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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Just returned from a weekend in Mendocino ...




... the occasion was for the intimate memorial service for my longtime friend and fellow traveler, Tom Freund.  It was a sorrowful event, but inevitable as it is for all of us mortals.  It was held in his beautiful home on a bluff at the ocean's edge with family and friends gathered to remember ... .

Tom was of the scientific world; a chemist -- and the son of the eminent chemist Jules Freund; Ivy League educated and a naval veteran.   But more than that, he was a gentle and compassionate being who worked passionately for those causes in which he believed fully until it was no longer possible to do so, though his irascibility and gruffness might deceive the uninitiated.  If there was a flaw in any endeavor, tool, instrument, composition, or thesis, Tom would find and bring it to light -- even when you didn't really want to know!

His failing health made it necessary to maintain two homes, one in suburban Walnut Creek where he spent about 25% of his life and where his small family lived, and where his doctors were reachable -- just in case, but also in the scenic splendor of quaint Mendocino where most of his time and community involvement took place.  He was an inveterate political activist and art enthusiast.  He gave generously of both time and financial support to those things in which he believed fervently.

It was this friendship that provided for me a place in life that offered context.  He was my contemporary and had become more and more important to me when our peers began to die off, and my world was increasingly made up of the young.  Each year this friendship seemed to become more important to my sense of balance.  There was never any doubt that he was intensely proud of the work that I was doing in the world, and never questioned my dedication to my chosen role in life.

Romance?  No, there are things that become more important as time wanes.  Companionship moves into prominence, and mutual respect, and a sense that one is appreciated in ways that may have been invisible at an earlier time; ways that transcend gender or sex or even power or a sense of powerlessness.  Those things just don't factor in when time becomes precious and the end times begin to emerge into everyday consciousness.

Sitting in that big chair with the expanse of an 180 degree view of crashing waves against monstrous rocks; with a lighthouse piercing its blinding rays into the blackness of night every 9 seconds -- from just a couple of miles away; with deer frolicking in the greening meadow just below; with 3 months of New Yorkers stashed right beside your big chair waiting for your return ... .

We'd celebrated birthdays together  for years -- mine being on September 22nd, and his on the 28th.  This year -- while I was in Washington -- he passed into eternity on the night of mine.  I knew the end was near, but I'd spoken with him by phone the week before leaving, yet I was not prepared for the news when it came after a day of celebration at the Department of Interior; such irony.  A few days after returning home I attended his burial with his small family and the caretakers who'd been so important in those final days when the way back was no longer in sight.

I will miss him.

I hadn't visited for over a year, though we'd had an occasional dinner together when he was in the Bay Area. This became less and less frequent as his health continued to weaken and as his future became darker.



You can imagine my surprise and delight when -- on Saturday in an idle moment I -- for the first time sat in my big chair to reach for the pile of New Yorkers and -- as I lifted them to sort through for the most recent, found lying underneath a copy of Elaine Ellison and Stan Yogi's book, Wherever there's a fight, a brilliant  history of the ACLU in California.  Though I have a copy given to me when it was published (there's mention of me and my  work with the National Park Service on two pages), I hadn't known that Tom was even aware of it.  I tend not  to mention such things.


I opened it to the dedication page and noticed a handwritten inscription from Elaine Ellinson which read:

          
To Betty --
Thanks to Tom you are getting another copy of this book. Thank you for sharing your story with us and for all your work for social justice. You inspire me!

Elaine Ellinson


It was like a message from beyond ...

... obviously Tom had attended a book signing at his favorite bookstore in Mendocino at some point during the year, and had bought this copy for me; had set it beside the chair that is mine alone when I'm there;  and -- though I'd not visited him for more than a year -- it had been dusted around and carefully replaced in wait for my return -- whenever ... .

That my return was for his memorial was almost too much to bear.

Out to celebrate Bastille Day
Sweet memories of walks on the Headlands covered with spring wildflowers; drives in the little red  Deux chevaux to find wild rhododendron hidden among the redwoods far back from Highway 1; visiting his favorite seaside winery above Fort Bragg; dinners at Noya harbor;  trips to Mendosa's for organic whole milk in glass bottles (because he wanted the very best for me); stopping in at the small shops where the most beautiful of the woodworker's pieces in every imaginable shape could be seen and -- if you weren't caught doing so -- fingered to feel the richness and texture; then to Nancy's -- his jeweler friend just to see what new designs she may have dreamed up to tempt the tourist ... then back to the Timbers -- the name of his oceanside home above the sea just in time for the magnificent sunset or the sight of the fog rolling in silently to enclose us in that wonderland I'd come to so love ... .

The Timbers was constructed some years ago from the redwood logs salvaged from the old bridge at Casper when it was torn down and rebuilt.  Craftsmen built in all of their love of wood long before Tom discovered and purchased it.  He then seamlessly added to the original design and the result is breathtaking! Can you imagine a beautiful redwood structure covered by a copper roof now oxidized to a soft grey/green patina ... ?  I know, it's just as beautiful as mere words would have it sound.

I will miss him dearly, at least until the healing begins -- as it is wont to do over time.  Yet one cannot live in the sadness too long lest it diminish those things we cherished in the living of it.

Rest in peace, dear friend.


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