The ways, the people and the creatures that Charlie Weigle loved.
Photo by Damon Sicore
In one of the last visits to Kaiser, a physical therapist came by on her rounds. She asked the usual series of patient questions:
PT: Sir can you tell me your name?
Dad: Charlie Weigle
PT: Ok Charlie, what is the date of your birth?
Dad: May 24th, 1940
PT: Charlie do you know where you are?
In response dad looked resignedly around and said, “Kaiser”. The PT sensed his confusion and asked again, “Charlie do you know which Kaiser you are in?” There was a long pause and nothing, as if it were simply too much effort for dad to figure this out. I leaned over and whispered to the PT, “Ask him what his favorite flavor of ice cream is.” So she asked, “Charlie what is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” Dad perked right up and exclaimed, “Peppermint” – to which the PT replied, “Well Mr. Weigle, it looks like you are ready for Physical Therapy today!”
Sometimes Cary and I would find ourselves spending Saturdays with dad, presumably so that mom could have some personal time and we ragamuffins could have some quality time with dad. Quality time usually involved a gleeful joy ride to the Palo Alto dump, nature time poking bird poop and dead stuff at the Bay Lands followed by a stealth visit to the A& W on El Camino Way. Here we would get hamburgers and root beer floats – foods that Mama Belle did not approve of. With a glint in his eye and a you-know-what eatin’ grin dad would say, “now don’t tell your mother”. Cary and I would somberly agree to keep the secret. Later on we figured out that “don’t tell you mother” really meant “do tell your mother” – l loved her mock shock, and inability to suppress a smile, saying “Charles did you feed these children junk food again just to get my goat?” For which giggly Charlie would be rewarded with a poke in the ribs and a knowing wink.
Consumption of ice cream was a joyful thread throughout Charlie’s life. Whether it was a trip to Peninsula Creamery for milkshakes with friends, Edys to celebrate the opening night of a children’s theatre play, Rick’s Rather Rich to reward his son for a paper well written, or towards the end – Fenton’s for a drippy cone of peppermint with Jasper and Violet, the life of Charlie was marked by ice cream shared with loved ones. Seth’s little life revolved around the weekly expedition to the ice cream store in Mountain View with his beloved “Gwamps”. Of course, on the surface it was the ice cream, but really it was so much more. The expedition provided undivided time, the feelings expressed, the scraps of nature discovered along the way on the sidewalk, and the connection that the two of them will always have. It sometimes took a whole afternoon just to traverse the 8 blocks to and from the ice cream store, but it was worth it for a cone of “Bwfday Cake” a flavor that only a grandparent could love.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Charlie was born into a fine lineage of “outdoorsy people”. On his mother’s side there was the McGilvary Sturrock clan with their Sierra foothill granite quarrying business, and summer visits to the Yosemite camp. On his father’s side there was Dada and Grandmother Alice, the Episcopal Socialists who fed the whole extended family from their home farm during WWII. Near and dear to his heart, were Marge and Cliff his beloved parents and life-long members of the Sierra Club, who faithfully camped with, scouted with and taught Charlie to love the nature around him.
Two summers ago Charlie came on the neighborhood reunion camping trip to Toulome Meadows. Dennis and Cary lead us on a lovely hike across the main meadow past Lembert Dome. At one point Charlie and I had taken a rest, and it was just the two of us sitting on a log looking back over the peaceful dry meadow. Out of nowhere Charlie told me this lovely story. In his 14th summer he was camping with Marge and Cliff in the meadow (because there was no campground then). He asked them if he could bivouac on Johnson Peak overnight. Apparently they said yes, so being a good boy scout, he set off in the evening with just his bed roll, hiked up, enjoyed the stars and carefully made his way down early in the morning so that his mother would not worry needlessly. Charlie described this sweet Weigle interaction as being a sort of “coming of age”. His parents were proud that Charlie had reached the age where he could be trusted to take care of himself. With fondness in his eyes we sat a moment longer, then Charlie suggested that we carry on, because he did not want to miss any grand kid action at the creek.
I am sure Charlie took other solo expeditions, but his ideal outdoor experience, was shared with friends and family. Charlie spent multiple summers on the Camp Oljato staff, as a scout master he always made time in his work schedule to take the boys to camp for the full two week session. Charlie spent one of his Stanford summers on the Juneau Glacier in Alaska. Although his friends teased him about his beard upon his return to school in the fall, Charlie was in no rush to shave it off. The beard was lovingly cultivated during the 3 months he spent camping on a glacier, happily core drilling ice samples alongside his fellow enthusiastic geology nuts. Later that decade, Charlie wooed Belle by taking her on glamorous camping trips to Nova Scotia and Europe. Dazzling her with his nifty equipment that all folded neatly into the trunk of his sporty red Volvo. Charlie pledged his love to Belle by building her the beloved “Camping Cabinet” that we still camp with today. Having a family of his own gave Charlie all the reason he needed to pack in as much hiking, biking, camping and skiing with as many friends as possible; our neighborhood, Y Small World, Y Westerners, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts – just to name a few. Upon his Death, Seth and I decided we would keep Gramps in our hearts by continuing the tradition of taking hikes with loved ones, and giving thanks for the blessing of nature enjoyed together.
BELLE & CHARLIE
Belle and Charlie loved a good project. In their pre-kid years together they remodeled two historic homes in DC and Arlington Mass. Charlie would do the carpentry and Belle would work her magic on the interior. Charlie loved to retell the story of mom, 8 months pregnant with baby Alis, 6 feet up a ladder placed precariously on a stairway, painting the wall of our vintage Boston home a warm 70’s mustard yellow, because, well, it needed to get done – the baby was coming.
The theatre was a love that Belle and Charlie shared. Their theater happy place was at All Saints. The Pew Players were fun, nothing too serious. Doing a play could be managed and enjoyed without compromising time with the kids. Belle was a wiz at making costumes and sets. For the Noah’s Ark play she figured out how to make construction paper masks for elephants, rats, horses, in fact the whole menagerie of All Saints little ones paraded around in full animal likeness on a budget of probably $10. Charlie was the comic ham in the family. Dad was always enthusiastic about his roles in church plays, he enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow humorists and relished delivering the silly punch line. His crowing roll was as Maude, a 50 something happy drunk. For this role he dressed in drag, not just willingly but with aplomb.
In retrospect, what seemed like a normal vacation to me as a child, now seems like a crazy reminiscence/what were my parents thinking? My parents planned elaborate trips on shoestring budgets with all sorts of moving parts – just the way they liked their adventures. Our first trip to Europe involved ordering a new Volvo, flying into Amsterdam, somehow making our way to Sweden, taking a choppy ferry ride from Sweden to England – you get the idea. This logistical feat was a Charlie Weigle special. Just to complicate matters we had to camp out each night because hotels were too expensive. Most nights we camped in a charming farm field, or cheeky British campsite, but not always. In one industrial English city Cary and I found ourselves camping in a narrow strip of land between a horse race track and a busy road. Belle and Charlie acted like this was totally normal blithely ignoring the headlights that illuminated the tent every few minutes, and the smell of diesel exhaust. Mom had her classic benevolent smile plastered on her face, and Dad was busy distracting us with some card game or other Charlie Weigle smoke an’ mirrors special. Our second trip involved narrow boats, locks and aqueducts, camping out of a damp Ford Fiesta, a battle axe, endless rain and Dad encouraging us to try and recognize different breeds of sheep for entertainment – a story for another day.
Belle and Charlie genuinely enjoyed being parents. I of course, recall overhearing many an exchange between the two of them about Cary and his friends. Now that I have been the parent of a little boy, I understand how much joy they found in the 2 year old Cary and Eric. I remember the two of them watching the boys playing outside, remarking on Cary’s “Gift of the Gab” and Eric’s infectious giggle. Charlie took particular notice of things that kids were doing. He was very observant and managed to find humor in most situations. I remember aside comments to my mom such as, “Honey, go peek in on the boys, Cary has got them in stitches, it’s too precious to miss.”
Belle and Charlie loved the day to day flow of kids and weekend adventures with our neighborhood. There was the Toulome camp out when Tim Franey masterfully captivated us with the fire circle ghost story, while Charlie snuck up from behind and scared the living day lights out of us. Or the New Years Eve when the boys got the car stuck in the snow drift and had to dig it out with socks on because although they had drivers licenses, they apparently did not have enough sense to wear shoes when they drove. The gaggle of neighborhood boys were an endless source of belly laughs. What is a good laugh if not shared with friends? Belle and Charlie were fortunate to have the company of parents who found the antics of child rearing equally as entertaining. The neighborhood parents were like minded, allowing their kids the freedom to figure it out on their own, but still enforced loving “boundaries” at each household. Mom used to always say, when you are at so and so’s house they make the rules. Life is full of different people with different rules and you are just going to have to learn how to adapt. It takes a village right?
Charlie loved the 1950’s. He had had a great time as a teenager and was thrilled to relive it with his own teenagers in the 1980’s. Like most 15 year old girls my friends and I were all boys and talking on the phone. Charlie was never annoyed with us, in fact he found us amusing. Charlie took delight in constantly humoring us about being “teeny boppers”, good naturedly mimicking our complaints with a dramatic eye roll and his patented pretend sigh. Much to Mom’s protest about the cost, Dad installed a second phone line in my room. Ostensibly so that the house line would be “free”, but really I think he relished the cadence of giggly teen age conversations – Charlie was always a teenager at heart.
THE LITERATURE OF LIFE
Charlie lived for the “literature” of life. Those moments when the everyday word meant something more, those little bits around the edges that touched on meaning. Charlie was endlessly clever, and infused humor in everything. He made room for wit in every conversation, and if you were lucky he would slip in a pun or two, maybe even one in Latin.
One day mom and I were crossing Arastradero to go to Ruth Woods preschool. We were standing on the curb looking right and left for cars. Since this was the 1970s in Palo Alto there was not a car in sight. It was a lovely winter day, and the first time in my memory that I can recall noticing that it was raining, but the sun was shining. Because I am Belle’s child I noticed the breath-taking aesthetics of the landscape before me. The glinting edge of a steel blue cloud, the bright pricks of raindrops caught in sun light, and the black shimmer of water on asphalt. However, because I am Charlie’s child I realized that this vignette of light and water could be a poem, or a story. This sunshine in the rain moment might have a deeper hidden meaning. A hidden meaning beyond the physical that was magical, perhaps even spiritual. That moment was my first understanding of allegory – a concept that Charlie loved to teach, discuss.
Literary themes were just one of the plethora of subjects Charlie liked to teach. Charlie had a knack for communicating the essence of what should be learned in all situations. Be it math concepts, merit badge projects, or even just making waffles – Charlie “owned” the teaching moment. I have since run into many students from Charlie’s San Jose State days who took his infamous Finance 101 course. I always have to be prepared because these people gush. Apparently Charlie was a fantastic teacher, even good enough to change people’s lives and make them corporate finance evangelists!
Charlie believed that every student had potential. He looked for the way in which that person learned, he could easily adapt, and simply walked that path with them till they got the hang of the subject. The fourth grade me was pretty much mentally absent from the classroom, and in hind sight probably caused my parents a world of worry. However, in the spring we did our big 7 page book report on the Gold Rush. There was a month of Belle and Charlie trying to get me interested in one angle or another. In the last week, Dad finally struck on something. He showed me books on geology, and started teaching me about how the gold was deposited and how the mining process worked. Well – that got my attention. I was fascinated, I learned the material and wrote a pretty decent report for a kid who was on track to be a “4th grade nothing”. Dad was proud of my report, and I felt really good about myself.
However, the tables turned when we got our reports back and mine got an F. This teacher did not grade on content, only spelling and grammar – “Palo Alto Unified’s finest”. Despite the piles of liquid paper smeared all over the report I had managed to spell more than 10 words incorrectly – an automatic F. Dad was livid! I had never seen my father so upset. Charlie was all about content, and there was no way this “lady” was going to undermine his daughter’s new found confidence in expository writing. Needless to say, the papers were “re-graded”, although I would like to have been a fly on the wall at that parent teacher conference.
Violet Belle – I am not sure that God in all her wisdom could have sent a granddaughter better suited for Charlie. In her baby year Charlie and Violet would sit and bat eyelashes, stick their tongues out and simply bask in each other’s mutual affection. Charlie would melt into sweetness, regardless of his mood when Violet was around. Then when Violet began to talk, she revealed to dad that really she was the intellectual progeny he had always hoped for. Her constant barrage of existential questions, and metaphorical prattle tickled Charlie to no end. I never tired of hearing Dad rehash things Violet had told him, partly because I adore her too, but mostly because in the retelling I was able to catch glimpses of the Dad I knew at the beginning of my life.
Cary went through a phase when Violet was a toddler. Every time I saw him he would put his arm around me and say, “Now that I have my own little girl, I understand how much dad loved you – Daddy’s love their little girls – sigh”. I was up to my eyeballs in Lego guys and explosions at the time, so it was a bit hard for me to grasp quite what Cary was getting at, but he was right. Dad had a special place in his heart for me. Dad was always waxing nostalgic about my three year old self in the little plaid wool Christmas dress mom made for me. How proud he had been to take me to the Nutcracker. Mom had to continue making me plaid Christmas jumpers well into elementary school, because dad was so sentimental about them.
For years, even into young adult hood I would be at a function with my father and he would bring me physically by the arm too fawn over one little girl or another in a holiday dress. Like Cary said it was Dad’s way of reminding me about how much he loved me.
MATTIE – THE AFTER PARTY
Charlie loved a good party, to which Mattie replied “the proverbial ‘last call’ is at 2:00 AM – BRING IT!”
With Mattie and Charlie it was love at first poetry filled speaker phone call. Followed rapidly by the embarrassing moment when Cary caught Charlie texting to Mattie under the table at Thanksgiving. Mattie and Charlie wasted no time and jumped right into life. They did everything together, meditation, breast cancer, grand kid ragers, hospital delirium, half-marathons, Milou the Puppy, Tibet – you name it they crammed it into 8 crazy years. If Charlie would waver cognitively or physically, Mattie would be there to catch him. They would briefly meditate for a set amount of time using the Buddhist Chime App on their his and hers iphones, then Mattie would cheerfully herd the smitten Charlie along to the next activity (they had an endless list). With Mattie as both his anchor and his sail, Charlie was able to work through some hard issues. One issue that stands out as pivotal was processing his sister’s death. With Mattie’s support Charlie was able to fully understand his unaddressed grief, and heal his lingering childhood sadness. The constant discourse with Mattie fostered Charlie’s well-being. Charlie had finally found the loving, intelligent conversational companion that made his “after party” the best the Universe had to offer.
I will start with a remembrance from the life of Deb Kim Emery.
“A cup of tea allows us to take time and be thankful for all that we have”
Ah…Charlie Weigle and his tea. The lifelong, twice daily ritual that dad loved. Leigh likes to tell the story of bonding with Charlie about the proper way to prepare tea. It was early on when Leigh and Khader were first opening the store. Charlie wanted to help, so he went with Leigh to IKEA on a book case acquisition. There in the IKEA cafeteria they began discussing tea. They quickly found out that they each prepared tea the same way by first warming the cup with hot water before pouring the actual the tea water over the leaves. Charlie was just emerging from the reflective time of his life, and getting to know his niece as her adult self was delightful to him – especially since she was “so civilized”.
Charlie was always fascinated by the history of rituals, be it religious rituals, civic rituals or everyday rituals he liked to know the history. It gave him a sense of place and gave meaning to the act. The history of tea for Charlie wove in and out of his life. The roots of it came from his Scottish ancestors that immigrated to the western United States in the latter half of the 19th century. His maternal grandfather Charles was one of the children born to Henry Sturrock and Margaret McGilvary Sturrock. Charles’s daughter was Charlie’s mother Marge. Marge and her cousins were raised by this Victorian family, and afternoon tea was part of life. As a child I recall waking up from my nap to find the table set for tea. Grandma Marge and I always “took” tea in the blue Wedgewood cups that we still use today.
The infamous blue Wedgewood tea set. No vessels in the history of the world could hold more love than this china. Marge doted on Charlie, and likewise Charlie was devoted to his mom. In the summer of 1957 troop 51 from the Stanford Barn made their way by train and boat across the US and the Atlantic to the World Jamboree in England. Knowing Margie, much worrying probably accompanied the planning of this trip, and surely she fretted while he was gone. Needless to say, Charlie did return, but not empty handed. While he was in England Charlie arranged to visit the Wedgewood factory, and picked out a tea set for his mother that matched her blue china. What kinder gesture of complete thanks could a mother ask for?
A preoccupation with tea is something that everyone in our family shares. Dor and Margie always had differing opinions about how much Lapsang Souchong should be blended with the Ceylon and Assam. Much carrying on was had about how to prepare tea. Belle and Charlie always found this banter charming, and often chimed in with just a wee touch of jest. Later there would always be a leaning in between the two of them, and a private chuckle as they recalled these moments. Apricot black tea from the spice shop in Town and Country Los Altos was my parent’s favorite. I loved snooting my nose into the jar just as the lid came off. The strong bottled flavor of the leaves would rush through my senses – to this day apricots and black tea are the scent of my parents. Charlie would always rise early to make the tea at our house, meticulously measuring the leaves just so. Dad was fastidious about reading the morning paper while he drank his tea. You were not to disturb him during this precious time. Belle was not an early riser, so well after the sun was up, Charlie would lovingly prepare a mug of tea from the pot and deliver it to my mom in bed. In this busy world that we live in today it is hard to imagine having this kind of leisurely morning time. However, I am fairly firm with my coworkers that from 5:00 – 5:30 Pacific Standard Time I am unavailable for meetings due to my morning tea ritual.
The “after party” of Charlie’s life was filled to the brim with tea moments green tea, Irish Breakfast, pretend tea. In true Episcopal Buddhist fashion Gramps accepted tea a thousand times over from loved ones. Each cup, real or pretend, a small blessing, lavishly thanked and politely sipped. After a lifetime of offering comfort and a cup of tea, the tea table was turned and all those cups of love were returned overflowing.
I must pause here and confess that instead of reviewing proper human eulogies before I wrote this, I actually revisited the eulogy of Mango the dog for inspiration. Mattie has always said that Charlie was a dog in a previous life. To be concise, he was probably a selfless golden retriever, always there when you needed to be buoyed up by a tail wag or comforted by a soft head to pet.
When Belle and Charlie lived in Washington DC they had Sam the dog and Hornsbie the cat. They loved to regale us with tales about those two beloved creatures (the kids they had before Cary and I showed up). Hornsbie liked to go on walks with the family. The cat would not start out on the walk with them, but half way around the block he would be there on the sidewalk preening his bushy red fur and waiting for them. As soon as Sam would get close enough for a sniff, Hornsbie would disappear again, reappearing somewhere else along the way. Dog walking was something that both Charlie and Belle enjoyed immensely. In good times and bad, a good dog walk always put things in perspective, and offered a chance to connect with loved ones outside the confines of the house.
Charlie loved Fleury the dog. Fleury was sort of the third child, all legs and poky angles he even looked like a Weigle kid. My dad could never resist getting down on the rug after dinner to snuggle with the waiting dog and teenage human puppies, getting right in and physically connecting with all the love that a happy dog and family had to offer. Fleury was a reflection of the cheerful family Belle and Charlie had created. When I looked through photos of our family at that time I could not help but notice that Fleury was in the middle of everything. One photo was of Cary’s room at a sleepover filled with stinky boys and there was Fleury right in the thick of it. Charlie loved the “puppy pile” of life, the sheer joy and silliness that animals bring out in us, our propensity for wild abandon that it only takes a “play bow” to unleash.
The “reflective” years of Charlie’s life were filled with Amber the dog and Sally the cat. Amber and Sally stood in and helped dad when he missed his wife and his nest felt empty. Eventually Seth was born, and Charlie met Mattie, Alis and Seth moved in and his life returned to joyful roller coaster mode. But he never once neglected those two faithful creatures that lightened his load, and brightened his saddest days. In his second visit to Kaiser in September of this year, It became apparent that he did not want to ever come back to the hospital. He never said anything as overt as “I’m done” or “I’d rather die than come back to this place”. He simply said in a clear voice, that he would like to return to his bed and his cat. Somehow this stray cat wove herself into the fiber of Charlie’s being, becoming the vessel for him to communicate his desire to start the letting go process, and eventually “return home”.
Charlie’s decline into an elderly state was couched by the arrival of his second grandson Jasper. Jasper is love incarnate; a consummate nurturer who’s primary goal in life is to snuggle with everyone, “tiww dey feow beedow”. While Seth and Violet were off growing into their own people, Jasper parked himself on Gramps’ lap with a book and never left. Even near the end when dad was in the most precarious of wheel chair positions, Jasper would amble up for a kiss and a cuddle. I can only imagine what a gift this must have been for my dad to have all his unconditional love returned by this last little creature. Judy has always remarked that, “I feel like I birthed Cary’s dad”. She may have something here, because the apple did not fall far from the tree. Although Jasper does not look like Charlie, he has Charlie’s loving nature and sweet disposition. May Jasper always remind us to love in the moment – just the way Gramps did.
In case you were wondering, Jasper is featured in the Animals section because he is really into animals, farm and otherwise. A good kid play session was definitely on Charlie’s top 10 favorite things to do list. As Rachel put it, “Charlie really responds well to the under 2 crowd.” There was something about small children that Charlie connected with. I think that the nature of babies and toddlers is much more connected to the spirit and animal worlds. Charlie seemed to have an easy time slipping into these worlds too. On Sundays he always seemed much more excited about playing with the kids at daycare, than the prospect of sitting through a church service. Later, when Seth lived upstairs Gramps would spend long hours engrossed in farm, fire engine and fairy play. Dad always seemed delighted by these “in the moment” activities. I am glad to report that in his last 8 years, dad got all the joyful unstructured play that a golden retriever puppy trapped in a Grandfather’s body could ever want.
There is one word that sums up Charlie – love. He loved everyone selflessly and with complete abandon. Charlie’s warm personality was infectious; you could not help but feel at home in his gaze. Charlie let everyone into his heart, genuine and deeply sensitive, he truly felt what you shared with him, and he never listened half-heartedly.
When Seth was a 6 months old he caught the stomach flu. Dad was supposed to watch Seth the next day. I called and told him not to come, because he was sure to get sick. Dad simply said “no, this is my job – to take care of you and Seth”. Sure enough Seth was better in the morning and ready for his busy day. However, I was terribly ill and in no shape to cope with crawling chaos. Dad gladly took care of Seth and kept him diverted while I suffered. Sure enough, Dad came down with the stomach flu the next day. Conscientious and graceful gentleman that he was, I never heard a complaint out of him, not about the stomach flu, or any other if the myriad unpleasantries of nannying.
As a new mother my father never ceased to amaze me. I was motherless, but Charlie was not going to let his daughter go without the doting and support that she and her son needed. He stepped right in and grand-mothered the heck out of Seth. Naps in arms, googly faces at feeding time, stroller walks, and consolation. Whenever Seth was fussy cutting a tooth or feverish, Dad would swoop him up, and walk him around till Seth cried himself to sleep on Dad’s shoulder. It was in times of consolation that Dad would quietly sing the hymn based on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to Seth. When we sing this at the recessional you will feel the love that Charlie gave, and always find it again in song, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love”.
CHARLIE WEIGLE 1940-2014