In Memory, In Ink

I have a friend named Quinn.  Ever since she was ten years old, she lost the ability to speak.  She got incredibly sick.  It was a disease that caused massive inflammation all over her body.  She nearly died.  A fever of 104, death nearly came for her but she came back from it.  Now she no longer has the ability to speak.  It’s been a very hard life for her.  You don’t really think about the value that the ability to speak has until you lose it.  So much of her life was hurt, and she has been trying to come back from it for as long as she could.

Through all of that, there was her incredibly supportive mother.  Even when she found out that her daughter was gay, and her father kicked her out of the house, her mother did everything she could to help her.  To the point that they ended up getting a nasty divorce because the mother hated the father for how he treated their daughter, which in turn translated into how well he treated her sister because she was the child he had always wanted.  Meanwhile, Quinn had her mother.  When she was really little, as I understand it, Quinn was a very talkative little kid.  Her mother called her “Chatty Monkey.”  It was with this in mind that when she died, Quinn had an idea for a tat.  But since she has no artistic talent, it just stayed as an idea, until now.  With the help of my dear friend Kathryn, it has finally come to fruition.  As it will when it is immortalized on Quinn’s skin forever.  One of three tats, all of which have great significance for her.

16901932_10155070158909111_1716337255_nThe monkey is to stand for the nickname that her mother had for her all her life.  The gun is because her mother was a crack-shot, most specifically with a revolver.  The smoke is because, the unfortunate truth is that her mother was a chimney.  You can extrapolate how she died based on that.  Woman went through a pack a day.  I try not to judge how people live, but as her coughing got worse, even Quinn felt terrible.  The woman left our state to go be in a warmer climate, and it did help.  But it only went so far.

A wonderful woman has passed away.  She left a legacy of a connection between mother and daughter that is unmatched, from a girl who life has been horribly unkind to.  How people keep their memories close.  Quinn is putting this memory on her hip.  So when you see this image, keep in mind the connection it symbolizes.  Let me know the connections that you have with people who have left your life and how you keep that alive in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Death is not the greatest loss in life.  The greatest loss in life is what dies inside us while we live.” – Norman Cousins

Peace out,

Maverick

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In Memory of Ellis and Betty White

Ellis and Betty (right and center-bottom) with Patty and Frank Merrigan (left and center-top)

Ellis and Betty (right and center-bottom) with Patty and Frank Merrigan (left and center-top)

Man, I don’t even know how to start this.  How do you start talking about the lives of two people who have affected so many? How can you begin to explain the emotional attachments that they formed over the course of their long and happy lives?  This is genuinely the most difficult In Memory I’ve had to do, to date. It will probably be the most difficult one I will ever have to do, until…well, I think we all know who that will be.  My grandmother, Betty White (not the actress, although I have joked with her about sharing the name with her), passed away this morning.  I’ve been pondering, for hours, on how to write about this.  It’s unfathomably difficult.  See, my grandpa, Ellis White, passed away before I was doing this.  Now, I thought that I would do this for both of them.  I may not believe in an afterlife, consciously, but there is still a comfort that comes from believing that two people who have been apart for a little while are now reunited.  There’s so much to talk about.  Bear with me.  I’m doing this while a lot of emotional dust is getting stirred up.  Don’t know how long to get it done.  These two people, Ellis and Betty, led a life that shaped a community.  They won’t be remembered by all America, but an entire generation of people in this part of the world that my folks still live in remember.  But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ellis and Betty white didn’t originally live in Alaska.  They came up here from South Dakota.  When they first came up here, they lived in Anchorage.  They set up a house on Raspberry Lane.  My granddad owned a gas station, and they lived pretty alright.  Well enough that they eventually came to live in Wasilla.  They homesteaded out here, buying a pretty sizable chunk of property.  From there, they became part of the web of life out in Knik.  Back when it was all people homesteading.  They were here.  Something that

Betty and the kids

Betty and the kids

people don’t know is that Betty lived out in the Homestead on her own, most of the time.  Ellis had to work in Anchorage, to put food on the table.  But she wasn’t living here alone.

The two of them had five children.  The oldest was Kathy.  Then there was Dick (his name is Richard, but most everyone calls him Dick.  Always have), Scott and Jim.  The last was the youngest of the family – Sally.  She just happens to be my mother.  Funny how that works, right? (Just kidding.  Sort of) Five kids, four of whom were absolute hellions, but the telling of some stories around the campfire (I’m lookin’ at you, White Man!).  Betty had to raise them, for the most part, by herself.  But don’t you go thinking that she was some pushover.  Oh no!  When Betty got mad, that woman meant business!  You were getting an ass-whoopin’, you better believe it!  She had to deal with the homesteading life and raise five kids, she was a tough old gal.  They just don’t make them like that anymore.

But her toughness was directly tied in to how much she loved her kids.  See, Betty had to deal with a lot of stuff.  The foremost was her son Scott.  I barely got to know him.  I hardly remember anything from before my head injury, but I barely knew him before that.  The last time I saw him was when I was around five.  He had some problems.  Scott was gay.  He wrestled with that in a time and a state where that lifestyle was beyond frowned-upon.  It was part of the reason that he ended up having a severe substance abuse problem.  I’m talking the hard stuff.  This substance abuse, along with some mental problems, eventually lead to his death, many years ago.  Betty had had to deal with that for a long time, and she was able to keep her composure.  I have no doubt that it was hard on her.  I can’t even imagine.  But she carried on.

The connection to family that Ellis and Betty had was profound.  See, a ton of their family ended up living up here.  The foremost was the Merrigans.  Betty and Patty were two peas DSCN0153in a pod.  There are so many stories about the two of them arguing for a LONG time about who would pay when they would be out eating.  The two of them were tough women, both of whom had their fair share of problems, but were made stronger because of it.  And that tight bond led to two families being close in a way that most singular families aren’t.  But don’t think that their ties to family only went to the extended one.

Betty and Ellis were very close to their own family.  There are pictures out there of them sitting with their grandkids, back when we were babies.  They would love to see their grandkids.  Thankfully, because they lived on a lake and were down the road from a large chunk of them, they got to do this rather often.  I always got the impression that this was a happy thing, for them.  They also liked to travel with their family.  There are fond memories of time spent in Seward, with them in their ancient-ass motorhome and me and my family in the camper on  the back of the old man’s truck.  You ever see the vehicles that the family drove around, we looked like the Clampetts, sometimes.  The Clampetts go to Seward!  But they never mind.

Indeed, traveling was something that the two loved to do.  There are so many stories of the many trips that they took.  They could have told you, for hours, about how many times they had gone to all sorts of places across the country.  But I like to think that their trips to Seward, fishing with members of the family, was their favorite.  Or at least Ellis’ favorite.  He loved his old boat.  It was a pretty small craft, but I have vague memories of him sitting in his chair, fishing pole in the little holster on the side, looking peachy as can be.  Maybe I’m wrong.  We do color history with our own perspective, don’t we?  I admit that mine is less colored than most.  After all, with my head injury, most of my memories before my head injury were mush.

Homesteading Ruggedness!

Homesteading Ruggedness!

And the two weren’t just big on helping their family.  They were tight with the old community of both Knik and Wasilla.  The two of them were among the ones who started the Wasilla Food Pantry, at Good Shepard Lutheran Church.  That’s the place that I grew up attending.  Nice people, there.  Unlike some people, I left religion on good terms, due to how I grew up in a church filled with pretty nice people.  It’s going to be hard, seeing how hard it is on them, when I am there for the service next weekend.

There are so many people who could tell you so many stories about Ellis and Betty.  So many people who have stories that are just bursting about their interactions with those two people.  They lived a life that was fuller and more enriched than almost any of us are going to have.  Part of me wishes that I had taken the old journalist approach and cataloged all the stories that they had, from as many people as I could.  I know that the White Man has a thousand and one stories to tell.  Although, with him, you gotta take it with a grain of salt.  He’s the king of bullshit.  To live a life and touch the lives of so many.  It’s a little overwhelming.  How can I give those two the credit they so rightly deserve about a life that they lived that was so full?  I’m still debating this.  I’ve given you all pockets of knowledge, but it goes so much farther.  How can I do justice to a life like that?  It’s too much.  As I sit here, Chris Botti playing in the background, I am so uncertain.  Maybe I should have waited a few days, to collect my thoughts.  But you know, this felt right.  It felt right to talk about this now, when it is fresh on my mind and I can think of the most to say.

Still, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all the lives they shaped and all the memories they share.  Now, I won’t claim that my grandma and I were the best of friends.  We had our disagreements, and those were sometimes very unpleasant.  But you know, I don’t hold on to stuff like that.  Especially now.  Old disagreements fall by the waist-side, and we think back to the good memories.  Memories of days gone by, that make me lament for a history that I barely remember, where things were so much easier, and I didn’t have to be scared about everything the way I am now.

I also know that, writing this, it is going to give a lot of people pain.  I do hope that, eventually, this helps people more than it hurts.  I hope that this post can inspire good memories, not sad thoughts.  I mean that, from the bottom of my little black heart.  I hope that each and every one of you can have good memories in your own lives, of the people you know who have touched you so much.  To any family or friends of the two who end up reading this, feel free to share a story in the comments section.  Like I said, I haven’t even been able to touch on how many stories there are.

And to Ellis and Betty, I hope that, wherever you are, you are happy.  Your suffering is done.  Age and pain can’t touch you anymore.  That long good night has given you both the peace that you had a fair amount of in life.  A service is going to be held at Good Shepard Lutheran Church.  You are going to be missed, by so many people.  It is with that in mind, that I am going to share a quote that is of great significance to me, to end this.

Until next time, a quote,

“This may not make much sense to you now, a young man at the beginning of his career, but one of the things you learn as you move up the ranks and get a little older is that you wish you had more time in your youth to really absorb the things that happened to you. It goes by so fast. It’s so easy to become jaded. To treat the extraordinary like just another day at the office. But sometimes, there are experiences that transcend all that.” -Capt. Katherine Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager

Peace out,

Maverick

In Memory of Zoe

The last post that I did like this, I wrote that I had a feeling that I would be doing many more of these before my time on this world was up.  There are days when I hate being right.  Zoe was a good friend to me.  She wasn’t the kind of friend who comes over and brings you a cold drink when you need it.  She wasn’t the kind of friend who you could nerd out with your newest games with.  She was just a friend who put her head on your lap and looked up at you, just glad to see that you were there.  Zoe, Shield Maiden of the Homestead, was my dog.

Zoe with her puppies.  The little white one is Riley.

Zoe with her puppies. The little white one is Riley.

Confused about the name?  Well, Zoe is a pure-bred lab.  Pure-bred dogs have to have titles.  Since neither of the parentals were good at thinking one up, they put the task to me.  Same with her puppy, Riley.  I had just watched the Lord of the Rings movies, so I thought of a name that was regal and whatnot.  She was a gift to the family after I had surgery.  Cervical fusion.  C1-C3.  The most unpleasant operation of my life, following an accident that has defined my outlook on life, forevermore.  She was such an excitable puppy.  She had a bit of a problem of peeing on the floor whenever people came home.  She just got so happy.  We trained that problem out of her by adulthood.  She wanted to be everybody’s friend.  Much to the chagrin of my cat and confidant – Lizzy.  Lizzy brutalized that puppy, to the point that even as an adult, who could bite her in half, she was afraid of her.  A trait that carried over to her puppy, Riley, when he tried to be her friend.

If there was a more friendly dog, I can’t think of one.  She was everybody’s friend the moment that she met them.  Hitler and Stalin could come in and she would try and be their best friends too.  I loved that quality.  Since the parents live out in the country, long walks around the woods were a favorite activity of hers.  Sometimes, she had a bit of trouble coming back when called.  The adventures were just too fun.

Now, while I say that she was given to me, the truth is that she wasn’t my dog.  Very quickly, it was the father-unit, Dave, who she bonded with.  Make no mistake, she was HIS animal.  Went absolutely everywhere with him.  Working in the garage, she was there.  Working outside, she was there.  In the plow truck clearing the road in the middle of winter, she was there.  She went absolutely everywhere with him.  He would complain, but the truth is, I think he liked having a little helper go everywhere with him.  One of my fondest memories from the old house is how I knew who everybody was by how they walk.  Since the basement was my favorite place to hang out, I could hear everybody walking around upstairs.  Sally (the mother-unit) had a slow and monotonous walk.  Not in a hurry to get anywhere.  The Sister had an angry walk.  For real, even her walk sounded pissed off.  I refuse to believe that she has arches on her feet.  But with the old man, everywhere he went, there was the clickety-click of doggie feet behind him.  For a while, it was Zoe, but then there was Riley.

See?  Such a momma's boy.

See? Such a momma’s boy.

Riley is her puppy.  He has been such a momma’s boy.  He doesn’t appear all sad, but then, dogs process death different than people.  I envy that about them sometimes.  Everywhere that Zoe went, he wasn’t far behind.  If she got attention, he had to have some.  There was a constant competition to see who got the old man’s lap while he would watch the news or TV at night.  But the neatest thing to me was when, even though he was so much bigger than her, when Zoe got pissed at him, she could run him down and throw him over, showing that he may be bigger, but she was top dog.  Given how large he got, that was so neat to see.

I got a call a couple months ago that it was confirmed that Zoe had cancer.  In her lymph nodes.  Not a good way to go.  She was having a hard time breathing.  When I got home from college for the summer, I got to hear how labored it was myself.  That was hard.  Her death was nowhere near easy.  She still seemed happy, but she’s a dog.  Dogs always seem happy, if people are being nice to them.  And we were.  By the end, her sense of smell was gone, her eyesight was getting really bad and her breathing was like the bellows.  We knew that it was time to put her to sleep.

I couldn’t be there when it was done.  I had to be at work.  We all have to earn money, right?  Been thinking about it all day.  I get home, hearing that it was done.  Part of me is glad that I wasn’t there to see it.  Too cruel a thing, for me.

When I was a kid, I used to think that animals all had a kind of sacred place that they go when they die.  Some kind of place that only they can find.  Since the parents used to say that none of the cats that they owned died at home, I figured that when they got old, they went off to find that sacred place.  The final resting place of their kind.  I don’t believe in God or anything, but part of me still wishes that I believed that.  And that maybe, someday, I will go to that place, and find my friend again.  If there is an afterlife, I have a feeling that there is a ton of nature to explore.

That’s all I have to say, really.  I lose one more friend.  A friend who I’ll never get back.  Lately, I feel so alone here.  Alone, forevermore.

Normally, I close these things out with a quote from the person who passed, but this was a friend, and I don’t have a quote by them.  So, I will use a quote about the species.  Goodbye, my friend.  I hope that you are in a better place, even if I don’t believe that.

Until next time, a quote,

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”  -Charles M. Schultz

Peace out,

Maverick

In Memory of Kim

This is the second of these kind of posts that I have done.  I feel that I shall do many more before the years of my life have come to their conclusion.  Unlike the last of these that I did, however, this one is going to be a little bit more complicated.  Not because I had a complex relationship with my aunt Kim.  Quite the opposite.  Biology makes this a bit more complicated.  Allow me to explain, before I pay my respects to somebody who, while I can’t remember many of the details, I shall miss, in my way.

When I was 14, I suffered a very violent head injury.  It has left some very lasting scars, both physically and mentally.  That said, I am a much different person.  But one thing that happened is that most of my childhood memories before that point are muddled, or flat-out erased.  That said, my aunt Kim is no exception.

Now that I have said that, I guess I will addd my perspective to what is being said about my aunt, and what will be said when Sally and the sister-unit, Abbey, head to Healy to pay their respects.  I would be joining them, but alas, I have a problem with being stuck in a vehicle for an extended period of time.  Plus, this is not the time of year that I want to be going up north.  As the phrase goes, “baby, it’s cold outside.”  Alaska, am I right?

Anyway, here is what I do remember – Kim always liked me.  I’m not quite sure how I felt about her.  I am assuming that I did like her.  I’m sure all her lovey-dovey attitude did get some eyeball rolls every now and again.  I’m just not that type of guy, but I can understand why she is that way.  I do remember that she always was.  A point of amusement is that I hadn’t talked to Kim all that much after my head injury, and she found me again on Facebook.  When she did, she quickly saw that I am a MUCH different person online than when I am in person.  She was more than a little shocked.  This gave Sally quite the laugh.  Me too, a little.

I don’t know much about Kim’s history.  I was only really tight with a couple members of the family.  There is Sam, who I used to be really close with.  She kind of went her own direction when she got older.  I respect that.  We all do.  Still, it was cool.  Then there is Dick.  I have often made a bunch of puns about how a lot his stories are obviously 90% BS.  But despite the fact that our political and social views are about as far apart as it gets, we are still quite amicable around one-another.  The rest of her kids are unfortunately part of the group that I hardly remember, given my head injury.  It’s part of the tragedy of that incident, but oh well.  C’est la vie.

Quite recently, there is a point about my views that Kim seems to have taken some issue with – my atheism.  I do not believe in God.  I make no secret of this.  I don’t go around screaming about it to people, but if somebody were to ask, I would tell them, and explain my position.  In any case, Kim didn’t understand, and we had some…less than productive discussions about it.  But we still were pretty cool.

That is kind of how it is with most of my family.  They don’t get it, they may not agree with it, but they don’t get all upset about it.  I think that’s pretty cool.  It is part of the reason that it does leave me feeling a little bit disheartened that I can’t remember much about Kim before my head injury with much clarity.  I didn’t know all that much about her history before I met her.

All I can say is that Kim was a warm and fun person.  The rest of the family was always in a good mood when she was around.  She had this energy that they all seemed to gravitate toward.  I can’t say I was the same, but then, I’m really weird.  In any case, everybody that I knew that knew her had a wonderful opinion of her.  It was all smiles, and good times.  That is how a person should get.

Her passing was, and I know a lot of people won’t get this, but in my views, better than it could have been.  She passed away in a way that most of us won’t get to – quickly.  She died of liver cancer.  She had just gotten back from breast cancer, so this was quite a blow.  But this was a quick way to go.  There are a lot of cancers that consume a person, body and soul.  It turns their lives into a living hell of pain and suffering.  Liver cancer is one of the quickest ways to go.  While I still think it’s not a good thing, I think it could have been a lot worse.

She has left behind all her kids.  I hope Sam is alright.  I know that she takes things really hard on the chin.  She’s just like her mother – warm, fuzzy, and very emotional about things.  I will be sending this to her, as my way of paying my respect to a person who, I admit, I didn’t know as well as I should have.  Well, I did, but the self that knew her well, that younger self, lost that connection.

I don’t remember her enough to make some grand statement about her life.  I will say that she has accomplished a lot, and left behind a lot of people, all of whom are going to miss her, but all of whom have been touched by her.  Perhaps my greatest statement can be this – that sometimes, even if you don’t know a person, you can cherish the connection, and have a respect for the person because of how they have done so much, for so many people.  And that is how I feel.

Au revoir, Kim.  You will be missed.

Until next time, a quote,

“Wow, you’re either getting taller, or I’m getting shorter.”  -Kim White

Peace out,

Maverick

In Memory of Tom

So, for those of you who don’t know, my uncle Tom just died.  Tom was a guy who was understood by few, had a bad temper, and had a soft side that he let show, even though I personally think he was a little ashamed of it.  He was a good man, even though he had some personality quirks.  I write this in testament to him.

Tom died of a heart attack in Hawaii.  It was a place that he had wanted to be for a long time.  It is that fact which I like more than anything else.  Tom got to die in a place that he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do.  How many of us, you think, are going to get that kind of luxury?  How many of us are going to be in that perfect place when we die?  I doubt that many are.  When I heard that my uncle had died, I was neither shocked nor very saddened.  In fact, I look on his death with a kind of peaceful acceptance.  You see, I can see things before they happen.  Nobody believes that I can, but I can.  I can see things before they happen and I knew that this was going to be how Tom’s life ended.  I knew this, and I felt that he could at long last find peace.

Since he is Dave’s (my father’s) brother, he did not grow up in the most stable or peaceful of households.  His old man was an abusive son of a bitch who mistreated his kids, and his wife.  Mary (my grandmother, and arguably the most important person who has ever been in my life) was the most kind mother that she could ever be.  She tried her very best for the kids, and they all have been getting along in life.  Sure, they all have their internal squabbles, but I truly don’t believe that there is such a thing as a well-adjusted family.  Every Christmas, when they were in Mary’s house, all the fights went away.  She didn’t get mad much, but when my Grandmother did, you backed off!

I remember hanging out with Tom.  You see, my aunt Joan and her family moved into Mary’s place before she passed away.  They lived with her and it was a pretty peaceful existence.  I miss so much the days when I used to go to Mary’s and just sit on her deck in the summer, talking to her.  I miss that woman so much.  My grandmother meant more to me than most anybody.  She was my most loyal friend, a confidant, a person who I miss more than anything else.  Tom was a real “momma’s boy.”  I don’t think that Mary minded.  She loved having her family around.  Despite how they all grew up, there was a practice in the Johnson household that no family member was just cut off.  The family would be there for them, forever.

However, Tom’s relationship with the rest of the family had gotten pretty ugly in the days before his death.  His son, Griffin, sued me for a lot of money.  The rest of the family was appalled and angered by this.  Myself among them.  We all were screaming insults at Griffin.  But right to the bitter end, Tom stood by him.  He blamed everything on the boy’s serpent mother, Patty.  Right until the end, Tom could not be swayed.  It caused a lot of friction with the family.  He was the only one among us who stood by Griffin, and relationships suffered for that devotion.  But he was still loved.

Tom did not have a particularly happy life.  That is why I am happy to find out that at least he got to be in a place that he wanted to be when he died.  He got to be where he wanted to be, and he got to have the kind of life that he wanted to have at the end.  He got to be in the tropical paradise that he wanted to be in when his end came.  I think I’ll choose to believe that he was a happy man.

The memorial is this Saturday.  I think I may be wrong, but it makes sense that it would be at Sunny Knik Chapel.  Tom had been there many time.  It makes sense to put the memory of him to rest there.  For me, I am thinking about where I am.  I was told recently to let the friendship of somebody who hurt me go.  But a different friend told me that the pain that was caused from me caring so much is not a bad thing.  In fact, it makes all the difference.  A lot of yelling happened, and a lot of people got angry.  Only now do I realize that she is not a bad person.  And neither am I.  All friends have fights.  What matters is that you apologize, and make up.  I think I am going to take that step.  It takes a lot more balls to admit that you did wrong in a relationship than to just blame the other person.  I am going to take that step.  I am going to make that leap of faith.

Because Tom was a good friend.  I remember when he and I used to chill at Grandma’s.  He, Griffin, and me used to chill out and make jokes.  We used to have a lot of fun with that.  I remember that good friendship sometimes has it’s ups and down.  Thank you, Tom.  I am getting butterflies.  I am scared, thinking about what I will have to say to Emily.  But she is my best friend.  I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  All I know is that I have to make this leap of faith.  It’s time for the anger to go away.  It’s time for responsiblity to be taken.  And most of all, it’s time for me to realize that it all means nothing.  I want that good life too.

Rest in peace, Tom.  I think you’ve earned it.

Until next time, a quote,

“Friendship is a promise.  A promise that you will stand by each other.  Through the good times, and the bad.  To walk with one-another down life’s path.  That’s what friendship is.”  -Lucien Maverick

Peace out,

Maverick