The call came. Old Aunt and Uncle, “Sis 'n’ Dick,” so connected by love and family they died within a week of each other. A California trip justified by two beautiful souls who led full and joyous lives.
No matter how poor, you got to scrape together funds for the big family funeral. In my case, heal the guts of the mobile home--the old van--also. Paint peeling and plastic cracking, its heart was still strong. Like the aging hick driving. The cooling system repair, in the rock front yard, untested, added a touch of almost-danger.
The only son able to score bereavement pay rode along, his relative introversion overcome by road trip gusto. We’d spent many nights on the dirt mattresses of our ultimate sleep, backpacking and primitive-camping, so van living would be “uptown.” Camping, to keep it Cheap, near well-kept west coast towns where bits of my aimless youth had been well spent.
In fact my biggest connection to Uncle Dick was showing up at his beachfront place at 18, expecting to be taken in. He was a hard working second generation Californian who had by then raised four good kids and a good fortune, with two sons left at home close to my age. Patient, wise, calm, a gentleman who, out of business skill or genuine love of humanity, spoke with you as if you were the most important person in the world. I thus assumed my welcome; he took me in without a blink, for most of 1977. Of course, open-hearted Sis, my mother’s older sister, was just as much to thank. I realize now their parenting style inspired mine later, for the better.
My mobile home’s “cruise control" quit working and I had to use my foot, old school! It looked uglier than usual in the paved beach playgrounds of pretend bohemians and the semi-rich. After an afternoon playing in the surf, we cleaned up in the cold water showers, put on our best clothes, and went to what would be a short and sober “wake.” Upon our early arrival, we changed back into casual clothes, in the church parking lot, since we’d over-dressed (a rare event indeed).
Happy families full of Grand and Great Grand Children. Overwhelming to see so much family you see too seldom, or have never seen.
The cousins who made it compared lives, traded addresses, wondered sadly where are the missing. Grandchildren of affluence took turns at a microphone, mostly telling of being taught how to work at Grandpa’s house. He had been a child during the First Great Depression, as a teenager hitchhiked to his own Grand Parents farm in Nebraska, to work.
Sis was the same age, raised in deep poverty, daughter of an oft-unprosperous Arizona miner. They met in San Diego after both joined the United States Navy in 1941. He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, a miraculous tale he never mentioned. If he gave advice, he managed to make the recipient feel it was his or her own idea, and a brilliant one at that.
Their successful lives never altered the humility and gratitude they felt for it. It seems like every member of this couple’s tribe is happy and kind. My son, who calls himself “ignostic” (don’t know, don’t care) said, all dogma being just dogma, if he had to join a church he would join theirs--”...they’re all so darned nice!”
Back in parking-camp, we slept with the sound of surf at our feet, the endless hiss of the Interstate at our heads, and the thundering of an occasional train between; our windows and doors all open and our “stuff” piled in the front seat and on the ground. Our unit looks not worth robbing, and anyone who wants our crappy stuff can have it anyhow.
Next morning an early swim made us a minute late. The modest Patriarch didn't like to be the center of attention, or inconvenience anyone, so he had insisted on a one hour service, starting and ending on time. After, gathering at the beach, goodbyes, condolences, hugs--and a bit more swimming. You don’t really hope to see each other again too soon, since funerals seem to be what it takes.
Son and I camped in the hills just up from the beach that night. The campground was full, all around us music and laughter in several languages. We resumed our place in the brotherhood of everybody, and slept well.
In ancient times, ancestors were often worshiped. Why not? The Wise Elder, Patient but Firm. The Hearth Goddess, feeding and teaching and loving, Disciplined but Kind. What more could one aspire to? How fortunate to have such ancestors! Our time on the planet is too short to quibble over details. Love is all that matters. In their honor I will try harder to be nice to everyone.
One last ocean swim next morning. The waves form and break, the sun breaks out of the fog, life goes on and on. Goodbye ocean. Goodbye Sis ‘n’ Dick. Your good lives are in the heads and hearts of everyone you touched, spilling forward without end.
“Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.”
--Karen Lynn Davidson, from Mormon hymn #293,
“Each Life That Touches Ours for Good”
Anyone interested in the lives of these folks can read more. They both researched and wrote books about themselves, their relatives, and their ancestors. You can look 'em up!