Fred Olivier MacFarlane (1921 – 2020)
As I mentioned in my previous update, I flew down to Arizona to visit my father for a couple days, as his life on this earth was gently fading away. We had a good visit, though he wasn’t able to talk much. I also realized that, because of the pandemic, it was the longest time that I’d spent in the company of another human being in many months. I was glad to spend it with him.
His life’s fading has now run its course, and he passed away a few days ago. He was well cared for by his wife, right up until the end. And when his condition had hit a critical point, the nurse at their living facility was called in. She was young, a new hire, not familiar with the normal procedures, so when they decided to call for more help, she dialed 911, and he was taken to a local hospital, rather than the normal on-site “Caring Center.”
This was a problem because the hospital only allowed patients to enter, neither family nor friends, because of the pandemic. So he entered alone. But he was assigned a doctor who turned out to be his very own doctor from his living facility. Meanwhile he had a wife waiting at home for a phone call. The doctor phoned and told her that a private room in the hospital could open up. Indeed it did, and with the doctor’s backing, she could enter the hospital.
So they were able to spend their last hours together in a private room holding hands as he listened to her talk and sing. This would not have been possible in the normal on-site “Caring Center.” So what seemed unfortunate at first turned out to be the best in the end.
Some Biographical Notes
This photo of our family has hung in a hallway at our home ever since it was taken, right up to the present day. In the intervening years we have all gone our separate ways. Yet, though I care very much for the family that’s been added since, when I think of my family history, this has always been the default starting location. And now one of us is gone, though to be fair, it’s hard to complain about him “only” having been with us for 99⅓ years.
Here he is with his mother, my grandmother, in the earliest picture of him that I could find (from 98 years ago). He was nine months old. They lived in a logging camp called “Camp Cavanaugh,” located east of Mt. Vernon in Washington State.
My grandfather ran the logging company. They moved about, hunting the trees. I think this is how my dad got comfortable with his ongoing and regular changes of address. In fact, his period here in Castro Valley, at 12 years, may have been his longest-lasting mailing address ever.
These pictures show him in Portland or Vancouver with his mother, and with his father.
Most of his childhood was spent at various addresses in Portland. It was here that he got the habit of being gainfully employed, a condition that he maintained right through and even beyond his eventual retirement.
And as a youngster, he got to experience the perverse dream of every school child. The school custodians had been sweeping the halls every night with oiled sawdust. Over the years, a thick layer of oil had built up. It couldn’t have taken much to spark it and bring down the whole building in a magnificent conflagration. Hundreds of kids (including my dad) gazed at it on their way to school that morning.
However, the result of the fire was not freedom from school but simply reassignment to a different campus, much farther away, with classes at non-standard hours, for an entire school year, as they rebuilt the old school.
This picture shows him at sixteen years old. By this time, in the midst of the Great Depression, he was working constantly, selling magazines, emptying trash, etc., to bring in money, while his mother took in sewing, and his father lost his company.
In the meantime, he was an intern in a bank, he attended college at the University of Washington, eventually emerging with a CPA, he joined the army for World War II. He was based in Pittsburg, California, when they heard the famous Port Chicago explosions.
While they lived in Pittsburg, he got a Dalmatian (named “Easy”) whom he showed at local dog shows. He was even written up in Western Kennel World Magazine, as Easy won an AKC championship. And dad wrote a Dalmatian column in Dog World Magazine for two years.
But then, he ended his writing and dog show career because he had found a job in Sacramento as a purchasing agent for the state government. But his experience with dogs planted an unfulfilled wish to become a veterinarian.
So they moved into a brand-new house in a new Sacramento housing development, where Dad organized the neighbors into a volunteer crew to pour cement pathways throughout the development’s new park.
That’s also where they were living when my sister and myself joined the family.
My favorite memories from those days included the warm endless summers, our Dalmatians racing through the park across the street, and my dad entertaining us with a little plastic wading pool. I almost lost my pet turtle in that pool once.
Eventually Dad advanced a little further in his management career by taking the job of head of purchasing for Alameda County in Oakland. And he also became president of the statewide purchasing association. That’s when we moved to Castro Valley.
And this bigger house opened itself regularly for friends and entertainment, mostly for old friends from Portland who’d moved to California and the parents of my classmates and my sister’s classmates. It was only when I got older that I realized that not every family entertained so steadily. The picture shows Mom and Dad in our kitchen ready for guests Those were nights when I was thankful that my parents didn’t smoke, as the closet where the guests hung their coats always smelled like a forest fire afterwards.
My favorite memories from that time include going to work with Dad on weekend special assignments. He was in charge of the county’s used auto auctions, held in warehouses out in the countryside. I thrilled to the calls of the professional auctioneers, and the jackrabbits hopping by. I also marveled at the sight of a monstrous and loud machine that sorted IBM punch cards. It kindled an interest in high tech that lasts to this day. And in fact, we talked computers all the way to the end. And when microcomputers became popular in the 1980’s, he was the only one of his generation who’d understand me when I talked about them.
And when I was fifteen, our family took a road trip to Kentucky to visit my father’s old army buddy in Elizabethtown. We mostly camped along the whole way, and saw more of America than all the rest of our trips put together. Dad always said that it was one of the best things that we had ever done as a family, and I agree.
My parents also chaperoned our high school jazz band’s spring trips to the Reno Jazz Festival, where one year we won the highest prize. I still remember my dad driving through an unseasonable snow storm while whichever musician was in the front seat would reach around to clear the snow off the windshield.
Well, at about the time I graduated from high school my father got a new job in private industry, managing a Photo and Sound branch store in Seattle. So I went off to college while everybody else wound up in Seattle. Unfortunately things didn’t remain so. My parents divorced, and my mother and sister returned to Castro Valley the next year while my dad remained in Seattle. Unfortunately, Photo and Sound went out of business after a few years.
Eventually, Dad would also return to the Bay Area. By that time he had remarried. His first marriage had lasted 26 years, and his second would last 47 years.
Dad invented a new job for himself in Alameda County government and convinced the people there to hire him for it. That was Director of General Services. I was kind of disappointed that he would no longer direct the car auctions. But he had a cool office on High Street in Oakland. This is where my conversations with him made me think that he was an uncommonly good manager.
He moved into a house in Dublin, and later to another in the flat section of Castro Valley. But he didn’t stick around the Bay Area too long.
They headed back up to Seattle, where dad took a job as Business Manager with Lakeside School, the well-known private school where Bill Gates and Paul Allen had attended. In fact, the two computer innovators had just bought their alma mater a new library. My dad, in addition to normal bookkeeping and management duties, was in charge of expanding the school from a high-school down to fifth grade, which involved purchasing and refurbishing a large building. This picture shows him on campus with wife and daughter.
At this time, my grandmother came to live with them, as she was no longer capable of living alone. I often thought of this when I was in China and was told that Asians take better care of oldsters in the family than Americans. Dad (and others I know) pretty much disprove this. And it was during this time that I was able to connect Grandma by phone with her French grandchildren.
And later, Dad took a long vacation to France to meet his French nephews.
Well, eventually Dad retired from Lakeside, and from Alameda County government, and he had some smaller pensions, too. So they kicked back, downsized into a smaller house in Bothell, Washington, bought a trailer and a pickup truck, and embarked on the gypsy lifestyle so common among younger American retirees.
They developed a standard yearly circuit, which included a trailer park in San Leandro called “Trailer Haven,” which they nicknamed “Trailer Heaven,” and that’s where I generally saw them in those years. It was located just down the street from Roskie and Wallace books, so they used the opportunity to stock up on adventure novels. They also included Phoenix (actually, Surprise) in their yearly circuit, staying at Happy Trails resort, where Dad helped to edit the resort’s newsletter, and they practiced square dancing.
Finally, they moved their principle address to Sun City Grand, a brand-new retirement development just outside Phoenix. Dad was active in the computer club, of course, and even served a term as its president. (Here he passes on the ceremonial mouse)
The trailer had vanished by then, but they did have a prefabricated second home 2000 meters high in the Mountains near Flagstaff — Munds Park. It froze in the winter, but was just right in the summer.
But the wanderlust remained strong, so they maintained regular road trips up to Seattle and back, stopping in the Bay Area, Portland, and at the Kelleher “stepkids” place in the Sacramento area along the way.
After a few more years, Dad began aging somewhat, so he started planning out his end of life. I often said that Dad was a “lucky bum” for a lot of his life, but actually, it’s more likely his habit of thoroughly planning (and working hard) that manufactured such “luck.” So they kept the second home, at least for a few years, but moved into an extended care facility called Royal Oaks in Sun City. That was sixteen years ago, and naturally they’ve had three different addresses just during their time there.
At the time, I was teaching English in China, and my favorite memory of my dad from those years was his coming to visit me there. I was tickled pink that I was able to pay for everything during the trip. Of course, he had no choice but to let me pay since he mostly couldn’t understand what other people were saying. Here he is standing in front of my apartment house and my bicycle.
And here he is standing in front of a more famous residence. We also toured other famous sights, such as the ancient pottery army and Banpo, the oldest archeological site in China, as well as a fabulous tour of Tianjin’s harbor and its planning museum.
A few days after he returned home to Arizona, he celebrated his ninetieth birthday. The whole extended family gathered for the occasion, and I was able to move up my own schedule so I could surprise him at home after having just left him in China a few days before.
Certainly the past few months have not been easy for him, and certainly he is in a much happier place now. I did take a picture of him this week, but he just didn’t look himself.
To close, I’d like to thank those who sent cards and emails expressing condolences. It makes a difference to have that support.
I like it because he exudes a quiet confidence, and as is printed on his birthday plaque, he’s always still going strong. A year ago my psychologist suggested that I write musical pieces for people we were discussing. The piece I wrote for him is meant to express this idea of always moving ahead. I apologize in advance for the recording quality, as well as my inability to keep steady enough time, a common failing of those who tend to play alone. Anyway, Here’s the link to click and access it: 2020-11-20 Dad’s Tune.
I’ll end, not with another photo, but with a humorous father’s day card that I bought for him on multiple father’s days over the years, since it expressed so well the pugnacious pride that I always took in him.