Barbara and Barney
Sometimes the realization that a person -- or a house -- is a friend sneaks up on you.
     Take Barney in the picture above, taken in the 1950s, when he first met Barbara, on the left. They married and, years later, when I was in high school I babysat for them each week while they went to a square dancing class. They had four children by then, the oldest not too much younger than I, but definitely not old enough to be put in charge of his three sisters.
     Barbara and Barney lived down the road from us in Walnut Creek, California, a suburb east of the Berkeley hills. Their house -- they called it The Homestead, rolling their eyes as they said it -- was down an unpaved road, ramshackle and jerry-built, and only got more so as the years went on. Somebody said there wasn't a weight-bearing wall in it. But it was a rock-solid beacon because of the couple who lived in it and welcomed you with open arms into the "formal" entrance -- the kitchen.

     I babysat the youngest child when she was two weeks old. Barney and Barbara trusted me with her, a fact that only sunk in years later when I had babies of my own ("What were they thinking?!"). Barney worked for Gerber and when he heard that I was pregnant, he started stockpiling as many Gerber products -- clothes, satchels, blankets -- as he could. When I brought Lucy out from Virginia for her first visit west, he drove up with his car packed solid and presented me with everything I could possibly need.
     That was Barney. Quietly paying attention. Unafraid to say he loved you. Funny as hell, his vocabulary laced with words we heard for the first time from him. Every car or truck got a name. When somebody brought his big new van over to show Barney, he dubbed it "The Fuckmobile."

The Homestead
     Barbara died first. Barney died after Labor Day, this year. He woke up one morning not feeling too great, turned over, went back to sleep and was gone. At the end of October his kids put on a memorial celebration for him at the Homestead. Tables, chairs and umbrellas were set out in the big, round driveway in front of the house. Food, wine and beer were laid out in the back. Friends, children, cousins, grand-children, husbands, ex-husbands showed up -- Barney and Barbara were nothing if not inclusive. Their ashes, in two separate containers, goofily dressed up with hats, sat side-by-side on a table in front of the garage. We could go pat them on the head, say good-bye, tell a last joke.
     The dumpster was coming the next morning to clear out the house before it went on the market. So, the party -- a happy wake, really -- turned out to be a good-bye not only to Barney, but to Barbara and the house and all the good times we'd all had there for decades.
     A bunch of high school friends of Barney's son showed up with instruments in tow to play the songs they'd all performed in their band back in the day. One of them grew up to be a real musician and now writes the music for TV's Justified (that's his elbow on the right, in the shot below)As the party thinned out -- but not to end until the wee hours -- the band launched into Love Me Two Times by The Doors: I'm goin' awaaaaay...

      Barbara and Barney were the alternate parents. Unlike many of our real ones, they were non-judgmental, funny, relaxed and warm. Nothing mattered and everything mattered.
     We're lucky if we have that back-up, the mom and dad who aren't shocked by anything except unkindness and pretension.
     So, good-bye Barney, old friend. And good-bye house. You gave us happy memories that keep us warm.


  1. ahhhhhhhh. this is the loveliest thing i've read in a long time.

  2. I am lucky to have brilliant writers in my life. Thank you beautiful girl. Mom and Dad are bawling about now!

  3. This is how life should be lived, yes?


Thanks for your comment! ~Katey Lee

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