August 6, 1934 - March 13, 2007

Beloved mother to Lynn and Rick, dear mother-in-law to Holly and David, loving Grammy to Alexandra, Hunter, Tyler and Madeleine, wife to Ward Melby, Richard Tyler and Mike Fortman, loving sister to Melba, Georgia and Gerry, doting aunt to Jennifer, Sara and Kate, kind step-mother to John and Mary Fortman, wonderful daughter to Alpha and George Deters, cherished friend to many.

Life Roles: Homemaker, elementary school teacher, landlady, actress, philosopher, student of ethical living and positive thinking, and quintessential hostess-with-the-mostess.

Passions: Morning AA "attitude adjustment meetings," voracious reading, writing, friendships, enjoying the smartest grandchildren in the world, and the teaching of eternal truths.

Hobbies: Playing the piano, cooking, sewing, making quilts, gardening, yoga, riding her bike, participating in community theater, traveling the world, making herself useful, and napping.

Places She Lived: Spring Grove (Minnesota), San Francisco (California), Lakewood (Washington), Studio City, North Hollywood, Palm Springs and Ventura (California)

1. One day at a time
2. Acceptance is the answer to all your problems.
3. Have an attitude of gratitude.

Religion: None. But there was talk of a higher power. Like gravity, maybe.

Favorite Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the power to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gramma Alpha's (and "Grammy" Marilyn's) Famous Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

1 cup whole oats (not quick oats)
1 cup buttermilk (We prefer Knudsen's)
2 eggs
1/4teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Real butter
Real maple syrup

Mix together the buttermilk and oats and allow to soak 20 minutes (or even overnight). Mix in the other ingredients. Fry up in safflower oil in your old well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or a non-stick skillet) on medium heat.

Tip: Use a large spoon to spoon the batter onto the pan and create the pancakes. (This batter is not like traditional smooth pancake batter. It's kind of thick and lumpy and you need to make smallish pancakes, no bigger than 3 1/2 or 4 inches in diameter. If the oats were soaked a long time, you sometimes need to add a little splash of extra buttermilk to thin the batter.) When you spoon the batter onto the pan, use the edge of the spoon to thin the pancakes a bit and nudge the high blobs out to the sides a bit.

Serve immediately with real butter and real maple syrup.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ONE WOMAN’S PATH, by Marilyn Tyler

My purpose—for me a matter of survival and, oddly, both selfish and unselfish—became clear many years ago. Until the discovery of my raison d’ĂȘtre, though, I had imagined I made my own choices; in truth I’d had much help in setting goals.

Had someone asked me when I was a child what my purpose was, I would have replied: “to get an education.” Parental instructions to my siblings and me were explicit.

“Our responsibility is to keep a roof over our heads, to feed and clothe you and to bring you up as best we can,” they told us.

“Your job is to go to school.”

Their expectations powered us to excel at book learning and the taking of exams. The Deters children won spelldowns and brought home report cards filled with A’s. Each of my two sisters became valedictorian of her high school graduating class and we all marched off to college, as was expected of us, to earn our degrees.

When I launched into marriage and adulthood, my purpose, based on small-town family values, was clear: to be a good helpmate and an exemplary elementary school teacher.

My husband also had a purpose in life: to become a millionaire. His passion for success as a builder/developer became the focus of our marriage. The two of us worked hard and for seven years postponed having children in order to devote all of our energies and resources toward realizing his dream.

When my husband decided he no longer wanted to be married, my life fell apart. My father had warned us that marriage brought the possibility of widowhood or other hardships, but no one prepared me for divorce.

“A wife needs to be a good partner,” he often told his daughters. “If her husband dies or becomes disabled, she must be ready to take over and support the family.” Yeah, okay. But what about getting dumped? That eventuality had not occurred to anyone in my family.

After eleven years in a marriage I had supposed would be forever, I found myself unmarried, with a four-year-old daughter, and nursing a severely wounded ego.

What to do? It seemed obvious: my new purpose was to regroup and move on. Using entrepreneurial skills learned from my former husband, I set out to become financially independent through my own efforts. By living frugally and investing modest savings in income properties, I fashioned a secure financial life for my child and myself.

Well along the road to solvency, however, I lost my sense of purpose. What had begun as social drinking got out of control and at age forty-three, twice-divorced, I felt depressed and hopeless. Alcoholism owned me and had become my guilty secret. How had my life gone so wrong? Neither my relative affluence nor my best thinking could solve the problem or lift me out of the incomprehensible demoralization in which I found myself.

An epiphany sounds like such a grandiose event that I used to doubt such a thing could occur, but it can and does. It happened to me.

On the night of September 21, 1977, I lay drunk on my bed, unable to sleep, feeling doomed to ongoing misery that could end only in death or madness.

From that despair, my voice cried out for help perhaps to the God of my childhood, whom I had long since abandoned. There are no words to describe the spiritual experience, but immediately afterward, a profound peace came over me. The certainty that everything was going to be all right brought the relief of untroubled slumber.

When I awakened, my first awareness was of freedom from the compulsion to drink alcohol. My Furies had vanished and have not returned.

What has all this to do with purpose? Or the power of purpose? Everything, in my case. Please understand that I haven’t joined a temperance movement—I’m aware that most people can drink and be merry, even though I cannot. My purpose in life is, and has been for the past twenty-six-and-a-half years, to be available when another alcoholic reaches out for help.

We sober alcoholics belong to an unusual fellowship. Having found a way of living happily without mind-altering substances, we learned that the best way to keep our sobriety is to give it away. So that is what we do. We don’t evangelize. We simply say, “If you want what we have, we’ll share with you how we rebuilt our lives—how we learned to ‘behave our way into better thinking, not think our way into better behavior’.”

Something more than being struck sober happened to me that night in 1977. My priorities shifted— attitudes toward people and money and death and the meaning of life changed—all for the better. For example, I have learned to see the similarities, not the differences between you and me. I know, now, how much is enough and have lost my fear of financial insecurity. My know-it-all-ism is somewhat diminished, which alone qualifies as a minor miracle.

Having become teachable is a gift of my epiphany. When this student was ready, teachers appeared.

“Utilizing prayer and meditation is like going to a gym and working out,” they told me. “You don’t have to believe in it, you just have to do it and you’ll get results.” Willing, finally, to take direction, I pray for guidance on how to be of service and for the power to do so.

“Meditation is listening to the silence,” the wise ones said. “Meditate on a regular basis and intuitive answers will come.” I tried it and guess what? It works for me.

The law of unintended consequences has brought unexpected benefits: old rifts have healed, damaged relationships were repaired, and resentments that used to plague me are gone.

Each morning begins with an attitude of gratitude for the gift of sobriety. I didn’t earn it or buy it or steal it, so it must have been a gift. On a daily basis, I rededicate my energies to a spiritual way of life and recommit to helping the alcoholic who still suffers.

The sun has risen as I write this. The first order of my day will be a meeting with my fellows. I’ll suit up and show up to bear witness that it is possible to recover from alcoholism. It is my purpose.


From Hunter and Tyler, delivered by their father David at the memorial

Ode to Grammy
by Hunter and Tyler Gordon

Grammy, dear, Grammy,
You were so fun.
Grammy, dear, Grammy,
You were number one.

Grammy, oh, Grammy,
We love you so much,
When it comes to tea and toast
You had the right touch.

Grammy, oh, Grammy,
You were so cool,
We all had fun in Palm Springs
Swimming in your pool.

Grammy, oh, Grammy,
You read us great books,
Grammy, oh, Grammy,
You had the looks.

Grammy, dear, Grammy,
We’re sad that you died.
So Grammy, dear, Grammy,
We’re not satisfied.

Grammy, oh, Grammy,
We wish you were here.
Grammy, oh, Grammy,
You were very dear.

From Gerry and Karen, delivered by their daughter Kate at the memorial)

Dear Family and Friends of Marilyn,

Gerry and I regret that we won't be able to hug and be hugged, weep and join you as you gather together to honor the memories of Marilyn. Story upon story will be shared and bring happy thoughts of times spent with her. Pure affection allows me to share my experiences with this exceptional, and yet beautifully flawed, human being.

1. She gave of herself without complaint or reservation. How many of us have heard her tell a table full of friends and/or family that she wanted to pay the tab because she had a bunch of new money burning a hole in her pocket.

2. After she’d done all she could, she’d do more. After a brief sermon and a not so subtle chastisement, she would do whatever she could to help you out of some foolish predicament you might have gotten yourself into. But woe be onto you if you made the same mistake twice.

3. Family first was her mantra. Ricky and Lynn were her pride and joy. She was an example of love without conditions...and she had every right to be proud. Holly and David were welcomed into her life with wide open arms. And their offspring brought her a joy that held no measure. Motherhood, with all its complexities, appeared to come naturally to her, and she savored every moment of it. The love she had for her family was true and honest. Without sugar-coated words she expressed her devotion in a myriad of ways to all of us.

4. Marilyn was the consummate hostess. She demonstrated that fine china and sterling didn’t make a party. Give people good conversation, good food and something to gossip about on the way home. They’ll never notice the garage sale mismatched place settings and “interesting” flatware. Cloth napkins and a freshly ironed table cloth and, voila, eccentric elegance.

5. I remember a phone call from Marilyn many years ago. She said, I’m going to sew myself a hostess gown - pick up 3 yards of material and we’ll do it together!¨ I wore my hostess gown for years and years afterwards. She taught me that $3.00 of pink cotton can make you feel beautiful.

She leaves behind a legacy of many memories; her love of life, cheerfulness and positive outlook should give us all pause to take an accounting of our own attitudes.

Tusen taak, dear Marilyn, tusen taak.

With love, Gerry and Karen

A Tribute to Marilyn Tyler, delivered by Lynn on 3/18/07 at memorial service

Hi, I’m Lynn Melby Gordon, Marilyn’s daughter. On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank you all for coming today. We have people who have driven in from Palm Springs and Ventura and others who have flown in from distant cities, other states, and even Mexico. It means so much that we can have a day like this and be all together to remember Marilyn, who was simply a wonderful, wonderful, vibrant, special person. I see this as a celebration of her life and a chance to pay tribute to someone who touched us all in so many ways. I’m looking forward to hearing great little stories about my mom and getting a chance to spend some time here with so many of you who were very important to her.

After we adjourn from the auditorium, by the way, we’re expecting everyone to join us for lunch, continuing reminiscences, and a party. Yes, I have it in writing. Marilyn said to throw a party, so we even having a little live music, and I understand we have some surprise musicians who will be sitting in for some special tunes. Our house is very close by, practically around the corner. Be sure to pick up a directions sheet on the way out.

We are meeting today at the CHIME Charter Elementary School, which is where Hunter and Tyler are in third grade. By the way, in 2005, it won “Charter School of the Year,” out of 500 charter schools in California. I think a school is an especially appropriate location for this tribute because my mom was an outstanding school teacher for about ten years when she was young and first out of college, and she really continued to be a teacher for the rest of her life, I think many of you would agree.

A few years ago, my mom started writing the story of her life. It started off as a story about her idyllic rural childhood, so that she could share it with her four grandchildren, who were city kids. Now, Marilyn grew up on a dairy farm in the teeny, tiny town of Spring Grove, Minnesota. Everybody knew one another and almost everyone was of Norwegian extraction. I used to love hearing about her wonderful life growing up on the farm with her brothers and sisters, how she used to help work on the farm, how she used to help her Daddy deliver the milk, and how she helped sterilize the milk bottles, and how she loved to play with the kittens in the barn. I was also amazed to learn that there was one class of each grade in school. She ended up going through school, all the way to high school in Spring Grove with the same batch kids that were in first grade with her. Marilyn really got into writing, however, and ended up penning a full-blown, well-written, highly readable memoir of her life. She distributed four copies to be saved for the four grandchildren – so they would be later be able to read about Grammy’s life in the “olden days.” Just a handful of other relatives and friends have ever read her book because she thought it couldn’t be of interest to anyone but family. Well, I think you would all love to read her wonderful life story, and I would be happy to email it to you. If you are interested, be sure to neatly print your email address on the Guest sign-in sheets we have at the door, and which we’ll bring back to the house afterwards. I made a limited number of paper copies for people who don’t have email, plus I have designated a few paper copies to some core family and close friends who we thought should have a copy. If you really, really want a paper copy or you just don’t have email and you can’t get a copy that way, let me know when we get back to the house.

Mom was a smart businesswoman and she loved sharing her tips for financial success. She always said to be frugal and live within your means, save some of what you earn, avoid using credit cards when you can use cash, invest in real estate, and don’t buy things you don’t need. She started me on a small allowance when I was five and instituted a doubling policy. If I saved my money and deposited it into the bank for long-term savings, she’d double my money as a reward. It was a great way to teach me to save for a rainy day. So now I’m doing the same thing with Hunter and Tyler, to pass on this lesson about saving.

She also had good cooking tips. Here’s lesson number one from Marilyn, use real butter, not margarine, if you want it to taste good, especially with baked goods. But really, this butter lesson applies when making garlic bread, linguine with clam sauce, cooked vegetables, popcorn, toast, you name it. Spread it all the way to the edges and use plenty. The more the better. And you’ll notice that she did not die of a heart attack. So I’m thinkin’ that she’s thinkin’ ha ha on everyone who was worrying about that. She taught me how to roast a turkey, how to fry a steak in butter in a cast iron skillet, how to make a “golden tender” omlette, how to make awesome chicken soup with veggies and barley from scratch, how to make Gramma’s famous oatmeal buttermilk pancakes, and how to make poached eggs on toast with hot milk.

She got me to love thrift stores and showed me how decorate with odds and ends and how to fix up old things creatively. She taught me how to sew and how to make curtains and quilts. She taught me how to paint rooms, how to use the library, how to body surf, how to drive a stick shift, how to drive defensively, how to un-jam a garbage disposal, how to throw a big dinner party without getting nervous, and through her perfect example, how to be pretty confident and self-sufficient in going through life.

She loved sharing her wisdom and philosophies about life, didn’t she? I used to think my mom just talked a lot (and of course she did talk a lot) but I really have to admit, she had a lot to say. She had a lot of really important messages she imparted on a daily basis. She had a great attitude about life and how to understand and accept life on life’s terms. She didn’t preach or tell people what to do, but she’d share her experiences and mistakes and explain how she came to some important insight. Her good lessons have become a part of who I am and how I view the world. I am so grateful for having her as a mom. I totally lucked out. Thanks for picking her out, Dad.

I have a million fond memories of Mom. I remember her reading out loud to me dramatically and with fabulous expression when I was little. I remember her doing embarrassing yoga poses and standing on her head at the beach when I was about ten. I remember her looking so pretty when she and Da got dressed up to go out to a special dinner or industry event, and the heady scent Lauder’s Youth Dew perfume when she’d kiss me and Ricky goodnight. I remember her playing in the pool with Ricky and me and doing underwater ballet poses. I remember her making us gorgeous home-sewn Halloween costumes and I especially loved the matching mother-daughter dresses she sewed when I was about seven, eight, and nine. I recall her making lots of health food, especially in the 60’s and 70’s, and eating lots of wheat germ, sprouts, homemade yogurt, and creative scary desserts made out of tofu and carob. I remember watching her perform with flair in many little theater plays around LA in the 80’s. She was proud of winning a Drama Louge Best Actress Award for one play she did, the title of which was “Father’s Day.” I remember many nice holiday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinners over the years, often with my dad and the various step-dads (either Da or Mike or both in later years) plus various relatives, ex-in-laws, and step-kids all happily included and in attendance. She made sure to keep the family together, no matter whom she was married to. I also remember how lovingly she took care of Mike when he got sick and what a great job she did taking care of my Gramma Alpha in the later years of her life, when Mom brought her out to California and had her live with her. I remember mom playing the piano, mostly show tunes, Scott Joplin ragtime, old time favorites, and sometimes fun and peppy duets with my Aunt Melba. I will always remember the joy that she took in her grandchildren. She was out of her mind in love with Alexandra and Madeleine (Ricky and Holly’s girls) and Hunter and Tyler, our wonderful boys. Mom loved just adored them all to pieces and some of you have heard all about how these four are just the smartest, cutest, funniest, and best grandkids practically in the whole world. She was right, of course. She was a top-drawer, outstanding Grammy. It was always a treat to go and visit Grammy, either in Palm Springs or in Ventura, or to have Grammy come to visit. She was well loved and will be certainly missed and fondly remembered.

One of the most distinctive things about my mom was the impressive habit she had of being nice and kindly and friendly and chatty with practically everyone she met. The result was that she made friends with everyone. This would include her apartment tenants, the person behind her waiting in line at the bank, the repair guy, whomever. She didn’t learn that rule that you’re not really supposed to talk to other people in elevators. She would just go ahead and talk to people in elevators and it would put a smile on their face and make the ride a little more fun.

Of course, AA was a big part of my mother’s life. She celebrated twenty-nine years of sobriety a few months ago and I’m so glad I got a chance to go to her Ventura morning meeting and give her her AA birthday cake, given on the anniversary of sobriety, which is one of their rituals. I think it made Mom really happy to have me go with her that day and I’m glad I made the effort. I had only done it a handful of times over the years. She always felt that it was so important for the newcomers to see veteran AA people take their cakes and I think she felt it was a moral obligation or something to share her experience, strength, and hope with others. Marilyn called her morning meetings, “attitude adjustment meetings,” by the way, and I guess the proof is in the pudding. For the most part, didn’t that lady have a pretty great attitude on a daily basis?

You can see on the back of the pretty photo of my mom (which is your little party favor for coming today), three of her favorite slogans I heard a lot:

1. One day at a time.

Now for my mom, this one day a time saying, seemed to me to be more than just don’t drink one day at a time, but a deep understanding that today is the only day you have so enjoy it. She often said yesterday is gone so don’t waste your time yearning for what might have been and tomorrow is not here yet and you might get hit by a bus tomorrow anyway, so don’t waste your time worrying about it, just pay attention to today and the moments you’re having right now. She wanted everybody to enjoy their life right now, today, and be present. Good one, Mom.

This leads in to her second favorite saying,

2. Acceptance is the answer to all your problems.

It’s such a bummer, but she’s right about that.

And this leads right into her third favorite saying,

3. Have an attitude of gratitude.

She modeled this all the time. And you know, she wasn’t just a fakey Pollyanna type, with a forced smile on her face saying, “Isn’t life perfect?” She practiced affirming a grateful attitude for so many years, working her program, that she just got in the habit of having and expressing a grateful attitude for whatever life brought her. She was so classy. Even when her lymphoma was progressing, she’d say, “I can’t complain as long as I can walk and talk and read and eat and sleep.” She loved her dear friends, fun activities, reading good books, salacious tabloid news, but also the simple things like a tasty steak, a great night’s sleep, or just lovely weather. I can hear her calling me so many times saying, “Oh, it’s another beautiful day in Ventura!” I’m so glad that my mom really enjoyed her life. She lived it to the fullest and took the time to smell the flowers.

Finally, I just want to say that my mom was a wonderful mom to me. I couldn’t have wished for a better mom. She was always rooting me on, telling me how great I was, and telling other people in front of me that I was wonderful. (I’m sorry - you probably wanted to throw up after the twentieth or thirtieth time you heard this.”) She always acted proud of me. She never criticized me or tried to change me. She accepted me for who I am and I knew she loved me. In many ways, she was my best friend.

I loved my mom and I am so sorry she is gone from this life and not with us anymore, but I will always treasure her memory and be grateful for having her as a mother and for the lessons in life she gave me. I will go forth and try to teach her lessons to my children, as they are the lessons of a good person - an intelligent, beautiful, talkative, dramatic, sensible, frugal yet generous, caring, and very wise lady.