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A new year, a fresh page of paper, life going on another day, and all is well. I am so blessed; I live in a nice home in a clean neighborhood where we are friends and look after one another. I am retired from a fulfilling career with enough pension savings to be comfortable. I have loving family that I can visit regularly, and a husband who is my best friend. We laugh and talk and have fun. And every day I get to do whatever it is that I want to do; like watch college football while paying bills.
It feels like two weeks of weekends with both Christmas eve and day, then new year’s eve and day in the middle of the week. Today feels like Sunday, but it is really Thursday. Strange. I woke up thinking how sad I always was at this point in my winter break when I knew next Monday it would be back to work for me with all the attendant stress. This is only my second Christmas free from all of that. I can make plans! I could get in my car and go somewhere on a whim! Maybe I will!
We sit downstairs, the fire warms us, candles provide a soft glow. We share a smoke and imagine changes that will make the room even more inviting. Which desk chair - the big one or the smaller one? Back and forth we go, try this here, hang that there, and pretty soon the space takes on more of the look we’re after. It is a music room with my Wurlitzer upright piano, Creighton’s five basses and Gibson six string, not to mention the three to four thousand CD’s from early blues, folk, country, sixties rock, jazz to classical.
A place for everything, and everything in its place. A helpful motto that has no known author but has been around since the late 18th century. It is to be my new mantra as I return Christmas to boxes which leads me on to clean out cupboards, closets, the garage, the rat’s nest that once was a wine cellar. Oh my. I will be busy, which is fine with me. Too damned cold to do much outside, so I’ll use the days to tidy inside. So long as I preserve time to write - which is my other priority.
And then I read this wonderful quote from an interior designer that hit another nail on the head:
Do not put anything in your home that you do not love.
So I walk around and see things that are dubious.
I clean, evaluate, move, return, leave, come back, evaluate, decide. I pick up my glass paperweights, one by one; to clean it, hold it, look at it, think about where I got it, remember if there is any special significance attached to it being here with me, and in the end I have to ask myself do I love it?
It is Monday morning. The first day of school after the two week, three weekend winter break. I am in bed, snug and warm with my husband breathing asleep beside me and our beagle stretched out in between. Awake, I turn my radio volume to low and listen to Morning Edition. Then I hear the bus as it pulls around the corner from 113th to Sherwood and rumbles by my home; the bus that had been my last signal that I needed to get in the car (ready or not) in order to arrive at my school/work on time.
Why is it important? Because this is only the second year I have been able to lie abed and listen to the bus go by on this Monday; a day that for thirty years had been the first day back, and one of the hardest of the work year.
I smile, and roll over to hear Yuki Noguchi illustrating how tough it is to make ends meet even WITH unemployment benefits, and Ina Jaffe with a report on the cumulative financial benefits of a college degree (oh yes, I agree), and then I drift off to awaken at 8:00.
Our local Salvation Army store has a half-off everything sale every Wednesday. I went there looking for a chest of drawers that would fit in the closet under the stairs. I found one, but the price tag had been taken off which I later learned meant someone else had already claimed it. Dang.
Then last night I wondered if it really had been sold? So I went back today and there it was, tucked back against the wall, looking just as forlorn as it had yesterday, but this time with the price tag of thirty dollars attached on top.
What was so hard about the first day back after winter vacation?
Getting back into the rhythm of getting ready for and going to work after a nice long break. But moreover it was the intensity of need that counselors would be expected to solve in the first few hours of the day: new students to be scheduled, homeless children needing resources, depressed before vacation students on the brink of suicide after two weeks with dysfunctional families…on and on…in the teeth of dark winter…holding hands, pinky promises, hugging hurts away, giving strength with a smile and handshake.
“I saw this yesterday and wanted to buy it but the price tag was off and I was told it was already sold.” I pouted to the cashier.
“That sometimes happens,” she consoled. “I don’t know if it is people think they’ll be able to borrow money to buy things and then they can’t or what…”
“Any chance I can get it half price today?”
“Best I can do is a senior discount.”
Might as well. It’s still a bargain and it will clean up nicely.
“Thanks, that will have to do!”
Football. I have an approach avoid relationship with Professional Football. College I can handle, they’re just kids! Pro, well they’re just kids too, but they are meaner sometimes. I don’t like to watch grown men get away with nasty tricks, and the televised presentation can drive me to distraction. But it is the Seahawks. Not that I’ve ever seen them live - or even want to - but they are my home state team - the revenue comes into Washington. So I watch and root for them. The storm they play in, has been raging outside my windows too.
Still raining, though the wind has decreased. We have the little TV downstairs - just trying it out - and a fully loaded fire going all day. It is snug, I am happy. We watch to see who the Seahawks adversary will be. I do research on my laptop during the ads and putter on whatever catches my eye. A room that a year ago was hard for me to relax in, now invites me to hang out all day long. And I do.
Then the sun breaks through. Josie and I stretch our legs on a walk and survey the neighborhood.
I said “let’s go shopping in the car.” She gets excited when I put her ‘going somewhere’ collar on.
Gas, carwash, credit union, then off to where? We have not been to the dog park in months. I don’t tell her that’s where we’re going. I exit the freeway and turn onto the access road and as we climb the steep hill, she begins to sniff deeply, her tail wags, her eyes question me, she squeaks, then as we get closer she lets out a beagle bay that tells everyone this girl knows where she is!
It was 7:30. The coffee was fresh and fragrant. Josie had eaten breakfast and was already back in bed with Creighton, and I was in the kitchen cleaning hummingbird feeders to add fresh sugar syrup. There was a rap at the front door.
Who can that be?
As I looked through the glass in the door, I saw Maureen. She looked tired and intense - with good reason.
"Mom died - all the arrangements - wanted you to know - don’t have your phone number anymore."
"Come in, let me hug you again. The hardest thing. How can I help?"
We stoke the fire, pour a fresh glass of wine and talk about the rekindling of our friendship with Maureen and family. It has accelerated since November, and now our doors are open to one another once again.
What was it,
we ask ourselves,
that caused us to drift apart? Neighborhood gripes? Feuds between the two M’s on the corner? Raising children during the Great Recession? Our own isolating behavior?
Yes. All of that and more.
And what changed in November? Maureen initiated reconnecting. We welcomed it. It was time to be together again, to catch up, to heal.
It was after 2:00 in the afternoon and I had not heard from Maureen. I thought I was to meet the person in charge of food today, so I walked over to see how things were going. Maureen ushered me into their former garage, now family room and started describing the snapshot gallery she was planning to install on the garage doors using clothesline and clothespins. She had a pack of clothespins but needed line. Oh, and ice chests. A half hour later I brought over two ice chests and the clothes line I use when camping or vacationing.
I stopped by to see if she needed anything before doing my shopping. Fresh out of the shower, wrapped in a burgundy towel, Maureen showed me the line of photos they had pinned up. She needed more line and another hundred clothespins to complete it. Also, she and her sisters were compiling a list of “Irene-isms”; things their mom said often, words she lived by, activities she enjoyed. Maureen had a vision of how she wanted them presented and I understood, said I could and would do it. Five hours later I delivered the finished product. She loved it.
Ceremony: Old Testament read with command and feeling, lovely songs, mumbling through the prayer response wondering -
where’s my cue card?
Familiar customs and layered meanings, the necessary scripted sequence.
Communion: partaking of the flesh and blood of Christ - symbolically. And what does it mean to consume a thin quarter sized dry wafer dipped in a thin sweet wine? For me it means I am comfortable participating in this particular ritual, and doing so is a way I can demonstrate honor to Irene, the person for whom this ritual is being performed today.
Not always do I accept the offer.
Your sisters have been through events in our lives when everything piles up on us and there is little time to take care of self let alone think about anything other than the immediate demands before us. We love you and know you have been, and still are, in the midst of a huge transition that is stressful and demanding. We also know there will be a time in the future when those demands calm down, the decisions are done, the transition is complete, and you will be able to have that bit of quiet time we wish for you.
I have set a goal to have a draft form of my father’s story ready for the family gathering that will be at my home in less than a month. To that end I am editing and expanding parts of the text that need attention. Once again my 100 word entries will be somewhat scattered to anyone reading, but extremely useful to me as I seek to add insights without becoming wordy or extravagant.
And it’s time to start adding some of the illustrative photos into the text. Don’t know how to format in book form but…
I was around sixteen when Dad retired from the car painting business and moved to Arizona. He always loved that hot arid climate and thought he could make a better living painting for rich folks there. I spent the next two school years living with my Aunt Lizzie, and Dad was always good about sending her money for my care, but he was no longer part of my daily life after that. My brother was in college by then.. Aunt Lizzie was good to me, and I was able to continue to attend North Central High School with my friends.
I was always good with my hands and excelled in woodworking and metal shop. I liked singing and acting too, and had great fun in school plays and musicals. Your mom went to North Central also though that’s not where we met, no, that happened one week-end at the ice skating rink. She was a wonderful skater you know. She happened to be on a date with a friend of mine, Bob Thompson. They got into some sort of a dust up and Bob told me it was OK with him if I wanted to skate with her.
Well, I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that go by, so I slid over and asked her to skate with me. We had a fun time and I soon realized we shared many interests. She was a lovely girl and we did a little necking on the way home. Soon we were a steady couple. I met her dad, your Grandpa, one day when she took me out to his shop. He was constructing a metal boat to rent at Deer Lake, and he was trying to hold two pieces of metal together and solder them too.
“I was stationed in Porthcawl Wales, a coastal resort town, when I got the telegram that your sister, Diana, had been born. For the previous six months I’d been squirreling away some booze to celebrate this event. Whiskey was not available, but I’d been able to procure a fifth of Hennesey, some African Brandy, and a fifth of Creme-de-Menthe. That night my buddies, Swede and Moose took me out for salted chips and then we came back to our barracks to finish off my stash. It was a fine party - but oh God - what a hangover!
Well you see, I had trouble with that bullshit. Furthermore, I would not kowtow. When commanding officers expected me to play along with their taunting and teasing of any man who appeared to be different from them, particularly Negros. I didn’t play along. This is part of why I never received awards or gained rank.
These are my buddies, my brothers. We stay alive together, side by side, we look out for each other, take care of each other. We give our everything to stay alive so we can get back home to our wives and families.
The first chapter is done; well done in that writing and ordering the stories is complete, and photos are being added. In it I introduce Grandfather Low’s move from Scotland to Canada and then to the USA, and his determination to get his family over to the US too. I wove in many stories from Dad about his early childhood, teen years, meeting Mom, getting married, serving in World War II and the end of the war. I also featured biographical info on Mom, and put to paper a story she told me of first grade in Catholic school.
It has been quite an odyssey, including a year of intense research on ancestry.com to find the Scotch relatives and build the family tree. I followed some red herrings along the way, but now I am confident I have the Low and Twitchell sides both accurately recorded. Then there was the teasing out information from Dad, recording, remembering stories he told us while growing up, research into historic events, reading books about being a soldier in Europe during WWII, sharing finished drafts with my writing circle, editing, adding, subtracting. And also writing the three creative nonfiction stories that elucidate.
I will have something to give my family when they are here for the annual reunion birthday party. It is my gift. There is still so much more to write of Dad’s story and all I can do for now is provide an outline - a direction this could go. But for now, I will leave it alone and focus on editing Peach Pie Summer, the least polished of my creative nonfiction stories. So, here we go again readers! More one hundred words refining and finishing a story that will be the last of what I have to offer now.
Unlike the previous summer, when we had traveled to Boston so Dad could attend Harvard summer session (on a full ride Fellowship), this time Diana stayed with our grandparents. Grandpa had suffered a major heart attack the previous fall, and since Grandma couldn’t drive and Diana could, our parents decided it was wise for Diana to remain in Wenatchee.
The four of us were in Pullman so Dad could continue to take coursework at Washington State College, toward earning his credentials in college level administration. Dad had his sights set on eventually being President of Wenatchee Valley Community College.
“Just fine.” Dad answered. “Dr. Johnson invited me to drop by his office for a chat today - said he appreciated the down-to-earth perspective I bring to class discussions. So I did. After we talked shop, he changed the subject to why he likes living here. Turns out he enjoys fishing, so we compared notes and swapped lies. He wrapped it up saying I was welcome to drop by during office hours any day.”
“That's so exciting Harvey. If we are bound to live here, even for a while, it would be nice to get to know some folks.”
This strong, off-putting odor coming from my pours alarmed me. Had I realized at the time, the oily-fish fragrance heralded my odyssey into womanhood, I might have been less distressed. I was unsure; anxious about it, and there was only one person to ask for advice.
“Mom,” I began one afternoon, “do I smell bad to you?”
“What?” Mom turned toward me smiling quizzically.
“What is it Lindy? Is there something going on that I should know about?”
“It’s just I keep smelling fishy to myself - like a can of sardines - and I don’t know why.”
The Tip Jar