Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
“Amazing Grace,” John Newton (1779)
President Barack Obama climaxed the most important week of his presidency by singing “Amazing Grace” at Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s funeral service in Charleston, South Carolina, before 5,000 people. Watching the ministers on the podium behind him was especially poignant. Rather than settle for being a lame duck, Obama seems finally to be coming into his own, being comfortable being himself. In his moving eulogy he repeated the names of the other victims gunned down at Mother Emanuel Church – Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, De Payne Doctor, and Reverend Daniel Simmons - and hoped that their martyrdom, and Pinckney’s, would lead to the Confederate flag’s removal from the South Carolina State capitol grounds. Earlier he defied his own party by persuading Congress to push through a Pacific trade bill. The Supreme Court upheld a challenge to the Affordable Care Act and decreed that same-sex marriages were valid throughout the 50 states. Obama praised the decisions and ordered the White House illuminated in rainbow colors on the eve of Gay pride parades in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere
Off to Palm Springs, California, for my mother’s 99th birthday, during the first leg of the trip a woman wanted to trade seats so she could be closer to her full-grown daughter, but I declined to relinquish the aisle. A guy whose shirt read “SNOT” (WTF?) gave in to her and later told a flight attendant she was gorgeous. Deplaning, a passenger saw me carrying “Breathing Lessons” and said that Anne Tyler was her favorite author. I finished it during the trip. Good-hearted busybody Maggie, failing to patch things up between her son and daughter-in-law and about to take youngest daughter Daisy off to college, asks hubby Ira: “What are we two going to live for, all the rest of our lives?”
Mary “Midge” Roberts (my mother), who can hardly move on her own, has a perpetually sore butt, and is ready to die, asked my brother and me to help plan her memorial service. A hospice care minister named Debra, who has a PhD in Urban Anthropology, met us at Mirage Inn. Midge wants the theme to be family and vetoed group singing. Reverend Doctor Debra suggested piano selections, including “Amazing Grace.” Midge wants her ashes placed next to Vic’s grave in Pennsylvania. At lunch Midge’s meal companion, 89 year-old Barbara, assured me she was looking out for her dear friend. She’s filling a void left by 100 year-old Shirley, who died in her sleep. Midge is hoping to go that way.
I had planned to spend a night at the Yucca Valley Best Western and catch a live band at Pappy and Harriet’s, but an out-of-control fire burning in the San Bernardino Mountains caused Pioneertown to be under voluntary evacuation, so I remained at the Rancho Mirage Holiday Inn. Toni read about it in, of all places, the Chesterton Tribune. The AP article stated:
At Pappy and Harriet’s Palace, a landmark restaurant and music venue, owner Linda Krantz got updates on the fire from forest rangers in parked trucks. She could see a huge plume of smoke from the fire that ran onto a wildlife preserve just five miles away.
At Applebee’s for Happy Hour, longtime bartender par excellence Natasha showed me photos of her three children. Good-looking, charismatic, and super-efficient, she reminds me of Adam Benjamin, Jr., the son of our late Congressman, who bartended at Country Lounge. Some thought it a shame that he didn’t make more out of his opportunities, but he was great at his job, apparently happy at what he was doing, and brightened the lives of countless customers. At Applebee’s a postal worker who delivered mail to Mirage Inn said he’d close the door before putting mail in the various slots because so many folks wanted to chat.
Midge’s birthday celebration took place in a special section of the Mirage Inn dining hall. Nephew Bob and family showed up, as did three friends of my brother who had spent Thanksgiving dinner with Midge. One of them blows glass with Rich and is a former adult film director. At Rancho Mirage Children’s Museum after lunch Addie and Crosby, Bob and Niki’s kids, got on a motorcycle, painted an old Volkswagen, went grocery shopping, and made pretend pizzas. I helped Addie make a worry doll, while Rich’s wife Catherine (whom the kids call Gilbert, her last name) worked with Crosby. According to Guatemalan folklore, if a person tells his worries to the doll and puts it under his pillow at night, his worries go away. Addie said she worries about fire, in the news often. One a few years ago forced her family to evacuate their San Diego town house.
On CNN I watched an interview with Evan Thomas, author of “Being Nixon: A Man Divided.” How such an introvert became a successful politician is confounding. I learned that Tricky Dick bowled with his tie on and told Jackie Kennedy Onassis at Dr. Martin Luther King’s funeral, “I guess this brings back memories.” The author’s grandfather was Norman Thomas, and Nixon, learning of this, called the Socialist Party leader a great man. Thomas admitted that Georgetown liberals, including his own father and the owner of the Washington Post, hated Nixon and gave him no quarter.
I re-watched Olive Kitteridge, the best depiction of a marriage ever filmed, and loved the final part where Frances McDormand and Bill Murray (as cantankerous widower Jack Kennison) connect. As insufferable as Olive could be, she had a good heart. Married to a decent but boring spouse, she never consummated her attraction to self-destructive English teacher Jim O’Casey. Some of the minor characters are unforgettable, including one of Olive’s former math students who comes back to Maine bent on committing suicide, and a lounge singer who ends up performing in a nursing home.
I finished a USA Today crossword puzzle, thanks in large part to knowing the answer to “Pilgrim VIP” (William Bradford). Another answer, a-bed, describes many Mirage Inn residents; yet some were playing blackjack and bingo and get around, usually with the help of walkers. Checking sports results daily, I lamented that the Cubs lost five in a row against the Dodgers and Cardinals. Up at 4 a.m. to catch flights to Phoenix and then Chicago, I left a cold beer in the Holiday Inn fridge and “Breathing Lessons” on a table. Years ago, I purposely left a book at an airport in Amsterdam; within a few minutes someone had gobbled it up, just as I had hoped. Had I done so in Palm Springs, chances are that due to airport regulations it would have been thrown away.
Back home Dave and Angie’s dog Maggie greeted me warmly. She’ll be with us while my son’s family is in Florida for Becca’s dance competition and then several days at Universal Studio theme park. It was good to be in my own bed, as the trip took a toll on my neck and back. I was saddened to learn that while I was gone daughter-in-law Delia’s father Gonzalo “Gun” Soto died. The former steelworker lived longer than anyone predicted. I enjoyed playing dominoes with him. Miranda posted that she’ll always remember his admonition that “God is great, people are crazy, and beer is good.” As John Newton wrote over 200 years ago:
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,And grace my fears relieved.”
Awaiting me at IUN was a book from Indiana Magazine of History to review, Ray Boomhower’s “John Barlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog.” Growing up in Indianapolis, Martin graduated from high school in 1931 at age 16 and as a journalist took a special interest in society’s outcasts. JFK’s Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, he became close with President Juan Bosch, ousted in an American-inspired coup after Martin resigned following Kennedy’s assassination.
Joe Pellicciotti being congratulated by Rep. Bill Fine (Republican, Munster) as Chancellor Lowe looks on
I attended a ceremony honoring Joe Pellicciotti for receiving the Sagamore of the Wabash Award. Indiana State Representative Bill Fine noted that while the honor “Kentucky Colonel” is named after warriors, “Sagamore of the Wabash” stands for a Native American chief known for wisdom and tact. Pellicciotti’s son Michael, in from Seattle, took a summer Geology course with Bob Votaw and worked on an Archives project about Congressman Earl Langrebe. I said hello to Cal Bellamy, President of the Shared Ethics Commission, on which Pellicciotti served. Twice I’ve been on local radio shows with Bellamy, whose comely wife once worked at Purdue Calumet, as did Pellicciotti’s, down the hall from Peg Schoon.
Archives volunteer Dave Mergl and I both had on green shirts, in my case one he’d given me. Green is his favorite color, and he informed me that he had 19 others at home.
The young lad who delivers our Chesterton Tribune had three friends on bikes with him. Are you training them or paying them, I inquired. When he said no, I replied, “Then they must be interns.” He had no rejoinder.