Seasonal Greetings And Wishes For A Happy, Healthy New Year

For the first time in a number of years, this annual letter is not being written by Jim. Instead, I am attempting to continue the tradition that I started in the 1960's and Jim took over in the 1990s when he retired. His letters were always full of carefully thought-through stories about our lives. I expect mine to be shorter but hopefully interesting.

Despite his travails with diabetes, heart troubles, kidney failure, and ultimately a broken hip, Jim's basically cheerful, hardworking nature always won the day. Right up until his unexpected last day on July 31, he worked hard at having a positive outlook and on contributing to our lives at home together in every way he could - witness his steady supply during the past few years of tasty suppers, the jars of jam and marmalade dated 2009, and the many pouches of frozen strawberries with which he was experimenting to keep them whole and crisp.

Surprisingly, he really enjoyed the four hours he spent three times a week for a year at the dialysis service in Dixon, not because he enjoyed the dialysis, although he was grateful for its results, but because of the nurses and technicians who looked after him. He told them jokes and stories - and they reciprocated. He taught them things they did not know about the work they were doing, and encouraged those who were striving to advance themselves with well received words of wisdom and experience. In the card the staff sent after Jim died were words such as, " … I am truly honored to have been able to meet and get to know Mr. Hance. He was a very wise man, I loved sitting down and listening to the wisdom he would share…" and, " … Mr. Hance had a kind heart. I enjoyed getting the clippings from papers and articles he provided me with. We had many great conversations. I will never forget the man who knew so much & still had the eagerness to learn more … "

Now there is an empty space in our lives but that space is full of vivid memories that we eagerly share. When all the family was together in mid August we talked a lot and laughed about old times suddenly re-remembered. Amazingly our memories of most of the stories were very similar. Keeping busy helped us to cope and we all pitched in to put on a successful garage sale based on the results of John's house and garage clearing a few weeks earlier. The sale included Jim's huge accumulation of tools and exotic as well as useful electronic 'stuff.' We were especially happy at the many people who gasped when they saw the exotic 'stuff' and carried it away lovingly claiming it to be just what they'd been looking for and never expected to find. We shared out the proceeds!

Later, the 'boys' sat on the dining room floor and explored Jim's cameras surprising themselves by discovering that they were much more interested in the collection than they had expected to be. And then we had a distribution of the Matchbox car collection (theirs not Jim's!) This was at times quite hilarious as each person in turn took a car or truck and reminisced about its place in their childhoods. Much later John reported that he had earned about $200 by selling most of his on eBay. David and Peter were perhaps a bit shocked but then David found buyers in Sweden for the plastic ones that we all had thought were throw-aways. Peter kept all of his and gave himself the title of 'keeper of memories'!

John, sometimes with Lisa, visits me every few weeks, from Placerville (an hour and a half away) and usually spends some of the time helping with sorting out the remaining accumulations of 50 years. Most recently he painted the master bedroom. David calls him "the good son" because he has been able to be of such constant support. David lives in San Luis Obispo, 5 hours away by car, and he and Christine get here less often. Peter and Merridy, in Silverdale, Washington, 12 hours away by car, can visit even less frequently.

The modern forms of communication are in full force in the family though, so we easily keep track of each other. We use email of course and David and John have those fancy cell (mobile) phones that can do email and surf the web. We have a family blog on Blogger called "Polstead Rd." that receives posts every now and again. And most of us have Facebook pages. Look us up!

Meanwhile I am learning how to be social again after many years of not wanting to accept "social" invitations without Jim. Of course I hadn't stop going out because I have many responsibilities in the several organizations I'm associated with. And I never stopped having fun because I find most things that I do have a 'fun' element. My most recent fun and unusual (for me) adventure was taking the train to San Luis Obispo for a short week with David and Christine. The 8-hour train ride was pleasant and uneventful apart from the fact that I started out on the wrong train! Blame the early hour (6:50 am), the pitch darkness, the pelting rain, and the missing train-announcer! Not to worry, I hopped off two stops later and waited for the right one.

The visit was wonderful. We talked and walked. We went to the ocean and I felt soothed as we wandered along the pier at Cayucos Beach in the rain. And then I was energized at the Clayhouse (David's winery workplace) annual party in the vineyards in Paso Robles. From the long, rattley, bumpy ride in the open wagon (drawn by a tractor) to the busy social time with people I'd not met before it was a grand experience. John and Lisa and their tiny dog joined us for the last few days, which made it even nicer.

I was very happy too to have my first chance to enjoy David and Christine's new home; a top-of-the-hill condo on the steep edge of one of the region's several morros. These are great hills of granite jutting out of the land and the ocean in a long line that originated eons ago more than a hundred miles further south. They have been 'floating' northward on a tectonic plate and continue to do so but so slowly that I think David and Christine are safe.

So, you ask, what's new in the small town of Davis, 60,000 people strong? No toads use the toad tunnel of long-ago fame; parks, cultivated green belts, bike paths and trails abound; all development proposals are being voted down by 'the people;' schools are hurting for money - classes are increasing in size and the curriculum is being reduced; very many people are out of work (including John); good people still run for elected office but find it impossible to realize their goals; the local newspaper gets skinnier every month; the local teen center has become a Bicycle Museum and National Hall of Fame; next May the iconic, seven-day Amgen California Bike Race will start its second stage in Davis; Explorit Science Center (look it up on the Web), now in two facilities, is suffering from the lack-luster economy but is surviving - just; the downtown-Davis area still looks lively but shop owners are depressed; Barack Obama is a bit less popular; Arnold Schwarzenegger has fewer muscles and fewer avid supporters; the roads all need repair; there are more bicyclists but no fewer cars on the streets; and so on. On the whole, people are managing and for those having the hardest times there are many local charities trying to help by providing shelter, food and clothing.

To compensate for the current difficult times, music art and drama abound in the town for all ages. David and Christine tell me that they are alive and well in San Luis Obispo too. David has returned to his lifelong avocation - drama - to participate in several well received readings, is writing several blogs (look up and has re-discovered photography (using old film-cameras.) Christine is taking classes at Cal Poly and has a part-time job at Talley Vineyards. Peter and Merridy work hard at their miniature horses hobby with Merridy the competitive horse-and-carriage driver while Peter is a navigator and everyone's expert handyman. John spends a lot of time skillfully fixing things up at home and here, and being an inventive chef in between searches for a job. Lisa is working for the California Department of Corrections and is serious about continuing to move up the career ladder.

So, that's it for now. Heartfelt good wishes to you for the coming year and beyond. May your days and nights be comfortable and happy.