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Memories

Aaron Harkey

I am thinking today how sometimes the least expected things can be the greatest blessings. I am thinking of my mother in the hour that she got ready for her last morning walk yesterday. I am picturing my pop taking a call from an old friend of theirs, lying in bed-earbuds-and-her, maybe finishing their last cup of coffee before getting up. I think about how she spent her last hour in this house hearing him revel in their good fortune and his happiness. I wonder how many times she glanced at him or mouthed “stop, now’ as he praised her many virtues and said aloud that he was living his best life with the woman of his dreams after winning the life lottery. If you have been in a room with them both for any period of time, you have seen her in this moment. Embarrassed and pleased. “I am like Lou Gehrig, the luckiest man in the world. How blessed am I to have had that phone call?”. He shouts today almost, but not, at random. No arguments here, very blessed Popa. No rebuttals from any of us. We have all been, you maybe most and longest of us all, so blessed. And I am thinking about her gentle touch and pleased smile and the underlying flirtation that always seemed a fabric of your relationship vibing as she gently put your socks on before stepping out.

I am thinking that when you left the house Mom, you were probably already looking forward to coming home. Thinking that, it is beautiful and remarkable that you were able to leave him with a touch and look that conveyed love beyond measure. The kind of love that can make a man scream their good fortune even as they’ve had their heart wrecked. And we are wrecked, and I want you to know that you have three of the luckiest kids, and a batch of the luckiest grandkids, that have ever got to come together as a family.

 

I am thinking that, even though you held a healthy disdain for social media and 21st century technology (even some 20th- let’s be honest), it is somehow miraculous that there are many of my friends (and Damon’s and Ruth’s) that sought shelter in your kitchens and valued your attention, and they will have a chance to think of you today and remember because of it.

But mostly, I am thinking of you Mom- and all you gave and did for me and the three of us. I am so happy to be grateful right now. You taught me, realized that you HAD to teach me, from the moment that Damon was born, that love and empathy were muscles and would have to be my strength. When we moved and everything fell apart and I just missed taking my own piece off the board, I learned from you that bent is not broken.

I am thinking how good it was to call you Tuesday night and have you actually answer your own phone and how I laughed to myself and at you as you struggled to put me on speaker as I tried to explain that I was only calling to tell you I loved you and to have sweet dreams, and how happy I felt signing off with a feeling that you and Pop were truly happy and warm and safe, finally in the house and life of your dreams, just down the street from Carla and Steve, and from Ruthie and Steve and Dean.

That was just 12 hours before you were assassinated by chaos and entropy, stolen by the shadow in the form of a box truck as you stepped into that last crosswalk on your way back home. There is no sense to be made of this. When I picked up Cora from school yesterday at lunch she said that this was not the way things are supposed to go. She is right.

I am thinking that our sail and wheel and rudder are gone. Torn free and lost in one rogue swell, and that even so we will float to safe harbor. You designed the ship Mom, you infused every timber and joint with the steel of your love. And, we will always continue loving you and each other. We will find our way. Thank you to everyone that has reached out to our family and my father as this news has spread. It means so much. And Mom, whenever I am worried that I won’t find my way through or question myself as a parent- I will remember whose son I am. I will remember who my mother is. Thank you for loving Pop, and from all of us, for giving us everything we have that is true and good to offer in this world.

Ron Harkey

I told Ann many many times that my first memory of her was gazing at her across the lagoon on campus as she walked with an old boyfriend. She says impossible. The first time we met was in an apartment with many friends/ comrades and I sat pounding on copper and stringing beads to support myself the first time my rational and magnificent father disowned me. She says I did not notice her - I was so absorbed in my arts and crafts. I say impossible – but of course, it was possible. I may have been fixated on earning dinero for my next meal or joint. In memory now I prefer gazing at her across the lagoon and remembering all the times we joked about how anyone so clumsy could appear so graceful. We shared those same moments of mirth with her Commander father.

Somehow we became friends. I was healing from a broken heart after the summer of love, Haight Ashberry and reveling in my alienation from bourgeois society. After torturing my incredible mother at Thanksgiving, she was brokenhearted that I would not be home for Christmas. A couple of young scholars from Mexico City had told me that if their sign on the bulletin board at the Berkeley student union bore any fruit and they found a ride back to Mexico they would let me join them if there was any room.

The call came from a phone booth in Santa Maria. The driver agreed to a couple more passengers to help pay for gas and we needed to be at a specific place on State Street in about an hour. I mobilized quickly and wrote two very generic love letters to my mother and plead with my friend Ann to take charge of my mailbox and if there was no news from home that included the death of a family member or a family pet – my father cared much more for horses and cats and dogs than imperfect human beings with the exception of his mother, his wife, and his daughter - please Ann send one of these generic love letters off to my mother.

Ann - with mom and dad stationed in Japan - was off to a cousins home in the wasteland of Los Angeles and the first step on my odyssey was a few blocks from my parent's home in Whittier where I could hide out while our driver – our generous crazy driver – visited his own parents. I had the nightmare of running into an old family friend at the supermarket but they just assumed I was home from college.

It was a memorable journey and just plain old adventure in the mystical magical land of Mexico. After our escape from being jailed in Puerto Vallarta, nuclear war not breaking out over North Korea seizing the USS Pueblo, selling our blood to buy food, and visit a laundromat in Yuma we hitched a ride back to Santa Barbara with a group of brothers who were escapees from a father’s cult in San Francisco.

When Ann agreed to my maildrop plea Peter agreed to enroll me in classes for the next quarter. I was shocked to find myself enrolled in History of Ancient Greece and Rome and French Literature in Translation (the two best accidental classes ever) but Peter had all the notes. He was diligent. My first midterm exam was the next day and I became a topical joke among our loose Confederacy of friends. They decided that when my last midterm was complete it was time for a celebration. In my mind, this has to have been February 14. At least that is how we have come to celebrate our first kiss over the years on Saint Valentine's day. There was a small fleet of random cars going from place to place and in the back seat of one of those cars we shared our first kiss. It had to be Valentine’s Day and thus I am forever reluctant to do any research to verify this. Some things are too good to fact-check.

That first kiss was powerful. There had been some magnetic attraction between us some months earlier. We were both serial monogamists - only one boyfriend/girlfriend at a time – but when the attraction was trying to emerge another boyfriend had slipped into her life … yet celebration night included both Ann’s dressing me down for making her read my mother’s letters and the wonderful news that said boyfriend was history.

I don’t know if I had changed my major to religious studies yet but Houston Smith, Somerset Maugham, Bob Dylan, Hermann Hesse, and so many others had kicked open new doors of perception for me and my ever-loving and kind mother was spiritually cheering me on along with Ann. Everyone attempting to make their own hero's journey knows that journey will be arduous but who knew it would be filled with so much joy.

The ideas of karma and reincarnation resonated in both our souls and when we awoke the morning after our first kiss I could tell her with complete and absolute honesty that she had been my mother, my father, my sister, my brother, my daughter, my son in previous lives and we were going to be together for the rest of our lives. Serial monogamy was out and plain old-fashioned monogamy was in. I knew what it was like to be in love but never anything like this. I knew at some point early on at the beginning that if I pledged myself to bring all of the Good, Truth, Justice and Beauty my feeble skills allowed into her life I would find my way.

I don’t know where we found ONE HUNDRED AND ONE FAMOUS POEMS. It arrived in our lives long before our magnificent children and someday I may try and figure out how many states we read to each other from that little 1929 leather-bound volume.

A few years ago, my thrifty navy brat - my Penelope - who plead with me the last 20 years to quit buying books - told me to go online and find her a like-new original 1929 edition. Our beloved companion was falling apart. I did as told. Since arriving in Bedford Falls she read from both.

At our makeshift cremation ceremony, I read to her one last time while channeling the melancholy of all the glorious memories we shared with so many of those poems. She loved Longfellow and I chose PSALM OF LIFE. Aaron had to take over after two stanzas.

Chris, our companion compassion Monk, helped me place the battered volume under her battered hands and on the breast of her battered and broken body so that the ashes of both are forever together.

Tyler Burton

With all the praise and stories that I’ve been hearing about her lately, I can’t help but feel like I hit the jackpot in the Aunt lottery. What an honor to have grown up in the presence of such an incredible woman….my Aunt Ann.

 

One of my earliest memories of my aunt was in Park Ridge when I was little. I had wandered upstairs and was exploring as young boys do. My adventure was cut short by an exposed nail that I stepped on, and as I cried, my aunt came to the rescue. I can’t help but think that at some point after that day, she made her way back up to the scene of the crime with a hammer, and banged that nail flush. The animosity she must have had for that stray nail that caused the tears of her nephew must have been palpable. 

 

Second only to my mother, she was as loyal of a fan as I could have asked for during my adolescent sports career. She was always there. And while I was on the field, I knew she was up there in the stands. Why? Because after I played, she praised me in a way that made me forget that she had any family-member bias whatsoever. She called me an iron man, her hero. She compared me to the great Joe Montana on many occasions, and even though I was well aware that this was quite a stretch, somehow it instilled confidence in me that I never forgot. 

 

She introduced me to The Adventures of Tintin. On consecutive birthdays and holidays, she gifted me five or six Tintin books at a time which I consumed as quickly as possible, because if Aunt Ann was telling me that these are important, they must be read immediately. To say that her gifting was “thoughtful” is a gross understatement. She was so good. My thoughtful gifting mentor in life. One time she mailed me snacks that were made of crickets because I was "the most adventurous eater" she knows. She requested a full review of how they tasted and I can just see her being genuinely curious as she waited for my response. Her last gift to me was a deck of cards, each card has information on wild plants. This deck will be joining me on every backpacking trip for the rest of my days.

 

Tintin wasn’t the only evidence of her stellar taste in just about everything. When it came to books, she appreciated the classics and my love for Dickens, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck was partly inspired by her. She lived by the motto on that old bookshelf that I remember from all their homes which reads "Oh for a Booke and a Shady Nooke”. Aside from her excellent taste in books and bookshelves alike, she enjoyed a good movie. We always aligned, her and I. When my Aunt mentioned it was worth watching, I put it on my list. When I recommended something to her, I could feel her trust and knew without a doubt that she would watch it.

 

Every time that Happy Birthday was sung in my aunt’s presence, she made sure to remind us all that “this is not a funeral” and that Happy Birthday is meant to be sung at a minimum tempo of her choosing. She took charge of these celebratory moments, waving her hands like a conductor and bobbing her head. It not only made me laugh every time she did it, but it will always make me smile when I hear that song in life. A simple yet important Ann Harkey legacy that I will always cherish. 

 

I watched my aunt interact with everyone I love as I grew up. She had a unique bond with them all, and I noticed and observed. A few examples…

 

My Dad. Before I was even old enough to understand what my Dad was capable of when it comes to woodworking and anything “handy” under the sun, she respected his craft and valued his opinion. Her last contribution to my dad’s work was her choice in a bathroom lock, and it’s the most Ann Harkey door lock I’ve ever seen.

 

My Mom. They were buddies. And in these last years, it made me so happy to know that they were so close. That she was able to just stop by and see what Carla’s doing. My uncle Ron not only picked the best woman for himself, he also picked the best possible friend for his sister that he could have found. 

 

My Grandma Ruth. I can remember on multiple occasions, Grandma saying the cutest/funniest grandma thing imaginable, and my Aunt Ann looking at me and giving me her signature giggle of approval. She loved and took care of Grandma towards the end and I will be forever grateful for that.

 

One of my last interactions with my aunt was helping her fix her phone. She had somehow switched a setting on her phone that made all the colors inverted. I could tell that she didn’t want to bother me with such a trivial task, and I assured her that there was no task on the planet that I wouldn’t gladly be willing to help my aunt with. I’ve thought of that moment countless times over the last few months, how I wish that she had a few more things wrong with her phone that I could have helped her with. She had walked down the street so that she could catch me before I left to go back to LA. I fixed it quickly, and of course, she was in awe. Still filling me with that Joe Montana confidence. 

Ron Harkey (Program)

There is the most beautiful spiritual thread of virtue flowing through our Grecco Roman Judeo Christian Civilization and Ann embraced and exemplified it…and embraced those prinicples in any culture or situation where she saw them. That thread of virtue lit her path. Kendra said it all in her birthday card and Heather with her photo inscription. Ann was a mentor to all in her family and to many she had a friendship and often just an encounter with.

 

She was out Sam Damon. She always knew the right thing to do. Dickens. Bronte. Dostoevsky,. Anton Meyrer. Jordan Peterson. Michael Anton. Charlie Munger, and other provided direction and guidance. She joked that we had been standing back to our childhood Christian faith while stumbling back to our to our childhood Christian faith while studying at the chairs of Thomas Sowell and Victor Davis Hanson. As Melissa says, she was Ron’s adult supervision. Damon says that on our hopscotch career sojourn he would read the Chicago newspapers. He thought that Ms. Manners, Ann Landers and Dear Abby must get their advice from Mom. 

 

Her broken windows theory of enforcing justice in the world had a lot to do with grammar and punctuation. She made all her homes another version of Bedford Falls but she found the pinnacle of civic life here in Jackson with Carla & Steve, Ruth, Steve and Dean and frequent visits from her children and grandchildren.

 

It may have been the Navy or her love of all the family folklore of her beloved Kansas City but her heroes perhaps even more than our Founding Fathers were the Pioneers who with their perseverance and resilience with farms, mines and factories spread civic life across the continent. 

 

She wanted for all the blessings of liberty and the ability to speak to each other with love, honor and respect. She set the example. Life may be tragedy tainted with malevolence but she faced it all with kindness. Go rest high on that mountain….your work on earth is done.

Ron Harkey
Tyler Burton
Ron Harkey (Program)
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