Dan Gisvold at Bear Creek

Monday, January 31, 2011


I had a very dear friend call me today. He greeted me with one question. "How do you do it?" He had just found out that his father had died the night before. He was devastated. Even though his father was elderly and had "lived a long, full life" he was crushed and he didn't know what to do.

So we talked. We talked about the yearly trips that he and his dad took. We talked about his dad's wife. We got snarky about family members and lovingly gentle about friends. We talked about what he was doing to keep going and about how it feels to be so very, very numb.

We didn't cry. We didn't need to just then. It was a workshop of continuing to live when a cornerstone of your existence takes a hike to the other side. It was a workshop in dealing with family and friends and avoiding the emotional riptides. Those unseen agendas that arise and try to drag you under before you even know what they are much less why they are.

With Dan, I haven't had much of that. I certainly did with Mel's dad and with my dad. But with Dan it has been different. Bill and I are on the same page in terms of how Dan would want things handled. And that was the point. It hasn't been how Bill wanted it or how I wanted it or how Pat or Kalisha wanted it. It has been how Dan wanted it.

Dan had made his wishes known for years. We use to talk about how he wanted his affairs handled after he was gone. When you are driving in Montana in the middle of winter and there is nothing but a huge sky full of stars, miles and miles of snow, and no one else on an endless road, you tell your sister lots of things. So I knew that he was a doner. I knew that Bill would handle his financial affairs and I would handle any legal issues (Duh? Bill is the accountant and I am the lawyer...that took a rocket scientist to figure out!) I knew what he wanted for Pat and I knew what he wanted for Kalisha.

I guess today's lesson is know what you want and tell everyone around you. Tell your spouse, your kids, your siblings, everyone. Wills are perfect for this but talking to your family is the best way to avoid those ugly rip currents that can tear families apart when death comes knocking. As a lawyer, I know the value of the will. I know even better the value of true communication. It is the great healer.

Talk to each other. And write that will.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Dan would have loved last night.

Barbara Hoff, the accompanist for Vocal Arts Ensemble, was honored at the first Performing Arts Center Honors in the instrumentalist category.  In tribute to her, VAE sang Lux Aurumque and It's for Music. Barbara wrote the music for the latter. The lyricist, Dale Wolff, conducted that number.

But what Dan would have loved was the person that gave the recognition speech from VAE. It was Inga Swearingen. Dan loved her music. He loved that she was from the Central Coast and that she sang with VAE. He loved that he could hear her every once in a while on Prairie Home Companion. He would have LOVED to have met her.

I know that he would have loved meeting her because even though Inga and I had met only a few times, she made a point of talking to me. I had told her last time we met that Dan loved her music and she remembered. When I told her that Dan had passed on she was truly touched.

So I went to her You Tube site today. It's been there for awhile but I just hadn't checked it out. I don't know if Dan ever did. But I know he would have loved every second of the first song that came up for me. The country, a barn, and jazz. What more could an intellectual trucker want?

Check it outhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CSwNPs66LA

Friday, January 28, 2011

Saving the World

Sometimes it just hits you. Right between the eyes. Or in the gut. Or in your throat as you are trying to speak. It comes from nowhere without warning and it laughs as you struggle to act like the world is normal. While you try to keep putting one foot in front of the other or one word next to the next.

I had a case today with a young man who suffers from schizophrenia. I watched as he listened to his inner voices and as he struggled to hide his conversation from me. Then he gave up and tried to include me in the discussion with his devils. He had no way of knowing that grief was doing the same to me today.

He had no way of knowing that Dan stood in that interview room and reminded me of the times I had talked him off ledges and the times he had talked me off ledges.

That young man's mother had no way of knowing that as I sat and talked to her and her daughter about mental illness and the criminal justice system that my heart was breaking. That my mind was remembering the times that Dan helped me through bouts of depression. The words that he said to me. The words that I said to him. That on this day I said those words to this young man and his mother.

As I drove home, my heart ached as I watched semi-trucks traveling to places unknown to deliver products for each of us. I realized, again, that I could not call him and ask where he was or where he was going or what he was carrying. I could not tell him that I would be singing tomorrow or that I felt that I had gotten through to a very ill young man today. I couldn't tell him that I had a little success today. I couldn't tell him that I had save the world again.

He always told me that someday I would have to stop saving the world, one client at a time. That day was not today. He was with me today when I save someone. He was with me when I comforted a mother. He was with me. In my mind. He is the voice in my mind. But the devil Grief still lurks.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Camp Nelson

Camp Nelson. A name and a place that Bill, Dan and I have known since we were born. Our great-grandmother, Barbara Flynn (we all called her "Cese") and great grandfather, Owen Flynn (Dada) built the cabin on Federal forest land in 1923. Our mother spent every summer there all through her childhood.
Cese sold the cabin in the late 40's and our father bought it back in 1955.By that time a lean-to bedroom had been added as well as a full service bathroom. One must have a flush toilet inside and a 6' claw-footed bathtub! Until electricity came to Camp Nelson the bathwater was heated on the wood stove.

Dad added a bedroom and a bathroom that you could get to without squeezing behind the wood cook stove. And just a few years ago, Bill had a kitchen built on to the place and added 600 sq ft of deck. The mice still get in and the bedroom and bathroom aren't insulated but it is still our cabin.

Cese named it Tres Pinos for the three Ponderosa Pines that grew on the property. We use to sleep on the back deck under those pines and awaken to gray squirrels firing pine cones at us. Dan was always yelling at the squirrels.

The place was for family. We went as often as possible and when we were grown it was the meeting place for "reunions". In this picture you can see Dan in the red shirt, our niece Jill in the forefront, our father, Giz slightly to the right, our mom, Barbara behind him. Little niece Erica is right in the front and in the very back is Uncle Eddie. (Edward Reardon, married to our mother's sister)

Camp Nelson @ 1980-81
Dan was most at home at Camp Nelson. The red dirt, the pines, the scrub oaks, the wildlife were all part of his being. He loved hiking and fishing and hanging out at the store to gab with people. It was his kind of place.

He wanted more than anything to live there. But we own a lease on federal property and living there year round is forbidden. Besides, we all owned the cabin and all the nieces and cousins have the right to share in the family history of the place. No one was ever told they couldn't stay at Tres Pinos. So living there would have been a problem.

So, after he moved back to California , Dan bought the cabin next door to Tres Pinos. He planned to fix it up and live there every year from April to October. He never got the chance.

We plan to scatter Dan's ashes there in the spring. It's what he wanted.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Digging into the Past

The other day I went into the "secret room" , a small attic area where we keep all the boxes we haven't unpacked since the last move. And there they were......pictures. They are the things that keep you from getting anything else done that day. Reliving each and every moment that they represent. Trying to remember what year and how old you were or someone else was. After two hours, I hear Mel yelling my name trying to find me.

I was staring at a picture of Dan. Taken in December of 1972 at our parent's house in Lindsay. It was Melodie's first Christmas and who is with her on the floor? Her Uncle Dan. His connection to her was forged over that holiday. Her new toys are bigger than her and she was to chubby to sit up completely without a little help. So there is Dan. Helping.

After moving to the Central Coast Dan use to hang out with Melodie and Jed at there loft in San Luis Obispo. It was less than a block away from his trucking yard and he would wash his clothes and take a shower there when he had a quick turn around. He loved seeing them grow and change as they got older.

The other picture I spent time with was Dan and I during a hike in Coal Canyon near Hamilton, Montana. I was trying to remember what year it was and for the life of me I can not. I remember the hike, the beauty of the trail, the rocks and the trees. I remember Dan laughing about my lack of lung capacity (he called it Central Valley asthma--which narrows the time frame to before our move to the Central Coast!) I stared at this picture and realized that it really shows our relationship. Close but independent of each other.

I always knew that if I fell Dan would break his neck to get to me, to help, to save me. And I knew that he knew that I would do the same.

That is why I was the last person he talked to. What an incredible gift. Someone in my life didn't judge me. He just loved me.

I have said it before and I will say it again. I am blessed. Sometimes you have to dig around in the past to really bring the idea home.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dan Keeps Talking

Today I was telling people who were nearly perfect strangers about losing Dan. It was the wrong place and the wrong time and yet it was so right. I was sitting in a small conference room on the 15th floor of 2 Embarcadero, San Francisco, California. At the table with me was my co-counsel and our insurance representative. We were there for a mediation. We had separated from the larger group (about 15 lawyers and insurance reps in our big room--about 30 people involved all together) to talk about  strategies and issues regarding our client.

The case involved the death of a person and we were talking about loss and the emotional cost of loss. And it just came out. I told the story almost in the third person. I wanted them to know what the facts were before I talked about the emotion. And it worked.

It is just weird. Dan just keeps helping me. His story created a platform for my co-counsel, the insurance rep and I to begin really talking about the underlying emotional issues without being embarrassed or posturing. We must have stayed in that conference room for 2 hours.

As I was flying home tonight, I thought about Dan and how he could talk to anyone. He was so like our father in that regard. Dan would go to a restaurant or tavern and spend most of his time talking to people. And my people I mean other than those that came with him. If you weren't into working the room then you were kinda on your own.

I was really use to that as Dad would do this all the time. He always knew the owner of the restaurant or half the patrons or most of the staff. Dan had that talent. It was fun to watch. He would do it at any social event. At our last Christmas Concert (Vocal Arts Ensemble) at the Mission in San Luis Obispo, he made friends with Jed's parents (whom he had never met before) and with friends of mine from Bakersfield (whom he had not met before that night either!). He made friends with members of VAE just by being there. His goofy grin and his gift of gab were great things to watch.

And I think that today, he was exerting his gift of gab. I wasn't looking for sympathy. I didn't have any intention of mentioning Dan's death. This was a business meeting. This was a mediation on a serious case. And Dan came in and made it easier for me.

Thanks, Big Brother.

Bill's house

Today I am going to a mediation in San Fransico on a civil case. Yeah, I know, I don't do civil, but this came out of a criminal case in SLO so I really couldn't turn it down. My client is not one of the "biggies" and I am not lead counsel so this country bumkin lawyer feel pretty safe.

Well, sorta.

I don't do cities well. I can do airports (the rebooking because my original flight was going to be 4 hours late was real fun) and finding the BART station in the International terminal was ok (I can read signs in English and some in Spanish). Getting to the right station on BART was another thing. Not losing my ticket so I could get OUT of the station was something they forgot to tell me...

So, brother Bill is patiently waiting for me outside the staition and laughing his head off. It has been years since I have spent any time in a place this populated. I feel like an idiot.

Which brings me to Daniel. As I saw Bill laughing I thought about the many times I complained to Dan about cities. He never felt like an idiot in them. He loved walking around in them. He loved the people in them. He hated living in them. He loved the cultural venues-the plays, concerts, art. He hated the crowds. But he was never intimidated by transportation. He just got there somehow.

When I got to Bill's house last night he has two pictures to show me. Both are of Dan and both were taken at the rehearsal dinner for Bill and Kathy's wedding. They were taken 10 years ago. I looked at those pictures, Dan with glass of wine in hand and smile on his face and I remember so much. Not incidents or times or places, just Dan.

In Bill's house, I remember Dan.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Band

Dan's first wife, Diana, was as stunned and devastated as the rest of us when she heard of Dan's death. The news sent her into the boxes where her past resided in photos and letters and other paraphernalia that we all keep. She has been reading this blog and so she was surprised that I didn't know that Dan, at one time, had sung in a band. It was while they lived in Sacramento and I was in North Dakota (that's a whole nether story) and San Diego. He had told me but I had forgotten. Diana sent me the following email:

"Actually, Gael, Daniel did have some experience with singing during our early days together.  His good friend Jim Krantz was a very talented musician and somehow convinced him to join Jim and their friend Bob Soto in forming a group.  Jim taught Dan a few chords he could strum on an old 6-string and gave him singing lessons.  Dan was the bass in the trio, and they sang a variety of Randy Newman, Jimmy Buffett tunes, like "Shoot Low Sheriff, He's Riding a Shetland," and other fun stuff.  Dan and Bob were the back-up singers -- they referred to themselves as "the colored girls."  They practiced in our garage, and Jim would warm up by singing several minutes of "Kyrie Eleison" a cappella (he was a former altar boy and sang in the church choir).  It was always really breath-taking.  They also played a few gigs in some of the nice little bars in Sacramento for tips.  One of their songs had the words ". . . throw your rubbers overboard" at which time they threw handfuls of condoms into the audience, some landing in people's drinks.  That always brought great shrieks and laughter.  I worked at Planned Parenthood at the time, so it was my job to procure them, take them out of the packages and wash the lube off.  I wish I could recall what they called their group.  It was all great fun, and Jim's wife Valerie and I were their biggest fans."

And here is the proof that Dan was in a band. If I remember correctly (and we now know that is in question) I said he looked like Willie Nelson. He was not thrilled with the remark.

How I would have loved to have been in that band.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One of Those Days

OK, I am still getting over that dratted cold and my cough sounds like a goose in heat. I had to take that stupid codeine cough syrup last night so getting up this morning was a bit of a struggle. And then there was court.
It was the usual day. Lots of confusion with defense attorneys all over the place, defendants everywhere, District Attorneys popping in and out of courtrooms and judges trying to conduct business over all of the hubbub. Normal.

But I wasn't. I kept sounding off like that stupid goose. One judge even warned a DA to stay away from my air space!

So it was with some depressive thoughts that I returned to my office to face a pile of paper and the usual client phone calls.

And I got an unexpected call from the woman who had filmed the Vocal Arts Ensemble Celtic Charm concert last spring. We had performed in a church in Cambria. It was a beautiful setting, one that we had preformed in before, but for that concert, Dan was there. Right in the front row. All 6'4" of him trying to scrunch up in a folding chair. He looked a little like that folding chair.

Anyway, Sandy (the filmographer) had just heard about Dan's death and called to give her condolences and to tell me that she was sending me a copy of the concert on CD. She knew I had purchased some but she remembered that I planned to give them all away. She also knew that she had caught Dan on film while I was introducing Danny Boy.
I was stunned.

Then I got a call from the mother of a client. She had heard from her son that my brother had passed. She had waited to call me until now because she didn't want the call to be about anything but her condolences.
I was flabbergasted.

Then I got a call from a friend who sings with me in VAE. She has been reading this blog every now and then. I read her yesterday's entry and she and I both cried. She told me about watching Dan while we would rehearse and how apparent it was that he and I had a special sibling relationship.
I was humbled.

I really had never considered my relationship with Dan unusual. Until the day he left us. Until people started to tell me what their relationships were like.

I have been truly blessed. A brother that was my best friend and friends who call when I need them.

Yes, today was one of those days. One of those days when I realize that I am blessed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


A few years ago, Dan found a man in Montana who did chainsaw carving. As an adult I had gotten into the cartoon character Opus and from there into collecting penguins. Dan would find penguins for me at truck stops and out of the way places. They were always  original and always had something to say to me. One was about  a half an inch high- a crystal penguin on a round piece of mirror with a pink rose. So kitch but so beautiful. Very tiny, but speaking to my passions of the collection and roses (at one point we had 100 varieties of rose in our back yard. So I went overboard...)

So one Christmas a package arrives from Missoula marked fragile.

I have no idea what my brother is sending me now.....I open the box and the packaging and another box and the packaging....to find 18 inches of chain-saw carved penguin with a fishing pole and a fish. Made out of pine, it is gorgeous and hysterical. It has graced every mantel of every house we have lived in since I got it.

This was typical of Daniel presents. When they came, which wasn't at the expected times, they were very, very special.

 Let me tell you about the one that tells the most about Dan.I have mentioned several times that Dan and I ignored each other for a long time during our childhood. Even though looking back, I am quite sure he protected me without me knowing it. He also noticed me. He noticed what I liked and what I did. He noticed my passions.

From the time I could walk I wanted a horse. I wanted to learn to ride. And every year, at Camp Nelson, my parents would let me go on the day rides out of the public stables. The horses were VERY tame and there was always a guide. But owning a horse and really learning to ride was out of the question. I wasn't allowed to go on any backpacking trains or even care for a horse. I dreamed about it. Heck, as a kindergartner I insisted on being an Indian in the Cowboy and Indian show because they got to attack on horseback! (stick horses of course. And I was the only girl to be allowed to do that. I put up a real stink according to my mother.)

At Camp Nelson I had my trusty stick horse and I rode it everywhere except past the stables because that would be embarrassing! Everyone thought I was crazy but it was the next best thing to a horse for me.

So on my 16th birthday I got a present from Dan that I did not expect. He had gone out in Camp Nelson and found a woman who carved wood. Specifically, she carved redwood and he took her a picture and asked her to make something.

I opened a present that was a 5" high Palomino horse complete with leather saddle and bridle and a rider that looked just like me. They were hand-carved in redwood and meticulously painted. The leather was tanned a dark brown. My outfit was my favorite shade of blue, and the hair on my head was just as I wore it then--to my shoulders in a flip. The hat was white.

I was stunned. I was thrilled. I was in awe. My brother had found the perfect gift. For by that time I knew I would never have a living horse. But I had Dan's. I still have it.

It is fragile now with age. The redwood has dried and is brittle. The hat brim has disintegrated. But the saddle and bridle are still there and the girl in the blue outfit still sits proudly on her Palomino.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Earthquake

One of the earliest stories that I was told about Dan had to do with the 1955 earthquake. It's epicenter was somewhere near Bakersfield and it destroyed that town. I would have been around 4 so Dan would have been around seven.

At that time our house was a very modest two bedroom/one bath with a single car garage. With three kids that presented a problem. Dad would not allow anyone to sleep in the living room (I found out later that he had to sleep in the living room when he grew up and the arraignment was unacceptable to him). So, Bill and Dan shared the front bedroom and I slept in the crib in our parents room. I distinctly remember a large cupboard, probably a counter type cupboard from an office, that split their bedroom in two. They use to have sock wars over it. I am still not sure if it was to separate them or to give them privacy!

Anyway, one morning, very early, Dad wakes up hearing the water in the toilet sloshing. And he yells at Dan to quit playing in the toilet and go back to bed! It was the earthquake! It tells you a great deal that our father's first thought was that Dan was doing something bizarre rather than notice that his bed was moving across the bedroom.

Dan loved to explore, to find places where people hadn't been, to see, smell, touch, or hear things that others had not. He was constantly in motion. Like an earthquake.

That's why trucking suited him. He could keep moving. Where ever he is I hope he is still exploring. I hope he tells me what it is like.

Monday, January 17, 2011


In 1968 the musical HAIR was born. Dan's HAIR was born after he came home from his tour of Germany and he was discharged from the Army. His hair was beautiful and it drove our father crazy. Dan was born a towhead like the rest of his siblings. We were all strikingly blond. We had no choice. Our father was known as the "Striking Viking" and he was blond. He was Norwegian and Swedish and handsome. Our mother was no slouch in the good looks department with dark brown hair and brown eyes with bright gold flecks. But the Norwegian won out in us kids.

Bill was the spitting image of our father. I was the spitting image of our father. Dan was the spitting image of our mother's father-Papa. Dan was tall and lanky with round eyes that just looked mischievous all the time just like Papa.  As he grew older his hair turned to a golden auburn that shimmered. As blond as I was and as vain as I was of that attribute, I envied his hair. It didn't curl out of control or have a mind of its own. It hung straight and it shone.

In the hospital, as I sat beside him, I stroked his hair. He had cut it short and it had some gray in it but it was still auburn. I realized that his hair was the same texture as mine. Very fine and silky. It was the first time I had actually felt his hair and the realization was stunning to me. I mentioned it to my hairdresser last week and she laughed. She use to cut Dan's hair. Her remark was that the only difference was that mine curled and that if Dan's had done that he would have looked like the Flying Tomato (the Olympic snowboarder with red hair).

Bill is holding a lock of Dan's hair for me. It is all I wanted.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


There was a great advantage to having half an acre for a backyard. You could play any game you wanted with as many people as you wanted. Dad had a huge wire backstop built in the southeast corner away from the house so we could play baseball. A homerun was to hitting the ball over the top electrical wires at the edge of the yard. It was a ground rule double if the ball went into the orange grove. And you didn't tell mom and dad if the ball went into Flippsi's orange grove and one of us went after it. (Flippsi didn't like kids and had a mean dog! And we tended to steal his pomegranates...... )

But football was really cool in that yard. We played "Goal Line Stand". The object was to carry the ball 10 yards against everyone who wanted to play. That meant that there was a center to hike the ball and the kid that the ball got hiked to on one team. Everyone else was on the other team. Oh, we watered the 10 yards for a couple of days so we played in a mud hole! They would let me play even though I was a "GIRL" because I could fake out the opposing lineman by going under them and then catch a pass. Darrel, George, Bobby, Keith, those are the names I remember. 

I remember playing this with Bill and Dan a lot. I remember getting such satisfaction bringing some guy to the ground when I was just a kid. I especially remember being very smug when I took Daniel out. This, of course, was during the period that he didn't exist. So such action on my part was exceptionally sweet. Looking back, I am amazed that he didn't try to get back at me but I don't remember him ever doing that. I think even then he was protecting me.

I remember kids coming from all over that part of Lindsay to play in that huge yard. I remember Dan running a lot in those games. I remember Mom making us shower in the garage with our clothes on before we were allowed in the house. I remember laughing and running and being really, really dirty. Great football.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Being Pissed Off

Dan use to call me when he was on the road to tell me about the latest screw up in a delivery or picking up a load. He would rant about how his truck would be loaded improperly so the weight distribution would get him a whopping ticket at the next weigh station. He would argue with the people that loaded his truck and then have to find a scale somewhere to find out if he was "legal" before he could go on his way. Half the time he would have to reload his truck to make it legal. He would be pissed for the rest of the day. It wouldn't matter what else wonderful was going on. If he had to reload his day was shot and he was pissed. Occasionally, though, he would take it in stride and remind himself that life sometimes threw you curve balls.

I was thinking about that today because life threw me a curve ball when it took Dan. Actually it threw a spit ball and I am pissed about it. Today I am not taking it in stride. Today I am yelling at the umpire just like Dan yelled at the lumpers (the guys who load and unload the trucks). I am yelling at the cosmos. I want a new referee and a new game. I want time put back on the game clock. I want my brother back.

I am really trying to let the process occur on its own terms. I am trying not to stifle the feelings that come and go. BUT, I know that I must live my life and I am the only one that can make me satisfied with my life. So I look for joy. I try to create joy. I try to feel the wonderment of the world. Sometimes I really succeed. Sometimes I fail miserably. Right now, I am just pissed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Summer Camps and other Places

Our father was on the Presbytery Board as treasurer. I mean, what else would an accountant be doing on such a board? Anyway, Dad helped to create the Church Camp in our area called Calvin Crest. It was on a piece of land near Yosemite and was well off the beaten path.

When Bill and Dan got to go it was mainly tents on platforms next to an old farmhouse in the middle of an apple orchard surrounded by oaks and pine trees. The farmhouse scared me to death. It had a dirt basement that Dan and I would go explore (he dared me so I had to go--scared or not) I remember that Dan loved to go because there was lots of hiking involved for the boys.

Our parents also sent us to YMCA camp at Lake Sequoia. Called Camp Tulequoia. This is the one I really loved because I could swim in the lake and shoot rifles at the shooting range I don't think my parents ever knew about my shooting range experiences. But Dan did. He had our Grandfather's rifle. I don't think he ever tried to shoot it but we talked about the difference between that gun and the little .22's that I shot at Y Camp.

I think Dan's biggest camping experience, though, was the Boy Scout Jamboree. I don't remember what year it was but the Presbyterian minister from Strathmore made sure that Dan went. It was at Valley Forge. One of our last conversations was what he learned there---that people are not always right when they make the rules and sometimes, no matter what your age, you have to point that out.

It got him into a bit of trouble throughout his life. But if he thought the rule wasn't right, he would do his best to do something about it.

He learned lots of things at all of the camps he went to. He learned to be together, to be alone, to speak up and say his piece. He learned a lot about honor and integrity. I like to think he already knew that stuff, he just found that he could say it. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Some of my most vivid memories of Dan involve him running. I can see him running through the house, across the backyard, down the street. Long, lanky strides even when he was "little". Even when he was an adult his stride took him places in a hurry. I remember watching him go out to feed and water the horses in Montana and thinking that he sure got there fast even though he was just ambling down to the barn.

The most vivid memory of running was on the Lindsay-Tulare Highway one night in my junior year in high school. Dan and I were on our way to Fresno where I was going to spend the weekend with he and Kit. Dan had borrowed Kit's Triumph to come to Lindsay to pick me up. Well, Dan forgot to check the gas gauge. So in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, the Triumph sputtered to a stop.

It was cold and dark and I was not a happy camper. But Dan had us run to a farmhouse with lights on. (This was a LONG time ago and that was a safe thing to do then) I was out of breath after about a quarter mile. I will never forget Dan razing me for not being able to run a mile any more. But he stopped and stayed with me at a walk even though he wanted more than anything to get gas and get going.

We did get to the farmhouse and they gave us some gas from their farm gas tanks. We made it to Fresno. And I was sworn to secrecy. I am not sure if I ever even told Kit about leaving his precious car on the side of a rural highway. I know I never told our parents. They would have skinned Dan alive and I would never have seen Kit again. Or so I believed at the time.

There is nothing quite like a run in the dark, on the side of a highway with your brother.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Last night was the first rehearsal for the Vocal Arts Ensemble since Dan died. I walked up to our fearless leader who had lost his brother last year and I asked him if it ever gets better. He said "No" and gave me a hug. Most of the people there knew and had been sharing with me. I had been getting support and love from everyone.As I was trying to thank them it occurred to me that there was nothing more to say. It was in the music. It was in what we were there to do and I best shut up and sing.

He loved listening to VAE. He was astounded at the quality of our sound, our ability to articulate, our dedication to communicating with our audience. He would tell anyone who would listen about us and he would talk Gary's ear off about how great we were if Gary let him. (Gary is our fearless and talented leader).

So I listened to a CD of previous VAE recordings on my way home from practice making mental notes of what Dan would have liked and what he would not have liked. Religious or secular, they were anthems to him. At least for me.

He couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. He couldn't play an instrument. [edit-2018--I had forgotten but was reminded shortly after I wrote this piece that Dan played bass guitar in a rock band. His playing genre was rock music. His musical collection was rock based but extremely eclectic.] But music moved his soul. It spoke his words when he had none. It gave him peace.

So I will keep singing. Because I can carry a tune, bucket or not.  It moves my soul and speaks my words. It gives me peace. But most of all, now, it is sharing something with Dan.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Cheese Ball

Yesterday I didn't write anything about Dan or about me. I just couldn't. I had spent the morning fighting the good fight against judges and prosecutors and trying to get clients to understand the ways of the world. It was all so surreal. I was back in my world but my soul was not in it.

I just didn't want to be there. I didn't want to do anything except feel sorry for myself. Helping others sort out their problems sorta precludes that for awhile. So I was angry. At myself, at the world, and at my job.

Dan and I use to talk about the same old Cheeseball. His was climbing in the truck every day. Mine was walking into a courthouse. "Here I am eating the same old Cheeseball" he would say on days when he was discouraged with his job or with life in general. When he wanted to know how I was doing at work it was "How's the Cheeseball today?"

We bitched about our jobs to each other and always came around to the fact that this was the food we had chosen and we were stuck with it. We usually decided, by the end of the conversation, that we actually liked what we did. It was just an occasional nut that got stuck in our craw.

The Cheeseball reference came from our mother. Every Christmas she made a terrific Cheesball of cheddar, Swiss, and some other kind of cheese. She would shred that stuff and mold it with cream cheese (counting calories, anyone?)  and then roll this giant thing in nuts. I hated the nuts but once you got inside it was heaven.
So Dan would remind me to get past the nuts. And I would remind him to spread his a little thinner on the cracker!

The problem with the Cheeseball was that finishing it was a problem. One could come to hate that thing by the end of the season. And Mother would NOT throw it out. It had to be eaten.......

Forgive me but yesterday I choked on a nut. Pass the milk and I will wash it down.

That's what Mom would tell me to do.

So would Dan.

Today I am eating more of the Cheeseball.

It's not bad.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I sat in shock as I read about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona. As I read about her wounds I felt again the helplessness that I felt the night that Dan had his stroke. I know, personally, what her family is feeling right now. That she has survived through her surgery and is now in a medically induced coma is a miracle.

I have had to gather information on her injury to determine that it did not compare to Daniel's. It did not. And it did not because the bullet that ripped through Rep. Giffords' brain did not leave a blood trail. There was little bleeding and so the damage was to the area of brain where the bullet traversed. Dan had a bleed that was the size of a racketball of the left side of his brain.

I know this sounds clinical and unfeeling. It is not. I need to reassure myself that nothing could have been done that was not already done to save Dan. Like every single human being on this earth I am willing to blame his death on someone or something.

But with all my heart I resist that. With all my being I will always resist that. Blaming someone or something else solves nothing. It changes nothing. It does not give one "closure" or "peace". Those are things that time and patience and the love of family and friends will help me to feel.

In the work that I do I see the effect of blame, of accepting life as a victim. It is more devastating than the initial injury. It robs the person of their own strength, their own soul. So tonight I am thinking of the family of the shooter and the grief  that they are feeling.

Maybe we should all remember the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

It helps with the booze.  It helps with the anger. It helps with the grief.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Grey's Anatomy

This morning I sat with the dogs (Mohawk on my left side, in the chair; LadyBug on my lap, and Zelda on the floor on my left where I can pet her head) and watched the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy. It is a series that Dan really enjoyed. He loved the soap opera of the whole thing. We would often have discussions about who did what to whom on the show and those discussions would last longer than the episode.

Our last discussion was how Christina needed to take her head out of her a** and get back to being Christina. He railed on about how Sandra Ho was a great actress and they needed to let her expand her character not restrict the character in tragedy and self-doubt.

So as I am watching this episode and the plot is letting Christina be Christina again, I am thinking of Dan. And in one scene the brain surgeon is removing parts of the skull to let the patient's brain swell and I am thinking "why didn't...." and I realized that Dan was already gone when his brain began to swell.

And when it was over, no one had died, the characters were laughing and I reached for the phone. Except the guy I usually call to talk about Grey's Anatomy couldn't answer anymore. But I know he would have loved it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Trips to Montana

When Dan and Diana moved to Montana I knew that Helena was the capitol. I had never heard of Polson or Flat Head Lake or Missoula or anything else about the place. Having lived in North Dakota for two interminable years I knew it was cold.

So it seemed inconceivable that my parents would want me to go with them for Christmas in Montana. Mom was sick then but Dan got her on a sled and shoved her down a hill. She loved it.

The next time that I went, Mom was gone. Dad and Melodie and I drove to Polson where Dan and his family joined us on a 24 hour train ride to Minneapolis, Minn. for a family reunion. I will never forget the sight of Daniel folded up in a train seat trying to sleep. If he stuck his legs out in the aisle people would literally trip over him. He was very, very uncomfortable.

I made several more trips out to Dan's home. After he and Diana were divorced he met and married Pat. They were able to buy 20 acres near Hamilton-about 30 miles south of Missoula- where Pat could raise her beloved Arabian horses. They had both graduated from trucking school and had driving jobs. I would go for a visit every 3 or 4 years and always in the summer.

For his50th Birthday Bill and I and our families went to Montana. We celebrated at the ranch of a friend on the eastern side of the Bitterroot range. It was isolated and beautiful. The shower water was heated by a wood fired stove system in a room apart from the house. It overlook the beautiful expanse of pasture and mountains in full bloom. Our Aunt Louise refused to spend the night there because there was no indoor privy! She said she had grown up without a bathroom and she was not giving up the luxury now. So Bill and family left early. But I stayed and Dan and I talked late into the night. Have you ever stood in the center of an aspen grove when their leaves have turned and the sun upon them makes the air around you golden? I have. With Dan.

My last visit was this last year just before he moved to California. He picked me up at the airport and took me to the best restaurant in Missoula, according to him. I sat at an wrought iron table on a street corner and ordered the best hotdog I can remember from the vendor there. Best restaurant in Missoula. He was right.

He put me on the back of his Harley and we went everywhere. There was a celebration of some sort at a park where a band that he knew was playing. We went. And the band was fabulous. The brass player was an old friend of his who suffered from a degenerative nerve disease. He was confined to a wheel chair but he could blow that horn!

We followed that band to the Hamilton farmer's market where I bought him a copper ring with a peace symbol on it. I have the complementary bracelet. He introduced me to the best jam and honey I had ever had. I am still on their mailing lists. The band was playing there.

We had dinner at the brewery. The band there had the brass player join them that night. It was very special.
They are now both gone from this earth. I have to believe that somewhere Dan is listening to some great horn blowing!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Bodyguards

I really haven't explained the role of big brothers in our family. They were bodyguards to their baby sister.

In the summer of 1964 our father packed all of us onto a plane and flew us to the East Coast. He demanded that his children know the country of their citizenship.We spent hours in the Smithsonian. (I have vivid memories of the Spirit of St. Louis) We met our congressman Harlan Hagan. His wife became our guide around Washington, D.C. She managed to get us tickets to the gallery in the U.S. Senate. I sat next to Dan and witnessed Hubert Humphrey and Everet Dirksen succeed in a cloture vote ending the filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Then we went to Arlington Cemetery. We wanted to see John Kennedy's grave. And we did. Mrs. Hagen drove us up to the family entrance (we were in a Congressional car and the Marines let us in!) I stood where Robert, Teddy and Jackie had stood.

Then we went to New York. To the New York World's Fair. We saw TV telephones where you could see who you were talking to, we saw Michelangelo's Pieta and we went to a Met's game. Well, we tried to go to a Met's game. It was cancelled and while we were leaving, going out the tunnel, people began to push, I remember screaming. I remember Dad holding my hand and I remember Dan on one side and Bill right behind. Mom was in front. The only words spoken were "don't let go". I don't know which brother said it or if they said it together. I didn't let go.

This was the standard wedge. I didn't know it. I never noticed.  

Later, we went to the Copacabana for dinner. Dad had taken all of us shopping-Bill and Dan got new jackets and pants, Mom and I got dresses. Mine was pure silk. Pale white with a pink floral design all over it. It fit to the waist and flared a bit at the hip. It draped to just above my knee. Mom and I had our hair done at the hotel salon. I was 13. I was jail bait.

We went to the Copa and as we are sitting in the "lounge" the waiter asks Bill for his order. Bill was legal in New York and ordered Jack Daniels (I think). The waiter asks Dan if he would like a Coke and then turns to me and says "what would the lady like from the bar?" I didn't get it but my Dad did and so did Dan and Bill. The words Shirley Temple were spoken very quickly by my father. And when we walked to our table, the wedge appeared.

But the real kicker, the one that I think about the most, the one that made me realize that I was that protected and safe was when we were walking back from a Broadway play (Fade Out, Fade In) to our hotel. Through New York at midnight. Ok, we were still from Lindsay, California.

I am still in my dress, my long blond hair is still done in a New York "do", I was 5'7" tall, 120lbs and, well, I didn't look 12. A car drives by with some guys in it and they whistle. In Lindsay you laugh at it and take it as a compliment. In New York, not so much.

Say hello to the wedge. But now Mom is next to me on the inside, Dad on the outside, Dan is out front and Bill is behind.

I wasn't scared. I had no idea what was happening. But now I understand why Mom and Dad had a "discussion" that night!

Of course, my brothers occasionally misused this "protection". My boyfriends had to pass the Bill-Dan test before I was allowed to socialize with them at all! As early as 6th grade they were chasing the loves of life away. I still wonder what happened to Gary Loveland.

All of this is to say that I had that wedge around me all of my life. It is a wedge that I will always have.
Dan is still in my heart. He is still next to me in the Senate, at JFK's grave, in New York, and here, in my home where he ate dinner and told bad jokes. His spirit is not gone.I am still safe.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I remember Dan standing next to Kit in 1970. I was coming down the aisle at the First Presbyterian Church in Lindsay, California, dressed in a white gown and walking next to our father. I remember Dan because he was Kit's best man and he towered over the groom! Kit was 5'8" and Dan was 6'3". Both were dressed in full morning coats (remember cutaway coats?) which accented height and it was all I could do not to giggle. Kit remembers that he was the shortest guy in the line because the rest of the groomsmen were all over 6' (Bill was one and Jim Jackson was the other). I also remember him helping our grandmother (Nana) through the reception line. Nana's blood pressure was dangerously high that day but she would not stay home so Dan stayed with her whenever he could.

Dan was in lots of weddings. He was Bill's best man when Bill and Bernie were married and again when Bill and Kathy married. When Bill married Kathy Dan was ecstatic. Bill had gone through terrible grief with Bernie's death and his finding happiness again was something Dan and I had long hoped for. At that time Dan had been a long haul trucker for quite sometime and dress clothes were not his thing. But he bought a brand new suit. And he looked spiffy. Tall and lanky and spiffy. He gave the toast to his brother and his bride that night in front of several hundred people and he looked spiffy. Tall and lanky and spiffy.

The other wedding I remember with Dan was Melodie's. On a paddle wheel boat in Mission Bay in San Diego, he was so proud of his niece. There we were--Bill, Dan and Gael Ann--watching my daughter get married in a wedding that she planned. A graduate of UC Irvine, Dan's buttons busted every time he spoke of her.

And that is the wedding that brought this all up. In my office is a picture of Bill, Dan and Gael Ann next to the railing of the paddle wheel boat as it made its trip around Mission Bay. I would not trade that picture, that day, or any of those days for anything in this world.

I would trade them to have him back.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Dan seemed to always get a cold in January. You could set your clock by it. And it wasn't just your normal, everyday cold. It was a sinus swelling, chest thumping cold. I always gave him a bad time about it because he ate horribly and never took care of himself. Especially when he was driving long distances. He wasn't one to eat a pile of french fries and a hamburger. No he ate cookies and potato chips and washed them down with vitamin water. His exercise amounted to getting in and out of the truck (which is a feat, I do admit) Although when he was in Montana he could buck hay with the best of them. And he could ride a horse for hours.

I bring this up because I have a cold, the mother of all colds. I sat at home today after a night of no sleep because I couldn't breath. My thoughts have been about Dan and his colds all day. I am convinced (without any evidence) that Dan's history with Valley Fever was the cause of all of his colds. Mine are because I keep going out to jails and hanging around people who have colds.

Mother (who was a nurse) always treated our colds with Vicks VapoRub. We all hated it. A thick coating on our chest covered by flannel, a hot humidifier in our room, and lots of soup and water. I remember the sound of that humidifier in Dan's room. I remember the smell of Vicks in his room. Funny, I don't remember it in mine or Bill's. But the smell of Dan's room is sharp tonight. And I don't have any Vick's in the house.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Diana's memories

Diana Langdon married Dan just before I started law school in Sacramento. She heard about Dan's passing and sent the following to me:

"When I finished grad school there were no jobs to be had for social workers anywhere in CA (thanks to Ronald Reagan as governor).  Ultimately, the feds offered me a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Ronan, MT.  Where???  Well, Dan knew there was a difference between western Montana and eastern Montana, Ronan was in the western part, and that was the better part.  The rules were that the feds would move me, my spouse and kids for nothing in exchange for a two year commitment.  So we got married.  The moving van took most everything, then Dan took off with his 1960-something old white pickup (the Gray Ghost) piled high with more stuff, my youngest son Jeremy (his ninth birthday was on the road, Nov. 19th) and two dogs in the cab.  I remember that you could see the road go by beneath your feet in that truck, and the heater didn't keep up very well.  My sons were scared to death -- they thought we were going to Little House on the Prairie and the Indians were going to get them.  Dan went first to find us a place to rent, and I closed up business in Sacramento.  Then my oldest son Pat (11 years old), two cats and I set out in my '68 VW bug.  We all had Thanksgiving that year (1978) at the Cherry Hill Motel in Polson where we lived in two rooms for about six weeks while waiting for our rental house to be vacated.  And we learned quickly to deal with snow and seriously cold weather.

Moving to Montana was a grand adventure, and we all fell in love with this beautiful place.  The times we had were a mixture of great fun and joy and tough learning experiences.  And I wouldn't trade a minute of it for the world."
Shortly after that move I had to find a place to live in Sacramento. Our mother had just died and I was a total mess. Dan contacted some friends who had a vacant unit in the building where they rented. They put in a good word for me and I got the place. A two bedroom apartment that took both children (Melodie was @ 10) and animals (I had a calico cat named Tatterhood). Dan also got me a part time job just by talking to his friends in Sacramento. 
My career as a lawyer would never have begun without Dan. It didn't matter where he was, he always tried to help.
Diana is still in Montana and still a social worker. She sounds happy. I am privileged to be in contact with her again. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Memories from Friends

Kathy Thompson sent me this picture. She thinks it was her junior prom in 1966. I would have been a freshman that year. Kathy was the one that Dan labeled as the one that got away. When he moved back to California he ran into her again along with Rosemary Farrow and others that he use to hang around with in his youth. It is those folk who probably know more about Dan at that period than I do. I was a stupid little kid and he was finding his way at College of the Sequoias.

He always thought that he wasn't good with girls. But as an adult almost all of his friends were female. He truly enjoyed the company of women and took of the cause of feminism as naturally as a duck to water. He was always lecturing me to follow my own way and not the way that society told me to go. When I told him I wanted to be a lawyer he told me that he would support me in what ever I wanted to do. I started to raze him about that line and he said (and I will never forget this) "I don't care if you sell yourself on a street corner if that is what you want to do. I might want to beat the s**t out of you but if that is what you want, I will support you in it. Don't ever forget that I am your biggest fan."

He was my fan and the fan of all of his friends. His loyalty was impeccable. If you lost his loyalty something really serious had happened. And you could be guaranteed that he had agonized over the decision to let go. To the day he died he still cared for Kathy. She was an old girlfriend but she was also a friend for life. Growing up in a small town that was not uncommon.

What is uncommon is that he inspired such feelings in others. I have heard, as I have said before, from people all over the United States who grew up with Dan or met him along the way. To a person they feel the deep loss of a dear friend-not just someone they knew- but a true friend. I was really blessed to have him in my life.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rose Parade

Somewhere in the late '60's (my sophomore year in high school) Dan brought home one of his college roommates. On that day I met the man I was to eventually marry, have a child with, weather the Vietnam war with, and divorce. Kit (pronounced keet--short for Chiquito) and I dated for 3 years before we married.

During those three years (and I honestly don't remember what year) Dan and Kit got up one New Year's Day and drove from Lindsay to Pasadena. They didn't know exactly where the parade was but they figured they could find it. They didn't have tickets and didn't think they needed any. They didn't have much in the way of money and didn't think they needed any. They had Kit's little green Triumph so they didn't think they would need gas. Paying for parking never occurred to them. They had a great time on this unplanned adventure. The details of the adventure I have never been made privy to.

You see, they forgot to tell my parents or Kit's parents and no one knew where they were for about 15 hours. It was long before cell phones and besides, they didn't think they needed to tell anyone. They were in college after all.

Our parents were beside themselves. They felt completely responsible for Kit since he was staying at our house and they had no clue as to what to say to Kit's parents when they called!

When I told Kit of Dan's passing, one of his first remembrances was that trip. And the man still would not tell me the details! I will never know what happened in Pasadena. Rats....