Eulogies, Part 2


F is sitting with you. She holds your hand as your breathing slows. She is your eldest, and she has come from farthest away. Where has she come from? Oh yes, North Carolina, that’s right. That’s the far side of the country. Shouldn’t she be back there now, looking after her grandkids? Your great-grandchildren.

Wait, what? How is it possible you have great-grandchildren? You can’t possibly be old enough for that. It was just the other day that you were visiting with your cousins Beryl and Kathryn at Uncle Ted’s house, and Aunt Elsie and cousin Annie were there… no, that was a while ago, but you’re not exactly sure how long. It feels like just last week that you all played together as children, and then you recall Aunt Elsie saying she was to be called Kathleen now, not Elsie, she always hated that name, and there sure are a lot of Kathryns and Katherines and Kathleens in the family, you always thought Elsie was distinctive, but there it is.

Uncle Ted and Aunt Elsie are there, they’re smiling, happy to see you, and there alongside them are Father and Mother. You just need F to let go your hand, and you’ll go to join them now. Your breathing relaxes and slows.


It is two weeks earlier, and you’re dizzy.

Is he an Aussie, is he, Lizzie?
Is he an Aussie, is he, eh?
Is it because he is an Aussie,
Does he make you dizzy, Lizzie?

You keep having dizzy spells, and your head hurts, though you’re not sure why. You fell and hit your head against the door jamb, J says, and that’s why you shouldn’t drive anywhere right now — but the song makes you feel better, so you sing it out loud. It’s a popular hit right now, but for some odd reason the others don’t seem to know it. They smile, but the smiles seem a little strained.

It was a pop hit in the 1940s, when you were a teenager in New Zealand. The others are your children, and they were not yet born.

M is in the dining room, working on his laptop. He seems to be working quite a lot, that boy. So much work, he has two laptops. You go and sit at the table across from him and look at the papers he has spread around. These sure look like important papers, with things like State of California and Citibank and so forth strewn across their headers. The piles aren’t very neat, though. You’ll just help M out a little. He works too much anyway. You pick up one pile and straighten the edges, and then you see your own name at the top of the first page.

That’s odd. That looks like a legal document. Revocable Living Trust, it says, but you don’t recall having a trust. And this other one, it appears to be paperwork for your mobile home. And that one, that’s your bank statement.

These have my name on them, you say.

That’s right, M replies. I’m just helping you to get everything in order.

In order for what?

Just in case. You need a little help right now, so J is assisting you, and I’m assisting her by taking care of paperwork. I want to thank you, Mother, for keeping such orderly files. That makes this much easier. But why didn’t you tell anyone about your finances before?

You’re children. You didn’t need to know.

Your son is 54 years old. J, your youngest, is 49. They are not children, but they always will be to you. It bothers you that M is rifling through your private papers. You leaf through the nearest pile. M watches, looking a little strained.

D comes into the room. Mother, let’s go watch some television, shall we? We’ll find a Clint Eastwood movie. M needs to work.

He sure works a lot, you say. You don’t recall what he’s working on, or why it’s so important, so you go with D. You stumble on the three steps down the short stair into the living room, and reach out for a handhold. You grab onto the cat tower, and it nearly tips over, but doesn’t quite.

D looks stricken. What on earth is wrong with her, you wonder? Everyone seems to be acting strangely. Ah, you know just the thing to liven up spirits. How about the latest pop song?

Is he an Aussie, is he, Lizzie?
Is he an Aussie, is he, eh?
Is it because he is an Aussie,
Does he make you dizzy, Lizzie?


You’re looking for your car keys. You’re certain they’re here somewhere, but they aren’t in your pocket. What’s wrong, Mother? D asks.

Where are my keys?

Mother, you can’t drive. Your keys are safe, but you don’t need them right now.

Nonsense. It’s time I got out of everyone’s hair. I’ll just drive myself home.

Mother, you can’t. You need to stay here. It’s not safe for you to drive. It’s not safe for you to be alone.

Why not?

D looks around for a moment, then she picks up a piece of paper and hands it to you. It’s enclosed in a thin, clear plastic sheath, and it has large-font typing on it. It’s a bit crumpled, as if it has been brought out quite a few times.

Mother, you have a brain tumor. The tumor is affecting your memory. It is also affecting your motor control. This tumor makes it unsafe for you to live alone. So, you are now living here at R and J’s home in San Mateo. All of your children are here to visit you. We love you. You are safe. — F, D, M, J, and R

You look at D. Brain tumor? How do you know that?

You had an MRI, and a CT scan, a week and a half ago. Your doctor and your neurologist both reviewed them. It’s very clear.

Huh. You shrug. But where are my keys?


It’s late. You need the bathroom, but it’s so difficult to get out of bed. Everything is so uncomfortable. Everything is so difficult. Why is it all so difficult? Still, you manage to find your way to the bedroom door, then stumble into the hallway. Very quickly, the others materialize, as if from nowhere. Hands are holding you up, but you try to shrug them off. You don’t need their help. You would like to be left alone. Is it so much to ask, to be able to use the bathroom alone?

Mother, one of us needs to be in here with you.

Nonsense, you try to say, but it doesn’t come out quite right. I just need the TV, you say.

You get a puzzled look. The TV?

I need to use the TV.

They look at each other. Mother, the TV is in the other room. If you would like to watch TV, we can do that with you. But if you need the bathroom, one of us has to help you.

The indignity of it all makes you want to scream. I am your mother! I wiped your bottoms when you were little! But all that comes out is an incoherent mashup of words, and that just adds to your frustration.


When you came to this country, in 1969, 36 years old, with four children, the youngest’s age still measured in weeks, you were highly dependent upon your husband. He was older, wise in the ways of the world, a handsome ship’s officer and rising star in the maritime industry. He swept you off your feet fifteen years earlier, and now he had brought you to the far side of the world. You had always treasured your own self-reliance, yet in 1969, even with air travel, New Zealand seemed very far away, and the United States was a foreign country, even if something of a magical destination.

Just a few years later you would be divorced. You would marry again, briefly, but that would be more of a fling than a serious life choice, though you would keep your second husband’s name as your own for the remainder of your life.

After your second divorce, it became clear that working as a secretary was not going to cut it. You could not and should not depend upon anyone else. You would need to provide for yourself.

And so you did. You put yourself through school, became an office manager for a Bay Area company manufacturing silicon wafers for these little devices that would soon power the world: integrated circuits, or chips. Already the southern peninsula, where you worked, was gaining a new name in popular parlance: Silicon Valley.

You moved through a succession of mid-level management jobs for various high-tech companies: Accurex, Intuit, Sun Microsystems. Briefly, in your mid 50s, you returned to your Antipodean roots, living in Sydney, Australia, where you were shocked to find gender and age discrimination at a level twenty years behind the United States. Your hazy golden-hued ideal of Australian and New Zealand culture became a bit shattered when interviewer after interviewer said things to you like, “Why do you want to be a manager? You’re a woman,” or “But you’re 55; you’ll just retire in a year.” As if! You were not ready to retire at 55, and what business was it of theirs?

After a few years you returned to California, rekindled your love of hiking and the outdoors, and took up an old pursuit: trail building. You reconnected with the Sierra Club, and specifically a chapter called the Sierra Singleaires, single hikers over the age of 40. Here before you had found your tribe, and they welcomed you back with open arms. Many hours, days, years, you spent repairing or building trails in local parks and forests.

After retirement, your sense of adventure renewed itself, and you enrolled with the Peace Corps. You began learning to speak Romanian, and soon you found yourself in Bucharest, helping small business owners adapt to the modern world after the fall of the Iron Curtain. And although an injury, and major surgery, forced you to cut your Peace Corps time short, it remained something you could be proud of, alongside those beautiful trails.

You scrimped, and you saved, and you lived frugally. Your only luxury was a new car every few years. You imagined yourself a sporty driver, and prior to your very last car, you never owned one that wasn’t a manual stick-shift transmission. No automatics for you! Yet despite this one luxury you allowed yourself, you managed to beat the system. You found a way to live in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the most expensive areas on the planet, in your own home free and clear, on not much more than your Social Security check. Of course, your daughters would later fret over the state of your closet, wishing you’d allow yourself something new once in a while, but you never forgot your depression-era roots. That rainy day still might come.


Judith Anne Hargreaves, later Judith Fraser, then Judy Kretzer, passed peacefully from this world on March 9th, 2019, approximately three weeks after being diagnosed with a large glioblastoma, a highly aggressive brain tumor that typically does not respond well to treatment. She was 85 years old. She leaves behind four children, seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and a network of trails in Butano State Park, California.

Judith Hargreaves at 20
Judith Hargreaves at 20

header image credit: pixabay.com

 

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Eulogies, Part 1


It starts on February 6th. That is the day the office at your mobile home park, where you have lived for twelve years, calls your daughter to express their concern. It seems you forgot to pay the rent for the space your home sits in, and in twelve years this had never happened before. You are in the habit of visiting the clubhouse each day, making a pot of coffee, and chatting with the manager there, but on this day you seem to have trouble with the coffee pot, and when the manager asks you about the late rent, you don’t know what she’s talking about.

Of course, the staff at the park like you, so when you promise to go back and write a new check and bring it in the next day, they’re fine with that.

But you don’t write a new check. The next day you are just as confused as the day before, and you can not remember the previous day’s conversation. The manager gently reminds you that, no, you have not yet paid the rent, and yes, it is now overdue. She gives you another day.

The next day, which transpires exactly like the prior few days, the manager calls your daughter. It’s not an angry call; the staff at the park are not like that. Yes, they need their rent, but mostly they are very concerned about your state of mind, about your health.

Your daughter, J, lives not too far away, and so of your four children, she is the one you see the most. You have favorites — every parent does — but you’re fairly sure you’ve managed to keep that to yourself. You’re wrong, of course, but your children have long since forgiven you, because they understand. They all have children of their own. By all rights, J should be your favorite: she’s the youngest, and she has arguably done more for you over the past few decades than any of the others. She will now be doing more for you than ever before, but we aren’t there yet. She is convinced that she is not the favorite.

J rushes down after work, almost an hour’s drive in traffic, even though it’s not that far. As always, you’re happy to see her, though you don’t understand why she’s there. She helps you with the rent check, though you don’t believe there’s a problem. She asks about your cellphone, but you don’t remember owning a cellphone.

Your cellphone is in your pocket.

By now it’s getting a bit dark, so you plug in a lamp, but the darned thing just doesn’t work. You get a bit frustrated with the stupid thing, until finally J takes the cord from your hand and removes the plug from the bulb socket that you had inserted it into. J seems a bit worried, and really, what is there to worry about? Finally she leaves you alone and you get a good night’s sleep.

The next afternoon J calls. How wonderful to hear from her! She says you should pack an overnight bag, as she is going to come and get you and bring you back to her place. You wonder how long it’s been since you last saw her. Anyway, no bother, you tell her, I can drive myself. Where are you living now?

An hour later J arrives, with your other daughter D in tow. D is insisting that she can step in to help with the emergency, although she doesn’t yet know she is about to have her own big emergency; she has a hint, that’s all. Regardless, you’re happy to see them both, though a little puzzled as to why they are here. They explain that they’re here to bring you back to J’s house, that you’re going to stay with her for a while, just until things are sorted out.

You’re even more puzzled when they insist that you not drive yourself. They mention an accident from the month before.

You’re quite sure there was no accident last month. You would remember something like that.

Suddenly you feel quite confused, and even a little frightened. What is happening? People are telling you scary things, and you have no idea what they’re talking about. My gosh, I feel dumb, you say, because you’ve forgotten all about the accident. D looks like she’s about to break down in tears when you say that, but she doesn’t. She tells you, No, Mother, you’re very strong. You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever known. Sounds like a load of hogwash to you, but that’s D, always getting emotional.

By now, though, you are a bit concerned that something’s not right, so you don’t interfere as J and D pack away your important papers, some clothes, and a few odds and ends to put into J’s car. You almost stop them when they pick up your hanging file folders. My files! All your financial statements are in there! They’re just kids; they have no need to know about any of that. You’re an intensely private person, and you always have been. You’ve always been self-reliant; you’ve had to be, after two divorces that left you with nothing but kids to feed and no marketable skills in a country not really your own.

You really have come a long way, but you never quite feel completely safe. You own your house and a new car free and clear, you have retirement savings and investments, yet you’re still a child of the depression, living frugally and squirreling everything away for an eventual rainy day. You’re 85, and there won’t be any more rainy days, but you don’t know this yet.

For now, you quash your misgivings, allow your daughters to load your belongings, and you get in the car with them.

You won’t be returning here.


header image credit: pixabay.com

Emigrants


Earlier I recounted a story of the emigrant ship Adamant on her 1875 voyage from England to New Zealand, but I didn’t give much detail about my connection to that ship.  The Adamant brought the Spratt family, of Liverpool, to New Zealand, where they settled in Invercargill, one of the most southern cities.  James and Maria Spratt (nee Rawlinson), both 31 years old, and four children, Maria (who turned 12 and became a “single woman” during the voyage), Elizabeth, Ada, and Harriet, all set out for a brave new world, leaving behind the life they had known.  James opened a shop in Invercargill as a sailmaker and cloth worker, and he and Maria had four more children after arriving in the new country.  One of these, Florence, born almost exactly four years after arrival, would become my great-grandmother.  James would live to the age of 90, and Maria to 65.

In 1905, at the age of 25, Florence Spratt married John Crabbe Winning, another native-born New Zealander of Scottish parents, moving their family slightly north to live in Dunedin, Waimate, and Timaru.  John was a butcher, and then a stationer, by trade, with a fancy goods shop in Waimate.  The both of them enjoyed singing, composing their own songs and performing in an orchestra.  They had two children, the elder of whom, Dulcie Rawlinson Winning, was my grandmother.  Florence would live to the age of 68, and John to 87.

Dulcie, born in 1908, at the age of 20 married a Christchurch man, John Charles Hargreaves, another native New Zealander born of English parents who would take her north to his town.  There they would have a daughter, Judith, who would later become my mother.  The family later moved to Wellington on the North Island, where John would rise to the position of managing director of a large department store, Kirkcaldie and Stains.  Unfortunately, Dulcie did not live a long life, passing away at the age of 47, and John went on to marry twice more, eventually being survived by his third wife when he died at the age of 84.

A year before her mother’s death, my mother married a dashing sailor, a merchant marine officer by the name of Robert Fraser from an Auckland family, and Auckland is where they chose to live, until 1969 when they emigrated to the United States with four children, one of whom was — me.