It’s been only five years since I took the Small Large Smelly Boy to his first opera? It’s already been a whole five years?
During that time I’ve thought frequently about the post I wrote after I took him to Portland Opera’s double bill of Pagliacci and Carmina Burana in fall 2010, when he was 12 years old. At least a few times every year I think about writing an update: What’s he doing now? Did it take? What’s happened since then? How old is he now? Did that first opera change his life like all the ta-DUM-ing in the post?
That whole event back then seemed like just life. A night out on the town with my lad after he took out the trash. A quick documentation of a special occasion. But I had no idea how much it would resonate and grow long-long legs and, well, if not change the course of history, then at least skew its trajectory just a bit.
To say our cat died is ridiculously casual and wildly unfitting. Jack, mafia don and Facebook darling, all sass and sweetness, as demanding as a popped blister and as loyal as a lab, was our warp and our weft, our emotional ballast, our third Large Smelly Boy, more boy than the sum of the rest and more macho than a swaggering lot of pirates. He would never stand for being just a cat.
Jack. A name we didn’t give him but inherited from his kitten foster parents and decided to keep, both to honor his first family loves and because it fit. Solid. Straightforward. Nothing to duck. That was Jack, who died Monday, May 11 — days ago, but no one in the family could yet bear to make it public, perhaps because we still couldn’t believe it and saying it aloud would make it real, perhaps because we futilely willed to keep him to ourselves a little longer, and perhaps because the grief was so deep that it was silent and private. Funny, because Jack was never quiet.
He insisted on long conversations and had lots of opinions. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the neighbors. He talked to everyone about everything. He acted all lovey to every passing stranger, and promptly answered all manner of sounds – words, whistles, belches, farts. He wasn’t picky, as long as he had someone to talk to. Or not. He head-bumped with the best of ’em and knew how to rub a good leg. And he knew how to push newspapers onto the floor when they vied for his attention. If he were here now he would be digging a paw into my sleeve and pulling my hand away from the keyboard, insisting on having it to himself, persistently becoming an impossible pest until I would have to do something, perhaps give him a good long hug over my right shoulder, a favorite spot where he went limp. I started making bed nests for him near wherever I happened to be working to placate him, scrunching up soft blankets and pulling chairs closer.
On Memorial Day weekend a year ago, my nephew, Peter Joseph Hicks, a Navy veteran of the Iraqi war, died after a long battle with cancer. He was 31 years old – born March 11, 1983, died May 23, 2014. I was honored when his father, my brother Bill, asked me to give a talk at the celebration of Pete’s life, in Oak Harbor, Washington, a gathering where Pete was remembered by his family, friends, and Navy comrades. It was one of those sweet-and-sad days, a farewell and a remembrance, a telling of tales, an embracing of who Pete was, and a way to keep his essence alive in those he loved. For those who knew and loved him, and anyone else, here is what I said on that afternoon.
I was talking with my brother Bill, Peter’s dad, on the phone the other day, and Bill said, “I think Peter packed ninety years of life into the thirty-one he had.”
No kidding. I can’t count the number of things Pete’s been and done. Some of you who knew him more closely or in other aspects of his life could surprise me with your stories, and after we’re done here I hope you will.
A few things I remember clearly. Pete liked bows and arrows and other things of velocity and impact. He liked to cook. He was a tinkerer and a builder and a grower. As I discovered in the last couple of years, he was a writer, although I’m not sure he really thought of himself that way: he was just expressing what he believed.
He was a Navy guy, and not just a Navy guy but a Navy guy who went to war and took on one of the most dangerous jobs around, defusing bombs that threatened soldiers and civilians alike. He was a good friend and a good brother. He was fierce and he was gentle, and he loved a good joke, even when it was on himself.
Maybe most important of all, he was a dad and a husband and a devoted family man. His wife, Sasha, and their five kids from the family they blended together – Bell, Abby, Lucas, Caden, and Kali – have lost a part of themselves with his death, and will need time and compassion to grieve and move on. It’s hard. I wish grace and good memories for you. Pete was a determined warrior against this cancer thing, but it was a sneaky devil, and it took a 10-year head start before it let him know there was even a battle going on.
So by Bill’s reckoning of ninety years in thirty-one, if Pete had made it to ninety-three, the way his grandmother Charlotte did before she died last fall, he’d have had two hundred seventy years of life experience under his belt, and any of us who were still around would be absolutely gobsmacked by his accumulated wisdom.
Which I’m sure he would have been more than willing to share.
This morning I discovered via Facebook feed that the great American literary sensation Nancy Drew is 85 years old, making her quite possibly the oldest 16-year-old super sleuth in history. That got me to searching for this story, which ran originally in The Oregonian on October 12, 1997. A revised version later ran in the late, lamented magazine Biblio.
Here’s to you, Nancy Drew. You were my first true love. My first safe true love.
Sure, there were others. Freckled Norwegian girls with hair like hay and eyes as swift as mountain streams. Lipsticked, rounded girls in cashmere sweaters that clung to peach-soft skin. Porcelain dolls of unapproachable sophistication. But they were dangerous, because they were real, and liable to utterly destroy the hesitant intentions of an awkward boy.
Ah, but you, you forthright, striding, titian-haired marvel. You, you crime-busting beauty in your little blue roadster.
You were a flash, an action. A wonderful blank, waiting to be filled in. Made of printer’s ink and imagination, you were the speeding American vision of a bright future. An ideal, a fantasy, a goal. You were not for attaining. You were for setting the standard. You were the New American Woman.
Thank heavens for the printed page. With real girls, I was pretty much doomed to be tongue-tied and star-struck. With you, I had a relationship. And it was about all sorts of things, perhaps the least of which was puppy love (you were not, essentially, romantic, though you were a creature of romance). It was about literature and the secrets of writing. It was about boldness and courage and the declaration of self. It was about waking to the possibilities of a bigger world. It was about laughter and embracing the ability to enjoy. It was about doing right and fighting wrong. It was, in several pertinent senses, about growing up.
Not, of course, that I realized it at the time. At the time you were just a darned good read, a queen of the cliffhanger. How, in The Secret of the Old Clock (the very first Nancy Drew mystery, published in 1930), would you get out of the closet where the vicious thief Sid had locked you so he could make his getaway? Why, in The Hidden Window Mystery (No. 34), does Luke cry out in terror when you start to pull the lever to the trap door in the haunted house?
My sister Melinda Louise Lee, born Melinda Louise Hicks on June 7, 1942, in Richmond, California, died on Thanksgiving morning, November 28, 2013, at her Seattle home, while lying in bed and holding her Kindle: as her kids and our sister Barb noted, Lindy loved to read. She died quickly, apparently of a heart attack, and unexpectedly, just six weeks after our mother, Charlotte Lucille Baldwin Hicks, had died at age 93. Mom’s death was a shock but no surprise. Lindy’s was out of the blue, one that no one was prepared for: she was filled with vitality to the end.
Printed below is the text of what I said at Lindy’s memorial service on Friday, December 6, in Ferndale, Washington, where we grew up. Three of Lindy’s children, Melissa Doll, Fernzwood (Bud) Lee Jr., and Kelli Harrell, also spoke. Lindy’s fourth child, Alicia Gudgel, sang. Their messages were beautiful and from the heart. I mentioned before I began my prepared talk that Lindy’s death was devastating, not just because it was unexpected but also because she was in so many ways the heart of our large extended family. And I noted that there were many Lindys lodged in our memories and imaginations, a different Lindy for each of us who knew her. She was the oldest of seven siblings, and four years older than the next-oldest, Laurel. She was five and a half years older than I am, and 11 years older than the next in line, Barb, 12 years older than Chuck, more than 13 older than Bill, and 15 years older than the youngest of us, John. Four years or even 15 in the adult world isn’t a lot: it’s an easy bridge to gap. But in childhood, that’s a chasm, and it can make for vastly different relationships. One of the many wonders about Lindy is that in later life she so easily embraced all of us: it was a reflection of her warmth and generosity of spirit.
The first thing I want to say is, hardly anyone was more alive than our friend and sister and aunt and mother and grandmother Lindy, and that’s what makes this thing so difficult to understand. It’s like she just disappeared in mid-laugh or mid-sentence, just dropped away, or went into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and hold that thought because she’ll be right back. Except she won’t, and although our minds know that, our hearts can’t quite believe. So now it’s good to remember, because by remembering we keep the warmth and conversations flowing.
This is the talk I gave at my mother’s memorial celebration on Saturday, November 9, 2013, at the First Baptist Church of Ferndale, Washington, where Mom had been a member for many years. She was born in Holtville California, near the Mexican border, and grew up in Richmond, California, across the bay from San Francisco, and moved with her young family to Ferndale, Washington, in 1952. The written talk is a little bit longer than what I delivered on Saturday; I had cut a few passages to keep the talk from getting too long. – Bob Hicks
When I got the phone call from my sister telling me that Mom had died, I was shocked. Oh, no: the moment’s come! It’s always a shock, of course, that moment of passing, even when you know that it might happen at any time. But only the night before, Mom had had a little crisis, and was taken to the emergency room, where she spent several hours, and after the doctors announced that her vitals were fine and she was in good shape, she went home again. So when she died in her bed a few hours later, yes: it was like a piercing of the heart, or a punch on the chin.
Mom was 93 years old, and she died in her sleep, which was a blessing, and as I was driving north later that morning from Portland to Ferndale, thinking and remembering and feeling, I remembered the last crisis Mom had had, just about a year ago, when it seemed that she might die. She was so close to it that the doctors told us to be thinking about end-of-life questions, including the big one: Should we pull the plug? Mom had long ago made sure we knew she didn’t want to be maintained artificially in a vegetative state. But knowing when that time’s arrived isn’t always easy. She was conscious enough that we talked with her, and asked her. Do you feel like you’re ready to go and see Daddy again, or do you feel like you still want to be here? Mom replied without hesitating, emphatically and with what sounded to me, at least, like surprise that there would be any question about it: “Well, I want to LIVE!”
Yesterday I learned the awful truth: Classical Millennium, Portland’s wonderful and staunchly provocative classical music store, has given in to the realities of the marketplace and will close up shop in September. It’s yet another blow to the texture of a small city that likes to think it plays bigger than its population.
This is a major bummer. I wrote about it for Oregon ArtsWatch in this piece, A sad day in the life: Classical Millennium, farewell. The essay talks not only about the abstract loss to the city and its cultural life, but more personally about the loss to me and to my teenage son, who’s developed a close and lovely relationship with a store that’s now going away. I know, I know: Progress, and all that rot. Life will go on. But not all change is good.
Here’s an excerpt:
(F)rom its beginning in 1977, CM has been more than just a shop. It’s been a place of discovery, a crucible of learning, a home away from home. Like Pioneer Courthouse Square and Powell’s City of Books, it’s helped define the sort of place we’d like to think we want Portland to be. People grow up in a place like this, and expand their capacities, and reinvent themselves. People discover what the world feels and thinks and sounds like, and where they want to be inside that great globe of intellect and emotion.
Quick quote: “Amid all of this action it’s tough to shake the idea that Shakespeare’s becoming almost more source material than sacred text. Like Greek mythology for visual artists and playwrights, or like the Great American Songbook for jazz innovators, Shakespeare’s plays are serving more and more as springboards for reimaginings – stories so well-known, at least in certain circles, that they become raw material for new creations.”
Quick quote: “It didn’t matter that the Emerson can seem aloof, or that Shifrin can be charming, or whether the performers and audience were wearing white tails and top hats or Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps. In the presence of greatness, only the greatness matters.”
I’ll match your money-grubbing idiot politician and raise you a virgin-mutilating Goth queen. Portland’s summer season of theatrical broad gestures is in full gallop, and I slowed down long enough to file this report at Oregon ArtsWatch on Jane: A Theater Company‘s production of the David Mamet political farce November and Bag & Baggage‘s Kabuki Titus, director Scott Palmer’s pared-down take on Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
An excerpt about Kabuki Titus:
“I’d be surprised if Palmer hadn’t had the films of Akira Kurosawa in mind when he was creating his adaptation, especially Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s noh-steeped adaptation of Macbeth. Once Anne Mueller, playing Titus’s unfortunate daughter Lavinia, enters the stage the performance suggests another movie parallel, the movement poetics of the great silent films. … (W)hen she floats delicately onto the scene she immediately becomes the most vital reason to see this show. The production springs into an altered reality, elevating from what had been a sometimes strained approximation of kabuki movement into the sort of time-altering dream-state that ritual requires.”
An excerpt about November:
“November is what it is: an odd but bracing little goof that embraces the great American passion for ridiculing the casual venality and mock sincerity of politics. Things’ll get heavier and heavier as November approaches. Right now the sun’s out, the jokes are flying, and the targets are as fat and juicy as they’re likely to get. Bring your pop gun. Bag yourself a politician. Seems they’re in season.”
Photo: Ty Boice and Anne Mueller in “Kabuki Titus.” Courtesy Bag & Baggage
Not too long ago I visited Oregon artist Rick Bartow at his Newport studio and got the lowdown on his latest big project: a pair of 20-foot-tall pole carvings, depicting Raven and Grandmother Bear, that will be installed September 21st outside the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, just about a block from the White House. Public commissions don’t come a lot more public than this.
On Friday night I published an essay about it, In the studio: Rick Bartow carves a spot on the National Mall, at Oregon ArtsWatch. Bartow talked about teamwork, community, the value of rolling with the punches, what engineering’s got to do with it, why the carvings are NOT totem poles, and a lot of other stuff. For good measure, he and his folk/blues band, Rick Bartow and the Back Seat Drivers, provided the soundtrack for a Newport Saturday Night.
An excerpt from the essay:
The project’s gone remarkably well, if you discount the numerous design changes, the struggles to align art with engineering for the permanent installation, the steep learning curve, and the occasional flareup of vision problems from Bartow’s unexpected stroke about a year and a half ago. Originally each pole was to feature a big glass disc – sun on one, moon on the other – designed by Bartow’s partner, glass artist Nancy Blair. That changed when Corning Glass scientists looked the plans over and declared that at some point the constant stress of sun, rain and wind would cause the discs to burst. Government engineers, not surprisingly, blanched at the prospect of glass showering over tourists on the mall below.