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On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime. Written and first published on Memorial Day, 2003

My name, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anyone else with the same name. I know about one other man with my name, but we’ve never met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. This is the story of how that happened.

It was an August Sunday in New York City in 1975. I’d decided to bicycle from my apartment on East 86th and York to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island. I had nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since moving to the city in 1974, it seemed like a destination that would be interesting. Just how interesting, I had no way of knowing when I left.

August Sundays in New York can be the best times for the city. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their clients and most of the other professional classes. The city seems almost deserted, the traffic light and, as you move down into Wall Street and the surrounding areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle, you own the streets that form the bottom of the narrow canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. Then you emerge from the streets into the bright open space at Battery Park.

Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A few people are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Everything is lazy and unhurried.

I’d coasted most of the way down to the Battery that day since, even though it appears to be flat, there is a very slight north-to-south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and got one of the dubious Sabaretts hot dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.

We were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”

The twin towers loomed over everything, thought of, if they were thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam notwithstanding, America was just about at the midway point between two world wars. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. The only war we knew of was the Second World War and the background hum of the Cold War. It was a summer Sunday and we were in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.” . . . .

Continued now at The Name in the Stone

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When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Will I be ready?
When my feet won’t walk another mile
And my lips give their last kiss goodbye
Will my hands be steady when I lay down my fears, my hopes, and my doubts?
The rings on my fingers, and the keys to my house
With no hard feelings

When the sun hangs low in the west
And the light in my chest won’t be kept held at bay any longer
When the jealousy fades away
And it’s ash and dust for cash and lust
And it’s just hallelujah
And love in thought, love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings

Lord knows, they haven’t done much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold

When my body won’t hold me anymore
And it finally lets me free
Where will I go?
Will the trade winds take me south through Georgia grain?
Or tropical rain?
Or snow from the heavens?
Will I join with the ocean blue?
Or run into a savior true?
And shake hands laughing
And walk through the night, straight to the light
Holding the love I’ve known in my life
And no hard feelings

Lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone
Kept me afraid and cold
With so much to have and hold
Under the curving sky
I’m finally learning why
It matters for me and you
To say it and mean it too
For life and its loveliness
And all of its ugliness
Good as it’s been to me

I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies
I have no enemies

[THIS SITE — AND ITS ARCHIVES — WILL BE MAINTAINED FOR TWO YEARS FROM THIS DATE. AFTER THAT “DIGITAL DUST TO DIGITAL DUST.”

BTW: I’VE NEVER STOPPED LOVING YOU, JUSTINE, MY DAUGHTER. No hard feelings. Remember me, from time to time, to my granddaughters.]

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The American Digest community

Neo again.

In the comments I’ve noticed many people mentioning that they’d like a way to continue the American Digest community. Gerard arranged for the blog to continue for two years, so that’s certainly possible here if enough people want it.

For example, I’d be more than willing to start a new open thread here every day and people could comment as they wish. Or – as some have suggested – some of you might want to come up with topics and I’d post your ideas for that. This could be done every day, or every weekday, or on some other schedule that seems best like perhaps Monday, Wednesday,and Friday. I’d stay out of the discussions – this isn’t my blog, after all – but I’d put up the posts and you could handle the rest, although I’d clear away any spam or outright trolls that came by.

Speaking of which – there also has been an accusation from commenter “Dirk” that I’m getting rid of some comments. But the only time I deleted anything here involved a few comments by a single person who came onto one of the threads about Gerard’s death and basically trashed him as a human being. I then removed a comment that had attacked the attacker, because it made no sense anymore without the original comment.

Otherwise I haven’t removed or changed a single comment in any way. However, I’ve noticed that the spam filter here is unusually active and seems to have been trapping a few random comments for reasons that are very unclear. I’m trying to figure out why it’s happening so I can prevent it, but that may take a while. I found some “stuck” comments the other day and liberated them from the spam pile so that they are now displayed. But there can be a delay before that happens, since I usually come here only once a day.

Let me know what you’d like to happen going forward.

Also, about the contributions that arrived after Gerard’s death – I spoke to his brother, who’s in charge of his mail, and at the moment the plan is to just not deposit those checks. If people have sent cash, it can be returned. However, this may also take a while, because he’s busy doing a host of things connected with clearing out Gerard’s worldly goods. If you have any different thoughts on this, please put them in the comments here or email me with them at jaybean33@yahoo.com .

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Three answers and one question

Neo again.

I’ve noticed a lot of people here asking what’s going on with Olive. Gerard’s brother is still here and he’s taking very good care of her for now. She seems to adore him; perhaps she recognizes the familial scent? He’s looking for a good home for her and I don’t think it will be a problem, but I’ll let you know if there are any hitches and we need volunteers.

I’ve also noticed many people who sent checks in the last month or two are wondering what the plan is about that – donate to charity? Send back? Let them become part of the estate? Gerard’s brother is also in charge of that. I don’t know what the plan might be, but I’ll ask him.

Then there’s the matter of where Gerard will be buried. He requested cremation and the scattering of ashes in a spot in Chico he’s selected. I’ll learn more about that later.

If you’ve got any other questions, just put them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Now I’ve got a question for you. I’m thinking, in addition to the essay book Gerard had planned, of compiling another one with just his poems. But there’s no neat little category “poetry” here that’s all-inclusive, and I definitely don’t know all of the poems he published here or where they might be on the blog. If you could post links to some of the poems in your comments here, I think it would make my task a lot easier. Thanks.

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When death comes for bloggers

It’s a daily voice, like a friend you talk to on the phone every day. The closest thing to this kind of writing prior to blogging was the daily columnist (when did those go out? or did they ever exist?).

You get to thinking a blogger is someone you know, and although the conversations are a mite one-sided, they’re not totally one-sided because many bloggers interact in the comments as well. And then there’s always email contact, which makes the blogger much more easily accessible than the olden-day columnist.

The writing voices of bloggers are highly idiosyncratic as well. It’s not newspaper reporting, after all, with its pretense of objectivity and impersonality. Also, there’s no middleman or editor. The blogger is all of that rolled into one.

Some bloggers are far more personal in their writing and disclosure than others. Gerard was that way, and his writing packed a huge wallop. His voice was so bold and distinctive, and his range immense. His was a high-wire act.

Then again, even openness is hardly full disclosure, and bloggers intentionally shape the personae they project. That’s why meeting a blogger in the real world usually causes at least some feeling of surprise, because the writer is not the person although the person is definitely the writer. People contain multitudes, and Gerard was especially multitudinous.

When a blogger dies and that writing voice is stilled, there’s often a pang very much like losing a very good friend in real life, a friend with a major daily presence. The blogger has been churning out copy like a machine, usually every day and probably several times a day, often for years or decades – entertaining readers, amusing readers, maybe even inspiring readers or comforting readers or making them consider something new.

And then suddenly: silence. Utter utter silence.

It’s a very dramatic reminder that death is an abrupt and reluctant parting as far as our lives on earth go, and how powerless all of us are in its face. I knew Gerard very very well in what he liked to call the world dimensional, and the grief I feel is immense. But you, his readers, most of whom only knew his words on a screen, feel grief too at the loss of the completely unique original human being known as Gerard Vanderleun.

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Gerard and Olive

This is neo again. I want to thank everyone here who has offered tributes to Gerard as well as kind and loving words to me. It means a lot.

Here’s a photo I took a couple of years ago of Gerard in one of his gentler moments. He’s holding his cat Olive, barely visible against his black shirt. You may recall that he’d adopted her only about a week or two before the Paradise fire. When the fire came and he had to escape, he took the cat and grabbed the cat carrier, a few pieces of clothing, and his computer. He didn’t think the entire town would burn down – who did? But of course that’s what happened.

I am posting two posts above this one, the ones that Gerard wanted to be his last two posts on the blog. From time to time I’ll probably add something new but then bump those two up so that they remain on top.

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Gerard died peacefully in the small hours of the morning.

He left instructions to me for two last posts of his that he wanted me to publish here. I will probably do that tomorrow. I also will be posting a few more essays of my own about Gerard, but I will keep his two last posts pinned at the top of the page. Therefore you’ll need to scroll down past them to get to any new ones.

Thank you for all the loving and beautiful words expressing loving and beautiful thoughts for Gerard.

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The news on Gerard so far

I saw Gerard yesterday and I believe he’s quite close to death, perhaps days to a week. I’m not going to go into details except to say that meaningful conversation seems to have ceased, and he has also stopped drinking water. He’s being cared for attentively at a good place.

I’ll add what many of you may have learned already, which is that I am the blogger known as The New Neo. I’ve been writing these updates all along, and I’m also the person who was staying with Gerard eleven years ago when he had his cardiac arrest.

Unlike Gerard, I’m a fairly private person and don’t go in for much disclosure, dramatic or otherwise. But he wanted me to let people know, and I decided that was fine with me.

Gerard and I met through our blogging nearly eighteen years ago, became a couple about a year later, and have stayed extremely close for many years. We never lived together but would visit each other for lengthy periods, travel together, and have talked on the phone almost every day for most of the time we’ve been apart. He deferred to my need for privacy by not writing about our relationship, although I appear in some of his writings as the mysterious woman who was there for this or that occasion. For instance, I confess to also being the food eroder. That essay is a reminder of happier times.

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On Gerard

This is the news no one wants to hear. It is my sad task to tell you that Gerard has cancer that has metastasized, and that treatment offers very little or nothing at this point. He has entered hospice care, his younger brother is with him, and other loved ones have gathered or are gathering to visit, as well as church members and pastor.

His diagnosis took longer than usual because there were some glitches in some of the tests they did. But he and his family have known the situation for a few days now. He is resting a great deal, but when he’s awake it might be possible for someone to read him your comments here. He has already been touched by the outpouring of love and appreciation you’ve offered.

He has been planning an e-book of many of his essays and has done some of the compilation. I will be hoping to get that out, although it won’t be happening soon. I also will keep posting here for a while to let you know what is going on with Gerard. In addition, he long ago planned some posts that will be published here when his time on earth is done.

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A message from Gerard

He says he’s really really enjoying all the e-cards, and thanks.

The instructions on how to send one can be found in this comment.

That’s all for the moment.

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They are still testing

This is just a brief note to say I don’t really have any news.  It’s taking quite a while for the medical people to sort this out.  Gerard is still in the hospital, and they’re still doing tests.  Things don’t necessarily move at a rapid pace. 

I will let you know when there’s something to announce.  At the moment, he’s more comfortable because they upped his pain medication.  It’s still unknown what the cause or causes of his problems might be.

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More from the updater

Gerard is still in the hospital and still hanging in there. A major problem remains severe back pain. They’ve tested for a number of things and aren’t finished yet, and in the meantime he’s getting a fair amount of medication that makes him tired. That’s why you haven’t heard much from him more directly, although he did post this comment last evening.

For those of you who’ve asked about Olive, someone is checking in on her regularly and taking care of her basic needs. Gerard would like to thank everyone for their support, healing thoughts, and prayers.

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Progress report

Gerard’s still in the hospital but things are looking slightly up. His last COVID test was negative, so that’s good. He has somewhat better pain control although his back spasms are still formidable. He also has had some physical therapy to get him walking again, but he’s got quite a way to go.

He noticed in the comments that people were talking about sending funds to help. He’s deeply appreciative of that. So it’s an excellent idea. The address on the blog underneath his photo is actually a mailbox service, so any contributions sent there will be held for him. Here’s that address: Gerard Van der Leun, 1692 Mangrove Ave., Apt: 379, Chico, CA 95926. Or, if you’d prefer to send money through his other page – the one where he takes subscriptions – here’s the link to that page. Lastly, starting some sort of fundraising page at GiveSendGo would be a great idea as well.

Gerard sends his heartfelt thanks to you for all the good wishes and prayers.

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Update to the update

It turns out that Gerard’s return home was premature.  He went back into the hospital for some fine-tuning of his oxygen levels, which are much improved now.  He’s staying there for the moment, though, in order to get stronger enough to return home on his own.  The main problem holding him back right now is fairly severe back pain from what appears to be a back spasm, which makes it nearly impossible for him to walk and build up his stamina.  The plan is for an interim stay in a better rehab facility than he was in before, to get him more reliably on his feet.  He sends greetings.

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STILL (ALMOST) STANDING

RESCUED from the Court of the Covid Kings by three large and amazingly strong Christian Soldiers. A very near thing. Legs, back, and eye still very weak. Made it home where I will heal and grow stronger. Very hard at present but will get better.

God bless all of you. More later this is still difficult.

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Good news

I think you’ll be happy to hear that Gerard is out of the hospital and in a rehab place so he can get stronger before returning home.  He’s relieved to be away from the hospital, and has his own room and even a view. He thanks everyone for your well-wishes and prayers, and hopes to be back home in the not-too-distant future. He’ll probably have quite a bit to say about his experience.

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Update

Gerard has asked me to post this message for him.  I’m a friend with whom he’s been in touch.  He was hospitalized a couple of days ago with COVID, because his oxygen levels were somewhat low.  Fortunately that’s now been stabilized.  He would have been released from the hospital over the weekend, except for the fact that he’s now in a lot of back pain that they’re investigating.   Prayers and good wishes are welcome, and Gerard or I will keep you updated.

 

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Dispatches #3


The Blue Mandarin Coat (The Blue Kimono) –  Among the most sought-after portraitists in New England, Joseph DeCamp concentrated on formal portraits of men and decorative images of women set in tasteful interiors. The Blue Mandarin Coat is a decorative piece, yet the model possesses a regal bearing typical of DeCamp’s male subjects.

“Reddy” Pearson, an Irishwoman who served as DeCamp’s model and secretary in his final years, is shown draped in a stunning Japanese kimono—a bold and exotic choice of costume that, along with her assertive pose, contradicted contemporary models of femininity.


Art Contrarian: 1949 Frazer’s Unusual Advertising Art America’s only major new post-World War 2 automobile maker was Kaiser-Frazer Corporation.  There were two brands: Kaiser, a lower mid-range car, and Frazer, an upper mid-range car.  Kaisers competed with the likes of Pontiac and Frazers with upper-range Oldsmobiles. Frazer advertising was usually conventional.   But for the 1949 model year, it was given a set of unusual ads — visually unusual for the times.

Photos of The Biggest Family in 1920s Boston – 13 Children And Counting 

Class Struggle – The Board Game of Revolution, 1978 –  In an article published in Texas newspaper The Eagle on 24 May 1978, we learn that Class Struggle was being sold in outlets from bookstores to Bloomingdale’s for $9.99.

The game was translated into Italian, German, French and Spanish.

Over 230,00 units were sold.

As the paper quips: “Since the game came out, the professor has been learning about capitalism first hand.”

According to Board Game Geek, “the Workers move around a board while trying to survive against the Capitalist who control everything. As the Workers unite they take power from the Capitalist players but if they do not succeed in uniting the Capitalist will win.”

More, much more, for members of Dispatches at The New American Digest

 

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