celebrating a life well connected through the process of death, mourning, memorializing
It was impressive, the number of people this 66 year old fellow touched: a father figure, a friend, a guide, a mentor, a guidepost, a brother, and a giver.
The service was held in Portland Sat. 4/27 and hundreds showed up at the Quaker church. I was asked to say some things about the man, my friend, and I had already written a poem of dedication to him, but I had to let a more simple-and-unfolding-of-our-collective-emotions sort of poem lead me.
I had just spent the night before in some forest land 10 miles north of White Salmon, WA, with Mt. Hood to the south and Mt. Adams to the west. I was there to thin out some trees so the health of the forest my sister and I had inherited from our old man more than 20 years ago would stay robust for another 20 years.
I spent time with Jim who lives in a house he and his wife built, and with his newly retired brother, JT, who has 20 acres with his big RV parked there and an outbuilding with electricity and a washer machine to make it feel more like home. JT is a bachelor who is still married to an estranged wife because of health insurance reasons and possibly social security concerns if he croaks. He has children and grandchildren, mostly living in Orlando, Florida.
JT was able to retire from Boeing/Seattle after 35 years working for that company. He told me he was in the military R & D department. JT’s liberal, and he spends time in the Hood River area because their 94-year-old mother was moved from Hawaii to a care facility in the town of Hood River. She’s going strong, and her life for a long time had been centered around living in Seattle.
Jim says their mom gets riled up in the skilled nursing facility because she’s a social democrat and most the old timers living with her are conservative, and Trump backers. Jim says his mom can be pretty articulate but forceful talking about her spin on the world: she’s for regulating banks, she’s for a single payer health program, she’s for better PK12 education, she’s for making the rich pay their fair share of keeping safety nets for the working class, the working poor, the working homeless and the middle class. She believes the rich are only rich because the working class and other workers helped them get that way, so she is for higher taxes for the rich. These are not unAmerican ideas, nor are they off the charts liberal, but in today’s world, Ike Eisenhower would be a flaming liberal if he ran today as the Republican he was in the 1950s.
She’s 94, so that means she was born in 1925. Hmm, seems as if she should be at that table in Salem (or in Olympia) discussing the value of almost 100 years in this country paid to a society that helps, not hurts; a society that honors all people, not singles out the elite and the rich as the only ones worthy of attention and respect; a country that plans for seven generations out, not one that gouges previous generations’ ability to survive and bankrupts the current young generation and future ones.
Jim is not retired, technically, but he says he has a good life in the woods on 50 or more acres. He wanted to leave the city, Seattle, when he was 25, and now he’s 67 and still running a big CAT, bucking trees, cutting wood for income, and playing cards for income. He says it’s all a hobby, but in fact, his wife works as a personal care professional freelancing (many, many aging people who are still “aging in place” in this part of the Columbia Gorge) obviously to keep the bills paid and to add to the retirement fund.
The night before Jerry’s memorial, JT, Jim and I drank a bottle of vodka as gimlets, Jim’s specialty. We talked about the world, about my intersections with so much of the world as a writer, social worker, teacher, counselor and Marxist/ ecosocialist. Sometimes I function as the oddity or the intensely interesting guy, as Jim might call me.
Jim watches FOX News so he can see what the opposing side’s strategy is, according to what he says. He’s adept at navigating the Trump world since he plays cards at the Elks clubs in the area and does business with old timer loggers, millwrights, and blue collar types.
I think both JT and Jim got a kick out of me railing and listing off the systems of oppression breaking the country from the inside out. No matter how much NYT and CNN and NPR one consumes, these middling news agencies never ever get it right, or get to the bone, or get in the mix to see how precarious maybe more than half of the US population is in terms of economics. The fact that we are moving toward a world without ice puts 99 percent of us in some peril.
I find that Americans are good at laughing and joking, but in many ways do not have a great sense of humor. However, Jim and JT are good at story telling, good at laughing off their own foibles and aches and pains and do have a sense of humor, and a sense of irony.
I dig getting with people like JT and Jim to again let some of that America Once Might Have Been Good optimism flow over my tattered wings.
Bad knees from sports injuries, bad shoulders from repetitive work, and just bones wearing down are laments we talked about, but not very long and with no “woe is me” lines of discourse.
I bring this up since I was out from the Central Oregon Coast where I live to be a part of Jerry’s memorial in a church. I bring it up because while I am an angry man — sounding almost naively young — I can be very appreciative how the lives of others who have travailed various trail ways and narratives can be very compelling.
Here, a comment about one of my pieces just published here at DV:
Comment: Enjoyed (well maybe enjoyed isn’t the correct word) your Dissident Voice article on Earth Day. I have written for them, mostly when they first went online. So many of us have been fighting the good fight since Rachel Carson raised the flag, and yet nothing seems to change. I wrote this piece [“Fast Fashion”] about the impact of the fashion industry on the environment. It is even worse than I had imagined. I doubt that knowing these facts would make a dent in the buying practices of the elite progressives. Keep up the good work. I love reading pieces written in anger. Sheila
And, no, I did not have to rail against JT for being part of the problem — a worker bee for the vast military industrial complex that is Boeing. Sometimes just being in that moment of three guys, in our sixties (wow, that is a line for which have never written in my lifetime until NOW), talking, listening to owls, turkeys, and the wind whipping Douglas firs can be enough. Hood River has cloud server behemoths, and an international drone manufacturer, wind (sail) surfers, Full Sail/ Sessions brewery and even the famous Tofurky/vegan Field Roast manufacturer. It’s a “hip” town now, no longer the timber processing and exchange center it once was.
Jim likes being out in the woods, though where we have our property, others also like being on their 20 acres for maybe some of the same reasons, and for other reasons as well.
Ironically, I see Jim and JT as perfect candidates for adults in the classroom — mentors and living examples of Americans who with varying degrees of success came out the dark tunnel of capitalism with some safety nets. Both men could be integrated into any school system to teach youth about life, tenacity, perspectives and some hands-on stuff, too.
That’s one big fault of education — the pigs at the top, the administrators and politicians and such, have gutted the school systems’ ability to be transformative for young people. Instead, it’s dumb downed curriculum and teachers forced to not deviate from the various states’ application of NCLB — no child left behind (sic).
My various theses are not predicated on some Utopian ideal, some unrealistic vision of a world impossible to achieve. The problems we are facing in every arena — think of every department/sub department and specialized field of study at a decent state university and you can see everything, unfortunately, is about solutions, about dealing with problems that have been set forth through capitalism and a political/business world that is based on tolling and servicing the suffering and poor, one based on wars against people, including all the wars we have inside this society and those we export to other societies via armed wars, economic wars, environmental warring. The system is about creating poverty and precarity while creating a minority class of wealth accumulators.
Leaving the 20 acres we have, I saw a black bear scramble across the dirt road. I ended up heading west again to attend this funeral. Maybe I agreed to talk as a way of punctuating my belief that some people are so unusual in their compassion and ability to connect so many others to compassionate allies that I had to honor Jerry.
Cerebral Palsy, crutches, confined to a wheelchair, then one little thing and then big thing in less than 12 months, and he is gone. Sixty-six years later!
I went across the road where the Quaker church was receiving guests, to the private school, Reed College. I walked the grounds, watched a beaver muddle the water of a pond, and reflected on all the foliage bursting out from a fallow fall and winter.
Cliche, but life is around us, even among the dead and the dying. I knew at one point reflecting silently while walking on this toney small campus that it’s our call of duty to honor and celebrate the brave lives and the giving people in their midst and through their passing.
One remarkable aspect of this friend who died a hard death in the hospital was that he was a marker, that guidepost, not so much a guide. He allowed me to sound off, to emote, to dramatize my life in words, and he never judged but he was no pushover. He amazingly loved people the way I like people (not so gifted to love a lot of people but I do appreciate their struggle and their gifts to the world).
Jerry discovered his potency as a human who was straddled by CP rested on his ability to understand people way beyond any psychologist’s or minister’s understanding and shaping of humanity. Jerry was the guidepost from which I knew I could aspire to, but one I would never meet in the end because our physical beginnings and the amount of extra experiences with a healthy body that allowed me a lot of reckless travel and undertakings made us different since he had the body that limited that aspect of life but provided a deep well of knowledge and self-determination many of us “able bodied” souls can’t have, forget to have, or fail to nurture within ourselves.
Jim, JT, Jerry. I would have never thought a night in the woods could have gelled in me what I had to say at the funeral. I am glad to have been in his life since Jerry (like JT and Jim) allowed for a two-way transformation of self. You see, each time I engage, each time I intersect with people, each time even with Trumpies, I learn more about myself.
I learned at a young age not to take life for granted because of many reasons — from living in the Azores, in other countries like France, traveling throughout Europe in the 1960s and then later as an adult. Living and traveling and working in Mexico and Central America. Working with migrant farmers and then in prisons and then in low income communities as a teacher. Hell, when I was 19, my older sister by three years was splayed on the road in British Columbia when some guy fell asleep at the wheel and crossed into Roberta as she was driving her Harley down south to see us in Arizona.
Spreading her ashes in glacial fed waters near Hyder, Alaska, I gained much perspective for a person at a relatively young age. Earlier perspective I gained while I did community service working in a hospice at age 16 when the number of moving violations during my various motorcycling forays caught up with me and I opted to pay them off with community service. Reading Robert Frost and Shakespeare plays to one woman, Audrey, while she died a slow painful death with a forty-pound tumor wrapped around her kidneys and liver, I learned the value of a few more weeks on planet earth is not about the number of CC’s your motorcycle has or the number of watts in your stereo. She had been a high school English teacher for more than 38 years, and that’s what consoled her at the end as two liters of radioactive-looking brownish fluid come from her body each day. Drip drip drip under her hospital bed while her wild bunch long-haired volunteer 16-year-old read Othello.
Almost half a century later and here I am still trying to find guideposts, still looking to learn life, to do adulting the “right way, and learning to capture authentic life and living in a line, or two, or thousands of lines! Jerry too, like Jim and JT, would have been a valuable asset in the classroom — a vision of hope, guts, honor and ethical love for his fellow man/woman would have been worth a thousand other lesson plans the youth would have gotten!
Friend Who Forever Allowed Us In
for Jerry Pattee, on his passing
the voice of impatience to settle
the disharmonious song to fall
Portland showers for a new dawn
old staggering men to lift words
new worlds to settle into his orbit
trauma and fear to sink into calm
sprigs and cuttings to be carried away
new friends to gather, old ones to root
indulgences of artists to be understood
space to enter slowly inside his realm
freedom to lift him from his physical inertia
family to be friends, friends as clan
shadows crisscrossing light to honor the gray
food to become spiritual
so many to call him brother, father, friend
us gathered here to sing his praises
Finally, I want to say that I never let my poetic words have the last line when thinking about the life of a person as uniquely broad and giving as Jerry. I’ve had a few times with William Stafford, the poet par excellence of America, and his son, Kim. Kim’s the poet laureate of Oregon, a job title that has two years of duties and ceremonial gravitas bundled up with it.
Ironically, Jerry had not been a nature-lover in the true sense of the terms, that is, not a backpacker, kayaker, camper, back-country explorer. He was, however, always talking about plants (he had tons in his house) and flowers (dahlias were one of his favorites). And he did live in a very rural part of the world, Payette, Idaho, early in his life.
He did understand how powerful the draw to land — mountains, rivers, forests, ocean — this place he ended up living in for most of his life has on new and old comers.
I think about all those people I have known and worked with that have had some physical or developmental challenge keeping them away from what I believe are powerful agents of harmony and perspective to any human — nature and wildlife.
Here, Kim’s poem, for Jerry:
Do You Need Anything from the Mountain?
By Kim Stafford
Could you bring me a smudge of camas blue,
and the whisper whistle of that one pine
at the edge of the meadow at dusk, when day
gives a lost, last breath? Bring me the road
that becomes deep duff as it trails away
into the forest, young firs ten feet tall
along the hump between the old ruts.
Bring me a story you hear in dark silence
after the last light, the gone that gathers dew
in the fingers not to hold, carry away, but
only to feel. Bring me that skein of fire
that hangs in intimate eternity, after
the dark but before the thunder, when
the bounty of yearning in one cloud
reaches toward another, in each being’s
endless, impossible desire to complete itself
before falling away