All posts by Chris

Zach's Dad

family

This is really Sepi’s story but she doesn’t have a blog and I think it’s really cool so I’m going to tell it. The best part, anyway.

Sepi came to the US in her early 20s. Growing up in Tehran, she had always wanted to be here and she did it despite the fears of the family for her safety. They helped her out but, especially after the revolution, communication became very difficult. After Sepi got elected to the City Council it was even dangerous. She only went back twice in over 30 years. Two of her brothers live in Southern California and she kept in touch with them but not the other siblings in Iran.

She knew one sister had emigrated a couple of years ago to Canada. Toronto, she thought. Her niece went too, but to another city, maybe Quebec. She wasn’t sure. And there were some other cousins in Sweden.

Another sister and another brother were still in Tehran. Eleven and a half time zones away.

Last year, we heard about a messaging app called Telegram. It was supposed to be super secure and used by many people in Iran because of that. We signed on and had some nice text conversations with her brother and sister and their kids. But one cousin was always posting links to pop songs and long diatribes in Farsi so we opted out.

Then, one day in April, Sepi’s phone rang. Somewhere along the line she had installed another messaging app called WhatsApp and her sister in Canada was calling her using it.

It was a video call! And her other sister in Tehran was on it too! I happened to be right beside her when this all happened. I couldn’t understand anything they were saying but I could hear the joy in their voices and I could see the tears in their eyes. They chattered back and forth for quite a while, at least 15 minutes, before regretfully signing off.

The best part is that Farideh kept calling. Sometimes the brother in Tehran was on, sometimes the brothers in Southern California came on. There were (at different times) nieces and nephews and cousins on these wonderful cacophonous conversations across thousands of miles. They all got a good look at me and decided I was OK.

Sepi calls me Christopher most of the time and that seemed to be a name that confused the Farsi speakers so I got to choose a Persian name. Someone suggested Cyrus so I thought of Persian kings and decided I liked Darius better. I especially like the Persian pronunciation, Dar-YOOSH.

Now we have long conversations several times a week. We’ve clarified a lot of family ancestor information. We’ve gone for a virtual walk around Farideh’s neighborhood in Montreal (not Toronto). We got to talk to a cousin yesterday who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. That was sad, but talking to Sepi made her happy. Some of these people hadn’t seen her since she was a teenager.

I listen carefully and am becoming able to pick out a few words here and there. Sepi sometimes translates as we go. Otherwise she fills me in after the call is over.

The calls make me happy every time!

numbers

Just stuff in my head this morning:

66 years old.

94 days of shelter in place if I don’t count the one day I worked, now 17 days ago.

188 lbs.

Jane arranged a Zoom call for the family yesterday and put together a trivia game. My favorite was, how many descendants do Bernard and Nancy Wood have? 24!

20. Dollars I paid for an on-line guitar lesson. What do you call it when it’s not a one on one lesson but it’s not a class either? Kind of an automated class with videos. But I’m annoyed at some of the terminology so I haven’t finished it.

One. Banana with my one (so far) cup of tea this morning. It would be great if I could make this my breakfast, but I will almost certainly go up and have a bowl of cereal as soon as I’m done with this post. I’ve been trying to keep it smaller (the bowl of cereal not the post).

two deaths

Whenever there are two deaths, I always seem to hear people say these things happen in threes, who will be next. I don’t buy that. Things happen. Period. Humans being the supreme rationalizers that they (we) are, look for patterns in everything. Most of the time we find them. Are they really there? No comment.

The brother of a friend was found dead a couple of days ago. My friend asked that I not tell anyone just yet so I am camouflaging his identity. I’m also pretty sure that no one who might know them reads this blog. Anyway, the death was not related to Covid-19, as far as I know. I think alcohol was the main culprit but I may be rationalizing.

Both deaths were men in their 70s. I could argue that they both had lived decent lives and thus neither death is a tragedy. When my friend called me with the news he was pretty upset. I told him that even when we can see something coming, it can still be a shock when it actually happens.

Bud Oakley had had some serious health problems over the past few years. I hadn’t been as close to him as I had been in the ’90s and early 2000s. That’s when Sarah and Zach were most active in Villa Sinfonia, the violin studio he ran with his wife, Lynn. Over the years, there were rehearsals and concerts and trips to Europe. For a while I created the concert programs for them. I never went on any of the tours but I did go to the summer workshop at Zephyr Point, Lake Tahoe several times.

View from conference center

Other times Bud and Lynn let us stay in their house in South Lake Tahoe for weekend getaways. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones they were so generous to.

It is a cliché that an organization is like a family. I heard a lot of this rhetoric from Symphony leadership this past three months. I was not convinced. Bud and Lynn’s organization was like a family. They did a lot of smart things from a business perspective but it was all grounded in a love for music and teaching. I always felt that the growth of the studio was due not to some hard nosed business plan but from the organic needs of the people they served.

Bud was a demanding leader but he gave of himself without reserve.

This picture is from a Christmas concert at Ghirardelli Square in 1995. It was a regular thing for a few years. Bud was surely thinking about the music that they were about to play but there were probably kids not yet there he was thinking about. A good man. He will be missed.

styptic pencil

Mom had given me Dad’s overnight kit several months ago. At the time, I was getting ready for my Europe trip and thought I might use it instead of the one I had already. It languished in a corner until the other day, when I finally took it out and looked through it.

Pretty much everything in there was unusable but it did give me a glimpse into Dad’s way of thinking. There were 35 mm film canisters with various pills (all OTC, cough drops and pain relievers, no prescriptions). A couple of razors, one electric shaver and one safety blade type. No shaving cream and no Old Spice. Band Aids. A little sewing kit. A shoehorn. And a styptic pencil.

I knew  what it was as soon as I saw it but I couldn’t believe that he still had one. More amazingly, I think it was the same one that he used with me when I was learning to shave! There were a lot of cuts in those early days.

Alum Sulphate, it says. Since, after 50 years, I thought I might have mis-remembered it, I did an Internet search and found that not only did I remember it right, they are still available! Wow! I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to actually use it, but I’ll keep it around for a while and see.

Dear old Dad!

Zach recipe

One more thing from the box. Zach had given me a recipe for a ‘breakfast casserole’ once. I had written it on a scrap of paper.

Here’s what I wrote:

  • baking dish 3″ x 14 x 8
  • frozen hashbrowns
  • turkey sausage/chorizo
  • yellow onions
  • 12-8 eggs – scramble
  • garlic & spices
  • cheese (cheddar) bag + 1/2
  • layer
  • 325° 1 hr 10′
  • remove foil cover
  • return to oven 10-15 mins to brown

I ate it once at his house but, sad to say, I never made it myself.

Tschotskes

‘A small bauble or miscellaneous item‘ says Wikipedia. Websters has ‘knickknack, trinket’. The word always had a connotation to me of ‘worthless except to one person’.

I did some cleaning in the garage the other day and unearthed a box filled with stuff that I had had on display on my apartment. There really isn’t a place for it here but I brought the box up to look through carefully. It’s mostly pictures in frames, which I am loath to get rid of. Sepi has lots of paintings, many of which are still in the garage, but paintings and guitars, not family pictures, are our principal wall adornments.

The other things in the box I would definitely call tschotsckes. A little clay wind chime that wouldn’t survive being put out of doors here. Little souvenirs from Germany, Zanesville, Paraguay and other places: plates, ashtrays, trivets.

And some things that remind me of Zach: a button with the picture from his first year in Little League. A ceramic hand print labelled December 1991 when he would have just turned 3. A ‘Panik 12′ button, referring to the Giants’ second baseman Joe Panik, that was on his backpack. A ceramic ‘Z’ that Rosalie made a couple of years ago.

And something I picked up on the side of the street across from his house less than 36 hours after his death:

It’s the lens from his sunglasses that he was wearing that day.

It caught me by surprise. I hadn’t thought about it for a long time. I suppose I would see it occasionally on the table as I went in and out of my apartment. Realistically, I should just toss it. I’ve got all the pictures. I even went back and watched the video I made that day walking along the street with the cars zipping by only about ten feet from me at 40 or 50 miles an hour. In the video, I see the lens in the grass alongside the road and bend down to pick it up. I was not sure it was his, but it all hangs together and I choose to think that it was his.

The ‘Z’ is now up on my dresser where I will see it every day along with Hobbes. I will offer the hand print to other members of the family. The buttons . . .  I’ll guess I’ll ask if anyone else wants them. I don’t expect anyone will. Jeremy might want the Panik button.

oral traditions

Thinking about oral traditions in my last post, I remembered a thing that Mom used to do with her parents. They used to send cassette tapes back and forth to each other. Mom gave me a pile of them and I went through and converted them to digital files. They were cheap tapes to start with and a couple just fell apart when I played them back. Still, I got several hours’ worth of Grandma and Grandpa Mattingly talking to their daughter about the goings on in Zanesville from 1973 to 1980.

Memories . . .

Grandma was a great letter writer. I remember seeing her neatly typed letters many times as I grew up. Grandpa sometime appended a short handwritten note. I think Mom has many of those still. I seem to recall her telling me she went through them at one point and transcribed them somehow. Did she re-type them on the word processor? Or scan them? I’ll have to ask. Real documents are priceless but fragile. Digital documents are fragile in a different way. We do the best we can.

the last time I saw Zach

I don’t know why, but I woke up this morning thinking about the last time I saw Zach. It wasn’t really Zach at that point. It was just his body.

We were at the funeral home on the Tuesday afternoon of that week in Baton Rouge. For some reason, I don’t remember Sarah but I remember Jeremy being there. Zach was lying up at the front of the little chapel and there was a railing with a kneeler in front of it. I didn’t kneel, but I touched Zach’s lower leg and I remember thinking that it felt like him: solid and muscular. I don’t know anything about rigor mortis and I certainly wasn’t thinking about it then. Maybe it was just rigor mortis.

Of course, I looked at his face and I thought it was odd that they had put a bunch of pancake makeup on him. It was much later that I saw the police photos of the accident scene and I realized how horrific the injury to his head had been.

I didn’t feel any need to pray over his body or ‘say goodbye’ or anything like that. I wanted to touch him to convince myself it was all real. Emily was towards the back of the chapel with her mother and sisters. We would have been meeting in California in about a month’s time but I went back there and introduced myself and we all talked quietly.

At one point, I remember looking up to the front and saw Jeremy kneeling there and I thought maybe I should go and do that too. But I didn’t want to interrupt him and later people starting moving to leave. I don’t remember where we were going. We certainly weren’t rushed by the funeral home but a consensus seemed to develop that we were done.

The next day we went back and got the ashes.

I had them at my apartment for a long time. I believe I wrote about that. It wasn’t Zach – neither was the body – but it was the closest I had. Now ‘he’ is here:

In the end it’s all memories, which is why I write here. Our oral tradition is pretty much gone unless you count videos. There’s a chance these memories will survive for Rosalie and Noah and maybe their children to read and know a little bit about their ancestors. I know I would have eagerly read stories from my grandparents and great-grandparents. Eventually, their world recedes but their personalities would have shone through, I believe.

 

memories

Day 54 yesterday. Sepi and I went to Santa Clara yesterday. We saw Mom for the first time since early March. No touching, but we sat in the patio and chatted for a while. I brought some salt for the water softener.

After we got home I was spinning through FaceBook and saw that it was Noah’s birthday . . .

11 years old and he’s still the spitting image of Zach, at least to my eyes.

And once again, I am so pleased that he has a stable home environment to grow up in. Ally and Dave are terrific parents.

Well, the whole thing prompted some pillow talk with Sepi. She didn’t remember the story of how we found out about Noah and how Ally and Dave brought him up to Michigan to meet the family. What a tremendous thing that was! I believe I’ve documented here how difficult it was for me to accept him for what he was.

I still love Dave’s simple comment: ‘I’m the Dad.’

So this morning the power went out and I couldn’t work on the big computer as I had been planning so I picked up the iPad. This is the one that had belonged to Zach and still has some foibles related to his ownership. It still has access to his Google Drive even though I do not have the password.

It isn’t his regular Google Drive account. I got all the stuff off of that early on. This one – I think – was for his research into gender roles in intramural sports. It has videos of some IM flag football games. When I looked at them this morning I thought, these have no value to anyone any more. I deleted a couple, then noticed the date: November 10. Aiee!

Now I’m not sure – still, after all this time! – that I should be deleting anything. Then, when I went to crop the photo, I noticed that the dates were 2014. You probably can’t tell on this tiny photo but they’re all October and November 2014. Oh well. I haven’t heard from his thesis advisor since about six months after Zach’s death. He was going through some pretty serious changes then. I’m going to go ahead and delete them.

It’s even possible that I already sent this stuff to Alex and I don’t even remember doing it.

The only other thing of interest is Zach’s account name. He actually made two of them, both named Tom Brady with emails of woodrowreasearch and woodrowreasearch1@gmail.com. I haven’t tried to get into those accounts. I spent a lot of time in the first year going through Zach’s real emails and cleaning up things there. Whatever is in that inbox is way out of date. If someone else knows how to get into it and finds something of value, please let me know.

Or not.

Day 55.

Shakespeare Notes

I haven’t written about Zach in a long time. Today I was cleaning up my Google Drive and looked at this file called ‘Shakespeare Notes’. I knew it was Zach’s but I didn’t know why I was saving this one file. Maybe it was so I could write this post! Actually, I had two others but they are little video files that I will not share at this time. They are not really significant but poignant. Jake, if you ever read this, you are in them with Zach!

Zach, if I haven’t mentioned this before, used misdirection in many of his file names, particularly those which were personal. I knew the content had nothing to do with old Will but I couldn’t remember what was in there or why I was saving it there. I’ve had a folder on my desktop computer with all my Zach related stuff for a long time. Not just stuff related to the aftermath of his death but everything I could get off of his computer, iPad and phone. Voice mails, texts, pictures. It’s a lot of stuff.

I don’t have a lot to say about the ‘Shakespeare’ file. The system date is December 4, 2015, which means I modified it slightly a couple of weeks after Zach died.There is no internal date but his one reference to getting his Masters puts it in the 2013-2014 time frame.

Here’s the whole thing:

January 1- May/Juneish (or longer?)

        • Physical/Health

          • Tighten up body. Maintain a body weight in the 190-200 range, but focus on cutting body fat.

          • Create a balance between core workouts and cardio. Indulge in basketball but don’t default.

          • Diet: Maintain what I’m doing.

            • Focus on salads and vegetables where possible

        • Personal Development

          • Make my reading list more visible and not out of sight out of mind.

            • Balance the intellectual books with pleasure reading. Don’t forget how much fun it is to read a book.

          • Focus on current events and news, if not religiously.

            • Don’t act arrogant about the world around you just because you think you have some of the systems figured out.

            • Listen to NPR podcasts once a day

            • Keep reading and writing on what is happening around you

            • Check Facebook max three times/day

          • Less thinking and more doing. Don’t feel good just because you mentally processed something. Take knowledge to the next level.

          • Conversely, don’t default to critical. Take time to think and process before being arrogant, especially in social situations.

        • Emotional Sustenance

          • 1 meaningful phone conversation or letter a week. Just a quick note goes a long way. Do not backburner, considering it only takes 5-10 minutes.

            • Relationships always need nurturing.

          • Take advantage of time away from work to forget about work. Whether it is short vacations or enhanced personal retreats, don’t let work consume your thoughts or give you a fresh perspective. Remember how beneficial this is.

          • Remember a lot of people look up to you or believe in you and want you to succeed.

July 1-December 31

          • Physical/Health:

            • Lose the gut.  Focus on consistent core workouts as well as general exercise, to strengthen the lower back, heart, and abdominal region. Explore yoga options(ADD MORE DEVELOPMENT)

            • Focus on posture, sitting up straight and walking with shoulders pushed back

            • Diet: reduced sweets.  No alcohol.  Portion control (make the appetite smaller).  

              • Focus on salads/vegetables, diversify entrees.  

              • Look into blender (for fruits) and George Foreman (for chicken mainly).  Smaller appetite means money saved.  

              • No red meat except special occasions.

              • At least 90 oz. water a day.  No Gatorade except with exercise.

              • Vitamins?  Consider later once budget is more stable

          • Personal Development:

            • Make a visible reading list ( a la the queue).  15 minutes of a book/magazine a day (or 3 hours a week).  Dedicate time to reading

            • Current events—either at work or at home, must stay up on what is going on—focus on the morning coffee.  Spend an equal amount of time on the coffee as I do with ESPN/FB.

            • Maintain reflection/journal, make notes on a daily basis and weekly put 30-60 minutes aside for a “things I learned this week.”  Stay focused and don’t let yourself get caught on little tangents

            • Once settled, starting making connections on my options for masters programs at LSU and begin to develop my plan and vision for the future as they relate to those options.

            • Eye on the prize: University President.  The time has come for me to become who I say I am.

          • Emotional Sustenance

            • Be very intentional by staying in contact—utilize emails and Facebook, send out the form letters at proper times.  Remember that people love you and there can never be too much dialogue—especially focus on Troy, Dave, Josh, Molly—look at their development on both personal and professional.  Second tier: Deb/Karl, Amy, Rae, the bros, Joey, Ola, more

              • Write one meaningful letter/note each week

            • Explore the culture, keep making close connections but don’t force it

            • Remember to take vacations and take advantage of being in 20’s—Atlanta, Midwest, East Coast.  Getting away for a day or two can be very valuable.

            • Keep updating or maintaining a bucket list and Socratic appendices.  A little materialism can sometimes make a big impact.