Actually, I'm a bit surprised at having made it to the millennium. Although I set my sights on age 84 as a lifetime measure, quite a few years ago, there's little indication that my family genes are worth betting on. Besides which, I've led such a fractious life that longevity seemed hardly in the cards. Even were I a cat, I've probably used up my nine.
Let's see &endash; a sickly kid, with a congenital heart murmur and something called a mega-colon that was supposed to have surgical intervention if I were to live into adulthood (which it didn't &endash; but what did they know, in those days?); a bout with TB in my early 20s; close to being killed in a small aircraft, earlier than that; several potentially deadly auto accidents before I reached 30; one or two bicycle no-brainers (in the worst sense of the term); and then the ruptured bowel, at 47, which very nearly did do me in . . .
I don't even have to speculate on the hazards of my open-road and otherwise insecure more recent years, I really think I am a walking wonder! Which only goes to show that such things don't come under the "laws of chance" or statistical probability. In the end, we have very individualized fields to plow, and time granted for doing it.
But one of the dubious blessings of such inscrutable circumstances is that we suffer a greater accumulation of griefs, for those in our crowd who die ahead of us regardless of their age and often of their seeming good health and bright prospects. The blessing, of course, is that it never allows us to take life for granted, to get complacent about it. And I feel a kind of gratitude to those who have provided me this constancy of awareness.
With the millennial threshold at hand, I see a small way to return the gift. The 20th Century is about to fade toward insignificance, and everything that was in or of it. A normal progression, to be sure, be there a marker line or not; but the demarcation gives me a prompt and a process, to pay some individual homage to all of those whom I knew, who didn't live to see this awesome moment. By doing so, in even such a small publication headed for a website, I bring their names, and a bit of tribute to them, forward into the 21st Century. For many of them, I'm sure, it will be the only remnant to outlast the memories of those who knew them. A tiny thrust toward immortality that I can provide.
I want, therefore, to devote the main part of this issue to a reflection on how I have known these folks and what they brought into my life. The extent of my selection is limited for space, and my tribute relies largely on memory, so please understand if you think it calls for correction or addition. There is always the likelihood that you knew someone better, or differently, than I. But I would surely appreciate hearing of anyone I've left out &endash; perhaps an old friend whose departure I didn't even know about!
These, however, are the ones I choose to memorialize, presented in a roughly chronological sequence, ordered by when they graced my world.
From the years of my youth
The first time, ever, that I was shocked by the death of a contemporary was that of Gene Kohfield, whom I met in the Civil Air Patrol -- he was San Francisco's cadet commander, and I was his adjutant, when we were about 16. We became buddies, working together on a summer job (where he taught me how to drive), and did a lot of 'hanging out' with each other, during those wartime years, as kids do. In a very genuine sense, I owe one of my nine lives to Gene's cool ability to set a small plane down, without power, on a San Jose cabbage patch &endash; one frosty morning when we were up together and the engine froze, after a stall maneuver that I put it into. He was 17 at the time. Gene was big and raw-boned, and flying was his entire world; I was quite certain he'd become an Air Force version of George Patton, when he enlisted. But he was killed in Korea, in a helicopter crash, and it was at a party, a few years later, that I learned of it.
The brothers Hyman and Jack Bik come next to mind, though I best knew them several years before the war. They lived downstairs from us, in the stack of flats on McAllister Street that I wrote about in issue #23. Hy was a half year older than me, and I tracked him in classes from grade school through college, though our "best friend" status didn't cover the full span. I got my first deep friendship wound when Hy decided, about the time we entered high school &endash; for reasons I never fully understood &endash; to break it off. Not even Jack, several years older, could account for it. We regained a civility with each other in college &endash; by necessity, for we both worked on the college paper &endash; but the onetime closeness we'd known was never regained. It's not such a rare thing, as I've come to learn, but it was new to me, and may have had a lot to do with the high value I put on friendship, today: the stage of relatedness in which we willingly put ourselves on a vulnerable footing, occasionally taken too lightly by those whom we favor with the gift.
At any rate, both brothers faded from my life for many years, until the early '80s, when I heard that Hy, who had become a teacher and librarian in the old high school we'd once attended, had died of lung cancer in his mid-50s. I made the effort, then, to locate Jack and pay him a visit. It was a great few hours of catch-up and reminiscence, and held a really unexpected bonus for me: Jack still had an old home-made recording that the three of us had done in 1939 -- a 3-minute wax disk with a scripted pastiche of corny patter and bad singing, which I'd all but forgotten. He gave me a taped copy of it, and we agreed to get together again in a few months. But he never called me (as was the arrangement). More than a year went by, and then by pure chance, I saw his name on the memorial page of the U.C. alumni publication: a victim of lung cancer, himself, after a short illness. Neither brother smoked, when we when we were all young. But I did.
One more from my early years, with special meaning for me: a seductive redhead named Reneé Laboure, who was part of my college crowd of those days. I say seductive because she just had that quality about her &endash; a lot of sex appeal, and the usual shoddy treatment by men, that came with it. For in those days (and has it changed all that much?) a woman was typecast by the kind of sexuality she radiated. Reneé's singular toe-hold on the ladder of fame is that she became the first wife of Pierre Salinger, bore his first three kids, and was subsequently left behind, as Pierre climbed his ladder of fame and eventually took those kids from her. It never did her self-esteem much good, and so I've a soft spot for Reneé. One day, long after I could readily recognize her, I saw her from a San Francisco transit coach, and thought, "what a remarkably good-looking woman!" By the time I suddenly flashed to who it was, we'd gone too far for me to catch her. So I paid a visit &endash; she was easy to find in a phone book &endash; and it was one of the nicest in my long train of reunions. But also the last time I would ever see her. I don't even recall exactly what Reneé died of, or when . . . but it was after her oldest boy had committed suicide close on the time of his university graduation. May her sweet soul have found a better reward than she ever had here.
Between my youth and the 'outlaw' years, which began in my mid-40s, I didn't live in a world of friendships -- a lifestyle tragedy of alienation that was not so uncommon in the occupationally-focused society of my generation, though I think my own instance was probably extreme. But I abandoned that world in the summer of 1971, leaping headlong into a counter-culture fertile with new possibilities. Within a few months, I was putting out a publication called Black Bart...the Outlaw Mag ('zine' had not yet come into vogue), from whence arose a community of like-minded souls, a jestingly named Outlaw Institute, with inner-city classes and country workshops, an urban Black Bart Center, and all the resultant interweaving of lives that an alternative culture can bring about. The 1960s are commonly assessed as the youth-focused counter-culture years, but San Francisco sprouted a middle-aged tailgate of it in the early 1970s, a true renaissance in many lives otherwise gone or going to seed, and I was right there in the midst of it, harvesting friendships with the zeal of a half-starved hobo turned loose at a banquet.
The early Black Bart years: 1972-1974
The lady, Lou, who ran the post office at Canyon, where my new life was nurtured, was at that time all the generational ballast I had, to keep from feeling drowned in a sea of youngsters and utterly lost from "my own kind" -- for I hadn't yet found my new legs. I don't recall Lou's last name, nor exactly when she departed, probably late in that decade, a victim of one of modern life's scourges &endash; cancer, I think.
Among the earliest personal friends of my own generation were Bill and Ruth, deep-dyed rebels even before I was. And Ruth Kaysing, it was, who fought the long battle with Parkinson's Disease, giving only inch by tenacious inch of ground, over the final ten years, which ended not so very long ago. They were (and still are, in my mind) an incredibly resourceful couple, churning out book after book, on how to live simply enough to beat the system -- the one of artifice and illusion, that we can beat.
I remember taking leave of Canyon, like a fledgling out to struggle with new flying skills. The game was to network, and one of the first places that I connected with was the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), where Marshall Palley held court in a pioneer project to lead people toward an inner discovery of what they really wanted to do with their lives, rather than just buy into the standard career claptrap. I haven't the least doubt that there are many, many folks around, approaching the millennium from some situation of personal empowerment, who owe their first insight in that direction to the work Marshall did, in laying a groundwork for that kind of counselling. It was sometime in the '80s that I read of his passing &endash; awhile after he'd retired from that post.
San Francisco's Black Bart Center, one of many grassroots organizations that made use of AFSC techniques, flourished for a few years in a first-floor apartment unit of the city's first older generation collective-living cluster, the San Jose House (named for the street it was on). One of the Center's prime spark plugs, and a resident there as well, was Betty Romanoff, also later instrumental in the start-up of what became Berkeley's best known multi-age, collective residence, the Hillegass House (my own later home for three great, growth-filled years). Betty was an inexhaustible fount of bubbling enthusiasm and energy, never too busy to encourage a project or assist in its development -- yet, she somehow (and impossibly) saw herself a shy and quiet soul. I last saw her during her terminal illness, in the hospital, and she still effervesced . . . so that her quite youthful death (50?) came as a double shock. I can't recall exactly when, but around 1980.
John Hildreth was another memorable resident in that San Jose House. A retired engineer, if memory serves, he moved so totally and easily into a counter-culture mode that his long, greying mane and the brilliant orange parachute canopy over his bed inspired everyone who knew him toward their own flamboyance of expression. My best image of him was doing a light fantastic (remarkably lightly) on a moonlit San Francisco beach, to a tune entirely in his own head. I cannot recall just when, or how, he left us.
Networking remained the name of the game, and our inner-city group linked and interacted with others, all over the place. One strong connection was with a pair of Daly City 'alternativists,' JoAnne and Allen Lohse, who were into fostering whatever aspect of community their outlying territory would support: education, craft work, an alternative auto repair shop &endash; Allen's special project, while JoAnne's was her abiding interest in Celtic culture. Others floated into and out of their lodging circle as the need arose. But in the early part of this decade, they relocated to a country property in southern Oregon . . . an ill-fated move, for they died together when the house burned, one night, a couple years ago. A sharp reminder of how tentative this life always is. I had last seen JoAnne when she visited here, hardly a year before the fire. They were midway into their 50s.
A good friend of theirs, and mine, too, was Joe Cooney. He was just your average sort of guy, unassuming, with a heavy accent on friendliness, and a welcome guest for any occasion -- nothing more exceptional, except the fact that he was gay, but not in any obvious or activist way. I really liked the guy, and never got to see enough of him, sad to say. But I probably never could have. He may be the only one I've known, to be taken by AIDS -- and young, of course, sometime back in the '80s.
One further San Francisco networker, a real pro at it, who seemed to have his hand in just about every activity of consequence, inventing one or two of his own, was Gary Warne. The element of surprise seemed at the heart of everything he did, with ways of working it that invariably attracted attention. His Gorilla Grotto bookstore, for example, and the group devoted to doing outrageous things, just for the fun and excitement of it -- like a swift and sudden, early Sunday morning, naked "ride-in" on a San Francis-co cable car. Gary's biggest surprise may have been his decision to take the S.F. police exam. He passed the it, and became a cop! (it still seems like I must have dreamt this). But no, I guess the bigger surprise was the out-of-the-blue heart attack that took him down, one day in the early '80s, after a morning jog. He was still in his 30s, I'm sure.
I was involved in so much, myself, for those few years up to the halfway mark of the '70s, that it's now hard to separate the memories. We had use of a country camp called Kilowana, up the side of Mt. St. Helena, and held a regular series of workshops called Outlaw Weekends -- laid-back affairs where anarchy was the reigning motif, and non-profit the guiding rule of thumb. Group cooking, group hot-tubbing (invariably in the buff), and group fun of every legitimate sort, all at minimal cost. An old fellow named Myron Brazier, former hospital administrator, retreaded (re-tired) as a woodcarver, turned a perfectly situated leaning tree trunk, in a creekside glen, into an elf, so that none should lack company who sat by the stream. He also inscribed a memorable dictum of Black Bart, the highwayman, on a timber that hung in the lodge for years: "Throw Down the Box". Myron eventually removed to a cabin in the Canadian Okanogan, and there entertained the peaceful death of old age, well into his 80s, some years ago.
I associate, also, with Kilowana &endash; though I visited her and Ray often in El Cerrito &endash; Esther Redel, who succumbed to a long and agonizing battle with cancer, sometime early in the '80s. She was a remarkable woman in many ways, not least of which was something she did long before I ever knew her -- a hitch-hike across the entire country, rare even today for a woman, let alone in those pre-mid-century decades, when it was all but unheard of. A kindred soul, indeed, that my spirit readily recognized!
I guess my deepest personal loss, however, in the death of a friend from those years, came with the passing of Chuck Garrigues (whose name, as he'd always say, rhymes with asparagus). One of our prime resource people in the Outlaw Weekend events, during the early '70s, Chuck was also a housemate of mine, for awhile, in one of my transitional moments, on terms that were exceptionally provident for me. Even though regularly employed as a psych tech at one of the local hospitals, he had always been his own person, carving a place &endash; in a world of conformity &endash; that perfectly suited himself. He radiated the confidence of it without any least hint of a brag, like a boxer radiates his punching ability. For the last decade, or so, of his life, he facilitated one of the city's better known weekly hot-tub 'socials,' where he pursued his own design of the sybaritic Good Life he aspired to, with the cheer and support of many members. Chuck died of cancer early in the '90s, before he ever reached 60, if my recollection is right -- a qualifier I have to add to all of these, I guess.
The next ten years (1975 to 1984) &endash; incorporating my retreative phase
Friendships didn't come as thick and fast, after those bootstrap years, but with change still the motif of my life, it never came to a dead stop, either (well, so to speak -- a poorly chosen metaphor, for this issue). I was suddenly burdened with a colostomy, and then blessed with a Berkeley retreat for a couple years, followed by a year down in Carmel, and finally up to Kilowana for four quite isolative years (the total being seven, as you'll note &endash; a full cycle). The period ends with a return to Berkeley in the early '80s.
The colostomy registers as my life's central crisis, stealing the honor from the life-change that preceded it by several years. A physical debacle, to begin with, it hit me at a moment when I was virtually bereft of any financial resources, at all. I hadn't even a place to live when I was released from the hospital. Several friends came to my rescue, but the one I offer special tribute to, here, was Dorothy Hill, who provided me a room in her Berkeley cottage, in that summer of '75, for an absolute pittance of rent -- which was covered by the local welfare establishment and could have been more, had she wanted it. But Dorothy, a veteran of Berkeley's anti-establishment crusades, lived with an irreproachable sense of personal dignity and values. Well into her 70s, at that time, with yet another decade of life ahead of her, she put a portion of her meager Social Security income toward the monthly support of a deprived waif in some third world country. I honor her integrity and her ageless activism.
The last of my three years with that colostomy -- surely the most potent growth vehicle of my entire life -- was spent in the idyllic seaside community of Carmel, living in a modestly (and hastily) furnished garage of a charming old British expatriate named Rose Page. Her first name had been cast aside in the course of her life, and 'Page' was all anyone ever called her. She'd had a stroke, and my assignment was just to be in residence, there, to make sure everything was all right for her. I could come and go as I pleased, and the arrangement was quid pro quo &endash; the duty, for the rent. But the real cost to me was a piece of my heart, for I couldn't be that much a part of her life and not halfway fall in love with her. Don't get me wrong . . . Page was the soul of British propriety and dignity, but possessed of such an irrepressible spirit and spunk as to be irresistibly lovable. Nevermind that she was several decades of life ahead of me, and known only for that brief year, she remains my deepest personal loss of this period. Her second stroke, midway through the year, left her unable to speak; but my voice, and her eyes, did nicely from there on. The third stroke killed her, almost exactly a year from the time I moved in. And I had to move on . . .
To Kilowana, where I once more lucked into a no-rent situation -- a cabin, as a member of the caretaking crew. There had been a caretaker, of course &endash; 'old Bob' Wells, so enfeebled with age, by this time, that he, too, needed caretaking. We never had much interaction, he and I, and I was using his AAA membership card, in 1980, on a cross-country car delivery to Atlanta, when he died (at 89), and so I missed his funeral service, too. But I have to honor old Bob for the timely gift of that card, which eased me, and a black Marine Corps n.c.o. (out of uniform), through a problematical highway incident in South Carolina. The Marine had picked me up on the highway, after my Atlanta car delivery, and we were headed for D.C. But his car broke down in the middle of nowhere, well after midnight, and he had no recourse of his own. I sallied forth, then, with that AAA card, in the star-lit but otherwise solid black night, and foraged the help we needed. I think old Bob could not have cared less . . . but this is just to let him know.
I haven't even as clear a definition, in memory, of the people I met during those years, as I do of the earlier period. My journals would help, if only they were indexed. There was Dorothy Legaretta, remarkably youthful for having brought up &endash; was it seven children? &endash; who had a lovely home in the Berkeley hills, where she held an annual party to welcome the return of a magnificent wisteria that graced the entry archway . . . until she was killed in an automobile accident, perhaps in the late '80s. There was Peter Eckhard, a really strange fellow who wore all his feelings on his sleeve -- to the point where it was hard for him to hold onto good friends, but whose heart was as big as his frequent blunders. He died fairly young, somewhere along the way, of something I can't recall. And dear old Lillias, whose last name I'm sure I once knew -- another ex-Britisher, and one of Page's caretakers and friends, whose very recent death I learned of since I began doing this issue! She and I once took a glorious hike in the woodsy hills south of Carmel; and she misses the millennium by a bare few months.
And then there were two on the eastern side of the country, whom I knew mainly from the steady flow of newsletters they sent out. Ellery Foster &endash; or as he called himself, El Luckywalla &endash; who strove mightily at community efforts in small-town Minnesota, until he fell victim to a hit-run driver. I think he was close to 75, and we had only met once, briefly, on one of my eastern forays. And from big-town Minnesota (Minneapolis), Larry Johnson, also known as Ernest Mann, who pursued the dream of a money-free society through an inexhaustible series of Little Free Press newsletters, preserved now in several self-published booklength collections, as well as an online archive. Larry was killed just three years ago, in a violent argument with a grandson. He was my own age, and we had connected several times, on both ends of the country. Also in this category of east coast luminaries, there was Mildred Loomis, who carried-on the torch of Ralph Borsodi, a true pioneer in the world of economic alternatives. I met both of them briefly (Borsodi still giving talks in his 90s!), early in the '70s, and received occasional letters from Mildred, over the decade, until she died &endash; of what, again, I am not sure.
Somewhere along in this period was Barbara Mullen, a writer who had turned out a lasting memorial to herself, in a slim volume of sensitive prose and photos about villages on California's northern shore, The Mendocino Coast -- up to that time (1972), a largely ignored region. Around 1980, Barb came down with cancer, and she was the first of several to provide me with a realization of how utterly inept I am, at interacting with someone who knows they are dying. Barbara never (to my awareness) progressed beyond the stage of raging at the unfairness of it all &endash; I think she was yet in her 50s. I'll have forever etched in memory, the empty futility of that last effort I made, to say goodbye.
I don't think of her without, at the same time, recalling Jud Jerome, poet and writer of some national renown, whom I only knew because of Barb's introductive ministrations. Jud, just about my own age, had early-on documented some of the standout communal efforts on the other side of the country -- he learned (and conveyed) both the pros and cons from intensely personal experience, and thus helped many others who were considering it, in those freshly alternative years. He was also a poet of such incredible skill and natural talent as I've ever read, and one of the very few whose works I save and return to. I stayed with Jud and his wife for a few days in 1985, when my road trip of that year took me through Yellow Springs, Ohio. I learned of his death from cancer, while I was abroad in 1991.
In Berkeley once again, and living at Hillegass House toward the close of this period, I participated in a standout ongoing group experience called Upward, that met monthly and got down to the nitty-gritty on racial issues. A number of the participants have since passed on, and two of them are particularly on my mind, at this time. One was Sam Julty, a fellow writer of unshakable convictions, who happened to be an 'expatriate' New York Jew, which tended to color most of his passions &endash; certainly the way he expressed them. Sam was thereby the spark for one of the most intense discussions the group ever had -- but that's another tale. At any rate, you could always count on forthrightness from Sam, even if his views were somewhat askew of the Bay Area's liberal sensibilities -- which was never so apparent as when he briefly published a journal devoted to a male view of the feminist movement &endash; a risky undertaking in any case, for a man of his and my vintage. But his heart was in whatever he did, and his independent voice has been missed since he took his leave, early in the '90s.
My other Upward group friend, I didn't know as well, but Isadora (Izzy) Lomhoff is memorable because she died by suicide. She was young &endash; in her early 30s, perhaps &endash; and it always seems to me the young have so much to live for, because their world is still malleable, their horizons not yet drained of possibilities. After all, I turned my own world around at age 44. But we can only see ourselves from where we're at, and I know very well the bleakness of an ill-starred fourth decade (one's 30s). I talked with Izzy privately only once or twice, and I could feel that sense of hopelessness that was ravaging her. I later thought that I might have somehow tried to be more responsive to her, in a "what can we do together" way, for she wasn't unattractive to me. But I was too busy, moving in other directions, at the time.
So we come, finally, to . . .
My northwest years (1985 to the present)
As I've probably said before, I never had any thought of remaining in the northwest. I supposed it a brief, pre-winter sojourn, in 1985. My visit was largely facilitated by that summer's relocation of Danaan Parry and his Earthstewards-Holyearth organization: they had use for my editorial skills, and I, in turn, found temporary shelter with them. I had already known Danaan for many years, and continued as his newsletter editor until I left for Europe in 1990. The last time I saw him, in fact, was at the first European Earthstewards Gathering, the following year. His shockingly sudden death from a heart attack, just a few years ago, while still in his 50s, left me acutely aware of how little we ever know, of how little time may be left to renew and revitiate our scattered friendships. This loss is the one that hits the hardest, in this period. My best recollection of Danaan, and it perfectly displays the quality that endeared him to everyone, is the time he was giving a talk to a large assembly in Seattle's central Unity Church, and I came in late, pushing a wheelchair with my caretaking charge, Jean, disabled by MS, trying to be as inconspicuous about it as possible. Danaan paused, practically in mid-sentence, smiled over at me, and simply said, "Hiya, Irv." What a guy!
Jean, by the way, was my ticket to a winter's shelter and survival, that first year in Seattle, and has remained a friend to this day. But her mother, Ruth Sturdevant, passed away just last year, in her 80s, sadly leaving Jean &endash; now many years in a nursing home &endash; without her central means of staying in touch with a wider world. Ruth, very alive to the wider world, had devoted her final decade to putting in a great deal of time with the daughter who was handed such a difficult role to play, in this world.
Just before I made my transition to Seattle, I briefly knew a woman with the strange single name of Iama. I met her at the first Earthstewards Gathering, in 1985, and experienced one of those occasional sensations of instant connection, with no sure or visible basis. I don't mean a 'romantic hit' &endash; though it often grows from such beginnings &endash; just an immediate 'knowing' of some relatedness that is there. All that remains of it is a postcard from her, illustrated with that well-known fragment of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, that pictures God's touch about to infuse Adam with life. Eerily, the postcard was received after I'd already had word that Iama was killed when her car went off the road, shortly after the Gathering. She was hardly more than 40 years old. (Isn't it something to think about: how often automobiles end up as hearses? Among the people I've known, cars have been far more deadly than guns!)
I also owe to the Earthstewards connection my friendship with Diane Gilman, co-founder of In Context magazine. Diane died of a brain tumor at a tragically young age, just a year or two ago. I never got to see her very often, but her charm and uplifting warmth were such that each rare occasion was memorable. The very last one, for me, was after Danaan's memorial service.
Add one more recent victim of a brain tumor: Mike Lomas, a friend from my university days. Mike was largely responsible for generating a sense of community among older students on campus, who typically find themselves outcasts from the usual rah-rah energy of university undergrads. He was barely into his 50s when life was taken from him, with frightening swiftness once the process was underway.
The drumroll begins to feel morbid, as we move through my more recent friends. But it's part of saying farewell to a century, and I guess I'd rather express my griefs openly, than carry them at a rankling interior depth, into the new times that lie ahead. I appreciate your forbearance. There are not many more to account for.
One that I couldn't possibly leave out was Jim Hall, who once chided me, after reading something I'd written in which I carelessly made reference to him as "old Jim." But he said to me, one day, himself &endash; after realizing that he had no business feeling ignored by young women, when he was up around 90 &endash; he said, as if it were an agonizing discovery, "I'm just a fuckin' old man!" But in the vigor of his views, he wasn't old at all. Jim was my providential source of shelter, when I crossed the narrow and swaying bridge of insolvency between 'old has-been' and freshly funded undergrad, to begin my educational retread days. In return, I made a point of visiting the sister he hadn't seen for decades, when I got to Scotland a few years later. Each of them was excited to get the personal message and two-way report I was able to convey. Jim must have been at least 94 when he died, a couple years ago.
During that half-year I spent in London, I made two friends that can only be revisited in memory, now. One, that I've talked about in these pages before, was Mike Clarke, an astoundingly complex fellow whom I briefly stayed with while awaiting more permanent quarters, and who subsequently closed off our friendship, over some perceived slight, though I never got him to speak of it. Yet, for me, it seemed one of the most meaningful friendships of my entire journey &endash; very possibly at a karmic level, for the odd synchroni-city that I described, both in my book and in the Ripening Seasons of May 1997, which detailed my return visit abroad. Those who read about it in that issue should recall the second, even more amazing synchronicity, in my having returned to London in precisely exact time (unknowingly) to attend a memorial service for Mike. He was my age.
The other departed London friend was Dorothy Urquhart, a charming, typically British woman (in wit, sparkle, intellectual sophistication), also of my own vintage. Dorothy was my favorite person to visit, on any inclement Saturday afternoon, which is not such a rare occasion in a London winter. I was looking forward, on my return, to another such call -- but she died before I could manage it, alas, of cancer as far as I know.
In the interim between those two trips abroad, that scourge, cancer, took another friend, who was much younger than me. This was a rather unlikely friendship with an astrophysicist on the academic roster at the university. I think Phil Peters vicariously related to the free-thinking, free-wheeling aspect of my being, which was such a contrast to his own staid and 'proper' professorial path. But whether or not I gauged it correctly, I missed the boat when I tried to provide some heartfelt counsel, on that basis: Again, I failed to say the right thing, the supportive thing, to someone who knew he was dying.
I never had the chance to blow it for my friend, Earl Taylor, a burly old gentle guy who married a longtime friend of mine, late in life. They had not many years together, but good ones, in L.A., where they provided me with the 'decompression chamber' that helped ease my re-entry into the country, seven years ago, after 19 months in Europe. A turbulent, uncertain bout with cancer began to take him down, not very long afterward, and I was fortunately too far away to make it harder on him. Earl was a few years older than me, and had been a smoker all his life.
And lastly, Mary Berry, of our small band of outraged senior tenants, whose insistent questioning about a place called the Morrison Hotel prodded me to do some digging that ultimately exposed how the Housing Authority, here, had seriously undercut the stability of a city program for seniors, which led to reforms still underway. Mary died of multiple organ failure, before she could see how her suspicions had been confirmed.
So there they are. Forty who travelled with me through a portion of this fast-waning century. Forty, most of them younger than me, and thereby &endash; on that account, at least &endash; with a better likelihood of touching 2000 A.D. than I -- but their destiny ruled otherwise.
Your lives, old friends of mine, do not go unrecalled, your presence unspoken for. As well as is within my power, the reality of you, as reflected in my experience of you, is now taken &endash; if only in brevity &endash; into the 21st Century. Friendship's final discharge.
I salute you, each and all!
And a Special Centennial Tribute to: Mark Milsk
For the last part of this extended recognition issue, I want to celebrate an artist, for whom this is truly a centennial -- she was born on November 15, 1899 &endash; the calendar date that is my deadline for getting this issue done and in the mail.
She is a forgotten artist &endash; despite much local (San Francisco) recognition in the '30s and '40s &endash; whose story I know only because she was my aunt. But I only knew a fragment of her story, until some personal papers and artwork turned up among my brother's effects. Included in the batch was the tattered old remnant of a scrapbook, half its contents missing, but enough of it left to reconstruct a story that blows me away. For I recognize, in it, the antecedent to my own willful way in this world.
Yet, she never spoke of it, to me. Not that I saw her that often, in the latter years of her life &endash; which ended in 1982 &endash; but there were a few times it might have happened.
As a youngster, I used to drop by her studio residence when I was in that part of town. She lived and worked in the old Montgomery Block, where that BankAmerica monstrosity now stands, and thanks to those visits, I've a very good image of the historic old interior, its simple, direct plan that puts modern architecture to banal shame. But as I grew into my own full life, I left old family connections in the dust. Not until the early '70s did I again make contact, by which time her creative juices had ebbed, and she eked out an income mainly from shops that sold her old scenic San Francisco note cards.
I don't believe she even received an obituary notice, when she died, though her work had often appeared in local galleries and museums, and even as far afield as a pre-war exhibition in Italy. But an interesting thing happened, about a year after her death: I was suddenly inspired to experiment with left-hand portraiture (seeing no connection, however, at the time), and I broke through the barrier that had always kept my own artistic efforts looking stiff and sterile.
I know, now, that I share a lot more than artistic inclinations with my aunt Edith, whose professional name was Mark Milsk (a derivative from my actual original family name).
Mark was my Dad's kid sister, by a year and a half, both born in St. Paul, and when their father died in 1907, any expectation of a settled childhood went out the window. The two of them were out-and-about in their early teens, pretty much on their own, and Mark gained some youthful experience with stage and circus troupes in Wisconsin and Illinois. A theater act of some sort took her to the west coast when she was 17, and again a couple years later. So she was a seasoned traveller, in a sense, when she met another adventure-eyed girl, as they picked cherries in a Vacaville orchard. A friendship was struck, and they decided to travel together to New York. But not in any ordinary way.
Lorlie (short for Lorline), on the left, was only 19, Mark &endash; or Beverly, her stage name at the time &endash; was 20, when they set forth from San Francisco on a bright May Day morn, outfitted in a road-smart style, as the photo plainly shows. They headed for Reno and then out across the Nevada desert, walking except as they were offered rides! (so you see why I identify). The newspaper clips indicate an encounter with deep snow drifts in the Sierras, and two days without food while crossing Nevada. But they were gutsy girls, and they stuck it out, picking up occasional work along the way, to supplement their meager funds. Ogden and Salt Lake, Cheyenne, Omaha, Minneapolis, Toledo . . . I've selected a clipping from a Eau Claire, Wisconsin daily, for a reasonably readable contemporary account of the road trip.
They reached New York City on September 18, and what happened after that becomes a bit vague. In the backwash of their celebrity status, the Pierce Bicycle Company offered to sponsor a bike trip to Havana, and there are several photos showing our intrepid wanderers setting out on it &endash; one of them with New York's Mayor Hylan giving them a personal sendoff. But no clips of that adventure beyond Elizabeth, N.J. My guess is that they found bicycling a little more challenging than they'd bargained for, and soon abandoned it.
But Mark's adventurous spirit was not yet quenched. She must have returned to the west coast, and then wanted to do it all over again, in 1922. She set out, this time, with another partner, Angelin (Gypsy) Sommers, someone she had apparently done some stage work with, in Hollywood, as they are referred to, variously, as former Fox Sunshine Girls and Christy Comedy Girls. They took a southern route, this time, and the trail is trackable through Arizona and into Texas, but nothing beyond.
She ultimately returned to the west coast again, where she became established, and remained active, in San Francisco's bohemian art scene of the 1920s through the 1940s. Initially publicized as the "Cowgirl Artist," for her rodeo scenes and portrait work, her scope broadened toward sensitive ethnic studies in a charcoal and conte style, pen and ink studies, and etching. Her work was exhibited frequently in the late 1930s: Oakland and San Francisco Annual Shows, Southern Printmakers, Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Laguna Beach Art Assn., California Society of Etchers, Foundation of Western Art, Palace of Legion of Honor (in S.F.), Seattle Art Museum, De Young Museum, and more.
Her friendship with Lorline, her original traveling partner, remained intact, as evidenced by photos into the 1930s. She did not marry until well into her 40s, and then it was to encounter disappointment from an incompatible match. Ed Imperato was a Merchant seaman, who seems to have floated in and out of her life, both before and after marriage, and her notes indicate a high frustration with his lack of social sensitivity and an overriding passion for golf. She attributes her artistic decline to what she "gave up" for marriage, but it seems more likely that it was a choice she made: where to put her focus, and how much to submit to distractions.
The only written record she left, of all this, is a series of topical notes that seem to be an effort at autobiography. But they were made very late in life, when she had trouble maintaining a focus or getting beyond bare starts.
Seeing her in her late 70s, after a hiatus of many years, was a bit of a startle for me, as she had come to resemble her mother &endash; my grandmother, who had been dead for many years. It didn't occur to me that I also probably looked very strange, to her.
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