As I’ve written blog posts about all the friends we’ve visited and stayed with this past year, I’ve noticed a paradox – the more time I’ve spent with someone over the years, the harder it is to write about them. If it’s an old high school buddy whom I haven’t seen in 30 years, time (and age) acts as a filter. I remember certain stories from the distant past (and doubtless have forgotten many more) that frame the friendship, and then I can follow with the holiday-letter synopsis of their adult life. But if it’s someone with whom your friendship has evolved continually over the years, there are just too many aspects to cover, so these posts necessarily feel more cursory, or inadequate. This has certainly been true in writing about our family members, and with some close friends, such as Jerry and Gunilla Finrow.
I first spoke to Jerry in 1990, when I called about a job at the UO for which I had seen an ad in Architectural Record. Jerry surprised me when he said he had heard of the firm where I worked, and he strongly encouraged me to apply for the job. I did, and that pretty much set me on the course of my life since.
Jerry had grown up in eastern Washington, and attended the undergraduate architecture program at UW. He worked for some noted architects and landscape architects in Seattle, and then went off to graduate school at Berkeley in the 1960s. He was there for the intellectual and political foment that was Berkeley in that period, and he was actually in the Christopher Alexander seminar where they first began to develop the idea of the Pattern Language. Jerry and Gunilla met at Berkeley, as she was a graduate student also, after having grown up in Helsinki and gone to architecture school at the ETH in Switzerland. They left the Bay Area to move to Eugene, where Jerry became a faculty member (and later department head) in architecture, while Gunilla became a faculty member (and later program director) in interior architecture. They lived in a house on Fairmount which they beautifully remodelled, and where they raised their children Eric and Eva.
The year after I (and Linda) arrived in Eugene, Jerry became the dean of AAA. We had a great, but necessarily limited relationship, as deans are always travelling or busy, and don’t spend a lot of time just hanging out with junior faculty. But Jerry and I had a lot of overlapping interests (such as housing), and even while he was busy running the school, he always found time to track what I was doing, and give me excellent pointers and suggestions. Linda and Gunilla had a closer relationship, as they worked together in a much smaller program, although their relationship went back further: Gunilla had been Linda’s adviser when Linda was in graduate school at the UO, and Gunilla had been the one who encouraged her to apply for the faculty position back at the UO when it became open. So it’s very clear that without multiple interventions by the Finrows, Linda and I would never have met.
In 1995, Jerry accepted the job of dean at the University of Washington, and they moved to Seattle. We missed having them in Eugene, but visited them several times there while on work-related trips, including the summer of 2001, when Linda was pregnant. While we were there, they mentioned that they had started construction on a summer house on Whidbey Island, and did we want to run up to see it? We did, and fell in love with the place. The house was exquisite, a blend of vernacular, modernist and Scandinavian influences, simple and impeccably detailed.
We were also taken with the historic town of Coupeville, and the landscape of Ebey’s Landing. I remember eating lunch on the beach at Ft. Casey, and Gunilla relating how she had grown up on the water in Helsinki, but then had lived inland in Eugene for 25 years, and was never quite content. Now she would be able to see the water every day, and it felt right. I completely understood, as I had moved back to Eugene two years before after four years in Portland; Eugene was the only place I’d lived in my life that didn’t have salt water, and it didn’t feel right to me either. We visited them on the island several times after Greta was born, and eventually bought our own property in the town and built a house (often staying with the Finrows until it was occupiable). So once again the Finrows casually set us on a major life trajectory
Linda and I managed to have Greta without any interventions by the Finrows, but they’ve been an important part of her life ever since. As all of Greta’s grandparents were much older and across the country, she didn’t get to see them very often, and the Finrows became her surrogate West Coast grandparents. We’ve been spending our summers on Whidbey for ten years now, a half mile from the Finrows, and being able to to spend time with them (as well as Bill and Mary Gilland, who built a house across Penn Cove), has been one of the things we most look forward to every year. Over the years Linda and Gunilla have spent a lot of time consulting on gardening, and I can sometimes drag Jerry out to be the helmsman on the boat.
Jerry and Gunilla are now both retired, living between downtown Seattle and Coupeville – spending their time gardening, cooking, going to the symphony, and relaxing after busy careers. They’ve also been travelling quite a bit – usually trips to visit Gunilla’s family in Finland, or garden tours in the UK. When we get together at the beginning of each summer, Bill and Jerry (both former deans of AAA) will ask me how things are going at the UO, and will listen attentively as I launch into a narrative about the latest administrative crises and outrages, etc. After a few minutes they both begin to grin, and one will say to the other, Boy I’m glad I don’t have to deal with any of that anymore. I have a few years to go, but I’m looking forward to joining them.
Jerry and Gunilla had been heading south for some time every winter, and a few years ago they decided they needed another architectural project, so they designed another great house in Santa Cruz. They use it as an intermittent vacation residence, and their daughter Eva and her family use it as a weekend house, coming over the hills from the Bay Area. It works really well as a multigenerational house, with the main living spaces and the Finrows on the upper level (with a view of the ocean), and the Born family occupying the ground floor. Something they didn’t plan on (but they must have grasped at some intuitive level) was that Keyes family would be showing up again someday, and the house has superb urban camping amenities, with a nicely secluded spot for our trailer behind the porte cochere.
Our unplanned timing was great, as we not only got to see the Finrows, but also Eva’s family. (Greta has known the Born boys since she was little.) Eva’s husband Colin took Greta along to the beach, and six-year-old Peter taught her how to boogie-board while Colin and Ben were surfing. We also spent an evening talking about our travels with Colin, who would love to undertake such a trip someday, and who has also been the only person we’ve seen on our trip who has understood the central importance of making an Allman Brothers pilgrimage to Macon, Georgia.
By this stage we realized that were on the last leg of our trip, and were frankly a little exhausted, not feeling the impetus to do every single cool thing that could be done in every place. Just as the landscape was starting to feel more familiar, giving us some signs that we were home, staying with the Finrows was very familiar also. They’ve been such constant friends and wonderful hosts over the years that staying with them felt a lot like being at home, and we just relaxed after months on the go. And it was very thoughtful of them to build a house that fit in so well with our itinerary.