I woke up this morning and for the same reason as exactly two years ago my heart jumped. Juliana Bravo, the single-most optimistic human I have ever met, sent Lynn and I a voice recording. Hers is not an ordinary voice…hers are not ordinary eyes…hers are not ordinary messages. In this Day / Week / Month / Year of my absolutely upside-down world, Juli’s messages offer a healing to my wounds. This morning, she walked to the edge of the ocean in Brazil and left Lynn and I such a positive, hope-filled / love-filled message that I really can’t express the full impact. I could hear ands feel the ocean and Juli’s heart-felt message. Two years ago, we had been living in Julie for two days (our motorhome is named in honor of her). Her message on April 24, 2019 caught us off-guard and we were perplexed. Wait, what do you mean, Happy Anniversary? With all of the stress and excitement of moving into the rig, we had 100% forgotten it was our anniversary. I’ll go as far to suggest that we may never have realized that we missed our 19th anniversary. Roll the clock forward to this morning – Eighteen hours after the second doses of the Moderna vacciene – we both have fevers, Lynn’s telling me Happy Anniversary while throwing up and we both spent horrid nights sweating and freezing, putting more clothes and blankets on….and then abandoning them off to the floor. While I write this, Lynn’s in bed at 1:30PM trying to sleep and feel better. And like a late night fog horn off the coast of Ketchikan, Juli is there to remind us that things will be OK.
Talk about a week of milestones –
My father Don passed away unexpectedly at 85
Lynn’s father Jack reached 100 days confined in the hospital (many in ICU)
We’ve spent 730 days living in our motorhome
We’ve been married 21 years
We got to see wonderful friends of 18 years for the first time in three years with ALL of us together
I took my first airplane flight in 20 months
I spent my first night in a hotel in 20 months
Bella spent five nights at a kitty hotel
We finally got fully vaccinated for COVID
As my sister, Liz did the lions-share of helping my mom last week. I compiled music and photos to be played at my dad’s remembrance ceremony. My mom wanted a Jimmy Buffett song included, as the three of us attended a Buffett concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the late-1980’s, but choosing one of his songs for a funeral was daunting. I chose Tin Cup Chalice for three reasons. Liz and dad liked to enjoy a glass of wine on her back deck. When I was a little kid, I was seen trying to sell honeysuckle flowers door-to-door in our neighborhood – A penny for white, two cents for yellow. And, after selling my photography business, I flew to Key West in 1986 without reservations, packing an overnight bag with a 1.75 liter bottle of Tanqueray Gin, three limes, a paring knife and a white cutting board…(Pre-September 11.) On my first morning in Key West, I decided to eat through the day inspired by one of Jimmy Buffett’s songs.
Give me oysters and beer, for dinner every day of the year….
With a tin cup for a chalice, fill it up with good red wine, and I’ll be chewing on a honeysuckle vine.Tin Cup Chalice – Jimmy Buffett
My sister and I gave eulogies for my dad and my mom asked me to send mine to her in writing. Rather than end this blog on a deep, perhaps downer…I’m adding it here. This is for you, mom.
As we come together today to celebrate the life of my Don, I’d like to share a few memories and perspectives about my dad. Unlike a few more animated members of his immediate family (me), I view my dad as stoic -long before being stoic was written about or being stoic was cool. In the dictionary, stoicism was defined as the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, patience and wisdom. This leads to a path of resilience, confidence and calmness. This perfectly describes my dad. Often the most smartest person in the room, Dad would never try to be. Whether on geography, historical figures or world events, he could casually interject on just about anything, made possible by his voracious and insatiable curiosity and quest for new knowledge.
Three of my best memories of my dad relate to a squeak, a snap and a smile. Growing up in Wayne, Pennsylvania, my dad had a large maple armoire in the master bedroom. In it were his suits, slacks, dress shirts, ties and shoes. Opening the armoire’s doors would always lead to a loud squeak, almost a chirp. Alone, I used to delight in looking at his business clothes and on occasion, I’d button up one of his Arrow dress shirts, slide my kid arms into his suit coat, put my little feet into his polished mans’ dress shoes. I’d stand in front of the mirror, wondering what it would be like to dress up and go out the door to work. It was one of those occasions where Dad taught me how to tie a necktie. Another time, he’d implore me to remember to always rotate my dress shoes, never wearing them on consecutive days and always use a shoe tree.
The snap was my single-favorite childhood sound. It was the sound of my dad’s thrown baseball hitting the webbing of my Rawlings glove. Although he battled the infamous Philadelphia commuter traffic every day, I’d be sitting at the door with a baseball and both gloves. “What do you say Dad? Wanna play catch?” was his welcome home. He’d always find time to change into a T Shirt and throw the baseball until mom called us in for dinner. Under the two maple trees he planted for my sister and I at birth, we’d throw and throw and throw. Just like with our physical proximity, the older I got, the further away I’d step to play catch. The older I got, the harder he’d throw it. “Come on dad! Throw it harder!” Snap.
The smile happened in July 1981, a month after our family moved from Wayne, Pennsylvania to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Before we moved, my dad said that he’d rather be a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond. So, we traded the 215 for the 413 area code and I (shall I say) did not take the move well. Seeing me upset day after day, he said, “Come on. Let’s go for a ride.” We drove down West Street, turned left on Valentine and then left on the apty-named Lakeview Street. We crested a hill and then, laid out in front of us in all of its glory was my first view of Onota Lake. I gasped and had my first smile in a long time. Dad smiled back and right then / right there I fell head over heels in love with the Beautiful Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. I’ll always remember that drive and that smile and I’ll miss him forever.
My parents planted deep roots in the Berkshires. Dad ran a soup kitchen and volunteered at the Norman Rockwell Museum and mom worked as a teacher and volunteered at Hancock Shaker Village. Still, they encountered a deeper pull to Eastern Massachusetts when my sister and brother in law gave birth to Jacob and then Jessica. In dad’s last years, I believe few things brought him levels of pride and joy as seeing his grandchildren born, grow up, play sports and musical instruments, graduate High School and begin their college years…and develop wonderful relationships of their own with Liana and Mike.
Stealing a line from my sisters’ words, Liz concluded her eulogy by saying that his last words were to the nurse about his grand daughter Jessie. Then Liz shared that dad recently wrote Jessie a letter and said, “If I was younger, I’d want to be just like you, Jessie.”
Kind of like a Garth Brooks song, there is a secret verse that at the last minute I decided NOT to include in spoken word, but here it is for you mom. There was going to be memory of a memorable nod. This nod took place on the night of our infamous Parent / Son Jimmy Buffett concert in beautiful Saratoga, NY. I have no idea why I agreed to going to a General Admission Buffett concert with my parents. During the evening, my mom leaned in close and said, “Jimmy, What is that funny smell?” I looked at her plainly and said, “Marijuana. It’s marijuana, mom.” As Buffett worked through his encore, it became obvious that trying to stay together and walking out in the dark would be no small task. I put my wrist in the small of my back and told my mom to hold on for dear life. I said, “I’m gonna make a hole in the crowd, mom. You’re gonna follow through into the hole.” We made it to the car and dad started driving back on Route 20 towards Pittsfield. Approaching a Cumberland Farms (convenience store), I asked my dad to stop as I wanted to get a soda. Mom was already sleeping as I climbed back into the backseat of the Subaru. A few miles down the road, I coughed to mask a certain sound and discreetly passed my father something in the dark. Being surprised that the soda was actually a Moosehead Beer, my dad looked into the rearview mirror and simply gave me a nod as he sipped his beer silently.
OK, hard part is done…Now to wrap up…
Getting back on an airplane for the first time in a LONG TIME was crazy. What used to be a staple of my week, two, four, six, perhaps eight flights per week felt so foreign. Even in first class, I hated what I used to so love. Four nights in Hampton Inn’s and Hilton Garden Inn’s were lousy. No air conditioning in one, sink didn’t drain in another, waiting twenty minutes in the hall while they fixed the lock at another. The rental car company did not have the larger car I reserved and they called me rude when I told them how disappointed I was. How did I ever do this for fifteen years? Last week, I overpacked by about double, not remembering what to bring. Those old familiar parts of my life are all now so foreign and yucky.
I’m feeling blitzed by the loss of my dad. At his mothers’ funeral years ago, my dad leaned to me and quietly said in my ear, “You know, Jimmy, its one thing to face older people dying when you are young, but seeing your parents die – you realize that you are the next one up on the diving board.” On May 7th, I had flights to Boston to see my mom, dad and Liz for the first time in twenty months. Dad and mom were so excited to get their vaccines so that they could start “living” again. One day he’s out at the mall and getting a pizza and two days later he’s gone. Just awful… and as close as I am to Lynn after twenty one years, I can not even fathom my mom’s despair after almost sixty five years together.
I came home with one of his ties, his COVID mask, and soon I will receive some of his ashes.
Closing it out with what I think are appropriate lyrics from a Buffett’s song that I connect with about my career path, early retirement and full time travels. As with other writings, the italicized lyrics elicit special memories of a number of my friends / blog followers.
So he hangs out with the sailorsCowboy In The Jungle – Jimmy Buffett
Night and day they’re raisin’ hell
And his original destination’s just another
Story that he loves to tell
With no plans for the future
He still seems in control
From a bronco ride to a ten foot tide
He just had to learn to roll
Roll with the punches
Play all of his hunches
Made the best of whatever came his way
What he lacked in ambition
He made up with intuition
Plowing straight ahead come what may
I don’t want to live on that kind of island
No, I don’t want to swim in a roped off sea
Too much for me, too much for me
I’ve got to be where the wind and the water are free
Alone on a midnight passage
I can count the falling stars
While the Southern Cross and the satellites
They remind me of where we are
Spinning around in circles
Living it day to day
And still twenty four hours, maybe sixty good years
It’s really not that long a stay
We’ve gotta roll with the punches
Learn to play all of our hunches
Makin’ the best of whatever comes your way
Forget that blind ambition
And learn to trust your intuition
Plowin’ straight ahead come what may
And there’s a cowboy in the jungle
Time to wake Lynn up and do our post-Moderna temperature checks. Hope she’s got a sense of humor and will proofread this and interject some of Lynn’s Two Cents.
Lynn’s Two Cents – Happy anniversary Jim! We aren’t really into celebrating much and Moderna has prevented us from doing anything. The Krispy Kreme doughnuts and iced coffee were a wonderful surprise. Your father raised a wonderful son. I know you will miss him terribly, but he lives on inside of you!