Oct. 25th, 2016

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The weekend kicked off on Thursday late afternoon when, just before leaving work, I got the news that my beloved family-of-choice Aunt Pat had died suddenly. She was one of my mother’s best friends and a terrific lady. Post to follow shortly as I organize my thoughts for speaking at her funeral in NYC on Saturday, something I'd hoped to put off for many years to come. :-(((
 
This, needless to say, made the Duluth trip, our only purely vacation trip of the latter part of the year, a lot less fun than it might have been. This is no reflection on Duluth, which was pretty much best foot forward all weekend. The weather was gorgeous, the fall colors spectacular. We got in later than planned - it’s normally a 2.5 hour drive but construction and a late start got us there in the early afternoon. We went directly to Glensheen, which is a large and lovely historical estate/museum at the north end of town. It is known for its beauty and the quality of the restoration/confirmation on the home and grounds (and the murders that took place here in the 1970s, which are not to be discussed inside the house, according to some of the staff). At any rate, it is quite pretty  – I particularly like the green-tiled sun porch, which looked like it would be brutally cold in winter, but very nice to look at.
 
We stayed at Olcott House, which is a very pretty B&B in a historical building. Nice innkeeper, nice space, pleasant companions at breakfast, not so nice aging mattress. So we were light on sleep due to that and grieving, which also made things less fun than they might have been otherwise. But so it goes. Friday night was dinner at the fabulous Pickwick’s, a pub in operation since 1914 or thereabouts. Saturday morning, we stopped by Chester Creek Books and Antiques, which is a lovely store inside an old converted church. Reader, we bought books. I know, huge surprise. Best find: Easton Press edition of C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station, which I have never read.  Then we were off to lunch and Duluth Trading, before moving on to the Tweed to meet our friend Matt and peruse Shakespeare’s First Folio. This was fun and they did a nice exhibit on costumes and art, as well as providing a copy of the tome that one could leaf through. We then braved the crowds at Canal Park to go to Duluth Pack, before heading back to the B&B to change for the ballet. After that, we were off to dinner at Va Bene, which was tasty and then on to DECC for Dracula. Minnesota Ballet put on a fine performance, with some great dancing, and some very Edward Goreyish sets, which I loved. Other than the hall being a tad cold, it was a swell time.

Sunday, we drove part of the Skyline Parkway, which circles the top of the city with a spectacular view of the harbor and the woods on the other side. it was very lovely, as was our stop at Enger Tower. From there, we managed to get lost for a while, which was unpleasant, but wound up At Sara's Table for lunch, which was very tasty. Then we started driving home and got stuck in traffic so we got home a lot later than planned. Overall, mixed bag on the vacation front. But will definitely check out Duluth again.

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Pat, or "Aunt Pat" as I dubbed her when I was a but a babe in arms, was a major part of my entire life. She and my mother, Alice, met in the Girl Scouts and became lifelong friends. She and Mom shared schools, an apartment at one point and a lifelong friendship. She set my mother up with my dad on their first date (she apologized to me for that years later, given that dear old Dad was not exactly a great human being). She was at their wedding and Mom was at hers when she married Bud Myers, AKA Uncle Bud. They eventually divorced, but stayed good friends. Bud bought me my first wok and showed me how to cook in it. Pat showed me how to do embroidery and needlework; I still have a pair of embroidery scissors that she gave me when I was 13 or so. I also hung out with her terrific kids, Tom and Suzi, both considerably younger than me.

And Pat and her family gave forever homes to several cats that we rescued from various things but couldn't keep. Basil St. John, the one-eyed cat, who had been previously rescued by one of my friends after being hit by a car went to live with them after my friend's uncle tried to poison him and our cat failed to take a shine to him when he moved in with us. Ragamuffin, who was cat straight out of a Kliban cartoon, was rescued from the Brooklyn streets by us, then given to a catless family friend, then to Pat and family after that friend died. They were two of the many rescued cats that Pat housed over the years. Daphne, the last one, is also blind in one eye, carrying on the Basil St. J. tradition.

Pat got me a summer job at the small photo archive where she worked in the early 1980s (Pat and Mom both did photo research for textbook companies and related entities for many years). I don't remember a bunch about that job, except that the owner was a challenging personality for an edgy 18 year old to get along with. Several years after I left NYC for the wilds of St. Louis, I heard that he had died from complications with AIDS/HIV. I remember Pat and Mom and some other folks organizing to help run the business when he got sick and helping his surviving partner wrap things up when he, too, got sick. Bear in mind that this was the late 1980s and AIDS was still the big scary bad thing, the "terrorism" of its time. But they went and braved the scariness to help a gay couple who needed them because it was the right thing to do.

Years later, Pat talked my mother into getting treatment for her alcoholism. Long after I'd given up, Pat kept trying until she found a way in. Mom got sober and stayed sober and we had about 15 good years as a result. And when Mom's dementia started to kick in, Pat was one of my support people in NY, always available when I needed someone to talk to. We kept talking and she kept calling and writing my mom, even after Mom stopped being able to call or write her back.

And my heart is just broken. I'm going to miss her so much. She was one of those folks who lit up a room when she came in. She loved bright colors and quilting and rescuing cats and going on walking tours and hot air ballooning. She also raised two amazing people, who do lots of terrific things to carry on her legacy. And she mentored and guided so many other people in addition to me that it feels a little odd to say that she had two kids because sometime it felt like she had so many more. She was the best of us and I can only hope that I can help carry on her legacy too.

I'm flying to New York on Friday morning and I'll be speaking at her funeral and memorial on Saturday afternoon. Her family is asking that people donate to the Himalayan Cataract Project in her memory, but after consulting with her daughter, I'm going to continue supporting a project that I donated to as a Christmas gift for her last year. We both loved Heifer international and this last December, I contributed to the launch of a women artisan's cooperative in Peru. It made her very happy so I'll be continuing my support in her honor (and a side note about the coop:  the women involved in this project are doing amazing work that includes sustainable farming and a new store for their crafts). May her memory stay green and may it continue to inspire good in the world.



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