The second day I was on Vashon Island in April 1972 I went to the baptism of one of the people who had invited me here.
We parked down by the Jesus barn and walked up the hill to a copse of trees which surrounded a pond. Several women in long dresses and men with beards and long hair were gathered there. The Jesus freak movement had swept the island.
The pastor dipped my friend into the chilly pond and my friend came up whooping and praising the Lord.
There were a few musicians at the side of the pond, one of them an elfin young man playing the flute. I would find out later that his name was Steve Self.
After I moved here I got to know Steve as a musician and friend. He played in various bands, including the Portage Fill, and smaller combos that played gigs on and off the island.
He also loved to sail, going out on the Sound in a couple of boats he restored.
In the mid-80s, Drama Dock put on a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan shows, and I was the musical director for both. We rehearsed the orchestra in the music room of the late high school, and one night after rehearsal I was noodling away on the piano there, trying to find a chord for a song I was writing.
Steve was working as a janitor at the high school then, because being a fine professional musician doesn’t exactly pay enough to support a family. He happened to come into the room on his rounds, and we got to talking, and I told him what I was working on.
He said, “Try this,” and named a chord and told me how to play it. Then, “Try this,” and another chord and how to play it. Then he kept naming chords and telling me how to play them, and each one was a slightly different shading of the sound and tone I was looking for. I had always respected him as a musician, but that night I understood why he deserved all that respect and more. He was the real thing.
After the janitor job ended, he started working as a house painter. One year he happened to get a job painting the house of Julia Lakey. They hit it off. I was honored to sing at their wedding.
In 1998, when my husband Rick was recovering from his first round of kidney failure, if his potassium levels got too high, he would become slightly delirious.
One morning Rick was slightly delirious, and my mother, who was partially deaf but wouldn’t admit it, was up from California visiting. I had one of them on either side of me, both talking nonsense. One of my sons had a doctor’s appointment, and eventually I had to go to work.
I was thinking, someday I’ll laugh about this, when Steve showed up at the kitchen door. He’d heard Rick was sick and was wondering if he could be of any help.
Steve had everything straightened out in minutes. He took Rick and my son to the doctor, so they could both get what they needed. My mother settled down knowing she didn’t have to do anything. I went to my nice quiet job.
After that, no one could say a word against Steve Self in my presence. Not that anyone did. He was that good. He walked his talk.
Some years back Steve noticed he was having some tremors and movement problems. At first, he thought they might be caused by the paints and chemicals he used in his work, but then he got a diagnosis: Parkinson’s Disease.
The disease robbed him of the ability to work, and then to play music. He raged against Parkinson’s. Doctors tried various drugs. Some of them helped.
Then about three years ago he began having severe back pain and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable cancer on his spine. Chemo brushed that back for a while.
He kept walking, he kept fighting. He went to the Athletic Club to swim, to the Roasterie to hang out with friends, and to the Senior Center for lunch, among other things. He kept living.
Parkinson’s is progressive. Steve knew that. The cancer also progressed, and recently his oncologist told him that chemo was no longer working.
In April, Steve said, “Enough.”
“He was worn out by two unrelenting diseases,” Julia said.
Steve went into hospice.
On Sunday evening, May 20, Steve passed over into that fair land where the soul never dies.
Wishing you fair winds and following seas, Steve. How we shall miss you.