Turns out that many people in Walnut Creek, including yours truly, feel or felt like they didn’t fit into this happy, shiny, conventional picture of suburban success. I'm finding out, to my delight, that we’ve had rebels amongst us, and people who have lived, survived, and thrived through pretty dramatic, difficult, and non-conventional lives.
So, here is a story from Rossmoor friend, Gilbert Doubet—himself a bit of a rabble-rouser, I understand—about some non-conformists in his senior community. (Oh, and the German he describes meeting may not have been a card-carrying member of the Nazi party; he was just a low-level soldier in the World War II Germany army, and, from what I recall of German history, I’m not sure if serving in Hitler’s military automatically made you a Nazi.)
Take it away, Gilbert:
The Value of Nonconformity
The recent passing of two seemingly unrelated residents provides unintended irony as well as parallels in the virtue of nonconformity. It should also remind us of a rare Rossmoor opportunity.
A soldier in Poland’s World War II resistance movement, Ziggy was a survivor of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, A tall but unobtrusive man, few here would have guessed of his repeated death-defying wartime exploits.
Ziggy’s recent funeral at the Catholic church outside our gates was packed, not so much with residents as with Polish-Americans. Some were in military uniforms. Some were aging Polish Army veterans festooned in medals and walking with canes.
The memorial lasted over two hours as men and women approached the podium to describe heroic bravery. Many of Ziggy’s eulogizers spoke Polish. As there was no interpreter, most Rossmoorians in attendance could only gaze at the colorful assemblage of historic Polish flags and impressive display of medals on exhibit beside the funeral urn.
In a split image of bygone times almost relegated to history books, these two residents were each minor legends in his own way.
Les Rodney and Ziggy Jarkiewicz exemplify the notable variety of unassuming Rossmoorians living in our midst. They’re reminders of a unique advantage afforded us. Ask an older neighbor about his or her background. Often, the response will be surprising.
Parenthetically, those responses can occasionally be perplexing as well.
Years ago, one man, actually very likeable, with whom I swam nightly at Hillside pool, turned out to be a low-level Nazi soldier. From comments he'd made, I knew his approximate age, that he was from Germany and as a youth had been drafted there. During one of our pool conversations, I inquired about some aspect of his early background. The remarkably well-preserved European exhibited a wizened, world-weary look as though he'd been anticipating the question. His cryptic response: "It's too long a story to go into."
Of course, there are always a few Rossmoor gasbags who won't shut up about their (usually less than stellar) former lives.
More often however, the real treasures are reticent and self-effacing. Take time to scratch the surface, especially of the eldest among us. Many have remarkable accomplishments they’d willingly share.
It usually takes no more than an open-ended question and a show of genuine interest as their story unfolds, With Rossmoor's median age of 78, the sad truth is that many older Rossmoorians rarely encounter folks curious about their lives.