Sunday, December 22, 2013

SUE REDMAN: Goodbye!

[Nyerges is the author of 10 books and regularly offers naturalist training. He can be reached at, or School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

During the second week of December, I got a message: Sue Redman had died. This came as a great shock.  Sue (and her husband Rich) were longtime friends.  Sue was 72 years old, but I still had the sense that she would live forever.  Here are my thoughts about Sue as I reflected over the years.

It was 1976 and I had just moved out of my home with my parents. I’d gone to my grandfather’s farm in Ohio to live for 6 months after high school, came back to California, and then decided it was time to set out on my own. I was living in a small hut in Highland Park, searching for the meaning of life, and needing a job.

I walked into the office of the Altadena Chronicle on North Lake Avenue looking for work.  I met Sue Redman, and we got along great. She wasn’t anything like the front desk secretary at the Star News, whose job was to repel anyone who walked in the front door.
Sue spoke with me like a real person, and we quickly became friends. I became a typesetter and a columnist for Altadena’s only hometown paper. It was the beginning of a great relationship

I also met Rich at that time and we also became great friends. He hired me to do framing and painting at the Chronicle office, and even way back then, I realized that Rich and Sue were unique.  Two sides of the same coin.  They were, at least in my eyes, the way a married couple should be, both having respect and concern for the other.

(Over time, the Altadena Chronicle segued to the Altadena Weekly, which was swallowed up by the Pasadena Weekly, so we could say that part of what Sue and Rich created lives on.)

I always found Rich to be the model of integrity and honesty.  So I once asked Sue if she worshipped the ground where Rich walks, and Sue laughed.

I realized that as the years went by, I was very much a part of the extended Redman family.  Sue and Rich hired me for one of my first jobs. Rich printed my first book in their newspaper’s print shop. When I got married the first time, the ceremony took place at their home in the Meadows conducted by Rich, who was also a pastor of an Altadena church.  And, up to about a year ago, I lived there on the Redman estate on the edge of the Angeles National Forest, and found it to be paradise on earth, within the watchful and protective aura of Sue and Rich.

Each time I would come back from a trip, Sue was so interested in hearing all the details and encouraged me to write about it.

I very much enjoyed reading Sue’s two novels, and I  hope that everyone reading this will eventually read them and enjoy the world that Sue created. [They are available on Kindle].

I was saddened and shocked to hear of Sue’s passing.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be. I mean, we will all die. But, I still miss her, and have had her in my mind and heart since I heard the news.

I think with someone like Sue, she never really dies. She touched so many of us, in so many ways, with her kindness and friendship and genuine concern.  

The circle of friends and acquaintances of the Redman family were vast, evidenced by the diverse and large group of people who gathered on the Winter Solstice at a downtown Pasadena church to honor her life.

I told Rich that night that he was a very lucky man. He lives in paradise, and he had the best possible life partner, and he is still surrounded by a wonderful family, and friends, and students. 

Sue and Rich, thank you for being a part of my life. I will always be a Redman!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Nature of Love and its Many Counterfeits

Christopher Nyerges

[From a book-in-progress about Nyerges’s childhood experiences. Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Enter the Forest” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He can be reached at or Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.]

One day in July of 2008, I went to the Coffee Gallery in Altadena and started talking with Michael, who was reading a book about love. Love, one of the few topics you can study your entire life and never really “get it.”

“The problem,” I told Michael, as if I knew what I was talking about, “is that we think about this way too much, whereas the animals – at least some animals – don’t think about it. They just act.  The basic fundamentals of what most of us mean by love – protection, providing food for the young, some training – are simply done without all the considering and evaluating and vacillation that humans are so famous for.”

Michael nodded.  He didn’t talk a lot but he listened, and when he spoke, he asked a question or he had a pithy comment.

We agreed upon certain things that every human should know about “love” and its many facets and tangents.  A man cannot have more than one woman at a time, whether wife or girlfriend. OK,  some try and seem to get away with it, and some are even involved in consentual polygamy.  But that is the exception, not the rule.  One woman at a time, period.  That works and other arrangements do not.  We agreed that the Masai men in Africa might have four wives there and “get away with it,” because that is the social norm.  It is done in plain view with everyone knowing that’s what’s happening.  But it won’t work here.

Don’t have sex if you’re not prepared for children.  “Hoping that she doesn’t get pregnant” is not a good protective measure.  Don’t have children until you’re ready to devote the next 15 or so years to them, as a child without involved parents is part of the formula called “How to make a criminal.”

Michael and I agreed on some of these basics, and we barely brought up the principles in the “Art of Loving” book by Eric Fromme.

I realized that much of what my parents “taught” me about this subject was due to the fact that I knew I should not follow the path that they took.  Though there was rarely a show of affection between my mother and father, at least I had a roof over my head, we didn’t move around all the time, and we were all given a good education.  My father always worked, and my mother sometimes worked as a nurse.  There seemed to be little of what we would call “romantic love” there, but at least we had the essentials handled, in a more or less stable relationship.  In other words, my brothers and I received at least as good a home life as is given to their children by the most protective of animals.  Which is more than I could say for many of our friends and their parents.

Michael and I continued to discuss why he was reading a book about “love” in the first place, and it continued to invoke memories from my childhood.  Where, for example, did I get my idea of what love is, or should be?  What did I learn from my own home?  More precisely, what didn’t I learn from home that I should have learned?

I was aware of sexual feelings and desires, though I didn’t see a solid connection between that and what I believed was some ideal of the male-female relationship, something perhaps hinted at in movies such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Leave it to Beaver.”  I assumed that these examples were actually lived out somewhere in the world.

By at least age 10, I was aware that most of my older brothers hid Playboy magazines under their mattresses, or somewhere else.  These were obvious objectifications of beautiful but beyond-the-norm women, and I did not see these women in these pages as objects to be loved, only objects to be lusted after.   Though I did not actually clarify this in my mind at that time, I felt that the higher ideal of love was not the same as the emotion that my brothers felt when they were “reading” these magazines.

There were other forms of love also. In movies, I saw soldiers who died for their country.  It was a form of love – love of country so great that you would die for your country to protect your beloved homeland from foes, internal and external. 

And there was the love of the parent for the child, where you might even die to protect your helpless child from an oncoming car, for example. Clearly that was love, but not the same love that we would describe between a man and woman.

That most adults still have great confusion about the complex thing called “love” is understandable, especially if their childhood experience was anything like mine.

I do remember one Friday night when we were watching TV in the living room – I was maybe in first or second grade – and somehow the very loose and bantering conversation got around to whether or not I knew “where babies came from.”  I was the  youngest, so obviously was the last to know everything.  Gilbert seemed to have a snicker on his face, like he was part of some inside joke.  Tom laughed a little.  OK, what was the joke?  I didn’t respond.

But they kept it up for reasons unclear to me, and after 30 or 40 minutes, my mother asked me to come over into the dining room.  My brothers chuckled. What was so funny?  I already knew where babies came from – from their mothers, right?  So what was the big joke?

In retrospect, my mother was probably trying to find a way to inform me about the details of sexual intercourse, prodded on by my brothers.  But, rather, she simply showed me some medical pictures in a medical book, which showed pregnant women with swollen bellies. She spoke about how pregnancy took nine months, and what happens when the baby actually comes out.  It all sounded very messy, and after it was clear that I was sufficiently bored, she let me go back and watch the Alfred Hitchcock hour, without ever even hinting at that thing that the man and woman do intimately in the bedroom which starts the whole ball rolling.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Thinking About My Parents

Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many books, including “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Enter the Forest,” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”  A listing of his classes and books is available at, and from the School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041]

I think about my parents when the year-end holiday season rolls around, often thinking of the life lessons they attempted to impart to me. Yes, at the time, I resisted most of those efforts, because as a typically ignorant, arrogant, know-it-all teen, it was my “duty” to resist those efforts to “control me.”  Only decades later did I begin to realize the value of what they wanted me to comprehend.

Of course, my parents had no desire to “control” me; they wanted me to gain the ability to control myself. And controlling myself meant not so much what I should do, but rather what I should not do.

My father would often tell me to always keep my word. “A man is only as good as his word,” he’d tell me, and my brothers and I would scoff at him. Little did we realize at the time how profound of a practical lesson that was. 

My mother took great pains to attempt to instill in us that there are consequences to our actions.  Nothing really complicated, no Eastern words like “karma.”  Just simple.  Be home at this time or get the stick!

We learned the value of money and work.  Our family was large with a modest income.  If me or any of my brothers asked our parents if we could have something, the response was predictable: “Sure, now go out and earn the money so you can buy it.”  We learned that this was the natural order of things.  So we all learned creative ways to earn money for what we needed or wanted, or we learned to make the things we wanted, or we simply learned that we could do without. Yes, and we learned to fix things that broke rather than immediately throw the item away, as today’s throw-away society encourages us to do.

We were a family of mostly boys – my one sister left home at the earliest age to attend a live-in nursing school. We learned to cook, wash dishes, vacuum, sew, polish our shoes, mow the lawn, paint the rooms, fixed the screens. We were naturally expected to do these things, as both our parents worked. If we neglected to do a chore, my mother would say, “Do you think I’m your maid?”

It continues to amaze me when I learn about friends whose children not only do no work, but actually refuse to do any housework. One such “child” demands everything of his parents and one parent confided in me that she is afraid of her son.  The child – an older teen actually – does no work, uses drugs, and has the audacity to use the “F” word at his parents. Boy, have things changed!

There is absolutely no way I would have ever gotten away with calling either of my parents a name.  It would be incomprehensible, because I knew there would be certain punishment and it would never be forgotten.

Once when I stole something from a neighbor, I was marched over to the neighbor to apologize, return the money, and forced to do some tasks for the month.  Of course, there was never a second incident of stealing.

My mother’s use of a stick – and other tactics – helped to modify our behavior so that at an early age we no longer even thought about any criminal activities.  I was no saint, and am not a saint today. But I realized that – despite tactics that are today frowned upon, my parents’ efforts did eventually have the desired effect.  What was that desired effect?  The desired effect was that I would not have to suffer all the wasted time and dollars that the criminal life costs, and that I could learn to experience personal fulfillment through self-control.

My mother was also a nurse, so each of us gained a sense of doing what it took to let the body heal itself with certain foods and water and bedrest, and only taking pills and going to the doctor when absolutely necessary.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.  Now that both my parents have been gone about 10 years, I find that holidays are not the same without them. And when I recall the practical life’s lessons that they worked frustratingly hard to impart into me, I realized today that my parents are very much still with me.