In 2013 Johnny and I are discussing moving in together, but I have still not stayed a night at his house. My mother starts to complain again about Johnny’s visits to her house, although we follow the rules about no consecutive overnights. She says she wants to spend her old age in peace.

Meanwhile, both Johnny and I have financial challenges: the guitar student trade has dips and ebbs and my busking income is tiny. I am advertising regularly for writing practice students on Craigslist, which usually brings in complaints that I don’t teach for free or people wanting to rent me writing space. Counting my pennies and trying to save for a retreat with my teacher Natalie Goldberg in France, I decide I will do an extra busking shift five days a week: after I play two hours in the Berkeley BART station in the morning I will return to either Downtown Berkeley or Ashby in the afternoon and play another hour. To make the afternoon shift more palatable I decide that I will only play the songs I most want to play during my second shift. Things are slow enough for Johnny that he muses about busking himself and goes so far as to make a busking set list. He says that if he busks he will make a large sign informing people that he teaches guitar.

On February 22nd, 2013 Johnny’s brother David has multiple cardiac arrests and lands in the hospital in Boston. His doctors sedate him, put him on a ventilator and chill him down to protect his organs. Members of his church come to sit with him and pray over him while Johnny and I sit in California.

Johnny and I both have late February birthdays. I ask Johnny if he wants to forgo celebrating because of his brother’s condition and he tells me no, that we are alive and need to celebrate. Earlier in the month we have gone to hear both Alan Toussaint and Dr. John at Yoshi’s as they pass through town on tour. Toussaint is particularly engaging, interpolating Mozart’s death march into “St. James Infirmary” and leading the audience in a sing-along of “City of New Orleans,” assuring us that “All white people know this song,” and turning his mic toward us as we sing.

I buy Johnny a card for his 67th birthday and bake him a pear tarte tatin. His birthday falls on Super Bowl Sunday, so I come out to San Leandro for awhile to see him and to avoid the Super Bowl at my house. Three days after that, on February 27th, Johnny’s brother David dies and, the next day, Johnny treats me to dinner at my favorite Indian restaurant in Berkeley.

I wake up sick the following day, no doubt stressed by David’s illness and death. I stay home from work for a few days, trying to get well before a road trip to Seattle for David’s funeral. Johnny and I will be traveling by car with his niece Lucy and her husband Adam. I sort out black clothes, shoes and raincoat for the service. I cannot find a black beret, so I decide to pack tights and a hat in Lenten purple. Since Johnny’s entire wardrobe is black, he will have no trouble dressing for the funeral where he will sing a few folk hymns.

Lucy and Adam propose camping in Ashland for the first night of the trip, but I look at a forecast showing 90% chance of rain and Johnny books us motel rooms for the night. By then we know that David’s estate will cover our expenses for the funeral trip: meals, lodging, etc., including a couple of nights in Seattle.

Johnny’s family gather at David’s Seattle house for a few hours. Someone brings in some beer for that occasion, but there is no food, no ceremony. We sit in the living room of a house that has been closed-up for months, talking of Johnny’s parents who used to live there. We gather again at a cemetery in the rain for prayers and songs. Those who wish to can use a spade to throw dirt on David’s coffin. We gather that night for a salmon dinner at Ivar’s, a restaurant that has been in Seattle since 1938 and then we go our separate ways.

Johnny is drinking heavily. He gets sick in the car and again in Ashland when we go out to have dinner. At least once during the trip I wake up to see him swigging whiskey from a pint bottle first thing in the morning.


“Whiskey before breakfast?” I ask.
“A good old Irish tradition,” he answers.

I do not say anything else about Johnny’s drinking right then because his beloved brother has just died: he is grieving and does not need extra pressure from me. And I am still trying to figure out whether Johnny is merely someone who drinks heavily on occasion or whether he has a true addiction to alcohol.

"Clueless" CD "Paris" CD breakfast dishes busking butternut squash cookbooks Daring Bakers desserts eggs feta cheese food paintings food photos fruit trees gluten-free recipes Johnny Harper leeks Natalie Goldberg pasta peaches pears pen and ink sketches philosophy pie crust polenta relationships salads seasonal cooking seasonal recipes Sharyn Dimmick Sharyn Dimmick — art Sharyn Dimmick — recordings soup substitutions summer recipes Thai flavors The Kale Chronicles The Lauren Project tomatoes travel vegetable gardening vinaigrette watercolor paintings Work With What You Got writing practice yeast breads

"Clueless" CD "Paris" CD breakfast dishes busking butternut squash cookbooks Daring Bakers desserts eggs feta cheese food paintings food photos fruit trees gluten-free recipes Johnny Harper leeks Natalie Goldberg pasta peaches pears pen and ink sketches philosophy pie crust polenta relationships salads seasonal cooking seasonal recipes Sharyn Dimmick Sharyn Dimmick — art Sharyn Dimmick — recordings soup substitutions summer recipes Thai flavors The Kale Chronicles The Lauren Project tomatoes travel vegetable gardening vinaigrette watercolor paintings Work With What You Got writing practice yeast breads