The Gospel According To Right This Very Moment


Family Picnic
May 29th, 2017

My parents didn’t die when I was young. But I was an adult who was immature, emotionally irresponsible, still blaming the world for my lack of a satisfying life. I was desperate to erase the sense of failure, being lost, and didn’t know how. My dad died a couple decades ago, and mom, just two years, now. I miss them and wish they were here with me now so that I could talk with them about my life and theirs from this present perspective.

But my parents are with me now. My father, who was always afraid of the water and could not swim, is there with me in the pool when I do laps. He was good at track and he runs along with me when I am slowly jogging in the park. My mother, who, while alive, had a phobia of birds flying too close to her, now visits me in bird form: a hawk boldly sitting on a tree branch outside my window, or a delicate yellow and green bird pecking at my window screen, then swooping to the thick electrical cable, looking at me fixedly while dancing back and forth before flying off.

I would love to talk with my grandparents, too, about their lives. My grandmother died when I was 11, my grandfather while I was still in my teens. They visit with me. My grandmother, mostly.

My grandmother, Helen, sailed on a ship from Sweden in the early 1900s and her family settled in Chicago. She lived when horses and buggies and streetcars were the way you got around. Before cars, before telephones, before radio, before television, before jet planes, before Disneyland, which brings me to my grandfather, George.

His parents emigrated from Germany and apparently he is related to Nietzsche. He, too, grew up in Chicago and he moved the family – my grandmother, mother, and two younger children to California in 1938. There were orange groves and fresh air and sunshine. Paradise after the slushy snow and cold of Chicago. My grandfather was an accountant, a very smart man, and by the late 1940s he got a lead for a job with Disney Studios. He became Walt’s tax man, the studio CPA, and a secretary on the board of Disneyland. He helped find the land on which to develop it.

My grandmother was a force. She was 5’3” and people thought she was 5’8”. She was born with one leg shorter than the other and when she walked barefoot, she had to walk on the ball of the foot of the shorter leg. Who knows if they could fix it today. She had to wear special shoes – one was elevated a bit – and we kids loved to look at her special shoes. She was stylish so they were what today would be called wedges but that was perfect for the ‘50s and ‘60s.

My mother said that my grandmother should have been a CEO of a company. She had that kind of drive, intelligence, and charisma. In the late 1950s, when she went back to Sweden to visit family probably for the first time in her life since leaving as a young child, she also visited many places in Europe as an official ambassador for Disney. It was a different world back then. In her day, women mostly had children and took care of the house. That’s what she did but when she died young at 66 there were hundreds of people at her funeral.

And my aunt. My mother’s younger sister who developed schizophrenia in her 20s visits me sometimes, too. She was extraordinary and I did spend time with her. Her life was so difficult and yet she remained so loving. Drank and smoked to numb the voices and perhaps the loneliness but I don’t remember her complaining. My father could not handle the ambiguity of mental illness and so even though my mother wanted to support my aunt and did, it was always push-pull and I was somewhere in the middle.

They all visit with me now. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and Auntie. That’s my family for this Memorial Day weekend. If only we could barbecue in the park and talk about the events of the day I would be the happiest of campers. But I will settle for a picnic at Forest Lawn where my grandmother and grandfather are buried. I sit under a very pretty tree just 6 feet from their graves markers which are side by side, and talk with them about my life, and enjoy the surroundings: the blue sky, the green grass, the rolling hills, and across the L.A. river, the tall water tower emblazoned with the Mouse.