Sunday, September 18, 2016

Two Rivers

    Most people have their quaint little rituals when they go to cemeteries and remember.  Mine is to bring Jean roses, and speak the news as if she could still hear.  She would have been pleased with most of it, but irked by the story of her headstone.  Oakmont installed one in the winter of 2014, one year after, and I immediately started trying to get it replaced.  Imagining her impatience, I would appeal to tradition.  Jean was a procrastinator too, and most often in her case the wait was worth it.

    The wait for the new headstone ended just before this Labor Day, thanks to the valiant efforts of the sculptor and artist John Gregorin.  John turned my vague concepts into a design, which he then adapted to meet the requirements of the engravers.  The ink well in the middle with two quills was John's idea, as were the dancing roses on my side: writing stuff together was one of our favorite parts of being married; and we met folk dancing.  Two Rivers, the song whose first bars are on the bronze, was the first waltz at our wedding, and John and his sweetie Sue Torngren played it at Jean's memorial.  Both have been invaluable, loyal friends.

    Jean might actually have approved of the first headstone for its simplicity, only our names and the three dates we know, had it not given her name as "Jean M. Lewis."  She was never that except on the letterheads of business correspondence.  She's "Jean Mary Lewis" on the new one, as she was on her diplomas, or in marital moments of high ceremony.  One night, early in our marriage, I lay awake thinking about those three words, and discovered they were an anagram for "My real sin, a Jew."  She laughed in the morning when I told her, saying I just didn't rate in the major transgression dept.

    How did the wrong name got there in the first place?  The short, best answer is that's the sort of thing that happens when unopened correspondence piles up one's desk. Oakmont did tell me there was still time to make changes, when I finally did get around to opening their letters.  But then they installed the headstone anyway, and I only found out about it when visiting Jean.  At a tense meeting afterwards, they exhibited a contract I'd signed agreeing to a default design — they'd told me at the time of wild grief that they just wanted to have something on the record.  Some heated exchanges followed, but in the end they agreed to waive most of the fees on a marble extension and changes to the bronze.  Thanks Oakmont.

    John, Sue, the blessings of conflict abatement, my news had a theme on my first visit to Oakmont after Labor Day.  One reason for insisting on the new headstone was to find another way to say thanks for the marriage. And I told her how grateful I was for the change in my younger son Sam, who just earned his one-year clean and sober badge — a huge difference from the addict she knew when she was sick.

    There was some sad news too: Laurie, an old friend from their student days at U. of. M., had succumbed to leukemia.  Laurie was in remission in November 2012 when she took a week off from being a prof at the University of New Mexico to come to California to help care for Jean.  She was one of a long list of friends and family who were wonderful to us during that terrible time: John and Sue of course, but also Yao, Amy and Ellen, other friends from college days who came out to help; Karen, who visited almost every night at the hospice; Craig, who sent us the world's best creative cheer-up cards; Derek & Tara — Derek was the who used the line "Life thrived at her touch" at Jean's memorial, and Tara's memories are a separate blog post.  Bob and Terry, Anne and John, Chuck and Kathy, Ray, Shadie, … too many to even try to list.  If you're in the right frame of mind, even the death of friends leads make to feelings of gratitude.  Life is sweet.

The neighborhood at Oakmont


  1. Your posts, like Jean's, have so much soul. Thanks for sharing.

  2. thanks for posting your beautiful picture and story.

  3. Matt, it is a beautiful headstone that Jean would have loved. I think of her all the time and often wish I could ask her opinion of something. She is missed and remembered.