Maxwell Wheat was my sweetheart’s father.
I decided to leave my home for awhile and be of some assistance to Max but primarily to his wife Ginger who has had Alzheimer’s for nearly 30 years.
Ginger was spending a year in San Luis Obispo as part of Dede’s arranged obligations. I’ve written about Ginger in another part of this ongoing journaling or snapshot writing but simply want to focus on Max this time around.
I took to him immediately, not sure why but it’s my job to use writing as a way to explore what’s inside that seeks to come out. I knew he had a past in writing, journalism, newspaper work as well as playing the part of the poet in his community.
Upon meeting him I soon realized how Dede, his daughter, my lover was so drawn to social causes, freedom, poetry, and of course Nature. When she told me such things as every year the family would go away for the entire summer to travel to different nature places, cottages, lakes, oceans in New England, I was shocked. When I was a child I had a week or two to experience the incredible delights of being in nature (a cottage near a lake) during the summer and yet here she was experiencing it for the entire summer! I couldn’t fathom such wealth.
Max Wheat and Frank Kahl
While Max was visiting Dede, his health was getting more challenging… but his mind was always acutely alert. I recall that he got so excited since I managed to get him to participate in a local poetry scene where, to a large audience, he read aloud his piece about the tortoise who seemingly thanked the passerby swimmer who disentangled the fishing line from his floating–swimming body. When I had heard the poem/story before during some exchanges we had, I realized right away that there was a kinship that connected somehow in that world of deeper connection with other species… and I was looking forward to more adventures with Max.
I helped organize a poetry gathering at the local Grange Hall where a number of us would read along with our own city’s poet laureate of years back. And my activist friend Frank Kahl (see photo above) from Northern California made a trip down south to read as well… and also became quite enamored with Max. It was a fun deep evening where words of passion would flow around social justice needs, natural waves, Ocean, mystery, gratitude, mysteries and a deepening presence of what was to come all flowed through that evening. After the poetry reading as we were walking out of the meeting hall Barry, a guy who helped us set up the sound system, spontaneously started to play his fiddle. We couldn’t help but become so jovial to see Ginger dance immediately to the festive sounds.
Even though she may have been disruptive during the poetry reading she soon communicated at a level where something was being understood and felt by all of us.
Max was so appreciative about me getting the gig. One time when Frank came over to breakfast at Dede’s home, the morning was full of poetry, talking about radical days of the 60s, life in Maine, stargazing at various places in the northeast United States amidst the glorious yummy breakfast.
I’d find Max sometimes roaming around at 4am with binoculars in his hands attempting to look for the star formation of this or that… that I never quite understood. But what was viscerally felt was the sheer presence of quiet, stillness and focused attention as he would look up into the darkening sky to see whatever there was to see during that particular summer of 2015. As his health declined he would still go out there with his walker balancing himself as he would ungracefully open the back sliding door and step out into the lush vegetable garden of Dede’s home to gaze up into the sky to see more mystery and awe.
I always enjoyed our one-on-one times whether it was in the car driving him to a doctors appointment or to Sunburst, a nearby spiritual community where he enjoyed their silence and songfull ritual along with conversations with many people who took the time to speak with him over a most delicious afternoon lunch.
It didn’t matter where we were, a deep conversation was always welcomed and encouraged by both of us. I wasn’t doing it to win favors for his daughter, it was always an opportunity to speak with him, listen to him and learn from him. It makes me sad as I write this now since what he gave me, which is so precious to me, is that he listened to me, he respected my understanding of the world and my internal questioning and exploring. He could ask questions that made it very apparent that he listened to the spirit behind the words that I relished… and now as I recall these experiences tears of both gladness and pain fall on these pages.
He played like an accordion in the balancing act of wanting attention but truly listening to you all at the same time, a most beautiful dance to observe and participate in, hopefully an art I can accomplish in my lifetime.
I loved hearing his stories of his youthful smoking days and trying to get a writing assignment by the various newspapers he worked for as well as the other balancing act between being self-deprecating one moment and self praise the next.
I loved driving him around so we could chat about the subjects that were dear to our hearts: the fate of the human species, the grossness of politics (even though we knew we needed something big that could come along and change things from the top down many of us we’re changing ourselves from the bottom up and we needed both). I would speak of the positive solutions that were out there but were underreported by the mainstream press, the unfortunate criminality of religion subjugating peoples will to a saving savior that was established by political chicanary or downright abuse, and on and on.
He enjoyed conversing so much that once a week he had invited (I think it was the other way around) the Mormons (two of them) to come and speak to him. It lasted for months. I tried to hang out with them but never got into it – but I saw Max’s attempt at creating meaningful conversation with them but after about 3 to 4 months he ended it (or it might have been his physical condition that made it worse). He often told me to my agreement that the Mormons were often more interested in almost demanding to believe certain tenets rather then engaging in meaningful debate or conversation. And even though Max was great listening and engaging with them he soon grew tired and backed down from seeing them again.
I always enjoyed speaking with Max about topics whether it was nature, spirituality, politics or being an environmental activist. One thing that separated him from some of my other colleagues is that he really listened. You could see it in his face when he went inside to formulate a question that required more thought. It was most delicious! and because he was doing it to me, it allowed me to challenge him and to listen to him as deeply.
I was sad that this part of our friendship wasn’t well known to other blood family. When there were sometimes nine different relatives all living in the same house, it was challenging to even bring up some rather important philosophical thought. And yet he had his grandpa father role that he played out wonderfully.
I made breakfast for him on many occasions and would make his coffee to reduce Dede’s workload. He was always so thankful to the point of being so surprised that I was waiting on him and bringing the food to his room (at this time he was getting weaker even though he would get around with his walker on wheels to sometimes return the dishes to the kitchen).
I love that Max loved the spiritual master and poet Rumi. Sometimes as I was reading something from Coleman Bark’s translations we would sit together and let the wisdom penetrate the moment and the quiet space.
This reminds me of the lessons he would give me about poetry and how the poets would often use too many words and how he seriously loved the simplicity of a certain word. Darn I can’t recall one but the way he recalled what the passage was before it was corrected and how he read the newly changed phrase will always be with me. It was as if that one word contains so much literary magic that the reader or audience would be stunned into a depth of knowing that was simply awesome. I’m sure his poet friends would cringe when they see that I use the word awesome but I hope you can forgive me for not sharing the story more carefully. If you know of a poetic line before and after Max played with it, please place it in the comments below. I remember now!! since Dede told me when I read this to her. The two words are “serious water.” He really loved the two words to capture that particular mood or mode or feeling. It was as if I was getting a lesson and his poetry was a form of meditation, bringing words together in such away that it wasn’t just song, lyrically spoken as if a song, but it could actually encourage and stimulate and provoke that was never known to you before but now you could engage this role-play of words upon your consciousness. And that was poetry.
Thank you Max for coming into my life and being the Dad of my sweet love…
– Bob Banner
for more about Max, see his facebook page: