All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ashes, A Life

My brother Dan died last January and, according to his wishes, my mother had him cremated. My cousins picked up his ashes and kept them until they could bring the box to me in the spring. Dan sat on my bookshelf for three months’ time. I felt he was a palpable presence, a beneficent spirit presiding over that corner of the family room, quiet as he had been in life, but watching and approving all he saw.

The summer passed and finally the first days of Autumn came when we had decided to hold his burial service. As the days drew nearer, I grew strangely reluctant to take his ashes down from the shelf and carry them on our trip to the town where the burial was to be. I wished I could always have him there in the corner of my family room, as if he were the same Presence as he was in life, my friend and mentor, seeming to me to be the approver of everything I said or did, only more silent now.

Daniel Lloyd Andrews was born during a terrific snowstorm one late November in Lima, Ohio. Dan’s dad was so wet from being in the snow that Dad had to take off his soaked trousers and dry them over the radiators in the waiting room.

At home awaiting Dan’s arrival was his two-year-old brother, Davy, with his Grammy and Grandpa. When Mom and Dan came home, in the car on the way Mom made a tunnel of the blanket so that Davy could peek down in to see the little face. He was instantly enchanted. He wanted to stay right there, looking in at the baby all the way home. He had been very excited by the thought of a little brother or sister, and here he was at last.

Just a year and two months later, another little brother came, Larry, and a year after that, another brother, Allen. In another year and a half the family moved clear across the country to California. Dan and his brothers flew in an airplane with their mother, and Dad came later.

When Dad arrived, he was very sick as he had had a heart attack, and the little boys were constantly told to be quiet to help his recovery. It is very hard for four little boys to be quiet.

The following two summers brought two little sisters to the family, Marci and Karen.

Dan started kindergarten when he was four, almost five, and continued through elementary school. He found schoolwork came fairly easy for him and he liked learning.

When Dan was six, his parents decided to have a swimming pool in the back yard. It would be one of the above-ground kind, a circle of corrugated metal siding with a heavy blue liner inside that would be filled with water. But first they would dig down into the dirt so that the pool could sit partway underground. The four boys enthusiastically got shovels and all started digging. Pretty soon digging lost its charm, so they got the hose and filled up their swimming hole with water, not willing to wait for the actual pool to come. They had a glorious time in their huge mud puddle.

When the actual pool was finished, Dan took lessons with his brothers and became a proficient swimmer. But the most fun was to climb up to the top of the swing-set and jump from the frame over into the pool, making the biggest splash possible. Dan and his brothers vied to see who could do a “cannonball” and displace the most water. But Dan was kind of small and didn’t win any of those contests.

When he was eight, Dan’s parents became concerned about his lack of energy and his failure to grow as much as his next-younger brother, who was bigger than him. They took him to doctors at nearby Stanford University who found that he had a hole in his heart between the ventricles that would have to be patched. The anxious parents met with the team of specialists who tried to prepare them for every eventuality. They were told that Dan would likely not live to adulthood, or if he did, that he would be very delicate in his health. He should not run or strain himself, they said.

But Dan had other ideas. Once his heart operation was over, he was determined to get back to playing as much as he wanted. The kids all played cowboys at that time. Dan’s costume for getting out of the hospital was a full cowboy outfit with boots, hat, and a toy gun. He was very proud of it. The nurses had bought the outfit, and Dan’s parents bought the boots and gun.

He loved to play with toy dinosaurs. The world of dinosaurs caught Dan’s imagination and he spent hours in his dioramas, playing with his dinosaurs. He taught his little sisters all the names and characteristics of each dinosaur. He and his siblings played dinosaurs all the time.

He really liked all reptiles. The family owned a terrapin turtle whose name was Otto. In addition, Dan and his brothers caught other reptiles to keep as pets. They had blue-bellied Western Fence lizards, skinks, and snakes.

When Dan was 10, he and Larry captured a pair of garter snakes near their grandparents’ home in Oregon, and they carefully and secretly bundled them into a pillowcase to bring them home to California. They rode together in the back seat of the three-seater station wagon, with Dan’s cockatiel bird, Pretty Boy, who was in his cage. While Mom was driving, suddenly everybody could hear Pretty Boy shrieking wildly. Since Pretty Boy shrieked a lot, only Mom paid much attention. She called back over the seats, “You boys stop teasing that bird!” Dan and Larry awoke to find one of the snakes out of the pillowcase, investigating the bird cage. They dove on it and got it back into the pillowcase safely.

When they reached home, the question of what to do with the snakes became pressing. Mom couldn’t know about them, because she hated snakes and would have made them get rid of them. They put them in the swimming pool enclosure, which, lacking its liner at that time, was the perfect little piece of fenced wilderness for the reptiles. They bought goldfish and crickets to feed them and caught small lizards and grasshoppers to supplement their diet. They even callously took their little sisters’ pet lizards and fed them to the snakes. The snakes were more important, after all, and they had to live. The little sisters got over it. (They might not have forgotten, but they did get over it.)
Many years later, Dan captures a snake near Grammy and Grandpa’s
old home on Mill Creek near Turner, Oregon.

Dad put his foot down when Dan acquired a gopher snake and was feeding it live white mice. Dad didn’t like the idea of the kids watching with sick fascination the terror of the mice being squeezed and swallowed by the snake. The gopher snake had to find a new home.

Dan’s best friend in childhood was Cliff May. He and Cliff had many adventures together, walking fences, stealing fruit from the orchards around their Sunnyvale home, escaping from irate fruit farmers, building and testing a go-cart (and nearly killing themselves in the process), and riding their bicycles everywhere. They were supposed to stay within limits that the parents imposed, but the adventurous boys ranged far and wide without paying too much attention.

Dan played a lot with his brothers as well. As he grew, his next-younger brother Larry became his favorite, and they were together in most all of these adventures.

Once one of those garter snakes somehow got loose in the house and Mom saw it in the kitchen and dashed straight out the door to the neighbor’s house, leaving small Karen, down for her nap, alone in the house so that the neighbor’s boy had to be sent in to get her and bring her over to the neighbor’s house because neither of the mothers dared set foot inside the house until school was out and the big kids came home on their bus. And then Dan and Larry were in huge trouble. That they laughed landed them in more trouble than ever.

Dan was always the peacemaker and facilitator of good sportsmanship among the family.

When we were younger, we played a lot of board games, and card games, and games in the swimming pool, and games around the house. We had always played a lot of team games, such as cowboys and Indians, and cops and robbers, and hide and seek, and tag, and Red Rover, and Mother May I, and other team games as well as the card games. He used to tell those of us who thought that a game was somehow unfair that “Life is Full of Misery and Pain.” We loved to hear him say that; he said it so much that it became something of a mantra, and we’d laugh every time we heard it.

The years went by and the family moved from Sunnyvale to San Jose. Dan had gone to Patrick Henry Jr. High and had started at Peterson High School, a brand-new school in Sunnyvale. There he and Cliff May came under the tutelage of the science teacher, Mr. Daniel Baer, whom Dan and Cliff idolized. Mr Baer had the boys do a lot of special projects for him, and Dan was very happy and fulfilled as a budding scientist. He read voraciously, especially science fiction books. His favorites for years were the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially the John Carter – Mars series. Dan wanted to become an astronaut when he grew up and explore space.

Having discovered girls, Dan took to keeping a black comb in his back pocket. Well, it was sometimes in his pocket. Often it was out, being combed through his very curly blond hair. He and Larry became obsessed with having perfect hair in case a girl, any girl, should look at them.

In San Jose at Blackford High School, Dan found he had a talent for running, in spite of all that his heart specialists had said. He tried out for the track team and ran both track and cross country events. He set several records that stood for many years at that school. His parents and siblings attended whatever track and cross country meets they could and cheered him on. True to their kinship, Dan’s younger brothers tried out for and won places on the team as they became high schoolers. They all ran and ran, practicing almost every night after school.

They’d come home from school, eat two sandwiches each, and then Dan would look forward to dinner. After dinner he had an absent minded habit of asking Mom if they had had dinner yet, and when the answer was yes, he would go to the kitchen and eat a bowl or two of cereal. Dan was a bottomless pit.

Dan began to take me places with him. His girlfriend was Sue Anderson, and her little sister was my best friend. We went over to the Anderson’s house together a lot. He bought his first car, a little blue Plymouth Valiant. He took us to the Pinnacles National Monument where we hiked all day. He took us to Santa Cruz Boardwalk almost every week that summer, where Jan and I rode on the roller coaster in the front seat over and over again.

Karen had been spending every weekend at Lynne and Bill Hetzel’s fruit farm in Hollister, California, and Dan drove me down there so I could stay a week during the summer with them. When Dan took Karen and me and my friends in the car, he didn’t mind if we played “Chinese Fire Drill” at the stoplights. He would play too, and we laughed all the harder to see him dive over seats or the hood of the car to get back in the driver’s seat when the light the other way had turned yellow.

Dan had a brilliant mind. He excelled in school and won more college scholarships than any other student in his graduating class at Blackford High School. He chose the University of California at Santa Cruz, because it had a good physics program, a precursor to his dream of becoming an astronaut.

Dan bought a motorcycle and took all of us on rides with him. He took me lots of places with him on that motorcycle. We’d go shopping on errands for our parents or someone else in the family. If I had something to do for school, he’d take me there. Several times we would go to the mountains just to sightsee, up Highway 9.

There was a time when we were at the beach with the family, and he took me on the back of the motorcycle on a sand dune and we fell over and rolled down the sand dune, landing at the bottom. I laughed after the initial fright of the experience. We weren’t hurt at all, but Dad had been frightened by the spectacle and got mad.

But nobody could really blame Dan when things with machines and him went wrong. They always did. He had a sort of lifelong war with mechanical things. Bicycles would drop their chains mysteriously if Dan rode them. Vacuum cleaners seemed to break down when Dan was using them. The can opener Dan tried to use fell apart. If Dan were helping Dad with a project in the garage, the electric drill would burn up or the saw would jam.

Dan and Larry bought bigger and bigger motorcycles as they grew older. Once as they were riding along the coast highway Dan looked back to see that Larry had disappeared. He went back and found that Larry had gone over the edge. Fortunately Larry was not hurt too badly, but he did have to go to the hospital.

One night with a full moon when Dan was riding his motorcycle back to Santa Cruz from home in San Jose, as he passed Lexington Reservoir he decided to turn off his headlamp because there was no other traffic and he wanted to see what the reservoir would look like in the bright moonlight. It was beautiful. But a policeman was sitting at the side of the highway just as Dan pulled that stunt, and he couldn’t understand the logic of the situation at all. Obviously he was a policeman with no imagination.

In college as Dan began to take the advanced physics courses, he realized that this was not what he had envisioned about becoming an astronaut. His idea was rather a romantic one of getting into a space ship and exploring, not of performing scientific experiments and calculating all the necessary data and writing scientific reports. He began to rethink his dreams and to explore alternatives. He experimented a little with drugs including LSD, but his experiences convinced him that this was not the way to find what he wanted out of life.

He began to research various religions and philosophies. He had always been a religious person, studying the scriptures and praying and meditating to feed his spiritual hunger. Now he wanted more. He changed his major to comparative religions and pursued his studies. Just before his final semester, he discovered the writings of an eastern mystic, Paramahansa Yogananda, and he dropped out of school and moved to Los Angeles to study this master and his teachings. However, after several months he discovered that this man had been something of a fraud, and he retreated back to the Bay Area to regroup and start a new quest. He studied and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that most of his family had joined a few years earlier. Larry followed him in studying and joined the same Church about six months later, but the two brothers continued to study various Hindu philosophies as well and dropped their affiliation with the LDS Church to pursue what for Dan would become a life-long devotion to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Sri Aurobindo (1872–1950) was born in West Bengal, India. He graduated with honors from Cambridge University before the turn of the 20th century and returned to his native India to lead his countrys struggle for independence from British colonial rule. However, in 1907 he turned from political life to dedicate himself to a spiritual quest, moving to Pondicherry, then a small French colony on the Bay of Bengal in South India. In 1912 he was joined by Mira Richard (1878–1973), the wife of a French diplomat who had come to India in search of a spiritual teacher. Sri Aurobindo recognized her as an incarnation of Divine Shakti, and she was thenceforth known as The Mother. Together they formulated the practice of Integral Yoga and founded the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India. Integral Yoga teaches that all parts of life are spiritual and that all experiences can help one to achieve a realization of the Divine.

In 1974 a group of spiritual aspirants, including Dan, founded the company of Mere Cie in Los Angeles to import products produced by The Mother’s Service Society in Pondicherry. The four co-owners were Dan, Gary and Leslie J, and Bob. They had various others working for them through the first ten years of the company’s existence, and after Larry had graduated from college, he eventually ended up as one of their top salesmen.

Over the years the co-owners diverged in their views of life and business. For Dan it was always primarily a means to a spiritual end. He viewed all activities of life as either promoting or interfering with reaching one’s divine potential. He took a minimal salary, just enough to live on, as he had always been anti-materialistic and had become increasingly ascetic in his lifestyle. But his partners became more materialistic in their outlook and eventually parted ways with him, selling Mere Cie and its import business to him and Larry and taking the offshoot consulting company they had formed for themselves.

Meanwhile, Dan was growing older. He visited me a number of times and once, while playing with my baby son, said that he wished he had made the choices that would have allowed him to marry and have a family. Despite my encouragement, he decided it was too late for him to do so, even though he was only in his forties at the time.

Dan and Larry made a concerted effort to get their company onto a firm financial footing. They traveled on their sales routes, with Dan covering Southern California and various specific points throughout the country, and Larry covering the Pacific Coast from mid-California to Seattle. They worked hard to clear the company’s debts and did fairly well for years.

Unfortunately, just as it seemed their dreams were about to be realized, Larry suffered a fatal heart attack. His death devastated Dan. Larry had been a mainstay in Dan’s life, his best friend and as a business partner, his gift for salesmanship was invaluable. But Dan was an experienced businessman and had always been a tireless worker. By sheer energy, he kept the struggling company afloat for many years.

But the times and developments were against him. The growth of the internet had brought an explosion of online sales companies. While Mere Cie had a website and some online sales, its bread and butter was incense sales, and Dan did most of those sales in person. Dan had a backlog of tapestries and soapstone that had slowed to a trickle of his sales. He had to close his warehouse and basically live out of his car until cousin Lynne and her husband Roger took him into their household and gave him storage space for his inventory as well. Because of internet sales, most gift stores that had once been Dan’s major customers had closed their doors, and then when the crash of 2008 came, Dan’s company could not recover. He filed for bankruptcy on the advice of his cousin Kathy.

Nevertheless, Dan was a confirmed optimist. He and Larry both had been selling other lines for other companies in order to bring in the income they needed for Mere Cie, and he negotiated to do more of the same. He was always sure that the next season would bring sufficient sales to revitalize everything. He kept Mere Cie just barely going until last summer. When autumn came, the people in India shut their doors and wrote him that they would no longer fill any orders. Throughout October and November, he tried to negotiate new agreements, to no avail. He had his birthday, and he did not know what he was going to do. He did not tell any of his immediate family members about his work troubles, nor did he confide in Lynne or Roger, with whom he lived.

He struggled through the end of the year, and then his optimism surfaced again and he wrote to his aunt shortly after the new year that he was going to start something new. He planned to sell off all of his inventory and develop new lines himself.

Dan had expressed a number of times to his family members that he did not want to die after a slow, ever more debilitating old age. He had had a tendency to gain weight easily after middle age, and he was always fighting to re-establish habits of regular exercise and healthier eating. This was not easy with a life on the road, selling his products and living out of motels and restaurants. But he persevered and kept trying to improve his health. In 2003 he had a mitral valve replacement and suffered tachycardia for years until his general health recovered enough to lower his blood pressure and overall heart rate. When visiting his sisters in Utah at the 2014 new year, he had a massive seizure, the first he could remember. He had had some kind of episode on a sales trip near Crescent City, California a few years earlier, but he declined to say whether it had been a seizure, a slight stroke, or what.

At any rate, on the morning of January 11, he had driven down from Napa to San Jose on a sales trip. After a lunch of a Subway sandwich and a little pie from a delicatessen, he was returning to his car when he was knocked to the ground by another massive seizure. He hit his head on the pavement of the parking lot with enough force to break his skull.

Because he had been taking Warfarin ever since his mitral valve replacement to keep his blood from clotting, the head injury became the blessing he had sought. His life ended suddenly, while he was still working, before he became debilitated, without his knowing any final suffering.

He had expressed a wish to be an organ donor if possible, so his family arranged for his body to be kept on life support until the organ donation was able to be completed the following weekend. His liver and kidneys were donated to men in the Bay Area who now enjoy better health because of Dan’s final gift. Dan’s official death was declared to be January 15, 2016 at 5 p.m. at the Santa Clara County Medical Center in San Jose, California.

I took Dan’s ashes down from the shelf and put the box into a bag decorated with ladybugs. Dan liked all things to do with nature, and it seemed the most fitting thing I had since I hadn’t thought before about making anything specially for the occasion. My sister-in-law had phoned the night before to tell us that she had dreamed we had gotten underway and had forgotten to take Dan with us; she wanted to be sure we weren’t going to make her dream come true. So I made sure that I put Dan into the car with the first things we packed for the trip.

We got to the cemetery just after lunchtime. We were a small family contingent: my mother, my sister and her daughter, the youngest of my brothers, an aunt and uncle, and my husband and son and self. My aunt can sing. I mean, she can really sing! She had brought an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that she had had me practice with her the night before. She taught me the soprano and alto parts, but my sister carried the alto, so my niece and I took the soprano, and my aunt sang a descant over the top of all the parts. It sounded amazing. We know that Dan didn’t necessarily believe the same things as we do, but we knew he would appreciate whatever we chose to offer in the way of music. We used to sing together when we were younger. We went around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols one Christmas eve.

My sister and brother offered some reminisces, and I read a biography of Dan that is mostly contained in this posting. Allen got choked up as he remembered what a good friend Dan had been to him. I never mentioned that part explicitly myself, but that is what is striking about Dan. He was a good friend to those whom he came close to. He was one of my best friends. He was genuinely interested in me, in my family, and in all that I thought about and all that interested me. I always wanted to know what new things he was learning and thinking about. Our long talks, begun when we were teenagers, continued all our lives. I miss those conversations.

We ended our little service with my brother dedicating the grave and all of us singing again, “Abide with Me.” Caroline moved the little table from over the small square hole, and Karen helped me take the box of ashes out of the ladybug bag. We three siblings held the box for a moment or two, and then we placed it in our mother’s lap for another moment. Then I knelt down and placed the box on top of our father’s coffin. We all sort of looked around for something more, and Karen picked a handful of dandelions and placed them on Dan’s box. Dan loved all natural things; that we had only dandelions to offer him for want of forethought would have been in keeping with something he would have done himself and approved.

As we moved away, I looked back at the place where my brother’s ashes are now. I felt peace about the place and about leaving him there. One day I expect to greet him again and have another long, long conversation.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Friday Quest for Fall Color

We zoomed out the Salt Lake Valley last Friday, September 16th, on Interstate 80 looking for colorful oak brush and other mountain plants in Parley’s Canyon and over into Heber Valley. Here is what we found.

Wasatch Mountains
Salt Lake Valley fall color
Near Olympus Cove
Leaving Salt Lake Valley on I-80
Entering Parley's Canyon
With some window glare, we pass through the mountains
We find beautiful fall colors in the canyon.
Like flame (cliche, but true)
The mountains stretch away . . .
The mountains are gorgeous this week.
There is more time for much more of this mountain to change color
Now we turn off on Highway 40
Chasing cloud shadows

Near the Jordanelle Reservoir
Pretty scenery
We washed the other window, but we should have washed this one!
Jordanelle Reservoir
Heber Valley
Zooming past the cows
Heber Valley Cheese Factory
A pretty red barn
Goat farm
Love that windmill!
Pretty little brick house in Midway
Midway Memorial
Midway: close to heaven, they say
House in Daniels that belonged to relatives of my husband
Lovely old barn, Daniels
Heber City cemetery
Waiting for a table at the restaurant
View from the Homestead, Midway
My favorite: the full moon, freestyle, from the freeway
Same moon, from the park near my house