The Nursery

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Epilogue,  Melba Notebooks

October 21st 2001 In a rest home in England, Bob’s younger sister, Elizabeth dies. Bob and Elizabeth wrote regularly for much of their lives.  But during the past few years letters and phone calls have been infrequent. E ends her days  in a nursing home, confined there at her own request after a bad fall. Bob continues, gradually losing strength, confined to his bed and chair, only his appetite remains, and his lean old frame now carries a little fat. He is there and yet not there at all.

Jan 3 2002 This is… would be…  Melba’s birthday, her 94th. Bob’s 94th a couple of months distant.  Bob has  became increasingly somnolent. He is anemic, though his physician does not know why, and feels, in concurrence with Bob’s children, that under the circumstances, it would be cruel to investigate fully. The long year climbs down the days with agonizing deliberation. The rest home folk are asked to allow Bob to die peacefully, if possible.

Sept 10, 2002 Bob begins to have great difficulty breathing, with periods of apnea, where he seems to struggle but not take a breath. The nursing home staff  call Dot, who suggests that if he seems to be suffering they should call 911. He has virtually no blood pressure and is unconscious, but is hospitalized with sepsis, probably originating with a urinary infection.  He is treated aggressively and resuscitated. In less than a week he is ready to be discharged; the physicians and  hospital can justify no more  charges or  tests, and agree that no further in hospital treatment is warranted. The rest home will take bob when a bed is available. He is comatose, and is  meanwhile  moved to a skilled nursing facility.

Sept 14, 2002 At the ECF Bob is unconscious but breathing well, takes fluids, and eats when fed.  The record of his recent hospitalization does not  apparently make clear that he is has  had renal insufficiency, in his case an inability to pass his urine due to obstruction from the old  operation for incontinence; he quickly redevelops uremia. This time no one in the nursing home is aware of the cause. This time, for the next several days and nights, Sophie, Dot, Wi, and Ni with his setter Gus, take turns being with him at all times. No one calls 911.


“He’s the only newborn in here.  He’s not dong well.  His thin, pallid umbilical cord is attached to a plastic bag of what looks like water. His mother, I suppose it’s his mother, comes in to change diapers, and wash him sometimes. But she doesn’t pick him up to play with him, feed him, or hold him, or sing to him, or even say much. His father too sometimes.  In fact, different people come and go, and I couldn’t say which is his mother or father. He’s all covered up and doesn’t move about or even cry.  He complains when one of his dads, or whatever they are, stretches out his legs and arms for him. Because he just doesn’t ever move by himself. No one is here now.

I never see him nurse or use a bottle. People   put things in the bottle connected to- I suppose the cord. They write on some paper, write things all the time. Must be new government “regs” for nurseries.

Sometimes he just stops breathing, for a long time; then breathes deep and fast, like he was trying to catch up. And I can tell you, it’s distressing to hear an infant breathe that way! I feel like shaking him. I would if I could. I feel sorry for him; but hope at his age he doesn’t feel much, suffer much.

I can’t see why I must watch all this. It’s like I’m invisible. What am I doing here,  useless, trapped?  I don’t have the time for this. I can’t miss my United flight to – where? I forget.  Oh- to visit my sister in England. Since her husband died from prostate cancer she’s had such a bad time; alone,  then the broken hip, now in that nursing home. I have so much to do; so much to finish. The underground propane storage project for New York and New Jersey. If only I could get the damn bureaucracy to move  I love the my  even work even though it hasn’t come to anything yet.

I feel tied, like Gulliver. Millions of tiny threads hold me back. I need to move, stretch, but I can’t. Activity has been an elixir, a drug, for me ever since track. Ever since… well, my 880 and mile times were best in 1929 We stepped out of college and BAM! Right  into the Depression.  But it wasn’t all bad. How lucky I am to have found work at Noranda, even if we lived on beans. Well, most everybody did, but it was good.

I think the best party we ever had was when we bought the chair. We had no furniture, just a mattress, a card table, and some sturdy Ajax powder boxes. For Christmas we bought a big, ugly, green, used easy chair and invited everyone in to celebrate. They had to draw straws to determine the order of sitting rights. How gloriously insane we were, how extraordinary and exciting little things were then.

I loved the cold winters, the high pitched timbre of sound below zero, the explosive Spring breakup of the frozen land and river and lake, and the lush summers, all the birched and piney wet woods, and even the mosquitoed humid midnights when the sky was still  faintly suffused with the day. Canada was good to us. Life was, for that matter. Who would have thought then, that the virtual Farm would become Stanford University? Who could believe that our 1500 gram newborn Sophie could grow so as to be such a  pure joy? If Melba were still alive she would be on the phone right now talking with her. Melba. The loyal lady I stole from her Durham Ranch. I was only a man before we met.  Then I became hu-man. Whole. Very imperfect, yes. But were not for her, I’m not sure who I would be.

That spastic electric wall clock says 5 a.m. I must have dozed off. But I’m still overlooking the Nursery! Why couldn’t I wake up at home, or at work, most anywhere but here! There is that miserable looking newborn; just the same. I’ve almost given up hope that all this is only a bad dream. I had a dream once where I was on an island, and couldn’t get off. So I dreamed that I woke up. I did!  And was off the island. Why can I not do that again now?

But wait! There is Sophie, at the door.  She doesn’t t see me either! Sophie!  I’m here!…. Nothing!  How changed she is, how old she seems. Can it be she? She’s at the infant’s  side saying something to him. I’d try call out again but there’s no sound to my voice.  Now she is singing softly. I can’t hear clearly, yet I can feel the pulse of long silent rhythm, the lilt of long lost rhyme; a ranchero!  Yes!  I have an old  recording of that somewhere; where?

Mira Bartola! Hay te dejo esos dos pesos.

Pagas la Renta, el teléfono y la luz.

I must find it. But I hear it clearly now, the rhyme, rhythm, simple joys.  It is enough; the Lilliputian threads which bind me fall away, and I silently float up and out of the nursery.”


October 26, 2002, After a Memorial Service we  gather for A Greek Dinner Celebration of the lives of Melba and Bob.

Bob’s ashes are to be divided between the Chico Gravesite where Melba awaits, the spot where he stopped short of his ascent of Mount Baker, two years before, and at Bellingham at the edge of his  beloved Sea.

June 25, 2003. At Bob and Melba’s headstone in the Chico cemetery there is no grave. The marble carries both names, and is now completed by adding the year 2002 after Bob’s name.  It is their wedding anniversary.  At last, Melba has her husband of almost 75 years where she has always wanted him, at her side in her beloved Butte County homeland. A handful of Bob is on a high ridge approach to the glaciers of Mt Baker, and another by the shore of his beloved Pacific Ocean. I expect Melba smiles when we also  place  a small handful of his ashes next to the headstone of a young woman  buried in a grave nearby.


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