Sunday, December 19th - 

I drove in the driving rain to visit Russell, taking a pink poinsettia (one of his favorite colors), cookies, a thermos of very hot, sweet coffee, two prints of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a homemade book of 30 perfume-paged samples, titled Aromatics for Russell.

When I arrived, he was asleep and a curious attendant shook him brusquely, raised the headboard just a bit  and hollered, "Wake up, wake up. You have a visitor."  Russell responded, "I'm dying. I'm dying." "No you're not," the attendant harumphed. I said, "He's fine. He'll wake up. Or I'll just sit here." The attendant walked out.

Gradually, Russell came to, and I offered plastic spoonsful of coffee, which really woke him up. He loves strong caffeinated very sugared up coffee and was wide-eyed, cheerful. Not always coherent but he talked on many topics, often coherently

He tried three of the "aromatics" pages, including Chanel No. 5, which he has always loved, and he claimed to perceive all of them. (I have some doubts. A lot of people lose smell with age or covid, both of which he's had.)     

 Then I had him look at the two CMS cards. One is a postcard that shows the building in daytime and then in dark (its lights go on pink) as you tilt it. He could see it, and we used it to talk about the night Paul and I took him to accept the Cleveland Arts Prize for Lifetime Achievement. I reminded him he was the only one who received a standing ovation that night. That was after he gave his (unplanned) speech, and Sunday he seemed pleased for me to recall it. Then we looked at the other card, based on a painting by an artist who won the CA prize the year before Russell, "And Russell," I said, "he died a year later." "He what?" "He died, the year you won it" And he smiled and laughed softly, not disrespectfully, at the irony, so surprised he is at "still kicking."

Although he wasn't always coherent, he was talkative and cheerful. We spoke of the Simons. I told him I am trying to write an article on Adelaide. She died so young (of breast cancer) that a lot of people have forgotten her, but she was a big part of Free Lance,  I said. "Yes, she was," he repeated emphatically. He recalled the photo of Martin Simon that I showed him this past summer, and he remembered it: "A large photo of Martin at his cello," that ran with Martin's obituary.

Russell ate two mini-cupcakes (one chocolate, one vanilla, though his preference is white cake with chocolate frosting, which I couldn't find), a 2-bite brownie, and a homemade soft chocolate chip, which he spit the nuts out from. (He has no teeth and is on all soft food now.) This on top of the lunch he had polished off half an hour earlier. "All of it," the attendant reported. "He still has a really great appetite." He drank the whole large cup of coffee, three sugars. (May his nurses and diabetes forgive me, but he so loves it.)

I was hoping I could bring myself to stay for 45 minutes, but I looked at my phone, and an hour and a half had fled by, and I needed to get out before the Browns' fans hit the highway. Russell grew pensive and said, "I've done writing and music. I wonder what I'll do next. I think I'll try painting." 

I looked at him, nearly flat on his back and said, "How about if I bring you a set of pastels?"

He looked at me, "But that wouldn't be paint, would it?"

"But Russell, where would we put the paint? Here in the bed. How about water colors?" At least, I thought, we could just rinse the brushes with water.

He looked at me and began to outline the problems with working in water colors: it pools, the paper gets wavery....

I flashed on a mental photo of Kahlo, lying back, a canvas propped over her, a paint brush in her hand. Who cleaned up after that? 

He is having problems gripping. He couldn't even grip the cupcake. I had to help. But I know if I brought paint in, he'd paint with his teeth if he had to

He is bull-headed, just like another Russell I knew: my dad, whose birthday was one year and one week from Russell's. The two knew about each other, but never met. Some people might call Russell a nicer word like "persistent" or "determined." But I am sticking with the word "stubborn." It means "not open to change," and it fits.  Russell was change, and he wasn't about to change even when the whole literary world ignored him, bid him write about protest and the present and forget his wacky punctuation and syntax, his interest in Cleveland and buses and cemeteries. The world came around, thanks to Kevin Prufer, his editor and literary executor. 

Russell will be 98 in February. If you haven't read him yet, read his book World'd Too Much. Catch up with him.


  1. This is a masterclass on visiting someone shut in with respect and kindness. I love that you brought his favorite coffee and goodies, prints to stimulate discussion/memories, plus that clever homemade book of aromatics. Thank you for YOUR stubbornness in caring, showing up, and not forgetting.

    1. Except for the drive, I enjoy these visits so very much. It was easier when he was on the east side, just south of our poetry group, but Algart is a MUCH better institution, which I am grateful to his guardian, Karyn, for finding.