Friday, July 27, 2018

Rock Fairy




Some weeks ago, someone in my senior community (now dubbed “the Rock Fairy”) began painting small, flat rocks with inspirational messages and leaving them, one by one, for residents to find. Folks have been taking photos of them, posting them on our community Facebook page, and speculating about who the mysterious person is. “Kind” and “lovely” are understatements for this type of behavior, don’t you think?



Dear Rock Fairy,

Thank you.

Okay, I confess that the little pink rock I found was clearly meant for someone else (since anyone who knows me knows that pink is really, really not my color). I wasn’t gifted with my rock. I didn’t walk out onto the front porch at dawn, stretch, yawn, and discover a small plastic bag containing a rock especially chosen for me. Like many other times in my life, I came into my fortune via a somewhat unconventional route. I found it in the street. Actually, it laid there for two days a few doors down from my house, looking like a piece of trash. I think it had been run over a couple of times. When I noticed it the second day while walking the dog, I only picked it up to throw it away (keeping my side of the street clean, as my sister-in-law would say, only I don’t think she means it literally when she says it).

But then I noticed the rock inside. So I pulled it out, washed the dirt off. Lo and behold, it was a Rock Fairy rock. With a message!



The thing is, even though the rock was clearly intended for someone else (as I’ve said), that message was for me. I don’t know if you dropped the rock while making your deliveries to other homes. (Rocks are heavy. How big is your wing span, anyway?) Or maybe you left it with great stealth and planning on someone’s lawn and the gardener, thinking it was trash, tossed it out into the street. (Oh shoot, who am I to blame the gardener? Maybe it was the homeowner.)

Anyway, the message was for me. Because it said, “Adventure is out there.”

This is what I needed to hear. I used to go find adventures all the time. Rocky Fairy, I could tell you stories all day long! I used to travel and take day trips and go to gatherings of like-minded people (which is challenging for an introvert, but back then, I could push myself out there).

But in the past couple of years, some stuff has happened in the world, in my life. It’s not important what it was. But… I have defaulted into safe mode, wherein, if I stay at home… with my books and my music and my dog and my cat and my garden, I am comforted. I am safe. Or… at least… I have the impression of being safe.

The difficulty there, as you can readily see (as I am convinced you are an incredibly insightful fairy), is that being safe doesn’t help me be stronger. It doesn’t help me overcome those feelings that caused me to shut down. And it certainly doesn’t lead to adventures. (Well, perhaps a few tiny ones, like rescuing a chicken from the side of the freeway. Different story altogether.)

Anyway, I started out to just say thank you. Adventure is indeed “out there,” and since I’d been contemplating (but quickly talking myself out of) getting “out there,” launching out on an adventure, I immediately determined that, while you meant this rock for someone else, in one sense, the rock—all by itself, miraculously—found the right person to deliver itself to.

So thank you for this rock and its message. Most importantly, thank you for your kindness, your willingness to put yourself out there, make an effort to make others smile or have a better day or cheer up or feel less isolated, less lonely. (In this park, there is a lot of loneliness. You have your work cut out for you there, Rock Fairy.) If everyone did one small thing such as this, reached out with one small gesture to others to say, “You’re not alone in the world. I care,” we would all be in a much better frame of mind, I think. We would all be in a much better frame of heart.

Love and hugs,
K

P.S. You might notice, if you happen to pass my house as you make your clandestine rounds, that there is a sign hung near the door. It’s rather large. You can’t miss it. Unless fairies don’t read English. It says “Fairies Welcomed.” Yep. I mean it.




Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Patriot


I AM A PATRIOT.

I was born on the Fourth of July. Truly. When I was a child, did I ever think those fireworks were for me? Never. Every year, I watched my dad carefully hang our flag in its post on the front porch, heard him tell the neighbors what a great country we live in, watched him place his hand lovingly over his heart at the VFW hall to say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem. I knew why we celebrated the Fourth.

I AM A PATRIOT.

Both of my parents enlisted in the army during WWII. My mother was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She survived the Great Depression, the divorce of her parents, a family split apart by public scandal, an abusive first husband, and all the oppression of women that was rampant before we burned our bras in the 1960's. She was always so proud of the fact that her country recognized her as capable of helping in the war effort. She worked in transportation, servicing vehicles by changing the oil and other formally testosterone-associated tasks, providing critical maintenance to personnel carriers, jeeps and other vehicles. She never liked to talk about her past--unless you got her talking about her years serving her country.

I AM A PATRIOT.

I have voted in every presidential election since 1972.

I AM A PATRIOT.

When we were kids, my brother played trumpet in a drum and bugle corp. Watching him march in parades, the drums beating, the music crisp and sharp, and oh my goodness, the stars and stripes being carried in front of all those young people in uniform, I wanted to be a part of it all. So I joined the color guard so I could march along with them.

I AM A PATRIOT.

As a child I had an epiphany, realizing all on my own that I had won the birth lottery by being born in this country, where "It's a free country!" was a slogan we used as kids to mouth off to people who told us to settle down or straighten up or be quiet. But it's true; I knew from a young age, from listening to my dad, that men and women had sacrificed a great deal so that we could live in freedom. My dad was the great-grandson of immigrants who, like many Irish, came from a land that could offer them nothing to a land that would offer them an opportunity to grow and thrive. My dad's family was just scraping by when he left for the war. When he returned, he became a cab driver, then a cop. Before he died at the age of 43, he studied law and passed the bar exam. He would have been an attorney in California. Talk about the land of opportunity....

I AM A PATRIOT.

I have sung the National Anthem at pep rallies, basketball games, and oh my goodness, at a minor league baseball game with 2,000 people in attendance--and that was one of the proudest, happiest moments of my life.

I AM A PATRIOT.

By liberal friends believe that I align with them, that I am wholly left leaning. My Republican friends believe that as well, though some acquaintances think I am as far to the right as they are. The truth is, I am somewhere in between. And what I love about this country is that I can have friends on both sides. I can engage in conversation with conservatives and progressives, but I'm not required to choose one side or align myself with one particular way of thinking.

Beyond that, I can have conversations with many, many other people who are not like me--Jews and Muslims and atheists and yes, even Baptists and Episcopalians and Mormons. And these people can be my friends, folks whom I love and embrace and cherish. Black folks and brown, Asian and Indian. We are all in this together, and none of us will get out alive. I am blessed each day in this fleeting life that this country--this big, magnificent, beautiful country--gives me the freedom to go where I please when I please with whom I please. To know that right now, if I chose to, I could marry a Black Muslim woman and all my friends--ALL MY FRIENDS--would joyously attend my wedding is something that makes me proud of my country every single day.

I AM A PATRIOT.

Do not dare to think that because you adhere to one particular ideology, you alone get to assume the role of "patriot" and others do not. I am a flag-waving, parade-marching, Star-Spangled-Banner-singing, whole-hearted lover of this country, no matter who is posturing in the role of leader.

This land is MY land.

(Bless you, Woody Guthrie.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Summer


I rode my bike tonight. I went out at 8:10, thinking I'd just ride around the block as the evening breeze began to cool everything down, be gone maybe ten or fifteen minutes. But I stayed out until full dark, until the streetlights came on, and I smiled to think of the summer nights when I was kid, when we stayed out as long as we could, reluctant to return to the stuffy house and bedtime and trying to sleep in the stifling air with mosquitoes buzzing everywhere.

If we were on her good side, Mom would let us eat a giant bowl of ice cream before we went to bed.

This night, as I pedaled around the park, I recalled those nights long ago of riding my bike or skating or playing hide and seek with the neighbor kids and my brother and sister.

It was a night much like this one when my brother found Lucky. We were sitting on the front porch, doing not much of anything and loving the activity, and suddenly Kevin said, "Hey. What's that in the street?" He went to investigate, my sister and I tagging along behind. Curled in a ball in the middle of our street was a young black cat. He picked her up, cuddled her, then marched into the house to place her squarely in our mother's lap. Mom was sitting on the couch talking on the phone, and I still remember giggling as he handed her the cat and we fled outside. Remember, back then our phones were anchored to the wall. He called back to her something about keeping her safe, and when we went back outside he told us just to wait. We did.

A long time later Mom ended her conversation and we heard her call "Kevin" through the screen door, stretching out the syllables in a tone that was both ominous and amused. We shuffled warily back inside. The little cat was now curled in Mom's lap, purring away as our mother stroked her fur and glared at her second-born son.

"We don't need a cat," she told him.

"I know," he said, "but she's lucky."

And that became her name. She was the first black cat in our family. And she was extraordinarily patient with my brother, who at times told our dog to chase her just for the fun of it, and once he tried to make the tip of her tail white by dipping it in bleach. (He succeeded in reducing the black luster to a dull orange. Don't get the wrong idea; my brother wasn't a bad kid, just bored. In those days, we had to find things to do. The things we found weren't always good things.)

This was the memory that flooded back to me tonight as I pedaled my bike up and down the streets of my little community. I have always loved going out on a summer night to ride my bike. It is a calming, contemplative venture these days, but it does still immediately make me feel like a kid again. Hard to believe I'll be 64 in two weeks.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Driving


I may have mentioned in an earlier post (or if I didn't, and we're friends, you've heard me whine about it) that for the past five months I've been driving The Youngest Granddaughter, Reese, to school every day and picking her up in the afternoon, a total distance of 120 miles per day, most of it on the freeway--10, 210, 215. (Please note that I did not use the definite article to modify those freeway numbers--because I'm told that "only in California" do we say "the 10 freeway.")

What a pain! Except... I've had the pleasure of getting to know Reese on a deeper level. She's a "step" granddaughter (oh how I hate that term! "Step" what? Step away? Step down? Ugh!), so I haven't been afforded the same opportunities to hang out with and bond with her as I have with Ben and Ellie. For that reason, driving times have been special to me because they've given us time to talk about the important things in life, including gun control, the devastation of the current administration, bad teachers, good teachers, the behavior of boys in high school, and What was that on the side of the road?!?

In reference to the latter, there is a whole list of junk we saw on the side of the road. Couch cushions seem to be a popular castoff, as are ropes, chains, ladders and gardening tools. By far the one that most interested us was the chicken.

We were westbound on the--oops, I mean--210 one morning at about 6:15 when my eye caught movement on the center median. I blinked, focused, and yes, my eyes did not deceive me; there was a tall red rooster pacing back and forth in the dirt, his toes--wait--talons?--stopping just short of the emergency strip. He clearly wanted to cross the road (okay, I had to go there), but feared the traffic, so he just walked nervously back and forth. Of course, I processed all that in a matter of seconds. Then I said:

"Was that a chicken?" to a teenager who seemed to be dozing.

"It was!" she immediately responded. "How did a chicken get there?"

And for the rest of the drive to school, that's all we talked about. How he came to be on this raised section of freeway out on the middle divider. Logistically, it seemed impossible that he'd gotten there on his own, so we wondered if perhaps someone had grown tired of hearing him cock-a-doodle-doo before dawn and had brought him out presumably to his doom.

Then I dropped Reese off and we forgot about him.

Until we saw him in the exact same spot the next morning, still alive, still pacing.

"WHAT THE...????"

"OH MY GOD!"

I don't remember which of us said which, but we both exclaimed simultaneously. He was still there because he couldn't really go anywhere else, but how had he survived without getting hit? And by now the poor guy must be really hungry and thirsty, we thought. Had there been more room, I would have pulled in and tried to catch him, but that scenario seemed precarious at best. What if I frightened him into traffic and caused an accident?

But what to do?

I dropped Reese off, went home and called the California Highway Patrol.

"California Highway Patrol. How can I help you?"

"I'm sorry, this is your weird phone call for the day. There's a live rooster on the westbound 210 about a mile east of Waterman. He's been there for at least 24 hours without food or water."

Long pause.

"He's alive?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Well, I guess that chicken just needs to get across the road."

Yep, she went there, too, and then we were both just laughing but also expressing sympathy for the poor guy.

"Okay," she promised, "I'll call animal control and we'll get someone out there right away."

And then we had to wait 24 hours to learn the fate of Mr. Red Rooster. Driving to school the next morning, we were all eyes, intently staring out over the dashboard before we ever came in view of the spot where he'd been. Finally we came up on it, two sets of eyes searching frantically for any sight of him. All we saw were two orange cones. No rooster. No feathers. No blood (which would have been awful).

"Yayyyyy!!!" We both broke into cheers. Red had been saved!

I made a mental note to call Animal Services in San Bernardino as soon as I got home to ask if they had him. ("I'm sorry, this is your weird call for the day, but did you happen to impound a rooster off the freeway yesterday?") We wanted to know the rest of the story. Was Red okay? Would he be placed for adoption?

Alas, things got busy when I got home and I never did make that call. Perhaps it's for the best. In our minds, Red is safe, well fed and hydrated now, waiting for his forever home.

Last week Reese graduated high school. Our driving adventures--at least on the roads to school and back--have ended. She will head off to Cal Poly University in August to study Engineering. I hope she always looks back fondly on those hours we spent driving, talking, bonding, and making the world a safer place for at least one rooster.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Bobby


"My thanks to all of you, now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."

I still can't recall the words without tearing up.

On June 5th, 1968, I stayed up late to watch the primary election results. I was only 14--certainly not old enough to vote yet. But there were two strong influences in my life at the time--no, three--that motivated me to watch the news, to follow the campaign of the young and charismatic senator. The first was a passionate history teacher. The second was the Civil Rights Movement. And the third was the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just two months before. The world, it seemed to my young eyes, was a cruel one. (Keep in mind, we were daily seeing images of the war and devastation in Vietnam.) I desperately needed hope. Bobby Kennedy represented that hope of change for me.

It was after midnight when he gave a brief speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, ending with those words I've quoted above. I remember being tired and thrilled as I got up to turn off the TV and go to bed. This man who ran on a platform of racial justice and social change might just have a chance, might really have a good chance, of becoming President. I went to bed happy.

I woke to the radio alarm at 5:00a.m. The newscaster's words invaded my sleep at first, so I thought I'd been having a nightmare. But no. As my brain came fully awake, the reality of the report sunk in--like a searing iron branding my heart: He'd been shot in the night. All the thoughts and prayers in the country could not save him; he died twenty-six hours after being shot.

Has it really been fifty years since that day? The older I get, the more I see how the events of those days directed my life.

My appreciation for journalism began that day when I retrieved a copy of the L.A. Times from our front porch and realized it was filled with far more information than I was getting on the radio about what happened. I pored over every story, trying to make sense of it all, hoping to find hope in the details. Sadly, there was none.

And I was angry. Or, I should say, angrier. The assassination of Dr. King had rocked my world pretty hard. But then, people thought (and some even whispered) it was only a matter of time. As a strong, brave Black man standing up to the White establishment of the time, he made himself a marked man, and he knew it. Still... I was already seething at the injustice and cowardice of shooting a man down in cold blood because he stands for fairness and equality.

Then Bobby... No one saw that coming. For a long time, I couldn't watch the news any more, didn't care what happened in the world. I was coming down with mononucleosis at the time, so I spent that summer sick in bed, depressed, isolated and absolutely despairing. I hated the world I'd been brought into.

There are times now when glimpses of that despair flash across my memory. We live today in equally perilous times. Occasionally, still, I need to turn away from the headlines and wander off into Nature to reflect, to appreciate, to heal.

What I know now is that stopping a single person--JFK, RFK, Dr. King--does not stop a movement. Progress goes forward in spite of tragedy. Others take up the sword and run headlong toward the battle. We should all be so brave as those men.

Monday, June 4, 2018

No News?



As if I didn't have enough grief in my life in the past few weeks, here was a scene that elicited more tears: As I sat at a Carrow's restaurant in Upland waiting for my truck to be serviced, I sipped a cup of coffee and watched these guys take down two newspaper boxes and haul them away. I took these photos through the window--and through actual tears.

If you're thinking right now, "I get my news online anyway," please know that you should never say those words aloud to me unless you want to be subjected to a line of loaded Socratic questioning that begins with "What's the difference between a news story offered online and one offered in a print newspaper?" Do your homework first. Be prepared to answer.

If you'd like a hint, here's one: Space.

The average online story has a word count in the hundreds--a couple paragraphs, maybe. The average word count in a print newspaper runs into the thousands. Why is that important? Because you get the whole story, including all the salient details, not just a brief summary of what happened.

Here's another hint: Sources

Exactly how are those news stories coming to us online? When you click on a "trending" story, where does that take you? To a reputable news source that you trust? Or to a page with multiple graphics and pop-ups so you can read two paragraphs about a possible Yeti sighting while being barraged with advertisements? So is the point of that story to inform the public? Or to sell anti-wrinkle cream?

And speaking of graphics: I've had folks tell me they like to read their news online so they can "see pictures and video." Oh lord help us, really? I'm pretty sure I can read an article about the need for further gun control legislation without having to watch terrified teenagers running from classrooms yet again.

Sigh. Journalism as it is presented online is not the same as Journalism which is crafted for long-established and reputable print media outlets, and any journalist worth her salt will tell you the same. Ask one... if you can find one. Most local newspapers have narrowed their staffs from hundreds to handfuls, and those few over-worked individuals have little patience to discuss the merits of brief news versus complete news.

Yeah, it's clear; I feel pretty strongly about this. In my file cabinet I have copies of front page news stories--from the day Barack Obama was elected President... from September 11, 2001... from that day in 1968 when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I was only 14. But I knew that story was important. So I kept the newspaper from that day. Sometimes I imagine my grandchildren telling their kids, long after I am dead, about a time when the news was actually printed out on papers, and everyone bought one so they would know exactly what was going on in the world... for real.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sug


In the summer of 2006, my little black hellion Calpurnia died, leaving me with just Boo, the little flea-and-worm-infested kitten who'd grown into a gorgeous panther after I'd brought him home from work at the request of a student because kids were trying to stone him to death. (You can read Boo's story here.) Boo and Cal were never what you'd call close, but after a few months I wanted to make sure he had another cat around, so I walked into my local Petsmart, went to the cat condos, and saw a small black cat I assumed was a kitten or at least a juvenile. I called the number for the rescue (H.O.P.E. or Helping Out Pets Everyday [sic]), and the conversation went (I kid you not) like this:

ME: Hi, yeah, I'm looking for a female black cat. I see you have one here--

HOPE: She's actually the only black cat we have, but she's missing half her tail, she's stunted, and she was living on the street when we brought her in with two kittens, so she's semi-feral.

ME: I'll take her.

HOPE: Well, we'd like you to meet her first....

A meeting was set up, but honestly, I'd heard enough ("We think it was a human who chopped off her tail, since she won't let anyone touch it") to know I'd be bringing her home. When they let her out of her plexiglass prison cell, she strolled over to me and hopped up on the bench next to me, then settled down in bread loaf position and began to purr. "Wow," the volunteer said, "we've never seen her do that with anyone before." Well, of course not. She wasn't anyone else's cat.

She settled in just as quickly at home (after hiding behind the dryer for a couple of hours). From the first night, she jumped on the bed and slept by my feet, just as if she'd always enjoyed the comfort of human companionship. She and Boo had a conversation about who slept where, but it didn't last long, and there was plenty of room for all of us.




A few short months later, it was time for the three of us to move to a cabin high in the wilderness in Mt. Baldy, and that's when our adventures began.



For six months, I kept the cats inside so they would learn that, first, this is our new home and second, this is a dangerous place.

We'd only lived there a few weeks when we saw our first bear. It wandered up onto my back deck at just after dawn one morning, and as I leaned on the kitchen counter to stare out the window at it, I became aware of a puffy little body beside me--Sug sat beside me for twenty minutes, growling and twitching her tail at the beast as it plundered the wild bird seed I'd put out. Some years later, I would receive a call from a neighbor as I was dressing for work, warning me that a bear was in the vicinity. I descended the loft stairs moments later to see Sug standing at the French doors which led to the back deck, her body puffed up to twice her size as she faced off with the three-hundred-pound black bear on the other side of the doors. Oh, for a photo of that encounter!

The cats saw enough of bears, raccoons and coyotes through the windows to make them realize they had to be on alert always when I gave them brief time outdoors (only when it was broad daylight and I knew we were safe from visitations). Sug was always the leader in the slow sneak out the door.

And that was a problem at times; I had to watch the door constantly or she would dart out behind my back. Her curiosity often got the best of her, even at night... in the snow.




Sadly, our Boo passed away in the second year we lived in Baldy, and I am ever so thankful little Sug was there with me. Boo was a fine gentleman of a cat whose habit had always been to climb onto my chest at night just before I fell asleep and kiss my face with his purry wet kisses for a quarter of an hour before he finally climbed down beside me and went to sleep. The first night without him, I cried myself to sleep. On the second night, Sug came up to curl into my armpit. That would be her sleeping spot for the next decade....



She loved flowers. Often on special occasions, my son would visit with a bouquet, announcing as he entered the cabin, "I brought your cat some flowers."

And she loved to hear me sing. There is a short piece in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book about how, when we moved to Baldy and she was frightened at first, I sang to her and it calmed her. She loved "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch" by The Four Tops, and she would roll onto her back every time I sang it to her. Every time. Click here to see that phenomenon.

After Boo died and it was just the two of us in Baldy, I sang to her often when we were cold or worried. She would curl into my side as I sang her to sleep, setting her chin into the palm of my hand and purring along with whatever song I chose.

Eventually we left the mountain, and I bought a temporary home in Ontario. I'd been without a dog for the six years I lived in Baldy, and I couldn't wait to bring one home. But then a friend posted a photo of a scraggly gray kitten on Facebook, pleading with someone to take her. Gray? We don't do gray cats. But something about that little ball of feistiness spoke to me, and I brought her home. As soon as Sug heard her crying in the carrier, her maternal instincts kicked in. She watched out for Purrl and cared for her--until Purrl grew to twice Sugie's size, and then the two girls were like jealous sisters, swatting at each other daily but always huddling close to each other under the bed whenever they sensed danger.



A month ago, Sug experienced an episode of hyphema (hemorrhaging into her eye), and we sped off to an emergency veterinary clinic where the kind young vet and I slowly clicked off causes until we landed on "probably kidney failure." I brought Sug home and set about loving and spoiling her for the weeks she had left in this world. I took lots of pictures. I cried a lot. I recorded her purring.... Watching her decline was so, so hard, but even as she grew weaker and endured more episodes of hyphema, she maintained her loving sweetness toward me, still purring me to sleep at night, even when she must have felt awful.

She passed away yesterday. And for the first time in 28 years, there is not a black cat in my household. But there is a gray one... and a big red dog. Purrl and Thomas have been a comfort, as have all my dear, dear friends who have met Sug and know of our bond. Twelve years is a long time to companion with a cat, but not nearly long enough.

When I first met Sug at Petsmart, I noted that the rescue had named her Sugar Plum, and I thought, "That's the stupidest name for a cat in the history of cat rescue." But... no other name was forthcoming in my mind, even after she'd been with me for weeks, so Sugar Plum it stayed. Here's to my sweet little girl--Sug, Sugie, Sug-Sug, Sugar Plumpkin, Itty Bitty Kitty, Bitty, Bit, Bijou, Sugie Pie Honey Bunch. Go find Boo, my dear little girl. Play nice with him until I see you again.




Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Joy


Joy is ascendant. It is the other-worldly experience of the dove that appears suddenly, floats down to you and with its beak gently pulls away the bonds that tether you. You feel yourself rise and only then realize you’d been bound.

Joy is transcendent. Whatever else was happening on that day or at that moment falls away. You are transported. You are caught up in this thing, this event, this announcement, this realization, this sight for beleaguered eyes as you feel your heart wrapped in warmth, your face alight with the glow of it.

A colleague I worked with years ago used to say that life, to him, was mostly a series of mundane days filled with work, responsibility, and the cares and problems of the day-to-day routine, with occasional moments of great joy, such as the birth of a child. But these moments, he said, were extremely rare, so we should simply soldier on, getting through life as best we can, grateful for those rare opportunities in which to find happiness—though that happiness was fleeting indeed.

I found his cynicism dismaying in light of the fact that he often reminded his circle of friends that he was a man of God, an evangelical Christian who knew exactly what would happen to him when he died. Then, at that time, he would experience true joy.

Well. I guess he’s more patient than I am.

I’ll take my joy now, thank you very much, in this morning’s slow and steady sunrise that was accompanied by movie-trailer-perfect birdsong which rose to a steady crescendo as Thomas and I stood, looking down to the lake, a great blue heron just waking. The first rays of sun hit his wing feathers and lit the copper highlights there. He was so beautiful I nearly cried.

Last week, as Thomas and I hiked in Bogart Park at the same hour, just after sunrise, we took a left instead of a right on a trail we’ve often walked—and we discovered a new trail we hadn’t tried before, one that led up a ridge, then down into a canyon, then around a large meadow. Wildflowers—blue and yellow and red—dotted the sides of the trail as we walked together. I could have brought home an enormous bouquet… but I let them live, as I was living in that moment, able, still, to walk two miles with my dog at dawn, to breathe deeply, to sense the sun’s warmth on my back through my jacket. On our return, we came upon a small herd of deer. As we strolled silently around a shaded bend in the trail, there they all were, heads up, looking at us as we looked at them. No one moved. The air was still and quiet. Their enormous dark eyes showed only curiosity, not fear, so Thomas and I lingered (as he leaned into my leg, unsure of what these creatures were). Finally, we inched carefully away down the trail, and the deer dropped their heads and went back to grazing.

Thank you, Universe, for the sheer joy in that moment of tranquility.

It has been my experience that these moments of joy are not few and far between. They’re right out there, waiting. We simply have to make ourselves available.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Grief


Grief takes you. It grabs you by the heart, reaching in with long, cold fingers that wrap around your heart and hold, daring you to move or breathe or look away just for a moment. It takes your undivided attention.

And you live like that. Waiting. Waiting for the feeling to pass, the clutch to release even the tiniest bit so you can shift your stance, avert your eyes… see beauty in the world once again.

I have been so, so, so lucky in my life. I was still a teenager when my first child was born, and the others all came along before I’d even reached the age of 30. We’ve had some scares… a few car accidents, a broken arm, always the trips to the E.R. with the youngest boy for stitches. That one surgery on his eye. But I’ve never had to drop to my knees and beg the Universe to please take me instead of my child. I’ve only barely flirted with the horror of what it’s like when a child doesn’t show up, doesn’t arrive home safely.

At the moment I am writing this, all four of my children are well and safe, to the best of my knowledge. Lucky, lucky me.

Because how do you ever get out of bed if you lose a child? I don’t know. I couldn’t.

Before I ever graduated high school, my best friend, who was a year older, was happily on her way to college classes one beautiful spring morning when she was hit by a drunk driver, sustained massive head injuries and died a few days later. That moment. That phone call. Hearing that she was undergoing surgery on her brain, but they didn’t expect her to survive… that’s when I first felt that cold hand of grief on my heart. And it took me. It dragged me around my room, not allowing me to lie down or sit or get comfortable in any way or even kneel. And it taunted me. “You’re losing Becky. She’s dying. She’s leaving. You wanted to be the one to leave, but she talked you out of it, and now you’re staying here and she’s leaving without you.”

Each word was a punch to the gut. And they just kept repeating until my stomach ached and I couldn’t breathe and I was absolutely overwhelmed with the feeling of complete and utter helplessness. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t even sit beside her and hold her hand.

Did I pray? I tried. Back then, I thought I had to work at being a spiritual person. I became proficient at parroting. We would spout off with this rhetoric about God’s will and things happening for a reason, words that roll off the tongue so easily until your best friend has been senselessly run down by a man who’s had several prior DUIs and has once again gotten behind the wheel of a car after spending the night drinking. How is that “God’s will”?

I didn’t know how to reconcile it.

To whom do you go for comfort when the person who has always been the one to comfort you has died?

Grief is relentless and merciless.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cosby

LORD: I want you to make me an ark.

NOAH: Riiiight. What's an ark?

LORD:  Make the ark out of cubits.

NOAH:  Riiiight. What's a cubit?

From Bill Cosby's comedy routine entitled "Noah."

I have such wonderful memories of sitting on the couch with my kids watching The Cosby Show in the mid 1980's. The kids were young, but they understood most of the humor, and if a one-liner went over their heads, they could at least appreciate the antic faces of Bill Cosby as the loveable Cliff Huxtable. Since a father figure had been missing in our household for some years, we adopted him as our TV dad, and we hung on every word of sage advice he handed down to Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa (and later, even little Rudy), whether his intentions were silly or serious. During those years, my daily schedule was exhausting as I tried to keep up as a full time college student while simultaneously raising four active kids as a single parent. That weekly time on the couch, laughing and nodding with Cliff's wisdom, were a precious respite from the stress of the week. In our house, we loved Cliff Huxtable so much I used to joke that if anything ever happened to Cosby's wife, Camille, I'd be first in line to snatch him up.

Of course, I had fallen in love with his comedy many years before, in the 1960's, when he was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson and other variety shows. His routines were hilarious (you can still find them on YouTube), and I laughed along with my own siblings, just as my children would laugh along in the same way a couple of decades later.

Having said that, I knew in the back of my mind that Mr. Cosby had another side to his personality. In the late 1960's, he played a sidekick character to Robert Culp in a series entitled I Spy. On rare occasions, an episode was written with his character as the lead, and it gave Cosby the opportunity to be more than just the cool guy making wry quips. His serious roles were played with such a hard edge to them it made me wonder, even back then, what this man was truly all about in real life.

I guess we've found out over the past year or so. Last week Cosby was convicted of sexual assault. He is currently wearing an ankle bracelet on house arrest as he awaits sentencing.

At best, this is a cautionary tale. It seems clear from the number of women who have come forward to accuse him--with nothing to gain beyond justice and validation--that his criminal behavior extended back over decades, all the way back to those idyllic days of The Cosby Show. Of course it was his character we loved, not the man himself. We can see that now. But back then... Cosby the man was lauded and applauded, given honors, asked to render up commencement speeches that were hilarious and yet stellar in their sage advice. Even after the show was cancelled, we continued to love the man we saw as the real life personification of Cliff Huxtable. How completely we were blind to the man he truly was. And how disturbing this should be to us.

Just how easy is it for a man to appear upon the stage of life, smiling in a jovial way and saying things that people want to hear, remarks that make audiences feel less fearful about the current world we're living in, only to be, in truth, slowly and deliberately pulling the wool over their eyes?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Prom: Part II

The Granddaughter did not want her nails done for prom ("I can do them myself!"), but she did agree wholeheartedly that having her hair done professionally would be nice, so I asked (via Facebook), "Who does hair locally?" and saw the name Jeff Fredieu at The Wild Hair in Redlands in the comments repeatedly. I got in touch with Jeff weeks before prom day, and we made the appointment.

But then the girl wanted to dye her hair purple. All of it. Deep purple. Oh my.... So we talked that over while eating ice cream (and after I had said, "Hmm, no..." to the five-dollar bottle of purple hair dye). I told her I would consult with Jeff. I called him, and he had the perfect solution. "Well," he said, "I just happen to have a set of blonde hair extensions that someone returned. You can have them at half price, and I'll dye them purple." I had sent him a photo of The Granddaughter so that he could see her beautiful dark chestnut hair. Like me, he hated to see what would happen to her healthy locks after lightening them enough to make them purple. When presented with this alternative, The Granddaughter was all smiles and thumbs up. (For real; no emojis.)

About that beautiful silver dress.... (If you haven't read that story, just scroll down to the post below this one.) The dry cleaners (Eco Cleaners on Oak Valley Parkway--it's a family-run business, and I love them) sent me a text on Thursday to let me know the gown was cleaned and altered and ready for pick-up. When I went to get it the next day and the owner walked out with it all gleaming in its plastic sheath, I thought it was the wrong dress. It had transformed into a bright flashy silver with all the sequins lighting up like tiny stars. Wow! And what do you know, just like the glass slipper on Cinderella, the thing fit absolutely perfectly when The Granddaughter tried it on.

Yesterday was prom. I made the belle of the ball stand still for a "before" shot (see below), then off to Jeff we went. 


Oh my goodness, this man did magic with her hair! In an hour and a half, he had the extensions in (which matched perfectly with the purple ribbon we'd purchased to replace the dingy gray one on the silver dress) and her hair pulled back and in curls that looked like a cascading waterfall, the purple strands woven in and out throughout. 


Then we jumped back in the truck and headed home, and the rest of the transformation took place. Oh my goodness, look at this grown up young woman!



Then it was time to drop her with her best friend, and off they went.

Did they have a good time? They had "the best" time she said when I picked her up. She had stayed the night with her bestie, and they stayed up until 2:00 chatting all about the wonderfulness of it, most of which (I'm sure not all--winky face emoji here) I heard about on the ride home. And then? Did she want to take a nap?

"I've got homework," she sighed.

Well, I suppose Cinderella did have to get up the next morning after the ball and get to her chores.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Prom Dress Part I

Because I love my granddaughter, and because circumstances warranted it, she is currently staying with me until June, when she will graduate from high school. And in order to make sure that happens, I have been, since January, driving her to school every day, a sixty-mile round trip. And of course I pick her up in the afternoon, so yeah, that's 120 miles a day of freeway driving. (If I could, I would insert the bewildered emoji right there.)

So it's not a stretch to say that this past Saturday, when I woke and realized I didn't have to drive anywhere that day, I was thrilled and grateful. As we shuffled around the kitchen in the morning, making tea and waking up, I told her with resounding enthusiasm, "I'm not driving anywhere today!" (Insert happy-smiling emoji there.) Together, we walked down to the Rec Center here in Plantation and availed ourselves of the monthly breakfast (potatoes and eggs for me, the same plus bacon and a few pastries for The Granddaughter). On our way, she told me excitedly, "I got a text last night from my other nana. They tried to deliver my dress yesterday, but they couldn't find the address, so it's at the post office."

Her dress: The perfect little black dress for her prom, the only school dance she'll attend in her high school career. We've been waiting weeks for her package. Other Nana is in Arizona. She ordered the dress online for The Granddaughter and we've been waiting, waiting, waiting, and getting more concerned as prom draws near. It's this coming Saturday. So now, all we had to do was go get it. Yay!! (Many celebratory emojis.)

After breakfast we got in the truck and drove the few miles downtown to the post office, where we waited in line for 30 minutes. (Since our post office is only open two hours on Saturday and there was only one employee working, the line was out the door.) Finally! Our turn! Hooray! But... the package wasn't there, the very-overwhelmed postal service worker said. She checked. Then she checked again (after I told her, "It's her prom dress. Prom is in one week"). "No," she said, "it's not back there. It was probably returned to sender when they couldn't find your address." The sender... is a merchant in China. "But leave your name and address. I'll ask the carrier about it on Monday...."

Oh, nooooooo!

"What do you want to do?" I asked the sad girl outside. She shrugged and looked away. "Okay," I said, "let's go shopping. Real stores or thrift stores?"

"Oh, thrift stores!" she said, perking up for the first time in over an hour. (That's how this girl rolls. She, her mom and sister have gotten some of their coolest clothes at thrift stores.)

We hit the one in Calimesa first, and there was nothing, to her great disappointment.

"Let's go to Yucaipa," I said, which meant getting on the freeway, but who cares when the happiness of one's granddaughter is at stake.

We found a thrift store where we'd shopped before, and she went to the gowns and began to look. After a second, she pulled one out and held it up. It was a long, sequined, silver gown with a modest neckline and plunging back. I was not impressed--until she tried it on. She opened the door to the fitting room and suddenly my nerdy little gamer girl had become a beautiful young woman. She was dazzling--even though the dress was way too long and a bit big.

"Do you love it?"

She considered. "Not like the little black dress... but I could make it work."

"Okay, we think it over. Let's go look somewhere else." So we jumped in the truck, drove to another thrift store, and looked. Nothing. Back in the truck,  I asked her how much the silver dress was. $15. Yep. "Let's go get it," I said. "If you don't wear it, we'll donate it back. But at least we'll have something to work with."

So back we went to the first place, spent $15 of my exiguous fortune, and then headed home, where she tried on the dress again. It really did look marvelous on her. So I had her take it off and put it back on inside out. I pinned up the hem where she wanted it and created darts under her arms to take it in. Then we jumped back in the truck and drove to the dry cleaners in Beaumont.

"Mama," I pleaded with the mother of the business owner, a sweet little woman who does all the alterations, "is there any way you can alter this and clean it by Friday?" She looked at me, looked down at what needed done, looked up again and said, "No. I can't do it. I can't. I have too much work."

I had asked The Granddaughter to stay in the truck while I negotiated inside because I didn't want her to hear if the answer was no. But... I'm a frequent customer and they like me and I was desperate. So I asked again, telling her the story of what happened to the much anticipated little black dress. I will admit, I had tears in my eyes as I told her, "This will be the only school dance she'll ever go to."

She looked at me. Saw the tears. I sniffled. "Okay, okay, I do it," she said. "But you pay cash." I threw in an extra ten bucks and thanked her profusely, of course.

So, yay!! Insert hand clapping emojis here.

But....

After we spent the day looking and drove all over on Saturday to get our Plan B dress, I got a call from the post office on Monday morning: Her package had been found. "We can deliver it tomorrow," the post master said. So on Tuesday after school we stood in the kitchen and I handed The Granddaughter her package.

"It's in a bag?" she said. "It's... really flat."

True.

She opened it, pulling out the dress and the tiny sheer cape that came with it.

"I didn't know that was separate," she said. She shook out the dress and looked it over. "It's really thin...."

True.

I couldn't stand the suspense. "Which one do you think you'll--"

"Oh, I'm wearing the gown," she said.

I can't wait. Stay tuned for Part II, wherein I get all grandparenty and post numerous photos of her in that fifteen-dollar treasure, looking like a million bucks.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

March


It's been one busy week around here, so I've had little time to assemble my photos from the March For Our Lives in Riverside, California last Saturday. The one above is one of my favorites. The gentleman holding the sign was there with his wife and his German Shepherd, Molly. He was a kind, soft-spoken man who agreed readily when I asked if I could photograph him and post the picture online. A Vietnam war veteran, he felt very strongly about gun control.

In addition to Molly, there were quite a few other dogs there with their people. Seeing them was a comfort to me.







And while the march was organized and directed by teens (who presented all the wonderful, passionate speeches), there were people of all ages there, including people of all abilities:




A lot of teachers showed up, though there were people from all walks of life:





I was especially proud of these folks from my alma mater, UC Riverside:


And I was especially proud of the kids who came with their moms or dads or both to march. They get it:



The young man featured above is Ben, who made his signs himself. I love that he was forward-thinking enough to suggest that blasters should also not be present in schools.

The sense of camaraderie at these events is palpable. Seriously, you want to just hug everyone there. All 4,000 of them. (That number was the Press-Enterprise estimate of attendees.) 

As was the case with the March for Women in January of 2017, I really had to push myself out of my comfort zone to make the drive and find parking and wander alone toward the courthouse and stand alone (until Ben and his crew joined me, which was a special blessing) and then walk. I'm not a shouter or chanter. I'm really not much of a verbal person at all, preferring to select my words and construct my sentences with caution and care, which writing allows me to do. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and so we must all stand with, walk with, the children and adults who have survived mass shootings. Change will come, carried along by the fervency of these young people. I want to say I participated, even if it is in the smallest way. #NeverAgain.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reset

NOTE: Today's post is rated PG due to one word of some very strong language, placed carefully and appropriately for emphasis. (Confucius said, "Always use the right word....")




Everyone is angry these days. Okay, maybe not everyone. The handful of people who are pleased with their income and don't follow politics and get great health care and aren't concerned about Syrian refugees or racism in America or gun violence--those people aren't angry. The rest of us are either simmering or about to boil over. A few have gone over the boiling point. Case in point, a woman I recently encountered in the drive-thru at Starbucks. Here's what happened:

If you look at the photo above, you will see the somewhat faded green arrows indicating the route cars are supposed to follow to access the drive-thru at the Calimesa Starbucks. And if you look closely, you'll also see a long line of cars not entering in the prescribed way but rather from the Walgreens parking lot. Actually, you can't see all of the cars lined up for the drive-thru in this picture, because the dumpster hut blocks the view. But on the day I took this photo, there was a line. (You can trust me; I write stuff, and we all know that if you read something online, it's the absolute truth. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.)

I digress.

So: A few weeks back, I stopped by this Starbucks for a Skinny Vanilla Latte, following the preferred route. Moments after I pulled up to where the pavement ends and the concrete driveway of the drive-thru begins, a small black car pulled in--from the Walgreens parking lot (so, I guess, going the "wrong" way). The woman in the car made eye contact with me--'I see you, I know you're next, I'll just pull in after you.' Perfect. Except... just then another woman pulled in--the "right" way, behind me. This was a young, attractive blonde woman in a large white SUV. I could see her plainly in my rearview mirror. The problem was, she couldn't see the small dark car that had arrived before her because the dumpster hut blocked her view.

Oh dear. What is the right thing to do here? For a brief moment, I considered actually climbing out of Cloud (my trusty and beloved Ford Ranger) and walking back to White SUV woman to let her know someone she couldn't see was ahead of her in line--but just then the line moved. So I pulled up. And so did the Small Black car, right behind me, before the woman in the White SUV had time to react--which set off a temper tantrum the likes of which I have not seen since my eldest son was a toddler. Blaring her horn, waving her hands and screaming, the woman in the White SUV threw her vehicle in reverse, flying backward, then laid rubber on the asphalt of the parking lot as she sped through it, only to flip a U-turn and come speeding back to park and charge inside the Starbucks. The employee who was by then taking my order at the drive-thru told me "I'm sorry--one moment, please"--only she left her mic on, and I could hear her saying, "I know... it shouldn't be that way... I'm sorry that happened...."

Meanwhile, the woman in the Small Black car simply sat behind me in line, a look of stoic endurance on her face. What happened was not her fault. It was no one's fault, or it was mine, because I could see the problem but I did nothing to alert the woman with anger management issues behind me. It was a situation. It happened. Stuff happens.

Still.... That was one hell of a lot of anger over a Starbucks order. Seriously. The three of us were not refugee women waiting in line with our children for hours to be handed a small bag of rice or millet. (The latter grain, for the uninitiated, is what I happily, abundantly, pour into my bird feeder daily, along with sunflower seeds, to feed my neighborhood birds.)

White SUV woman didn't just sigh in impatient exasperation and resign herself to waiting through one more car to be next in line. She exploded in rage. Over the pricey, high-fat, high-sugar comfort drink she desperately needed, apparently, to make her feel safe in the world.

What the fuck is wrong with us?

By the time I drove up to the window to pay and pick up my stupid, expensive latte, I was experiencing quite a severe episode of anger myself.

So I took a long, deep breath, asked the ancestors for serenity, and, as they sometimes do, they offered a suggestion instead: Pay for the order of the woman behind me in the small black car. So I did. My tab was four bucks. Hers was twelve. Maybe she was buying drinks for friends at work or just getting breakfast. Who knows? Who cares. Her car was twenty years old and had seen a lot of miles. A stranger had screamed and honked in rage at her with very little provocation over the stupidest of things. So I forked over the money, smiled at the young Starbucks employee who was already anticipating getting to tell the next customer her order had been paid for, and I pulled away.

As I drove out slowly through the parking lot, I watched as White SUV woman came charging back out of the Starbucks holding a cardboard carrier with four drinks in it. Maybe she was late for work. Maybe her boss sent her a text and asked for the drinks. Maybe she's been trying to please that boss because she's facing an annual review with the chance of a raise that is critical because she desperately needs to file for divorce from an abusive husband. Again, who knows? The truth is, we never know what others are going through, so we should never judge or return anger for anger... which is always the hardest challenge for me. But... what we needed right then was a reset. I couldn't help the angry woman. I hope I helped the other one.