Recently I went to see the movie “The Upside” with my friend Wendy Barker. The main plot of the film was that a very successful, wealthy man had been made a quadriplegic by an accident that had also caused the death of his beloved wife.
The man was angry and depressed, and all those around him felt his loss. No amount of money, or catering to his every demand could soothe his tortured state. Enter in a new caregiver with no experience who just got out of prison. In this surprising comedy, these two socially opposite men slowly find a bond that gives them both motivation to live their lives to the fullest.
There were some obvious downsides to this comic telling of a true story. All the money this man had did not make him happier but surely it opened doors probably not available to most. Still, life had put him down and it took a stranger to lift him up.
Perspective can come from our position on life’s teeter totter. Are we the man just out of prison who has nothing but his health or the paralyzed man with everything ready to give it all away? Most of us do not face such extremes but we all face our own ups and downs. And as in this movie, we often have to reach out, sometimes to unknown places, to find our way back up.
The loss of two lovely Los Banos women has had me down. Theresa Melillo and Elna Faye Pederson were both the type of ladies who made you feel good in their presence. I remember the first time I met each one vividly.
The loss of friends
Many years ago, I was given an assignment to go to Elna’s home and talk with her about her life’s work. I knew nothing about her so my mind was as blank a canvass. Surrounded by clay pots, partially done designs filled with color and a rustic, raw vibration, there was Elna, with her long hair and beautiful facial structure. For a moment it took me out of time and place. I could have been in a small village in Europe or up the coast in a remote artists colony, but no, I was here in Los Banos, a city I was just getting to know. Elna added a rich layer to its fabric. While she stressed that her family was her life’s work and most beautiful creation, I could also see the love that she put into every object she created. Every time I enter Los Banos Veterinary Hospital doors, I smile as I observe Elna’s work. This is one example of immortality. The upside to death: leaving a part of you behind.
It was on another Enterprise assignment that I had the honor to first meet Theriso and (Uncle) Tony Melillo and Pat Palazzo, Theresa’s brother. The story was on local agricultural farms and their family legacies. Meeting them, I felt the full buoyant warmth of the Italian culture where there were no strangers and you ate and drank and talked and talked. I fell in love with the whole crew that afternoon. I went home with Tony’s sausage and Theresa’s biscotti. It began a friendship that I valued. Charmed with the couples’ devotion to each other and their deep faith, I often looked to them for encouragement. Ron and I sat at many Italian Federation dinners with the two, hoping we could follow in their tender footsteps.
As we keep losing those who helped build our Los Banos heritage, I feel deeply saddened that their stories will be forgotten. Our community was built on the character of these strong people, many immigrants themselves, willing to give all to the community they called home. It is my hope someday to interview more of these people or their descendants and to one day write a more complete history of how we came to be here. If anyone is interested please email me.
On the upside, the popular Rotary Crab Feed is fast approaching and tickets will be available soon. Mark the date March 22 for a great night of fun, auction, raffle, and most important, that tasty crab! Tickets are once more just $55 and can be purchased by any Rotarian or call me at 826-0874.
The gift of all the recent rain has been a true upside and we are fortunate not to live in an area concerned about the downside, which in this case is mudslides. Life with all its ups and downs often reminds me of our childhood teeter-totters. One of us had to be down sometimes but with the partnership of our pal, we knew that the upside was coming.