Monday, March 29, 2010

An extraordinary man

When I wrote abou my friend's death, it wasn't about him. It was about me. And while I think he would have appreciated the sentiment, albeit with some surprise, it tells nothing about him, and he was extraordinary.

John Garling was curious up to the end of his long life. He was gentle, and unfailingly polite. He was fully aware he was a good artist, and cartoonist, and he was happy about it. He wasn't egotistical.

He was born in England in 1909, and remembered sitting on the seat of the pony cart as his mother drove to the village. He was two or a bit more. That was his earliest memory. He hated school pretty much until he was accepted in the Royal Academy of Art, and then he thrived. He was an officer in the British Signal Corps during World War II, and while in service, had a nice chat one afternoon with Princess Mary.

Hired by a cartoonist company, he moved to South Africa where he met his wife, Anne, the widow of a Seventh Day Adventist missionary with three children. They married, and he was an excellent father, I think. Certainly well-loved. They emigrated to the US, and they became a naturalized citizens. He worked for years for Hanna Barbera, on Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Tarzan, and Fat Albert. The Garlings much admired Eleanor Roosevelt, and one afternoon in New York, a friend arranged for them to be invited to tea. They enjoyed it very much.

He enjoyed life hugely. He wasn't sentimental. He enjoyed planning cartooning more because the physics than the plots. But he loved absurdity and was a huge Monty Python fan. We agreed John Clees was brilliant. I never could convince him of the genius of Dr. Seuss. He much preferred his fellow countrywoman, Beatrix Potter.

He drove a car into his 90s, and when his knees gave out--He had had knee replacements 20 years before--he decided rather than compromising with a wheelchair, he would simply stay at home. His living room had a faux fireplace with a fake fire in the grate that he built "for coziness," he told me, twinkling.

His son came to visit every day except when he was out of town, and when that happened, he phoned every day. John thought the Iphone was awesome. He just marveled at all his son could do on it. John's daughter-in-law kept him in oxtail soup, chicken teryaki, And these huge cookies that were magnificent.

He had outlived most everyone but family and was content to stay at home. He never read fiction, only non-fiction. He loved biographies. He did anagrams for mental agility.

He was active, and quite strong in his prime. He enjoyed a good glass of wine or ale and conversation at a party. He and his wife loved the grandchildren and played games with them that they remember as adults. His wife died many years ago.

He went along when he had to, but he remained solidly himself. He might decide to go along, but he didn't compromise. At 99, if he was a bit frail, he was still substantial, and very much a man. He never complained. I never heard him lie. I never saw him be impolite, even when he was amiably disagreeing--which wasn't often. He was pragmatic.

But I think he was wrong about the end. He was adamant with his family and the chaplain that there be no service, no burial, no obituary. Just cremation, and leave the ashes at the funeral home. No celebration of his life. He was trying to be kind, to make no fuss. Well, he always was a definite individual.

He was one of the most interesting persons I ever met. I'm glad we could be friends for a few years. So much more I could say, but he was also very private. I respect that. He was molded by his times.

Privacy was easier to come by in 1909.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The more life changes, the more it stays the same

I heard today California once more is going to vote on the legalization of marijuana. And the climate is more welcoming now, because the state is broke. Sales tax on legal marijuana would be a welcome new source of revenue. The complications of doing this and making it work are myriad.

Who raises and sells it? Certainly, unlike tomatoes, squash and avocados, we don't want it imported from Mexico. In fact, the marijuana businesses in Mexico are called cartels, and are probably going to sneer and say, "we don't want your stinkin' peanuts for our stuff. We got our own rate schedule and delivery system." So. what agency oversees growth, quality, strength, etc.? Who oversees manufacture, packaging, and distribution? A newsman on the radio joked this morning that he could see the convenience store chains offering a real deal--one price for a 20-oz. drink, bag of chips, and bag of weed. "Yeah, his colleague joked." Now that's a real happy meal."

Strength is an issure. I don't know if you can breed back to the comparatively innocuous weed of the 1960s compared to the stuff available today. Do we want "light", regular, and fortified weed?
I mean, commercially. In California.

Quality of life is an issue, especially in California. You probably don't want a pig farm next door. From what I have read, you probably don't want more than 20-30 marijuana plants, either. They stink.

Now, chickens stink, too. It takes some effort to keep the chicken poop spread out in the beds and lawn. My son and his wife have solved this with a portable coop they trundle around the yard. No stink, but yummy eggs, and potential meat. And contented chickens sort of sing. They cackle when they lay. They are company.

Frankly, I think legalizing marijuana, even in California, is highly unlikely. Akin, in fact, to paramutual racetrack betting and casinos in Texas. And frankly, there are some good reasons for doing neither in both states.

In addition to actual factual considerations, there's Tradition: The Way We Have Always Done It (in our memory, anyway).

We are getting a lot of change these days we have no control over (just this morning, I found my busy computer had Updated, requiring me unwillingly to close out of files, close down and reboot. I didn't want to do this. I didn't have time. But I had to. And if I want a computer and internet, this is part of the system.) We all want change that goes our way, but not change that alters our behavior--unless maybe enlarged spending habits. We have Attitudes: the way I do it is Right; the way you do it is Wrong.

I have to say one thing about life these days--in the last couple of years, it sure has gotten interesting.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

On the death of a friend

Funny how you know--and you don't know.

Last week I saw John in the Health Center, and he had a cold. He was on oxygen, and about 15 minutes into our visit, a technician came in to give him a breathing treatment.

"I'll see you later," I promised.

Well, other life events have been pressing, I told myself. I didn't get back until yesterday. To find a hospice chaplain there. John, 99, was asleep, almost waxy. The chaplain left and I sat awhile, but I didn't talk. I wish I had! But I sat with him awhile. I left a note, as I always do when he is asleep, so he will know I came,and a piece of dark chocolate, his favorite.

Yesterday was beautiful. High in the 70's, pear and wild plum blooming, fluffy clouds in a blue sky, japonica and daffodils blooming. Often, when I come, I insist on opening the blinds to let him see a beautiful day. I didn't yesterday. It seemed useless.

It was.

Today, I went over in the morning and walked to his room. I noticed yesterday he had a cross on his door, decoated by a school child and signed with her name. I looked at the decal on the center and read, "Hallelujah! He is risen!" and I knew. It was there yesterday,and he was there, but I knew. I looked around and saw another on another room. So only on the hospice rooms. And I knew.

I opened the door, and there was a pristine bed, with no personal artifacts. His clothes were still in the closet. Nothing else. An empty bed.

I went back down to the nurses' station, and two were there. They aren't there often, they are usually with the patients. They give not only professional care, but human caring. But they were there.

"John?" I asked. "he's gone?"

And knowing the answer, I began to cry.

Four o'clock this morning, they said.

I wanted to say, "But I didn't say goodbye!"

And that hurts.

When we met, July 3, 2008, I knew it would be a fairly short friendship, and if MY life was good, this day would come. And it has. I know his family is sad. His son came every day, and other family members frequently. He had only a few friends left. He outlived most of them. He had a remarkable life.

We laughed, and joked, and argued and discussed about three hours a week. Until recently, he had hubris, and vitality. He impacted my life.

I will miss him more than I thought I would. Today, I mourn. I cry. And who wants to die without one friend weeping? I am that friend.

Someday, I hope I am good enough that some friend weeps for me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Caring for the Next Generation

This has been haunting me, so might as well write.

A couple of weeks ago,my granddaughters and I went into the local dollar store after the older's game ( which was awesome, she blocked five saves by the other side and...)

There was a couple ahead of us, with a child about 4 or 5. She had on a coat with a hood. Never saw her face. She had a rope around her back, attached to a cardboard sign in front of her.

Having come from a sports game, I assumed her sign was a yea team for someone.
So I asked her what her sign said. She didn't answer or turn around. No worry. Lots of young kids are like that.

Being a busybody, I reached for the cardboard and read the sign. And stood in shock.
It read," KEEP AN EYE ON ME. I STEAL FROM PEOPLE." I was speechless.

I looked up at a man I assume was her father, and an upset woman I assume was her mother.

He said they had tried everything, and this was the last thing they could think of.
He said she had taken things from Kroger's three times.

The little girl kept her head down. They paid, and his hand was somewhat affectionately on her shoulder when they left.

The checker commented, "Nothing illegal about what he did."

There were murmers of agreement and incoherent sounds. We were discombobulated.

What went on? was this a child who couldn't control her like for candy in the store?
What else had the parents tried? Were they the parents? was this a scam so that they could steal while eyes were on the kid?

I'll never know. It felt genuine. And I wondered what they had tried. Parenting skills aren't taught, valued, or acknowledged. If you are lucky enough to be born into a healthy family, you have the skill. If not, LOL. What do I do with a culture I belong to that doesn't value parenting?

I can try to spend time with kids, and try to give them boundaries and imagination.
It's all I can think to do.

It sure is fun.