A passing: Paul Kantner (1941-2016)

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Paul in '68 & '15You’d have to work hard to overestimate the musical contribution of Paul Kantner (and the Jefferson Starship). Paul died yesterday, Essentially of old age, at 74.

Formed in 1965, the Jefferson Airplane truly defined the “psychedelic era” in music. They performed at the three most famous American rock festivals of the 1960s—Monterey (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Altamont (1969). “Somebody to love” and White Rabbit” are among Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songs of All Time”. The Airplane was inducted into the R & R Hall of Fame in 1996.

Gracie '68 and nowPaul didn’t talk much but he was the pillar that created, maintained and now died with the Jefferson Airplane, one of the truly seminal musical groups of the 60’s, an era defined by it’s music. Lead singer Gracie Slick got all the media attention because she was volatile and the camera loved her. Gracie was the first female megastar in rock history and a brutally candid, sensuous symbol of 1960s counterculture. Now with snow-white hair, Gracie once remarked on a talk show that she once woke up at 110 mph in a Porsche on the 405.

In a 1968 Amsterdam concert incident, Doors singer Jim Morrison, under the influence of God knows what, appeared on stage and began dancing like a pinwheel. The Airplane played “Plastic Fantastic Lover” increasingly faster, Morrison continuing to spin faster finally falling senseless at Marty Balin’s feet. Morrison was hospitalized.

Jorma and meLead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen is an acquaintance; I played with him a couple of decades or so ago. He went on to form “Hot Tuna” and is still playing gigs out there on the road. I met Gracie a while back and have her signature on a poster in my music room.

Others in the group coming and going, Paul played with the Airplane’s entire history,. When the Airplane broke up in 1972, Kantner then formed the “Jefferson Starship” which went on until Gracie quit due to age-related loss of interest in 1988. This year she’s 76 years old and rarely seen in public.

Paul Kantner was a very important person in music throughout his lifetime. He and many others of his ilk, soon to expire, defined an age that will probably never be seen again. Rest in peace, Paul. A life well lived.

 

 

Death Triads for the new millennium

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Traditionally, deaths for performance artists come in triads, but historically for different reasons.

Jim Morrison: (July 3, 1971) Two radically opposite personalities on and off ethanol.
Janis Joplin: (Oct 4, 1970). Made love to 1150 adoring fans at the Fillmore West, then went home alone.
Jimi Hendrix: (Sept 18, 1970) Chronic insomnia aided to permanent sleep.

All within a year of each other, all in their twenties from acute and chronic disorders self-mistreatment. All a direct result of the suspension of most laws of God and man in the waning sixties.

And speaking of sixties, we now have the obligatory new millennium triad of:

David Bowie; (Class by himself)
Glenn Frey: (Classically “American” band- “The Eagles”)
Dallas Taylor (“Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” drummer)

Bowie died at age 69 after an 18-month battle with cancer, leaving a very intense “goodbye” video, cloistering himself in a closet at the end. Frey died at 67 from complications of longstanding rheumatoid disease and colitis. There is some conjecture that the new drug “Humera” may have weakened his immune system (unverified). Taylor was 66, suffered from cirrhosis, receiving a liver transplant in 1990, lasted 26 years.

What all these guys have in common is that they died of “old men” diseases in an age where “old men” are now lasting into their 80s (but not necessarily with the same quality of life). In fact, the death rate from “old men” diseases hasn’t changed much in the new millennium. 60s is when much it peaks. All the truly great performing musicians of my generation are now facing their mortality.

What’s coming next: rode hard and put away wet, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker (Cream) are now 70 and 76 respectively. Jack Bruce died last year at age 71. Neil Young is 71 and entering his tenth or so “middle age crisis”, dumping his aging wife and taking up with famously predatory starlet Daryl Hannah (“Blade Runner”). David Crippen, still chugging along barely ahead of the game so far.

You really know you’re getting old when you start reading obituaries looking for people you know. Thomas Hobbes said: “The life of man- solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, mercifully, has not been true for any of the above. The future will, however, continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A passing: David Bowie

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bowie_on_tourSad passing of David Bowie from cancer at age 69. Not any sadder than anyone passing from cancer at any age, but in the case of the Thin White Duke, not so sad as his amazing body of work left behind will speak for him forever.

There are at least two markers of genius. First is inimitability. True genius can be echoed by pretenders but never equaled. The second is that there is virtually no limit to their timeless multi-talented potential. Bowie (nee Jones) has said he considered himself a “collector of personalities”. Beginning in the 60s and 70s with “Space Oddity” and Ziggy Stardust” and the “Thin White Duke”. Proceeding through the 80s with new wave and his pop era and “Tin Machine”, into the 90s with his electronic period, and ultimately into the new millennium with his neoclassicist period. He collaborated with many other world class musicians including Queen (“Under Pressure”- 1981). In any of these periods, there is music to be enjoyed by some audience’s tastes.

Bowie also participated in and defined characters from several films including “The man who fell to earth” (1976), The Hunger (1983) and The last temptation of Christ (1988). He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Music reviewer Brad Filicky writes: “Bowie has become known as a musical chameleon, changing and dictating trends as much as he has altered his style to fit, influencing fashion and pop culture”. Biographer Thomas Forget adds, “Because he has succeeded in so many different styles of music, it is almost impossible to find a popular artist today that has not been influenced by David Bowie”. In 2000, Bowie was named by British magazine the New Musical Express as the “most influential artist of all time”.

So, we add this incredible talent to the list of inimitable, timeless, pervasive artists “of a certain age” approaching their mortality now, but never forgotten.

Robin Williams agonistes: The crisis of the genius genome

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Robin_Williams“Better to burn out than fade away”

Neil Young

 

The true mastery of making someone laugh is as much an art form as Chopin, Van Gogh or Segovia. It’s a skill that cannot be learned and by & large cannot be imitated. It’s innate and those randomly chosen need no training, only discovery.

Some of the chosen are not so much inherently funny as they can deliver jokes written by someone else smoothly and they have an innate ability to work audiences. Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon. David Letterman had the gift for a while but burned out with time. All of them get rich and enjoy their lives. None have the frenetic “real” gift of Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin, Craig Ferguson and Robin Williams.

Traditionally, the popular media describes genius in association with “divine madness”, wondering which comes first, the divinity or the madness. I don’t think it’s a matter of an association. I think it’s the genome. For whatever desultory reason, the chromosomes on the ring of the truly gifted comic lie next to aberrancy. Hypomania, compulsive disorder, drug attraction and dependence. It’s difficult to tease apart all the components of this kind of genius. They integrate with each other and the result is an admixture of all.

They have the innate ability to pull from any experience or occurrence instantly and re-interpret it to make it funny. Speed is implicit. They don’t need pre-formed jokes to deliver. They can come back with a humorous response to virtually any stimulus instantaneously. When delivering humor they move from concept to concept seamlessly never knowing what’s next till it pops into their head.

It’s said the undisputed master, Richard Pryor, never knew what he was going to say in front of an audience till he started talking. It just flows like Segovia’s fingers. He doesn’t have to think about it. He’s somewhere else. Dangerfield worked exasperation to the hilt. Carlin made the complexity of language funny.

One might predict that the brilliance of a comedian varies directly with an intensity they cannot sustain indefinitely. Richard faded away into pedestrian movie roles and somatic drug damage. Rodney to heavy drinking. George to drugs and alcohol.

The unfortunate Robin Williams literally flew across the sky in a hypomanic blaze, then, like Hunter Thompson, got old and became irrelevant, reduced to occasional guest spots on hackneyed talk shows. Victims of new ages they both outgrew and both ended the hurt on their own terms. Pretenders such as Leno, Fallon and Letterman remain fat & sassy.

This brings me to examine the comedian I continue to think is the funniest man in the world, Craig Ferguson. In his standup routines, Craig is in constant motion, working himself and the audience up to explore creative concepts of everyday life. His TV show producers too cheap to provide a “sidekick”, he created literal personalities of a ridiculous robot and fake horse such that the audience believed these creatures. They come alive when he talks to them. No one has ever seen anything like this before.

Craig makes light of how surviving past alcohol and cocaine addiction shaped him, but he’s clearly hypomanic and the impression persists that these things aren’t too far from where he is now. That volatility defines his inimitability, and uniqueness defines his genius. Sadly, after ten years of presenting an innovative face to comedy, he’s quitting cold turkey in December 2014.

This is very worrisome. Those that have gone before him: Hunter Thompson, Kurt Cobain, Ernest Hemmingway, Alexander McQueen, Sylvia Plath, Vincent van Gogh all suffered the fate of Robin Williams when the intensity of their creative process faded.  They quit life when it wasn’t fun anymore.

Mike Darwin has forever said that death quickly follows retirement for such people. I fear for Craig Ferguson.

 

 

 

Requiem: Dr. Gene E. Michaels

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Michaels_Gene_20110612Michaels GE, Crippen DW: Post-scanning viability of specimens on support studs used in scanning electron microscopy. Bulletin of the Georgia Academy of Science, vol. 29, no. 4, September, 1971 http://www.gaacademy.org/
 
The first “scholarly” paper I ever participated in. We showed that fungal specimens frozen in liquid nitrogen for scanning electron microscopic freeze etching were still quite infectious when warmed (the liquid nitrogen didn’t kill the spores). Microsporium canid and microsporium gypsum as I recall. This was not known before our paper which was well received in the academic community. I was a total nobody.
 
Dr. Gene Michaels was a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at Georgia and was the fungus guy. New PhD. He and I bonded when I came back to college from Vietnam and he agreed to be my de-facto pre-med advisor when the real one refused to see me (because of my overall 1.9 grade point average). He believed in me and never ceased to encourage me. He had my infinite respect. He retired and had snow white hair and long white beard and was a continuing ambassador for the University of Georgia till his death.
 
I spoke to him a few years ago but sadly, he passed away in 2011. http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/354271/Michaels-Dr-Gene.php
 
Rest in peace, Gene. A life lived well. On 29 Nov 2013, at 23:07, Gabriel Castillo wrote
 
The paper is not entirely lost

A passing: General Vo Nguyen Giap

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Giap-finaledit12 -789Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap died today. He was estimated to be 102 years old. Not a commonly known name, he is a very remarkable person.

General Giap’s career began in 1944 commanding a ragtag band of 34 Vietnamese citizen soldiers in December 1944 vowing to fight to the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule. Their original armament is said to have included flintlock rifles. Gen. Giap molded this force into what was to become Vietnam People’s Army, an underrated force that would defeat the French and American armies over thirty years of warfare, ending in 1975.

General Giap routinely led his troops into battle against better equipped, better supplied forces. His military strategy and tactics dealt the French colonial army under General Henri Navarre a humiliating defeat in 1954 after a 55 day battle at Dien Bien Phu. I have studied that battle at length and stood at the site pondering it in 2010. It’s one of the most fascinating stories in history and can best (and only) e appreciated by reading Bernard Fall’s “Hell in a very small place” (1967). The epic analysis from the undisputed master.

Giap went on to command other historically significant battles including the iDrang Valley offensive (1965), Tết Offensive (1968); the Easter Offensive (1972); and the final Hồ Chí Minh Campaign (1975) that eventually ended American occupation of Vietnam.

Of particular interest was the Vietnamese offensive at iDrang in November of 1965. A turning point in the American war; the battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win and convinced Lyndon Johnson (or his advisors) that more troops were necessary to hold on.

The battle and it’s aftermath was expertly and lyrically recounted by then Lt. Col, (now General, ret) Hal Moore in “We were soldiers once, and young” (1992). Gen Moore wrote a second volume recounting his followup visit in 2010 in which he interviewed General Giap. “We are soldiers still”, both highly recommended general education reading.

General Giap is considered to be one of the most brilliant military strategists of all time, comfortably sitting at the same table as Napoleon Bonaparte, Stonewall Jackson and Erwin Rommel.

“But we still fought because, for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” he said, repeating a famous quote by Ho Chi Minh.

 

A passing: Ray Manzarek

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Today, Ray Manzarek, co-founder of The Doors died peacefully of biliary cancer at age 74, surrounded by his family, as it should be.  Technically it was the end of a musical era when Jim died of personal demons in 1971. Ray’s death adds to the sadness as a harbinger of all our eventual passages.

The history of Rock as a musical art form evolved vertically from its roots in the blues with jazz inflections beginning in the mid 60s. REO Speedwagon in the Midwest,  Aerosmith in Boston,  The Rascals in New York, The Allman Bros in Georgia to name only a few.  But the true epicenter of 60s Rock was Laurel Canyon in LA, central to the evolution of Rock as a serious medium.

The cross fertilization, cross pollination and insemination leading to the arrival of Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash & Young, the Eagles, Frank Zappa, the Turtles, the Mamas & Papas to name but a few.  And of course, more to the point……The Doors, created in LA and nurtured in Laurel Canyon. There was nothing like them before and there will probably be nothing like them again.

It was 1967, the year “Alice’s Restaurant” signaled the emergence of a radical change in things.   The strains of “Are you Experienced” from Jimi Hendrix and “When the music’s over” from the Doors wafted around the dorm hall leading to stunned silence. No one had ever herd anything like that before.  It was literally electrifying and it led like the auditory pied piper to the culture that created it.

Music is in a class by itself in its ability to pluck at the strings of the human heart and the masters have the ability to bypass technique. Mozart is said to have been able to perfectly play the identical piano piece upside down or with his arms crossed. Similarly, it wasn’t what Jim said; it was the way he said it and the words paled quickly.

If I play Jim Morrison in a pitch-black room, I physically return to many a curious and forgotten lore. I still get dazed and confused just as my generation did in 1967. When I play “If you’re going to San Francisco” by the late Scott McKenzie, or “Kiss and say goodbye” by the Hollywoods, it moves me to tears. “Gimmie Shelter” by the Stones makes me crazy. When I play on stage with the CODES and watch people absorbing the music and reacting, it reminds me of the awesome power it holds.

Rest in peace Ray and Jim.

A note about my father’s passing

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A special note about my father who would have been 93 this November:

My father died in December 2008 at age 89.  In the end, he simply wore down as quietly as he had lived. Our family had the good fortune of his dying process occurring in the Hospice he founded in the early 80s. He was cared for by people that had known him and loved him for a generation. Eternal sleep took him surrounded by his family and friends. An appropriate ending to an amazing life. For that I am immeasurably grateful.

By history, he got into veterinary school at Texas A & M by a series of events that are fascinating and I shall spare you. He didn’t think he could ever make it into medical school so he settled on the next best. This is where he was when he met my mother. He was a guy that never had anything in his early life and ended up scratching for everything he got and got by with dumb luck and being in the right place at the right time. When he met my mother, she had spent two years at Texas Christian University and had dropped out and was a secretary somewhere there. He met her at a dance, which since there wasn’t much else to do and it was a big part of their social lives. He took one look at her first time and thought she was the most beautiful female he ever saw (She was a voluptuous babe at the time- I have the early photos).

He didn’t say why he decided to marry her but I suspect it was because she exuded some element of class he thought would be good for him. Nailing down a beautiful woman is a pretty big ego trip and I think he thought he needed that boost to reinforce his ambitions that he didn’t have much of a chance at. It was a whirlwind romance. But as it happened, he worked hard and managed to dumb luck into some good things for him. He was good in anatomy and shortly after he was married he was offered an assistant professorship at Baylor in the Veterinary School with the promise of a career and tenure. This is apparently the life my mother had anticipated and one of the premises she married him for. When they got married, she perceived their future as it appeared to be. She wanted to be a nice stable professor’s wife in the milieu she knew and understood.

She didn’t perceive the all consuming, steam rolling passion to go to medical school that boiled within him. it never crossed her mind that a graduate of veterinary college with a great career ahead had any other passions. Their whirlwind romance was not long enough or intuitive enough for to understand anything other than what appeared to be. Ultimately, in a feat of dumb luck that is pretty close to the dumb luck episode that got me into medical school, he managed to squeak into the first class at Baylor School of Medicine, 1943, and their lives changed radically.

Suddenly, she was pregnant with me and they were scrounging for every dime. He was working every odd job he could find to pay tuition and expenses, studying all night and she was selling nylon stockings door to door. This wasn’t what she had signed up for  and he strongly implied there were marital problems from then on.

They didn’t have two nickles to rub together from then on. Ultimately they ended up at Cleveland City Hospital (now Metro) for surgical residency. Lived in a sparse “married housing” area and my mother and i ate most meals with him at the hospital cafeteria since it was free. This was 1947 and my mother was pregnant with my sister. One night she had a sudden onset of pelvic pain and shock. He carried her two bocks to the hospital where she went immediately to the operating room for a ruptured uterus, a complication of a previous Cesarian (me). Skirted death of both mother and baby by a millimeter.

Finally lack of money forced the family to take a break after Internship to make some money. Moved to Premont, down in South Texas to be a family practitioner for a while to replete funds and save money for residency in Surgery. It goes on from there.

As a kid in high school, I recall loud arguments emitting from their bedroom. She declared she hated the life and couldn’t do it anymore. He declared medicine was his only life, his only passion, he didn’t know how to do anything else, did not want to do anything else and if she couldn’t be part of it he didn’t know how to make it better for her. He always stayed up late watching TV with me so it was certain she would be asleep when he retired. They divorced in 1970 and neither spoke to either again. My mother died in her sleep at age 93 in Macon Georgia

There’s some kind of lesson there, not sure what it is. I plan to do the same (writing memoirs). My kids have little interest in me if for no other reason because they are so involved in their own lives. I figure when I’m gone they will wonder about me and I think I would like them to know about my life.

It is appointed to all a time for life and a time to die.  Manners of death are merely inevitable transitions of a nature we cannot conceive.  What has meaning is manners of life.  In his 89 years in this world, my father lived a live of meaning to his many patients, friends and loved ones.  Those remaining behind will grieve for our loss.  I rejoice in his life.  There can be no greater monument than for those who grieve to go forth with enriched lives as a result for that memory.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)

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(This is the 40th anniversary of Dr. Thompson’s epic work:  Fear and Loathing on the campaign trail, 1972.)

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0479468/

**********************************************

Thompson is credited with introducing the concept of participatory journalism in the late 60s & early 70s. Fueled by copious amounts of Wild Turkey and superhuman doses of LSD, Thompson was a true “free lance reporter”, describing the world with a vocabulary never dreamed of by anyone else. Most of his work was done in one sitting and it’s said he didn’t get on a roll until 48 hours and several bottles of Wild Turkey had passed.

Thompson was a counterculture icon at the height of the Watergate era, carrying an encyclopedic loathing of Richard M. Nixon, the horse he rode in on and the ground the horse trod.  Arguably his most important work was “Fear & Loathing on the Campaign trail, 1972”. Frank Mankiewicz, George McGovern’s campaign manager, would often say in later years that the book represented the “the least factual, most accurate account” of the election.

Many burned out 60s hippies remember HST as the National Affairs Desk of Rolling Stone, where he sent in stories from a prototype fax he dubbed the “mojo wire”. In his prime he was brilliant, insightful, quirky and unpredictable. At his worst, he was a wretched miscreant. All the things that make a great writer.   In his prime he absorbed, then described the world he perceived effortlessly and spontaneously.  As he aged and the effects of a lifetime of drugs and alcohol took its toll, he simply ran out of capacity. Spontaneity was replaced by expectations he didn’t know how to fulfill, replacing insight and lyricism with pyrotechnics on demand.

Thompson was found dead of a self inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 67 in 2005 after a long history of poorly resolved medical issues.  HST didn’t consider suicide to be a dishonorable act. He considered his life to be a perfection that simply ran its course, inevitably degenerating into an unacceptable charade much like Papa Hemmingway. In his prime, he viewed history and he made history. As he and the world matured, life just wasn’t fun anymore.

Failure and mediocrity were unacceptable and his basic nature would not allow evolution to emeritus status.  He chose to exit before he reached the bottom. It was the self-fulfilling prophesy of his life.

Some collected quotes that give insight to his writing process:

From “Hell’s Angels”:

“They were a bunch of overgrown adolescents, stuck in their religious mind-set as a way of life. They defined themselves by their opposition to any and everything. The strength of their antagonism was the source of their faith, and like all holy wars, their greatest enemies and their greatest source of bloodshed was from within, battles against rival factions competing for bottom of the barrel status”.

From “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas”:

“We will not be that lucky.  The end will not come quickly, like it says in Revelation 22:7.  First will come the shit-rain, then the sheep dip, and after that the terrible night of the whore-hopper, which might last for 1000 years.”

From “Fear & Loathing on the campaign trail, 1972”:

(On Nixon):  He was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad. The Nixon I remembered was absolutely humorless; I couldn’t imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn’t quite reach the lever on the voting machine.”

You cannot understand the early 70s without reading HST.  Must read volumes written at his peak are:

Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (1966). A first hand account of riding with the Hells Angels for a year, capturing insights no one else was equipped to do.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” is an autobiographical novel illustrated by Ralph Steadman. A vivid commentary of a soul-less city Thompson considered the end of the American Dream.

“Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72”.  A collection of articles covering the 1972 presidential campaign, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. The articles were first serialized in Rolling Stone magazine throughout 1972 and later released as a book in early 1973.

“Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1: The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time”, a collection of HST’s essays from 1956 to the end of the 1970s,

 

I give the film four fedoras out of five, and a plastic cigarette holder.

Rest in peace now Mildred Eden Crippen (1918-2012)

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Three days short of her 94th birthday my mother quietly and mercifully died in her sleep last week.  I had discussed this eventuality at length with her in better days. She had agreed to make me full Power of Attorney with lawyers filling out the paperwork. Iron clad. She had asked if any small amount of money that may be left over after her death be given to my children. My children are well cared for so I elected to give anything left over to my daughter Andrea’s son who is starting college this Fall.

My mother  was exceptionally well cared for at the facility she resided in. She had a semi-private room and she was quite comfortable, pictures of glory days on the wall. I blew in now and then always unannounced and spoke with care givers, and I was always pleased.   She eventually progressed to deafness and musculoskeletal difficulties due to arthritis but was clear of mind. She read big print books and did lots of crossword puzzles right up to the end. I’ll probably rot in purgatory for giving her a big print copy of Sarah Palin’s book (hard to find big print). Her response to that was “that woman’s an idiot”, so her mind was definitely clear.

She went to sleep one night last week and was found with “Altered Mental Status” (unresponsive) in the morning. Probably a stroke as she was hypertensive her whole life. On hearing that by phone, I had previously arranged to make her hospice status and she died quietly a day later without ever coming around.  It was a good death, as they go 😉

I think the story of her and my father is interesting. I will relate it for anyone with an interest in such things. Delete if no interest. It is, after all, Sunday and I can write anything I want 😉

My father was born into extreme poverty in 1918 on a dirt farm in Spooner, Wisconsin, a brutally barren place with no hope for anyone unfortunate enough to live there. No running water and outside bathroom. Like the cliché, he really did walk miles to school (and the outhouse) in waist deep snow and no one cared whether he went or not. It would have been easy to drop out and go to work at whatever brought body and soul together. He didn’t have two nickels to rub together.  His father was a neer-do-well itinerant jack-of-all-trades and master of none who traveled around the country hopping on freight trains, scratched out a living doing what he could. Performed magic tricks for a few pennies, drew pictures (I have some), did odd-jobs and so on. He hung around just long enough to impregnate my grandmother, who eventually threw him out. He died of a ruptured appendix at Cook County Hospital in 1944.

To make a VERY long story short, my father ended up in veterinary school at Texas A & M, did pretty well.  He worked hard and managed to dumb luck into some good things for him in veterinary medicine.  He liked anatomy and he was offered an assistant professorship at Texas A & M in the Veterinary School with the promise of a career and tenure. My mother had attended Texas Christian College in Austin and ran out of money and so was working as a secretary in the Department of Anatomy at Texas A & M where my dad was teaching.  They had proximity and started dating around 1941, married in 1942. This is apparently the life my mother had anticipated and one of the premises she married him for. She wanted to be a nice stable professor’s wife in the milieu she knew and understood. She perceived their future as it appeared to be at the time.

Dad didn’t say why he decided to marry my mother but I suspect it was because she exuded some element of class he thought would be good for him. Nailing down a beautiful woman is a pretty big ego trip and I think he thought he needed that boost to reinforce his ambitions. I think she had a great body too.  It was a whirlwind romance.

But my father had an unrelenting subliminal passion to be a medical doctor more than anything in the world.  Mother didn’t perceive or understand the all-consuming, steam rolling passion to go to medical school that boiled within him.  It never crossed her mind that a graduate of veterinary college with a great career ahead had any other passions.  Their whirlwind romance was not long enough or intuitive enough for to understand anything other than what appeared to be.  Ultimately, in a feat of dumb luck that is pretty close to the dumb luck episode that got me into medical school, he managed to squeak into the first class at Baylor School of Medicine, 1943, and their lives changed radically and unpredictably.

Suddenly, she was pregnant with me and they were scrounging for every dime to keep him in school. He was working every odd job he could find after school to pay tuition and expenses, studying all night and she was selling nylon stockings door to door. This wasn’t what she had signed up for and  there were marital problems from then on. She never liked being a doctor’s wife, especially a surgeon’s wife.  He was gone all the time and there was no reliability in his or her life. I remember epic fights in the middle of the night in which he yells=ed “I can’t do anything else…I don’t want to do anything else….this is my life”.

My father swapped out her life in mid-stream into a lethal iteration and she was not able to adapt or accommodate. She did love her kids and she was always there for us, but it was apparent that her life had been a big mistake she hadn’t signed up for and once it started she couldn’t get out of it. I think many times she would have liked to have gone back and changed that course before it began. But it was what it was, as it is for many.

Rest in peace now Mildred Eden Crippen (1918-2012). All things considered, it was a good life.

Rest in peace now Mildred Eden Crippen (1918-2012). All things considered, it was a good life.