Grief of My First Cousin

When Alice and I became interested in Moving West (unlike pioneers of Old, 21st century nomads resort to modern conveniences), we contacted a first cousin, Margaret Johnston, on my mother’s side of the family who in 2005 transplanted herself into the metro Portland, Oregon area.

Alice’s curiosity about this destination became an obsession after we vacationed in September 2013 for two weeks in Ashland, Oregon. A virtual fan of my writing, David Churchman, who bought my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, had retired from his duties as a senior professor in Los Angeles to become a volunteer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. When we blew into town, he literally became a one-man Ashland promoter and showed us all the tourist town’s hot spots.

“We’re proud of the fact that the only McDonalds in town went out of business,” Churchman proclaimed.

Before returning home from that eye-popping vacation, I showed Alice the wondrous national park, Crater Lake, where I once celebrated Summer Solstice, 2000. My affection for that heart-dropping collage of cloudless vistas of mirror-perfect images upon the deep-water lake inside a once-active volcano moved Alice the same way, and we committed to move into the more-cosmopolitan Portland area.  Margaret, unwittingly, became our co-conspirator.

(You can read about our impossible drive on my website here, and read more about the treacherous rescue of all our possessions in my blog from October 2014 onward.)

Fast forward to today, when Margaret is grieving deeper than one might ever suspect.

Why?

Because if you know anything about Alice, you know how she tugged on people’s hearts. And six months after we moved in September 2014 to Oregon, Alice tugged even more poignantly after enduring a serious stroke that caused hospitalization at the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon (RIO). (For those who might question privacy concerns, Alice specifically instructed me to chronicle her experiences on this blog.)

Margaret and Alice spent St. Patrick’s Day 2019 on Washington’s aptly named Long Beach.

Alice and Margaret befriended one another from the day they met. And these days Margaret chooses to remember good times they shared:

Happy hours at Rock Creek Corner in Hillsboro, roadtrips throughout Oregon and Washington collecting McMenamins’ passport stamps, dinners at Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, beach trips, dancing at Coyote’s in Hillsboro and Rock Creek Tavern on Old Cornelius Pass Road.

Margaret also relished “the laughs and ability to share our deepest thoughts, whether is was about single parenthood, relationships, work experiences, or just day-to-day nothing. That is why she will be missed so dearly – she was my confidante and partner in crime!

“And we both loved giving Mason a hard time – on whatever the topic of the day was!!!

“The one thing about Alice that will live on forever is her favorite saying, which both my girls and I have adopted: ‘I don’t care,’ with Alice’s special vocal inflection. Thank God, aphasia did not steal this Gem!”

Jordon Horner was Alice McCormick’s speech language pathologist at RIO.

Alice’s unreliable speech aphasia would ebb and flow, but that tall, gallant woman fought through all the words that never came, yet became “the sister and confidante I never had growing up in life,” said Margaret tearfully. Margaret and I had gathered at the funeral home east of Kelso, Washington, where I reeled from my own sense of loss, but was incapable of perceiving what Cousin Margaret was going through.

When Margaret whipped out her checkbook to pay for Alice McCormick’s cremation on the very afternoon of the day she passed over, her knee-jerk response served more than to benefit me. (Another cousin, Carolyn Levin, later graciously picked up half the tab.) It was an exquisite expression of grief, denoting how Alice and Margaret bonded and loved one another.

There are many seismic events that have occurred in my life. This catastrophic one affects more people than me.

While Margaret treated Alice to a weekend in Seattle, Margaret snapped this photo after Alice emerged from a day spa.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

An Open Letter to Alice

Dearest Alice,

I brought you home yesterday, but only your ashes are inside the urn.

I think you will like the vessel you’re in.  It’s perfectly color-coordinated to match our audio-video cabinet, although I know you would say, “I don’t care.”

You are no longer in this plane of existence, and that makes me miserable.  I have moments when I try to speak, but it’s garbled with tears. That’s become my own brand of aphasia, right?

No matter how competent a writer I may be, that won’t bring you back to life. Please know that my grief is shared by your family and close friends in the aphasia community. I share the picture of what remains of you on this website post to substitute for a viewing ceremony in these days of coronavirus.

Please know I continue to practice physical distancing. (I don’t like to say “social distancing,” because there is nothing social about staying 6 feet away from well-meaning friends.)  The coroner’s report says your cause of passing was “probable myocardial infarction,” but you looked peaceful when I found you.

I believe your passing was due to the strain of movement caused by ever-increasingly painful arthritis.  Well, your hips and legs stopped hurting March 27th, and that makes me glad.

Being physically unavailable to lie naked beside me, though, makes me sad and lonely.  Now I must let you go to ease the star journey you earned after this life. You put up with me so patiently, my love.

Green Hills funeral home is located east of Kelso, Washington.

I hope you like the funeral home that cousin Margaret Johnston researched the day after you passed. Green Hills funeral home and crematorium is located 500 feet up in the hills east of Kelso, Washington. And both Margaret and cousin Carolyn Levin stepped up to pay for the whole shebang.

Also, please know that Kailey Cox drove up here Thursday morning to adopt your plants before they go to ruin.  I never had a green thumb, and Kailey wanted to make sure I didn’t give visible testament to a plant cemetery.

I hope you like the reverence the funeral home director, José Nuñez, showed as Margaret and I oversaw the disposition of your physical remains. I kissed your chin at our viewing, but your skin was so cold I realized you were no longer imprisoned in that fragile body. Your slender fingers and expressive hands will no longer hurt you.

Unlike your skin, our love will never grow cold. Alice, I love you. So blessed much.

The picture you saved from one of our aphasia gatherings on the Coast contains the following message from a Chinese fortune cookie: “Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together as they do in you.”

Indeed.

Please accept my tears of grief as a gentle rain, and may each drop bring you peace on your unending journey.  Save me a spot, okay?

Preparing to return home with Alice’s remains.

Forever yours,

Mason

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Alice Jane McCormick 3/6/1944 – 3/27/2020

Alice Jane McCormick, 76, formerly of Doylestown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suffered a massive heart attack and passed away Friday, March 27, 2020 in her recently acquired condominium home in Longview, Washington.  A private viewing prior to cremation is to be held Monday, March 30.

Mason Loika, 77, Alice’s domestic partner and co-conspirator in life, survives Ms. McCormick’s passing, along with a horde of students, nurses, organizers and teachers from the Aphasia Network who are devastated at her loss. Besides Mr. Loika, she is survived by sons Ed Goetz, 59, Park County, Colorado; and John Goetz, 54, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; daughters Elaine Krasousky, 52, Philadelphia; and Linda Goetz, 48, Philadelphia; as well as six grandchildren.

One of those grandchildren, Shelby Krasousky, was raised by Ms. McCormick. Ms. Krasousky and her son (Ms. McCormick’s great grandson), Vinny, reside in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

At a statuesque 6’3″ height, Ms. McCormick told me she made frequent after-school excursions to the ABC-TV Philadelphia studio to dance on the national broadcast of American Bandstand. Nevertheless, Ms. McCormick faced a bleak future after dropping out of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School at the age of 15.

Ms. McCormick was born and raised in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, and gave birth to five children, rearing them in the beautiful Lawndale area. After 13 years of physical abuse, though, she fled her husband and divorced.

She eventually was awarded an associates’ degree from Camden Community College, Camden, New Jersey, and later worked with autistic children as a certified special education teacher.

Born March 6, 1944, Ms. McCormick met Mr. Loika on Sept. 24, 2010, and exactly one year later, they underwent a commitment ceremony led by an interfaith minister and a now-deceased Native American leader who guided them in an Apache prayer.

“May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion, and your days together be good and long upon the earth.”

Ms. McCormick survived a stroke in March 2015 after moving west with Mr. Loika to Oregon, and her speech was never the same. However, the two of them became part of the Aphasia Network, where she regained enough of her speech to proclaim her independent spirit and speak openly of her love to Mr. Loika.

Now she has begun her star journey, and Mr. Loika has promised to honor the request she asked of him the day before she passed over: to write.

Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing

Life in Longview

Life is good.  And opportunity is at hand.

Five and a half years ago, I, Mason Loika (climate-change refugee from Miami), and life partner Alice McCormick (a true Philly girl) moved “Westward Ho.” We left a historic Pennsylvania town — Doylestown – to wind up in Longview, Washington, 50 interstate miles north of Portland, Oregon.  Longview has quite a history, but currently the sleepy town remains below the radar.

Most snow has melted atop Mt. St. Helehs.
Mt. St. Helens is 90 minutes away from Longview.
Alice meditates at Cape Disappointment.
Alice goes crazy over lighthouses. This one on Washington’s Long Beach peninsula known as Cape Disappointment provides a view for thought.

Positioned midway between Mt. St. Helens and Washington’s spectacular Pacific Coast, the self-contained industrial-residential town runs alongside the Columbia River, and was founded by timber-baron R.A. Long. Next to downtown is a magnificent, Japanese-styled,127-acre Lake Sacajawea, where residents wear their casual best to stroll – or show off their dogs’ pedigree – around a 3½ mile maintained gravel trail. (Lake Sacajawea is named after a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark west.) Longview’s population and that of sister town, Kelso, totaled 50,000 in 2017.

Serene lakeside concert
Longview provides free summer concerts with room to stretch out by Lake Sacajawea.
What does that darned cat want?
Two clever sculptures greet patrons at the Longview Public Library.

In September of that year, Alice and I bought a roomy two-bedroom condominium in Longview next to a manicured golf course, leaving three years of price-predatory apartment developments and unforgiving traffic in Portland, Oregon.

The Portland metro area incorporates Vancouver, Washington (not Canada), and has obscenely grown – over 2.4 million residents.  Once, pedestrians felt safe crossing city streets, but today population centers all over the West are bursting at the seams. Everywhere, people are increasingly crowded together.  Much of what ruined Miami when I grew up is happening today in Portland, and an unexplained number of Florida license plates can be observed.

For almost five years, I kept the financial wolves at bay by driving for Uber and Lyft in Portland.  Nowadays, Alice and I live a better life in Longview, although I continue “ride-share” work in Oregon. We have good neighbors in our newfound socially interactive community, and, after closing my garage at night, a neighbor offers me a solid toke from a well-stacked pipe containing some of the finest locally grown agricultural products.

Is this what they mean by "fresh air?"
Alice poses next to the mascot of the Freedom Market in downtown Longview.

It’s legal here, y’all!  So we don’t have to lead double lives to protect our right to partake.  Surrounded by the greenery on a nearly 1,000-foot-high, properly populated hill north of our development, this could be our forever neighborhood, limited to whatever Creator decides to gift us.

You never know quite what is in a hot dog.
This concession stand at a Longview outdoor concert piques curiosity.

And mercy of all mercies, musicians get work here.  I’ve already touted Teri’s Restaurant, which keeps getting better.  Teri now reserves Friday nights for local bands to perform in her two-story saloon-style roadhouse, just perfect vibes for performing musicians to jam together. And on the coast recently — Long Beach, Washington – a recent weekend event celebrated “Oysters and Jazz.”  Mmmmm. Sustenance for the body and soul.

Pacific Coasters endure unpleasant weather with style.
Friends at the Aphasia Network pose shamelessly when the Coast is rainy and chilly.
Gazing at the beach is relaxing to one and all.
When it’s sunny and warm on the Coast, a bonfire on the beach feels perfect.

Alice continues to manage me, occasionally making progress with her stroke-affected speech. Each year our closest buds in The Aphasia Network host two weekends at a Methodist church camp on the tip of a scenic peninsula on Oregon’s pristine coast. We attend regularly, and – especially – treat each other like family. (During breakout sessions, caregivers discuss relationship concerns with their group apart from their respective stroke survivors who simultaneously participate in activities designed to simulate everyday chores and challenges.)

Prof. John White is unique in more ways than one.
Professor John White of Pacific University stands tall on the beach.
"Let there be light."
Prof. White shows perseverance by holding sheet music in the light.

Looking around at the Aphasia Network staff – nurses, professors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, students, and executives (who don’t act that way), – we delight at how one musically astute professor appears to be attached by the hip to a guitar, with which he schedules bonding hootenannies with invited amateur musicians. This is, simply put, glorious territory for an elder inhabitant of Planet Earth to traipse about.

There is still much to share with readers. While Alice and I cocoon to avoid the coronavirus, Creator has decreed this time of fear and worry as a prospective blessing. Or as Jim Morrison once sang in “Light My Fire,” there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.”

Onward!

Meet Chloe

Three weeks ago, Alice fulfilled her prophecy and adopted another cat.  She included me in the adoption process to represent our eight-year union as worthy of the necessary commitment to make an addition to our family.

The photo above praises Chloe, whose name was gifted by the Longview Humane Society.

Isn’t she gorgeous?  Chloe immediately bonded with each of us separately and together.  However, Chloe’s litterbox training is still a challenge to Alice’s persistent, watchful eye.

A short-haired cutie

We don’t know how old Chloe is, because her physical being is stunted by time spent in the untamed areas of Washington where she incurred a pregnancy and gave birth to an unknown number of kittens.  After the Humane Society received her into its protective custody, she was spayed, and treated for worms and other native, tiny varmints.

During her time in the wild, Chloe must have known terror; nevertheless, she appears to be a loving animal.  I discovered this when she first rubbed up to me.  Once feeling my caress, she lay down, purred almost desperately and invited me to rub her tummy.

Veterinarian Kayleen McLain examined Chloe, and gave an unqualified YES!

Whenever I’m away, Alice now has a companion to call her own, and any jealousy I might feel about their kinship is quickly erased as Chloe cuddles up to me when we retire for the night.

Hello, Chloe!

In recognition of Sean Paul Loika Englert

This spring is graduation season, and I take pride In two cousins – sisters Rory and Lauren – who are finishing Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon, with flying colors and earn their diplomas in June.  I also celebrate another cousin, Max, who received a bachelor of art’s degree in math and physics cum laude from Lewis & Clark College out here in Portland last weekend. But this post is dedicated to a dogged achiever bearing the Loika name: my nephew, Sean Paul Loika Englert.

Sean is 49 years old.  After dropping out from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas 30 years ago, surviving a spirited youth and eventually moving to Brooklyn, Iowa, he dedicated himself to the many sacrifices, lack of sleep, and who knows what else to complete a higher education.  On Sunday, May 19th, he receives a bachelor of art’s degree in social work summa cum laude from Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, a 65-mile commute from his home.

How he managed to attend all his classes, write several scholarly papers, commute and excel in school while holding down a full-time job – and a budding romance – is a true miracle more than a measured achievement measured by Sean’s grades.  Every paper he turned in, he worried whether his grades were good enough.

They were.  Sean excelled in school with a 4.0, so on Sunday, May 19th, Mount Mercy will award Sean Englert his degree. 

However, one day before his baccalaureate, Saturday, May 18th, Sean will marry Leslie Stanley, a woman who shares his wry sense of humor.  The forevermore commitment will take place – believe it or not – in the Brooklyn Memorial Cemetery at 3 pm.

Losing his head to a woman.

A marriage ceremony in a graveyard?  Perhaps it’s indicative of how Sean worked himself to death preparing for this weekend.  But he’s still ambulatory, right?

I commemorate this noble accomplishment filled with sweat, worry, planning, carrying on a romance and displaying the right household sensibilities to sweep Leslie off her feet.

Sean, I admire you.  Congratulations!

Millie the Cat

6/17/11 – 5/4/19

There’s no easy way to view the end of another being’s last breaths.  Nevertheless, in providing hospice care, we fulfill our responsibilities.

Yesterday, Alice and I drove Millie, ever complaining about our Ford Escape’s motion, to Cowlitz Animal Clinic, here in Longview, Washington.  The well-regarded clinic sits on a wide commercially zoned highway with little weekend traffic.  Because it was Saturday, we appeared to have the clinic almost entirely to ourselves.

A little history here: A month before we moved to Longview, Millie disappeared from our cramped Somerset West (Portland) apartment for 17 days.  Somehow, our tabby feline was found by a respectable homeowner more than a mile away, a fortuitous happening.

After 18 uneventful months with us in Longview, where we kept her indoors (and to our neighbors’ delight) Alice walked the cat several times a week outside on a leash, Millie was deemed to have diabetes.  Skeptical about treating her with daily insulin shots and frequent bloodwork; Millie was already down to skin and bones.  Less than six weeks later, even after changing her diet from Meow Mix to Iams, she was on the doorstep of wasting away — literally.

This visit to the clinic was made tolerable by a sensitive doctor of veterinary medicine, Kayleen McLain, who shared a professional sense of grief with us, especially while trying to find a vein — any vein — to administer the needed dosage to send Millie away to a permanent dreamland.

We mourned some as we said goodbye to her spirit, but found comfort once we noticed the serene look as she passed over.  We did not mourn long, because doing so would hinder Millie’s journey to “the other side.”

I once read that bonding with an animal comes with a limited contract: One of you will go before the other.  After that, life goes on.

That’s probably why, at the moment we returned home, Alice cleaned up Millie’s area from visible memorabilia.  Today, Alice is gardening outside, watching for hummingbirds, working up a sweat, and encouraging new life.

Millie was a great companion.  We dare not weep, because we would be crying only for our loss.  We will not be selfish.

Alice says, “We’ll get another cat.”

Alice Leaves the ‘Y’

It didn’t take long.

After beginning childcare duties on May 15th with the YMCA of Southwest Washington in Longview, Alice McCormick received the following email from the facility’s executive director on June 7th:

The Y’s Rainbow Corner “has some concerns about your communication skills with kids and parents [emphasis added]. Because you are still in the 90-day probationary period, she [the Rainbow Corner’s director] is letting you go because she does not feel like this is a good fit for our members.”

Alice never returned an invitation to speak further to the Y about its decision, so I pressed Alice to forward me the terse communiqué.  Once she did so (after two months), I wrote directly to the Y’s executive director who in turn refused comment to me, her life partner, or to anyone other than Alice.

My wife, Alice, can hold a conversation, but lacks the verbal pathways to do so eloquently, which self-explains her recalcitrance to hold a formal conversation with Longview’s YMCA about such an important matter without my participation.  Therefore, no further communication is anticipated between us and, accordingly, I spoke with Alice to relate her impressions, and here are some of them.

The Southwest Washington YMCA in Longview

Inside Longview’s Y

The childcare room in Longview’s YMCA was touted as a “Rainbow Corner,” but painted only with a stark white color.  No accompanying artwork, such as that appearing in Doylestown, PA.’s YMCA (where Alice once worked), is part of the color scheme.  Half of the children’s toys were, in some way, in a state of disrepair.

The Rainbow Corner’s director expected Alice to continually consort with a mentally challenged co-worker, whom the Y was proactive enough to hire.  However, the assignment convinced Alice that her speech aphasia was considered by her superiors as another form of mental incompetence.  Not one person volunteered to be Alice’s trainer or a confidante.

I could go on, but Alice and I have no plans to be mean-spirited.  But something happened here, and we won’t be silent about it.

Alice excelled in the field of special education and served as a substitute teacher for four years in the Philadelphia School District, no mean feat.  She is an elder, an experienced parent who nurtured five children and one grandchild through childhood, teenage angst and later development.  These skills remain intact.

Alice’s speech suffered significantly after her stroke in March 2015, and she found out what anyone here who does not speak American English fluently innately knows: She has become a second-class citizen.  As I once quoted Hungarian film star Paul Javor in my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Story, “The less English you know, the more likely it is that people will spit on you.”

Alice deserved better than what the Y’s mission here exudes.  Working with infants and toddlers provided Alice an opportunity to offer attentive caring, a safe atmosphere and love.  This mission doesn’t require her to speak much.  When wide-eyed children look up at her (because Alice is considerably taller than her peers), they feel love.

Lynn Fox, founder of the Aphasia Network, greets Alice.  The woods in the background accentuate a majestic lake.

The Aphasia Network is our advocate

People with aphasia are not mentally deranged or incompetent.  This is plain wrong.  The pathways through her brain were interrupted by a stroke and must be rebuilt through years of therapy and practice so she can feel confident to communicate as well as the rest of us.  Alice manages me, and I’m not easy.

Pacific University professor John White, musician extraordinaire, leads a hootenanny on the Oregon Coast.

Two weeks ago, I broke this sad news to over 100 stroke survivors, care partners, occupational and speech therapy students and instructors at our Aphasia Adventure Weekend on the Coast.  Now I share it with the readers of this blog.

Today, Alice freelances by occasionally cleaning people’s apartments.  She only works for those who treat her (and me) the same way.  Unfortunately, Longview’s YMCA does not meet Alice’s standards.  The neighbors in our condo association do.

We remain hopeful that an aphasia awareness campaign will open new doors for people who suffer the debilitating effects of a stroke.  For survivors and their care partners, more education and interaction with the outside world needs to be done.

As much as I expressed love for Alice when entering our civil ceremony seven years ago, I love her in a deeper way now.  All her struggles inspire me to match her courage.  Every little thing she does for me behind the scenes gives me an air of organization.  Alice’s dedication to my wellbeing is akin to the Portland (Oregon)-based Aphasia Network’s ever-expanding programs.

When student therapist Megan Bravo hugs you, it’s impossible to keep your eyes open.

Yes, we are exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude is only matched by the unmitigated embrace of support offered by our delightful extended family.

Alice gets a job

Two weeks ago, Alice and I visited the Longview YMCA to tour its facilities.  I have put on 20 pounds since my bladder operation, and we both could use some shaping up.  Our guide turned out to be the Y’s executive director who took a keen interest in Alice’s renewed ambition to care for infants and toddlers.

The director handed Alice an application, and the two of us put together a multi-page submission, hand-delivering it on May 2.  Two days later, as we prepared for a weekend with our extended family at the Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat on the Oregon Coast, Alice received a call back from the Y.

Alice was offered a job!

We shared the good news with over 60 student counselors and staff, as well as other aphasia-recovering couples that night, and the people went wild.  After three years of wondering whether she could adequately function as the professional she expects from herself (Alice’s stroke was March 12, 2015), here was the promise of a new beginning.

Back from the Coast

After our return last Sunday, Alice returned to the Y for a late-afternoon confirming interview.  Two days later, Alice underwent training, and guess what?

Her first day at work is Tuesday morning.

The initial assignment calls for Alice to work one day a week.  If Alice is able to progress at the Y, will I finally feel confident to take a break from driving for Uber and lately Lyft?  Will I finally knuckle down and begin to write the book I’ve been bragging about?

At this point, it’s one step at a time.  Four years ago, we moved to the Northwest to fulfill our manifest destiny.  Now Alice is 74, I’m 75, and we’re settled in a beautiful condo apartment where we can jump-start our talents.

So here we go!

Mason Loika Embraces Plans for Boychoir to be Born Again

No one should mistake my criticism of how I lost my virginity at the American Boychoir School as a condemnation of the institution itself.  A previous post on my website goes into detail here.  Followup posts can be viewed here, here and here.

Its founder, Herbert Huffman, dedicated his life to growing a selected cadre of gifted musical boys into a nationally beloved choir in Columbus, Ohio. Huffman oversaw its move and transition to the academically elite community of Princeton, NJ, where boys explored a community where they learned it was acceptable to learn as much as they could – as fast as they can.

That’s quite a contrast to the peer group pressure exerted by boys in Miami’s suburbs of Hialeah and Miami Springs, where I grew up. When I returned there in the 9th grade, classmates asked me not to do so well academically, “because it makes the rest of us look badly.”
I coasted, and made straight A’s. That’s how outstanding my Princeton education was.

More than 50 years after a twisted genius by the name of Donald Bryant orchestrated a loss of institutional control, the Princeton-based Boychoir’s inmates have finally taken over. Some of what transpired was revealed in well-written investigational stories by the New York Times and New Yorker magazine. Boychoir management only sought to quash these sensational revelations, revealing a serious disdain for transparency.

After I wrote my own story here of encountering a sexual predator, I heard enough response to sense a troubling undercurrent of suspicion resided in the surrounding area of Bucks and Mercer counties from women who had married previous members of the Boychoir. The lid of damnation that caused editors to censor stories about the American Boychoir had backfired. Eventually, bankruptcy was the only course the venerable institution had left.

The people I refer to as “inmates” are its new leaders, men who have matriculated through many of life’s pitfalls. They are accomplished in their fields and recognize what the Boychoir meant to them and its potential to future generations.

According to Kris Brewer, spokesman for the resurrection committee, “It is a shared sentiment and goal to make sure that if we are successful … that acknowledgment, transparency, learning, prevention and healing are essential to the success of the Foundation and a future ABS… We are not interested in keeping silent about or hiding the past. It does no one any good now or in the future.”

Chet Douglass and Aaron Smyth are joining Brewer to step forward as a triumvirate and promulgate a concept as time-honored as Christianity itself – a resurrection.

My personal story is meant to bequeath their cause far more than the $10 gift I donated; it is meant to inspire Messrs. Brewer, Douglass and Smyth to continue and persevere.

Back in the winter of 1955, I auditioned for Herbert Huffman, founder of the Columbus Boychoir. I don’t recall much of that audition, except it took place in Coral Gables. I remember Huffman as a gentle soul, whose interest in great music was legendary.

I remember my mother spoke with Huffman privately after I sang for him. I don’t know if she told him about my father, Virgil, but he was a tormented musical genius who once played with each of the Dorsey brothers in New York City, but evolved into a frustrated musician who savagely and frequently beat me for no reason at all.

At home, I had retreated into a private world in which I pretended to be a television programmer. (The quality of my first journalism gig – a TV writer – reveals how much I used media for an escape.) I developed a good singing voice by singing in the shower, and my mother, Thelma, who played piano for the First Presbyterian Church in Hialeah, hoped to get me away from my father’s physical abuse.

I was chosen, an unlikely selection because of the pigment of my skin. During the spring, summer and falls of my life, Virgil took my family to South Beach where we played with other boys on the soft sloping sands along the Atlantic Ocean. The constant exposure of the sun on my skin darkened me considerably; however, brothers Jon and Chris turned red from the exposure and suffered with serious sunburns. I sometimes burned, but kept getting darker and darker.

At Albemarle, where I lived in a dormitory setting with the other choirboys, I never thought of myself as outside the cultural norm until one day. We previewed a never-before-seen video film taken of us while performing a sacred choral piece. Each choirboy – one by one – was paraded before a camera while singing a Christmas hymn. The film was ready and edited with sound, and we were the first to enjoy it.

Because I tried not to care, my nonchalance was rewarded. I never saw myself! But some other boys said they had, so the film was rerun for my benefit. I didn’t see anything distinctive, except for an apparent Negro boy who walked through. I recognized almost everyone else. Who was that black kid?

“That’s you!” the other boys exclaimed. “Look again.”

Once again, the film was rewound to where I walked through. After strong urging, I recognized some of my features. I was the black one!
No way, I thought. What was going on?

After all these years, I think I understand. Because of the lighting used in the newspaper and on TV channels that was specific only to me, I appeared white and Caucasian. Compared to the other boys at the school, though, the camera portrayed me as dark.

Herbert Huffman chose me despite my complexion, because he saw the potential of my musical gifts. I played piano well, and I was a decent second soprano. So Huffman rescued me from my father.
I never revealed these details before, so you, readers of this blog, know them for the first time ever.

I saved and scanned the official story about me written courtesy of Jay Morton, publisher of the Hialeah Home News who on Feb. 11, 1955, announced my selection to the Columbus Boychoir.

(By the way, Jay Morton was no ordinary publisher. After studying art at the Pratt Institute in New York, receiving a master’s degree in Paris, he had moved to Miami to write and draw the animated cartoon, “Superman,” for Fleischer Studios. He was responsible for describing Superman as “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” He also drew Felix the Cat, Betty Boop and Popeye.)

As publisher of the Hialeah Home News, in the 1940s and ’50s, he ran a one-man crusade to drive the Ku Klux Klan out of Hialeah. He passed away on Sept. 6, 2003, the same day as my late brother Jon’s birthday. I am proud to share the text of his article verbatim, especially because it contains no typos, as follows:

newspaper story about young Mason Loika
Hialeah Home News runs story about Mason Loika, Choirboy, on Feb. 11, 1955.

When state and national honors are passed out, and individual achievements are brought to the attention of the American public, it’s a source of pride to Hialeah-Miami Springs that local residents come in for a goodly share of the limelight.

Latest addition of this roll of honor is little Mason Loika, son of Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Loika, 810 N.E. Third pl., Hialeah.  Mason left this week for Princeton, N.J. where he won a scholarship at the nationally famous Columbus Boychoir School.

Mason looks like any other boy who is almost 12.  His brown locks have a tendency to be unruly with a cowlick indicating, as the saying goes, bedevilment.  But just let Mason don his choir-robe – a long, black, monk-like skirt, a white, wide-sleeved tunic, and a big, black bow under his chin …

Then he’s transformed into an angel, and surely sings like one.

That’s what Herbert Huffman, director of the Boychoir, thought when he auditioned Mason at the University of Miami two weeks ago.  Huffman and his boys’ ensemble were here for a concert, and the Loikas felt fortunate when he consented to hear Mason’s voice.

Their joy was irrepressible when Huffman offered the boy an $800 scholarship at the non-sectarian school.  But finance reared its ugly head.  A year’s tuition, room and board, costs $1,600.  The Loikas could raise $400 on their own, but where was the other $400 coming from?

That’s when Mrs. Loika came to the Home News (he is a Home News carrier) to pick up Mason’s papers.  The story came out, and Publisher Jay Morton resolved that, if he could be of help, this opportunity and honor would not be bypassed.

Morton has been on the phone soliciting support from the city’s civic organizations and this week when Mason departed it looked as though his dream would come true.  The pledges aren’t all in yet, but the Loikas are proceeding on faith.

Mason’s father is now employed at Pan-American, but he has 25 years as a professional musician behind him.  He gave his son all the training he could.  Mason’s mother, a music-teacher and music instructor for kindergarten, has been giving him piano lessons.

At Princeton, Mason will have a regular curriculum which will cover at least what he’s learning now in the seventh grade at Hialeah High.  He’ll also have choir practice twice a day, plus individual voice training.

The Columbus Boychoir is renowned throughout the country.  Besides appearing at festivals and secular gatherings, the boy choristers have been heard on national hook-ups of radio and television, and in recordings.  They were on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” at Christmas.  They always “bring the house down” at every concert they appear in.

Just as Mason won applause at the Kiwanis club luncheon on Tuesday.  While his mother accompanied him, his childish treble rose in melody and he won the hearts of the Kiwanians.