As darkness approached, the wind kicked up its’ heels and a thick fog bank creeping onshore from the Pacific, began to swallow the land. The bite of the cold increased with the winds. One was reminded of Twain’s words, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”.
For most Bay area dwellers in the fall of 2011, this evening’s weather was predictable, routine and no matter of concern. Not so for a small band of visitors who had journeyed north for a very specific purpose.
Jeanette Maxwell, her faithful husband and the group’s wheel-man, Scotty; Joe and Kay Mancha, the two people sure to show up when the chips were down; and Michael Mancha, the rebel with a cause, and sometimes without, stepped from the Maxwell’s SUV and onto the Vista observation point on the inland side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
This work of wonder completed in 1937 spans the gap of 1.7 miles between San Francisco and Marin, sits 220 feet above the water, and its’ two towers rise 750 feet above sea level. History tells us that 19 unlucky men fell from the Bridge during its’ construction. Apparently, there was a safety net in place that caught them all. Because of their near-death experiences, this group was named, ‘The Halfway to Hell Club’.
And this was the ‘Halfway to Heaven Club’ that now carried the ashes of their beloved mother from her earthly place of death, back to her earthly place of birth. Trudy would’ve turned 90 years of age as it was also her day of birth, September 16, when this ‘club’ came to town.
Given the size of the family (five children and spouses, fourteen grandchildren and spouses, and fifteen great grand children), it was few that made the trip to the north of California. For those living out of state, and for others living out of country, it was understandable that they didn’t make it. Whether or not distance, schedule, or finances permitted participation, the whole family would be present in spirit, this was for certain.
On a rare occasion, Trudy did speak of her desire to rest in the waters of the Bay. And everyone knew that if for a moment she had ever thought it would be a difficulty for any member of her family to accomplish her wish, she never would have spoken the words and it would’ve remained her secret. This was Trudy; ever mindful of others. But this was her time. Or, really, was it ours? One thing was certain; family, whether one or many, would say their good-byes while perched above the Bay waters of San Francisco.
During a good part of the next hour, the Maxwells and the Manchas carefully moved along the periphery of the point as well as ventured onto the Bridge in an effort to find the right place. This entailed gauging the force and direction of the formidable winds as ‘blow-back’ would’ve been disastrous. They also had to make sure that they had enough ‘overhang’ so that the ashes would find their way into the waters and not come to rest on the bluffs or beaches lining the bay. All this while keeping watch for the police who strictly enforced the law prohibiting memorials and the interment of ashes from the Bridge.
It wasn’t long before the group realized that this would not be The Place. The gale-force winds, the biting chill, and the mammoth Bridge had won this round.
Jeanette later wrote: 'By the time we got there around 7:00, it was freezing cold and really windy and almost dark. We walked out onto the bridge but there are high fences on the bridge over the water where we could’ve dropped the ashes. We looked around for a place at the point but there were no areas where we could drop the ashes directly into the water.'
It was a disheartened, saddened and confused crew that drove from the point as the day was now fully blanketed in the dark of night.
But in proud affirmation of her man, Jeanette, would also write: 'Scotty was the hero of the trip.'
No one would debate that.
And no one really knew what got into Scotty that night. Evidently, 12 hours at the wheel wasn’t enough for him. This gentle man, soft-spoken, and usually measured in his actions, shifted into high gear.
As they rolled from the point at the east end of the Golden Gate Bridge, Scotty, took a hard right and maneuvered his SUV onto a hillside shrouded with thick foliage and an abundance of trees. That began a rapid descent through a network of winding roads. They had no idea where they would end up, but since their ‘best-laid plan’ had thus far proved fruitless; they yielded to fate and to Scotty’s instincts.
As the wild ride came to an end, they found themselves deposited into a quaint, seaside village. The compelling pace of the town was a 180 degree turn from the hectic, swirling ‘vibe’ of the Bridge on the bluffs above the Bay, from which they had departed just ten minutes earlier. They had felt locked in a fast-forward mode, and now, suddenly, they were in slow-motion. After the long day, this was just what they needed…and, perhaps, just what Trudy would’ve wanted.
Jeanette was the first to identify where their reentry had landed them, “This is Sausalito,” she announced, “Mom loved it here”.
The small town of Sausalito numbers about 7,000 people and for decades it has been a boater’s paradise and an enclave for artisans. The name comes from the Spanish ‘sauzalito’, meaning ‘small willow grove’ or ‘place of abundance’.
If felt right.
They all felt it.
But where? Where exactly in this place of abundance would they find The Place?
For the next 15 minutes or so, the SUV was filled with stilted, staccato-like speech and words…”there, over there…what about that?...maybe this is good…I wonder where that goes…”, and a flailing of intersecting arms and hands with fingers pointing in various directions. It was a circus. Trudy’s traveling circus. Side streets were explored, there were some short, on-foot excursions, and their search was getting ‘warm’, but not yet ‘hot’.
The journeyers then spied a large, dimly-lit ferry boat, docked at the end of a wharf that extended a short distance into the Bay. Scotty pulled the SUV onto an access road, parked, and the delegation exited.
They had walked only a stone’s throw along Vina Del Mar Park when they came to a waist-high railing along the wooden walkway. A crude sign that read ‘To Fisherman’s Wharf’ faced them. The group could’ve continued to move left, then right and onto a narrower extension of the wharf in the direction of the ferry, but they didn’t need to.
“This is it,” seemed to be on all their lips.
It was unanimous.
This was The Place.
The group gathered along the railing and in silence looked out across the water. This was where the San Francisco Bay met the eastern border of Sausalito. There was no wind, the water was calm and the few, staggered light posts that dotted the length of the wharf played off the rippling current bringing with it a sense of peace and reverence.
“Let’s do it,” Joe whispered.
Michael opened the plastic bag that contained what once was the flesh and bone of their mother. He lifted it toward Joe and Jeanette, and each took hold of a part of the bag.
Jeanette’s heartfelt words best express the simplicity of the moment:
"We finally found a perfect spot where there was absolutely no one around and the water was directly under us. We all walked up to the fence and stood holding mom. I recited part of Greg’s poem,
'I am gone but not forgotten,
In your hearts I’ll always be.
Remember me with laughter, not
For I have loved you all, and I
Then Joe and Mike prayed a little prayer and we let mom’s ashes fall into the Bay. It was a touching moment for all of us. The time is coming when we shall all share with Mom in heaven. Amen."
Later that evening, Trudy’s kids went soberly to a late dinner near their hotel. They embraced the cozy warmth of the restaurant, good food, and the good company of one another. Resident in each was a deep joy and satisfaction that they accomplished what needed to be done.
As glasses were raised that night in honor of their mother, each was acutely aware that what they were acknowledging was not an ending, but, rather, a continuation. For the generosity, care, sacrifice, and love of this one special woman, Trudy Anita Mancha, would continue to live on in the lives of the many that were graced to know her.
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|Reviewed by J Howard
|a lovely story...and yes, i also ask ...was it <" this was her time. Or, really, was it ours?" a question of truth for all us when we are faced with doing for an other-a "loved" other. thank you for this heart warming story...|