Friday, July 31, 2009


In an act of compassion that was typical of him, my dad—when I was in seventh grade—became a patron, of sorts, to a struggling family in our small town.

It started one Saturday in late fall after he’d been duck hunting that morning—an activity he minimally enjoyed and rarely participated in, unless his business cronies cornered him. That rainy afternoon, Dad was leaving to pick up his cache of ducks from a woman I'll call Mrs. X, where he’d left them a few hours earlier on his way home from the hunting expedition. Mrs. X lived on the "other side of the tracks." The other hunters had recommended her as someone who would clean and dress small game and wild fowl for a reasonable charge. The conversational exchange in the kitchen captured my attention.

“If it’s all right with you, Naomi,” Dad said to my mother, “I am going to leave most the ducks with Mrs. X. I'll tell her you aren’t able to cook them soon," he continued, "because of prior commitments . . . and you're hoping she can use them while they’re fresh."

My mother beamed. "What a great way to approach it, even if I have absolutely no evening plans this week," she said, smiling at my dad. She never did like cooking local duck, claiming their fishy smell lingered in the house.

I, on the other hand, did not smile, but scrunched up my brow in deep thought. As a twelve-year-old, I was just learning to make sense of ‘white lies,’ to judge when it was acceptable to tell a fib to avoid telling a hurtful truth. My parents’ complicity in the “story” intrigued me.

“Wanna come along for the ride, Sallie?” my dad asked.

Eager for an excuse to ride through part of town I rarely got to see, I grabbed a jacket and jumped into the passenger side of the car. As Dad drove, I stared at ramshackled houses, which seemed too inhospitable for people to live in. Sloping front porches, yard litter, and broken window panes gave the houses a desolate look. Yet through the dark late-afternoon of fall, I saw activity through lighted windows—children playing, an old man sitting and staring out, a woman pulling down shades. I waited in the car with the doors locked while my father went into Mrs. X’s house.

When he came out he was smiling and holding a small, newspaper-wrapped packet containing two ducks (which my mother would end up bequeathing to the cleaning lady the following Monday). He handed them to me for safekeeping as we drove back into the brighter neighborhood that was ours. “Mrs. X was so appreciative of the ducks, it almost made the hunting trip worthwhile,” he said.

“They must like duck a lot.”

“When you’re hungry, almost any food tastes good,” he replied and then quickly added, “but duck can be delicious.”

Within the next few days Mrs. X called to thank my mother for sharing “her” ducks, and by January my dad had hired her husband and two of their sons to do our yardwork. I watched them work on our yard from inside the house, fascinated. The boys, who were probably in their late teens, looked filthy. Their father had hardly any teeth. They all blew their noses without handkerchiefs, an astonishing ability in my opinion.

One rainy Saturday morning, my sister and I both were peering at the boys work from our oversized living room window when one of the boys blew his nose in that manner. She and I began to giggle and imitate his disgusting action. With every iteration of the act, it became even funnier. We were howling with glee. Dad walked through the living room and immediately realized what we were doing. He stopped cold and spoke in a firm voice.

“Do not ever make fun of people who are less fortunate than you are. You don’t know what they’ve endured. You have no right to laugh at them,” he told us. That little speech and its accompanying tone of voice—as stern and angry as I had ever heard my dad—took me completely aback, and I stopped laughing immediately.

I was almost thirteen, and the timing was perfect. It was the teachable moment, exactly the right time to really hear what was said. Suddenly I grasped the concept of reserving judgment when we don’t know the circumstances. My father’s admonishment opened up a cavern of insight. I recall my flash of understanding as if it happened yesterday. How blessed I was to live in a big, lovely house and have parents who could provide for me so comfortably, and how I had done nothing to earn my privilege, but had been born into it. Those boys trimming the walkways didn’t choose their parents anymore than I had.

For the first time I grasped how people can be deprived through circumstance and not from fault of their own. It’s embarrassing to think about it now, how much of a life bubble I’d been in for twelve, almost thirteen years. Those grown boys could have been my brothers, and I their sister. I thought about how coincidental it was that their mother cleaned the ducks my Dad had shot, and how they feasted on food my mother didn’t want to prepare. They were grateful for food we scoffed at. From that time forward, I felt a flood of understanding and compassion when the boys worked in the yard and made a point of minding my own business when the family was doing yard work, determined to make my father proud.

Within a few months, those boys and their father were cleaning my father’s bank in the evening, in addition to doing our yard work every other week. But once again, I let a degree of superiority creep into this reality—after all, my father hired their father to do janitorial work. That made my dad really special—he was a kind and generous man who overlooked circumstances and looked, instead, at character. I shared with my friends how I proud I was about my father’s extraordinary generosity, how he was willing to hire anyone who wanted to work. Unlike many grownups I’d been around, my dad could look beyond a first impression to go out of his way to provide opportunities for less fortunate people.

And once again I learned a wonderful life lesson.

“I am not doing anyone a favor, Sallie. The X family works hard in our employ, and I pay them a living wage. We are in each other’s debt,” my father said quietly and privately to me one night at bedtime.

Over the years my dad taught his children many lessons. Big lessons such as the nature of democracy, Malthusian theory, the concepts of infinity and capitalism. Small lessons such as the importance of cutting toenails straight, taking a fish off the hook without tearing its mouth, balancing a checkbook, and locating a framing stud by thumping the wall. He was patient while explaining something to us and excited when we comprehended it. He made sure he knew what term papers we were working on, what classes we were struggling with, and whether we thought our allowances were sufficient. He followed his two children’s progress as though he were our number-one fan. And he was. But admiration does not mean that lessons need not be taught. An occasional reprimand is far more indelible than a constant hug. We are in each other’s debt is a phrase that haunts me.

When I was at Target recently, I watched a grown man impatiently ridicule and berate a store clerk whose apparent lack of education rendered him unable to calculate the proper amount of change required for an off-the-register transaction. Of course, we all have moments when we fail to live up to ideal behavior, but I got to thinking, there at Target, how serendipitous life’s lessons are. I will always be in debt to my father—and a few dead ducks—for awakening my own sense of compassion.

copyright © 2009 Sara J. Glerum

One that got away . . .

We vowed not to let it happen this year. Vigilance! That’s what it would take to make sure we found them in the stage we enjoy them. We would perform an inspection everyday to make sure we were on top of our inventory.
Needless to say, determination does not count for much. Here is what Hubby found this morning. . . one that got away, the clever little demon . . . lurking sneakily in the camouflage of its mother-ship.

So now the question is: compost or bread? Maybe I will become a kitchen chemist with the aid of baking powder, cinnamon, flour, eggs and milk to transform this overgrown surprise into a delectable dish. It’s in the 60s today, at this writing, after a record-breaking 103 degrees on Wednesday, so warming up the kitchen for an hour shouldn't be too painful.

Monday, July 27, 2009


A person very dear to me who lives in northern California suggested via phone last night that maybe we should visit California to get away from the gray and rainy summer days he (and everyone who doesn’t live here) associates with Seattle.

I said, “Huh?”

Seattle’s July and August are generally rain-free, and we’ve had a particularly spectacular display of summer this year. In June we almost broke a record with 28 consecutive days without rain, and in July we’re in the third week of a sunny, warming trend that has no immediate end. Sunny skies every single day, and now some record breaking temperatures of 90s and maybe even three digits.

Of course, there’s a down side to everything . . .it’s tough on flora and fauna. In our woods the tall Douglas firs are considerably stressed, and small native plants are curling up in the floral equivalent of the fetal position to protect and conserve life-energy. When we water our garden plants, birds appear from everywhere . . . flitting about in the sprinkler’s spray with what looks like a dance of joy.

We humans “have it pretty good” this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. Just as the words of Gershwin’s opera suggest, “the livin’ is easy”—especially if we decide to avoid anything involving the oven or heavy labor. Writing a little something for a blog seems just about the right activity level. I wouldn’t miss Seattle’s summer for anything.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

. . . and many strawberries return

Funny how children hear things and adapt them to their own reality. Mae heard something along the lines of “happy birthday and many returns of the day” when either Mummy or Papa (or both) had their birthdays in July. When I talked to Mae on the phone soon after, she said, “Goodbye, and many strawberries return.”

I decided that is a great sentiment for all of us. May we all survive another year to see another bloom of summer fruit.

A blog is a serious responsibility, similar to keeping a tropical fish or an African violet. Feeding it every few days is a necessity. I have a lot of items I want to publish on mine, but I don’t want to weigh it down with too many words, too often.

Every few days I’ll add something to let you know I’m still here, but I’ll give you a break from the LONG items in between.

Happy blueberries.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


To Naomi
Friendship is the joy of reason
Dearer yet than that of love.
Love but lasts a little season
Friendship forms the bliss above.

R.L. Rose 1843

“Girls—will you please help me put out the quilt?”

That request was a sign that the party would be starting within just a few hours. The quilt appeared at the last minute, on display only when the party was a big one, the buffet-supper kind, when guests outnumbered the hangers in the downstairs guest closet and had to be sent upstairs to leave their coats.

The activity of “putting out the quilt” was one both my sister and I enjoyed immensely. Together, the two of us with our mother would unroll it carefully, unfurling it onto the guest room’s big bed. Because it was oversized, the quilt needed to be tucked on one side of the bed between the box spring and mattress to keep it from dragging on the floor. Mother always did this herself so it would be straight and perfect—not trusting it to anyone else, not even her daughters. She wanted it to look spectacular from the guestroom doorway. Once the bed was dressed up in this fashion, we were forbidden to sit on it. We couldn’t touch it either, except gingerly if our hands were clean.

But our mother overlooked these rules for her friends who were encouraged to drape their coats—however dirty or damp they might be—over its century-old surface. Only the most boorish, ignorant, or blind person could fail to notice what a spectacular sight the quilt made—even when mink jackets and woolen capes were flung upon it. The guests would rave, prompting Mother to elaborate in a two-minute spiel that my sister and I knew almost by heart.

“It was handed down to me as the last Naomi in the family.” (Here, if we were within earshot, she’d look at us wistfully—communicating, we realized as we got older, her strong desire to have a namesake when we were old enough to procreate.) “I’ve been told by people who know quilts that this is a very rare example of a nineteenth century fad, quilts made collectively by friends for some special occasion.” The responsive oohs and ahs from her guests sounded as if she were a political candidate talking to her constituency. I loved observing her in this capacity, in bloom as a charming and intelligent woman, cocking her head up with that touch of privilege that heirlooms bestow.

We never looked at the quilt unless a party was in the making, and then only when Mother had checked off everything from her itemized list—the caterers were either in the kitchen or en route, the tablecloth was perfectly symmetrical and spread without a wrinkle, and small silver dishes were filled to overflowing with filtered cigarettes fanned out like peacock tails. Artfully arranged vases of fresh flowers gave off subtle fragrances, candles stood ramrod-straight in polished holders, bone china plates were stacked high with accompanying flatware lined up like soldiers at inspection. If Mother were already in her party dress, we could cajole her into lingering in the guest room to tell us about the quilt.

“The square in the middle? That’s the dedication. Naomi Murphy was my grandmother’s aunt—making her my great-great aunt. I believe the quilt was made in honor of her marriage to Charles Rittenhouse.”

One of us girls would read aloud, always stumbling at the words that had faded out of sight.

Friendship Offering
There is a sweet, a holy tie.
which wavers not, yet knows no __(illegible)
That tie is friendship, heavenly ¬ (illegible)
which brightly glows from day to day.
To Naomi Murphy 1852

“It’s so faded, I can’t read all of it.”

“Wow—it’s more than a hundred years old.”

“Even older, girls, because—look here—the earliest square is dated 1843. The women must have taken the fabric squares home to write on, but they didn’t return them very quickly. Ten years for this one.”

By the time all seventy-two squares were pieced together, each with a message written in sepia-colored ‘permanent’ ink, Naomi Murphy and Charles Rittenhouse had probably been married nearly a decade—either that, or the quilt was started for one occasion and finished for another. My mother didn’t know the reason for the delay—she could only speculate. “Things just took longer then, I suppose.” The latest squares were inscribed with the date 1853.

My sister and I would pore over the butter-soft calico fabric in patterns of blue, white, and wheaten hues offset by plain white fabric in between. We would read the legible names and verses aloud; many of them were faded too much to make out.

May the sun of thy morning be clear
And the eve of they day be serene.
May the moon in full splendor appear
And no cloud of distress intervene.
Lucy Anna Rose 1843

We would read names: Rebecca Kidd; J & A. Matton; John & Rachel Childs; Letitia Murphy; Almira R. Murphy; Ann Whitelock; Jonathan Rittenhouse; Ann Kendal; Hannah Walker, George & Jennie Lehman—each square was signed by a different friend or family member.

To N. Murphy
Remember me not, I entreat
In scenes ensconced a festal week-day joy,
For then it were neither kind or meet
Thy thought thy pleasures should alloy;
But on the sacred, solemn day,
And, dearest, on thy bended knee,
When thou for those thou lovst dost pray
Sweet sister, then remember me.
Thy sister, Sarah C. Murphy

It was hard for us to imagine ever writing such stiff, formal poetry to each other as sisters. Sometimes we got the giggles looking at it—especially when we noticed soiled spots on it, brown stains that looked suspiciously like blood. Mother would frown; this was serious business. The quilt was too fragile to wash, she’d remind us—and, besides, the poetry and names that remained might wash away in the wrong laundry-soap. As we read the quilt aloud, we would beg her to tell us what she knew about the people. There was never enough time, but we both remember hearing that one was a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, and others were illustrious members of Philadelphia’s inner-circle.

As Mother talked about the quilt in her reverent, admiring tone, I would imagine old-fashioned ladies hovering around sewing and chattering. Maybe they were Quakers—all that ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ language. Many years later I learned from a master-quilter that one stitcher had put it together, connecting the individual squares created by the various families. She could determine this fact with certainty because the “points” (the places where the small pieces of fabric were joined) had been joined by the same masterful hand. We will never know her name.

When our mother died almost forty years ago, my sister and I had multiple generations of heirlooms to divide between us, and worked months after our children were asleep and our husbands home to baby-sit, to finish the task. We split many sets of linen and tableware( if we both had interest in them) and took turns calling “dibs” on single items we coveted. The quilt proved to be an enigma; it’s not as if we could each take one-half, and we both loved it. But it was a burden, too. I offered to store it because at the time I had plenty of room in my linen closet. And somehow it became mine for keeping.

May the sun of thy morning be clear
And the eve of thy day be serene.
May the moon in full splendor appear
And no cloud of distress intervene.
Lucy Anna Rose 1843

One year when I was in my thirties, my husband and I gave a big party. I decided I would direct our guests to put their coats upstairs, and display the quilt. Not having the luxury of a guestroom, I spread out the quilt on our bed, an inherited four-poster, and during the evening pointed out the quilt to many of our friends. I could hear my mother’s words inside my head, but quickly realized that my peers did not seem nearly as enchanted as my mother’s friends did. After that, the quilt stayed in the linen closet, languishing for air and admiration. Occasionally was it aired and re-rolled in an effort to keep the storage wear at a minimum. I lugged it through four moves, and it finally came to rest in the linen closet at my current house where it has been ignored for most of twenty years.

Periodically when our daughter visited, I would retrieve it from its dark shelf, and we would read the squares embellished with inscriptions penned in what was supposedly indelible ink. Every time I took it out of its pillowcase, it was in worse shape than I’d remembered. All those unwritten stories about the quilt that Mother remembered had faded along with the calico and ink. Conversations about the quilt would be punctuated by statements of regret—if only it weren’t so faded, if only that verse were still legible, if only I could remember who had been related to Benjamin Franklin. And although all four of our offspring were in established households, no one appeared to be craving the responsibility of preserving it for posterity.

One day I got to thinking, and realized we were posterity, my sister and I—and our children were, too. We had accomplished our mother’s goal, and her mother’s goal before her.

"What if,” I asked my sister, inspired by a quilting neighbor who talked to me one day about how old quilts deserved to be seen, “we gave it to a museum?”

“Yes,” was her unhesitating answer. We agreed that donating it a museum would be a perfect way to keep it available to up-and-coming generations—maybe the descendents of Lucy Rose, Charles Walker, or Ann Kendal.

That was three years ago. We began search out museums on the Internet, eliminating one after another for various reasons. Because our mother had instilled us with such pride in its Philadelphian beginnings (Naomi Murphy married a Rittenhouse, after all—of the same family as the city’s Rittenhouse Square), we eventually decided that the best place for it would be somewhere in Philadelphia.

We photographed and charted each of its seventy-two squares. We described it, had it appraised, and discovered many things about it we had never known. For instance, unique calicos had been assigned to families—a tiny blue tulip pattern, which appeared in what seemed to be a random pattern, only appeared on squares with the same surname, while another calico, say the daisy-chain motif, appeared only on squares with a different family name. One could, we realized, trace relatives by following fabric patterns. While we joked about the soil and quantity of DNA imbedded in the quilt, we began to revere the craftsmanship of the quilter and her artful choices of colors and pattern. We discovered references to Frankford, Pennsylvania—once a separate township, now a district of Philadelphia. We bonded to our ancestors in new way, feeling the living history of the quilt.

In 2008 we officially made a gift of the Murphy-Rittenhouse Friendship Quilt to the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia. Sadly, there are no more Naomi’s in our family. But one treasured legacy from our ancestral Naomi’s has made it back to its hometown, an outcome that feels just right.

To Naomi Johnsone, my mother
Everyone who’s seen the quilt
Marvels at its craft.
Now it’s come full circle
In Philadelphia at last.
Mother, dear, we did it!
Kept it safe and sound,
To be admired by others
Perhaps to gain renown.
S. Glerum 2008

Copyright © 2009 Sara J. Glerum

Monday, July 20, 2009


In a recent update from our Canadian family, I’ve learned their bathroom remodel (done mostly in-house by them and taking many months) is officially complete. To celebrate, Mum, Papa, and Mae all squeezed themselves simultaneously into one deliciously scented bubble bath. Thinking about their fitting celebration made me remember this occurrence, which I wrote six years ago as part of a collection of memories about my dad.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I was eighteen when I realized that I’d never taken a shower at the house where my parents and I had lived in for almost three years. The bathroom I used—shared only with my college-aged sister when she was home—had a big, comfortable tub, but no showerhead. I preferred taking baths, anyway, so the arrangement was highly satisfactory. But all of a sudden, the idea that I had lived in a house for so long without ever using the shower in that other bathroom—the master bath—annoyed me.

I brought up the matter contentiously over dinner that night, making a big deal out of what felt like deprivation. My mother received the criticism with seeming indifference, but she was clearly irked by my ‘scene’ and reminded me I was too old for such nonsense. Besides, she reminded me, I was darn lucky to have a bathroom mostly to myself. As far as she was concerned, it was immaterial whether or not I had ever showered or bathed in the master bathroom. Her ignoring of my injustice made me all the more petulant about my ‘deprivation,’ and I left the table with all the annoyance a teenager can muster against her parents.

I don’t remember Dad’s reaction to my hissy fit other than the usual discomfort he demonstrated whenever there was discord at the table. But two days later I received in the mail what appeared to be an invitation. My name was typed on the envelope, and there was no return address. I tore it open, curious and excited. Inside was an ivory-colored card with typewritten text, centered and formatted, in the style of a classically formal invitation:

Mr. & Mrs. C.R. Johnsone
cordially request your presence
in the master bathroom of their home
at 615 W. Highland Drive
Seattle, Washington,
to shower or bathe—your choice—
anytime in the next week.
Towels and soap provided.

I burst out belly-laughing and continued to giggle, on and off, for the rest of the afternoon. My dad admitted the idea for the formal invitation was his. My mother knew a good idea when she heard it, and executed it superbly. Their over-the-top response to my complaint helped me realize how completely out of line I’d been.

However, I did arrange for a shower in their bathroom, which—of course—was nothing special, and none of us ever again addressed the topic.

Copyright © Sara J. Glerum 2003

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rail & Rant

This is a big weekend in Seattle. Our first “light rail” fires up on Saturday, providing free rides on the weekend to anyone who wants to try it out. There’s only one problem that I can see—and it’s making me so mad just thinking about it, I can scarcely write it. NO PARK & RIDES anywhere near the stations! Yup, Seattle’s rapid transit authority didn’t bother to make any provisions for park & rides that would make it convenient to use the train. The Seattle Times (click the title of this piece, "Rail & Rant" to go directly to the newspaper article) today, July 17, actually states, “Officials advise people not to drive [to train stations] because on-street parking near stations is very limited. Two-hour weekday parking limits for nonresidents take effect Monday.” In other words, on Monday—the same day the train officially begins ‘serving’ (a loose term in this case) Seattle—new parking restrictions will make utilizing the stations especially difficult.

One has to wonder how many citizens will bother to use our multi-billion dollar train, currently available only from downtown Seattle south to within a mile of the airport. (A free shuttle will lug the traveler to SeaTac airport—supposedly—until the final track-mile is completed, but even then, purportedly, a half-mile journey on a moving sidewalk still awaits the traveler before actually arriving inside the airport.)

So much for planning.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I love the cello! Maybe that’s because its deep and sonorous tones could easily stand in for a handsome man wooing his lover or a creative genius throwing an explosive tantrum. Its high, tenor-like range can be as delicate as a moonlit reflection that makes me thrum in harmonic response. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a crush on a famous cello player.

When I was a nerdy fourteen-year-old and a serious violinist, Pablo Casals was the object of my adoration. I lavished that same intense admiration on Yo-yo Ma in mid-life. Now in my dotage, I have a new cello-playing idol: Joshua Roman. He was the youngest musician in the western world to have earned a principal chair at in a major symphony orchestra (Seattle) and he is a spectacular musician.

In 1957 when Casals was eighty, he married his twenty-year-old student, Marta Montañez Martínez, who was just three years my senior. I wished I knew Marta so we could talk; we were soul-sisters. Not that I loved Casals romantically—I didn’t—and I secretly doubted if she did, either. After all, he was bald and his neck had those deep fleshy folds like mine do now. No, I worshipped Casals, and I was sure Marta did the same.

Few of my contemporaries knew of my passion, but Mary, my pianist friend, was as prone as I to adolescent fixation-attachments. While others high school juniors were sighing over Elvis and his Blue Suede Shoes, Mary and I were swooning to Casals’ rendition of Bach’s Cello Suites. I particularly loved the outbursts of groaning and humming on his records, making him fully human despite his pedestal. He died at age ninety-six in 1973.

That was about the time I heard another cellist who was taking the world by storm. Yo-Yo Ma had attended Julliard and graduated from Harvard, as strong academically as he was musically and one of his generation’s most gifted up-and-coming instrumentalists. Before long, I was gaga over him.

His chameleon-like ability to immerse himself in musical genres astonished me, from Argentine tangos to Appalachian folk tunes to Bach. Whether introducing music from Persia and Uzbekistan, accompanying dances of Mark Morris, or horsing around with Edgar Meyer, Ma approached the music as though it were a monopoly. Nowadays, of course, he sells out like a rock star, but I purchased tickets to his concerts before he was a household name. I’m an ‘I-knew-him-when’ fan.

Today a new cellist star is rising, and I’m right there in his front row. Joshua Roman looks like a youngster, with his head of wildly disrespectful hair and smile like a mischievous kid’s. He acts like a kid, too—in the best kind of way—such as hitchhiking to California one summer with his cello as his only currency. When—at age twenty-two—he auditioned for principal cellist with the Seattle Symphony, he was offered the job on the spot. He appears at local jazz scenes to jam and takes on musical dares, refusing to be stuck in the stereotypical classical music mold. At one concert he played not one, but four, cello concertos! His greatest legacy may be luring youth to “stuffy” classical concerts, but he plays with such maturity and depth his audience members have to remark on his age to make sure they heard it right. After only two seasons with Seattle Symphony, he departed. He needs to locate his personal ceiling, I think . . . to conquer as much of the world as he can.

I realized recently that I’ve come full circle—from having an adolescent crush on an old-man cellist, to having a crone’s crush on a young-man cellist, with Yo-yo Ma in between. With a gap in age of a hundred-plus years between Casals and Roman, I feel particularly pleased with the symmetry of my fandom.

Copyright © 2008 Sara J. Glerum

Tour de Bothell

Timely (and true) story: Hubby heard this from his chatty massage practitioner while receiving massage therapy for leg pain identified (possibly falsely) as false-sciatica.

A husband and wife were cycling, single file, in the bicycle lane in a northeastern Seattle suburb. The woman was trailing the man by a couple of lengths, and decided to take a minute to adjust the small rear-view mirror attached to her biking glasses. Just at that moment, her husband stopped quickly. Wham! She plowed into his bike, toppling both of them.

The husband was OK, but the wife felt something snap (not on her bike, either) and was in pain. She waited with a good-Samaritan passerby (who was, of course, Hubby’s chatty massage therapist), while the husband rode home to get their car. He returned to drive his wife to an urgent care facility. At the request of the good Samaritan, the injured woman phoned later to report her diagnosis—a broken clavicle, ala Lance Armstrong.

Moral of the story for cycling couples: Consider buying a tandem, as this handsome couple did.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Balloons on the Moon

While we were visiting Mae and her family in Kelowna recently, we heard this wonderful anecdote.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Mae was given a free helium balloon by a food merchant where Papa and Mae were shopping. She proudly wore it out of the store (tied to her wrist), got into the car with it, and made it all the way to her house with it intact. After playing with it for a while, it was time to go outside. The balloon was carefully retied onto her wrist, and out she went. You know the rest of the story. Yup, somehow, the balloon wasn’t secured and it got away.

Mae was heartbroken. No, maybe that’s not a strong enough word. She was practically traumatized, and her parents—who are careful not to accommodate unreasonable demands—felt so sad about her emotional devastation that Mummy offered to take her to buy a replacement balloon.

So off they went, Mummy and Mae, to the Dollar Store where a cheerful (and elderly) clerk walked them over to the balloon display so Mae could select a new one. As the clerk listened to Mae’s story about the earlier balloon, she set down the new, un-inflated balloon that Mae had selected, and chose a second balloon from the display. She filled it with helium, tied it off, and invited Mae to walk with her to the store’s entrance where she let it go.

“We will send your lost balloon a playmate,” she told Mae as she intentionally released it. “Ah, that’s better, don’t you think?” she asked, smiling. “They can play on the moon together.”

Needless to say, Mae liked the notion very much and was all-smiles as she and the clerk made their way back to the helium tank to inflate her new balloon. The clerk tied it snuggly onto her wrist.

“No, ma’m,” the clerk said to Mummy, who was digging for her wallet. “Please, put your money away! There will be no charge for either of the balloons.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hard to say who was happier at the outcome, the mother, the child, the extraordinary clerk . . . or the lost balloon greeting its playmate on the moon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


My husband and I were rushing to leave for my sister’s house across town for a festive holiday get-together. “Let’s drop off the mail on the way,” I hollered from the bathroom where I was combing my hair and putting on lipstick. Because of local mail-theft, we use the mailbox in our neighborhood mini-mall for outgoing correspondence.

Hubby called back, “Sure—and as long as we’re stopping, I’ll make an ATM deposit, too. We can be ten minutes late, right?”

I wasn’t sure. After all, my sister is my sister, and we were raised to believe an invitation for 12:30 does not mean 12:40. Besides, I was looking forward to seeing her. When I suggested perhaps we could do the banking after lunch, Hubby flashed an I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that smile. “OK,” I laughed, “it’ll only take an extra two minutes.”

With the backseat loaded (relish tray, my purse, and a book I’d promised to loan Sis), we were ready—running a couple minutes late, but within bounds. As I plunked into the passenger seat, Hubby handed me an ATM envelope with the check’s dollar amount penciled across it for quick data entry at the ATM.

“Don’t mix up the letters with the bank envelope,” he quipped.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said.

He pulled up to the mailbox. I opened the car door and jumped out, feeling youthful, lithe—a sunny day, a social event—and pushed the mail into the slot. “Oops.”

A split-second earlier I’d been thinking what a great day this was—and what fun it would be tomorrow when we set off for a mini-vacation at the ocean. Suddenly I felt as though an entire allotment of summer rain had just flooded the inside of our car. I could practically hear the thunder. I wanted to wisecrack that at least we wouldn’t be late to my sister’s house (no extra bank errand), but this was no time for humor, judging from the look on my husband’s face. As I reeled from my inexplicable act, I mentally flipped through remedies and remembered something learned years ago at work—the post office answers its 800 phone number even on holidays. Via my cell phone I was soon connected to a very nice postal representative who assured me my zip-code’s regional office would help me the next (business day) morning.

As we drove to Sis’s house, we discussed postponing our trip to the ocean. Another oops—we had prepaid these specific dates. Although we were sure that the check eventually would find its way back to us, we wondered how difficult would it be to get a replacement from the issuer. Each idea was punctuated by an act of contrition by me, followed by an “It’s OK” from Hubby. A proverb from Carl Sandburg’s poem, “The People, Yes,” kept going through my head. Why did the children put beans in their ears, when the one thing we told them NOT to do was put beans in their ears? Was it the mere power of suggestion? Was I losing my mind? Was this a sign of the onset of acute senility?

When I telephoned my regional post office the next morning, the clerk sympathetically offered to contact the collection-box supervisor of Special Units. A few minutes later I was informed that Bill, the collection driver, would telephone when he arrived at the mailbox, sometime between 3:30 and 4:30. All I had to do was stay by my phone and drive the short distance to meet him.

The day passed slowly. I packed my bag for the ocean, cleaned out the refrigerator, sorted through piles of papers accumulating on my desk, and tidied my jewelry drawer. My husband made outgoing calls from his cell phone to keep the line open for Bill’s call. We would leave for the ocean as soon as we retrieved the castaway check. We’d miss the romance of the late afternoon sunset over the Pacific but that seemed inconsequential now.

At 3:35 the phone rang, and at 3:45 I pulled into the shopping center’s parking lot. A postal truck was parked adjacent to the mailbox. “Bill?” I caught his eye and approached the truck. He nodded.

“Come on in, Sara. I’m just beginning to sort the pickup now.”

I climbed into the truck. It felt like someone’s mobile home, it was so spacious. Bins lined the walls for presorting certain kinds of mail. Bill carefully searched small handfuls of mail from a large, nearly full hamper, looking for the absence of a stamp and/or the bank’s logo. I watched as he flicked envelopes. In response to my apology for causing this extra work, he told me he finds all kinds of things in the mailbox. “At my pickup near a library, I get a lot of books in the mailbox. At the mailboxes by banks, I get loose checks—you’d be surprised! At least yours is in an envelope!”

I was beginning to feel better. I told him how my husband had just finished telling me not to mix up the envelopes, and how we had been on the way to a family gathering when it happened.

“I’ll bet it was real quiet in the car on your way to that get-together.”

I laughed out loud for the first time since the incident. Now we chatted convivially, like old friends. I told him my husband and I were leaving for the ocean as soon as this check business was resolved. He asked me what beach, specifically. When I told him, he exclaimed, “Really? My wife and I are going there, too—next week!”

Three-quarters down the hamper, the ATM envelope appeared. Bill opened the envelope; I showed him my picture ID; the check was mine. I thanked him profusely. “Hey, maybe we’ll see each other at the ocean,” he said.

Saying goodbye to my new best friend, I practically skipped to the car. I felt like a kid—happy, carefree. For a split second I was tempted to run over to the bank and deposit the check. Nah, I’d leave that to my husband.

And I did.

Copyright © 2008 Sara J. Glerum

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wicking Our Wollipop

After two straight days of playing with a three year old, I’m feeling old and happy. I can’t think of anything I've done in a very long time that I’ve enjoyed more. Mae’s observations about life and her relation to it are fresh and funny. As we walked six blocks to the park, she explained she was a little bit hungry. Could we stop for ice cream? I responded that she’d be even hungrier after playing in the park, so it would be better to wait until after we were done playing.

“But Mae-ma,” she argued, “I’m a LOT hungry now. We need to go to the store BEFORE the park, so I have energy to swing.”

Being a snack junky myself, I had to agree it was a good idea. But I was a little worried that without an ice cream bribe for after the park, it would be difficult to convince her to head home in a timely fashion. While the clerk was heaping a generous scoop of balloon-guy* ice cream (*balloon-guy refers to anything ‘rainbow’ colored) into the cone, Mae looked through the eye-level penny candy bins.

“This is for you after we go to the park,” she said as she selected a sour-pop and handed it to me. “You need energy, too.”

“How about if I save it for after the park,” I suggested. She nodded her approval.

We sat on the porch of the convenience store while Mae licked her cone. I had a spoon provided by the clerk, and periodically skimmed the drips from the outside of the cone. Mae ate the whole thing, other than those few drips. Then we walked the last block to the park. She demonstrated her climbing skills on the jungle-gym, tried out the slide (too straightforward for her liking), and asked me to sit on the other end of the teeter-totter so she could give Tigger and Droopy (her two stuffed favorites who’d bummed a ride in the bag I was carrying) a thrill. She showed me the dog section of the park, but sadly there were no dogs to watch. Then she clamored onto the swing—her favorite thing at the moment—for nearly half-an-hour of joy, shared with Tigger and Droopy.

Finally, we were ready to depart. “Where’s the lollipop?” she asked.

“Oh, it’s here in my bag,” I said and pulled it out.

“Mae-ma, I will help you lick it,” she said with her characteristic switch of ‘w’ for ‘l’. So off we went toward home, wicking our wollypop. And on the way, we sniffed flowers, watched bees collecting pollen from lavender, sat on boulders decorating parking strips, balanced on raised curbs, and tested the feel of gravel by lying down on it.

It was a memorable morning.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Day

The best laid plans go out the window in Seattle when the weather is glorious. I intended to exercise before leaving the house(using Wii Fit—a fun and active way to work up a sweat). But first I thought I’d do a load of wash and hang it outside on the clothesline. When I stepped into the backyard with the basket of wet clothes, I realized my folly. Nothing should be done inside today! I ate my breakfast outside, I’m going to read outside, I’m going to bask in the glory of a blue-skied July 3rd. My exercise will be breathing deeply and playing tug-o-war with ivy strands. Oh, happy day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Running into the supermarket to buy milk, I took a shortcut through paper goods to the dairy section. As I skirted a huge pallet of toilet paper, I realized it was my favorite brand—and on sale, besides. I galloped back to the store’s entrance to get a cart (of course, I hadn’t needed one for milk only), and crammed a gimongous package of twenty-four rolls into it.

Already pleased at having saved so much money, I practically shook my own hand when I turned the corner and saw my husband’s preferred brand of soup on sale. I loaded up. Remembering my original mission, I hurried to the dairy case. Browsing through shelves of milk like a column of personal ads, I looked for a suitable match. Finally I found it: fat (none), lactose (free), cow-feed (organic), and size (quart).

As I headed down the coffee aisle towards checkout, I picked up a box of coffee-filters. A clerk was slicing open cases of Crispy Thins, my favorite crackers, so I maneuvered my cart around a Pepsi driver unloading twelve-packs, to grab several boxes. The Crispy Thins made me think of the apples we’d enjoyed yesterday afternoon. I’ll just dash over to the produce section and get a couple more, I thought to myself. Mentally, I was adding up my purchases, realizing I’d have to pay with plastic because I didn’t have enough cash. I plopped three apples into my cart. Done!

It wasn’t until I’d turned toward the checkout stand that I noticed my cart contained a twelve-pack of Pepsi . . . and a cake, too, with “Happy Birthday, Susie” inscribed in frosting. Huh? Someone had taken my cart! I looked around the produce area; no one else was there. That cart thief moved quickly. I took my apples out of the wrong cart and start walking—storming, rather—from aisle to aisle, muttering under my breath, ready to confront the mindless shopper who had probably filled my cart by now with her purchases. Finally, I located it, abandoned in the cracker aisle by the unknown coward.

Grateful to be reunited with my purchases, I hurried to the checkout line where I stood for several minutes before it was my turn. I foisted my purchases onto the counter’s moving-belt and dug for my credit card. That’s when I noticed the commotion in the main aisle. The store manager and a distraught woman were walking briskly toward the bakery. The woman was dabbing her eyes with tissue. I heard the manager say, “Don’t worry, ma’m, it has to be here somewhere. Cakes don’t have legs.”

“What’ll I tell her? She’ll be heartbroken . . .,” I couldn’t hear any more words, just a little sob.

Remember those old cartoons where the underdog characters deliver a physical wallop to their pursuers? Suddenly, I had become Br’er Fox or Wiley Coyote—felled in the midst of my own righteous pursuit. It was I who had taken the wrong cart!

I should have left the line immediately and chased down the woman with a helpful comment, such as “Excuse me, ma’m, have you checked produce?” Instead, I stood there like a guilty fool, flustered and embarrassed. How would I explain my need to stop my purchase-transaction to the woman behind me, already impatiently tapping her foot? I paid for my groceries and made a beeline for the door.

Driving home, I reassured myself. It’s not as if I’d wheeled the cake into the parking lot or dropped a case of peanut butter on it. It’s not a crime to move a cart . . . and little Susie’s mother was headed in the right direction to find it.
After all, cakes don’t have legs.

copyright © 2009 Sara J. Glerum

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I am lying under a bright light with a stranger’s hands inside my mouth. Tilted at a gravity-defying angle, it is difficult to have a conversation.

“Tell me about your home care,” the masked man asks. He takes his latexed fingers out of my mouth and waits expectantly for my answer.

Oh, I vacuum and dust a couple of times a month—but I scrub the sinks and toilets every week . . ..

“I floss while I watch TV.”

“Good. I’m going to measure your pockets--you may experience discomfort . . ..”

Pockets? I love them, the bigger the better, and won’t buy pants without them. But why would anyone measure them? I’m the only one who can assess them—big enough for my keys and my glasses case . . ..

“Four . . . three . . . seven,” the masked man calls out to his assistant, a woman with a thick accent whose name is Sylvie.

“This concerns me,” he says to me, the pleats of his mask vibrating with each word, and his eyes as big as sushi through the magnifying eyeglasses he is wearing. “The higher the number, the worse it is. Ten is not good.”

But ten is perfect! She was a beauty, wasn’t she—that Bo Derrick. How clearly I remember Dudley Moore’s staccato steps over the scorching sand in that scene from”10” that I still makes me chortle. In the good old days, ten was synonymous with excellence and still is in some Olympic sports. Of course, in the good old days, getting a crown meant you’d had your birthday dinner at a fast-food chain, or you were dating royalty . . ..

“Has the space between these teeth gotten bigger? I think we’ll measure it today and on subsequent visits.”

Can we measure my smile instead? My laugh lines? I remember looking forward to being measured—for my wedding dress, shoes, hand-knit sweaters. In Florence I was measured for leather gloves custom-made in an afternoon. Lately I feel like a case study, what with height-loss tracked, feet molded, moles photographed . . ..

“Sylvie will polish you now.”

Polish the furniture, silverware, shoes. Polish your manners, nails, elocution. But polish ME? I just want clean teeth ...

“Please open vide and put your cheen down,” says Sylvie in a friendly tone.

Why not measure the things that matter, the depth of my resiliency, thoughtfulness, wit. This business of measurement seems only to get more intense as we age—hearing, blood pressure, driving skills. But we’re a measuring society, after all—crime scenes, car chassis, sound levels—even success, if you believe Forbes.

Where’s the measurement for staying calm when a rat has been spied under the bird feeder? How about measuring sensitivity and compassion? Can I please take the tact test? The cleverness quiz? The teamwork exam?

“Sweesh and speet, please.”

A lady never spits, and a gentleman never spits in the presence of a lady. I tried telling that to my sons when they were teenagers, but it took their high school girlfriends squealing “yuk” to make the point.

The masked man has returned and Sylvie has disappeared.

“OK, then, I’ll see you in six months. We’ll need to keep an eye on THAT MOUTH.” He says it as though my mouth were a third-(and very disinterested) party.

Perhaps because I’ve been released from my bib and propelled into an upright position, I feel like a child acquitted from school for summer vacation. I have five months and 29 days, count ‘em—until this event repeats itself.

“Thanks,” I say as I brush past the reception desk, eager to get outside in the fresh air.

Who was that masked man, anyway? she mused, as she started her car. ‘I don’t know,’ muttered her lifelong kemosabe, THAT MOUTH. And from somewhere in the distance she thought she heard, ‘Heigh-ho, Amalgam.’

I gun the engine and tear out of the parking lot.

copyright © 2009 Sara J. Glerum