Monday, October 15, 2018

Sears


(Photo is from the archive of the Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington, West Virginia)

The iconic retail giant, Sears, has filed for bankruptcy and will be closing 142 stores. This doesn't mean the end of the vast historic marketplace... yet... but this could be the beginning of the end... which I will mark with great sadness. After all, Sears did give us a pony.

Back in the early 1960's, our local Sears used to sponsor a contest in which children were invited to write, in "fifty words or less," (exactly the number of words in my first paragraph) why they wanted a pony. My sister entered the contest in 1963, but didn't win (despite my fervent prayers). That same year, our father died. So when she entered again the following year, she included this in her plea:

All my life my father promised me he would buy me a pony. He died before he could fulfill that promise.

And she won. Pictured below is my sister, Peggy, and the representative from Sears who presented her with a bridle, a saddle, and a pony—actually two, because the little mare we were given was in foal and would later give birth to a fine young colt.


Peg is in the saddle, and I'm the smiling geek in the blue shorts. That's Mom, of course, looking fashionable as always, and our next-door-neighbor (looking jealous). I apologize for the quality of this photo; we had it stuck on the wall in the tack room for years.

Our pony, a purebred Shetland, was named Silver Lady Sensation on her registration papers. We called her Silver. I say "we" because the colt she gave birth to was later traded for a full size horse for my sister, so the pony was passed down to me. Like a big dog, she was my boon companion from the time I was ten until I was twenty-six.

Me, a tiny ten-year-old, with one of the best friends a girl could have, in our back yard.

The truth is, having her changed all our lives.

We probably would have continued to live on Eberle Street in our little Lakewood housing tract if Peg hadn't won the contest. But clearly you can't keep a pony in your back yard, so she had to be boarded at the nearby stable... which was a financial burden to our mother, who had become the sole breadwinner even before my father's death from a rare disease. Mom decided to put our childhood home up for sale, and she found an affordable house a few miles away in a residential area that was zoned for agriculture, so we had a barn and corral in the back yard. Right next door lived the man who would later become my wicked step-father....

In the meantime, Peg and I grew up immersed in the horsey life, getting up early to feed before we went to school, coming home to ride the horses, brush them, feed them, clean stalls and all the other work required in caring for them. On the weekends, we participated in horseshows, winning our share of trophies and ribbons over the years. While other teenagers we knew were off getting into mischief after school, we were horseback riding or grooming or getting ready for the next show, which didn't leave much time to be naughty.

Later, when I married, I told my husband our first home would have to be one with horse property as I would be bringing Silver along with me. He consented—because he had no choice, keeping Silver being a deal breaker and all—and we bought a little three-bedroom home in Mira Loma (now Jurupa Valley) where Silver became companion to my children as they grew, or at least three of them; she died before my youngest was born.


Nowadays I doubt that Sears or any other big chain has an annual contest, and if they do, I'm sure they're not giving away ponies. But that era, in the late 1950's and early 1960's, was a different time altogether. You could buy just about anything at Sears, from clothing and housewares to tools and building supplies, including a house, if you were willing to assemble it after you ordered it. We loved getting the Sears catalog in the mail, that huge tome of slick paper with color pictures of all the toys and bikes and games a kid could ever dream of—including, of course, BB guns and, for the older kid, hunting rifles and other sporting goods.

I imagine in the days to come we'll be hearing a lot of stories about what Sears meant to folks of a certain age. Don't know if anyone else can top our pony story, though.



Saturday, October 6, 2018

Getting Ink



2016 was a year that was chock-full of truly awful events, the worst of which was the death—by suicide—of my goofy, sweet, troubled friend John. On and off throughout his life, John had battled with depression, self-medicating along the way, getting clean and sober, doing battle again, and on and on. Later in his life, he began to deal with multiple health issues; he quit smoking to get healthy, only to gain enough weight to put increased stress on his heart and lungs. Over the years, he was in and out of relationships. When he took his life, he had been single for some time. “He was just so lonely,” his sister told me later. I had spent time with John in the months prior to his death… but I never saw it coming—and I am one who truly knows the signs.

Two years before John died, a new young friend, Michael, also took his life. I had met him through a writing event that he had put together for other young people, a contest for high school students to help them exhibit their writing and, in the long run, gain confidence in their writing skills. At one of the preparatory events, his father mentioned to me as an aside that writing had been the one stabilizing factor in Michael’s life. “He’s always had difficulty in school fitting in,” his father said. This resonated with me. As a depressed child, I could sit with a pencil and notebook and simply write whatever came to mind. It anchored me, gave me purpose and a sense that I could do something not everyone could do. Robert Frost referred to the act of writing verse as “a momentary stay against confusion.” When I read that for the first time, I was in college, and the idea resonated with me so strongly, it made my heart pound. My journals, kept over the decades since my children were young, contain many pages that were filled on days when I was too sad to function. The act of writing down my thoughts was often enough to calm me, to help organize the chaos and confusion in my head. Setting the emotions carefully down on paper helped me distance myself from them and find resolution to some of the factors contributing to that chaos.

I’ve been alone for a very long time now. I understand loneliness, especially as an older person. I also understand isolation, that feeling of not fitting in, of not finding a tribe to belong to, and of needing to pour onto paper the words that seemed locked away otherwise. And I fully understand the need to make the mental anguish and emotional pain stop. In my life, there have been times when I questioned why I was even continuing to go forward. What’s the point? I often wondered. Of course, intellectually, I understand what “the point” is; it’s my children. It’s my family. Now, it is putting words on a page that just may resonate with someone else, help them heal or laugh or cry or feel less alone. I understand my gift, and what I am to do with it. I doubt that I will feel suicidal again in my life.

But… just as a reminder… and to honor the lives of Michael and John (because I miss their light in this world), I have gotten my first tattoo. It’s a semi-colon. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see it there on my right wrist, a reminder daily that yes, sometimes our life story needs a “pause.” But it will continue. Life sometimes hurts like a slap in the face from a trusted friend. It’s shocking and it stings and we wonder in the moment how we will recover. But we can. If we wait a bit, things do get better. The pain does ease enough to be tolerable. With time, it’s possible to see beauty in the world again.

When Chris (Christopher Lloyd Davis of Reflect Tattoo Studio in Redlands, California—a former band nerd and beautiful human being) was situating the tattoo on my arm, he said, “I can move it down further so you can cover it if you need to.”

“No,” I told him, “I’m never going to want to cover this up. I want to see it every day. And I want everyone else to see it as well.”

So now the daily reminder is there.

If you have been previously unaware that a semi-colon tattoo is generally done to honor someone who has taken his or her own life, I encourage you to use your search engine to look at images of semi-colon tattoos. Most are far more beautiful than mine, but mine is serving its purpose just fine.

TheNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. If you’ve ever had one of those days (or as I used to say, “one of those lives”), jot that down and stick it somewhere safe. Sometimes we just need another voice to reassure us that the pain will ease, things will get better. A pause is fine before going forward once again.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Nostalgia



Yesterday morning I spent two hours talking to a cousin—a cousin whom I've never met. He'd read my memoir, Tainted Legacy, saw the last name "Williams" mentioned as one of my ancestors, did some checking, and yeah, we're cousins; his great-grandfather was the brother of my great-great-grandmother (all of which we happily verified on Ancestry.com). Our conversation, over that two hours, led us from laughter to tears and back again as we shared family stories and secrets, heartaches and triumphs. And in the course of our dialogue, we discussed an individual who may or may not be a blood relative, someone with whom I had contact while researching Tainted Legacy. But I haven't spoken to her in years. And now I'm curious to know who her people were. So is new-cousin-Chris.

"Don't let her slip away, Kay," he implored.

No kidding.

So I went looking for her phone number. I began by searching my entire Bertha Gifford file (and let me tell you, it's extensive, including all my notes, newspaper clippings, photos, every email I've ever received about her or the book—printed--rejection slips from agents and publishers—ha ha ha ha ha ha ha—and the True Crime comic book in which her story is featured. (No, I won't mention which one or the issue date. Good lord, it's horrid.)

But I didn't find her phone number.

So today I finally (after quite a few years), went through my nightstand drawer, the place where I keep the cards my kids send me and other precious mementos.

Is it important to mention that I've had the same nightstand since I was born? Yep. For sixty-plus years it has sat sturdily next to my bed in every home I've lived in. The beds have come and gone (I sometimes miss the waterbed), but the nightstand remains stalwart. I promised my mom in 1972 when I moved out of the house and she sent it off with me that I'd sand it down and refinish it. Sorry, Mom!



I didn't find that phone number.

But I did find an abundance of other treasures, including a birthday card The Youngest Granddaughter made for me—yes, that granddaughter, the one who just started college. I have treasured it all these years for the way she depicted us together.


 And a Mother's Day card my son drew for me—in the 1980's—complete with an Ewok sticker to fancy it up.


 And a card my mother sent me... when she was 90.


 And the two-page letter my sweet cousin Danny Fiocchi sent me after he'd finished reading Tainted Legacy, which was not long after it came out because at its publication, I'd sent him a copy, since the book came into being only because that stubborn Irish/Italian man refused to let me give up on it. In the letter, he mentions that he is 51... that he started working at the age of 16... that in all the years he's been working, he's only been late for work "a handful of times, today being one of them." Because he couldn't put the book down. "Thank God I'm my boss," he said. See why I love him?

And all the precious bookmarks my bibliophile friends have sent me over the years, including one from County Cork, Ireland (wherein the Murphy ancestors lie buried), several made for me by my beloved cousin Jean Thompson, and one I procured from the Singing Wind bookstore in Benson, Arizona (Winifred Bundy, proprietor) in 1993.


I have been steeped in nostalgia all day. And you know what? It's a nice place to visit when you've been sad. It has reminded me of how much love has been surrounding me all my life.

Now if I can just find that phone number....

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Part II: June


(If you have not read the previous post, “What Happened to June,” you can find it by simply scrolling down past this one.)

At this writing (7:45p.m. on Monday, September 10, 2018 to be exact), June is still missing. And I am still hopeful that she will be found and returned to me… unless she didn’t survive her first night out alone, in which case there is nothing that anyone can do. But I try very hard not to think about that.

Harry Cauley told me today, “When you have a dog taken by a coyote,” (which, tragically, he did--two, in fact) “it tests what you really believe about nature.”

This post is not meant to be a philosophical musing about whether there can be good or evil intentions in Nature, or whether the Universe loves and watches over my June-bug with the same care afforded the coyotes in my neighborhood. But if I am honest, that question continues to loom in my mind, as much as I work to replace or suppress it.

Also occupying my thoughts is this:

Several days after June’s adoption, I was sifting through all her paperwork, sorting out what I would need to get her licensed, and I came across a handwritten note attached to her spay certificate that mentioned a problem had been identified with the kneecap on her left hind leg. She was still wary of being touched in those first days, so I had not had the opportunity yet to give her a bath or a belly rub, but I had noticed a strange stiffness to that back leg when she walked. I called her to me right then and ran my hand down her leg. Inside her thigh was an ominous lump. So the next day we were off to the vet.

As soon as he examined her leg—palpating and manipulating it hard enough to make her tremble all over, though she never cried or growled or tried to squirm away as the vet tech and I held her steady—his eyebrows drew together and his forehead wrinkled.

“I don’t like what I’m feeling,” he said, “and I don’t understand it.”

Moments later the vet tech led her away for x-rays, and I paced around the room, anxious, worried, texting a friend for comfort and support.

She came back to me wagging her tail.

“We gave her a few treats,” the vet tech said. “She was perfect.”

Of course she was.

What wasn’t perfect was her leg.

“Come on in this other room,” the vet said, “you’ve gotta see this.”

The x-ray of her leg was appalling. “Extremely distressing,” was the phrase the vet used.

Somehow, at some point, June had sustained “severe trauma” to her leg, so much so that the end of the femur was twisted horribly, the condyles (those rounded protrusions at the end of the femur) unable to fit correctly into the grooves in the tibia.

“That lump we were feeling is possibly a mass of bone fragments,” the vet said, “not her knee. Her knee is over here on this side, displaced by the twisted femur.” He frowned again deeply. "I don't know how this happened to her, but I find it extremely disturbing." As did I.

“So what do we do?” I asked, still staring at the screen, still trying to process what I was seeing, how she was possibly walking—no, running—what had happened to render this dog’s leg in this condition, how many months she went enduring the pain with no treatment and no comfort in her injury.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“There’s nothing we can do. We can’t untwist her bone.”

“So… What’s your prognosis?”

“Well, eventually,” he said, turning off the screen, tidying up the room, making like he was about to leave, and never meeting my eyes, “she will develop arthritis in that leg.”

“And I’ll know this…?”

“She’ll let you know. It will be very painful for her.”

“And then…?”

“And then I’ll prescribe painkillers. Because that’s all we can do.”

“So this will be years from now, right? I mean, she’s still a youngster. She’s not even two yet. And we still have lots of daily walks and playing in the dog park ahead of us.” I stroked June’s head. Scratched behind her ears.

The vet looked up sharply at this and finally looked me in the eye. “I want only moderate exercise for her,” he said sternly. “Nothing exuberant.”

“But how long until…?”

He looked away again. “A year. Maybe two.”

And with that, he was hurrying out of the room, muttering something about catching Dr. So-and-so to show him June’s x-ray as he’d never seen anything like it before.

June got a few more treats as I paid the bill. Her enthusiasm in eating them distracted me for the moment so that I didn’t cry until I was back in the truck with her. Then, of course, I cried all the way home, rubbing her back as she lay curled in a ball in the passenger seat, telling her what an amazing girl she was, that phrase, “nothing exuberant” running on a continuous loop in my head as I recalled the walks in the woods we’d already had, June filled with the joy of life until she was bubbling over with it. And I assure you, it was absolutely contagious.

It took a day or two for me to fully process what the vet had said. At first, I had to work through all that sorrow for what June had endured all alone. When I finally came out from under that cloud, I began to think more practically. Well. We would just get a second opinion. This was not a death sentence. We would stay positive and I would watch her daily for any signs of favoring the leg.

I had already started looking for an orthopedic specialist when June went missing.

As I mentioned in the first post about June, these ramblings were supposed to have been told with June lying just behind my chair, on her favorite dog bed, not from this quiet room without a dog in it. But I feel compelled to tell the tale of her bum leg now because it’s meaningful to the situation. My girl is a fighter. She’s a survivor. She has the sweetest temperament, but she is also tenacious. Whatever is happening to her now, while she’s away from me, I pray that she summons all her resources to stay safe.


I am still hopeful… and hoping everyone is joining me in the one powerful vision of June coming home where she belongs.



Sunday, September 9, 2018

What Happened to June


This post was supposed to be joyful and celebratory. It certainly is not… though I remain hopeful. Because what else can I do?

Three weeks ago today I adopted a silly but sweet, naughty but remorseful, quiet except when she is wildly exuberant, young German shepherd mix dog who weighed just under fifty pounds and matched the fur color of Sgt. Thomas Tibbs to a T.

I had looked for months for a dog who would fit in with our pack of one quirky dog and two particular cats. Then I lost Sugar Plum… and I put the search on hold until I could gather myself enough to move from grief to good memories. I’d actually gone to Upland Shelter to look at another dog I’d seen on their Facebook page, but didn’t think that dog would work for Thomas. One of the volunteers suggested I look at “Libby,” and I fell in love with her at first sight. (But in my head, even before she was mine, I changed her name to “June,” after my beloved aunt. That, in itself, is a story for another time.)

June was brought to meet Thomas, behaved herself like an excellent dog citizen, and I quickly signed all the paperwork to make her part of our pack. Of course, Thomas was indifferent to her, as he is with every new person, dog, cat, rabbit he meets. And Purrl hid under the bed.

But it only took a couple of days before I had the dogs walking together, one on either side of me, for our morning walks. At under two years old, June is still puppy-ish, and would invite Thomas to play in the yard. He always declined. So on walks, just to mess with him, she would suddenly cross over in front of me, nuzzle his ear, then resume her walk, wagging her tail in good humor at her teasing.

Although she barked at Purrl at first (sending her back under the bed), she learned very quickly to “leave the kitty,” and Purrl (as I knew she would) made it a project to try to win her love, in much the same way that June was trying to win over Thomas. The developing dynamics between the three of them were a source of daily entertainment.

With the exception of eating, June’s happiest moments were when we went hiking. Early on, I let her off the leash—because I knew she would always stick with me and Thomas (who remained on the leash). And she did. But her delight in the freedom to explore made her explode in ecstatic “zoomies,” and she would race ahead of us on the trail as fast as her long skinny legs would go, then turn and gallop back past us, sometimes charging Thomas or doing a drive-by ear nuzzle. Then she’d turn and do it all again. Like an exhausted kid after a swim party, as soon as we got in the truck to go home, she’d curl up on the front seat, exhausted, and fall asleep.


Unlike Thomas, who spends his days after our morning walk sleeping in my bedroom (sprawled like a king on his huge memory foam bed) June would follow me around the house. If I sat in the den to work at the computer, she’d curl up on the dog bed there and doze. If I went out to the back yard to garden, she’d follow me out, finding a patch of shade to lie in or trotting around the yard, sniffing all the remnants of the possum who visits nightly.

She went with me everywhere. I took her to Petco, to Home Depot, to visit a friend in his home, and to a meeting of my book club. Always she was an ideal citizen, walking nicely beside me in the big stores or lying quietly at my feet while I chatted.



I took her with me because June had separation anxiety. She’d been adopted and returned to the shelter because, the day after her adoption, her new people had left her alone in the house. I don’t know what kind of damage she did, but it was enough that they returned her two days after adopting her. So I bought a crate for her, and when she was comfortable sleeping in it, I began the slow process of helping her feel safe when I left the house, leaving for a half hour the first time, an hour the next, two hours after that and finally, three. She did great.

And then she left.

Last Tuesday, just as I stepped into the bathtub, she wandered out the back slider into the back yard, apparently discovered and stepped through the doggie door she’d never used, and trotted out through the open garage door. She never looked back. My neighbor spotted her and came down to ring my doorbell, getting me out of the tub, but by the time I’d thrown some clothes on and grabbed the keys to the truck, she was out of sight.

It wasn’t until hours later—until I and half the residents of my community, including the maintenance workers, had searched every square inch of this property calling her name—that someone spoke up and said, ‘Oh, you’re looking for a dog? I saw a brown one go out the front gate at about 9:00 this morning. I didn’t know anyone was looking.’

Friends had already driven around outside the park, but I went again anyway, searching all through the late afternoon, driving for hours, then going back out that night, trying to determine which direction she would take, and terrified at the thought of her being out all night. Sometime around midnight, I collapsed on my bed and slept. The next morning at dawn, I was out looking again.

How do parents of missing children survive the ordeal?

At this point, I have done everything that can be done to find her. She is listed on several lost pet Facebook pages. I am checking all the local shelters twice daily (via Petharbor.com—bless them!). And thank heavens she is micro-chipped. If a kind person picks her up off the street and takes her to a vet or shelter, she will get back to me. I am hoping and praying that happens.

Where is she headed? Back to her loved ones, her puppies.

June was found on the street in Los Angeles—with eight puppies. Thankfully, Upland pulled her from the L.A. shelter and gave her a safe haven in which to get healthy and raise her puppies until they were ready to be adopted, which they were. One aspect of her personality that the shelter volunteers had noted was that June was fiercely loyal to and protective of her puppies, something that endeared her to me all the more. After she was separated from them, she never really had the opportunity to bond with a human. She was with me only two weeks and two days. Though I knew I would love her forever, the feeling had not yet become mutual. She was still somewhat confused about all this change of caregivers and locations, and when she saw her opportunity to take control of her own situation again, she took it.

As far as I know, she’s still trying to make her way back to Upland. It’s forty miles. Dogs have traveled much farther distances to return to those they love. She’s a tough little survivor. Maybe, just maybe, as she’s trotting down the road, someone will pull over, scoop her up, have her checked for a chip, and I will get that call I’m desperately longing for.

There is more to June’s story. There is The Very Bad Incident at the Vet’s that happened a week after I adopted her, which becomes a strange but critical aspect to this story. But this post is already far too long, and you have been very patient if you’ve continued reading, and I am now crying too much to keep writing. So stay tuned for Part II about what happened to June. And please join me in thinking good thoughts for my girl-on-the-run, that she’ll be protected, and that I’ll get a second chance to convince her that this is the best place in the world for her to stay forever.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Road Trips


As soon as I bought the new Subaru, I wanted to take a hundred road trips. Sadly, I only had time for a few before I lost my #1 house sitter to college life, and I had to cram those few into her tightening schedule of placement tests, freshman orientation and (gasp!) house sitting for other friends.

The day after I brought the Crosstrek home, I drove good friend Harry to Claremont to visit some friends. A quick aside here: I almost bought a Jeep. Friends know I’d been planning for some time to get a Wrangler. In fact, The Grandson and I had discussed this way back in the days when he was still a teen and I was living in the mountains. In May, I test drove a dark gray 2014 Wrangler that was immaculate—but didn’t buy it. Because, in the end, I knew it would be difficult to get Harry up into it, as climbing is not currently his best skill. (He is, after all, 87.) So I passed on it. And I’m glad I did. He slipped into the Crosstrek easily when I picked him up, stretched out his very long legs, and smiled. “I like this car,” he said. That’s all I needed for validation.

The day after that, my sister and I headed up the hill to Oak Glen for some breakfast and early Christmas shopping. We drove off the beaten path a few times, just for fun, which is when we saw the guy at the top of this post. We loved that he was smiling, so we took his photo, then left him in peace.

A week later, the sis and I took another road trip, this one down to El Cajon to drop off her guitar for some repairs at the Taylor guitar factory. If you live in Southern California, and you love guitars, this is a great day trip. We took the 1:00 tour of the factory and were amazed to see just how much hands-on skill goes into making a good quality guitar.



If you do the trip, be sure to stop in Escondido and go to the Home Sweet Home Café for breakfast (or lunch). Oh my word… I wasn’t hungry again for the rest of the day, even though we took the long, beautiful way home through Julian, and we could smell the apple pies baking!



Then it was time for me to head to Utah, a trip I’ve been wanting to make since becoming a member of Best Friends Animal Society during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Mom was living with me at the time, and as we watched the news, we both decided we should make donations which would help this amazing rescue and these people who jumped into boats, navigating through congested flood waters to literally pull stranded pitbulls and other pups off people’s roofs and porches to save their lives. (Bless them forever.) The sanctuary for Best Friends in Utah is huge and thriving, and they are committed to a world in which stray and abandoned animals are no longer euthanized. Visiting the sanctuary was a dream come true.

After Sugie’s death in May, I collected some items that volunteers at Best Friends had requested. I had filled the back of the Subaru with these things--kitty treats, outdoor portable play enclosures, a water fountain. When I arrived, I was quickly greeted and helped with unloading them, given paperwork to fill out if I wanted the tax deduction, and then booked for a tour of the sanctuary. All this from a very sweet volunteer named Allie. The tour is a driving tour; you’re loaded into a small van with a dozen or so other folks that you immediately bond with because, like you, they love animals, too, and then you’re driven around the entire facility, stopping at Dog Town, Cat World, and one or two other places. It was fun and informative, and we arrived back at the visitor’s center in time to take advantage of the Best Friend’s Mobile Café, which was serving a delicious vegan lunch of fresh fajitas, beans, rice, salad, chips, brownies and iced tea—for $5. Loved it.

On the tour, our guide had suggested that we return on our own to visit Angels Rest, the memorial park that is part of the sanctuary. I’d seen pictures of it in Best Friends Magazine—the hundreds of wind chimes hung from trees and posts continually blessing the last resting place of so many beloved pets. Our guide told us she believed it was “a sacred space,” and that visiting there was “a moving experience” that one can only appreciate by going there. I didn’t know if I could. I still miss little Sug every single day, and I knew that if I went, I would spend the time crying.



And that’s exactly what happened later in the afternoon when I ended up returning. Only… it became a healing experience. As I began to walk among the hundreds and hundreds of headstones, a slight breeze came up, gently rolling its way through all those wind chimes…. I thought I would only visit for a few minutes. I stayed for nearly an hour. There is something very validating in sharing the grief of others. I have lost so many dogs and cats in my life… and the pain never gets easier to bear. But when you see how many people have adored their pets in the same way, to the same depth, it is, indeed, a moving experience. That hour was the best part of my visit to the sanctuary.





I was home only for one day before I left again for my final road trip of the summer, heading up the coast to meet The Oldest Son in Morro Bay. We stayed in a sketchy hotel and laughed about it, walked on Montana de Oro State Beach, which we both love, took photos of otters and squirrels and breathtakingly beautiful coastline, and ate several amazing meals at various eateries. All of that in two days. I could have stayed a week. But he had work to get back to, and The Granddaughter/House Sitter was at home packing, getting ready to move into her dorm at Cal Poly.



This summer that began in great sadness gave way to some great times and great memories. Thanks for sharing them with me.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Life


Oh, gosh, hello!
I see I've been absent from the blog for a month! Wow, time really does seem to travel at the speed of the Parker Solar Probe.

A number of exciting and wonderful and touching things have happened in my life, and I want to share all of them with you so that you can share in the fun and good times, but it will take a few blog posts to do them justice, so look for me to be a bit more regular in posting once a week—at least for a while. I have quite a few writing projects to work on, and sometimes they get in the way of the blog—and since those projects earn dog food money and this one does not, you know where my time needs to be spent. But I'll try to squeeze it all in.

Speaking of buying dog food....




This girl came into our lives this week. Her name is June. Isn't she lovely? I will tell her story soon. Right now she is learning to live with a cat. ("Mom lady! Mom lady! What is that creature?!? What is that creature??")

And I bought a car. Finally. Good ol' Cloud (my 2003 Ford Ranger) is still with us, even with 181,000 miles on her. My insurance rep from Hartford asked, "Will you be keeping the Ranger on your policy?"
"Yes," I said, "as long as my dog still needs it."

After researching vehicles for months, I bought a Subaru Crosstrek. "Sky" has already been to San Diego, Utah, and the Central Coast. Love this car.

I made the trip to Utah to visit Best Friends AnimalSanctuary. Blog post to follow.

The second biggest change in my life (after June's arrival), would be The Granddaughter moving out. The college girl is now safely installed in her dorm at Cal Poly, Pomona, and has already been attending classes. I am so, so proud of this girl, and equally proud of Ellie, The Oldest Granddaughter, who is back at University of Alaska for another year, now a pre-med major.

And what is The Grandson up to, you ask? He had his first real job this summer, working on the lake in Lake Arrowhead. He was quickly promoted (as I knew he would be) and absolutely loved being outside to work with boats, boaters and lake-goers. He may or may not have saved some money. He does have a girlfriend, though, so....

On this beautiful Sunday morning, I took my two good dogs into the hills south of town and watched as June galloped up and down the trail, thrilled to be out in the fresh air. Sgt. Thomas Tibbs trotted faithfully along at my side. He is a sedate old man now, and more precious to me as each day goes by.

Thanks for reading this far! Catch me here again next Sunday! I promise!



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.