Monday, July 24, 2023

Back To Reality

I’ll leave Northport Point this afternoon, and like the old song goes, I don’t know when I’ll be back again.  I’d like to think it would be to visit and relax instead of for a funeral, but who knows.

I leave with a lot of memories, including sailing with my dad.

Sixty years ago we had a fleet of Rhodes Bantams at Northport Point. They were 14′ sloop-rigged open hull, and while they were probably good on a small lake, on Grand Traverse Bay, where a good wind would give us three-foot waves, they were prone to shipping water, and in a gust they would capsize without too much trouble.

Dad grew up sailing M-boats — scows, really — on Lake Minnetonka, so Bantams were about as close as we could get to what he remembered from his boyhood. Every weekend that we were in Northport, he’d come up Friday night and be with us, and on Sunday afternoon there would be sailing races. The competition was fierce, and Dad could get to borderline Capt. Bligh if the races didn’t go our way. But we won our share of trophies, and I enjoyed being out on the water with him. As soon as we finished the races, we’d get the boat tied up to its buoy and then Dad would head back to work in Toledo, but ready to return the next weekend.

Sometime in the early 1970’s, the Bantams gave way to Sunfish: easier to sail, less complicated to rig, less prone to tipping (and easier to recover) and certainly more colorful on the water. By that time, though, Dad had given up on the competitive sailing and just enjoyed being out on the water, alone or with one of us on our Sunfish.

The picture below of the Bantam is not ours; it’s from Wikipedia. But you get the idea.

So, I’m homeward bound, back to extreme heat warnings and traffic on the Palmetto Expressway, but taking a lot of photos and memories back with me, including the reason I came back in the first place, and knowing that Mom and Dad are where I know they wanted to be forever.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Celebration of Life

The service is at 3:30.  We’ll sing one of her favorite songs from the Pooh Songbook — “How Sweet to Be a Cloud” — then share memories with friends as a part of the service.  Then we’ll gather at the wall and place some mementos in the niche with her, then come back to the house and receive friends. It’s the way she wanted it.

Here’s a view of the chapel.

 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve been looking back through some of my Thanksgiving posts over the years for some inspiration and perhaps a perspective on the holiday. Taking a day off to express thanks and brace ourselves for the rest of the holidays is a good time to reflect and be grateful for some of the good things we have and the memories, especially now that both of my parents, who made the holidays happen, are gone. The post below is from Thanksgiving 2007, when I was looking back at a special holiday weekend.

When I was a kid growing up outside of Toledo, we had some relatives in the area, and we also belonged to a local tennis and social club that served as a gathering place for a group of families like ours and we often went there for holiday dinners. It relieved my mom from cooking one of the two big meals at the holidays; if we had Thanksgiving at home, then we went to the club or another relative’s place for Christmas, or vice versa. We also would have the Thanksgiving meal later in the day — usually around the normal dinner time — because we had season tickets to the Detroit Lions football team, and we would go up to Detroit to sit in the freezing cold bleachers to watch the Lions play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game, then come home to the dinner.

It’s been a while since my family has gotten together for Thanksgiving. We’ve all moved on to different places and have our own families. It’s been many years since my entire immediate family — Mom, Dad, and my three siblings and their families — has been together for the occasion.

However, there was one Thanksgiving that I’ll never forget: 1967. I was a freshman at St. George’s, the boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island (and also alma mater of Howard Dean and Tucker Carlson). It was my first extended time away from home and I was miserable. My older brother and sister were also away at school; one in New Jersey, the other in Virginia. My parents made arrangements for us all to get together in New York City that weekend, and they booked rooms at the Plaza Hotel. We saw two Broadway musicals — Mame with Angela Lansbury and Henry, Sweet Henry with Don Ameche — and a little musical in Greenwich Village called Now Is The Time For All Good Men…. We went shopping in Greenwich Village, took hansom cab rides in Central Park, had lunch at Toots Shor’s (and got Cab Calloway’s autograph), dinner at Trader Vic’s and Luchow’s, and saw all the sights that a kid from Ohio on his second trip to NYC (the first being the World’s Fair in 1964) could pack into one four-day weekend. Oh, and we had the big Thanksgiving dinner in the Oak Room at the Plaza with all the trimmings. That night we went down to the nightclub below the Plaza and listened to smoky jazz played by a trio and a lovely woman on piano…could it have been Blossom Dearie?

It was a magical weekend. To this day I still remember the sights and sounds and sensations, and the deep sadness that settled back over me as I boarded the chartered bus that took me back to the dank purgatory of that endless winter at school overlooking the grey Atlantic Ocean.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful and memorable Thanksgivings since then at home and with friends, everywhere from Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and even one in Jamaica, but that weekend at the Plaza fifty-four years ago will always be special.

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I’ll be on a holiday schedule until Monday. Posting will be light and variable, but tune in tonight for A Little Night Music Thanksgiving tradition.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Happy Friday

It’s admittedly not easy to say “Happy Friday” two days after the death of my mother, but I know that she is no longer in the pain of her creaking bones, struggling to hear through her increasing deafness, and frankly tired of just waking up every day to face the same challenges.  It’s over, Mom.  Thanks for giving us life.

This painting of the house our family grew up in in Perrysburg, Ohio, was done by a traveling artist, capturing the spirit of the old house.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Nancy Levis Williams – 1929-2022

She gave me many gifts: a love of writing, music, the outdoors, a good book, and an appreciation for such immeasurable things as a quiet evening on the back porch, the sweet scent of dew-damp grass, a good meal shared with the family, and knowing that no matter what, we had someone we could call.

I can’t look around my house and not see something of her. Row upon row of books that she sent me, sharing her love of history and a good mystery. Row upon row of old records from classical to jazz, sharing with me her love of Ella, Duke, and Dave. The first 8-track in her 1967 Ford Country Squire was “Take Five,” and it was the first cassette in my 1988 Pontiac. She taught me well. Artworks, paintings, prints, my grandmother’s grand piano, the songbooks, area rug, and her sense of taste that only she could know exactly where to hang the Miro print and the O’Keeffe poster. She followed my playwriting and read (and critiqued) my work, both on the stage and on my blog where she was the “Faithful Correspondent.” There are things you learn from that kind of reader that you cannot get from anyone else.

She and Dad raised four very different children, and anyone who knows our family knows that there couldn’t be four more different souls, yet each with their own gifts for raising their own family, being creative, being teachers, succeeding in business, and through it all with a sense of decency and love. They gave us such gifts as good schools, summer camp, summers at the lake, family ski trips, and many an evening sitting around the dining room table telling terrible jokes and making very passable animal calls… you had to be there. It was all part of being our family. She embraced our spouses and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She mourned our losses, and to the very end, she hoped I would find someone again so I wouldn’t be alone.

Mom would be the first to tell you that she had her faults and disappointments. But that is what makes her — and all of us — human, and if we count hers, we have to count our own as well.

She and Dad had a strong sense of giving back to the community through leadership in Planned Parenthood, the Nature Conservancy, the arts, and many other ways that paid back for the gifts we’d been given. On the morning Dad died, May 25, 2020, she e-mailed the four of us this note:

“I want you to know, if you don’t already, that your father adored all of you, alone or together. He was so proud of you, how you’ve conducted yourselves as grown-ups, and how you’ve kept close to him even as the miles kept us apart. You were his greatest accomplishment, truth be told. All individuals in your chosen paths, but contributors to your communities in your own ways. Please keep his memory enshrined by going forward as he would have you do; giving back and making sure that wherever you are, you’re not just sitting, but marching.”

One of the places she loved most in the world was our summer home on Northport Point, Michigan. She went there as a little girl, and from 1960 on, we spent four weeks every summer at my grandmother’s house overlooking Northport Point Bay. In 1974, she and Dad bought the house next door, and in 1982, they moved there permanently from the house we’d grown up in in Perrysburg. They moved back to Perrysburg in 1997, but she never forgot the view. It was immortalized in a magnificent painting by Sallie McClure Stanley, and it hung on the wall in her room. I would like to think that the last thing she saw when she closed her eyes for the last time yesterday morning was that view of the waters of Northport Point Bay.

Good night, Mom. We love you too.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

There Are Places I Remember

This week marks fourteen years since I moved into the house I’m in here in Palmetto Bay.  It’s the longest I’ve lived at one address since I moved out of my parents’ house in Perrysburg.  And that reminded me that it was sixty-five years ago this week that we moved into the house where I grew up.

I was almost five years old when we arrived from St. Louis and settled into this house that was built in 1872 in what was called the Victorian Gothic Cottage style. It had high ceilings, fireplaces in practically every room on the first floor, including the kitchen, and a big back yard with a separate garage, which I assume had been the carriage house. There were six of us: Mom and Dad, and the four kids all under the age of ten, and it was perfect for a family our size. There were lots of kids in the neighborhood. In fact, on the first morning we were there, a little boy knocked on the front door and asked if I wanted to come out and play. We’re still friends to this day.

My parents did a lot of renovations, including landscaping and adding a pool, but the character of the house never changed, and when they sold it in 1982 and moved to Michigan, the new owners kept it pretty much as we had left it, and in the years since it has — at least on the outside — remained the same.

I’ve moved a lot since 1971 when I went off to college, but as I noted in August 2013 when my parents, after returning to a new place in Perrysburg, moved to a retirement community in Cincinnati, Perrysburg will always be my hometown, and that house the place I will remember as where I grew up.

I love where I live now, but being an elderly single guy, I don’t know the neighbors like I might if I had a family with kids.  And there’s not a sense of grounding that I had in that old house on Front Street.  Maybe it’s because the last fourteen years haven’t seen me grow from a kindergartner to a college freshman and all the changes that come with that, both physically and otherwise.  That’s what made that house a home, with all the things that come with it.

This bit of nostalgia was sparked by a chance reading of a post by a friend from Perrysburg reminiscing about Memorial Day and a comment by one of his friends, who turned out to be someone who lived next door but moving out almost as we were moving in in June 1957.  And the coincidence — or karma — of hearing from him on the anniversary of both living in my house here in Miami and moving to Perrysburg struck me as good timing on the part of the universe.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it.

Easter 1959

Easter Sunday, Perrysburg, Ohio

There is a discussion in my family as to what year this photo was taken; is it 1958 or 1959? If it’s 1958, the youngest child in the photo would have just turned two years old, and he’s pretty big for two, and the girl would be nine. I — the one in the red coat — would be five-and-a-half, but I’m two years younger than the boy on the right, and he’s pretty big for someone seven-and-a-half; he’s almost as tall as the station wagon (which is a 1958 Ford Country Sedan) even if he is standing on the curb. So it’s probably Easter 1959, and we just finished Easter dinner and the egg hunt at the Carranor Club.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas, Dad

My father loved Christmas, and he loved the cold weather that came with it.  I suppose that comes from having grown up in Minnesota.  When he and Mom moved up to northern Michigan, he was pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas that he had as a kid.

This summer, his ashes were put into the columbarium at the little chapel on Northport Point where we spent our summers and where they lived year-round from 1982 to 1997.  So this is his first Christmas back there.  I asked a friend who is spending the holidays on the Point to stop by and say hi, and he took some pictures.

Merry Christmas, Dad.  It looks like you got some snow.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

“Not Just Sitting, But Marching”

This afternoon in a quiet gathering at the little chapel on Northport Point, Michigan, dad’s ashes will be placed in the stone wall near the woods that he loved to walk through in summer, fall, winter, and spring. My sister Lucy and some friends and family will be there to share some memories written by her, my brothers Jud and Chris, and myself, and place some mementos in the niche with him.

They’ll sing the old hymn that concluded every service at the chapel: “I Feel the Winds of God To-Day” that includes the line, “It is the winds of God that dry my vain regretful tears, Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years.” Dad loved sailing, so even though he was not religious, the idea that out on the water, be it Lake Minnetonka, where he sailed with his twin, or Grand Traverse Bay, he was remembering those purer, brighter years.

Today would have been his 95th birthday, so after the ceremony they will gather to raise a glass of really good Scotch and share memories and animal jokes. And we will recall that on the morning Dad died, May 25, 2020, Mom wrote to us, “I want you to know, if you don’t already, that your father adored all of you, alone or together. He was so proud of you, how you’ve conducted yourselves as grown-ups, and how you’ve kept close to him even as the miles kept us apart. You were his greatest accomplishment, truth be told. All individuals in your chosen paths, but contributors to your communities in your own ways. Please keep his memory enshrined by going forward as he would have you do… giving back and making sure that wherever you are you’re not just sitting, but marching.”

We are, Dad.

Philip Williams – 1926-2020

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

On This Date

Seventy-three years ago today — June 16, 1948 — my parents were married in St. Louis.  It lasted 71 years, 11 months, and ten days until death did them part.

I’m here because of that quiet little ceremony on a Wednesday afternoon.  Thank you.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Cary Gossard Dunn — 1906-1952

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Cary Gossard Dunn was my great uncle, the younger brother of my maternal grandmother. He was born in 1906 in Indiana, one of four children. He married and had two children of his own.

I never knew him; he died in March 1952, six months before I was born. I knew he served in the military and had heard that he had been part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy in 1944. I don’t have a picture of him, but I remember seeing one in my grandmother’s photo album: a young man with familiar family features and a smile that he shared with my grandmother.

In May 2011, my parents and my brother and sister-in-law went to Arlington National Cemetery to find Uncle Cary’s grave. For some reason, the cemetery administration has no record of his burial, but through his daughter Susan they located it and took some pictures.

After I saw this photo I wrote to Susan and asked for information about her father’s service:

He was with the 467th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion and was in the original landing at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. His rank was Captain and he saw service in Northern France, the Ardennes, and the Rhineland before returning to the states in 1945. He was awarded the Bronze Star. He left the military for a brief period of time, but rejoined and was promoted to Major and taught ROTC at the University of Pittsburgh for about two years. He was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1949 and was sent to Okinawa in 1950 where he worked as an engineer at Kadena AFB. He died of cancer at Barksdale AFB, Shreveport, Louisiana, on March 12, 1952 at the age of 45.

I wish I had known him. Given his siblings’ long lives (my grandmother lived to be 95), I would have been able to learn about what his service meant to him as I was becoming aware of my own feelings about war and peace, and to put a real connection between the stories I read in history books and the lurid tales depicted in the Hollywood movies about the war.

Susan’s description of her father’s service captures the simple facts, but like the men who served and tell their stories in such tales as Band of Brothers, the simplicity does not tell of the pain and the burden these men and women carried in service to our country then and now, and the honor and pride they have in doing their duty without any other thought than protecting the rest of us.

Rest in peace, Uncle Cary. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Genuine Good

This bit of news caught me pleasantly surprised.

One of the country’s largest adoption and foster care agencies, Bethany Christian Services, announced on Monday that it would begin providing services to L.G.B.T.Q. parents nationwide effective immediately, a major inflection point in the fraught battle over many faith-based agencies’ longstanding opposition to working with same-sex couples.

Bethany, a Michigan-based evangelical organization, announced the change in an email to about 1,500 staff members that was signed by Chris Palusky, the organization’s president and chief executive. “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today,” Mr. Palusky wrote. “We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”

The announcement is a significant departure for the 77-year-old organization, which is the largest Protestant adoption and foster agency in the United States. Bethany facilitated 3,406 foster placements and 1,123 adoptions in 2019, and has offices in 32 states. (The organization also works in refugee placement, and offers other services related to child and family welfare.) Previously, openly gay prospective foster and adoptive parents in most states were referred to other agencies.

The decision comes amid a high-stakes cultural and legal battle that features questions about sexuality, religious freedom, parenthood, family structure and theology.

Adoption is a potent issue in both conservative Christian and gay communities. Faith-based agencies play a substantial role in placing children in new families. Meanwhile, more than 20 percent of same-sex couples with children have an adopted child, compared to 3 percent of straight couples, according to a 2016 report from the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A. School of Law. Gay couples are also significantly likelier to have a foster child.

“To use a Christian term, this is good news,” said Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. “For too long the public witness of Christianity has been anti-this or anti-that,” he added. “Today the focus is on serving children in need.”

The old tropes that the evangelicals have trotted out against gay adoption usually amount to accusations of recruiting vulnerable children to “turn them gay” or use them as targets for pedophilia. Those are wrapped in ignorance and bigotry, and the number of children who have found safe and stable homes in same-sex married families overwhelmingly disproves them. And the number of children who need to be taken in is ever growing. Shutting out parents who happen to have matching genitalia is a mean and irrelevant barrier for kids in genuinely stark situations.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Happy Friday

Yes, in spite of what this week has brought, both personally and in the nation: loss, grieving, and uncertainty, I still want to hold out the hope for a happy Friday.This was taken April 24, 2020.  I will hold this family memory close.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Philip Williams – 1926-2020

Dad and Tupper in 1954

He loved animal jokes. Take any story about a priest, a rabbi, and a pastor walking into a bar and recast it with a fox, a squirrel, and a raccoon, and he’d be rolling on the floor. There was something about the gentle world of “The Wind in the Willows” and the adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Woods that told us what a gentle and humble man he was: giving, loving, flawed, human, and who tried his best to do what he could for his family, his friends, and his community.

There are so many memories that he created with us. Teaching his children how to sail, taking us to baseball and football games, teaching us how to play golf, taking us skiing, sharing the little things that brought him joy, and giving of himself in ways that we didn’t realize until we were older, and setting examples for his children and how to raise their own children. Yes, of course we had our struggles; no family or marriage lasts nearly seventy-two years without them. He had disappointments and made mistakes. He would be the first to admit them. But through it all, the basic goodness of my father withstood it and came through to the other side.

He and Mom raised four children who could not be any more different from each other, and yet there’s something of him in all of us aside from the DNA. I know that for myself, my love of a good story about sailing and an appreciation of a quiet afternoon listening to the Tigers on the back porch or taking a walk to go bird-watching came from his side of the family. It melded well with the appreciation for jazz and certain art forms that I got from Mom to become what I am. I know my path through life probably wasn’t what he envisioned, but through it all I knew I had his support, guidance, and love.

He loved us all, even when we mocked him for it. In the middle of one our many raucous family “discussions,” he would plead with us to “love one another,” as if that would solve all our problems. We even found a sign that hung over our kitchen fireplace with that plea on it. But I think he gets the last word because when you get right down to it, that’s all he ever wanted for us. He welcomed the new members of the family: husbands, wives, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with nothing but unconditional love.

I am glad I was able to see him a few weeks ago through the dance of pixels and electrons of Zoom. All of us were there on the screen, and Dad looked pretty good for someone in his condition.  He waved to us and said he loved us. I hoped against hope that it would not be the last time I saw him; that after this was all over I would get to be with him and share the two books I sent him: “Swallows and Amazons,” the books from his childhood that he shared with me and taught me to love good writing and sailing, and the “Field Guide to the Birds” by Roger Tory Peterson, the book that we shared when we walked through the woods or watched them at the bird-feeders. Those books were on the shelf in his room when he slipped away. That was as close as I could be to him, and it was all I could ask.

One last thing: Hey, Dad, did you hear the one about the fox, the squirrel, and the raccoon? It’s a really good one.

Love, Philip.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve been looking back through some of my Thanksgiving posts over the years for some inspiration and perhaps a perspective on the holiday. Taking a day off to express thanks and brace ourselves for the rest of the holidays is a good time to reflect and be grateful for some of the good things we have and the memories. The post below is from Thanksgiving 2007, when I was looking back at a special holiday weekend.

When I was a kid growing up outside of Toledo, we had some relatives in the area, and we also belonged to a local tennis and social club that served as a gathering place for a group of families like ours and we often went there for holiday dinners. It relieved my mom from cooking one of the two big meals at the holidays; if we had Thanksgiving at home, then we went to the club or another relative’s place for Christmas, or vice versa. We also would have the Thanksgiving meal later in the day — usually around the normal dinner time — because we had season tickets to the Detroit Lions football team, and we would go up to Detroit to sit in the freezing cold bleachers to watch the Lions play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game, then come home to the dinner.

It’s been a while since my family has gotten together for Thanksgiving. We’ve all moved on to different places and have our own families. It’s been many years since my entire immediate family — Mom, Dad, and my three siblings and their families — were together for the occasion.

However, there was one Thanksgiving that I’ll never forget: 1967. I was a freshman at St. George’s, the boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island (and also alma mater of Howard Dean and Tucker Carlson). It was my first extended time away from home and I was miserable. My older brother and sister were also away at school; one in New Jersey, the other in Virginia. My parents made arrangements for us all to get together in New York City that weekend, and they booked rooms at the Plaza Hotel. We saw two Broadway musicals — Mame with Angela Lansbury and Henry, Sweet Henry with Don Ameche — and a little musical in Greenwich Village called Now Is The Time For All Good Men…. We went shopping in Greenwich Village, took hansom cab rides in Central Park, had lunch at Toots Shor’s (and got Cab Calloway’s autograph), dinner at Trader Vic’s and Luchow’s, and saw all the sights that a kid from Ohio on his second trip to NYC (the first being the World’s Fair in 1964) could pack into one four-day weekend. Oh, and we had the big Thanksgiving dinner in the Oak Room at the Plaza with all the trimmings. That night we went down to the nightclub below the Plaza and listened to smoky jazz played by a trio and a lovely woman on piano…could it have been Blossom Dearie?

It was a magical weekend. To this day I still remember the sights and sounds and sensations, and the deep sadness that settled back over me as I boarded the chartered bus that took me back to the dank purgatory of that endless winter at school overlooking the grey Atlantic Ocean.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful and memorable Thanksgivings since then at home and with friends, everywhere from Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and even one in Jamaica, but that weekend at the Plaza forty years ago will always be special.

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I’ll be on a holiday schedule until Monday. Posting will be light and variable, but tune in tonight for A Little Night Music Thanksgiving tradition.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Monday, April 22, 2019

Happy Anniversary

Thirty-five years ago this handsome young man came up to me at the University of Colorado Gay/Lesbian Alliance Spring Dance and asked if I would dance with him. The tune was “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. He said his name was Allen. Later, after a bit of a Marx Brothers routine in meeting for coffee at Perkins, we sat and talked, and the next night he came over to my house. He brought me flowers. We were together for the next fifteen years.

Top 40 songs talk about wanting to know what love is. Well, I did after that first date, and I still do, even though we separated amicably in 1999. We shared so many good times and got through a lot of bad ones, and when he died last June 8 it was a loss from which I still feel aftershocks. But I will always be glad that he came into my life, and April 22 will always be our anniversary. And I will always call you sweetheart.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Sunday, August 12, 2018