I want to tell you about a day I spent in Mendocino with my sister and her husband a few years ago. I guess you could say I spent that day with my sister, her husband, two of my brothers, my mom and my dad. Sort of...
After my oldest brother Ed died in 2000, we buried half his ashes under a new apple tree in our back yard. I kept the other half in a tin box, always intending to scatter or bury them up in Mendocino.
Thing is, I kind of forgot about Ed's ashes. I didn't forget they existed; I chose to ignore my own intentions to scatter them in Mendocino. They sat in my garage for over a decade. (Don't hate me. Shit happens.)
When my mother died in 2009, my sister and I agreed that we should spread her ashes in the ocean near Mendocino as well, since it was always her favorite place in the world. (Mine too.) So that was the plan, but my sister lived in LA, and getting up to the north coast together proved difficult. It just... didn't happen.
After my dad died in 2010, his crazy second wife sent my sister a non-descript shoebox-size parcel containing eight identical little sealed urns, each holding a small amount of our sainted father. They were strangely ornate, looking like smaller versions of the cube from Hellraiser, I shit you not.
Then, my brother John died in 2011, and my sister and I eventually committed to getting up to Mendocino, so that we could spread John's and my mom's ashes together. To say John loved Mendocino - while true - really misses the point. John came alive in Mendocino. He blossomed. The place restored him. His seizures stopped. Nobody teased him. He started playing the drums (pretty well), and he worked real jobs sweeping up, first at Mendosa's and then at The Chocolate Moose. And he painted. He painted a lot. Eventually, he had a gallery event that went over pretty well.
So, it was a good plan. Get Mom, John, Ed and my dad up to Mendocino, together. We determined to do it on the first anniversary of John's death, in April 2012.
Dorothy and Paul drove up to our house from southern California, and then the three of us (or the seven of us, if you like) would drive up to Mendocino together. I then had to admit to my sister that I still had half of Ed's ashes in my garage. And there were the eight creepy Hellraiser urns containing our sainted father's remains.
Our simple little plan got a bit more complicated. There was no way we were going to spread my dad's ashes in the same place as my mother. That would be rude, since they didn't exactly get along in life. And I really wanted to bury Ed's ashes under a redwood tree, and not scatter him in the ocean. Ed was the first member of the family to live in Mendocino, and the reason we all ended up there.
In 1977, Ed was taking classes at LA Valley College in Van Nuys. One of his professors, Chuck Jorgenson, owned Ames Lodge, an idyllic A-frame in the woods two miles above the village of Mendocino. He asked Ed to move there, to manage the Lodge for him.So we decided that John would go into the ocean with his mother, and Ed and his dad could keep each other company up in the forest somewhere.
Ed worked as a one-man hotel crew for the next two years, living in the adjoining innkeeper house. While living in Mendocino, Ed often visited the MacCallum House bar. Two of the people he met there changed all our lives. The first was the bartender Louise, a recent transplant from Boulder, whom he'd eventually marry - and divorce 14 months later. The second was a regular at the bar, a retired Navy officer named Donald Carpenter.
Ed's wedding to Louise was in July of 1979. I went up to Mendocino in late June that year, and spent a couple of weeks working at the with Ed. I got to know Louise, and the village of Mendocino. At the wedding, my mother Lee was introduced to Don Carpenter, who was recently widowed. They hit it off, and started a correspondence. Six months later, they got married, on an impossibly hot late-December day in Los Angeles.
Don's extended family was from Burlington, Vermont. They were represented at the wedding by his brother's son, Rink, who worked as an Alaskan fisherman and had a beard down to his belt buckle. He couldn't get over how hot it was in LA in December.
After the wedding, Mom and Don went to Hawaii for two weeks, and I moved up to Mendocino along with my new cousin, Rink, who was more or less my caretaker. I was 15. Rink did not approve of my musical tastes, or pretty much anything else about me. But he was a nice enough guy, and we both survived those two weeks together, a small fender-bender by a young, unlicensed driver notwithstanding.
Don and my mom returned from Hawaii shortly after the new years, and thus began my family's ten year residence in Mendocino.
Once were up in Mendocino, things went pretty well. We were prepared to complete our two-part plan. Only, we lacked the proper tools...
So we went to Mendosa's Hardware to procure a screwdriver (to pry open the urns), a shovel (to bury Ed and Dad), and a hammer (to smash open the eight little Hellraiser cubes).
First, we went to the beach. It was one of those typically beautiful days on the coast. We walked along the cliffs, not saying much. We stopped to watch some local divers.
And then we put Mom and John into the ocean together, and drank a little toast.
After that, we spent a couple hours in the village and had a nice lunch at Mendocino Burgers behind the bakery. Then we packed up and headed south. We stopped along the way at an Undisclosed Location on Highway 128 along the Navarro River and found a nice secluded spot to bury my brother and father.
We continued driving south, and spent one night in Healdsburg, which included a lovely and extensive night of drinking at Bear Republic.
I totally understand if you didn't make it this far. But it was good for me to write it all down. Here are some photos.