How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?
~ Carson McCullers
This past April, I embarked on a series of changes that now, in September, are falling into place. I’m settled into a new home and a new part-time job. I’m re-thinking my business model and making inroads in taking it in a new direction. I’m also open to any and all possibilities. And for reasons unbeknownst to me, I have a feeling that my life may take an unexpected, yet positive, turn in the coming months. I’ve been thinking about this latest period of change and realized that it was bookended by separate yet connected occurrences.
My beloved dog Buddy died in April. And as sad as it was, it was a blessing that he departed quickly and amongst his loved ones. Now months later, my thoughts of him are full of warm memories and smiles.
April was also the month when my Uncle Joe went into hospice after many years fighting various forms of cancers. He was quite a character with an odd sense of humor and sense of self and his interactions with others vacillated between charming and endearing to outlandish and insulting. Honestly, he was ready to move on and get it over with. But for some reason, his body just wouldn’t quit, much to his irritation. But finally, relief came to him in late August after 4 long months. I am sure that my family’s memories of him will be with us always.
During the same period, a dear friend and former co-worker, Belinda, was losing her battle with cancer and was also heading into hospice care. However, before that happened, she had the good fortune to spend her final days at her daughter’s home where she died peacefully surrounded by her nearest and dearest.
Three deaths in a short time frame and although I deeply mourned each one, the resulting emotion was an uplifting feeling of life celebration and continuity.
After Belinda’s death, I was approached by Brad Erikson, executive director of Theatre Bay Area — the place where Belinda and I met — who asked if I’d be willing to write her In Memoriam for TBA’s online publication, The Insider. I was flattered, of course, but slightly nervous. She was, after all, an esteemed writer, editor, journalist, and playwright and I feared that my words would not do justice to her incredible life. But I agreed, and taking all of the thoughts and feelings of the past four months, I wrote.
What unfolded was a very personal memory piece that brought tears to my eyes but more importantly, led me to a remarkable place — a place filled with warmth, love, joy, and peace. A place where all three reside and will be with me on my journey to my own eventual transition, which is a true blessing.
A number of my friends encouraged me to post the remembrance on my blog. After some thought, I decided to do just that. In an odd twist, the piece was published on the anniversary of my mother’s death, 17 years prior — September 5th. That for me was a surefire sign that I made the right decision.
Belinda Taylor: A Remembrance
In mid-August, Belinda Taylor, my beautiful friend and San Francisco Bay Area theatre maven, lost her 6-year battle with cancer. Fortunately, she was able to spend her final days in the comfort of her daughter’s home rather than in hospice care. In the words of my dear friend Sabrina Klein, “To the haunting and uplifting Celtic music she loved and embraced in loving arms, she died peacefully and quickly.”
Although I met Belinda as a colleague at Theatre Bay Area, our connection became deeper and more powerful than mere co-workers. And that is my focus for today.
I was introduced to her in the early 1990s when TBA acquired the Tix Booth and other assets from my employer, the defunct Performing Arts Services. It was a bumpy transition, and I remember thinking at the time that Belinda, the editor of Callboard magazine, might be a tough nut to crack — strong-willed, opinionated, with a slightly cool demeanor — traits that, I must confess, were mine as well. Yet, I could tell we had a similar sense of purpose, and more importantly, a similar sense of humor and that might just be the tipping point.
Flash forward two years — by then, not only were we close colleagues but also good friends.
Sometime in 1997, I was forced to move out of my apartment due to the sale of the building — at the time, the housing market was tight with inventory very low. The looming move date was closing in and I began to feel desperate. During a discussion about my predicament at the staff lunch table, Belinda trepidatiously mentioned that she had a spare room in her home, and perhaps, I could move in with her…on a temporary basis, of course. After mulling over my options, I accepted and plans were made.
Although we were friends by then, we were still strong-willed and opinionated, and our office mates, exhibiting mixed feelings of horror and glee, were placing bets on how long it would take for this experiment to go drastically awry. And why wouldn’t it. Beyond those character traits we had in common, it was the differences that most likely would sink the proverbial ship. We were the ultimate odd couple — Felix (me) and Oscar (Belinda).
But we were determined to make it work, and shockingly, it did work — much to the amazement of our fellow staffers. After some reorganization, deep cleaning, and concessions on both sides, we fell into an easy rhythm, like an old married couple. Most days, we’d commute into and return from work together, I would make dinner and she would clean up afterward and then we’d watch TV or chat in the living room over a glass of wine. I even convinced her to watch Sex in the City, a series that she detested, but it became part of our ritual.
This was during Sabrina Klein’s tenure as Theatre Bay Area’s executive director; Belinda and I rounded out the senior staff. There was a casual ease to our rapport, which made our strategic planning and decision-making process for TBA a pleasure, not a chore, and traversing the line between colleague and friend effortless.
I remember one Saturday afternoon, in particular. The three of us were at the house chatting about this and that, interspersing personal topics with work-related ones, when Isaac, the Callboard printer, called Belinda and said he needed immediate approval on a magazine-related matter. He told her that he was in her neighborhood and could stop by for a quick meeting. She gave the go ahead and over he came.
There the three of us were, the senior staff of TBA, lounging in comfy clothes in the living room, nestled under blankets, drinking Campari, and having a grand old time. With a mix of bewilderment and bemusement, Isaac got Belinda’s approval and with a chuckle, took his leave. The three of us burst out laughing, and I recall thinking at that moment that this would be one of those “keeper” memories — one that we would always remember and cherish.
It’s been 20 years since that day, and yes, I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I was fortunate to have a final conversation with Belinda a week before her death. Expecting to find her fatigued and weak, I was elated to hear the old Belinda — strong-willed, determined, and making plans for the future. We reminisced about our time living and working together and the lifelong friendships that were forged at TBA. We took delight in our shared stories, especially the Isaac Story, which elicited our greatest laughter. And we reaffirmed what we knew all along — that strong bonds like ours could not be broken, even by death.
Although I will never hear that laugh again in this lifetime, it will stay with me like a treasured keepsake. This may be the end of the chapter but the book is far from finished. Wherever you may be Belinda, I’m positive our paths will cross once again.
^^^The original published piece can be found at: https://www.theatrebayarea.org...
Cooking for Joan
As I mentioned, Belinda, Sabrina and I were close friends. Another co-worker, Rica, was also part of that friendship circle. So, every once in a while the four of us would gather for dinner at our house and, of course, I’d cook. The problem was this — Belinda had a gluten allergy, Sabrina was lactose-intolerant, and Rica was a vegetarian. No meat, no cheese or dairy, no flour — what’s a boy to do?? Well, I found the perfect dish — Jambalaya! It was easy, tasty, and I could cook it in one pot until the last steps. Then I’d divide the pot into two and finish one as a vegetarian dish and the other with the sausage and shrimp — a perfect compromise, I think.
Prep Time: 15 min | Cook Time: 40 min | Makes: 6 to 8 servings | Difficulty: Easy
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound hot sausage hard sausage, such as kielbasa or andouille, sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 diced celery stack
- 1 green bell pepper, cored and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 16 oz can stewed tomatoes
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon diced fresh thyme
- 3 cups chicken stock, or water
- 2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
- 1 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 to 8 dashes hot sauce or sriracha
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 pound medium shrimp, deveined, tail on (20 to 24 count)
- lemon slices
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat
Add the sausage and saute for 5 minutes, until browned
Remove the kielbasa to a bowl, and set aside
If you’re making a vegetarian version, as well, you need to thoroughly clean the pot before proceeding
Add a little olive oil, the butter, onion, celery, and peppers to the pot and saute for 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent
Create a clear circle in the vegetables and brown the tomato paste for 2 minutes
Add stewed tomato, garlic, cayenne, oregano, thyme and cook until all the vegetables and herbs are blended well
Add the stock and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the rice, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes
If making a vegetarian option, separate the proper amount for each guest to a separate pot
Add the sausage and stir
Add 1/4 cup of the scallions, 1/4 cup of the parsley, the lemon juice, and the shrimp, and stir well
Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow the jambalaya steam, for 3 to 5 minutes to cook the shrimp. Be careful not to overcook it
Garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup scallions and 1/2 cup parsley, lemon slices, and a dash of hot sauce or sriracha, if desired
**Image courtesy of Megan Aroon Duncanson