April 17, 2021

It’s been a week or so since Jeff Levy died.

While we were in the same first grade class, fourth grade class, and probably at least another dozen in our thirteen years in school together from Valmonte to Malaga Cove to Palos Verdes High, we didn’t really know much of one another back then. Just knew each other in the way you do when you grow up in a place together. But we did become pretty good friends on Facebook over the course of the last .. what .. fifteen years? We were both early and frequent Facebook users, and exchanged a lot of messages and thread commentary over those years. Even a few phone calls.

There are definitely wonderful aspects to social media.

The end of his life was unfortunate.. even tragic. Alcoholism is brutal and I’m deeply sorry for how it messed with and shortened his life. I think, though I don’t know for sure, that he was living the life he wanted. There’s a lot I don’t know, but am putting pieces together from the stories coming in on his FB pages. He went to UC Santa Barbara, dropped out, worked for MapLink and in various music stores. Live music was his passion — playing it, listening to it, traveling for it, recommending it. I think for him, life was about music, friends, friends he met through music, and more music.

The one above is maybe junior high.. Roger, Carter and Jeff.

He was a Willie Nelson fan and friend…

His life was also about baseball… he got an early start and never let up…

I have no doubt he played on or against teams that Jay was on. I have no doubt that I saw him play in a lot of Little League games..as we spent great gobs of time at the Little League field right below the playground at Valmonte School. Mom was in charge of the snack shack for I-don’t-know-how-many-years, and Dad even announced some games. I have clear memories of the field, those bleachers.. and must, must, must have seen Jeff around the place draining a Pixie Stick or biting into a sno-cone.

Jeff’s sister took some wonderful photos of Jeff and his friends in the early years that say as much about Jeff and his friends as the era we all grew up in:

Chuck and Jeff:

Chuck, Don and Jeff. Note the Nixon-Agnew buttons they are all wearing; I don’t know about Don, but Chuck and Jeff became hard core dems.. which is a huge part of what brought us together in these past years. There are not many who came out of conservative PV and took that hard turn to the left. That was definitely a bond for us.

And another with Jeff and Carter…

This one is sweet, as it’s got so many of the Valmonte guys.. Jeff and Chuck sitting, and I think Don Meek, Lance Kinney, Jeff Schultz and Peter Kirkup.

Here’s what I wrote on Jeff’s wall..

Like many here, I knew Jeff from kindergarten days. We may have been milk monitors together.. but I can find no documentation.

So.. that’s a 60-year friendship. Back then, to me, he was just one of the boys in our school.. though famous because he was the dinosaur guy. And Chuck Babbitt’s friend. Also, he was extremely cute.

I was aware of Jeff throughout all our school years, but I think our friendship began way later in life.

We connected over baseball scorekeeping — he sent me so many challenging umpire calls to see how I would have scored them. His love of baseball included his caring about and following my son who played Little League and eventually high school ball. Jeff was so sweet to this baseball mom (so appreciated) and supportive of a kid he never met. We also both loved Vin and the Dodgers.

What I learned about Jeff in our later years was how sentimental he was. He remembered names of pretty much all of our classmates, remembered all our teachers, and most of all remembered and cherished our shared experience of grammar school.. like the freeze bell! He has single-handedly kept that memory alive. When a mutual friend from grammar school died (Katy), he called me and we talked for a long time. He was quick to call and connect because it was clear that those conversations meant a lot to him.

He even made me a button once with my fourth grade picture on it. I imagine he made lots of them.

He contacted me every time one of his favorite bands or musicians was coming to my area and always insisted I go (I See Hawks, Rick Shae, Eliza Gilkeson are a few that come to mind). He always included reams of background on these guys and sample videos to make his case.

He wore his passions on his sleeve.

We also connected over writing. He was a great story teller and an excellent writer. His humanity and generosity were so evident in his stories.

His health decline was so hard to watch in recent years. I’m sure we all wish we could have changed his course. Though ours was mostly a distant FB friendship, I am surprised by how hard it is to see him go. I’m so going to miss him. Glad the pain’s over. RIP my kindergarten pal. xo

I imagine he was a wonderful writer because he was an observant and caring human being. But maybe some of it was because the PV school district had a focus on English writing skills! I found this mailer (sent to all the homes in PV in about 1961) in the batch of stuff Matt gave me last month when I was down in Southern Calif for a visit. It was a trove of memories.. and this one was a real find.

(A friend of Dad’s had sent it to him with a funny note attached because Jay was featured.)

Jeff’s sister posted a comment on Jeff’s FB wall about wishing he’d accepted Jesus before he died. Lots of folks weighed in that though Jeff didn’t share his sister’s evangelical beliefs, he was a good friend, a decent and caring guy, and wherever he was going in the afterlife they hoped to join him there. I agree. I posted this in response:

I have to say, that between his close family, a caring upbringing, and his vast community of friends, Jeff developed a kindness and humanity that was true and deep. It seems to me he was comfortable with his spiritual self. He was a decent man, whatever his struggles. I feel like he lived the life he wanted to live, knew his passions and loves, and stayed true to those. He owned his struggles. He gave his upbeat and lovely self to others to the bitter end.

Even though we were not close friends, we had that shared past thing going on. I enjoyed our communications, if occasional and limited to three or four subjects. It was almost family close (like an out of state cousin, not a brother), no expectations other than an assumed and reciprocated respect for one another.. a knowing that we come from the same place, from the same stock. I have found that significant as I’ve reconnected with dozens of PV folks, many of whom were not in any of my circles then. I have so appreciated the connection. As I observed when meeting with Sarah, Nancy, Sidne, Wendy, Wendy, Wendy (so many Wendy’s), Chuck, Lisa, Lance, Dana over these past few years, there is a familiarity and comfort, an intersection of shared experience and context.. even as we hardly knew each other in school. We actually know each other well.

And same with Jeff.

I’m surprised by the gut punch of his death. I’ve been feeling glum all week. His story ends so tragically–and surely didn’t have to be so–which is probably why it’s especially hard and especially sad. He traveled so far from the carefree kid he was in kindergarten. It’s likely he died alone on the floor of his dingy room, probably deeply intoxicated. Dana said visits were not so great in those last weeks. He said it was just so sad. I can’t imagine the last few years were a picnic.. a lot of pain and immobility, restrictions on living his life. A lot of people cared about him and appreciated his great wit, fun spirit, talents and kindness. I hope his people showed up. He seemed not to ask for or expect a lot from folks, maybe recognizing he made his choices and didn’t feel like burdening other people with his struggles? I don’t have any idea if that’s true. But I know that he knew he was dying in the last weeks and months of his life — he told his sister so. Yet, what I saw was someone who remained, almost to the bitter end, friendly and engaged, at least online… posting music videos, posting odes to Emmy Lou Harris, looking forward to baseball season.

So.. I hope he lived the life he wanted. He sure stayed true to his passions throughout. I will say again and absolutely: he was a kind and decent soul. Heaven for sure.

Here are a few class pictures that have Jeff in them (and so many others!) … just so I can look at them all in one bloggy place:

First grade:

And the power quadrant.. Wendy Cooper, Kevin Williams, me, Jeff, Mrs. Marshall, Jeff Ford (?), Chuck and Shane (?).

Third grade (I’m not in this class.. I had Mrs. Von Mueller again):

And fourth grade:

And finally this one… it’s the most recent that I could find..

Rest in Peace.

2 Responses to “Jeff”

  1. Vicki Crescitelli Says:

    Truly lovely tribute to your friend, Kari. Beautifully written.

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