When George Markham died last weekend, surrounded by close friends and his wife of 40 years, Arky, people were gathered around, loving George with their presence—and talking politics. Lisa Baskin, his dear friend (and my mother-in-law) said, “He would have wanted it that way.”
Although by the time he reached his 100th birthday in August (featured, Paul Shoul's wonderful photograph), George’s keen mind and gravelly voice had receded from the conversations around him, and the activism he was so committed to throughout his life, Arky continued to balance caring for George and their good works. Staunch supporters of single payer health care, stalwart in opposing war and promoting peace, intrepid when it came to holding a sign (regardless of the weather) for cause or candidate, George and Arky—because those of us who know them both around this valley do think of them as a team—really demonstrated some important lessons, leading by example. The lessons were work is love made visible and by caring and remaining engaged, your life continues to be vibrant, and finally, friendship and shared purpose can make for steadfast, rich community.
It’s not surprising then that last Sunday evening (the day he died) Arky went to the National Priorities Project friend-and-fundraiser as planned. The way Lisa described the evening, Arky got to keep caring about the world and those gathered for NPP—so many of whom are friends—got to care about Arky and share their sadness and relief with her, and more so, their love for her. As was the case for George throughout his life, the one—caring about the world—didn’t take away from the other—love and friendship. In fact, it always seemed of George and Arky, quite the opposite, the one enriched the other.
To think about that lesson on Halloween seemed fitting. I saw Arky for the first time since George’s passing yesterday—she was tabling for Clare Higgins’ mayoral campaign—downtown in the thick of Halloween afternoon in Northampton. Many stores pass out treats to children, a kind of safe, friendly, by light of day trick or treating event that has become a big draw. The crowded sidewalks were teeming with very small children in animal suits—predominately tigers and elephants and dinosaurs—pumpkin outfits, and then the next age bracket titled a little more towards princess/fairy/ballerina and action figure and then beyond it was the year of dead brides, Goth girls, and ghoulish ghostly characters. The grey skies spit rain periodically but the air was balmy. The mood in town was exceedingly chatty. Arky was enjoying the children and talking up her candidate. She’s been missing George for months, now, and I know that sadness will linger—it must—and yet it seems as if she knows that she can draw strength from engaging as she and George always did, from continuing.
Yesterday, our focus was Halloween fun. We went to a concert—the completely fun (for kids and adults) Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer, whose recent CD Pizza for Breakfast is terrific)—at Impish in the morning. The father-son/coach-player duo of Hosea and Lucien participated in Northampton Youth Soccer’s end-of-season Jamboree. Ezekiel went off to ballet rehearsal for its Nutcracker-inspired performance at Wistariahurst in December and then a friend’s house for games, trick-or-treating, a massive amount of food and probably a minimal amount of sleep. The other three kids and I returned to town for the trick-or-treating and socializing, picked up a loaf of bread and ended up at a potluck before they went off to trick-or-treat with pals and Saskia and I went home to give out a dozen bags of not fair trade candy (quantity over quality or politics, alas).
All Halloween fun was had on foot, though. Last week, on the way to school, Remy told me, “When I grow up, I bet I’ll be a bigger walker than even you, because I love to walk.” He will, undoubtedly, lodge many complaints about his mama or his childhood—or at least be entitled to do so—but I am pretty sure that he really will feel that our commitment to getting so many places on foot was a highlight of his childhood, and that he’ll carry it forward.
Lucien, who is eleven and a foodie, opted not to take candy—he prefers “better” chocolate these days, like organic Dagoba or the locally made artisanal delights from Heavenly Chocolates in Thornes—and he is all about Global Exchange’s reverse trick or treating campaign. He and his fellow sixth graders (and Remy) collected money for UNICEF (and, how much do I love them—left it all with Kate to bring the entire haul in, no sense of needing to one-up one another, this was a collective project). Remy gave a lot of his candy to Kate’s family’s big bowl for more trick-or-treating kids, donated some to his papa, and divvied up the rest between himself and our Halloween candy buy back. Ezekiel’s not back, but midway through his evening route with friends, he had a lot in his bag, so we’ll see what he does; he’s not terribly into candy so I’m expected some nonprofit to do well by him.
In the morning, when Jennifer (Kate’s mom, host of the potluck) and I were talking about her wish to have created a “greener” event, she wondered aloud whether people would be willing to bring a plate and spoon. One of our neighborhood potlucks did so recently and I’m guessing that’s a new trend we’ll start seeing.
Our household has a cache of plates; friends Karen and Brian bought them before their wedding when she didn’t like the rental options. At the time, buying 150 dinner and salad plates and mugs seemed over the top, but wow, was she right to do it. The dishes have been used at five or six weddings and countless parties. Besides being “green,” the dishes (and votives) seem by now like a community resource (and indeed, they were used in September by someone we didn’t know, who had heard tell that we had ‘em; she asked, we so happily agreed to lend them out).
Jennifer and I made a date to go tag sale hopping in the spring for some extra dishes and flatware—mix and match is a-okay—for the purpose of parties. I said to her the great thing is that when the kids go off to college or first apartments, we can send the dishes with them, and they’ll be excited, not by the items’ beauty but the memories. They will be known as the “party dishes.”
George and Arky operated in party dishes mode, finding joy in making change as two people, along with other people—friends—and that is what I hope to share with my kids and what I hope to create my life: a feeling that it’s not doing good versus enjoying life, but that we enjoy our small acts of change-making. In so doing, those acts and the friendships and community that fold into them constitute a way of life, a very good one indeed.