I heard George passed away this week.
Earlier this month I stayed in the beautiful house on the left in Savannah for a week. The trip itself was heartwarming and important in its own ways, but I want to write about this house, and I want to write about George.
Growing up cascadian in the 80s and 90s I was surrounded by draft dodgers. They were our teachers, mostly, and our parents’ friends, and also our friends’ parents. They brought with them a culture both of white middle class Utopianism and of deep scorn for America – or at least a strong skepticism of the American Dream. I’ve since learned that all the way back to Reverend Jacob Bailey and the revolution “that’s it, I’m moving to Canada!” has been a constant refrain from certain Americans.
Of course, the vast empire-colony that rules us is full of its own bullshit and is far from a utopia; but that’s a story for a different post. It’s a problem though that so many people who believed in a better America and had privilege fled, rather than staying to fix their mess. It’s something that I hope we’re learning from today, faced with a difficult politics in America once again.
But some did stay, and continued their prefigurative revolution. That was George. He and his partner Jake have lived in this house off of MLK drive in Savannah for almost 20 years. They rent out rooms to other misfits looking for a refuge from the southern decency of Savannah. They grow salad greens and citrus in the backyard to sell at the farmers market uptown and help ends meet. Jake makes bread and yogurt. They volunteer all over town, and sing in choirs. This house is full of nostalgia, for me and for them, for the prefigurative revolution that somehow petered out over the tumultuous 2010s, after surviving 40 full years in the imaginations of a certain Left.
I’d like to think that the revolution petered out because that certain Left (which I should include myself within) finally started listening to folks about how messed up their white middle class utopia truly is. And/or they just died out. Jake had his 79th birthday last month, and when he blew out the candles on his cake he wished that the patriarchy would die with him and his generation. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
So when Erica invited me to stay with her in this beautiful nostalgic hippie house, she warned me that George was slowly dying. He’s been suffering from congestive heart failure for five years now, and this was finally the time when the cardiovascular system wore out. I sure can’t say his heart wore out though – you’d be hard pressed to meet a kinder or more caring gentleman. Possibly Jake, but like I said this house is a unique bubble. During the week I knew him, George was moving pretty slowly – but always curious about my story and my travels, quick to pass along compliments, clear about the high regard he held for Erica (who is a gem).
Erica’s bestie and one of her partners came to visit in the second half of the week, so we all made dinner to say thanks for hosting. Seated at the head of the table, surrounded by the fading Victorian glory of this old home, George was in his element as host of honour. He told us his story, from beginning to end. His marriage, fatherhood, his successful French restaurant. Finding himself, moving to a commune in Virginia, meeting Jake. Making it to the end, and finally discovering The Secret.
“You’ve got to tell me,” I said, finishing a deep swig of wine.
Here it is, straight from the mouth of a man who made it to 80 and passed peacefully in his sleep cared for by two partners, three sons, and his beloved garden:
“All the love you give over all the years, comes back to you in the end.”
Two weeks later to the day, Erica called to let me know he’d passed away.
As I reflect on that week and all I learned, I wonder what I’ll bring with me into nostalgia. They were true revolutionaries, Jake and George, and they lived their lives as an example of how we could be. It’s clearer than ever now that I’m hurtling towards becoming an old white man – I might even end up being a rich one. Will I have Jake’s equanimity, and pray for the past to die with me? Not that it will, of course. Will I be able to say I did all I could to push back against whiteness, wealth, and the confines of masculinity? I don’t think I could even say that now. Or will it just be easier to “move to Canada” like so many of the men I looked up to as a kid – reproducing a little bubble of cascadian utopia somewhere so I can live comfortably removed from the consequences of my identity? I can only hope that what peace I find in my final days proves that I tried to love. Thank you, George