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So this was the second time I proctored an SAT exam. The second day this school year I have scrambled out of bed, showered and rushed off to UHS. Being Saturday the commute across town was easy at 7:00. Only eighteen students in my room, all well disciplined and tired. Eager and earnest, they remind me why I loved working with young adults as I did. When I finished at 1:30 I was ready to head home instead of going off exploring and shopping as I had thought I might. Another rain break allowed for a Beagle walk.
Still not ready to go back to the photos for my blog, I decided to try to finish up a five generation layout of my mother’s and father’s family tree. The going is really rough when I try to find census data from the mid and early 1800’s. And, when I don’t know the surname or maiden name. But I keep at it. Down to just four of that way back there generation to dig up info on. One thing that stalls me is the 1830 Scottish Census which is a registry of slaves. Mind boggling.
A volley of emails among my sisters and nieces is coming together as a coherent plan that promises fun and surprises. Molly, my Au Pair niece is returning to Portland December 15. She will stay with cousin Lynn and take classes at PCC. She already has a job interview lined up! Unbeknownst to Molly, her mom will fly in from San Diego in advance and drive to Corvallis for time with Dad. Coincidentally I will be helping Dad that day. So three sisters will have an evening together, and Lori will surprise her girl by greeting her when she arrives.
This morning I put finishing touches on the poster for the Harvey Littlejohn Low Clan family tree. It is only four generations deep, but all family members have been identified, birth, marriage and death dates noted or estimated, and photos of all that I have are posted. I am pretty sure my sister Diana has photos of some of the others. If so I can scan and add them later. In keeping with my ‘being‘ instead of ‘doing‘ agenda I decided this does not have to be done for Christmas. If it is fine, if not, later will work too!
I started this Ancestry search to find Dad’s father’s family members, so now I will focus on the Alexander Low Tree and get it as complete as I can. Getting pictures of these people will be hard, but I am persistent. I found two through other trees that were posted on Ancestry.com, including Jessie Fraser, Dad’s mom, a lucky find!
So it seems I am obsessing; if I am not working on the trees I’m writing about them! Ah, this retired life - love it. I may not be wealthy, but I am rich with time.
His door was locked when she arrived but she knew he was home; his truck was parked in the driveway. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t hear when she rang the bell, deaf as he was, so when he did not answer she called on her cell.
“Hi Dad, it’s Cindy - I’m at your door, came to see you!”
“What? You’re here? At the door?” He quizzed in confusion.
“I have fresh home made chicken soup for lunch!” She replied delightedly, knowing he was surprised at this unannounced visit.
“Well, OK, I’m on my way!”
Though somewhat rattled at this unexpected interruption to his daily routine, Harve was pleased to see his daughter on this cold last day of February.
“I know we had the whole family party already, but I just had to be with you on your ninetieth birthday, so here I am.” Cindy dropped her bags to hug her Dad and accept his customary puckered peck. After a warm embrace they moved into the living room where he stopped and turned to her.
“Birthdays,” he quavered, “I have trouble with birthdays - make me think about your mom, my dad, and brother George.”
“In the night I woke up to take a pee,” he continued, “and I was thinking ‘I need to be real quiet so I don’t wake up mama’.” He looked Cindy straight in her dark brown eyes. “That’s your mama, who is not living; and it took me a few moments to come to and correct myself, to confirm in my brain, ain’t nobody here but me.” Blinking away the welling tears he shook his head and pressed his hands down as if to dismiss this melancholy. Listening intently, Cindy took his hand in both of hers.
Cindy set her bags upon the cluttered kitchen counter and draped her coat over a chair. The room was dark, the furnishings old and worn. She opened the heavy curtains to let in the cloud filtered light, and turned on some lamps. While the soup warmed Cindy cleared papers and magazines from the chairs and TV trays and set her chair next to Harve’s big lounge chair where the two of them would sit, sup and talk.
“Not a bad morning,” he boasted as he returned. “I made $750 today.”
“What a nice happy birthday present!” Cindy exclaimed.
That evening Mike and I hatched up a plan to nab a rabbit ourselves. When the campfire flickered low, Mike called me aside.
“It’s dark enough now, let’s hide behind that fir tree, I saw a rabbit under it this afternoon.”
“OK, I’ll get the gunnysack.” I answered excitedly.
“I’ve got the flashlight - hurry and meet me there.”
“OK! Just a minute!” We crept away and Mike positioned us down wind from where he surmised a rabbit would emerge.
“I don’t see anything.” I whispered.
“Hold your horses. Just be quiet and don’t move.”
Soon the soft sound of furry feet shuffling through dry duff drew our attention. Mike flashed the light into the rabbit’s eyes while I grappled to find the opening of the sack. Frozen in place, our captive glared blindly, nose twitching frantically as it flipped its highly sensitive ears in every direction.
“Shit Lindy, grab the sucker!” Mike hollered.
“But it might bite me!” I blurted, grappling to find the opening of the burlap bag. “Dang where is it, just a sec lemme get the sack over it’s head.”
“Just grab it!” Mike insisted growing ever more exasperated.
The Studebaker was parked off the side of a rutted dirt road in the middle of a lightly wooded meadow, which more than likely was posted, “No Trespassing.” I was inspecting bugs and flowers when a distinguished looking fellow mounted on a stately horse approached. “Hello,” he called out to Dad, “what are you up to out here?”
Resting his gun over his forearm barrel pointed toward the ground, Dad replied. “We’re a small hunting party from the mainland chasing down your abundant San Juan Rabbits. I’m Harvey Low,” Dad smiled extending his hand, “pleased to meet you.”
“Conrad Stewart, a pleasure.” The man returned shaking Dad’s hand. “Yes we have quite a mess here with the rabbits. Some farmers allowed their domesticated stock to run loose and they bred with the natives and now we have an infestation. I’m gratified your party is here helping to reduce the surplus!”
“Happy to do it,” Dad assured him. “We hope to bag enough to keep our family in rabbit thru winter. Nice country here,” Dad continued as he glanced around the meadow, “sure would like to find a good beach where we could dig for clams though.”
“So far we haven’t had any luck finding open access tidelands which is a shame. You wouldn’t happen to know of a place we could to dig for clams would you?”
Conrad thought for a minute. “You’re right about that, most of the tidelands are privately owned and off limits. As it happens though, my mother has a sizable spread with good tideland on the Northeast side of the island. She’s pretty reclusive and there is no guarantee she’ll let you on the property, but you could tell her I had given you her address.”
“Mighty kindly of you,” Dad said with a grin as he rummaged in the Studebaker’s glovebox for a piece of paper and stub of pencil. Still astride his majestic mount, Conrad sketched out a rough map and described some of the landmarks Dad should look for along the way. With a tip of his fedora and a gentle pull on the reins Conrad bid us good bye. I waved a farewell, wishing I’d had the courage to ask him the name of his horse. Mom and Diana came out of the woods followed soon by Grandma and Grandpa.
“Damned rabbits are onto us,” Grandpa grumbled. “Must have been some hunters here yesterday, they’re all spooky.”
“We only got three,” Mom and Diana agreed.
“Hell, that’s one more than we bagged,” Grandpa allowed. “What do you say we try another location Harve?”
“Well I got a little surprise for you,” Dad chuckled. “Fella dropped by a while ago and he and I got to talking and he gives me directions to his moms place which he says has a big expanse of tideland and we might be able to talk her into letting us dig for clams."
With Dad at his side Grandpa rapped gently on the door. The wizened face or an old woman peered out uncertainly between faded curtains. Grandpa and Dad smiled their most charmingly and the ancient woman cautiously unlatched and opened the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Stewart is it?” Grandpa began in his warmest tone. The lady nodded. “We had the good fortune of meeting your son Conrad this morning, and he suggested you might allow us to dig for clams on your beach.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Mrs. Stewart answered hesitantly, “I mean I guess it would be all right, but...”
“We’ll be very careful to fill in the holes we dig and leave the beach clean, and the children are very well behaved. It would be such a kindness if you would allow us just a little time on your tideland,” Grandpa pursued earnestly.
“Well, I suppose it’s OK.” Mrs. Stewart relented as she absently fingering her deeply creased mouth. At the go ahead nod from Dad, Mom and Grandma began unloading shovels and pails, while we kids gleefully bounded out of the hot car to scout the shoreline for clam spouts. The place was rich with them.
When Dad shouted; “horseneck!” Grandpa rushed over to dig with him.
“I’ll take this side,” Dad shouted, “you dig over there.”
“We’ll get the son-of-a-bitch,” Grandpa assured Dad as he flung another shovel full of wet sand aside. Mike and I scampered over to assist in the intense pursuit of one of the largest clams in the world. On our knees in the muck, we waited for the ‘go ahead’ from Dad or Grandpa, then scooped out the suctioning sand in an all out race to expose the retreating “neck” of the delicious giant *geoduck.
Breathing heavily, Dad signaled a halt, and Mike and I plunged our hands into the ever deepening watery pit, hoping to be the one to seize the neck of our elusive prey.
“Ooooh, it’s right here!” I called out excitedly.
“Did you get a hold of it? Did you grab the neck?” Mike probed earnestly.
“I just felt it for a minute, then when I touched it, it took off again. But it was right here!”
“OK,” Dad chimed in, “we’re on the right track.” After a hard half hour of dedicated excavation, the geoduck was rooted out.
It must have been 1972 that Christmas Eve when I brought home our first ever Christmas tree. Creighton was working at the record store we had opened just a week before, and I was grocery shopping before heading out to my evening restaurant waitressing job. Crossing the parking lot of Dissmores IGA, I noticed a few remaining trees at the Boy Scout lot and splurged on the $1.00, three feet tall one. I took it home to our tiny two room apartment and stuck it in the hole of a small cable carrier we used as a side table.
When I came home from work that night Creighton was as excited as a young boy. He had bought some ornaments and decorated our little tree. Hugging me warmly he offered a half pint of Scotch and a box of chocolate pecan Turtles. Sipping the whiskey I was overcome with optimism; that something so seemingly insignificant could bring us closer together. The tree, a symbol of eternal life and hope for the future had ushered into our home a promise of joy. Every year since when we decorate our tree, those first little ornaments remind us how precious life is.
The day before the day before Christmas finds me in the kitchen early; grating lemon zest, proofing yeast, chopping almonds, citron and glazed cherries, measuring milk, sugar, shortening, raisins, salt and flour, and kneading it all into a lovely bread dough that will rise twice over the course of the day, be shaped into two crescents (one for Dad, one for us) allowed to rise one more time then be baked and frosted before bedtime. While the dough rises I wrap the last packages for family, make dips, and prepare fresh cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, jicama, celery, and mushrooms for snacking.
Serving fresh cracked Dungeness crab, a delicacy, is a traditional feature of my family’s Christmas Eve dinner. When Diana emailed announcing the absence of fresh crab in Corvallis I recalled the Asian market in East county. I had previously shopped for clams there and was impressed by the large glass tanks teeming with live crab and lobster. So I called and they assured me I could get crab when they opened at 9:30 in the morning. By noon Creighton and I arrived in Corvallis with five large feisty crabs which Les and I boiled, cooled, cracked and iced.
I was reminded today of the Christmas when Creighton’s mom gave him cowboy boots, a 12 string guitar, and both or us fringed leather jackets. Broke as newly married college students can be, we offered small gifts of fragranced soap and a Charlie Brown cartoon book. The imbalance was stark. What could we say to compensate for such disparity?
In a week or so Creighton received an excoriating phone call from his mom charging him with being ungrateful. He vowed never to talk to her again. It was his dad who finally convinced Creighton to reconnect with his family.
Jacques arrived at our doorstep an outcast or runaway. Within a day he ran out the front door. As I stood on the porch and told him he was free to go, he looked at me in Beagle befuddlement. I did not yell, hit or chase, I just said; "OK little fella, you wanna leave, go ahead. You wanna stay - the door is still open."
Jacques trusted me to the very end. Today as I laid him to rest, I released bone deep sadness for events during those years after he walked back up the stairs and into my heart.
So here comes the next call; two messages left and addressed to me from Paul in a fluttery buttery plea for me to send him the calendar I usually give him for Christmas. It has the birthdate of all his children and grandchildren and their age on it and he has come to depend on it. I didn’t send it because it seemed to me, after how he’d treated his son my husband following the election, that a card was ample. I had purchased the Cougar Gold cheese to be sent to them much earlier. That was enough.
All day yesterday and today, along with grieving the loss of Jacques, I have been formulating my reply. Since Paul is deaf, I will want few but powerful words. It helps to rant all that I’d LIKE to say, but before I call, I will have an assertive no-nonsense answer ready.
“I received your request for a calendar. I will send you one only after you fulfill two conditions. One; you apologize sincerely to your son for your egregious behavior toward him when you called after the presidential election, and two, you write me a check for $1000.”
You owe your son an apology for your behavior when you called him after the presidential election. First; he was alarmed when you left two messages asking him to call you back right away. He was very concerned and fearful that something had happened to your wife. Furthermore;
you had no right whatsoever
to ask him who he voted for and then to proceed to try to lecture him. You know quite well that we hold political opinions that contradict yours. GET OVER IT. That is, if you want to continue to be in communication with your son and me.
So I wrote the letter and mailed it. That is that. Likely there will be no response from them, but at least I have done what I needed to do. Time to move on out of the old year and into the new. I have a few New Years Intentions, but mostly I want to keep on being the person I am and doing the things that please me as each day opens to me.
My grandmother made me a wool quilt when sister Lori was just a little girl. The two of them cut and pieced the fabric together.
I have treasured that quilt and used it every winter until now. Because it doesn’t reach quite far enough on the sides and ends, I decided to take off the backing and remove the old wadded into the corners batting. Over the past week I have ripped the seams and now have released the quilt and washed it gently. Sister Diana has a lot of tag ends of similar weight wool that she offered to me. I look forward to spending some time during the dead of winter reviving this loved item so that it may again warm me.
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