Photo: Jim Shere, 2012
Eastside Road, June 21, 2014—I HAD HOPED to report here on a fine road trip we have just taken, four thousand miles visiting old friends and relatives — but I came home a couple of days ago to find my youngest brother gravely ill, and find I am writing an obituary instead:
Timothy Buckallew Shere, a native of Sonoma County, died Friday morning in Petaluma of cardiac and pulmonary failure at the age of 66. He was born September 26, 1947, in Sebastopol, the youngest son of Charles Everett and Marjorie Crane Shere. He attended schools in Fort Ross and Santa Rosa before relocating with his mother and brothers to Berkeley, where he graduated from high school.
Gifted intellectually and a keen and amused observer, he was troubled from adolescence with an unstable hold on conventional realities. He never married or settled into normal employment, but lived in a succession of institutions, halfway houses, and board and care facilities. He loved reading, writing his poetry, and listening to the popular music of the 1960s.
He was grateful for his happy childhood, his family, and his memories. He is remembered for his gentle disposition, patience and forbearance.
In his last two years he was a resident at Windsor Care Center. He is survived by three brothers: Charles Shere of Healdsburg, Jim Shere of Santa Rosa, and John Shere of Warranwood, Australia; and by many nieces and nephews and their children.
TIM WAS TWELVE years younger than me and I never really knew him as a child. I was away living with my grandparents when he was born, and met him really only two years later; and I left home for college three years after that. Our parents had a troubled marriage which effectively ended with our mother's removal, with my three brothers, to Berkeley, about 1960; and perhaps to protect my own young marriage, already complicated with our own young children, she took care not to involve me in her problems, whether with her husband, soon to be divorced, or her younger sons.
Of them, Tim — I feel free to use his nickname, but he preferred to be called Timothy by those not closely related to him — Tim was the most vulnerable. He was born with a severe strabismus, was operated on in his early childhood, and never recovered the use of one eye. He was often teased by his father and, I'm sorry to say, one or another of his brothers. He seemed to me, at the time, not to understand the difficulties of daily life, whether at first, when we still lived on a broken-down "farm" in the country; or later, when Mom had moved out with him and his next older brother to teach in a remote country school; or after he'd been moved to Berkeley, where he must have been bewildered by the noise and distractions of urban life.
At some point in his early adolescence — I think he was fifteen or so — he was encouraged by a misguided church-going couple to leave his mother's home and move in with them. I can remember cycling up into the Berkeley hills to expostulate with them, urging them to return him to his mother. Our long-suffering grandfather, who'd been a prominent parishioner for forty years at least, actually left the church in disgust over the affair.
I never knew the circumstances of his finally returning. The other two brothers had left home by then in their turns, one into an early marriage, the other into the navy; and Mom continued to harbor Tim into his early twenties. Inevitably he too left, living at first with friends he met at the community college he occasionally attended, then in the series of residences I described above.
His life was a series of social-worker counsellors, psychiatry (badly misguided in my opinion), occasional commitments to serious institutions, and board-and-care facilities. Through it all, apart from a few frightening moments, he seemed to maintain a remarkably sanguine attitude. In conversation he dwelled on his happy recollections of childhood in the country and on the Sonoma coast; of road trips he'd taken with our mother; of the trip he and I took in 1987 to Tahiti and Australia, where we visited another brother.
When he was in better health, while I was still living nearby in Berkeley, we used to take walks together, sometimes long ones — once across the hills to Orinda; another time from San Francisco to Sausalito. I regret that on my moving away from Berkeley there were fewer of these meetings. I regret even more that his physical health began to decline badly ten or twelve years ago.
He had always suffered from an exaggerated tremor, worsened I'm convinced by the medications he'd been prescribed for psychological disorders. His gait and balance began to deteriorate in his early fifties, and his diet and regimen suffered from inattention, poverty, and personal decisions. He never lived "homeless" on the streets: the social-service offices of Berkeley and Alameda County found him relatively good housing and provided him with a certain amount of medical supervision. But two years ago my nearer brother and I decided to move him closer to us.
By then he was suffering from kidney failure, Parkinson's, and diabetic problems. In the last year he was no longer able to walk or even stand. Worse, in his opinion: his tremor had advanced to the point he could no longer write, either longhand or with his beloved manual typewriters. He considered himself a poet, and I am no one to argue the point. His writing was unsophisticated, artless, and focussed on gentle fantasy and nostalgia for his rural childhood and for the fancies of the flower children of the 1960s.
He was a unique man: I will never be able to comprehend his life, to visit the landscapes of his mind. I wish I could have; I wish I could now find a way to begin — but my realities are more grounded and more circumscribed. I would never have wanted to have lived his life, but I think I can imagine his eventual adjustment to it.
I had a good conversation with him a month or so ago, before beginning the long road trip we've just completed. He was confined to his wheelchair and unable to write, but spoke easily enough, about the old days for the most part, but also about Jack London and Steinbeck, whose books he enjoyed, and about Finnegans Wake, which we'd given him when it was clear his stamina for long-span attentiveness was slipping. He knew his health was deteriorating, but seemed realistic, not regretful.
Thursday, though — only day before yesterday! — when I spent half an hour with him at the care center we'd moved him to two years ago — I was shocked. He was almost unresponsive, slumped in his chair. He indicated that he wanted a Diet Coke, and fumbled his purse toward me: I extracted three quarters from it and got him the Coke, then a straw, and held the can for him.
I asked if he were in pain, or uncomfortable, and he indicated that he wasn't. I had the feeling his life was ebbing, that he knew it, and that on the whole he was ready. I asked if he wanted anything, and I'm almost certain the response was "no more books." As I left him he said something that sounded like "book… poems…"; then lapsed into silence. I told an attendant of my misgivings about him; then left.
Next morning I was awakened about six by a phone call asking my permission to have him transferred to a hospital, and an hour later was called by the emergency room, asking for my immediate attendance as it was unlikely he'd "get past this event."
My brother and I spent the morning at the hospital and the mortuary; then at the care center where we retrieved his belongings. There were three grocery bags filled with his clothes; two tote-bags sufficed for the rest of his estate: his iPad and a headset, a few pages of his own poems and drawings, his birth certificate, a few photographs, a small wooden bowl, two rocks, a postcard and a letter from me, and nine books.
There was also a new notebook in which he'd only written on three or four pages, probably because his handwriting was completely giving out. This is the last entry:
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muß man schweigen. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent.— Wittgenstein