Mickey contemplating the view from our balcony in Anaheim.
Flying over palm trees as our plane descends for our landing at LAX after our trip to New York, I find I am very happy to be coming back to what I now realize is home. As we near the final year of Thomas’s three year MFA program we must once again face the reality of another move, for whatever else might happen in the near future, the one sure thing is that we will be moving again.
Great place for tacos and burgers.
This has been a busy and productive time of adjustment for both of us. For me it has been a winding down from all the crazy busy working years into a quieter life that allows me the luxury of time to indulge my crime fiction habit as well as to rediscover the joys of cooking and having time with my animals. I take great pleasure when asked, “what do you do?” by answering, “whatever I feel like”. While I can no longer afford to buy books as I did when I was employed, I now have the time to use the Public Library and fortunately Anaheim has a great one so I have access to all the books I could ever want.
For Thomas this has been a time for communicating with colleagues and teachers in a stimulating atmosphere and to expand his own artistic boundaries. School is demanding, gratifying and productive. After his first semester, Thomas is hired to teach a part time beginning photography course at Chaffee College as well as one at Cal State Fullerton and he is able to keep these sources of income for the rest of the time we are to be in Anaheim. He has dropped his ESL course except for summer sessions and additionally has been hired to write freelance art reviews for Artweek Magazine. The pay for these reviews is unsubstantial but he is given quite a few assignments and the experience and usefulness of that in his resume should be very helpful since the job search would soon be upon us. In addition to writing reviews, which Thomas enjoys doing, the work gets us out to galleries and exhibits and as an additional perk we are often given exhibition catalogs.
Thomas at the flea market.
In the course of the three years of graduate school Thomas has participated in numerous group shows all over Southern California and we get to see lots of art in general. We discover myriad galleries and get to understand the art dynamic of Los Angeles and environs a little. By the time we have to start thinking about leaving we are really hoping that somehow we will be able to remain in California and, if at all possible, in Southern California.
One great thing that happens when you live in a warm climate is that people come to visit you. We were happily graced with visits from relative’s back east including my sweet sister-in-law, and good friend, Kathy and her children. Kathy and Thomas were great friends growing up and she being the elder, served as mentor to him in many ways. Her obvious affection for her brother, the love of my life after all, brings us close and so we remain still. Being so near Disney also brought quite a few other cousins and nieces and nephews and we were thrilled to have them all visit.
Nephew Daniel and niece Teresa with Thomas in our pool in Anaheim.
When we first got here it felt so strange to not know anyone at all since Thomas and I are both gregarious by nature had quite a large circle of friends in New York. One afternoon when we were on the Cal State Fullerton campus to attend an MFA show of one of Thomas’s colleagues I looked around and realized how many terrific people we now had gotten to know.
My sixty third birthday with Thomas and my father in law, Simi Valley, Ca.
During that final year in our Anaheim apartment we started to see the first real signs of aging in our good old dog Shoe. It seemed that one day she was just herself and then she wasn’t. It felt like she had aged overnight. Her muzzle quickly started to grey and then she became totally deaf. We could walk into the apartment and she wouldn’t even notice we had been turning keys and opening the door. In the past of course those sounds would have elicited a joyous greeting at the door. Sadly her decline quickly took a downward path. When our pats and hugs seemed to have become painful we knew that the time had come and it was with great sadness that we had to once again put another beloved pet to rest. I think even Mickey the cat missed her presence but Thomas and I missed her terribly. Since we had no idea where we would end up after Thomas completed his degree it seemed absurd to acquire another dog knowing that we would soon be packing up our household again to some as yet undisclosed location. So for the first time in quite a few years we found ourselves without a dog and it was a sad thing for us both.
Our beautiful "Shoe", in loving memory.
We were just getting by financially on Thomas’ salary as part time lecturer at Chaffee College, one photography class at Cal State Fullerton, summer wages for the LAUSD ESL courses and one grant from Fullerton for work on his MFA exhibit, my social security and of course, student loans. While I now had Medicare, that did not cover my prescription drug costs which were nearly a hundred dollars a month. Thomas had to pay for private medical insurance through the university since we were afraid to be without after seeing what my medical bills in New York had come to. The debt we were incurring from those loans weighed heavily on us knowing how hard it would be to pay that off on a university instructor’s salary. We understood that we would be paying back those loans for years and took only the most minimal amount to get by.
A few examples of the start of my ceramic collection.
The start of what is to become a collection of hands.
By August of 99, the search for a full time teaching post was underway. Resumes were written and sent far and wide. That year the gathering of the annual meeting of the College Art Association was held in New York and Thomas went to that equipped with resumes and portfolios to take to seventeen previously arranged interviews including one with Cal State San Bernardino where he had been told they had one opening and over one hundred applicants. In the end, he was invited to visit campuses in Michigan and Oregon, Chicago, San Antonio and Fredonia, New York as well as in San Bernardino. We were ready to go anywhere but hoped that it could be someplace warm as we were already spoiled and seduced by Southern California weather and found it hard to imagine being cold again. Still and all, we needed an income and a place for Thomas to do his work so we were prepared to take what we could get.
Thomas and his father share a birthday celebration on the occasion of Thomas's forty first and my father in laws eightieth birthdays. Simi Valley, Ca.
Post op after six weeks.
What we had to wear in order to visit.
In the fall of 99 my dear father in law underwent surgery to implant a stent. He had already survived quadruple bypass a few years earlier and while his advanced age was a mitigating factor, it was highly recommended that he have this procedure. On the Sunday prior to his hospitalization when we went to lunch together, I remember thinking as we strolled arm in arm through the parking lot that this might just be the last good time we would have together. He survived the surgery but something happened that changed him forever. We heard different suggestions as to what might have caused his subsequent decline, possibly a stroke during surgery or the beginning of Alzheimer’s, but in the end, he was lost to us as dementia and physical decline took hold. He had lost his swallow reflex and now required a feeding tube and full time care. While he seemed to retain his warmth and friendliness his moments of clarity were of short and increasingly infrequent duration. He would still greet me warmly and while it felt sincere, soon it was apparent that he had drifted away to some place where none of us could join him. Still we had a few moments. He told us one day while Thomas and I were having coffee that one of the things he missed the most was coffee. Thomas and I looked at one another and with Thomas’ nod of agreement I dipped a spoon into my coffee and let him have just a taste, too small too choke on but eliciting a big smile. How very sad that was. His was a long slow decline and we often wondered if the medical advice he had been given to undergo such surgery at his advanced age had been sound. I still don’t know.
At my fathers gravesite, April 2000
When I got the call from my brother and sister-in-law that my father had died on April first, 2000, we tried to find me a flight leaving for New York the next day that we could afford. Even with “compassionate” discounts the fares were so outrageous that in the end we simply just did not have the money for me to fly to New Jersey for the interment. As it was, we were just going to squeak by financially with our entire savings pretty much gone. I had no option but to just stay in California. It felt coldhearted to not show up regardless of how difficult our relationship had been especially knowing that there would be few present. Several people with whom I had spoken told me that they had intended to be there for me but since I wasn’t going they would also rather not attend. Since my father had eschewed most attempts at friendship in his life there were sadly but not surprisingly, very few to be present at his death.
Gravesite photos courtesy of my sister in law Barbara who was kind enough to send them to me.
That winter Thomas went off to his various appointments for on site visits and interviews that resulted from his New York trip to the College Art Association. He had already been to Chicago and Fredonia, New York. With several more visits to go, he was in San Antonio, Texas when I got a call from the department chair at Cal State San Bernardino to let me know that they were making Thomas an offer. I got hold of him at his hotel to let him know and after meeting his commitment to give a guest lecture in San Antonio, he was on his way home to accept the Cal State offer and to make our wish to stay in California no longer a dream but a reality.
Thomas bought this for me while in San Antonio for his interview. I wear it every day and it has become my "good luck" charm ever since.