Archive for the ‘Tunes’ Category

We all want the same things

Written by

When I was 27 I wrote 31 hour-long TV episodes in 34 days over the course of the World Cup in Brazil. It was the most taxing thing I’ve ever done in my life. We scarfed shitty fried foods while standing, not tasting anything. Everyone lost a ton of weight and got their debit cards ripped off. By the time I landed back in Miami, I was a mess of tangled beard and antisocial behavior. It was all I could do to smile at another human, let alone hold a conversation.

When I woke up my first night back in the United States, I walked to the only barber I could find 0n Yelp that accepted credit cards, whacked off all my hair, and then packed and headed for the airport to attend my little brothers’ weddings.

——-

I hate the question, “What was it like growing up in Asia?” Who are you, my goddam therapist? Fuck off. That summer I very quickly learned to hate the question, “How was the World Cup? Exciting?” I had nothing left of me to give, including faking enthusiasm for family.

It was brutal. I remember watching all the tourists walk to the beach in their bikinis, while I stared at a while wall in an uncomfortable plastic chair, sweating and clanking away on my keyboard. I never finished a show with more than a few minutes to spare. We would print scripts and run through the darkening streets of Rio de Janeiro to the tiny studio we’d built along the beach, our control room underground in what used to be a public bathroom.

It’s a weird sensation to listen to waves while you’re permanently stressed out. I started smoking again.

——-

It was a weekend designed to inform me that I am old. Two of my brothers got married two days apart. The day in between was my birthday.

I exaggerate and fiddle with the truth a lot on this blog, but those are the God honest facts.

I missed my layover in Atlanta and was delayed getting in, so I wasn’t there for my brother’s bachelor party. They played capture the flag in some field and used flour in napkins tied off with rubber bands so that when they threw them, it would show up on their black clothes. There were no strippers. There was no booze.

My family is fervently evangelical.

I managed to smile through some polite conversation when they got back, and then collapsed in an overstuffed bed in a corner room upstairs in my aunt’s house in Indiana.

The next day was the wedding. I was in it for some reason, even though I don’t talk to my brothers. The vest I had to wear was blue. The pants were grey.

I don’t remember a whole lot. I remember it was in a megachurch in the middle of some corn fields in Indiana. I didn’t get service in half of the church. The bride’s older sister got real huffy at me when I made a joke about divorce. No one objected to the union, and it was made official.

I assume my brother had sex for the first time that night.

The next morning, my 28th birthday, I borrowed his car at 6am and drove around the tip of Lake Michigan. I parked on the side of the street a block away from the W in Chicago.

I met up with some friends, co-workers who were there to cover the Pitchfork festival. Arielle met me at the beach, and we walked inside and picked up Romi and Di Palma and headed over. They did some interviews while I walked around, and then Arielle and I head-bobbed solemnly to Slowdive together. Di Palma got too high and kept trying to run off and we had to stop her because we knew she’d get lost. She also bought me a Cloud Nothings poster I still have up in my apartment in LA. Kendrick Lamar headlined, and we all screamed “Bitch don’t kill my vibe” as some parents nearby covered their children’s ears.

At some fancy place for dinner—I don’t remember what kind of food—we ordered a bottle of sangria and I spilled some on my shirt. In the Uber back, we heard a song with a distinctive sax line, but none of us knew what it was. Arielle asked her Twitter followers, and one somehow identified it.

It’s still my ringtone. Years later, I bought Di Palma City to City on vinyl as a going away present when she moved from Miami to New York. We did molly on the beach, and she left it behind. So now I own two copies.

When we got back to the hotel, Romi showed us her worst interview ever on her phone. Di Palma and I smoked pot in the bathroom with the shower running. We all kept hum-singing Gerry Rafferty at each other.

I forgot it was my birthday and forgot to stress and worry, and just relaxed for the first time in probably six months.

In the morning I think I gave them a ride to the airport, and I drove back under Lake Michigan, to a small church in Niles my family had attended when I was in middle school. I changed into a suit in one of the back rooms, met the other groomsmen, and then walked into the sanctuary where my father married my other brother. (To his now-wife. My father did not get married to my brother.)

The reception was a potluck in the back yard. They gave everyone small bottles of maple syrup because she’s from Canada.

I don’t remember flying back. I just remember my apartment in Miami, how white and clean it was. I don’t think I left for a week. Eventually I got a new debit card and rebuilt my life and got to the point where I could talk about the World Cup or aging or my loneliness like a sane human being.

I haven’t been back to Chicago since. My last little brother gets married there this weekend.

Someone’s here and then they’re not

Written by

 

Rawles sat on my lap when we drove him to the vet. Deaf, blind, balding, and with kidney issues, his quality of life wasn't holding up at 14. When we got there and announced ourselves for the appointment, the receptionist said, "Oh, oh. I'm so sorry. Right this way." Rawles was too scared and unsteady on his feet to stand, so I held him. He was quivering. I remembered when I was 25 and all I could think about was killing myself all day every day and Rawles would blissfully jump in my lap and snuggle and I couldn't help but smile and keep living one more day. And then another. And another. Until somehow I made it here, to 30. Theo filled out the paperwork and handed over his credit card. The vet asked if we had ever done this before. I immediately thought to a week earlier, when we had to pull the breathing tube from Theo's infant son. I remember, after he passed, Jessie was holding her boy in her lap weeping. I put my palm on his head. He was so gray. I touched Jessie's shoulder and she looked up at me. I've never seen such raw grief; I hope to never again. She looked like a mother who had to watch her son die. That look, I'll carry it with me to my grave. The vet took Rawles out of the room and gave him a sedative. She brought him back and laid him on a garishly colored blanket. He was relaxed; his tongue hung out if his mouth. I put my palm on his head and cried. Just like I had cried in the shower that morning. Just like I had cried in the shower every morning since their baby died. The vet gave Rawles a shot and then checked his heartbeat with a stethoscope and then he was gone. We sat petting him and crying. Eventually the receptionist came and picked up the body that a until few seconds ago had been Rawles and walked out the back door. He was a good boy. This is my last post on this account. Thank you for following.

A post shared by @zacrigg on

[A Crow Looked At Me.]

Ride the Rodman

Written by

One thing I had forgotten until my recent trip to Malaysia is that the government blocks most porn sites.

Pretty much any of the big flash-based sites don’t work. It’s not like I brought backup pornograpics, but whatever, two weeks without porn is fine.

Back when I lived there for a year, it was a different matter. For a brief spell, one of those shitty ad-infested sites worked. Then the censors found it, and it didn’t. The speed of the internet made it too infuriating anyway.

So here’s what I did: I brought an external hard drive to by buddy Low’s house in the basket of my motorbike, and then created a new folder:

Zac -> Video -> Other -> YeahYeahYeah

And within that, we placed several gigs of pornography that he had painstakingly downloaded over the years on Malaysia’s shitty internet (and occasionally on Taiwan’s wonderful internet). There was a bunch of classic movies from the ’70s, all grainy and with full bush and closeups that linger way too long than is comfortable. There was a lot of hetero girl-next-door clips of very conventional sexual intercourse. There was a bunch of Japanese porn with censored genitals (and naturally some shy chicks getting plowed on public transportation, at first kind of asking not to be raped but then I guess getting into it? And the people in the background of shots at the beginning mysteriously disappear after nudity happens). And I distinctly remember there being one where a bunch of cheerleaders are stranded in a bus and decide to all fuck and they surreptitiously all finish orgasming just moments before the teacher returns from his quest for gasoline. I liked that one a lot.

But the point isn’t to make you imagine me masturbating alone in my office, the ceiling fan circling slowly. The point I wanted to make is that it’s kinda weird to plan your horniness.

Like, you’re grocery shopping, and you get some kale because you’re trying to be healthy, and you think, “Oh, I would very much like to become horny on Thursday, I better make sure to pre-download this 2 hour Cleopatra movie that’s got both old Roman orgies and also weirdly some archeologists (played by the same actors!) finding the evidence and fucking a lot as well. And maybe I’ll d/l some Sasha Grey for when I am overtaken by hormones on Friday as well!”

(That Cleopat one is a real movie Low gave me. It’s pretty good.)

I’m reminded of Rob Delaney buying plastic sheets back when he was a practicing alcoholic, because it was a given that he would blackout and piss the bed several times a week.

“After arriving in LA and securing an apartment, I had dialed 1-800-MATTRESS and ordered a queen-size bed. It was a big step – deciding to stop peeing in a futon and start peeing in a real bed – and I took it seriously. When I went to buy sheets along with a little trash can and a bathmat and such, I knew I’d also need plastic sheets for my queen-size bed. I was a big boy now and big boys pee in big beds! I walked right up to a young woman and asked her where the plastic sheets were. She told me they were in the kids’ linen section with other kids’ things.

“Uh, I’m looking for plastic sheets for a queen-size bed.”

“Oh…”

“Yep.”

“Oh, um, we don’t have those. We could order them?”

“Well, then, yeah. Order them.”

In a moment of utter sobriety, I was 100% at peace with the fact that I was a voluntary, habitual, adult bedwetter and I was comfortable discussing it frankly with a stranger.”

And now here I am, frankly discussing my perverted masturbatory habits with anonymous strangers. (Hi, Dan!)

I’ve still got the hard drive and all the porn Low gave me. Hmu if you have an hour blocked off next Wednesday afternoon to be horny alone.

[Chanel.]

You’re my favorite but we’re phasing

Written by

I recently visited Malaysia on vacation. It was my first time back in five years. Here are some feelings that I felt:

  1. You know how you’re out at a party and you come home and take off your pants and your socks and do that old person sigh/grunt as you sit down on your favorite chair? And you know how you only realize how stressed and emotionally jittered you were by how suddenly tranquil you feel? And how you’re still half-drunk, petting your cat, feeling the smoothness of his fur, drinking a tall glass of ice water and feeling at home, your true self again? The moment I landed, it felt like that. Like I had taken my pants off at home.
  2. Malaysia has changed a lot. There are new buildings and new stores and new roads and new bridges and new museums and new malls. It was like seeing an ex who has a new haircut and new job and new lover. There’s a longing and wistfulness for what could have been. In another life, I would have stayed in Malaysia and been content and watched all those changes from the inside, instead of melancholically seeing them all at once. And then I left, leaving Malaysia to change more without me, while I change more away from it.
  3. There’s a part in those shitty spy movies, when our erstwhile hapless hero suddenly realizes he knows kung fu and how to shoot a very long gun and has been a sleeper cell all along. Like he’s watching himself fight bad guys and is just as surprised as you. If the movie is delightfully trashy enough, he may turn to the camera and give you a little look. That’s how I felt about Malay. I just opened my mouth and language I didn’t know I knew poured out of it. If you had asked me to translate a phrase into bahasa, I wouldn’t have been able to. But put me in that situation and somewhere in my lizard brain is a section that barely lights up anymore anymore, telling me what to say and how to say it.
  4. My superpower: I am capable of being unhappy anywhere. Within a handful of days at my favorite place in the universe, I got grouchy and tired of dumb touristy things. Mostly I just craved a routine and some time alone to process. The chemicals in my brain that make me sad continue to impress me with their potency. I should bottle them and sell them to people to feed to their enemies.
  5. Globalization bums me out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a nativist. Globalization is coming, or I guess it’s already here, and we need to figure out how to mitigate its more brutal effects. But when I see soulless condos going up, blocking ocean views and trampling what used to be dope shit underneath, just so Singaporean businessmen can keep an empty weekend apartment, I’m like what’s the point. There’s an old snake temple, where vipers have lived for generations. Now it’s surrounded on multiple sides by garish buildings 30 stories high and the sounds of construction concusses down into the tiny rectangle of foliage where the snakes climb tree limbs. It’s just a bummer, man. Also, inflation really made me sad, but I think that’s just more a nostalgia thing.
  6. Physical distance from work is key to emotional distance. The farther away you go, the less you’ll care. I recommend going roughly half of the circumference of the globe. As we were flying over the Pacific, I could feel my stressors shrinking. And as we flew back, I could hear their static, like the volume knob on a radio turned up as we got closer.
  7. How do married people do it? I spent two weeks caring about another person’s desires and nearly lost my damn mind. The only thing I wanted by like day 10 was a couple hours to be alone, in quiet, without having to vote on our every damn activity.

[Migration.]

Can I dance in a pair of your shoes?

Written by

cat on a leash

Tame Impala – Let It Happen

I’m in a loveless marriage with this girl named Wilson. On the rare days we don’t hang out, she calls me on her drive home from work, just to recount the day. She’s headstrong and pushy and passionate and makes all the decisions for both of us. I no longer have to choose what to eat after work or where to go on Saturday afternoon—a million oppressive decisions spared. It’s been soothing and comforting and safe in ways I didn’t know I wanted.

One lazy weekend morning, we were making omelettes at my place, all sunlight and white walls. I started cooking, because she was still Tindering on the couch. Eventually, she moseyed over in one of my baggy t-shirts and commenced micromanaging me. She had specifications for how to brown the meat, for how fine to dice the onions, for when to flip the eggs. I paused, spatula in hand, to turn and face her. I’ve been living away from my parents since I was 8. I’ve been making my own omelettes since age 10. I’m a competent and accomplished adult. I can fry up my own damn onions. But just when I opened my mouth to say all this, I realized: That’s the trade-off. All the tiny tedious decisions I no longer have to make, well, the same way I way I got out of them also means I don’t get to decide the shade of the outside of my omelettes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about control lately. Who we give it up to, who we exert it over, when we try to cling to it, and what all that says about us.

valle de los ingenios

Majical Cloudz – Control

Recently, I snuck into Cuba illegally with a girl I barely knew. Let’s call her Murry. She knew Spanish, so she became the de facto decision-maker simply because she had more information. She could ask people questions, learn facts, gather intel, while I stood by, smiling mutely. She was a terrible leader, never including anyone else in decisions or disseminating information. By the end, I was jumping into cabs and then asking, “Uh, where the fuck are we going?” I got grumpy and shut down, stopped talking to anybody in any language.

Then, just as I was about at my limit, we got sick. We didn’t notice a water bottle had been previously opened until too late. I spent 18 hours in a hostel bed in Trinidad, waking up only to diarrhea and shower periodically. Murry spent the night vomiting, dozing off on the floor of the bathroom. In the morning, I awoke more or less better, if slightly weakened from not eating for 24 hours. Murry slept on, so I slipped out with the driver to explore.

Our driver (it was cheaper than renting a car) was a quiet kid who didn’t speak a lick of English. I pointed at him and at me and said “solamente.” He said, “Que?” I repeated the gesture. We got in his ’52 Ford and drove.

For one glorious morning, I was in charge.

I saw two tourists, each with his right calf fully tatted up. I wondered if their friendship produced the similar tattoos or if the matching tattoos produced the friendship.

I touched the skull of a cow in the crumbling slave-owner ranch house of an old sugar plantation.

I pet a fat puppy and he waddled around after me as I wandered the plantation.

I drank guarapo, sugar cane juice.

I watched two kid goats prance around their mother and then suckle on her udders.

I went inside a discotheque carved out of a cave.

I saw the blackened, scorched top of the mountain where a brush fire had kept us out of the cave disco the night before.

I saw a woman wearing a Whatsapp tank top.

I saw a kitten on a leash secured to a cement wall.

I saw a European woman with a braid of hair down to the small of her back. I wondered how she put on the hood of her sweater. I wondered how nectar-sweet it would be to be her, with her life, and her hair braid, and her individual worries. I wondered if she wondered what it would be like to be me.

I saw two horseback cowboys, jean jackets and cowboy hats, carrying a goat carcass and waving triumphantly at their friends as they rode through town. I saw their dutiful dog trotting behind, the goat’s skull in his mouth.

I swatted a fly that kept landing on my arm in the car. I remembered an old lady I met once, deep in the the Borneo jungle. She wore only a sarong and sat calmly on the wood floor of her house as mosquitoes sucked her blood. Meanwhile, I kept frantically slapping at my skin, waving my hands in the air.

In some ways, the battles we choose not to fight are a type of control.

Bay of Pigs

Mogwai – The Lord Is Out Of Control

Later, on the way home, I saw birds flitting around inside the Havana airport terminal. I wondered if the expression “free as a bird” applies to the ones stuck in an airport.

When we landed in Cancun, the entire plane erupted in applause. The man sitting across the aisle crossed himself and kissed his fingers, glancing upwards toward the heavens that we had just descended from. I smirked at the Latinness of it all, but I also became acutely aware that, for the duration of the flight, no one in the cabin had had any control.

[Currents, Are You Alone?, Rave Tapes.]

Where’s your ‘We’dom?

Written by

MIA - Borders

MIA – Borders

Within her musical output, Maya Arulpragasam has proven reactive to our flawed, shifting societies (“Galang”), predictive of unscrupulous politics (“The Message”), and unflinching in her storytelling reach (“Bad Girls”), while functioning as a vehicle for the most obscure of music’s narrators (“Lovealot”).

Where the academic, journalistic profferings of media agencies leaves me intellectually provoked to the point of prostration, proving an impediment (to what I’m unsure, but something), I’m privy to a private, visceral experience when listening to MIA. I’m constantly made furious.

Her music, for me, is a rejection of non-violent protest. It’s a fuck you to our own wrongdoings and our own inertia, and it’s a fuck you to music’s apolitical setting.

Only recently, Thom Yorke said, “If I was going to write a protest song about climate change in 2015, it would be shit. It’s not like one song…is going to change someone’s mind.”

Shouldn’t stirring the populous, even inciting the crowd, be the aim of the artist, though? Deemed defeat should not justify inaction. The correct response, surely, is any response.

Yet, subsequent to Europe’s most recent horrors and in response to the ongoing refugee crisis of Syria and the world’s rejection of same, MIA released “Borders”. Void of a lyric sheet the opening lines are obscure, but, “Freedom, I’dom, Me’dom / Where’s your We’dom? / This world needs a brand new Re’dom / We’dom–the key / We’dom the key’dom to life” proves an extension of her less creatively executed Twitter proclamation:

To be bland, it’s here where the MIA experience comes upon a crossroad. The listener may opt to side with the supposed feeble influence of music and its conspirators, or it may ride the brave wave. The bass is aptly murky, serving its creator as a platform for protest. Rhythmically, it’s a smoldering pace. There is a pulse, but it’s ooze-like, functioning as a transporter from one memorable refrain to the next. And when she levels her torment to our ears (“Borders: What’s up with that? Broke people: What’s up with that? Boat people: What’s up with that?”) she does so with clarity and poise. There are no particular theatrics, as if the words carry weight–and they do.

It’s an assured presentation, no more apparent than in the song’s visual partner where MIA performs, self-directed, like a still-life piece. Musically, “Borders” emanates from a world of a single inhabitant: MIA. It’s void of genre or place; its only comfort lies in it being undisputedly modern. Lyrically, it exists in the same world. Alone. MIA is a unique, single voice in a generation masturbating its self-awareness.

“Your future: What’s up with that?”

[Fly Pirates. Eye Tunez.]

This heart, this heart, this wilderness

Written by

Bruce Springsteen – Lift Me Up

“This heart, this heart, this wilderness.”

“Lift Me Up” is one of Springsteen’s many triumphs, involving an improbably gorgeous falsetto over faint guitar and a layer of composed, swelling keyboard synthetic. His voice is haunting and almost unknowable compared to the grit and grunt of famed Springsteen deliveries. It’s a unique instrument, only ever accompanied by the track’s own instrumentation (all executed by Springsteen), never obscured. The song conveys the same sensibilities as “Streets of Philadelphia”, “Gave It a Name”, and “Sad Eyes”; slow, assured and ethereal. Most importantly, it is highly affecting. And Springsteen’s lyrics are compelling. They are curt, and without ever conveying the clarity of storytelling they settle in the bones. The lyrical nuances, the dance between the romantic and the adulterous, make for an emotionally involving, appealingly earnest narrator. I’m convinced of an air of guilt and a sorrowful tone, however; the risk-taker come undone, aiming toward an act of atonement–one unanswered. Whether it’s in the rejection of tradition (“I don’t need your answered prayers / I don’t need your sacred vow”) or the unreliable promises of tomorrow (“When the morning bright / Lifts away this night / We will find our love”), there’s an unresolved struggle between long term and short term happiness.

[Columbia Records.]

I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form

Written by

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 1.50.53 PM

Bob Dylan – Shelter From The Storm

The stretch of track lines from Wolli Creek all the way through to Central Station, Sydney, has sketchy cellular connectivity. If Spotify holds out, it’s a blessing. If not, aurally the landscape is largely sniffles and sighs and polite, blunted coughs. Visually business suits, freshly-ironed buttoned-down shirts, and backpacks span the carriages. The weary conductor, announcing the present and subsequent stops, crackles over the intercom. Suburb to suburb, he sounds less tired-guy-following-procedure and more like death itself.

I’m sure he’s a nice guy, the conductor. Once, of an afternoon, my friend James and I were shooting the shit at the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown, ordering lunch. Some portly, curly-haired bloke – whose name I can’t recall – was sitting with some people, practicing card tricks the table over. Catching our interest, we ate together. After the usual how-do-you-do’s, one of Curl’s friends discussed his life as a train driver. “Mostly routine,” he said, “but people jump in front of trains a lot. A fucking lot.” The media doesn’t report them all, fearing copycats I guess, and it’s common for drivers to quietly bear the horror and guilt, despite the wide range of support given to employees who experience it first-hand.

I asked him if he had ever hit anybody. He had. He was working a wet line into the city circle and this guy was standing at the platform’s edge holding an umbrella, sheltered from the rain and watching the train approach. He said it was the detail that stayed with him. The man’s expression, watching this angled form of metal and gears and weight coming towards him, as if timing when it was going to be too late to stop. The slump of his shoulders as he fell. Most of all, he recalled that this particular person didn’t let go of the umbrella. It was one of a thousand things that made it difficult to comprehend, but it seemed ridiculous and inconsequential – “Who cares about the fucking umbrella?”

But, if you’re going to kill yourself, why bring it on to the platform? Why hold on to it when you jump? What does it matter?” He said those kinds of questions ring around the inside of your skull months and months later.

To this day I can still tell you the colour of the mohair jumper she was wearing, the colour of her jeans, what shoes she had on, and what injuries she had suffered.”

Curls’ friend also told the story of a former train driver, a man who – at least back then – spent his time far from the tracks. He would wear his conductor slacks and stayed on the payroll, preparing administrative papers mostly. He didn’t know the number of deaths or any more details, but he speculated it wouldn’t have to be many. Even one was already too much.

[Seek help. Find hope. For those in Australia, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 – for anything. Even if you just need somebody to talk to. Internationally, the IASP has a listing for crisis centres across the world. Reach out. You are not alone.]

No joke

Written by

Panda Bear – Tropic of Cancer

“It’s all in the family…When they said he’s ill / Laughed it off as if it’s no big deal.”

Tropic of Cancer‘s opening lines are a denial. They are a supine stance in the face of impending familial tragedy, but it’s a stance unshared by the singer: “What a joke to joke. No joke.” The song reaches its most revealing upon the hard K in “joke” at 1:44. It’s understated, easily missed–to be mistaken for a mistake, even–but it’s venomous and indicative of a pain still very much alive, in itself cancerous if unchecked. The moment is transient and intuitive and unnervingly beautiful, one of the most stunning vocalised moments in music. Vsevolozhsky’s sample, looped in dub fashion, is weightless and expertly stretched and decelerated to accommodate syllabic expression–a configured inducement to hear the contradiction that is Panda Bear, an enigmatic artist yet entirely confessional.

Panda Bear has expressly stated that his Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper LP is not about death. Instead, it is a representation of changes in identity. The beauty of music is the ability to project upon it one’s own experience and sentiments. The emotive nature of music can be molded to suit. In a sense, however, we cheat music and the artist’s intentions each time we read into music what isn’t there. Tropic of Cancer‘s beginnings are of death (life reversed), to be sure, but to reject the refrain and what follows is to reject the certainty that with death one is altered; one has evolved.

“And you can’t get back / You won’t come back / You can’t come back to it.” Can’t. Won’t. Can’t again.

Locked in the present and finitely bolted to a future, we’re mandated to carry with us an unchangeable past. This is not to call our journey ill-fated, however. If we’re fortunate to live long into the future, pain will be a staple of our sensation’s diet and death key to our experience, for what we live is a single opportunity experience. To dismiss sickness and death as an anomaly, as impairing our experience, is to shortchange our own fate–our only fate.

“Sick has to eat well, too / Got to like it all / Got to like what kills.”

[Domino.]

My next love will be the best I ever had

Written by

Gamma 1

I didn’t like my grandmother when I was a child. She was prim and prissy and — most unforgivably of all — an Authority Figure. Then I grew up (or older, at least). Recently, I moved to Florida, about four hours from where she lives. I’ve come to know a different grandmother than the caricature of my memory. She’s independent and generous and brave and true. She makes me unafraid to face old age.

This Thanksgiving, I spent two and a half hours interviewing her. There were a bunch of reasons for this:

  1. I’m a writer. Writers are mostly useless. We sit in our pale bodies in our lamp-lit rooms, clacking away on keyboards all night. We’re not fun to be around because instead of experiencing life we’re too busy processing it all the time. We have no money or worthwhile life skills. So when I consider my role in my extended family, I’m aware that I don’t contribute. That I have nothing to contribute. Then I thought these thoughts: I know how to operate a voice recorder, I have experience interviewing people, and I can transcribe (grumblingly). I thought: Maybe this could be a feeble contribution to my family, or at least briefly reverse the one-way nature of our interaction.
  2. I’ve been quietly obsessed with the idea of permanence recently. (I say recently; I got a tattoo four years ago because I wanted just one damn thing in my life that wouldn’t leave me.) What do we leave behind when we die? How are people remembered, and for how long? What do you see when you’re 84 and you look out over the horizon? I figured I may as well ask.
  3. Generally, societal memory of a human lasts two generations. After the rest of the grandkids and I die, no one will recall my grandmother except as perhaps a fleeting image or the fragment of a story. (The only memory I have of my great-grandmother is wearing one of those old paper Burger King crowns when we went to visit her in a nursing home.) I wanted to make sure that, when I die and humanity’s collective recollection of my grandmother ends, that as much of her memory as possible will at least make it that far.

Anyway, I’m hoping that by knowing why I care, you might too. What follows is a curated list of questions and answers from what was initially 14,000 transcribed words. It’s really long still, but so is life, so deal. For the most part the interview was lighthearted, almost flirty in tone. She laughed at a lot of my questions, though you probably can’t tell from the straight transcript.

Ultimately, I failed. I didn’t figure out what I’m going to see and feel at 84, and I also don’t feel like I captured anything close to her essence, or contributed much to my family. But that’s okay, too. I learned different things than I set out to. Maybe they are better things? Who knows. We’ll all be dead and forgotten soon anyway.

Here’s a quick primer of some of the names you’ll see:

Gamma – my grandmother
Wilber and Gram – her parents
Katy and Maxine – her sisters
Poppy – her husband
Dona, David and Diane – her children

Here’s my favorite quote. I asked what she wants on her gravestone: “Just the name and date. That’s all. That’s enough.” I think, eventually, all we leave behind are some letters and numbers scratched on a rock. That’s enough.

 

ZLR: I’m going to start with a hard one. Where were you born?

Gamma: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My parents lived at 181 Woodhaven Drive, Mt. Lebanon. And so I was born in the children’s hospital in Pittsburgh.

Is the house still there?

The house is still there, yes.

Have you visited?

Yes, I went with my sister Katy many years ago. We got out of the car, parked, walked all around it, and would have gone in but there was no one there. It was in nice condition. They’ve done a few improvements. And we took pictures. It was a lovely home. We had four bedrooms upstairs, and a bathroom. And a big, big living room, a big dining room, kitchen, a breakfast nook, a full-sized basement, two-car garage, bathroom in the basement.

What year were you born?

I was born Aug. 16, 1930.

What was your relationship like with your father?

I got along with my father just great. Back in those days fathers were not instructed to be so involved with their families. But I used to go sit on his lap when he’d be reading the newspaper. I can’t remember that we talked about so much. But he was always there. He came home regularly for dinner, and we had dinner as a family, in the dining room.

What kind of man was he?

I wouldn’t say soft, but more soft than hard. He was a reasonable man.

Did he like to tell stories?

Yes. Jokes.

What kind of jokes?

Probably slightly off color jokes, some of them. But not to us.

You called him a gentleman farmer.

I did call him a gentleman farmer. Yeah, and he grew roses. He loved roses. And he would cut a fresh rose every day when they were in season and wear it in his lapel.

What did you wear in elementary?

We all wore skirts back then.

Like a plaid?

More of a preppy look than anything else. I do remember, once I started junior high I walked about a mile to school and the senior high was also about that far.

Was it uphill both ways?

Well up to the top of the hill, and then it was kind of level.

*muffled laughter*

Okay, I just got that. Well, you know my mother didn’t drive. There was no school bus because we lived just under a mile. If you lived a mile away you could take the school bus. It probably didn’t hurt us at all.

What were your hobbies?

Reading. I was nearsighted and never knew it. The person themselves isn’t aware they’re supposed to see in a certain way. So one thing I could do was read, and I loved to read.

When your sisters left the house, what was different?

I never even thought about it. I just lived my life. I was very, very busy in high school. I was the literary editor of the yearbook and I was in a couple other clubs. But also I was active in my church youth group. We did things and had fun together.

When was your youth group?

Youth group was Sunday nights. My church was at the top of the street, and we walked up for Sunday school and stayed for church.

Why did your mother pick that church?

Well, because she didn’t drive, and it was the closest church, so that’s why we went. My father wanted us in church, he just didn’t go to church.

So he never went to church his whole life?

You know, I was in college those last couple years when he was ill, and my sister said that he did start going to church. But I never saw him in church, so I don’t know.

What did he do?

He started off his career being an auditor for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Maybe it was more than just New Jersey at that time. Standard Oil was declared a monopoly and they had to separate; they had to divide. Then he went with the People’s Natural Gas Company of Pittsburgh. He was the office manager of that whole area.

Did he like it? Did he complain?

I think the feeling of that day was that he was very grateful. A lot of people had been out of work during the Depression, and he never was. He had to have his salary reduced slightly, but he never had to go without a paycheck. So I think that there was an attitude of, ‘I’m just glad I have this good job.’

Would you say you were middle class?

Definitely middle class. One of my fondest memories of my father was, it was a stormy day, or rainy, and he had bought a bag of wonderful apples from the state of Washington. He was carrying those home. For whatever reason he had taken the bus to the top of our street and was walking down the street. There was a patch of ice he didn’t see, and he fell, and the apples scattered all over. And he was also in pain with what turned out to be a broken arm. But he picked up every single apple, and brought those apples home, and walked the rest of the way home. Walked up our front steps, which were quite steep, and came in, and his face was ashen. The minute my mother and all of us saw him, we were just panicked. He had broken his arm, but he was not going to leave any of those apples on the street. He was bringing those home for his family. They were special.

I imagine he wasn’t quite as stingy as Gram [what I call her mom], but he was probably stingy himself, right?

Frugal. And he was probably conservative. But as I say, everyone I knew lived conservatively, so it wasn’t like it was anything unusual.

What were their politics?

My mother, bless her, was a Democrat.

Were you pretty in high school?

I never thought so.

Did the boys think so?

I dated. I had a boyfriend in high school.

What was his name?

Bob. Bob Eby. He was very, very, very intelligent, and I don’t know what he saw in me to tell you the honest truth. I’m still in contact with him. He married a wonderful gal — her name is Connie. He won a five-year scholarship to Princeton and majored in chemical engineering. You know how quiz kids used to go around to different cities, you’ve heard of that radio show at that time? He was selected to be one in his group. So he was very, very intelligent.

You say you dated him. What did that look like?

We went to the movies. We did other things together. We went to dances, school dances.

You were allowed to dance?

Oh yes, yes.

What kind of dances?

Ballroom, foxtrot kind of thing. Some jitterbug. I was never any good at that.

Were you ever any good at dancing?

Not really, no.

Who was your first kiss?

Well, honestly, I can’t remember his name.

What grade was it in?

Seventh grade. I went to a school dance with the boy across the street. I didn’t see anything wrong with it at that time.

Did your parents?

I never asked and I never got caught.

But certainly they must have met Bob and knew you were dating?

Oh yes, they liked him. They liked him a lot because my father offered him our car to take me to something. I can’t remember. But he never, ever lent that car out to anyone else that I know of.

Why did it end with Bob?

You know what, it wasn’t love, and I knew it.

So you broke it off?

Yes, it was at the end of our high school year.

Was he devastated?

I doubt it.

What advice would you give the high school version of you?

I would say, “Work as hard as you can. Play as hard as you can. Learn everything. Explore. Try new things.”

gamma2 copy

How did you choose your college?

Well, I wanted to go as far away from home as I thought my parents would allow, and I wanted to go to some place that wasn’t going to break the budget. I had heard of Monmouth College in Illinois; it was associated with my church. It had a good reputation, scholastic reputation.

What did Wilbur and Gram say when you wanted to go to that college?

“Fine.” They drove me there.

Did they pay for it?

Yes, they did. I worked summers. I worked at the Bell’s Telephone Company. I was able to get a job from a neighbor who worked there.

Was that your first job?

My first official job, yes. Minimum wage. The first year I earned $30 a week.

How much is that an hour?

I don’t want to know. The second year, minimum wage went up a dollar. I got $31. I think I got up to $32 maybe at the most. I worked there for four years.

Blazing rich.

Well, what it did was that paid for my books and anything else in my expenses. And my parents paid for my tuition and room and board.

What kind of food did you eat in dorms?

At Monmouth College we had family-style, sit-down dinners. We dressed in skirts. One of the upperclassmen was at the head of the table. I’d say maybe there were a dozen people at the table, maybe not that many. Maybe it was 10. So then the platters of meat and vegetables were started at that head and then passed around the table.

How big was the college?

When I went, I think it was about 600. We all ate together: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

What sorority were you in?

I was in Kappa Gamma Gamma.

Why did you join a sorority?

I didn’t even know about sororities when I went there, and found out about rush and everything. And everybody was doing it, so I did it too. Who wants to be left out?

What would the sorority do?

Actually, in my day they were very, very advantageous, because you were assigned a big sister and you were kept accountable for your grades. We had meetings in which we practiced music. We had music competitions, sorority against sorority and fraternity against fraternity. It was a big school event. We had social events. It was one way to get to meet people.

Was that sort of your main activity?

Yes, they provided … of course we had football games, basketball, that sort of thing. I was in a little dance club. Danced on the football field one time. Did the highland fling!

What is that?

It’s a Scottish dance.

Can you show me?

No, I can’t show you. And if I could, I wouldn’t.

What’d you study?

I majored in math, minored in chemistry. Those were my favorite subjects and I felt like I wanted to become a teacher. I also was very interested in meeting the right person for the rest of my life. I had a problem because they would post your grades from a test outside the door of that classroom. Maybe it was a wrong perception, but I felt that the boys were not going to ask me out because I was too far ahead of them. I got good grades. So I was social minded.

Did you date at all at Monmouth?

Yes, I dated a tremendous amount. My last semester there I went to every fraternity dance, with somebody different each time, of course.

So you were probably prettier than you’re letting on.

I don’t think so. I don’t know. I just got fed up with the whole scenario. I can remember that when I did transfer, I said, “This is it. I am not going to date. I just want to go to school. I want to go to school; I want to get an education. Dating is just off limits for a while.”

Let’s back up before we get to that. You went to Monmouth a year and a half?

A year and a half.

And then you transferred to Penn State. Why?

Well, my father had become ill, for one thing. And I also thought if I’m going to get a teacher’s certificate, maybe I should consider getting it from the state of Pennsylvania, because that’s where I live. At that time, and even today, that’s not always transferable. So I transferred to Penn State.

You wanted to teach. Did you have existential doubt about what you would do?

I don’t think we had as many options back then — for women, especially. If you weren’t going to be a teacher, you were going to be a nurse. Whereas today there’s so much information out there and so many avenues where you can go. And you have to make these decisions so early on. My oldest sister wanted to be a nurse, and she pursued that and became one. My next sister majored in chemistry I believe, and then got a job and used that. She worked for a water softener company.

Did you have long hair in college?

I never had long hair. It was longer than it is now, but my hair was so kinky curly and that was not popular. In order to control it, why, I had to keep it short.

What was your fashion sense like?

It was the preppy era. Saddle shoes, bobby socks, pleated skirts or sometimes straight skirts. I do remember in high school we wore jeans — this was just for play. The fashion was to borrow one of your father’s shirts and wear it, a button down shirt. You tied it in the front so it held everything together. I can remember doing that.

So you transferred to Penn. How long before you met Poppy [her husband]?

Well, my father had been operated on right before Christmas. And then I transferred almost right away. I think he was operated on after I transferred. So I wanted to go home to see him. I didn’t wear my Kappa key sorority pin when I transferred because I thought, “You know, I don’t know if I’m going to fit in this group. I would just as soon as they give me a chance just to settle in.” But they came and found me. Found out I was a Kappa. And so then I became friends with them and I did join that group. So I said to them, “How do you go about getting a ride?” because I wanted to get a ride to go back to see my father. They gave me some hints and I followed through and got this ride home. And Poppy was with the man who was driving.

You said you had to look at a board and find someone who was driving near where you were going?

Right. So then I just called. Just cold-called.

What was his name?

Paul McBeth. He said he had space and he’d take me.

So you swore off dating, but you met Poppy on this car ride. What happened then?

Then my sorority sisters said, “Our dance is coming up, and you need to get a date.” I said, “I’m not dating, I don’t know anybody,” and I said, “I just won’t go.” They said, “You have to go. Everybody goes, and you have to get a date.” And I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” Finally I said, “Alright. If somebody calls and ask me out, I’ll say I would like to go out with you, but would you take me to the Kappa prom?” Well, not prom, but dance. Then they said OK. A couple weeks later, Poppy called and asked me out.

Then what happened?

I said, “Would you mind taking me to the Kappa prom, because I’m new, I don’t know anybody, and I’d like to go with you?” He said, “Yes, I will take you, but if I’m going to take you to a dance we better go out the day before.” So we went out Friday and we went out Saturday.

So you went on two dates with Poppy. How did those go?

Great! I liked him a lot right away.

When did you and Poppy start going steady, I think they called it in your time?

Well, I didn’t date anybody else for the rest of the year, and then he graduated. He gave me his pin that summer, his Sigma Nu pin, so that would be like going steady.

Walk me through the timeline. What did he do after he graduated?

He and [twin brother] Ted and that Paul McBeth took a trip out West that summer. When he came back he got a job as a trainee at Sears and started working.

Was that in the same town?

Penn State is in State College, is the name of the town. It’s in Central Pennsylvania. He started in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

How far away is that?

A couple hours, anyway.

Were you still dating?

Yes, we wrote letters. Phoning was expensive, so we didn’t phone very often.

How long did that last?

I’m sure that we got together whenever we could. We did that for two years. The last year we were engaged.

Did Poppy get along with your mom?

Oh my goodness, they teamed up against me. They got along famously. Too well sometimes I thought. If Poppy had an idea and I had an idea, my mother always sided with Poppy. They really got along well, yes.

How did he propose?

I think it was Labor Day weekend. You know what, I don’t have a clue. I know he had a ring! I’ve got it on my finger to this day, but I don’t remember the specifics of what we did or how it worked out.

Do you remember how you announced it? Or how you told your mother?

No. No recollection. Things were moving too fast. That first semester of my senior year I did practice teaching, so I was busy. I think we did see each other every weekend because I was in a town right next to Lancaster. They were close, maybe half hour away.

Gamma 2

So you graduated, then what’d you do? Get married the next day?

Well, practically. A couple weeks.

Where’d you get married?

At the church at the top of the hill. That Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church.

What’d you guys do special for your wedding?

Well, I can remember asking the organist if she would play certain classical pieces, like Clair de Lune, I can’t remember what else. A couple others. She said, “I’ve never been asked that before.” So anyway we just had a traditional service. At that time you didn’t make it personal. You just went by the book, and you said, “I do” when you were supposed to, and that was it. But we had a lovely reception at the women’s club in Mount Lebanon.

What did you guys serve?

I don’t know, I never got any of it. I didn’t! We were too busy while we were there. Talking with people and just everything.

Where did you move after that?

Poppy was in Lancaster, working at that Sears store. He rented an apartment. It was the third floor of an old house. It was two huge rooms. One was the kitchen and eating area, and we even had a pull-out sofa there. And the other one was a combination bedroom living space. We got it fixed up really cute.

How long did you live there?

Well only one year, because we decided that we, well, Poppy didn’t want to wait to have a family. He wanted to get started.

Why’s that?

He’d been in the Navy, then he’d been four years in college, then another two years waiting for me to graduate from college.

How old was he?

Twenty-seven. He turned 27 right after we got married, the next month. I turned 22 that summer.

And you started teaching, right?

I got a job teaching kindergarten that first year.

How long did you teach?

Just that one year. We made a decision that, why pay somebody to keep your child. You should be teaching your child yourself, your own values.

How long before you got pregnant?

We were married in ’52 and Dona was born in the fall of ’53. So it was over a year, a year and a half.

Poppy really wanted kids, but did you want kids right away?

Yeah, I wanted kids. I feel like it’s natural to have a family.

Tell me about having Dona. Where was she born?

She was born at the Lancaster General Hospital. We had gone to a lovely dinner party from friends from Poppy’s high school. It was snowy and icy when we drove home, a lot of bumpiness in the ride. As we pulled up in front of our apartment – we had moved to a larger place in anticipation of Dona’s being born – as we pulled up, I suddenly realized, “Uh oh, I think my water broke.” So anyways we went in, and we got all ready for bed quickly, and climbed into bed. Poppy immediately went to sleep, and I lay there thinking, “You know what, these pains are pretty sharp. They’re pretty close together, I think maybe we should time them.” Because they said when they’re six minutes apart you’re supposed to call the hospital. So anyway I woke Poppy up and I said, “I think we better time these contractions.” So he got his watch out.

Did he know your water broke?

I can’t remember if I said anything or not.

Why would you guys just go to bed then?

Well, because things don’t start that quickly normally.

Right, but usually you don’t have a full night’s sleep before they start.

Well, we were tired! We’d been partying all night! So anyway, when he timed them — he timed about three or four — they were about two minutes apart. So I said, “I think you better call the hospital.” And so he did, and they said to go right to the hospital. So he drove me over, and immediately got me checked in. They said, “Go home. This is the first baby, it’s going to take a long time.” So Poppy left me there. At this time men weren’t allowed to be even on the maternity floor I don’t think. So anyway he went home and got undressed again and got into bed, and the phone rang again and they said, “Come over to the hospital! You’re a father!”

So Dona was an easy birth?

Yes. Comparatively, yes. No birth is totally easy, believe me.

I’ve heard that they’re painful.

But yes, my labors were short. For her it was two hours start to finish. David was an hour and a quarter. Diane was 45 minutes. Then I said, “I quit.”

What did you do with Dona when she was first born?

Counted her fingers and toes. Doesn’t everybody?

I don’t know. I mean when you took her home.

My mom was there to help. Honestly, by the time you change your baby and do everything and feed a baby so on and so forth and then they take a little nap, and you do too because you’re exhausted, they wake up and you start all over again. You do that for the very first, for me, like a month.

When you and Poppy decided to have kids what was your goal to instill in your children?

You know, that’s what got me thinking, about what is the meaning of life. That was a nagging thought really, even in college. In fact I went to a professor or two and asked questions along that line, like Pilate, “What is truth?”

Then Poppy was transferred to Long Island, and so when we left Lancaster I said I am not going to teach Sunday school again until I search this out and find out what is the truth. At that point then the question – what is going to happen to me when I die? Where will I go? Is this all there is? Or is there something more? So then when we ended up in Long Island we started looking for a church. There was no Presbyterian church, so we just went to the Methodist church, because I thought, “Well, they’re about the same.” That’s the way my thinking was. There was a small group in there that were saved. The Lord directed them to ask me to go to a Sunday night Bible study. I said, “You know what, I’ve been looking for a good Bible study,” and so I went. The first night I was so overwhelmed with that group. I think they were studying in Daniel and they were in the middle of it. But the spirit of God was really speaking to me, and I said to a gal I had met on Long Island, Ruth Boehning, I said, “I’m going to this Bible study and would you go with me?” So she said, “Yes, I’ll go.” So the next Sunday, the two of us went. On the way home she said, “You know, if you believe the way they do, it would revolutionize your life. It would change your life.” And I said, “Yes.” I said, “I agree, and I’m going to keep going.” And that group was instrumental in continuing to teach me things of the Lord. Eventually, I got saved.

Did Ruth keep going?

No, she did not go back.

Why not?

It was too much of a commitment.

My mother says she remembers you guys pouring liquor down the drain when you got saved. Is that true?

That is true! Of course, that was five years later when Poppy got saved.

How did you get saved?

All of this played in my mind. I never talked to anybody about it, but I kept going to these little Bible studies and I kept reading the Bible. The thing that really hit me the hardest was John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the light. No one comes to the father, except by me.” And I said, “That’s it. The one way. There’s one way.” I was ironing, and I said, “You know, I don’t understand everything, but I am going to start to live the way it says in the Bible, and I will know if it’s the truth or not. Either it’ll work or it’ll be a dismal failure.” And just like a light bulb went on, I knew I had stepped into eternity. It was the Spirit witnessing to my spirit, that, yes, Jesus was the son of God.

You said Poppy got saved five years later. How did that happen?

At that time we were living in Crown Point, Indiana. He came home one day and he said somebody at his work had asked him to go to Lenten services on a Wednesday, and he had gone. I think he had gone on the way home from work or something like that. He said, “I really liked it,” and he wanted to go back. He said, “I want you to go with me.” Now, it was a Missouri-Synod Lutheran church, which I knew I probably didn’t agree with quite everything, but I figured, “You know what, I’ll go anywhere.” So the next Sunday, and the entire Lenten series, we went to this series, and it was absolutely phenomenal. It was really very, very well done. It was a video kind of thing. Through that, and then through the witness of another pastor, why, Poppy got saved.

I’m curious about this scene of pouring the liquor down the drain.

I can’t remember exactly when this happened. I don’t remember how it came up, and we probably didn’t have all that much liquor either. But anyway we decided to have a party and he wanted to pour his liquor down the drain.

Were there a lot of people there?

No, it was just us.

Was Poppy a heavy drinker?

No. No, but at one point he realized he could become an alcoholic. He had the personality for it. When he would start to drink, he didn’t really stop. I’m sure that the Lord saved our lives many times over those years.

poppy copy

What did you and Poppy used to fight about?

I might have gotten pretty upset a few times, maybe more than a few times. But we did not fight.

You never fought?

No. If there was a big disagreement about something, I would talk it over in private. But no, we never fought.

What were your biggest disagreements about?

I’m trying to remember something that would be relevant to say. I can remember one time I had made a decision and it had to do with the kids. I never called him at work, because his work wasn’t the kind where you could pick up and interrupt him. Most of the time I just took care of things myself and we didn’t even discuss it. It was over and it was done with. This particular time I felt like the kids were going to try to appeal to him. So I met him a the door, I said, “Jack, I don’t care what you think about what I’ve decided, but,” I said, “support me!” And he did.

What was the decision about?

I don’t remember. But it was important enough that I felt we needed to be unified. Because before he got saved, I could say something to the kids and then he could say something in the other room that, not knowing what I had said, would have been totally different, totally opposite. So there was a lot of tension in those five years.

How did you deal with that?

I got depressed. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was very, very difficult.

What did your depression look like?

Just forcing yourself to keep going. But I knew I had to.

Did you consider leaving?

No. I had become a Christian, that’s the reason we were having trouble. I reasoned that it was not his fault. He was just acting the way he’d always acted. I was the one that had dramatically changed.

Was he upset about that?

No. And later on he would tell people, and did many times, that it was through watching me that was one of the instrumental things in his becoming a Christian. But when you’re going through that, it’s an emotional persecution, perhaps.

Was it hard when all of your kids moved out?

No! No, it was kind of fun.

What did you do with your extra free time?

I don’t know, I was always busy. I had lots to do. Dona called Poppy the high-maintenance husband. And when he was home he wanted me to do things with him and to be with him. A lot of women didn’t have that, or don’t have that. Their men want to go off and do stuff on their own.

What’d you think of Jack [Dona’s husband] when he came around?

[Laughs] He was skinny! And he walked with those bow legs. But I knew right away.

Knew what?

That he was going to be the one.

How’d you know?

I could just tell from the way they acted.

You never had any tension with him?

Tension with Jack? Oh, never.

Did Poppy?

Oh, no.

What’d you think of my father when he came around?

Well, you know, I picked him. Yeah. Diane had met him at that couple’s retreat or something or other. Evidently he had asked her to go out, and she had said she couldn’t because she had some kind of an exercise class or something. Poppy and I visited down there and we went to some hangout place that the young people had, and I met not just Scott, but some other people as well. Then when we left there and we were talking with Diane, she said, “Well, what did you think?” and so on and so forth. I said, “I liked that Scott.” She said, “He asked me out.” I guess she must have said she didn’t go. I said, “Well, why didn’t you go?” and she told me. I said, “For heaven’s sakes, if he asks you to go to the movies again, forget the exercise class and go, would you?” She was a hard nut to crack.

What did you think when my dad took your daughter to Indonesia?

Poppy always used the example of sand. If you pick it up and you try to hold it like this, it all sifts through your fingers and it’s gone. But if you scoop it up and hold it like this, you still have the whole thing. That’s the way you hold your kids. You know, they’re not yours to begin with. This is part of living what the Bible says. We don’t own our children; they’re gifts from God. If they’re serving him, in whatever capacity, I mean shouldn’t you be happy? Shouldn’t you be glad about that?

I think you can be simultaneously happy but also be sad they don’t live near you.

Well, it would have been nice. But there’s no sense wishing for what isn’t.

When was the point when you felt like your kids took care of you more than you took care of them?

When I sold my condo and moved in with Dona and Jack, and then down here [with David and Sue].

Was that difficult?

No, for me it’s not too difficult. There are times that you think you’d like to be on your own, but really it’s very nice to always have people around, to be part of active lives, to have somebody to sit down with. I know people that go home and it’s just them. They eat alone. So the tradeoffs for not being totally independent, to me, are far greater to be with family.

I want to ask about the day Poppy died. What do you remember?

We had driven down from Maryland and we arrived maybe 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Just to clarify, Dave and Sue were living in North Carolina then?

Yes, in Burlington. Yes, and when we got there we were so surprised Ted was there. Susan had a dinner for us, which we had, and I think we watched a couple of short TV shows. Poppy liked to walk at night. I did not, because you know my eyes don’t see things. So I said, “I’ll stay here and get ready for bed,” so I did that. I got ready for bed and I was in bed by the time that they got back from their walk.

Who’d he go with? He went with Ted?

It was either Ted or David. Or maybe both. But anyway they went for a walk and came back. I was really tired, and I had fallen asleep. Poppy woke me up and said he didn’t feel right. He said, “I’m having trouble getting my breath.”

This was after his walk?

After his walk. And everybody was in bed by that time. Very, very quickly he got worse. I immediately went and got David. I told him, and then David came, and I said something about getting him to the hospital. Poppy said … I’ll never forget it – he had his suitcase at the foot of the bed – and I said, “We’ll need your information.” He told me exactly where his wallet was and where to get everything. So I did, I got that. With that, he said several, a couple of times he said, “God help me.” He was desperate. He was not able to get his breath. Right in there, I ran into the bathroom and got my clothes on. As I came out of the bathroom and got to the door of the bedroom, I saw him slide from the bed. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, and he slid down to the floor, and I knew he was gone. But I figured the medics were on the way, and I figured they could revive him. I thought later on, why didn’t I think about us doing the resuscitation, except that none of us are trained along those lines. I wasn’t thinking of it. Anyway, the medics did come and they worked on him right away. I went in the ambulance with him, and they worked on him the entire way there, but he was gone then.

What was going through your mind during the ride on the ambulance?

Well, that they could bring him back. We’re programmed to think life, I do believe. I thought if they could get him going, he can come back.

Had he had a stroke before?

A heart attack, not a stroke. Yeah. More than one. His first one was at age 51 and it was very severe. And he did have heart damage. Anyway, when we got the hospital then, you know they hook you up to everything. That took quite a while. David stayed with me. And then they moved him to an ICU, and then finally we could go in and see him. I stayed during the night, and it was during the night that I felt like he was not coming back. But for me, I knew where he was, that he was in heaven, and that he wouldn’t want to come back as some kind of half-person. Also, for the entire almost a year, he’d been telling everybody that he was not going to make it until Diane got back in the Spring. You know you were on that five year [term in Indonesia]. Many, many things that he said and did and things that happened to all fit together. Dona and I both said, “It’s like God orchestrated everything.” One of the things was that after he gave his last financial seminar, he said to me, he said, “You know, Pat, I’ve always been excited about my next seminar.” And he said, “This is the first time I’ve not been excited about doing my next one.” Just little things like that, where like God was preparing him. And us, as we look back.

How old was he?

Seventy-three. And, you know, well, you say that’s young. But it’s a lot older than a lot of people live. God has your days numbered.

What do you remember about his funeral?

I think it really honored the Lord. He had told Becky Kang, he had said to her many times, he said, “I want you to sing ‘Finally Home’ at my funeral.” He was very adamant about that, as he was about most things. She always said, “I’m not singing at your funeral.” Well, when she saw my car at the funeral home – David and I had driven. First we drove to the church, then we went right to the funeral home, which was real close. She saw my Villager, I guess it was the Villager, there, she came bursting in, because she knew. I said, “Becky, you’re going to sing ‘Finally Home’ at Jack’s funeral.” And she said, “No way!” And I said, “There’s no way you’re not going to sing it.” Well, she never could get through it and Susan [Wiedenman, his daughter-in-law] finished it for her.

Susan sang ‘People Need the Lord,’ and that was his absolute favorite song. And Sharon Radford sang, but I don’t remember what. I’d have to look it up.

Yeah, I remember a lot.

What did you do the day after?

Jess [O’Neal, a granddaughter] stayed with me.

She stayed with me because we had airplane reservations to fly to Idaho, it must have been Idaho, for Christmas, on Christmas day. So we called and changed the reservation from Jack to Jessica. Then she stayed with me so I didn’t have to be alone. Then the two of us flew out. We flew out on the 25th.

What’d you do the day after the funeral?

Probably cleaned house, I don’t know. I haven’t a clue.

When did you take off your ring?

Oh, I never did. I knew I’d never marry again.

Why did you know you’d never get remarried?

Because, No. 1, I wouldn’t want to. And No. 2, marriage, for me it was a lot of work.

Do you think it was more work for you than other people?

I don’t know. Everybody’s different. You know, you’ve got to put effort into any marriage.

Did he leave you safe financially?

Yes.

Do you feel rich?

In a way. I’m not sure. I mean, rich is in anybody’s estimation. But definitely I’m sure that most people would say that I was rich.

Do any regrets gnaw at you ever?

They do not gnaw at me. I’m sure, always things can come to your mind when you say, “I wish I had done this better or differently or something like that.” But no. You can’t dwell on the past. You can’t relive it. So if there’s anything in your past, you have to deal with it, and then live the moment you have.

When did you become friends with Dave?

This David? You mean the switch from parent to friend? I don’t know. Once a child leaves home, and especially if they get married, the Bible says to leave and cleave, for that child to leave and cleave. So their priorities change, and you immediately accept that. And they may have more trouble separating from you as a parent than you have separating from them as a child. I’ve never had any trouble letting my kids go. I think I said before, they’re not yours to begin with. They’re just lent to you for a season. So you do the best you can with the clay God gave you, so then when they walk out the door or you kick them out, that’s it.

Did you have to kick any of your kids out?

No, but I know people that should. [Laughs.]

What should I know about the next stage of my life?

Oh, my goodness. I have no idea. You should know enough to stay out of trouble.

You don’t have any secrets to impart?

No, no, I try not to give any advice unless asked for it.

Well, I’m asking.

I know, and I can’t think of a thing to tell you. [Abruptly] Prepare for the future. You know, I could not be this relaxed and live financially independent if we had not saved from the day one. When we got married, Poppy was already buying a bond a month. Wait, not a month. He would save $5 a month. When he had enough, he bought a $25 bond with that. It was a program you could sign up for. That was the beginning of planned saving.

gamma copy

What’s your favorite book?

Oh, the Bible.

What’s your second favorite book?

The book I happen to be reading at the time.

Where do you want to be buried?

I want to be cremated, and then Poppy’s ashes, we can both be buried in the one plot we have left in Montgomery, Alabama.

Who else is there?

Okay. My mother’s parents and an infant son of theirs. My father. And some of my mother’s ashes. The next time we get a chance, I want to go order a bench to put over, on that last plot. And then that can be engraved.

What do you want engraved on that?

Just the name and date. That’s all. That’s enough.

I still think you’re going to live longer than me, but if by some accident you don’t, what do you want me to say at your funeral?

I don’t know. Whatever comes into your heart.

That’s all I have. Unless you have anything you want to add, Gamma.

That’s it, huh?

That’s it.

You better turn it off.

[Our Love.]