Tag Archives: mel farrell

Mourning in America

matt

Love and grief and pain and sadness and anger have dominated these last few days. The coming of Summer 2016 felt heavy even before this last weekend, but events both in Orlando and here at home, in lovely Urbana, IL, feel like the throwing of a gauntlet as the weather heats up and what is, in my opinion, a dangerous Presidential race gets underway. Communities (note: “community” can be defined in so many different ways) were completely leveled last weekend by overnight violence perpetrated by people wielding firearms and filled with… hate? Self-loathing? Grief? Will we ever know? Does it even matter?

To be 100% clear, I stand with Orlando, LGBTQ, and all affected communities worldwide, full stop. I am not into hate, “phobia” of any kind (including Islamophopbia), violence, and/or guns.¬†My daughter eloquently offers her perspective¬†here. Both of my kids are complete fucking badasses, beautiful and so intelligent and full of love – same as the people who died in Orlando the other night and who are dying all over the planet. That hate and violence still cut such a swath in the world in which my kids and Yours and Theirs are children/teenagers/young adults trying to make their way is boggling. What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

As life would have it, Jim and I attended an amazing wedding and reception Saturday night. The entire evening truly reflected the bride & groom’s love, beliefs, styles, families (bio and chosen), and communities. I felt privileged to be there, to see such honest and heartfelt actualization articulated in this way. It was a beacon, a lighthouse. It was affirming.

Then we woke up Sunday morning to Orlando, and a couple of hours later, as I drove through my neighborhood and down a street I take either on foot or on wheels several times a day, I became aware that something terrible had happened overnight just a few blocks away from 909. I saw cars, and police, and – as I slowed down – yellow tape creating an unthinkable perimeter. I knew the intersection very well, and I knew the house where people were gathering very well, and I hoped that the yellow tape read CAUTION and that there was a tree in the middle of the street, perhaps a broken water main. Instead, the tape read CRIME SCENE, and the house in question somehow looked like a shell of what it had looked like just the day before, though nothing had changed in its structure. I stopped and asked a friend what had happened. It was grimly relayed that they did not know, but that it was bad, and as I went on my errand, I tried to convince myself that, perhaps, maybe… it wasn’t bad. I couldn’t keep going. I turned around and went home, avoiding the intersection and the house whose light had seemingly been utterly extinguished.

It was bad. A young man named Matt, the son of my late friend Mel, had been shot and killed overnight, a victim of domestic violence at the hands of his father. The details are still not yet completely known and I’m not sure I ever want to know them. This absolute tragedy resulted in the loss of a much-loved young man from his family (my heart especially aches for his awesome sister, DeDe), and has left a family and community to struggle with the uniquely awful aftermath, like so many other communities have done, do, and, apparently, will continue to do until we address the root causes of this violence. I ask again: What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

Mel was strangely heavy on my mind in the days before Matt’s death, so in response I finally drafted a long-overdue post about Mel to eventually publish here. I’ll post it in its entirety another day, but here’s the last paragraph:

She spoke often of her children, and I always listened closely. She had mothered two creative, beautiful, singular children into adults, and I knew I could learn from her example, benefit from her wisdom. But I did not know all the details. If there was hardship, or sadness, or frustration, she never spoke of it – but as a mother, you know that nothing is perfect, that your journey with your children is yours; when she talked, I knew many things were left unsaid, and I acknowledged that, and so I joyed in it, the good and the not-as-good.

Yes, but. There is nothing to joy in anywhere in this story. There is nothing to joy in anywhere in Orlando’s story. Is there? I can’t see it, not right now. In the meantime, we do what we can to help, whether it’s offering moral support or financial support to DeDe, and moving forward with our lives while remembering those who are so suddenly gone by advocating, STRONGLY, for equality, understanding, and peace.

Seriously. What are we doing to each other, to ourselves?

Tell It

Head space: In canning, one must leave some in order to get a good seal. In life, one must to leave some in order to gain perspective, which is basically the same as getting a good seal. I mean, you want to be able to enjoy what’s in the jar, you know?

The Autumnal Equinox approaches – it’s this Wednesday. I’ve taken the day off and am giving it over to whatever (Canning tomatoes? Power napping? Writing?). The moon should be waxing under mostly clear skies this entire week, which thrills me. The signs of the change in seasons are everywhere in central IL – leaves starting to turn, squirrels acting stupid and running out into traffic, and the last of the peaches at the farmers markets.

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There’s nothing finer than the ultra-blue skies we get this time of year. ANYTHING thrown against that sky looks awesome, even (especially?) withering walnut trees.

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When I was a kid, I loved ladybugs and yellow was my favorite color. My love for ladybugs is now more about respect, and I’m not a huge fan of the color yellow… EXCEPT this time of year. I mean, look at it.

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It’s also a really birthday-heavy time in my circle of family and friends. Jim, Lilly, and I have birthdays between mid-September and early November. Our friend Douglas had a birthday yesterday, and invited people to his workspace in Tolono (he relocated Uptown Concrete there this summer) to check it out, play parking lot games, and witness a shopping cart bonfire.

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I made a rather sloppy carrot cake, per his request. I learned that it’s really important that the cream cheese frosting act as serious mortar to the bricks that are the cake layers (this is a TERRIBLE analogy), especially if you’re transporting the cake ten miles over bumpy and twisty county roads, so more powdered sugar is critical. It didn’t matter – it was delicious and it looked pretty with candles on it.

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It has not been the easiest 6+ weeks in the world. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around has been the death of my friend and neighbor, Mel Farrell. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 2015 and immediately started kicking its ass, but toward the end of the summer, her body tripped her up a few times, and at the beginning of this month, pneumonia claimed her life. She was a rock star in so many ways, and readers will likely be finding more about Mel later, but I’ll say this for now: Though I’d known her for about 10 years, and of her for 5 years past that, there was much I didn’t know about Mel. Since her death, I’ve come to realize that she was quietly expert at filling up any gaps in her life with more friends, more fun, more food, more… and it was the quality aspect of more, not the quantity. She was so very thoughtful and truly believed in the basic conviviality that goes missing from so much of modern life. Her laugh gave serious body to so many gatherings. And… and! She had stories. Sure, the whole legitimately-at-Woodstock thing was awesome, but I was electrified when she told me a few years ago that, when she was a kid growing up in NYC, her mother’s day job was, if I recall correctly, working for James Beard. That wasn’t my favorite part of the story, and I don’t think it was Mel’s either. No, we both loved the fact that her mom came home from working all day for Chef Beard and often had the following dinner, feet up: An onion sandwich (2 pieces of white bread slathered in butter with sliced onions in between) and a beer. I figured Mel and I had all the time in the world to eventually get some of these stories saved. We did not. I do wonder if she saved any of them herself.

Seriously. If you have food stories to tell – and we all do – write them down. Tell them to someone. You know what, though… don’t stop at the food stories (you don’t have to start there, either). Stories, period. Histories. Get them onto paper, or make some audio – just talk into your smartphone, if you have one. I truly fear real storytelling – the passing along of the big stories and the quotidian ones, the bare facts and the tall tales – is going the way of ultra-curated social media (which I feel sadder and sadder about with each passing day): Cropped and filtered just so for maximum effect, negative or positive, spun emptily one way or the other. We all seem to crave the unvarnished truth (witness the popularity of Storycorps), but we seem ever more reluctant to tell it.

Tell it.