It's That Merry, Happy, Lucky, 
Ho-Ho Time of Year … Again!

An AlohaBears Farewell 2012

Geneva Lee Gee (neé Niebert)
aka Snookie, aka Gigi

November 2, 1909 - August 7, 2012

Geneva Lee Niebert was born in Dayton, Ohio, in the middle of a snow storm and placed in a dresser drawer instead of a crib. Her arrival was so premature that everyone doubted the 3-pound baby girl would survive. A few years later, she contracted polio and was left with one leg a bit shorter than the other, an imbalance she dealt with for the rest of her long life.

In 1928, the first big year that women could vote for a U.S. president — Al Smith or Herbert Hoover — Geneva was registered and ready to go. Voting was always important to her, and, until this year’s presidential election, she never missed a chance to cast her ballot. I like to think she hung on through most of this year simply to have one last chance to vote for the candidate of her choice. It was a sad moment when we had to shred her absentee ballot.

Geneva married John’s father, Fred B. Gee, in 1945 and became Geneva Lee Gee (aka Gigi Gee) — her son, John Jacob Gee, arrived the following year. Before marriage, Geneva worked as a medical lab tech; after marriage, she was a stay-at-home mom, first in Alameda, Calfornia, then in author John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas.

At age 50, Geneva enjoyed playing cards with her two older sisters, Irene and Vera. She loved movies, especially musicals, and read the daily newspaper along with several books each week. She shopped at Macy’s for cosmetics. She knitted booties for crack babies. She was always up for dinner and cocktails.

By age 100, Geneva no longer had her sisters to play cards with, but she was still content with the ordinary pleasures of daily life. Who could have guessed that my mother-in-law would turn out to be Buddha?

Question: What was her secret of good health and peaceful longevity?
Answer: She never worried about anything. That’s all there was to it.

In September, John and I and a small crowd of Geneva’s relatives and friends went out on San Francisco Bay on the Neptune Society’s boat, the Naiad, and John laid his mother to rest within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and in the single patch of sunlight that suddenly appeared on the water just as we reached our destination. And later that afternoon, we raised our glasses to this happy soul, and we honored her with her customary toast:

“Here’s to us — and time to spend it!"

One hundred years ago —
Geneva (right, standing on chair)
with her big sister Irene (left, seated)

Lifetime Achievement Award for Persistence:
102 laps around the sun and never broke a sweat!

Robert Armstrong Nelson III
Aka The Butterfly Man

September 16, 1949 – August 27, 2012

Robert, my Bruddah Bug, was one of the truly great buskers of the twentieth century, a world traveler and adventurer among his fellow human wayfarers.

He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and he died on the Big Island of Hawaii. In between, he married Kumi, a woman as smart and resourceful himself, and he stayed married to her for over two decades — a record among street performers and a testament to the remarkable tolerance of some women. When Robert and I met in 1978, soon after he'd moved from Nashville to San Francisco and began working at Pier 39, I knew we were soul-siblings. When he saved my jobless, homeless butt back in 1982, he gained a friend for life.

Robert was unbelievably aggravating and endearing in equal measures. During the year and a half I lived in his attic, up a 12-foot vertical ladder inside the hall closet of his Haight-Ashbury flat, I got to listen to hours and hours of him right below me, dropping seven juggling balls over and over and over and over... . A true Virgo through and through, any time he wasn't practicing his act, he was cleaning everything in sight. He was a cheap drunk and the only person with whom I ever had a shouting match that ended in mutual laughter. I still have every scrap of paper on which he ever wrote anything to me, and I plan to save them all till I die.

How I wish we could have worked together on his Busker's Bible! Robert spent three decades working the streets of the world, and his book would have become an instant classic among his fellow entertainers. The way I see it, he left this earthly stage way too soon, but I get it: once a street performer has gathered up his audience, he can’t keep them waiting too long for the show. And how many performers get a chance to kill by dying? What a closer!

There will never be another human being to rival Bruddah Bug in my life or in my heart. He was one of a kind, the mold broken long ago. Thank goodness.

Antoinette ("Toni") Pebbles
July 10, 1947 - May 21, 2012

Toni and I met about 30 years ago, when we both were working at Pacific Telesis in San Francisco. She had the tenderest heart of anyone I’ve ever known. When I quit PacTel and a bunch of us went out dancing to celebrate my departure, Toni sat and cried and won my heart forever.

Toni moved from her native Detroit to her true spiritual home of San Francisco in 1973. She worked at PacTel for 24 years, but was so much more than her time there. An avid reader, artist, crocheter and jewelry-maker, singer, actress, and incomparably generous hostess, Toni was never bored and never boring.

She was a writer, a solid one, with a writer's penchant for unconditional listening. You could tell her anything — she would simply hear it, then most likely cry tears of sympathy on your behalf. But she also had a great, musical laugh that made you proud to have said or done whatever brought it forth.

Toni had the most magenta hair of anyone I've ever known. She collected floaty pens, hundreds of them, and kept a list of every book she'd ever read, thousands of them. In all the time I knew her, I never saw her eat a single vegetable. She loved tattoos; she loved Guns and Roses. She was immensely proud of her Lithuanian heritage and traveled to Lithuania to visit her roots. Her story of trying to figure out the Ladies' Room at a Lithuanian restaurant is still one of the funniest traveler's tales I've ever heard.

The occasion of our last visit was a movie-and-pizza night at home — and we watched "The Eagle." Toni was a warm, funny, wonderful, loving, one-of-a-kind person whose sudden, unexpected departure left a big empty place in the chests of the hundreds of people who knew her from the impossibly diverse range of social contexts she inhabited.

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