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· An L.A.-Style, Multicultural, Memorial Weekend ·

I spent the weekend remembering family in L.A. Flying Friday morning and returning Sunday night, I chanced to retrace on the ground — in a rented Dodge Neon — a line of memory apt to the point of my trip (my sister-in-law's recent death), and I thought to retrace it today. In Los Angeles tales develop naturally in multicultural style.

My wife and I began visiting my parents' gravesites near LAX. We'd cared for them before they died, Dad in 1990, Mom in 1993. Dad was the first native-naturalized American I'd ever known, a Minnesotan really (later a Canadian-American), and Mom found him, in L.A., to marry in 1942. We thought we'd brought Washington rain with us Friday to California, but we knew it was really sunny up north. (Dad, you should know, died of malignant melanoma, Mom of heart failure.)

There lay my uncle, too, and his lovely Jewish wife, my aunt, and beyond them my grandmother who died before I was aware in 1949. My Norwegian grandfather, who died in 1923, lies in Rainy Hills Cemetery on the plains of Alberta, Canada. As I wrote on my dad's death: "In youth he negotiated in Southern Alberta coulees on the Red Deer River; in maturity he negotiated the colossus we call Los Angeles."

We made our way north after stopping briefly for lunch by a park where I once pounded tennis balls against a wall in imitation of my tennis-playing cousin, Pancho, whose stepmom was my aunt (Willa Gonzales). Then off to my first house, now a small factory owned by Mexican-Americans working iron for Las-Vegas places like The Bellagio, The Venetian, and Mandalay Bay. Then we paused by David Wilson's nearby Museum of Jurassic Technology, where in the 1950s I'd had haircuts done by a vaguely British barber. I noticed the old Chinese restaurant two doors down was preparing Thai cuisine now.

Later that night we gathered in an Italian restaurant to recount tales of our American experiences. My cousin's husband, a Russian Orthodox priest's son, laughed along with us when my brother-in-law, a retired Swedish pastor, told how his own granddad had been forced to emigrate when he made the mistake of singing the Danish national anthem when Germans held sway in Silesia. Then we heartily laughed together as we recalled how Grandma might even have had some relation to Kaiser Bill.

Saturday's memorial service, I'm glad to say, was attended by some scores of other souls maybe with similar tales to tell. In any event, I think our JoAn — who died a month shy of her seventy-second birthday — would have enjoyed our fine mix of California-style memorializing.

To our beloved JoAn, then (1933 - 2005) — whose life led from Sacramento to L.A., but whose reach embraced the extended journey we can all take from sacrament to sainthood.

And that's one day short of "the rest of the story."


A wonderfully American story and a lovely tribute!

Posted by Mary Lee on February 24, 2005 03:02 AM

I don't visit your site much but I sure appreciated this post. Wish I could have been there for JoAn's funeral and to sight-see L.A. again with you and Mom.

Posted by Smart on March 12, 2005 09:29 PM

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