The Zubers

So many people are dying right now. It’s not a cheery holiday message, I know. I’ll have to work on that. Right now though, I’m processing.

There are big deaths. I’m American enough to think of Johnny Hallyday as a fake Elvis and French enough, now, to not care, to like him anyway. Jean d’Ormesson was someone I discovered during one of my fits of pique at the French bureaucracy. I found myself wondering how a country could be at once so civil and so annoying. In a way d’Ormesson straddled both sides of the divide, writing so beautifully but in all his decades of membership, barely making a dent in the hidebound workings of the Academie Française.

There are millions upon millions of small deaths, many of them utterly pointless. It seems that a third of the world’s people, maybe half, are streaming into the territory of the other half, only to be attacked and killed along the way. When they arrive they are too often unwanted, too often left to die.

There are a few truly evil people out there, still thriving, that quite frankly I wish would die. I’m sure you can make your own list of evildoers. Evil can spread a lot farther, a lot faster than it used to. In the 19th century the Trail of Tears killed some 4,000 people, some of whom were my ancestors. There are some 120,000 Rohingya fleeing now; no telling how many have died. That’s just one group. There are so many others. Others are writing about the insanity of all this, much better than I. I’ll leave them to it.

I just learned about the deaths of two people who were very dear to me, Jack and Marilyn Zuber. I guess they are the small death equivalent of d’Ormesson’s big one. The Zubers were also well-born, well off, fairly conservative and eminently civilized. Jack was a VP of Facilities at Hughes Aircraft, a very big deal, once upon a time. I think he retired when Hughes was sold. If he ever met Howard Hughes, I am unaware of it. He was crazy about Marilyn, and completely self-effacing, so much so that in the little bit of obituary information that I found, only Marilyn’s work was listed.

I met Marilyn at work. She hired me for a job at the Urban Innovations Group, a high-minded but ragtag organization meant to provide the administrative support for those of UCLA’s architecture professors who did not have offices of their own, but sometimes had a project, and to give some work experience to the architecture students. Marilyn was the office manager. She hired me when I was living in a house that probably should have been torn down, when I was so poor that I couldn’t actually afford the gas money to go to the interview. I was the staff. I had no clothes, no office skills, nothing, really, but a useless degree and Marilyn’s faith in me. Over time my life and office skills stabilized. Marilyn decided I should move on, so she moved mountains to get me accepted to the school itself. I have no clue how much political capital she spent to get me there and, once in, to assure that I had opportunities that others would have — might have, for all I know — killed for. I worked, yes, but in a competitive profession like architecture, you also need luck. Marilyn saw that I had it. We stayed in touch. At every opportunity she told me I was brave and strong and that she loved me. For my entire life, until I met Robert, I heard that only from a great-grandmother who died when I was eight. So for decades, Marilyn was my emotional lifeline. Now she is gone.

When I look around at who is left, I see plenty of decent people. However I worry that we are becoming marginalized. I don’t know what to do about that. I take care of my little corner of the globe. I am kind to my assigned grandchildren. I worry about the world that is being left to them and I wonder how they will cope, where their luck will come from. They’ll have to be a lot braver and stronger than I have been and they will need a great deal more luck. We shall see.

20 thoughts on “The Zubers

  1. A heartfelt piece. And the better for that.
    Personally I have found some of the support afforded me by this blogging community completely overwhelming; here are people who don’t know me saying kind, relevant, positive stuff when I have my little meltdowns.
    It’s appreciated. And I say to all of you, go forth and enjoy the good things in your life. There will be some, sometimes.

    Serious dog walking has also put me back into that place of awareness of the living landscapes around me. That’s a good thing too, as it is in my nature to get very low at times.

    I am truly sorry to hear about your friends, I know you’ll cherish those good memories for ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all I am sorry to hear about the loss of two people who were clearly inspiring and deeply important to you. Your moving piece of writing is a lovely tribute. As to the world at large …. we are a messed up humanunkind that appear unable to learn. We interfere, we impose and we impact in all the wrong ways. As a mother with four daughters now beginning to wonder if they will have their own children I speak often with young women who wonder if they could of should bring a child into this mess of a world. I don’t believe in luck – or rather I believe that Senaca had it right …. luck is what we call the moment that opportunity and preparation converge. Your assigned grandies will cope but it is what they have to cope with that is important. I take comfort in the kindness of strangers and I take delight in helping strangers. To me it is that simple mindset of decency that is all important because we none of us know when we might fall in the gutter or off our mortal coil. Perhaps if more took to heart that we are all humans and that none of us is going to evade death and that we have no right to assume rights over others, perhaps then we might live in a peace. Go softly, my friend, I feel your pain.


    1. No one accomplishes anything alone. So who helps. Time and again, my family fell through. And time and again, the people who got me through were people like Marilyn, who simply stepped up, who knows why? There is a lesson there. I’ll have to think about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We don’t choose our family and they don’t choose us. I have had ups downs and maybes with my own and tried to learn from the misalignments of attitude I had with my own mother to be a different kind of mother to my own. I think it takes flexibility on both sides and I think that you have to be prepared to compromise but above all I think it is possible to love unrelentingly and not necessarily like all the time. If you got a rotten hand, it is tough. Mine was double edged end of. Friends can be your family. They are the people you choose and who choose you. Often that is healthier. But the great thing is that your own experience of family surely puts you in a strong position to guide and support your Grandies. The one promise I make to my daughters is that I will never give up on them, will always be there for them. I expect them to carve their own paths, to support themselves and to be decent. But when the bumps occur I do not judge and I do not condemn, I do my best to help them through (which doesn’t mean financially incidentally) …. I have always said to them ‘I reserve the right to go into orbit, but I will come back to earth and I will do everything in my power to help’. My husband and I have a theory that greed and selfishness are the two ills we need to work on banishing in this world. When I have my dreaming head on I still think I can 😉

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I don’t know. This is the kind of thing that could be discussed over a whole lot of dinners, preferably accompanied by some lovely wine. They were important to me, no question. If you were looking for the adults in the room, you’d include them. But we’re they amazing or were they the kinds of people who are overlooked because our eyes are so easily drawn to those who will do most anything to get our attention? I have no answer to that. I just have a lot of questions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There are any number of good, kind people who go all out to support others…they don’t get much publicity but those who meet them know just how vital they are…as you do the Zubers.
    They are the people who might just be awarded an OBE, while the publicity seekers get the knighthoods.


    1. In the States, they don’t even get an OBE. In this case, I think they just outlived most of their friends and died. It freaks me out to think that maybe they didn’t even have funerals or if they did, hardly anyone went. In my circle of people I knew who also knew them, I was the first to learn of their deaths. They are just gone, poof.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. An internet search showed me the lovely house Jack designed for their lives.

    I know it really hurts when you discover that someone who meant a great deal to you and who shaped your life, had died some while ago and you did not know they were not still alive. No chance to thank them and say final goodbyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s for sure. It’s all fairly painful. And now, as the house is in what was an evacuation zone for one of California’s many fires, it is likely to be covered in soot and ash. I was trying to reach them to see whether they needed help getting out, which is how I found out that for them, it was no longer an issue. At this point the house might well be a teardown.


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