Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ship To Shore

This is a letter my Daddy sent to me from the Indian Ocean when I was two.(There he is on his ship The Shenandoah)

Ship To Shore

I can hear my wind chimes singing a windy tune. The air smells of Autumn. My house smells of apples and cinnamon slowly bubbling in my blue Le Creuset pot, assuring me that indeed it is Halloween, and all is right in the world.  The early afternoon sun makes the upstairs warm as it streams through our violet sheer curtains. My cat is asleep at the foot of my bed. My children are downstairs preparing the house for me for our favorite holiday.They are stretching cobwebbs about the house and stair case.  My daughter is happily tossing creepy spiders onto the webbs.

I am constantly lobbying my husband to take me to my favorite apple orchard on Mount Hood. The one with the golden orbs of heirloom apples that  I like to make into applesauce and apple butter “I should have already gone” I lament. He knows how excited I get this time of year.  Mt. View Orchards is my favorite destination. This weekend he took me to celebrate Edelweiss. This made me over the moon happy.   We were greeted by the madonna of the farm in the cutest little Swiss hat with delicate embroidery. “I got it in Switzerland” Ruthie exclaims, comfortable atop her little tractor, ever the farm girl.  She poses for my enthusiastic husband who is fond of capturing the moment. And then, she says, “what apples are you after? “ The golden ones” I tell her.

We spent the next hour filling our red radio flyer wagon with golden orbs pluck from the tops of the trees with a special apple picking stick. My son started a game of getting the apple, because he also knows how excited I get this time of year.  I love the Autumn, it’s my birthday the day before All Hallows Eve.

My Daddy the sailor used to make my costumes. He would create something special every year starting at two and all throughout my elementary years.  His upholstery skills were put to good use in elaborate costumes..  He would start planning early on, around July.  He would say, “what do you want to be for Halloween?”  

The first year I was a bat.  I have always loved bats.  Their little fuzzy tummies.  Their love of the night.  The way they sleep upside down.  The intricacy of their wing structure. The many different kinds of bats in the world. My Daddy made my costume with all the things I liked, fuzzy tummy, check, intricate wing structure, check, imagination of a two year old, check.  I was ready for my first Halloween in Garden Grove, California.  I had my handy dandy candy bag, and I was ready to go.  There is this picture that is featured in our house’s Halloween display is a photo my Daddy took of me in my bat costume, you can see him in the shadow of the sunlight.  There is something I really love about it. It seems to me now that I have lived 29 years without him, a perfect representation of his presence in my life.  

As we enter into All Hallows Eve, I find myself reflecting on the spirit. Where do we go from here? Where did we come from? Where do our loved ones go?  Do we go with them?

On chilly days like this I love to put on my Daddy’s old brown plaid workshirt, take a walk, crunch the leaves under my feet, listen to my music, send prayers into the ethos and hope that in the sea of eternity, my messages still get through, ship to shore.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Traveling Monkey

October 13th, 2017

“The traveling monkey” have you ever heard this expression?  In my family it means an itch that starts in your back and moves around as you attempt to scratch the itch, like a, well, traveling monkey.  Sometimes I think I am a traveling monkey. My uncle Ned, my father’s brother use to tell stories of a gypsy woman in our family making him a traveling man.  I think it had more to do with his trauma, sensitive nature, alcoholism, and inability to put up with people’s shit.  The last letter he ever wrote me, he was in the full throes of dementia in a rest home, it said in very beautiful print, the kind my father had, the old catholic school calligraphy, it said simply, “I Love You”.  He was an earth traveler like I am, though my journey is an euphoric dream compared to his experience being outdoors, unloved and born poor, dirt poor in Bayonne,  New Jersey. His father gone soon after his birth, the last of four living children, he was born just after the tragic death of the red headed brother Robbie, who died from growing too fast at two.  Mary Katherine my grandmother was distraught, poor and had only been in America since she was three.  At eighteen months her mother was dead at their sheep farm in Donegal Ireland, it was never clear what she had died from. But it made quite an impact on Mary Katherine.  She was kept from the journey to America on the sheep farm by her uncle Ned and his wife until just after her third birthday when she was to have gained enough immunity for the journey.  Her father and the older siblings had been in America since shortly after her mother’s death, but her father could not care for an infant alone.  Ned was her mother’s brother.  She always spoke of him and the farm and returning to Donegal and the holy land once more.  She never did. So when Ned arrived, her uncle Ned had been writing letters to her over the years.  She spoke proudly of being able to afford a portrait of the infant Edward “Ned” to send to her uncle in Ireland.  

Even though my uncle Ned’s life was fraught with danger and disharmony, I remember him smiling.  I remember him enjoying drinking his tea more than I had ever seen anyone love any kind of beverage ever.  I am sure this is where my love of tea comes from. Tea with lots of honey, lots and lots of honey.

On the road I drink a lot of tea.  I now see how comforting it must have been this ritual in such an unsure world.  I was recently driving with my husband through the worst fires in California’s history.  The stories of my great grandfather’s about the dust bowl came to mind as Ilooked out at the smoke thicker than fog.  The winds that come to whip the smoke around you like fire from the dragon's mouth are called “The Diablos”.  I turn up the Miguel Bose, sip my warm cup of Earl Grey with lots of local honey and drink in the moment.  I let the tears fall, because I know by the sound of the winds it's gonna be bad, real bad. People are gonna be trapped, I send prayers and hold images of the people I love who are in the hardest hit areas, I think of how little there is already for them, and now this.. But then I take a sip.  Slow my breathing.  I scratch my husband's head, and marvel at how he drives through it all with the determination I have seen him use to do so many things.  I take a sip, I remind myself I am a traveling monkey, I am a sailor's daughter, I can navigate this…..

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Little Star Bar

The Little Star Bar

When I was in seventh grade, I was chosen to be the star of the school play.  I remember my character’s name was Elaine. She was a librarian.  Our teacher was passionate about the story and had gone to a great deal of work to arrange for a special afternoon performance of the play for parents only.  I was particularly excited because my world was ruled by the sea, and like waves in the ocean, my father came home for two months, and went away to sea for three.  This play happened to fall on the month of October, my birth month, which my father usually found a way to be home for.  With the excitement came an emotion I would later easily identify as social anxiety.  This drama played itself out for me on many occasions in the form of fixating on some small negative story I told myself about myself.  On this occasion, my well intentioned mother decided to put sponge curlers in my hair the night before the play.  I have fine Irish hair, and the result of the sponge curler wet set was somewhere between Bozo The Clown and bouncy cotton candy.  The more I brushed the worse it got.  My father drank his morning cup of coffee and quietly observed my complete melt down.  My mother tried to cajole me into acceptance that this was happening whether I liked it or not, cotton candy Bozo hair was the look I was wearing that day.  

I went to school mad as a wet cat with its tall under the rocking chair.

My father just went to his shop.  I remember it started to rain, it was cold and on the way out of the house I ripped my stockings on the back stairs.  His woodshop was across from our house and just as big, he had built an awning over the door, his pot bellied stove burning hot out the chimney.  I can still see him there in the doorway, in his brown cords, leaning against the door, a cigarette in his hand, and the smile on his face accentuating the deep dimple on his cheek. Laughing to himself at the rage of my little self.  

When it was time for the play in the afternoon, he was there with my mother in the front row.  Still grinning, his deep dimple on his right cheek showing he was ready for some mischief.

I am the child whom, at forty seven, my father thought he would never have, my father's only child.

Daddy was there in his button down blue shirt that matched his blue eyes and in his lap was a special Nikon he had brought home from his last trip to Japan.  He took pictures while still being able to look at me with amusement.  

My father in his woodshop did many marvelous things.  He was an upholsterer, master craftsmen, he could tie any knot, when in the Navy, he tied the knots on the bridge of the USS Constitution.  He painted bridges professionally often in the Bay Area, after he hit shore in Martinez. He always sailed as the Boson, and was well liked by the crew and by local woodworkers in our small farming town in Northern California. Times were different then.  He had a bar in his shop with an old 1950’s refrigerator and a oven behind the bar.  I was the official bartender.  I would make snacks, wipe the bar, and serve beer (like I said, times were different)  I would even charge a fee in my mason jar on the bar.  When my father asked why he was paying 25 cents for beer he bought,  I would tell him he had not accounted for my service fee.  He would laugh and tell his friend I was a professional gypsy.  

The next day I remember I was feeling kind of let down, even though I had remembered all my lines, and everybody clapped, I felt like the big event was over and I still had my cotton candy hair to feel bad about.  It was a Saturday morning but I didn't want to watch cartoons as was my tradition.  I went for a long ride on my Appaloosa Morgan horse, Little Thing,  I moped around the creek feeling sorry for myself and in the late afternoon returned to see what was happening in the shop.  Daddy’s flat bed truck was stacked with lumber, and the local shop teacher’s trucks where in the driveway, so I knew my services where needed.  Because, you know in my world beer went with band saws, the smell of shaved wood and Daddy’s splash of Old Spice.  

When I arrived to the bar, I found something very special.  At the time I did not realize how often I would revisit this memory in my mind.  How could I? How would I have know that he would never know me beyond my nineteenth year.  

My father, the sailor, the woodworking wizard had made a marquee, inside a picture he had taken of me at the play, glitter glued inside a star, on top of that he had placed Plexiglas and drilled the marquee into the wall with bolts so that it would never come down.  I remember the earth was clean from the rain the day before, I can see him sitting at the bar and pointing to it, telling his friends, “Yeah, she was the star of the play.  She was the best, just the best..”