Saturday I went to a barbsalon brunch where we remembered Phyllis, our member who died last week. I sang the song I wrote while I was in Threshold Choir: 
Bit by tiny bit, the coral shapes the reef,
Bit by tiny bit with but our lives to give
We build our soil and cities, our stories, our beliefs,
And leave behind a structure on which our young ones build a place where they can live.
I wrote it for Edith, a woman we sang for who was an old activist, had worked with Cesar Chavez, and was worried not so much about dying as about leaving the work unfinished (which, of course, it always is).
Saturday night I went to the annual Bolshevik Cafe, a benefit cabaret for Committees of Correspondence at the red Finn Hall (there's a white Finn hall here too). At dinner I sat with Faith Petric and her daughter visiting from Ireland. Delicious pizza and salad made right there by Mary Fromer (Jon's wife) and her assistants. The show was one of the many Pete Seeger birthday celebrations going on over the weekend, with Pat Wynne's Rockin' Solidarity Labor Chorus singing his songs as well as the usual humor and singer-songwriter acts. We ended with a sing-along of Goodnight Irene and then stood with fists in the air and sang The Internationale. Gets me every time.
In between was the farmers market and getting yet more old movie DVDs from the library for Claudia to watch while her knee mends.
Yesterday I went to the graveside service for Phyllis with Karen and Kris. I’d never been to a burial before, and never to a Jewish funeral service. I liked it that we were all asked to help cover the coffin with dirt, as a mitzvah. I also like it that at seventy-four I’m still doing things I’ve never done before. Phyllis was the oldest member of the group at 87, now I am. She was also by far the best cook. She had been a social worker, and kept working as a volunteer after she retired. Then she got breast cancer. She died peacefully in her sleep attended by her daughters.
She didn't write too often, but when she did, it was with a wonderful dry humor. At the gathering at her house after the service one of her daughters spoke of how glad she was that Phyllis was in our group—she and her sisters had been reading Phyllis’ pieces on her computer and finding stories they didn’t know about. Another plans to make a little book of them for the family and for us, though without her voice reading them, it won't be the same. A cousin told a story we hadn’t heard: She and Phyllis, when their kids were young, went on a skiing trip that was marred by serial car malfunctions. They finally got the car fixed, but then one wheel got in a hole and they couldn’t get any purchase on the snow. The cousin got out and started shoveling dirt. Phyllis stopped her and said, “I’ll fix it.” She asked one of the kids for a bamboo stick she had been playing with, and proceeded to stand there poking the tire with it. “That won’t fix it,” said the cousin. “Yes it will,” said Phyllis. “If you look dumb enough, some man will come along and won’t be able to stand it and will fix it for you.” Sure enough, a big burly man with three big burly sons drove by, stopped, said “Get in the car!” and the four men simply lifted the nine-passenger station wagon out of the hole.
Seven of the then nine members of barbsalon, plus a few other splashers, at Grace’s Pool at the Berkeley YMCA. Aspasia, first row left, and Phyllis, to the right of my upraised hand, are both gone now.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009