My father died rather unexpectedly on February 16 at the age of 77.
When he moved in to the in-law unit of our house last summer, my wife and I understood that he had dementia, but he seemed physically fine. We thought he would last decades. Instead, according to the EMTs, he dropped dead at about 4pm on the 16th. He was discovered two hours later. The county coroner said that he died of “natural causes” and refused to do an autopsy, and so we’re paying middle four figures to find out why Dad died. I may provide more info on that on another day.
It’s a shame that Dad died alone, but the fact is that we regularly left him alone, just as the retirement facility regularly left him alone. Are there people with a parent living in an in-law unit who spend every hour with that parent? Maybe. We didn’t. We came for meals. With his dementia, it was hard to have long chats with him. This feels very strange right now because in some ways it was like we’d already lost him.
I wish I had had any clue about his poor physical health; I now regret that the last time I saw him I didn’t hug him and tell him I loved him.
What does this have to do with Dar? Well, when I look at Dar’s life and my life, I don’t limit myself to current events. I take a long view, over centuries.
I may be wrong, but I believe that everyone wants their kids to do better than they did. One of the ongoing anguishes of being Dar’s father is knowing how unlikely it is that he can do better than I did, and that his brother’s chances of doing better are limited by Dar himself. In the case of my Mom, I believe she died (14 years ago, before Dar was born) feeling confident that I represented a step forward for her family. Her parents grew up poor in Ireland, came here to the Bay Area, and she and her five siblings grew up in relative indigence. None of them went to a four-year university; by the time I met them, none of them had their own teeth. Mom worked hard her whole life, earned good money, and bought a house. I got the house and am still paying its large mortgage; I have my own teeth (mostly); I went to a four-year university, and Mom died while I was beginning a PhD program.
In the case of my Dad, the “doing better” thing is trickier. My great-grandfather, Gentry Rowsey the First, made a lot of money in Texas oil “futures” and stocks and such. He left a lot of that money to my grandfather, Gentry Rowsey the Second, who spent a lot of it on various liberal business ideas that mostly didn’t pan out. My dad, Gentry Rowsey the Third, went to Harvard and Stanford, and inherited what was left of the money. Sounds like doing better, right? I don’t think Dad saw it that way. I think he was often frustrated with his relatively quiet, non-lucrative, non-revolutionary life. And I think he may have been frustrated with my life. Certainly we loved each other without any violence, which may well have represented a step forward from his relationship with his father.
I want to do better for my kids, and I want them to do better than me. I don’t want to squander, or for them to squander, the incredible gifts given over the generations. I do have…the beginnings of a plan…for how to use Dad’s money/legacy in a way that he would have wanted. More on that later.
In the meantime, Dar seems to have my Dad’s beanpole-like metabolism. Let’s face it, Darwin’s name came from my Dad, less Dad’s atheism and more Dad’s deep love for science. Who knows, perhaps Dar’s legacy will somehow be some kind of contribution to science. By the by, I also feel that Dar’s brother’s nickname goes well with “Rowsey.”
I will likely have more to share. I didn’t share any of this at the service this past weekend. Instead I shared some other thoughts, as well as some eulogies that people sent. Below, please read what I shared and look at photos of people who shared thoughts and attended my father’s service. Thanks for reading.
Meredith Knapp, his sister, who as a girl loved country music and long titles, told me that when my Dad was about 7, he wrote his first poem/song, for her. This is all of it:
“There’s a Cold Vacant Spot on the Couch Right Beside You and If You Don’t Mind I’d Like to Come and Warm It Up”
Diana Walker, his first cousin, sent this:
MEMORIES OF G. L. ROWSEY
Rochelle, LA. – This is where I lived for my first 5 years next door to “Mom and Dad,” aka Mabel (Willie Perkins*) and Herbert Moss Sr., our beloved grandparents.
I remember visits with G.L. and his older sister, Meredith, when their parents, Louise Moss and Gentry Lewis Rowsey brought them. Where they lived at that time I don’t know. We were our grandparents’ pride and joy and Mom knew exactly how to treat small folks and keep us entertained. Dad would share his signature candy, “peppermint puffballs,” my designation I’m sure.
In 1944, we made a very long drive from Louisiana to Harlingen, Texas, in the area called the Rio Grande Valley (actually a delta, but land developers thought valley sounded more inviting, I suppose). Uncle Gentry planned to open a business where White trucks would be serviced. He asked my dad, Herbert Moss, Jr., to come and be his business manager. In fact both men had to take truck-driving lessons to handle these big rigs.The business was called Moss White Motors which, I suppose, rolled off the tongue easier than Rowsey White Motors.
The Rowseys had a nice home on Arroyo Drive in Finwood Heights and we stayed with them temporarily until our furniture arrived. We had purchased a house a few streets over (206 E. McKinley). A while later G.L. and family moved to a neighboring street, Roosevelt. (You see a pattern here? Presidents’ names were popular street choices.)
There was a small neighborhood store, Finwood Heights Grocery, and as we grew older, and presumably more responsible, we were sometimes allowed to walk the two blocks or so to buy treats and lighter-weight grocery items. There was a canal running nearby and somehow G.L. slipped in. Fortunately, a classmate of mine, 3rd or 4th grader, Eleanor Newberry, jumped in and saved his life. That was excitement we could have done without.
We saw each other fairly often and G.L. actually attended first grade in Tiny Tot School, which was established first as a play school to give my younger brother, Herby III, some playmates. (It later grew to include ages 2 through 6.) She had a special place in her heart for this diligent, good natured child, her nephew, who strove for perfection even then.
At some point the Rowsey family purchased a ranch, the Double D, near Boerne, Texas, where Herby III and Diana spent some enjoyable times, exploring, swimming in the pool, and bonding during cousin-time. There was even a tennis court and Gentry and Herb, Jr., played some sets.
At least once, our grandparents traveled from Louisiana and all ten of us could sit around the giant lazy Susan table – six Mosses and four Rowseys. A cook, named Mildred, saw that we enjoyed some good home cooking. Of great interest was her one-woman pet, Boots, a St. Bernard, who produced a litter of puppies. There were like big adorable teddy bears, but we could not come near unless Mildred had Boots penned up.
My memories of G.L. are of a sweet, kindhearted boy (also very smart) who later attended Texas Military Institute in San Antonio. This is where his parents lived out their lives and where his sister still resides.
One event I remember well is when Mom came to visit and we wanted to get a photo of her with our four Adairs and Meredith’s two Knapps, her great-grandchildren. Her comment, “It’s like herding cats!” Her east Texas expressions were a delight.
I appreciate the fact that G.L. always stayed in touch with letters, e-mails, and occasional phone calls. Of special note is when, in 1978,he brought Daniel down to Harlingen to meet all of us.
Another time he came alone and we spent some time reminiscing as only beloved cousins can.
I will miss knowing this gentle soul is no longer with us. Thanks for the memories, dear cousin.
I first met Gentry right after his graduation from law school. He was handsome, fun, very bright and excited about his future. He loved music, road trips, his guitar, fun times and me. When we moved to the City we were regulars at the Fillmore and every obscure Italian or Mexican restaurant we could find. We were noted for taking off at a moment’s notice for Big Sur or Tahoe or San Diego. We protested the Vietnam War and went to the Be in.
In spite of plans to be married, our relationship as a couple was not meant to be and we parted ways on a friendly note. Thanks to the internet and the ease of finding people, we reconnected and became friends once again. We exchanged long letters recounting our experiences in two widely different worlds. He admired my community involvement and the fact that I continued to resist. I admired his critiques of literature and art.
The last time I saw him was at Rosati’s in Los Altos 4 years ago…the site of where we spent so much time together when we first met. We took a trip up memory lane, driving by the house we lived in on Old La Honda Road, up to Skyline where the fog surrounded us, and then hiked for a while. His illness was apparent to me then and our goodbye seemed final. I am grateful that we had that day. I am grateful that we knew each other and loved each other. I will miss him.
Pulitzer prize winner Michael Chabon wrote an essay called “The Wilderness of Childhood”. In it, he described those magic hours, usually between the end of school and dinner, when as a youth you roamed free with your friends in a different world, wherever your imagination could take you. To be sure, Daniel and I had plenty of adventures across the University campus, the Rose Garden and the back woods of Cordonices Park. But sometimes, we went on a longer expedition, a weekend at Lloyd’s. Gentry Lloyd Rowsey was the ranger at a remote way station in the Wilderness of Childhood, a larger than life Texan commanding our missions. And on those lucky weekends, another parent would drive us across the Richmond-San Raphael Bridge, our Bridge to Terabithia if you will, and it would begin. With Lloyd’s instructions and provisions, our bikes, our comic books, and whatever change we had managed to shake loose, we would set out through the shaded parks and sidewalks of suburban San Rafael, trekking through the wilds, far from whatever cares we might have had. And even if we got caught jumping across rooftops, or showed up hours late for dinner because we were running the scoreboard for a minor league baseball game (yes, that really happened), Lloyd would discipline us, but he kept curating our adventures. And while Lloyd was under no obligation to allow his son’s friend to come for the weekend, much less the friend who was arguably the biggest pain in the ass among all Dan’s friends (and might have encouraged Dan to similar tendencies), Lloyd kept allowing us back together, to get into more trouble. He watched over us, but he let us be kids. Fortunately, the last time I saw Lloyd, at a recent Easter dinner, I took him aside to tell him how much those weekends meant to us, but of course he already knew. I will strive to continue to pay Lloyd’s graciousness forward, because he will stay in my memories, as I navigate the thicket of life.
We knew each other at the Forest Service offices in San Francisco and Mare Island where our paths crossed between Engineering and Fiscal activities. Lloyd grew up in Texas, received a law degree at Harvard, and rather than pass the bar used his legal expertise in Forest Service contracting and fiscal matters. We took an occasional lunch time walk together on Mare Island.
When he retired, I attended his after work party at the Vallejo Yacht Club. In the next few retirement years we played golf at Buchanan, Diablo Hills, Pine Meadow, the Vallejo race track, and a few FS tournaments. We also enjoyed putting at the Blue Rock and Mare Island practice greens. Lloyd wrote many political and art related articles to OPED News on the internet and encouraged me to submit posts on my artwork and poetry, leading up to my Ekphrasis book.
We exchanged emails, visited at our homes, went out for breakfast and lunch, and took occasional walks and day trips. When his mental capacity began to diminish, he withdrew from the internet, emails, phone calls, and snail mail. His son Daniel stepped up to arrange in-home assistance 3 days a week. Sara invited me to attend a small birthday party (10/26/16) with family and friends at his home in Benicia. A few days later we went to Mare Island to visit the FS office lobby, practice putting, and walk in the marsh and near the Sardine Can. Later, he moved from Benicia to a retirement home in Fairfield, where I visited him regularly. He then moved in with his son’s family in Berkeley in 2018.
I was saddened to hear from Daniel on 2/19/19 that he had passed away a few days earlier. Lloyd was a good friend.
David McCauley February 19, 2019.