Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Egg Cups

This image is from the website eHow Mom: How to make egg cups Breakfast this morning was a piece of toast and a boiled egg, a little pullet pellet of protein. Have I mentioned that I finally realized why people ate boiled eggs in little egg cups, scraping the egg out of the shell with a spoon? Never could understand how that method arose. Why not shell the darn egg and eat it? It finally came to me: The eggs were fresh, perhaps laid that morning in the family chicken coop (or “slave quarters” as I once heard a back-to-the-land hippie describe his chicken coop back in the 70s) out back of the house. A fresh egg clings to its shell, not like the warehoused eggs we buy at the supermarket now. When we, through some fluke of merchandising, get a fresh egg and boil it, we curse it as we try to free it from its shell, losing chunks of our breakfast in the effort. An old egg is easier to peel when it’s boiled. The membrane between shell and egg separates easily and we get what we think of as a proper boiled egg, a smooth shining white oval, ready to be salted or buttered or chopped into salad and consumed. A fresh egg – well, you might as well stand it up in a holder, crack off the end, and scoop out the contents with a spoon. And so was born a whole line of dining crockery. That’s the trouble with coming in to the movie late, my friends. You have to figure out the plot backwards. Egg cups.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

End of the Year Sweeping Up

Illustration by Rick Tuel It is time to call it a year, and in the spirit of tidying up and finishing the unfinished, here are a few items I never got around to this year: First of all, you commuters, walkers, joggers, students, and bicyclists: wake up and wear something reflective. I am not a commuter, but I am a commuter enabler. I frequently give my son a ride to the ferry in the morning and pick him up in the evening. It is astonishing to me how many people are out on our public thoroughfares in the dark, wearing dark clothing. People suddenly appear in my headlights in or beside the road, which provides me a good cardiovascular workout, but holy carp, kids, it’s scary. To those of you who wear reflective clothes or vests or shoes and carry flashlights or other beacons to show you are there, thank you. You cannot wear too much of this stuff. If you are a bicyclist with a tiny little white light in front and a tiny little red light in back, you need to know that you cannot be seen. You need to slap reflective tape on every surface of your bike as well as your clothing. Please. Be mindful of how hard it is to see you. Don’t take for granted that drivers will see and avoid you. Be mindful of the terrible fragility of your human body. You will not win an argument with a car. It does not matter that you have the right of way or that you or your survivors can sue someone after the fact. Living a healthy life in an unbroken body is more to be desired than a broken or dead body and revenge. Trust me on this. Make yourself visible. Second, I have recently signed on as a volunteer for VIPP. One of VIPP’s pressing needs is for foster homes for dogs awaiting adoption. My husband and I recently took in a foster dog, and experienced the major pitfall of fostering: we fell in love with the dog and now she’s part of our family. As pitfalls go, not so bad, (our pitfall is pit bull, which I’ve been trying to resist saying but have failed) but we’ll have to be a little more hard headed for our next foster. You’ll be hearing more about fostering animals in the months to come, but for now I ask you to consider whether you have room in your home to provide a safe temporary home for a deserving pup. Think about it, and if you think you might be able to do it, look into it by contacting VIPP at Third, I was listening to God recently – most of you would call this meditating, being quiet and paying attention to what comes – and here is what I heard: preach tolerance. This little nugget of instruction has made me acknowledge to myself that, oh yeah, I do preach, don’t I? And I do preach tolerance. How often have I said here that we’re all in this together? I am ever mindful that the practice of tolerance is counter to my own human nature which is naturally inclined to be judgmental, jealous, and self-serving. I know I’m not alone in my reactive human nature. So you’ll be hearing more about that, too, but for now I leave you with this major contribution from a minor prophet: “…what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” - Micah 6:8b Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, or whatever it is you are or are not celebrating. I wish you well. Try to be tolerant of people who wish you well, even if they don’t say it the way you’d prefer, okay?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas in Occupied Japan

Rick and his father, Mark, on the beach at Karatsu, Japan, September, 1951 Hello, boys and girls. Much as I love struggling with the problems of being human and attempting to write about those problems in a way that can make us all laugh, sometimes it’s good to take a break and bring in another voice, and another story. This week the guest columnist is my husband, Rick Tuel. A Christmas memory came back to him, and he decided to write it down. Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, and are taking care of yourselves as you navigate December, a month full of various kinds of social, financial, and familial landmines. But we’ll talk about those another time. Meanwhile, here’s Rick, telling his story of Christmas in Occupied Japan: This is how I remember it, 61 years later. I think it was December of 1951 when the first grade class of us Army brat kids was treated to a visit by Santa Claus. We were the children of the second wave of Army occupation forces in post-World War II Japan. My mom and I arrived one year earlier, joining my dad, who was stationed in Sasebo on the island of Kyushu. In October of 1950 we were moved to a new base in Kokura. After a year in Japan I was already starting to lose touch with many of my early mid-western notions and stateside memories. The Korean War had broken out four months earlier, but that didn’t concern us kids. That Christmas of 1951 we were just excited to learn that Santa Claus knew where we were. Our class was transported in a big Army bus to the airport on the base at Kokura. The airport was little more than a soaked, grassy field by the side of a dirt road. It was a cold, wet day, gray and cloudy, and we were all in our good shoes and school clothes for this special occasion. A squad of G.I.s had been transported with us on the bus, giant young soldiers they looked to us, in starched, pressed fatigues and spit-shined combat boots. We all got off the bus wondering where Santa Claus might be in this wet, empty field. Then what to our wondering eyes should appear But an olive drab whirlybird loaded with cheer! It dropped through the fog and set down with a squish Confirming the promise of each Christmas wish! It was a two-seater helicopter with a loudspeaker and clear Plexiglas bubble housing the pilot and Santa, both in helmets and flight gear. It circled the bus with Santa waving and shouting, “Ho ho ho! Mer-ry Christmas!” After one pass it set down in the middle of the soaked airfield and G.I.s began picking up kids and running us out to the helicopter-sleigh, held tightly in their arms. They ran us out one by one, their energy adding to our excitement. Santa rubbed our heads, gave us each a small wrapped present, wished us “Merry Christmas!” and sent us back to the bus. Our G.I.s dropped us off at the door of the bus as the driver checked us off with a head count. Shortly the whole class was back on the bus, and we were all excited and noisy, talking about Santa and the Christmas gifts we held in our hands. The formerly immaculate, spit-shined G.I.s were grinning and covered with mud. Santa’s heli-sleigh powered up and lifted off, with the Merry Christmases! and Ho ho hos! fading away into the moist gray fog.
When we opened our presents they turned out to be little hand-painted wooden Japanese figurines, about four inches tall, with clothespin heads, round bodies, and flat bottoms so they would stand up. They all had Japanese faces and black hair, and were all the same shape, but each one had a unique paint job, with different colored kimonos. You could play games with them, rolling them across the floor so they’d wobble this way and that, and sometimes they’d roll in such a way that they’d end up standing up. The bottoms were big enough to be marked with what in those days was an all-too-familiar logo: “Made in Occupied Japan.” I wish I hadn’t lost mine.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Queen for a Day My beautiful cousin Nancy and I were talking the other day, having a nice canter down memory lane as we so often do, and we remembered the 1950s television show, “Queen for a Day.” We both watched this tear-jerker show, which some have called a forerunner to today’s reality shows. The idea was that a few women would be interviewed by host Jack Bailey, and the one who told the story that got the loudest applause as measured on the “Applause-o-meter” was crowned Queen for a day, crowned with a glittering tiara, wrapped in a sable-trimmed velvet robe, seated on a grand throne and given a dozen long-stemmed roses, as well as given many prizes, starting with whatever she had specifically requested – such as a new wheelchair for her disabled child. Yes, the stories were sob stories, and the winner was the one who made the studio audience of women cry the most and applaud the hardest. The other contestants were also given prizes for being on the show, so none of them went away empty-handed, which makes me feel better about the show all these years later. I suppose many people would now and did then consider the show maudlin and manipulative in the extreme, which it was, exploiting the grief and misery of women in order to sell advertising. But that is a grown up retrospective on my part. As children, Nancy and I both watched the show in wide-eyed wonder. Nancy watched it with her mom, Chick, who was my father’s baby sister. Chick had multiple sclerosis and by the time we were small children it had progressed to the point that she was in a wheelchair full time. Nancy had only part of a normal childhood. She had to be home after school and in the summer to take care of her mom and help her make dinner. Chick died when Nancy and I were 16. Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a sneaky disease, and it goes at different rates for different people. Some people live with it for decades without much discernible effect. Some, like Chick, are quickly disabled and die within 15 or 20 years after diagnosis, when the nervous system finally fails to function enough to support life. What is it? Now we say it is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, and damages the myelin sheath which covers nerves, causing nerve impulses to slow down or stop. I have heard it compared to the fraying of the covering of an electrical cord, a metaphor that was more accessible back when electrical cords were covered with woven fabric. No one knows what causes it, although there are a lot of theories. There is no cure, although I’ve been hearing people talking about searching for a cure since I was a small child looking at my aunt in a wheelchair. People are doing research, looking for a cure, constantly. Nancy told me that she and her mother would sometimes play Queen for a Day. “It was probably on summer days. We’d do our work in the morning, and then we’d play.” Nancy would make a tiara out of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil, and use a wooden kitchen spoon for her microphone. “Mom would roll up close to me in her wheelchair, and I’d ask her questions, and she’d make up stories. It was different every time. She’d maybe say, ‘We can’t afford to buy food for the kids,’ and say she had ten kids. She’d pour on the sob story. Then we’d do a drum roll and announce that Mom was Queen for a Day.” Nancy would crown her with the foil crown, wrap a blanket around her mom as her royal robe, and hand her the wooden spoon as a scepter instead of the dozen roses. Nancy would hand Chick a piece of paper upon which Nancy had written the prizes being awarded. “Then when we were done, we’d say, okay, let’s play cards now, or maybe it would be time to make dinner. “The last couple of years of Mom’s life, when she was bedridden, we reversed the roles. She’d be in bed and I’d roll in in the wheelchair. In those days I’d come lie on the bed next to her, and we’d talk, and nap together. Those were great bonding times.” So this week we’ve been telling each other, “You are Queen for a Day!” and we laugh. We live our own hard stories, as all the rest of you do, and we tell those stories to each other, and we applaud each other’s courage in the face of life’s random insults. We agree to meet for lunch, to go to Ivar’s for chowder, or to Gale’s in Capitola for Marion berry pie. And we laugh some more. Ah, it’s good to be the queen.
Chick, Nancy's mom, with Sam and Charlie the cats ca. 1960
Anger and Ultimatums One of my favorite ways of blowing off steam or working off a case of mad is to pull weeds. Several times a week I go out in the yard, put on my gloves, grab a trowel and a pair of pruning shears, and go to town on the buttercups, Stinking Robert, blackberries, and dandelions. Pulling weeds make me feel better, and it makes the garden look better. Doing chores in the house can have the same effect. News of someone’s death, for example, has sent me into the bathroom to clean the tub and tub surround to within an inch of its life. The activity vents the energy released by the shock, and it is not an activity that requires a completely present and with-it brain, and I end up with a clean bath tub. Unfortunately, physical activity can have an opposite effect. Instead of letting the steam escape, it can remind me of old, unvented steam. I can be putting the bed back together, neatly arranging the piles of blankets, sheets, and pillows that are our bedding, and will start thinking of something that bugs me. Today it was exercise, or more accurately, people who push exercise. People sometimes have encouraged me to exercise. They mean well. I do not have any argument with people who are active. I admire and respect them, and wish I was more like them, truly. But. When somebody tells me I should get out and walk in order to lose weight and take some pressure off my bad knee, all I can think is, if you haven’t walked a mile on a knee with no cartilage left, and lived through the pain for several days afterward, you don’t know what you’re talking about, so shut up. See, this is the problem with doing some physical chore. Rather than calming emotions, activity can rev them up, and you might end up saying or doing something rash. When I turned 18 I came home from college to visit my parents, and my beautiful cousin Nancy was there to visit. One night during that fateful weekend Nancy and I took my father’s pickup for a drive. We went out to a movie. My parents were not at home. It was the first and only time I took a car without permission, but I figured it would be okay. It would have been all right, too, if that Jeep Gladiator (I want to give credit where credit is due) hadn’t opened up a hole in its engine and dropped all its oil on Highway 1 somewhere between Soquel and the Freedom Boulevard turnoff. That might not have been a total disaster if I’d known enough to turn the engine off as soon as the oil light came on, but I was young and ignorant and instead thought, oh, I’d better get home right away. The engine kept going almost a mile before it ground to an oil-free halt, with all its now hot and oil-free parts wedged tightly together. Yep. I learned a lot about the working of the internal combustion engine that night. A couple of weeks later when I was back at college and expecting to stay there for summer school, my father was working around the ranch. He got to thinking about how I’d ruined his truck – he was a farmer and I had ruined his truck! A few days later I got a call at college from my mother saying I was coming home and getting a job and learning the value of money. She told me my dad had been out working one day and got mad as hell – and who could blame him? See, he’d been doing some physical job and it served to focus and stoke his anger at me, and it came out as an ultimatum to me. I came home from college all right. My parents came and picked me up, and on the three-hour drive home we got into an argument – I think it was over whether students should get letter grades or pass-fail ratings, not that the subject matters. We were a little north of San Ardo on 101 when the fireworks started, and our relationship was all downhill after that. Within a couple of weeks I had moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Alameda with my beautiful cousin Nancy. I got a job in San Francisco, met some kids who went to dances at places called the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore, started dressing in striped pants and smoking dope, and before you know it I was renting a room made out of a stairwell in an apartment building on the Panhandle, doing temp work in the financial district for money, going to those dances, and hanging out with the other hippies on Haight Street, and laughing at people’s ignorance when they called us beatniks. All because the truck broke and I didn’t know what to do, and my father lost his temper and handed me an ultimatum. Changed my whole life, and I couldn’t tell you even now if it was for better or worse. So watch out for those temper tantrums. Think real hard before you deliver an ultimatum. You never know what you’re unleashing, although it is nice if it turns out that you end up with a clean bathtub. That’s something. Note: That night my father came and towed the truck home, and he didn’t say a word, but when we got back to the house my mother greeted us and escorted us down to the hall to my room where she quietly let loose with the laughter she’d been holding in. It turns out that once back in the 30s my dad was changing the oil on the truck he had then, and he left the truck sitting with the oil drain plug out and went to do something else. Nancy's mother, Chick, needed to give a visiting boyfriend a ride home, and decided to drive him in my dad’s truck. So they hopped in and drove off, and within a very short time the engine ground to a halt. So I did to my father’s truck the same thing Nancy’s mother had done about twenty years before. My mother thought that was rich. It’s nice to remember now that my mom had some appreciation of life’s little ironies
Sweet Autumn This morning I sat on the kitchen porch and stared at the trees. It was a perfect day - cloudless, sun shining, a slight breeze. A small airplane grumbled by overhead, followed by a jet lumbering in to land at SeaTac or Boeing Field. The song birds were chirping incessantly over in the blackberries, and a couple of blue jays were wrack-wracking at each other up the hill in what I think of as TK’s bird sanctuary. TK is our neighbor. He and his wife Marcy have turned the lot uphill from us into a spiritual garden that teems with birds, and hopeful cats. Occasionally a little yellow alder leaf broke loose from the trees and came tumbling and twirling down into the yard. Why does autumn feel like such a sweet season? It is, after all, the time when nature begins to put life to bed, resting so that it can break forth in glorious springtime profusion six months from now. This respite from growth comes just in time. I notice the morning glory has crawled up the fence and leapt up to grab hold of the lowest hanging fuchsia tendril. Dang. There’s a connection I’d better break before they get too entwined. So what is it about autumn? The sun is shining more from the south every day, in a golden slanting light that makes the color of everything more intense. The work that calls to me from the yard is slowing down, a little. I’m already deep in plans for how I’m going to re-arrange and expand the flower beds over the winter. I am contemplating the next steps in the ethnic cleansing of my yard, a cleansing which has as its object the removal of buttercups, stinking Robert, morning glory, and blackberries. I know I won’t obliterate them, but I can thin them out and push them back enough that they don’t smother the plants I do want to thrive. This program of weed control would be easier to implement if I didn’t enjoy the lacy leaves and pink blossoms of Stinking Robert, the cheerful yellow buttercup blossoms, the pale beauty of the morning glory flowers, and of course, blackberry pie. Soft-heartedness is a besetting sin for a gardener. With plants you have to set and keep firm boundaries, literally. Weeds are like house guests who move in and never leave, eating your food, dirtying the dishes and never washing up, grabbing the newspaper before you’ve had a chance to read it in the morning and leaving the sections scattered around the house inside-out and folded all which-ways. That’s a weed of a houseguest, and that is the presumptuous behavior of a weed in the garden. They suck up the hospitality you’ve provided for the plants you invited. I wonder if this winter will be warm enough that some of the annuals winter over, or if we’ll get an Arctic Blast that freezes the ground and turns the less hardy plants into something that looks like boiled spinach. The up side of such a freeze is that it knocks back the slug population. Yay. The apple tree is covered with fruit this year. I wonder if it heard me thinking I might cut it down and is striving to look busy. Soon Rick and I will have the enjoyment of watching squirrels running up the tree and picking apples, taking a few crunchy bites, and then chomping into the apple and carrying it down the trunk and staggering across the yard, carrying it to where ever they stash their apples in the woods. These are not large apples, and they don’t taste good to me, so I don’t begrudge the squirrels their fruit, and it is so much fun to watch them. I really have been thinking of taking that tree down because the fruit is not tasty, but, as Rick says, then we couldn’t watch the squirrels. It still feels like summer in some ways, but I can’t kid myself. Time to start making plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas. You get into your 60s and it seems like you hardly have time to inhale in between winter holidays, the time is ripping by so quickly. For now it is enough to stay in the moment, in the gentle sunny autumn days, listening to the birds chirping and carping at each other – don’t those birds ever shut up? – and thinking how much I like autumn, and I don’t know why. There’s something sweet about autumn.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

One Lucid Moment

The kitchen wall. Fresh paint, old familiar art, the 70s-era "Orient Express" lamp. Nothing to do with the post. Just wanted to show everyone that we painted the kitchen wall and the water heater closet door. The door is blue. I like blue. Thinking about politics ties me in knots, because as soon as I do I feel like I’m in a funhouse maze, trying to find my way through the dark alleys and dead ends, not mention trying to parse out what’s real in the illusions created by smoke and mirrors. So I try to step back, to take an overhead view of the maze so to speak, which isn’t much help. It’s still a maze, still all about confusion, illusion, and dead ends, and the smoke makes me sneeze. So I take another step back and ask, where is God (the label I use for the ultimate, rock bottom spark of the divine) in all this? How can I stand in the clear light of reality? I have my human opinions and beliefs – oh boy, do I – but if I can momentarily step back from being embroiled in the human struggle, I know that my call, my obligation, is to love everyone – even me – who is bungling around in the maze. It’s not a gooey softheaded love, either. It’s a clear-eyed love that sees all things human, from atrocity to agape. It hurts that so often human beings don’t seem to be able to have or even desire one lucid moment in which we all understand that we are in this together. We have our moments. The Danes smuggled the Jews out of Denmark before the Nazis arrived, for example. Yes, there are ordinary people who do extraordinary things, but so often members of the species homo sapiens seem bent on besting, hornswoggling, defeating, and screwing each other, literally and metaphorically. Even in a defining moment such as the 9/11 attacks. We understood then that we were all in it together, and we had the sympathy and support of many around the world, but there were people who rejoiced in the tragedy and said we got what was coming to us. Just to clarify: no country, no person, has a 9/11 attack “coming” to them. How long did our national unity last? A week or two at most. Then we went back to biting each other’s backs, and the people who truly hated the United States could sit back and relax and watch us destroy one another. When I talk to my sons and other people in their generation, I get a sense that many young adults are fed up with the horrible behavior of politicians and the condition of United States politics as it exists now, especially young adults who have traveled in other countries and have gained a longer perspective. They’re tired of people getting elected and using the opportunity not to work for the country and the people, but to collect the perks of power and sandbag their opposition, as if those things were the point. We have a whole young adult population saying, “Excuse me? Hello?” but the baby boomer politicians are too busy fighting each other to listen. I wish you young people well. I wish we were leaving you a country that knew how to do more than chase its own tail to the detriment of its people, and the rest of the world. As you grow into the leadership roles, see if you can figure out how to overcome the implacable inertia of The Way Things Are Done. Meanwhile, back at the maze: if you think God is on your side, you’re correct. God is also on the side of your competition, your enemies, and the billions of people of whom you never think, not to mention your friends and family members, including the ones who drive you nuts. God is looking at all of us with lucid, clear-eyed love as we struggle through our days and nights. If you don’t believe in God, fine. Let me put it this way: reality does not give a rip about your precious opinions. If you think your mighty intellect can alter in any way the immutable reality of existence, I wish you good luck. I’ll be going back down into the maze now, to continue struggling with my anger and my opinions, passions, and judgments, not to mention my confusions and illusions. I’ll continue to think that the people with whom I disagree politically must be mentally ill, deluded, or liars, and that I know what’s sane and right. I’m a human being who is being human. But I did enjoy that one lucid moment.

Musings of the Nouveau Elderly

Me, holding my hammer. MY hammer. Don't touch it, dammit. “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas Dylan Thomas was writing of his dying father when he penned that poem in 1951, or so the story goes. You can find the complete text online or at the library or perhaps on your own bookshelf. Brief digression: Thomas speaks of wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men in the poem, and as I read it I substituted “women” for “men,” an old habit that I and many women have developed over the years in order to see how texts speak to our condition. As I grow older, and old, that first stanza has become something of an anthem. There is an expression: “growing old gracefully.” At some point I decided to grow old disgracefully, to “rage against the dying of the light.” When we are young we wish to live for a long time - forever, if possible. When we are young we cannot imagine what growing older really is. When I was young I had this idea that I would have an adventurous old age. That was before life happened, with the accidents and illnesses that pruned my body’s abilities and energies. Adventure can be hard on the human body. When we hit our 60s, my husband started to say we were “nouveau elderly,” edging into the so-called golden years. We did not plan for those illnesses and accidents to happen to us. These things were not part of my youthful imagination of what old age would be, but I have heard it said that aging is caused by accidents. Not entirely true, but I see the point. In the fantasy old age, we would continue to live the life of someone in their 20s or 30s, complete with an active sex life. The reality of growing older, and old, is quiet, watching the roses bloom and laughing at the antics of the crows and blue jays and squirrels that come for the orts I throw out in the yard. As for sex, well, here’s a rhyme I just made up: Sex Is complex. That’s the chorus. You’ll have to supply your own verses. Beyond that, I’m not going to discuss it here. Sorry if you were anticipating hot stuff, but I really do not wish to talk about it. So here we are, going slower, but still going. Old age is a new country, and it brings limitations both physical and financial. There is sometimes a feeling of being trapped, and it is against that trapped feeling that I sometimes rage. The best answer I can give to the question of growing old is to live as fully as I can. I thank God for every day, and for the illumination and sustenance of a faith that has grown deep and wide over years of practice. That is how I rage against the dying of the light. I see my children and their friends experience bitter disappointments and hard times of young adulthood as they navigate their 20s and 30s, and I feel for them, and I love them, and I pray for them. I have the perspective that their hard times are part of their ongoing education, a necessary mordant to bring out the bright colors of being alive. It’s hard to see that when you’re going through pain, but it’s easier to see in retrospect. There is a blessing in growing older, knowing that some things cannot be fixed or helped, and that is life. I’ve been sighing to myself for years that sometimes life bites, and all you can do is be bitten. We elders had to take our lumps, cry our tears, feel our rage, ride our highs and triumphs, and live on to see all of those things dwindle in the rear view mirror, and so shall you, my dears, so shall you. By the time you are my age you’ll understand deep in your heart that all things do pass, your troubles, your joys, your precious youth, your offspring’s childhood. If there is not so much ecstasy in the ocean of age, neither is there so much frantic despair, and there are deeps of contentment. Life is good, and it’s temporary. It’s not what we thought it would be, but we like being here. We’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Now hand me my cane. I have to tell those damn kids to get off the lawn.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Busy Lives of the Living Dead We recently returned from California, where we attended a reunion of people with whom Rick attended high school when his dad was stationed in Germany 50 years ago, and where we also spent some time with Rick’s dad and step-mom. My husband, Rick, is a dialysis patient, and when you have to be tethered to a machine at regular intervals in order to stay alive, you might not consider travel to be an option. He did not seriously consider trying it until he was challenged by his old friend, Hutch, who photoshopped Rick’s face onto a picture of a guy in a chicken suit, with the legend, “Head South Young Man! I am not a candy-ass wimpy chicken shit. Sonoma or bust. We can do this.” This is known as “guy humor,” at least in my mind. Rick does peritoneal dialysis (hereinafter referred to as “PD”). Rick plugs into a machine that performs the PD process several times every night while he tries to sleep. Once Rick rose to Hutch’s challenge, preparations began. He called an order in to the PD supplies manufacturer two months before the trip, ordering what we thought would be sufficient supplies to get us through the week and a half we would be in California. They would be delivered to Rick’s dad’s place in Sonoma. Then we sat here and worried for two months about whether the supplies would show up on time. They did. When it was time to leave we packed up the usual travel gear plus several boxes of dialysis stuff. We headed out with the trunk and the back seat of the car stuffed to groaning. Every time we stopped for the night, Rick had to set up his machine and all the tubing and bags that PD involves, then tear down the apparatus and pack it back into the car the next morning. When we pulled into the entrance to the parking lot of the hotel where the reunion was held in Morgan Hill, California, Nandi and Hutch, Rick’s high school band mates from his first group, The Balladiers (misspelled intentionally), were sitting on a bench outside the main door and they smiled and waved to us as we pulled in. After 50 years there were only about 20 people who showed up for the reunion. Still, a good time was had by all, and Rick’s only criticism was that he had to leave the party early each night so he could hook up to his machine. When that was over we headed back to Sonoma to spend quality time with Rick’s folks, who treated us royally and fed us superbly. Sounds pretty good, huh? Yep, everything went fine, until… Rick realized he was running out of cassettes. Cassette is the name given to a unit that attaches to the side of the dialysis machine. It holds various plastic tubes and you have to use a new one every night. Rick called the equipment manufacturer, where someone swore that Rick would get a box of cassettes, “by Wednesday at the latest.” Wednesday came, but the box of cassettes did not. Rick was down to his last cassette and we knew it was going to be at least two nights before we got home. He called his PD nurse in Seattle, who suggested he call dialysis units in the Sonoma area and see if any of them had a cassette they’d give him. So I got online and looked up dialysis units and on the fourth call Rick hit pay dirt. We got into my car and made the drive up to Santa Rosa, where the people at the dialysis unit gave him a bag of five cassettes. Which made us feel pretty good. We were set to get Rick home okay, we thought, until… He realized that he only had two nights’ worth of dialysate left, which meant we had to be home in two days. We packed the car Thursday morning, and at that point the box of cassettes that had been promised the day before arrived. This box would not fit in the car, so one of the last packing chores was stuffing thirty cassette units into nooks and crannies in the car. I moved things around in the back seat so there was a line of vision for the rear view mirror, and once more we hit the road. We made it to Eureka the first night, and we drove from Eureka back to Vashon the next day. That’s a long haul, friends. We have learned a little about traveling on dialysis – mainly that you need to take about twice as many supplies as you think you’ll need, so the rule for dialysis supplies is the same as the rule for money. Will we do it again? You betcha. Not soon, but we will do it again. For now it’s good to be home.
The Balladiers circa 1962, left to right, Rick, Hutch, Nandi
The Balladiers, 2012, left to right, Nandi, Rick, Hutch
Mark and Rick and the ukulele
Diane and hula class
Cousins, Michal, Nancy, and Charlotte, in Green Valley, Watsonville, California
Rick and Mary on the 4th of July at Maureen's in Morgan Hill, CA. Photo by Hutch

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cousin Nancy Comes to Visit, Part 1: Baby Shower Cousin Nancy came up from California to visit the other week. She is going to become a grandmother in the next couple of months, and her expectant daughter-in-law Ariel grew up in Seattle, so Ariel’s Seattle friends and family held a baby shower for her. On a rainy Seattle day we drove into town to a Seattle craftsman house located north of the University of Washington, and settled in to shower Ariel with baby gifts. The shower was lovely – true friends and loving family, and only one (1) baby shower game. If you are female, you have probably attended a shower or two in your life. They are usually one of two sorts: baby showers or wedding showers. These gatherings seem to be part of the female experience. I am female, and that is why I have been to a number of showers, but I always feel a bit alien and out of place. I try to behave, zip my sarcastic lip and be good. I try. If you’ve been to a shower you know that one of the hallmark activities of a shower is silly games. I’m not sure why showers are such meccas of silly games, but they are. A popular baby shower game is “Guess the pregnant friend’s waist size with a piece of string.” For wedding showers the game is “guess your own waist size with a piece of string.” I have become pretty good at estimating waist size with string, but upon reflection I realize this is not a skill of which I should be boastful. This shower had only one game, and it was a lulu and one I’d never seen before: guess the baby poop. I know what you’re thinking, but read on. Five different chocolate bars had been melted and then spooned into separate newborn-sized diapers that were then numbered one through five, and each guest was to examine each diaper and guess what kind of candy bar was in it, and write their guesses down on a little slip of paper that was numbered one through five. I really don’t know where to begin cataloguing the feelings and thoughts that went through my mind when this game was brought out and we were told how to play it. Things like, “Whose idea was this?” “Eew,” and “I wonder if they’ll let us eat the chocolate when the game is over (they didn’t),” for starters. I got two out of three, both Mars products, mostly because of how they smelled. My husband once told me that an ingredient used in Milky Way bars is used to help seal pipe joints to keep them from leaking, and whenever he worked on jobs that used it, he couldn’t stop thinking of Milky Way bars. I looked up the ingredients in Milky Ways and didn’t see anything that looked remotely like a plumbing aid, and Rick can’t remember the name of this substance, so I can’t tell you what it is. According to the ingredient list online, a Milky Way’s ingredients are definitely food or food-related. Whatever. Ariel won the game by guessing three of the candy bars correctly. Other than that it was a regular shower, with fabulous snacks, a champagne toast to the mother-to-be which she could not drink, pictures taken, and a protracted session of gift-opening accompanied by oohs, aahs, and “Isn’t that cute!” exclamations. My personal favorite baby gift was a little shirt with a picture of a skull and crossbones wearing an eye patch on the front, and a picture of an overflowing treasure chest on the baby’s buttular* area…pirate booty on the baby booty, get it? This item is available at under the name “pirate booty creeper,” in case you now realize a baby you know can’t live without one. When the gifts had all been opened and the champagne had worn off, we departed in a flurry of hugs and best wishes. It was a good party and we had fun and I made it through without being too offensive, I hope. *Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Dave Barry for the word “buttular.” It sings to me.
Cousin Nancy Comes to Visit, Part 2: Fruits Mix Juice My Cousin Nancy and I went to the Quinault Resort and Casino (“$89 rooms!”), out by Ocean Shores. It was a good trip for both of us, getting away from our regular lives for a couple of days and doing pretty much nothing. Nancy and I are skilled at doing nothing, especially together. Oh, we talked a lot about our lives, “solved the world,” as Nancy likes to say, and we also napped, watched TV, gambled a little, and walked on the beach. There is a walking bridge that goes over a little marshy area that’s between the resort and the beach, and as you enter this bridge there is a sign that talks about earthquakes and tsunamis. It says that historically there have been a lot of both on the Washington coast, and there is a map showing the location of the Cascadia Subduction Zone about 70 miles offshore, which is the location for epicenters of huge earthquakes like the one in Japan in March, 2011. These earthquakes can set off subsequent tsunamis, again like the ones in Japan. The sign advised in the event of an earthquake to, “stop, drop, and hold.” In other words, lie down before you are thrown down and hold on to whatever you can – the sand, or each other. This advice reminded me of a sign I saw once when I was a child in a garage where my father took a car for service. The sign said in the event of an atomic attack, you should bend over, put your head between your knees, and kiss your ass good-bye. When the earthquake was over, the sign instructed, head for higher ground. Which made us ask, what higher ground? The Lodge is about 18 inches above sea level, and things do not get higher fast as you go inland. We talked about jumping in the car and driving inland, but then realized everyone else on the Long Beach Peninsula would have the same idea. Finally we decided we’d go upstairs to our room and hope and pray that the building would not crumble in the tsunami. Besides, Nancy said, “I’d want to see it. Wouldn’t you?” Yes. In videos. On my computer. At home. Later. Strolling on the beach I saw a lot of Styrofoam chunks. Most of these were probably from Japan. They ride high in the water, so the wind pushes them along faster than some other floating material. I also found a few pieces of rope, but what I saw more of than anything else was plastic bottles. They were mostly the small ones that water and soda pop come in. They had their caps screwed on tightly, which is why they were able to float in on the waves. Most were missing their labels, but I found a couple with labels, and the labels were in Japanese. One had three English words: “Fruits mix drink,” but the other one, which was faded to a silvery blue, was entirely in Japanese. I concluded from this evidence that probably a lot of what I was seeing on the beach had come over from Japan. I wished I’d had the presence of mind to bring a garbage bag to the beach with me so I could pick up some of that stuff. Other people are thinking about that. Governor Christine Gregoire visited Ocean Shores the day we arrived and told people that the state can’t afford a tsunami cleanup and she’s hoping to get the federal government to kick in some money for the job. Nobody was saying, “I’ll go pick up some of it,” but I think most of the picking up is going to be done by people like you and like me, volunteers who go out on the beach and pick up pieces of Japan that have washed ashore. So far only the leading edge of the rubble has arrived. There is a prediction that the big flotilla of debris will get to our coast around October. You’ll be hearing more about it then. Nancy and I enjoyed our two days at the Quinault Lodge, especially the Olympic Breakfast in the lounge for $1.99. A heck of a deal. There were no earthquakes during our stay. Whew. We headed back to the island, and a couple of days later I took Nancy to the airport, and she went back to her life and I came home to mine. It was great to get together and do nothing. We plan to do it again soon.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Sunday. It is the first beautiful day, almost like summer. The sky is clear, the sun is hot, the sounds of lawn mowers and weed eaters are abroad in the land. It is a day that makes you feel like you're young again and anything is possible. Well, I felt like that until after I'd worked pulling weeds at the church for an hour and came home and sat down for a while. When I moved again my joints had set up like concrete, and when I stood and began to walk my knees and my back spoke to me. They said, “What are you, crazy? Making us work in a garden? You know better than that. Send down the aspirin, NOW.” It was “Grub Sunday” at church, which means that everyone is supposed to wear their grubby clothes and go out and work on the grounds after the service. In the past I have adopted the “let someone else do it” attitude, but today, I don't know, the sun was so bright, and the air was so warm, and I saw people out there with rakes and shovels, so I came home and got into my grubbies, grabbed some garden tools, and went back to put in a little effort. Brief time travel digression: back in college, this would be early 1967, I was in a class one day when the students were discussing an upcoming outdoor class project and it was suggested that everyone wear their grubbies. The teacher, a nice older lady, asked, “What are grubbies?” and after the nice girls in the class fumbled around for a minute or two trying to make the concept clear, one of them waved a hand toward me and said, “You know, like Mary wears.” No one has ever accused me of being a stylish kind of gal. So, coming back to the present beautiful, sunny, warm day, there I was digging up quack grass and remembering hearing it defined as a single plant that sent roots all over the planet, so that no matter how much you dug or pulled it out, it always came back better, stronger, and thicker. The quack grass is a mighty grass. I dug it up, anyway. Probably go back and dig it up again later on. Then I pulled up some of those little weeds that are the first to come up in the garden. They have cute little white flowers that mature into long cylindrical seed pods. When you touch the plants to pull them up, the pods react by shooting their seeds a foot or so, cute little green projectiles. I admire those little guys for their splendid method of propagating themselves. Also for their shallow roots that make them easy to pull. Dug out some dandelions, and took a second to think ill of Narcissa Whitman, the missionary who brought the dandelion to the Northwest. She was right about it being a useful, beneficial plant. Like everything else, dandelions would be better in moderation, but the dandelion is not a moderate plant, and it has a tap root that goes down, down, down, so it doesn't come out of the ground without a fight. Poor Narcissa Whitman. Not only did she fail to convert the entire population of the Oregon Territory to proper Protestant Christianity, she and many other people were killed by members of the Cayuse tribe who were bent out of shape that their children were dying of measles while white children, who had some resistance to the disease, seemed to recover. On top of that, she left us with our yards full of dandelions. Well, the church grounds were tidied up a bit, and the aspirin kicked in here at Casa Tuel, and the glorious day continued to be glorious. My husband made a dump run, and I figured out how to make handles out of duct tape so that my grand daughter could run around flapping the cardboard wings she made. The sun is shining and the birds are yelling. All in all a great day. It is enough. Note: My friend Becky read this and said that Doc Maynard brought dandelions to Seattle to make liver tonic. I hope to hear from anyone else who has the down low on how dandelions got here. Considering how they spread on their own, I don't think they would need that much help to get here. It might take a little longer, is all.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lo, the Wandering Anatidae!

Our dog, Jive, passed on about a month ago. I'm sorry if I forgot to tell you. I thought I'd told everyone, but I was talking with Sonya yesterday and said in passing, “Now that the dog's dead...” and she shrieked, “WHAT?” So, yeah, he's gone. He was almost fourteen years old, and he'd been ill for about a year, and he went downhill fast the last few months. One day he lay down and couldn't get back up, and we knew it was time. Our thanks and appreciation to the good people at Fair Isle Animal Clinic who helped him, and us, through that tough day.
In the weeks since Jive's passing Rick and I have been adjusting to life without the dog. There is silence in the house. I am not awakened by that cool nose on my arm. Rick does not start his day by feeding the dog. I do not end my day by letting him out that one last time and waiting for him to come in so I can go to bed. I find myself looking out at the yard and thinking, well, maybe we can eat the chives this year. The chives were usually Jive's first stop after he went out the door. He anointed them with his precious bodily fluids before moving on to trample the columbines and forget-me-nots. Rick suggests maybe waiting until next year before eating the chives. He might have a point. They did thrive with all that nitrogen. Last year Rick built a little fountain/rockery outside our front door, and we've been meaning to put in a flower bed next to it. Last week I put in some annuals – snapdragons, nicotiana, impatiens. After I'd finished planting this little area, I thought I'd better lay down a little slug bait because I didn't know if these precious little starts would attract slugs. The package says it is “worry free” and safe for animals and people, but it also says in the fine print to wash your hands thoroughly if you touch it, and I figure if it's meant to kill anything at all, how safe and worry free could it be? But I wanted my plants to survive, so I sprinkled it around. So there I was sitting in my folding chair on the kitchen porch one sunny morning, thinking how great it is to be alive, listening to the birds singing, watching the trees swaying in the gentle breeze, and then I looked over to our driveway, and there was a pair of mallards, male and female, waddling toward the house. They were heading for the new flower bed. Oh, no, I thought. The slug bait. I beat it through the house and out the front door. They were already in the bed, busily pecking up bits of slug bait. “Shoo!” I cried, waving my arms in the air. “Don't eat the slug bait!” They looked up in amazement and slowly waddled out of the flower bed, went about a foot and a half, then stopped and turned around and looked at me. I looked at them. We looked at each other. After staring for a few minutes they decided I wasn't much of a threat and started waddling back into the flower bed. I shooed them off again. They stared at me again for a while, and then decided to forage elsewhere, and started waddling away up the hill. They've come back, of course, and we can't be out there 24/7, so I notice that the slug bait is mostly gone and that two of my snapdragons have been broken off at soil level by little webbed feet. Mr. & Mrs. Mallard are still waddling around the neighborhood, so apparently the slug bait was safe enough. I won't be putting any more slug bait out, though. I've heard that ducks eat slugs, anyway. My lesson in this? Maybe I am not directly responsible for the welfare of any animals any more, but I'm part of a world where I need to be mindful of living creatures who may wander into my life. It never occurred to me that some ducks might stroll in, but they did. How about that. Now you must excuse me. It's time to put peanuts out for the squirrels.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

California Road Trip

Road Trip, Part 1: Smith River and a Few Redwoods

Drove down to California in February, a road trip I hadn't made for many years. I can tell I am older. I can neither see nor hear as well as I used to do, but once I got into the groove of driving it all went pretty well.
The first night I only went as far as Vancouver, Washington, where I stayed with my friend Sonya.

The next day I went down I-5 as far as Grants Pass, and then cut over to Crescent City on the coast, where I spent that night, after driving up to say hello to Smith River.
I had to say hello to Smith River, because my father's family used to have a place there. My grandparents, Percy and Lyllian Litchfield, owned a fishing camp at the mouth of the Smith River, a few miles north of Crescent City, in the 1930s. It consisted of a few small wooden cabins built on the bluff over the lagoon at the mouth of the Smith River. Down below was the dock where fishermen set out to to catch the wily trout.
Nowadays there is a motel, a restaurant, a permanent trailer park, and accommodations for traveling RVers there. You'll know the place if you drive by on Highway 101 because the whole property is now the Ship Ashore, so named because there is a red and white ship sitting by the highway. Back in the 1950s the ship sat out at the top of the bluff, and the fishing cabins were still there. We went up there when I was five or six and I remember those details.

I don't know how it came about that the Litchfields became attached to Smith River. I've heard that my grandmother Lyllian was the one who loved the place dearly, and Percy loved Lyllian dearly, and that's why they bought the fishing camp. Lyllian died in 1938 at the age of 51 from Pick disease, a form of dementia, and Percy sold the camp and stayed in Watsonville from then on.
But during the 1930s they went to Smith River often. My mother worked in a garage in town, and she told me that they'd get done with work on Friday afternoon, get in their cars, and drive all night from Watsonville to Smith River, spend Saturday and Sunday there, then drive back Sunday night and go to work in Watsonville Monday morning. My cousins and I have asked each other how in the everlovin' blue-eyed world they did it. These people were driving 1930s cars at 1930s speeds on what was then the twisting two-lane version of Highway 101, a distance of about 500 miles. Our parents told us it took them about ten hours, one way. I've got to figure they took turns driving while the others slept.
When I was a child and the family drove up that way, my mother was always pointing out the window and saying, “There's the old road,” and I'd look, and sure enough, there was the cracked and overgrown pavement of a winding two-lane road. You can still see it in places, the road and one or two of the bridges that were built back in the day with their quaint concrete railings and lovely arches. That road drove around hills and ravines and threaded through the giant redwoods. The part that threaded through those giant trees is still there, preserved as The Avenue of the Giants. You have to get off the freeway to see those redwoods now.

About twelve miles south of Crescent City is the tourist mecca known as the Trees of Mystery. We always stopped there on the way home when the boys were little. It was great – you took a walk through the woods, which was perfect for two little boys who'd been sitting in a car for days, and you came out through the gift shop, where we'd get a toy or two for each child. Cheap thrills. Broke up the trip, and if the kids got to talk with the giant Paul Bunyan statue in the parking lot, so much the better. This trip I stopped long enough to take a picture of Paul and Babe the blue ox with my cell phone, and text it to our sons. A little reminder of another time, before the children they were grew up and got into rap and metal and employment.
Yeah, driving 101 through northern California brings up lots of memories, some of which are mine.

Road Trip, Part 2: Switchbacks & Irish Coffee

The first stop I made in California after I left Crescent City was at my cousin Charlotte's house in Middletown, California. She lives on a hill with a view across a valley to another chain of hills, and frequently when you look across the valley to those hills you see wisps of steam rising from the geysers there.
There are a lot of little earthquakes in this area. Residents believe the earthquakes and geysers are somehow related, and I would not argue with that hypothesis.
Charlotte and I spent a pleasant evening visiting and the next morning we went to the local casino for lunch and I won $8.50 before bidding Charlotte farewell and heading south on Highway 29, which runs downhill to the towns of Calistoga, St. Helena, Oakville, Yountville, and finally, Napa.
A couple of years ago when Charlotte's sister, my cousin Nancy, was living with Charlotte in Middletown, Nancy went through a course of chemotherapy at the hospital in St. Helena. Nancy and Charlotte spoke frequently of having to drive “over the hill” to the hospital and back, as if it were an onerous task, and one they did not enjoy. When I left Charlotte's I drove down the hill on Highway 29, and found out what they were talking about.
This stretch of road has so many twists and turns it would give a sidewinder a bellyache. I have never driven a road with so many tight switchbacks, where I was leaning either one way or the other in the car seat like William Shatner on Star Trek faking a tilt on the spaceship Enterprise. Some locals who drive the road daily crowded my rear bumper, while others whizzed by me at high speeds going the other direction. It was dizzying, and frightening, and when I finally reached the bottom of the hill and was once again putting along through the relatively level Napa Valley landscape, I felt tremendous relief, as well as a deep respect for my cousins for tackling that drive regularly during Nancy's medical treatment.
In general I don't enjoy driving on California's rural two-lane, high speed highways, but that road takes the cake. When I looked it up on Google Maps afterward, it reminded me of the small intestine.
The Napa Valley may not be worth that drive because you can get there by so many more pleasant routes, but it is beautiful, and worth going to see if you've never been. I recommend getting there on some less hair-raising road.
I enjoyed the quaintness of Calistoga and St. Helena as well as the other small towns in the valley, and the vistas of grapevines stretching on for acres. The whole wine country tourist schtick has quite gone to their heads down there, but what the heck. If you want to go, knock yourself out. It's a feast to the eyes and spirit, and if you have money I imagine you could eat and drink well and stay in ridiculously beautiful B&Bs.

I don't have money so I kept going, made a right turn on Highway 12, and headed over to Sonoma where my in-laws, Mark and Diane, live. They greeted me with warm hospitality and gave me a delicious dinner prepared by my father-in-law Mark, who is 90 and literally still cooking, and then they gave me decaf Irish coffee for dessert.
Mark recently acquired a whipped cream maker. It's about the size of a small coffee thermos, but you fill it with cream, vanilla, and sugar, install a gas cartridge, shake it up, press a button and voila, out comes the thickest, richest whipped cream I've ever tasted in my life. This on top of whiskey and decaf made a good night drink that put me out like I'd been poleaxed. I decided it was good I wasn't staying long because I could easily become an alcoholic.
After a pleasant night's sleep in their guest bedroom I set off for Benicia, where my cousin Nancy currently resides.

Road Trip, Part 3: Cemetery Tour

Cousin Nancy is currently going through a second round of chemo because her cancer came back. Hearing of her diagnosis is what made me decide it was time to drive to California. My cousins are dear to me.
We had a short visit before sister Charlotte showed up. She drives Nancy to her chemo appointments every two weeks. Nancy was losing her hair and a lot of it was gone by the time I arrived, and the rest went during the few days of my visit. She is now rocking the bald look.
The morning after Charlotte arrived, she and Nancy took off for chemoland, and I stayed at Nancy's, meaning to go back to Sonoma, to visit a friend in Napa on the way, and return to Benicia later in the week when Nancy was getting over the effects of her chemo. Then the phone rang: Nancy was not going to have chemo today; she'd skipped a treatment because of a low white blood cell count the week before. Now the white blood cells were back, but the clinic wanted her back on her original schedule, so she would not have chemo until next week.
“Great!” said cousin Charlotte. “We can do the cemetery tour today!”
We three had been talking about making a cemetery tour for months. My father and their mother were brother and sister, so we share grandparents and great-grandparents. Charlotte has become more intrigued by genealogy the last couple of years, and she wanted photos of family headstones to put up on the internet.
My cousins returned from the cancer clinic and picked me up, and away we went to Santa Cruz County and the cemeteries of Watsonville. I will now tell you that my remarkable cousin Nancy – the one going through a second round of chemo for cancer – drove us down, around, and back over the two days the trip took. She is amazing.

Our grandparents' house

The house where I grew up
The first night we went to visit the Litchfield ranches in Green Valley, first our grandparents' house, then the house where I grew up on Litchfield Lane. No kidding.
The second day was Valentine's Day, and we went to visit some ancestors, some of whom were gone before we were born, and some of whom we remember well.
Our great-grandparents, Chauncey and Belle Litchfield, are laid to rest in the Pioneer Cemetery on Freedom Boulevard in Watsonville, California. We went to see them first. They have a large pink granite marker, but they are buried off to one side under black headstones that say, “Mother” and “Father.”

Chauncey and Belle's son Ralph is buried in the plot. He died in an earthquake in Santa Barbara in 1925 at the age of 28. Apparently he ran outside, and was buried in bricks as the building's facade collapsed. This is why you are not supposed to run outside in an earthquake. I don't know why I bother repeating that rule. People always run outside. I always do. Ralph did.
Also laid to rest there is Asa, who was one of Ralph's brothers. We all knew him as “Pop,” and he died at the age of 81 in 1967. He was my father's uncle, and he sometimes pitched in on the farm, and went to Giants' games up in San Francisco with my dad.
One night Pop had dinner at our house. He set out for his house, about a mile up the road. There was a thick fog that was hugging the ground, and Pop was a bit mellow with drink. About forty-five minutes later he appeared at the kitchen door to report his car had gone off the road, and was stuck. My father and Pop got into my father's truck, and my mother and I followed along behind in the car.
Sure enough, Pop had not quite negotiated a turn. The car had come to rest leaning sideways after taking out a post in the electric fence that ran along the side of the road. My father pulled in front of the car, and was attaching a tow chain, while Pop, my mother and I stood in back of the cockeyed car. Pop stepped back, and when he did his legs hit the top wire of the electric fence that was still standing, and he did a perfect cartoon windmill with his arms – woah, woah, WOAH - and fell over backward into the pasture. The man was almost 80, and my mother and I rushed to him, afraid he'd injured himself, imagining God knew what. When we got to him he looked up at us, smiled beatifically, and said, “I faw down, go boom.”
Pop and my father went back to replace the fence post the next day.
Pop's son Merle is buried in the family plot, right in front of the pink granite marker. He died in 1921 at the age of 11 or 12. I don't know if it was illness or accident that took him.
My own parents, John and Juanita Litchfield, are buried about 40 feet away from the Litchfield family plot. My father's marker describes him as a captain in the Army Air Force in World War II, but I remember him as a farmer, a guy in blue jeans and a dark green Penny's work shirt, with a battered, stained fedora hat, and a crooked foolish grin.
My mother's marker says she was a beloved wife and mother. It does not say she grew up in a Salvation Army orphanage in Texas, or that she was a gifted pianist, or a book keeper who kept track of all the farm's accounts and payrolls, or that she was a right wing nut job.
Valentine's Day was my mother's birthday, so I wished her a happy birthday. I stared at her headstone and remembered the day she was buried, and how I was one of the pallbearers because the funeral director was short a man. That's when I learned that caskets are incredibly heavy, but it was important to me to carry my mother one last time.
We took pictures of headstones and sat in the sun remembering these relatives, especially the ones who had been around as we grew up. Strange to remember those living, breathing, laughing characters, and look at their headstones now. Then we headed off to the other cemetery to find more relatives.

Road Trip, Part 4: My Grandfather's Foibles, and a Mystery Cleared Up

After my cousins Charlotte and Nancy and I finished visiting the Pioneer Cemetery in Watsonville, we headed out to the Pajaro Valley Memorial Cemetery to pay our respects to our grand parents, Percy and Lyllian.
When I was a child, we used to go out and place flowers on Lyllian's grave. She died in 1938. After her passing, Grandpa took solace in the brothels of Watsonville.
Everyone disliked his last wife, and my mother would mutter about her, “That old madam.” I didn't realize until years later that it wasn't merely my mother being nasty - in fact, Grandpa's last wife had been a madam.
We were not close to Madam. She did not care for children. She drove a Cadillac convertible, had rhinestones on her glasses frames, and kept yappy little poodles and Siamese cats. I do not wish to impugn these animals, some of whom were friendly and fun, unlike Madam. After Grandpa died Madam married a man with Las Vegas connections. He died a few years later when he started his car one day and it blew up. In retrospect, we are glad we never were close to Madam.
When my grandfather died in 1961, the preacher speaking at his service said, “Percy lived a full life.” There was a wave of laughter. At the time I was too young understand that reaction, but later I heard the stories about Grandpa.
Percy is buried next to Lyllian, his first wife and our grandmother. There is an empty space in the cemetery lawn on the other side of Percy, and cousin Charlotte went to the cemetery office to inquire about that space because she wishes to be buried there.
While Charlotte was in the office, I decided to pursue a question of my own. Once when I was a child I accompanied my mother's sister out to the cemetery to leave flowers at various graves, and as we were leaving my aunt pointed at a circular area and said, “That's where your mother buried that baby she lost.”
Say what?
I went home and asked my mother about that baby. She angrily said she had told me about it. If she did I did not remember. I wonder now what she had to say to my aunt for letting that particular cat out of the bag.
In later years she talked about it a little. She was almost nine months pregnant, standing at the kitchen window looking out. She felt the baby move inside of her, like it was turning over, and that was the last time she felt it move. It was stillborn soon after, a little girl, and buried in an unmarked grave in that circle of grass. That was in 1946.
There is nothing like finding out you have a dead sibling to set your imagination going. If she had lived, would I have been born? If we had both been born, wouldn't it have been great having a sister? My friends who have sisters tell me, “Not necessarily.”
The lady at the cemetery office found my father's name typed on a 3x5 index card, and walked out to the circular area with a plot map. Waving her hand in the general area of some grass she said, “Right there.”
There she lies, the sister who never took breath. When my mother was still alive, I asked if she knew why the baby died. “Women lost babies a lot in those days,” she said, waving me off.
I stared at the patch of grass. She is surrounded by the remains of other people, some of whom were also infants. I'm not sure why finding her grave had so much meaning to me or even what that meaning was, but it felt deep.
That was the last stop on the cemetery tour. Cousins Nancy and Charlotte wrote to me after I got home that there are more ancestors in a cemetery in Manteca, California. Maybe some day I'll get there. For now visiting the two cemeteries in Watsonville was enough of a family pilgrimage for me.

Road Trip, Part 5: Heading Home

I stayed on another day at Nancy's after the trip to Watsonville, and then headed back to Sonoma to spend a couple of days with my lovely in-laws. By that time I was getting the homeward bound heebie-jeebies: oh, for my own little bed. Oh, for my own little husband. Oh, for my grand daughter, my sons, and the dog.
I couldn't decide whether to go up I-5 (faster) or Highway 101 (prettier), and was driving north from Santa Rosa on 101 before it occurred to me that I never, ever dream of seeing the Sacramento Valley when I'm home on Vashon. I dream of seeing the redwoods and the ocean. I long for them. Who knew when I'd drive to California again, if ever? So the redwoods and the ocean it was.
Had a lovely drive up the coast. It was Saturday and Prairie Home Companion filtered in and out on my car radio as I traveled north from Arcata. Lost the signal entirely as the road turned inland around Orick, but the same show was on an hour later in Crescent City.
I decided to make the push to Grant's Pass, where I spent the night. The next day I drove as far as Vancouver, Washington, where I ended my trip as I started, staying the night with my friend Sonya. She handed me a twenty, said, “Early birthday present,” and took me to the Salvation Army nearby, where everything was half-off. Wahoo. I came home with an embarrassment of tee shirts, and a few new-to-me warm pants.
The next day I moseyed on back to the island. You know how it is with trips – good to go, good to come back. My roots are in California, and they tug at my heart sometimes, creating a longing that is intense. I've lived on the island now almost twice as long as I lived there in the Golden State. I want to go back again, to my first home, to visit, but it is good to come home to Vashon. It's good to be home.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Ladies Who Do More Than Lunch

Three mighty warriors gathered to go hunting. These were their names: She Who Argues; Makes Many Plans; and Straight Arrow, so called by the other two because she tended to drive the car straight through curves instead of around them.
They wanted to begin early in the morning, so they caught a ferry to Southworth a few minutes after noon and headed for the fabled hunting grounds of East Bremerton, where discarded belongings are put up for sale in the marketplaces known as Goodwill and Value Village.
Some things cannot be found in the used goods bazaars, however. One thing that must be bought new is underwear for mighty hunters, so the first stop the three made was at the market place known as Wally World.
She Who Argues overcame her many political, ethical, and moral objections to enter Wally World, which she knew was a notorious sink of corrupt consumerism, a den of vice as dangerous to the addicted shopper as an opium den is to the opium smoker, and as harmful to the general welfare of the people. She managed to quiet her misgivings because she realized that she, too, needed underwear.
Wally World is larger than many villages, and the trek from the parking lot to the underwear section was long and arduous. They lost their way and made wrong turns, but in the end found themselves among an array of bras, panties, and socks that was so large and so overwhelming that their senses were dulled and their thoughts confused. Such is the narcotizing effect of Wally World.
Once they had made their purchases and found their way back to the car it was decided that they all were hungry, and they decamped for a cafe located where the trail of Sedgewick meets the highway of Sixteen.
Now, She Who Argues was wearing that day a beautiful shawl of purples and blues, which she usually wore as a scarf, but once trapped in a booth with Makes Many Plans and Straight Arrow, who have a tendency to be rather silly, she found a need to pull the scarf up over her head to conceal her face. “You two behave like teenagers,” she said to her companions.
Once fed and watered, the three continued on their way. They went over the hills and around a great water, and soon were in the Wilderness of Strip Malls.
Here they came first to Goodwill. They split up so as to hunt more efficiently, and spent a good hour there before meeting again, and putting their bags into the trunk of the car. They pressed on to Value Village, and again split up, the better to seek their separate objects, and they each found many more treasures.
Then they were on their way home, well satisfied with the day's hunting and ready once more for island, home, and hearth.
They were early for the ferry at Southworth, and talked together as they waited on the dock.
Makes Many Plans, who grew up in the neighborhood of Madrona in Seattle, told the story of a time when she was a child. She had gone to see Santa Claus at Frederick and Nelson, and in her joy at the experience she told some of her friends, “Santa is everywhere!”
One of the little girls in the group begged to differ. “Santa is not everywhere,” she said in a superior tone. “Jesus is everywhere.”
“Well, Jesus isn't in the window at Frederick's,” Makes Many Plans replied.
Discussing theology can be so treacherous.
The boat came, and the three warriors returned home well satisfied. They agreed it had been a good day and a good hunt, and went their separate ways, promising to meet and hunt together again.