8. Spirit of Char

“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”
-Frank Sinatra

Christmas breakfast at Char’s was an experience never to forget!

The first thirteen years of my life were a fairytale. My mother Charlene (everyone called her “Char”) was, for me, the perfect mom. Char was a living example of the power of the soul. Her spirit carries me forward each day. Anyone who knew Char would tell you what a tremendous life force she was.

Then one day, out of the blue, I heard these words from mom:

“Your dad has asked for a divorce.”

I will never forget that day. She had been asking me to sit down for a talk for several days, but I kept avoiding it. I was in the living room with my good friend Kevin Leitch when she came in and let it out. I didn’t react. I don’t remember thinking anything. The first words out of my mouth were,

“Will I still be able to go to San Onofre with him?”

I’m not sure when I comprehended the scope of what was happening. San Onofre was all I had to hang on to at that point, so it became my focus, and I stuffed the rest deep inside. Their divorce continued to reign down repercussions on my world for years. Life would never be the same.

While Dad greatly influenced my surfing and athletic side, Mom was the essence of who I am. Even her twin brother (Charles Lloyd) was a bit like looking in the mirror for me. Their mother (Oa Cannon) had as significant an influence on my life as anyone. I got their DNA.

When I look back at Mom’s life, I am amazed at what she accomplished. She always kept her perk and cheer, despite many challenges. Everyone admired Char’s grit and determination. She was a very hard worker, determined not to depend on anyone.

Mom was ill-prepared for life without Jack following the divorce. She didn’t drive, for starters, and had never balanced a checkbook. I will never forget that first driving lesson when she asked me which pedal was the “gas” and which was the “brake” (not kidding!). Her plunge into independent living was akin to planning an ascent atop Mount Everest without a guidebook. Her achievements were herculean.

Despite many nights crying herself to sleep after the divorce (I would hear from my bedroom), she rose above the calamity and created a loving home base for my sister Terry and me. Our home was full of her upbeat attitude, delicious cooking, and an open door to all of our friends; Everyone loved Char. She always looked at the glass as half full. I have warm memories of our high school parties on Marguerite Avenue with mom in the center of the action booming Frank Sinatra songs on her concert-sized speakers. Char loved Sinatra.

507 Marguerite Avenue became party central in our high school days

On January 3, 2007, Mom passed into heaven in bed at her home in Santa Barbara, California. We had a memorial service and spread her ashes into the Pacific Ocean on January 12th. Pallbearers Greg Ross, John Park, Mark Magiera, Skip Lauderbaugh, Jack Schott, our son Matthew (age 11), and I paddled her ashes out for spreading. It was a remarkable event, capped by a school of dolphins who joined in for the paddle back to shore.

I had no idea of the void I would feel once mom was gone. She was always accepting and supportive of who I was. I can hardly remember her ever criticizing me or telling me not to do something. She provided the loving support a boy can only dream of.

I read the following poem at her memorial service. It was written at her bedside in 1997 at Hoag Hospital (where she worked for years as a breakfast chef) while she was on a respirator for seven days after suffering a pulmonary stroke. Doctors had given her little chance of surviving and told us that she would not live on her own again if she did survive. As Char’s story goes, she lived another ten years, fully independent, continuing to balance her checkbook, doing her cooking and cleaning, and enjoying her four grandchildren right up to the day she passed.

————-

The Spirit of Char

A gift from the heavens, you and Charles were.
Born to a widowed mother with young Norma, it was tough on her.
The Lord blessed you with a spirit, flourishing with love.
A spirit cheerful and happy, embracing hope from above.

Your young life took a turn, with an accident to the head.
Everyone had an opinion, but your spirit was not dead.
You carried on with great passion, determination, and will.
Your spirit was alive! You would not stand still.

School was more difficult; language came back slow.
You were self-conscious about your bandage and what you didn’t know.
Your spirit carried you forward, that was for sure.
No fear of the hurdles; that spirit led the cure.

School continued to be a challenge, but your progress was clear,
You stepped way beyond your boundaries, year after year.
Your parents had you tutored and watched very close.
What you wanted was freedom, to make of life the most.

Going off to Sun Valley, the Grand Canyon, and more.
It was time to experience a life different from before.
Then off to California at Malibu on the beach.
Your spirit caught fire, and surfing Jack would teach.
You fell in love and married in Las Vegas; it all happened so quick!
But it was right, your spirit told you; he was the perfect pick.

Two kids, Terry and Mike; dreams realized and more.
The move to Corona del Mar, and a house you adore.

Cycling to work at our school cafeteria was the best.
This life in California, you had been blessed.

Your Christmas show was magnificent! Spending days to prepare.
We were so anxious to get presents; the credit was not there.
That Christmas tree outrageous, year after year.
You decorated it to perfection and filled it with cheer.

Only now do I realize all the work you went through.
Your Christmas event was an amazing to-do.
Your spirit was Christmas; that goes without saying.
Giving us special traditions that will always keep playing.

Life took a twist when you and dad fell apart.
The challenges were many, but your spirit got a fresh start.

You learned to drive a car; “which pedal is the gas”?
To balance the checkbook, and make sure that in school we did pass.

Your spirit was strong, your will even stronger.
Staying cheerful and happy, though your days were much longer.
Enjoying my friends and our parties, which never seemed to end.
Everyone loved seeing Char; she was their best friend.

Selling our house by the beach was hard to bear.
You had your job at Hoag Hospital and now some money to spare.
You bought a mobile home, at Seacliff by the Sea.
With orange carpet and green siding; it was now the place to be.
It had more oriental decorations than the restaurants down the street.
And a stereo with huge speakers, playing to Sinatra’s beat.

I can taste your lamb dinners; it was my favorite I thought.
Roasted veggies cooked to perfection, though you’d argue they’re not.
A special spinach salad with those home-baked buttermilk rolls.
All on orange oriental china, down to the saucers and bowls.

Then came your German chocolate cake, weighing in at ten pounds.
My friends said it was the best, even better than it sounds.

My memories of you are endless; your spirit still stands out.
God has richly blessed me; there is no doubt.
Your life was tough, and tests were more than seemed fair.

But your attitude was positive; always a smile to share.

Now you are in heaven, rejoicing with Oa and Paul.
I really do miss you and want to give you a call.
So I bid you farewell, your spirit remains with me.
On to the New Jerusalem, where you are set free.

Well done, good and faithful servant.
(Matthew 25:23 NIV)

Goodbye mom

ENDNOTES

Mom suffered a brain injury at age ten in 1936 that greatly impacted her childhood. As a means of documenting this for her grandchildren (Hayley, Brennan, Marisa and Matthew), this excerpt below is from a letter written by her mother (Oa Cannon) to describe mom’s injury (unedited):

“It was here that Charlene fell from the top of the shoot-the-slide in the City Park and received a bad concussion. The doctor thought she was not badly injured, but her teachers (who were my friends) said her attention span was very short and quite a problem. When we moved to Salt Lake the Principal called us and said there was something decidedly wrong. She would know something one day and the next day it would be gone. We had her tutored and she seemed to learn quickly, but again, it would leave her. I spent hours in the evenings trying to teach her to read.
In Salt Lake we followed the suggestion of the Principal and took her to Dr. Harrow, it didn’t take long to point out her trouble. The injury was on her main retention nerve. He said she should be operated on or she would become worse. Already her little finger on the right hand was growing crooked, also her right foot had slowed its growth. He told us it wouldn’t be a complete recovery because it had been there so long.

Paul had his appendix out, Lynne (at seven months) had to have her tonsils out, she had been ill with asthma from diseased tonsils, then this operation was about more than we could handle financially. Three days after Charlene’s surgery she had a hemorrhage, her face was so swollen you could hardly tell where her nose was, she couldn’t talk. It took a year before she could walk and talk – still there were words she wanted to say, she tried, but it just wouldn’t come out right. It was a hard experience for her and us all. She was so bad that we all agreed it was only prayer that saved her.”

4 thoughts on “8. Spirit of Char

  1. Mike,

    Great tribute to “Char” !

    I can just hear her saying – “Oh Michael, you didn’t have to do that!”

    If I recall correctly , the whole family was visiting Char for New Years and she was so happy to have everyone there – and she passed away the next day .

    LLttF – Skip

    >

  2. Mike,

    Very nicely written. Your mom was amazing! I liked your use of the Sinatra quote to start the chapter.

    Two possible changes:
    Paragraph 10. I believe there should be a comma before and after Terry. My sister, Terry,
    Paragraph 12. She provided ALL THE loving support

    Keep up the great work!

    OB,sr

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