Test of Character

OK, there’s an existential crisis to be resolved.  There’s a potato chip bag to my left.  I didn’t open it, I found it in the kitchen.  It was about 1/6 full when I decided it was lonely and needed my attentions, and now there is an infant’s handful of crumbs in the bag.  I’m confronted with a decision that could yield minimal personal satisfaction but result in major domestic consequences.

If I rubber-band the bag now and put it back on the pantry, even with its motley collection of crumbs, I can tell myself that I only ate a few, and my crime will go unnoticed for as long as it takes Mrs. Perils to open the bag expecting a substantial snack, which might get me through a day or more; or, I can eat all the rest of them and toss the bag in the trash, and be outed at daybreak.

An honest person would do the latter and face the consequences.  I’m a reasonably honest person, but I’ve been a CPA, and I’ve prepared tax returns, and I’ve developed a more nuanced relationship with the truth.

The bag is back on the pantry, rubber-banded and with enough air in its bellows to suggest that a satisfying snack awaits its next suitor.

You really want me to do your taxes.

Hello again, October.

Well it’s October and, suddenly, summer seems in jeopardy.  Since it’s often slow to arrive in these climes, I complacently assume that it will be slow to depart as well.  However, celestial mechanics do not observe such sentimentality, and I found myself for the last 2 weeks departing the house for my bike commute in pitch dark, whereas it was nearly broad daylight at 5:15 in July.  We’re having a nice weekend, though, and I’m counting on a couple more before the wet and cold takes center stage.

October is significant this year for at least a couple reasons.  First, it’s my birth month, and this year’s cumpleanos is a tad more significant than others: I become a fucking Senior Citizen.  I went on Medicare effective 10/1, and while my health insurance drops from around $700/month to $78, I noticed a marked sea change in the language of my coverage.  While my prior coverage (mainstream individual coverage as a self-employed person) emphasized contraception, well-baby programs, maternity and sports medicine, my Medicare-based plan document deals in the language of decline: end-stage renal disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm screening, cardiac rehabilitation services, prosthetic devices, pulmonary rehabilitation.  It’s a sobering (hahahanotreally) boundary to cross, as my self-image is back there in the sports and impregnating people thing.  Someone here needs a reality check.

This October is also significant because it’s the month that, 40 years ago, Mrs. Perils and I were sitting in our rented digs on Church Street in Bowling Green, Ohio, having gotten married the previous June, and we looked at each other and, with great trepidation, said, “let’s get the fuck out of here!”  We loaded up a 5×8 U-haul, hitched it to my sweet ‘67 Pontiac Tempest and, Huck Finn-style, “lit out for the territory”, the territory in this case being Seattle.

Seattle had been whispering in my ear for 2 or 3 years before that.  Mrs. Perils had flown with her mother to the Northwest a few years previous on a mission of family imperative, and she returned with tales of lush green wilderness and imagery that excited her artist’s soul.   Then one of my co-workers at the CPA firm I worked at in my first job out of college had taken a position on the Seattle University accounting faculty, and his correspondence was tantalizing.

By 1974, I had left the CPA firm, finding the business of public accounting not to my liking, and had tried, unsuccessfully, to remake myself as a writer and academic English professor.  While taking classes at Bowling Green, I worked as a philosopher/bicycle mechanic alongside perhaps the only soulmate friend I’ve ever had, and that summer a petite woman pulled into the bike shop with some needed repairs to her Raleigh International.  She was a schoolteacher in Nome, Alaska, and had purchased her bike in Seattle and proceeded to ride it across the country and into our fervid imaginings.  The sticker on her bike from the shop she bought it from said, “Aurora Cycle”, and it conjured fantasies of a pristine launching place for a bicycling and life adventure that we, I and my bikeshop buddy, both hungered for.

Then, later in the summer of 1974, Mrs. Perils and I and a mutual friend of ours undertook to drive west to Seattle for a visit to our friend the accounting professor  We brought our bikes, of course, because they were our identity.  Our Seattle University friend had planned a bike trip that went west to Port Angeles, took a ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island, proceeded through the San Juans and south down Whidbey Island back to Seattle.

We followed this bike trip up with a backpacking weekend in the Olympic National Park.  I was absolutely hooked; all I had to overcome was the inbred notion endemic to midwesterners that, while we know those places and experiences are out there to be had, the act of detaching ourselves in order to pursue them was unthinkable.

So here we are.  Nearly 40 years in the same house, scions now of stability when, in 1974, you would have predicted chaos and perfidy.

October, you’re an unenviable month, saddled with the conflicting responsibilities of staving off loss and embracing winter, but we’re in this together.

If you’re here looking for the promised Cascade Pass photos…

Reposting from Facebook, I stupidly left my camera on the car roof and drove away from the trailhead.  Lost lots of lovely photos, and a damn good camera.  Holding out slim hopes that someone found it and returned it.  Sarah, our interpreter Ranger, has put out an APB on the Parks Service lost & found network:

Just back from a sweet, too-short foray into the North Cascades. Yesterday we hiked to Cascade Pass, interpreted by our favorite Rangerette, Sarah Krueger. A nice young couple accompanied us, and we had great conversation all the way to the top (3.7 miles in, 2000′ elevation gain over a nicely-designed and maintained trail.

Reserved a room for last night in Mazama, and met up with our son Andrew Philbin, who served us dinner at Old Schoolhouse Brewery. Met up with him this morning for breakfast at Mazama Store. Turned out he was headed up to the mountains to scout out some bouldering territory, and we followed him up and hiked a much steeper and less groomed trail. Fortunately, he was burdened with a large bouldering crash pad, and we could keep him within visual contact. It was worth the effort, had lovely views and espied a young pine marten, who sat for the longest time observing us intently. Hiked back down, grabbing handfuls of ripe huckleberries as we descended.

Our hike today ameliorated two unfortunate, and expensive, events: yesterday at the trailhead, I set my Canon SX1-IS on the roof of my car, and drove off. I heard a “clunk”, but didn’t realize what it was until I was inventorying my gear last night; and, this morning, backing out of our lodging and striking a tree, damaging my wheel rim and requiring that I drive all the way home on my spare (Les Schwab stores are closed on Sunday). Made it safely, and have great memories despite spending $1500 in 36 hours.

Ketchup

Nearly summer, and I almost turned the heat on this morning.  Not complaining, I’ve learned to relish the coolness here, and to play out the possibility of a sunny day like I would a wily fish.  If I were a fisherman, which I’m not.

I’m going to do bullet-blogging just to catch up, but they will not necessarily be chronological.

  • We’re still all-in with the Rainbow City Band.  Our spring concert in early April was an interesting, and stressful, experience.  We were playing challenging music, but, really, not more challenging than the other spring concerts I’ve been involved with (spring is when we play our most challenging music, after a light-hearted fall and semi-serious holiday concert).  But 2 weeks before the concert, I was really reluctant to invite people, because we just weren’t locking in, people were missing rehearsals, and I was just not confident that we’d sound good.  Then the Tuesday and Friday rehearsals before the Saturday concert, everything clicked together like bank safe tumblers, and I like these numbers as well or better than any other year. The theme was An American Tale, and paid homage to American composers and, to an extent, folk memes.  I wish I’d invited everyone I know. These recordings are not RCB-official, they were made by someone in the audience with a cell phone, but you get the idea:
    • America The Beautiful, the Carmen Dragon version that I’d played and recorded in high school. There are a lot of moving parts here, it’s deceptively facile, but I think the balance and dynamics are excellent.
    • Shenandoah.  As settlers fanned out across the American west, they clung to a nostalgia for their eastern homes. This is one of the most evocative instances.  Compare to the much cruder “Sweet Betsy From Pike“!
    • My favorite piece of the concert, not as readily accessible, is a piece called Ghost Train.  The ghost train recurs in early American lore, based on the idea that trains that experienced catastrophic wrecks could be seen plying phantom tracks late at night, especially if you’ve imbibed enough vision-enhancing grog.  The piece starts with a ghostly flute solo, then quickly invokes the metallic clangor of the brass as the engine prepares to leave the station.  A prolonged buildup as the train gains momentum gives way abruptly to a distant view as the train trundles across the prairie, emitting flute-smoke.  Drama builds to a climax as the train either reaches its destination or encounters its mythic fate.
    • Variations on a Shaker Theme from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  I’ve always loved this Copland piece, I recall driving from Ohio to Boston on the New York Thruway in the mid-70s, and I was playing Appalachian Spring just as it was dawning and we passed through a preserve somewhere in western New York.  We could have used a week or two more rehearsal on this piece(cough-trumpets-cough), but the finale is worth waiting for.
    • Overcome, our finale, is the quintessential theme of the evolving struggle for legitimacy in America.  Here, it’s nuanced through minor melodies in the woodwinds leading up to a triumphal climax in the brass, followed by a sweet denouement in the low brass and woodwinds.
    • So now it’s on to marching season.  We perform in parades throughout the summer, and it’s a major transition from sit-and-play-pretty to going outside and music-in-motion.  We rehearse on the streets of the neighborhood in Wedgwood where our concert band rehearses, and we’ve garnered a coterie of children and parents who follow us as we find our legs, learn horn flashes and maneuvers and try to make music.  It’s not pretty at first, but the kids seem to like it, and when we’re done we give little mini-clinics on how, exactly, we elicit music from the arcane plumbing and buzz-making apparatus that we lug around.
  • Marching season inevitably leads to Band Camp, a retreat we take at Fort Worden in Port Townsend.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know our bandmates a little better even as we work hard over 3 days to improve our marching technique and play well while we’re doing it.  It can lead to fun random encounters, as when Mrs. Perils and I were walking the beach with a new band member, and we’re completing each other’s sentences about stuff that happened decades ago, and this person, perplexed, asks, “Are you two RELATED?”
  • I continue to do my multi-modal commute to my main client south of town 3-4 days a week.  I ride my bike 6 miles to the northern end of the bus tunnel, then throw my bike on the bus’ bike rack for the long haul to Tukwila. I get several good hill-climbs each way, and I figure it nicely supplants the exercise benefit I used to get when I ran around Greenlake most evenings.
  • Mrs. Perils and I have forged a mini-tradition of weekend urban hiking, setting off in various directions from our house to explore this city we’ve come to love.  There are surprises around every corner, and we’re treated to mountain views, salt-water city parks and opulent restaurants, all without putting a key in our car’s ignition.

Super Seattle (This never got posted?)

Nicely-wrought treatise on the civic impact on Seattle of winning the Super Bowl yesterday. We’re just as blinded by this subito meteor of sports success as we are by a sunny day in May. I hear a lot of people smugly presuming that, now we’ve done it once, it will go on for decades, the first stage of the sports fan’s delirium of entitlement.

The author, Lindy West (formerly of The Stranger), appears to have a prescient vibe: “Winning is never simple. There’s a vulnerability in it. When you never really win, you never really lose either. And I’m feeling protective right now of…something.”

I’m a Buckeye who attended the 1969 Rose Bowl as a college sophomore, where we won the National Championship, triggering a tsunami of perceived inevitability. Our next NC? January, 2003. With a little more procreative urgency, my grandchild could have watched that game. So much for entitlement.

So, enjoy it while it lasts, fellow Seattleites; it might be following Halley’s orbit, not Mercury’s.

Happy New Year 2014

So I’ve slouched passively towards 2014 (although “rough beast” is probably a compliment I haven’t earned), dressing in sensible layers and avoiding hypothermia and making no promises to myself or others..well, non-work-related others.  (to my employers: I’ll deliver on-time and under-budget, if I haven’t already).

I know New Years’ Resolutions are a folk tradition, but I’ve never seen how one can develop the ebullience necessary to contemplate bold initiatives for financial gain or corporeal loss or connubial bliss at this time of year, when it’s all you can do to remember that you set that January alarm clock for the distinct purpose of arising in the freezing cold dark in order to arrive at some vague destination in search of monetary gain, and that it’s not yawping at you because your enemies are gathered around your bed in gleeful retributive cacophony. At this latitude, in January you don’t fully realize this until around 10:00.

Even so, it’s appropriate to ever so gingerly look forward to things already in place on the calendar, without promulgating implausible outcomes:

  • at some point (OK, October 21) I’ll turn 65. Just (indulge me for a moment), holy shit.  I’ve pretty much blown by my “zero” birthdays with the help of good health and friends and alcohol.  For this one there is at least one  “arrangement”: Medicare? - I haven’t actually looked into it yet. Not sure yet what else.  I think some “senior discounts” begin to accrue, but most likely not for the good stuff. Watch this space…
  • our annual trip to Ashland, OR to watch plays and recreate is already locked in for the first week of July
  • we’re going to Pawley’s Island, SC in late March to scatter our mom’s ashes as she requested, and it will be another opportunity to advance the sibling bonding that we’ve nurtured for the last 2+ decades. Unless we decide to fight over her will.
  • our musical endeavors continue, and rehearsals have already started for a symphonic band concert on 4/5; my swing band will play at Crossroads on 2/1; we’ll have another band camp with our Rainbow City Band peeps in May in Port Townsend, and a fun list of parades throughout the summer
  • I’ll join my OSU Alumni Band on 9/13 for our annual debauch of music and marching and memories

I really would like to do a multi-day kayak trip like I did a couple years ago in Desolation Sound, but nothing concrete so far.  And whatever happens, we’re sure to keep physical fitness firmly in our crosshairs even if it’s just the mundane but enjoyable litany of urban hikes and bike-commuting to work.

There are some significant initiatives that need to be engaged around our domicile. My mom’s lesson of ruthlessly winnowing stuff around her house, as she did for the last 10 years, is not lost on me.  Her place was pretty easy to close up, especially compared to what our poor offspring would have to contend with if we suddenly croaked or needed to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.

As a “resolution”, that one’s pretty wan, especially if you deconstruct the word and hold “resolve” in your left hand  and “lack of” in your right hand.  I’m right-handed, if you hadn’t already guessed.

So Happy 2014 to both my readers!  If you’re of the Resolution persuasion, I’d love to hear what you’re planning.

Moving On

Let’s shift the focus from Atlanta back to Seattle for a while, since I live here, after all (but we’ll be shifting back to Atlanta shortly, but for other reasons).

Somehow, I have myself playing in 4 musical groups, taking up the evenings Monday - Thursday for rehearsals. This is certainly excessive for a trumpet player of middling talent who’s not getting paid. It all started 4 years ago September when I joined the Rainbow City Band with Tuesday night rehearsals; then a guy I was taking trumpet lessons with said a community band he was playing with in Shoreline on Thursdays needed trumpet players, and I thought, why not, since going somewhere to play real music was preferable to creeping down to the basement to practice scales; then a couple years ago, I was offered the opportunity to sit in with RCB’s Purple Passion Swing Band, which rehearses Monday nights. I grew up with my dad’s Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and Harry James records (I’m a child of the 40s, after all, even if it was only the last 2 months of 1949), and getting the opportunity to play music from that genre was irresistible.  Then a woman in the Thursday concert band who plays in a symphony orchestra said a couple pieces they were playing needed an extra trumpet this quarter to play Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and there went my Wednesday nights.

It’s fun and challenging, but Friday night, with no organized rehearsal, begins to look like safe landfall for the Wreck of the Hesperus.

I’m still working full-time as an accountant/accounting software consultant and mostly enjoying what I do.  I have a nice set of clients who are amenable to my jeans-wearing faux-eclecticism, and they’re all good people doing good things.  I spend a majority of my time these days with this manufacturer/distributor of goods to the outdoor industry (can you believe that I’d have an affinity for such a place?).  I still do work for my client in Milwaukee, a supplier to the construction and DIY industry who has weathered the vicissitudes of the Great Recession, as well as my clients in two of the four major food groups (wine and pastry), and consult with an interesting company that builds elaborate and creative signs for malls, resorts, airports, etc.

Increasingly, people are asking me how long I plan to work.  From the questioner’s standpoint, it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask a 64-year-old, but each time, the question jars me, mired as I am in a self-image of a much younger man and a self-employed status that brooks a lot of financial uncertainty.  People who have a defined benefit plan or are working for a single employer have to confront this question as a matter of course, as a response to stimulus from HR.  If I’d stayed with my first post-college employer, the Big 8 accounting firm Ernst and Ernst, I would probably be in possession of multiple emails apprising me of this and that, and requiring decisions.  I remember receiving a notification from the E & E pension system a few weeks after hiring on with them in 1972, something to the effect that I would be eligible to retire with full benefits in October, 2014.  2014!  I’m sure I rolled my eyes and probably denied the possibility that I’d even be alive in 2014.  And now, here I am staring down both barrels of of that unimaginable future (except the part where I’m a beneficiary of the E&E pension system).

I like what I do well enough to keep doing it, and I like my clients and find them interesting, so I’m not planning on a sudden devolution to a life of budgets and waiting for the Social Security to hit the bank.  But if I thought I could, I’d forget with alacrity whether it’s the debit or the credit that’s supposed to be toward the window.

Autumn Adventure in Atlanta

Mrs. Perils and I returned to Atlanta a couple weeks ago to attend the LGBA (Lesbian & Gay Band Association) annual conference.  The conference is an occasion for musicians from member bands to congregate for an intense, but convivial, long weekend of music-making and fellowship.  Our Seattle-based Rainbow City Band hosted the conference in 2011, and we put nearly 300 musicians on the stage of the McCaw opera hall with awesome results.

When I saw that the 2013 conference would be in Atlanta, I leaped at the opportunity, as my baby brother lives in Alpharetta and I knew that my mom would be living in the area after we moved her down there from Ohio.  Ever since I joined the Rainbow City Band, I wished that my mom could attend a concert.  In fact, for a lot of my life I’ve experienced events like plays or concerts at least partially through the lens of “my mom would really like this” or, if I were a participant, “I wish mom could hear this”.  Of course, she’d heard us play with the TBDBITL OSU alumni band, but she’d never been able to hear my Rainbow City Band, and I thought that the Atlanta LGBA gig would introduce her to my late adult brand of music-making.  However, the onset of her terminal disease made this a remote possibility, and she died two weeks short of our performance.

Since all the arrangements had been made and tickets purchased, and because my brother and SIL were still willing to sacrifice their ears to the concert, we journeyed to Atlanta to participate.  It was a great decision.  My attraction to the Rainbow City Band, beginning with my first rehearsal, was its spirit and love of music, and the euphoria attending the Atlanta rehearsals and impromptu gatherings was infectious.

The weekend was pretty ambitious, as we were playing 11 pieces for a symphonic concert, plus 4 numbers for a marching band performance in the Atlanta Pride parade.  We arrived on Thursday afternoon, and had a music rehearsal that evening. Friday brought two more concert band rehearsals, then a marching band rehearsal in the evening.  Saturday morning, we had another concert band rehearsal, and returned to Georgia Tech for our evening concert.  Sunday morning we walked to the start of the Pride Parade in lovely weather and played for vociferous and enthusiastic crowds along the parade route.

Here’s a video I made from my SIL’s iPhone recordings of our concert, plus a recording I made of a marching band warmup:

And here’s a link to a page where all of the music we played can be heard.

While the busy schedule preoccupied me, and I was gratified that my brother and SIL seemed to genuinely enjoy the concert, I still had to reckon with the feeling of playing to an empty chair.  My mom would have loved this concert, my heart aches that she didn’t get to hear it.  I play the video and still want to call her to hear her reaction.

Later in the weekend, my brother and I went to our mom’s apartment to retrieve some items that required some heavy lifting.  It was so strange to go back to that stillborn domesticity, at once so familiar with the furniture of our childhood and the juicer I’d used to entice her waning appetite during my recent visits, versus the otherworldly absence of her resilient spirit.

I’m thinking it’s not over.  I’ll be playing to that empty chair as long as I play music.

R.I.P. Mom 9/14/27 - 9/26-13

Can’t think of a better requiem than this number from our RCB concert last spring.  Like her, it’s at once both lyrical and fierce. While you’re listening, check out the anecdotes of her life as I collect them.  Feel free, if you knew her, to add anecdotes in comments below, or email, and I’ll incorporate them in the body of the post.

I’m gonna record some favorite anecdotes about my mom here, and it won’t happen all at once, I’ll be adding to this post as the muse grabs me.

  • I don’t know a lot about her young life, since we were not often in touch with her family in Lancaster, but one thing that she related about her time in high school amused me.  She said that she and some friends would meet in an alley or somewhere either before or after school to gossip, maybe smoke?, or just hang.  She said they called this meeting place “the heath”, a reference to the Weird Sisters scene in Macbeth.  You go for years thinking your parents are bland and pedestrian, and then some something endearingly literate like this bubbles up.
  • We had some testy interchanges about cars.  5 generations of my dad’s family (including me) made their living supplying glass to General Motors, and the American auto industry was our sugar daddy during the 50s and 60s.  When it came time for me to buy a car, though, that industry had surrendered its technological and qualitative edge to Japanese companies, attempting to compete not with innovation and quality but with import quotas and government subsidy.  The only new car I’ll ever buy was purchased in 1985, a Honda Civic wagon.  In later conversations with my mom, I’d talk about my disgust with the American auto industry and its failure to manufacture cars that met the quality and emissions standards of the Japanese cars.  She steadfastly castigated my assertions, and averred that the guys running Honda and Toyota were the same guys that were shooting at her high school friends who were sent to the Pacific theater.  It was hard to press my factual argument against her passionate and visceral position.
  • The joke she never tired of telling: A tipsy fellow is using a shortcut through a graveyard to get home from his watering hole when he comes upon a freshly-dug open grave, dirt piled to the side. As he approaches, he hears the plaintive cries of what is certainly a fellow inebriate who has fallen into the excavation, “Help! I’m so cold!”  The first fellow staggers carefully to the edge of the excavation and says, “Well no wonder you’re cold - you’ve kicked off all your dirt!” and proceeds to push the adjacent dirt into the hole.
  • Mom went to Ohio State after graduating from high school, with an idea of pursuing speech and/or journalism.  She ran headlong into swarms of GI-Bill veterans who were flooding campuses, and found her classes dominated by them.  She became intimidated as the faculty began to cant the classes to the GI’s, and recalled more than one professor addressing the women in the increasingly male-dominated classes as “pursuing their MRS degrees”.She met my dad (a GI-Bill vet) at OSU, they married and I was conceived in view of Ohio Stadium.  I think she always regretted not advancing to a degree, but the times were what they were, and she became a more typical 5os stay-at-home mom.  She wasn’t bitter, but I think she wanted more than she got from her college experience.
  • My parents were lifelong registered Republicans in Ohio, and it shaped my early political outlook.  I remember wearing Nixon/Lodge pins to class in the 6th grade in 1960 and, in my first election as a legal voter, I selected Richard Nixon over George McGovern, to my eternal shame.As the years progressed, Mom continued to cleave to the ideal of the progressive conservative that was never dominant in the Republican party, but that was at least prominent in its rhetoric.  A church-going woman, she became increasingly disgusted by the ideological poisoning of politics by religious and backwards factions, and so much of her conversation became stridently opposed to the party she was registered to vote for.  This one time in the early aughts, we were walking while she was bitching vehemently about anti-abortion Republicans that dominated Ohio politics, and I asked her why she was still registered as a Republican.  I honestly think it was a question she’d never posed to herself, she was so imbued with family-generated inertia.  I’m pretty sure that, within a week of that haphazard conversation, she changed her registration to Democrat and never looked back.Had she lived, she might have been the only Democratic vote in her adopted Georgia county.
  • From her neighbors Dave and Lana who lived in my grandparents’ place next door: “We were blessed to have Carol and Mickey as neighbors and as friends. Carol’s life should be an example to all of us.  Her gentleness ad selflessness was something to be admired.  Carol’s words of wisdom will remain with me as a mother and a friend. Thank you for sharing your mother with us! : (Mom:) Don’t worry about what your house looks like..invite people in”.
  • Watch this space…

I’m ready to go

My mom’s dying.  Well, she’s been dying for 10 or 15 years, in a dilettantish fashion, saddled with COPD and teasing death with bouts of pneumonia, ICU camp-outs and similar viral adventures.  But then last month she received a diagnosis of metastasized lung-cancer, and it’s taken a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

She’d been living in our childhood home in Perrysburg, Ohio, the one my parents built and moved into so proudly in 1961, and heretofore she’s insisted that she was leaving it feet-first.  Last spring she had a pneumonia episode that convinced her that, contrary to those assertions, she’d like to “have someone to hug me” when these episodes occur.  She’s had great neighbors on both sides who shoveled her walks when it snowed and looked after her and in general were model children, but I guess it started to matter that they weren’t HER children.

So in July we, my two younger brothers and I, began work to move her out of the house and into, eventually, a nice adult independent living facility near my youngest brother in the north Atlanta area.

I moved from northwest Ohio to Seattle in the fall of 1974, not necessarily to sever ties to the place or the people, but to establish my own ecosystem unburdened by expectations and close observation, but I always felt my parents’ place in Perrysburg as an anchorage.  Not a place that I would return to live necessarily, even in extremis, but something more archival, a memory that I could always illuminate with a visit or even a phone call.

The physical act of going through the house and saying goodbye to familiar stuff was filled with angst, but not unexpected angst.  My mom had resolutely pruned dunes of stuff in the attic and basement.  What really drove my emotional response was the fact that Mom and her house was the last link to a geographical and cultural touchstone that five (or more?) generations of my forebears had inhabited.  There were fields that my great-grandfather had hunted with my dad, places where my dad found Indian arrowheads and artifacts, generations of headstones with my surname displayed prominently, and the more distinctly-layered experience of my personal recollection - the swimming pool, places where Betsy and I had parked the car for sweet intimacy.  And once Mom moved, I’d have no concrete reason to return to northwest Ohio, and that tribal presence, which I still in some way felt after 40 years away, would no longer have its physical anchor.

We did Herculean labor and got the house ready for a furnishing auction and property sale over a 5-day weekend, and my SIL drove my mom south to Atlanta as the rest of us dispersed.  The movers arrived in Atlanta with the furniture that Mom had chosen to keep, and her new life of bridge and books and conversation seemed ready to begin.

Then, a couple weeks later, she fell ill, and a trip to a hospital hinted at, then proved, her cancer diagnosis.  Since then, we’ve been stepping through this journey of dying.  She’s still hanging in her independent living facility, aided by my brother and sister-in-law, hospice angels and home health-care folks.

Betsy and I flew here last month to ostensibly say goodbye, and she was able to walk to the car to go out for dinner and reminisce convivially.  It’s not easy to engage in a frank conversation with someone about their certain death, but Mom was kinda philosophical and said, perhaps to reassure me that I could talk about it, that she felt she’s had a good life, and that, in her words, “I’m ready to go.”

I flew to Atlanta today, as she had said she’d like to see me again, and things have deteriorated, as you might expect.  She has little energy to engage me, but her mind is as sharp as it was when she was fleecing her friends playing bridge.  She sits up for 15 minutes or so and gamely talks sports or whatever, then flags and has to lie down.

This will not be news to many, but it’s the first time I’ve been exposed to this granular process of dying.  My youngest brother and his wife will be doing most of the heavy lifting due to their proximity, but I’m glad I decided to allocate one more trip, both to cleave to my mom in her humbling decline and to give my bro and SIL a weekend to hang at their Lake Hartwell redoubt before the harrowing time ahead.