Category Archives: Family

July 4th

I’m down at Mom & Dad’s on the evening of the 4th because I finally got fed up last year in Pacifica. Despite a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, Pacifica has more fireworks on July 4th than any place I’ve ever been to. Actually, last year was only the last straw. I had noticed from the first year I was in Pacifica for the 4th, that big bombs were common for days before the 4th. That’s in addition to the many ‘safe and sane’ fireworks everywhere.

This year it hadn’t been so bad but last night at around 11 pm a series of a dozen or so large explosions went off seemingly right outside my bedroom window. Thanks, assholes.

(a draft from July 2016)

Farsi

I was going to write about learning Farsi, but just as I was getting started, Sepi got her phone call from distant parts. Today, it’s Tehran, Gothenburg, and Kish Island (Iran). I wouldn’t be surprised to see Farideh from Montreal showing up any time. It’s ‘The Gang’, Sepi’s phrase for her sisters and cousins who talk regularly via WhatsApp.

Almost always just women, they usually start their call by asking about ‘Daryoosh!’ I learned early on how to say ‘hello’, ‘how are you’ and ‘I am fine, thank you’ in Farsi.

Unfortunately, I seemed to be stalled there. Sepi told me the other day how to say, ‘It’s nice to see you,’ but it hasn’t stuck. I found a really nice web site with Farsi phrases but almost never go to it. You’d think I’d be motivated to learn with all these interesting Farsi speakers to talk to.

The calls are almost always fun, with several people talking at once in happy voices. There have been serious moments, such as when Sepi’s aunt was dying last summer but mostly it’s just people happy being together. One cousin got COVID but seems to have gotten through the worst of it. Sepi’s sister, Mali, was sad when her niece left Iran for Canada but she puts on a brave face. Mali’s own children – with a grandchild on the way – are all still in Tehran.

I’ll keep at it. It’s likely that there will be many more such calls in the months ahead. We can’t go to Iran, but Canada and Sweden are on our short list of places to visit when it is safe to do so.

The other day, Badri, who lives in Gothenburg, tried to teach me some Swedish words. Aieee!

My other family

There was another milestone event today in Sepi’s family – my other family. Farideh, Sepi’s sister in Montreal, has been trying to get her daughter Sara to come to Canada from Tehran for some time now. Sara’s travel arrangements were complicated by the fact that she wanted to bring her 12 year old son with her. Not to mention complications due to coronavirus!

Sara had been all set to come in August, but at the last minute there was a snag and she had to stay in Tehran. After much agonizing, Sara had decided to come ahead this weekend even if it meant leaving her son in Tehran. She bought tickets for two, though, and they both went to the airport yesterday with hope in their hearts.

At the last minute, the authorities allowed Samyar to board the plane! Joy was spread across three continents! Sepi and I embarked on a marathon FlightRadar24 viewing session. We ‘watched’ the plane take off from Tehran, cross the Persian Gulf and land in Qatar, then a couple of hours later take off from Qatar and head for Montréal.

This morning, when we picked up the track they were over the North Atlantic. We ‘watched’ them as they first made landfall over Newfoundland, then crossed the top of Maine and landed safely in Montréal.

Through the miracle of modern communications – mostly WhatsApp video calls, we were able to be in nearly constant touch with Sepi’s sisters in Montréal and Tehran. Farideh’s joy over the prospect of seeing her daughter for the first time in three years is tempered by Mali’s sadness over losing her niece. Mali’s daughter is grief stricken as the two girls are almost the same age and are very close.

Sara is only on a visitor’s visa so she will most likely have to return to Iran but Farideh’s goal is to get her permanent residency in Canada. Once Sara and Samyar are out of quarantine they will be working on that. There will be some big hugs first, though!

just smoke

The day after my ‘heat and smoke’ post, the weather turned cooler but the smoke descended down to the ground and stayed there. Today is now the 5th day of AQIs in the high 100s.

I’ve become an expert in calling up the Bay Area Air Quality Management District website and checking the AQI map and data. Just now I see that we’re right around 200.

I went in to work on Friday but other than that, I’ve stayed in the house except for brief – really brief – forays outside to water the plants. I wear the N95 mask for that.

I’m beginning to feel like the inside of the house is starting to smell. Last night around dinner time, I noticed that the breeze was blowing for the first time in days. I thought that we’d have improvement by morning.

Nope.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s sister and her family have had to evacuate their home near Portland and are staying with Ashley in Washington. Their air is about the same AQI as ours but the forest around them isn’t on fire.

The TV weather people are making noises that there will be improvement by Wednesday but others are saying it will be weeks before it is better. When I go outside, the mask helps my nose and throat but it’s my eyes that are stinging when I come in.

Just like with the startup to the COVID-19 outbreak, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I’m in a vulnerable group now.

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!

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!

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.