Monday, May 12, 2008

Goodbye to Stu

Our neighbor, Stu, died last Friday. He lived about four houses away from us on the other side of the block. I didn't know him all that well, we saw each other now and then and always visited at summer block parties.

I knew his wife, Clara, a bit better. She and I always seem to run into each other at the local grocery store. It happens so often that we joke that we should stop meeting like this. She and I will stop briefly in the aisle and catch up, doing that annoying thing, that cluttering up the aisle while people are milling around us. Clara has been telling me for the last year that Stu, newly retired, has been driving her nuts. The last time I saw her, she told me that she had been bugging him about tilling her soil in her back yard so that she could get her garden in.

He is such a slow poke! I swear that every time I come home from work, he is sitting in that lazy boy watching Jeopardy! I told him that if he wasn't at least going to earn his keep by doing laundry, he could get his tush outside and get my soil tilled...

Friday, that is where Stu died. Their back yard is very secluded with a high wooden fence and she came home from her nursing job to find him dead in the back yard, half of her garden tilled.

I imagine that she will torment herself for a long time about bitching about getting that garden in....

This is what I knew about Stu:

He was a republican. He told me so at every block party. He was a big Huckabee supporter, if I recall correctly.

He was an architect and just retired last year.

He was ten years older than his wife and they have one son. His daughter in law died when the twin towers came down and his son came and lived with them for several months until he was able to pick up the pieces of his life again. He couldn't stand to move back to New York, so took a job in Texas instead. When I heard that his daughter in law died, I brought a pineapple upside down cake over to his house, balancing two year old Liv on one hip. When no one answered my knock on the door, I went to go around to their back yard to leave it on their porch and found him sitting by himself in the back yard at their picnic table, staring at nothing. I set the cake down carefully and asked him if I could join him. He nodded and when he looked up at me, I saw his face streaked with tears and almost lost it. Liv pointed at him and said, "Sad. Man is sad."

Yes, he told her. The man is very sad.

We sat for a short while and I rubbed his hand a few times, gently. I told him I was so very sorry and he thanked me. Then he said, "I am so glad I am a republican, because democrats would just be wishy washy about catching those bastards. Republicans will find them and punish them..."

I didn't say anything, just nodded. He didn't need me to argue with him that day.

Stu was a heavy smoker. He was the one who was always standing off to the side of parties, unable to go more than an hour without a cigarette. His wife would sigh and say, "Those things are going to kill you, Stu..."

She will probably feel guilty for saying that too now.

Once, at a neighborhood barbeque, he told a joke that started out, "Two fags were sitting in a bar...." and then he trailed off when he saw me start to get up to leave. I don't think he was really a bigot, though....just sort of uneducated and like many people, not aware that we queers are everywhere. He must have known that I was a lesbian, though, because he stopped himself and blushed...looked away and then got up to grab another beer.

That is all I really know about Stu. I know that Clara said that he didn't like being retired and that he often had insomnia now. I know that he kept their Lincoln town car as clean as a whistle.

But, I will miss Stu. It bothers me to know that he died so close to me and I didn't sense it, I feel as if I should have sensed it or something, like a disturbance in the force...

When I told Liv he had died, she said, "Once when I was doing cartwheels in the front yard with Sven, Stu was driving by and he rolled down his window and told me good job.

We are going to the wake tonight and the funeral tomorrow, so I will see Clara and his son. Bing is coming home early from school today to bake a loaf of poppyseed almond bread. That is what we do here on the prairie, we load up the kitchens of the survivors with food that they probably won't eat.

But, I want to do something and food feels basic, feels right.

Goodbye, Stu. I know that you and your wife went to the Catholic church up the street. I hope that your suffering was minimal and that heaven is just what you hoped for.

You seemed like a nice man. I'm sorry that you didn't get to enjoy more of your retirement. As deaths go...I rather hope that I die like you did, in a freshly tilled garden on a beautiful Spring day. I hope you got a chance to look up at the sky and say goodbye to your life.

I know that Clara will miss coming home and hearing the theme from Jeopardy!

Because, is those little things that make your throat close up with pain, not the big ones.

See you on the flip side, Stu.....

30 comments: said...

Awww poor family.

My condolences.

Chris said...

dear god i wonder if i have ever read more beautiful words than

As deaths go...I rather hope that I die like you did, in a freshly tilled garden on a beautiful Spring day. I hope you got a chance to look up at the sky and say goodbye to your life.

tears are rolling down my face right now at the thought of what Clara is going through...going over and over in her head every cross thing she ever said to Stu.

that's going to be a hard row to hoe...that one. I hope she has family and friends to help her through this time.

This was a beautiful tribute and says so much about the person you are.

Golden To Silver Val said...

Yep, did it again. You made my eyes fill with tears. I guess if you can have your choice...Stu left his life in about the best way possible. No worry, no warning...just a blink and its.....over. I think Stu would have approved.
This was a poignant post, Maria and beautifully written. Thank you.

fairydogmother said...

That was beautifully said, Maria.

Mrs. Schmitty said...

So sorry. Very beautiful post.

Gina said...

this is so so beautifully written. I think it's the kind of thing you'd remember hearing at a Eulogy. I think you are the best writer of human experience/emotion I have ever known. Pleasure to almost know ya!

So sorry about Stu's untimely death. Seems that life would have it this way. That someone winds up with the burden of guilt though she was just living in the moment when she said that. We all have to put aside impending death or wind up burying our real feelings for fear of the guilt. Perhaps it would make more sense to see the bigger picture, out limited time together, and learn to speak softly and carry a big pineapple upside down cake?

you were a blessing as a neighbor. Love covers a multitude of offenses.

Val said...

Speechless and sad. Glad Clara has you as a neighbor. Very sweet.

Lulu said...

I love that Liv remembered Stu saying "good job" to her as she was cartwheeling.

Skeeter said...

Sorry to hear about old Stu's passing. Candolences to Clara. Hope that she and Stu had planned for the future well enough that she will be comfortable and secure.

Best wishes.

DN said...

The tears are streaming down my face.

MmeBenaut said...

Lovely tribute to Stu, Maria. Amazing how 9/11 touched so many people all over America and the world. Such a shame that OBL has still not been found. That must have rocked Stu's confidence. My husband is a 64 year old architect. Fortunately for me he says he will never retire and secondly, he rarely tills the soil. But, I imagine that I might be in the same situation as Clara too one day. Unless I go first of course. We're all headed in that direction.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake has to be my favourite of all cakes. What a lovely thing to do Maria.

Donna said...

Geez, just driving by and stopped to read this Beautiful made me want to write wonderfully!hugs

OC said...

Death is such a hard thing, even if you don't know or like some one that much. I remember when my Father in Law died, I was in the kitchen cooking bacon. He was in the living room in his hospital bed. I've often wondered how I could be doing something as simple as cooking bacon while he was doing something as important as dying.

Then I think, well maybe it wasn't such a bad way to go, his whole family was there, he was smelling the scent of bacon cooking in the kitchen, coffee brewing, all the comforting smells of home. I think he just decided that was the right to go.

I feel for his wife and son, Stu's journey is done, now his family will have to cope. That is where the neighbors bringing comforting smelling food come in. You are right, there is something so basic about food in times a crisis.

I love how you said, that when you die, you would love to go like Stu, in a freshly tilled garden, on a sunny day. What a great thought. That might be something to share with his wife, at some point later down the road.



Shan said...

That was beautifully written again Maria. You are a tearjerker little lady! But that's okay, mine always seem to be easily jerked so I'm used to it. :) Oh, and Happy Mothers day a few days late.

zirelda said...

You're always so thought provoking Maria. A wonder with a pen.

Damn, I'm going to miss Stu.

What a brilliant reminder to slow down and look at what we have now because it sure isn't going to be there forever.

Stacy said...

I think you managed to say a lot about someone you didn't know well and now we can all appreciate his absence.

We load up the kitchens with food in PA, too. When my dad died there was enough food to feed all the family for three days and fill a buffet after the service. Sheesh.

greymatters said...

Much warmth and sympathy to your friend on her loss. And I smiled -- and chuckled -- at the food thing. I know that impulse/way well ...

JEA said...

I will echo the others and say what a beautiful post this is. You write from your heart and that's what makes this - and your entire blog - a wonderful thing. I found you by accident and went back to the beginning to read it from the start. I wish you were my neighbor. We would be good friends. As would our daughters and our significant others (my husband is a musician, too)
Hugs to you!

Earthy Birthy Mama said...


I cried. I bawled. I smelled the freshly tilled soil. Goodbye Stu, you were my neighbor too.
Thank you Maria for writing your blog, I have to get a Maria fix almost daily.

Thanks for putting into words all that I cannot say.

Love, Earthy Birthy Mama

Fusion said...

...on a beautiful Spring day. I hope you got a chance to look up at the sky and say goodbye to your life.

Stop making me tear up here. That was so beautifully said Maria. Indeed, there are not many good ways to die, but that was one of them.

I was at my wife's side when she died after four months of fighting a brain tumor, and watching each week as she slowly lost that fight. 19 days later my dad died unexpectedly, but quietly in his sleep, and even though it was a shock, it was easier to live with than what my wife went through.

MLC said...

Great last is the little things that make your throat close up with pain,not the big ones.

Grief sneaks up on us - we seem to cry at odd times (remembering a small thing) and not a big times. Memories bubble up and bring a tear or smile.

Did you know David Sedaris will have a new book out -- just a few weeks away...


Fate's Granddaughter said...

Since meeting my husband and realising what it means to share your life with someone, I find the death of a person's life partner an unbearable thing to hear about.

This is a wonderful tribute - rivalled only by Liv's seemingly perfect summary of his humanity. You really must be amazed by her all the time.

eleKtrofly said...

+may light perpetual shine upon him+

Rebecca said...

Oh, poor Clara. She will put herself through hell for a long while. My husband is ten years older than me, as well, with no shortage of health issues. I, too, become so impatient with his seeming lack of stamina or energy or just want to. That is the conundrum, isn't to allow your engine to rev without demeaning his engine's purr.

I remember when my father in law died, not nearly as poetic as in freshly tilled soil, or to the aroma of fresh bacon, but at home alone of a massive unexpected coronary. I grieved then for the day I'd be widowed, just watching what my mother in law was going through. Oh, and yeah, LOTS of food involved in that funeral, and my father's!

Hahn at Home said...

I wonder if that's where "pushing up daisies" came from? If not, it should. Probably a great way to go.

It's hard not to connect with people in times of death - because it brings our own mortality so close.

I'm glad you live in the kind of neighborhood that has block parties.

I'll be sayin' one for Stu and Clara tonight.

Alice Kildaire said...

how incredibly touching

BBC said...

Hon, if you put out a humming bird feeder make sure you keep it stocked.

They use up a lot of energy and if they come to depend on you stocking it and you forget to they may die before they can find another source of energy.

I once found three dead humming birds near a feeder that I failed to keep stocked when they went there as a last resort looking for some food.

And at the right time in the fall you want to make sure to stop feeding so that they start moving south for the winter or they hang around too long that kills them because of lack of food while moving south..

SassyFemme said...

My heart skipped a beat when you said Clara found him with the garden half tilled. That poor woman.

Scout said...

This is a perfectly simple and lovely tribute, Maria. My neighbor died last November a few days before Thanksgiving. It was very disturbing for us all—she didn't go quickly in her garden or feeding the deer in her yard, which would have been ideal. She had a form of mad cow that caused her to shrivel over a period of three weeks. Very difficult to witness. You're a good neighbor.

Gypsy said...

It's Clara I feel for as she tries to go on with her life without Stu. I hope that logic will prevent her from being racked with guilt but in a way she was responsible for him dying in a lovely spot with the sun on his face and the smell of freshly turned earth in his nostrils. I hope eventually that thought makes her feel glad.

Beautifully written Maria.