Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Boyz gone wild

To their great surprise, Dad and Tony outlived their wives.

This turn of events caught them flat-footed, each with a "Now what?" look on their face. They were men without women.

That wasn't the plan.

The plan had been, the husbands would get the grabber sometime after retirement, leaving money enough for the wives to survive to a ripe old age -- enjoy bridge clubs, shopping, and luncheons, grandchildren and whatnot. Whatever it was wives did.

For a year or so, Tony and Dad digested the news; mourned, in their own way -- called their children with an alarming frequency, bought new cars, took up photography, lifted weights, started listening to NPR. Developed a thing for Sylvia Paggioli.

Then it dawned on them, they were men without women, yes, but they were men with money, men without women with money to burn and time on their hands.

Dad and Mom and Tony and Eleanor had been friends since the 50s. Before me, even before my sister. I believe Tony and Dad forged a friendship based initially on a business-type relationship. Something to do with timber and plywood, buying and selling. By the time I arrived on the conscious scene, there was no business, just the friendship.

While we lived in California, we'd visit the Sommers quarterly, for Sunday dinner. Prime rib -- I remember that, because we never had it at home. Tony would carve, scrape the knives, make a big production of it, at the head of the table. But of the four, Eleanor was the alpha. I think Mom deferred to Eleanor's 10 or 15-year advantage, but Dad and Tony loved her because Eleanor treated them like naughty boys.

Dad and Tony would tell inappropriate jokes at the dinner table, Tony's inappropriate because they included sexual innuendos, and Dad's inappropriate because his grasp of English idioms made his jokes pretty much incomprehensible.

"Stop it, you two," Eleanor would scold in her high breathy voice. A voice I could imitate to this day, should anyone ask, should the request ever arise. "You're terrible, just terrible. Worse than the children." No one messed with Eleanor. Even I didn't mess with Eleanor. And Dad and Tony would look disingenuously abashed, and giggle.

The Sommers were our rich friends. They lived in an eight-bedroom, four-bathroom mansion; music room, conservatory, theater, TV rooms-- one for kids, another for adults. A pipe organ. Peacocks perched on the river rock walls. A terraced lawn led to a two-level stone pool, adjacent to the LA Arboretum. And when left to our own devices, we kids would sneak into the Arboretum, like it was our own backyard.

Aside from the dinners, I remember we all took a camping trip one time, and one time only. While my family hit the trail, Tony set up a hammock, read Life Magazine, and drank cocktails. Eleanor had brought a battery-operated vacuum, so she vacuumed the dirt. Their son John stayed in the tent and sorted through his comic books.

We lost touch with the Sommers at some point, other than a yearly Christmas card. Dad uprooted the family on a regular basis as job promotions required, and Eleanor and Tony were very involved in the SoCal social scene -- under Eleanor's direction, no doubt, still, Tony loved a good party, good food, and expensive booze.

So, ok. The wives died, And after a year of mourning, Tony and Dad became the best of friends, once again. Tony flew to Seattle, Dad to LA, on a regular basis. They took cruises and trips, to Europe and South America. With their girlfriends in tow.

Tony hit the dating scene first, of course. And would set my dad up. Every woman they dated seemed to be in the hair-dressing profession.

This I know, because I'd drive out to Arcadia from time to time to meet them, to do a good deed and my daughterly duty, take the gents out, spring for a nice dinner for three. Instead, I always ended up springing for a nice dinner for five.

"You're lovely," the girlfriend of the day would say, squinting an eye. "But you don't color your hair, and you should."

Whether consciously or unconsciously, I think Dad and Tony chose girlfriends who were utterly different from their wives so any sense of competition couldn't enter the picture, so it wouldn't feel like cheating.

At the turn of the last century, Tony decided Dad and he should take a train trip through Siberia. Apparently, Tony knew someone who knew someone who could get them passage on a freighter. No girls. This time, men without women, on purpose. They made it sound all very Doctor Zhivago-ish, with plank boards for beds, straw on the floor, and gypsies. Maybe I should have worried a little, but knowing Tony's love of luxury, I didn't really believe the description for a second.

In any case, Dad died a month before the trip. So it was men without women, and Tony without Dad.

Tony didn't come to the funeral, and I don't blame him one bit. I don't like any ceremonial rite of passage, I can't explain why -- maybe it's because I see life as more circular than linear, or maybe it's flat out denial. Anyway, I hate funerals the most.

I took Tony to dinner a month or so later. At Dino's, his choice.

My sister, who is every bit as bossy as Eleanor ever was, had given me Dad's funeral pamphlet with the directive, the order, I was to pass it on to Tony. It was in my pocket.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll give it to him."

"Make sure you do."

Tony didn't bring a girlfriend, he brought his son, John. We'd always considered John rather a drip. And for the life of me, I can't remember why. Maybe because he was a year younger than me? Maybe because he had his own TV room? Because he didn't want to hike? Anyway, John was now a handsome man, utterly kind, extremely solicitous when it came to his father's comfort.

We talked, we swapped memories. We ate, and drank a lot of wine.

Tony was jovial; Tony was always and forever jovial.

And yet, I figured Tony knew as much about loss and losing someone as anyone. I saw it in his face, a reticence that I might somehow, or that my intention was, to end the evening on a sad note.

Maybe death, loss deserves an exclamation point, or a question mark, or a period. But not from me. We kissed good-bye and I crumpled the pamphlet in my pocket.


  1. Is it too late to send the pamphlet? If he is still alive perhaps the bark has hardened and the sad note evolved into fond remembrance. Perhaps a resolution.

  2. Another great piece. I never know where you're going to end up.

  3. I love this and Tony and your dad.

  4. I think we all have known people like your Sommers' family... The loss that each of them (as well as you) have felt, I definitely have as well.... Great writing-par for the course..

  5. You and me both, Earl. Thank you all for your nice words and for stopping by.

  6. Beautiful! You so often leave me a bit teary.

  7. A story beautifully told . . . what personalities! Love the memories of Arcadia, which brought back memories of my own. How fun to live in a neighborhood with peacocks.

  8. What a lovely, bittersweet story about friendship. Very touching.

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  10. I go with option B (flat out denial). I always go with option B

  11. I can smell the Jean Naté and English Leather. Why were you always picking up the tab for men without women but with a lot of money?

    1. Dior Homme. And because I wasn't their girlfriend.

    2. I have things backward then. I pay when I am the girlfriend and not the daughter or the younger poorer relation.

    3. Oh gosh, now you've brought back the memory of the first time Petrea, Liz, Kelly, you, and I first met, for high tea. And at the end we found out they didn't accept credit cards, so we all dumpster-dived into our purses, pulling out grubby dollar bills and quarters to cover the hundred buck-bill for our cheez-whiz sandwiches.

    4. Oh my gawd, that place was awful. But the company was fabulously fun.

  12. Great story, Karin. I'll bet Eleanor would have been very mindful of Official Straw Hat season and Tony would wear whatever hat he wanted, rules be damned!

  13. No doubt that you are a good and talented writer!

  14. I love your stories, all of them, but the ones about your dad have a particular glimmer to them.

    You remind me of when my dad died, and my dear friend Kelley didn't want to come to the funeral.
    I said, "I need you there."
    She said, "But I don't like funerals."
    I said, "Who likes funerals? Name someone."
    She couldn't think of anyone, so she came. And she brought a lot of the soul and humor that I needed there.

  15. "Altadena Hiker" has been included in our A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.


  16. I love your stories, too, KB. I'm not great with death and funerals. There's a good chance I'd have left the flyer ungiven. Sometimes we just want to remember someone as we knew them and not focus on them being gone. I'm not convinced denial is always a bad thing.

  17. I read your every word. A life lesson told. I might not have done it all your way, but that's they way of 'your world'.
    *btw Eleanor would have loved me. Bad boy checking in here! hehehehehehehe

    1. You would have definitely fit in with the boyz, Birdman.

  18. Hey, don't dis English Leather. It got me chicks at 16 in HS. They loved it on my neck. Too much info?????????

  19. I would have like your Dad. He and Tony remind me of an older gentleman - we won't go into how old but I was 19 and he was past retirement age - who was a wonderful friend, a gentleman in every sense of the word. There was a classiness there that was so refreshing....that's hard to find in men beyond that generation born early in the 20th century. Your stories bring life to the people in your life ~ we get to know them and reflect on those we've known, too. I appreciate that ~

  20. Out of the ballpark.