Thursday, September 17, 2015

Day 3: stopping for lunch in Eugene

Here's a tip: an existential crisis is not a good thing to have when you go to your 50 year high school reunion.
But sometimes these things happen.
It would be easier to think about all the people who are gone if I had a real plan for going on from here. Used to have Rick waiting at home, cousin Nancy waiting in the Bay Area, Rick's folks Mark and Diane in Sonoma. 
Diane's still alive, but she's in Europe. 
Anyway, there were always people at the other end of the drive. Now - it's a high school reunion, for heaven's sake. I didn't like high school.
I was hoping this trip would kick start me. It hasn't yet.
OK - from here I head out to the coast. So I'd better get going. It'll be dark in a few hours.

Road Blog Day 3

If you are asking, "What happened to days 1 and 2?" set your mind at ease. There is no entry for days one or two.
Catching up: after running around my house frantically all day Tuesday I caught the 7 pm ferry from Tahlequah and made it down to Sonya's place in Vancouver a little after 10 pm.  
Yesterday I got up and drove over to Scappoose to visit my old friend Marilyn. 
Marilyn was my first female friend on Vashon when I first arrived in 1972. She is now living with her second husband, Mike, and their dog Shiloh, on a boat that is moored on the Willamette River in Scappoose. They spend their days working on making the boat fit for travel. At this time that means scraping off years of old paint so they can sand and put on new paint. Marilyn took me out to lunch at Ichabod's, and we caught up. 
Marilyn was part of my original group of friends on Vashon all those years ago and she knew Rick well. He called her "Marvelyn." Marvelous Marilyn, and she was. She and her husband then, Kyle, divorced after their son grew up and she left the island to seek a new life. Now she and Mike are starting over again in retirement. The starting over seems to involve a lot of sweaty work on the boat before the sailing off into the sunset begins.
Full circle: In 1971 a friend invited me to Vashon Island to help him and his friends build a ferro-concrete sailing boat, with a goal of sailing off around the world and singing and playing music. I told everyone in California that no one had ever invited me to sail off into the sunset before, and I came up to Vashon Island to check it out. The first person I met here the day I arrived was Rick, but we didn't figure out we were supposed to get married until years later.
But I digress.
The route from Vancouver to Scappoose goes through Portland, and it was a pleasant drive both ways. I've never spent much time in Portland, only driven through, and I began to get a feel for what a spread-out place it is. Like Seattle it is divided by water, chiefly the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and their various offshoots.
Made it back home to Sonya's in time to be barked at by her renter's two dachshunds for a couple of hours (note to self: no matter how charming and cute, never get a dachshund), and then have a dinner made entirely of veggies from Sonya's garden, except for a little grated cheese on top. Yum. 
  Today I head south. I was debating whether to take I-5 or go down 99 ... or cut over to the coast south of Portland. Maybe stop and take a gander at the Spruce Goose, ho ho.
  Supposed to be in Watsonville by tomorrow evening, but moving slowly, I admit. Very strange to be on this trip without Rick at home, without his dad and step-mom in Sonoma or my cousin Nancy in Benicia. Step-mom Diane is in Europe, and Nancy's sister Charlotte is who knows where, camping out while her village that almost burned gets power and water restored. 
  It's a new trip and a new life. Guess I better saddle up and get going.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On the Road One More Time

A hilltop apple orchard in Watsonville, CA. Those hills in the distance? That's where the San Andreas Fault runs.

As I am sure I mentioned before, when Rick died I figured I would be out of my mind for at least two years. Having that idea intellectually is quite different from the actual experience. I didn’t know that my interior life would be burned to the ground when he died, or how long it would take to recover from the stunning reality of his passing. Finally it seems like even though I still feel like a mess inside, I’m at some kind of baseline where I can start building my new normal life.
So I’m going to California.
The object of this trip is to attend the 50-year reunion of my high school class.
Why go to a 50-year reunion? It isn’t as if high school was a great experience for me. I hated pretty much every minute, except when I was singing in choir, but I figure it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Maybe I’ll be able to tell you why I went afterward, when I’ve had the experience and had time to think about it. For now it’s a trip I’ve been planning for over a year, and which I’ve almost backed out of several times.
Ever since I can remember I’ve had this severe anxiety before trips. Only people who have these feelings can understand, I imagine. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Rick always said, “Once you’re on the road, you’ll be fine.” Rick was right about that. I was always in road trip mode by the time I got off the ferry at Pt. Defiance.
I hope it works that way this time.
So, a 50-year reunion. Wonder how many people I’ll recognize, or will recognize me.
While I’m in town, I’ll visit the ranch where I grew up. I’ll visit my parents’ graves and leave flowers. I hope to go to the Santa Cruz County Fair, and look at the apple exhibits. My parents used to enter their largest apples in my name and let me keep the ribbons.
I’ll go commune with the cows and the goats and the horses and look at the lucky 4-H kids who are spending a few days sleeping in the barns at the fair. Man, I wanted to do that, but my father wouldn’t let me raise a calf. He said my mother and I would get attached and name the damn thing and then when it was time to sell it to be butchered there would be hell to pay. He was probably correct.
When the weekend is over I might drive south to San Luis Obispo so I can turn and go up through Big Sur. We’ll see.
However far south I drive, when I turn north I’ll head up the coast, through the redwoods. Something about Highway 101 from Healdsburg north resonates within me, perhaps because occasionally I catch a glimpse of the California I traveled with my parents when I was a child. May have to stop and hug a gigantic tree or two.
I’ll definitely visit the Ship Ashore trailer park, motel, and restaurant at the mouth of Smith River. That’s the property my grandparents owned during the 1930s. It impressed me as a fairly desolate environment. I don’t know what my grandparents saw in the place, but apparently my grandmother Lyllian loved it deeply there. Grandpa sold the place after she died of Pick’s disease in 1938. Still, I stop and drive in and look down at the river every time I drive by.
Then I’ll head for home as fast as I can go, ready to be home and feel safe again. That’s my next couple of weeks. I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

Unless of course I decide to head to Los Angeles and take another crack at that songwriter career. But most likely that coming home thing.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Please Help Me, I’m Falling

Went out into the yard to put in the cone flower I bought on an impulse yesterday. Cone flowers are perennials, and I am in favor of plants that have the sense to come back on their own.
So I found a spot, added soil from a new bag of potting soil, and put the cone flower in. It looked great, but only time will tell if it does great where I planted it.
Then I planted the dianthus I was given as a gift a few months ago. When I got it, it was in full and glorious bloom, and I enjoyed the blooms and the spicy fragrance the blooms gave off all summer. Then it occurred to me that it was time to get the plant into the soil.
I extended the boundary of one of my flowerbeds. The expansion required moving several bricks, rooting out many buttercups (which set off an earworm of, “Why do you build me up, Buttercup, baby, just to let me down …”*), re-stacking the bricks farther out in the yard, dumping soil into the new space, and then planting the dianthus and pressing it into place.
This sort of work leaves me drained. I’d like to blame it on old age, but gardening has always fatigued me. I liked gardening in the abstract, but the real thing has always made me exhausted.
I know people who say that gardening is relaxing. Digging in the soil, connecting with primal feelings, providing for the clan, meditating on the miracle of plant growth, the cycle of life ebbing and flowing, blah de blah blah.
Gardening makes my back hurt and as I get older and my knees and balance get worse, I have to pay attention to every step I take to remain stable. I get one little task done and then I have to sit down and think for several minutes. I have to sit longer when I do things like spend half an hour making space between plants and carefully placing a drip hose in a flowerbed, only to learn when I go to attach the garden hose that I’ve put the drip hose in backwards and it has to be taken out and put in again in the other direction.
So, anyway, I sit and think. Unfortunately that’s when I see more things that need doing, like pruning back the dusty miller which has gone leggy again.
SO, today I got the cone flower planted, and pulled zillions of buttercups (“… and then worst of all, you never call, baby, when you say you will, but I love you still …”*) and a couple of armfuls of non-blooming crocosmia, and got the new bed space created and the dianthus planted, AND the dusty miller pruned back. I was standing up before going to turn on the water to the drip hose, and that’s when I fell.
Fighting a fall is usually a bad idea – stiff, flailing body parts can get whacked but good on obstacles like furniture or the floor. Outdoors, I’ve learned to relax and tuck and roll when I realize that I am going down, so I don’t usually get hurt. That’s what I did today. The dry ground was hard, but I didn’t break anything.
I lay there for a while collecting my thoughts and doing an inventory of parts, another thing I’ve learned to do after falling, and decided I was all right and would try getting up. I rolled over and used my basic “toddler standing up” technique. I get on all fours, then put one foot on the ground and push off with the other leg and both hands, rising butt first like the sun coming up over the Cascades. Awkward, not exactly flattering to the ego, but I do end up on my feet again.
I fear falls more the older I get. My balance and control have improved quite a bit since I’ve been going to water walking classes at the Athletic Club. I can feel the improvement in my core strength. I’ve gone from “none” to “some.” So that helps a bit, but I have to be careful.
When my mother was in her eighties she frequently said, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” I am getting closer to understanding the full meaning of that phrase. Tomorrow morning when I wake up and feel the soreness in every muscle and ligament that was tweaked when I fell over today, I’ll understand it even more.

*Thanks and a tip o’ the hat to Mike d’Abo and Tony Macaulay, authors of the Buttercup song, and The Foundations, who had a hit with it in 1969.

The Ring of Truth

When your spouse shuffles off this mortal coil you have to take care of a lot of business. As time goes on and the angst recedes a little, the less pressing issues begin to arise, one of which is, should I keep wearing my wedding ring?
The wedding ring is a little piece of bling that is freighted with a lot of symbolism and meaning. It says, “I belong to someone.” It gives the person wearing it a feeling of love and security.
When your spouse dies, you don’t automatically stop feeling married, but over time your feelings do change. I won’t say that marriage wears off, but, yeah, it kind of does. Gradually you learn to live your life without the marriage dance you did with your partner. You stop bringing home leftover popcorn from the theater for him. You get used to watching whatever you want to watch on TV. The habits of marriage begin to fade.
You still see things that you think he’d love to see, and you hear something and you can’t wait to get home to tell him, and then you remember – oh yeah.
You might wonder one day if, seeing as how you are technically no longer married, it is time to take off your wedding ring. One day late last spring I decided to try taking the ring off, and was surprised by how light I felt without it, so I left it off. Look, Ma, I’m healing!
A few weeks passed. One day I went to the transfer station to drop off about a dozen bags of recycling. A kind older gentleman offered to help out by carrying some of the bags from my car and dumping them. I thanked him for his kindness. I was thinking I had seen him around the island – it’s a pretty small island, you know – and asked him if he knew where we might have met.
At that point he got a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face, and couldn’t get to his car and get out of there fast enough.
Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that whatever was going on with him was about him, and not about me, but tell that to my heart. In the moment I felt all the bewilderment, burn, and bitter irony of being rejected by someone in whom I was only slightly interested. It was as if all the hard-won wisdom and sense of the least fifty years had never happened, and there I was, nothing but a bundle of insecurities.
It was like being in high school again. Yark.
I went through a brief spurt of anger and saying, “Men! What the hell is the matter with them?” but eventually I came to see that it hurt to be misunderstood, judged, and rejected. At that point I asked, “What’s wrong with me?”
I had committed the great sin of being friendly to a man. Most women are aware of this rule. If you are friendly with a man, he is quite likely going to put the wrong construction on your friendliness, I’m sorry to say. Of course I don’t really know what set that guy off. Perhaps he suddenly remembered he’d left his iron on.
In the days that followed I thought that perhaps wearing my wedding ring would help me to avoid such awkward situations. My ring says, “I am not coming on to you, thanks, I am simply being friendly.” Friendliness is usually okay on Vashon, but not always.
So I went back home and put my ring back on.
Being married and widowed takes a lot out of you. It has taken a long time for me to begin coming back to the world. Occasionally running into someone who misjudges me, or whom I do not understand and might misjudge, is a risk that I take on by returning to the world. Such misunderstandings do happen, despite your best intentions. So I tell myself.
I also tell myself that I’d better remember that I can’t control what other people think or feel or how they behave, and I shouldn’t take their behavior personally. Hah. That’s a lesson I’ve been trying to grasp for years. I hoped to learn it through therapy, prayer, study, and 12-step groups, as well as the school of hard knocks, but I suspect I am not going to live long enough to truly get it.

I’ll keep working on it, though, and for the moment I’ll be working on it with my ring on, for whatever protection that gives me from the vivid imaginations of strangers. In the end, the question is, who needs this kind of grief? I have enough of my own.

Happy Anniversary

September 3, 2015

Today would have been our thirty-sixth wedding anniversary. In my heart, it still is. The last one we celebrated together was 34 years. That seems so long ago. At the end of December I will observe the second anniversary of Rick's death.
I couldn't understand why it was being such a lousy week. I was so depressed - felt like I was under a huge sack of wet sand. All I could do was watch TV and play solitaire. 
Then yesterday everything set me off. This computer, which has so many quirks and seems hellbent on living a life of its own regardless of what I want it to do, opening windows and moving the cursor away from whatever I was typing for no reason I could see, was making me apoplectic with rage. I was so angry with it. I even banged on it with my fist hard enough that I hoped I hadn't broken it. Everything was going so wrong.
Late in the afternoon I came down with a migraine, which I seldom have these days. After missing so much of my life to migraines over thirty plus years, I have been pretty happy not to have them so often any more. Once in a while, though, I'll get one.
At the end of yesterday's perfectly awful day, I felt one blooming within my unhappy cranium. I ended up taking a couple of pain pills and going to bed for a while until the pain receded. Sometime in there I remembered what day of the year it would be in the morning.
Thirty-six years ago today we woke up at my mother's house on Wilkie Street in Watsonville, and we got up and got dressed and drove out to the Corralitos Womens Clubhouse and were married on the lawn in the yard by Father Charles Moore, a maverick retired Catholic priest who had started his professional life as a lawyer and got into some trouble - thereby hangs a tale. He did a great wedding sermon.
He said this was the third day of our marriage.
The first day was the day we met and recognized each other.
The second day was the day we confessed our love to each other - something we had struggled against saying, it being so serious a thing after all.
The third day was this day, the day we were wed. 
Charlie was a pretty smart guy.
He talked about what a lot of trouble it was to get married. Man, was that the truth. I have said since then that weddings and funerals bring out the best and worst in people. The day of our wedding, my mother's sister, whom we called Sister, was not speaking to my mother because my mother and I had invited my father's sister to the wedding. Well, we invited both of his remaining sisters, and they both came, but Sister really hated the older sister and was furious that she was at my wedding. I had to have a separate picture taken of me with Sister and Uncle Mike because she wouldn't be part of any family pictures.
My father's sisters, by the way, hated each other and had done from childhood. When the older one died and my cousin Nancy called the younger sister to let her know, the younger sister said, "What do I care?" and kind of tore Nancy a new one for bothering to call. Yeah, that aunt was a piece of work. But I digress.
Today, thirty-six years on from our wedding day, has been a day of sad and sweet remembrance. I sat in my chair on the kitchen porch and thanked Rick for marrying me: you made my life so much better than it might have been, and you were such an awfully good sport.
I could swear he then thanked me for marrying him, giving him the life and family he had despaired of having. So the words formed in my mind.
I do remember how desperate and angry he was in the aftermath of his first marriage. His first wife cheated on him, which for him was unforgivable, and he was still angry. Maybe even apoplectic with rage, if he allowed himself to fall into brooding on it.
Rick was one of the most stubborn people I've ever known, and once he made his mind up about something, he would not un-make it. So even though I know he was angry at his first wife for the rest of his life, it wasn't one of those keeping up the relationship by being angry things. It was a Rick being angry that she had wasted his time and broken his heart thing and he'd never forgive her.
He was a good guy, my Ricky. He didn't live long enough, but if he'd taken better care of himself over his lifetime, maybe he would have lived longer. Sometimes I think that, but I don't know, and what does it matter now? I just miss him so much.

In between the wistful bouts of sadness, there were adventures today. When I went out to use my car, it wouldn't start. I managed to jump start it with Rick's truck. Later this evening my friends Harry and Leanna gave me a jump start in town so I could drive home and Harry said he thought it was the starter, from the sound of it. Sigh. After I drove home and turned the car off, I tried to start it again and it wouldn't start, so I think Harry nailed it.

Drove up to the mailbox today and it was full of ants and their eggs. I had noticed them in there a couple of days ago, and bought some ant traps which I was going to put in the mailbox, but yesterday because of my migraine I didn't get around to it, nor did I pick up the mail.
By this evening when I stopped to put the traps in, the mailbox was fully colonized, as was yesterday's mail. Hundreds of ants, thousands of ants, millions and billions and trillions of ants.
I picked up a brochure and a few hundred ants and eggs fell out of it. 
I took all the mail out and waved it around and smacked it against the mailbox post trying to get all the ants and eggs out of it. Ugh. When done with that, I used a piece of cardboard to sweep as many ants and eggs out of the mailbox as I could, and set the new traps in. 
Here's the irony: last year when the ants invaded the mailbox, I put ant traps in. They were using last year's expired ant traps as the base for this year's new colony in the mailbox.
I don't know why ants set up housekeeping in my mail box, but they've been doing it for years. Ants, and spiders, and occasionally paper wasps. Does everyone's mailbox get this buggy?

Well. So today was our anniversary. Tomorrow I'll make an appointment to get my starter replaced. With new tires and a battery, I felt all set for winter. Not quite. Life goes on, my dears, regardless of grief and dead car parts and ants in the mailbox.
Happy Anniversary, Ricky.