A lot of things happen when someone close to you dies that bring life into focus. One is that things you were worried about or in this case intended to write about, were not all that critical. Another is that writing is pretty safe and controlled compared to getting choked up and wanting to cry. So this is a late, controlled and safe blog, but tomorrow is Wednesday and my 97 year old father won’t be calling me as he has done almost every Wednesday for the last year or more. He died on Friday November 15th, 2019 at 12:30 in the afternoon. I was there.
Joseph A. Barreca Sr. was quite a character. You won’t really pick that up from his obituary. Still it is worth reading. (https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/seattle-wa/joseph-barreca-8933211) He and my mother Evelyn (Jones) Barreca were part of the “Greatest Generation”. Each enlisted in different services from homes far from Palm Beach, Florida where they met. The obituary is short. The biography I wrote for Dad is longer, 170 pages. (https://barrecavineyards.com/Downloads/DadsBio.pdf) Even then the African saying is true, “When an old person dies, a library burns.”
My sister called him “Singing Joe”. He loved to sing, mostly religious songs but often old songs like Jambalaya, In a Town in Old Missouri and My Blue Heaven. Maybe that played a part in his passing. My daughter, April, brother John, sister-in-law, Nancy and three people from hospice services were there. He looked terrible. I have pictures but won’t post them. He was only half there really, his mouth open and his eyes staring blankly. Rita, the same hospice worker who ushered my mother out in 2009 was there. She warned us that the time was close. His breath was irregular, quick breaths, followed by no breath and then another series of gasps.
April called some family members and they spoke to him over the cell phone that April held up to his ear. April and I each held a hand.
Unexpectedly, hospice provided a musician with a guitar. (I wish I had asked his name.) He started singing a series of songs that included one of my mother’s favorites, I’ll Fly Away. Dad’s breathing became smooth again. No more gasping, just even breaths. Toward the end he sang a song I had never heard called Higher Ground.
People keep on learnin’
Soldiers keep on warrin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
Powers keep on lyin’
While your people keep on dyin’
World keep on turnin’
Cause it won’t be too long
I’m so darn glad he let me try it again
Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
Till I reach the highest ground…
I remember thinking how fitting that last line was. Dad definitely worked hard at reaching higher ground. After the song, a woman chaplain asked that we join her in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. As soon as we finished, a hospice care-giver, Rosemary, got up and said she thought he had just passed away. She tested his pulse in a couple of places and adjusted his head and covers. It was very calm and peaceful. Dad was gone.
After some time in silent reflection, we realized that there were things to be done. Phone calls went out. Arrangements were made. Announcements were posted. I remembered that Dad’s best friend toward the end was Richard Percival who lived in the same assisted living complex in a more self-sufficient area. I went to tell him the news. He was watching the impeachment hearings with captions on and no hearing aids in. I wrote the message on a piece of paper. He read it and started sobbing. I held him for awhile and then got his hearing aids and walker so he could visit Dad one last time before the funeral home took his body away.
On the way back to Dad’s room I got a call from Donald Young, my mother’s sister Ruth’s son who lives back East. He called with his condolences and we caught up a little on each other’s lives. It seemed surreal. Soon relatives from Sicily were mourning his death on posts in Facebook.
My three brothers, the wives of the two who live in Seattle, April and I had dinner together in The American Diner, owned by East Indian People in West Seattle. We talked about the Seahawks, TV and movies. Small talk.
Then we walked back to my brother Marc’s house, got out some wine and got down to business. In an hour or two we had divided up the work that needed to be done. Judge Marc Barreca would handle the will; accountant Jeff the finances; manager Anita the obituary; genealogist Jeannette the announcements; artist Rosalie the music and eventually much more. John, Jeff, Marc and my sister Jeannette would start clearing his room. I would give the eulogy and assemble pictures for the reception.
This might seem remarkably smooth and organized given horror stories from other families. It was. I have a great family. We get along well (mostly). The burial, funeral mass and reception will be December 6th.
But it wasn’t the only death in the family. On October 23rd my wife Cheryl’s sister-in-law called from Atlanta to tell us that she had just found out that Cheryl’s brother, Dennis Craig Pulver had died on November 17th 2013. We don’t even know where. We might learn more but if any Ancestry sleuth out there wants to take it on, we can tell them what we know.
Normally there would be a lot more about the vineyard and winery this time of year. It’s almost fitting that other events have made talking about the harvest late because everything else about the harvest was late too. It is nearly Thanksgiving as I am writing this and I am very thankful for the help I received at harvest from my friends, neighbors and wife Cheryl. I’m not sure I have permission to put their whole names on the Internet, but I want to give a shout out to them anyway.
Thank you Amber for helping pick Lucie Kuhlmann grapes on 10/7; thanks to Joe G. for helping bring in a big field mix of Baco Noir and Léon Millot the next day; thank you Tom for help with the bountiful Baco on 10/11 and to Ty for even more Baco Noir on 10/14. Tom chipped in again on the 16th for Maréchal Foch. And Cheryl brought in the late Lucie Kuhlmann on the 17th.
In all my wine making this year I have enjoyed using a new toy, a bladder press. I know, it sounds like a sick old man joke. But a bladder press uses water pressure from a hose to inflate a heavy duty rubber balloon inside a stainless steel perforated drum to press juice from grapes. I’ll be using it for apple cider too. It saves a lot of work and does a great job. This year it was especially important because I wanted to get the juice away from the skins and seeds sooner than usual.
Another tool I am thankful for is a Havahart critter trap. I enjoy the pine squirrels we typically have here (except for the one that ate all our filberts before they were ripe.) But when some squirrels and a pack rat chewed their way into our storage shed, I had to draw the line. I hope they find new digs miles away from here where I released them. And I hope the old license plates I screwed down over their holes keep them out.
Thanks also to everyone who came to Cheryl’s big 70th surprise birthday party at the Backyard BBQ on November 21st . Getting older is worth celebrating and having a lot of friends to celebrate with makes life worth living. I hope you all have a lot to be thankful for too and that you have even more to celebrate in years to come.