John and Lois Ahlhauser are surrounded by The Kalish advisory board at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon, in 2005. From left rear, Scott Sines, John and Lois, Sue Morrow, J. Bruce Baumann and John Rumbach, front right. Randy Cox, front left, rushed in for the selfie. Lois gave away her red raincoat that night. Photo by Randy Cox
Writing is not a muscle that is easy for me to exercise. I’d rather do a 30-mile bike ride in 45-degree weather. And this column is always the last thing I write before shipping the issue to the printers. Ideas percolate and fade as new ones surface at 3 a.m.
The cover story about The Kalish wasn’t any different. This workshop has been the most consistent thing in my life. I have been with The Kalish longer than I have been in the relationship with my husband (22 years). I always think that writing from the heart is the best place to begin, yet stringing the right words together was challenging for this story. I wanted to tell a story without being too flowery; give solid information without being too bookish. I wanted to get it right.
And then an anniversary snuck up on me. Three years ago on January 2, The Kalish family lost our dear friend Randy Cox. He was 63 and courageously fought cancer for seven years. I included him (and Mark Edelson) in the story that begins on page 24, but anniversaries tend to sneak up on you like New Year’s Eve. Like cancer, anniversaries of this nature suck.
But wonderful memories of Randy appeared on social media; thus this column began to reveal itself due to a Facebook post by Scott Sines.
Along with Randy, Scott was part of the original advisory board of the workshop (pictured). Beginning in the late 1990s, the board met every fall in a location convenient to where the board members lived. At this point, several of us lived on the West Coast so we met in Portland. We referred to our meeting “as getting the band back together.”
Randy was the documentarian of the workshop and he may have invented the “selfie.” (Not really, but we all know selfies were done long before the mobile phone, right?)
Scott posted the photo above that included Kalish co-founders John and Lois Ahlhauser, and wrote about what happened after a dinner that night. It was a remarkable scene that epitomizes the heart and soul that is the workshop today.
On January 6, Scott wrote: “A couple of Kalish spirits came to visit last night, and they kept me up half the night just like they did when they were alive. Randy Cox, Mark Edelson and I worked together on a bunch of workshops over the years but it was the Kalish Workshop that was the glue.
“One winter Randy hosted the advisory board retreat in Portland, Oregon. It was rainy, of course, and very cold. One night, we were walking back to the hotel after dinner when we passed a homeless person curled up in a doorway. Without hesitation, Lois took off her raincoat and covered the man up.
“Immediately John took off his raincoat and covered Lois.
“Lois and John's simple acts of kindness hardened into a lasting ethic that drives the workshop to this day. We were there to help others be better storytellers, and more than that, better people too.”
Everyone that was there recalls the moment. Bryan Moss remembers “being frustrated that it was too dark to photograph.” John Rumbach wrote to me in an email that he remembers the smile on John’s face after he draped his coat over Lois: “As if thinking, ‘Yep, that’s Lois and that’s why I love her.’”
As I captioned the photo of the Ahlhauser’s for the story about The Kalish workshop in this issue, I had the urge to call Lois. John died in March 2016 at 93. Regrettably, I had not talked to Lois in a long time. The first number I called went to voicemail and it was John’s voice. An involuntary lump formed in my throat and my heart lurched. I left a message then tried a second number. She picked up immediately.
Her voice, as clear as a bell and as feisty as ever, said, “Well hello there, Sue!” I was on her caller ID. She’s 94 and is still keeping things in line with great energy and kindness. She was thrilled to hear that the workshop is still going full speed ahead. I let her know about the upcoming 30th anniversary and hinted at a possible Skype call with her in June. I will proudly send her a few copies of this issue.
Whatever this new year of 2020 brings you, it is my hope that small acts of kindness are contagious. Be like Lois and John. Be kind and help others bring out their best selves. ■