Saturday, January 14, 2023

Family matters

The following may not be of a lot interest to everyone, but that's what is all about. So stand by, we'll get back to drum stuff soon enough. 

I've been dealing with some family things lately, hence the erratic posting. Mainly, my mother, Jeanette Bishop, was hospitalized over the holidays, and then died last week at age 91. It was an emotional rollercoaster of hope and despair, but in the end it was not a terrible way for her to go— she was lucid until the final couple of days, and had a good attitude about it the entire time, whatever the outcome. All of the family made it in, and my wife Casey read out loud from her memoir— mainly selections about her family life in Coos County, Oregon in the 1930s-40s. 

In addition to raising four kids mostly by herself, she majored in music and theater at the University of Oregon, and worked as a music teacher in the 50s, then got her Masters, and worked as a grade school counselor and teacher in the 70s-80s, and finally as a real estate agent in the 90s. In her last years she dedicated a lot of time to writing. She was always extremely supportive of all of us in all of our pursuits, which were not those of normal 9-to-5 civilians. 

Right now we're looking for a spot to bury her ashes at the Masonic Cemetery in Eugene— a very rustic graveyard founded in 1859, close to where the family lived and went to school. Many of the town's founders are buried there. When I was a kid it was a spooky, overgrown mess— I wanted to shoot a vampire movie there. In recent years it has been

My sister Christy and I at Masonic
cleaned up and maintained, and is accepting new burials. It's on the national registry of historic places, and is about to become an accredited arboretum. 

I never put much stock in burials or memorials, but it is the kind of place you would want to be buried— an actual living park connected to the surrounding neighborhood, and visited regularly by humans, because it's pretty and atmospheric. When we visited there were people walking their dogs, and a couple of lone young people of a poetic temperament hanging out. There was a sign reminding joggers that this is a cemetery, not a training ground. So the place gets used. The antithesis of those horrible corporate places where no one would (or does) ever go except out of obligation. 

She was the last of my parents— my father, Melvin Bishop, passed away in 1971, just before I turned 4 years old. He was a jazz and art fan and a heavy reader, with a modernist and satirical sensibility. He was a career civil servant working in Seattle, Kaiserslautern, Germany, Washington D.C., and San Antonio, Texas. At the time of his death he had been promoted to head of all United States government personnel worldwide, and the family was preparing to relocate to Washington D.C. for that job.

We found out several years ago that he also worked for the CIA— a distant relative was told that when he was getting a security clearance: “Did you know you have a relative in the CIA?” My father worked in personnel for the Department of the Army most of his career, so we assume the CIA activity was in Germany, working as a case officer, and/or screening former Nazis or war criminals, or current communists. We've submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA to get more information. 

He traveled a lot and worked a lot, so I don't have a lot of memories of him. I did get one “iconic” memory out of it, when I was 3— during a family road trip, walking with him at sunset at a Hopi cliff dwelling site in New Mexico, trying to copy the way he walked. In fact that's the only time I can remember being alone with him. 

Our idealized Kennedy era middle class situation kind of fell apart when my dad died, and I had a quasi-feral 70s childhood, nevertheless surrounded by a lot of music, art, and general creativity. My mom was busy getting her Masters in counselling, and then working to support us. In kindergarten I didn't speak to anyone the whole year, except to a girl friend, who is now an accomplished sculptor. Everyone thought I was mute, but I was just committed to a concept. Then starting in the second grade I went to a hippie alternative school and became a little exhibitionist lunatic. 

I like the way it worked out. In our house there were a lot of interesting art, music, books, and design objects to discover, and I was largely left alone to make a lot of mistakes and pursue whatever I was interested in. 

Surviving are my sister Christy, a gifted interior designer; John, the most professionally accomplished drummer in the family, and record label owner; and Scott, the most unambitious genius in the world, who cared for my mom in her final years; and myself, and my daughter Jenny. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Todd I've reading your posts for a couple of years and taking your ideas and suggestions, trying (and scratching my head on the how too do that) but get there so thanks for your work and effort very much appreciated and a big thankyou. Im very sorry to you and your family for your loss. It will happen to all of us some day as I too have had a similar event. Wish you all be best at this time sound likes your mother was ever proud of what ever you did,take care all the best.
blog reader John

bananajou said...

I'm very sorry for your loss, Todd. Thank you for this deeply personal post, it's not easy to write about these things, but it's good to do it just for oneself.

Beautiful words, and very well written, you did hold my attention til the end, which is not easy these days...

Would love to hear more about your years as an "exhibitionist lunatic" at the hippie school, it sounds like an interesting story.

Unknown said...

My condolences Todd. Thanks for sharing about your family's journey.

Ted Warren

Anonymous said...

My condolences Todd, it was a fascinating article to read, Thank you so much for sharing your very personal story with a sincere and deep approach to themes that touch us all.

Roberto, avid Italian blog reader with Oregonian roots

Anonymous said...

Todd, this is a lovely tribute and family portrait. All the best to you out there.

Todd Bishop said...

Thanks you guys, that's very kind. - t

Anonymous said...

Very nice family story, what a amazing and wonderful woman.