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.
Once Alice snaked her right arm around my neck in Doylestown’s Marketplace, I was hooked.
“Oh, here you are, dear,” she cooed loudly. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
The two “honeys” on the other side of the bar I had been impressing with tales of derring-do emitted muted harrumphs, paid their tab hurriedly and left the building quicker than Elvis. “This guy is married,” they must have thought. “What a cad.” I bet they muttered more explicit language under their breath.
Alice grinned bigger than a jack o’ lantern; she had me all to herself.
The woman towering over my bar seat measured a full 6’3″. And I was struck by her boldness. All my life, I supported women becoming emancipated; finally at age 67, I met one. It was put up or shut up time; otherwise, I was a fraud.
That’s how I met Alice McCormick on September 24, 2010. One year later, on September 24, we committed to one another utilizing a guide for gay and lesbian couples to demonstrate support for same-sex couples. Our commitment became a solemn promise, because an Apache prayer recited by Danawa Buchanan, self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee, made it so. The ceremony was guided by David DiPasquale, an interfaith minister with the township’s Pebble Hill Church.
Alice had a rough life, but SHE DANCED ON BANDSTAND. That’s all I needed to know. It didn’t matter she danced in the back row in ABC affiliate’s Philadelphia studio. Because of her Amazon-like height, whenever she bopped in rhythm with other girls, the TV studio and number of dancers appeared greater than the cramped physical space allowed.
Saying I would be the last man she ever loved, we moved to Oregon (the “left” Coast, we were told) in September 2014, a harrowing journey described elsewhere on this website. Six months afterward, Alice endured a stroke. Unlike the 90 percent of men who leave after their partners suffer a stroke, I stuck around. By comparison, 90 percent of women don’t leave a male partner. Loving is the meaning of the game; it means being around when a stroke survivor needs a friend the most.
Due to our new life in Oregon, later into Washington, Alice quickly became an inspiration for student nurses, administrators, stroke survivors and related care partners. At the Aphasia Network’s spring and summer camps on Garibaldi’s spectacular peninsula, I witnessed how Alice bonded with stroke survivors barely able to speak, encouraging all in a foreign unspoken language.
I fell deeply in love with Alice witnessing how she made friends with anyone who needed her ear. Those who no longer can rely on enunciated speech will substitute sounds, make gestures and point to turn a conversation into two-way communication. Alice knew this intuitively! Even better, she managed me (something men need to curb brutish behavior). I learned to appear brilliant by not saying a word. What a woman!
My time on Earth with Alice was cut short on March 27, 2020, after she suffered her ultimate coronary end. She never became stricken with Covid, an ailment she insisted we shun like the plague, so yes we managed to stay safe.
But now she was gone, and I faced the heartbreaking task of having her precious body cremated. With the help and encouragement of my first cousin, Margaret Johnston, we arranged it. The grief was seismic for Margaret, too. Alice instantly related to Margaret like a true sister.
So how did I manage without Alice? The pandemic was tough enough, but as a former Miami TV/radio/audio-video writer, I found more than enough distractions to get me through. But two questions continued to nag on me, “How should I dispose of Alice’s ashes? And when?”
Alice was attracted to lighthouses, especially the one at Cape May, NJ. During our first visit to Long Beach, Washington, I watched her pulse quicken as we scaled the steep driveway leading to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. The structure’s revolving lamp possessed majestic candlepower to guide ships entering or exiting the vast Columbia River’s manifest destiny.
It made sense to scatter Alice’s ashes on the Pacific Ocean’s beach north of the lighthouse, ending the continent-ending journey we undertook to escape the hard life she experienced growing up in Philly.
And when? Our commitment ceremony firmly established one year – precisely – as our timeline.
I realized my mission of remembrance seemed foolhardy. After all, the month of March was notorious for serious storms moving parallel to the coastline; nevertheless, I kept moving ahead. There was a slim chance the weather would be benign, since Alice, Margaret and I once enjoyed a 72-degree St. Patrick’s Day on Long Beach. That day, we made faces at one another marveling about Long Beach’s unusual warmth while folks inland were under clouds and cooler. But this time the odds were significantly not in my favor.
Somehow Alice must have prepared our way. Gale warnings were hoisted for Sunday, March 28. But on the day before Saturday, March 27th, the anniversary of Alice’s passing and our precious remembrance, weather conditions on the beach turned serene. Oh sure, it was cool – 50 degrees air temperature, water temperature to match – but the usual gusty wind off the water calmed down to a reasonable 10 miles an hour in advance of an onrushing winter storm.
Six of Alice’s fans from the Aphasia Network had driven out to the Coast to be welcomed for an introductory dinner by my First Cousin Margaret and her friend, Bruce Douglas.
Later, Douglas built a traditionally correct, crackling bonfire – for an after-dinner observance at which we related tales of Alice’s inspiration that mesmerized each of our hearts while she walked this planet.
As we huddled close to the warmth of the talkative fire, John White, a dedicated professor of occupational therapy and semi-professional troubadour, performed songs chosen for the occasion. Two numbers – Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” – stood out as I sang along. In Doylestown, Alice had gifted me the sheet music for both songs so I could play them on her basement’s player piano.
While darkness shifted into a protective embrace around our retinue, a full moon glowed above our heads peering down through a thin, steady layer of clouds. No glare; moonlight was glowing blue across the sand! And Alice would love this extra touch; March 27th was Passover!
The good professor performed Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” a song that speech therapist Jordan Horner inspired Alice to join her in a sing-along, facilitating her recovery at RIO (Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon). White capped off the songlist with Willie Nelson’s song of forbearance, “One Day at a Time:”
“I live one day at a time, I dream one dream at a time, Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow’s blind, I live one day at a time.”
With my voice straining to reach the high notes, thus came the moment to gather the bag with Alice’s ashes, with the purpose of casting them across the waves.
Astonishingly enough, the onshore wind settled down even more, as our sacred gathering padded across the firm, pleasantly cool, beach sand for almost half a mile before our party made its way to the water’s edge at low tide. I looked up to the reassuring full moon, noticing how its blue reflection outlined the incoming waves, on guard for “sneaker waves” known to sweep unsuspecting visitors out to sea.
As my guests kept watch, I didn’t have to walk far into the water until I was up to my knees. I opened wide the heavy cellophane bag, turning it upside down, and saw Alice’s remains sweep slightly toward shore, until the breeze succumbed into a dead calm. Then her ashes dropped vertically to surround my legs. This wind was unpredictable!
Suddenly, I became thunderstruck by the culmination of a sacred mission; how did I manage this feat so deliberately without pausing? Without any doubt?
Everyone gave me a pat of congratulations as I emerged from the water, but I barely felt their happy hands. I was oblivious to White, who sang softly while walking the full distance playing his guitar. I focused my attention to the four forces of nature that gathered together this special night: water, air, earth and fire. What could have been more perfect for Alice’s remembrance than the environment Creator set?
As another chill encouraged our party to head off quickly toward the bonfire, leaving me straggling behind, something amazing happened.
While staring at the ground to ensure safe passage, I felt a warm breeze from shore envelop me, an answer from the seabreeze, another reassuring shift from one to the other, until suddenly I felt thrust into a mist-shrouded vortex that seemed to circle into the heavens above. What a bizarre occurrence!
I sloughed it off as nothing to remember.
Three days later, though, while at a doctor’s appointment, the attending nurse kept me later than usual.
Why? Because my heart was racing so fast she feared for my safety.
I had to tell her why. I realized the mist-shrouded vortex reaching heaven-bound three days ago was Alice’s embrace from a parallel universe, as she welcomed her Star Journey. Tears flooded my face, and I heard Alice’s voice call out, “Thank you.”
Her cry of appreciation infused the awareness that I had fulfilled her ultimate dream: moving the two of us to the West Coast into an area eminently inhabitable. What glories I was gifted! To love a woman like Alice? A woman who could love me, and moved heaven and Earth, not just for me but for members of Portland’s Aphasia Network as well?
The more I know, the more I realize what I don’t know. But one thing is for sure.
I will sing praises to Alice McCormick forevermore, because on March 27th, 2021, I experienced an unabashed encounter with eternity. It was a lovely remembrance.
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.
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.
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.)
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!”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes, we are exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude is only matched by the unmitigated embrace of support offered by our delightful extended family.
Thanksgiving is a time when one is supposed to feel grateful. This year, though, I believe my gratitude is far more abundant than at any other time in my life.
One particular cause of such supreme gratitude is our condominium unit and the community we now live in. Alice and I thank my cousins, Margaret Johnston and Carolyn & Jeff Levin, for investing in our vision, transforming us into stewards of a beautiful property overlooking the mountains of Washington. If it were not for them, our place would not be as spectacular as the view.
24-unit condo community with a view
Take a peek outside my second-floor writer’s office window. That’s one of several mountain ridges in the distance where a few developments punctuate the landscape. Frequent rain events during the fall/winter obscure their top-of-the-mountain view more than ours, which encourages a certain personal, snobbish feeling of superiority. And during an occasional burst of heat during the summer, a smaller ridge to the southwest shades our valley community an hour before dusk.
Inside the Loika/McCormick home
Our living room has become an audiophile’s wet dream. The television is mounted on the wall and the audio connected to my Bose surround-sound system. Before we moved in, Reid Rasmusson, a local Longview painter and stalwart resident who has knowledge of our building’s architectural history, applied several coats of paint to the entire apartment. What stands out is how Alice directed Reid to reinvent a cranberry-red wall into a more-aesthetically pleasing olive-brown accentuation to an artistically constructed fireplace. An added attraction, thanks to Bose: the acoustics are outstanding.
Therefore, one wouldn’t blame Alice for reclining on our six-month-old sofa toward the entertainment center. But that’s not her usual position. Alice lies in the opposite direction, sharing my outside view, but the downstairs window position aligns her 6-foot frame next to a riot of greenery. Already, Alice is adding her creative touch to the outside backyard.
(Our cat, Millie, complains loudly every day of wanting to go outside and explore. But we hear that bobcats, cougars and coyotes prowl about, so we admonish Millie for expressing reckless desires and keep her inside.)
After Reid finished painting, the carpet people showed up to execute our carpet and flooring plan. Every old piece of carpet was discarded in favor of a tan-colored replacement, with a luxurious feel and look we enjoy today. The carpet installers were finishing up barely moments before our movers were scheduled to arrive. The movers? That’s a different story, and a future post will detail the story of that near-disaster.
One particular view of the upstairs railing reveals light shining through the upstairs bathroom. (We have 1½ bathrooms, by the way.) That’s sunglare coming through the bathroom skylight. That’s cool, isn’t it? A skylight for the bathroom? Oh yeah, try to get that in a condo in Portland!
A feeling of community
Our digs are so splendoriferous that I hesitate to include the generosity of spirit from our neighbors. Nevertheless, I’m dutybound to report our next-door neighbors meet two criteria: quality and congeniality. Terry and Carole Sumrall introduced us to a restaurant they favor: Fiesta Bonita Mexican Grill and Cantina. Of course, our journey turned out to be a late afternoon on Halloween, so the tradition in town conjured up a wannabe for the Village People instead of a waitperson.
Other neighbors are equally generous with their time and talents. Already, Longview is full of revelations, and the history of this town is worthy of more national attention than it gets. This is a true community, and my future writing here may reveal what I call “living in a Gentile kibbutz.” I only wish I didn’t have to drive to Portland to buy whitefish salad, a proper bagel and latkes. Or cheese blintzes! A full story about Longview, Washington will appear in a future post, or perhaps be contained in the book I committed to when moving West.
Teri’s Restaurant is what’s happening
The photo at the top of this post was taken by one of the employees at Teri’s Restaurant in our newly adopted hometown. Besides a continuous dedication to provide restaurant fare a cut above the standard, Teri’s is a hubbub for local musicians and their groupies. (No age requirement to become a groupie.) We met a dean from Lower Columbia College (in Longview, naturally) who got on one knee in front of us to encourage Alice to return to work for child care. How is that for a welcome?
A quick apology
Please excuse the delay in getting this post written. There were plenty of chores for me to take care of, not to mention the time I wasted while being hooked on DishTV during this college football season. Yes, I am still functioning, sometimes badly, on the aftermath and life after a bladder removal surgery.
But I am far more than just alive, and I’m married to an Amazon woman who sets a pretty high standard for how she looks after me. That’s why every time she allows herself a genuine smile, my heart continues to go pitter-patter.
Dr. Seuss said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep, because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
All photographs on this post, except for ones in which Alice appears, were taken by Alice McCormick. She’s a real talent, if I say so myself.
I once experienced serendipity in 2000 while driving from San Francisco to Ashland, Oregon. What a treat! Every town where I stopped was hosting its own music festival. That’s serendipitous.
My second encounter? Alice and I were chosen to participate in The Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat weekend with 11 other couples on the Oregon Coast from March 4th through the 6th. But wait, when did I realize Alice’s 72nd birthday would coincide with the glorious finish of this pilot program?
In a bona-fide camp environment, the roaring ocean only a few hundred yards away provided a healing sound experience.
What a concept.
On Sunday morning, Alice received a slice of birthday cake – only one candle atop representing a life brightly burning – and over 50 staff members and students, plus survivors of aphasia and their respective caregivers, sang out Alice’s praises in the time-honored “Happy Birthday to You” refrain.
The meaning of that emotion-packed morning brought tears to many students’ eyes, and I vowed then to salute The Aphasia Network with this website post for giving my dear one the greatest birthday gift of all: unqualified love.
A little history should add perspective to Alice’s birthday weekend. Immediately after Alice McCormick endured her stroke a year ago (March 11, 2015), one of her children wanted to fly out here and size up the situation. Alice feared such a visit could threaten her independence. And as Alice’s caregiver, I am duty-bound to defend her. She manages me very well, so her wishes become my commands.
Many people consider the loss of instant coherent speech to be a sign of incompetency. That’s not true. Yes, aphasia affects the brain, but only the interior pathways. Mature, informed thoughts must blaze new trails to communicate themselves in speech or writing. That’s why Alice’s nonverbal command structure today uses gesture more than ever. Survivors of brain injury must skirt ill-informed behaviors of well-intentioned family members who can turn an agile mind into a vegetable garden.
It’s up to me to keep a protective shield around her. That’s my role as caregiver. (And if there should be any doubt as to how together Alice is, take a careful look at the photos gracing these words of mine. Her talent as a photographer is well on display, with the caveat that students at the Retreat took photos of the two of us together.)
Off to the Coast
After a frenzied bit of packing Friday afternoon, March 4th, I drove the Ford Escape affectionately known as Betsy toward Tillamuck and the rugged Coast beyond. After we turned onto the main Coast throughway, the pavement swept us through an Oregon fishing town perched next to a placid bay. Looking beyond the bay, we could make out ever-building waves of the ocean beyond.
We drove past an inviting lake and my GPS turned us onto an inlet-hugging quiet road toward Edwards Lodge, the assigned gateway where a team of dedicated Aphasia Network professionals welcomed us into a slice of heaven that I now call the Haven.
As soon as we walked inside, two charming students – Tiffany Tu (occupational) and Rachael Furtney (speech) – enthusiastically introduced themselves. These two bright motivated souls were to be our constant companions and seemingly cater to our every whim. Alice may have required a full-blown stroke to have such dedicated overseers, but never mind. These two women were shining beacons reigning over our newly opened lighthouse of life.
Our first evening was filled with introductions, and we oriented ourselves to the lay of the land. Tiffany and Rachael easily located our assigned sleeping bunks in the Herron House; then we gathered back into a nearby dining hall and met key staff officials.
An entertainment program was led off by Savel Sobol, a student who doubles as a nightclub comedian, whose humor captured the audience’s breathless attention. We caroused some with Professor John White, Ph.D., who led the entire group into a rousing sing-along. As the evening wore on, we acknowledged our gratitude to Aphasia Network team leaders Suzanne Gardner and Lisa Bodry who share camp administrative responsibilities, while continuing to be feted by a potpourri of support personnel who kept the good vibes flowing. We were treated like VIPs.
Our trip to the Coast was accompanied by mostly cloudy skies, and an onimous weather forecast called for stormy conditions. To Alice and me, though, the sound of a confused sea with breakers rolling across the adjacent beach was a seething, soothing series of rolling sound. On my side of the bunk beds, I dropped off quickly.
A New Day Breaks
However, Alice did not fall asleep until late into the night, due to a barely-there mattress, and as daybreak unveiled itself, she was unable to rouse herself into consciousness. I meandered off to the Carrier Dining Hall for a sausage-and-pancake breakfast, confided in Tiffany and Rachael, who instantly, merrily concocted a wake-up invitation of steel-cut oatmeal and black coffee to gently prod Alice back to the land of the living.
To keep at ease, other staff members reassured me that Alice was happily regaining her steadfast form, and soon Tiffany and Rachael escorted a beamingly happy McCormick partner into my Saturday morning. Lo and behold, the sun was shining, and we sneaked off to the beach to view the glorious Coast in its active ebb and flow. We were elated to discover partly sunny skies. Could it be possible a beach bonfire was still on the afternoon menu?
Back at Edwards, Professor White led a frank, no-holds-barred discussion unveiling a myriad of tools and toys to reinvigorate sexual communion between couples. Hoo boy, the couple across from us appeared shocked, and subconsciously the power of erotica was building in my libido. I looked at Alice lasciviously.
After a back-to-the-basics macaroni-and-cheese lunch, guitars, percussive instruments and voices gave the beach a hootenanny effect, romantically accompanied by a modest bonfire on the beach with only a few nuisance sprinkles of rain to ignore. Yes, it’s true, more than a few random urges of forbidden pleasure were awakened by the female in my life.
Everything that passed from then on seemed like a blur. I joined other caregivers in the Smith House to compare lifestyles while Alice was spirited off to join other aphasia sufferers whose task was to prepare appetizers for all to share. Wary of any needless weight gain, I sampled a few, but didn’t fill up.
That was wise, because we savored a sumptuous teriyaki chicken dinner at the Sherlock Lodge, while our companion music-makers kept the entire company enthralled.
As I said earlier, romance was already in the air, and when we reached our bunk beds, it overflowed. Some mischievous, but sentimental, elves had strewn rose petals (a la the movie “American Beauty”) in and around our sleeping quarters along with a small bottle of champagne. Oh man, was love in the air.
But a practical look around the confined spaces of our bunk beds sobered up this surfeit of romanticism. If we could twist ourselves around in one particular position, I reasoned, we might be able to enjoy naked pleasures. But at what cost? How would we drive back home if my ardor put us in traction?
Cooler heads prevailed, thank goodness. But on Sunday morning, before we left this Haven, I confessed to all within earshot how susceptible I was to “elves” who inflicted the inspiration of unpracticed acrobatic moves in a noisy enough closed space that certainly would have disturbed other couples in Herron House.
Sunday morning breakfast did not disappoint. A full serving of bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns preceded Alice’s birthday cake celebration with enough get-well wishes to fill the entire Pacific Ocean. Tears seemed to be participants’ only defense against their earnest hearts.
We walked to the beach once again, and admired driftwood brought onshore during high tide. We took one good look before turning our backs on Oregon’s greatest charm to revel more on Alice’s big day.
Alice’s 72nd birthday proved to be something special we never could have created by ourselves. Our hearts were lifted – and so were our spirits – by a glorious weekend on the Coast, all made possible by the guiding geniuses at The Aphasia Network.
We love what they do, and how they support us. Our weekend was serendipity personified.
Alice has finished 50 per cent of intensive speech counseling. My partner in life began speech therapy on Jan. 4 at Portland State University (PSU), and my hard-headed woman has less than four weeks left.
We were anticipating professional guidance once we learned Alice qualified for the highly regarded research program, and, like a prized racehorse, she was chomping at the bit to get started. Communication has become Alice’s nemesis, especially when a critical word gets lost in the translation from thought to speech. Consequently, her frustration shows and builds.
Communicating is vital to intelligent beings, so Alice’s word-block syndrome takes a toll on both of us. While waiting for her two hours of therapy downtown to end, I sat on a wooden bench waiting for Alice to appear. Three weeks ago, though, a kindly professor took pity on my aching posterior and showed the way where a nearby cozy waiting area with cushioned chairs invited this weary interloper to ease those sore buttocks. Ah, relief!
The wait affords me this opportunity to chronicle her progress, because whenever we’re at PSU, I cannot Uber. However, on alternate days, Alice’s speech therapy is handled at our apartment. Wesley Allen, therapist extraordinaire (shown above), gives intense one-on-one sessions at aphasia sufferers’ homes and at PSU. The home sessions are extremely helpful to Alice and free me to drive for Uber and keep the financial ogres away, although writing takes a back seat to chauffeuring skills.
Researchers at Portland State University’s Aging and Adult Language Disorders Laboratory joined forces with the University of Washington’s Aphasia Lab to offer hope to sufferers of speech aphasia. Researchers want to understand more about aphasia and its related communication disorders. Alice’s participation not only helps her own recovery; it provides signposts for speech therapists who treat subsequent stroke victims.
Reflections of Christmas 2015
Because I haven’t written in two months, it’s important to report that Alice, Millie and I spent a pleasant holiday season. Close friends and family received our traditional annual photo with Millie around our grown-in-Oregon Christmas tree.
On Christmas Day, we once again celebrated as if we were Jews. We went to a movie and intended to eat at a Chinese restaurant. However, the Living Room Theaters in downtown Portland served so much fine cuisine and wine at plush seats where we watched “The Big Short” (which we wholeheartedly recommend) that our appetites were summarily squelched. Therefore, Chinese food was postponed until a week later.
I worked almost all day/night New Year’s Eve, prior to an unexpected invitation from friends to party hearty at their house less than a mile away from our apartment. We arrived half an hour before the clock struck midnight, and were treated like guests of honor. After some moderate drinking and smoking, kisses of congratulations were shared all around after the TV channel of our hosts’ choice showed the Times Square ball drop (on a three-hour tape delay).
Alice and I stuck around until 2 am. By the time we made it home, we didn’t fall into bed until 3:15. That equates to 6:15 am on the East Coast, so Alice and I became born-again party animals. What’s more, my cousin Margaret invited us to partake of a New Year’s Day sumptuous ham dinner joined by her offspring Brantley, Rori and Lauren.
Snow in Portland
It’s a good thing I worked New Year’s Eve, because the night of Jan. 2nd and the next morning this part of the Great Northwest was hit by 1-3 inches of snow and ice. Portland doesn’t salt its roads, claiming the product — used liberally in the rest of the country — is bad for the environment. Consequently, an outbreak of wintry precipitation shuts down sensible highway travel.
East Coast transportation is similarly affected, but only after the two-feet-plus snow event that buried the Northeast, including our friends in Doylestown, Pa. And oh, does Alice gloat! I suppose enduring a $400-plus monthly electric/gas bill for numerous years can do that.
Yes, Alice and I have reasons to embrace our newfound Portland life, but we are extremely wary of the explosive rental market and what a new lease on our modest apartment might entail. Nevertheless, we are optimistic about our prospects (at least most of the time), and Alice might surprise us all by going back to work. More to come!