When I started my memoir/love story, I was numb from loss. Yet I was given a mission.
The love of my life, Alice McCormick, had me promise “to write” ONE DAY before she left this planet. I was not about to let her down.
Then the Aphasia Network stepped in to comfort my loss. Sixty-three days after discovering Alice’s lifeless body, I was invited into a grief session on Zoom but paired with two naive, early-year students. With nothing else to talk about, I sought their input to determine a politically correct way to identify a racial epithet that neighbors and my grandfather used in the 1950s.
The two of them had no clue. They hit the PANIC button. Then they disappeared into the comforting arms of a supervisor who condemned my speech.
Welcome to cancel culture, and the scourge of it. I am anything BUT a racist; yet that word was hurled later at me. Is it because I emerged from that world and wanted to report on it? Do we choose to ignore how much African Americans have evolved since their squalid beginnings?
It makes me wonder what qualifies as history.
I learned about discrimination firsthand in Princeton, New Jersey, because I could not travel with much-whiter boys to perform in 1950s Ohio. That kind of stupidity never fails to enrage me, but I persevere.
I’m running on the fumes. Maybe reviving my Go Fund Me account would help.
No matter what, I’m writing the last two chapters. They’re about Alice.
Sixty-three days after Alice McCormick passed away in 2020, the Aphasia Network planned its annual couples’ retreat. Because of Covid, they made it a “virtual event.” Aware of Alice’s demise, I was summarily invited as a “surviving widower.”
I accepted the invitation. It would have been stupid to refuse.
Both Alice and I loved the stroke survivors we met and several students-in-training, and I wanted to commiserate with them again. I suspected that seeing them on Zoom might help console me, but the virtual mass communication felt pretty empty.
In one of the sessions, two unfamiliar women in their 20s were chosen randomly to be my student counselors, and I determined I wasn’t going to cry for them. Instead, I looked for something else to focus on, so in desperation I grabbed hold of a page containing proposed chapter titles for my upcoming book. After a few strange-sounding niceties, I pointed to the proposed chapter titles. Chapter 4 stood out.
Typed in was a profane version of the N-word bandied about by white people in the 1950s describing the slum community close to downtown Miami. I knew if I ignored the epithets I heard about N-town, my book would be a fraud. Therefore, I tiptoed uncertainly. (I was denied a plum opportunity early in life because my skin color was too dark. Now that my childhood color has dissipated, I look like any old white man. But memories don’t disappear, so vivid moments from the past were relived in my head before currently residing in my manuscript.)
I read the objectionable word aloud and posed a follow-up question to the two students: “Do you think that’s appropriate?” I read the word again. “Is there another way to describe this?” Since these were university students, I wanted their input. We could work together to find acceptable terminology, right?
All of sudden, their live images disappeared, a blank wall took their place and a supervisor appeared forthwith on my computer monitor castigating me for saying and repeating an offensive word. Perhaps I was stupid. Or Pollyannaish. Or something. Nevertheless, my grief losing Alice was magnified.
This conundrum occurred three years ago. I’m a writer, not a coward, right? So afterward, while struggling to rewrite the harsh chapter title, I came up with a politically correct replacement: “N-town with three syllables.” And today, Chapter 4 has been completely written, rewritten and edited to conform to modern-day sensibilities.
Meanwhile, Portland’s Aphasia Network has risen from the dead. A gathering of old friends and adversaries is looming for a renewed camping experience June 9-11, this time in person at the familiar Methodist facility north of the fishing town of Garibaldi on the Pacific Coast. That’s fine with me. However, in anticipation of revisiting treasured memories, I’m being dragged through mud from the past. Former close friends in the group no longer communicate with me, and I suspect I’m being ostracized.
The Aphasia Network coordinates its camping weekends with Pacific University. This year’s event may be its last, so memories of our interactions are important. I also want to refresh the participants’ memories of Alice. But I don’t want any hint of a scandalous character assassination.
Historically, Pacific University once participated in eradicating Indian cultures, seizing their children to create strict boarding schools to “civilize” the “savages.” The infamous Carlisle School in Pennsylvania is an apt comparison. And Pacific originated in a state whose intent was to be lilywhite, threatening black people to leave its boundaries or face the sting of 39 lashes from a bullwhip in retribution.
Much of the state’s discredited liberal policies stem from an overreaction to its racist past. And that hasn’t changed much. Portland is still the whitest big city in the United States. That’s a fact.
Almost in tears three years ago, I related the hue and cry from my sorry interaction with students to my cousin, Margaret Johnston. She advised, “You will have to find a way to truly describe Oregonians – so open-minded but so un-worldly. So quick to judge and ostracize, while all the time touting to be fiercely liberal. But only as long as you think and act as they see fit.”
Margaret was “right on.” She now lives in Arizona.
In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt reveal three false mantras guiding college students today: “Strive to avoid unpleasant experiences at all costs,” “always trust your emotions over reason” and “the world is a black-and-white battle between good people and bad people. There is no middle ground.” With all the money students commit to attending college, the university experience now panders to students and avoids controversy. Period.
Meanwhile, my three-year-plus writer’s narrative is transitioning to the day I met Alice. I remember how on September 24, 2010, Alice draped her long, sinewy arm around me inside Andre’s, a subterranean wine-and-cheese bar inside the Doylestown (PA) Marketplace, and cooed loudly in my ear, “Oh, here you are, dear. I’ve been looking all over for you.”
That’s when I was smitten. And I had it bad. It took 67 years to finally meet the girl I was made to love.
So I’m trying to avoid stupid distractions. Alice sometimes comes alive in my head, and I trust she will guide me.
At least, I hope she will, because this shit is getting old.
The gazebo appearing above was Alice McCormick’s pride and joy.
Ever since her passing three years ago, I’ve been working on the book she wanted me to write. It’s called How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories).”
Chapters 1-17 are complete. Chapter 18 finishes up life in Bucks County before Alice. It will include prime concerts, Grandfather Many Crows, meditation at Pebble Hill, Danawa Buchanan and revisiting the American Boychoir in Princeton.
I’m now 80 years old. Once I finish #18, I’m able – finally – to write about Alice.
That’s the latest. I’m preparing to look for an agent and see if a professional is suitably intrigued. Soon after that happens, I anticipate this website will be overhauled.
Maybe you heard about the snowstorm we experienced two days ago. Down in Portland, precipitation fell as ice, up to a full inch! Fortunately for southwest Washington, we received more than six inches of snow and no ice as temperatures remained below freezing.
That much snow is rare in the Pacific Northwest valleys tucked in between the Cascades and the Coast Range. When any frozen precipitation occurs, the whole area virtually shuts down. That’s because Oregon and Washington have few snowplows and a fraction of the salt elsewhere in the country. Portland would rather use de-icer, accounting for stranded vehicles attempting to traverse hilly areas and increasingly vocal complaints from East Coasters.
So our snow was the most reported in over nine years. Tonight, the weather forecast suggests as temperatures begin to fall, we may get some ice, but nowhere what Portland received. In the week ahead, temperatures should rise and stay in the mid-40s with rain, allowing streets to fully recover in short order. Nevertheless, I felt obliged to shovel a path from my townhouse’s garage to access a navigable street a few feet away.
As I was midway in clearing a paved area where I could freely back out, a little girl, whom I will identify as Penelope, with resplendent red hair and an ear-to-ear smile asked if she could help. I noted she did not ask if I NEEDED help, she asked if she COULD.
I directed Penelope’s efforts, and 20 minutes later told her we were finished, she prepared to run off, yelling “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
No snow melted then, but my heart did. I gave her a five-spot, and told Penelope to share it with her brother.
This was my first Valentine’s Day without Alice supervising me, but I know she would be proud.
I think you will, too. From the Rose City (Portland) where my wife and I first moved, then discovering a modest Washington town 60 miles away where residents happily grow up with small-town values, Happy Valentine’s Day!
I apologize, but plans to celebrate at the Coast one year after Alice’s passing have changed.
It’s true I will be at the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach, WA on March 27 to scatter some of Alice’s ashes, as tradition dictates, but I will be more mournful on that day. After 10 months of isolation, my heart says that to hold the kind of celebration Alice deserves, it should occur after the pandemic is under control. It should occur when physical touch is no longer frowned upon. And it should occur in Garibaldi where the sound of the ocean will take Alice on her spirit journey.
I know my eyes will fill with tears when I revisit the myriads of people whom Alice inspired, and that’s the way I want to remember her. Alice will look down and witness the warmth of every hug offered on such an occasion. It’s true what Kailey Cox said, “Alice was amazing.”
Kailey’s intuitive words will stay with me until the end of time. It’s also a comfort to remember how momentous Alice’s love was to me – an itinerant writer and Quaker – who couldn’t help but love her back. Alice showed me something Quakers have yet to figure out. You don’t wage peace; you wage love, and peace will result.
After a panic attack yesterday, I learned I was reacting to the time delineator called March 27 that traditionally means more to our planet than it does to Alice. I shall honor this insight, and plan accordingly.
Today is a special day. A very special day. A momentous day. A life-changing day.
On this day, September 24, 2010, I met Alice McCormick for the first time. And I became blessed with 6-feet-and-3-inches worth of unbridled Amazon love.
Tonight, a perfect 10 years later, I will celebrate the night I learned about true love. A longer version of how we met is planned for my forthcoming book well underway, “How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories).”
September 24 turned out to became so memorable that we planned a commitment ceremony to take place exactly one year later, September 24, 2011, guided by Keith David’s book, “The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings,” in support of same-sex couples.
Our vows to one another were witnessed by 25 close friends adjacent to Alice’s backyard pool home, accentuated by a screened-in gazebo and bubbling fish pond where brilliant-colored koi swam their approval. The ceremony was led by David DiPasquale of Pebble Hill Church and Danawa Buchanan, a self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee tribe who recited an Apache prayer uniting Alice and me.
September 24th thus marked our two-time anniversary, and Native tradition reminds me to hold dear this day in our hearts by celebrating inside Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, Washington, which became Alice’s favorite place on the West Coast to dine, dance, imbibe and hang out until closing time.
Alice may not be with me in person – at least, not in the physical sense – but her spirit is strong, and I expect a moment tonight when I feel a chill as she massages my heart. I honor her, and in doing so I honor the timeless love that Creator gifted me late in my years.
If a tear should appear in my eyes tonight, it will not be from grief; it will come from gratitude. Happy anniversary, Alice.
I needed some time off to reflect on fast-moving events. And I thank everyone for honoring my period of reflection – and accomplishment.
An event occurred in June that reflects political correctness run amuck, something endemic to the West Coast. If the behavior of some well-meaning proponents of social change cannot recognize we share a common priority – a change in leadership – we could be doomed to four more years of madness.
The spirit inherent in writing a book of merit brings out my Quaker experience of reflection. In the long run, my support of the Aphasia Network shall be constant. Any complaint I have pales in importance to what appears in a book. These are the same sort of compromises our new activist generation needs to learn, or else the winds of change will fail to recognize ideals still thought dear.
I want to recognize Professor John White of Pacific University and speech therapist Jordan Horner for their kind assist in helping me determine the importance of my book’s contents. Also, former University of Oregon professor Melissa Hart oversaw my first three chapters and overall organization. I’m writing the book – finally!
How long can I keep my pedal to the metal? We’ll see.
One more thing: I miss Alice more now than ever.
The photo above reveals my left eye is half-closed, due to a burst blood vessel. Awww!
The photo above shows Alice checking her camera before hitting the beach during our first time at Couples Weekend on the Coast under the auspices of the Aphasia Network.
A few weeks ago, I published a Post-It that Alice wrote before she and I engaged in a commitment ceremony. The outdoor setting with a running-water, rock-garden fishpond occupied by spectacular baby koi, a six-foot deep swimming pool and a 12-person-size, screened-in gazebo was made complete by 30 invited guests. Alice planned to feature me as the last man she was ever going to love.
Alice had a rough life, far greater than anything I ever experienced. Each of her children and grandchildren had it tough, too. Comparatively speaking, I was just a babe in the woods.
Perhaps I sensed my innocence in the commitment letter Alice asked I write before our commitment ceremony, deliberately scheduled to occur Sept. 24, 2011, one year beyond the day we met.
Currently, the Aphasia Network is holding its annual Couples Weekend, but, because stroke survivors and care partners are especially at risk during this pandemic, we began meeting this week in a virtual setting using the Internet program Zoom.
Everyone loved Alice, almost as much as she loved them, and the next 10 weeks will emulate the weekend event, the first camp since Alice’s passing. Students, educators, stroke survivors, care partners and staff members are clamoring for details about our love.
I watched an extraordinary video prepared by computer-savvy Mollie Wang, in which she sang and engineered pitch-perfect duets with Professor John White of Pacific University. The second and last song performed, “You’ve Got a Friend,” was written by James Taylor, Alice’s heart throb. At a meaningful moment in the song, an image of Alice appeared, and my heart flowed deeper than expected. Tears filled my eyes.
Today, I ran across the commitment letter I wrote to Alice on August 28, 2011. Shortly after Alice’s passing, I shared Alice’s commitment note here.
Since the Aphasia Network formally started its extended Couples Weekend celebration on Tuesday, the time is perfect to publish the commitment letter I wrote her. After all, it’s only fair, right?
As we witness the last hurrahs from Hurricane Irene’s visit to the Northeast, I recall the time George and I went streaking during South Florida’s version of the hurricane’s namesake in 1999. So much has changed since you became part of my life.
All my worldly possessions are now stored inside your house, a place you insist I call “ours.” My environs are surreal, far beyond any expectations. I feel out of kilter.
So far in life, my expectations as a writer have not borne fruit. In order to cope, I declare myself a musician first, a writer second. Somewhere in the scheme of things is my fallback identity as a limousine driver, bringing in the meager income I contribute.
Why do I try to defend myself from you, as if you are an intruder and not a friend? Have I grown terrified of life, reverting back to the frightened boy depicted in my nightmares?
I decided to write this letter, even without a pat ending. Perhaps I should write more this way using my subconscious, rather than wait until ideas ferment and scream to come out. Anything worth investing into a sit-down exercise at this computer should attempt to glean insights without a glossy finish.
I love you in ways I know little about; I break new ground with every step we take. I can predict nothing beyond tomorrow; is that what scares me?
I don’t know what you see in me; maybe that’s why you love me. Little of it makes sense. Just know I am trying to be true to myself and to our relationship. Everything else seems up for grabs.
The photograph above is the last image taken of Alice McCormick, and I am the lucky guy who took this picture. Alice and I were on the verge of returning home from the north side of Vancouver, Washington, where we “scored” a large package of Kirkland toilet paper during Costco’s senior shopping time. Twenty-four rolls, oh boy!
On the drive back home, Alice must have been musing about something, because she was notably silent. And once we sat down in the living room, she asked me to promise something. As I think about it now, I wonder if Alice knew she was close to leaving this gray-green planet.
“Mason, I need you to promise me something,” Alice began.
“Oh sure,” I responded. “What is it?”
“Mason, I want you to promise me that you’ll start writing again,” Alice said seriously.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve stopped [rideshare] driving. That means I have the time to do it.”
Alice looked into my eyes, and said, “Promise me.”
I mulled it over for less than five seconds, and muttered, “Yes, I’ll go back to my writing.”
Alice nodded to show her satisfaction, stood up, and went into the kitchen to put our Costco goodies away.
(Alice managed me so much that I was left few tasks in which to reciprocate. She simply wanted to witness me make a bona fide attempt before she took over.)
I look at the featured picture above and wonder what Alice was thinking about. In the almost 10 years living together, Alice was consistently good at concealing some pretty serious things.
I have no clue what Alice knew on the eve the day before I found her body wearing a faraway, wistful expression. (Alice would wake up early each morning to putz around the kitchen, cuddle the cat, open the blinds and gaze at the nearly 1,000-foot-high hill north of our development before coming back to bed.)
And now, I know I must write, I cannot screw around, I must make good to my promise, because Alice is all around, watching and guiding me. Dammit, I’ve already written one book, got it published, chronicled some major bands in concert (the Marshall Tucker Band, Heart, Norah Jones, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen), and won the heart of Alice McCormick, a remarkable denizen of a historic Pennsylvania town known as Doylestown.
My grandmother was a librarian, my mother was an English teacher and my father was a professional musician.
I went to private school in Princeton, N.J., and do I have a tale to tell about being there! Imagine a boy from Miami thrust into an environment where Albert Einstein was known to stroll, and being schooled with fewer than 8 children per teacher.
Twenty years later, the managing editor, Gloria Brown Anderson, at the Miami News increased my workload until I had to drop out of Florida International University in the late 1970s. Anderson justified this tactic by confessing she did not want to have an unknown scholar destroy a “natural gift.”
In 2002, I wrote a book: Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, for Paul Tarko, who was imprisoned in the same Soviet workcamp later occupied by noted Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (After a literary agent showed interest, Tarko decided to self-publish.)
After promoting the book in Hartford, Connecticut, I discovered the Pennsylvania borough of Doylestown (30 miles south of Princeton), where I met Alice McCormick, although, in fairness, I say she met me. I have never been loved by anyone so unabashedly, so flagrantly, so wholeheartedly and so fairly. Yes, Kailey, you’re right, Alice was amazing!
So give a lot of credit to Alice for this decrepit creature I am becoming again. Every time I sit down to write something new, I’m fulfilling my promise to Alice. What comes from these slender fingers dancing over the computer keyboard is a celebration to that long-legged lady. Each phrase is a commitment, revisited over and over, checked and re-checked for readable style.
But here’s the amazing part: Alice made me a promise eight years ago. She said that when she disappears to an unnamed place, I would find a hidden message inside something I used, but a place where I seldom looked. She giggled when she told me.
Three days ago, in the top drawer of a small bureau in my writer’s office, where Alice had commandeered some of her possessions, I came across a Post-it note written by Alice, written on Dec. 22, 2011, approximately three months after our commitment ceremony:
I am honor-bound to follow up what I promised. Alice is all around me.
I have begun the book.
Members of the Aphasia Network created a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing