Friday, January 14, 2011

My Last Christmastide Letter: 2011: The Year 2010 in Review

At the St. Ann choir’s post-Vespers New Year’s Eve party, after a couple of glasses of sparkling wine, I started telling the few friends still sitting around after midnight that every time I tried to start my yearly Christmastide letter, I could only think of woeful things. We had buried Joe Scaroni, one of the choir friends, that day with a Requiem Mass and chant at his grave side, so that sad event was also naturally on my mind.

I said, “All kinds of people I know are dying and getting sick, and it’s getting to me. That’s not the kind of thing you write about in a holiday letter.” “I’d read that!” Kerry said. “I’d read it too,” said Susan. “Write it!” they both chimed in together.

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Joe Scaroni RIP
2007 Sancta Lucia Party

I was struck again at Joe’s funeral how much we need the Requiem Mass so we can be mourned properly, and properly prayed for. We need our friends to petition on our behalf for God’s mercy and comfort and for the forgiveness of our sins. Let’s put an end to premature canonizations at “celebrations” that don’t recognize the solemn judgment that takes place at death! If you hear I am dead some day, please remind Liberty to arrange a sung Traditional Latin Requiem Mass for me. Tell him to check if the St. Ann choir and my current schola would be available to sing. No balloons, eulogies or slide shows during the Mass, please. Save them for the funeral lunch. I also want 30 days of Gregorian Masses. I’ve got a lot to be purified from.

As a related aside: My friend Marie Perez’ brother-in-law, Jose, told me recently that many cultures have sin eaters, who eat the sins of the deceased when they eat the funeral lunch. Jose and I decided jokingly that between us we’d have enough sins to feed a village.

In February, the choir lost Brian Howard. I never knew until after his death that he held a notable place in computer history, having been the 32nd engineer hired by Apple. A memorial at npr.org included the photo to the far left, of Brian at Apple in 1987 and it claimed that without Brian, there would have been no Mac. The right photo is of Brian at a Santa Lucia party thrown by choir friends in 2007, with his wife, Lynn Toribara, who is another choir member, and his mother-in-law. His hat is a clue that cancer treatments had already taken a toll on his hair. The author of the NPR remembrance of Brian wrote “Even in his last days, when he came home from the hospital after many years of cancer treatments, he still had a sense of humor. When asked if he needed anything he replied, "I could use some hair."
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Then in April, I lost my dear Aunt Peggy who helped raise me, and another choir member, Nancy Ritter, died.

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Above L: Nancy Ritter, who gave free singing lessons to the choir. 2nd from L: Aunt Peggy’s grave. 3rd from L: Me and sister Martha. R: forsythia

I was disturbed because the choir wanted to sing a Requiem Mass for Nancy, but the family put them off. And then my poor aunt did not have a funeral Mass either, even though she was Catholic and attended Mass every Sunday no matter what. At the last minute the priest (in the beret above) from the Most Precious Blood church across the street from the funeral home in Hyde Park, MA was brought in to say a few words, for which I am very thankful.

I’ve visited that same grave in Jamaica Plain all my life. It is where my father was buried after his premature death at 33 in 1947 when I was two. And his mother and father, Grandma and Grandpa Sullivan, are buried there also. On that April day this year when we buried my aunt, I was in that cemetery for the first time during one of the brief few weeks of the year when forsythia hedges bloom with all their golden cheeriness along the graveyard fences at the base of the tall evergreens that also line the properties. Forsythias were there and everywhere in Massachusetts, in almost every yard we passed. But not here; in San Jose, I have my single wan forsythia, which struggles in the uncongenial climate and sends out a few small yellow flowers to trumpet the arrival of Spring on a few branches each year.

When I came home, I sponsored a Requiem Mass for my aunt at Five Wounds, my schola and friends sang, Doug Seitz located a shrouded catafalque to stand in for her body, Canon Moreau incensed and prayed for her with all the rites the Church provides, and it was a great comfort to me. We went to Marie’s restaurant, Casa Vicky for our funeral repast.
Below L to R: shrouded catafalque, Canon Moreau with Dominic Seitz incensing; Fr. Moreau and Doug Seitz at the altar; Lorentz and Emy Nilsen receiving communion; Michael Hey, Chris Garton-Zavesky, John Hey, David Webb, Cecilia Pesquiera, Rita Hey, Chris Jasper, and Philippe Pebay came (some directly from work) to sing the Requiem Mass.

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Another shock this year was that my ex-brother in law Marv Miller died December 13, shortly after I heard he was ill, following another ex-brother-in-law, Jay Daly, who died suddenly the year before.

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L to R: Marv 6, George (my ex-husband) 2, in 1943; Marv, George in 1944; Me, my newly wedded husband, George, Marv, a Methodist minister, performed the ceremony, in 1969; George, Marv, Ted; George, Marv, Betty, in 198x? Visiting the folks in Fargo for Christmas after the divorces.

My friends Bruce Sweetser and his wife Denali Delmar are facing Bruce’s surgery tomorrow for pancreatic cancer, the fastest killer with the lowest survival rate of all cancers. Mary Rose Garych, a sweet college student who I met at a CMAA colloquium about three years ago, was stricken with a mysterious illness that has sapped her strength for months. Those of us who care about her were getting occasional updates from her mother on Facebook. And the list of diminishments goes on.

I haven’t seen my daughter for years, and I’m heartsick about that. I had been following her writings and photos at her “Health Exhibitionist” blog and Facebook page, which was my only contact with her for years, when suddenly a handsome young man appeared in her photos. Even more suddenly, soon after that they were engaged, and she had changed from being someone who never wanted children to wanting one with all her heart. She had even picked Grace as a name for a daughter. She started going to a church. She veered within a few months from eating only raw fruits and vegetables to eating raw and cooked meat. She reached out to me, gave me her phone number and address, which I haven’t had for a few years, and I was full of cautious dreadful hope.

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And then just as quickly as it was sketched, the whole beautiful picture washed away like a sidewalk chalk painting after a sudden rain. Her husband to be was gone, my contact with her was closed off. All the traumas of all the ways my hopes have been raised and dashed since she ran away in 1989 came down on me.

Another great pity is that Liberty’s back did not recover after the surgery about which we had such hopes last year. He is still in a lot of pain in his back, his hips, his feet, and his legs, so bad he often walks around groaning. He hasn’t worked for three years now.

Can’t forget this big loss. This past September, a year after my schola starting singing a weekly Mass at the Five Wounds Portuguese National Church (only 3 min. from my home), we had to give up our 9:30 time slot. For that lovely year, a large energetic community of traditional Mass lovers and their often-large families got together for Mass at that gorgeous church building that was a perfect setting for the TLM. And we socialized afterwards for hours every Sunday. Many of us also attended Mass and pot-lucked together many Wednesday nights in the rectory garden, after the pastor, Fr. Donald Morgan, learned how to say the Latin Mass too and started saying a low Mass himself once a week. I was thrilled because I felt like I was part of the Catholic family I had so long idealized about having. A few special times, like Father’s Day and Easter, several of us gathered at my house.
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L-R: I asked everybody to pose with hands folded, but we did honestly pray grace before we dived into the food. Fr. Morgan, Michael Hey, Philippe Pebay, Rita Hey, Clotilde Pebay, Carole Pebay, and Emy Nilsen at Vesper’s rehearsal after the meal was ended, while the children played nicely.

For another example of some good clean Catholic fun, the day before my birthday, on Oct. 2, Canon Moreau organized a Mass on Angel Island for the feast of the Guardian Angels. The Fillii Mariae Boy Scouts sailed out to the beautiful little island in San Francisco Bay, and many of us took the ferry. We then hiked together with the scouts bearing vestments, altar cloths, torches, candlesticks, and all the other Mass accoutrements about six miles to celebrate Mass in the seldom used chapel. At one point when we were climbing the hundred plus log stairs to the road we needed to take, one friend, Emy Nilsen, noticed I was having trouble keeping up. She coached me in LaMaze breathing, and rubbed my back, and after much huffing and labor :-) and laughter, and amazement at her kindness, I too made it to the top. That was my most challenging hike after my last foot surgery in 2009. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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L-R: Pagaduans, Nilsens, Garton-Zaveskys, Rita Hey, and me at the ferry dock. Servers process out after Mass. Canon Moreau and altar servers outside the chapel after Mass.

After we left Five Wounds, that feeling of belonging pretty much evaporated too. Some of the group go to Oakland or Sacramento for indult TLMs, some go to non-official churches in Los Gatos and San Jose. My schola is once again down to a scant few of us singing at the cramped Oratory, where there is not much room to socialize after Mass.

The fact is that intimations of mortality are staring me smack dab in the face and scaring me, and I am sorrowing about the deaths and other losses. I don’t mean to add this as an afterthought, but at the very least as a Catholic, I know I can offer my sorrows up to God for my own and others’ salvation. Even though we know that death is not the end, but the beginning, enduring the sorrow in the mean time is hard. But it is a comfort to know that all the pain isn’t wasted.

After Liberty and I saw the latest of the three movies based on the Chronicles of Narnia, I reread all the stories. I was re-inspired by the end of The Last Battle. Narnia is destroyed, but Aslan leads his friends into a more beautiful land, a Platonic ideal of Narnia, constantly calling back to them to follow him up to higher mountain ranges, range after range, to more and more exquisite vistas, exhorting them, “Further up, and further in.” So maybe I should adopt that as my motto. “Further up and further in.”

Enough morosity already (morosity is a new word I made up this year). But before I completely leave the negatives, I have to mention once again that keeping up my old Victorian continues to be a drag. But at least in this one instance, I won’t bore you with the details. On to some of the good stuff. I still have my job! I love my company, Data Domain, which still retains a lot of its appealing integrity after the EMC acquisition. I am doing course development, learning new things and liking it, in spite of too many nights and weekends to meet tough deadlines.

My last previous hike before Angel Island, was the Walk for Life in San Francisco last January. After about two or three miles, I opted for the sag wagon that day. I had my camera along to take photos along the route after responding to a request for a volunteer by Immaculate Heart radio, but then I couldn’t find them at the specified meet-up place, and never could quite figure how they might use photos on the radio. :-). I took hundreds of photos that day. There was quite a bit of rain, thousands of walkers, and quite a variety of umbrellas. The city was lovely to visit, as usual.
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L to R: A delegation from Paris, “Twin Cities for Life.” An apt quote from Dr. Seuss, “A person’s a person, no matter how small. Priests stage L. Bishop Cordileone, Oakland, R.

After all the bad news, when I started trying to cull the best photos from this past year, I started remembering the good news: I continued sponsoring my Godchild, Guadalupe in Mexico, taking intermittent Latin classes with St. Ann choir friends. I made up my mind to go to the beach (my happy place) more often this year, and I succeeded. I took a couple of Sunday drives down to Santa Cruz alone and took photos. And Liberty took me there for my birthday on Oct 3. A couple who had so much firewood piled up that it looked like they had cut down a tree came up and told us they had been there all day and were leaving and asked if we would like their fire. Would we! Then a woman came over and asked us if she could share the fire. When she heard it was my birthday, she left the fire’s glow for a few minutes, and came back with a violin (and a small tent). I don’t play well she said, and then played a squawky Happy Birthday to me. That was a oddly charming way to bring in my 65th year, with a gift fire and rendering of Happy Birthday by a violinist who lives in her car.
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Even more charming were trips I took with Louise Gordon and her three boys to Pescadero and Sunset beaches on other days. Louise and her husband Simon and their sons have been good friends for quite some time now. When my company has an event to which I can invite relatives, I bring them. One of the middle shots below shows all of us packed into their van on a trip to an EMC-sponsored event at the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.
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On Candlemas I attended the Jesuit profession of Father Paul Mariani at Mission Santa Clara and photographed the event. (Above R.) I also met his father and mother and attended a talk and reading by his father, Paul Mariani, Sr. poet and biographer, about wonderful Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Below are photos taken during a visit from niece Susan and grand-niece Gizelle and Memorial Day weekend at Lake Tahoe with them and Liberty, which included a paddlewheel boat ride and a chance to chat and sketch with a Mark Twain imitator.
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The other most memorable family visit was Thanksgiving week with Liberty at a lake house I rented in Massachusetts to spend time with my sisters, Martha and Joe-anne, nieces Eowyn, Mary, and Susan, and their children, with views of beautiful sunsets and sunrises, somehow visible from the same picture window.
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Other shots from other pleasant memories are scattered around this page. See if you can match the captions.

___ Cynthia Haven, biographer, poet, blogger, Stanford journalist and choir friend, and I breakfasted together twice on crumpets, rumpledethump, clotted cream, and tea at the San Carlos English Tearoom.
___One night working late I created an anti-affirming illustrated poem on my whiteboard. “This is not a rose. This is not my nose. This is how the time goes. This is not how the palm tree bows when the wind blows.”
___ Sketch of Jadis, started with watercolor pencil, continued with Photoshop.
___ Marie Perez, friend and owner of Casa Vicky restaurant, dropped by (she is a dear person, gives me tamales for Christmas; we do quite a bit together).
___ Grandnephew Cole became interested in the Catholic Church, so I took Cole, his dad, Jeff, and Jeff’s girlfriend, Kimberly, to a Latin Mass in Holy Family Church in a vineyard in Oakville.
___ Fr. Jeff Keyes, pastor of St. Edward Church in Newark, CA, was the only other member of the wannabe Dead Theologians society who showed up at the first and last meeting.
___ The eclipse of the moon, shot by Liberty; he claims it should be titled “Too lazy to put up a tripod.”
___ Ice plant from a stop along the way on one of the beach trips (why do they call it ice plant?).
___ Rebecca Mohun, youngest daughter, Elizabeth, and I attended a Latin Mass in an ersatz Italian castle at a vineyard called Castello De Amorosa.
___ Sunset over Lake Wauschecum in Sterling, MA.
___ Ex-sister-in-law and good friend Linda Mrnak (Marv’s original [and to my mind only wife]) got her 5 minutes of YouTube fame when a local TV show featured members of the Oakland Symphony Choir, proving that 72 is quite attractive (on some people that is).




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