Glen Ellen says goodbye to icon Patty Westerbeke
Yet another farewell
Last Wednesday was the Feast Day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of Catholicism’s blessed saints: a woman of force, power and unending love. It was also the day of Patty Westerbeke’s memorial service at Westerbeke Ranch.
Initially I thought I would be unable to attend Patty’s funeral. In the end, I put aside other obligations and went to the ranch, along with my fellow Bouverie docent and friend, Georgia Bostedt.
Georgia provided me with the perfect excuse to cut out early from the Bouverie Preserve’s annual solstice celebration and head out to Patty’s ceremonial goodbye. And that, merely a goodbye for now, not forever. We, in this blessed Valley of the Moon, are all destined to land in the same distant galaxy, long ago and far away, are we not? This world is all practice. Practice until we’re better at this living thing: caring for all, with charity and compassion.
Patty’s memorial was a tribal gathering of the alternative folks throughout the Valley and beyond. If anyone was ever involved in one version or another of a human-potential practice, they knew Patty. And they turned out in droves to bid her farewell for now.
As Georgia and I struggled up the sloping pathway (she on crutches, a legitimate excuse; I out of condition given this lingering viral cold) gaining altitude inch by inch, we could hear the faint piano, simple tunes of devotion offered by Richard Neiss.
The music was sweet but the babble of the gathering crowds was more persistent. While Richard’s melodies would pause at a phrase, the gathered crowd’s crescendo would only raise. As we approached the poolside adobe, we could see the swelling crowds flowing out from the staged area, festooned with pictures of Patty and more than a few of her old huipils, ceremonial wear for celebrating the Feast Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I dropped Georgia safely off at the first adobe and proceeded to the main room.
Inside, the wafting aroma of tamales, all warm and spicy, drew me toward the table where a huge oversized basket filled to the brim with those corn husk wrapped delicacies held court surrounded by steaming bowls of black beans, red chili sauce, verde sauce and a heaping bowl of Patty’s favorite guacamole. Hungry pilgrims surrounded the table, all enjoying a repast that Patty would have offered on any given day to any group of friends, large or small. Today’s group was decidedly large, nay, huge and growing.
By pure luck, I found a front row seat next to my friend, Carol Todd. It was also Carol who entered the crowded stage and found me a program full of stories about Patty and her blessed life. The first picture, Patty in her colorful and glorious middle age, the last, Patty with her brand new great-grandson, Clyde Van Livingston. Later, during the ceremony we all met Clyde, smiling in his mother’s arms, ready to perform for the crowd.
As soon as Richard lifted his hands in one last chord of his final song, from across the room Ted Bucklin and Bob Young began drumming, calling in the spirits from near and far. Between drumbeats, a curious corvid sat high in an oak, surveying the gathered masses, while a lone spotted dog, lost and forlorn, ranged the crowd.
The drums entertained us through several more rounds of tamales with sauce, chips with guacamole, when soon Wendy Westerbeke, Patty’s dear daughter, clanged the bell, calling us all to prayer. A plaintiff “Ave Maria” by Joshua Bell, one of Patty’s many friends, quieted the crowd. The invocation was read by a solemn Roger Rhoten. Roger has presided over two dear friends’ funerals in the past month and I am sure this has been trying for him. Yet, his attention was all for us and upon us as he read the simple prayer, a call to attention. Life is short. Patty lived hers with unbounded enthusiasm. Are we in line?
Baba Hari, our local guru from the Sonoma Ashram, stood next at the microphone to share his favorite story about Patty. I’ve heard the tale before, but never in such a large crowd, nor heard it received with such enthusiasm.
Hari’s tale begins more than 20 years ago when his own guru, a blessed saint in India, challenged Hari to give up all of his possessions and all of his money and go somewhere he’d never been before, following the lead of the Holy Mother. If after three days, he found his new home, the Holy Mother was giving approval. Failure was not discussed.
Having dispossessed himself of everything that mattered to him, or so he thought, Hari set out traveling south on Highway 101 from the far north (somewhere east of the Lost Coast). Around early evening, he saw a sign pointing to Sonoma. He thought it said Sono Ma: follow the path to the Holy Mother. And so he did.
Turning off 101 and following Highway 12, he landed on the Sonoma Plaza in Sonoma, just barely before his gas ran out. For two days, Hari hung around the Plaza, drinking water from the fountain and sleeping in his car at night.
On the third day, he was beginning to get very hungry, though he doesn’t speak of discouragement. He met someone on the Plaza who told him how to get to the Westerbeke Ranch where he might meet a woman who was just recently returned from India. Hari headed out to the ranch, arriving in the evening. A large and boisterous woman approached him, saying, “I don’t know who you are, or why you are here, but take this glass of champagne,” which Hari promptly did. Quaffing that sweet and bubbly liquid after days without food, he found himself swooning. But quickly the folks at the party were invited to join the feast and being eating.
Hari broke his three-day fast with chicken, corn, potatoes – all ever so good. A proper July Fourth celebration. Sated, and tired, he remained at the party until everyone else had left. Finally, the big woman came to him again, and told him to sleep wherever he found an empty bed. Which Hari promptly did, with pleasure and contentment, knowing he had followed his guru and had pleased the Holy Mother.
A new home and a new calling
The following morning, Patty introduced herself and invited Hari to join her on an excursion through the Valley to find his next home. That turned out to be with a monk who lived at Sky Ranch. Hari remained there for more than two years availing himself of the expansive library, reading and thinking daily, with ample time for meditation and developing his yoga practice.
In time, he was ready to begin the next step of his new life, teaching yoga and meditation to students, first at Vintage House and then at various sites across the Valley. Eventually, Baba Hari founded the Sonoma Ashram, a multi-denominational retreat house in middle Sonoma Valley where all kinds of people come to meditate, pray, consult with Hari, to garden and to live a simple life in this often-chaotic Valley.
All of the friends of Sonoma Ashram owe Patty a great thank you for helping Hari to establish his home in our Valley.
Remembering a life in tale and song
After Hari spoke, the floor was again returned to Roger who in turn, introduced all of the various speakers, including Marilyn Goode and Joy Moulton, Patty’s sisters. Patty’s high school friend, Pat Young, also spoke. One by one, the family members came up to talk or read and even to sing. Richard Westerbeke’s rendition of Patty’s favorite, “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” was mesmerizing, evoking a strong sense of Patty’s presence. Later, when Lance Tietgen sang his song, “Diamond of Clarity,” I felt the same presence of Patty, nearby, approving.
The grandmother’s high-speed dive into history
Another favorite story of the day was one told by Patty’s granddaughter, Ariel, concerning a speedboat trip. Along on that wild excursion, arranged by Ariel and her then-sweetheart, were his grandmother, Ariel’s grandmother Patty, and a great-aunt. As the boat was racing across the lake at increasing speeds, Patty decided that she wanted to jump off the front of the boat and take a swim. Not to be dissuaded by sensible Ariel, Patty put on her swimsuit while the boat continued its journey, hopped up front and made that dive. Ariel said she’d rarely seen such a look of bliss and delight on her grandmother’s face when she popped back above water after her dive. Patty was one strong lady and when she made up her mind to do something, she did it, neither waiting for permission or instructions. Patty lived her life just as she wished doing what when she wanted.
Leap before you look philosophy embodied by Patty
All survived the dramatic dive from the boat and Patty enjoyed the swim entirely. Getting back on board was another problem, but that too was solved and all ended well. I witnessed that wondrous dive one afternoon when Patty entered the warm pool at Agua Caliente. Not gingerly descending the steps as most folks do, Patty stood still for barely a second at the top step, surveyed the crowd and with a great whoosh, dove into the pool, right beside the sign stating, “No Diving.” All of the gathered aerobic exercise students laughed in surprise as Patty bobbed to the surface sharing that face-wide grin of hers.
The bookseller’s dream
A third story that I especially enjoyed was Andy Weinberger’s tale of Patty’s first visit to his store, along with her $800 purchase. You can find it in Andy’s usual Saturday blog from Readers’ Books. If you haven’t seen it yet, ask Andy. I’m sure it’s even more hilarious in the telling, though I admit, the reading stirred my fancy just fine.
The ceremony, in turns joyful and life-giving and then, suddenly, with a song or a wrench in someone’s voice, sadly mournful, continued for several hours. Guests were able to take frequent breaks for food, or rest, or friendship. Many of us gathered to honor Patty that day, had not seen other members of the tribe recently, some not for years. It was a fitting and final farewell, for now, to our friend, mentor, leader and guide, Patty Westerbeke.
My story of Vietnam will, once again, await more inspiration. It begins at the beautiful Sonoma Ceremony during which Dan Parker was able to get the Vietnam Wall replica brought to Sonoma and mounted at the veteran’s cemetery, over Veteran’s Memorial Day weekend, back in November. My tale continues through Thanksgiving, without leaving the states. Still, in my mind and heart I travelled back more than 40 years, visiting a Vietnam I never knew and one which I now feel intimately aligned with. But that isn’t a story I’d rattle off with fast moving fingers grazing the keyboard. The story will take time, and thought, meditation and respect. I have all at hand, but not the mindset to complete it. I know you, my dear readers, will wait patiently.
Willy and Sonny pull Santa’s wagon thru downtown GE
This weekend Dec. 22, at noon until 2 p.m. Neil Shepard and his friends, both horse and human, will be offering the children of our village free wagon rides with a caroling Santa around Glen Ellen. Meet Neil and his horses at the Jack London Lodge parking lot and wait your turn to ride through our village pulled by Willy and Sonny. An event not to be missed. I’ll see you there.
Living nativity at church in vale
Meanwhile, I want to help you recall last weekend’s, Dec. 15, Saturday evening, when our local Glen Ellen Community Church celebrated the living nativity replete with animals, including Sahara the camel, along with sheep, goats, a donkey, plenty of parishioners dressed as shepherds, wise men and the family of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It was a blessed evening event with hot cocoa and cookies to share, along with Christmas caroling. The fun began at 6 p.m. with the church members telling the tale, repeating it until the last visitor had seen the entire show. This coming week, the Glen Ellen Community Church will celebrate Christmas Eve with a candlelight caroling ceremony at the little church on O’Donnell Lane.
On Monday, Dec. 24, at 4:30 p.m., the church holds a Family Old-Fashioned Christmas Eve Candle Lighting Service. Gathering in the church sanctuary the Christmas story is shared. Later, everyone sings familiar carols, and the service ends with the lighting of candles while “Silent Night” is sung. It is a very warm and special service, where people come together to celebrate the birth of Christ. This is an early evening ceremony so that families spend the rest of their evening at home. Jim and Brenda Hill of that charming historic church are warm and welcoming folks who encourage visitors to join them in this holy celebration.
Share your good news with friends and neighbors in Glen Ellen. Call or write me at 996-5995 or P.O. Box 518, GE 95442. Or email me at Creekbottom@earthlink.net. Glen Ellen chatter rarely requires timeliness; however, if your news does, please be sure to contact me at least three weeks before the run date.