Goodbye St. Didacus

Posted June 15, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s been 13 years since my wife Karen and I took our 5 year-old son Nicholas to meet Elizabeth La Costa, the principal of St. Didacus Parish School. Since then we’ve been going to teacher meetings, volunteering to maintain the library, writing the alumni newsletter, attending fundraising events and watching our kids grow up.

On Tuesday Karen picked up our 8th grade daughter Sophie at St. Didacus, making it the last day we would ever pick up a child there after school. Next year Sophie goes to high school. We had 13 years of investing memories in this place, with its plaster walls and tile floors, its blacktop playground, its long hallway that led from the south-end doorway to a school auditorium with the most uncomfortable seating I’ve ever known.

Sophie on her last day of school.

I grew up going to public schools so I suffered some culture shock when I first saw the Catholic school kids praying at a morning assembly. But before long I was charmed to hear the voices of children praying for everything from endangered animals, to soldiers in Iraq to unborn babies. Most of all, I saw my awkward, vulnerable son – who had been mistreated by other kids in a preschool where the teachers did little about it – in a place where he was protected by compassionate teachers who enforced a strict regimen of rules.

St. Didacus had a caring attitude that we noticed from the beginning. It was something we didn’t really see in the other Catholic or public schools we visited. Over the years, we had complaints about the place. Like the teacher who couldn’t be bothered to work with our son, who was having trouble in computer class. But we also remember the teachers who loved him and sent him home with encouraging notes and took the extra time to help him work through his learning disabilities. The years spent educating our kids and supporting the school were years of hard work that formed a lasting bond between us and the K-12 school. Our relationship with the parish coincided with a personal journey of mine that solidified my religious faith.

Now, we are moving on to a different part of our life, with one kid in college. The other will go to a Catholic high school where – a St. Didacus teacher joked – all you had to do was throw the money over the fence and let the school do the rest. No more setting up for Fall Festival or cranking out alumni newsletters. It’ll be easier.

As 13 years have gone by, the classes at St.  Didacus have been getting smaller. Fewer kids means fewer tuition payments. It’s a trend at almost all parochial schools in the U.S. I sometimes wonder whether my kids will soon be among the few who can look back on attending a Catholic grade school where the tuition was cheap, the classrooms were filled with immigrant offspring and the schools were firmly planted in an urban neighborhood.

We have been part of the long, imperfect tradition of Catholic education. I know that not all memories of parochial schools are fond ones. But with one of them my family shared a worthy task and many years of love and toil. Saint Didacus school is a place we’ll never forget.

 

 

Advertisements

Geman Beer

Posted May 7, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Showing someone the inside of your fridge is an act of intimacy because so many secrets are revealed. It shows not just your tastes and preferences but your history. When it comes to the beer in my fridge, all of these are true.

I learned to drink beer at the age of 17 & 18 and I learned it in Germany, where I was a foreign exchange student in the late seventies. At the time German beer had a bitter tang to an American, to whom the only beers widely available were bland, fizzy pilsners like Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But since then things have changed.

Now we live in the age of craft brew, with the object to be making a beer strong and hoppy, which I think refers to that bitter taste we got drinking Deutsche Bier in 1978. But American craft brews have taken it to a higher level than seen in traditional European beer making.

I remember being in them UK maybe five years ago and tasting, at a pub, an IPA. That’s what they called it, India Pale Ale, but the strong taste you get in an American IPA was not there. It was very mild in comparison,  and had a much smaller alcoholic kick. In fact I noticed this with lots of English beer.

My theory is that the Brits (men, at least) like to spend an entire Sunday afternoon drinking and socializing at a public house. If you’re there for the duration, drinking up to eight pints of beer, you’ve got to make sure the brew is pretty weak so the patrons can stay sober up enough to make it home.

By contrast, consider your average American IPA. It’s strong and very hoppy and probably has an alcohol content of seven to eight percent. Drink two and you’re very tipsy. Drink four and you’re hammered.

Now let’s get back to the subject of my fridge.

After exploring the breadth of the craft beer movement, starting with Pale Ale in the ’90s and IPA after that, I found myself turning back to Germany beer. Two beers I often buy are Beck’s and Bitburger Pils, both of which were popular beers when I was a teenager in Hamburg, Germany.

Beck’s was brewed in Bremen, a little ways south of Hamburg on the Autobahn. Today, thanks to the acquisition by beer conglomerate Inbev, Beck’s beer that’s sold in the U.S. is brewed in St. Louis, but it still taste like a German beer. I buy cans of Bitburger at Trader Joe’s and I’m pleased to see their advertising slogan “Bitte ein Bit” has endured. And, apparently,  it’s still brewed in Bitburg, Germany.

German pilsner today tastes brisk and light, compared to many American craft beers, but it still has the terrific flavor I learned to like many years ago. The alcohol content of the German beers I drink is about 5 percent. That I can deal with for a daily brew.

So God bless the American craft brew business because they’ve made American beer worth drinking. But German pilsner is a rocket from my past that tastes just as good as it did when I first put my young innocent mouth to a bottle.

P.S. Some of you probably spotted a Guinness stout, hiding behind the German beers in my fridge. It’s my wife’s not mine. Though I tried for years to appreciate the taste of stout, it was wasted time. I think it’s terrible stuff. In fact, that beer has been in the fridge for six months. I don’t think my wife really likes it either.

 

 

 

Remembering My Father (My eulogy)

Posted April 8, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

When some people die it can be a challenge to find good things to say about them. But doing a eulogy for my father is an easy assignment. The great comic of the 20th century Will Rogers used to end his act by saying “I never met  a man I didn’t like.” My dad was like that. He was unfailingly friendly and kind. There may have been a person my father didn’t like, but I can’t remember any.

Jim Fudge in the Navy, WWII

Some stories of my dad are pretty good.  Like the time he called the police when a squirrel crawled in the window of my brother’s bedroom in my hometown, Grinnell, Iowa. I didn’t actually see this story develop because I had to leave early to my job detasseling corn that summer. But I relish his retelling of it.

Like how he started by finding my brother dead asleep as he tried to rouse him to the danger of the squirrel. To when the police arrived (and they did come), two armed men to confront the squirrel in our house.  Somehow they managed to get the animal to exit the window from where he came.

My dad was a great storyteller.  And he did believe a good story deserves to be retold. And he retold lots of them, many times over. It was rare for  me to hear a story only once from dad. Doug McCleod, or maybe his wife Sue, told me of how they had a relative who told stories over and over, and they would hold up fingers to indicate to them how times they had already heard the story the person was about to tell.

When my dad was a very young man he served in WWII, which I think was the adventure of his life.  If he were here today he may agree with that, or maybe he’d think marrying my mom or  having my brother and me was a greater adventure.

But after a lifetime of listening to his war stories I actually got to interview him about his  war experiences for my employer, KPBS, for Memorial Day, 2015. We heard the story of how he rode a train across the country to San Francisco on his way to a deployment in the Pacific, and walked with his buddies through a train car full of female service members, WACs. And how a German torpedo slammed into the hull of  their ship, but it turned out to be a dud.  I still have a recording of that interview and I cherish it.

He gave me that interview for Memorial Day, though it wasn’t a memorial day for him. Today is his memorial. So goodbye dad.  You had a  great life, and I’ll see you again when I get there.

 

Memory Loss & Mourning

Posted March 21, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s 6 AM and I have a view from my fifth floor hospital room of the San Diego River gorge. The bluff on the other side of the river is a black wall because the sun still isn’t up. On the floor of the valley the neon lights of car dealers and a Wendy’s restaurant gleam in the dark and the Lego blocks of a dozen small shops form a line in a strip mall.

With the morning dawn the bluff slowly take shape with its creases and colors. Cars and trucks move on Mission Gorge Road as people make their way to work and appointments. I ended up here yesterday after getting a big knot on my head.

My wife says I called her from my workplace, not knowing how I got there. That’s when she came and got me and took me to the hospital. I didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital but the wife insisted. So here I am in a fucking hospital where nurses put an IV fastener on my chest in case I needed an emergency blood supply.

Mission Gorge, San Diego, in the early morning from a hospital room.

Sunlight fills Mission Gorge and I get tired of sitting in my room and looking out the window. I wander down the hall to the nurses’ station wearing the robe they give to patients. There’s a bustle here as the shift changes and patients come and go and they’re wheeled away on gurneys and nurses and docs gaze at computers and clipboards.

The nurses wear blue scrubs, the doctors wear green ones. I speak with three different doctors who visit my room. One’s a resident named Dr. Win. She’s Chinese, so she’s a doctor. If she were Filipino, she’d be a nurse.

I got the knot on my head after I left home on my bike on my way to Trader Joe’s to get some groceries. Work is a block from the grocery store and somehow that’s where I ended up.

I remember a dog appearing out of nowhere as I rode fast on my bike, but I don’t know if I hit the dog or swerved to avoid it. All I know is I have a knot on my head and I had what they call “transient amnesia.  I probably lost control of the bike and crashed, but there were a couple of  hours there that I just can’t remember.

I also can’t remember what happened to my bike. It’s gone and I couldn’t find it at work. One of the nurses said I should look for  it on Craigslist, go to where they’re selling it and take it back with a baseball bat. But I couldn’t find it on Craigslist. Turned out in my fog of memory, I actually locked it in front of a Starbucks. That’s where I found it four days later.

Meanwhile my dad is gone. I got the call from a hospice nurse at 10:30 pm on Thursday, a couple days before I ended up in the hospital. It was time. He was comfortable. At least that’s what they told me.

 

Watching my Father Die

Posted March 16, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

His room at the nursing home is maybe ten by 12 feet. An oxygen machine near his bed hisses and exhales as it makes a constant din and my dad lies in his bed with with his mouth open and his eyes shut.  The hospice nurse told me he can probably still hear and understand me, even if he doesn’t respond. The problem is I don’t know what to say.

You imagine what it’s like to be with a parent near their time of their death but the story you come up with is something they’d put in a movie. You have some emotional arguments. There’s some reflection on the life past. Some pondering life after death. But real death is not that kind of a drama.

My dad is 93 and he started to go downhill mentally about two years ago.  He got late-onset Alzheimer’s. He no longer recognized his wife. We moved him into a “memory care” nursing home where he would occasionally show signs of his old self but slowly lost the ability to stand. Then he couldn’t finish a sentence. I would come by to visit and — often as not — find him dead asleep in his chair, looking a lot like he does now.

When there’s no heart disease or cancer to kill you, you just slide down a gentle slope until you lose your faculties and are no longer able to swallow. That’s where dad is. He can’t swallow either food or water. I told the nurse that should mean he has just a few days to go. But she tells me she has seen people go on for weeks like this. Weeks? With no water? It doesn’t make sense but that’s life. Or death I  guess.

The nurse asks me how I am. I tell her my father’s death doesn’t bother me. What has bothered me is seeing him in such a helpless pathetic state that I no longer recognize the man I knew.  I hope to God something kills me before I get that far.

I visited him this morning and tried to talk to him. I tried to think of things to say, focusing on telling him he’s had a great life and it’s fine if he’s ready to go. In his eyes I saw no recognition that I was there. When I held his hand he didn’t squeeze mine.

Sometime soon he’ll die and I’ll try to remember the man he was, who held me when I was small. Maybe I’ll cry. Maybe from grief. Maybe from relief.

 

 

 

The Awards Shelf

Posted February 16, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s in a recording studio in a corner of the building that isn’t used very much.  A reel-to-reel machine still sits there with its editing block where you’d cut out slices of audio tape with a razor blade. It hasn’t been used in close to 20 years. Behind that are the awards.

My daughter found them — waiting for a ride home — as I was  checking something on the computer because she looked into a space it never occurred to me to look.

When I came to KPBS we were still using those tape machines and I’m sure I’ve seen some of these awards before, when they were kept in a more prominent place. The Golden Mic Awards are on the top shelf. Some of the mics (they are golden) have  fallen off the tops of the trophies. Emmy’s dating back to 1978 are also falling apart, the plaques that name the winning entry had come off after the glue dried up.

They honor stories about important issues of the time and we gave each other awards for doing them. But memories fade and awards get old and fall apart, and I guess we eventually wonder why we thought they were such a big deal. The subjects seem to be the same ones we talk about today.

It reminds me of old cemeteries and the forgotten people they speak about. I remember seeing a cemetery in East London that the owners left to the elements. Grave stones had  fallen over and wild plants were consuming the grounds, making a true symbol of death and rebirth and mocking the conceit that we can enshrine a life that has passed like millions of others.

For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.

I don’t know how long those awards will stay on those shelves, though I imagine they will stay there until the next building renovation when someone will find them, like I did, and finally decide they need to go to the landfill. Until then they will deteriorate, nature will follow its course and we will see what becomes of our pride.

 

 

Star Wars’ Endless Rebellion

Posted January 9, 2018 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Last night my wife Karen and I saw the most recent, and surely not the last, movie in the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I came to it with high expectations and came away with mostly positive but various views. It was good. It was also too long.

But I’ll resist the urge to go into the fine points of film criticism and zero in on my main point about the decades-long Star Wars saga. How long can they keep telling the same story?

The first Star Wars film came out when I was 17 but it’s still fair to say I grew up on Star Wars. I saw the first three. Skipped the next three, which were actually the “first” three in the story line. (I hear they all sucked) I started up again with The Force Awakens and I’ve seen the next two after that.

Though never a Star Wars geek, I spoke the Star Wars language with its many references and allusions… a language shared by nearly all Americans of my age. I admired the genius of George Lucas in creating a myth so powerful that to resist it was futile.

But then I saw The Last Jedi and I wondered how much longer this rebellion can keep on rebelling, especially if the point is to keep cranking out good movies.

Sure, Star Wars is a fantasy, but a fantasy won’t make sense if it’s not grounded in reality, and the George Lucas’s world is grounded. The Empire is clearly Nazi Germany. Take one look at Darth Vader’s SS uniform and that becomes obvious. The Force is borrowed from Christianity’s Holy Spirit.

The rebels are… OK that’s a little more tricky. They’re the good guys, for sure, but are they the French Resistance in WWII? America has a strong mythological story of good-guy rebels but ours fought the British, who weren’t quite the same tasty villains that the Nazis were.

And these Star Wars rebels just don’t seem to have a plan, or any allies for that matter. At the end of Return of the Jedi (that movie came out 35 years ago) our rebel buddies have killed Darth Vader and they’re partying with the Ewoks and everything seems great. But next thing you know the Dark Side is back in business and everything sucks again.

So there I was watching the end of The Last Jedi where the rebels are on the run — again — from some new incarnation of the dark lord. It’s just like it was at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Like I said… they’re telling the same old story.

Rebellions don’t go on forever, unless it’s by some institutional fakery. You know, like those old commie leaders who wanted have a continuing revolution so they could accuse of people of being counter-revolutionaries and lock them up or string them up.

The American revolution showed how a revolution leads not to more revolution but to a new institutional authority. It was an authority that was flawed and racist and expansionist, but it did lead to something. The Star War rebellion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I’ve been watching Star Wars for what feels like my whole life but all good things come to an end. I know there will be a sequel but The Last Jedi could end up being the last Star Wars I’ll ever see.