When my wife, Julia, was living with the trials, pains and indignities of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer Blanche Hartman included her in a daily Buddhist chant for well being. Julia and I both took comfort in that, and I thank Blanche for her care. Years before, when I was a college student at UC Davis I visited Blanche Hartman at Zen Center and she took time to talk with me about Buddhist practice. Blanche Hartman has been a Buddhist teacher to any number of people, and she has been a scientist, and she is a feminist, and she is all kinds of things because she has lived a rich life, but I always think of her first as Mitzi’s mother. I met Blanche in 1974 when she and her husband, Lou, were working at Tassajara and lived with Mitzi in the old, white ranch house in Jamesburg in upper Carmel Valley, right where the road turns to dirt. I grew up near Jamesburg too, so it wasn’t long before I met Mitzi on the schoolbus and began making my way over to the Hartman’s house on the weekends to visit their daughter. One winter morning I gathered a big bag of puff ball mushrooms as a gift for Mitzi, and Blanche showed me how to slice them in half and verify that they were, in fact, edible puffballs, and not some toxic doppleganger mushroom. We made an omlette and it was good, or at least we didn’t die. Another day I showed up to discover that Blanche had prepared an approxomation of a classic Japanese Tea ceremony and she presided over it for the two of us. I was touched then by the gesture, and I still am today. Blanche has always been welcoming, smart, and kind. Thank you.
When I was a guest cook at Tassajara in 2007 we would ask for student volunteers at work circle to help us “serve up” the guest dinner. Sometimes it was hard to get help because this would be an extra hour of work at the end of the day, and students were tired. On one occasion I asked for help… and there was no response. “Please…we really need your help,” I pleaded. Blanche, who was there for the week to help students with robe sewing, leaned forward. “I’ll help,” she said, her eyebrows pressed and her voice taking a tone that conveyed, “Hey, don’t worry… of course I’ll help.” When it came time to serve up the guest meal, we had more help than we needed. Blanche’s example had given energy to a handful of student volunteers.
Blanche sent the following note and photo to her friends on her 80th birthday.
A picture of Blanche from 2012. I asked if I could take a photo of her for Susan (Rice), and took this very sweet shot of her.
tea w/ Hojo-san
On the occasion of my 30th birthday – I trudged over to City Center for morning zazen from Acceptance Place, a rehab halfway house in the outer mission.
I was really surprised when Blanche-sama tapped me on the shoulder and said “Dokusan.”
Settled across from her, I told her it was my 30th. She jumped up, went into her and Lou’s place, and came back with chocolate covered strawberries. After we talked for a bit, she offered me a Jan Chozen Bays Jizo statue.
A few years back, I reminded her of the occasion and told her I had given the Jizo statue to my in-laws. I sent it to them when my husband’s cousin lost her premature girl. Later, when I visited – they immediately pointed out the statue in the top center of a glass case. The second pregnancy was held to term, a boy – they were very happy.
The pause in the conversation reminded me of an earlier car ride with Blanche along Webster. NPR was talking about shady practices behind there being more boys than girls in China. I exclaimed, “all the more girls for me to adopt.” A withering look stopped the conversation.
Here’s one for Pride. Blanche “sat” on the SFZC float in the Pride Parade the entire length of Market Street to Civic Center. She has always been my “sitting” hero! In this photo with Tova Green.