It'll be hard to make a visit to the artsy village of Ashland, Oregon, without stopping by to see my old friends, Hal and Marge, Marge and Hal. It was always a pleasure, never a duty. They were family to me, but without the baggage of blood.
They moved to Ashland a few years ago after their retirement. But there was nothing retiring about them. Hal jogged into his 80s, Marge was never without a study group. Politics was their bread and butter, but they appreciated the roses too.A visit to their home would mean a quick survey of personal matters, then into the important stuff: American foreign policy (BOO, BOO), the latest well-read book off the New York Times list, and critiques of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's current season: Hal's concern that Hamlet wasn't sufficiently anti-imperialist, Marge's scorn about a leading lady's inability to lead.
I breathed a sigh of relief when Marge told me that our friends Robynn Rodriguez and Derrick Weeden are her two most favorite actors in the Festival. If she had dissed them, I guess we would have had to drop them.
A few years ago I came to Ashland on a book tour. My unpaid flacks were Hal and Marge, whom I've known since their Berkeley days. I used to be the leftist who handed them Leninist maps that told them how to find their way to the Revolution. As I got older and sidled towards the political center, Hal became the oldest living Marxist I knew, and Marge raised an eyebrow when I wasn't sufficiently rah rah about Cuba.
One time I lost their address, but they were easy to find. I just looked for the car with bumper stickers demanding that we Free All Political Prisoners; Indict Bush; Listen To Women For A Change; and Get Out Of Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and ... (the list is too long to include here).
During my book trip to Ashland, Hal and Marge agreed to help with the publicity. I had visions of Marge, who was in her 80s too, driving Hal around town after midnight, keeping her eyes open for the tac squad. Every few blocks, she'd stop the car in downtown Ashland and turn off the lights. Eighty-nine year old Hal would dash out of the back of the car with a ladder and can of glue, quickly climb up to the billboard, and in record time affix the subversive posters to the wall: TONY PLATT SPEAKS OUT AGAINST AMERICAN MILITARISM.
When I talked with Hal on the phone in 2005, I asked if he had anything planned for his 90th birthday on December 23. "No big parties," he told me. "Just Marge and I, off on a frolic to a winter lodge near Portland." Marge, just back from her Proust study group, got on the phone to let me know that Hal might not be the best person to do the postering. "I hear you're off for a frolic with Hal for his birthday," I said, encouragingly. "More like colic," she replied with a gruff laugh.
I'll miss their razor-sharp intelligence, sardonic sense of humor, undiluted commitment to social justice, and loyal friendship.
To Hal and Marge, Marge and Hal, lives fully lived.
Marge Jamison (1923-2010), Hal Jamison (1916-2007)