Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Day Off

(Disclaimer: a bit about sex in here. May make you blush. May or may not be safe for work.)

I'm not at work today. I took a day off.

There's something very good about being able to grab a day for yourself every now and then. Spend it taking care of the things that you may be neglecting, like laundry, cleaning, projects or even yourself.

When I was growing up my dad never took a day off. Sure, he had summer off but that was different. I remember not really knowing what the term even meant. In old episodes of "Courtship of Eddie's Father" Uncle Norm would often say he was going to do such and such on his "day off". I recall him saying this term a lot, but it's possible it was only in one episode. But the phrase has stayed with me and whenever I think of a day off I think of Uncle Norm from that show.

Of course he wasn't really Eddie's uncle. He was a good friend of Eddie's father. As I was strolling the Overlook neighborhood on a vigorous walk this morning these strings of thought were going through my head; Day Off. Uncle Norm. Men who we refer to as 'Uncle' who, in fact, are not an uncle at all.

I couldn't be the only one who had a few of my father's friends who were referred to as 'Uncle', could I? The most memorable of mine was Uncle Eddie. Ed Hartzell was something of a mentor to my father. He was a teacher at the Cate school in Ojai, California when my father started there back in the 1950's. They both migrated to the Northwest in the 60's. Ed to Portland and Catlin Gabel and my dad to Tacoma and Charles Wright Academy. In 1971 we moved to Portland and my father started his final career move at Catlin, right alongside Uncle Eddie.

Uncle Eddie was a fantastic, gentle bear of a man. An avid fly-fisherman and old soul. He and his bride, Kim, had a fantastic home up off of Skyline. Kim taught art in the middle school at Catlin and she was one of my favorite teachers of all time. She believed in what she did completely. The idea that art and creativity were a crucial part of a child's development and that each of us were capable of creating beauty with pen, pencil, paint, clay or what not.

But it wasn't just art that she taught us. In 7th grade Catlin used to devote a portion of the curriculum to sex ed. They still might. Not sure. While there were memorable moments like the bowl of colored condoms being passed around the room or Derrick Butler getting the terms menstruation and masturbation confused, the one that I recall was Kim sitting at a table and talking very plainly about sex. She talked about her fears (especially the idea that HE might pee inside her) and about her experiences with sex. It was one of the most frank, open discussions I recall having about the subject. She was willing to put herself out there, vulnerable, in an attempt to allow a bunch of 13 year olds to ask the questions that otherwise would've been too embarrassing to reveal. It was a brilliant teaching moment. Memorable.

Kim died a few years ago and Uncle Eddie died a few months later. I last saw him shortly after Kim died and he had a sadness to him that I still remember to this day. But I take some solace in the knowledge that the two of them lived grand lives. They touched countless souls and were a true force of humanity. Their daughter was at my father's birthday party a month ago and we shared some smiles and some tears as I told her stories of her mother and father.

So, it turns out I'm having a pretty good day off.



Devlynda Marie said...

Having relaxing days off (not weekend-y) is fantastic. I just had a total of 5 non-weekend days off, but it was because I was stuck in bed for 16-18 hours a day... blah. Enjoy this beauty of a day off!

Anonymous said...

I imagine this couple lived a life filled with honesty and love. I'm so glad they crossed your path.

Daniel D said...

I came across your blog searching for Ed Hartzell. Mr. Hartzell was my favorite teacher of all time, including all of those whose classes I attended at two Ivy League universities. I may have been at Cate when your father was there in the late 50s early 60s. Best regards, Dan

Bruce said...


Thanks for posting. The blog has been dormant for a while so it was a thrill to get a comment alert. My father is Sid Eaton, also of Princeton and Harvard (I clicked a link!) and likely teaching at Cate when you were there. It pleases me to know that the impact great teachers have on their students lasts a lifetime. Uncle Eddie was certainly one of them. Cheers!