In 1993, one year after our father Calvin's death, my sister Nancy and I went to Hawaii to visit John and Naomi and Alex. John met us at the airport pushing Alex in a stroller. We walked down the open air ramp with a warm breeze blowing. All three of us were happy and couldn't stop telling each other about what we were doing, thinking, and wanted to do. John wore a tee shirt and tattered shorts. We drove to a house on the beach just off Kahala Drive in a very old Saab that ran quite well, but sported several dings on the body and the soft felt fabric of the interior ceiling was ripped and sagging. This was not his only vehicle. John also owned a dark blue rusted Ranger that was somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years old. The house on the beach was beautiful - and rented. We went back to his house to get a few supplies. It was a small wood frame house cluttered with toys and interesting objects and furniture from many countries of origin. This was arranged in good order, but Alex life and possessions were front and center. As a child, John always needed tools. He slept with them and fastened some on the bed springs of the upper bunk so he could see them when he went to sleep and when he awoke. He used them for everything as he was always fixing and building whatever came into his mind. His house was no different. John Owned tools.
We reminisced as this was our first time together since Calvin's death. John was the only child of the four of us who did not complete College. My father always worried about that, as he could not envision how a person could support themselves without the aid of that documentation of knowledge. When John left for California in 1969, my brother Jim wrote to Calvin and asked him if he would be responsible for John if he became ill or injured. He could not know that Calvin kept a health insurance policy for John long after he left home. At one time in the late 80s Calvin could stand the worry no longer and asked John if he had enough money to live on. John assured him that he would be fine.
John Updike, early in his career wrote a book of vignette called Pigeon Feathers. There is an autobiographical story about a family trip. As they are driving a car full of hooligans passed the family and yelled obscenities and made crude gestures. The father becomes concerned as he feels they are trying to tell him something . He stops the car so that he can ask them what they are concerned about. I read this book in the 60s and the image of this man has always remained with me. The innocence, naivete and purity of this man did remind me of my father.
We were not aware of Calvin's concern. For many years after John moved to California my father periodically put funds for John in a trust. This was money he felt he owed him since he did not pay for what he would consider to be a proper education. Three months before his death, Calvin sold the stock in the trust and sent John the check. He could not die with out completing this obligation. When John told us about it I asked, "What in the world did you say?" John said, "Thank you Daddy, I think I'll buy a fishing boat" - and he did. Calvin was happy.
My parents frequently visited John and Naomi in California and knew some of their friends. They had met Claude Duboc. When John and Naomi were married at my home in Ohio in 1982 Claude was in France and not able to attend, but sent 5 dozen roses in a baccarat vase along with his best wishes. My parents knew Sonia (the Iranian woman) and also a friend named Herbert Woerner. Herbert was a German national and was John's trusted friend. He was killed when he flew their twin engine Cessna into a mountain in Tahoe. His passenger was a man named Buckey who was also John's friend. My father knew that this tragic accident would devastate John and sent him this letter.
This is being written on Sunday morning, very early because I could sleep no longer until I shared some thoughts with you concerning the tragedy that has been visited upon your friends and also upon you, for the vacant place in your heart is a deep wound which only time and the sustaining support of friends and loved ones can help to heal.
One of the first funerals I had to conduct was on a cold winter day in North Dakota. The snow was deep, the temperature was cold and the wind was sharp and cutting. Nature was not cooperating in the healing of the wounds of the parents of the small child not over three months old whom they had grown to love and for whom they had dedicated their lives. What was there to say in such bleak surroundings? I don't remember much of what I said or read at the service, but this one quotation has stuck with me throughout the years and helped me in many different circumstances and situations. "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."
Over the past sixteen years that you have known Herbert, a very close relationship developed between you. The same is true with your relationship to Bucky. We usually choose to hunt with individuals with whom we have things in common and whom we consider deep and abiding friends.
While we are here on earth, we ultimately are forced to the conclusion that life's enduring interpretation is love. All things work together for good to those that love. The question asked by Charles Kingsly was "What is the secret of you life?" and his answer was "I had friends". This condition can be translated anywhere. He lived because he loved. This is life in the present tense.
The faith based on dogma has been tried and found wanting. It ends in limitless debate and sometimes in bigotry. There comes a time when we must advance from philosophy to fellowship, from faith to love. True religion is love, for God is love. Knowledge cannot solve life's crossword puzzle unless we add the word love which is summed up in the message, "Love one another" - How much, How long, How far? - "As I have loved you." This is the measure, the standard, the prophesy of our faith.
The physical presence of Herbert and Bucky is no longer with us. Physically their congenial spirits and their caring concerns for their friends is not here, but those who have through the years worked, played, planned, rejoiced and sometimes cried with them live in their blessed memory, and this is part of eternal life. Physically we all depart from this world at some time, but our fellow travelers live on through not just one generation, but in some cases countless generations. As a result of this the world is a better place because of their presence even if only for an abbreviated period. Life goes on but so does love, and this world is a better place because of that love. This is what makes life so worthwhile and also so interesting and challenging.
You and your friends are better persons because of the love which radiated from your friends to you and others. This is the source of comfort and peace that we have and which helps us over the raw edges of life and it's uncertainties. Remember, "God loves you and so do we." In the battles of life there is no more powerful force. Sincerely,
Mom and Dad
I found this letter when cleaning a file in Bijou's house. Calvin had kept careful copies of all his correspondence from 1930 to his death in 1992.
John was missing and it seemed like a death. Perhaps this is the way we should deal with it. Find solace in the time and love we had with and for him. Anyway, this is our memory and perception of the son and brother that the papers claimed had amassed a fortune, and was paying hundreds of thousands a year to families of past employees. I adored him and he was gone.