by Zinta Aistars
We grew up together. Edgars Zumburs knew my world as I knew his--children of immigrant parents from Latvia. We grew up straddling two cultures, two worlds, with Latvian as our first language, and our social life was deeply rooted in the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Latvian community.
Ed was a few years older, and when you are kids, that makes a big difference. He was that tall, skinny kid in Latvian school that we attended on Saturdays, kinda cute but who cares; we moved in different circles, yet side by side. As we grew up, we knew each other's families well. We attended the same church, the same social functions, the same parties. But it was only after I had left Kalamazoo, then returned again, surely at least two and a half lifetimes later and after a dissolved marriage, that I really got to know Edee.
I was back in the dating world again. My Latvian fellow of the time and I were invited to a Super Bowl party. My attention wandered from the game--I cannot claim to be much of a sports fan, although I enjoy some sports from time to time. My fellow rose from the couch to bring me munchies and another cold brew. Now in my clear view... there sat Ed, and as I glanced over at him, my eyes met his, saw that broad warm smile, that mischievous little glint in his eye... and I couldn't help but grin back. Sometimes you just have to see a person in a different context, in a different time. Ed and I fell into conversation... and we have been talking ever since.
Another lifetime has passed.
Last night, I received a phone call with news that clenched my heart like a steel fist. Edee was gone. Edee was.... gone.
But since that Super Bowl game, years have passed that strengthened my friendship with this warm, good natured, wonderful man. He became a fan of my writing, always ready with a word of encouragement, and he attended authors readings and book discussions with me, the first, he said, that he had ever attended. Edee was always open to learning and trying something new. When my new fellow, also a writer, completed his novel manuscript, Edee read it with great interest, offering his comments and review, laughing at himself when he did not know a "big word" in the text, gushing at the honor of being asked his opinion. He was the kind of reader that made you want to write... just to get his reaction.
I loved being jealous of Edee's life. After 31 years of service to Western Michigan University, he was able to retire early. Much too young, I always said, and to look at him... it was impossible to think of this man as a retiree. He had barely crossed into his fifth decade. And damn, he was cute. Tall and tan and trim as ever, with that charming grin that would break into an easy laugh, that carefree attitude, that manner of knowing how to listen, rapt with attention, making you feel important and special, that complete lack of self-consciousness... he was irresistible. Jeannie, his wife, was one lucky woman. And everywhere that Edee went, he met and made more friends.
Edee knew how to live. Every time I saw an e-mail pop up in my inbox, I knew I was about to read another note, often complete with photos, of yet another journey. He was kayaking, he was hiking, he was biking, he was wandering the woods, he was on the deck of a condo overlooking the ocean, he was sitting around a campfire with buddies, he was living life as life should be lived.
Most importantly, Edee knew how to love. His e-mails often bragged about Jeannie's accomplishments, updated me on his son, told of extended family and friends, taking joy in their joys, aching with their aches. His heart was an open book, and there were many names written lovingly into it.
A good photographer, he sent me a photo once of the Chicago skyline, a sculpture in the foreground piercing the sky. It inspired me to write a poem called "Renegade." That poem is posted on this site, dedicated to Ed Zumburs.
Pleased to help a friend, when I called on him some time ago to help me out with a kitchen light that had suddenly gone dysfunctional (Ed was also a skilled electrician), he came by to cheerfully rewire the thing to light my life again.
Yesterday, there was this moment that I switched on my kitchen light... and nothing happened. It did not come on. I stood in my dark kitchen and thought of Ed and that I might have to ask his help again. But then I tried my light switch again... and it worked.
Jeannie found him yesterday as if gone to a peaceful sleep at his own keyboard. Perhaps writing another e-mail to another friend. The one he sent me a few days ago was in response to my newsletter, in which I had written about my father, honoring Father's Day. In his response, he reminisced about his own childhood and family...
I got totally engrossed reading the story of your poppa. Maybe because I know him and I could visualize the daily routine.
But it is true, that sometimes you don't understand why someone, like your dad, might think he should have given more, but yet he has given a gift that most other dads can't give.
The past two days I have been helping my niece and son clean out the home my dad helped build for my uncle Arvids. Most everything is in the LARGE dumpster. It was sad to see items tossed that I remember from my visits to Germantown, Ohio when I was very young. They still had the couch and kitchen table. The reality that he and all of his family are now gone forever, hit me after the fact. Some items were kept, but that was mostly like pictures, some bottles of liquor and very little of anything large. My home, as well as my sisters are full and need to be pruned.
This era has passed.
But as I was helping cleaning, the thoughts of what my aunt and uncle have done for me during the 2 weeks I stayed in Ohio in the summers, kept leaping into my mind. I learned to swim in the pool at the summer camp they lived at. Daily I would ride a bike with my cousin down a hill to town and spin the combination lock to get the daily mail. They lived in Camp Miami. This was a 3 story brick building that housed about a 100 campers during summers. My uncle was the care taker on about 80 acres of fields and woods. He would let us boys drive the tractor sometimes with a trailer. We only ran over a few saplings on our turns. For us little guys, the medium sized tractor was HUGE! My aunt would make us boys a fresh fruit bowl daily in the mid-afternoon....
now I'm reminiscing too much.
I never did get a chance to answer...
I love you, Edee. Oh, how I will miss you. Angelsbewithyou, my dear friend. I know they're going to adore you up there.
by Zinta Aistars
In memorium for my beloved friend, "eZee" Zumburs, who lived his life so well...
Skin of sky
scraped along its blue belly
in steeled and needled protest
against feet forever bound
to earth. Instead this tryst
with outer limits, envelope edges,
elbowing the comfort zone,
nothing but a padded and pretty
rack of honeyed excruciation.
The heart longs for more.
The heart weeps, then whines,
then sobs, and finally screams
and bellows its resplendent battle cry,
resisting a life of mediocrity
and dust dull pain.
Let the ache be golden.
Brazen with bloodied life,
a laboring of sufferance
giving birth, once more, yet again,
one more time, another,
to the metamorphed and renewborn soul.
Let the cut be glorious,
searing in its burn,
may that pellucid sky be stabbed,
without mercy, or wince,
heavens opened, spilling bounty,
cornucopia of life in generous overflow,
exquisite in its disorder and mess,
damned but lived,
lived if damned,
to the end,
to the flaming finish line.
Photo of Chicago skyline courtesy of Ed Zumburs.