Woodside Story: Losing folks

Where'd they all go?


This is that sad, sad aspect of getting old that you frankly thought, in your younger, daydreamy years, would never catch up with you. But all your older relatives couldn’t stop talking about it. You tried not to listen to their piddly complaints on the subject, and, really, it only insinuated itself when it finally started happening to you.

You start losing friends and family members. Where did they go? Duh. To the Great Beyond. Wherever that is. It’s the tough part of longevity. The more time you yourself get to spend here, don’t start thinking you’re a lucky devil. And why are you not a lucky devil? Duh, again. ’Cause everyone starts crapping out on you (meaning dying). Before long, no one’s left. You’re thinking of planning a zesty surprise party for your birthday? Let’s just say for the fun of it, your 100th birthday. Wow! You been eating a lot of fresh fruits and veggies?
Cue the “Ghostbusters” theme: Who ya gonna call? That’s right. No one. No one is left to come celebrate. They’re all in Heaven or the Astral Plane or the Bardo. (Find out about that odd place by reading the age-old “Tibetan Book of the Dead.” As you move along, it’s got, if I remember correctly, loads of scary, blue-hued ghosts. But, sweetly enough, it addresses its readership as ‘O Nobly Born.’ Who wouldn’t love to be thus heralded?)

I remember this slow drain of loved ones from my mother Trina’s life. Many of you have met her from the multiple summer visits she paid me over the years until, around her mid-90s, she deemed herself no longer able to board a plane in Palm Springs for a nearly six-hour flight. Fun lady, right? Loved to travel and to slurp nightly martinis. (Is it martinis that take us over the 100-year mark? Maybe it’s worth exploring?)

Her first big loss was her sister, my Aunt Meta, a similarly fun and super-loving lady who’d moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in the ’80s; then on to San Rafael above San Francisco in the early 2000s; then bought the farm —not a farm in San Rafael; try to keep up? But the farm in the cliché, that farm in Heaven, or maybe the Bardo where the ‘nobly born’ go to milk grass-fed cows and plant quinoa (to keep up with these fashionable times).

Mama also, even earlier in the game, lost her best buddy, a talented artist also living in California, Doris Adams. This was one of those toughies. They did everything together, even buying lakeside property in Idaho, and showing up big-time for each other’s events, Doris’s gallery openings and Trina’s book signings.

But then they keep on dropping by the wayside. Ya gotta love these old metaphors for dying, like where’s this wayside and how do you know you haven’t just tumbled into a ravine, klutzy old codger that you are?

But along with the dozens of acquaintances who fall away — fall away? Another metaphor for that ravine flip — there also come the truly difficult ones. And it’s easiest to trace the passing of anyone here on this smallish Island where we’re all known, all legendary, even insofar as we run into all our community nudniks on a path to the Post Office.

So recently this cooler-than-cool dude left this mortal coil — another good one — in his early 80s, a born writer who just finished his memoir about growing up in Hungary, where initially as a baby in the early ’40s, his parents hightailed it from the capital to the mountains to mix with the peasants and, just incidentally, to avoid the invading Nazis (yeah, the family was Jewish, but able to hide that part of their identity). Then, not long thereafter, in 1956, this young fellow’s family had a chance to boink away from the Soviets during a few days of liberation when this man and his mom escaped across the border into Poland and soon thereafter to, sound the trumpets! Queens in New York City.

So that was Gaston Valdasz, a fun and funny man who married, had a couple of kids, and now grandkids, who came to roost with his grown daughter in West Tisbury, made a name for himself telling frolicsome stories on tour buses, and who recently died from a determined cancer. Here’s to the publishing of his wonderful memoir, in which you can all read about the Nazis and the Soviets, those scum suckers of the 20th century.

All I can say as a woman in her massive dotage is, it’s happening — they’re falling into that fatal ravine left and right. My advice: If you’re still way south of 100, then go ahead and have that surprise birthday party. If you build it, they’ll come. And take extra measures by inviting a pumped band to play, such as Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, and let people know there’ll be platters of cake. All kinds, including gluten-free, which so many of us require these days. Cakes stretching to the Allen Farm, where the sheep will be kept away in their corrals.

And booze for all, except for those of us who’ve been encouraged to avoid it. The better to reach 100, when everyone else will be gone.