Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Facebook Friend

After publicly griping on Facebook about Seattle’s below normal June temperatures, I am now embarrassed by the whiney entry I posted. Here is what one of my Facebook friends, Sobia from Pakistan, wrote to me today:
“Its very hot burning summer in Pakistan but its cool to read about your June with jackets and warm stuff.....oh my God you are blessed people.”
I met Sobia two-and-a-half years ago when we sat next to each other on an airplane flying from JFK to Seattle. Hubby and I were returning home from Egypt. As is our custom on long flights, he and I were sitting across the aisle from each other. Because I was coming down with what I thought was a cold (it turned into something closer to influenza), I was trying very hard to keep my germs to myself and not breath on anyone, particularly the young woman sitting next to me who appeared to be traveling alone. But about an hour before we landed in Seattle, she showed me the document I’d noticed her repeatedly reading during our flight.

It was a letter from Horizon Air. In it, the correspondent wrote that even though it was against company policy to do so, a ticket would be held in her name for a flight to Pullman. I can’t remember why it was against policy—if it was unpaid, or reserved too far ahead, or paid in foreign currency—but that’s immaterial. The letter stated that if she did not appear at the ticket desk in Seattle by such-and-such date, the ticket would expire. The referenced date was the very day we were flying! Sobia was understandably concerned that she would arrive at the ticket desk to find there was no ticket. She told me she had a position with Washington State University for post-graduate research in immunology.

Compounding her anxiety was her fatigue and her discomfort with flying. This was her first airplane trip. She had been underway from Pakistan for thirty-six hours . . . flying from Islamabad to London to New York to Seattle before reaching her final destination of Pullman.

When I realized how worried she was, I offered to help her. As soon as our plane landed, Hubby and I escorted her to Horizon Air, assisted her with her luggage, and found an elevator when we realized she was uneasy with escalators and moving sidewalks. I looked after Hubby’s and my luggage while he stood in line with her at the counter to make certain there was a ticket waiting. Yes! She had a long layover before leaving for Pullman that afternoon, but the desk attendant at Horizon assured Hubby she was in good hands.

Within a few days, Hubby and I received such a loving and gracious thank you from her via email, I cried.

She and I have communicated only occasionally since, but always with delight on my part. We are “friends” on Facebook, as I mentioned, and if anyone wants to bash Facebook for whatever reason, don’t do it within my earshot. Sobia’s status as “my friend” minimizes for me any downside to Facebook. Social networking is the stuff that peace and understanding is made of, isn’t it? How rare and dear it is to have contact with others across town or continents, across ideologies and politics.

Hearing from Sobia today about the dreadful heat she is experiencing gave me pause to realize how self-centered my comment was. I could feel grace settling over me like a lacy mantilla. What a lovely gift from halfway around the world. Yes, Sobia, we are blessed. Thank you for the reminder.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

See Ron Johnsone, my dad

Charles Ronald Johnsone
b. April 7, 1907
d. June 4, 1963

Here is a picture of my dad at the lovely little house that he and my mother built on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. When I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can conjure the fragrance of cedar, which permeated every square inch of the house. It was a lovely place to relax, and he loved going there.

At birth, he was named Charles Wesley Johnsone, Jr., but after a few years (fewer than three, I believe), his parents went through legal proceedings to change his name. It seems my grandfather, who was known by his friends as Charley, really didn't like sharing his name with his beloved child. Dad was called "Ron" or Ronald for the rest of his life. By the time I knew him, he rarely revealed his first name. Instead, he went by "C. Ronald Johnsone," and this way avoided being called Charles.

He was an attentive and loving father who adored his daughters. How lucky my sister and I were to have such a gentleman as our dad.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Father

As Father's Day approaches, I frequently find myself thinking about my dad. He's been dead for forty-seven years. The picture of the two of us chatting was taken in 1957 at our summer home in Cohassett, Washington. I was still in high school.

To read an essay I wrote about my father, published in 2008, click on this link. In the photo in the newspaper essay, my older, and only, sister is the other child pictured.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chicken Pox Cookies

In my previous post, I mentioned the time when all of our children had chicken pox. On one of those days when everyone was still confined to the house, I made a batch of cookies from a recipe a neighbor had given me a few months earlier. The neighbor called them Crunch Drops because they had rice Krispies in them, and they had become a real favorite at our house. I brought a plate of warm Crunch Drops into the family room where the children were, and my daughter exclaimed, "Look! Even the cookies have chicken pox!" From that point on, the cookies were known in our family as Chicken Pox Cookies. They are still one of our favorites.
CHICKEN POX COOKIES (preheat oven to 350)

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter/margarine
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups quick oats
2 cups Rice Krispies (or Special K)

Cream softened shortening and sugar, add eggs on at a time, beating after each. Add vanilla, baking soda, salt & flour, stirring until moistened. Add the two cereals and mix. Drop by tsps onto cookie sheet and bake about 8 minutes (until they've puffed, fallen, and become attractively brown) on a greased or well-seasoned cookie sheet. Makes lots.

Friday, June 11, 2010


There was a time, now many years ago, when life as a parent was particularly difficult. My four children arrived in a span of less than five years and in this sequence: girl, boy, boy, boy. I, who had been raised in a quiet, complacent two-daughter family, was an up-to-her-eyeballs mother of one daughter and three sons. The girl I related to easily. The boys behaved with wildness and lack of inhibition for which I was—to understate the situation—completely unprepared.

Tears were more commonplace than any other activity, or at least it seemed so on many days. I felt lucky if we had five minutes between tearful outbursts. Sometimes my children cried, and sometimes I cried. The women in my mother’s generation, inquiring about my family, would nod as I provided colorful details, then say with great solemnity, “Ah, these are your best years. Enjoy them.”

Best years? I challenged that, especially during the most difficult times, like the time one child—then the other three close behind—caught chicken pox. I kept a vigil with those little bodies who hurt too much to sleep. In fact, I knitted four pairs of mittens (one pair a night in each of four favorite colors) and read two volumes of Winnie the Pooh’s adventures, plus The Little Cowboy and The Red Pony. My mother’s friends continued to pronounce their mantra, “These are your best years. It doesn’t get any better than this.” whenever they inquired.

Except Helen. Helen said, “Don’t worry. Things will get better.”

Helen, like many of my mother’s dearest friends, became a self-proclaimed honorary grandmother to my children when Mother died. My children were one-, three-, four-, and almost six-years-old. Those kind and generous older women were wonderful ambassadors of grandmotherly concern, contacting us regularly over the next several years. They arrived with cookies and hugs, sent greeting cards in the mail, invited us to holiday parties, and telephoned me so faithfully they could qualify for sainthood. I was endowed with a loving and ample legacy of elders.

But only Helen had raised three boys just three years apart, like mine. Everyone else had daughters, or just one son. Only Helen asked, “Do your boys ever dance in the bathtub? Do they get out-of-control giggles whenever one of them burps? Have you ever found worms—or worse—in their pockets? Do your boys have spitting contests at bedtime? Oh, let me tell you the best way to remove the chewing gum stuck in their hair.”

I can remember winters when all the children wanted to go outside just because one did. Each of them was capable of leading the pack. Four snow suits. Four pairs of galoshes. Eight mittens. One magnifying glass for snowflake viewing. The inevitable argument; the inevitable tears. There was only one magnifying glass and forty fingers vying for it. No sooner would they depart to the backyard but they would need to come in again. One of them would be cold—the rest would follow. Eight chapped cheeks, four wet snowsuits puddling on the floor, forty chubby fingers dipping into a fresh batch of homemade cookies. “His cookie is bigger than mine!” and a squabble followed.

Summers were the same, only the props were different: squirt guns and wading-pool-wet feet traipsing over the rug, and arguments about whose popsicle was bigger. My mother’s friends said things like, “Your children will always remember your loving presence—what a wonderful time this is.” Oh, it was—for them, anyway. I made them puppets, invented art projects, set up tether ball, encouraged insect collections, told dinosaur lore, made up cowboy games, taught them how to tie-dye shirts, organized tricycle races, made wagon repairs, taught them how to knit—every one of them, girl and boys. I was always there, every minute of every day. They wiggled and laughed and pushed and shoved and tattled and ran and tickled and yelled and sassed and screamed and goofed off and refused to listen and cried their way through what seems now like endless time. Four sets of feet muddying the just washed kitchen floor. Four sets of fingerprints on every door jamb. Butterfly chases, bee stings, roller skate instruction, and sand between forty toes. Overwhelming sometimes. Lovely sometimes. The complete gambit of activity and emotion—and exhausting. Yet still my mother’s generation remarked, “How lovely to have them so close together.”

Only Helen said, ‘Things will get better.”

I didn’t spend a lot of time with her and I really didn’t know her intimately. How can I detail the unique difference she made in my life? Her presence served to witness that one can indeed survive raising three little boys. Her boys were my age or older. They were successful, handsome men with families of their own. Helen had escorted three wild little boys into adulthood and had survived. In later years she asked me other questions that let me know she continued to understand.

“Does your dinner table conversation sound like a boys’ locker room? Do you know more about football and cars than you can almost stand knowing? Did you ever guess there was so much to learn about weight lifting? Do you ever want to sometimes scream, ‘Stop! Let’s talk about perfume and lingerie?’ Not to worry . . . it will get better.” She always smiled when she asked those questions. I knew I had a comrade, and although I’m sure she did not actually wink when she asked, I always felt as though she and I shared a secret.

After she died, I wrote to her grownup, middle-aged sons in an effort to tell them how much their mother had meant to me. But I wished I’d told her this myself:

Helen, you were so right. It did get better. Your understanding of my situation made all the difference. You helped me get through those early years of parenting when I had a bevy of wild little boys. Seeing how you had managed to raise such wonderful grownup men assured me of my own ability to accomplish the same transformation for mine. You gave me the gift of hope. What a wonderful gift. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

P.S. My three sons (and my daughter, of course) turned out to be fabulous people.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Musical Travel Moments

In Thira (Santorini) I walked by one of the most original fences I've ever seen. Isn't this wonderful? It makes me want to dance, or sing, or play an instrument.

My other musical encounter in Greece and Turkey happened every night on the ship while cruising on the Aegean. The Cafe Concerto Trio, a fabulous threesome of older men whose verve was contagious and talent indisputable, played their hearts out for us. I love this group! You can hear snippets on the "Listen" tab of this Web site. The Cafe Concerto Trio.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Foot Feat

How is it, I'd like to know, that some people's feet age better than others? A few of my same-age friends have never even had a blister on a toe. They can walk ten miles without an one ouch in a morning workout. Other friends have chronic foot aches and pains.

Now that I'm seventy, I am usually OK about wearing practical shoes (well, most of the time I'm OK with it), but once in a while I feel a pang of envy that matches the pangs I regularly feel in my metatarsals, heels and toes. Here is a picture that gave me such a jolt. The woman wearing these shoes was at least as old as I am. I noticed her across the Acropolis in Athens.

She turned her back to me the minute my camera came out--but I still snapped what I wanted to remember. HER SHOES! The Acropolis is difficult even in Nikes. I am in awe that anyone, let alone an old woman, could traipse around the slippery and uneven stones of antiquity in those shoes.

The top picture was taken on our ship during a lecture. My attention was lagging a bit, so I took a picture of feet. Now I'm struck by what a practical bunch we were.