I haven’t posted here in several years. Not that anyone would notice—I don’t post for clicks and I don’t have a lot of followers. But when people land here, especially those who might be considering whether to hire me, I like to have a relatively recent post about museums, history, or culture if for no other reason than to prove I’m alive and am keeping the site up to date.
It’s a little embarrassing that my last post was more than three years ago. My excuse is that in January of 2016 my husband (auto journalist Tony Swan) discovered that his head and neck cancer returned for the fourth or fifth time (I lost count) and this time had migrated to a lung. I quite my band, reduced my workload, and focused on helping him through his treatments and pick off items on his bucket list. I also helped my mother as she cycled between the hospital, rehab, and a nursing home near me in 2017 and 2018.
So, I let this blog—a modest outlet for the exercise of my essay-writing muscles—atrophy for awhile. Today seems like a good day to revive it.
Tony died one year ago today, September 27, 2018, at 11:45pm. My mother died a few weeks later, November 6, 2018 at age 91. She was a remarkable person as well, but since my last post was about my ex-husband after his death, it’s only fair I write about Tony this time.
I’ve written a lot about him already for other purposes, and his automotive journalism colleagues wrote kindly about him after his death. (Car and Driver, Detroit Free Press, Motor Trend, Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Detroit Bureau)
One year out, what do I say that hasn’t been said? My blog is nominally about history, so I’ll look at his relationship with history instead of rehashing Tony’s adventures—things like press trips, auto racing, visiting friends, encouraging colleagues, reading every day, and always, always writing—even in doctor’s waiting rooms—up to two weeks before he died.
Tony was a history major at University of Minnesota, with a minor in journalism. His bookcases were lined with history titles—all of which he actually read and most of which he remembered. Luckily for me, he loved to visit museums and historic sites of all kinds, often giving tour guides a pleasant surprise with his excellent questions informed by prior reading. His stories—even reviews of new cars—were spiced with historical references that grounded his readers in the long view.
One of the things I miss most, next to hugs and the excellent coffee he made every morning, was when we’d exchange drafts and read each others’ work. It was always a great conversation. We’d ask questions, clarify details, check facts, and generally make each others’ work better.
While I could go on at length, this is a blog post, not a book. I’ll finish with the last thing he read: Winston Churchill’s 6-volume set The Second World War. He picked away at it all year. Two weeks before he died, we ended up in the ER and then in intensive care at the Mayo Clinic when he started to bleed out on our drive home from his hometown of Mound, Minnesota. (That often happens with head-and-neck cancer patients in late stages.) When he got to a room, he didn’t want his laptop or his phone—he wanted Churchill’s Volume 6, so he could finish it. He new he wasn’t long for this world. But still he wanted to read history.
He was an atheist, and didn’t believe in a religious afterlife. While Tony never put it in words, I think studying history gave him confidence in a sort of intellectual afterlife: he could pass away knowing that he, like all of us, would be part of the slipstream of history.
Since Tony died and I heard the tributes of his colleagues, I realize that perhaps his best contribution was helping and inspiring other journalists to know their history, to give honest opinions, and to work at learning new things. Tony, like all of us, was far from perfect, but he was able and willing to grow and evolve throughout his life. I admire that.
He didn’t want to fade away, and he found a way not to. I hope I can do the same.
Drive fast, take chances.
I miss you Tony.