Friday, December 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye to 2011

2011 was not particularly good to us and I need to feel that I am working physically as well as emotionally toward a better 2012.

I really like New Year’s. I don’t get gussied up and go out and drink; I’m lucky if I’m awake to ring it in by watching Seattle’s KING5 broadcast of the celebration at the Space Needles, but I like New Year’s just the same. I wonder if Catholics feel about confession the way I feel about New Year’s. Absolution. Of course one could choose any day to embark on new habits, but there’s something about the collectivity of knowing that so many others are doing the same thing and the notion of a brand new year inspires me to get organized—a yearly resolve that meets with a little more success each year.

We returned from eight days at our home on the coast to discover that my son Frank had gotten us down the road on the process of organization by having cleaned the family room, the laundry room and the kitchen. I could have kissed him, but he was passed out on his bed as he’d stayed up all night cleaning for me. There is still debris from his, Ana’s and Gabriel’s celebration of Christmas strewn around the living room, but considering the mess that usually is left in the wake of Ana’s preparation to take Gabriel to Brazil for a month, I was gob-smacked at how well the house looked.

I have a few days of my break from my job at Gig Harbor High School left and am determined to get as much done as possible with the time left. People talk about Spring Cleaning, but I find Winter Cleaning and the sense of starting the year afresh much more satisfying. 2011 was not particularly good to us and I need to feel that I am working physically as well as emotionally toward a better 2012.

I’ve started excavating the refrigerator of its science experiments while the washing machine hums with the laundry we left and that which we brought home. I’m also making a pile for Goodwill. That is an ongoing process—to get rid of as much of what I’ve spent nearly sixty years collecting—and now I’ve decided to be ruthless. I am overly sentimental and my children are decidedly not. If I pare down my pile now there will be less to deal with when we move along whether it is to Ilwaco permanently or just…well…along.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7th, Seventy Years Later

A Sentimental Journey

It has been seventy years since the attack on Pearl Harbor and the surrounding airfields including Kaneohe where my father, Conrad R. Frieze and his brother Richard S. Frieze were on December 7th 1941.  There are few survivors left and as their Baby Boomer children age I wonder if that date will become just another date on the calender.  Twenty years ago I was substituting for a teacher's aid at a middle school on Dec. 7th and was appalled that the young teacher of the resource history class wasn't sure if the attack on Pearl Harbor was the beginning or the end of WWII for the United States.  It made me physically ill that the Peninsula School District has anyone that ignorant teaching school.

Beginning in 1981 my father went to Pearl for memorials every ten years. When he died in 2002 I’d intended to go for him for the 70th anniversary, but our financial situation changed in the meantime and the time away from work and the money such a trip would cost wasn’t in the budget.

Last week my darling husband Dave saw an article in the News Tribune about a PBY Memorial Foundation that has been set up at the Sea Plane Base at Oak Harbor NAS. One day away from work and a ferry ride between Port Townsend and Whidbey Island was doable. It was a bonus that Oak Harbor NAS was my Uncle Dick’s last post before he retired from the Navy and Whidbey Island is not unfamiliar to me.

I was able to arrange an excellent sub to be with my student at school and so I was set. Then it occurred to me that the museum to which we were going might enjoy having a large pen and ink drawing of a PBY which I had inherited from my father. We have a lot of wall space in our cathedral ceiled living room in Gig Harbor, but when we move to our home in Ilwaco there will be no such wall space. Since my father, who was many things including an artist, did not draw the picture I could part with it and believe that he would have approved so down it came.

The base was having a ceremony to commemorate December 7th, but it was to be at 8:30 AM. We might have gone the night before and stayed in a motel, but between a dog and a Special Needs daughter it didn’t seem advisable. I had to be content with visiting the museum and taking them my picture.

Oak Harbor was dressed in American flags in part for December 7th and because the last large squadron from Oak Harbor NAS returned from Iraq this week. When we arrived at Building 12, where the museum is housed we took pictures of the buttoned up PBY parked next to the building. I had never been that close to the sort of plane my dad and Uncle Dick fought back from on that Sunday morning. Seeing the waist hatch I could almost see those two, just babies really—19 and 20—with my father feeding his older brother ammo while Uncle Dick thudded away on a fifty caliber machine gun and even downing a Japanese Zero or so our family mythology goes. We cannot prove that it was Uncle Dick’s hunting prowess that brought down the Zero who once disabled crashed into a hangar, but as far as I am concerned, those two boys were true American heroes.

Inside Building 12 we were greeted by Richard Rezabek, the chairman of the board of trustees for the PBY Memorial Foundation. When I told him that I had a picture I wanted to donate he and the other docents were thrilled. Dave brought the picture in and it was ooed and ahhed over. I donated it in memory of my father and was delighted that it had a home where more people would see it and it would be well cared for.

The paperwork done, Dave and I wandered around the exhibits viewing bits and pieces of the PBY’s past. I could almost feel my dad walking beside me telling me about what I was seeing. How I wished he was. There are certain days that I miss him more than others and December 7th certainly is one of them.

While focusing on WWII and the Navy’s use of the PBY, there are other exhibits there was well from the Korean War in which my father’s younger brother was a Sea Bee, and the War in Vietnam. As I walked around and viewed the exhibits it occurred to me that I have other memorabilia that might be best served by being at this museum and will probably donate more things in the near future. We were told that during the summer the PBY on display outside will be open for viewing and I think a family outing that includes children and grandchildren would be wonderful.  The museum is open Wed. - Sat., 8 AM to 5 PM.  You need photo ID and car registration to get onto the base.

I am older, by a long shot, than my grandmother was seventy years ago tonight when she lay awake in her cousin’s bed in Bona, Missouri listening to the radio reports about the attack and the deaths at Pearl Harbor. It would be several days before she arrived back in Vancouver, Washington and received a telegram from my father and Uncle Dick telling her and Grandpa that they were well and wishing them a Merry Christmas. How they must have suffered not knowing if their oldest children were dead or alive. As the mother of sons I am well able now to appreciate how young they were and how my grandparents must have felt.

Friday, December 2, 2011

This is not the most comfortable subject, but I believe it is worthy of discussion—namely “hen pecking.” The dictionary definition is “To dominate or harass (one’s husband) with persistent nagging.” Before you get your dander up ladies, I am well aware that the nagging street runs in all directions, but as a hen myself I recently had cause to examine my own behavior.
We all criticize our mates when we are tired, don’t feel well, or when they are acting like idiots. Hopefully most of us remember to compliment them when they not only do something extraordinary, but also when they do the ordinary. Years ago I learned to literally count my blessings and find delight in the mundane, but like anyone else I can get into a rut of feeling sorry for myself or put upon. I try to remember to tell my husband how much I appreciate it when he carries the laundry basket upstairs, unloads the dishwasher (even if things get put back in wrong spots) or makes a funny joke. Everyone likes to feel valued and too often we forget to value those we are supposed to love the most.

I am reminded of the time my daughter-in-law’s ex-husband and his current wife came to our house. Obviously this man is not a prince—if he were my son would have missed out on a special princess—but upon introduction the man is charming. The same cannot be said for his wife who made herself look like “the-world’s-worst-wife” by berating him constantly. The result was that he looked not only charming, but patient. She might have thought that our family would be predisposed to not like this man, but instead we certainly had no respect for her. I think that we can get so caught up in our feelings of being put upon that we forget how our behavior will look to others.
Every once in a while we need to remind ourselves to be kind to those we love and to save the disagreements for private times.  Remember, you don't always have to be number one in the pecking order!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Grammy and GranDave Weekend

This weekend was a Grammy Weekend. Dave and I got to take our Grandson Gabriel to the beach for the weekend to help us shop for his great-grandmother and to have some fun. Needless-to-say, he was somewhat spoiled while shopping although when you shop at Goodwill you can get off without breaking the bank. While I finished up Great-grandma’s shopping at Fred Meyer and Gabriel was assured his Pringles were safely in the shopping cart, he and GranDave headed off to Rite Aid to see if they could replace the flip-up sunglasses Gabriel had knocked off GranDave’s face and which landed badly. They did not find just the sort of glasses that my somewhat OCD husband has to have, but although Dave has a quick temper he is also a soft touch so Gabriel returned clutching a bag with a new Halloween decoration in it, a horrible, frightening rubber head!

On Friday night Gabriel had become a little homesick and needed to talk to his dad because he had been asleep when Frank went to work and we had left for our weekend before he came home. “Do you ever miss your daddy, Grammy?” he’d asked me. “Every day.” It seemed to amaze him that a sixty-year-old could feel the same way about her daddy as a seven-year-old. Fortunately, Gabriel was able to talk to his daddy when we arrived in Ilwaco and texted him a lot on Saturday.

We returned from Astoria to Ilwaco just in time to eat some dinner and for Gabriel to transform into Harry Potter before heading to Ilwaco High School for the Halloween Carnival the high school put on for the children of the Peninsula. We took our cottage guests who have a three-year-old boy who is not very often in the company of other children and certainly never in a gymnasium full of boisterous ones and he was overwhelmed so they left. We stayed while Gabriel did everything once and some things like the haunted house and the Extreme inflated slide thing twice. We won brownies frosted with orange icing and Gabriel came away with a plastic frog that can jump. We were all surprised to discover that some of the candy he won was organic and he didn’t have to sell it to GranDave.

My favorite part of the day (or any other) was the going to bed part. After Gabriel had sung most of his Harry and the Potters album at the top of his lungs while I attempted to read, we turned off the lights and he asked for a story. I am pretty good at reading to children, but making stories up on the spot is Gabriel’s father’s forte. I’m better off sticking to the facts so since it is so close to Halloween I picked the story of my father’s voyage to Hawaii from San Diego in 1941 aboard the USS Tippecanoe. He was 18, a newly minted seaman and on his way to join his 20 year old brother on a PBY squadron based on Kaneohe. Aboard was a lifer, Chief Larzenarski, who was just about as mean as Capt. Hook. He was universally hated. Three days out of San Francisco the ship ran into a gale while towing a barge.

Papa, I told Gabriel, had barely gotten to sleep when he was awakened by the watch petty officer and told to stand watch from twelve to two on the port wing of the bridge. He donned his peacoat and watch cap because a gale was raging topside. Sometime during the first hour of his watch he saw a dim figure moving along the cat-walk. Papa couldn’t see who it was, but thought the person was wearing the hat of a CPO and he assumed it was Larzenarski making a round of the decks but he did not come up to the bridge were Papa was so he couldn’t be sure. Papa also thought he saw the shadow of another person move aft in the direction Larzenarski had gone, but in all the rain and spray he could not be sure.

At muster the next day Larzenarski did not muster and a search of the pitching, rolling ship revealed no trace of the abrasive man could be found. It was assumed that in the roil of the sea he had been pitched overboard during his round of the decks. Papa was questioned by his division officer as to what he’d seen on his watch. The eighteen-year-old told him what he thought he’d seen, but could not be sure if there were another figure on the deck besides the CPO. That was the end of it. Larzenarski was listed as missing and presumed drowned during the night. Papa, I told Gabriel, sailed into Pearl Harbor on his 19th birthday, very thankful to have completed his voyage and be reunited with Uncle Dick.

Gabriel wasn’t satisfied with one story and asked for another. My father’s life is rich with stories so I continued with Hawaii. I told him that Papa had wanted to go to Annapolis. I explained to him what that was and that Papa wanted to be a Naval Officer. While at Kaneohe he has asked to take the test for Annapolis and a date had been set for December 8th. On Sunday morning December 7th he had been asleep in the barracks, dreaming that he was asleep in his grandmother’s yard. Bees buzzed around his grandmother’s hollyhocks and around his head annoying him. He awoke to discover that the buzzing was coming from Japanese Zeros (fighter-planes, I explained) who were bombing and straffing the hangars and PBYs parked on the tarmac. Papa’s first thought was for his brother who had been on night watch so he pulled on his clothes and bolted from the barracks. Eventually he found Uncle Dick and together they mounted a machine gun in the waist hatch of a PBY that was empty of fuel and fought back with Uncle Dick shooting down a Zero. Unfortunately, the attack on Pearl Harbor and Kaneohe destroyed Papa’s dreams of Annapolis in more ways than one. He desk in which his test was locked burned in the attack and America was now at war and there wasn’t time for Papa to do anything but fight.

Gabriel sighed. “When I am grown up I will go to Annapolis so I can live his dream for him. I will write about it and put my writing where he is buried.” Now I sighed. My father had always hoped that one of my boys would want to make a career of the Navy and attend Annapolis. They never expressed even a smidgen of interest in either one, but I know he’s smiling now. I know, too, about seven-year-old promises, but the fact that in that moment in the dark, snuggled in my bed, Gabriel meant every word. In reality I am more concerned that he not sing Harry and the Potters for three solid hours on our trip home.

Postscript: As we prepared to return to Gig Harbor on Sunday, Dave discovered that his truck had been ransacked. The thieves got away with a three pack of ink for his printer, two cans of shaving cream, and half a tank of gas. It wasn’t until we returned to Gig Harbor that Dave was disappointed to discover that he could have included “severed head” on his police report. That would have been awesome in the police report in the Chinook Observer!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Morrigan's Cross by Nora Roberts

I told my friend Smitty that sometimes I need the literary equivalent of a toasted cheese sandwich. It’s not particularly good for your body, but sometimes it comforts the soul. “Morrigan’s Cross,” by Nora Roberts falls into that category. It combines magic, time-travel and vampyres. The first two are things I really like for a good escape and the last is how I got turned on the Anne Rice before she found religion.

At this point there will be some eye rolling and moving on. If you’re still with me you probably know that Nora Roberts is best known for her high end Romances. They aren’t in the Harlequin category, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I don’t read her as a steady diet.

Several years ago I picked up Roberts’ “Three Sisters Island Trilogy” because it had a sprinkling of magic in it, like she was testing the waters. Maybe she thought that if “Harry Potter” hadn’t been thrown on too many piles of flaming books, a little magic for the grown-ups would fly. “Morrigan’s Cross” is definitely a “happy meet” book. If Roberts is not a practicing Wiccan, she’s done her homework well. Not only does the novel (the first of a trilogy) have magic, it has time-travel and vampyres. Stephanie Miller certainly has given vampyres a shot in the arm. The young adult section is full of them. I would have been satisfied with the magic, delighted to have the time-travel as an addition, but the addition of vampyres seemed unnecessary at first, but as I got into it I saw how they fit. Instead of our witch heroine fighting some hussy for the attentions of her 15th century sorcerer love, they are fighting vampyres with a host of magical companions including the sorcerer’s vampyre brother.

If I had a complaint about this book, which is the first in a new trilogy, it would be that the characters who are Irish do not sound Irish. I want to hear a brogue. The story is good enough that I need to find out what happens and have ordered the next installment, “Dance of the Gods.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Judy Blue Eyes

Saturday night Dave and I braved the rain and traveled from our home in Ilwaco to Astoria, Oregon’s Liberty Theater to see Judy Collins. I was excited. We hadn’t been inside the Liberty Theater since it was rehabbed, although I’d seen a little piece on the Turner Classic Movies channel about it. Mostly I was excited because I have loved Judy forever. She sings like an angel and her songs have been the sound track of my life in so many ways. Dave’s sister-in-law even sang “Since You Ask” at our wedding twenty-one years ago and her version of “Amazing Grace” gives me goose bumps.

Judy is still beautiful and still sings like an angel, but I was a little disappointed. First of all she fiddled with her ample white hair away too much, fluffing it like a teenage girl, and frankly, she didn’t sing as much as I would have liked. Okay, there was an opening act we hadn’t anticipated. Kenny White turned out to be a joyful find. He’s funny, a cross between a crooner and Randy Newman and can make a grand piano sing. He was on long enough for us to want more (we bought a CD), but not enough to feel it was going to cut into Judy Blue Eyes. Well, Judy managed to do that.

I like it when performers tell stories of their lives and are relevant to the songs they are performing. Arlo Guthrie is a master of telling stories of his father Woody and of his own musical history, explaining the genesis of various songs. As Judy talked and strummed and tuned her guitar I was interested in stories of her childhood. I didn’t know she was born in Seattle. How cool! She’d start to strum a song and I’d get set for a treat, then she’d stop and start telling another story. She’d sing a line, even encouraging the audience to sing along and then, boom, stop to tell another story. She has a book coming out next month which I would be delighted to read and may even go on my Yule wish list, but we spent $90 to hear her sing.

This went on for probably 15-20 minutes. Finally she did a very long piece she’d written for her mother that is on her new album and one other from it. One encore song and it was over. I was left let down. Yes, Judy Collins still is beautiful and sings like an angel…just not enough.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Everyone, regardless of where they were, has a story to tell of 9/11. Only what’s left of the Greatest Generation remembers the attack on Pearl Harbor and their Baby Boomer children remember the assassinations of JFK, RFK and MLK. Nine eleven took the horror of those days and magnified them. Tom Brokaw has said that if the turbulent ‘60s were the death of American innocence, 9/11 shattered our security as a nation.

Usually I have the radio on 24/7, but for some reason that day I hadn’t turned on the one in our bathroom when I got out of the shower. It wasn’t until I got into the car to drive to my job at Gig Harbor High School that I heard something about a plane or planes having flown into the World Trade Center in New York. When I reached the Special Education classroom I worked in the other staff members had the television on and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but my first thought was Osama Bin Laden. No other person or group was as malevolent as his. Many Americans were oblivious to Bin Laden, but he had instantly become a household name that made the Ayatollah Khomeini look benevolent.

My second thought was that there might be a reaction to Americans of Middle Eastern heritage similar to what happened to Japanese Americans following December 7th, 1941. I had a personal reason to fear that. My youngest, who was just beginning his senior year in high school, is the son of an Iranian-American. It wasn’t the first time I’d feared for his safety, but previously I’d feared his abduction to Iran as a small child. I had sought the help of the US government then. Now I was worried about what the government would do to Americans of Middle Eastern decent. What other Americans would do.  Osama Bin Laden was not Iranian, but there was plenty of prejudice against Iranian Americans (and even Hispanic Americans) during the hostage crisis.  Americans have difficulty differentiating between Arabs and Persians.

Recently, when he was home from college my husband and I asked Nadir if he felt that he’d ever been hassled while going through security during his twice yearly trips from California. He said that he hadn’t. I’m not altogether sure he’d tell us if he were. My boys tend to keep Mama Bear in the dark where any sort of insult is concerned. Nadir has complained of discrimination when looking for a job and I am sure TSA takes a really good look at his ID and American passport with his very Persian name.

Fortunately the government seems to have learned from their appalling error in systematically rounding up Japanese Americans and putting them in concentration camps. Had anything similar been attempted with Middle Eastern Americans, his father, my husband, and I were prepared to find a way to get Nadir into Canada.

As a child I had lived in complete belief that the grown-ups would destroy the world in a nuclear war. Even as an adult I believed that as long as there were nuclear weapons, someone, sometime would use one or more. The fall of the Soviet Union lulled me into a false sense of security. Not since the Civil War had a war been fought on American soil—other than the attack on Hawaii which was not yet a state—and I felt safe. We were far from the crazies. Turns out that they were already here.

The intervening years since 9/11 and the death of Osama Bin Laden (a Seal Team Six bumper sticker is on my car) has done little ease my fears. Now we know how vulnerable we care. Now I have grandchildren born into a very different America where we may not fear a nuclear missile strike, but a dirty bomb in a suitcase is a real cause for concern. Nine eleven did not make a hawk or a conservative of me. If we become paranoid, prejudiced and jingoist, the terrorists win. We cannot condemn people of any faith, creed or ethnicity.  We cannot let our fear erode the freedoms upon which this country was built.  Our diversity should be our strength.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Please Mr. Postman

Write a letter to your Aunt Fanny tomorrow.

I love to receive personal mail. Don’t get me wrong, I like hearing from friends and family via email, but it’s nothing to having a letter to hold in your hands, knowing that someone special held it, to rereading over and over and maybe even packing around in a pocket or purse. Just ask a Vietnam Vet.

When I was a child my father spent extended periods of time in the South Pacific for Boeing and the United States Atomic Testing. Fifty-five years later I still have nearly all of the letters he wrote to me. Recently I purchased an archival box to keep them in. I have most of the letters my grandmother wrote to me when I was a young adult and young mother. She was the lynch pin in our family, loved getting mail, and was good to write to everyone in the family and share family news. I hope that someday my grandchildren will enjoy reading those letters. Are they going to get to read my old emails? Not likely, but to be honest, I did print off a lot of what I got from my father before he died. Most of us just hit delete and unless you are very, very, techy or on the Homeland Security’s radar, they are gone.

I am not alone. The mother of my friend Sue kept the letters Sue wrote to her when her own daughter was tiny. Now Sue can reread them and relive her own history. And hey, this stuff can turn up interesting family history. In my grandfather’s Spanish War trunk I found a packet of love letters from a girl who wasn’t my grandmother. My grandmother was considerably younger than my grandfather and a small child when these letters were written. I’ve always wondered about this lady and what happened to her.

Now the U.S. Postal Service is in trouble due to the economy (advertizing is down—yes, that stuff you hate and throw in the recycle) and email communication. The result is that post offices all over the country are going to be closed and service seriously cut. This will be especially hard on small towns and villages that don’t have home delivery and rely on popping down to the PO to get their mail. It will also be a loss of identity for some of those little villages. If they are unincorporated and have no post office they will become an unincorporated part of some county.

Allowing the Postal Service to deteriorate is a slippery slope. We are relying that technology will always work with no interruptions of power or service. There are all kinds of disasters, manmade and natural, that could leave us with no means of communication other than the Postal Service. That was exactly the point of Kevin Costner’s The Postman. I know it got panned, but I loved it and believe that the danger of losing means of communication that do not rely on technology. My grandchildren love to receive mail and I try to oblige them, especially the ones who don’t live with me. I worry about their children and grandchildren. Will they know what “snail mail” is?

So I guess this is a call to action. Write a letter to your Aunt Fanny tomorrow. You’ll make her happy and make a memory for yourself or grandchildren.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Little Egypt and the Road Less Traveled

I get to pass roads and waterways with names like Cranberry Creek, Preacher’s Slough, and Muddler Road.

Together and separately Dave and I make a lot of trips from our home in Gig Harbor to our home near the sea in Ilwaco. To keep things interesting and because we like exploring a bit on the byways we have come up a number of alternate routes to get to and from, none of which involve hectic I-5.

Forever and a day I had bombed down I-5 from the Puget Sound Area to Olympia where I took the Ocean Beaches exit toward the coast. I began driving that route when I was 16 and rode it with my parents for the sixteen years before that. When Dave and I moved to Gig Harbor Dave convinced me to try going through Shelton and avoiding I-5. He tried it and said it only took fifteen minutes longer than driving on the freeway and was so much more scenic and less stressful. I tried it and LOVED the lack of the freeway.

Once past Shelton we’ve developed several combinations of routes and we each have our favorite. Mine is to take the Cloquallum Road between Shelton and Elma, then the Montesano-Brady Road before catching the highway at Montesano. Dave likes to take 101 to the McClearly exit and then the Elma-Hicklin Road to Elma where he catches the highway to Montesano. We both like to occasionally take the road from Shelton to Matlock and Matlock to Brady before either catching the highway to Montesano or staying on the old highway that parallels it.

One of the things I like about taking the by-ways is that I get to pass roads and waterways with names like Cranberry Creek, Preacher’s Slough, and Muddler Road. On Labor Day I decided to indulge my long time curiosity about a road I’ve driven by numerous times coming from Shelton—W. Little Egypt. Where would W. Little Egypt take me? For once I was not in so much of a hurry that I couldn’t see where the road went so I turned my Screaming Yellow Zonker to the right.

Although I did discover Pyramid Ct. after I turned right onto Little Egypt, I didn’t find anything to explain how it got its name, but I did discover four miles of lovely country road where the shoulders are grass, the speed limit is 25 and it winds around through farms and trees until it hooks up with Highland Drive and takes you back out to the highway a few miles back from whence you came.

My little adventure probably cost me a half hour in travel time, but it was relaxing and entertaining time and I will continue to take the roads less traveled. Maybe in two weeks I will check out W. Dayton Airport Rd.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back-to-School Shopping, then and now

Third grade brought my first soap and water saddle shoes!

When I was a child back-to-school shopping meant getting dressed up in good clothes and going with my mother on the bus (we were a one car family for a long time) from Bellevue to downtown Seattle to shop at J.C. Penney’s and Fredrick and Nelson. No department stores at Bell Square yet. I got bored while my mother looked at patterns and fabric, but getting a new readymade dress was much more fun. Lunch was yummy chicken salad in the restaurant at Fredrick’s where there were table clothes and you had to sit up straight, put your napkin in your lap and act like a lady. The restrooms in Fredrick’s were exactly that. The ladies restroom had comfy arm chairs and couches where you could---well—rest. I do not know if the daddies got to rest like the mommies and grandmas.

Back-to-school shoes were at Nordstrom’s (which sold only shoes then), but for the several years of my life they were black and white corrective saddle shoes which did nothing to improve my decidedly flat feet. My consolation was that the girl next door had the black boot type of corrective shoes. It made me feel moderately better. Third grade brought my first soap and water saddle shoes! Gosh, I was excited.

By the mid to late 1970s and into the ‘80s, when I had three and four school age children, back-to-school shopping happened at thrift stores out of necessity and I have school pictures of the older boys in the same shirt—different years. We handed down and wore it out. I told them it was character building. I liked to believe that my children didn’t mind, but that wasn’t entirely true. When my oldest son was old enough for a newspaper job he began working to earn money for his own school clothes and always had a job thereafter.

September was always a thin month with lists of school supplies, emergency packs, school pictures and shoes. Shoes and underwear I bought new. I had an annual every year in high school. Out of the three older children, two of them got annuals their senior year. The third escaped high school for TCC and could not have cared less about annuals. By the time Nadir came along our circumstances had improved. Annuals were purchased for him and I don’t think he cared one way or another as long as he had his black J.C. Penney’s Arizona jeans.

Today we took our Granddaughter Linda for a little last minute back-to-school shopping. School starts tomorrow. I swear that all thoughts of economy and moderation fly out of my head where the grandchildren are concerned, but we landed somewhere in the middle of my back-to-school experiences. I still got dressed up because my mother taught me that you tell people what you think of them by how you dress and I do adore my grandchildren. Lunch was at a teriyaki joint near her home. I miss Fredrick’s and Nelson.

The shopping was done at Fred Meyer where I was happy to use $50 worth of coupons, but still spoiled her well with a pair of her favorite Twinkle Toes shoes and a pair of “stylish boots,” not to mention hair ribbons, tights, a new pink water-bottle and a Sponge Bob Squarepants Golden Book along with a Tinker Bell one for her little sister. Linda’s in second grade this year and excited to start. Grandson Gabriel is home schooled in our home and consequently is liable to be the recipient of things piece meal, but is spoiled just the same. Wait until little Lydia begins school. What fun we will have taking two little girls shopping!

Back to School

On some really delightful days I’ve been known to say that I’d do my job for free...

Along with my favorite season, this time of year means back-to-school and back-to-work. I love my job, although I’d really rather be at home with my daughter, my husband, my grandson and daughter-in-law, but as jobs go, mine isn’t bad. I am perpetually stuck in high school which at age 60 is a little weird and cool.

Because I am a “para educator” (a fancy word for teacher aid) I see school from a different vantage point than the classroom teachers. Rather than having a home base, I am a gypsy, moving from room to room where there are Special Education students. Every year, every semester is different. It makes the day go quickly and it presents its own problems as I have to deal not only with a multiple of personalities in the students, but in the teachers as well.

Teachers are some of my favorite people. We are a family of teachers. My son Frank is a high school art teacher. My in-laws are retired teachers, two of my brothers-in-law are teachers and two of my sisters-in-law are teachers, but I am sure that single one of their classrooms would be different and I have to adjust my brain to get in sync with each one as I move through my day.

Because I am on the move and seeing something beyond the individual teacher’s classroom door I am privy to what is going on in the hall. In many ways it’s like watching my own high school experience. While technology has radically changed how students interact, write and do research, the drama of being a teenager is pretty much the same.

Last year I spent two thirds of my day with one student. He is quadriplegic and very, very smart. I am his hands. I take notes during lectures, type when he dictates, fill in bubbles and blanks on tests. For that last bit we go into the hall. This year we will be together all day—which includes geometry, not my favorite subject. Yes, he’ll get it, but it helps if I do, too, since I’m the one writing everything down!

Last year was my student’s freshman year. My plan is to see him through to graduation and it will be fun to watch him grow intellectually. Besides smart he is funny and compassionate when someone else in his situation might be bitter and cranky. It is an honor to work with him and he is very good to tolerate an old lady. He laughed one day and said, “Between the two of us we have one good brain.” We’d BOTH been struggling with an algebra problem on homework.

The four years between freshman and senior years are huge. And then they walk up to you in the community and tell you how much you meant to them when they were in school and it makes even the bad days worthwhile.

On some really delightful days I’ve been known to say that I’d do my job for free and been told to be quiet. At the rate we are going with state budget cuts I will be putting my money where my mouth is any day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Looking for Ruth

I’m looking for my grandmother. She’s buried in Vancouver, WA, but the start of her life is murky. When she died in 1972 my mother and her sister had difficulty getting a death certificate since the State of Washington couldn’t find a record of her birth. I don’t know how they finally obtained a death certificate. Someone must have taken it on faith that Grandma was born on August 16th 1894 in the village of Ocasta, WA because there’s no evidence that she was despite the family mythology. There’s no record of her birth in Grays Harbor County period and no little girls were born there the year she was supposed to have come into the world. My mother had always believed that the records were burned in a fire, hence no birth certificate. There was no such fire.

Looking back my Aunt Mary knew something about it and didn’t tell my mother. Before his death my aunt had had a conversation with my grandfather who had sworn her to secrecy. When Grandma died Aunt Mary should have figured that her oath was lifted and spoken up while there might have been a trail to follow back to my grandmother’s beginnings, but she kept her secret for a good long while even after both of her parents were dead. As far as I know she kept the secret even after my father and uncle were dead and they knew something about it or thought they did.

My father and Uncle Pat used to tell my mother and aunt that their mother was adopted and Indian in ancestry. She had high cheekbones, dark hair and eyes and her daughters assumed they were taking advantage of those facts to give them a hard time. Being Native American would not have been a badge of honor in Vancouver, WA in the 1940s and ‘50s when I remember them making the claim. Seattle still had Jim Crow signs in shop windows. My mother laughed it off. At some point my aunt didn’t.

One day my aunt got into a fight with her husband over this allegation and in a fit of rage drove to my grandparents’ house to confront them. My grandmother was not at home, but Grandpa was and according to Aunt Mary he confirmed the story of my grandmother’s origin. And here’s where it gets even crazier. He also claimed that Grandma didn’t know and swore my aunt to a secrecy she kept too well.

Undoubtedly my aunt was upset about this revelation and was only too happy to keep it a secret. It wasn’t until her own daughter became too ill to work and needed health care that the story came to light and EVERYONE who might have known something was dead. Obviously it would have been nice to question my grandfather. He was 13 years older than my grandmother and had known the family from the time they moved from Grays Harbor to Vancouver, WA and obviously could have known that Ruth was not Amanda and Royal Austin’s natural daughter. My father and uncle had some reason for alleging the very same thing. Where did they get their information? If the story was circulating in Vancouver had my grandmother heard it?

And there’s one more piece of information that could be a clue. Amongst my grandfather’s effects my aunt found a letter that was in her grandfather’s papers. In the handwritten letter Royal bequeathed a sum of money to a home for unwed mothers in Lewis County should his wife and daughter precede him in death. They didn’t and the bequest was never made, but it does make one wonder.

So, I’m going to quit looking for Grandma in Grays Harbor County and look in Lewis County. The problems I face are the age of records and the real possibility that if she were Native American her adoption might have been suspect. Tribes were loath to give up children, but it is possible that her mother was white which would account for a home for unwed mothers being part of the equation. The University of Washington Library Archives suggested the Timberland Library System as well as the Lewis County Museum so I've sent queries. On the advice of the Lewis County Clerk I’ve also ordered a copy of my grandmother’s death certificate, but I expect it to contain erroneous information. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ain't Apologizin'

I am over feeling guilty for having been well pleased with the weather this summer. I am not a sun worshipper. Were I, I’d probably be living somewhere in the Southwest, but with the exception of the first 18 months of my life spent in Wichita, KS and six years in the middle in the Bay Area; I have lived and enjoyed the weather in Western Washington. I am what my friend Lorraine calls an old mossback.

The fact that we have not had days of 80 plus degree weather this summer suits me just fine. It wasn’t until I was at a family gathering where my husband’s family was bemoaning the weather this summer and my brother-in-law Corky piped up, “I’ve been loving the weather.” At last, another one! I wasn’t alone!

Part of my delight with the weather is that Autumn is my favorite season. That is counter intuitive because Autumn is when my break from my job with the school district is over and I have to go back to work. Autumn is my compensation for that. Other than having to get up in the dark each morning to go to work, what is not to like about Autumn? And I don’t so very much mind the dark anyway. I love the colors, smell and feel of Autumn, plus it is the season of my two favorite holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving.

As we rejoice in the bounty of the gifts with which Mother Earth has rewarded our labor, the She and we prepare ourselves for the quiet, inward turning of the winter--cold quiet days when we recharge and contemplate the turning of the wheel of life.

In truth the Ancient Celts, for whom I have a great deal of love and respect, viewed the month we call August as being the beginning of Autumn. The holiday of Lugnasa was the first harvest festival and occurred on the first of August. If we are harvesting then are we not in the harvest season? And even though the nights do not yet have that nip in them that I so love, there is a Vine Maple out in Chinook who has already dressed herself in shades of orange.

So although I shall be sad to leave our home by the sea I return to a job that is mostly agreeable and to the pleasure of the Autumnal Equinox which happens to be my husband’s birthday and when he will catch up with me!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"I Come to the Sea to Breathe"

I know for a fact that there are people who live on the coast who go for weeks, months and even years without getting out on to the beach.

A sign in the bedroom of my cottage at the sea reads “I come to the sea to breathe.” When I saw it in a shop I had to have it because it describes my feeling upon arriving at the sea—I can breathe. It is not that the air in Gig Harbor is so very foul. On the contrary, many mornings I marvel at the smell of the Doug Firs and flowers, but there you don’t have the smell of the sea.

Last night we took the dog and went to the Sid Snyder beach approach and walked along the boardwalk to the mid-point where we plunked ourselves down to watch the sunset. I let the sound of the breakers and the wind in the grass and smell of salt and seaweed wash over me, releasing the stress of my early summer and savoring the icy blue the ocean becomes just at sunset.

I love the sea in all it's moods from stormy to peaceful. During the Easter storm several years ago Dave went up to North Head Lighthouse to look at it. I prefer that stormy sea from the comfort of our car on a beach approach, but the power of the breakers crashing on shore is both humbling and energizing.

I know for a fact that there are people who live on the coast who go for weeks, months and even years without getting out on to the beach. I don’t understand it. I’m not just talking about folks like my mother who do not have a car and can’t go unless someone takes them. I’m talking about perfectly fit people so caught up in their day to day lives that they never stop and smell the sea. They live in one of the prettiest parts of the world and fail to realize it. I am very sorry for them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Growing Up in Bellevue

Several said that they'd learned not to say that they were raised in Bellevue.

Since our high school class picnic (see below) I have been ruminating on the experiences of my classmates and my growing up in Bellevue, WA, a city that could now be considered part of Silicone NW. As our evening at Lake Sammamish State Park drew to a close and twilight and good food blurred our edges, people spoke of their experiences in telling others where they had been raised. Many said that they had ceased telling people where they’d grown up. They said that they always met the expectation that they were rich and snobby. Several said that they'd learned not to say that they were raised in Bellevue. I know that when I moved to the Long Beach Peninsula as a 36 year old and told people where I’d been raised I got tagged as “the Bellevue Princess” which could not have been much farther from the truth.

It is true that to teenagers who came across Lake Washington from Seattle to dance at the Lake Hills Roller Rink on Saturday nights, we may have appeared affluent. We certainly were middle class and the housing tracts we lived in quintessential post WWII suburbs. But even within Bellevue there was stratification. I grew up in Lake Hills in the eastern part of Bellevue. Lake Hills was not considered as affluent as “old” Bellevue and some of the swankier housing tracts. My mother chronically suffered from house envy.

Bellevue in the 1950s (my parents and I moved to Bellevue in 1957) was nothing like the Bellevue of today. The downtown area was a few blocks of buildings on which there was a three story height restriction. There were grocery stores downtown and in the housing tracts which were populated largely by veterans of WWII and purchased with VA loans. Initially when we moved there from Seattle my mother and I dressed up in our Sunday best and took the bus or car (we had one for years and my father ride-pooled to Boeing) to Seattle to shop at department stores. I still remember when Fredrick & Nelson built a store in downtown Bellevue and how relieved I was to not make, what seemed to a child, long boring trips to buy whatever it was my mother thought we couldn’t live without.

The student parking lot at Sammamish High School only held about a dozen cars. At Gig Harbor High School where I work the student parking lot is several times larger than the staff lot and sprinkled with BMWs and F150s. Most of us rode the bus to school all three years. The boys who had cars were is large demand by the girls, thus eliminating the need for having parents cart them on dates. Those of us who had cars had ones that were ten years or older, not bright, shiny new ones. The gearheads, boys who knew cars inside and out, took great pride in keeping their cars looking nice and running well. In the district where I work the automotive program has been ghettoized by being moved out of town to another city where today’s gearheads are bused for part of the day. Talk about elitist. Although available to students, our district doesn’t want the program visible. The former automotive classroom houses a weight room now. I have no idea if the Bellevue high schools still have automotive programs.

During the 1950s and ‘60s the Bellevue School District was considered the best in the state, but apparently it wasn’t a given that everyone received a proper education. With elementary classes as large as 40, teachers had their hands full just keeping us in line. My first and second grade classes sat in alphabetical rows and there was little cooperative learning. It is not surprising that there were students whose learning styles fell outside of the set curriculum and fell through the cracks. Only recently did I learn that one of my classmates never learned to read until well on his way to senior citizen status. That fact that he has learned late in life is proof that he could have learned then if someone had had or taken the time to figure out a different way to present the material. But there are stories like this in all school districts, although it makes my heart ache at the years of pleasure this man missed in recreational reading, much less reading that would have helped him in his job life. Fortunately he’s making up for lost time.

Another student from our high school was a wonderful athlete, but no one addressed his dyslexia. There were plenty of girls willing to help him with his homework so he completed high school functionally illiterate. Although he married his high school sweetheart, who became a college graduate and teacher, the marriage didn’t last because it was colored by his inability to even read notes sent home by his children’s teachers. How might their lives have been different had he received the right instruction?

From a distance our lives might have been viewed at perfect. Most of our parents owned their own homes, many of the fathers worked at Boeing; most of the mothers were stay-at-home moms. We undoubtedly looked bright and shiny ourselves on that June evening in 1969 when we walked across the stage and received our diplomas. Despite what other communities might have thought, we were not born with silver spoons. For the most part our Depression Era parents worked hard to give us what they had not had and that level of comfort allowed our generation to cause a social and political upheaval, the ramifications—both good and bad—are still felt today.

Most of us have been successful in that we’ve faced struggles as varied as the raising of handicapped children to alcohol and drug addiction and managed to build lives that range from well off to comfortable with a few who have, despite a good beginning, messed up their lives . We are aging doctors, dentists, lawyers, mechanics, plumbers, hippies, conservatives and liberals. Most of us are grandparents who will not retire in as much comfort as many of our parents did. I know we won’t.

The only time I have demurred at telling people where I was raised was to people unfamiliar with the Puget Sound Area. Back in the 1960 and ‘70s if you said you were from Bellevue, WA you were frequently met with a blank stare. If you said Seattle, well that was a city they understood. Where the World’s Fair was, right? No, if anything makes me loath to claim my hometown it is what it represents now. I’m glad we grew up there when we did. Not all of our families were Father’s Knows Best, but we were better off than many. I wonder what they young people of Bellevue today think of their hometown.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Class Reunion 2011

The ten year reunion it was essentially just exactly like high school. (photo courtesy of Jodi Ruddenberg)

I wasn’t going to post a blog today. I don’t have time. We are getting ready to go back to my beloved old house on the Long Beach Peninsula. It’s been a wonderful weekend and if I don’t write about it I will be sorry and by the time I have regular Internet access the blush may be off the bloom so to speak, but I doubt it.

Saturday was magical. After not having any reunions for twenty years, our high school class of 1969 has taken to having them yearly. We have a lot of time to make up for. Last year was wonderful, but too hot. This year the crowd was smaller and the weather was Baby Bear perfect. The smaller crowd meant that I was able to talk to everyone save one who sneaked away when I wasn’t looking.

Prior to one intrepid classmate taking the bull by the horns and organizing our 40th reunion we’d only had two. The ten year reunion it was essentially just exactly like high school. Everyone stood around with the same folks they had stood around with in high school. It was all rather ill planned from the motel in Issaquah, where we did not grow up, to the Vienna sausages on tooth picks and the fact that our dance music came from another group in a room next door. They opened folding doors and we got to see the back of the band. It was miserable.

Things were a little better at our 20th reunion. I was delighted to see so many familiar faces, but at this point people were anxious to impress each other with their accomplishments. We did grow up in Bellevue and the expectation was that everyone had been to four or more years of college and were highly successful. I hadn’t, but that didn’t stop me from having a good time, but even I held onto some of the high school sensibilities. I found the dentists and lawyers insufferable in their need to impress and I became hysterical when a cheerleader and one of the women from what we called the “sosh” clique discovered that they’d come in the exact same beautiful cream colored suit. I thought it was a Kodak moment and nearly rolled on the floor. Not very mature, but would have made a great scene in a movie.

I’ve written previously about my experience at our 41st get-together, about how none of that stuff matters anymore and this year was even sweeter. It was gratifying to watch a couple of people who had never been to a reunion and who had agonized about attending, come to the realization that we are just a bunch of old people, mostly grandparents, who have a shared history. We were a diverse bunch—a plumber, a musician, a Sufi, mechanics, teachers, artists. We spoke the names of those who are no longer with us with the knowledge that at our age there will be more and more on that list.

I felt thirsty to hear everyone’s stories. Some I hadn’t known a whit in high school and now I wanted to know everything from what it had been like in high school for them to what they are doing now and hope to do. One woman, so dear to me in junior high, had left at the end of our sophomore year and my heart sang to see her.

There were tears and a lot of laughter.

I must not have been alone in this hunger for connecting with our roots because this year people lingered all the way through the evening until darkness, mosquitoes and park closure sent us on our ways with promises to get together again before another twelve months have gone by and determined to find more of the missing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eating Locally

It is such a labor of love for us, and worth all the shoveling, weeding, and mucking about in manure.” ~ Tim Ruddenberg, Camano Island backyard farmer
(picture courtesy of Jodi & Tim Ruddenberg)

Today we got to indulge in one of our favorite summer activities, the Tacoma Thursday Farmer’s Market. The bulk of our time this summer has been spent on my beloved Long Beach Peninsula and been busy caring for extended family and their pets and home improvements. Coming back to Pierce County this week has been more relaxing and when Dave suggested we take a trip across the bridge to Tacoma’s Farmer’s Market that happens every Thursday during the summer.
We were gratified to see lots of people taking advantage of buying right from farmers, butchers, bakers and candle makers. After checking out a few of the stalls and deciding what we’d come back and get, we made a beeline for something to eat. There is a whole section of food vendors on the plaza next to the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, but we chose two down along the street. Dave got Mexican from a taco truck and I had a turkey-cream cheese-cranberry sandwich on a rosemary bagel. Yum!

When our lunch was finished we got a cookie to share from the bagel man and then strolled the rest of market, stopping to listen to a street musician doing Cab Callaway tunes. On the way back up Broadway we stopped and bought organic raspberries and beets before heading home.

On the way home we talked about living locally. It is Dave’s and my belief that the best way we can spend our limited income is in purchasing straight from the folks producing the products we want. Imported products, particularly Chinese products, are inescapable, but whenever we can we prefer to keep our money in the community because it fuels the local economy and makes for a smaller footprint on the Earth.

(picture courtesy of Jodi & Tim Ruddenberg)

Another activity that we believe is important to the environment, health and finances are backyard gardens. Our house in Gig Harbor is surrounded by Doug Firs which makes for a cool house in the summer, but for little in the way of garden. Nevertheless, we admire those who can and do grow much of their own food. An example of our food heroes are Jodi and Tim Ruddenberg on Camano Island. “I have always raised food for the family, not to sell. We give away virtually all our excess to family, friends, and neighbors, “says Tim, a photographer by trade.

“It is such a labor of love for us and worth all the shoveling, weeding, and mucking about in manure. Living, farming, buying locally is dear to us, but our concern is always price. I suppose that is why we give our garden away. Seems that those who need it the most are the least likely to afford it. My interest lately has been longer term consecutive crops, late Fall and early Spring crops, and overwintering crops. We really don't need to buy anything during the season.”

Local farmers know each other and while “chatting” with Tim he mentioned that their friends Don and Elaine had just stopped by and he’d chatted with him about gardening. They own Open Gate Farm on Camano, have a roadside stand and Don bakes. If you get up their way, check them out. I’m itching to get to Camano to see Jodi and Tim and when we see them at our high school class picnic I may try to wangle and invite for this fall.

The Ruddenbergs keep chickens as do our friends Sydney and Nyel Stevens of Oysterville. We have chicken envy and this year Dave attended a chicken workshop at the Proctor District Farmers Market and there may be chickens in our future. We have a good safe spot behind our garage and living outside the city limits of Gig Harbor should not have trouble with ordnances.
picture courtesy of Jodi & Tim Ruddenberg)

(In her blog Sydney of Oysterville, Sydney Stevens recently wrote about an editable garden tour on the Long Beach Peninsula and a conversation she had with the educator in charge of the Career and Technical Education of the Ocean Beach School District, Mark Simmons, and possible sustainable gardening projects for students. That got my educator juices flowing and so I asked Tim Ruddenberg what he thought about creating more backyard farmers by teaching it to students. “I am in favor of as much exposure as possible. I work with homeless kids on the weekend, and we have started a garden for them. Most kids don't have a clue,” Tim told me.

I believe that Americans need to change their relationship with food for the sake of their health, pocketbooks and the environment. The activity at the Thursday Market certainly gave me hope and the idea of creating a new generation of backyard Victory-type gardeners is exciting. There are farmers’ markets all over the country this time of year so get out and get up close and personal with your food!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Portland's Grotto

You cannot help but feel at peace there.

Although not Catholic this summer I visited The Grotto in Portland, OR. My cousin had told me about it last fall and after visiting her in a hospice house in Vancouver last month I decided that I would go and was very glad I did.

When you drive into the Grotto parking lot and step out of your car, you leave behind the city—the world. Regardless of your religious inclination the feeling of peace and serenity settles around you like a soft blanket. The huge Doug Firs and rhododendrons absorb the noise of the city and perhaps the prayers of the millions of visitors since Father Ambrose Mayer brought to fruition in 1924 a promise he had made to God as a child—to do something great for the Church.

The Grotto itself is carved from an old Union Pacific Railway quarry which Fr. Mayer, a Canadian Catholic priets, made a down payment of $3,000 and his faith in 1923. An altar stands in the carved out rock hillside with a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà above. The Church of Our Sorrowful Mother stands just beyond the Grotto. Being of limited time that particular day I did not go into the church nor explore the extensive grounds that include an elevator ride to the top of the grotto, but I did go into the gift shop, purchase a candle and light it for my cousin, asking for an easy passage for her.

From the website you will see that there are many beautiful services done throughout the year including one on August 15th for the celebration of what Catholics believe was the assumption of Mary into heaven. Religiously eclectic myself, I must admit to feeling the appeal of focus on the feminine aspect of spirituality and would recommend a visit to Portland’s Grotto regardless of your spiritual persuasion. It is hard to believe that you are in the midst of a large city and you cannot help but feel at peace there.

Monday, August 8, 2011

If this isn’t a recession, what the heck is it?

The belt is going to have to come in a few more notches

As this past week has shown, things don’t really seem to be getting better in this country. I’m still hoping for change, but angry that the regressives in this country seem to be having their way. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer and in the meantime it’s sometimes hard to see the fun.

When the bubble burst, stock market crashed, and the Great Recession started in ’08 I figured that we’d hunker down, tighten our belts and wait it out. In the meantime my husband’s job was eliminated. True, he had retirement from 25 plus years with the FAA, but that is a half salary and there are not a lot of jobs for aging airtraffic controllers in the private sector. True, he could have continued working for the company that took over his sector of the FAA, but it would have meant relocating to undesirable parts of the country (Sorry, Texas, Arizona, and Virginia) leaving behind aging parents. His unemployment is due to run out in October and my live-in son and I will be receiving a 2% pay cuts this year.

I have a friend who insists that circumstances are a matter of visualization and attitude. It is hard to be optimistic right now. My daughter-in-law has taken to not watching the news and reminding me that we have each other and our heath. Blessings indeed, but that hardly makes the mortgage payment on a house worth less than it was three years ago. I probably should stop listening to the news, too, but I'm too much of a junkie to do that. The belt is going to have to come in a few more notches and yet economists can’t seem to agree. Is the recession over? Are we going into a double-dip recession? If this isn’t a recession, what the heck is it?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Summertime, Reuniontime

I thought it was emblematic of the day

Summertime is the season of reunions, familial and school. My in-laws have a reunion/family barbeque planned for this summer at their home before moving into assisted living. My husband and my high school picnic is the day before the family event so we will be busy that weekend. I am excited about both. My husband’s family is large and most amiable and I have come to value each and every of our classmates, regardless of our relationship, or lack thereof, in high school so I look forward to lively conversations all around.

One of the perks of becoming a senior citizen vs. a high school senior is having a grasp of who we are and what is important. All the labels such as “jocks,” ” socishes,” and “motor heads” have made way for “grandma” and “grandpa.” We are classic members of the Boomer Generation, raised in the post-WWII ‘burbs. Most of our daddies fought in WWII and many of those men went to work for the Boeing Company the wages for who fueled the Bellevue School District to afford us an excellent education. In short, regardless of any differences we perceived amongst ourselves growing up, in truth we were more alike than different.

The class of 1969 of Sammamish High School is pretty disorganized. Were it not I would not have been involved in organizing reunions the past two years. I was not a part of high school activities—far from it. I ran with a group who identified itself as anti-establishment, anti-war, and anti-school culture. How ironic then that, when twenty years had passed since our 20th reunion, with no sign of gathering, it was one of our number who took it upon himself to organize one. And he roped me into helping locate classmates.

Due to a conflicting family commitment and Dave having to work, we did not make it to the 40th picnic, but made it a point to attend the 41st. Even at our 20th reunion I’d felt a difference in how our classmates related to each other, but by the 41st all I felt was joy at seeing people, many of whom I had known since childhood and many of whom I wanted to know better. Because I didn’t run with the “in-crowd” there were plenty of picnickers whom I’d never spoken to. One of them, one of the most popular girls in school, arrived late, but made a point of thanking me for having arranged the picnic. I kept telling people that it was Smitty, not me, but I was the most visible on Face Book so I was getting the credit. Anyway, I thought it was emblematic of the day that one of the most beautiful and popular girls at school, whose notice I’d been beyond, genuinely seemed grateful to me. I did not know that she was seeing into my heart and mind.

I felt I had plenty of grist for the blog mill, but was exhausted by the time we got home and lo, my thunder was stolen by above mentioned woman who it would seem has as beautiful a heart as face. For someone with whom I believed I had never had anything in common with she managed to take the words right out of my fingers, creating the exact perfect end to a perfect day.

Now we are approaching our 42nd year picnic and I eagerly anticipate seeing many of the faces of my childhood, all of whom are most beloved. As the Baby Boom Generation we grew up during a unique time in American history and in our case, the quintessential ‘50s, post WWII suburb of Bellevue.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

When I was a child my mother kept a jar of buttons. I thought it was fascinating. The buttons were all sizes, colors and textures. Mother had saved them from clothing that had worn out and could tell you about the pieces the salvaged buttons had come from. They told stories of clothing my parent had owned before I was born in much the same way my grandmother’s quilts did of an even earlier time. If a button was lost from one of my father’s white shirts that he wore to work at the Boeing Company, out came the buttons for the search for another. My parents were raised during the Great Depression and didn’t throw away much.

I don’t think buttons have ever been inexpensive. Go to Joann Fabrics and price buttons now and you won’t want to pay $5 for a card of four buttons just to replace one on a cuff or front placket. Even now it’s good to have a jar of buttons on hands. I save several. Besides saving them from our family’s worn-out clothing I’ve purchased them, but not on expensive cards at a retail store. Obviously my mother and I are not the only old ladies with jars of buttons. Other old women pass away and their families don’t realize the treasure they’ve been left in those jars and the jars end up at barn sales and thrift stores.

My most recent acquisitions came from my ex-mother-in-law. When Mom C passed away and Dad C went to live in assisted living my children and grandchildren were invited to come to the house and take whatever they wanted. My then six-year-old grandson Gabriel wanted his Great-Grandma’s buttons. They sat untouched in his room for a year until his mother decided that space being at a premium, the buttons would have to make way for action figures and puzzles. Because Gabriel was saving money for a personal DVD player I offered to buy them from him and he readily accepted.
Mom C’s collection of buttons was huge and fascinating.

And too good to keep to myself. While sorting through the vast collection, sorting them by color, I found some so unusual that I knew that there was a future for them beyond the possibility of my children sending them to the thrift store sometime in the future. I have a friend whom I’ve known since high school who is an artist. Marlys sews what she terms wearable art from fabric she finds in thrift stores and since many pieces are shirts running the gamut from mid-century pop to the exotically beautiful. Some of the buttons were so small I could not see how they could be anything but decoration and I knew that Marlys would know what to do with them as well as some sets of unusual buttons that were just screaming her name. I popped them into the mail for what Marlys declared was Christmas in July.

My buttons don’t just sit on a closet shelf waiting for some clothing malfunction. To me they are art. The jar with the red and green ones comes out at Christmas to nestle amongst vintage ornaments on the breakfront in my kitchen. The purple ones sit in a jar with my amethyst glassware in an antique kitchen cupboard. I have oranges and yellows for fall and jars of white, blue, black and pink. I know that people sell vintage buttons in shops and on eBay and since I will be getting a pay cut come fall, I might try my hand at it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Elbow Room

I have been gone from my blog for nearly a year. Last summer my life got crazy caring for my aging mother and then when I returned to school last fall I had a much busier schedule that left me satisfied, but exhausted. This summer has not been much better. My mother is better, but her sister is worse and my cousin worse still so I’ve run errands and walked dogs, done laundry and dried backs and a lot of the time while at our summer home we’ve not had an Internet connection. I have discovered that there is a coffee shop with WiFi where I hope to post some blogs during what is left of my summer. Below is something I jotted down before the end of school, but until now had not had time to post. It is ridiculous, as most of my thoughts are, but after a year away here it is:

Recently I attended a bridal shower for one of my nieces. The hostess had set out a basket of cards and some metallic pens with a sign directing the guests to write a piece of advice for the bride. One of my daughters-in-law’s advice was to not listen to advice. Probably that was the best advice. With three marriages to my credit (or discredit) I am probably not the best person to give marriage advice. I doubt if brides ever take this sort of advice seriously anyway, but this was better than those stupid shower games so on a whim I grabbed a card and wrote “Remember to cream your elbows.”

My first mother-in-law, whom I revere to this day, said she could “tell the cut of someone’s jib by their elbows.” Mom C had been in the Navy so her turn of phrase was not as surprising as her observation. When I asked about it she said that if someone had grimy, dry elbows it showed a lack of attention to one’s hygiene and sloppiness in other areas of their life. It made me pay attention to my own elbows.
Think of how we abuse our elbows. They get a workout every day as we use our arms to carry things, eat, hug loved ones. When we are tired or sad, what do we lean on? At least one if not both elbows. Like any friend they need care. I make sure mine don’t grimy and stay soft. I cream them every day before I dress and as I do, I think of Mom C.