Jeanne Barbara Boyland, 1929-2010

Aunt Jeanne was a blessed soul who lived long enough to see her great-grandchildren, and for that her family gave thanks as we remembered how she enriched our lives.

Mom gave me the call at the office in the morning, two weeks ago. She had called me at home the previous night, to warn me. This was six weeks after Jeanne had been to the hospital with stomach pains, and ended up having emergency surgery. She suffered terribly, but she lived, and she came home. But it was only for a short while.

We decided to take the bus down to DC. Mom, Gia, Jennifer and I met in midtown at lunch and piled into the MegaBus. We fortified ourselves with sandwiches and wine, but we had barely settled in, had only just emerged out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, when we were side-swiped by a hard-driving Chinese trucker out of his lane. We slowed and stopped, the drivers got out to discuss, the police showed up… we didn’t move for another hour. Within 15 minutes of finally getting back on the road, we were in dead-stopstill traffic, and the radio announced a tractor-trailer was lying across three lanes in flames just a few miles ahead of us. By the time we got to DC it was 9pm – we had left at 1:30 – and we had missed the wake completely.

Katie and Bob picked us up with Will and Andrew, and we drove back to their place, which is outside Baltimore. Boy, did we feel stupid – we had just driven through Baltimore 45 minutes before!

We ordered some pizzas, cracked a few beers and started catching up and talking, everybody sitting around the kitchen. People peeled off one by one and went to bed – we had an early start in the morning – but it was so reminiscent of Aunt Jeanne, because she was usually the last one awake, telling the last story. She always wanted to stay up late, talking, drinking coffee, smoking.

At eight the next morning we were on the road, trying to beat the commuter traffic back to DC. We met Aunt Jeanne’s kids, “The Cousins”, outside the church, before filing in for mass. Here we were able to fully explore our grief, to let it consume us, to have it sink in that Jeanne was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. Here, we could properly let her go.

Susan got up and read a poem about mothers, and she implored us to all visit our moms, to never put visits off into the abstract future, to seize the time we all have together, brief as it is. Tommy took the pulpit after her and regaled us with stories of his youth and his mother, bringing smiles and even some big laughs, especially at the story of Jeanne restoring his old car “on the third day” and having it rise up again. There was so much warmth in his speech.

At the gravesite, Michael read a parable which was extremely moving, and the crowd of us gathered there, already beginning to lose it again, struck by the poignancy of his words, completely broke down when his voice cracked towards the end of the story. The picture that emerged during all of this remembrance was that of a loving wife and mother, who took very good care of a lot of people over a long and rich life.

When I was at Georgetown, Aunt Jeanne used to take me out to brunch. We went to Clyde’s, or the Army-Navy club with her good friend Lou, and we would have mimosas and French toast, slices of fresh melon, endless cups of coffee. Poor Aunt Jeanne had lost Uncle Ed in ’85, when they were only in their 50s. Aunt Jeanne went on without him for 26 years – imagine that. They would have been married over 50 years by now. A great reason for a reunion party.

God bless and keep you, Aunt Jeanne.

Twenty Ten

Don’t call it Two Thousand Ten or Two Thousand and Ten. We’re done saying “Two Thousand” now. It’s a relic, appropriate only for history professors or others who want to sound dignified. That’s my two cents. We can still hang out.

Two Thousand Nine was a cool year, I think. A lot of people are down on 2009, with good reason. Lots of lost jobs and houses, for sure. I don’t want to sound insensitive to that, but things are going pretty great for me and I’m happy. I got problems, sure, but I don’t have life-threatening problems. And I’ve got a lot of good people around me to help out, starting with Xianyi, and extending through my family, to my friends all around the world.

What else was cool about Oh-Niner? I saw a bunch of good concerts, which was a goal of mine, so – mission accomplished. Black Keys back in February kicked it off. Phish on the lawn at Merriweather, where I ran straight into my cousin Nick while roaming the grounds and shared a beer with him. Phish again, this time at the Garden, with the incredible light show courtesy of Chris Kudora – WOW.

I was twice at Carnegie Hall, once as a date to the symphony with Xianyi, and once with her, Dave and Tom for Arlo Guthrie. Amazing theatre. My goal for 2010 is seeing more historic NYC venues – Beacon top of the list (sidenote: too bad Cirque de Soleil’s 6-month run will block the Allman Bros from doing their gazillionth show in a row at the Beacon this March).

We did two great weddings this year. One was an entire adventure vacation, and the other was an intimate affair at home, and our first trip to the Cape.

Finally, at year’s end, I managed to launch two sites for family members that I’d been working on with them. Check them out at and

Xianyi is in China right now with her parents, her Xiao Niang, and DouDou. They are probably waking up right about now to have some tang yuarrrrr… don’t forget,


Claire Enright Portfolio, 1923-2008

Me and Sugar at her house, October 2007коли под наем

Sugar died last week. She was 85 years old, weak, stooped, and ready to go home. It was sad news, but after a few days with the big family, we all agreed it was for the best.

Her kids and some of their kids were all at Lissy’s house on Saturday, in a make-up birthday party for Shea (the party was planned for Sunday, but then Sugar’s wake would be Sunday). After watching my 3-year-old goddaughter open her presents, I sat down with my aunts and uncle and father to collect some thoughts about their mother. No one wanted to deliver the eulogy. Since I’m the one tagged as the writer in the family, they all spilled their ideas to me as I took notes, and asked me to write something up. When I left that night, it looked as if I might be the one giving the eulogy for my grandmother.

But in the end, it was Dad who stepped up. I was really proud of him for doing so. At the wake, everyone read what I had written and agreed that I had done a fine job. But I still didn’t want to give the speech. Not because I couldn’t, but just that I thought one of Sugar’s children should do it. The girls all were afraid of breaking down on the dais, and Uncle Drew just flat out refused, on grounds of fear of public speaking. So it was left to Dad, as it was left to him when his father died 15 years ago.

I sent him what I’d written, but he started from scratch and wrote his own account, just taking the choicest lines from mine. For that, I was honored. Later, at the luncheon, he said that my piece had given him a place to start, and it had helped him get through it when he was stuck. So I was glad to have played a part, but I was also glad that he had done it for himself, from the heart. It was a good eulogy.

Sugar was a gentle soul, always with a word of encouragement, who never held a grudge. She had a sweet little laugh, and she was prone to cute sayings like, “Lordy, Lordy…” She was a pleasure to be around, and a great conversationalist. She had traveled all over the world. I thought I was all cool for having lived in China; well, she had been there in the early 80s, and her telling of how all the doctors’ wives (they were in Beijing for a conference) were aghast at some of the things on display in the markets was always good for a laugh. Being the bargain hunter that she was, she naturally found a lot of good silk and porcelain over there.

In the last year her health had been declining. She was forgetting to eat and drink, and we had a nurse cook her meals. She fell down, and we put her on 24-hour care. All the while, we encouraged her to sell the house in Florida and move back to Jersey, but she was afraid of the cold, she was fiercely independent, and she repeatedly said she “would never be a burden on anyone.” She died peacefully, asleep in her own bed. Just the way she wanted.

Rest in peace, Sugar. We love you.

Goodbye Mike and Limei

Bike Mike watching the Band
Bike Mike watching the Band

We were saddened to learn of the death of our friends Bike Mike Sutherland and his girlfriend Li Limei.

Bike Mike was a legend of China, known throughout the country as the man with the incredibly long hair who had ridden his bike across all of Asia. Li Limei was a kindhearted woman who was together with Mike for a long time. The two of them had many adventures together, the last of which was a whitewater rafting trip in southern Yunnan province that ended tragically.

According to the accounts I’ve heard and read, their boat flipped over with them and a few other people in it. Several people swam to shore and survived. One of them said that Mike swam after Li Limei, who was being taken by the current, in an attempt to save her life.

I find it fitting that this man, our friend, who lived in life in such a beautiful way – without compromise, always with compassion – should have ended his life with a selfless act of love.

The last time we saw Mike was this past May in Beijing – we were up there for the MIDI Festival, visiting Eli, Jeff, and Kro. We got lucky in that Mike landed in Beijing while we were there on his way back to Kunming from the States. He had just been at a clothing show and so he was bouncing some ideas off of us for his company – something he loved to do with friends and strangers alike. He was always thinking about his business and how to make it grow. Check out to see what his company was up to. The clothes are great!

There was one time when Mike had been telling me how he used to play the trombone, and how he never played anymore. So Xianyi and I went over to his place one day and made him dust it off. I pulled out my guitar and we jammed out a bit while Xianyi read his many copies of Wallpaper magazine – one of which had printed a great photo of his of a man doing Tai Qi in a Kunming park.

When Fang Bian Mian had its many shows in the Speakeasy Bar, Li Limei was one of the women that Xianyi could always talk to. Xianyi often felt at odds with the 24-hour-party attitude in Kunming and the many ingenuine characters that went along with it. Li Limei was one of the women she found solace in.

Mike and Li Limei, rest in peace. We will miss you so much.

Lord Byron, RIP

Byron Nelson
Byron Nelson

The great Byron Nelson is dead. At the ripe old age of 94, one of golf’s greatest legends has passed on. The New York Times did a great obituary on this giant of the game, in which they said

Nelson won the Masters twice, the P.G.A. Championship twice and the United States Open once. His triumphs in those five majors were among his 52 tournament victories, placing him No. 6 on the PGA Tour career list. His 18 tournament victories in 1945 remain a single-season record. During a seven-year stretch in the 1940’s he made 113 consecutive tournament cuts, a total exceeded only by Tiger Woods, who passed him in 2003. He was named male athlete of the year for 1944 and 1945 in an Associated Press poll of sportswriters and broadcasters.

They should have added there (they did later) that part of those 18 victories in 1945 made up a stretch of 11 consecutive wins. Both records still stand, and will probably stand for all time. No golfer has come close to either. The great Sam Snead “only” managed 11 in one season, and Tiger, in all his glory, has only gone as far as six straight – impressive feats, nonetheless. And I believe Tiger has gone 6 in a row twice. But nobody has touched 11 and 18, and I doubt they will.

Another noteworthy part of the article says that Byron Nelson was once an assistant pro in my hometown of Ridgewood, NJ, at the storied Ridgewood Country Club. Actually, the RCC is in Paramus, but hey, what can you do.

Here is my favorite part of the article, which I think sums up the way that I want to look at my own life, whether in golf, music, business, study, or anything:

“”What I did in 1945 was mostly a mental achievement”,” he recalled. “”In those days, I could drive the ball so well that I would really get bored. I just decided I was not going to hit one careless shot. Plus, I had the focus of the ranch.”” Nelson needed $55,000 to purchase ranchland, something he had long coveted. In his memoir “How I Played the Game,” his recalled: ““Each drive, each iron, each chip, each putt was aimed at the goal of getting that ranch. And each win meant another cow, another acre, another 10 acres, another part of the down payment.””

Nelson’’s winnings in 1945 —- about $63,000 in war bonds -— enabled him to buy a 740-acre spread in Roanoke, near Dallas, that he named Fairway Ranch. It became his home for the rest of his life.

I’ll raise my glass to that.

UPDATE 9-28: NYT has a new piece on Nelson here (requires subscription) which includes this anecdote about Ridgewood:

Nelson hit the ball so straight, the caddies there once challenged him to try to hit the flagpole about 100 yards away across the practice green from the slate deck outside the pro shop. Together, the caddies put up about 55 cents. They put down three balls on the deck and gave Nelson three shots to hit the flagpole, which was about six inches wide.

“I used my 3-iron,” Nelson often recalled with a smile. “My first ball just missed the flagpole, then my second clanged off it. I picked up the 55 cents.”

Damn. And here’s what kind of a guy Lord Byron was, in the words of Ken Venturi:

“I once asked Byron why, wherever we went, he would always go into the pro shop and ask, ‘’What is the course record and who holds it?’’”” Venturi recalled. “”He told me: ‘‘If the home pro owns the course record, you don’’t break it. The home pro lives there. We’’re just visitors.’’ Now that’’s class.”

My Own September 11th Memorial

Today being the fifth aniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, there is going to be a lot of to-do back in my home country. I remember well the terror of that day. I watched it on TV in Washington, DC. From some of the rooftops in Georgetown, so I heard, friends watched the Pentagon burn. We gathered at the Tombs that night to eat and drink in silence and kept our eyes on the TV.

Watching the president’s speech in the evening, we all felt he would do the right thing. We all knew that meant going to war. I thought it would happen sooner. Only when I was driving to my Aunt Katie’s house about three weeks later for a family party did I hear on the radio that we had started dropping bombs on Afghanistan. I was morbid, but I felt we had to do it. There was only one way to bring justice to the situation, and that was by capturing or killing as many Qaeda as possible, and most of all the King of Evil himself, Osama.

Since that day we have gotten so much wrong. Bush made a conscious decision to prioritize the invasion of Iraq over the capture of Bin Laden, and let the mastermind of the Sept 11th attacks escape into the ether, probably never to be seen again. Since reducing the country to rubble, we have not done nearly enough to build Afghanistan back up; a large reason for this is the shifting of major resources to Iraq for a completely unnecessary invasion and occupation. The populations of these countries are more inclined to hate us than ever before, especially Iraq’s. And now we’re beating the war drums again, with Iran in our sights.

In a few short years, we Americans went from having the sympathy of the whole world, to having its universal condemnation. Wasn’t it a French woman who said five years ago, “Today, we are all Americans”? Didn’t peace-loving and rational peoples everywhere grieve with us? We even had the full support of the international community in our invasion of Afghanistan, though surely there were many – smarter than I – who knew where it would lead. To never-ending warfare of the type depicted in the pages of Orwell.

Today we will collectively remember what happened when we were attacked, the terrible fury of it. But how many of us will think of what we’ve done since then? What actions have we taken to ensure that we are never attacked again? I believe that the course we’ve taken has not diminished, but in fact greatly increased the likelihood that we will suffer more devastating attacks in the future.

It would necessitate an entire new blog to go into the details of why this is true, and I have plans to eventually create one. It is not my intention to make The Portfolios a political blog. But today is a day to remember, and so I offer this remembrance:

Mark Twain was one of my country’s greatest writers, and no lover of war. As I watched the beginning of the Notre Dame football game and saw a priest offer a prayer for the country, my thoughts went back to Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer”. It is worth visiting the link to read the entire piece (it’s not very long, considering its power). Here I quote the crux in the hope that providence may grant us some perspective.

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.