Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Raymond Story by Louise Owen

I first met Raymond in 1968. He was teaching at Widney High School, a school for the physically handicapped, in Los Angeles. I had just been hired as an itinerant teacher to work with visually handicapped students in special schools.

Raymond had a newly blinded girl in his English lit class, and I was teaching her braille. He expected her to turn to a specific page in the book (one of 37 braille volumes), and then a certain paragraph, and begin reading. This would be a challenge for an advanced braille student, and I read him the riot act. He told me later he liked me immediately after the dressing down.

After several weeks, he paid me a back-handed compliment. He said my predecessor was beautiful, but I did more for the students. We became friends then, but mainly professional until 1986 when I moved to Los Angeles and rented the apartment beneath his house.

Raymond was the most intelligent person I’ve ever known. He became my mentor and my confidant. We were, however, different in so many ways. He was arts, theater, music. He was LA Opera. I was Dodgers baseball. He flew to Paris. I backpacked in the Sierras. He toured the Greek Isles. I hiked the Grand Canyon.

He was thrifty to a fault. He read Consumer Reports, ads in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, and shopped for bargains. I hate to shop. He liked steaks very rare and vegetables al dente. I never had a quality steak until I was in college, and then didn’t know what it was! I think he enjoyed my naiveté and lack of sophistication.

I heard of his earlier exploits but couldn’t relate to them. He was way out of my league. As years passed, I met many of his friends. He had gone from grade school through high school with Landis Stewart and Bob Aldrich. They became lifelong friends. Bob and Kate Aldrich named their younger son Raymond. The Aldriches became Raymond’s adopted family. The last trip of his life was to Ann Arbor for Thanksgiving with the Aldrich family.

His Los Angeles adopted family was the Howards. He taught school with Mickey and Edith, and when Edith suffered her stroke, Raymond visited every day. They had shared years of art, music, theater, films, museums, travel and food. From the time I met him, his Sunday evenings were spent with Bob Chapman until Bob’s death. I don’t think Raymond ever recovered from that loss. He was a fiercely loyal friend, which, perhaps, explains why he was slow to forgive when he felt wounded.

There was a time when Raymond’s exercise regimen included the 3.2 mile walk around Lake Hollywood. To ease the boredom he listened to music on his tape recorder and established a ritualistic routine of tapping certain posts, circling a tree, and counting ducks. Ducks were his good luck charm, and he was thrilled when he saw them by the dozens. He told me one time, “When I die, just say ‘His ducks ran out’.”

He became very reflective this past year. Because of his declining health, we were together more. He ate a lot of meals in my apartment and we watched movies ordered from Netflix; revisited Jane Austen as he tried to steer me to Edith Wharton. He constantly marveled at the “jewel box” night view of the city from his deck and the San Gabriel Mountains behind us. He expressed joy watching his frolicking cats and worried about the survival of his newly planted rosemary.

I would find him sitting on his deck watching the gold fish in the pond. When asked what he was thinking, he said he felt so fortunate to have (and to have had) so many good friends.

Raymond was engaged to the end. Two days before he died we laughed about getting mail from the Neptune Society. Every time I entered his hospital room, he started talking before I got to his bed. He always asked, “What’s happening?” Even his nurse laughed when I told him Bill Maher said, “The next time we go to war for oil, I hope we get some.” He wanted the day’s headlines. He missed watching The Food Channel. The morning of the day he died he said to me, “Tell me again how you make your potato salad.” He forgave me for taking him back to prison (hospital).

At seven o’clock that evening the doctor called to tell me life support had been removed. Carolyn (Lofrano) drove me to the hospital. Manuel (Escobar), Raymond’s longtime worker, who had become a caregiver, was there. Marianne (Muellerielle) and Terry (Kilburn) came.

Raymond said, “There will be no tears in this room!” And until the morphine caused him to hallucinate, his incredible sense of humor and wit remained intact. Carolyn and I stayed until the end when, finally, his ducks did run out.

1 comment:

  1. When I was an 8 yr old girl, in the mid 1960s, my mother dated Raymond. She was a teacher at Widney High School as well. My brother and I loved Raymond! He was funny and so nice.

    They called us over one day and told us they were planning to marry. I was ecstatic. He took us all on a trip to Oregon, we all had so much fun. He was great. Unfortunately, they called off the wedding. I cried when I found out. My life would have been so much better if Raymond would have my Step Dad!

    If I had only known he was alive until recently I would have tried to get in touch!