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Monday, June 8, 2009

The Magic Man

I'm oscillating wildly right now. One moment I'm calm, centered and accepting and quite literally in the next moment tears cloud my vision and I can't keep them in. My thoughts flat line and nothing comes out. I can't decide if I'm supposed to be more sad, more overwhelmed, more angry than I actually am or if this is what sorrow actually feels like. Right at this second... ?

My parents were both immigrants to the United States. I didn't have biological grandparents that we'd visit on holidays or that would come to our special school events or that would send us Christmas and birthday gifts. 3 of my biological grandparents had passed away by the time I was 2 and my paternal Grandmother lived thousands of miles away in Iceland (we visited her in Iceland and she came and visited us here in CA before she passed a few years ago.) In the absence of close biological relatives, my parents' friends became our grandparents and aunts and uncles. Some of these pseudo-family members drifted out of our lives as my parents' friendships faded or changed. Many of them didn't.

The closest people we had to grandparents were Ben & Gigi. My earliest memories of Ben are in an unfamiliar garage, maybe at my parent's first house. At that time, my brother and I called Ben "The Magic Man." He'd keep us entertained with slight-of-hand tricks that would astound us. My dad is a mechanic and he had a specific clientele of Citroen owners who trusted him to fix their unusual cars. Ben owned a few Citroens and was one of my dad's regular customers so he frequently came to our house for tune ups. Even as we started getting older and figured out his magic tricks, we'd still run out when he stopped by to see what neat trick he could show us this time.

As we grew up Ben & Gigi became an important part of our American family. They came to our important events - musicals, concerts, recitals, dinners (they even sat through the 4 hour madrigal feast each year - for my brother AND me - that's 6 years of that stuff!) Ben & Gigi (and my Godfather) were the closest people I could imagine to having physical Grandparents like many of my friends did.

In doing the planning for our wedding, I read about the significance and traditions of the "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe." The "something borrowed" was supposed to be borrowed from a happily married couple to act as a good luck charm for happiness in your own marriage. There was no question in my mind that I wanted to borrow something from Ben & Gigi. Gigi lent me a ring of hers that I wore on my pinky the day I married Michael. They had been married 64 years. We danced together on our wedding day - the longest married couple in the room and the newest married couple - sashaying across the dance floor to the sound of Glenn Miller's Orchestra playing Moonlight Serenade.

Ben met Gigi in Belgium during World War II. He was serving with the American army and Gigi was a pretty Belgian girl secretly working with the resistance. Gigi had described some of the awful things she remembered during the war, hunger, death, entire neighborhoods of Jewish families disappearing overnight. When the Allied forces came in to liberate Belgium, her mother volunteered at their church to take in some of the servicemen for a weekly dinner. Her mother used up her savings to buy a chicken off the black market and roasted it for her guests' dinner. Ben remembered it being the best meal he had had in a long time and of course thinking that chicken was regular fare at their home, showed up a few times more for dinner and hoping for another moment with Gigi. The rest was history. After the war, Ben traveled the world with the army but set up home base in Laguna Beach where he retired and they became fixtures in the community.

With everyone's busy schedules, the last time I saw Ben & Gigi was in March. Ben had been diagnosed with cancer and was scheduled to start chemo the day after we visited, so we wanted to visit before things got really tough for them. We were getting ready to go off on our Japan trip and since Ben had been to Japan a number of times and loved it, we spent the afternoon listening to his great stories from his visits from right after WWII to the 80's.

Their home had been filled with evidence of their world travels and they were never seemed afraid of what the daily news told them they should be afraid of. They were a calm, patient and jovial couple. They were always laughing with one another. Normally I'm uncomfortable around adults not of my own generation - I never felt that way with Ben & Gigi. I just liked listening to them. I didn't have to be a part of their conversations, I just enjoyed the world they painted for me as they talked and laughed and ate guavas off the trees in their back yard.

Today I found out that Ben had passed away. They had anticipated a rough recovery but he didn't make it this time around. He passed away holding Gigi's hand in their den.

I can't really describe what I'm feeling right now.

I actually found an article in their local paper where they were quoted back in 2007 on a story asking what Laguna Beach residents would like for Christmas:

“I have everything I want,” said Gigi Blount, pointing to her husband of 61 years.
“There is nothing we want very much, except more time together,” Ben Blount said.

I think I would also love just a little more time.


  1. This is so touching... I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Read this after my comment on a later post. A beautiful tribute. I'm sorry for your loss, too.


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