Friday, May 25, 2018

Requiem for Steve Self

The original Jesus Barn before it collapsed

The second day I was on Vashon Island in April 1972 I went to the baptism of one of the people who had invited me here.
We parked down by the Jesus barn and walked up the hill to a copse of trees which surrounded a pond. Several women in long dresses and men with beards and long hair were gathered there. The Jesus freak movement had swept the island.
The pastor dipped my friend into the chilly pond and my friend came up whooping and praising the Lord.
There were a few musicians at the side of the pond, one of them an elfin young man playing the flute. I would find out later that his name was Steve Self.
After I moved here I got to know Steve as a musician and friend. He played in various bands, including the Portage Fill, and smaller combos that played gigs on and off the island.
He also loved to sail, going out on the Sound in a couple of boats he restored.
In the mid-80s, Drama Dock put on a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan shows, and I was the musical director for both. We rehearsed the orchestra in the music room of the late high school, and one night after rehearsal I was noodling away on the piano there, trying to find a chord for a song I was writing.
Steve was working as a janitor at the high school then, because being a fine professional musician doesn’t exactly pay enough to support a family. He happened to come into the room on his rounds, and we got to talking, and I told him what I was working on.
He said, “Try this,” and named a chord and told me how to play it. Then, “Try this,” and another chord and how to play it. Then he kept naming chords and telling me how to play them, and each one was a slightly different shading of the sound and tone I was looking for. I had always respected him as a musician, but that night I understood why he deserved all that respect and more. He was the real thing.
After the janitor job ended, he started working as a house painter. One year he happened to get a job painting the house of Julia Lakey. They hit it off. I was honored to sing at their wedding.
In 1998, when my husband Rick was recovering from his first round of kidney failure, if his potassium levels got too high, he would become slightly delirious.
One morning Rick was slightly delirious, and my mother, who was partially deaf but wouldn’t admit it, was up from California visiting. I had one of them on either side of me, both talking nonsense. One of my sons had a doctor’s appointment, and eventually I had to go to work.
I was thinking, someday I’ll laugh about this, when Steve showed up at the kitchen door. He’d heard Rick was sick and was wondering if he could be of any help.
Could he!
Steve had everything straightened out in minutes. He took Rick and my son to the doctor, so they could both get what they needed. My mother settled down knowing she didn’t have to do anything. I went to my nice quiet job.
After that, no one could say a word against Steve Self in my presence. Not that anyone did. He was that good. He walked his talk.
Some years back Steve noticed he was having some tremors and movement problems. At first, he thought they might be caused by the paints and chemicals he used in his work, but then he got a diagnosis: Parkinson’s Disease.
The disease robbed him of the ability to work, and then to play music. He raged against Parkinson’s. Doctors tried various drugs. Some of them helped.
Then about three years ago he began having severe back pain and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable cancer on his spine. Chemo brushed that back for a while.
He kept walking, he kept fighting. He went to the Athletic Club to swim, to the Roasterie to hang out with friends, and to the Senior Center for lunch, among other things. He kept living.
Parkinson’s is progressive. Steve knew that. The cancer also progressed, and recently his oncologist told him that chemo was no longer working.
In April, Steve said, “Enough.”
“He was worn out by two unrelenting diseases,” Julia said.
Steve went into hospice.
On Sunday evening, May 20, Steve passed over into that fair land where the soul never dies.
Wishing you fair winds and following seas, Steve. How we shall miss you.


This month I will celebrate my seventieth birthday. I used to think seventy was old.
Parts of me ache when the weather changes, or when I move the wrong way. Some parts hurt all the time. When I was young I would have found this intolerable. Now it’s life. Growing older is a challenge in many ways, but I’m glad I’m still here to gripe about my aches and pains.
A topic my single female friends and I discuss a lot is our living situations. Most of us have more house than we need now, and certainly more than we want to keep up. Our houses once were full of people, but now they’ve all moved on.
I’ve thought about taking in roomers, but I like my solitude. I like my privacy. I like knowing I’m not getting on anyone else’s nerves, and vice versa. It’s easier to relax and be yourself in a house without roommates, except for the dog and the cat. They are un-critical.
For some widows it’s the first time in our lives we’ve been able to make decisions based on what we want to do without taking care of everyone else first.
So, what now?
We think about downsizing, selling our big family places and going somewhere smaller and easier. Unfortunately, with house prices and property taxes going the way they have here on Vashon and Maury Islands, there is nowhere to downsize. There are no affordable cute little bungalows an older person might live in, places with no stairs and low property taxes, not many Granny pods.
I’ve checked out Pugetopolis home prices. Tacoma has many houses in the downsize range for under $350k. Port Orchard houses are going up in price, but there are a lot of houses in the $250K to $450K range. In Bremerton, an adorable little Craftsman can be found for $233,000.
Houses on Vashon or in Seattle are nuts expensive. You knew that. I saw an adorable little Craftsman in Seattle for $859,000.
There is low income housing on the island, but you must qualify and get in line, and we can’t all fit in the space currently available.
Our adult children might want us to live near them as we get older. Maybe they haven’t read the statistics that show that older people die faster when they are moved out of their homes. Or maybe they have, and they’re trying to put us out of their misery. Hard to say. I think they mean well. They worry about us.
When you’ve lived on the island for forty-five years, or your whole life, and your community, your friends, your church, and your history are here, considering moving off the island is a big leap. Some people yell, “Wahoo! I’ll never wait for a ferry again!” and leave without a backward glance, but for some of us, it’s not that easy.
I spent the last four and a half years re-building my life as a single person after my husband’s death. That has been hard. It’s hard to think about selling the home place. I spent my adult life here. Married here, raised the kids here. Wrote my songs here.
 Sometimes I think, why don’t I get an RV and drive around the country like I always dreamed I would? It would be fun to do it with a buddy, of course. My cousin Nancy was the perfect travel buddy. Unfortunately, she died in 2014. That is one of the drawbacks of getting older – the older you get, the more the mortality picks up speed, and the less surprised you are to hear someone else is gone, though it still hits you in the heart.
At seventy I look back and feel blessed to have lived in the years I’ve been given. I was young during the sixties, when the music was better than it’s ever been since. Got to sing like I wanted to do from the age of eight, heard stories by the simple expedient of listening, got to be a songwriter, was fortunate enough to love and to be loved. Lived the tremendous education of raising children. Had more unexpected experiences than I could imagine were possible for one person in one lifetime.
Now, here I am, turning seventy, and cannabis is legal, just in time for my arthritis. I sure didn’t see that coming.
Life hasn’t been all skittles and dumplings. As Rick used to say, some days you bite the rat, some days the rat bites you.
I have some time left. Don’t know how much, which makes me aware that the time I have is precious. I plan to write essays and sing songs and laugh a lot with my friends. Maybe buy that RV. We’ll see. I used to think seventy was old, but here I am, making plans.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Holocaust 101

Many younger people have never heard of the Holocaust that happened during World War II.
The Holocaust, for those of you who may not have heard, was the German state-sponsored systematic mass killing of European Jews, first and foremost, but also Roma (Gypsies), Poles, Russians and some other Slavic peoples, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, prisoners, political dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists, Socialists, Catholic priests, and other people considered imperfect or troublesome.
The Holocaust is considered to have started in March 1933 when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and to have ended in May 1945, when the war ended.
Also, in March 1933, Dachau, the first of many concentration camps, was opened. Dachau is still there. It is kept as a reminder. You can visit.
Although by 1939 Jews were herded into ghettos where they starved, were shot, or became sick and died, or were finally deported to the killing camps, it was not until January 1942 that the Nazi party formally adopted the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, a proposal written by one of Himmler’s deputies, Richard Heydrich. His plan was to kill every Jew in Europe, from Ireland to Turkey, and every country in between.
The Nazis did not get that far, but six million Jews perished at the Nazis’ hands. That number does not include the other groups who were killed. Six million is an estimate. The Germans kept records, but in 1943 when they realized they were losing the war, they began destroying those records. Some that survived were used as evidence in trials for war crimes after the war.
Jews were killed in gas “showers” and their bodies burned in ovens in the killing camps. In other places they were made to dig trenches and then to march into the trenches, where they were shot and buried. The Germans also built portable gas wagons for killing people in the field.
My husband’s Uncle Dale was in one of the American Army units that liberated a concentration camp. He slept next to 12-foot high stacks of bodies. In the days following liberation, the American troops brought German civilians in from the surrounding countryside and made them walk through the camp to see the truth of what it was. Then the Germans were given the job of burying the bodies.
Dale had screaming nightmares about his experience at the camp for years after the war.
When I was in college in the 1960s, I lived in an apartment next door to two Israelis. One day while talking with one of them, he told me his story.
His first memory as a small child was of being in the concentration camp called Auschwitz. He rolled up his sleeve and showed me the number the Nazis tattooed on his arm. He alone of his family survived.
After liberation, he was transported to England, where it took a long time to regain his health. Relatives tracked him down and brought him to Israel, where he grew up on a kibbutz. He served in the Army as all Israelis do, and then came to the United States to go to college. He would be close to eighty now.
Germany does not forget the Holocaust. We must not forget the Holocaust, either. We must not forget how in a few years Germany went from persecution of Jews and the theft of Jewish property to the mass murder of the Jews.
We must tell the story of how a whole country, a country that was renowned for its great minds and great universities and great music, went wrong under the leadership of a madman who called people to be the worst version of themselves.
That is a childishly brief overview of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is only one example of what is now known as genocide. A few others: the purges of Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union; the killing and removal of indigenous people, and the lynching of black people, in the United States; the Rwandan Genocide when Hutus murdered Tutsis; the Khmer Rouge killing fields of Pol Pot; the famine created by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward in China.
The list is endless. I don’t there think there has been a day in my lifetime that some country or group wasn’t waging war on some other country or group, and each killing as many of its perceived enemies as fast as it could.
It’s a wonder there are any human beings left.
There are holocausts going on right now. How often do you hear the words “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” in the news?
We must tell these stories. We must not forget.
One day, perhaps, we will say never again, and it will be true.