It wasn’t easy – being Chip’s mom — but for sure, it was never boring. Actually – it did get easier – once I got the epiphany: “He’s not gonna live the life I prescribed for him. He’s gonna be Chip – and not Emily’s wish list for Chip.” Altho, when, at 18 months, he tried to bite the hand of his pediatrician and the good Doctor promptly announced to me: “You’re gonna have trouble with this kid.” I did the only thing a good mother could do. I changed pediatricians.
But I soon learned – as so many people who know him learned— Chip was his own unique self – what you saw was what you got – He wanted to be known as a “no bull-shitter.”
I quote from Miss Hegge, Chip’s 7th grade Spanish teacher – in the hand written letter to him that I still have in my file: If she could only have known how important his ability to speak Spanish had become to him — “Dear Chippie: (the letter read— that was close to the time he would tear your head off if you called him ‘Chippie’) “I know you won’t believe this, but your grade on the regents was “96” !!!! I always had faith in you, even though I called you “Bozo”- and you never worked up to your potential – we both knew that. Imagine all the hell you put me through – you were a first class nudge – but I really enjoyed you most of the time. I think we really understood each other and believe it or not, I’m going to miss you. And please stay out of trouble. Por favor!!!!!’
The High School Chip – just missed Woodstock – had a low number draft card for the Viet Nam War – and got swallowed up by the music of his day. Music was his gig. Couldn’t play a note – didn’t want to – But he was the Total Audience. He would lie in his bed, listening to the Monkees or whoever, on his radio – and with a whittled out broomstick slotted to shape, he would change the stations from his bed perch, never dreaming that someday he would hold an actual remote change button in his hand.
And then he discovered Jerry Garcia – and the concerts and the tours and the people and the dancing in the aisles and the stories never stopped. Deadheads are forever. This Mama attended a few classic concerts – the oldest person in the audience, always. I never really appreciated the music — I was stuck on Sinatra – but the stories of the atmosphere of loving fun and camaraderie made for a few good sales in my collection of writings, and a bonding with my son and his friends worth everything. As the saying goes: — If you can’t beat ‘em — join ‘em
He went to Hofstra University for about 3 days – and that was enough for Chip – By then Mama had learned the difference between reasonable and realistic expectations — the best ammunition in her arsenal. Not easy, but I had learned to accept — truly and with my heart.
Cars – cars – cars — — he dispatched cabs, he drove cabs – he owned a fleet of cabs – he fixed cabs – and all kinds of cars. He mostly taught himself – read voraciously about anything concerning cars, took classes that interested him – became certified at the highest level of “car fixers” and he was, finally, — the happiest person I knew – doing pretty much what he wanted to do.
He accelerated his NASCAR life after Garcia died — but the music never stopped.
He loved his life – his apartment – his 1988 classic Chevy Iroc, (which he kept in pristine condition) his cat, his job, his boss, his friends his solitude.
He made dinner for me every Monday night when we were both living in Florida –– always, always the healthiest. He never walked out of a supermarket without studying the labels on everything. And he claimed at the end, that he was the healthiest patient in the cancer center.
During those Mondays, I got caught up on the many stories of his life that I had thankfully missed during some of his BAD times. He slogged through and managed to avert the worst of the drug culture.
We road traveled to NY together several times – — once with his cat on a leash. We parted at the destination to each do our own thing – for him, concerts with friends — for me, catching up on one-to-one visits with my up north friends — and then we would meet for dinner at the end of the trip — with friend Chris – blessed wonderful friend Chris and his beautiful family – from Washington Heights and now Vermont, too.
Chip claimed to “believe in God” – — some kind of nameless higher power — – but he was adamantly defiant about accepting “organized religion” — he was convinced — and history seemed to give credence his thesis — that most of the killing inspired by wars throughout history — little ones and big ones — were mainly the result of religious antagonisms . His religion was “living the life of a good person and eschewing greed and avarice.”
Chip never gave up hope that he would recover. He fought with fervor – sooo grateful to all his buddies who were so staunchly supportive of him.And he was beloved bythe hospital nursing staff who came to say goodbye when he went to Hospice. He was always so considerate of their time, and when I was impatient for him to be helped – he prevented me from “Squeaking.” ”Ma, I’m not the only patient here. They are doing their best. Don’t make waves.”
When he was first diagnosed, I carelessly lamented to him that he should have had a wife. He looked at me with his all knowing expression that clearly meant: “Are you kidding? – Who could live with me –?” And he was right, of course. He loved his independence – and his aloneness—and he loved precious time with “his people”
He finally earned the “serenity” of accepting the “things he could not change.” And for three days in Hospice, he held court with the people he loved most – in person – and with the many he hung on to with continued remote communication. He laughed and joked and made us all laugh with him. Nothing maudlin – nothing sad – no regrets. It was Sunday night and he “was done.”
He died on Monday. And he is everywhere in my life.