Monday, September 12, 2016

Eye-opener

On Saturday afternoon I headed to the local branch of Bank of America, hoping to get there before it closed. I made it in plenty of time—with half-an-hour to spare. I was somewhat surprised to see an armed security cop standing outside the entrance. Feeling awkward walking by someone whose license to carry arms is so obvious, I said hello as I passed him. With his arms folded across his chest, making the revolver on his right hip stand out as an asymmetrical accessory, he gave me a perfunctory nod.

As the only customer inside the branch, I took care of my business easily. I couldn’t help but remember years gone by when there would have been a line of people rushing into the bank before it closed for the weekend. I am so happy for the transactional ease of ATMs. As I pushed the door open and stepped into the sunshine, I noticed the guard had moved about a foot closer to the door, positioning himself as if ready to open the door for customers. But . . . he clearly wasn't (nor should he have been) on door-duty.

Walking toward my car, I fumbled with the receipt and manager’s business card that I'd be needing in a few days’ time. I wish I had a paperclip, I thought, as I stepped off the curb and into the parking lot. Ah, wait—I think I saw one on the sidewalk by the bank. I turned around and—because I didn’t want to make the guard nervous (I could be an old lady criminal, after all)—began to explain myself.

“Uh, I just realized I saw a paperclip here somewhere—it’s exactly what I need to keep my papers together,” I said rather self-consciously. I spied it and stooped to pick it up.

“It’s been there since Tuesday,” he said.

Four days?  I cannot imagine standing in one place for eight hours, all the while hoping that what you were there for wouldn't happen (or maybe hoping it would). The idea of staring at a paperclip, noting its presence but doing nothing about it, is puzzling to me. If a brightly colored item hadn't seen as reusable, why wasn't it perceived as trash? Perhaps that's the philosophy of the copleave well enough alone. Probably a good thing, actually. But four days? One little paperclip became a giant eye-opener.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

He's a Poet, and Don't I Know It!

Falling in love with a poet . . .well, not that kind of love. But I’m definitely smitten with the idea of a busker-poet, and the image that a certain young man projects as he sits at the Lake Forest Park Farmers’ Market to create poems on demand.
C. Stavney  working at the Farmers' Market
 August 28, 2015
C. Stavney has been at the market for its startup at ten o’clock almost every Sunday this season (May - October). After he learns his assigned location from the market manager, he sets up shop with just two props: a backpack full of paper and his typewriter. Wearing a version of the same outfit every week—a jaunty combination of brown tones that becomes him—he writes poems on whatever topic you want

He is amazingly gifted. Shoppers at the busy farmers' market wander by his chair. Some point at him; some read his sign and giggle; some stop and talk. Children love him, crowding around to see the keys of the typewriter move up and down. The lucky people who decide to become customers can offer topics, words, or occasions to write about, or they can describe a situation that begs for a poetic take. Whatever he gets as a ‘poem seed’ appears to immediately inspire him. He removes a sheet of paper from his backpack, rolls it into the platen of his small manual typewriter, and begins to write.  


Writing a poem for
me on July 3, 2016
Last Sunday a large contingent of Taiko drum students beat rhythms as impossible to ignore as fireworks. But even that didn't appear to daunt him. He works among the sounds of tantrum-y children, yipping dogs, and the excessive chatter filling the deliciously fragrant air. Nothing appears to derail Mr. Stavney's creativity. He types away and within just a few minutes, pulls the poem out of the typewriter, signs his name to it in light blue ink, snaps a photo of it with his cell phone, and hands it to his customer. 

His sign (taped to his typewriter case) announces that he will write a poem for any price and reminds his customer (in parenthesis) that ‘free’ is a price.

The poem written September 4, 2016
by C. Stavney at the Farmers' Market
in Lake Forest Park, Washington. 
I am so impressed with his gift for words and his edgy, sensitive take on the various topics of poems, I contribute to his "kitty" each week—even if I haven't needed a poem. Lately I confess to wondering, when don't I need a poem? He has managed to fold me into the bosom of the human race a little tighter with each of his works. (I’ve purchased a total of six this summer, and when possible I've drummed up a little business for him from market shoppers wondering 'if he's any good.') The produce vendor in a booth near Mr. Stavney's chair told me that he and his girlfriend loved the poem he wrote for them so much they’d be framing it. Good plan!

Last weekend I jokingly threatened to reenact the story of Rumpelstiltskin by trying to guess his first name. And I did!  But I won’t share it; he admits he withholds it to establish market  mystique. I think his gift is all the more remarkable for his age, and the University of Washington must agree with me because I also learned he'll attend the U.W. this fall as an upperclassman English major. The UW is a stickler of a school to be accepted to, and he's not yet twenty years old (is actual age is another piece of his mystery). 

Today I told him I was going to write about him on my blog and asked for a poem I could 'publish' here. I proudly use it with his permission. When Mr. Stavney is famous, I'll boast that I was his patron“back when” he was busking his poetry at the Lake Forest Park Farmers’ Market. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Long term friendship

I have very few friendships that have lasted more than four decades. Geography, interests, life events: many changes affect them. I can count my "lifelong" friends on one hand. Even rarer is having a friend for forty-five years without even one in-person visit to shore up the sagging that usually happens with distance. When my Kentucky-dwelling friend, Pat, emailed to tell me about a family gathering her daughter was planning for August on the coast of Washington—it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to catch in-person glimpses of each other. 

Pat and I befriended each other in the late '60s in our shared Seattle neighborhood. We were both stay-at-home moms with children close enough in age to play together. She and her family moved away when her husband, John, accepted a position at the University of Kentucky in 1971—and then Jay accepted a position at Marquette University in Wisconsin in 1972. 

With the huge adjustments required of changing locale, we had even more in common and wrote lots of letters—then the only "sensible" (read affordable) means of staying in touch—commiserating over the demands of long distance moves and the challenges the kids (and their moms) experienced, as a result. Gradually our communication thinned to the annual Christmas-season catch-up, birthday cards, and the occasional note during the year.

Our long-distance bond solidified into a kind of supportive sisterhood when both of our lives were rocked and reshaped by similar offspring revelations in the early '80s. We were able to help each other accept and embrace the ways our family dynamics were changing with our flow of candid letters. Pat was a godsend for me, and the feeling was mutual.

Eventually we  added email as a form of communication—and we have continued to keep in touch once or twice a year plus the Christmas letters. However, email wasn’t the form I wanted to use when I informed her of Jay’s death. I wrote her a letter via 'snail-mail' and few weeks later, I opened what I thought would be a condolence letter. Instead, I read of of yet another bond of circumstance we share: John died less than three weeks after Jay did.

In the past two years through our shared bereavement, Pat and I have been in frequent communication. Now we mostly text. But whichever way the communication occurs, nothing is quite like the support that comes from a friend’s going through the same life-changing event. Of all my friends, Pat’s ability to understand what I’ve gone through is unique. Even bad stufflike our shared circumstance of widowhoodhas deepened our connection.

The picture of the two of us was taken at breakfast in Long Beach, Washington. Pat has been living with cancer for two-and-a-half years, and has a wondrous story to tell about the power of positive thinking . . . but I’ll save that for another posting. It was a long drive from Seattle, but a worthwhile excursion in sunshine and hot summer weather. I finally got to be in the presence of, and physically SEE my friend after forty-five years of no in-person visits! 

It should be noted that the only friend I've had all my lifemy older sister, Judykept me company on the 185 mile drive to Long Beach. I have two friends to thank for the special visit. Is there anyone who'd disagree that little in life that surpasses the value of long-standing friendship?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Real Life Conversation

My front yard was the scene of a neighborhood coffee-hour recently. By noon everyone was leaving, carrying their own chairs back home, chattering in friendly tones as the gathering dissolved into the next segment of Saturday.

The eleven-year-old boy from across the street offered to help me carry and put away my lawn chairs and tray of mugs. For some reason, my nose was dripping, so I said, “Just a minute, I have to get a hanky first.”

“What?”

“I have to grab a hanky.”

“What’s a hanky?”

“You know, a handkerchief  . . to blow my nose on . . . like a tissue.”

“Oh!” and with that detail, he nodded in recognition.

When I was his age, at least once a year, my mother ordered for my sister and me each a dozen hankies with our names embroidered on them. That way, if we dropped one or left it at someone’s house or school, we’d get it back. Obviously, it didn’t work too well because the next year we’d each get another dozen hankies. 

The conversation with my young helper is a telling distillation of our double-generation gap, and it makes me feel very grandma-like.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Minute Pudding

In the late 1940s and '50s, once a year for Sunday lunch my dad would make a family recipe called minute pudding. He always invited his family, especially his still malleable daughters, to share it with him. 

Minute pudding is not a delicate dessert, as you might imagine of a recipe called "pudding." It's a main course made from flour, milk, baking powder, and salt—flavored with nutmeg. The gooey dough looks something like dumpling dough, and after it cooks it still looks like a big, doughy lump. We would sprinkle sugar on it and pour milk over it. It was like eating doughy, flavorless bread dunked in milk. It was awful!

“Can you this being your entire food for the day?” Dad would ask us. We'd grimace. "I'll bet you'd think it pretty darn good on an empty stomach, though,” he'd continue, then add something like “M-m-m-m . . .  there’s nothing quite like minute pudding.” 

He was right; there is nothing like it in any recipe book I’ve ever seen. It was a strictly homemade concoction invented out of desperation by my great-grandmother, Anne French Johnson.

Minute Pudding  (recipe copied in my hand more than forty years ago)

Bring to a boil 1 pint of milk
Add Salt and nutmeg to taste
Sift flour (there is no quantity, but start with 1 cup) with ¼ tsp. baking powder

Keep adding flour to the milk until thick. 
Turn into a bowl and bake for 20 minutes in a slow (300 degrees) oven.
           
In my handwriting I added,Eat with reverence.”

As we ate our minute pudding on those Sundays, Dad would narrate stories he had heard as a child from his father who grew up in rural Iowa and left home to 'come out West' as soon as he completed eighth grade. 
Inside my great-grandfather's saddlebag was
the 'good book'--the only tool of the trade
itinerant preacher needed in
the mid-nineteenth century.

Apparently there were a lot of times in my grandfather's childhood when he didn't have enough to eat. Grandfather died when I was three (he was born in 1860), so I never had a chance to talk to him about his early years myself. But my father filled us in on tidbits, as we were ready for them.

We learned that sometimes grandfather and his two sisters suffered from much deprivation in their isolated cabin in rural Iowa, especially if hunting was poor and someone didn’t shoot a turkey or some other wild animal for them to eat. "They went to bed hungry many nights, and if it hadn't been for minute pudding, they might have starved to death.”

This is my great-grandfather's hide-
bound Bible published in 1840--
well worn and well used.
Their father, my great-grandfather, was Rev. Allan Wesley Johnson, an itinerant Methodist minister born in 1819. He traveled from town to town on horseback throughout much of Iowa and Minnesota. His work kept him away from home for long spells, and clearly the remuneration was little more than the hospitality of the people he ministered to. He was also an alcoholic (although my father’s word was 'drunkard,' no doubt used by my grandfather, too, when talking about his childhood deprivation). That meant when the Reverend Johnson was home, he was frequently unable to provide for his family.

I was probably thirteen when I realized my dad actually didn't love minute pudding, despite the "m-m-m-m" that inevitably accompanied its consumption. Instead,Dad was repeating a personal ritual that he had learned from his own father, a ritual created to never forget how blessed it is to have enough food to eat.

As I read about the increasing poverty rate in our country, I think about this story . . . this recipe. I haven't made minute pudding but once in my adult life, but just thinking about it makes me feel so blessed.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Shocking Pencil

Several years ago now, our granddaughters from Minneapolis and their parents came to visit us in Bothell. As the hosting grandparents, we wanted to do some activities unique to Seattle. In that spirit, we planned a trip to the Seattle International District to shop at the 'nothing-like-it-in-the-Midwest store, Uwajimaya. Not only did we enjoy wonderful food there, but the shopping was fantastic. Among other purchases, my younger granddaughter and I each bought a pencil that looked like a cigarette.  

 Recently I was cleaning dresser drawers and came across it. I have to confess, just for a moment, I thought there was a real cigarette in my dresser! (Good old days? What an awful thought!)

I stopped cleaning and began to pose in front of the mirror, considering how I might have a little fun with my wooden 'cigarette.' 

I don't ever want to sharpen it so I could write or draw with it. No, I'd rather horrify people--taking it out of my purse in a restaurant, say. I would be immediately asked to leave the premises! Driving with it in my hand on the steering wheel could be fun, too. Then there's Symphony Hall, cinema lobbies, art museums . . . the list goes on. What about just standing in front of my house, holding it in a provocative pose? 

Of course, it just went back into the drawer and I continued tidying. The next time I clean out that drawer (five years, at the rate I'm going), I'll probably have forgotten all about it and will have the same--or even stronger--reaction. I hope so. My life is pretty dull these days.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nature's Polka Dots

On my regular Sunday morning walk, I pass the back nine holes of Wayne Golf Course. The golf course was established in the 1930s, and presumably the apple orchard was planted before the course was established.

Now, as typical of century-old apple trees, the fruit isn't very good now. Even most of the critters that roam the land seem to leave it alone. The trees drop their bounty all over the golf course (probably making it hard to spot a ball that's gone missing) in this random pattern. Isn't it beautiful? I was quite taken with the cheery, perky look of light green little spheres lounging about on the deeper green grass, as I passed by this morning.

The Wayne golf course land, by the way, has been saved from development by the hardworking grass roots organization I've written about in past posts--OneBothell.org. Check out the new website to see what a wonderful and vital success story it has to tell. I'm a proud volunteer for OneBothell.