Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Decade Doesn't Fly By

My Mother died 10 years ago today, December 10, 2001 after a terrible battle with Multiple Sclerosis (which she refused to acknowledge having even as it completely debilitated her) at the very young age of 56.

Though time has dulled my emotions surrounding her death I think about her every day and she's still a regular presence in my dreams (sometimes a protagonist, sometimes an antagonist).

Calling my Grandmother from the hospital in the middle of the night to tell her her daughter had died was the most awful thing I've had to do in my entire life. That was the first time (at 38) I knew I was an adult.

Following her death it seemed like time slowed down. I remember how intense my emotions were at the time (and how determined I was not to reveal them.)

Below is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral. Reading it now I'm reminded how angry I was when she died. In fact, what I've posted below was the second, toned-down version of the eulogy. I wrote a first draft, without filters, and let it sit in my computer overnight. The next day I deleted it and wrote this version which said what I wanted to say but in a more socially acceptable manner.


When you’re the eldest son of Joyce Carol Fliegner Green Redewill Carol it’s a little hard to decide what to say in a eulogy. I was around for 38 of my mother’s short 56 years of life and there’s certainly no shortage of material.

I’d like to cover three topics: 1) What was it like growing up with Joyce as my Mother; 2) What are the positive lessons to learn from Mom’s life and 3) my thoughts on judging Joyce.

In thinking back on my childhood and early adulthood with my Mother I realize now every day seemed like a new adventure. If you’ve ever seen the classic movie “Auntie Mame” starring Rosalind Russell you have an idea what my childhood was like. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous as the movie – but the spirit was exactly the same. When Auntie Mame is asked, “What is your philosophy on life?” and she answers, “It’s to live, live, live” that sums up my mother perfectly.

She spent the last thirty years struggling to run her own business – determined to be her own boss and to become a millionaire at the same time. I remember in the 5th grade when she opened her cosmetics store in Pacific Palisades, “The Glass Menagerie” and told me she would be a millionaire within a year. Of course I was very excited by what this meant for me and quickly announced my impending good fortune to all my little friends. This was also the unfortunate period when I earned the nickname around school of “The Avon Lady.” Of course, the store failed within a couple of years – one in a string of business failures. But my mother’s optimism and dogged determination never failed. For Joyce the “pot of gold” was always just around the corner.

She spent her life surrounded by some of the most colorful people you could imagine. Shortly after she and my father divorced she hooked up with Jim Godfrey. As was typical with Joyce, her business and personal affairs were all intertwined. I think my mother and Jim Godfrey’s time together reached it’s zenith in 1975 when they bought matching Ford Pinto’s – one mustard-colored and one painted white and orange. Their relationship fell apart when they fought over who would drive which Pinto. Godfrey left and my mother got stuck with the mustard Pinto.

I remember Dora-Lee and Barbara Killingsworth, the lesbian couple (one from Portugal and one from Taft) who lived with us for a while. Barbara was an artist and gave my mother a drawing she made in 1976 of a lonely desert road stretching for miles with a rainbow at the horizon. Joyce kept it all this time and I took it from her office last Tuesday and I’m going to put it up in mine.

There were the junior high years she encouraged me to sell tie-dyed t-shirts. She was so proud to see me as a little entrepreneur just like she was.

For a long time she was friends with a woman named “Sally” who cast all of Dino de Laurentis’ movies – or so she said. I begged her to cast me in one when I was about 12. But to no avail.

She and her second husband, Les, were great friends with Mimi Herbert, an up and coming restaurateur. I can remember some really great parties with really good food.

While I was living in DC she became friendly with a man who claimed he could levitate. If you’re here today, would you please raise yourself?

Joyce never felt the need to by hemmed in by the norms of society. I can prove it, one year we ate a Thanksgiving Turkey made completely of tofu. Trust me, it was a bad idea.

Things always came and went in Joyce’s life. Whether it was relationships, friends, homes or business ideas – nothing was ever too permanent. Some things ended on a happy note, but more often than not, I’d say they ended on a not so happy note.

But through it all, Joyce was a dreamer. I remember a couple of Christmases ago, she and Andrea and I were driving to Victorville to see Granny. The effects of Multiple Sclerosis were seriously affecting my mother at this point. She was losing the ability to walk, she was losing her rationality and basically, as I saw it, her world was closing in around her. Andrea and I tried to engage her in a discussion about her future. We asked her what she would do if she couldn’t run her business any longer. And she told us, in all seriousness, that she would “travel and lecture.” And the amazing thing is, despite the ugly reality of her situation, she absolutely believed the answer she gave us.

So what are we, the survivors of Hurricane Joyce, supposed to make of this life that ended last Monday night, December 10?

Here’s where I am on that question: More than anyone else I have ever known, Joyce lived her life on her own terms. When she had an idea or a goal absolutely nothing stopped her from trying to achieve it. Was that always for the best? Of course not, but that’s beside the point. My point is to recognize and admire Joyce’s inner strength.

You know for the past 30 years, from the house she and I moved into on Earlham Street in Pacific Palisades to some really beautiful homes in the Palisades, Brentwood and La Habra to the last six months she spent at the Healthview Terrace Nursing Home, Joyce could never afford where she actually lived. It’s easy to wag a finger and say, “that’s wrong” – instead I’m choosing to be impressed by the fact she pulled it off for 30 years.

Up until the last 10 days of her life she kept her business open and drove to work everyday. By the way, it’s now safe for the pedestrians of Lynwood to return to the sidewalks. And yes, in doing so she made some choices that I don’t expect anyone here to agree with – but you have to admit, faced with insurmountable odds, including the shut down of her own body – except for the last 10 days of her life she absolutely lived HER life on HER own terms.

She spent the last six months living at the Healthview Terrace Nursing Home. She wouldn’t tell me where she was living. I only found out because I happened to visit Joyce in Intensive Care at St. Francis Hospital at the same time her roommate from Healthview Terrace, Deborah, was visiting her. Deborah visited Mom every day. I hope you’ll all take a moment this afternoon and introduce yourself to Deborah and the others here from Healthview Terrace. They were mom’s last friends. And I’d like to publicly thank the staff and other residents at Healthview Terrace for any kindness they extended to Joyce. And if there were times when you weren’t kind, I understand – I lived with her too, you know.

Let me conclude by touching on one final note. I’ve spent the last two weeks talking to more people about my Mother than I probably have in the last five years. And I’ve noticed how quick people are to offer me their judgments about my mother. “If only Joyce had listened to me, if only Joyce had done this, if only Joyce had done that.” If sharing those judgments with me has made you feel better than I’m glad it did some good. And don’t get me wrong – I have my judgments about her as well.

But I don’t want to hear anymore until you’ve done one thing. Before you share your judgments on Joyce with me I want you to go and spend 3 minutes sitting in the lobby of the Healthview Terrace Nursing home – I’m serious about this, it’s at 3540 Martin Luther King Blvd., almost just around the corner from here, take Imperial Highway east and turn left on Martin Luther King and the nursing home is on the left hand side just beyond the Radio Shack – and you go spend 3 minutes sitting in the lobby.

And you take those three minutes and you think about all of my mother’s dreams and ambitions for herself and then you think about her checking herself into that place, alone, to live out her life;

and you think about her clipping coupons for Depends so that she could save a dollar when she drug herself into a store to buy some diapers because MS stole her ability to control her bodily functions;

and you think about her begging her roommate, Deborah, not to call an ambulance because she didn’t want to go to the hospital, even though she couldn’t get up off the floor.

And after you’ve done that for 3 minutes I’ll happily listen to whatever judgments about Joyce you want me to hear. Andrea went to Healthview Terrace on Tuesday, so she can say whatever she wants to me. But otherwise I don’t want to hear it.

I love my Mother unconditionally – I invite you to do the same.

Thank you.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Century in the Making

My Grandmother, Maxie Green, was born 100 years ago today.

She passed away in 2006 at 94 years of age, but I think of her all the time.

Born on a farm in Russellville, Arkansas she was the first in her family to graduate from High School (moving in with a family in the "city" in order to attend).

Driven from Arkansas by the Dust Bowl, she left her family and traveled with another family to California seeking greater economic opportunity.

In Blythe (an eastern desert town in California) she met my Grandfather, Victor Green. When the family she was traveling with was ready to move further west into California she remained in Blythe to pursue a life with Vic. Maxie supported herself as a waitress in a cafe. She once told me Vic caught her eye because he drove a convertible.

Ultimately Maxie and Vic moved further west into California settling in Wilmington, next to the Port of Los Angeles, where she spent most of the rest of her life.

A woman of strongly held opinions, Maxie taught me how to have a point of view and to defend it (which I often did because I disagreed with her).

It's amazing to consider how much the world changed during her lifetime. Born when William Howard Taft was in the White House, Maxie lived through two World Wars, women being allowed to vote, Prohibition, the invention of radio, television, scheduled air flight, mass production of automobiles and computers.

Here's to you, Mom.
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Grandmother Green surrounded by family. L to R -- Grandfather Victor Green, Uncle Bob Green, Father Ken Green, Mother Joyce Green and me, unable to keep a straight face.
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Taking a church trip with Grandmother Green to Magic Mountain in 1975. I don't think the matching shirt/blouse was planned.
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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Please Introduce Yourself

Urkel All Growed Up

Anarchy, Even in Civilized London

Maybe Stick With a Rub-On Tatoo

Showcase Showdown

Had a great dinner last Thursday night with my friend, Ambassador Roger Noriega, at TART -- a restaurant located at the Farmer's Daughter Hotel on Fairfax Boulevard.

Roger and I became fast friends when I lived in Washington, DC during the 80s. Now that we live on separate coasts we haven't been as in touch, so it was a nice chance to catch-up.

I've long wanted to try TART, so this was a good opportunity. I really liked its menu of "fancy" comfort food. If you go you must try the macaroni and cheese -- out of this world.

TART is at the Farmer's Daughter Hotel, best known as the lucky place for "The Price is Right" contestants to stay. Located directly across the street from CBS, hotel guests can roll out of bed and 2 or 3 a.m. and still have plenty of time to get in line by 3:30 a.m. to see the show taped and have their chance to "Come on Down!" Or they can just stay in their room and watch it on TV. That seems a lot easier to me.
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I was surprised to find TART has a lovely patio, walled off from the street noise of Fairfax Boulevard.

It was a gorgeous night to dine outside. In fact, it even got a little chilly by the end of the evening.
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Up Close & Personal with Global Warming

Monday, August 01, 2011

London Calling

A transatlantic crossing aboard a Cunard ocean liner is on my bucket list.

In the meantime, I enjoyed brunch yesterday on the Queen Mary in Long Beach.

Held in the former First Class Dining Room, I was impressed by the variety of selections and surprised by the quality.

Sadly, after brunch, GeezBob -- who was celebrating a birthday -- and I were no closer to London than when we started.

Next time...
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This mural, above the main entrance to the Grand Salon, tracked the ship's progress between Southampton and New York City.
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Art Deco details can be found throughout the ship.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Smile for the Burd-ie

Had a lot of fun last night at the Junior Statesmen Gene A. Burd Institute on Media and Politics at UCLA.

I ran a campaign simulation with the students on their second night of a week-long look at media and politics in Southern California.

As always, I was impressed with this year's group. Of course, they continue to seem younger and younger each year.

And telling folks you want to post their picture on the internet is a sure fire way to get a lot of smiles.
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With just 30 minutes to prepare, each campaign team had to deliver their campaign's key messages, strategy, tactics, identify spokespeople and funding and perform a 30-second TV ad, 60-second radio ad and present their campaign poster.

I'm always impressed that they can actually do it.
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We've All Had Days Like This

Time for Exercise

Does this News Story Pass the Smell Test?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Night at the Dollywood Bowl

Had a blast last night seeing Dolly Parton at the Hollywood Bowl.

She puts on quite the show: singing, playing instruments and telling stories about the family and childhood.

When she first started talking about her childhood home in Eastern Tennessee and her Mother a falling star fell over the Hollywood Bowl. I kid you not.
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Singing Bluegrass in front of an old fashioned microphone "just like the Grand Ole Opry."
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Sitting down to play a string instrument in her lap.
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Playing the saxophone.
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Rocking out in shorts and spangles.
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Can you guess which song this was?
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Our view of the Bowl before the sun went down and the show began.
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A heartfelt Grand Finale.
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blasts from the Past

I've been running around California recently but I haven't been very good about blogging.  So let me catch up...

Sunday night I was in Fresno and I stopped by the Silver Dollar Hofbrau for dinner.  Sadly, I thought the food was pretty mediocre and wouldn't find much to remember about the place.

But then as I was leaving I stumbled across a large display case with photos of the owner and prominent Republican politicians -- Reagan, Bush, Deukmejian and even a few celebrities, like Bob Hope.

Looking at the photos I occurred to me I recognized the owner.  It was Truman Campbell.  Knock me over with a feather.  Campbell was chairman of the California Republican Party in the mid-80s.  I had no idea he had a restaurant.

Also in Fresno I had breakfast at Batter Up Pancakes. Loved this casual place where you order at the counter, grab your silverware and drink and they bring you your food. They have a huge menu but since the place is called "Batter Up Pancakes" I figured I should have the pancakes. Great choice! Some of the best pancakes I've ever had.
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When it was time for lunch in Garden Grove I headed to Azteca Mexican Restaurant, known for the finest collection of Elvis memorabilia west of Graceland. Every inch of the place (including the ceiling) is covered with Elvis. And the food? I thought it was excellent.
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Time in Anaheim brought me to the Original Pancake House for breakfast. This is what Orange County must have been like in the 50s, pre-Disneyland. What a tremendous breakfast!
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I feel like I know downtown Sacramento well, but the rest of the town is pretty much a mystery to me. So I was pleased to find an excellent ice cream shop, Gunther's.
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In Sacramento I had lunch at the Market Club, a lunch counter and dining room located in Sacramento's fresh fruit and vegetables wholesale market. I enjoyed the working-man feel of this place and the food was pretty good too. And it was really inexpensive.
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