Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Wedding and the Milk, Butter and Eggs Generation

It all began to fall apart after the wedding. Ah, the wedding! Truly one of our finest moments as a house. My girls and Julie played a roll, Kim was on the piano, I remember Matt serving food chatting up all the guests like a nice, normal person. I should have known. Matt was supposed to ride his Harley up a ramp, through the front hall and into the dining room. (as he did at one of our summer anniversary parties.) It was a bad sign because being married usually meant one thing. Barbara and Michael would be leaving Big Gray to find a home of their own. True, we all had an idea to escape to the country - sort of move Big Gray to the country. But, in the end, Mike and Barbara did it alone, and another great part of the connection I had with that first generation moved away. Matt and Laura also had married (not to each other) and moved. Abby too, after living at Big Gray for a time with Rene, moved to California with him and married. Were wedding bells breaking up that old gang of mine?

In the corner of the bedroom where I sit writing this untangling of my memory, there's a framed photograph taken by an artist friend of Becky's. She was visiting during one of our summer parties and the morning after, when we were all finally up, gathered us outside for a rare group photo. It's a great picture but, Kim and I are the only ones in that photograph who had a link to our early history. Moreover, Joyce is the only one in that photo older than Kim. When Kim joined our original group, I recall that he was our youngest member. Now here we sat, two old bachelors, among these younger single people. The next generation had taken over, and I was getting older. Could I still be relevant among this younger group of mid-westerners?

Well, let me tell you, I sometimes did feel out of place and that was just too bad, because it was really my problem. Anyway, Dan's was a strong generation, two among it old friends of his from Ohio. They were also two guys who contributed a lot to the quality of life at Big Gray. Keith was a great guy, and the father of an adorable little boy. He was going through a lot of relationship problems while he lived with us, but Keith was always good to be around. (Another Big Gray Aquarius). And the other Cincinnati guy was Eddie who came to Big Gray with the beautiful Martha. He was one of our outstanding book keepers. He kept a lot of stuff in his head unlike Barbara whose record keeping was flawless, but he had some decent ideas on the sharing and privatizing of food in the refrigerator. Eddie was the founder of the Milk Butter and Eggs Club which significantly streamlined the organization of the space in our (two) refrigerators. He also started us on recycling. On a personal level, Eddie was a good and generous friend. I believe he was the driving force behind taking up a collection for me on my 50th birthday to help pay for a trip to Italy which I probably would not have gone on without that gift and the fact that he would be meeting me in Rome. We went to a few Dead concerts together, as well. Eddie was also a frequent visitor to my room with his red bong which he bequeathed to me when he left. (Yesterday, I went to a wedding. The tie I wore -a silk lined classic, was a gift of Eddie's from his dad's closet.) And if all that weren't enough, Eddie moved to Big Gray with two girls I really loved- Martha, his girlfriend at the time and Chelsea, his dog.I took care of Chelsea whenever he and Martha were away, and I hung out with Martha and Kim (who also had a crush on Martha) whenever she was available. Eddie left Big Gray, broke up with Martha who became a Park Ranger in Washington, and went to medical school. I think Abby is still in touch with him. If that's the case, I hope she will direct him to the blog so he may add his remembrances. While I'm on that subject, I hope that all of you who read this will use the comments section to add your thoughts.The Milk Butter and Eggs generation was not without its problems, but compared to its predecessor, it was a quiet time at the big house. We had two fire chiefs. The guy who we took in right before Michael and Barbara left was the leader of that generation, Dan. As I said, he was from Ohio, a big Cincinnati Reds and Bengals fan. He studied Chinese at Ohio State and was translating letters and documents from China for a New York law firm when he came to Big Gray. Dan was an extremely ambitious person. He applied for and won a Kellogs' Foundation grant and soon after, began working towards the formation of an organization, The New York Rain Forest Alliance. Dan led the fledgling organization from a two person group to a major player in the field of ecological preservation. He still serves as Chairman of the Board. So,all this was going on while Dan was at the house. He left in 1991 after six years.I think Dan truly loved living at Big Gray, but grew weary of our constant necessity to reach consensus. Another fire chief who had a similar problem with our process was Sam who lived at Big Gray for two or three years during Dan's tenure. He too felt that the need for consensus was frustrating and blamed others for what he could not accomplish. Both these guys had a point, but I think both missed the point.If you're going to live in a house like Big Gray, you have to strike a balance between playing by the consensus rules and doing what you think is right. In January of 1989, we received a disturbing letter from the head of the parish council of the church that owned Big Gray. In it he stated that our rental agreement was monthly, and that new considerations (to convert the house for "Church use") required us to vacate by June of that year. The letter was addressed to me. I was very upset by it and immediately wrote a letter to the Monsignor asking him to reconsider the decision. Martha was the only other person home at the time I finished my letter. I showed it to her and asked her opinion. She thought it was OK, but was also disturbed by the news we might lose Big Gray. In spite of my communal sense, I had a proprietary feeling about the house and I sent the letter without consulting anyone else. I felt Dan would have taken a combative stance, which knowing the Monsignor as well as I thought I did, would have been the wrong approach. Someone else might have called a meeting and tried to bring everyone else along. I didn't. Later that evening at the emergency meeting I called, Dan berated me for acting without consulting the house. As I suspected, he wanted to hire a lawyer. Well, as it turned out, the lawyer he consulted told us we had no legal claim. And, when the Monsignor visited the house later on with members of the council, he assured me that "We should not worry- that as long as the house could be rented, he would rent it to us". As it turned out, the Church found it unfeasible to convert the house, and they continued to rent it to us till 1996 when we announced we would no longer continue.I believe my letter prompted the Monsignor's promise and that Dan's approach would have been seen as belligerent. But my point is that I didn't wait.I acted on impulse. I took charge. Dan and Sam both had problems moving within that process. I think it may have something to do with their own family dynamic, but I don't know.


William fka Bill said...

In reading the last section of this, I'm a little confused. On the one hand, you take Dan and Sam to task for their frustration at the consensus process, but then use as an example a time when you flaunted it and acted on your own without a majority, let alone a consensus. So was it okay for Peace Chiefs to act on impulse, but not Fire Chiefs?

(btw - this is a perfect example of the Fire Chief role - question, question, question!)

Cheman said...

I think the point was that Dan and Sam both were frustrated by the house process and weren't able to see past it. When it came down to it, we were more like an anarchy than a congressional caucus (Do they need consensus?). I was willing to take the heat and do what I had to do.