Thursday, April 7, 2022

 

Play Ball!

The field of dreams was soaking wet,

but players were readying for action

on eve of (minor league) season opener

It's drizzling, the temperature around 52 degrees, much like an early spring day in England. But it was less than ideal for baseball here in the suburban Maryland town of Bowie, where a dozen so players are tossing around balls and loosing up muscles in late afternoon on the eve of Opening Day.

The infield is covered by puddles atop a protective tarp, and the outfield grass between center and right fields is wet under the cleats before the session is cut short by a downpour. There's thunder in the distance.

Getting loose despite the rain

This scene is the backdrop for "Media Day" at Prince George's Stadium, halfway between Washington and Baltimore and home to the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Just a couple of writers and a popular Baltimore radio sports and talk show host turn out for quick interviews in advance of the season opener -- and many of the games here are also sparsely attended.

But it's a great place to watch a game, intimate in size with maybe a tenth of the seats common to Major League ballparks. Ticket and food prices are cheaper -- there's even dollar hotdog nights, and games when fans can bring their own dogs (the kind that wag tails, that is). And a carousel diversion for children is ready near the cheap seats near deep right field.

Quaint it may feel, but there's serious business at hand for the young players for whom Double-A baseball is something of crossroads for Major League dreams -- most of which begin to die here.

The baseball mother ship is Oriole Park, just 26.6 miles to the north, but only a few of the Baysox players will ever reach it wearing uniforms. There's another rung on the advancement ladder of baseball, Triple-A, but the Baltimore Orioles affiliate is further away in Norfolk, Va. In an emergency, it could take just one phone call and a half-hour drive to fulfill the dream -- even if only briefly.

For the 80-minute Media Day session, held under an open-sided tent along the right field concourse, the first banter is with the team's new manager, Kyle Moore, who has been part of the Orioles organization for 13 years as a player, coach and manager for its minor league affiliates, working his way up. Last year, he managed the High-A Aberdeen Ironbirds, north of Baltimore.

A catcher and outfielder in his playing days, Moore looks younger than his age (36) and has more the look of a rangy middle infielder.

Asked what marching orders he gave to the team, Moore offered that they have to hustle running the baselines and keep the dugout tidy. He acknowledged the overriding mission is player development, but added that he also would like to win every game.

Among the players who took turns fielding media questions were the team's three shortstops -- Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson -- who manager Moore said he expects to play at least two games each week at that position, and handle others or fill the role of designated hitter in other games. (In my fantasy league team, I found myself with three shortstops in one year's player draft outcome -- and got rid of two of them early in the season for the sake of position diversity)

Gunnar Henderson fields questions

Two of the Baysox shortstops, Henderson and Westburg, are among the minor league players for whom the Orioles have highest hopes this year. Even their names have a baseball ring to them, especially Gunnar, a top hitter who is relatively unusual in having been drafted straight out of high school by the Orioles rather than playing college ball. The reported $2.3 million signing bonus he received might have been a factor in making the early jump into professional baseball.

Physically, among the players taking turns fielding questions, Gunnar Henderson appeared to be the biggest in physique -- and has a great smile and movie star looks. Last year, he advanced through the system in playing for three teams including the Baysox.

Among the few revelations, and the most entertaining during the 80-minute media event, was Henderson saying he's been working on his batting swing using a pitching machine that lobs foam baseballs.

We'll see how that worked out beginning Friday evening, April 8, as the Baysox open their 138-game season against the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The forecast: Dry, a tad chilly, and dreams aplenty.

  

 

 

 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Bonnie, in her later years of teaching, at  George Fox Middle School


Bonnie the teacher 

surfaces in 'stuff' 

stored in the attic 

There are lessons worth learning

 on how to be a caring educator 

 

Today marks a sad milepost in my relationship with grief -- a year since the journey ended for my best friend, my wife, the great love of my life.

 I don't like the words 'death' and 'died,' and try not to use them. I had never thought about that before last March 11. So I say that her journey ended. It seems more graceful, more beautiful. 

Bonnie Schupp and I had known each other for 53 years, having met as neighbors a floor apart in Baltimore rowhouse apartments late in 1967 and come together in 1979, through a decade-long chain of circumstance, in the wake of other marriages.

Look back from where you are, contemplate events and decisions beginning early in life, and find the crossroads where you turned toward the now. The "what-ifs" of roads not taken may seem scary in retrospect, if the turn chosen brought you to love.

I wish I could find Victor Jackson to thank for our "event." He was 16 then, a Baltimore high school dropout living in the city's hardest-hit neighborhood of the rioting that followed the 1968 murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., and working for a wallpaper company to help support his single mom and family. A man he did not know was having a heart attack on the street, and Victor tried to save him -- getting the man back into his car and, despite lacking a driver's license or know-how, driving him to nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Victor stayed around, sat with the man's wife and, though he did not survive, kept in touch with her. His acts of caring were somehow brought to the attention of the Baltimore Sun, where I was a newly-minted reporter and an editor handed me the information to gin up a little human interest story. And it, in turn, resulted in a call from an editor at Scholastic Scope magazine asking if I could write a version for that publication. 

Oh, and a photo of Victor was also needed. I could have asked a Sun photographer -- after all, there was a $50 payment offered for the service... a large chunk of change by the measure of the late 1960s. But I had a better idea: Bonnie was teaching in a city junior high school, where the magazine was doubtless used in classrooms, and her then-hobby was photography. A perfect match! 

The story was published in the edition of April 11, 1969 -- our first collaboration.

But there was more to Bonnie's story that I didn't learn until recently, sorting through our version of the unbelievable amount of "stuff" that people accumulate over the course of a lifetime (and that their kids likely don't or won't want). In the year since she left us, I had barely touched the surface of that problem, getting rid of "stuff."

A month ago, I started with picking what I assumed would be low-hanging fruit -- from a plastic bin among the many boxes of stuff in our attic. It was labeled "teaching." Surely an easy target destined for the dump. And then I started going through it. Bonnie had saved material from her teaching career going back half a century, keepsakes that had meaning to her -- including remembrances relating to her students and their work under her tutelage. 

What surprised me most were the letters to Bonnie in 1969 and 1970 from Katherine Robinson, editor of Scholastic Scope, expressing thanks for various articles and poems written by some of her students at Benjamin Franklin Junior High that were going to be published in the magazine in coming months. Bonnie had used her connection from the photograph of Victor Jackson to open a door of possibilities for her students. 

The first letter is dated Nov. 19, 1969, thanking her for a story and photos by 14-year-old Reginald Carpenter about community teenagers working with a Japanese teacher visiting Baltimore as a Volunteer to America, to turn a side-street dump into a garden.

 "You are an admirable teacher," the editor wrote. "I remember your submitting a poem by one of your students (which I regret we couldn't publish because we simply don't have the space) and your taking pictures of the young man from Baltimore who went out of his way to help a dying man. I'm glad to see you are now Photography Club Sponsor as well as an English teacher. Our schools need more teachers like you who are involved and getting through to their students."

Next up was Delbert Williams, and the heart of this blog post.

In the 1969-1970 school year, Bonnie oversaw a group of her ninth-grade students for a literature unit project making a short film titled "Decisions," about everyday problems that arise and how kids deal with them. "You find a wallet, for example. Do you try to return it?" the Scope article by Delbert reads. "Someone makes you angry. Do you start a fight? The movie asks you to make decisions like these."

Delbert's story in Scope 

It was not easy to make a movie in a Baltimore public school in those days, not like in our era of cell phone technology. Equipment had to be reserved and borrowed from the school administration headquarters.

"Some students wrote the script. Others were actors, directors, or cameramen. The project took a lot of planning and work," Delbert wrote. "But after seeing the film, the class was pleased. And work didn't seem like work, after all." 

The article was accompanied by four photos -- one by Bonnie Caples (her married name in those days) of young Delbert looking through a camera viewfinder, the others by Delbert of the filmmakers and the work, including one of Bonnie demonstrating for them how to adjust the movie camera on its tripod.

"You've done it again," editor Robinson wrote to Bonnie in a letter dated March 18, 1970. "Delbert Williams' photos (and your photo of him), plus his description of the "Decisions" film will appear in SCOPE, April 13.... I've notified our accounting department to send you a check for your photo of Delbert and one to Delbert in your care. We hope you enjoy the article when it appears. We appreciate very much your submitting it, and we admire Delbert's skill in story writing.

"Meanwhile, thanks again for your interest in SCOPE and in your students. Clearly, you are doing magical things with kids at Benjamin Franklin Jr. High."

There was one other letter from Robinson, dated July 8, 1970, thanking Bonnie for sending in more student work, "especially some of the poems and the definitions of love, life, pain, embarrassment, etc. We also liked and admired the original song by Joe Schelhouse and Lorraine Soustek." 

And then, it continued, came this: "We are very sorry to hear that Delbert Williams died. It came as a shock really. His article and photographs were so full of life -- not at all fraught with the knowledge of impending death. We are grateful that you encouraged him to submit his work to SCOPE."

I was stunned -- and in tears. I hadn't made the connection about Delbert being one of two black students of Bonnie's who had died back then, one by drowning and the other from sickle cell disease. I could find no story through online searches on Delbert's death, but I found a mention of him in an obituary of his mother, Ella W. Campbell, a community activist and retired Baltimore educator, published six years ago. It included among her survivors a sister, also a retired teacher, whose phone number turned up quickly in another search -- and I called her.

She was, to say the least, a tad surprised... maybe even suspicious... at my call asking about a nephew who had died nearly 52 years ago. So she asked a few questions about who was my wife, and about the Scope article -- but she happened to have a copy of it, and quickly found it to verify my credibility.

Delbert had died of sickle cell disease. And, as I subsequently learned, his only sibling, a sister who taught kindergarten, had also died of the genetic disease -- at age 45 -- two years before their mother's passing. 

Half a century through time, there's not much evidence of Delbert Andre Williams outside of family connections. But there's a magazine with his story and his picture in its yellowing pages, because he had a teacher who not only encouraged his accomplishments in school but for all the years since had kept the magazine page and those letters from the editor.

Bonnie was in her third year of teaching when she worked with Delbert. She burned out from teaching in the city four years later, and went into business with a friend/partner as owners of a camera story in suburban Severna Park. She subsequently wrote a column geared largely to amateur photography that appeared in the old Baltimore Evening Sun and newspapers in South Bend, Ind., and Prescott, Ariz., raised our two daughters, and went back to teaching in our Anne Arundel County for another 15 years.

The plastic bin from the attic, and a thick folder in one of Bonnie's very full file cabinets, had a lot more material from her second round of teaching. I am hoping for a call back from the English department head at her last school, about perhaps taking a stack of classroom guide books that would doubtless make life easier for a young language arts teacher -- but first-come can have them all.

This morning, I read through another find from the file cabinet -- a 55-page ethnographic study on underlying reasons for a teacher shortage that she wrote in 2001 for a class at the University Baltimore in working toward a doctorate in communications design. (She was awarded the degree at age 60, two years after retiring as a teacher, and subsequently focused on photography and writing.)

One thing obvious to me, from all the evidence packed into the attic and file cabinet, is that Bonnie as a teacher cared deeply about her students. And given all the challenges that teachers face, as covered in her university paper, that's not easy.

I was deeply touched when, on learning a year ago of Bonnie's journey ending, some of her former students cried. No doubt that I will, again, as I try to get rid of stuff. That's not easy, either. 

Bonnie, in a gag classroom photo: Teaching is not always easy.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

... and bringing a literature unit to life, when it is.



 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

   

 Roadside commemoration

Families, union leaders assemble

to unveil highway marker for

longest U.S. strike by public workers

 

Tom Holler unveils historical marker along Route 135.

 Mountain Lake Park, Md. -- Time is unrelenting. The past fades from memory. But not this week, in the remote and mountainous western corner of Maryland, where a crowd of more than 100 gathered by a rural roadside to commemorate the longest strike by public employees in United States history.

Culminating a years-long effort spearheaded by retired steelworker and union activist Len Shindel, the ceremony featured brief remarks by labor leaders and even a couple of local politicians before the unveiling of a highway sign along Route 135 remembering the seven-month strike by the Garrett County highway workers who repaired the roads, built the bridges and, perhaps most important, plowed the snow in the long, cold winters.

Unions don't come naturally to conservative and largely Republican Garrett County, where you don't have drive far to see the signs, flags and banners of allegiance to the failed Trump reelection campaign. Along Route 39 just west of Oakland, the county seat, a Trump/Pence sign had been altered -- the name of the former vice president/running mate removed and replaced with a three-letter word to read Trump Won.

Another property along the highway sports a sign declaring, "Fuck Biden and Fuck You For Voting Him."


The political landscape likely was a little less bitter in 1970, when the highway workers -- earning less than two dollars an hour and lacking the job protections of a strong union -- sought recognition of the traditionally urban-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The three-member board of county commissioners -- all Republicans -- refused. The employees waited until April, after most of the long snow season had passed, to go on strike.

It didn't end until November, after county voters ousted the incumbent commissioners and replaced them with three Democrats who on taking office voted to recognize the union and then reached agreement on a contract. Oddly, as far as anyone could remember, Garrett County hasn't elected a Democrat to the board of commissioners in the half-century since.

During the long battle over union recognition, the commissioners fired the men who refused to return to work and attempted to replace them. That August, the commissioners summoned the new hires to Oakland and brought in a school bus to ferry them to the highway department garages and begin work.

The union had sent members from Baltimore to intervene. And they did so in dramatic fashion, flattening the tires, breaking the windows and ripping out the ignition wires, as state police troopers watched without intervening. That some of the union reinforcements were black did not go unnoticed in a county that, at the time, was pretty much all-white...  and to this day still has relatively few residents of color.

In a cavernous meeting hall behind heavy oak doors, angry voices could be heard -- one of them berating the police lieutenant in charge of the troopers for allowing "those "n-----s" on the bus when "there's no n-----s in Garrett County!" I was among a group of reporters in the lobby there who overheard the exchange. Three of the journalists had an ear pressed against the door, and nearly fell into the room as the disgusted lieutenant opened the door to leave the meeting.

The strike also featured a few other explosive incidents -- with dynamite -- at targets including a bridge, and the fence around the property of one of the commissioners. A striker later was given a jail sentence after pleading guilty to dynamiting the fence.

Many of those at Tuesday's gathering were children and widows of the strikers. Of the 139 county road workers, only about half a dozen survive.

One of them is  Friendsville resident Troy Wakefield, 84, who said he drove a truck for the highway department for 30 years. "Everybody stuck together back then," he told me. "The union even made my house payment."

The union sent a car caravan on a 200-mile drive to Garrett County to bring food and other supplies to the strikers, and raised money to keep the men and their families financially afloat.

Longtime union leader Glenard S. Middleton Sr., executive director of AFSCME's Maryland Council 67 and vice president of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO, emphasized in his remarks that the union and the workers here in "God's country" are family.

Donna S. Edwards, a former social worker who is president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, told the crowd that unions are not about being Democrat or Republican -- but about achieving fair salaries and protections that enable workers to support their families and communities.

If the commissioners in office 51 years ago made an error in judgment, it was failing to realize that in the state's most sparsely populated county, most voters were related to or friends of men on strike or were friends of others connected to them. And that likely figured in their election defeat.


The sign was unveiled by Tom Holler, a retired roads worker whose late father Roy was one of the strikers. He recalled walking the picket line as a 10-year-old with his father. "I was supporting my dad," he said.

"We came together to honor men, women and families who refused to be

Len Shindel, speaking at ceremony.

divided and fought successfully to move Garrett County forward in 1970," Len Shindel wrote later in a Facebook post, thanking county residents and families of the road workers who joined in support of erecting the sign, and helped organize the ceremony. 

 "This morning and in coming months and years, we need to continually ask ourselves if we are truly honoring the memory of those we commemorated by crossing our boundaries in the present to address the pressing need of working families in Garrett County for decent-paying jobs, affordable housing and the tools needed to win a stable future in an uncertain and challenging time."

 

 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

 

Bonnie checks out the clouds 8,500 feet up Maui's Haleakala, in February 2019.

 

 

Journey's End

'Time has chosen this year

 for me to begin

wrapping up my life'

-- Bonnie Jean Schupp, writing on Jan. 19, 2021

 

 

 On her 64th birthday, Bonnie Schupp put on a sexy outfit, led me down to her improvised basement photo studio, checked the settings and handed me her camera -- directing a series of shots as she posed, playfully in some and just a tad risque in others.

She picked 64 of the resulting photos, lined them up in orderly rows, and put them together as an image that was then printed on metal. The title: "Will you still love me when I'm 64."

Bonnie's metal print was exhibited in an art show held by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, on the campus of Indiana University. It wasn't the grand prize winner -- that honor, as I recall, went to the gay guys who posed in fantastic costumes to recreate famous (and one might say, outrageous) Renaissance paintings. And it didn't get a buyer.

But when the show was ending, Bonnie was asked if she would donate it to the institute's permanent collection. She joked that it was another check-off for her bucket list. "I'm in the Kinsey collection."

In January this year, Bonnie was given a diagnosis of aggressive pancreatic cancer. "Well, I've had a good life," she told her grim-faced doctor. "I don't have any regrets."

Bonnie at Downs Park, Jan. 17.

Then we went home, and a few days later Bonnie searched through dresser drawers and her closet for another sexy outfit. We drove to nearby Downs Park, to a somewhat secluded wall that provided a background, and she handed me her iPhone to take pictures. She smiled, laughed, raised her arms, lifted a leg, and I snapped away recording the joy of the moment she wanted preserved.

Bonnie's journey ended two months later.

 She worried less about death than about me, her soulmate of 42 years. And about how losing her would affect others dear to her heart. Five weeks before the end, so friends would not be taken by surprise, she wrote about her grim diagnosis in a Facebook post -- illustrated by a photo she took in 2005 of the Christo/Jeanne Claude "Gates" art installation in New York City. 

"I have had a blessed life surrounded by love from family and friends," she wrote. "How did it happen that David and I know so many kind, loving and talented people? Each of you should know how much I value the time we have spent together over the years."

Bonnie had a lot of friends. Her iPhone stored more than 800 contacts, and on the day she died, I tried -- as best I could -- to pick out and personally call or email those closest to her. Hours of emotionally draining conversations later, I had to abandon the effort and just post the sad news on the social platform.

And then came the response -- 418 comments from friends across the nation and across oceans, expressions of love, of how Bonnie embraced, inspired, taught, or mentored them over the years. Some also put up their own Facebook posts on her passing, resulting in hundreds more. It was an unexpected measure of her life, and the joys she received from her simple acts of friendship and acceptance.

She embraced people in all colors, genders, religions, nationalities -- a global assembly of friendship and love that I was blessed to be part of -- and in our days, weeks, months and years together, hardly noticed how unique and powerful that kind of love had become.

I thought of Bonnie as a Renaissance woman, from the wide range of her skills, knowledge and careers, and her incessant quest for new experiences. She was a teacher for about six years in Baltimore City, and later 15 years in Anne Arundel County. In between, she was co-owner of a camera shop, a freelance newspaper columnist, and always a photographer -- aside from being my wife, and taking the primary role in raising our two children.

Beginnings 

We first met in 1968, as neighbors in a Baltimore rowhouse at 2835 North Calvert Street -- Bonnie and her first husband, Scott Caples, living on the third floor when I moved into the second-floor apartment with my first wife. The closest we had to a formal introduction came one weekend morning when Bonnie wandered out of her bedroom in her newlywed nightgown and found me sitting in her living room, reading their just-delivered copy of the Baltimore Sun after my night of working at the newspaper's city desk.

"I was just checking to see if a change was made in your edition," I told her. She nodded, a little sleepily, and continued on her way to the bathroom. And I departed moments later.

Soon after, Baltimore was caught up in the urban rioting that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bonnie wanted to take pictures of National Guard soldiers on patrol, and I -- with a press pass -- offered to drive her around in my little convertible.

The following January, after Bonnie and Scott had bought a little house in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood, a 16-year-old high school dropout named Victor Jackson brought us back together. Young Victor, living on riot-devastated Gay Street, had tried to save the life of an elderly man who had collapsed from a heart attack. A story I wrote about him for the newspaper brought a call from an editor at Scholastic Scope, a magazine widely used in junior high school classrooms, asking if I could write about Victor for the publication -- and get a picture of him.


I could have offered the photo opportunity -- and its $50 payment -- to a newspaper colleague, but had a better idea: Call Bonnie, who was teaching at Benjamin Franklin Junior High in South Baltimore. It was our first collaboration, with my story and her photo of Victor appearing in the April 11, 1969, issue of the magazine. And Bonnie, in turn, invited me to talk to her adolescent students about newspaper work.

We didn't see each other much over the next decade -- just rare times when we would run into each other in a city many call Smalltimore. I don't even remember when I told her about my buying the large end-of-row house known as Toad Hall at 2937 Calvert, just a block from where we had first met, and how I had painted the window frames orange.

Around Feb. 1, 1979, Bonnie was attending the birthday party of her favorite former student, Darlene Kelley, two blocks down Calvert Street, and -- amid a group of young 20-somethings she did not know -- had the bright idea of walking up to that big townhouse and inviting me to the party. Unfortunately, I was at work that night, so she left a message with a girlfriend of mine that long-ago neighbor Bonnie was down the street at the party and maybe I could join her there after I got home.

It must have been close to midnight when I got the intriguing message, so I walked down the street to find the noisy party going strong in a second-floor apartment. But no one answered my knock on the downstairs outer door. It was cold and windy, and I stood there in my scruffy black leather-fringed jacket, a silly cowboy hat holding down my unruly long hair, waiting, hoping that someone would soon be leaving and open the door.

About twenty minutes later, the door opened -- and it was Bonnie, leaving the party with a young man in tow (she later insisted that she never had done that before).  So I got her phone number, her address, and promised to give her a call.

I walked alone, and slowly, back to my house thinking how odd that seemed.

So I wrote her a letter... and she wrote back... and we learned we were both sort of single, awaiting divorces -- she from her first husband, me from my second wife. I wrote some more, and left letters in her mailbox late at night, after work at the newspaper. And she invited me to dinner. We sort of kissed... I was nervous, a little off target. And I felt there was something remarkable about this relationship -- less crazy than the others I'd had over the 11 years since the spring of 1968 -- as it grew into intimacy.

I found myself writing poems, and in love.

And Bonnie opened herself to me. "I'm going to make myself be vulnerable," she said -- and soon after, she proposed. But not marriage. She asked if I would like to have a baby with her.

"That sounds like fun," I said, and promised her a daughter -- and we set to work making it happen. Mostly, that was fun. Our best guess was that the magic happened on my second-floor back porch during a summer thunderstorm.

As her belly grew, my proposal came next -- that we should marry. And on Feb. 10, 1980, days after our respective divorces became final, in the living room of her little Brooklyn Park home with a small group of friends and family in attendance at what I called a BYOS (bring your own shotgun) wedding, we officially embarked on a remarkable 41-year journey.

BYOS wedding, Feb. 10, 1980

We sold our respective houses a year later and moved to suburban Pasadena, thinking ahead to schools for our daughter Lauren -- and the likely arrival of the daughter from my first marriage, whose upbringing with her birth mother, step-father and step-sister in Florida was not going well. In third grade, she was kicked out of school for kicking the principal, and my first ex-wife sent her back to me that summer, a deeply troubled child, and Bonnie became the mother of two.

Over the course of the next four decades, the kids turned out fine. Lauren graduated from what is now Frostburg State University in Western Maryland, where she met the man who became her husband and where Bonnie had earned her undergraduate degree in 1967. She now produces commercials for television and radio stations in Salisbury, Maryland. And daughter FL (who legally changed her name from Jennifer) became a nurse at age 40 after years of uncertainty at her direction in life.

Adventures

Bonnie retired from teaching in 2003, to speed up her multi-year challenge of night graduate classes at the University of Baltimore and, two years later, at age 60, was awarded her doctorate in communications design.

Her focus turned more heavily to photography -- selling stock images through iStockphoto.com, and then Getty Images after it acquired iStock. And she became part of Baltimore's ever-growing arts community, exhibiting and selling photos at gallery shows as we developed friendships with area artists, writers and musicians.

We traveled widely over the years, managing to visit all 50 states and a dozen countries -- and making even more friends with people we met along the way. We were hosts from the beginning of our marriage in an international peace organization, Servas, welcoming travelers to stay free in our home -- and visiting some of them in return. Nations on the map became places our friends lived, and the world grew smaller and more intimate to us.

Posing as Bonnie and Clyde at an iStock event in Utah, 2018

Adventure always went hand-in-hand with our journalism and photography. My freelance travel and feature stories were illustrated with Bonnie's photos. We rode elephants in the circus parade. We drove 7,000 miles across America and back in one of our epic road trips, exploring quirky attractions, visiting and making new friends, and blogging about the thrills of it all.

Much as I thought of myself as the writer, Bonnie proved far more prolific with entries in her "Journeys" blog, and self-publishing half a dozen books incorporating her words, poetry, photography and even family recipes for our daughters. The most ambitious book is titled "365 Gifts" and compiles with photo illustrations blog posts on a gift each day brought, beginning on her 70th birthday.

An earlier 365-day project is presented in her book, "Dog Tag Poetry," inspired by a box of metal dog tags, each stamped with a single word, given to her one Christmas by our Baltimore poet friend Shirley Brewer. Bonnie picked a tag at random each day, incorporated its word in a haiku, and illustrated it with a photo.

An example, for the word "machine" she photographed a golden binder clip holding the metal tag to a sheet of paper and wrote:

We need a simple

machine to hold all pieces

of life together.

 

'Soft landing'

We had our trials over the years, as our elders passed away and our own health issues cropped up. I nearly died a couple of times -- in a car wreck in 1983, and from an infection and sepsis in the fall of 2019, when Bonnie became part of my nursing team for weeks of antibiotics infusions.

And in early autumn last year, it was Bonnie's turn, with pancreatitis and surgery to remove her gallbladder. There was a spot on her pancreas. The surgeon said it might be a cyst, might be something worse... that a scan a few months down the road would be needed to check on it. But by then, it proved to be something worse as digestive problems were diagnosed in early January as aggressive pancreatic cancer.

The spot now measured four centimeters, and there were cancer lesions in her liver and lungs, and it had reached a lymph node. We took walks together -- which became shorter as her condition worsened -- and talked about how we both had figured I would be the first to go. We hoped that chemo would buy some time, but after the first treatment she became weaker and we turned to hospice care.

Our friend Carlos Zigel, a retired doctor who had been our primary care physician for years before ending his career specializing in palliative care, had told us what was coming... that chemo might work, but eventually would fail, and hospice would be the next step with a goal of achieving a "soft landing."

The last days were difficult. Our daughters were with us every day, and Bonnie's sisters Nancy and Jaymie visited on a Sunday, at my urging -- finding it hard to believe the end was coming so quickly. Bonnie had stopped eating, and was moved to a hospital bed in our living room the next day as hospice nurses and aides began helping us. We had a few other visitors, close friends, come to see her... but by Tuesday afternoon, she was wearing out.   

"I want to fall asleep and not wake up," she said. And by Wednesday, she mostly slept. Her breathing seemed labored as I sat through most of that night by her bedside, held her hand, talked to her. About 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, when her breathing eased into a seemingly normal rhythm, I put on some beautiful music by the Celtic group Connemara we had seen perform years earlier, and then I drifted into sleep on the couch behind her bed.

I awakened about 6:30, the music just ending and dawn brightening the sky. The house was suddenly silent. I jumped from the couch, frightened, and found her gone... her journey ended in the hour before sunrise of March 11.

Surprises, memories

The weeks since have been difficult. I have written about time bombs around the house, perhaps placed by Bonnie in those final weeks where I would find them. The first to detonate: A three-ring loose-leaf notebook on a shelf in her office, its spine marked with our initials in a heart. Inside were the letters and poems I had written and left in her mailbox back in 1979.

Under a pile of stuff on a love seat in my guest room office sat one of the nine large photo albums chronologically illustrating the first years of our journey together as a family. Opening the cover, I found a letter she had written to me dated April 24, 1979.

"Here are some (but not all) of the reasons why I love you," it began. "They are not in order of importance or any other order, but just as they flicker through my head." There followed a list of 20. If I had to pick just one, it would be Number 10:

"You aren't afraid to give and share as many people are. I think sometimes they are afraid that by giving of themselves they may lose themselves. I think the opposite is true. One has everything to gain in giving. It's one of life's paradoxes."

The next page held a photo of her pregnant belly, with the title "Expectations."

Her documentation included a photo of the positive pregnancy test -- a view of a circle through the top of a test tube, dated July 22, 1979 -- and a Childbirth Education Association certificate for attending its course in the Lamaze Method of Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics (the shorter name, natural childbirth) dated Feb. 17, 1980.


There's a photo of her hand on her belly, captioned "Tiny kicks," and another of me in blue jeans and tee-shirt lying on that back porch and titled "Beginnings." From Feb. 10, there's photos of our wedding, and from March 22, photos of Lauren being born -- some taken by Bonnie herself as she was pushing. Talk about multi-tasking! (One image -- showing Lauren's tiny hand visible between Bonnie's legs, the doctor reaching down, me aiming a camera from a more-graphic angle, and some guy watching from the doorway -- won an honorable mention many years later in an online photo competition of Women in Photography International.)

Creating a life, witnessing it come into being, changes one's perspective. There is time before existence, and not just our time -- billions of years of time in a cosmos with billions of suns, and odds far longer than hitting the Mega Millions lottery in becoming. We had experienced our time before Lauren, but  could only wonder at the chain of cosmic events and couplings stretching back generations, millennia, epochs, to some starting point scientists call the Big Bang.

And there is time after us, after Lauren, after everyone alive at this moment is gone. The universe doesn't end. We are part of it, in being and as dust... stardust dating to the creation, blessed at having had a relative speck of time to comprehend its beauty, blessed at being part of it for eternity.

'Building a temple stone by stone'

Bonnie thought about existence as she sensed her journey ending. She wrote about it in a few diary-like entries I found a few weeks ago in her desktop computer, perhaps also left there for me to discover -- much like the loose-leaf notebook of my letters and poems that she had preserved for 42 years, or the letter explaining her love for me.

On my birthday, January 16, she wrote about her reaction to learning just four days earlier "that my body has been invaded -- by cancer."

It is interesting that since I turned 76, I've been thinking about death a lot, partly in remembering Mom's death when she was 76. I thought that if I could make it beyond age 76, I might have a chance to go on more adventures from my bucket list

And even stranger, while in my bedroom, often stretching and meditating, I would feel a clump of my hair move by itself, with no help from wind or me, or the shifting of light and shadow on the wall. It almost felt like a ghostly presence trying to comfort me. Call it what you will -- an altered state or imagination -- I felt it and thought of my father and his last journey with Parkinson's Disease.

My life has been full of journeys and I am about to embark on the final chapter of mine!

She wrote on January 17 about that trip to Downs Park:

Today I decided I wanted to dress up and have David take some pictures of me. I had bought a sexy skirt a year and a half ago, knowing I'd find an occasion to wear it sometime. Then, I thought "sometime" would be soon, maybe an art opening. It didn't come. But Covid did, along with various medical problems that David or I faced.

I spent time applying makeup for the first time in many months. Then I put on a black top, the long skirt (it fit when I bought it, but today I had to use two safety pins in the waistband) and tall black boots. We drove to Downs Park and chose an unused racquetball court. Then, before it got too cold, David must have shot 40 pictures.

This was a photo shoot I needed to show what I looked like today. And it helped me feel better today.

The next entry, dated January 18, she wrote:

Yesterday, in her sermon in a (South) Carolina Methodist Church, Darlene (the Rev. Darlene Kelley) mentioned me and encouraged people to pray for me. I appreciate the connection to human spirit and it touches me. If there is an omniscient being, I doubt that it/she/he is a micromanager of human lives. But I do understand how belief in a God can give a person strength. And I understand how the love of others can bring strength to agnostics and unbelievers.

What is the purpose of my life? I never saw it as a leader who affects millions of lives. I've always seen it in a more humble way. The purpose of my life has been to make a difference -- not in a large way but in many small ways, like building a temple stone by stone.

I know for sure that people have changed me in the best of ways and I hope that my spirit connects with others to make a good difference. Perhaps this is immortality, not in a place called heaven, but here, now, on earth. When our spirit has melded with another human spirit, it exponentially grows and continues.

In 1975, as a 30-year-old, Bonnie felt a need to change her perspective on life by jumping from a perfectly good airplane -- in those days a solo parachute jump after a five-hour training session on the ground. She alluded to that jump in her entry on January 19:

This is the time for reckoning. Time has chosen this year for me to begin wrapping up my life. It has been a good life, but is anyone really ready to leave? Maybe my letting go from the airplane strut and trusting my journey downward was practice for this time in my life?

(In her last weeks, Bonnie completed writing a book-length memoir that will be published in time for a celebration of her life, most likely in October. For anyone wishing to make a donation in her memory, Bonnie would have suggested Planned Parenthood of Maryland, Creative Alliance or the American Visionary Art Museum -- but any worthy cause would be lovely.)

 

 

At home with daughters FL (top of stairs), Lauren and her husband Matthew.

 

Bonnie, with her signature smile (left), and a portrait of her by our late friend Vladimir Tamari, drawn with a sharpened twig as they sat under cherry blossoms in a small park in Tokyo, in 2007.