Sunday, February 05, 2006

Breathless ... .

I'm having a difficult time staying in focus right now. So much is happening so fast -- and I'm having a problem keeping on top of it all. Funny what rises to the top at such times.

Yesterday I attended an event honoring Frances Albrier, political activist in Berkeley over many years. The community center in San Pablo Park in South Berkeley was named in her honor years ago. Mrs. Albrier was a friend of my grandfather, Papa George's. I was his buddy for baseball games. He often stopped in at the nearby Albrier home when we visited San Pablo Park to watch the Negro barnstorming baseball teams play the California Eagles. This was long before the major leagues were racially integrated, of course.

Papa George and Daddy Joe would often sell caramel-colored pecan and overly-pink coconut pralines that stained your fingers -- at the games. They had a candy kitchen for a time -- in the back yard of Daddy Joe's home in the Fruitvale Area of Oakland -- one of their many ill-fated moneymaking schemes. In looking back I'm reminded that these two old guys were the African-American version of Steinbeck characters out of the Cannery Row or Sweet Thursday. Wish I'd paid closer attention to their antics at the time. Their entrepreneurial efforts allowed me to get to know the youngsters across town -- we lived far out in East Oakland. They were reasonably trustworthy to oversee my care but were enough involved in the games and their vending to allow for freedom and some growing space at a time when a little girl could use both.

It was here that I'd met my husband, Mel. I was 14 and he, 17. He was sitting on his bike (with newspaper saddlebags attached) near the clubhouse. I remember trying hard not to be obvious as I watched him from atop the fence where I was seated - only half watching the game. He was shy. I was even more so. It was not an auspicious meeting, surely not one that predicted that he would become my husband in May of 1942. But yesterday was Mrs. Albrier's day, and I was invited to attend as one of the elders with a memory of her and of her times. I'd been asked to say a few words of remembrance along with others

Later in the evening I joined Tom, his daughter and son and Peter's beautiful young fiancé for dinner in San Francisco. On the drive home I found myself with that little bit of nonsense that kept drifting in and out of focus and finally rose to the top riding on a hidden grin:

At 19 I'd married Mel Reid, celebrated extravagantly handsome football hero (quarterback for USF) which allowed me to learn more than I ever wanted to know about football with the bonus of seats on the 50-yard line for all important games; both in college and later at professional games. At 20-something that's nothin' to sneeze at.

After a failed but 35-year marriage; at fifty-something I married Bill which gave me access to the world of the university. Bill was the grey-bearded pipe-smoking yellow cashmere sweater with leather patches on elbows and tweed slacks with Brooks Bros. button-down shirt and loafers -- university psychology professor-- but even more important -- he had a University of California, Berkeley, parking space with his name on it. There were moments when I jokingly insisted that it was for this perk alone that I'd agreed to marry him. Sometimes he laughed -- sometimes not -- depending upon who was in the room when I'd blurt such nonsense.

It's all relative. Tom has a bright blue plastic handicap placard -- better than valet parking! You can't imagine how much that simplifies life in the Greater Bay Area which has such a glut of cars (he, for reasons that escape me, owns three). We have such poor public transportation, and so many fascinating places to visit. Memberships in the MOMA, the DeYoung Museum, and Ashland Shakespeare Festival doesn't hurt this friendship, but it's that bright blue plastic handicap placard that equals Bill Soskin's Cal parking space and Mel Reid's seats behind home plate or on the 50-yard line. The fact that he is one of the nicest gentle men I've known over a long lifetime doesn't hurt, either.

Life does have its compensations, doesn't it? You just have to be able to recognize the blessings when they surface. And wouldn't it be sad if I really was this shallow?

...and I do need to do something about arranging for some ambling lessons. I still find myself sprinting when a simple leisurely one foot in front of the other -- rhythmically and considerately will do just fine. Bill often expressed a wish that I could be tethered to his ankle when we window-shopped along Union Street in San Francisco (one of his favorite pastimes). His annoyance was clearly visible. When I'd find myself two stores ahead -- he'd deliberately hang back to force me to slow my pace.

I think I'm getting a little better at it, but have a long way to go before I've mastered it. It's particularly noticeable when I'm with Tom at art galleries. I tend to be always at least one exhibit ahead -- constantly running back to alert him to something up ahead that he has yet to reach ... .It must be frustrating as hell! He is so patient and long-suffering and never yet has he complained. But I notice and feel embarrassed and guilty at my irrepressible enthusiasm at such times. His health is poor and the condition is long-standing. I'm blessed with energy to burn ... and enough curiosity to wear out all but the heartiest of men. To his credit -- Tom continues to hang in and tolerates my exuberance with the grace of a saint. I'm so-oo-o grateful for his patience.

The Calder show is coming to the MOMA in March. Maybe this time ... .