The Liz Visit

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My cousin, Liz was director of community theatre in Wooster, Ohio for many years.  Once she took on the job of managing two small discount retail stores in town, she gave up her theatre activities and focused her time and energy on the stores.

However, theatre is in the blood and like any of the other arts, a taste for it never quite goes away.  Her current thoughts are pulling her toward becoming a playwright.  Looking inward at home and family has offered her some source material and she is now in the process of gathering ideas and recording various situations to build stories around.

As someone who has written family news and views letters for twenty years, and then re-directed the vignettes into essays for a blog, I also have been trying to capture the events and memories from our family experiences as a legacy for the rest of the family, who are all too young to have a serious interest in our history.  By the time they become aware of how quickly it all passes by, the senior members will have gone on to our next assignments and the youngsters will realize all that they didn’t think to ask about.

I invited my cousin to come north for a little repast in one of the few and fewer little mom and pop restaurants nearby and then a bit of local sightseeing and an opportunity to talk about writing.  She drove up last Wednesday and from here I drove us to a little place I always call The Cup of Coffee, and everyone I talk with is in the habit of correcting me, The Coffee Cup.  We talked about the business of our writing and about books, had a bite to eat, and then I took us to the Bedford Viaduct where the paved path out of the parking lot winds and turns back into itself along a stretch of Tinker’s Creek with its “Great Falls” which reminds me of a mini-Niagara.

She was surprised to find this little treasure hidden from the mainstream of traffic and business and we both enjoyed the picturesque, nature visit with the relaxing sound of the water rushing by.  We agreed that we should do this again, have what Julia Cameron calls “an artist date” regularly to help us both grow as we keep on writing.

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Really Fresh Salmon

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Geoann and I worked together at a stock brokerage on K Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s.  When she and Ken decided to get married, she asked me to be in their wedding party and I was happy to be a part of their celebration.

When Ken completed his term in the Air Force they decided they would move to the Seattle area where she was from and still had family.  They moved around Washington and I visited them a couple of times.  I remember the fine strawberry rhubarb pie she made.

One of our adventures included going to the sea shore and digging for clams. That was a first for me. I had never had clams except in clam chowder, but I learned how to cut them from their shells and Geoann prepared clams on the half shell for dinner that night, a delicious meal.

Ken was a photographer on their local police force and when he retired, they did not waste much time before packing up and heading up to Alaska where they could enjoy the unique lifestyle of our last frontier.  Hunting and fishing filled up their freezer every summer and provided them excellent meals all winter.  They got glimpses of the wildlife from their windows, everything from bear to a lynx and the always hungry moose.  One moose claimed their yard as his territory and Ken had to be careful making his way in and out of the backyard and driveway.

In the year 2000 their younger son was to be married and Geoann and Ken thought it would be fun to invite some of the folks who had been in their wedding to their son’s wedding.   For me going to Alaska was a dream come true, and off I went in February of 2000 to the Kenai Peninsula.  To my surprise I was paged in the airport in Minnesota where I was waiting to change planes.  Ken’s brother and sister-in-law were there waiting to board the same plane.  We had a pleasant visit and were soon advised that the airport was officially closed due to the pea soup thick fog.    In time the pilot of our flight decided that our plane was not that big and he could get us above the fog and make a safe trip, so we did not have to spend the night in the airport.

Stepping from the aisle into the row of seats I was assigned to I asked the young man in the next seat if I might put my carry-on bag under a seat and in the smart alec tone of some too bright youngsters, he remarked “That’s what it’s for!” I stood up and glared at him, delaying all the people behind me until he looked up and said, “Whaaat!  You’re looking at me just like my mother does!”  Once we got over that bump, we went on to have a very interesting conversation and I learned that he was heading to his cabin in the wilderness of Fairbanks where he moved to get away from all the stress and chaos of Silicone Valley.  He had just come back from an industrial show and looked forward to working from his computer, and via phone, in his chosen seclusion.

The plane deposited us at a tiny airport in Anchorage.   On display was a stuffed polar bear, in a standing position, about eleven feet tall.  I had heard that was the only animal known to hunt man.  We would be transferring to a smaller plane for the last leg of the trip.  By the time I got to the right departure gate, Ken’s brother and sister-in-law caught an earlier flight, and I was on my own.  The Triple A travel agency advised me that I should not worry because this would be an old fashioned prop plane, the Alaskan ‘bush pilots” were among the best.  There were about fifteen other passengers, most of which seemed to be workers on the pipeline, besides myself.

The stewardess did everything in that seventeen minute flight that the best did on long flights.  She greeted us with a big smile, read all of the regulations about seat belts and oxygen masks, handed out large wrapped cookies, and covered cups of orange juice, came around and collected all the debris and offered water and then bid us farewell as we filed out of the little plane.

Ken came to collect me, saying I looked the same as ever and so did he.  The snow piles at the edges of the driveways were half again as tall as he was.  Geoann had made ice candles to line their driveway by filling coffee cans with water and letting them freeze, then putting little vigil candles in the top center of each one.

The wedding was lovely, the young couple charming, the guests a delight, the food beyond wonderful.  What I remember about the vast stretches of snow covered land that I saw was the feeling of how really big the place was.  We did have a drive to the beach of the Bering Sea and I took a handful of pebbles home with me.  Looking out at the water there was no boat, no bird, no fish, no people for as far as I could see in either direction.

We’ve kept in touch over the years by e-mail and Christmas cards and this past spring I asked Geoann about a wonderful salmon snack that we were digging crackers into and scooping out of the bowl and into our mouths.  Not only were they kind enough to write out the recipe for me, but they sent me 3 jars of fresh salmon from Kenai for me to enjoy and share with my local friends.    Nothing from the store can compare.

Vulnerabilities

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The words of an old song came to mind when he said them aloud, as if the words were an excuse for his bad behavior and the suggestion about love, a buffer to my aggravation with him.  You always hurt the one you love…  It had become his well-worn phrase and when I closed my thoughts off from him, I wondered why when love should be a safety net, instead it was an exposure of vulnerabilities.

Perhaps one should not speak aloud of what could hurt the most so no one then might use that very tool to hurt out of spite or in an angry flare-up.  Maybe that would work, but then is there a certain dishonesty or a prevention of intimacy by keeping that kind of secret.  On the other hand, how many people are a completely open book?  Maybe no one really knows anyone else.

Looking over the assorted relationships of my life, I have sometimes found the unhappy words of that song to be true in cases of the closest people in my circles.  It is how we react to hard experiences, not the damaging actions or words themselves, that count in our personal growth I’ve heard, over the years.  Often the offensive persons have no ill intent, but something just hits me as a painful and it is a wound I really have to work hard to staunch.  The question is how to duck from an onslaught, or better yet, just keep moving forward and staying busy as if nothing happened.

They say that time heals all wounds, but I have found that it does not heal anything, rather as the days and years layer over each other, prayer for strength and forging ahead keep the engine running.

Sunday Best

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When people file into pews of a church or rows of seats in a movie or any place where all of the participants would like to be able to see the main event, they seem to do so rather randomly with no thought about sitting in front of someone who is much smaller than they are.  I think it would be a good idea to assign rows by heights so everyone who attends will have equal opportunity for viewing.  The Mass never changes, so if I cannot see, it should not matter, but I want to watch anyway.

As I was situated in a local church, about ten rows from the front of a section, waiting for the service to begin, a massive gentleman settled directly in front of me.  Not only could I see nothing but his back, I became focused on the multitude of wrinkles in his shirt.

The Mass had begun but I was back in my parents’ home where my mother carefully ironed my father’s clothes, white shirts and black pants, which he wore every day and for all occasions.  When we went to church he added the suit jacket and tie.

When my father arrived at his job, he changed into his work clothes and hung his good shirt, tie and slacks in a locker and after work he showered and put his dress clothes back on and came home.

My mother also ironed pillow cases, sheets, and dish towels.  The most common fabric was cotton.  When I went away to school, my father bought me a small iron so I could carry on the tradition.  To my surprise, I learned that other girls never ironed anything, wore mostly sweaters and sent their laundry home to their mothers at each break, while I was a regular at the local laundromat.

Never would my father be seen in anything the likes of the sight before me today.  I imagined the man came out of the shower, opened the dryer and grabbed the blue plaid short sleeved shirt and beige chino slacks and considered himself in his Sunday garb for church.  His wife had not a wrinkle in her outfit, which was not cotton and probably never had a wrinkle in its life.

By the time I snapped back to the present, the Mass was well underway, I could only tell by hearing the progress.

Portrait Wall

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As a child, I remember being mesmerized by all the photos my maternal grandparents had on the wall lining the staircase to the upper floor in their Colonial style home in Cleveland.  By the time my children and I moved to Parma, Ohio, I had accumulated what looked like a lifetime of family pictures and I remembered my grandparents’ portrait wall.  I hung pictures and framed favorite post cards on a wall in the recreation room in our basement.

When we moved, the new basement was unfinished and the wall space on the main floor seemed less generous.  My father had four large frames filled with photos he’d carved openings for in the white pebble board inside the frames, which he had proudly displayed on the living room walls of their home.  I always thought the job he did on the assorted holes for the pictures could have been improved upon, though my own work with an exacto knife and mat boards had long ago lost its edge.  The years slipped away and the four big frames and their heavy contents remained in a large plastic bag in my basement.

I’ve been here eighteen years now and finally decided that it will have to be someone else who will make better work of the pebble board with the somewhat haphazardly cut openings for all the pictures.  When I called the handyman to come and replace the burnt out light bulbs in the kitchen and back hallway, I asked if he would hang the photos for me as well and he very carefully measured the frames and the space on the wall along the staircase from the main floor into the basement where I decided I would at last have my portrait wall.

That hallway is not well lit, but I do enjoy looking at those pictures every time I go down the stairs.  Even when I do not look carefully, I am content knowing they are there even though my father would have probably liked it better if I had filled my front room with these pictures.  In readiness for the next time the handyman comes out here, the rest of the photos and framed post cards are waiting for him to mount them on the opposite wall of the basement staircase.

A box full of smaller pictures, prints and post cards are in a box ready for the next visit by the handyman to add them to the opposite wall going into the basement.  There are still some artworks that seem to be hiding out, but I am hopeful that I’ll find them before winter.

Nose Job

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Although I had taken my glasses off, my face felt like my glasses were still perched on the bridge of my nose.  The big bandage across my nose may have made me look like I had broken my nose, but that is not the case, thank heavens.

Every six months I have to see a dermatologist because little basal cell cancer moles keep surfacing and I have learned the hard way that my doctor is very astute and recognizes them with a glance.  One time I didn’t want her to get rid of one that seemed small and innocuous and six months later she said she was sure it was one of them, so she took it out, sent it to the lab and it was confirmed that the little varmint was a basal cell cancer.  Since that one was on my forehead, I was informed that I needed the Moh’s Procedure, which was further digging to remove all skin tissue that had any of that cancer in it.  So I went to the dermatology surgeon who looked like he was not old enough to be a doctor, but his expertise was also top of the line.  Once the lab there determined that he had removed all of the cancer from the site, he stitched up the incision and I was good to go.

When she spotted one of these moles on the bridge of my nose and said she wasn’t sure, I told her I trust her judgement and just get it out since it would only get deeper and bigger, so she removed it and it was analyzed by the lab and confirmed to be basal cell.  Off I went after that to the surgeon again for my third Moh’s Procedure.

This time I had a choice of getting stitches by the plastic surgeon, as the doctor who did the Moh’s Procedure said he could not do the stitches due to the size and shape of the incision, or to let the wound heal naturally.  I was not sure what to do.  So I called my cousin, Theresa, who has much more experience in the medical field after working for over 30 years as a pharmaceutical representative.  She ended up talking with the nurse and asking many questions and then she suggested I go home and sleep on it and not feel pressed to decide immediately.  That was a great relief, and that is what I did.

My decision was to let the wound heal naturally.  This way there would be a round pink scar, instead of a linear scar, but my glasses would sit just above it and I don’t think it would be as conspicuous as if I didn’t wear glasses.  Perhaps if I were 30 or 40 years old, a linear scar might be preferable, but I could be at peace with the natural healing.

Good Buy!

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Every once in a while when I express my admiration for a dress, top or slacks that someone is wearing, I get a tickled look on her face as she says, she got it at a thrift shop or a Goodwill resale shop.  Sometimes a lady will even blurt out the price so I will get what a good deal it was.

Now and again I stop into the local thrift store to see what they have in their book shelves.  I have paid as much as $3.00 for a single book there so I was pleasantly surprised to note the little sign that said all media are now $1.00 each.  On that trip I selected eight books.  To my delight, someone in the neighborhood is reading some good books and I was the benefactor from their donations.  I usually look for books by authors I like and the last time there I picked up a copy of The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and is about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway.  That was one of the best books I’ve read in the last few months.

One of the books I found was a very clean – maybe unread – issue of Alexandra Johnson’s Leaving a Trace, which I was looking for some years ago, recommended by Claudia, the Word Lovers lady.  I remember trying to find a copy at the local libraries and couldn’t even get it at Half Price Books.  When I finally got it at the Maple Heights Library, it was completely defaced with red ink underlining through the whole book and that reader’s notes in red ink.

The following week I picked up Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, himself!  It is looking as if I’m likely to become a regular customer at this store.