Last summer, my big pandemic goal was to get my husband's youngest brother John to come hang with us at the beach in Neskowin. For some reason, my husband hates the expression "making memories," but that's exactly what I was trying to do—make a guy's gathering out of it with John's brother, two nephews and two great-nephews. Months of planning, but just before John was to come up from his home in San Francisco, he wrote that his luck had run out and he finally had covid. The whole August get-together fell apart. I was crushed.
John finally seemed to recover okay, though, and was back to having fun, attending jazz and rock concerts (we compared notes on BonnieRaitt's latest tour) and giving fiery political speeches. And then, on a day in early October which will forever be burned into my memory, we were up working on our Kings Valley forest property when Herb's next youngest brother called with the devastating news: John was dead. His neighbor had found him slumped over in his car in front of his Noe Valley home.
We still can't believe it. Some kind of cardiac event. Can't believe it even after having made the trek to his service in Golden Gate Park. John served for years as director of San Francisco's chapter of the ACLU and we honestly did not know what a big deal he was to so many people down there. If you Google John Crew San Francisco it all pops up, but it turned out he was never one to make sure everybody knew which accolades he'd just received, so we were a bit clueless. At the service people called him a warrior for social justice and one after another got up and wept as they described their heartbreak at the news of this terrible loss to them personally and to all the marginalized communities in the city. To us and our kids he was Uncle Johnny Lawyer, the guy who sent the loudest and most fun toys and was always up for a good time, but as I listened to each speaker explaining how he'd been such an amazing mentor to them, and everything he'd done to advance the cause of police accountability, I started to realize why I could never get as much of this guy's time for our family as I wanted. Here I was worried about him living alone after his wife Sheila died ten years ago, but he had actually been surrounded by hundreds of admiring friends and associates.
So, fast forward. We made it through Thanksgiving—no, his daughters Simone and Erica would not be joining us—they have their lives back East after all. And now with Christmas behind us, I am wholeheartedly into New Years, my favorite holiday. I love the idea of fresh starts and the hope for better days.
Today I was keeping up my New Year's tradition of sorting and cleaning, getting inexorably deeper in by the moment. The top of my china cabinet had clearly not been touched for years, and I had forgotten that behind the pitcher collection was a fabric covered hatbox. What had I even stashed in here, I wondered as I took it down and lifted off the dusty lid.
Inside, a pile of cards was topped with a bright green envelope addressed in what I recognized instantly as John's handwriting. The postmark was Dec 24, 2012, the first Christmas after my sister-in-law Sheila died. We would have received it about ten years ago to this day. Then, from the envelope I pulled a fresh, beautiful pop-up card--deer against white snow and a green forest. John wrote, "Happy New Year!" and signed it, "Love, John, Simone, and Erica."
I choked up. One more thing I could hardly believe. I mean, how could this happen? This timing? This grace?
Nevermind, I'll take it.
We're not the only ones dealing with heartbreak, I know. So here's to all of those who won't be with us, moving forward.
And Happy New Year to all of you, in spite of everything.