Dad said she looked like she could get pregnant merely by lying in the sun. This was around the time her mother discovered we’d been intimate and threw her out of their home. So, she moved in with us: Mom, Dad, my sister Diane and me. Even though we had decided to marry someday, it was awkward to figure out the sleeping arrangements. This was February 1959, San Francisco.
Dad solved the problem by suggesting we drive my 1952 Ford sedan to Reno and get married by a justice of the peace. So we did. Then we could sleep together without Mom feeling something was wrong. But Mom never liked her the way Dad did, if at all.
I met Patricia a year earlier. She was 17, a senior at George Washington High, and I was 21, fresh out of the U.S. Navy. I met her stepdad and her mom at “Hockey Haven,” the bar around the corner on Balboa Avenue. I had dropped by for a beer after my first big exam at San Francisco City College. I had a part-time job as a janitor and had the GI Bill, which gave me enough money to support myself while living with Mom and Dad. They lived in a rented zero-lot-line house in the Richmond District, not too far from the Great Highway at the Pacific Ocean.
Her parents’ home was several blocks closer to the Highway. It was an easy walk to see her, then to walk into the western part of Golden Gate Park to get to know each other. We sometimes took along her three-year-old half-sister Darlene. We all held hands just like we were our own little family.
22 April 2007 (Email)
Johnson City, Tennessee
It took 4-l/2 months for the doctors to find the primary source of my throat cancer. But, with the help of one of my doctors, bless him, I finally got into Radiology. Went in Tuesday for my mask, which consists of heated plastic being molded over your head, neck and shoulders (while you hold a very large sucker-straw in your month) and you are bolted to the table. After which they use a CT scan to mark the mask to show where to radiate each time. They will be radiating the lymph nodes on both sides of my neck, and the uvula.
I’m scheduled for 5 days a week for seven weeks at 3:30. It only takes about 10 minutes for the procedure, but really takes a hunk out of your day for travel time, etc. The doctor advised me that eating will be painful, so I am scheduled to see the nutritionists for help in keeping my weight up. Based on my experience with John, it looks like a lot of Instant Breakfast with a straw
I was glad she was of average height, around 5 feet 4 inches. I was not quite 5 feet 9 inches. She stood straight, but had a slight curve in her back, the result of mild scoliosis. Her hair was long and blonde, a bright golden blonde. She had an engaging smile, enhanced by an underdeveloped canine tooth and a slight gap between her two upper front teeth.
Her face was broad, a Scandinavian face with rosy cheeks and delicious-looking skin: pink and white. Her cheekbones were prominent and her brown eyes seemed somewhat Asian, with a slight epicanthic fold. As we rode bicycles in the park, with me behind, I was totally engaged in the sight of her swaying hair and dynamic, well-shaped posterior.
We never said the word ‘love’ to each other, even after 12 years of marriage, and then it was over.
19 July 2007
Subject: Hip rescheduled
Have a concrete date of Weds. August 8th. Should be back home that Sunday…
The lady who schedules surgery got me in so that I do not have to redo all my pre-op tests. Hooray!! Everybody has been very nice. I think I will now put my head in a bucket for awhile. I’m too old for all this stress. Don’t know how anyone deals with Medicare!!!!!
We moved to Berkeley. She became pregnant when I was a senior at the University of California, where she was also a part-time student. She had been working, on and off, and taking classes, first at SF State College, then at a college in Oakland and then at Berkeley. I was working part-time as a grocery clerk at Consumer’s Cooperative of Berkeley, a great job with union benefits. I still had the G.I. Bill too.
I was happy she was pregnant. She was not too sure but seemed cheerfully resigned to it. She stopped smoking and drinking during pregnancy. She gave birth to our daughter Andrea at Oakland Kaiser Hospital the day I was taking final exams, May 1963. Andrea now has four daughters and lives in Phoenix, near her only grandchild.
The next two years gradually got rough and rougher between us. It took that long for me to get my master’s degree and to complete my management traineeship. In the middle of the second year, we separated. I felt lost. I missed my daughter. I moved back in with Mom and Dad at the age of 28. I can’t remember now what we argued about.
After six months we reconciled and agreed to have a second child, a son. Greg is now living in Louisiana with his wife Candy.
Patricia had her “tubes tied” after Greg was born. She didn’t nurse either child. Greg was allergic to cow’s milk and drank “Soyalac.”
22 August 2007
Everything going fine, thanks to Andrea. I am really looking forward to being totally functional again. Sick is not my thing. Will be concentrating on exercising and building up weight and strength, as soon as doctor permits.
This has been a wonderful visit with Andrea. Haven’t had a “head” in the house, since John died, with whom I could have a “real” discussion. She has turned out to be a beautiful, intelligent, loving human being. We both can be proud.
Thank you for your concern, very much appreciated.
Her dad was a basketball star in high school. He left Utah and became a bartender in San Francisco where he met her mother. He left her and her mother when she was six years old.
He went back to Utah, eventually living with his third wife, a Catholic, in a small Mormon farm town well south of Salt Lake City. We visited them the summer after we married. They were both drinking heavily, but he was still able to work as a farm hand. They lived near the railroad tracks. We watched a mouse scamper across the kitchen floor. None of us had anything to say to each other.
After completing my schooling and training, I got a job with a large medical group and we settled into a pleasant house in Sunnyvale. It was big enough for us, our two children and her little sister, Darlene, who became “ours” after their mom gave up trying to be a mother, which she was never good at. Darlene’s dad had died ate age fifty-three, when she was four. She was sort of ours ever since, anyway. She became more a big sister than an aunt to our children.
20 December 2007
Subject: Those were the weeks that were
And, boy, have the weeks melted together.
In short, after a week in the hospital, I started Chemo Wednesday. Scheduled for 1 day a week for 6 – 8 weeks. Can’t eat, so everything goes down a feeding tube. 50/50 chance I will lose my hair. Since there still is a chance, will wait until it starts falling, before I shave, but will save it and donate to a wig group. 2 feet of virgin hair should help someone. I love my approach to stress. Spent 5 hours in the chair and slept through the whole thing. And, other than taking a 3 hours nap when I got home (my approach to stress again), feel fine so far. Understand its downhill from here for a while.
This is going to be followed by a throat operation to clean up the mess that radiation made. Neck full of dead tissue. I make an iguana look attractive. But, maybe afterward I will be able to swallow and won’t scare myself in the mirror.
Did manage to hang 5 paintings at the Christmas Art Show. Thank goodness classes start again in January. Need all the help I can get to distract myself.
At least “all my ducks are in a row”, so whatever happens I’m ready.
We had a rich social life in Sunnyvale. Through a social organization we hosted a weekly gathering, Wednesday evenings, for a presentation and discussion. Our friend Len, a leader in the local chapter, engaged the speakers and I facilitated the discussion following. We were a good team. Len also became Patricia’s father figure, which relationship later became too close for my comfort. But she, much later, alienated him.
This was the late 60s and early 70s. We had various flavors of encounter groups out of the Wednesday evening group, but without formal leaders. We were cerebral types trying to get in touch with our feelings, which some of us were not sufficiently, emotionally developed to deal with. A few of us became disturbed. Patricia had to see a psychiatrist.
I got a more exciting and riskier job after three years with the previous employer. Our marriage became riskier, as well. She needed more attention, or a different kind of attention, from what I was able to offer her. She sought it elsewhere.
20 December 2007 (second Email this date)
… I could use a little moral support during this extended crisis. This round will be 6 – 8 weeks of chemo followed by a throat operation to clean up the mess that radiation made. Lord only knows what comes next. This falls into the “one day at a time” approach to life. Actually I feel pretty good, although doctor says its downhill from here for a while.
Love to hear from you.
We agreed to divorce in 1971; the kids stayed with her. I was off to Fresno to new job anyway, since the risky one had failed magnificently after one and one-half years. She kept the house, too, of course.
Shortly after I started the Fresno job, my previous boss from the risky job offered me a new job with him in Los Angeles. I saw the kids as often as I could. They flew to see me in L.A. one weekend per month and two weeks each summer. I sometimes drove north to visit them in Sunnyvale.
27 September 2008
All is well here. Taking 2 watercolor classes, and painting up a storm. There is a Xmas show, for which I hope to have some finished paintings. And, Greg is paying for my new SABLE brushes, a big upgrade for me. Have 3 paintings waiting for their arrival!!!!
… the good news is that I have gained 16 lbs. I now weight in at 103. I don’t know where, but scales don’t lie.
Have been in touch with numerous nutritionists, trying to find a way to start up my appetite. I now have an appetite stimulant with is a derivative of grass (you should have seen the side effects list – everything but death). I can taste sweets and a little salt, but meat and starch still tastes like wallpaper paste. This is my prime project, want to get the feeding tube out of me…
Still doing chemo once a week. Only 2 hours and very few side effects, just a little tired on Saturday. But doctor says as long as its doing me good, we keep it up.
She moved to Los Gatos after the sale of the Sunnyvale house and married a fellow who was a good friend to our children and Darlene, but the marriage came apart after a few years. Andrea and Greg became alienated from her. Greg, especially, felt antipathy, and at age eleven came to live in Anchorage, Alaska with me and Mary, my second wife. Andrea left home to live with her boyfriend as soon as she was able, and they later married.
Patricia married again to “the love of my life,” John Robinson, and she nursed him for many years as he slowly died of emphysema, smoking until the very end.
She subsequently met a friend from the old neighborhood in Sunnyvale who claimed to have been in love with her all this time. They moved to Tennessee where he began to physically mistreat her. Then he died, and she stayed, having no other place to go.
4 October 2008
The last PET scan showed the cancer in the lymph nodes is gone, but it still shows up in my neck near the spine. That is why I am taking a weekly “biological” chemo indefinitely. According to Dr. Faloudi, once you have cancer, you always have cancer, because you never know where, when or if it will come back. Having faced death twice in the last year, I have made it a point to enjoy every day and every thing (WE – the death facers- all say that). As for radiation, that has proven to have more permanent side effects than the chemo. To top it off, it killed my thyroid – fortunately that is easy to deal with.
Andrea reached out when her mother broke her hip, and they re-established contact by telephone, email and a visit from California to Tennessee.
14 February 2009
The GP was also concerned as to why I had not seen a throat doctor for 3 days, so he made it happen. I now have a smaller trach unit, which when the mucus goes away, may allow me to whisper by holding my thumb over the hole. I just have to be patience.
Dr. Faloudi dropped in and said it’s possible that if the tumor shrinks down again, they can remove the trach unit. He said not to lose hope.
Now I have to learn how to take care of the trach, before I can go home. But since the throat doctor said that is not his decision to make, I have to find out whose decision it is??
Otherwise, everything is just fine.
18 February 2009
Just wish I didn’t look like I have been run over by a truck. Vanity, thy name is woman.
21 March 2009
Subject: Health update!
Biological chemo stopped working. Went into hospital for emergency evaluation. I have plus or minus 2 – 4 months to live.
Thank you all for your friendship. Keep the E-mails coming in – they are my only contact with the outside world.
I may be contacting some of you to help you little things.
With all all love.
Greg overcame his long-standing antipathy toward his mother, visited her in Tennessee, and continued contact with her by Email.
21 March 2009 (Email)
Mom has agreed to travel to Alaska if she can. I think she is having more difficulty than she is letting on. I suggested we drive to Seattle, at least, and maybe all the way if that is easier. She sees her doctor on Monday and then we will know more.
27 March 2009
Johnson City, TN
Subject: Health Update
Met with Doctor Faloudi today: He recommends that I continue Chemo once a week until Greg and I decide if I am going to Alaska. Once I stop Chemo, he anticipates 3 months. I can breathe with the trach, but there is no telling where the cancer will attack next. Don’t know if insurance will cover the chemo now that I am deal with Hospice, should know by Monday.
In the meantime, Greg and I will be talking about my options. Realistically, I am set up here in TN with the Hospice and with my neighbor, but the thought of spending my last months in Alaska with my son is an adventure.
We do have to make a decision soon. I’m running out of time.
In 2006, Andrea’s husband was about to undergo a serious surgical operation and asked Patricia, now an impoverished double widow in Tennessee, to be with her. (Andrea’s husband recovered well). It had been four decades since she and our two children had been together.
Patricia Marie, née Larsen, died at home in Johnson City, Tennessee, April 10, 2009, two days after Bill and Gary, friends from California, helped her pack for the pending trip to Alaska.
(After-story from Greg):
I arrived at Mom’s house on Sunday, April 12 around 2200 hours. Dolores, Mom’s neighbor and living angel, had the keys to the house and Mom’s purse. She was waiting up for me to make sure I arrived and could get into the house. I started to settle in when another of Mom’s neighbors came by to give her condolences and feed me dinner.
I came to find out Mom had touched many people in Johnson City. Mom was quite different from most of the people around here. She brought color, style, talent, strength for women, and a can-do, don’t invade my space attitude that all whom she met respected. She drew her boundaries, and those near to her understood what it meant. “She never complained an iota about her health, or asked the ‘why me’ question. She kept involved even when she was in pain or not feeling well, with not one complaint. “She was a strong, proud woman,” said one woman whom she touched at the community center, with tears in her eyes. That same woman showed me the picture Mom painted which Bill and Gary had framed and displayed proudly above the coffee station that mom once tended.
The obituary came out today and there was Mom, a couple years younger than now. The picture was from her Tennessee driver license. It was the best I could find that was appropriate for everyone who knew her here. As it reads at the end, “she will be missed,” and having met some the people around here whom she touched, there is no doubt.