It was at Idlehour in 1910 that Mishka first witnessed the Rostov’s long-standing tradition—of gathering on the tenth anniversary of a family member’s death to raise a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
August 9, 2018 was Jimmy’s 10th Angel Date. It was surreal to have it feel like “it’s already 10 years?” and “it’s only been 10 years?” at the same time.
My sister Laura called at 8:00 a.m. She lives in Switzerland and always calls us at 8. ‘You can set your watch’ by when she says she will call. 8:00 a.m. was the time I was supposed to pick up her family to go on a hike this day ten years ago. They had arrived from Switzerland the day before for a visit. She and her husband were the first to arrive on our doorstep after the Medical Examiner and Deputy Sherriff left after giving us the grim news.
Hilary and I made our traditional walk out to Jimmy’s Bench in the San Elijo Lagoon. The lagoon is undergoing a massive renovation which discourages the crowds, so it was quiet and peaceful.
In the afternoon we went to the beach at Del Mar. Our friends were once again most generous to make their house right on the sand available to us. We’ve had many memorable occasions there including: Jimmy’s 25th birthday, his first after he passed away, which coincided with “the day” the letter from my father arrived; my mother’s 91st birthday the month after she passed—she had insisted there be no funeral or “any such nonsense,” but ultimately gave a nod to a birthday party; and the unveiling of my Suffering Is the Only Honest Work tattoo on Jimmy’s 5th angel date.
It was absolutely beautiful at the beach—clear, in the mid-80s, an all-time record 81 degrees ocean temperature, and gentle surf. Hilary and I arrived first and I paddled out on my boogie board beyond the surf line, spread some of Jimmy’s and my mother’s ashes and spoke with them for a while.
Brittany, Ryan and the grandsons, Hunter and Wyatt arrived a short time later and I helped the boys catch some inside waves on their boogie boards. Lots of squeals and peels of laughter with minimal wipe-outs.
We were soon joined by our dear friends, Bruce and Diane Armstrong and the Dudek family, and my uncle Stan Case and his daughter-my cousin-Diana Brown. My uncle, who turns 89 next month lives in Paso Robles, had already planned to be in San Diego to see his daughter and her family. He’s pretty beat up. He recently lost his wife and best friend of 67 years, our beloved Aunt Joan. First thing he did was jump into his bathing suit and wade out into the healing waters of the ocean.
Earlier that day, Hilary showed me a recent What I know for sure essay from Oprah in her O Magazine. She shared the story of a mother whose daughter was murdered. For the next 10 years the mother remained in deep grief as though she had just passed away.
“Her plan was to tell her daughter’s story on the Oprah Show and then go home and kill herself. But when Jo Ann came on, Dr. Phil, in one awe-inspiring instant, changed everything. He said to her, ‘Your daughter lived 18 vibrant and wonderful years, yet you’re focusing on the day of her death rather than celebrating the event of her life.’ I could see Jo Ann process that thought, and then the lightbulb moment: ‘I never thought of it that way before!’ she cried.”
I shared that story with the group as we gathered in a circle on the beach and then continued:
“Ten years ago tomorrow, Hilary, Brittany, Ryan and I were on a walk in the San Elijo Lagoon. We just had to get away from the hurricane that had taken over our house. As we reached one of our favorite spots with dynamite views, Hilary threw down the gauntlet. ‘We will not let Jimmy’s death take us down and ruin our lives. That would make Jimmy so unhappy if he thought he did that to us. We will not make Jimmy unhappy!’
“As I look back, I think we have done a pretty good job of following Hilary’s orders. And one of the big reasons we’ve been able to get as far as where we are today is because of the people here with us today—our dear friends and family. You rushed to our sides and held us up. For God’s sake, the Dudeks had us over for dinner every Saturday night for over a year. You were and are the wind beneath our broken wings. You would not let us fall and give up.
“One of our favorite books is Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. It’s been on the best seller list for it seems like forever. Hilary was particularly taken with the story of how Russian royalty in the early 1900s commemorated the 10th anniversary of a family member’s death. Family and friends from all over the country would come and, at the appointed hour, toast the deceased with a glass or more of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. After more drinking and feasting, that was the end of it. The anniversary would be celebrated no more. The departed would not be forgotten, but the power of the death day would be diminished. We like that idea.”
At this point we brought out the bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and poured everyone a glass-well, plastic cup. I began the toasts:
“Today, we toast and celebrate James Tedrow “Jimmy” Gauntt, and the 24 and a half wonderful, amazing and jam-packed years of life he shared with us. We celebrate and are deeply grateful for our good friends and family who have so enriched our lives and Jimmy’s. We celebrate next week the 11th wedding anniversary of Brittany and Ryan. We celebrate the beautiful new life they have brought into our family, Wyatt and Hunter, and all of the joy, love and laughter they bring to us. We celebrate Joan Case, her wonderful life, Stan and Joan’s 67 years of marriage, and all of the warmth and love she gave and continues to give. The day after tomorrow, I will celebrate and toast my angel, my rock, my best friend, the love of my life, Hilary, and our 45 years of marriage.
“I also owe an enormous well of gratitude to Jimmy for working so hard these past ten years to pull the strings and work the universe to send us and his friends signs and messages to let us know he is ok, he’s not gone, he loves us and is with us, especially at times like today. Jimmy, you have helped us all so much—thank you.”
I was just about to wrap up my toast when I made eye contact with Brittany. She was looking at her phone with this strange, wondrous look on her face.
“OK, this is pretty unbelievable!! Check out this text.”
She passed her phone around.
“Be prepared to meet James outside”
Before we gathered for the toasts, Brittany had ordered pizza for the boys through UBER Eats.
Jimmy wouldn’t miss this gathering for the world.
Once again, his timing was impeccable.
All in all it was a good day, full of love and gratitude, and we’re glad it’s behind us.