say.

It was the Viet Nam era, and I normally met Bill at Pearl after I got off work. The Goldsborough was in dry-dock, and this one particular day I had to use the lavatory. Bill supposed the Commander was not going to be showing up, so he just told to use the commander’s unit and to be quick about it. I very confidently told him about all the boats I had learned to go potty on. My poor bro believed me.

When my mission was accomplished I took a look at all the gear and pushed some buttons, turned this knob, pulled on the ring it was much like flushing the Coast Guard Cutter and the Submarines I’d been on. Well, I found out they aren’t all the same.

My brother was freaking when I told him I pushed this, turned that, and pulled that little doo dad there!! But he got me covered ASAP.

(I think I feel him laughing over my shoulder right now: “Aww, Sis, don’t go public with the toilet.. Please?”)

Bill didn’t live long enough to learn what a blog is. And now my poor dear bro, I miss him so, is my subject . He is such a special guy that I just want to share him with everyone. And if you think I made a mistake in tense, I didn’t. He often comes to me in my dreams, cheering me on.

After the bathroom event I inadvertently blew serious cover on PEARL HARBOR’S TOP SECRET MILITARY CODE NAME in the Officer’s bar!

I wasn’t even drinking, Bill and me and a couple of guys were playing cards. Somehow or other I said the phrase so closely guarded (not!) and the entire bar froze into silence.

They watched as I was swarmed by a bunch of uniformed men who escorted me to a room filled with uniformed officers. Bill insisted on staying with me. I needed to convince everyone that I had no idea where I’d heard the phrase I thought so amusing.   I didn’t know, and was terrified I was going in the clink.

My brother had to talk real fast, and I can’t imagine his feelings about his job security. I mean it was a stupid sounding password, and I thought sounded hilarious for the tropics. I thought everyone would get a laugh.

I believe Bill was kind of glad when my husband arrived and we went stateside again. Back to Northern California, San Francisco, with the famous cool and foggy weather.

Years later, we were a family, a daughter and a son and a great job with Chevron. We had an opportunity to travel the world and we did our best to hit as many continents as we could. South America and Antarctica are the two the kids and I missed.

But all the joys of travel bring potential problems. While returning from a holiday our family was held under armed guard because we didn’t have an international visa. Chevron’s Mr. Ten Percent had neglected to provide one, and In Saudi Arabia the potential for serious trouble was everywhere. We could, depending on which way the wind blew, end up as hostages or worse. Here we were in the Jidda airport for 24 hours, arrested and under armed guards. Both kids were very small, 3 and maybe six going on 7. The little guy was tired, hungry and ticked off and expressed his frustration by giving the armed soldiers the raspberries….which is not as belligerent as throwing shoes at them, but is hugely offensive and unacceptable behavior! Fortunately, Arabs are often softies, especially when dealing with children. They seemed to appreciate that I did my best to apologize to them in my not-very-classic Arabic.

A very important lesson came several years later, when we were back in the States, and I was driving home from an afternoon wedding in which I had not imbibed. I don’t like champagne, so my nieces and nephews – and me, well, we had this champagne fight. Nobody was hurt, but boy we were soaked!

When it was time to go home I remembered it was late Sunday evening, and I hadn’t washed my son’s baseball uniform!  He had a game Monday afternoon, and for the first and only time in my driving life I looked around, coast seemed clear, and I put the pedal to the metal:  Go!

I blew right past a county Sheriff’s car and heard the siren, saw the lights.

They pulled me over, and though I passed all the usual tests you see on TV– backwards alphabet, finger to nose… counting and what not, even my breathalyzer was under the limit at that time.

But, I sure didn’t pass the scent test as my pretty pink jumpsuit reeked of the fermented grape.

Then they had me walk the straight line (in high heels – men don’t have to, huh?) And the coppers had no choice: I wobbled in the soft dirt with my damn left leg. I felt hecka pain inside my left hip for the very first time. I probably looked like I was staggering, as it sure felt like it.

So, right or wrong I was arrested, read my rights, and one Sheriff took my car to drive my kids to my nearby friend’s house; and the other drove me and the patrol car to the jail.

For 2 whole hours they “held” me in a cell with several crazy women. Scary, scary, crazy women.

Yes. It was a “wrongful arrest” – Yes, I really should have got a big fat speeding ticket…. instead of a… valuable lesson, hmmm? I am okay with the whole ordeal, and in many ways it was.

I would not know the real story of my gimpy hip and 24 degree scoliosis for nearly 20 more years. But first I danced a Hula with seven other beauties at the Sudanese Club; I also took up Belly Dancing. I ran in the Hash House Harriers, that famous worldwide running club that pops up anywhere one finds Brits their Beer.

And at the age of 50 I learned to play tennis and was recruited to a Senior Women’s team in another town. Within four years and a lot of worn out tennis shoes, my team went to USTA National Tennis Championships in Tucson, AZ. ranking #5 of 25 teams in the USA. Champion or not, I was not able to play tennis after that. Not yet. But.. next summer, I’m thinking?

Sometimes things in life have to go down the way they have to go down. I safely learned a very important lesson: MY fabulous judgement can be faulty, even when I’m stone sober.

However, there is one issue that still floors me. It is the hat/uniform/badge “power thing” that some peace officers, male and female, can really get caught up in. I’m afraid it may be a part of some problems we suffer now in our country right now with renegade cops and outraged populations. Hats/Uniforms/Badges. Think about it.

But on that evening, at the Sheriff’s office, I was being booked and fingerprinted by a pimple faced jerk behind the counter.   He wanted to know what color my underpants were.

Obviously he was playing Pimpled-Power-Man to my Trapped-Woman-Woman.

So I just told him the straight truth. I told him I was going commando!   No UnderRoos for this lady, Sonny! I took his little power away and Pimples gasped and nearly fell off the high chair he had been sitting on. It is hard to express just how very satisfying that was.

I don’t know what our parents would have said had they got to know a grown up me. But believe me, I do know that my brother truly would have been ROF and cheering me on. I think he still does.

(The USS Goldsborough was purchased for parts by The Royal Australian Navy, but I’m not telling Bill!)

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The dying couple woke me up again.

They stood before me as they did

In Africa, 1984

In rags and starving

barefoot in the desert.


Dark, haunted eyes


Frying in the heat and sand

Of the Sahara.

Pleading, they hold out

The half dead newborn,

Begging me to save their child,

This tiny life or lifeless life:

If not yet dead

Surely finalized with

The turn of this white woman’s back.

Half my life I still cry

Over that baby.

With each fat pink or tan

Nephew, niece, or grandchild

I remember my child of the desert,

The one I will take with me

 When I too die.

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You call me on Christmas  Day,

When our  turkey is done and resting.

Guests have arrived.  some are seated,

But first I answer the phone

To your cigarette-tough voice

Hurling crap at my ear.   

My brother is gone? Dead?

Two goddam weeks ago?

That was the anniversary of our Mother’s death!

Why did you wait to tell me?  

I don’t care about your daughter ,

Or her girlfriend, or the fight they had that night.

And I don’t care if you believe it was

 Bill’s Last Straw.

 I care about living two weeks never knowing he was gone!

You buried him at sea, just the way he wanted? 

Really?  Without telling me ?

So where do I go to celebrate my brother?

And which part of the Pacific holds him now?

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Where Can Loss Take Us?

Two decades ago I was in love with a sweet gentleman, a retired lawyer with a beautiful estate in the Sonoma Valley.  We spoke of marriage and I was not so interested at the time.   From him I learned love affairs don’t need to end in shattered dreams and broken hearts.  Of course our parting was sadly sweet, and in retrospect it brought me to a place I needed, perhaps looked for most of my life.

Just prior to our parting of ways, we’d met the son of a couple who lived on a neighboring hillside, a steep hillside, so steep that after finding a spot on the winding road to park, you approached a ladder-like stairway and began the climb, but not to a traditional house with a common roof.  This home consisted of three independent structures a good distance apart from each with a ladder-like stairway.   A selection of umbrellas were posted by all doors.

The first cabin, the smallest, contained the kitchen and breakfast area;  second cabin was a very  large entertainment room, and the third held sleeping quarters at the top of the property.   Fascinating paths and special gardens were between cabins:  herbs, fruits and vegetables between kitchen and entertaining room,  and between the last two cabins a landscaped plateau, holding  a hot tub,  fragrance gardens, and the largest statue of Buddah I’ve seen in the states smiled gently over a lovely paved area large enough for Yoga or to sit down and meditate.

This home was a thrilling, soothing, naturally inspirational place, and it hosted the funeral for the wife’s only child, Michael, who died in a motorcycle accident.  He was only 27 years old.  Michael’s passing marked the beginning of a very new life for me.

The Practitioner gave a brief heart-touching ceremony, speaking words of comfort for our loss, and of  joy for having had Michael touch our lives, and of the sadness as we all let go, let it be.

The closure of his remembrance was breath-taking.   Michael’s parents each had divorced then remarried.  Michael and his first wife, Alla were in the process of divorce, and he was in a relationship with a very lovely young woman named Julie.  The Practitioner invited the two sets of parents, Michael’s wife, and the young girlfriend to a small table draped with a simple blue cloth, his favorite color.  In the center three candles burned, representing the three decades of Michael’s life.

The biological parents joined hands and together they snuffed out the first candle.  The step parents joined hands with respective mates and snuffed out the second candle.  And finally the divorcing widow joined hands with the lovely younger woman, and together they snuffed out the final candle.

From a place further up the hill John Lennon sang Imagine, and we all joined in, tears rolling down our faces, as Michael’s wife Alla, cradled a broken-hearted Julie in her arms, singing with the rest of us.

Within six months, I suffered the breakup of that  three year relationship, lost my job, and my children decided to live with their father.  For the second time in my life I was totally alone and grieving deeply.

I remembered Michael’s funeral,  and tried to remember the spiritual place the Practitioner had trained at or worked for.  It was not a “church”, but a “center”.  But center of WHAT I had no idea.

One rainy Sunday morning I opened up the newspaper, urged on by an almost physical need to go  find this center, find that wonderful Practitioner.  I scanned the religion listings and finally came upon a “Center for the Science of Religion” and placed a call.  Lo and behold the new Minister, Rev. Edward, answered  and with his musical South African accent invited me to join him and everyone at the center, and gave me directions.

I made a bee-line for the Center, and was gob-smacked when I walked into the gathering hall before service was to begin.   I met at least seven people from all walks of my life there:  two from my early childhood in Calistoga, several real estate agents I worked for and with, a lady from my yoga class, and a fellow on my tennis team.  They laughed when I “finally found” the Center.  They had been members for decades.

On that day,Edward, the new South African Minister welcomed everyone to the gathering, and said something to the effect that we can change our lives by changing our minds; and if we cried ourselves to sleep last night, we had come to the right place.

I felt like he spoke directly to me.  I called myself  a “Renegade Christian”, having given up on traditional Christianity at the age of fourteen, and who had married, a “Bar Mitzvah Jew” – the one I was divorcing.  Our two children were reared deliberately without any religious instruction.  On that day I felt like I found the place I truly belonged, my home, after three decades in two very different kinds of “deserts”.

The Church of Religious Sciences, of which there are thousands throughout the world, changed the name The Center for Spiritual Living a few years ago.  The Religious Science moniker was getting  confused with a newer and somewhat disturbing organization.

I took a lot of classes there, taught  5th grade Sunday School and met up with old friends again through that.  I thought seriously about becoming a Practitioner, but I had a busy life and bla bla bla.   I haven’t totally stopped thinking about it though, especially now, as I’m also thinking of celebrating marriages again.

This morning I reached for my Science of Mind to look up the Guide for today, and it is about LOSS.  Boo! Loss certainly strikes a resounding chord in my heart,and for most people.  We know Loss.  I grew up in Loss, and I’ve Lost a Lotta stuff!  I’ve lived in Loss and from it all, I h learned an important thing:  Nothing remains the same:  it’s all change, which some call Loss.

The SOM title for the June 11th thought is “Letting Loss Lead Me”.  That got my attention, because Loss does tend to lead us places.  I read the piece and it was about  Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the famous Persian poet.  He lost a person very dear to him and went deep into grief.  The story is that he wandered into his back yard where there was a pole,  a team of his students trailed behind, out of concern for him.  Rumi leaned on the pole, perhaps sobbing, and caught up in his grief, walk round and round it, letting his tears flow.   Unexpectedly his thoughts changed.  Grief left and he heard incredible words of poetry stream from his mouth.  His words were so lovely that his students wrote them down.

These followers of Rumi  adopted his pole walking tradition and now seven centuries later, we call them the Whirling Dervishes.  These are the followers of Rumi and they believe that by whirling they let God in.

And so out of an unbearable loss came a gift for the entire world!

And, today in America Rumi is the best-selling poet.  It is true that loss can break one, one without a support system.   But it also is said that The Broken Heart can hold more love:  I believe loss can expand us if we let it.

As far as the Whirling Dervishes go, I can tell you what I know about them from personal experience.   The first time I went my children were very young.  I didn’t take them again.The site was I think South, (but it could be North or West  – it was so hard in the desert with no roads, dusty yellow desert beneath your feet, flat yellow sky above your head – couldn’t even see the sun, no shadows.)   I could take you there, but not tell you how to go on your own, when or where to turn.  Its twenty minutes past the ancient trading city of Omdurman.  You leave the road and drive on (one of the) tracks that goes through the graveyard.  Good Luck!

On the other side of the graveyard men in their white jellabias assemble, taking their shoes off and piling them around a telephone pole.  They face one direction, possibly East toward Mecca, and begin to walk around the pole.  Two men in white jellabias escort a third man who appears to have a crippling disorder, perhaps cerebral palsy.  They begin walking him slowly round and round at his pace.

Some men wear bright green flaring tunics, white breeches, with green fez-like hats embroidered with red and yellow on their heads.   As more men arrive and take their place in the walk-around, drums start beating, slowly at first, then with more intensity as the drummers get caught up in a rhythm of their own.  As they beat louder and faster, the men moved quicker, loping around the pole – even the crippled man!

My own blood is coursing through my veins, my brain; the pounding rhythm is matched by my heartbeat.  The mystics in green break loose, begin to twirl, their skirts flanged out  and I recall an old top I had as a kid, spinning, spinning.

The two men escorting the handicapped friend step aside, and let go of their friend! And the man who could not walk alone, dances and twirls with the best of them!

My children were as fascinated as I was.  We stood watching and weaving to the beat of the drums until I saw  some men jad brought sticks with them, and began hitting their own backs fiercely, in some cases drawing blood.

They had gone into another place, self-flagellation.  The kids and I made our way back to the car and headed home.  As soon as the drumming faded I felt my pulse return to normal.

I went out there twice more, taking (adults only) newcomers around Khartoum, teaching them how to navigate.  Eventually the political/military events started up, and it was considered no longer safe for a “kawajah” woman to go past Ombdurman alone.

Belief can be amazingly powerful.  Mind: over matter!  Change your mind:  change your life!  Believe and see!  What I think is what I do!  Loss will lead me to a fuller life if I let it.

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American Distraction Disorder

I called my childhood friend Annie the other day. She’s one of my two best friends and I’ve known her since we were four. Over the years I became a second “daughter’ to her mother in my teens then for the rest of my life.

Years later, when I was married and my family was traveling through the world and we met up her Annie’s younger brother, Bob for a few weeks in Bali. Well, he fell in love with a Japanese girl and we didn’t see too much of him!

Eventually we left for Khartoum with a bunch of batik and Bob left for Japan with a new wife.

After Bob and wife #3 divorced I don’t think he ever married again, not important because whatever one marries for, physical love, compassion, security, companionship, good food, everything is right there in Thailand. Thais are Buddhist, a very loving, grounded and non-demanding faith.
So when I called Annie the other day, I inquired about the brothers, particularly about Bob.

“You know I called him in Thailand and spoke with him very briefly. He was on a train, said he had to cut me off because it was considered grossly offensive to talk on a phone in public. He called me back when he got to a less public place.”

So, Annie and I began carping about how thoughtfulness seems to have disappeared in our country of birth. I mentioned my six-hour train trip to North England a few years ago. I saw people talking on cell phones, but heard no voices. Everyone turned their heads away from the public,covered their mouths with their hand, and spoke softly.

I went on and told her I’d been backed into by a texting driver, and later walked into twice by pedestrians, while I stopped at stop signs.

All texters had two eyes and two ears, but their brains were busy with what did you buy today, what did you do last week or what are you going to do tomorrow. Both were hooked up with ear-pods: can’t hear; both were glued to their I-pods: can’t see.
There was no damage of course, but both times I rolled down my window and cautioned them loudly to please remain aware of their surroundings at all times:

“Canya look where yer goin??”

Both glanced blankly at me as they skirted my car and went back to see if they missed anything on line.

Coincidently, our little town had a terrible tragedy some time ago. A young girl was driving an oversize vehicle while she was texting. She did not see the young mother already in the cross-walks and she ran over the stroller, killing the baby.

I cried for everyone when I read about it in the newspaper.

How does a mother get past this? How does a young girl learn forgive herself? Distraction kills. Let’s make a pact to stay focused at all times, well, certainly when we are driving.

Kids are too young to see how cleverly they have been groomed by people who want to sell to them. But the rest of us (should have) lost our ingenuity a long time ago: we know what’s going on! We know we are all just pawns, manipulated to purchase and display our bigger-better-faster-more purchases so sellers gets rich. Let’s go sit down somewhere safe to be manipulated.

Or, let’s say NO! Let’s say it just like that cute little redhead baby girl in the commercial says!


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Alex and Andy, 1988

Sonoma County is about 55 miles North of San Francisco and to a large degree it remains a farming community which has never provided a lot of support for it’s mostly middle income workers. Many residents commute South to the more moneyed counties of Marin and San Francisco in order to afford to live in Sonoma County.

It is bordered to the South by Marin County, the haven of San Francisco executives who commute to work by ferry and their families with their attendant up-scale shopping malls.
Napa County, renowned for world class wines, hot springs and spas lies to the East.

To the North is Mendocino County, well known for the lovely little oceanside village of Mendocino, where lived the imaginary author in the television program “Murder She Wrote”. It is just as famous for wide open spaces, mountains, valleys and pocket canyons that hide acres of marijuana farms. This beautiful county remains enmeshed in a triangular struggle between the law, local pot-growers, and the cartels who want to take over these businesses.

I live in a little town in Sonoma County, a bedroom community that provides Marin and San Francisco Counties with many “drone” employees. The salary disparity is commanding and keeps many of us on Highway 101 for hours every day.

I was an Escrow Officer at ABC title company, hired by the office manager and soon to be dear friend, Gwen. I had a private office, and one morning our secretary knocked at my door to see if I could take some clients. I was free and told her to bring them in.

Two youngish men came into my office one Spring day. Both wore neatly pressed blue jeans. Alex, tall and handsome with deep blue eyes wore a long sleeved blue checked shirt tucked neatly in. Andy’ grey eyes were behind wire-rim spectacles. He was a little shorter, a little edgier, very slender, almost fragile. He wore a white long sleeved shirt beneath his grey knit vest.

I figured they were around my age, maybe younger, in their late thirties. They were bright-eyed and expectant as they told me they were moving from San Francisco and wanted to open an escrow on a beautiful cottage in West Sonoma County, in the hamlet of Graton. They were obviously a couple, and they chose the right place. West County to this day remains known for welcoming men and women of different ages, cultures and persuasions. Alex and Andy would fit right in.

In the eighties Graton was rustic, worn and welcoming but a little beat up here and there, not yet “charming”. That would come later.

The real estate boom of the 1980s was in full bloom, and newcomers sold homes in Southern California migrating north to become gentlemen vintners on private estates where they often constructed enormous and architecturally stunning homes. And they entertained old friends who generally followed their lead to live in “The Wine Country”.

West County, historically a haven with artists, writers, sculptors, hangers-on, pot-heads, architects, environmentalists, lesbians, gays, transgenders, and slackers: a hodge-podge of welfare families, dopers; artists and wealthy business retirees of all ages creating a culture as welcoming as it was stimulating.

Entrepreneurs established new businesses of specialty bakeries, commercial vineyards for their new “vintner” status, and cottage industries of weaving, making candles and Panama Hats, beekeeping, honey sprang up. Alex and Andy were going to be very happy in their new home.

During the course of their purchase escrow they drove up from The City for weekends, and stopped to visit with me and Gwen. They always brought a little something: sometimes pastries, sometimes flowers, and if we had the time, they just sat and visited with us. They told us how welcome they felt in their little village of Graton, how Sonoma County in general felt like a personal Shang-ri La .

They held a housewarming party when escrow closed, and invited Gwen and me to join them. It was a lively party, a mix of their old friends from San Francisco and their new neighbors, the “Gratonites”.

Over the next year or so, “the boys” as Gwen and I came to call them, continued to drop in for a quick chat, sometimes with friend, usually straight. I never quit got it until Gwen, safely married, explained that they were bringing in suitable swains for me: I was single, and she suspected Alex and Andy were trying to introduce the “single mom”, to a manly “someone nice”.


One day Alex and Andy stopped by the office with their Perpetual Powers of Attorney. My heart sank as I looked at them, suddenly aware of the weight loss, deep purple shadows under Alex’s eyes, how Andy’s hand shook. Alex  answered my unspoken question. It was Aids and they didn’t know how long Andy was going to last. There were new drugs to try. He wanted his PPA done too, one never knew.

They both said they were grateful they found their way to Sonoma County. Here they found an extended family of friends from all walks of life. He said they both included Gwen and me in that family.

I filled in the document dates, signed and stamped their final documents in a daze.

But Andy was not the first to go, it was the younger and more robust, the beautiful Alex.  A  shock to everyone;   a disaster for Andy.

I was devastated, could not imagine life without those bright blue eyes, that playful fun-loving spirit of Alex. I could not imagine Andy going on without him. The boys were a part of our lives now.

Andy and their many friends held a celebration of Alex at the cottage. Friends and neighbors brought a banquet of foods, barrels of wine and flowers.  Someone brought a Japanese Maple, Alex’s favorite tree, and several men got busy getting it planted .

So many people gathered that they spilled out of the boy’s garden, overflowing into neighbors gardens. And the neighbors quickly put out chairs and tables for the over-flow.

I was rather conspicuous in my work clothes: suit, heels, pantyhose, full makeup and probably hair-spray on my hair. I milled around introducing myself to strangers. We shared how we knew the boys, how we were going to miss Alex, and how friends had already aligned to support Andy.

A tall man in a dark suit slowly smoked a cigarette in a corner of the the boys living room, observing this gathering. This had to be Alex’s father, so tall and handsome.  He looked my way and his brilliant blue eyes proved it.

I approached him and introduced myself. He wiped tears with the back of one hand, took a deep draw on his cigarette with the other. Exhaling, his words came out a little high-pitched, in staccato bursts.

“I didn’t know he had friends – like you, you know. People, people like me. I thought he was someone to be ashamed of.” He paused, then said “I ran my son off!”

A thick silence rose between us. I was at a loss witnessing such raw agony from a stranger. I breathed in his pain and ammonia shot up my nostrils, cauterizing them, leaving a dull ache behind my eyes. When he finally spoke again his voice was angry and condemning,  raspy with held-back tears.

“I never gave my Alexander a chance! I never got to know him, the real him. He will never know how sorry I am right now”

I needed fresh air. I asked him if he would like to go out to the garden, so we could sit in a place that Alex dearly loved. Before he could answer I grabbed his arm.

 I might have jerked him outside.

In the warmth of sunshine and the fragrance of Alex’s flowers I told him just how happy Alex had been. I told him how full of hell he was, that he was a prankster and continually pissed Andy off, that Andy grew to enjoy this.  I told him  I thought Alex was searching amongst his straight friends for men to match me up with.

I told him he was the spitting image of his handsome father, and that he surely had a heart as big as the heart his Dad was showing me now.

He listened when I said Alex spoke of him often, sometimes sadly, And I told him Andy’s version of stories from his childhood: how Dad taught him to ride his bike and  they both ended up in the swimming pool, and Mom captured it all on film!

I told him Alex loved that memory and always roared telling it!   Alex was okay with who he was and accepted the way his father was:  “They didn’t understand homosexuality:  they thought this was choice and choice is always reversible,”

 “In the end, all is okay, all as it should be: you are born, you live, you grow, you love, you lose, you die, but not necessarily in that order. And sometimes in your dying, you make others grow again.”

He looked at me strangely and wiping his eyes asked “How do you know all that?”

I stood up and felt my face turn red, embarrassed by my audacity to spill such weighty words to a grieving stranger. But before I could reply, he stood up and gathered me in his arms, He hugged me tight, then held my face and kissed me on the forehead, like a daughter.

“Thank you, my dear. Thank you for letting me know he doesn’t hate me.  My Alexander had no hate in him, bless him,” With a sob he let me go and excused himself.

“I really must speak with Andy now. He has been such an important part of my son’s life for a very long time. I need to let him know I to be there for him if he needs me.But more, I need to tell him that I thank him for loving my son so well.”

He strode purposefully back into the cottage, an executive on the move to straighten out a glitch in his system.

I sat back down, exhausted in Alex’s garden and thought about my pre-teen daughter and eight year old son. I prayed we would never have such an estrangement.

Thank the stars I couldn’t see what lay ahead.


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This ancestor hunting is very weird. It’s a fascination for those of us with big noses who like to stay up at night, but some of the stuff that I found in my searching has left me very, very, perplexed because most of the shady activity happened between the last few years of the 19th Century and the first few months of the 20th Century. And so two and a half years ago I signed up for what I thought would be two weeks of fun with Ancestry.Com. I figured I was not going to get far because I knew I had virtually no family left.

That first night, the very first try brought me to a site all about my dad’s family which took be back to Ireland in about 1720. I found a family tree about Alcorns done by (cousin) genealogists who posted it for everyone to see on the Internet. It listed my father’s name, as well as my two brother’s and mine.

I was soon chuffed: I found Alcorn Revolutionary Soldiers; soldiers who fought in the French and Indian War! Less wonderful were the tales of starvation, pestilence, death not to mention the occasional kidnaping of children. The De Crocketagni (who originated in South France) married into the Alcorn Colonists as the Crocketts in the middle 1700s. My Great Grandfather brought Davy Crockett to California, to go bear hunting at Bear Creek. In the middle 1800s Bransford pioneered the area, now Hwy. 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. His older son John Henry Alcorn built the first hotel and restaurant there, there are tons of descendants living there, and I recall walking down the street in Santa Cruz and seeing a news stand with a large article about the big Alcorn Family Reunion had hundreds of Alcorns picnicking and partying the day before. I never met anyone with my last name before and never dreamed that the founder was my relative.

For years I’ve wondered why so many people fled Europe to come out to the colonies and risking death by disease and/or starvation. Consider my (new-found) Swiss Bollinger forebears: Clewi and his son Conrad. They show as single names in the records, but I understand the name Bollinger comes from their location, an area called Bulling, near the Swiss border with Germany, near the River Rhine where those nasty Scandinavians, those tall, handsome and ornery Barbarians crossed the Rhine on New Years Eve in the year 401!

Those playful Scandahoovians partied like Barbarians from Northern Europe down through the British Isles. First Ancestor Clewi likely had Nordic Barbarian blood running through his veins in the 11th C, but it probably was not much of a match for plagues that wasted entire populations.

When my maternal great-grandparents left Zurich in the 18th Century their men walked away from hand-me-down jobs as ministers in the very best and most beautiful churches in the city.
It’s quite a trek from Zurich down to the Mediterranean then over to the British Isles to catch a ship to that unknown British colonial settlement. Some colonists started out with a wife and lost her and perhaps a baby on the way. It was a very expensive, dangerous endeavor and could take many months, with no guarantees, a real gamble. And you were not likely to see the family  left behind ever again.

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