Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Laura, Haikila and Jackson

There are some people who deserve special mention. These three individuals are among those who I felt the need to write about separately. Not only were they distinguished members of Big Gray, they also have something else in common. Sadly, all three have passed. To those of us who knew them, they will be greatly missed.

Laura came right before the kids moved in and was part of that big change over after Richie, Sylvia, Jackson and Sheila moved.I liked her right away. She was a great conversationalist and had an interesting history.She had done the "hippie world wanderer thing" traveling to India and Nepal. Moreover, she was an avid reader and had a ton of favorite books she carried with her from house to house. On her first night at Big Gray, we went to the movies together to see Saturday Night Fever which as some of you may know, was actually shot in Bay Ridge. Another thing about Laura which really endeared her to me was her closeness to her family. She had two brothers and a sister who was the same age as my oldest daughter. Laura's dad was a tall, warm Italian and her mom an equally engaging Jewish woman. They all had a palpable love for one another which was truly charming. While at Big Gray, Laura studied to be a Physician's Assistant. Her weekends were usually spent with her boyfriend, first one, then another who she eventually married. She loved to dance, but missed most of our parties to be with them.You would think that with that kind of schedule, I would not be overjoyed to have her as a room mate. The opposite was true. In spite of the fact that her time was really taken up by her other pursuits, I always felt Laura was an integral part of the house. For one thing, she was genuinely close to all three of my kids bonding with them easily, more like a sister than another grownup. She shared books with them, told them her secrets and hung out with them. She and I took her sister and Margaret, my oldest daughter, to their first concert, James Taylor and his family at the South Street Seaport. She also loved all our cats, the squirrels in the back yard (who she chatted with) and even the occasional mouse who found its way into the house. (She would try futilely to protect them from the cats) Laura moved from Big Gray to marry her husband, Ed. They moved into an artist's loft on the Brooklyn waterfront. We went to their wedding . She had two beautiful kids who she cherished. After I left Big Gray, we saw Laura and her family at a few of my Christmas parties in Queens. I went to her 50th birthday party, and her son's bar mitzvah. About a year later, I visited her at the loft they still called home. She told me there that the cancer she thought she had beaten had returned. I offered to help by coming to cook for her and her family. She was touched by my offer, but really it was the least I could do. When I next heard from her husband Ed, she was in the hospital. She died surrounded by her family. We went to her funeral and witnessed an outpouring of love from her parents, brothers, sister cousins, aunts and,of course her devoted husband and children. She will always be missed.

Haikila came to the house just after Barbara. She was a feminist poet, a bisexual and an altogether beautiful person. Her election to membership was another of those instantaneous no-brainers. We all loved her and she loved us. She also loved my kids and really took the time (like Laura) to bond with them. We made plans to do workshops in communal living together. Haikila was going to be an ideal house mate with her combination of personal warmth and activism. She lived at the house a few months when, on a Sunday afternoon, she and four friends were driving upstate to attend a workshop. Haikila was driving. Somehow, she lost control and the car went into a spin, turning over before coming to a halt. Miraculously, all four of the passengers escaped unhurt. Haikila was taken to a hospital where she remained in a coma for 31 days before dying. She had only recently moved to New York from California , so she had family there and friends here. Her body was sent to California for burial leaving those of us in New York feeling bereft. We decided to hold a wake for her at Big Gray. It was one of our finest moments. Her father flew here to take part and we readied the Library for the event which drew some 50 mourners. We all shared our feelings about her and read aloud from a heart felt letter from a relative who couldn't attend. I read a portion of the Sioux Native American ceremony for "Sending of the Soul" and we allowed anyone who wished to visit her room, which was lit by candles, to spend some time there, and take away any memento of her belongings they wished to keep. It was a sad day, but I felt proud of our role in making it a memorable one.

Jackson was one of those New York characters who always manages to survive on the fringe of the rest of society. Nowadays, it probably wouldn't be possible given the gentification of New York's old middle class neighborhoods. As I mentioned in another post, he was a writer. He worked mostly for magazines in the 50's. I don't think he ever published anything great. His "masterpiece" which he was very proud of was an out-of-print book which I didn't read. Laura, who was the big reader in the house tried it and told me privately, that it was terrible. But, that isn't what defined Jackson. When he first moved in, he took the small bedroom on the third floor we used for a guest room, and later as a bedroom for Margaret. When he moved back to Big Gray after a hiatus, he had damaged his leg so that the trips up to the third floor became painful.
So, he took up residence in the room inside the front door- our office. He became the official guardian of that door. We all used the side door for coming and going. We actually left it open. Visitors, however, rang the door bell and gained entrance through that double front door. Jackson was the gatekeeper. He accepted packages, let in meter readers and kept out unsavory individuals. It was his way of paying for rent and expenses, because he had virtually no money between books. While he lived there in '77, he wrote one of his New York set detective stories, "Crazy Woman Blues", which he eventually sold to E.P. Dutton . After the book was published, he had some money which he lavished on the house. His book has a dedication, "For Big Gray". I have a signed copy. He pretended to be dismissive of kids, but actually he liked all of them, especially my daughter, Margaret, who he thought would one day make a fine writer. (Margaret does write well, but thankfully, she isn't a writer) The kids used to write plays, and put them on in in the yard inviting a few neighbors' children and Jackson (who always bought a ticket). He had great stories. He was one of the few people I'd ever met older than me, who smoked pot and did psychedelics. I remember him at one of our Halloween parties, dressed in a bed sheet/toga with his sax (which he also played a little) limping around the house and tripping on acid. What a character! Some time after he left, he moved to Arizona to be near Susan and her family. Sylvia kept in touch with him. It was from her that I learned of his death.

They were three house mates who everyone was fond of. They helped define us and added greatly to our diversity. May their spirits always find a happy home in the lodges of the Elders.


nsnyder99 said...

I knew Haikila. I worked with her at Citibank shortly before her death. She was 29. I really liked her. She was such a sweet and wonderful person. Would you know where she is buried? I live in L.A. now. I'd like to visit her grave.

Cheman said...

Haikila was a special person. If you were at Big Gray during the moving memorial for her, you would have met her father (I believe) for the first and only time.I never had any contact with her California family after that day. I only have a few pieces of her poetry.

nsnyder99 said...

I do have a picture of her from 1977. Let me know if you would like a copy.

Cheman said...

Please send it.

Anonymous said...

I never heard back from you. Did you receive it? -- Nancy

Cheman said...

I'm so sorry. I thought I did respond. Yes, I have it. I'm trying to put together an album of Big Gray on Flickr. Too many things on my plate right now.Thanks, again.