Ever since Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death (1963), there has been an awareness that the funeral industry often takes advantage of grief-stricken next of kin by upselling absurdly expensive funeral arrangements. I was a bit concerned that trying to make arrangements for Ron under these circumstances might expose us to this, but I was very pleasantly surprised by Kelly White at Amling/Schroeder Funeral Services in Bandon. He was compassionate, caring, and at no point did I feel that we were being pressured or encouraged to spend anything unreasonable. I hope that you don't need those sort of services anytime soon, but if you are in Bandon...
We had some odds and ends from Ron's childhood and military service present. Some baby clothes, and a picture of Ron with two of his sisters:
I think this went out of a fashion some years ago, but it used to be quite common to have the first baby shoes bronzed, and of course, that included Ron's, and a picture of him from when he won a "most beautiful baby" contest in the 1940s:
A few other odds and ends, such as this Snohomish County Library card, from the 1950s.
This picture was part of an art project that my sister did when she was working on her degree at UCLA in the 1960s. We used to keep the picture of just the heads in front of this picture, so people could wonder how it was done:
And yes, that's me on the extreme right of the picture.
Like a lot of other young Americans, Ron served in the U.S. Army during the 1960s.
Like a lot of other American men, it was not by choice. Like many others, he received the infamous "Greetings" letter telling him to show up for induction. But unlike many others, when he completed the Army's general intelligence test, they realized that he was special. He missed two questions. They told him, "If we draft you, we have no control over your training or where you will go. You will probably end up as infantry in Vietnam. But if you volunteer, you can pick your training." So he has an honorable discharge dated 24 hours after he was drafted, conditional on volunteering.
He signed up for electronics technician training. After Basic Training, he went to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, where he trained to troubleshoot Nike-Hercules radar systems. For you kids, this was an anti-aircraft missile with a hydrogen bomb warhead, intended to take out incoming Soviet bomber fleets. (If you have a hydrogen bomb, you don't need to get real close.) Originally, Ron was supposed to go to Germany to maintain these systems, but he finished first in his class, and was asked to become the instructor instead, so he spent his time in the service in Alabama.
We arranged for a notice to appear in the Bandon daily giveaway paper, because we knew that Ron had some friends in the community, but we did not really know who they were. It appears that the entire staff of McFarland's, a bar where Ron spent a lot of time drinking coffee (no, really, going to a bar to drink coffee) showed up for his service.
The owner, Moxie, and I spent some time talking before the service. It was obvious to Moxie and the rest of the staff that something was off about Ron, but his sometimes odd behavior was not odd enough to be a problem for them. Moxie told me that when she talked to Ron, she was really impressed how very intelligent he was, in spite of whatever problems he had. We talked for a few more minutes about Ron, and the problems of schizophrenia, then Moxie suddenly asked me what I did for a living. I told her. Her eyes widened and then she asked, "Is everyone in the family a genius?"
I suppose that her eyes probably widened a bit more when my sister shared about one of the electronics projects that Ron did--an undercover device that used foot switches to input the number of tens and non-tens already played in blackjack, and then used electrodes on his back to tell him the correct betting strategy. (For those who have read Edward O. Thorp's Beat The Dealer, this should all make sense.) The state of electronics was still pretty primitive in the early 1970s when he built this device, so it makes it all the more interesting.
Here's the saddest part of all. Ron, because of his schizophrenia, would not allow anyone to clean his bedroom, nor did he do so himself. He collected rocks, occasionally interesting, but overwhelmingly, only interesting in the separate reality that his mental illness had created. The juxtaposition of his books from before he became ill, and the rocks that became his obsession afterwards, and the dirt everywhere, really captures the tragedy of schizophrenia: it overwhelmingly takes some of the brightest minds, and reduces them to this.