Matte’s Blog

Mel and Irene

The state of the nation now takes the sting out of being old and sick.

I’ve known some very talented and interesting people and am now feeling that I ought to recognize some of them. I’ll start with the dead ones since they can’t quibble.

I was teaching at Midland College back in 1972 when a colleague asked me to cover a class of hers that she had to miss. Of course. It was a creative writing class, and she told me that their assignment was to discuss Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”. Since this was one of my favorite stories, I sailed into class expecting to lead a rollicking discussion.

Just a few minutes into the class it became clear that the only student who really understood the story was this old black man sitting in the back, so he and I led the rest of the students into a fuller understanding.

After class, he hung around, and I thanked him for helping me teach the class and then (he had to remind me of this later) asked, “What are you doing in this class?”

He confessed that he and his wife had recently moved to Midland for her health and, wanting to explore the community, he’d enrolled in this class. We had a good talk and then met again on campus. At some point, he invited me to his home to meet his wife, Irene.

Even though they were my parents’ age, I found them delightful and learned their backstory. Mel was a native of New York City and had married Irene when she escaped from East Texas to New York as a young woman. Mel worked for the Civil Service, and they had a son named Clyde who was about my age. Irene’s health had started to fail just as Mel reached retirement age, so they picked up stakes and moved to Midland, where Irene had a sister. They bought a two-bedroom, brick veneer house about twenty years old that they could afford because it was in a less-prime part of town.

One thing I quickly learned about them was that even though they were way ahead of most Midlanders in terms of knowledge and sophistication, they were both utterly helpless when it came to home maintenance. They’d lived in apartments where Clyde had always taken care of minor things that the owner didn’t, so they could barely change a light bulb. No, wait, they couldn’t change a light bulb unless it was in a table lamp.

I’ve always enjoyed helping people, so I leaped into the role of a surrogate son and over the next three years took care of minor repairs for them as I got to know them better.

And as we became closer they told me more about Clyde and how he’d get upset with them when they inquired about his life and how he was doing. My immediate reaction was to want to blurt that of course he’s upset since he’s in his thirties now and doesn’t need you spying on him and running his life. Not that I said it quite like that.

This was a great breakthrough for all three of us because at that point my mother was driving me crazy with her inquiries. So they could explain to me that they just loved Clyde and wanted to help him if he needed it. And of course they wondered how he was doing. I got right back to them that it sure did feel to him like prying and wanting to keep control.

We sat there marveling at our breakthrough as they told me they’d tell Clyde about our conversation, and I resolved to try to cut my mother a little more slack.

Meanwhile, here’s a Market Street building reflected wonderfully distorted across the street.

Market Street Moiré

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  1. ckm3
    Posted 7 December 2013 at 09:18 | Permalink

    For most people, what stays in Las Vegas is the money.

    Most excellent turning of the phrase

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 7 December 2013 at 14:26 | Permalink

      Many thanks.

  2. Chimpus_Dorkus
    Posted 21 December 2013 at 19:59 | Permalink

    Ouch. Poor bb, here’s hoping you have some good holidays etc to cheer you up and a speedy recovery.
    Be careful, will ya?!?

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 21 December 2013 at 20:50 | Permalink

      The holidays are most definitely cheerful, the recovery is progressing apace, and the caution level has been dramatically increased.

  3. Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:08 | Permalink

    Thank you for remembering Barry. And for loving him, as I did. I am glad he got to see a loving face before he died. You are right, he wanted to go out on his terms and it was never going to be pretty. Barry, even though he’d be cleaned up, was always disappointed after falling or having a heart attack, being picked up by ambulance, treated and then dumped right back onto the streets… He gave up hope for a place indoors after realizing that even that level of frailty was not enough to deserve housing in this city. he did admit to me he would have preferred to live inside. As you said, he was not crazy. 🙂 Again, thanks for the love and kindness you and others showed him. I know he appreciated it.

    • Matte Gray
      Posted 24 January 2014 at 12:26 | Permalink

      Since i wrote that account i’ve been back to the makeshift shrine several times and have talked with folks who knew him longer than i, people who were also there the afternoon before he died and to whom he also expressed very clearly that he did not want to go to the hospital. Some of the people who knew him better are organizing a little wake for him on the 1st of February, and i’ll post more details here as i learn them. Meanwhile, a useful resource is, with an article on 22 Jan that has extensive comments.

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