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A Matter of Age in a Diminished World

Roy Meachum

May 20, 2005

I am at an age when age matters. Increasingly I find myself closer to the edge; on the theory that anything which diminishes the world lessens my time on earth. And I've reached the age when my world continues to shrink.

These thoughts occur, as you might guess, because of deaths that touched my life. Michael Daniels was several years younger and Pat Meachum one birthday my senior.

Michael was the father of the man who calls himself my "Jewish son." David moved back to Dallas a few years ago, specifically to be close to his parents. Barbara was having a bit of a health problem at the time, which turned out all right.

The elder Mr. Daniels was one of those gloriously self-made men that populate American legend; he came roaring out of the Bronx to become a major supplier to the world's military exchanges.

Meanwhile, his younger son was making his own way, carving a career in the hospitality field as a manager and gourmet chef. David married a champion gymnast from Louisiana, where he lived after their divorce, to be close to daughters that were indeed special children. That's where we met. I never knew his older brother.

Looking for broader economic opportunities, David reluctantly moved back to Dallas where I visited the week terrorists drove planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I met his father and charming mother and enjoyed our conversations.

When hit by the cancer that hauled him off this week, Michael recused himself from his role as a swashbuckling merchant prince gallivanting around the universe. But, unused to all that inactivity, he waded back in again, this time taking David along.

Rebuilding a business may be harder than starting up, I don't know. Michael' s contacts remained intact. Matters were promising when the cancer came roaring back several weeks ago. I had planned another visit; now that will have to wait.

David called Monday morning to report his father might not last the night. An email that afternoon said simply his dad had "passed at 1:30." At that moment Pushkin and I were on our daily promenade, my heart already weeping for Barbara and her younger son, whom she generously lets me share.

The death of the mother of all my children was naturally more painful. When young Roy called Saturday morning, I felt a physical blow in my gut. Fortunately a chair was nearby.

My mind went back inevitably to the late Spring evening in 1950, when Pat Moore jitterbugged away with my heart. She was freshly graduated from Duke University, both a pioneer and an institutional standard for accepting and educating the new woman that emerged in the post-war era. She majored and excelled in economics.

But my former wife was a victim of her age. While Duke prepared her to triumph in any career she chose, it could not improve the opportunities for young women to achieve success in that totally male world. The glass ceiling was very low.

The native of Evansville, Indiana, took a job as copy editor for the American Automobile Association, which is why she was living in Washington. I was both a Georgetown student and the sergeant-narrator with the United States Army Band.

We married 17 days after we met. The very next day the Korean War started and my life's rhythm picked up considerably while hers was destined to adopt a lower pace when our first child was born. That's what happened.

My intelligent and well-educated wife taught me the phrase "cabin fever;" it was the affliction she suffered when her husband was frequently gone and her universe was reduced to small children. Patricia Lou Meachum as an aspiring human being, capable of proving her value in the wide world, disappeared. I would like to think I tried to help.

Her forays out of the "cabin" included theatre, travel, embassy parties and White House events, when I was an arts advisor there. She blossomed on every occasion. It was not enough.

In fact, she was very much alone most of her life, especially after the divorce, which probably owed something to her disappointment and my career expectations. We were very different human beings when we parted. Did we wed too quickly? We lasted 17 years as a couple. Not many modern marriages make it that long.

Her children remained her comfort. To her great credit, she mothered and mentored all four well; they are living tributes to a life well spent. And in time she enjoyed her grandchildren, taking special pride in her daughter' s daughter who is very intelligent, as you might imagine. Sarah lives in a world where lives don't have to be wasted away by "cabin fever;" even stay-at-home mothers enjoy greater freedom and opportunities than her grandmother's generation.

In her twilight years, Pat was a stalwart of Chevy Chase Circle's All Saints Episcopal Church. She organized and led a special guild. She cheered when women were welcomed into her faith's priesthood.

In the end, even that pleasure was denied her, except for services. The great heart infused with warmth and caring wore out. It had been awhile since she was comfortable venturing outside her apartment in the building where son Roy lived.

He came back from New York where he had triumphed in Broadway's "Annie." He turned down productions that would take him away from his mother for an extended time. He visited her every day. He took care of details; sometimes some she didn't know needed doing.

All of her children rendered unto Pat more than loyalty and appreciation; they showed in countless ways their love and admiration. They took care to share their busy lives.

Roy called Saturday. He had chatted with his mother the evening before. When he went to see what she needed that morning she had slipped into eternal sleep.

We had not been wife and husband for nearly four decades, but we continued to share some of life's moments, on the phone when not in person. We saw each other at family gatherings. We were friends. I miss her.

And this morning I live in a diminished world. May they both rest in peace.

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