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
One thing about undergoing grief; some moments stand out more than others.
Take the matter of a tortoise-shell, short-haired cat named Chloe. With incredible claws.
She turned out to be praise-worthy, where once upon a time she looked scraggly, barely alive. You can read this website’s story about her adoption using the link at the end of the previous sentence.
For nine months, Alice adopted, fed and nurtured, brushed Chloe’s coat into something astounding, guided her bathroom habits toward the litterbox, and instructed the cat never to tip me off about how she was going to use our new, semi-plush carpet.
In that time, Chloe became a fully grown cat under Alice’s tutelage, and was taught “not to care.”
Then Alice passed over.
Almost from the outset, Chloe began performing her version of Mozart’s Urine Sonata.
Within two weeks, she awakened me by peeing loudly in the bedroom. On previous mornings, I discovered bathroom throw rugs tossed askew while I made morning rounds. Maybe I need to change all the kitty litter in the upstairs bathroom, I thought, so I took pains to make the litterbox immaculate.
Chloe took this gesture the wrong way. The very next morning, she shit on the bedroom carpet next to the window curtains. My eyes opened wide, I went ballistic and explored an option I previously considered blasphemous: take Chloe back to the same place where we adopted her, the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.
To understand the depth of my anxiety, readers need to consider my second wife. For 22 years, she became the woman with whom I intended to spend my life. We met in Miami in the winter of 1980 while I was attempting to get the city’s Bicentennial Park renamed in honor of John Lennon.
I was devastated by that tragedy. The night Lennon was shot, I was listening to the Miami Dolphins game against the New England Patriots in the Orange Bowl when an announcer breathlessly interrupted the lengthy commercial break after the third quarter to report John Lennon was shot and had died. When the broadcast feed of the game returned to the stadium live, it was impossible to tell.
The rowdy Orange Bowl home crowd had fallen silent.
As a Lennon admirer, my would-be partner stood by my side during a public show of grief, so I married her. I also married quickly, because I needed to heal from Wife #1, but that’s another story.
Wife #2 was carrying some work-history baggage, though, relating to animals.
She worked as a secretary at the Humane Society of Greater Miami where more than 90 percent of its intake animals were euthanized on site. As much as I asked her about that time in her life, she would shut down and give few details.
Back in the 1970s, Miami’s Humane Society became a dumping ground for unwanted animals where an onsite gas chamber was in frequent use. I visited the facility twice and felt an overpowering sense of doom walking past cages of desperate animals that sensed the Animal Holocaust awaiting them.
(A San Antonio reporter’s 2004 visit to that city’s Humane Society shelter is comparable to conditions I witnessed in Miami. Read that report here, if you have an ironclad stomach.)
Could I possibly be delivering Chloe to an unspeakable end of life? What kind of animal would do this?
I worried, frantically speaking at length with good friend Kailey Cox Wednesday night and cousin Margaret Thursday morning. I explained at length without saying what animal shelter care was like in Miami. Instead, I seriously castigated myself on the phone, imagining the worst possible results of an encounter at the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.
At 11 am on April 16th as I walked toward the Longview entrance, Chloe and I were intercepted and steered to a side door for cats, when another staff member in personal protection gear guided us back to the original entrance, and my heart sank. These people are desperately confused, I thought, and everything inside was going haywire.
Carrying Chloe within her cat carrier, her woeful howling announced our entrance. Tears were creeping out of my eyelids, and I peered around my coronavirus mask. We were “socially distancing,” but I thought how damned inappropriate it was to be “social” around would-be executioners.
How inaccurate my apprehensions turned out to be! These folks were here because of love for animals. The Humane Society of Cowlitz County turned out to be an adoption center where virtually all animals wind up being adopted by locals. The revelation I discovered yesterday is each Humane Society can be as different as night from day. It’s characterized by its citizenry.
Looking at the sunny side of life, Chloe is on the verge of becoming the ideal outdoor cat within the same wild environment in which she survived, gave birth and was neutered before Alice and I adopted her in a condo development prohibiting outdoor cats. Alice brushed her daily and treated her like the queen both of them were, and Chloe grew fat in respect and stature.
Chloe’s aptitude for barn use is off the charts. She can dispatch all kinds of critters with her uncut sharp, long claws, and she knows how to be wary in an environment of bear, cougars and maybe Sasquatch. By being adopted with Alice’s constant care, Chloe’s warrior royalty should be at its prime.
Inside the Cowlitz County’s Humane Society building, I could not have been treated better – and neither could Chloe – by hard-working, blue-collar ladies who live by a no-kill policy, except for creatures at death’s door. So now I feel an amazing sense of relief, colored by the firm, yet gentle, way I saw its staff handle animals.
Have fun, Chloe. I’ll miss you, and so will Alice.
But somehow, I suspect I might miss Chloe more.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
There’s no easy way to view the end of another being’s last breaths. Nevertheless, in providing hospice care, we fulfill our responsibilities.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.