Hi, Dear Friends -
I've been thinking about you with appreciation and want you to know that Aeden, Irene & I are doing well. What follows is a brief update.
Since September, I've been working in a Life Skills classroom with middle school students who have autism, and I absolutely love this work! I'm also enrolled in a couple of classes based on applied behavior analysis. One is teaching me to teach people how to train their dogs (and other animals) using a marker signal (clicker) and positive reinforcement. The second course is helping me refine my TAG skills. TAG is Teaching with Accoustical Guidance, and uses a marker signal (tagger) and positive reinforcement to teach people. It's fun and effective with people of all ages with all kinds of abilities and learning goals from basic life skills to music to cheer leading to Olympic sports and is being used in public and private schools and gyms around the US and Europe. Both classes are scientifically based, intellectually demanding, and very exciting. The farm is still in tact, and the animals are doing well. (Both dogs and my grand 30-year old Arab died of old age this past year, but it was their time.) After the dogs died I tried living alone in the house. It was nice having a house that stayed clean, but after three days I was a wreck: I needed company and chaos. So I went to a local dairy and got a border collie puppy, Oakley (after Annie), now 10 months old. She is the most sensitive and challenging dog I've ever known -- astonishingly brilliant! (Clicker training teaches people & animals that it's okay to be creative and to think, and boy, does Oakley ever think - er, plot.)
Aeden is playing in two bands. He's still doing cover tunes with the Space Band at private gigs and in a local club every other weekend. He's also in a new band that does original music and is attracting quite a following. In addition, he's doing well in real estate given the economy, giving private guitar and bass lessons, and helping when he can with the Song Growing Company. His amazing partner Morgan is substitute teaching, working on her masters, playing soccer regularly and snowboarding when she can.
Irene is doing well, too. She was recently chosen "Employee of the Quarter" at the credit union where she's worked for several years. She has a whole lot of friends, including one who, along with his son, has become extra special in her life. While decorating Christmas cookies with her, I was reminded of her creativity and talent. She's an amazing artist as well as a beautiful writer and wonderful human being.
We all talk on the phone and see each other as often as our crazy schedules allow, and we've each had our very very sad moments and will continue to. But we also understand them better, know that they pass, and know that Tom is within each of us as well as still out in the world affecting lives for the better. We'd like to spend more time nurturing Tom's work and the Song Growing Company, and are hoping that real health care reform takes place soon that will make it easier for us to do this. In the meantime, I've begun a couple of projects involving old LPs and two new songbooks, but they've had to take a back seat for awhile.
Tom always loved this time of year, and would have been busy putting finishing touches on the FCCB's big Christmas Eve program. But he would have liked this year better than most, because our economy has highlighted what is truly important and what was most important to him: not stuff (which was always my domain), but Love, community, and working to make lives better.
I'm hoping that this finds you filled all the way up with Love, community and gratitude.
Happy New Year,
Sometimes I almost forget that he is not here anymore and I don’t want to let myself believe that he is actually gone. I still get the urge to call him and I have been hearing his voice a lot lately. I still have those day dream memories about him: I arrive at my folks’ house, he brings his smile for me to the porch and says excitedly “Hey Kiddo, before you do anything else you gotta check this out!” And sometimes I would be in a hurry or I would be grumpy and maybe I wouldn’t be very enthusiastic about it and he would say “It’ll only take a minute… humor me” with a twinkle in his eye that winked without having to. He would lead me out to the garden and point at the plants growing through the dirt, his voice would become a loud excited whisper as he would grab on to my shoulder and say with wonder and playful disbelief “Look at that! They’re growing. All I did was play in the dirt, plant some stuff, water it and now there is new life growing out of this world. I’ll be damned. Yesterday they were this big [he shows me by holding up his thumb and forefinger, mimicking the height] and today they are this big already [separates them a tiny bit more]!" He would stare at me with his contagious grin and I loved every second of it. It was always so impossible to avoid catching his excitement. It wasn’t just the excitement for the plants that were coming up or the food that was being made right there in the dirt, it was excitement for life--all of it. I so miss that excitement and I am proud to have known it so well. I can still find it through these memories but it will never be the same and that is the hardest thing to accept.
There are new chapters opening up for all of us: Aeden and Morgan are moving in to their own place together and I am moving in with friends back in the neighborhood I grew up in. I’m going to miss living with them but it is time to move on and I’m excited to find out what’s next. My mom’s eyes are almost totally fixed and so she’s working on figuring out the next step for her as well. I’m really grateful for Oakley--it’s hard to be sad around that puppy. It’s possible, just not easy. Overall I think we’re doing really well. It has been a tough year for all of us with a whole lot of loss and a lot of change but I think we’ve handled it remarkably well, and I know that we’re going to make it. It’s just going to take a while to feel grounded again and we all have a lot to figure out.
I keep wondering what tomorrow will be like. I might wake up early and make a list of all the things that I am grateful for, as my dad did so many mornings. It seems like the best way to start any day, especially one like this. I want to remember him and hear stories, I want to laugh and forget and be distracted at times, I want to focus on the good times that we all had together and I want to keep him alive through stories and memories. I might even go garage sale-ing with friends to find stuff for my new place--my dad loved good deals and loved wondering about the history of things so that seems appropriate. The four of us are planning to go to dinner tomorrow night, it will be good to be together. I know that he would want us to make room and time to feel sad and acknowledge the loss and I know that he would want us to also find relief, to laugh and joke and have fun and be silly. Remembering this time last year is difficult, we were basically in a holding pattern waiting for my dad to die. I was talking to my mom earlier today about how it makes me feel sick when I think about that aspect of his death, the waiting and the watching him slip away. On the other hand, I have incredible memories of the music and the people who helped us take care of him--some from a distance and some from right next to the hospital bed in my folks’ living room. It was a huge gift for me, for all of us to receive that kind of care and witness humanity at its very finest.
I would give anything to have him back. It’s ironic that the one person I want to talk about this the most with is the one person who can’t be found. I really miss him. I have his excitement for life, a similar love of people and nature and the best I can do for now is use it and hope that it can be as infectious for others as it was for me.
I talked with Tom's 93-year old mom last night about remembering this time last year and about not remembering this time last year. When I remember Tom slipping away, I sink & can barely move. I snap myself out of this funk by seeing so many of you in my mind, either visiting him or writing or singing or sending stuff, and I again become so very grateful for the way he was ushered out of this lifetime. I feel good about being able to love and care for him (my friend for 34 years & husband for 30) all the way through. I'm proud of Aeden & Irene for being so strong and loving and helpful. And I'm grateful to our amazing local community for taking care of the farm & visitors so that the kids & I could focus on Tom.
We've almost made it through a year of 'firsts' without Tom and have been told that things will get easier. I think it's true. Have found myself feeling like playing music again & quoting him lately. I've also wondered out loud what his nickname for my puppy, Oakley, would be. He would have thought she was a pain in the butt, which she is - an extremely intelligent one at that- but he also would have played with her and noticed things that I likely haven't picked up on yet. Damn, I miss him....
Anyway, I know that you have also experienced Tom's loss and want you to know that I love you.
I don’t think that things are getting any easier. They’re just different. It hurts in a different way now. I really miss him and there‘s a lot of loneliness in that missing. It’s funny, I know that I’m in this with my mom and my brother and the rest of my family and I know that there are a lot of people out there who miss him too but that knowledge doesn’t make it any less lonesome. I still sometimes think that it wouldn’t be surprising to get a phone call from him. I don‘t expect it, I just don‘t think it would be that weird. I called his old cell phone number the other day and a strange girl’s voice came on his answering machine. I knew it would happen but I didn’t want it to, with her voice came a deep disappointment that I hadn‘t expected.
Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory. Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.
And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time. …I began to understand that whenever death happened, it happened to me. That is knowledge that takes a long time to wear in. Finally it wears in. Finally I realized and fully accepted that one day I would belong entirely to memory and it would then not be my memory that I belonged too…
Some days, sitting here on my porch over the river, my memory seems to enclose me entirely; I wander back in my reckoning among all of my own that have lived and died until I no longer remember where I am. And then I lift my head and look about me at the river and the valley, the great, unearned beauty of this place, and I feel the memoryless joy of a man just risen from the grave.
My aunt Sharon gave this book to us for Christmas and said that she thought Tom would really like it. I agree; I think he would love this book. I often wonder what he would think about certain lines that I read or scenes that I see or things that I think, I wonder what he would say about them now. I love his life so much, it’s hard to imagine letting any of it go and it’s even harder to imagine him being forced to do the same, even though we lived it. There have been many incredible people who have passed away recently, some that I knew well and some that I never had a chance to know. I hope that they’re all together somewhere waiting for the rest of us when it is our turn to go.
a new time has begun.
a time to dream and love and laugh--
a new year full of fun.
We’ve learned a lot and lost a lot
but gained more than we know,
let’s use this year to heal and live,
let’s push ahead and grow.
We cannot change the past hardships,
we cannot turn back time,
but we can make the future great--
yours and theirs and mine.
Let’s hold on to each other close
as this year ends so soon
and embrace next year with hope and joy
as it sings a brand new tune.
I believe in this life, this world, this place,
I believe in you and me.
Through you I’ve learned to believe in us--
in love and family.
Happy New Year
It snowed a little more last night, it is a beautiful day. Aeden and I are getting ready to head out to the farm to spend the rest of the morning with my mom at my folks' house, we may go see a movie later to get out of our world and into someone else's for a little while. I don't really care what we do as long as we're together.
Last year for Christmas my dad presented this poem to me:
I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere as though behind a hill--
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.
from "Stone" by Charles Simic
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
I love this time of year. I love watching the fall-into-winter progression, the changing of colors as life prepares. The hyper-color leaves fall away, leaving the trees bare and vulnerable. Time passes and the vulnerability fades into a hardening. The world seems to toughen up, as if it is saying “Bring it on, winter. I’ll be back next year, next year will be better.” That’s how I’m beginning to feel as well.
This morning the sky looked like a huge pillow bed and on my way to work I walked by several tall bare trees. I day dreamed the walk away and in my thoughts I climbed to the top most branch, reached up to the sky and pulled down some of the cloud blanket to wrap around me. Sometimes I wish I could climb up there and hide.
My dad and I shared a love for this time of year. We loved pointing out our favorite trees, we loved stopping to examine each good one on our walks or on drives. We called each other when we saw an exceptionally cool branch or the most vibrant of colors in leaves somewhere. There was always time for us to enjoy this together, even if we were apart. He wrote this poem for me fifteen years ago, it’s my favorite:
Trees Against The Sky
... for Irene - Christmas, © 1993
There is a scene we like to share:
It's trees against the sky,
Winter trees that don't have leaves
No matter how they try
To hold on through the fall and winds,
To have a bit more time.
They're gone and now the branches draw
A skeleton design.
You like them best when reaching up,
I like them best when bent
And gnarled over with the weight
Of storms and time well-spent.
We see them mostly in the dusk
And when the weather's gray,
And now, with solstice, Christmas lights
Stretching out the day.
There are no signs of springtime yet;
She waits down underground
In roots that feed and hold the trees
And let them move around.
Some day she will paint the leaves
Back on the branches bare.
You'll point it out, we'll laugh again --
Another scene to share.
Another scene to welcome in
As others say good-bye,
Mem'ry deepens fav'rite ones,
Like trees against the sky.
I want nothing more than to share this with him again. I was eleven when he gave it to me, I memorized it right away. It was kind of like our anthem, still is. Pointing out these scenes became a game of ours and I miss that game so much, especially this time of year, such a beautiful time of year. There are several memories flooding back that I will write about soon. He sure was incredible.
Again, better late than never:
The tribute in Dallas was awesome. Aeden, Morgan, my mom & I arrived in Dallas on the evening of Thursday November 6th and we ate at this nice little Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. My mom and I shared a room with Billie and Robin from Teacher’s Camp and we all visited for a while before going to sleep, it was really great to see them. The next morning we wandered around the exhibit hall at the Convention Center where the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) Convention was held. I’ve been to some conferences, workshops and concerts with my dad to help sell tapes before but I‘ve been never to one this big. It was overwhelming to see all the stuff that people think is necessary or important for kids and teachers in the world of early childhood. There were tons of products and plastic things and sing-along rap songs about how fun life is and advertisements for easy to clean-up, mess-free play time activities. I guess they work for some people but I liked the things that seemed homemade and messy the best. I had two favorite booths: One was also Billie’s favorite, it was a booth of wooden furnishings and tables and there was this cool wooden stand with a container of water that had a hose draining into it with plants and I think there was some dirt with it and it had a little rope-bucket contraption and shovels and the people that ran the booth were really nice. My other favorite was also Gwen, Morgan & Aeden‘s favorite: the science booth. There were tiny little pebbles that grow to the size of marbles when you add water to them and they feel slimy like eyeballs when you touch them, there was stuff that starts out as tiny beads and turns into fluffy cold snow with water, there were things flying around and there was a guy wearing goggles in a tank and he was letting coke-a-cola bottles explode all around him, soaking him with waterfalls of soda. It was fun, messy, hands-on and really cool.
My mom and brother helped out at my dad’s space there, Hugh Hanley was extremely kind and let us share his booth to sell my dad’s stuff. It was really hard for Gwen & Aeden to be there, harder for them than for me because they have more connections and memories from those places with my dad than I do. I don’t like using the term “harder” when it comes to this stuff because our experiences are so different but I think it makes sense for that setting. Billie, Robin, Hugh, Jeanne and others offered to take turns at the booth so that the four of us (Aeden, Morgan, Gwen & I) could get out of there to see Dallas for a bit. We spent a lot of that afternoon wandering around Dallas and learning about JFK. We went to a museum where this really cool old guy told us about his experience of the day that JFK was shot, he had just seen the caravan go by and was heading back to work a block away when it happened. We went on an audio tour of JFK’s presidency and his life. I was struck by the hope that infused the times back then and the similarities between JFK and Obama, I couldn’t help but feel an air of possibility and hopefulness. We checked out the grassy knoll, ate some BBQ and headed back to the Convention Center. Ben and Siobhan, a couple of my friends from Austin met us there. I was really flattered that they came from Austin to Dallas to spend the evening with us, they are two very incredible people. They ended up driving us to the tribute and they hung out with me while the tribute was getting set up, they stayed for the whole thing and it was really nice to have them there with us.
The tribute was at the Hyatt, maybe a mile away from the Convention Center. That building has the coolest elevator that I have ever been on, I went on it at least five times. The walls were glass so we could see everything we passed, it went fast so it felt like we were flying through the floors and it went up the full 28 stories. About halfway up we broke through the roof and we were suddenly gliding up the side of the hotel, looking out on all of Dallas and the tower with the ball of lights was right in front of us and it was really, really fun. It was probably the best free entertainment I’ve had in a really long time. The tribute started at 7 pm and it couldn’t have been any better. The room was packed and there were connections being made between a lot of people, several comments were made about how Tom is still managing to bring people together. Bev Bos and Michael Leeman were a big part of the tribute, it was reassuring to see them up there. They played music along with Hugh Hanley throughout the event and some other people joined in and teachers took turns telling stories about Tom’s influence in their lives and how he inspired them. Jeanne’s tribute DVD was incorporated during it also, it captures my dad so well and it is absolutely beautiful. Margie C., Deb, Billie, Jeanne and others presented their own stories and read stories written by Kelly and Margie S., a couple teachers who weren't able to come to the event. Even though there were so many people there that some had to stand in the back, the tribute still felt intimate and very right. I got to meet Cody's grandma and although I was overwhelmed with everything going on it was really nice to meet and hug her. Overall the tribute was comfortable, beautiful, poignant, inspiring and, once again, I know that my dad would be very proud.
That night after the tribute Billie, Robin, my mom, Aeden, Morgan, Ben, Siobhan and I all went back to our hotel room and visited for a while. We played “Would You Rather” and we caught up on things and there was a lot of laughter and eventually we went to bed. The next morning Aeden and my mom went back to the Convention Center and Morgan, Ben, Siobhan and I wandered around Dallas a little more. Aside from the JFK stuff it doesn’t seem like there’s much to do in Dallas without a car, we saw some interesting sculptures and said hi to some people and then we went back to the hotel. Ben and Siobhan went home and Billie, Robin and the Bellingham crew shared a shuttle to the airport and we all flew home our separate ways, it was really hard to say goodbye.
There’s something really extraordinary about being around the people who had such great connections with my dad, it feels like there’s always a lot more going on than can be seen and it is hard to be away from that once it has been so close. I’ve realized since we got back that I haven’t made much time to be around that group of people since the months surrounding my dad's death and I’ve noticed that when I am with them the void seems less than when I don’t spend much time with the family friends and the teachers and musicians and gardeners and the people that knew my dad so well. I miss that and I would like to make that a more prominent part of my life now. I’ve been struggling with how to stay connected with him and I think I need more stories about him and to make more stories about me with those people and those relationships. I am so grateful for all that has been done for us and for my dad, all that we have been included in and all that we have to celebrate. It isn’t really getting any easier, at least not yet, but it sure is rich and important to go through. A big thanks to all who worked to make these tributes and the ones we weren’t able to attend happen, it is so cool that these are going on.
From October 24th -- Tom Hunter Day (for some reason this was hard to write about and even harder to post--better late than never):
I stayed at my folks’ house Thursday night (Oct 23rd) and on Friday morning my mom and I sang the Good Morning song to each other. I sang about her shirt, she sang about my shoes and then I sang about her face (my favorite):
Good morning Good morning
I like the face you’ve got on in fact I like it so much I’m gonna put it in a song
In a song In a song
In a song In a song
I’m gonna put you and your face in a song.
I love that because you get to be in a song with your stuff, it’s so simple yet so significant at the same time. It’s not every day that a song gets sung about you and your stuff. I sang in my car the whole way home: Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, Aerosmith’s Dream On, Etta James’ The Wallflower, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, Faith No More’s Epic, and I even rapped a little with the radio (my dad would be so proud). I sang one of my favorite songs that my dad used to sing, the words go something like this:
Hold back the day Hold back the dayI
n which I’m living In which I’m living
So far from home So far from home
So far from free So far from free
Hold back the weight Hold back the weight
We’ve all been given We’ve all been given
And let a sweet song of yesterday wash over me.
It seemed appropriate, I really like that song. Time has been going too fast lately, there has been too much sadness and too much hustle and I don’t always like that time just keeps on going. Sometimes it’s comforting, other times I realize that it has been over four months already since he died and it doesn’t seem right. It still doesn’t seem real. Last night I expected my dad to walk into my parents’ room and say “Well looky here, it’s my two most favorite ladies” and we would tease him about how cheesy he is but we would love it. He greeted us that way often.
I came home and got ready for work and sang the good morning song about Tortuga’s shell (“I like the shell you’ve got on”). Tortuga is my dad’s turtle that I have adopted, my mom and I got him a turtle when I was in elementary school and she lived in his office until a couple weeks ago when I brought her to my house. “Tortuga” is Spanish for “turtle” and I always thought it was really funny that he named her that, I kind of expected her to be a Fred because of his song. He would stick his neck out really far and enunciate every syllable in her name when he said it “TORrrr-tOOO-Ga“ and smile his big proud smile afterwards, probably for no reason other than to make us laugh. He was really good at that.
Aeden, Morgan, my mom & I drove down to Tacoma together for the tribute that evening, it was incredible. It’s really emotionally overwhelming to be at these events, to see first hand the impact that my dad had on people and to wish that he could be here now to enjoy these tributes with us. It is a huge honor to be at these events, it is also a huge reminder that he is not here anymore. An eight year old girl named Sophie played guitar and sang Malvina Reynolds’ “If You Love Me” (aka “The rose and the apple tree song”) and it was awesome. Several people that knew my dad and his music took turns leading songs and telling brief stories about Tom and their experiences with him, Laura Smith and Linda Allen performed as well. My mom, Aeden and I were called up to the stage and Sandy presented us with the official signed & stamped copy of Governor Gregoire’s proclamation, along with a rose and an apple. We watched the DVD tribute that Jeanne put together and it is absolutely beautiful. It’s bittersweet to hear him and see him and not be able to interact with him but it is an incredible tribute, a beautiful reminder of the work that he did for kids and teachers around the world.
The tribute was amazing but my favorite part about Tom Hunter Day was the car ride home. We were all exhausted and full of gratitude, a little sad and slightly grumpy (it had been a very long day for us all). I made up an A-Z Song Game, a game where you have to sing songs that have a word in the title that begins with each letter of the alphabet. I figured we should go out with a bang on Tom Hunter Day: A Day For Singing! so we sang our hearts out. We sang from Tacoma to Lake Samish, making it all the way through the alphabet and it turned out to be a hilariously fun game. The next day my voice hurt, but in a good way. It was definitely worth it.
My dad never cared too much for technology. In fact, I don’t think he ever actually learned how to use the VCR. He would put the movie in the slot, sit back and crinkle up his face as he stared at the buttons. He would press play; nothing would happen. He would look puzzled for a moment and then he would ask for help. I always had fun teasing him about that but I realize now that it’s not because he wasn’t capable of learning about it, it’s because he never really cared enough about electronics to learn. They weren’t his style.
My dad loved homemade things. He liked things made out of wood. He loved things that weren’t perfect. He loved sounds. We shared a love for the sound that a pencil makes as it moves across a piece of paper. Sometimes when I don’t know what else to do I’ll put my head down on a table and drag a pencil slowly across a piece of paper and just listen--I guess it’s just another way to feel close to him still. We shared a love for hand-written cards and letters, we preferred feelings over diagnoses. All my life he could always tell when there was something wrong with me and figure out how to talk about it, even over the phone. He would ask “What’s wrong, Kiddo?” and I’d usually say “Nothing” even if there was something because sometimes it’s really hard to know what’s wrong, sometimes things are unexplainable and sometimes it's simply easier not to address them. He’d always say “C’mon, I don’t think that’s very true” and then we’d figure out a way to talk about it. He always knew.
My dad was always good at talking things through and once we figured out what was going on I would talk to my mom and she would figure out what to do, how I could fight to make things right again. My mom fights for us all the time, not just for my brother and I but for everyone. She fights for a healthy earth, she fights for justice in all senses of the word, for answers, for love. She fought to protect us from the hard realities of life, from illness and death until those inevitable things won. We then watched her fight for our dad all the way to the end, fighting against unbelievable diagnoses, fighting against discomfort, fighting away his pain. She fought lovingly and gently, with unconditional, unwavering determination and affection. My mom is my hero, too.
I was driving out to my folks’ house the other day to pick my mom up for dinner and I was thinking about how weird it is that there is so much paper work associated with a person’s life. Everyone gets a birth certificate when they’re born and a death certificate when they die. Proof of life sometimes has to be provided--either proof that you are or proof that you were. I remember feeling so devastated for my mom as she filled out the documentation surrounding my dad’s death, how she had to try and sum up his life on a little questionnaire so that we could receive the death certificate and start changing things even more. I was thinking about this as I drove, getting angrier and more bitter all the while, when a thought occurred to me: Being presented with a certificate means that you have passed something. You have completed the requirements and have moved on to the next level of whatever it is that you’re doing. You get a certificate for a job well done, another level completed. I like thinking that the certificate means that my dad passed this test and has moved on to the next thing, whatever that may be. We have the certificate now as proof of a life well-lived; a certificate of life completion. Just when I thought I couldn't be any more proud of him... Nice work, Daddy.