Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Poet's Hart

Drum roll please! It is with a great deal of pleasure that I bring to you dear reader a wonderful new blog The Poet’s Hart featuring the poetry of my dear blognian Lorraine Hart. Lorraine is a poetess, wise woman, photographer, writer, singer/song writer, expat-Brit who lives out on Key Peninsula at Home in Northwest Washington. I would like to add that she is my treasured friend. Check out her stuff!

Pumpkin Caving

Monday was pumpkin carving night for our family. First we needed pumpkins so GrandDave took Grandson Gabriel and his Aunt Amy to Patterson’s Fruit & Vegetable stand to pick out pumpkins. It would have been cheaper for GrandDave to go to Fred Meyer, but that doesn’t have the cache of something closer to the farmer and Amy loves Patterson’s. She keeps track of the turning of the seasons by the state of this Gig Harbor institution. She knows they will close after Halloween until the day after Thanksgiving when they will open with Christmas trees and a Santa waving from the corner on weekends.

Had either Gabriel’s mother or Amy’s mother been the one taking them to get pumpkins there wouldn’t have been the tonnage that GrandDave took away from the stand, but we were grateful that he was off from work and could be in charge. Amy & Gabriel thought that everyone in the family needed their own personal pumpkin and that bigger was better. After they’d picked out huge ones and GrandDave had loaded them into the trunk of the car they celebrated with sandwiches at Subway and movies from Hollywood Video.

The actual pumpkin carving occurred at Josh & Jamie’s house in Tacoma following Gabriel’s and cousin Linda’s gymnastics classes. There plastic garbage bags were cut open and spread and the carving begun. We only got three carved, one for each grandchild, before we sat down to a wonderful supper of curried chicken and rice and salad. GrandDave escaped actual carving that night by keeping baby Lydia out of the pumpkin goo since everything she comes in contact with goes into her mouth, but he’s been working on getting the rest of the gourds carved. The clock says he’d better hurry!

Last night the elementary school near our home did “trunk or treat.” When my youngest was in elementary school they had a Halloween carnival put on by the students and parents. The Born Again Hypocrites have since pressured the school into ending this tradition so since we are a somewhat rural area where trick or treating can be a dark and dicey proposition some of the parents willing to brave the invocation of Satan came up with the “trunk or treat” that just doesn’t do it for us. Parading around a parking lot isn’t the same as going house to house. It may be less mess than the carnival, but isn’t as much fun. We are opting instead to go to Tacoma to the Proctor District where there are neighborhoods with real sidewalks and where they close a business district street just so the little ones can have a safe, yet fun Halloween experience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Art Imitating Life

Since it began in January 2005, my husband and I have been fans of “Medium” starring Patricia Arquette who plays Alison Dubois, a profiler with the Phoenix police department who’s ESP and dreams help solve mostly murder cases. It wasn’t until Dave and I were perusing through Half Price Books that I discovered that Alison Dubois, her husband Joe and their three children are real people.

Being something of a fan of what some folks would call “whoo, whoo,” naturally I had to buy Don’t Kiss Them Goodbye, Dubois’ book about her talent and work helping law enforcement as well as acting as a medium between people and their loved ones who have passed on. Besides, it’s the perfect time of year to be reading about someone who claims the ability to communicate with the dead.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Remembering the Roots of Halloween

Among the many egregious things the Christian Right has attempted to do is to eliminate the celebration of Halloween from public schools and public life. Chances are that every one of these so-called good Christian folks trick or treated themselves as children. This anti-Halloween movement seems to have begun to get noticed in the late 1990s when the rumors that Halloween was a Satanic holiday began to circulate.

It is true that like most of our holidays, Christian and secular, that Halloween has its roots firmly planted in the pagan past, but the association with Satan or the devil or his minions is entirely a fabricated by the Church to keep the people frightened. Our European pagan ancestors and those who practice paganism today do not even believe in the existence of the devil, much less worship him. That is not to say that there are not some disturbed people who do worship the concept of evil, but they have nothing to do with paganism or Halloween.

The celebration of Halloween in the United States is all about costumes, trick or treating, and sometimes mischief. My father told of boys tipping over outhouses and pranks of the like. What most Americans don’t realize is that Halloween or Samhain marks a sacred Celtic Day marking the end of summer and ushering in the dark half of the year. The eve refers to the day before All Souls day when the souls of those who had crossed over were honored and which the Christian Church co-opted as All Saints Day.

This ending of a season and the chance for introspection is a perfect time for transformation. The Autumn season is ideal for turning inward and examining what we would like the coming Spring and rebirth to be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Passing By the Woods

With a tip of my hat to folks like Guy Holliday and Lady Lorraine Hart, I turn my pen to poetry because it's been three long weeks of loss.

Passng By the Woods

This afternoon
I drove past
The woods where
Peter took his life.
Left by the sign
A make-shift memorial
To someone
Who wanted
A permanent solution
To a temporary problem.
And my heart aches
For a soul gone
Too soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Street Corner Poems on Aloha and 20th

I am always excited to share blog spot I’ve “discovered” because I love to write and I love to read so here I am again. I would like to introduce to you a retired officer and gentleman who grew up across the street from my husband and eight blocks from me in Bellevue. I was friends with his older brother, but I’m happy to catch up with little brother Guy at an interesting time of his life.

Guy is a retired captain in the U.S. Navy who lives and writes in Seattle on Capitol Hill. Another brother gave me the heads up on what he’s up to all these years later. I am always in awe of poets because I haven’t the gift. If you’d like to see what a Puget Sound neighbor is writing click here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Worst Nightmare Continues

We lost another young person at school last night. That it happens at all if far too often, but it feels like it is becoming too common. I don’t believe that there were any suicides during my 13 years of public school education, but my mother says that there was at her high school when she was a senior. Since I have worked at the high school level there have been five in ten years.

The school community and greater community mourn with the family and all ask ourselves what are we as parents, educators and a society not doing to prepare our children to live this life? The deaths have cut across economic, academic and social groups. The young man we just lost was not part of the disenfranchised. He was well liked, smart—in all AP classes—involved in school activities—wrestling and debate—and seemed funny and outgoing. A bit of the class clown.

But what about the under achievers who frequently self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs? What are we neglecting to say or do or see that would prevent any student from slipping into dispair so dark that they believed they could not climb out?

The administration at school has had to walk a knife edge, wanting to acknowledge the students’ and community’s loss without glamorizing the act itself; honoring the genuine grief of students and staff, but not setting the student body into a cycle of despair. There were tears and hugs today as the shock sunk in. What did we miss?

Choked with tears, one teacher told his class that they don’t realize how important each of them is to the staff at school and encouraged anyone dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems to talk to a friend and particularly a teacher or councilor before taking a step that takes those who love them with them.

If burying a child is my greatest nightmare, having the death be at their own hand would be even more devastating. It would be a temptation to give myself the luxury of slipping into madness. My heart aches for the family.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mystery Aboard the Tippecanoe

This story was previously published on the Tacoma News Tribune blogspot "In Your Neighborhood." It is my father’s story and I believe it to be true although so far I’ve not been able to verify the incident that occurred on the U.S.S. Tippecanoe when my father sailed on her from San Diego. Although my father liked a good joke as much as the next person and maybe more, I believe that he was deadly serious when he told this story. Deadly. It would have made a good story for the old "Lights Out" radio program so turn off the lights and enjoy a scary story to tell in the dark.

My father was eighteen, in the Navy and stationed in San Diego that January of 1941. He had been ordered to report aboard the USS Tippecanoe for transport with Patrol Wing One. Dad would be joining his 20 year old brother whom he'd followed into the Navy. Life in San Diego had been vastly different from the hills of the Missouri Ozarks for the brothers. My father anticipated his assignment as an adventure. He didn’t realize the trip there would be an adventure in itself.

The young men of Patrol Wing One, fresh from basic, were greeted by a surly coxswain in a motor mac from the U.S.S. Tippecanoe, when they in their spanking whites a contrast to the grubby boat and crew, who snarled, “Airdales,” and an expletive, the Naval Air Corps not being seen as real Navy by sailors stationed aboard a ship.

My father tried to ask the coxswain what sort of ship the Tippecanoe was. “You’ll find out soon enough, Mac. She’s a rusty old bucket and the crew is a bunch of goof-offs! I think they moored her out on Point Loma so she don’t clutter up their nice clean harbor!”

The Tippecanoe was an oiler of pre World War I vintage and the dreariest old bucket in the Navy fleets of auxiliary and support ships. The seamen were disappointed that they would not be sailing with a more stately ship.

Instead of taking my father and his crew mates to the pier where the Tippecanoe was moored, the coxswain laid the whaleboat alongside the platform at the foot of the steep sea accommodation ladder where the motor mac tossed their bags with a bow hook. Not an auspicious beginning. The men had a difficult time negotiating the ladder carrying their heavy sea bags with hammocks lashed around them.

Once they had achieved the main deck and had properly saluted the colors aft and the officer of the deck, a burly CPO identified himself as the boson, Larzenarski who took their orders. He left them sitting on the cofferdams in the hot San Diego sun for more than thirty minutes before a seaman appeared and led them to their quarters.

Just as they were laying out their hammocks and horsehair mattresses on the steel bunk frames, Chief Larzenarski came down the steep entry ladder. His weathered round face was set in a perpetual scowl.

“Listen up, you people,” he growled. “You goddam airdales ain’t in for no pleasure cruise. You are temporary ship’s company of the Tipsoo assigned to the deck division of which I happen to be the chief.

“Your division officer is Lieutenant Williams who is one mean s.o.b. that goes strictly by the book. Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill is posted on the bulletin board aft by the mess compartment. Check it out.

“Uniform of the day is dungarees unless otherwise posted so get out them whites before evening chow. As long as you are aboard, you are in the working Navy.!”

It was 1600 hours, the end of the work day so Dad and his mates changed into dungarees, finished stowing their gear and went topside. At the stern they found the mess compartment and the bulletin board the CPO had mentioned and found the grim coxswain of the motor whaleboat sitting against a bulkhead stropping a wicked looking belt knife on the leather of his shoe. The name stenciled on his blue dungaree shirt was “Sullivan” and there was the badge of a second class petty officer in stencil on his left sleeve. Dad dropped down beside him.

“Hi, Sullivan. Some ship.”

The coxswain eyed Dad piercingly, but some of the antagonism went out of his sour face. “Yeah, some ship! This here old bucket just been reactivated from the reserve fleet. Standard Oil had her. She’s a pile of junk and you’ll find out most of the crew are either the dregs of the Navy or are reserves. Only thing worse than an airdale is a reserve!”

“Chief Larzenarski doesn’t seem very friendly,” Dad observed ignoring the affront.
Sullivan snorted bitterly, “Friendly! Bastard is the meanest sonabitch on the ship. Wasn’t for him, I could make chief and be the boson’s mate myself. I was first class and he got me busted! Ten years I got in this canoe club and he gets me busted for bringing a little booze aboard. I’d like to see the sonabitch go over the side some dark night!”

Sullivan tested the sharp edge of the knife by shaving some hairs from his forearm while Dad said, “Larzenarski says Lt. Williams is a mean s.o.b. How about that?”

The coxswain sheathed the knife.

“He is and he ain’t. Regular Navy ring pounder out of Annapolis, but he must have fouled up somewhere or he wouldn’t be on this old scow. Yeoman says he been passed over once for promotion to lieutenant commander. Hard man and Navy regs is his bible, but he don’t seem to have many friends. He’s the ship’s first lieutenant and division officer of the deck gang. He’ll ride the hell out of you just like Larzenarski and you won’t like him, but you gotta respect him.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the P.A. system. The boson’s pipe shrilled and a bored voice said, “Now hear this. Chow down.”

The next day Patrol Wing One found out that the Tippecanoe would not sail for two more weeks. In the meantime the ship would be subjected to an admiral’s inspection. To make the old ship ready, both Lt. Williams and Chief Larzenarski drove the men unmercifully. Paint parties went over the side to scrape the worst rust spots, coat them with red lead, then apply a fresh coat of navy grey. Everyone scraped and painted the ship from bow to stern except for the brass. “If it moves, salute it. If it don’t move, paint it!” became the rule. And all the brass was polished.

By the time of the admiral’s inspection came the transformation of the old ship was amazing. Decks, bulkheads, and side plates were resplendent in fresh grey paint. Every bit of brass gleamed in the sunlight. Quarters and all other below deck decks spaces had been scrubbed and painted. The ancient brass washbasin in the head gleamed like gold. When the inspection party was piped aboard, the entire crew had been mustered in immaculate white uniforms and shined dress shoes. At that moment Dad was proud of the old Tippecanoe.

Two days after inspection the Tippecanoe’s engines rumbled into life and the P.A. system blared, “Now hear this. All hands, man your special sea details

Dad had been assigned to the first crow’s nest watch on the high foremast so he scrambled up the seventy feet of steel rungs welded to the foremast to the small, waist-high metal can that was the foremast lookout.

Below, the ship’s crew not assigned to sea details manned the rails in non-dress whites. The mooring hawsers splashed into the water and with a “whoop, whoop” of the ship’s horn and a blast from the sire, Tippecanoe backed away from the pier, where a few wives and children waved, and headed to sea.

On February 13th they put in at Long Beach, CA to take aboard a full load of fuel oil. The next day they sailed for San Francisco where they arrived three days later where they got no liberty. Dad had to be content with looking at the lights of the Barbary Coast and gaping upward as the Tippecanoe slipped beneath the main span of the Golden Gate Bridge. They came upon a tug and barge waiting for the ship and the tug transferred the tow line of the barge to the Tippecanoe. Now they had a barge in tow.

Three days out of San Francisco they ran into a wicked gale that they later found out was one of the worst in that area in three or four years.

That third evening out the sky was leaden at sunset and the ocean was dark grey with a froth of whitecaps and spume from a wind that came off the port bow. The horizon was indistinct. The dark grey of the clouds simply merged somewhere into the darker grey of the angry ocean. Neither was there a sunset glow to fit the old saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.” Dad figured there must have been a blazing sky that morning as the wind was rising rapidly to gale force. Even with the stabilizing influence of the tow, the ship was rolling and pitching so that they had to sleep with a grip on the bunk rails and their toes hooked on the bottom rail.

Dad had barely gotten to sleep when the watch petty officer woke him. He had the twelve to two watch on the port wing of the bridge. The watch petty officer warned him to wear his peacoat and watch cap as it was cold and wet topside.

When Dad emerged from the foc’sul hatch he found the watch P.P. was right. It was raining and the wind buffeted him as he struggled through the blackness along the catwalk above the main deck over which green water was breaking in the dark. Rain drops and salt spray stung his face in the fifty-knot wind. The whitecaps towered well above Dad’s head from the catwalk level as the heavily laden Tippecanoe slugged her way through the mountainous waves.

Dad reached the bridge at 23:50, ten minutes before eight bells when the watch would change so he ducked into the dimly-lit bridge before relieving his man on the exposed port bridge wing. He looked at the chart spread on the navigator’s table at the rear of the bridge and was impressed by the ferocity of the wind. The line of their course was actually going backward because of the wind. With the drag of the towed barge, they’d lost ground for six or eight hours.

Dad reported to the watch officer and began his watch amidst the wind and rain of the gale.
The two hours of his watch were interminable and miserable. In the wind-whipped blackness Dad was pelted by rain and spray from the waves that broke level with the bridge and the bridge was forty feet above the waterline. Other than the red running light, Dad cold see nothing but blackness abeam and could barely make out the bow of the ship. Every thirty minutes, as required by regulations and custom, he reported to the watch officer, “Nothing in sight. Port running light burning bright, sir.”

Sometime during the first hour of his watch Dad saw a dim figure moving along the catwalk. The individual was wearing the hat of a chief petty officer with the visor strap under his chin against the wind. It was apparently Larzenarski on a round of inspection of the decks, but he did not come to the bridge and Dad could not be sure. The figure went out of sight in the darkness toward the stern. Dad thought for a minute that he saw someone else move back there, but in the driving rain and spray it could well have been an illusion.

The next morning the weather had cleared a bit, but the wind was still at gale force. Green water was still breaking over the main deck and, periodically, over the fantail that was held down by the tow hawser to the heavy barge. The deck division was told to stand by for muster in the mess compartment instead of on deck.

Chief Larzenarski did not show for muster. It was held by Sullivan. Afterward, scuttlebutt was that Larzenarski was missing. A search of the entire pitching, rolling ship was made and no trace of the abrasive CPO could be found. Dad found himself remembering the figure in a chief’s hat that he’d seen on the catwalk during his watch and presumed that he had gone down to the fantail to check the tow cable and was swept overboard.

Dad was still wondering if he should report what he had seen when the stern and very disliked division officer, Lt. Williams, appeared in the mess compartment. The men came to attention and, after he had told them to stand easy, he said, “Men, the tow cable is chafing and needs to be lengthened. I need four volunteers to go to the fantail with me and do the job.”

There was a prolonged silence. The men of the regular ship’s company simply looked down at their hands. Dad noticed that the officer was wearing dungarees and he had said “go down to the fantail with me.” Even though the word was “never volunteer for anything” Dad suddenly blurted out, “I’ll go, sir.”

Another member of Dad’s unit volunteered and not to be outdone by airdales, two of the ship’s company rose. Dad was surprised that one of them was Sullivan. Dad kicked off his shoes and stripped off his socks because he felt that he would have better traction barefoot. The lieutenant led them out onto the wave-washed fantail.

The fantail was clear except that every fifth or sixth wave was large enough to crash green water over the deck. When the big waves came all the men could do was hang on with both hands until the water subsided. Dad found himself next to the officer as they struggled with the heavy wire cable.

When the water subsided Dad realized that the lieutenant was no longer beside him. He had lost his hold on the cable and was hanging half over the scuppers holding the bottom chain of the lifelines with one hand. Dad believed that another wave cold take the lieutenant over the side so he let go of the tow cable and lunged for the lifelines. Dad caught the upper cable with his left hand and held out his right to the officer. Williams seized it with his free hand and, as the ship rolled back to port, dragged himself back aboard. Without a word the lieutenant checked that the cable stopper was secure and led the men back to the shelter of the mess compartment. There he said, “Well done, men.” Then turning to Dad he said, “Get some dry clothes, Frieze, and see me in the wardroom in fifteen minutes.”

When Lt. Williams had gone in a low voice Sullivan said to Dad, “Goddam, airdale, whyn’t you let that bastard go—we’d have been rid of him and Larzenarski both!”

Clearly Sullivan was pleased about Larzenarski’s disappearance and would like to have Williams thrown into the bargain.

Officer’s country was strange to Dad so he rather timorously made his way to the ward room amidships after getting some dry dungarees and a clean white hat. The lieutenant, hair still wet and a towel about his neck, was sitting alone at one of the tables.

“Help yourself to a cup of coffee, sailor,” he told Dad. “You earned it. And sit down a minute.”

Dad thought it sounded more like an order than an offer so he drew coffee into a china cup and sat on the edge of the chair opposite the lieutenant who eyed Dad a minute.

“Just wanted to say thank you, Frieze. There are probably men on this ship that would not have offered me a hand. I am fully aware that many of the men think I’m a mean s.o.b.”

Dad was embarrassed and could feel his ears and face getting red. Remember, he was just a kid.
“Wasn’t anything, Sir. I reckon you could have made it by yourself.”

“Probably so, but you did offer me a hand without waiting to see.”

Dad was at a loss and stammered “Well, uh, I didn’t know how soon the next big wave might come along. Ain’t as if I saved your life or something.”

“Right,” the officer said briskly, “and you’re not going to get a medal or anything but I will see that there is a note of commendation in your service record.”

Lt. Williams looked down at a paper on the table that was the watch list from the previous night and changed the subject, “You had the twelve to two on the wing of the bridge last night.”

“Yes sir.”

“You know that Chief Larzenarski is missing, apparently overboard during the storm. Di you see anything on deck during your watch?”

A sort of montage flashed into Dad’s mind—the dim figure in a chief’s hat on the catwalk going aft, what could have been the shadow of another man back there, and the gleam in Sullivan’s eyes when he told them at muster that the hated CPO was missing. Dad also recalled the way Sullivan had cursed the CPO the first day his crew came aboard, but he knew he should not attest to anything of which he was not totally sure.

“Well, sir, yes. Sometime around 0100 or thereabouts I saw someone who I think was wearing a chief’s hat going along the catwalk from the bridge aft toward the stern. That’s all I saw. It was dang dark out there. I figured it was the chief checking the decks.”

“No one else?” the lieutenant asked.

“Not that I could swear to—too dark and too many shadows. Couldn’t see good through the rain and spray,” Dad told him.

Lt. Williams dismissed Dad and the ship’s log recorded that Chief Boatswains Mate Larzenarski was apparently lost overboard while carrying out his duties on the ship. For the rest of his life Dad wondered about Coxswain Sullivan and his knife. After Larzenarski’s disappearance, Sullivan’s first class rate was restored and, being the ranking petty officer in the deck division, he was made acting CPO for the rest of the voyage. Every time Dad looked at him he wondered if Sullivan had been responsible for it.

On March 2nd they sighted land on the far horizon. By muster at 0700 the next morning a grey Navy tug met them and just after noon on Dad’s 19th birthday. It was March 3rd, 1941 as the Tippecanoe steamed through the anti-submarine net at the entrance to Pearl Harbor, the Territory of Hawaii.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What the Hell Were They Thinking?

Argh! I cannot freaking believe that the Nobel Prize committee chose Barak Obama to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. I thought you actually had to do something to get the prize. What are they thinking? They think he’s changed the tone of foreign relations?? They should have given the prize to the American people for electing someone who professes an interest in creating peace in the world, not to him for what he might do. Lord knows we could use the money.

It could be that in the future President Obama will achieve great things. He’s off to s slow start, but we can hope, but right now he does not deserve to be in the company of previous winners such as the Dahlia Lama, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, and Al Gore. The Nobel Committee has cheapened their prize in my opinion. I don’t think Obama deserves the prize just for not being George Bush as laudable as that accomplishment is.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Down's Syndrome Dementia

As if having a friend and neighbor lose her step-son abruptly in a motorbike accident weren’t enough, I’ve had another occasion to feel afraid as a mother. In the life of a parent of an offspring with a disability there are markers that can be painful. The diagnosis, when the gap between them and their peers begins to widen, when the Spring arrives when in another world the child would be graduating and making plans to go off to college.

When I was ten or eleven the mother of a classmate had the last of six children. One day when I’d been to the mailbox with my mother she stopped to talk to a neighbor in the street. They started talking about my classmate’s mother.

“Did you hear about the baby?”

“Yes, a Mongoloid. So sad. They’re hideous creatures you know.” Two things flashed through my mind simultaneously. First, Kevin wasn’t Chinese. Second, how sad for the family to have a hideous baby. That notion couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

About twenty years later I had reason to remember that incident. It happened at in the pediatrician’s office when my daughter was six days old and he told me that he wanted us to take our sweet baby girl to the University of Washington to be tested for Trisomy 21 or Mongolism. Well, I knew he must be crazy because there was nothing hideous about my baby girl. We were both right. She wasn’t hideous and she did have Trisomy 21, also known as Down’s Syndrome.

At the time of our daughter’s birth, her father and I spent a lot of time with my classmate Kevin. Needless-to-say he understood what we were going through and understood our future. He carried messages from his mother to us and we were encouraged by how well his brother Bobby was doing. Bobby had learned to read and write and was learning to work.

When there is a divorce a couple not only splits up the furniture and household goods and makes arrangements for the children, they split the friends as well. It’s not necessarily intentional, but it happens. Amy’s dad got custody of Kevin as a friend and we drifted apart. His family was raised across the street from my current husband and so I’ve had the occasional update on the family, but once my in-laws moved away from the old neighborhood in Bellevue we heard even less. Recently I reconnected with another of Kevin’s brothers on Facebook and last night learned that he is dealing with one of my worst fears. Bobby isn’t doing well. It is widely documented that people with Down’s Syndrome age faster than the rest of the population. When my daughter was born we were told that no one knew why that was. We were also told that this was actually good news because historically they died quite young because of respiratory infections. The advent of antibiotics had greatly increased their life expectancy. When you are hit with life altering news you grab at things to be thankful for. When your daughter is six days old the notion of her living into her thirties is comforting. It sounds llike forever. Until it arrives.

When Amy was in her early thirties her Department of Developmental Disabilities case worker asked if we’d seen any evidence of Down’s Syndrome Dementia. Ah, what? No, I don’t think so. That’s right, we were told she’d age quicker. She doesn’t have any gray hair. Mood swings? Well, she gets teary every month, but I’ve always laid that to hormones.

Now every time Amy has a fit of temper I think, is this it? So when Bobby’s brother sent me a private message on Facebook to say that he’d begun to slid downhill about eighteen months ago it was another punch to the gut. Bobby is 47. Fortunately, although both of his parents are passed he has siblings who care for him. He lives in an adult facility and two of his brothers are his guardians.

I am reminded again to bless every day I have with those I love just as they are. I pray for their health and prosperity and ask that I not have to bury one of them. I also know that we do not always receive the answers we want. The woman who said that having children was agreeing to having a piece of your heart walking around forever certainly nailed it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Foot Steps At the Door

In the spirit of the season I am dipping my toe in the scary stories river. Blogonia Grandma L. reminded me of this story when she posted her own scary story on Pet Peeves and Other Ramblings.

The essentials of this story I believe to be true. It was told to me in the 1970s by my sweet little grandmother. She was a daughter of the Missouri Ozarks of Dutch and English extraction. That meant that you could eat off her floors if necessary and that she could keep going like so many of those who’d experienced the Great Depression or Hard Times as it was called in the Ozarks. It is possible that when she was telling me this story that she was pulling my leg, but Grandma wasn’t given to disassembly. She did not appear to be kidding and I remember how the hair stood up on the top of my arms and the back of my neck when she told me. Everyone involved in the story save my aunt, who was a child at the time it happened and says she doesn’t remember the incident, is gone. I wish I would have paid more attention to the details my grandmother told, but in the interest of the season and a good story I’ve tried to recreate it as accurately as and entertainingly possible.

The time was WWII. My father and his older brother were in the Navy in the South Pacific. They’d been at Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu on December 7th when the Japanese forced the United States into the war. There were no cell phones or email in those days. Communicating with the Hawaiian Islands could take days at least and so for several days my grandmother hadn’t known if her boys were dead or alive before a wire came from them saying that they were alive. The United States had been attacked and that set people on edge. Would the Japanese or Germany attack the U.S. mainland? Americans did what they’d done since Valley Forge. They picked themselves up and began doing what needed to be done to win the war amidst blackout curtains and civil defense exercises, especially on the coasts of the United States. People felt a lot like people felt after 9/11. No one knew what would happen next.

While their older sons were away fighting in the Pacific, my grandparents lived modestly in Vancouver, Washington with their two younger children. Vancouver at that time was a midish sized city across the Columbia River from the larger Portland, Oregon. One night Grandpa worked late at the shipyards on a literally dark and stormy night. It was one of those storms the Pacific Northwest is notorious for when the wind and rain come out of the Southwest dumping rain on that corner of the country, keeping it green. Grandma was home with the children.

During the course of the evening, Grandma and the children heard footsteps on the front porch steps. Probably Grandpa, maybe a neighbor. Who would be out in weather like this? Grandma wondered. They waited for a knock, but none came. Neither did any retreating footsteps. Grandma looked at the children. The children looked at Grandma. Tenuously Grandma cracked the front door to see who was there. She found no one. The electric bulb above the porch cast a yellow light on wet and muddy footprints leading up the steps to the porch, two foot prints squarely before the door within knocking distance, but none led away.

Grandma quickly closed the door. She and the children sat on her and Grandpa’s bed listening to the wind and the rain until he came home from work.

Epilogue: Twenty years after Grandma told me this story and some fifty years after it happened something of a similar nature happened to me. At that time our family had a furry doorbell in the form of a Toy Fox Terrier named Speck for Pee Wee Herman’s dog in Big Adventure. We also had a squeaky front door. Certainly the sound of the door bell was enough to send the dog into a frenzy of barking, but as little as the squeaking of the front door was enough to set him off.

Also at that time we had a friend living with us. Joe. Now Old Joe was charming and funny and a pathological liar, but we didn’t know that last bit when we let him move in temporarily which turned out to be eight years. It was possible that Joe was responsible for what happened, but I don’t believe it. It would have required more time than he ever had of a morning. Joe was the first to leave while I was still making lunches for the rest of the family and getting ready to leave for my job at a middle school. He was always late and always rushed to get to his job at a junk yard in Tacoma.

On this particular morning nothing seemed amiss. Joe had left for work and I was finishing up in the kitchen. The front door opened which sent Speck into a spasm of barking. I assumed that Joe had forgotten something.

“What did you forget?” I called from the kitchen.

When I got no answer I came around the corner from the kitchen to find the dog looking quizzically at the front door. I peered through the faux leaded glass in the door and saw that Joe’s car was not in the driveway. I went down the hall and checked his room. Empty. I cracked my son’s door, but he was asleep. On my way upstairs I locked the front door.

A search of the second floor yielded nothing more than my sleeping husband and daughter. I sat down on the edge of the bed to consider what had happened. I didn’t think I’d imagined the door opening because the dog had heard it, too. There’d been no car in the drive so it wasn’t Joe. Had someone seen him leave and walked up and opened the door, closing it when the dog began to bark? I got dressed and left for work, but not before going around and making sure that all the windows were closed and the doors locked.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fellow blogonias, listen up, Michelle Mitchell of the blog Scribbit has organized a writing contest around the seasonal theme of fear. Check it out here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Keeping Time with Amy

Even though she doesn’t entirely understand the concept, my daughter Amy has several ways of keeping track of the passage of time. She keeps track of the seasons by the condition of Patterson’s Fruit & Vegetable Stand which we pass by every time we go shopping. After sitting closed for a couple of months she knows they will have flowers for Valentine’s Day, then again for Easter and Mother’s Day. She anticipates summer, watching for the place to open with its fruit and vegetables. She knows that as the pumpkins appear that Halloween is in the offing and that when the stand closes after Halloween they will reopen after Thanksgiving with Christmas trees.

Amy keeps track of the months by family birthdays. She knows when everyone’s birthday is, hers being the most important. Amy looks forward to October as much as I do, but for a different reason. It is the month of her semiannual perm. Amy is stuck in the ‘80s. She loves the music, the movies and the big hair. It’s the decade she grew up in. She began getting her hair permed in about 1982 and has twice per year since then. Like many people with a disability, Amy is routine bound so perms in April and October are a must. Her stepfather’s one request—that she not look like a poodle. We try.

There are no accidents in life. I believe that as long as you are open with the universe and have a need that situations and things will come along to fill that. When we moved to Gig Harbor, WA from the Long Beach Peninsula we needed to find someone to cut the boys and my mother’s hair and to perm Amy’s. We knew no one, but my husband who had lived in Gig Harbor for only a couple of months when we arrived. Quite by chance we wandered into a beauty salon located in Gig Harbor’s main shopping center and met Carrie. That was nineteen years and lots of perms and haircuts ago.

Besides being a good hairdresser and a nice person, it turned out that Carrie had a special needs daughter of her own, younger than Amy. She understood and treated Amy like a princess when it was her day to get her hair done. Over the years and over Amy’s roller festooned head we’ve traded war stories. The girls were alone the day of the Nalley Valley earthquake. Well, Amy wasn’t quite alone, but Dave was on his way out the door to work, pausing just long enough to make sure she was okay. Ginnie really was alone, but had the presence of mind to scoot out the back door on her bottom to the back of the yard to wait for Carrie to come rushing home. I rushed home, too, having borrowed a van from school since my purse was in the school and they wouldn't let me in to get the keys to my car. Dave had locked the house and I had to throw rocks at Amy's window. She was not pleased when she opened the window and asked what the heck I wanted. I finally got her to come downstairs and open the door for me so I could use the bathroom and get a coat (it was February). It seemed that Amy had been asleep and the earthquake had waked her, but the lights were on (ours were not at school) and the heat on so she was more annoyed at the rude awakening than anything else.

Carrie and I had both the girls employed when they exited the school system and both of us discovered that it was more trouble than it was worth to have them working for a few hours per week at a minimum wage job that caused their social security to fluctuate monthly and if a job ended trying to get the full SSI reinstated took something next to an act of Congress.

We’ve commiserated at the exorbitant cost of handicapped seating at performances and the logistics of traveling with them. Although Amy is not in a wheelchair she is short and short of stamina. We arrive early to movies in the hopes of having her sit behind a wheelchair spot and then pray that no one in a wheelchair needs the spot. One night we were outfoxed when a literal busload of wheelchair bound movie goers arrived. Amy ended up in the front row in order to be able to see.

So yesterday was the big day. I sneaked away from work a few minutes early to go home and get her. At Amy’s birthday I take the entire day off from work and we really make a big deal, usually ending with a family dinner at whatever restaurant she fancies that year.

Over the years we’ve followed Carrie from shop to shop since our beginning with her in 1990. One time, when the shopping center burned down and the shop where she worked along with it, she even came to our house to cut my husband’s hair. We were a little early and Carrie had gone home to check on her daughter, but we waited with varying degrees of patience for her to return and get to the business of Amy’s afternoon of beauty.

Part of Amy’s perm routine is fast food. I don’t remember how it began, but the original shop was near to a McDonalds and since the process takes so long we began entertaining her with a chicken sandwich and fries. Now Carrie’s shop is right next door to a Burger King which is very handy so once her hair was wrapped around pink curlers she happily munched a chicken sandwich with a chocolate milkshake which was a first.

I would like it if Amy just gave up the ‘80s look, but then I wouldn’t get to sit and gossip with Carrie so we’ll keep going as long as Carrie keeps dishing out the beauty.