Wednesday, October 19, 2016

And one more (important) thing about Patsy . . .

Here is the family portrait Patsy created
for our six-member family. It always
makes me smile.

Patsy's take on the "pet rock" trend.
Yesterday's post may have made it sound as though the only reason I remember Patsy O'Brian is because of the earring incident. However, that is not the primary reason I think of her daily. 

Two of her lovely and imaginative art creations grace my home. Both were hostess gifts, lovingly presented to our family when she and Pat stayed with us on their visits to Milwaukee. 

No one who notices the quirky little face smiling from a table in my house can resist commenting on it. It's both goofy and creative. Patsy had her own take on the trends and was always experimenting in media to add dimensions to existing three-d objects.

Patsy's art was represented by the popular art gallery located at the downtown Frederick and Nelson, in those days Seattle's most respected department store. 

It was whimsical and beautifully crafted--much of it three-dimensional work (fabric, knitting, applique, etc.,)  but some rendered in masterful strokes of the pen or brush. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A "nothing-event" remembered forever

Isn't it odd how we can engage in what would be a completely forgettable act, but remember it for the rest of our lives?

In the late 1980s, Patsy O'Brian and I had a date for lunch at Frederick and Nelson Department store in Aurora Village. She and I had been friends since the early '70s when our husbands introduced us. They had been in grad school together at University of Washington, and her husband, Pat, became one of Jay's closest friends. After Pat died in 1987, Patsy had an especially tough time, not just because of grief for her dear husband, but because of her recently declared 'legally blind' status,the result of Type-1 diabetes. She couldn't leave her house without someone to guide her.

I arrived at her house at our agreed-upon time and rang the doorbell. As usual, she'd asked me just to ring the bell and come on in--the door would be unlocked. When I entered her house, she called to me from the upstairs. "I need your help with something, Sallie. Come on up!" As I entered her bedroom, she was sitting on the edge of the bed, cursing a blue-streak (something she was notorious for). "I can't get this #@&*% earring in," she informed me. "PLEASE help me."

"Sure," I replied and sat down beside her on the bed. I expected it would be a breeze to plop an earring into the pierced hole in her left ear. But it wasn't. I struggled, and fussed, and fumed, and failed. There was just something about someone else's ear . . . the angle of the piercing? the thickness of her earlobe? the curve of the earring itself? I don't know what it was--I'd had no problem helping my daughter a decade-plus earlier when she had her ears pierced in sixth grade. I could NOT get Patsy's earring in. But we went to lunch, anyway and had fun. I drove Patsy home and settled her in--end of story, right? Wrong.

I don't remember what we ate, what we talked about, what we wore. I couldn't even find her house now, if I tried (she departed this earth in the early '90s). But every time I put in my own earrings (and I have several pairs that are difficult to insert for various reasons), I think of Patsy and those few minutes we spent, sitting side by side on her bed. We alternately laughed and fussed (with Patsy spewing forth the unladylike vocabulary she was known for), and, of course, with me profusely apologized for failing at what should have been a simple task.

As long as I live and wear pierced earrings, I will think of Patsy.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A new meaning for the phrase, BOOK TOUR

Yesterday I found myself doing the mental equivalent of pacing . . . trying to find something to entertain myself on a rainy afternoon devoid of any plans. I thought about cleaning a closet--ugh. Making cookies? Nah. I considered pulling out my watercolors to fiddle with them, or really fiddling on my violin. Maybe I should take a walk in the rain? Nothing appealed, and I had nothing to read, either, having just finished two non-fiction works I'd been simultaneously working on. I ended up writing yesterday's blog post.

Later when I entered my office, I had to cluck at myself. Nothing to read? Who am I kidding? These are just some of books I have chosen to keep (they made it through the first downsizing six years ago and some periodic purges, as well). Why do I think I have nothing to read? If I don't intend to reread any of these books, why am I keeping them? To loan to others? To burden my children when I'm gone? I began to look at their titles.

My grandfather's books, such as The First Year of the War by Edward A. Pollard (published 1863), provide an emotional conduit to a man I never really knew but have enormous respect for. Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again connects me to my emotionally wrought sixteen-year-old self, and my volume of Sherlock Holmes stories links me to the junior-high girl who felt entirely grown up as she discussed the plots with her father. My two-volume music encyclopedia takes me back to the fifteen-year-old musician who eschewed the frivolous silliness of wanna-be debutantes in order to practice with her piano quintet pals every weekend. Finding The Boys and Their Mother by Keith Jennison hilarious when I read it in my thirties connected me with my deceased parents in a new and wonderful way. (I'd thought it stupid when I was sixteen and my folks were reading it aloud to each other). The volume of S.N. Behrman plays makes me remember my sophomore year at U.W. with my passion for theatre and the boy playing opposite me in a scene from "Biography." Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety articulates a reality that Jay and I lived through at Marquette. The list goes on . . .

Perhaps the books line my office solely to remind me who I am in 2016. I'm not just an old woman who complains about driving in the dark and wears sensible shoes. I'm not just dabbler or opinionated elder. Nor am I just a grandmother or widow or do-gooder. Maybe when I'm bored next time I will sit down, open a book, and reacquaint myself with one of my former selves. It's been a long journey and perhaps it's time to let the books remind me of its highlights and low-spots, as well.  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fitting Juxtaposition

Odd, I'd call it, to have two back-to-back blog posts about what one sees when one walks 'looking down,' but it's too wonderful not to share.

Yesterday as I was returning my trash and recycle cans to the garage after their weekly pickup, I noticed something unusual on the cement in front of the garage door. I don't know what the species is, but I think it is the largest dragonfly I have ever seen. I'm quite glad it wasn't flying, because I could never have photographed it (and would have been quite intimidated, too). I realized it was dead only after sneaking up on it with my cell phone to take its picture. It was VERY large, and now I wish I'd measured it.

But here's the real reason for today's post. The dragonfly made me especially grateful to my neighbor,Tom. Usually, I don't take my own garbage cans back and forth to the curb. Ever since Jay died, Tom has insisted on doing this weekly chore for me--wheeling my filled trash cans from the garage to the curb and returning them after being emptied. Although I am capable of doing this chore myself, it is a lovely gesture and I deeply appreciate his kindness.

Tom is out of town, so I was 'on my own' for garbage duty, And although I'm very glad I saw this astonishing insect, I realize how much I appreciate Tom's kindness and weekly tribute to his late friend and neighbor, Jay.

Monday, September 12, 2016


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?