Big News

It’s been a long time since I blogged. Pretty much since a year after David’s death. I’ve been grieving, getting to know how to live a widow’s life, seeing my friends, doing what I must to live single.  I was even starting to get good at it, I was often happy except for lonely nights which I despised. But with some notable exceptions -my fabulous grandson Simon, helping organize the Barb & Mayday reunions – I lived a life that at least for me felt more uninspired than not.  Until 3 months ago.

I’ve decided I am a woman who does better coupled. Apart from the cheating first husband I abandoned when I was 23, the 2 years from 1970-72 when I left Stew to find myself thanks to the women’s movement, I was with  Stew for almost 40 years until he died in January 2006. I met David less than a year later, perhaps one year after that we moved in together. So really, if I count up to and include David’s death in 2014, I’ve been single only 5 years of my adult life. Even with my DIY machismo, this was not great preparation for being single.

I have also become more wary. I attribute it to two factors: natural aging and having 2 dead husbands. Not that it is in any way their fault, but I feel like going thru Stew’s and David’s deaths wiped away much of my Judy Gumbo risk -taking. And courage. It increased my fears, I wake up anxious, I jump to worst case scenarios at a moment’s notice. I retreated into Yippie Girl until I found myself flailing around on that too. I don’t want to give the wrong impression, I was fundamentally at ease making my way as a single in a singles world but deep down I felt discontented.

Also – I was absolutely not looking for another relationship. Goodbye to all that! (And only partly in the 1960s Robin Morgan sense. If you don’t know the reference, google it. ) My friends will corroborate  that I said over and over – maybe I’d have affairs but that would be it. Anything more?  Feh! Not worth the effort.

You can guess where this is leading, right? Jessica says Stew looks out for me, he brought me David and now he -and perhaps David too- have done it again. All of a sudden I have a new boyfriend. His name is Art Eckstein, he’s a DUP (distinguished university professor ) at University of Maryland. And we are definitely a couple. I’m the older woman, I’m 73, he’s 70. I’ll write another time about how we got together but I am amazed at everything we have in common: the 1960s, politics in general, hearing aids, widowhood, being Jewish, extremism (pro & con), mutual friends, even the FBI, (yes – the same agents showed up in my FBI files that he writes about in his forthcoming book Bad Moon Rising: How the Weather Underground Beat the FBI but lost the Revolution.)  He listens, he’s kind, he’s really smart, he loves kids and dogs although he has neither himself. On top of that,  we’re both short. Millenial  servers comment about how cute we are together. And how happy.

So now I have a companion. Well, to be honest, David used to say that everybody needs their mammal, so yes, I missed most having a mammal next to me in bed. But as a single  I also could not find a satisfactory substitute for ongoing consistent interaction. I have many good friends, I am so grateful I was able to work through one problem or a piece of a problem with them, but by its nature what we talked about had to be sporadic. I sorely missed the back and forth, the dialogue about both the little things and the big, the ongoing conversation that is an organic part of any intimate relationship.

Art and I have known each other for a little over 3 months but the depth and intensity of our relationship is, as we say “Amazing!” My time with him expands yet passes quickly; it feels like he’s someone new who I have known forever.  Art is also a historian, he’s both pushing me and inspiring me to get back to Yippie Girl, since, he says, it’s important for our generation’s history. So now I am.

I’ll keep you posted as I can but in the meantime – It’s amazing!









Art and I need to begin writing our Ketubah. Before our August 20 wedding. If we can. A Ketubah is a document signed by Jews – bride, groom, officiant and witnesses – that details promises and hopes for a couple in their married life. Stew and I never had one. Instead, Stew liked to say “Our Ketubah is in Cuba with Dhoruba.” Dhoruba being a jailed (and now freed thanks to Bob Boyle, a former student of mine turned lawyer) Black Panther.

With Stew, I never desired a written document. I accepted Stew’s rhyme as a Stew-style commitment that symbolized he and I would treat each other as we thought good revolutionaries must: with equality, passion and with great love. In our Yippie way, we modeled ourselves after Che –  a true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love….and hate. Stew’s and my relationship maintained itself on great feelings of love –  for each other, for Jessica, for our friends. We focused our hatred not toward each other but on the multiple oppressions that surrounded us. It worked for the almost 30 years we lived and loved together.

With David, I had a document that we wrote together, that I had calligrapher and for a while longer will maintain it’s place above the couch. Its most memorable phrase Is that he and I would be tolerant of each other’s “eccentricities and fuck-ups.” Our statement turned out to be too superficial. Building a strong relationship goes a lot deeper than putting up with eccentricities such my revulsion at David’s eating week plus old food. Or fuck-ups which I know we both made but can no longer recall. A strong relationship includes developing an ability to communicate a seriously and deeply. I did not always do that with David. Instead, I tolerated his occasional mean remarks, remarks he would make not just to me but also to long time friends and cohousers. I would work them out with my therapist but not with him. Still, a week before David died; he was sitting on a chair & I sat facing him on the bed. Out of the blue, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” I asked.
“For every time I was mean to you.”
Any hostility I harbored vanished in that instant, it was as if David’s harsh remarks had nnever happened. My conclusion? a heart-felt apology is more binding in the face of impending death than words in a ketubah can ever be in life.

Art and I are very grateful to have found each other in this, the final chapters of our lives.  One of the many strengths of our relationship is that we talk to each other deeply and truthfully about everything. We recognize we don’t have that much time left. We do have disagreements but we have no reason to dissemble. Or to cover up. So we talk. Constantly and deeply.

Art and I do, however, disagree about some political issues. When we first got together we made a wise decision. Bob Dylan’s has a line in Love Minus Zero/No Limit: ” I know too much to argue or to judge.” Art and I agreed – when we disagreed on politics we would “Bob” it. Put it aside. If we had not done that, I believe that our relationship would not have survived.

Stew and I grew up together as Yippies, we protested for decades without political disagreement, with one major exception – the years between 1970 & 1972 I left him to join the women’s movement. With Art, I was so used to having political single-mindedness as a couple, it was difficult for me at first to tolerate a relationship with a man some of whose views differed from mine. Art is a full-n progressive, hates T***P as much as I do, but we disagree on the Middle East. Still, I recognize as my 74 the birthday approaches that political differences can be secondary; it’s the relationship, the time we will have to spend together that counts. I look for guidance to my married friends of 30 plus years, women who I respect, who don’t agree politically with their spouses.  I tell myself if they can tolerate differences, so can I.

Underlying my decision to be tolerant is that both I and Art are surrounded by ill and dying friends. That turns out to be what happens when you reach our age, but youth culture did not prepare me for getting older. Still  it emphasizes to me the importance of the love, comfort and companionship our relationship brings.

So I ask – what exactly should we put in our ketubah except a commitment to commitment?




4 Tubes of Lube

If you have been following me on Facebook you’ll know I am engaged to be married. For the 4th time! I never anticipated having 4 husbands after I discovered the first one in bed with another woman. Or after my beloved Stew and then my beloved David died. But here I am. My fiancé Art Eckstein is a widower and a professor of history and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. Among other things, Art has just published Bad Moon Rising, a book about the Weather Underground and the FBI. He and I are very much in love. W Neither of us expected to meet another person at to share our lives.  I’ll write more about how Art & I met another time, but here is today’s story:

Ours is a long distance, bicoastal relationship. Art lives in Greenbelt Maryland, 3000 miles away from my home in Berkeley. We currently have 2 homes, his and mine. Which is not easy. Many items, including lube, need to be purchased in enough quantities for both our domiciles.

I am the older woman in the relationship at close to 74, Art is 70. – It’s not that we fuck like bunnies, but we do have sex. I realized recently we had run out of the organic lube we prefer in Greenbelt and we began to run out in Berkeley. We use a lotta lube at our age, what can I say? So off we went to Good Vibrations the best sex shop I know of in Berkeley. When the young woman sales clerk ask if she could help us, I pointed to our favorite Blossom Organic Natural Lubriant. There were only 2 on the shelf. At which point I announced, without embarrassment, in my ordinary but assertive women’s liberation voice,

” Two is not enough. We need four tubes.”

“Four? You want four?”,  I heard her a shocked reply.

I didn’t think this was in any way an extraordinary request. After all, I knew, even if the young woman  did not, that Art & I had two houses to furnish.  This particular lube is hard to find, I wanted to stock up.

“Yes sweetheart, four tubes is right,” I told myself, neglecting to explain the housing issue.

The young woman appeared stunned. Then determined. Moments later she emerged from the back of the store with what amounted to a case of lube and regarded her two silver haired customers with a befuddled but condescending look equal to mine.  I then proceeded to augment her befuddlement by opening my purse and accidentally spilling on the shop floor 4 bottles of supplements I had just purchased from my accupuncterist.  My pill bottles bounced across the floor as the young woman stared, astonished. I realized later she must have thought my supplements were viagra–or god knows what else.

Art & I  exited before we burst out laughing. We continued laughing long enough to give us both stomach aches. However bizarre Art and my request may have appeared, at least we demonstrated one thing – oldsters can enjoy sex!

I (almost) voted today

Today I got the closest to voting I ever have in my entire life.  Pretty much all of you know by now I am what was once known as a resident alien. I am not a gigantic green creature from another world but a legal immigrant with a green card. I have never voted in a US election (because I can’t) and never in a Canadian election (too boring, although given Canada’s newest progressive and hot Prime Minister, plus a possible need to emigrate back there if you know who wins, I may have to change my mind.)

I regret not getting US citizenship. Perhaps I was wrong, but I always felt intimidated about applying by the inescapable reality that I have 1300 pages of FBI files. Perhaps I was being paranoid but how could I answer honestly the question on the citizenship application about how often I had left the United States? And when? Algeria in 1969 to visit Kathleen and Eldridge? North Vietnam by way of Moscow and Cuba in 1970?

This election felt so different, so momentous, its potential consequences so dire that, while I have been saying for decades I feel like a woman before suffrage, this time I actually experienced first hand both that passion to be included, to have my voice heard and the depressing powerless not to be able to make that happen. Until this election, I did not fully understand how much I had been missing

Which is why I insisted that my boyfriend Art take me as close as I could get to be inside the voting booth at the Greenbelt Community Center in Maryland where Art lives and I visit. African Americans slightly outnumbered the whites lined up to vote; it was early in the day, the line tended toward the aging more than young families. The previous night Art and I had eaten at a reasonably expensive restaurant – not near as fancy as Chez Panisse but nowhere close to Chick A Fil. It amazed me to find equal numbers of white and black wait staff serving equal numbers of black and white customers as if it was the most natural thing in the world. A sight which I, from uber-blue, progressive Berkeley, have not seen in any of our excellent restaurants – from cheap to reasonably expensive.  Perhaps it is the presence of the federal government that makes this part of Maryland so diverse yet racially integrated; if so, that only goes to show that paying a livable wage plus anti-discrimination laws can create a positive outcome. No wonder the right is so opposed to what they label big government!

When Stew and I lived in Oregon, with its vote by mail elections, I always said I had 1/2 a vote. Stew and I would sit at our kitchen table, read through the multi-page Oregon voter’s manual, look for names of friends we recognized who had endorsed a ballot measure or a candidate, discuss then pencil in the votes we both agreed on and drop our single, shared ballot in the mail.

Until today, this was the closest I ever got in my entire life to actually voting.

I must admit, I felt a frisson of what I can only describe as thrill as I walked with Art into what I knew to be an actual voting booth. It looked more like a place for Clark Kent to change into Superman than the traditional curtained enclosure I had only seen on TV; it was one in a row of 5 or 6 rows of identical tall tables, on top of three sides of each table stood a square of white cardboard, a box with one side missing, each side decorated with American flag decals.  I have never felt patriotic about the US flag, for me it’s always been a symbol of imperial subjugation, but I have to say, in this Greenbelt Community Center first established by Eleanor Roosevelt, the sight of equal numbers of black and white women and men leaning over their tables filling in that paper ballot moved me. Especially since, despite the Trump signs I saw on the lawn on my way in, I knew Maryland to be among the bluest of blue states.

I stood with Art protected by our private cardboard enclosure and filled in a ballot for Hillary. I didn’t hold the pencil in my hand, exactly, I didn’t want in any way to validate Trump’s prophecy of a rigged election.  But I was there, close in, close up, close enough to vote.  Then I fed our paper ballot into a machine which read it, both sides at the same time, and viola – the ballot was accepted. I even get to wear an “I voted” sticker – although in actuality I hadn’t.

J. Edgar Hoover once chastised an FBI agent for his mistake in describing me as a “Canadian alien.” In Hoover’s pedantic view, I was not a Canadian alien but a Canadian citizen. Jerry Rubin once said that, since America affects the world, everyone in the world should vote in the American elections.  Today I came close to that victorious feeing the fighters for woman’s suffrage must have had when they stepped into the voting booth and marked their ballots for the first time – at last.


Mayday Road Trip – 1968-2016

I returned recently from an immersion into how my past intersects with my present.  My trip began in Chicago, included an anti war symposium in St.Paul Minnesota and culminated in Washington D.C. where I celebrated the 45th anniversary of Mayday, the largest mass arrest in U.S. history. Here are my impressions:

Best Food – Chicago: Duck soup at Lula Cafe.
Worst Food – Minnesota: Pork, pork, bacon, pork, gluten, gluten, pork, pork, bacon, pork, gluten, bacon. (Sorry gang, I know you tried).

Most Useful Item Packed – a shower cap.

Most Bizarre Moment – when I asked a female TSA screener why she was patting me down and she replied it was because I was wearing baggy pants. I mean, really?  I thought my jeans were tight. Is everything on my body sagging? Jeez!


Chicago –  Two dinners: one with Bernardine and Billy, who still retain their passionate commitment to just causes that made them Movement superstars and at the same time reviled. Another with Micki Leaner. I first met Micki when she was the only African-American legal assistant at the 1969 Chicago Conspiracy Trial. I hadn’t seen her for 47 years, but our deep connection from back in the day made our reunion one of those “I haven’t seen you for decades but we might as well have never parted” reunions.

IMG_1937(me. Micki, Nancy)

Locating, with Nancy Kurshan, that part of Lincoln Park where the Yippies tried to sleep during that infamous last week in August of 1968, before we were forced out by cops and gas. I found the tree under which I saw Allan Ginsberg ohmmmming until tear gas chased him along with me, my late husband Stew Albert and perhaps 3,000 others. I tromped up the hill where the garbage trucks with barbed wire covering their front spewed that gas prohibited, I heard later, for use in Vietnam. Lincoln Park made me tear up, a response I could identify by that telltale lump in my throat and the upsurge of excess water in my eyes. It was a transitory release. My tears arose not from breathing actual gas but from my memory of the joy I took in fighting back.


Minneapolis/St. Paul  – The Vietnam Anti-War Symposium:  organized at Macalaster College by Karin Aguilar-St. Juan, co-editor of The People Make the Peace( ), a compendium of essays in which I, along with eight others, write from the perspective of having visited the former North Vietnam while the war still raged then returned to a united country in 2013 to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords.

.IMG_1882(Rennie Davis, me, Frank Joyce, co-editor of The People Make the Peace. Photo by Lilian Vo)

Twenty Macalester students introduced themselves by name followed by  “My preferred gender pronouns are she, her, hers”  or “he, him, his. No “they, them, theirs” in this group. This was my first encounter with real-time usage of PGP. As a writer, I resisted accepting such a change simply because I hate rhetoric. But the relaxed and natural way these students expressed their gender preference got to me. I tried it out, “My name is Judy Gumbo and my preferred gender pronoun is “she, her hers.” I wonder: is this new nomenclature the cutting edge of a revolution, one which knocks out gender privilege, stereotyping and legitimizes gender flexibility for everyone? If yes, my by now grumpy generation better let down our defenses and get over it!

IMG_1955(The students and us. Karin Aguilar-San Juan, PMP co-editor, Symposium organizer and Associate Professor of American Studies at Macalaster College is, not surprisingly, on the far left.)

On the Symposium’s last night, four Southeast Asian-American students spoke – a Hmong, a Cambodian, a Laotian and a Vietnamese, two women and two men, one a rap artist, another a poet, one a filmmaker, one born in a refugee camp after her pregnant mother was carried across a border by Red Cross volunteers. “Keep Running, Keep Moving,” was the title of the rap artist’s poem Refugee Mentality. All students had family members shot by North Vietnamese soldiers or stories of relatives killed, lost, disappeared or drowned.

IMG_1981(Oanh Vu (Vietnamese), Chanmany Sysengchanh (Laotian), Silvy Un (Khmer or Cambodian), and Tou SaiKo Lee (Hmong)

I found these young people hard to take. Theirs is a reality I have chosen to ignore as incongruent with the heroic image of Vietnamese freedom fighters I once idolized. Our guide at the Cu Chi Tunnels that we visited in 2013 had declared “Nobody won. We lost 3 million people.” He was right. War affects all sides, not just the side you take. For these second generation children of refugees, leaving Vietnam was like a holocaust in that their parents still refuse to talk about it. I felt exposed, guilty in some way for not seeing their experience as authentic as that of my heroes.

At the symposium’s end,  I had a private conversation with Anh-Thu Pham, a radical activist daughter of Vietnamese refugees. We talked about Grand Juries. This vigorous young woman is today under subpoena for having once worked with an anti-war committee. Today she works with Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition.  “I go from invisible to invincible, “she explained. I told her I too had been subpoenaed , and that I saw in her that same courage I had called on when I faced a Grand Jury after Mayday.   You will come through this just fine, I told her.  Thank you, the woman warrior replied.  As I recall we hugged.

Washington D.C. – The Mayday Reunion 

I encountered shock without the awe when I first walked inside the Hotel Harrington, site of our Mayday Reunion, one block west of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington D.C. Compared to the uber-plastic, unmemorable Embassy Suites in St.Paul, with its not one but two 2 high def TVs, this place felt like a different planet: plaster peeled from the ceiling of a storage closet, water leaked underneath my bathroom sink, and my beige and brown polyester bedspread might easily have been purchased around the time Mayday took over D.C. streets.IMG_1986

My first impression was so wrong I am ashamed.  The Harrington’s staff turned out to be flexible and extraordinarily helpful; they went so far as to open their storage closet for us (the one with peeling plaster) so we organizers could set up the Reunion meeting room however we chose. Eddie, the Harrington’s sympathetic catering manager (and friend of Noreen’s) gave us such a deal on delicious ribs, salmon, vegan kabobs plus dessert we made our budget. People triumphed over profit. If I had to guess, the Harrington has not been remodeled since the 1970s. What better location to transport us back to 1971 and the largest mass arrest in U.S. history?

IMG_2026Noreen Banks, Carole Cullum, and myself

I am truly grateful to Noreen and Carole for ensuring all logistics went swimmingly. The three of us, plus our New York organizer Michael Drobenare, had hoped for a total of 40 or 5o people; 60-65 arrived the first night and 35 stayed for the entire reunion. Our gathering was endorsed by Veterans for Peace. Generous donors gave enough so we could pay our bills. We created a community. Considering that we organizers put the entire reunion together in 2 and a half months, I say we aced it.

Meeting the daughters and sons of refugees had sharpened my empathy for children of “the other side,” still, I was delighted we could open the Reunion with a message from Mme. Binh, former foreign minister of the PRG and at age 90, the only living signer of the Paris Peace Accords. Lady Borton arrived from Hanoi to read Mme. Binh’s message, behind Lady a giant poster of the front cover of Mme. Binh’s memoir hung on the wall.  Mme. Binh thanked us specifically for helping stop the Vietnam War, then warned of escalation of a new war in the South China Sea. Vu Le Thai Huang, Minister Counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy spoke, behind him a “Women’s April 10 March to the Pentagon” poster was on display.  Huang’s brief statement included an admission he had not yet been born when Mayday took the streets.


Like many of my friends, I worry that our social contract appears to be crumbling, that violence, racism, misogyny and hatred have become the order of the day. Can the Mayday slogan, “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government” be as meaningful to activists today as it was to us 45 years ago?

IMG_2065                                                                                                                                   (Michael Drobenare, Rennie, Carole, me and Noreen)

Rennie Davis’s keynote gave me a clue. I have known Rennie for decades, I met him first at the Conspiracy Trial in 1969, worked with him on Mayday, then spent time with him in Vietnam in 2013 and again at the Macalester College symposium.  Rennie is a dedicated, charismatic optimist whose brain can lead him into futuristic tangents I find difficult to grasp.   I need not have worried.

“When I stepped out to speak to everyone who came to be arrested 45 years ago today, ” Rennie later wrote on Facebook, “I felt tongue-tied and speechless. 100,000 people were ready to block roads and bridges to “stop’ the war in Vietnam. Historians called it the most impactful anti-war moment in history shaking the White House to the core and creating the conditions for the Paris Peace Accords two years later. Mayday, 1971 is barely an historical footnote now but there’s a treasure chest of experience in Washington today to support a new generation that wants to change the world again.”

I agree. Our job is to support, not lead. When I want to understand the role of history in present time, I turn to  Malcolm X, to what is by now my dog-eared thin black volume Malcolm X on Afro-American History, “That’s why I say it is so important for you and me to spend time today learning something about the past,” Malcolm says, “so we can better understand the present, analyze it and then do something about it.”

IMG_2068(The In Memoriam List)

Reunion Day Two: began with 50 minutes of  compelling, black and white footage shot and edited by the Videofreex Mayday Video Collective. * As we organizers had hoped, the spirit, speeches, effective use of civil disobedience caught on tape inspired all 35 of us to sit in a circle afterwards and share our Mayday stories. Just like at Mayday, when the intensity of protest shattered time, two and a half hours rushed by in what felt to me like fifteen minutes. And everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to talk.

Before I left Berkeley for my road trip, I had interviewed Dan Ellsberg. I wanted him to have a presence at the reunion, to open the afternoon session. Interview is not quite the right word, Dan loves Mayday; he spoke so eloquently and so astutely about the dangers of escalating war,  I asked only a single question during his entire 20 minute rap.  (For the complete video go to videos on my website,

After Dan, two VVAW members. Tim Butz and Jack Mallory, used humor and sensitivity to tell us how their dedication to Mayday helps them to this day to live with PTSD. At the point at which conversation got a little tense, (it’s remembered politics, how could it not?) we broke for ice cream sundaes. The sugar rush pushed me through the final presentation by legal investigator Sheila O’Donnell and old-time lawyer Phil Hirschkop. Our reunion ended at 6:30 p.m., downstairs in the bar with free hors d’oeuvres provided by our friends at the funkily perfect Harrington Hotel.

Many of you have asked me for my impressions of the Reunion. I think it was outstanding; it combined nostalgia with renewing friendships for the future; it reaffirmed my confidence that my older, grayer. wiser generation remains true to our ideals. Everyone had their own Mayday, in 1971 and 2016. This was mine.

* “Mayday 1971″ is known officially as the”Mayday Video Collective”. Videofreex was one of the 8 or so affiliated groups during production, hosted the edit in May 1971 in their Prince Street studio for a dozen or so Collective members. A partly restored copy was screened at the reunion.




Inhaling David’s ashes

One week from yesterday, November 21, will be the first anniversary of David’s death. I will take his ashes to Inverness and bury them next to Donna, his wife of 30 years.  He and I made that decision even before he got ill, in one of those casual conversations where you talk about what to do when your spouse dies, knowing the inevitable will one day  happen but not considering it as part of present reality. We’d joke we’d put him in the green bin,  feet sticking out, but  decided the City of Berkeley compost collectors would reject him. Too old and sinewy perhaps. After that we discussed taking him to Portland and burying him on top of Stew. I figured neither Stew nor he would go for that option. Neither comfortable nor appropriate. Just as I will end up with Stew one day, (whole body in the traditional Jewish way, since I have a whole gravesite next to Stew in Jones Pioneer Cemetery) David being with Donna’s feels like the appropriate way to go.

Still, I keep some of David’s ashes with me.  No longer in a black box next to my bed, I have decided to put a few in one of David’s multitude of baskets, the one in the living room that is already shaped like a vase with a butterfly woven on its side. It has a top. I do not want ashes in a container without a top. At first I thought I’d make the transfer from the black box with the name David Dobkin on it outside, in the fresh air. Then given I consider myself a Californian, I hoped for  rain. Then came the wind issue.  Ocean breezes can make their way in an instant through the Golden Gate Bridge heading straight for cohousing.  My sister Miriam, my mother Harriet, Stew and Jessica and I had scattered my father Leo’s ashes or, more precisely he scattered us.  We had gone out to sea in the Canadian Gulf Islands in Miriam’s boat, the Meanderin Orange, a tiny tugboat looking vessel painted as its name implies. In an incidence of true blowback, my mother opened up my father’s ashes only to have ocean breezes carry them back toward her, in an act of possible karmic revenge for five decades of her Leo enabled alcoholism, fights, love and buried secrets. Leo’s ashes landed on my mother’s clothes and  face then made their way gently onto  all of us.  Out of such a single incident does avoidance grow. Not for me an outdoor opening of David’s box of ashes.

My prep involves a series of small decisions: I’ll do it before I shower. I’ll wear David’s apron from Elk where his late sister and his nephews live; I’ll place the black box close by my sink, on top of sheets of newsprint from the Business section of the Chronicle (for David, since he always read that section). After that was done, I retrieved an ancient spoon from the bottom of Donna’s gardening case, after which I realized I wanted to wear surgical gloves, since having my beloveds’ yet still human remains directly on my hands made me a little queasy. I tromp back upstairs to my closet with its “wound care for the big one” box, supplies (including morphine) I’ve hoarded thanks to the generosity of Kaiser hospice nurses, but I can locate only a single glove. Better than nothing, I tell myself, but I also know my bandages and morphine for the big one won’t be worth a hill of beans unless I can also prevent infection by wearing gloves. I better get some.

Of course I tear up, I feel vulnerable, all the old familiar grief emotions resurface. I move on by focussing on details: What size zip lock bag to use? Sandwich or quart? With confidence as well as trepidation, I open the black David Dobkin box. No ashes fly, no ghosts emerge. Inside I find a  neat plastic bag, wrapped with a tie, not too large a quantity but not too little. One spoonful, two, three, occasionally my hand brushes against the plastic bag and a flurry of David’s ashes spill out on the newsprint, a little on the cabinet, the floor, my apron. I breath in to clam myself then keep going.  Among the feathery grey a metal clip emerges, u-shaped, looking like a safety pin without the safety. I put it in my bag of keeper ashes.  It was, after all part of David. I figure the clip was  holding him together somehow after his hernia surgery. Then paranoia sets in: should it have been there at all? Is it a leftover, a witness to medical error? Should I sue? I expect extreme emotions to be with me this week. It’s too late anyhow, I  have no way to prove malpractice, and no wish to live with a David medical lawsuit for the next upmpteen years. I put the pin back into my David keeper ashes then breath in deep again.

Clean up is easy. I fold the newsprint, all the spilled ashes go back into the bigger David box that will go to Inverness on Saturday. Time to shower. I open the shower curtain to find large black bee (or perhaps a wasp, having watched Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellan last night I understand but cannot tell the difference.) A-hah, I exclaim, surprised, then continue with “David, David, David, ok honey, I know you’re here! ” I do my practiced insect rescue manoeuver: take a glass, a piece of paper, put the glass over the insect, slip the copy paper he glass and deposit the insect, free and unharmed in the great outside. Who knows, it might be some form of David.

I sense within  my mouth as slight, not strong but distinctly metallic taste. I brush my teeth. The taste remains. Despite my shower, my drinking coffee, one hour later I have a tinny titch of David in my mouth. David didn’t want to leave. But he also said he would not be back. Hah.  I am what I inhale.



Sitting with Picasso

is an overwhelming emotional experience. My joy at being surrounded by so much amazing art also makes me sad.  I can’t share this with David. Or Stew for that matter although we didn’t really go to galleries the way David & I once did.  I write down words to describe the sculptures – surreal, erotic, unorthodox. Do I  wish I could be a creative genius? A bit. Does the exhibit set my acquisitive juices flowing – oh yeah. What would it mean to live a life surrounded by such gorgeousness? My distant memories draw me to specific works, especially heads  of women. Not sure why exactly. Lest we forget, Picasso had a long succession of lovers and mistresses – all (to my knowledge) women. With his fun-loving and audacious spirit, I wonder – was Picasso something of a Yippie?


I enjoy being Judy Gumbo

At times. Such as yesterday at a 70th birthday/retirement party for my friends Ruth & Wendel. I had a warm, long rambling conversation with Dan Ellsberg. Dan is 84, he wears gigantic hearing aids;  in order for him to hear I had to speak directly into his ear, close up, which gave our conversation an unexpected intimacy. Somewhere between a father and a lover.  He asked about which folks had died ( sadly I can’t recall exactly who he asked about.) We discussed Vietnam, with special emphasis on my 2013 trip, so I handed him a flyer about our People Make the Peace book & an upcoming reading Oct. 17 in Berkeley with Rennie Davis.

“He’s been trying to contact me. I haven’t replied. Is he still with the little fat guy?” Dan asked, using a phrase all of us did to refer to the guru Rennie attached himself to after our movement died. I told him no, that when I last saw Rennie he was trying to work with folks in Vietnam to help mitigate the effects of agent orange. With some kind of organic chemical solvent. I applaud Rennie’s movitives but did not reveal how uncomfortable Rennie made me as he tried to “sell” the Vietnamese on this untested product. 

My time with Ellsberg was the kind of Judy Gumbo 1960s conversation I remember,  time-travelled into 2105. We talked about getting arrested at Mayday – Ellsberg did, I did not. A failure of leadership on my part; I got so stoned the night before I did not wake up my affinity group in time to get to the designated intersection. Which led an acquaintance to tell Ellsberg she had tried to get Rennie & other Mayday folks to set the demo start time later, but got nowhere. Then she owned up to having had an affair with Rennie. Which prompted Ellsberg to say his grandfather or perhaps great grandfather had an affair with Emma Goldman. How cool is that? I chose not to reveal my affair (save that one for the memoir). Protest  movements are hotbeds of schtupping- then, way back then & likely now. We may be gentle, angry people as Holly Near sings but that is no contradiction to being passionate. Hurray for protest. It brings out sexiness in all of us!

Visiting Stew & David & Atoning for My Sins

I have in the past used the High Holy Days as my opportunity to commune with Stew. He is buried far away in Portland, under a sparkly pink granite tombstone in a tree lined cemetery full of distant pioneers and  Jews more recently deceased. It has been less than a year since David died, while the upcoming anniversary of Stew’s yartzeit is ten years. I knew this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur would be different.

I may be Jewish but I don’t think of myself as religious. Most of the time, I don’t even consider myself spiritual. Stew and I adoped a Yippie Jewish renewal version of Jewish practices in Portland. I feel at home here at  Kehilla with its empathetic, learned rabbis, feminist music, democratic services and reasonably radical politics.  But when it comes to actual worship – even Rabbi David says that when he’s asked if he believes in God (oops, better capitalize God given it’s the HHD) Rabbi David answers – what do you mean by God?

All of which  leads to me, this Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, to stand in front of my favorite front row seat in the balcony of Oakland’s Masonic Temple with its arcane carvings of faces, crosses and Jewish stars surrounding the stage, wearing my tallis (perhaps from Israel, certainly used in Portland) over my head and around my body, Stew’s yarmulke is on my head (possibly my father Leo’s but one Stew wore in Portland). It’s time for the silent Amida, the silent standing prayer. In years past I would use this holiday ( not a holidary in the celebratory sense but a holiday from daily life frustrations and tasks) to commune with Stew.  Now I visualize not one dead husband beside me but two: Stew with his blond hair & matching tallis  trimmed in gold, humming along to the prayers,  David, the cultural anthropologist, the observer, his bald head nodding off but determined to stay until the bitter end. I stretch out each of my hands – to Stew on my right side, David on my left.  I pretend they are  holding my hands. A single tear makes a channel down my right cheek. That one’s for Stew, I tell myself. It is followed shortly after by a tear down my left cheek, for David. More follow,  I loose count. Never before has this happened at any service.  Usually I just tear up – I feel the tears behind my eyes but they hide, they do not show themselves. In the past I usually tear up toward the end of  Avinu Malkenu. And the Mourner’s Kaddish. But I don’t truly cry. This time I let myself go. Deep in. To what others call the center of the Tabernacle, the holy of holies. Rationally I believe my imaginings have to do with my still raw grief for David, but emotionally all this is new. And difficult. Exhausting.  And at the same time healing.

I believe the liturgy says that you are not the person today you were this time last year.  Darn right I’m not. Here are some sins for which I was granted atonement today. I may begin to sin again this very same way tomorrow morning. (Do the Catholics do it better?  Is it easier to change your behavior by  confessing and being forgiven every time you feel motivated rather than once a year?) Still, this evening I have been forgiven for:

  • going automatically to worst case scenario
  • using fear as a blanket to keep me from moving forward
  • Being too self critical. Lacking compassion for myself 
  • holding myself to perfectionist standards
  • moving so fast so I miss the details. And as a result I don’t remember them

Here’s what Stew gives me: fire, courage and a syncretic way of thinking. Here’s what I got from David – the ability to go slow and be a Stoic about the bad stuff. Thank you my dear guys. You both loved me. And I will do the best I can this coming year to live according to your gifts. 

Compassion For Myself?

Rosh Hashana was hard. I tell myself I should have expected difficulties but I did not have a sense beforehand of the depths to which I’d go.    A theme of this year’s Kehilla service was to recognize and pay attention to the words one’s inner, still small voice is telling you before the gates close and your direction for the next year is sealed in the Book of Life. Here’s what I wrote about how I missed the mark.

“By being too self-critical and holding myself to perfectionist standards. By moving too fast and going to worst case scenario.”

” Do you believe in God? ” I remember asking Stew at a Yom Kippur service  at Havurah Shalom in Portland, whose building was that same style Masonic Temple with rows of creaky, uncomfortable, brown wood seats, tall opaque windows with trim decorated in carved mystic symbols that include both crosses and Jewish stars. I feel comfortable at Kehilla since in look,  feel and politics it replicates and in music surpasses Havurah, where Stew and I revived our Judaism.  Stew would stand beside me and hum along off-key to  Avinu Malkenu, but he never answered the question. He just put his arm around my shoulder and folded me into his Tallis trimmed in gold that matched his hair. The Tallis that I wrapped Stew in when I buried him in Portland. And David was an avowed atheist, culturally Jewish but with such an engineer’s brain his interest in spiritual practice was as an observer – Jewish or Buddhist.

At Kehilla this past Monday, during the Avinu Malkenu prayer with its soaring music I raised my arms, not high, but one on each side of my body, my hands low just off my thighs. I reached out to Stew on my right, David on my left.  I hummed along like Stew, but  I was so overcome with emotion, so overwhelmed by loss  I could barely get a sound to come out of my mouth.  Rational Judy tells me I am imagining all this to ease my grieving;  the Judy who believes in a spiritual universe feels comforted in the belief that in this new year I will have both my guys to support me, one on each side.

I  still can’t answer that question of belief in the divine, except to say a bearded old guy on a throne in the sky is not my an image  I relate to. I know, if I don’t believe in the divine, how can I turn away from my sins or even commune with my two ghosts? I have no answer to that either. And what about being too hard on myself?  About telling myself I don’t know how to extend the rachmonis, the compassion that is a hallmark of this holiday to my life. I do know this: if I can tap into the love I feel for Simon, perhaps I can figure out how to practice compassion for myself at least during these ten days.  I hope so.