It’s been a chaotic and depressing couple of weeks, so I hope you’ll excuse my absence.
One of the worst parts has been personal; the decline of TG’s “West Coast Dad” John.
John headed a university music department, and met TG through her ex-, one of his students. They became fast friends (as happens to pretty much everyone who meets her), and as she and I began to get serious, she insisted that we all meet for lunch.
We drove to Pasadena to pick him up the first time, and oddly enough, I began to feel anxiety – one I thought I’d outgrown, not unlike a teenager’s on meeting his date’s parents for the first time. We drove into the hills over the Arroyo, and pulled down a steep driveway to a beautiful Modern house.
I walked to the door, rang the bell, and a tall elderly man, proceeding slowly with his walker, greeted me. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I looked around and tossed something out – I complimented his home.
“What a beautiful house! Whoever built it must have been a huge fan of Richard Neutra!” I said.
“Actually, it is a Neutra house,” he replied, smiling broadly.
Embarrassed, I put my foot deeper into my mouth. “Who did he build it for?”
“Me,” was the reply, with an even bigger smile.
And off we were on a tour of the house and the story of how – in 1957 – a struggling music teacher and his wife paid far more than they could afford to have a home built, and what it was like to argue with Neutra over a living room big enough to hold a grand piano.
Being with John was like being in the presence of a piece of living history – he’d been born in Southern California when it was bean fields and cattle ranches, studied with Nadia Boulanger, lived in Los Angeles when the University of California was a teacher’s college on Vermont Ave., and lived to see man on the moon and music on MP3’s. He replied, when I told him that, that we all were, most of us just hadn’t lived long enough to become aware of it.
His body was quite frail, but mentally he’d cataloged his experiences and could pull them out, recount them, put them in context, and spin endlessly fascinating yarns about them. I’d become a fan of California and Los Angeles history, and he and I spent hours talking about it – me from my books, and him from the same books – he’d read them all and knew some of the authors, like Carey McWilliams – leavened with his own direct experience of the place and times.
His sight failed a few years ago, and he sold the house – after deed-restricting it to preserve it – and moved into one of the better “continuum of care” retirement communities. TG and I took him out to lunch or dinner periodically, and he was an honored guest at our wedding.
And then we got the news a month ago that his hearing was failing, and now the news that he has congestive heart failure.
TG visited him last week, and it’s almost impossible to communicate with him except with hand squeezes. he’s still there but living in his mind, shut from the world, and so it seems that he’s decided to go and join his late wife.
He’s a stronger link in the chain from past to future than most of us are, and when that link breaks and is gone, I’ll be poorer for missing him – but not nearly as poor as if we’d never met.