Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Valley of the Sun


We  didn't spend the New Year this year in the mountains of Catorce, or in DF, or in Vegas, or on Times Square, or in London or Paris. This year we were in the Valley of the Sun. And it was delightful.  The weather was just about perfect and our accommodations were the best.  For some reason, my little family decided months ago not to get too far away this year and instead bring in the New Year with my cousin and his family of three boys, two wives, and 2 grandchildren in his large sprawling old adobe home in the center of Phoenix.

We stayed in his large guest house below his personal office. And it was a fortunate thing that we didn't make big plans this year, for there was a powerful event just over the horizon.

Beginning on Thanksgiving Day, where we were planning for 14 family members, the dark shadow of uncertainty fell on us all as my partner's  87 year old mother had a medical emergency in the back bedroom. 

As usual, the Fire Department beat EMS to our tree covered home on Austin's Shoal Creek.  In fact, two firetrucks, two EMS vehicles, and two police vehicles arrived.  And remarkably, they managed to get a pulse, get her breathing though intubation, and rush her to the emergency room just 2 miles away. I stayed at home while my partner and her brother followed the ambulance.

Within a few hours, we received news that she was alive, stabilized, and in intensive care. That evening we had a somber but loving thanksgiving dinner almost as if nothing had changed.  Over the days that followed, Mamo was able to come off the respirator, and begin to recover from the event on Thanksgiving Day.  For almost three weeks, she had good days and bad days and often spoke with clarity on the good days.  But she was needing more and more help breathing from the non invasive respirator.

By the 15th of December, it was decided to move her to Christopher House. There she spent her  last days with all of her 7 children and their partners, 5 of her grand children, and Uncle Herb from Seattle. He was the younger brother of Jerry, her beloved first husband. Always a sports fan, Mary watched her Boise State Broncos play UCLA as she enjoyed her last supper with those she loved.  They sang songs and Uncle Herb sang the Lord's Prayer. Mary even managed to sing for a moment.

Early on the 17th, she breathed her last breath with her oldest daughter, her third son, and his daughter right there with her.  It was a passing of love and beauty.

With Mary's passing, we tried to get Christmas going.  We strung the house lights, and we got our Christmas tree up.  But the lights would not work and it was too late to buy more.  We finished the tree with the only box of lights we could find from our local CVS.  But the tree wasn't just dim, it was somber.

And that was as it should be.

We spent Christmas with good friends at the Four Seasons.  Cousin Lisa flew in from Seattle. We got the new rug installed in the Breezeway. We lit the fireplaces on both sides of our inside/outside house living space.  It was good weather, but it was somber.

Two days after Christmas day, we made our way to the Valley of the Sun.

There we played pickle ball on the flashy Phoenix Country Club courts. We played croquet on my cousins super flat yard with golf course quality grass. But for culture, I had insisted that we go up the mountain to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West.

The excursion was well worth the time invested.  Wright's desert laboratory is now a world heritage site. It had been 30 years since I had visited it in my forties.  During that time, I was building my City of the Future model called Argonon and I was reviewing the city plans of many of our great architects.

But I didn't really get Taliesin West, even though I had used his low ceilings running into a fireplace design in a recent renovation and I was pleased with the result. This time, Taliesin was different.  It's modern design at almost 100 years old is striking. And remember, this was his winter home, in Summer he returned to Taliesin in Wisconsin.

Looking from the South West corner of the site, you can see the double 345 KVA lines the power company put right in front of his magnificent view. It was these lines that prompted the 90 year old Wright to tell the city council that if they did this, he would move from Phoenix.  His partner Olgivanna followed up telling them they were not about to move.

When Frank passed in 1959, he had just seen his last creation come to life.  The Guggenheim Museum had just opened.

But the passing of Frank Lloyd Wright and of Mary McMaster is not the story.

The story is the legacy they left us.

As we all live in the Valley of the Sun.

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