Archive for July 4th, 2013

On a warm weekend, Aleta Hayes recalls a beloved brother in a cold climate.

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

In memory of…

Happy Fourth of July. It’s going to be a hot, bright weekend of celebrations, sparklers, and firecrackers.  So let me bring up one sparkly firecracker close to home, in our own Stanford neighborhood.

Last weekend was the wind-up of a very busy week of arts events.  At the Roble Studio on Friday, a young woman, stripped bare nekkid to the waist, was being doused with a bucket of water from a ladder.  All in the name of art.  Life-size plastic dummies made out of something that looked like saran-wrap littered the courtyard.  I didn’t know what it all meant, but I was glad to go instead to hear performer Aleta Hayes, founder of the Chocolate Heads Movement Band (and a former student of Robert Wilson), commemorate her peripatetic artist-at-large brother in song and dance.  She’s good at both – so good that it’s hard to look at anything else onstage while she’s on it.

In this case, however, there was no living competition … only a memory and a presence:  “The content for this song-cycle was inspired by the unexpected passing of my dear brother Alan Hayes in February, 2013,” she wrote.  “I find it uncanny and appropriate to perform here in Roble Gym Dance Studio, where he showed up unannounced from Norway last year, to attend a Chocolate Heads Movement Band performance I had choreographed and directed – a surprise to me and my mother. It was the last time we saw Alan.”

Aleta crooned folk tunes from far away, African-American freedom songs, popular music, and a formal piece by (I believe) Purcell.  Interspersed throughout were memories of a beloved, and extraordinary, brother.

When I first got the news, a stranger on the phone said, “Alan’s gone.”


Gone where?

But come to think of it, he always did disappear. Like the time our family went to Disney Land and he ran off from us. We found him at the center for lost children, sitting there, happily talking to Minnie Mouse.  At eight, he had checked on his own plane reservations to go with our nanny to Nicaragua and offered his paperboy money to mother and dad to pay for it.


… a beloved brother.

He was always disappearing.  And just as suddenly, reappearing.

He would appear from nowhere –  carrying armfuls of flowers. Tall ones.  Once, he showed up at my work, to a posh luncheon honoring someone – not me.  He stood there like a prince, brandishing thirty-six Easter lilies, flanked by two huge blonds from Denmark.

Waited until the whole room turned to notice (I was the last).  And I cried like a baby.  Like I had just received the crown.

And he stayed in Norway.  Aleta continued throughout the short less-than-an-hour performance to recall his international life – and the rumors of a son somewhere in Scandinavia that she is going back to find.

I often joke, black people don’t like the cold. Except Alan, who kept house in Oslo, Norway.

What would possess a black man to make his home in ice-cold-dark-longest winter-ever, Norway?

How could a child raised by race people during the civil rights era — mother used to sneak off at lunchtime to sit in at the Woolworth’s counter, and dad was the first black person to cross the color line the University of Missouri Medical school — end up in Lapland, knitting wool sweaters by the fire?

Why would Alan, brought up in sunny California, end up in a place where the sun doesn’t shine – except in July?

He felt free. He said, “I feel free there. I don’t feel free here.”

He shared a house at the top of the ski lift in Slemdal — overlooking the fjords.  At age 22, he had his own table in the best restaurant in town, serving reindeer, medium rare. He had friends, lots of them – blond and loyal. They will tend his grave. Bring flowers on the holidays.

He will stay there – his preferred home – as he did in life.  A free black man in the snow.

(Aleta’s TedX talk below.)