We went to see a very powerful movie last night at the wonderfully restored Grandin Theatre. It was the foreign film, "The Sea Inside." I highly recommend it. I expected it to be depressing but found some difficult topics were handled exceptionally well. It brought back some memories of the challenges that we faced even in caring for my mother, Blanche. It wasn't easy when she lived with us for just eighteen months though she was certainly capable of doing many things for herself. In her case the emotional dependence was even greater than the physical dependence. Getting my mother into assisted living and involved with others her same age made her last years a remarkably happy time for us all. Ramón in the "The Sea Inside" could do nothing for himself and lived with his family for twenty-six years. It is hard to imagine a more difficult situation. The movie is about his struggle to end his life, the reactions of people around him, and the impact that he had on so many people. Ramón and his movie certainly have been in my thoughts today, along with a number of other things.
The most tragic part of the movie to was the argument between Ramón and his older brother who believed that it was wrong for Ramón to want to kill himself. To me their last verbal battle brought to mind those great words of wisdom about never going to bed mad. I don't think it matters whether it is your spouse, your children, your neighbors, or friends. Being alive is a tenuous proposition, we can disappear from this earth at anytime. As you get older in life and watch some of your friends and colleagues pass away, it is more important than ever to remember that you never know when you are saying goodbye for good. I felt sorry that Ramón and his brother couldn't part on better terms.
The movie also brings home how important we can be to someone, almost without knowing it. I have always believed each of us carries with us parts of those people who have meant something to us over the years. Last year Glenda and I lost my mother. Blanche touched so many people that I am sure she is still with us. Her home of many years at 347 West Pine Street in Mount Airy is being remodeled. Our friend, Steve, who runs Airmont Florist, just up the street from the house often hears about some of the changes in the house. Our last trip down, he shared that the new owners had invited him down to see if he approved of the marble counter tops that were being installed in the kitchen. The new owner shared that she had talked to "Granny," my mother, and gotten her approval. Given the interesting encounters we had inside the Pine Street house, I don't doubt that a conversation was possible in spite of Mom being gone for almost a year.
Spring was my mother's time of year. It is almost impossible to see flowers blooming for the first time without seeing her digging in the dirt in her back yard. Of course every time I come in exhausted from cutting brush, I think of Glenda's dad, Glenn, whose idea of a good time was working until he could hardly walk. Then there's my uncle Austin who has been gone many years. I can still remember his humor and his wonderful skill of making something from nothing. Each time I create something out of pieces of unrelated junk, I remember how he taught me how to use a torch and a welder. Both Austin and Glenn were artists with welders. They could build almost anything.
Every time I climb up a ladder and hammer a nail I think my long gone neighbor in Tay Creek, Charlie Campbell. Charlie, who used to say he was tougher than a boiled owl, could still stand on the ridge pole of barn and drive a nail at the age of eighty. His remarkable sense of balance was learned riding logs on the Saint John River. We never have turkey that I don't think about another Tay Creek, neighbor, Harvey Tait. Harvey used to sneak the turkey carcass out of the house, so his wife Thelma wouldn't make turkey soup. Harvey, whose farm I bought, always helped me with spring fencing on the farm and with raking hay in the summer. He and I wired together so many old split rail fences that neither of us could stand decorative ones in people's yards. Harvey used say that he had lived his whole like surrounded by old things and that what some people called antiques, he called junk.
I like to think I am who I am, partly because of these people. Of course without Glenda, I wouldn't be sitting here writing today. Finding a life partner, someone whose outlook on life is similar and supportive of your own, makes the journey a lot more rewarding and gives you the support to do things that you couldn't do by yourself. Of course then there are our kids, Erin, Michael, and Kathryn who have so enriched our lives. Getting them up Devil's Hill as Great Grandma Styers called the teenage years was challenging and certainly character building. We're lucky to still have an extraordinary extended families in Yadkin and Surry counties in North Carolina. They keep helping us grow and understand life. If I am lucky I might just get to write about one of their Yadkin County chicken stews this spring. I have plans for capturing some of their words on tape this year. The older I get the closer I want to be to family. You can only understand yourself by looking at the family that helped you grow up.
Then there are those friends from my youth and the college years. My friend Mike is still around. He and I wandered the woods, were scouts together, spent many an afternoon almost in silence fishing in our youth. I'm lucky to still maintain good contact with a few people whom I knew well in college. They certainly keep me humble. Jon, who lives in New Jersey, never ceases to amaze me. His knowledge and good spirits always bring a smile to my face. Then there's Gus, who lives in Nova Scotia. Gus continues to make me laugh at myself, we've had a lot of shared times together not to mention our our unforgettable trip to Alaska in the summer of 1970. His good cheer in overcoming his physical challenges is an inspiration. Then there is Sally, whose daughter Molly is lot younger than our kids. Sally was one of those friends who joined my old roommates and me for that first Thanksgiving in Nova Scotia. Every piece of weaving I see, Sally comes to mind.
Unfortunately sometimes you lose a friend even though they are still around. One former friend from college, Kip, still lives in Nova Scotia. Somehow I touched his life in a way that left us no longer friends. We were in a loose partnership so likely it was over money, but I have never understood it or had it explained to me. I tried once to at least get back on speaking terms but failed. I remain sorry that we can't sit down and enjoy some of the good memories. I learned a lot from Kip and am grateful for the friendship we had. Of course one of my best memories is Kip deciding that he was going to clean Uncle Austin's clock in checkers. Kip was convinced that his New England checkers skills were more than a match for Uncle Austin's North Carolina bred checkers. I thought they would never quit playing but Kip never won a game. Uncle Austin had spent years playing at his mill or his daddy Rufus' old country store. I'm not sure a mortal being could have beaten Uncle Austin in checkers.
Then there is my friend, Susan, who I knew in college. She died a few years ago, and I am still sorry that I didn't have one last conversation. We went our own ways after college, got involved with our families, and just lost touch. I now make a great effort to stay in touch with those people who have touched my life in one way or the other. Susan's death which I didn't even know about caused me to pen the essay, "Death of a Friend." She and I enjoyed a few long car trips together when she hitched rides to her home in Delaware while I was on my way to North Carolina. She also came with my college friends, Sally, Richard, and Nancy to that first Nova Scotian Thanksgiving that we all shared away from our parents. As Sally will tell you, some debates we started that Thanksgiving, like the one on celery and stuffing are still ongoing. It was a momentous occasion getting that first solo turkey cooked. It was real life for those of us who sat around after dinner all those nights at Radcliffe's Currier House, drinking coffee, and dreaming about the future in 1971, our senior year. That future is now and somehow though it may not have been what we imagined, I think those of us still around are pretty happy with it.
I'm glad that so far I haven't had the challenges Ramón faced in "The Sea Inside." My father, John, who lived for eleven years after a stroke, faced similar feelings as Ramón did. Of course my father still got around with help and enjoyed many things in life. He was able to ride for hours in Blue Ridge Mountains and to visit Raven Knob where Lake Sobotta was named after him. As a true Sobotta, he loved his food until the end, especially the bacon which he had almost everyday with his eggs and then there was the magical fried chicken my mother used to serve. He especially enjoyed his afternoon toddy, which he used to defend by saying that you had to be careful with water, considering what it did to most iron pipes. I know he enjoyed the companionship of those around him, my mother, his nurses and the many who took time to visit him. Of course by living to ninety-nine, he outlived most of his compatriots. Like Ramón's brother I wouldn't have wanted to give in to those tough days when my father wanted to die. After all there were already enough ghosts wandering around the Pine Street house.
On a lighter note, just in case anyone is wondering. I was at the newspaper box this morning at 6:35 am. I left Randy a small shot size bottle of Irish Cream in lieu of another peanut. I was hoping it might help him sleep a little longer Monnday morning so I would have a chance at a three-peat, but I am ready concede the weekdays. Of course I was beginning to think there might have been a mass murder since his paper and the Irish Cream were still in his box when I started getting ready for church at 10:20 am. When I called after lunch he admitted that he and Sara had both slept from 10:30 pm until after 10:00 am this morning. I think this is a good sign as is the fact that Robert on his way down the hill this morning didn't grab the Irish Cream. Sleeping in and leaving your neighbor's Irish Creme in the newspaper box are both signs of civility, and we need all of the civility we can find. Of course since the weather is a lot warmer than yesterday, I think Malarky is pretty pleased with things.