Diana (and Clem) Tillion
Diana Rutzebeck Tillion of Halibut Cove (near Homer) died this week, she was 81 according to an obituary in the Anchorage Daily News. A couple of autumns ago I took Diana and her daughter Martha up the old logging road to our cabin, which is on the site of Diana's father, Hjalmar Rutzebeck's homestead. (She called him Hans.) She was close to 80 then, but walked two miles up the rough road and then along the forest trail to the ruins of her father's cabin. (He was a Danish seaman, writer, gold and emerald miner, and union organizer. He is also a Haines legend.) While we were walking (and talking) we ran into my neighbors Tom and Jane, both big fans of Diana's father. (As am I.) We all had a nice talk there in the sunny woods. (It was, I recall a beautiful fall day.) Martha and Diana had spent two (or maybe three?) days driving all the way to Haines from Homer just to see the place one last time. (Diana assumed she wouldn't be back again, as did Martha, who said this was something she had promised her mom.) Diana was thrilled to be here. Her obituary didn't mention the Haines homestead, but I thought she said that she had lived there, along with her mother and siblings, but I may be wrong. She certainly had a love for the place that seemed to come with familiarity. She took some photos and made a sketch of the pond we call Rutzebeck Lake. She also talked about her family, and Halibut Cove, and history and art (she was both a published historian and a well-known painter who used octopus ink.) Diana and her husband Clem had been our guests before. They came to dinner on a snowy, dark December night back when we lived above the lumberyard. Clem, a fisherman ( and one of Alaska's senior statesmen) said we had pretty nice "quarters" I remember that word, "quarters." The Tillions were in Haines to visit Martha, who is a doctor, and was working as a Locum at the old clinic, Lynn Canal Medical Corp., which Chip and I were on the board of. Then, we had four young children (Stoli had not joined the family yet.) Clem and Diana were just seeing off their last child into adulthood. I think he said the youngest was either getting married or graduating from college-- But I know for sure that there in my noisy apartment with the wood floors and big windows overlooking Portage Cove, so very full with all those little children,two dogs, a fat tabby cat, bubbling fish tank, and a pair of squeaking guinea pigs-- and so far away from that moment in time myself, that I said "Oh no, you must be so sad." Or something very, very close-- I do know for sure that he boomed, "No!" Then he lectured me on the joy of time passing and the way life works. He said these were the best days of their lives, and each year is. He said I'll age quickly if I think yesterday is better than today. He and Diana, he said, especially loved getting to know their children as adults and being grandparents.
It's funny, because even before I heard the news of Diana's passing, I had been thinking about the Tillions, and that visit, and mostly Clem's words. This morning, I was up in that same apartment, now my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter's "quarters"-- and I knew exactly what he meant.