Monday, August 20, 2007

E-mail death notice a sign of the times

It was odd, but almost fitting that I would learn the news via e-mails that my friend Martha Nelson slipped into Heaven last Wednesday. Certainly the internet has provided a more efficient means to keep numerous friends and family members in the loop on the status of a loved one’s health when they fall ill, as Martha’s daughter Cathie did with updates on her mother’s condition. And since Martha kept in touch with me via email with great regularity, I suppose that sad email news is just one more sign of the times.

Martha was actually my mom’s friend from junior high school. They both grew up in Pasadena, but had lost touch for more than forty years. I received a phone call one day from Martha, who lived in Montecito. She had read an article in Westways magazine I had written about a trip down memory lane my mother and I took to Pasadena. Recognizing my mother in a photograph, Martha was tracking down her childhood friend. Sure enough, the two reunited and our families have kept in touch for the past 14 years.
Martha and her husband Wayne met at Westmont College married (53 years) and had one daughter Cathie, who is a thoughtful social worker at the Santa Barbara Cancer Center. Along with grandson Cory, the Nelsons constituted a small, tight, devout family, with Martha (at least to this outside observer) acting as the captain of the family ship gleefully guiding activities with a wonderfully dry sense of humor and always with a great tale to tell. When she and Wayne were enlisted as grandparents with extra curricular duties — drop-off and pick-ups of Cory to school, band practice, swimming, while Cathie was earning her degrees — they performed these tasks with joy and the occasional sarcastic quip. Their self-effacing observations, which made us all laugh and nod in agreement, were filled with love.
Martha was involved and honored by more volunteer organizations that I can list and full of more goodwill gestures than I could possibly ever know about. Suffice it to say there is a special place in heaven waiting for this devout Christian woman. For me, she was a link to my mother’s teenage years (How else would I have ever learned that they had front row seats to hear Frank Sinatra at the Shrine Auditorium?), a constant e-mail friend who followed my column and always offered kind comments and encouragement, and the glue that held a wonderful family together.
The glue is still there, thanks to Martha, who will be sorely missed by many, but mostly by her family. I am just thankful that she took me, like many, many others in this community and beyond, under her wing.
A memorial is planned today for Martha Nelson at Montecito Covenant Church at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations in Martha’s name can be made to the Santa Barbara Symphony League, Santa Barbara Cancer Center or the Montecito Covenant Church.
While I learned of Martha Nelson’s passing, as well as the ups and downs of her health over the past few weeks via the Internet, the news of yet another death reached me the same day via an image on KEYT’s evening newscast. John Hazelton’s photo flashed on the screen identifying him as the 61-year-old man who drowned in the harbor last week. I met John at the Breakwater at the Harbor over lunch with a mutual friend, Sheila Stephenson a few years ago. When this paper first started publishing John would ring me up with comments from the peanut gallery. Over fish tacos we discussed the future of the Daily Sound, he offered me a tour of his neat and tidy boat, and we kept in touch from time to time via cell phone, most recently as he was sailing in the Caribbean. I ran into John, who lived part time on his sailboat, on the afternoon of the Fiesta parade at Brophy’s and gave him a “Hey, Hazelton!” shout-out. Regrettably, we didn’t have a conversation.
While it might seem odd to link these two friends in one column, I can only offer this hope: that St. Peter distributes our wee paper in heaven so that you know I am thinking of you both.
Speaking of heaven, my godmother Virginia Cherrill Martini (who passed away in 1996) will appear on the silver screen this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.
UCSB Arts & Lectures is screening a new 35 mm print of the Charlie Chaplin classic film, “City Lights” which features Virginia as the Blind Flower Girl. Virginia lived in Montecito, was Cary Grant’s first wife and had a most remarkable life that I’d be happy to tell you about another time. If you’ve never seen this flick, I highly recommend it. I will be there, cheering and tearing...
I have a lot of folks to miss this week.

E-mail Leslie Westbrook at

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