Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A Houseful of Fun and Flowers!

Monday, February 10th, 2020

It was a full weekend in every respect.

The house was full of people — beginning with relatives and friends who were house guests from afar, and ending with a fabulous house concert audience on Sunday to hear  Milt Williams and Barbara Bate, musicians extraordinaire.

And… my heart was full of love and my soul full of laughter.  Even tears, but of the happy/nostaglic variety, were shed at the closing number of the concert — a sing-along of “Edelweiss.”

And there were flowers — the first tulips of the year from the Skagit Valley brought in a valentine-wrapped pot from our friend, Dick.  And the first camellia blossoms from our bush on the east side of the house.  As an extra serandipity,  the rosamundi rhodies still bloomed in the south garden to greet us coming and going.

Mostly, though, the weekend was full of laughter — the giggling kind and the delighted kind and the sore-amazed kind.  It might have been the best weekend ever!

Another First For These Old Ducks!

Sunday, December 1st, 2019

November 30, 2019

Yesterday (and right on time as it turned out) we received a small package in the mail from Austria.  The return address said “Richardson” — my cousins Eva and Lina (and friend Dietmar) who were here in September at the time of Our Grand Affair!  How fun!

We opened it to find a cheerful-looking Christmas card — a special one according to the greeting inside.  In neat “European handwriting” (so different from our public school printing or cursive) it said:  This is an “Adventkalendar.” Beginning with Dec. 1st you open a little window each day until Christmas Eve.  It is an old Austrian tradition and we thought the two of you would like it.  So Merry Chirstmas from over here.  Many many hugs and love, Lina, Eva, & Dietmar,”

Though neither Nyel nor I have ever participated in the Advent tradition with regard to lighting candles or celebrating each day of advent with a small gift — not as children nor as adults — we both associate it with friends and relatives who do.  When I was a child, my good friend Trudy (whose mother was Jewish and father, Catholic) celebrated both Hanukkah (which I also knew  little about) and Christmas.  In my little girl mind the menorah and a small gift for each day leading to Christmas were totally confused and were definitely things I thought our family should be doing as well.

Advent Card, December 1, 2019

So, here at last came a small version of those advent calendars I’d wondered about.  No presents attached to this one.  But, I did a little research to learn that, this year, advent begins on December 1st, so the package from the cousins (and Dietmar) arrived at the perfect time!

This morning, over coffee, Nyel and I opened the tiny window marked “1.”  It revealed a picture of a little girl in a pretty hat.  We didn’t know if had significance or not.  Perhaps we’ll understand a bit more as the next nineteen windows are opened.  At this point, however, the greatest meaning of this lovely little card is that it came from my beloved cousins in Austria and I will be thinking of them each morning as I anticipate the arrival of Christmas!

Not The Big Brother I’d Hoped For

Friday, November 29th, 2019

Living Nightmare

I’ve just about had it with scams and robocalls and junk mail.  I’m tired of my cell phone ringing in the middle of the night and thinking OMG what if it’s one of the kids.  I don’t want any more pleas from my university or someone else’s favorite good cause hoping for my money.  I’m tired of telling live voices not to call again (they always do) and hanging up on the robots and deleting the personalized impersonal emails.  And I’m beginning to get tired of my own FB friends urging me to adopt their good causes.

What is it about these callers and mailers and users of the internet that make them think that I’m not intelligent enough to know which charities I might be interested in — IF I had the where-with-all.  Which I don’t.  Which, I daresay if they are smart enough to get in touch with me, they should know — from my buying habits if not from my bank account (god forbid) — that “Discretionary Income” is not my middle name.  I feel like Big Brother has taken on a capitalistic persona to the max.

Our House In Alameda

When I was five and we first moved to Alameda, we lived next door to a family who rented Mrs. Musso’s upstairs apartment.  They had a boy about my own age  — maybe his name was Jimmy — and I remember talking to him through our upstairs windows.  For some reason, I began telling people that he was my brother.

Did he and I decide together upon this relationship?  I don’t remember.  I do know that, as an only child, I very much wanted a brother — an older one who would pave the way for me.  I don’t think Jimmy would have filled the bill, but before we could put it to the test my mother had a talk with me (about truthfulness) and Jimmy and his family moved away.  I always wondered (with a five-year-old’s logic) if my mother had a talk with Jimmy, too.

Sydney, 1941

I don’t think their moving was related to my story-telling, but I do know that every time I hear the words “Big Brother is Watching” I think of that five-year-old’s fantasy and of how chagrined I felt when I was caught out by my mother. I also connect the Big Brother syndrome to those persistent communications from people I don’t know.   (Strangely, I never relate them to George Orwell or his book 1984.) But, I do wish my mom was still around to have a talk, not with me this time, but with Big Brother.  And truthfulness.  Maybe he would move away.

The Gift of Time

Monday, November 25th, 2019

Schoolhouse Clock

Somewhere along the line during the years I was teaching — (1962-2001) — it became unpopular to have a child repeat a grade.  Kindergarten parents, especially, were appalled that their child might “fail” kindergarten.  “Failure” implied some sort of inability to learn or to fit in with peers — unthinkable!  Educators began talking about providing “the gift of time” — which sounded a lot better, somehow, than “repeating a grade.”

I often wondered how my great-grandmother would have thought about that “gift of time.”  She had been a school teacher right here in Oysterville but, of course in those days, had to give up that occupation when she married my great-grandfather.  However, she taught all seven of her children to read and write, instructing them at home until they were eight or nine years old.  I imagine that “gift of time” was built right into doing chores, learning how to take responsibility, working with others and building moral character.  All my great aunts and uncles attended college in the 1890s and 1900s, had successful careers (even the women until they married) and raised their families with love and firmness.

I’m not sure what got me off on this rant — old lady ramblings, I guess.  I actually began this blog with the thought that my own days never have enough time.  Especially enough time to write.  Then I had the irreverent thought that it’s too bad I’m not a poet.  Surely, a poem does not take as long to write as a full-blown story or article.  Or maybe it does…  My poet friends will no doubt weigh in and take me to task.

Einstein was right — time is relative.  For a five year old, a year is a very long time.  To us elders, a year speeds by before we can get our shoes on.  But no matter which end of life’s continuum we find ourselves straddling, as I see it a gift of time is always welcome.



Oh, my aching back!

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

Dale in a P-38 – at Lockheed on a PR Tour for General Engineering Shipyards, 1944

Anna Nagel (or was it Nagle?) came into our lives in 1942.  I was six years old and in the first grade at Edison School in Alameda.  My dad was the Catalog Order Manager for “Monkey Wards”  in Oakland, just across the Alameda Estuary — a mile from our house on Versailles Avenue; my mom had gone to work as a pipefitter’s helper for General Engineering Shipyards.  We were about three months into World War Two.

Nagel (we never called her “Mrs.” Nagel – I don’t know why) was hired to look after me after school.  She also did “light housekeeping” and sometimes got dinner started for Mama — and so much more.  I remember staying overnight at her house when my folks were out of town and going with her and her grandchildren to Russian River for a week to her daughter’s cabin in Guerneville.  She was an extended member of our family (or we of hers) until 1947 — the year we moved away.

Sydney at Russian River, 1942

Nagel and her husband were Scandenavian immigrants — Norwegian I’ve always thought.  Mr. Nagel was a merchant seaman and  both spoke with rather heavy accents though they could read and write fluently in English.  It was Nagel who taught me to embroider and to crochet, and the lovely table cloths and doilies and bedspreads in our house were pieces my mother had commissioned her to do.

“Oh, my aching back!” is an expression I associate with Nagel.  She said it frequently but I don’t think it had anything to do with the condition of her own back.  If it did, I never knew about it.  In fact, until now, the only people I’ve known with back trouble were my dad and Nyel.

Oh, my aching back!

In 1958 my dad sneezed and landed “smack dab on the kitchen floor” and then in traction in a San Francisco hospital.  Ever afterwards he did back exercises every morning and, except for a few twinges, never again had a bad siege.  I’m not sure what initiated Nyel’s back trouble — he’ll never say.  It used to come and go and, though he periodically would do the same sorts of exercises my dad did,  he didn’t think they did much good.

Now, as of Sunday, it’s my turn.  My trouble was precipitated by the weekly sheet-changing duty.  Damn those fitted sheets and our spiffy new mattress, anyway.  Oh, my aching back!

Sunday Night Call

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Charlie and Marta, 2016

Every Sunday night at seven o’clock, everything stops around here for the weekly conference call with Charlie and Marta.  Sometimes Nyel joins in but usually he leaves the conversation to the three of us — Charlie talking from L.A., Marta from Corte Madera, and I from Oysterville.   Sometimes, though, one of us might be talking from somewhere else and, once in a while, one of us has to miss.  But, it’s become pretty much a Sunday night ritual for the last year and a half.  From seven to eight-ish we catch up, we reminisce, we share our thoughts and… we laugh. We’re all good at that.

Marta La Rue, Mayan Goddess, 2012

Last night, however, most of our conversation was serious.  Marta said that she PG&E has announced plans for a possible “Public Safety Power Shutoff” event for day after tomorrow.  Of course, a spirited discussion followed.  Topics ranged from 1) the irresponsibility of PG&E and the various utility commissions presumably in place to oversee them, to 2) what consumers can do short of buying generators to keep crucial businesses operating and on, to 3) climate change and, finally, to 4) the immensity of the global problem.  “We’re far beyond just lighting a few candles and waiting for the lights to come back on,” said ever-practical Charlie.  “Our civilized world runs on computers — you can’t go back to 19th century solutions.”

Charlie as Magus, 2013

We ended on a lighter (ahem) note.  I complained that I haven’t seen a recent photo of Marta on FB and she said she’s thinking of going hat shopping, photos to follow.  Which reminded me of Charlie’s solution to everything when he was eight or nine (or fifteen or thirty) — “just wear a little hat” he’d smile. It was his way of not engaging, and it was maddening and hysterical at the same time.  (You probably had to be there.)  When the call ended, I think we were all smiling.  I know I was.



Girls Who Wear Glasses

Saturday, November 16th, 2019

“Glasses” by Jones

The package came a few weeks back — flat-ish, in brown wrapping paper with a Gualala return address.  Something from Bruce Jones, Kuzzin Kris’s brother!  “So,” you might ask, “if he’s the same relation to you that Kris is. why don’t you call him  Kuzzin Bruce?”

Well, first of all, neither Kris ‘nor Bruce are real cousins.  Only by marriage (sort of) so they are no doubt fake cousins.  But more to the point, Bruce is one of the brightest, funniest, flirtiest men I know and I think I’ve always had a slight crush on him.  So calling him “Kuz” might be sort of incestuous.  Well, fake incestuous.

Sydney 2014

Bruce is also an artist and so I was not totally surprised when the innards of the package revealed a page from his sketchbook.  There were drawings on each side — on one side, a rather somber looking and very skinny nude with this notation:  “An added bonus from my weekly drawing class, but the real picture is on the other side.”

The real picture, “Glasses by Jones.” was of three women, each wearing glasses.  The glasses on the middle figure were mine!  Definitely mine!  The woman wasn’t me — although I’d love to have her lips and maybe her hair.  My eyes are better, though, even when partially hidden by the specs. And it could have been my nose, but an improved version.

I LOVE those glasses.  I’ve worn glasses (on and off, though blind without them) since I was twelve.  My current ones with the perfectly round rims are my all-time favorites.

Bruce Jones

Furthermore, Bruce Jones, I love it that you sent me this picture of them!  It put me in mind of the saying I grew up with (and the reason I groped around blindly for years until I was allowed to get contact lenses) — “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”  I know that getting a drawing in the mail isn’t exactly a pass, but still…  When you’re old and hard of seeing, it’s always nice to get a package in the mail!


To Honor A House Takes A Village

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Cousin Eva with Charlie and Marta

Cousin Eva Legerer left today — the last of a passel of relatives and friends here to help with Our Grand Affair.  Eva came from farthest away – from Baden, Austria.  Barb Canney was the closest second, returning to her “second home” from Cohassett, Massachusetts.  From closer-by were  my son Charlie Howell from L.A. and my step-daughter Marta La Rue from Marin County, Cousin Donna Gwinn from Garfield in Eastern Washington, Kuzzin Kris Jones from Eugene in the state next door, Cousin Ruthie Mahoney and Cindy Soderberg from Mercer Island,  and Dick Hawes from Bainbridge Island.

Charlotte Killien and Cookies!

Let’s see — that makes nine, all of them staying here or nearby for up to a week and all focused on getting this grand old lady (the house) and its occupants ready for last Sunday’s “do.”  In addition were the Food Troops — friends and neighbors in the community who saw to it that we had plenty of delicious edibles throughout the week:  Gina and Cynthia and their Italian Dinner served on Friday night; Sandy Stonebreaker and chicken tetrazinni forever; Nanci Main and her zucchini pies; and Michael and Lynn Madigan and their cranberry muffins for the morning-after breakfast!  But the prize surely goes to Charlotte Killien who gifted us with two-to-three-dozen each of twelve kinds of cookies!!  OMG!

The Flower Girls – Marta and Pat

Pat Fagerland and Marta arranged flowers for every room in the house.  Then there were Tucker Wachsmuth and Ronnie Biggs who manned the cannon.  And Cate Gable who organized the musicians.  And, of course, long before the weekend arrived, the Rose City Mixed Quartet (Mark Peterson, Dale Webber, Helen Dietz, and Cameron Herbert) polished and fluffed the house and the lawn to perfection, and Maggie Stuckey organized I-don’t-know-who-all to see to the flower beds!

The party may have been for the 150th birthday of this old lady house but it was, in reality, a party celebrating community and friendship and sharing.  We’ll be basking in the glow for a long time to come.

Guess who just blew into town!

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

Marta’s Chariot

You know how some people just light up a room?  When they arrive, no matter what the occasion, the party can begin.  My step-daughter Marta LaRue is like that.  And, even though Our Grand Affair is not happening until next Sunday, the fun began yesterday when Marta blew into town!

For starters, she arrived in a bright blue Mustang.  A convertible no less!  And, of course, there was a story to go with it.  She had flown into PDX yesterday shortly after mid-day but by the time she arrived the rental car agency had run out of compact cars.  Since she had reserved one (and secured it with her credit card) a month or so ago, they offered to upgrade her at no extra charge.

The Stanger

“How about a GMC Wrangler?”  Marta thought that might be fine but when she saw it… she was horrified.  “Wait!” she said.  “I’m really not a soccer mom — I won’t be hauling 10 kids and their equipment across country.  Do you have anything else?”   And so… she was offered the little Mustang which suits her perfectly!

She arrived in Oysterville about four o’clock.  I was up the street at Cyndy’s.  Nyel was in the garage painting a table for Sunday use.  When Marta came in the house and called (and called), no answer was forthcoming.  So, she headed for Tucker and Carol’s, endearing herself (maybe not) by seeing Carol’s silvery locks and calling out my name!  Just as she realized her error, Tucker appeared… “Marta!  I didn’t recognize you!  I don’t think of you as blond!”

Marta was still laughing when she finally caught up with us.  “I have trouble thinking of myself as a blond, too!” she said.  “But don’t you think it goes with my Stanger?”

The older I get…

Monday, June 10th, 2019

As we age and outlive the older generations, most of us lament the questions we didn’t ask and the discussions we never initiated.  Recently, though, I’ve been looking at the “flip side” (for lack of a better descriptor) of my own aging process.  I have been noticing which characteristics of my forebears I have unwittingly developed.  Sometimes it’s a bit frightening to contemplate…

From Papa, my beloved maternal grandfather, I seem to have inherited loquaciousness.  The older I get, the more I talk and the more rambling my stories have become… just like Papa.  As his son Willard wrote of him in Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village: “He could talk indefinitely on any subject, detouring away from it for miles but always returning to his point of departure.”

Unfortunately however, it’s the returning to the point of departure that I didn’t inherit.  More and more I tend to lose the thread — a characteristic that I probably inherited from my mother.  Luckily, I think I also resemble her in the humor department and hope that as those threads continue to unravel, I can keep laughing — especially at myself.

On a scarier note, I fear I’ve inherited my maternal grandmother’s eye problems.  Granny was legally blind by the time I can clearly remember her — a combination of cataracts and glaucoma.  Just after World War II, she flew to Manhattan and had cataract surgery which, in those days, required her to lie on her back for ten days, her head secured between sandbags — twice!  Once for each eye.  My own cataract surgery was a breeze by comparison and the toric lenses that were implanted were a far cry from the thick glasses Granny wore for the rest of her life.  For the glaucoma, she used eye drops; so do I.

I think I got my neatnik tendencies (such as they are) from my dad.  Although I hardly noticed at the time, he was forever “picking up” after my mom — taking a glass back to the kitchen, organizing the stack of newspapers on the coffee table or returning garden tools to their rightful place.  He did it automatically, without thought — an accomplishment I haven’t quite achieved.  But I do feel antsy when things are not neat tidy.

With regard to my bossiness/leadership (depending how you look at it) tendencies, Dad often said I was just like his mother.  I hardly knew her so I can’t speak to that.  And, I’m sure there are other traits I exhibit — results of both nurture and nature, no doubt — traits that make me who I am, thanks to my progenitors.  It’s easy to blame them for my less admirable qualities, but I often forget to credit them with the better ones. (And that particular trait probably came from my great-grandfather R.H. Espy.  From what I understand, he was an exacting sort — quicker to criticize than to praise.)  Hmmm.