Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Hooray if you both mind the business and mend the pants

Old and beloved dish towel
When I took one of my Christmas kitchen towels out of the washing machine yesterday, I noticed its corners had unstitched leaving fringe-like threads hanging from each corner. Since I've had the towel for years, my first impulse was to delegate it to the ragbag, the fate of most hand towels in my house.
As I looked again at the Santa image and thought about how fun it is to bring it out this time of year, I decided to mend it instead. Why should a towel be demoted to a rag just because it's gotten a little frayed (notice, I didn't say raggedy).

Dragging out my pin cushion with needles, a spool of white thread, a pair of scissors, and a thimble, I sat by a window for best light and began to mend. I thought about a conversation with a young friend who had joked about her generation just tossing things when I complained to her about my trip to a lampshade store, only to discover it had gone out of business. "My generation just throws out the lamp and buys a whole new one. We'd never go shopping for a new shade." I realized it had been a very long time since I had gotten out my thimble; I'm apparently losing my generational mindset of repairing instead of replacing. I also realized that making tidy stitches--a skill as essential as knowing how to make a bed--was a lot harder than it used to be.  

All four corners mended

The phone rang just as I was starting the project. The caller was a former employee whom I'd hired right out of college in the late '90s. We've kept in touch over the years because we both joined a marketing team several years later as peers and became friends as we worked on creative projects together. He is the person whose computer screen I stood over on September 11, 2001, to watch in horror the unthinkable event. That in itself would have bonded us forever, but our friendship has lasted for lots of other reasons, too. 

He is a brilliant, talented man, as well as a devoted husband and father, who has been deservedly successful as CEO of several east coast software companies. I told him what I was doing when he called, and he cheered. "I just mended a pair of my own pants that I like too much to give up," he shared. I nearly shrieked with delight. If this forty-something man, who has the means to toss and replace anything he owns, is willing to mend a pair of his own pants . . . well, there just might be hope for humankind. Of course, I'm being silly, but I loved knowing this tidbit. His company was just sold for more than $500 million. It's not something a person would normally convey in a once-every-two year phone conversation. My guess is when next year I bring out the Santa towel, it'll trigger a happy memory of today's chat with a forty-something corporate bigwig who is willing to mend instead of toss.

Monday, December 20, 2021

A Memorable Gift

What was one of my most memorable Christmas gifts? I'll think of one, then you think of one. Okay? 

Here's what instantly comes to my mind: a jacket. The year was 1973. First, let me set the stage. Our children were ages ten, eight, seven, and five. At least one was a firm believer in Santa--the others in varying degrees of suspecting and knowing, but not in a hurry to give up the magic. The days leading up to Christmas were exhausting for the parents, as well as the children, but finally! Christmas Eve! After homemade gifts for each other were set under the tree and cookies and milk had been put out for Santa, after "The Night Before Christmas" was aloud to pajamaed group by their father, the four were finally asleep. Hubby and I stayed up very late, tiptoeing through the house like two Santas, assembling toys like frantic elves, hauling wrapped gifts from their hiding places to position them under the tree. We wrapped a few last minute items and stuffed Christmas stockings with oranges, mini-cereal boxes, and tiny gifts. Of course there was the thank you note Santa had to write for the cookies and milk, and that Santa was always yours truly.

On Christmas morning we were both exhausted when the eight year old, always an early bird, woke up at 5:00 a.m., ready to sneak a peak at the tree. (Nope, not before all the stockings were opened in bed, an early church service, and a big breakfast eaten by all. Ah, we were taskmasters in those years.) But the minute the first child awakened, at least one of the parents (yes, it was always that same parent) stayed awake to keep him quietly engaged so the others could sleep until at least six a.m. Those early Christmas mornings also appear on my memorable Christmas Gifts List.

Finally we were ready for The Tree, which always took at least a couple of hours. After the extreme hype and free-for-all resulting in the discovery of the unwrapped Santa gifts under the tree, we'd begin on the wrapped gifts, which the six of us took turns opening. It stretched out the joy and anticipation of the day even more. But both of us parents were generally exhausted by the time we finished, ready for a nap, or at least, a little quiet. The children were by then immersed in the thrill of new toys--books, kits, games, Lincoln Logs, Legos, puzzles, stuffed animals, wind up toys, costumes, whatever. And tears. Something would inevitably break or else wouldn't be working quite right, so there was no time for a parent break. 

But the memorable gift? I still hadn't received it. By the time all the gifts were unwrapped, I was completely content with the several small but thoughtful items I'd received from Hubby. We generally exchanged modest gifts, choosing to spend our budget on things for our children instead of ourselves. Their joy was the biggest gift of all. I began cleaning up the wrapping paper/ribbon trash to restore the some order to the chaos. Hubby was stoking the wood fire in the Franklin stove as he turned to me and said, "Sal, would you mind getting my hat from the closet? I need to run out back to bring in some wood for the fire." I realized he must be as tired as I was. Why he couldn't get it himself? Nevertheless, I entered the front hall and opened the closet to grab his hat.

A gorgeous gray faux-suede hooded woman's coat trimmed in fake fur and lined in warm fleece was hanging on the middle of the crowded closet rack. Other coats had been pushed to either side, making this spectacular coat the sole focus of the closet. I shrieked. Then I burst into tears. I had not had a new winter coat in our eleven years of marriage! I was still wearing the coat my mother had bought me in 1960, which--although stylish then--was now the coat that wouldn't wear out (so its replacement could not be financially justified). 

I returned to the family room sobbing and in the process of donning the coat. It fit perfectly.  "Like it?" Hubby asked, beaming. Of course, he knew the answer. I loved it. Crying too hard to respond with words, I could feel my love for him notching even tighter. Yes, I'd say it was a memorable gift--forty-eight years later I can still remember how loved I felt because of it. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Final Thought about Thanksgiving

Yes, Thanksgiving 2021 is now behind us, and our holiday focus immediately shifts to the splashier of the two late-year festivals. But as I put away my relatively small amount of Thanksgiving décor this year, my grumpy pilgrims give me pause.

I bought these primitive, hand-carved items at a holiday market a few years ago and wish I knew the name of the elderly man who created them. When I spotted them nestled among a lot of Santa Claus carvings of similar size, I laughed and immediately plunked down my money to buy them.  What fun conversation they would make at my table! The expressions on their wooden faces amused me. But when I unwrapped them at home, I began to wonder about the desolation that inevitably was experienced by people in the 1600s sailing across an ocean to begin new lives. People  leaving behind dear friends and family, never to see and quite possibly never to hear from them again. 

After almost two years of separation from much of my family, I am overcome with gratitude for technology as I pull the bubble wrap over the pilgrims to protect them till next year. Thank goodness for being able to instantly communicate with my loved ones whenever I want, and to see and hear them within minutes of my desire. How different from never receiving even a letter which might have been written a year earlier. Thank goodness for LinkedIn and Facebook, Zoom and WhatsApp, and the still dependable US Mail Service.  

Why did I ever complain of isolation during the worst of the Covid-19 lockdown? Thank you, Grumpy Pilgrims. You have truly made me aware of how lucky I am.
 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Power of ONE Person

I wrote "Corporate Clown" in the mid 1990s, and refreshed it in the early 200s to submit to a writing contest. Although it didn't win, the judges wrote such endearing comments about the character of Chad, I decided to share it with my readers. I was thinking a lot about Chad today, maybe because I was squeegeeing the glass in my shower (See entry Dec. 20, 20017), but mostly because of Thanksgiving and the surge of requests I'm receiving for donations to alleviate food instability. He still inspires me.

                                      CORPORATE CLOWN

            My youngest staff member, a clerk-messenger, is currently touring the southwestern United States in his Volkswagen bus. Normally, he’d be reporting to me each morning at our downtown subsidiary of a large corporation. I’ve given him a five-week leave of absence, but today I’m wishing Chad were here.

            I need him to get the food-bank barrel filled. The barrel appeared a week ago as part of a semi-annual challenge from our parent company, accompanied by an urgent plea for local food bank help. It’s still empty, except for my donation of a can of tuna and box of dried milk, nothing yet from our other forty-five employees.

            When I approved Chad’s request for his unpaid leave, he hesitated at my office door. “Uhm . . .” (he often starts an important discussion with this mantra-like syllable) “Thank you. But maybe ‘thank you’ isn’t enough. I want you to know that this trip, uhm, this trip is going to make me a better person and change my life.” He blazed his smile and left my doorway to return to his tasks.

            Because he is gentle, twenty-years old, and looks like a Deadhead, some of his more senior coworkers believe that he is indifferent to sensible values. He has conformed to the company appearance code by tying back his mid-shoulder-length hair into a ponytail and complies with the dress code by purchasing the requisite neckties and dress pants from thrift stores, combining colors and patterns reminiscent of a retirement home’s golf tournament. I’m certain he’s the only person in our building who sports a pair of polyester-plaid pants pegged with safety pins down the inside seams.

            I’m sure there are more than a few men in our building who—on seeing Chad in his getup—wonder if they, too, don’t look just as foolish, given the conventions of male dress. There’s a thin line between ironed and un-ironed in terms of looking snappy. And Chad’s bright red Doc Martin shoes evoke a look of righteous disdain from people in highly polished Italian loafers. But I digress—back to the barrel.

Chad does a fantastic job as clerk. He is always thinking and masters his work-related responsibilities by asking why it’s done that way—then listens to the answer. But he keeps asking questions, even when performing routine duties, about deeper things that make his coworkers tick.

“Why would anyone not want to donate to the food bank?” he asks me, his brow scrunched up like an inside-out sock.

            “Oh, I doubt if people really choose not to,” I answer. “It’s probably because they are busy or forgetful, or they wait for the last minute and accidentally wait one day too long.” I realize I sound defensive.

            “Uhm . . . but don’t people know that others will follow by example?  It would only take a few more cans in the barrel to inspire others. Then it would snowball.” Already I am making a note to myself to bring a few more cans of soup tomorrow.

“Maybe they gave at home,” I quipped one time, and he smiled in genuine appreciation of a middle-aged supervisor with a mind still agile enough to make a joke. But the bottom line is that Chad does his full citizen-share, and he’s amazingly effective at getting others to do the same. For instance, he’ll haul in a big bag of groceries—practical, good food, such as pinto beans and peanut butter—and after depositing them into the barrel, manage to talk up the food bank and the good it does while making his desk-to-desk delivery rounds. Almost single-handedly, Chad has gotten the barrel filled in the past. I’ve heard him offer to help our officers transport their donations (“If you can bring it in tomorrow, I’ll come down to the garage and haul it from the car for you”) so subtlety they scarcely know they’re engaged in a Socratic dialogue with the lowest man on the totem pole.

            “Uhm, maybe you can answer this,” he says to a manager while removing outbound mail from her desktop. The manager looks up, disarmed by Chad’s need for her advice. “Do you know why people who are financially comfortable are reluctant to donate a jar or two of peanut butter to the food bank?” In the process of answering that question, the manager starts making a mental note to bring food tomorrow.

At his next stop—the financial officer’s private office—he asks, “How can people who get paychecks be certain they won’t someday need to get food themselves from a food bank?” When the officer begins to pontificate about the power of savings or financial planning, Chad listens intently and then responds, “But isn’t it possible that fortune could turn the tables on the luckiest of people, so they become the unluckiest?” Then he pushes the mail cart to its next stop.

            Because Chad’s job takes him from desk to desk, he reaches everyone—from the CEO to his fellow messengers—and has frequent opportunities to listen intently to the opinions of others. Last year during an office campaign to give to the annual community-fund drive, he told me, “I’m only one paycheck away from being a taker, but as long as I have a paycheck, I can be a giver. I am thrilled to be a giver.” And he was the first one to turn in his pledge card.

            In various fund raisers through the year, from raffles benefiting social services’ providers to the far-reaching consolidated drive, the big guys—senior management—are always rumored to give less than others. Friends who work in human resources at other companies tell me that this is a well-known pattern, and we’re not talking a smaller percentage, either—it’s frequently a smaller dollar gift that come from the most affluent. But when there’s recognition to be had for that same giving (such as a donor’s plaque or a luncheon to honor benefactors), those big guys line right up for their thanks.

            In Chad’s opinion, if there were a checklist on the barrel with each person’s name on it, everyone would bring something in—even if just a can of beans or soup. Individuals would want to check off their own names, hoping others would think they’d brought the ham, even if they brought the Jello. Chad says this without belligerence, blame or recrimination. He almost always smiles while he talks. It’s hard not to agree with him, and likewise, difficult not to feel betrayed by what looks like stinginess on the part of the well-paid employees.

            I’ve decided that Chad is our company’s own corporate jester, disguised as a young kid full of questions with a manner that threatens no one and questions that sound naïve enough to chip away at our corporate hypocrisy. Every company needs such a clown. He invites us to look at ourselves collectively and change. What’s so endearing about Chad is his genuine need to know—his constant puzzling over life’s mysteries—which makes us professional types eager to show him the “right way.” (Oh, Chad, please do as we say, not as we do.)

            So, while we genuinely believe we’re teaching him how to be part of corporate America (and we probably are, in all the worst ways), Chad is effecting our change, too. Helping us to be a little better at the human game without ranting, protesting, or civil disobedience, he’s there as our little-guy conscience. I will welcome him back from his trip, and no doubt I'll share my disappointment about our near-empty barrel for food collection. But I hope his trip isn’t life changing. We need him just the way he is.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Rarely have I been so moved

It seems somewhat pointless to rave about a stage production that has come and gone, but I have to write a few words about the most recent Metropolitan Opera's Live HD performance this past Saturday of Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Terence Blanchard. Although you cannot get a ticket for it any longer on stage, you could catch the encore production of the live-stream offering when it's offered in cinemas tomorrow, Wednesday, October 27. Eventually, it will be made available again via streaming, and because the production totally sold out at the Met (unusual for that to happen), perhaps it will be available sooner rather than later. For more information, click Take me to The Met

Why would anyone seek out an opera with such a grim and horrifying plot line as sexual molestation of a seven-year-old boy and how it affects his next thirteen years?  Until you see the opera, don't even try to answer that question. The title is taken from the Book of Jeremiah and is a fitting metaphor for the effect that his older cousin's behavior had on young Char'es-Baby. The work is simply magnificent--so beautifully constructed and cutting so deep, I doubt if anyone could see it without being moved to tears. But then realize it's written by a black composer, a black librettist, based on the memoir written by a black man--which makes a lot of 'firsts' for an opera company that's an icon of productions of classic works written by white males over multiple centuries. I was blown away by this history-making production and trust it will be the first of many operas not about the black experience, but of and from the black experience.

Friday, October 1, 2021

RACE to the END

I recently came across this personal essay written twenty-five years ago (I have about two hundred essays that need to be re-read, then tossed or kept in a "keeper" folder). I enjoyed it, and hope you will too. And now my readers can easily appreciate how much I need to get rid of before I move to a smaller place, including the written word by yours truly.  sg

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In our guestroom hangs a photograph that astonishes me every time I stop to look at it—sepia-tinted grandparents in their sepia-tinted living room in the late thirties: Grandfather is sitting on the chair that today takes up a corner in our living room; Grandmother is standing by the same fireplace-bench by our dining room wall; tiny candlesticks decorate the mantel—the same candlesticks that now sit on my desk. Come to think of it, the desk was my grandfather’s, too.

There’s no getting out from under the mass of things I inherited. We still use old-fashioned lace-edged linens on our bureaus, a phenomenon that my husband comments about whenever I change them twice a year for a freshly laundered-and-ironed set. “Can you even get dresser scarves any more?”

“I doubt it—if they’re new, anyway. Only in a vintage or antique store.”

The napkins we use for celebratory dinners are almost as big as pillowcases. They were handmade from damask, given as wedding gifts seventy years ago to my mother. At Thanksgiving I iron what I need, but that is the only time I use them in an entire calendar year. For fifty-one weeks they hibernate in my ironing bag, waiting for their moment in the world—like the patients in the movie, Awakenings, who come to life on drugs. These are old geezer napkins—yellowed from time and frayed around the edges, and getting thin, too.

Sometimes I playfully think of my hand-me-downs as elderly in-laws. Although I didn’t know them originally, they have ingratiated themselves over the years as they live under my roof and abide by my rules.

Sometimes I am tickled to be part of this ancestral chain of merchandise. With pride I dig out the silver candelabra, hoist down the porcelain cups, and unwrap the soup tureen. I boast about my heirloom dining-room table handmade for the family two hundred years ago, and point out with pride my cherished console table belonging to a great-grandmother. I can tick off stories about family stuff in every room—couch, chairs, paintings, figurines—each with a family connection.

Other times I feel sorry for myself. How in the hell did I get saddled with so many hand-me-downs? Wouldn’t it be fun to throw everything away and buy all new items? How thrilling it would be to go on an Ikea spree, or even one at Target. Cheap, bright, maybe poorly made—but new! Not to use anyone else’s anything! My grown kids have all furnished their homes with things they have selected. How liberated they seem. Would I even know how to shop for furniture?

Just like us oldsters who require more maintenance work on our teeth and bodies now than when we were young, caring for antiques can add responsibility to our lives, too. I was shocked recently to see the trouble my sister takes with her heirloom sterling flatware. She literally washes and dries each individual fork tine and lets the forks sit out on her counter for twenty-four hours so they are thoroughly and completely dry. I refuse to pamper my possessions. I wash, dry and toss my flatware back into its silver-clothed wooden box and slam the lid down until the next time I scrounge for what I need. I polish it rarely.

Maybe I’m careless with my things to show them who has the upper hand. I have to admit that a part of me is secretly happy when I see things wearing out. A pillowcase springs a hole. Do I try to mend it? No! Just because my grandmother hemstitched it is no reason to be sad. Instead, I rip it up to make new dust cloths, congratulating myself for not being nostalgic. As the backing of my oriental rug appears with wear (giving the appearance of lint flecks needing to be vacuumed), I get out an array of deep rose, purple, and green magic markers and color in the threadbare places. Sure, my rug is valuable, but I am so sick of it! I have never lived in a house where it wasn’t lurking in one of the rooms. I fantasize sometimes how much fun it would be to roll it up and push it down my hillside driveway, then watch it roll away like the runaway gingerbread man. Only I wouldn’t chase it.

My husband loves to remind me that “Nothing lasts forever.” There’s a positive side effect of attrition through moldering. I will probably never need new things, but at least, eventually, I will have fewer things to care for. And, if there’s any justice at all, my aging household goods will wear out just about the time that I do. I hope my kids can just take the furniture to the second-hand-store and never look back . . . except for the dining room table, the hand carved chairs, the linens woven by appointment to the queen, the old tiffany forks, the . . . 

 

Monday, September 20, 2021

The advantage of being old

Not every day does a big tree come crashing down just two feet outside the fence that rims our community, although a number of years ago a tree fell and broke through our fence. That was high drama . . . with a lot of repairs, to boot. 


But yesterday the tree pictured fell outside our fence across a regional trail, creating--in the words of a neighbor friend--the newest 'bridge' in town in less than one minute. Rainfall (after a prolonged drought) and a little gusty wind was all it took for the tree to break off and topple across King County's highly used Burke-Gilman Trail. 

The good news? No one was underneath; no one was hurt. Within hours, the obstructing branches were removed by the City to reopen the trail, but within hours of that activity, a small segment of the 18 mile-long trail was closed to be safe. 

Today, when I opened our gate to go for my daily trail walk (in the opposite direction), a white haired walker had stopped to stare at the barricades. "That tree is not goin' anywhere," he said, as he nodded at me. "It's not gonna fall in our lifetimes. It's stuck there! Maybe if we were kindergartners," and here he stopped to chuckle, "but not anytime soon!" I had to smile at his comment. Yes, there are advantages to being old; we probably can walk under it without any fear. But I noticed he stopped short of the tree and turned around to the junction of the Sammamish River Trail to continue his walk. 

Me? I'm going to honor the barricade regardless of my age, but I'm going to smile every time I see the fallen tree.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Remembering Jay

Every year since my late husband died, I've done something special on his birthday to remember him. Some years I've walked along one of his favorite beaches, either the fresh water of Lake Washington or the salt water of Elliott Bay. Sometimes I've enjoyed a lunch or dinner at one of his favorite restaurants (either upscale and fast food), always ordering what I imagine he would order. (After our long marriage, I know well what particular items on the menu made the restaurant a favorite of his.) Finally, I try always to visit a nearby location the two of us walked to frequently.

This year I had a new idea to commemorate his birthday. I would drop coins as I walked. Why? Because for as long as I knew him, he never walked past even a penny without stooping to pick it up. No matter what parking lot, what sidewalk, what store--anywhere at all--if there was a coin on the ground, Jay would lean over to pick it up with a general quip about a found coin being a lucky one. 

On Monday, August 16, I counted out eighty-two cents (the age he would have been that day) in pennies and dimes and let my offspring know what I was planning. Several of them did the same where they live, making it especially celebratory. It still makes me happy to think a number of people might stop to pick up the coins and in so doing--albeit completely unaware--would be bowing down to the memory of Jay O. Glerum. 

R.I.P.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Not the good old days, but . . .

I'm not one to wax eloquent about the 'good old days.' I believe we should appreciate our past but not worship at its feet. Move on and find the good in the now. That said, ahem . . . yup, I'm getting there . . . remember when a gas station offered premium perks if we filled our gas tanks at its specific location?

These square Corningware containers were all earned at a Seattle gas station--I can't remember if it was Atlantic Richfield, Mobilgas, or Standard Oil, but I do know we made a point of using a specific station in the late sixties because I wanted a free set of these versatile storage containers. And here I am almost sixty years later and I STILL have them, and they are none the worse for their constant wear. I've used them multiple times every week for decades and prefer them to any other containers for food storage. They withstand the freezer, the oven, and the microwave (which was still years away from being known about or available to the average person). I love these little dishes.

Nowadays, I'm embarrassed to be seen standing at a gas pump. I should be biking, walking, bussing or driving my electric car. At the very least--my car should be a hybrid. The days are long gone where I will be rewarded for buying a full tank of gas. But I will never forget proudly earning little square Corningware dishes as a result of consuming gasoline, and I'm happy I did.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Proof of Fairies?

Do you believe in fairies? I'm beginning to think I do. This morning I found this tiny ring outside my laundry room  door. It was not there yesterday (or the day before, or the day before that), and no one under the age of forty-seven has been in my house for at least ten days.

I tried to take photos that would put its tininess in perspective.  Of course, I could have set out a measuring tape, but that would have been too logical. How could I be logical when I looked down and saw this circle of 'rubies' just lying on the floor by a closed door inside my house?  I am imagining a fairy was passing through my home (would it have been tiptoeing or flying?) last night as I slept--maybe slipping past the screen on an open window (screens wouldn't prevent fairies from getting in, would they?) to my basement level garage where it is delightfully cool. I am utterly flummoxed regarding a rational answer. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Cottonwood Perspective


When the cottonwood trees bloom in my neighborhood, we joke that it looks like it's snowing. The fluff that transports its seeds is so lightweight it is blown everywhere and often accumulates along the sides of paths and roadways to look like pretend snow that a Hallmark movie director has ordered for a wintry effect. People complain. It gets into window screens and fans and clings to cobwebs on windows. It's tracked inside and can make your new black pants look like you live with a white cat. And it makes many people sneeze from their cottonwood allergies.   

Size of one seed
But deadly? I don't think most of us would think twice about answering that question in the negative. And yet, recently I saw something that made me think a lot about perspective and how it's so different, depending on who/what you are. Every trouble, every woe, every challenge is relative. As inconvenient as some people find cottonwood's bloom, or as beautiful as others believe it to be, everything depends on who, what, and where we are. 

When I saw a little bee crawl-hopping across the street, I did a double take. Bees fly! The aren't pedestrians on a street. I stopped to investigate. A single cottonwood seed with its fluffy conveyor had landed on the bee. Maybe it had been flying, maybe it was gathering nectar from a blossom on the nearby rhododendron . . . we'll never know. What was clear is that the seed had adhered to the bee's wing to make flying impossible. I watched the bee struggle, standing on its front feet and shaking its body, opening its wings while performing a little jump-ity jump step, trying to shake off the seed off. As much as I wanted to help, I knew there was no way I could keep my touch light enough to not injure it. I held up a leaf in front of it; it walked on, Then I carried the leaf and the bee to the closest garden and laid it under a shrub. At least it would not get run over.

How cottonwood could be deadly to a living creature was an aha moment. Yes, perspective is everything. So I can enjoy the sight of cottonwood blowing through the air (or be inconvenienced by it, but to another living creature it's potentially as dangerous as hiking down the middle of a highway would be for me.


Monday, May 31, 2021

If Earrings Could Sing

If earrings could sing, I know what the song and lyric snippet would be.  

Recently my sister and brother-in-law resumed our pre-pandemic Sunday night dinners together. We were excited as we settled into a window booth at Tavern-on-the-Square, a local restaurant run by the quirky and beloved McMenamins hotel chain. When the waitperson brought our delicious appetizer of roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts, we joyfully removed our masks for the duration of the meal and didn't put them on again until we were ready to leave the restaurant, and it wasn't until I was settled into my sister's car for the ride home that I took mine off again. 

Later that evening, I looked in the mirror to remove my earrings and saw I had only one! Quickly assessing where I'd been and how it might have fallen out, I concluded it had happened during mask removal. As a person with hearing aids, I'm super careful to hold onto them while peeling the mask's ear loops away, but clearly I hadn't been equally careful with my earrings.

After asking my sister to look in her car, I got the dreaded news: nothing! I then called the restaurant to ask if anyone had turned in an earring and learned that because McMenamins runs Anderson School Hotel in conjunction with Tavern-on-the-Square, there's a major Lost and Found center in the hotel. I was transfered to it. Subsequently, I emailed a photo along with the date I'd lost it, feeling a bit defeated. I couldn't help thinking about why I cared so much (besides from the fact it was esthetically pleasing) and realized there were three quirky reasons, all people: one a good friend, one an acquaintance, and one a stranger.

The lapis and silver pair was a thank-you gift from Cheryl, a Milwaukee friend, after she visited us in Seattle in the spring of 1987. She and I had driven to the family ocean cottage where we stayed for a few days, and Cheryl was thrilled with the experience. My father had planted huckleberries many years before and they were bearing fruit during our visit. Every time we went outside to walk to the ocean or drive to town, Cheryl would stop and pick a handful of berries to eat. When she ordered the earrings from a start-up catalog company, she wrote on the gift card how they reminded her of huckleberries and hoped I'd think of our beach trip when I wore them. True; I do.

In 2011 I was elected to our condominium community's Board of Directors, serving with four other neighbors, none of whom I knew well. Everyone was friendly, but Bobbie, the treasurer, exclaimed, "You are wearing the exact same earrings as I am!" And sure enough, she was right. When we both showed up at the next meeting wearing the exact same sweater (in different colors, though), we decided it was a sign; we should always plan on wearing one or the other item to every Board meeting to represent our solidarity as the only two women on the Board. From that point on, Bobbie and I wore our identical earrings to the HOA board meetings, and not a Board meeting goes by that I don't think of her, even though she moved away in 2012.

Fast forward to 2017 when I was strolling across the former Worlds' Fair Grounds in Seattle known as Seattle Center. A woman was walking toward me and when she got close, she burst out, "Oh, my god, you're wearing earrings designed by my aunt!" We stopped to talk and she went on to tell me her aunt was deceased, but had been an Alaskan native who'd sold several of her beautiful silver jewelry designs to the same catalog company in 1985. I loved hearing this personal connection.  

All these associations were jingling around in my head on Tuesday morning, so I decided to drive to McMenamins to speak in person to the host at the restaurant and drop off a hard copy of the photo at the hotel's Lost-and-Found. The restaurant host graciously invited me to walk through the restaurant and look around the booth where we'd been sitting the prior evening. Nothing. I then dropped off the picture at the hotel check-in desk where the very nice clerk expressed sympathy but not hope. I walked back through the restaurant and second guessed myself about which booth it had been. A young couple had just been seated at the booth in question, so after hesitating a second, I stopped and asked if--when they were done with their meal--they would mind glancing around the bench and under the table to see if a lone earring was hiding out. "We'll do you one better," answered the smiling man. He jumped up, turned on his cellphone flashlight and climbed under the table. Nothing. He and his girlfriend both expressed sympathy for the missing item.

When I got home I thought of my friend, Monica, who had recently received a call from our close-by supermarket with the news her eyeglasses had just been found after being missing three weeks. She explained to me she'd willed them to be found! Darn it, I thought to myself, if Monica could will her glasses to be found, I can will my earring to be found. With so many memories associated with them, I wasn't ready to say goodbye. 

Right around suppertime the phone rang; the call screen said McMenamins. "Sara? I have good news" is how the caller began. Yes, someone had turned in an earring they found on the floor at Tavern-on-the-Square. I drove to pick it up and on my way home imagined the earring was singing Amazing Grace ". . . I once was lost but now I'm found. . .." I tucked the two earrings together in my jewelry box, wondering if I'd ever let myself wear them again, or if they were too special to risk losing. Nah--I'll just be more careful next time. A found earring deserves to be worn.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Arlene Hershgold

My friendship with Arlene started out when 'the woman across the street' came over to introduce herself to my husband and me that July day of 2010. Crossing the street to shake our hands with a big welcoming smile is an unusual an activity in greater Seattle. Seattleites are known for 'minding our own business,' a euphemism that can come across as just plain indifferent or snooty. 

Within a few weeks of meeting her, I learned that Arlene was originally from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, which let me understood immediately why she was so friendly to us. That's just what Wisconsinites do! Almost forty years earlier, I had been amazed and thrilled to be greeted by neighbors when my family moved into our Wisconsin home in Wauwatosa. Friendly neighbor reach-out was something I was completely unfamiliar with as a Washingtonian. Even though Arlene had lived in Boston, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, she had that friendly Wisconsin beginning.

Within just a few months of being acquainted, I sensed that she and I were going to become good friends. Her wit, curiosity, and engagement with current events made her always interesting and fun to be around. When Jay was diagnosed with his rare form of cancer, Arlene with her nursing background really understood his limitations and prognosis--and without being cloying or sentimental provided support for both him and me.

After Jay's death, Arlene and I got together frequently to chat. As a woman who'd been on her own for a number of years, she was helpful and inspirational to me, the new widow. She was expert at navigating condo ownership, and was a great model for managing a solo household. She was a real life saver for me with her support and insight, not to mention her sense of humor.

When she sold her condo and moved to an adjacent suburb, I missed her as a neighbor, but she was--by then--a good friend, and we got together regularly. Whether it was to talk about what we were reading, share a meal, or just laugh/moan about politics and the antics of our fellow humans, we always had a wonderful time together. We especially enjoyed meeting at inexpensive restaurants for dinner.

In the past several years her health began to degrade, but she was determined to persevere. In her own words: "I'm not giving up!" But then the pandemic arrived, complicating everything for everyone. We didn't see each other for more than a year, and as life would have it (or, in this case, as death would have it), we never made it to the other side of our social isolation. Regularly catching up on the phone, we were counting down the days until she was 'fully' vaccinated (less than two weeks beyond her second shot) during our last phone conversation April 4. We agreed I would visit her apartment to enjoy our first in-person visit since February 2020. But . . . that didn't and will never happen. Arlene died April 13, 2021.

The saddest thing about losing a friend when there's no service or celebration is having nobody to tell how much you miss that person. Of course I wrote condolence notes to her sons (neither of whom I know, although I've heard a lot about them over eleven years), but it's not the same. Not the same as physically gathering with others who are all feeling the common loss. A wonderful aspect of a celebration of life or a church service means that friends of the deceased who may not know each other can offer support just by gathering together. Arlene had lots of friends, but I know only the neighbor-friends she left behind, not her dozens or other friends. And, of course, we both were pretty much beyond the 'party years' when we entertained groups of friends. Lots of people pooh-pooh the idea of a commemorative event after death, but survivors truly have need to talk about their deceased friend and, in so doing, they comfort each other. And that's the underlying motivation for this post. I want to share with anyone reading this how much I will miss Arlene. 

Just looking at her photos here made me smile. Arlene was an accomplished and remarkable woman, a devoted mother, adoring grandmother, hiker, adventurer, WWII buff, fashionista, humorist, and intellect. She stayed current on world events, which she peppered with wisdom and perspective. I loved and admired her, and will miss her always.

RIP, dear Arlene. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

. . . the pink snow continues


 The very next day, the pink snowfall covered the sidewalk.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Pink Snow


THE GLORIOUS SIGHT OF PINK SNOW IN APRIL


 

There really isn't any season more wonderful than spring, is there? Every day I walk, and every day I notice something different. While I admired this Japanese flowering cherry tree as it came into its glorious full bloom a week ago, it wasn't until the pink blossoms began to fall that I gasped in awe at this spectacular visual gift. Walking alongside the pink blossoms as they flutter to the ground is akin to what I imagine fairyland to be.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Good morning! I'm here! Happy Spring! 
Aren't I beautiful? 
Maybe you're indifferent because I'm just one of many, 
but I'm special . . . 
I'm the first one! 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Morning Beauty

There really isn't anything more beautiful in my experience than an April morning walk in my river neighborhood. The scents of foliage bursting out in spring are unlike any other. Just how lucky can a person get? I wonder as I walk. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

As Busy as a Beaver

The photos don't do it justice, but imagine  how hard the beavers had to work to build this new home for themselves! A neighbor asked me if I'd noticed the large beaver lodge while walking on our nearby Sammamish River Trail. I hadn't--it's oddly (and purposefully, I'm certain) camouflaged to minimize intruders. And since I've noticed it, I'm aware of how few bikers, runners, and walkers appear to take note of it as they pass it. We are seeing the back-end of the home overlooking a small backwater of the Sammamish river that flows on the far side of the lodge (in these photos). So much activity occurs that we humans are barely aware of, but it's thrilling when we see evidence like this.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

My Memorable Eighty-first

Piper Neil Hubbard

81
My favorite part will always 
be that you heard him first.
. . . the drone in the distance.

Is he here for me? you asked.
Yes, I said.
Yes, he is your bagpiper for
the next half-hour.

The sweetness of the music;
the crackle of the fire;
the magic of the moment;
Pure Delight. 

 
 by Tig Glerum
March 2021
You had to be there. Really. However, I'm hoping you can get the tiniest taste of what it was like to be sitting in a park with your firstborn who has arranged, in conjunction with three siblings who dwell elsewhere, to meet Mom to celebrate her socially distanced (and socially deprived) eighty-first birthday. The weather was cooperating, but we occupied the picnic shelter anyway, just three of us: my first-born, a mutual friend who'd just returned to the area after many months away, and me. A fire was built in the shelter fireplace over my protest ("We don't really need a fire, do we?"). The response was resounding ("Yes! It will be cheerier with a fire"). Dinner was unpacked from a favorite eatery . . . and then . . . and then . . . the sound! A bagpipe's drone. Immediately, my body straightened up. "I hear a bagpipe!" A man known as "Seattle's Bagpiper," had just arrived at Blyth Park at 5:00 on March 8 and he was marching toward us. He was there for me!

The poem, "81," is by the instigator of this amazing event, my firstborn, and sent to me via text today. Even as I typed Tig's poem into this post, I started weeping all over again. Weeping with joy and magic and disbelief. I've always loved bagpipes. "Seattle's Bagpiper" playing for me for a generous half-hour was MY GIFT. It could not have been a more heavenly birthday, sitting outside with sky and trees, children in the park playing, in the company of my firstborn, a dear friend, and my bagpiper .






Saturday, February 27, 2021

As noted in my last post, I'm having a lot of fun in the YMCA's virtual poetry group. We have an assignment each time. The poem I published mid-month was in response to "Take a walk in your neighborhood and describe it (real or virtual)." Several months ago the assignment was "Respond to a work of art." Here's my finished poem from that assignment.

RESPONSE TO "COMPOSITION"    

I loved you the minute I saw you,

recognizing I was looking in the mirror.

That's how it felt. I'm gray, as well, 

and my pieces are all here, too.

Yet still I don't quite fit together.

Should I scrunch and force the shapes 

to flat completion? Or let them

float to settle on their resting place? 

Or should I hide within my fading 

edge to just enjoy the disarray? 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Gratitude

I have lots to be grateful for--just having a roof over my head for starters. But I'm also glad for a poetry group I belong to. It was formed a few months ago by the YMCA. What? you ask. The Y has a poetry group? Yes, for the simple reason that its mission is to promote healthy living--body, mind, and spirit. Concerned for its members who are older and likely lonely during the pandemic, the YMCA of Greater Seattle formed a committee of staff and volunteers to develop activities for its older members to participate in from home. Yes, there were (and are) wonderful virtual exercise sessions for healthy bodies, but also things like cooking classes, Laughter Yoga, Forest Bathing, and a myriad of topics to tantalize and intrigue its older members so we don't become too lonely or desolate in the imposed social isolation.

Every Friday different opportunities and ideas were presented throughout 2020 from late spring. Enter the "Try Your Hand at Writing Poetry" offering on two consecutive Friday mornings in fall of 2020. The first session was an informal introduction and a challenge to write one poem on an assigned topic to share (optionally) the following week with the group. This opportunity appealed to a surprising number of people and it's been adding participants and meeting over Zoom for one-hour sessions twice a month ever since. We get an assignment each time--and read our poems to each other the following meetup. We aren't expecting to develop into T.S. Elliotts or e.e. cummingses or Mary Olivers. We are doing it for fun, but there has been some beautiful poetry shared by the writers. Terry Busch, a local poet, invents the assignments and gently mentors us. The Zoom sessions are hosted and overseen by the Y. Two weeks ago I rhymed the assignment: "Write about a walk in your neighborhood." I offer it here--for a fun change of pace. 

Gratitude While Walking the Sammamish River Trail

My home is on a quiet street. 
It's easy enough to walk 'the beat' 
but I don't always want to. 
So I go beyond the community fence 
to better relax, to get less tense 
and enjoy the splendid trail view. 

As I start down the well-worn path 
a racing biker shouts in wrath 
at a child who's weaving on her bike. 
Her protective mom is yelling out, 
demonstrating her parental clout. 
"It's her trail, too--go take a hike!" 

I smile at them both, then hurry by, 
and looking up, see brightening sky 
rebuffing supposed scattered showers. 
I thank my stars for these lovely walks 
and food and shelter and daily talks 
with friends and family, some for hours. 

My walks along this well-used trail 
provide release from Covid jail, 
inspiring me to let things go. 
Crows are cawing, trees are swaying 
unaware what the news is saying. 
Maskless Mother Nature needn't know. 

Fresh air is mine to breathe and use 
but with it comes my lifelong dues 
to care intentionally for all. 
My personal privilege shields me 
from much despairing intensity 
that lurks beneath the Covid pall.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Fluky or Fortuitous?


Occasionally something happens in our lives that can feel uncanny in its timing, even providential, when it precedes something unforeseen in the future. Although this is a tiny, unimportant event to anyone but me, I recently had such an experience and feel compelled to share.

Last October I noticed a little flag on my Messenger App indicating a message awaited. "Hello, we don't know each other, but . . ." it began and continued, ". . . my husband and I were the first owners of your house. The California-based writer went on to mention she'd been browsing on the Internet and had found a real estate listing in my community and had become curious if anyone was still living in the community whom she might remember. As with anyone's 'Covid-leisure,' where constraints on routine outside activities drive a person to spend a lot of time online, she located me--the current owner of, she went on to describe, her all-time favorite home.

We had several exchanges: she told me about milestone events that occurred in her family's life while living here; I told her what changes had been made by the two owners sandwiched between us. We exchanged a couple of photos of the interior and generally, over the course of a Saturday afternoon, had a delightful 'conversation.' The last thing she wrote, without any provocation, was that the flat cement parking slab in front of my home was deeded to my unit and ended by saying, "And don't let anyone ever tell you differently! It is NOT common property of the entire condominium association."

The area in question is an extra parking area level with my front door, making my townhouse fully accessible. Because my late husband and I imagined growing old here (indeed, one of us has done so), it was an appealing feature. I've always considered it part of my unit, so I thought little of her comment. Until, that is, three months later, when . . .

But wait  . . . first I need to mention that parking in our community is, and always has been, in short supply. Each townhome owner has a two car garage, and another two spaces in the garage-adjoining driveway. Our street is too narrow to allow parallel parking. With life the way it is now--twenty-five years after the community was built--two things have changed. First, cars are bigger, so two in a garage can be a tight fit, and second, accumulation of material objects seems to be on the rise. As a result, many people need their garage space to store excess belongings, especially those with children. In 2021 more people are permanently parking in their driveways and overflow parking has become almost non-existent.

Early this month a heated dispute arose among my neighbors. What if a garage is a storage unit with no room for cars, and you acquire a third car? Then what? One idea was put forth: the parking areas that is basically in my front yard should be first-come, first-served parking area for anyone. After all, it belonged to the community, didn't it?

I have always shared the spot, whether it's to accommodate guests at neighbors' parties or visiting family with a car too big to fit in a driveway, a repairman working on a problem across the street, etc. I share it with anyone who asks, and try always say yes unless I am planning to use it myself for loading/unloading, for guests, etc. It is also the scene of all our all-community outdoor events, whether the annual potluck, summer-time Board meetings, or Covid-conversations when several neighbors bring chairs to the space to sit socially distanced and chat. But even when these events for the entire community have been staged there, I've always been asked, as a courtesy, if it's OK.

At one point I was confronted by a resident who told me the parking slab was NOT mine . . . never had been mine . . . and who did I think I was, anyway, to think Icould control the ONLY extra parking space in the community. "People don't have to ask your permission--they can use it whenever." That was one neighbor's strong opinion, at any rate.

Do I sound selfish? Probably. As a friendly and generally cooperative neighbor, I don't want to be a negative player in my community, but the thought of looking out my bedroom window and always see a vehicle parked just feet from my window, day and night, isn't appealing. It was my word against theirs . . . but how could I prove what I'd always assumed was true? And that's when I recalled the original owner's parting words on Messenger last October. 

After a number of attempts prowling through online county property records, I found the original Statutory Warranty Deed to my townhouse condo, amended to include a description of the accessible parking area belonging exclusively my unit. Indeed (pun intended) that parking space belongs to me, and now I have proof. This is not to say I won't share it generously, but it does mean I'll have a say over having it available for my needs. Meanwhile, the community parking issues have been ameliorated, at least for now. Our neighborhood is settling back into a semblance of civility, which we all hope will continue. It's a great place to live and exceptionally peaceful, as a rule. 

And that is the happy ending, for me, anyway, of this saga. I have proof of ownership through the statutory warranty deed filed in 1996. But if it had not been for that random communication by the original owner, and her unrelated shared tidbit about the parking pad, the outcome might have been very different. It feels providential. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Deadly Yellow Label

I am not unusual in my snail-mail experience; most of what I receive daily is what's known as junk. Grocery store ads, requests for donations, postcards and letters from companies hoping I'll need their services. Whenever I see an envelope that's been handwritten, I take notice immediately. Of course, many advertisers have discovered this trick, so it's not unusual to tear open an envelope eagerly, only to discover a form-letter asking me for something--money or patronage.

Today, however, I received a Christmas card I'd mailed to an acquaintance of twenty-plus years. To direct the card back to me a yellow label had been affixed to it. And while it was very sad news, the label also struck me as a little-bit funny. DECEASED . . . UNABLE TO FORWARD. Really? The USPS has to tell me it can't forward it?

But it got me to thinking. Wouldn't it be great if the post office could forward mail to our deceased loved ones? It would just be a matter of someone informing the USPS of which place the deceased has gone. 

Check one: ⬜Heaven  ⬜Hell  ⬜Limbo ⬜Unsure 

Most survivors could pick one of the above. USPS could provide forms and provide a drop box for the completed forms. Once received, it would just be a matter of the USPS recording the deceased's new address to be assured of delivery. I'd really like my idea because there are a lot of people not of this world that I'd like to communicate with. And, after all, in this day and age, I'd imagine a handwritten envelope would be welcome, no matter where the recipient is dwelling. Something to wish for, anyway.