Dear Friends and Family,May 22, 2000
I never seem to schedule these letters on a regular basis. Sometimes an event will prompt me to write. But more often I go to it when the mood strikes. This is a combination of both.
This past month, my sisters (Pam and the left, Janet on the right) and I lost our mother after about a year of slowly failing health. She suffered from a variety of ailments resulting from internal organs that slowly but inevitably shut down her capacity to live on. I was told she slipped into a coma during her sleep one night and simply never woke. She had been living in lovely assisted living home since the fall of last year, but had been in and out of the hospital and a nursing home, as well as her apartment, for some months. We talked regularly with her in all three places, her voice and attention a bit weaker, it seemed, each time we spoke. I had visited her in March not long after her 82nd birthday. Her spirit was strong and she was optimistic about returning to her apartment. She seemed to gain strength while I was there and finally returned to her apartment. A few weeks later she called us very late one night to "say good-bye," that she was glad we had had that recent visit, that I had been a "good son," and she didn't feel she would be with us much longer. She peacefully died a month later.
Helen was the third of five Baker children who grew up in Visalia, California. Her older sister, Ruth, and younger sister, Anna, are still living in California. She and my dad married in 1938 and lived in southern California where my sisters and I were born and lived most of our lives. In the early 1960s, they moved to the Bay area and finally to Paradise and Chico. She will be buried next to my father in the small town of Magalia, just north of Paradise. Her descendants numbered sixteen: three children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren (and a great great-grandchild was likely not far off).
I've been sorting out my feelings since, coming to no conclusions except that the wave of sadness passed a while ago and only an emptiness remains. I do wonder if she looked back on her 82 years as satisfying, difficult, and/or fulfilling. I will never know for certain, since she was not reflective by nature and our times together, at least after I became an adult, were focused on doing, rather than thinking about, things.
"Keeping busy" ranked very high among my mother's litany of virtues. It must have been in Judy's family as well, since it seems what we do a lot of. Judy remains active in the Fire Department, with the Chamber of Commerce, and at the Visitors Center, in addition to running. I am at the school at least a half day (often two half days) a week, manage the Visitors Center, and serve on at least six town or county committees (chair of three), including a new one that is working on establishing a library in town. We're getting ready to lend our hands to a new nature education center that is in the planning stages. We both participate willingly and with a sure sense that our time and effort impact others and the community. If asked why we do it, we often say, "Because we can" or "Because we get a lot of satisfaction from doing it." I'm not sure how much we realized in the past the extent to which cities, organizations, and governments rely upon volunteer efforts to get important things done. It's especially true (and more visible) in small mountain towns. It's something that people simply have to do.
However, periodically we stop to remind ourselves that we're "retired" and that we have the right (if not the tendency) to be "not busy." We're still working on that flaw in our characters. Travel has helped us both. Trips, like our recent one to Belize, help us to change our pace (on some days to a crawl) and to see more of our "other world," the one that's beyond our immediate surroundings. We have really enjoyed the folks we've met and learned much from them. We also discover little things about ourselves: that we're capable of, for example, reading for pleasure during daylight hours--and not just because our flight is delayed. We've discovered the simple pleasure of being together, finding the Southern Cross and the North Star in the same sky. Writing about the trips afterwards helps the wonder of the experience linger well after we've returned home.
Our house remodeling project this year is the kitchen, one of the first things Judy vowed to redo as soon as we moved here going on nine years ago. If you've ever gone through this, you know all the tension and frustrations involved: decisions about cabinet style and arrangement; the difficulties getting a good contractor; and scheduling the arrival of appliances, cabinets, electricians, plumbers, etc. Fortunately, everything is falling nicely into place (so far) and we have been able to arrange everything before, during, and after our trip to Switzerland in June. The preparations and the brief amount of time to pack (both the kitchen and our bags) is daunting, but we're determined to make it all work. We'll be just be getting the hang of how the new kitchen is organized when we leave for Boston to stay with grandchildren Griffin and Julia while Dan and Debra take their long-awaited raft trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
We look forward to August
as a time to hang out at home in the summer warmth and mountain air. Do
some hiking. Bike ride. Take the dogs for a walk. Look for the North Star
and imagine where the Southern Cross would be if we could see it.