Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I'm Grateful for My Step-Dad, Harvey Morisoli

My step-father Harvey Morisoli died in the early morning hours on September 10th. While the cause of death was pneumonia, he had been suffering for at least 18 months from dementia and related health issues. On Sunday September 25th Harvey would have celebrated his 79th birthday.

I first met Harvey when I was in first grade and he was dating my mom, Lois. I liked Harvey best of all the fellows she dated because he liked me right back. He would talk to me and took me to see Old Yeller - just the two of us. He took the time to build a relationship with me. I absolutely adored him when I was a little girl.
From first grade on, Harvey was a constant in my life. He was one of the reasons that I made it through a sort of rocky childhood with enough pieces of self intact enough have the foundation required for a pretty good life. I will be forever grateful Harvey, for the many gifts he gave me over the last 53 years.
When I was in second grade, my mother and I were in a serious car accident. We moved from Toluca Lake, California to Watsonville to live with my grandmother (Nana). Harvey was a regular visitor. He finally asked my mother to marry him and she accepted his proposal. They day we left I was SO excited that we would soon be a family.

We lived on El Nido Street in Pasadena. I think that Harvey recognized my deep loneliness and helped to "negotiate" my mother's approval for my first animal companion Tamio. Often mother-daughter relations were rather prickly with me and my mom. Over the years Harvey helped buffer and diffuse the conflict.

I was a geeky kid who dreamed of horses and read for hours on end. Harvey would get me laughing with his goofy jokes, take me shooting in the high desert, and take me to the laboratory where he worked. I was in heaven sitting on a lab stool and looking at bacteria through the microscope he would set up for me.

My memories of Harvey are linked with the cars that he took such pride in: the blue Plymouth with cool fins, the shiny brown Valiant, his sleek Karman Ghia, and the white Plymouth he let me drive once I got my license. On the day I took it hot-rodding, jumped a curb, and threw out the front end alignment he took it all in stride and remained calm as he grounded me. Usually, though all the heated emotional dramas of adolescence, Harvey kept a cool head.

From the time I was a toddler until kindergarten I lived with my grandparents. Then there was a rocky couple of years. Thanks to Harvey, I got to grow up with some sense of having a home. When I was in 5th grade he was able to buy this house on Chatsworth St. in Northridge, California. I remember how proud he was of his first home and the hours and hours he worked landscaping the yard. We had a perfect dicondra front lawn and a rose garden in the back yard.

It was here that I got my first dog, Trixie. Harvey was in on this, as he was in on most of the important experiences that sustained me through elementary school and junior high.

He was there for all the important events in my life. Often my dad was there too. Harvey kindly and skillfully negotiated the potentially volatile weddings, graduations, and eventually family gatherings surrounding the birth of a grandchild.

During the years that I was distant from my family, Harvey helped maintain connection. When I was living in Oregon and needed a car after my divorce from my first husband, he took me car shopping. I think he enjoyed my constant canine companions as much as I did.

Throughout my teen years and my early twenties, our differences sometimes strained our relationship. I remember once I visited and got out my tools to change the water pump on my 1967 Galaxy. Harvey was outraged, just furious that I - a woman, would work on a car. He was staunchly conservative, a devoted member of the Republican Party to his death. Me, not so much.

Harvey was loyal and steadfast. He understood commitment. Now, years later, I appreciate how difficult it can be to be a step-parent. Conflicts with spouse or partner often influence the shape and extent of a step-parent's relationship with their step-children. Chronic resentments about ex-wives or ex-husbands can become toxic weeds that threaten to choke the growing connections in second families.

My brother Doug was born on March 8, 1962. I think that the greatest joy Harvey knew was being Doug's father. I idolized my brother - still do. I'm happy that Harvey got to experience the deep joy, satisfaction, and pride of watching Doug grow into a talented, kind, humorous, brilliant man who is devoted to his family . . . like his Dad.

I moved to Oregon shortly after this photo was taken. Harvey tried to find to encourage me to move to Contra Costa County where the family was moving. He had a new job as the CEO of a major chain of laboratories. Eventually I found my way to college and moved back to California. I regret that I missed out on a lot when I moved, especially being around to see my little brother grow.

Harvey did an amazing job as my step-father. He did an amazing job raising my brother who is one of the best fathers I know. He learned it from his dad, my step-dad.

For the last 20 years, twice each year, Harvey would head North to visit friends and family. I treasure these memories, the sight of him smiling on my door step, ready with a joke and a hug.

Harvey's work played a major part in his life, as for many men of his generation. Over the years he enjoyed photography, collecting firearms and cameras, target practice, music by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, caring for his roses, dining out, silly jokes, his grand children, going for long drives, sight seeing, and visiting his family.

Our visits followed a certain rhythm. We would dine out, visit the local gun stores and sports stores, and look at mobile home that were for sale. He talked about moving to Humboldt every time we talked. After he retired, Harvey got a real estate license and sold mobile homes in San Mateo.

The bottom fell out of the mobile home market about the time he started to get serious about moving. While he could have sold his lovely home in an adult park, he didn't want to take the loss. Then the thought of moving became overwhelming. I will always think he would have been really happy here.

A couple of years ago, I started to notice some subtle changes on our visits and during our phone conversations. Always somewhat introverted, Harvey became more and more quiet. His humor was still there, but it seemed difficult for him to really talk about anything personal. Once he said he felt bad about this, but he just couldn't think of anything to say. He began to complain of vertigo and anxiety while driving. He lost interest in the things that had given him pleasure.

I never dreamed that I was seeing the first signs of dementia.

I suspect my mother was the great love of Harvey's life. They divorced in 1979 but once the dust settled, they talked every day. Once I moved to Humboldt County (1983), Harvey would always stop in Contra Costa to see her when he came north to visit. After my mother moved to Eureka, he would take her to her favorite restaurants and ensure that we spent time "as a family". He kept his visits up until he became too ill to manage the long journey from San Mateo. This picture was taken on his last trip in April, 2010.

My step-father's physical and mental health deteriorated very quickly. My brother did an amazing job dealing with the maze of health care providers and the hard decisions that must be made with an elderly parent is no longer able to manage their own affairs. Harvey's strong sense of independence and pride, strengths that had served him well throughout his life, became difficult barriers that made the heartbreaking job of managing end-0f-life health care long distance more difficult for my brother.

Harvey often said that he didn't have many connections. Yet throughout his final illness and death it was very evident how many, many friends, business associates, and family loved and cared deeply about this kind-hearted, often lonely, private man. He was one of the most consistent men in my life, helping me to maintain connection even through difficult times.

Harvey has been laid to rest in the same ground in Santa Paula as his mother, father, brother, and many other family members. My brother saw to it that he had the Mass and funeral that were exactly as Harvey had wished.

In my prayers, I tell Harvey how much he means to me, how grateful I am for all he gave me over the years. I wish so much I had done a better job of doing this while he was alive. Of course he knew that I loved him. Yet in the final months of his life I let the symptoms of his illness become barriers to letting him know how much I appreciated him and of my gratitude for all that he gave to my me over the years. My life is far, far better for having been blessed to have Harvey as my step-father.

Thank you Harvey, may you be at Peace.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute to a fine man who made a big difference in your life. And what a wonderful collection of photos! Thank you for sharing them with us.

Lori Skoog said...

This is such a touching post! I loved watching you grow up with this kind and caring man. I'm sure he always new how much you treasured him.
Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

desertsandbeyond said...

What a loving memorial to the man who was so influential to you. It brought me to tears. My mother had dementia and also died of pneumonia when she was 82. She didn't recognize her own grandchildren and was extremely moody. Apparently you and I grew up close to each other! I was born in Pasadena, grew up in Arcadia...went to school there and high school, too. Thank you for sharing your memories of him. He must have been a wonderful man.

Once Upon an Equine said...

What a beautiful tribute. Harvey sounds like he was a wonderful man. And you are a wonderful step-daughter to have accepted him and let him be a part of your life.

Great pictures. I love the old black and whites.

I grew up in Contra Costa County..Moraga & Orinda. Got my first pony when we lived in Moraga.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Esther Garvi said...

What a beautiful tribute!! I loved getting hearing about your past - what a beautiful personal post straight from the heart! If Harvey read this, he would be proud, and know he did many things right in his life. Hugs from Niger!!!

Stephen Fahey said...

Hello, I am not even sure how I navigated to this post but when I began reading and the comments I realized I was reading a post of someone who lived two houses down from me on Chatsworth Street. I am a year older than your brother and spent many days playing with Doug, our mutual neighbor T.O. (?) Erjavac, Mark Llewellyn, Carla Cooper, Dan and Doug Ward... We moved in 1968 but I remember Trixie still. I know your loss and your post is what enabled me to remember days from many years ago. I am sorry for your loss but I must thank you for this post and the basis for recalling memories of my early days in Northridge, CA.

Best Regards,

Stephen (Steve) Fahey