His daughter Janet just called to tell me. He is at home in his small town in Illinois at the old home place on Thompson Drive, named after his family. He is ninety-nine and a half years old. Family and friends surround him as he lies in a coma and they are playing recordings of the old-time music he loves, music he and his friends made. He sent me many of the tapes and it takes me back to my own gospel roots when I hear it, the harmony and heartfelt emotion of it.
He shared his writing too. In many, many books and stories he poured out his own truths. He wrote of what he knew. He wrote of the midwest, of the second world war in which he served, of men coming home from war to wrestle a living out of the earth, men and women of all kinds, the foibles and weaknesses and the quiet heroism and goodness of uncelebrated lives. He knew farming and pipe fitting and electrical wiring: he knew these things and more from the inside out. At one time or another he had done them all. His books honor it all.
He told me of being wounded and hospitalized during the war. He read everything he found lying around and thought, “I could do better than this!” He scribbled down his own stories, rich in detail of actual military life and of human frailties and strengths, and as he finished each page passed it to the man next to him and so it went from cot to cot. The men were hungry for his words.
He was always a man of generosity and his home a gathering place for people who loved to make music. It still is, right at this moment.
Thank you, Erwin, for helping to preserve in stories and music and in your own being, your compassion and understanding, a way of life that seems long gone.
I am posting a short story called The Busride that was published in the Spring 1995 issue of Tampa Review, a literary journal of the University of Tampa. I wrote this story in ’93 or ’94 while in Berkeley “on sabbatical” from my lawyer work at United Indians of All Tribes Foundation in Seattle. Actually it was my husband who was on a sabbatical. We rented a house high in the Berkeley hills and since we have only one car I relied on the 65 bus whenever I went anywhere. I loved that busride. And I loved having more time to write, though I went through a period of agony the first few months of that sabbatical year wondering if I’d ever get around to writing anything at all. The Santa Ana winds whistled around us, up so high: vicious winds and frighteningly dry conditions that made me very restless.
I, a semi-luddite (notice I’ve down-graded myself) never expected to be talking about computer problems, but the last several days have brought me to my knees. I couldn’t get my email to function at all — and right after telling you my email address — did you miss that?. I could access the email account, gaze at it, but it wouldn’t do anything, I spent many fruitless hours trying to coax (or click) it into action .
And then my daughter suggested taking it to the M.A.C. Store on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley. Mr. Wei Lee, for a reasonable fee, upgraded it and even fixed the separate problem I’d been having for many months that all my emails arrived in the trash. At that point I suppose I might have considered any fee reasonable, but it sure beats getting a new laptop. I don’t like buying new things. I prefer helping the old ones keep working. And by the crazy standards tech corporations are attempting to force on us, I suppose my laptop is old.
Anyway, as soon as I can get to it today, I want to put up another chapter of “Flight to Ohio.”
Thanks for listening.