In the 13 years since I wrote the 1999 column, we have all moved away from that beautiful neighborhood of green lawns, big trees and wide streets. We moved south, we moved north, we moved downtown. But we all stayed in Austin and stayed in touch, as we changed and the city changed around us.
My friend Martha died of metastatic breast cancer in 2002. She was only 44. Don’t ever let anybody tell you “your attitude is everything” when it comes to cancer. Martha had an incredible attitude and she did everything she could to live. But she died anyway.
Lee and our son went to different colleges, graduated, then came back to Austin. They both work at a software company here in town and have stayed close friends.
Skylerr works and has a beautiful young daughter. Her brother J.J. recently graduated from college. I hadn’t seen either of them in a few years, but had kept up with them through their mother and another close family friend.
It was that friend who called on Sunday night in mid-April. She was so upset, I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Finally, I did: J.J, age 26, had died in a car wreck.
So, we were all together again, this time at J.J.’s mother’s house, then, a few days later, at a small college chapel for his memorial service. We talked about J.J., of course. To me, he was still the gentle kid with the sweet face who’d befriended our son and made him feel welcome when we first moved to the neighborhood.
But he had grown up — as all our children had by now — and become a man with his own ambitions and passions. Since he died so young, he would forever remain a 26-year-old with great dreams. It was heartbreaking, it was wrenching, it was unfair — and the goddamned sun kept coming up and going down, day after day, in this pitiless fucking universe.
No wonder we huddle so closely together at times like this, no wonder an old neighborhood re-forms overnight. It’s freezing cold out there, random, unpredictable, terrifying, and anything can happen. How could we have forgotten that? And who wants to be alone and isolated now that we realize it once again?
So, we talk, we drink, we embrace, we cry. And, as usual, at times like this, we also laugh and remember lighter topics. Like the neighbor who used to get drunk and announce her husband “required” her to have sex every night; she was currently petitioning, she said slurrily, for Thursdays off. (They are now married to other people; the status of the “Thursdays off” petition remains unknown.) Or another neighbor who, upon hearing the Thursday petition story, begged everyone not to repeat it to her husband. He always suspected everyone else was having sex a lot more than they were — and now, here was the proof.
We recalled how our sons had conducted votes about whose mother was the “nicest,” whose mother was the best cook. (I always lost those contests, big time.)
I said how, after Pam’s mother died in ’99, how impressed I’d been that everyone had gathered night after night to bring food and wine, to talk, to comfort her. “But it was really like that all the time,” someone else said. “We were always in and out of each other’s houses, sharing meals, having parties.
“When you think about it,” she said, “when we were there, it was really the golden age of Gilbert Street.”
Oh, yes, the Golden Age. Like any other era or event, you don’t appreciate its luster till you look back at it. We toasted our golden age, our past, our children — lost or grown. We toasted and drank wine because, really, what else could we do?
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
For a loosely related post, read about yogis and wine snobs.