Thursday, September 1, 2016


I was supposed to write a column today. I meant to, I planned to, but then I got a message from Marie, Jim’s sweetheart, that Jim Hutcheson died today, and the news blew me sideways.
Jim was one of the guys with whom Rick played music when they were in high school in Germany, back in 1962. Rick always called him Hutch. They and another friend, Nandi Devam, played USO clubs all over Germany, covering every Kingston Trio song they could learn. They called themselves “The Balladiers.”
These kids had traveled from post to post with their military parents all their lives, so when they left Germany, they lost touch with each other.
Which is why Rick did not hear from Hutch again for about forty-seven years. We found the third member of the group, formerly Terry McNeil, who changed his name to Nandi Devam, living in Berkeley. He was looking for Hutch, and not finding him.
 Rick talked about Hutch a lot, and wished he knew whatever happened to him. Once we had the internet, I searched for him, but did not know that Jim’s last name was Hutcheson, not Hutchinson, so no success.
Then, on October 4, 2009, Rick went into the hospital in kidney failure. We had an eventful afternoon and evening at the ER. Late that night when Rick was admitted and sent to a hospital room, I went home. I was tired, I was stressed out, but of course I sat down to check my email.
I found a message from Normally I would delete such a message but for some reason I opened that one. It was a question: “Are you the Rick Tuel who sang with the Balladiers in Germany?” It was signed, Jim Hutcheson.
Wow! After all the years of wondering where and how he was, that was the day he got in touch. It felt like a strange serendipity.
I immediately wrote back to him saying yes, he had contacted the right Rick Tuel, and how wonderful it was to hear from him, and Rick went into the hospital today, and here’s his hospital room number. Please call him.
The next day when I walked into Rick’s hospital room, he was on the phone with Hutch, and they were catching up on a few decades of news.
After that, we remained in touch with him. About three months later, when Jim realized that Rick could not work because of his illness, he started sending us money every month. He kept that up for a year. This is an example of a practical generosity that knocked me out. That was the kind of guy Jim was. You don’t forget someone who quietly stands up for you like that.
He had a wicked and goofy sense of humor, which went a long way to explaining his friendship with Rick. Well, that and the music, of course.
In 2012 we went to a 50-year high school reunion in California, and saw him and Nandi. A little later that summer he and Marie flew out to Seattle for a few days for a visit. Then as time went on we heard less often from him. He had a busy life.
A few weeks ago, on the sixteenth of July, he posted a picture of himself walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, a happy day.
And now he’s gone.
From comments on Marie’s Facebook page, he was consistent throughout his life. People call him a wonderful guy, a hero.
He was, among other things, a school vice-principal. He worked with kids who had learning disabilities. He mentored many young family members. He was a good guy. I’m sad for Marie, and for his adult children and nephews and other family members and friends.
I’m grateful that Rick knew him, and that I got to know him, and am simply grateful for his life, but sometimes in the shock of hearing of someone’s death, it takes a while to get to the gratitude.
Rest in peace, Jim Hutcheson.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Enough Grace

Rick contemplating the recycler, his at home dialysis machine.

After writing so exhaustively about the grief process after my husband died, it hardly seems fair not to write about how it’s going after two and a half years, because things have changed.
There were people who told me at the beginning that I would feel better in time, and while that was cold comfort then, it turns out to be true. Tincture of time, people, can improve many things, including grief.
In the weeks before the second anniversary of Rick’s passing, there came a new lightness in my spirit, and that has continued. Oh, there are low times still, perhaps not so much related to my grief as to my daily life and my inner chemistry, which has never favored me with a lot of cheeriness.*
Life is better. I woke up this morning feeling happy, and that is rare and wonderful, but at this point it can happen, and I am grateful.
It’s come to this: I’m beginning to feel like a person in my own right, and not so much the wounded remnant of a broken couple.
Oh, I still miss Rick, every day. I always will. I’m a better person than I was before I met him, because he truly loved me, and he showed me how to be a better person by his example.
When I think of him now, I find that I do not think of him during his final year or two, when he was so ill. I think of him whole and smiling. I think of him looking to me like poetry in motion as he split firewood. I think of him playing the guitar, the magic he had in his hands and his mind to create such beauty. I think of him cartooning, bent over his drawing table, sometimes taking his glasses off to work up close. He was terribly nearsighted, almost legally blind, and he loved being able to draw a few inches away from his face where he could see each detail clearly. The VA wanted to give him cataract surgery during his last year and he wouldn’t go for it because he didn’t want to lose his close vision.
I think of him coming home from work in the evening and telling me about his day. Right after he died I kept expecting the front door to open and for him to walk in. You know what I’m talking about.
I think of him getting up in the middle of the night to take care of water emergencies, like power outages and leaks. I think I hated that almost as much as he did, but he woke up and got up and went to work, no matter the hour. He was a slave to duty.
I remember how horrified he was when he heard or read about a gas line getting broken and catching fire somewhere. He worried that that might happen here. I once saw a house for sale down on Quartermaster Harbor and thought, ooh, that would be a cozy, beautiful place to live out our years. He wouldn’t even go look at it because the main gas line ran by it in the street. Forget it.
He was the most stubborn person I’ve ever known in my life. That could be aggravating, but let’s face it, it worked in my favor because he never gave up on me, and I can be pretty aggravating myself.
We never gave up on each other. Don’t let anyone tell you that happy marriages are always happy. Living with another human being is hard, whatever the relationship is. But somehow we always ended up giving each other enough grace.
I miss him, and I’m going on without him, and I am able to be happy again, at least in part because he gave me so much love and grace while he was here.
So that’s the sermon for today, folks: give your partners, your family, your friends, the world, enough grace. Everyone needs enough grace. And cut yourself some slack because life is sometimes so hard, or so crazy, or so senseless that you are left empty and grieving. Give yourself grace, and time, sweet tincture of time, to heal and go on. That’s all I’m saying.

*Paul Gilmartin hosts a podcast called the Mental Illness Happy Hour. You can look it up. He said when he was a guest on Luke Burbank’s NPR show Live Wire, “People who think they understand clinical depression because they’ve experienced situational depression are like people who think they understand Italy because they’ve had dinner at the Olive Garden.”

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dog Days

So. I was out in the yard picking up garbage. Not just any garbage, mind you. This garbage consisted of the mangled wrappers of all the food my dog, Marley, has pilfered lately.
You might say it serves me right for leaving her in the house all alone, but I am resisting that train of thought.
Some days I have to go in to Seattle for medical appointments and such. She’d love to go, she gives me that hangdog expression when I tell her she’s staying home, but it’s too many hours for her to spend in the car on a hot day. So I leave her at home with a fresh bowl of water and her doggy door open, and she can stay in the nice cool house and go outside whenever she wants or needs to do so.
This used to work fine, but in the last year or so she has unlearned her manners.
It started with the butter. I would leave the butter on a saucer on the kitchen counter. I’d come home and find the saucer on the floor, buffed to a high shine, and the wrapper somewhere out in the yard. I lost a few quarter pounds of butter before I figured it out and started putting butter up on a shelf, out of reach of a dog with its hind feet on the floor and its front feet on the counter.
Sometimes I throw things in the garbage which I think don’t have anything worth eating in or on them, and she pulls stuff out and takes it out into the yard to rip apart and glean whatever orts she can find. The dog and I have different standards of what is or is not edible.
Occasionally she will tip the compost bowl off the kitchen island, or if I am foolish enough to leave a loaf of bread there, she’ll score that, too.
I really hate it when she goes for the compost. She’s after something like moldy bread or pasta that was leftover too long for my taste, but not for hers. Along with the tasty morsels she noses out, however, there are the coffee grounds, avocado peels, pepper seeds, squash innards, sometimes actual liquid I’ve poured in there for some reason, and slime from things that have already started to break down. That stuff is not fun to clean up.
Then there is my bedroom stash. This is not a secret. I would not write about it here if it was. This is the drawer in my night stand where I put junk food for my own private binges. A couple of times lately I have left the drawer open, and my peanut butter cookies have disappeared. Not the chocolate. She doesn’t take the chocolate for some reason, which is good because chocolate is bad for dogs.
The first time the cookies disappeared I suspiciously asked my grandson if he knew what happened to them. He protested innocence. He went on to say he does not steal food from stashes. He steals food from the cupboards.
I will say that his comic timing is getting to be darn near perfect. You learn well, grasshopper.
The dog takes food wrappers out to the yard in order to thoroughly rip them apart and lick them clean. Which brings me back to where I started, walking around in the yard this afternoon carrying a garbage bag.
She does it because she’s a dog. She does it because I left her home, and she has separation anxiety. At least she isn’t chewing her way through the door jambs any more. It’s not that onerous a task to go outside and pick up the scraps, but I wish she wouldn’t make the job necessary.
I like my dog and I’m going to find a higher shelf for my peanut butter cookies. Yes, you read that right: my peanut butter cookies are going to a higher place. The dog has raised my shelf awareness.
No, I did not write this whole essay in order to get to that pun. It came to me as I was writing the paragraph.
So there you are. This is an essay about not much, but if it took your mind off the election for a couple of minutes, I’d say it has done good work. Thanks for reading.