Saturday, January 23, 2021

Life In The Woods

Gather around the Salty Sea Siren blog campfire and listen friends , this is my story about things I learned from life in the woods....

When my son, Alex was five and my daughter, Emily was three, we moved from the Northern California valley where I had grown up, into the woods. It is a high elevation wilderness area that will live in our memories forever as the woods of childhood wonder. 

Everyday in the woods my children watched the forest grow, watched as the creek flowed, listened as it told it’s story, as it sang it’s eternal, bubbling, churning song. They knew the clear creek and all it’s stones, boulders, caves and pools. The wilderness was their “living’ room.  They knew the creatures as a student knows their fellow classmates. They knew the beavers liked you to pretend they were invisible when they passed you on the creek. The children would sit very still until their classmate had passed by in comfort.

 The first night of our arrival to the woods, something very strange and bone chilling happened.  Having barely unpacked the kitchen, I had not had the time or energy to put up curtains.  The night was framed unobstructed in the shotgun cabin’s sliding glass doors.  The doors led to the large porch overlooking the creek.  A wild oak grew tall between the covered porch and the creek making it even darker at night than the skyline. We did not have much furniture inside yet or a TV either. So, my children almost immediately noticed the large creature that had come onto the porch.  Exhausted from the move, I had fed our Border Collie “Wiley’’  in her large bowl earlier in the day on the porch. Night had fallen, and Wiley, also exhausted from child herding,  had fallen sound asleep in her bed, leaving half of her bowl full. The children tiptoed over to me in the little kitchen, where I was attempting to use the old wood cook stove. I turned and crept over to the door, my eyes adjusting to the light of the darkened winter porch. I pressed my face to the glass, and cupped my hands around my eyes to adjust for the light. As the creature came into focus, it was then that I knew my serious mistake. I stood silently in shock.  Finally, Emily said, “ Mommy, what is it?”.  “It’s a wolverine Em. Stay quiet and back away from the door slowly” 

I knew the animal was thought to no longer inhabit Northern California. However, I had grown up wild in the foot hills and had seen one as a child while riding my Appaloosa, “Little Thing”.  We had nowhere to go, so we sat quietly and watch him while he ate Wiley’s nutritious little bowl nuggets and seem to occasionally be smiling with his teeth barred during his feast. 

We watched his strange, extremely large claws and movements. When he was done, I was relieved, my mother's protective sensory alarms were going off. As the children were fascinated thinking of how cool his paws were, behind my veneer of calm , my mind was taking inventory of all of the items within reach that could be used as a weapon. Then,  he did something I will never forget.  He came to the glass door and looked in at us as we had been looking out at him. Examining, I am assuming our paws and  if we would be a threat. But then, he stayed, unmoving for several minutes. As he did, he looked at each of us.  His face was next to the glass, I assume for the same reason I had pressed my face to the glass. His breath was visible on the winter porch, he peered in on us. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I felt he was communicating that these were also his woods.

Storytellers know a secret, they know that the world is made of the stories we tell ourselves. In my fifties now, and having recently lost several irreplaceable people I loved to COVID-19 in 2020, I find myself thinking about the lessons I learned from living in the wilderness. In a way, during this pandemic, we have all been in a cabin in the woods. And COVID-19, as been the uninvited dangerous guest that came up on all of our porches, it’s teeth bared, ready to pounce.In the woods, I learned that leaving Wiley's bowl out was an invitation to the wild things to picnic on my porch. 

Time flows differently in the woods. The creatures are wild there, even the human creatures. Many occupants of the woods are looking to be left alone, to sit on their porches and listen to the creek sing it’s song in chorus with the crickets.  I had a large black rocking chair on that porch.  Sometimes, when I am meditating, I imagine I am back there in my rocking chair and that I can hear my children laughing, I can hear them singing, I can hear how the woods let them be free. 

 There have been many reasons I have been sad and overwhelmed during this year of COVID-19. But, listening to my children retell me stories of things they remember about childhood, homeschooling and living in a cabin in the woods are not one of them. I am grateful that during this time, my children had the skills to understand we are going back into wilderness mode. In wilderness mode, you stock up on groceries because the store is an hour away. In wilderness mode, you make everything you can from scratch because it's cheaper and better.  You look at wandering strangers with caution and wonder if they are lost or intend to come onto your porch. If it’s the later, you treat them with even more caution. Mountain folks are friendly, if you are a friend, if you are an outsider, you will often find, they don’t live in the wilderness by accident, they prefer the company of bears. 

This year I learned like everyone else, wear a mask, social distance, and disinfect everything. Because not doing that risks excruciating death of yourself or someone you love. 

Though the world is rejoicing at the news of the vaccine and hopefully the end of the pandemic, I encourage you to retain your caution, with wolverines, bears, and humans, most of all humans. Let us have learned the lessons of public health and hygiene that will stay with us. I hope our global culture has changed for the better because of COVID-19, because, I know what we lost. And I can tell you that if we only lost my lovely cousin Letty, we still would have lost to much. She was kind, funny, brilliant, she helped struggling students through college, she was a mama, grandma, wife, friend, and community hero, we have lost so much. I watched as she died an excruciatingly painful death after three months on a ventilator. I like so many am feeling the pain this pandemic has inflicted. Let us retain the wisdom this pain has taught us, because, it has cost us so much.  I know COVID-19 taught me that life is so much more fragile than I like to think it is and that I am more grateful than I thought I was capable of being. I am hopeful that this year of 2021 will  be merry and bright for a world that has seen so much darkness.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Letters from my Daddy

Letters from my Daddy are now some of the very few material items I have from him, but they hold a very special place in my heart.  They represent for me my father's awareness, compassion, joy and art.  He tells me, "When I come home, you and me are going up to that place you like, where they have all the good rides. And after that, we'll go to the "Berry Farm" o.k? And I'll put you on the Merry-Go-Round cause I know you like the horses. I'll come home and see you, as soon as I can."

It must have been difficult to explain to me that he was going to be gone for the next three months, come home for two months and return to the sea again.  Now as a parent myself, I can imagine this was difficult.

I am sure back then, it kept me thinking about the day, with the horses I liked and the Merry Go Round and the ice cream man.  But, now I think about those days and I can hear him telling me about how when he was little, him and his brother Buddy used to be taken by their parents to Coney Island. How they had the best hotdogs and their family was happy before his Dad died when he was twelve.

My Daddy had a very acute sense of what it meant for your Dad not to be present.  Back then, when he wrote me these letters in 1972, it was the Indian Ocean that kept him from me, now it is the ocean of time and space.  This blog is a letter to him.  A memory captured in a cloud.  As the paper yellows on those letters, my own children grown into adults, I remember the California sun, the Berry Farm, and that I had a father who loved me, who had endured many hardships in his life, but never stopped looking for the joy in the world.  I remember him telling me stories and jokes that he would laugh at himself just think about it before he could tell it. And when he did, the dimple in his cheek would get deep and his eyes would twinkle.  I remember him teaching me about all of the stars and the constellations. I remember a story he told me about how he built a wooden wagon to look like a car complete with a steering wheel during the depression in New Jersey. His brother Buddy "found" the wheels that looked suspiciously like those of the neighborhood ladies baby carriages. Buddy, Daddy and their crew of Bayonne boys decided that to celebrate they would take their new wheels to the movie theater on Sunday for the double show.  The theater was at the bottom of the hill, and away they went!  It was a resounding success until the end of the show when it was time to push the car back up the hill.  Everyone except Buddy decided they needed to go home sans the car.  The moral of this story my father said was to be sure your friends are the push you back up the hill kind a folks.
I remember my father every time  I walk down the halls of my house where these letters hang in frames, I touch the words, the representations of me and him, and I remember that in the ocean of time, he is never farther away from me than the beat of my own heart.

He ends his letter by asking me to write him a letter and send him my picture.  I am sending this letter across the rainbow bridge to Daddy, I hope it finds it's way from Cassiopeia to the Big Dipper and beyond.

Friday, November 10, 2017

High Hopes

A Liberal Irish Catholic Portlander's Perspective On:

High Hopes The Journey of John F Kennedy.

by Tessa Dansie

On this cool November morning I found myself walking in Portland’s Cultural District amongst the golden and umber leaves that fall all about me on the sidewalk leading to the Oregon Historical Society. I am on my way to High Hopes: The Journey of John F. Kennedy. I decided to come alone, to absorb the exhibit and attempt to capture it with a meditative mind.

The rain fell soft, making the air smell clean. I took a deep breath and drank in the aroma. As walked, my mind rested on something Marcus Aurelius said: “In the life of a man, his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his senses a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful.”

JFK’s fame may have been doubtful due to the anti-Catholic sentiment of his time, his faith making him weak in terms of presidential viability. Folks felt they might be electing a president who was the Pinocchio to the Pope’s Stromboli. His liberal ideas about equality and social justice were an extension of his Catholic education, and much of that moral compass was crafted by the Catholic Church, so this was an understandable concern given that the country had never elected an Catholic president. 

To my eye, he turned out to be much more liberal than the Pope.  A newspaper article notes that southerners hope he will soften his liberal language.

As I entered High Hopes, my entry is free due to the address on my drivers licence, I am grateful. Entry to the exhibit on it’s last days in Portland is also free to military families along with Portlanders.  Liberal Portland loving them some Jack Kennedy was just how I wanted to spend this drizzly grey day, I find myself falling in love with this city all over again.

Soon, I realized that capturing this exhibit in it’s entirety was going to be akin to capturing the Portland rain in my palm and saving it in my pocket for later.  No matter how hard I tried, the secret of it’s magic was ephemeral.  I felt my father walking with me, the Irish Catholic Navy man. He loved John and his little brother Bobby.  He would speak with much pride about how we Irish Catholics could be proud of them, and how they fought for the poor, the voiceless, the oppressed and then how they were killed on their journey towards justice.   He would speak of traveling the world and observing altars with JFK and RFK right next to the Virgin Mary. I was born the October of ‘69 after the death of RFK in June of ‘68, this subject was fresh and topical upon my arrival to the world. 

On my first visit to this exhibit with my husband and children, the very kind docent told an over excited me that absolutely no pictures would be allowed! I enjoyed the visit, but as I thought about it afterwards, once was not enough.

I remembered about how I had cried at the rocking chair, watching my son bend his head and pray for JFK. How my family circled that piece of his personal history, prayed the rosary for him and thanked him for his service.  The sign next to the rocking chair said “do not touch!” So, my very wise daughter gave it a sniff, and said “Look Ma, it’s smells like the beach, and history all rolled into one cool rocking chair!” On my second visit as I stood looking at the rocking chair that smells of the beach and history according to my daughter, a new docent came by and politely mentioned to me that it would be a bad idea to climb in the rocking chair no matter how inviting it might be.  I assured him that I would do no such a thing. He laughed and said, “oh yeah, well just yesterday we had to ask a person to get out of it.” This was shocking to say the least.  

I moved along to assure the docent I was not intent on sitting a spell in the president’s chair. 

As I do, I notice an interoffice memo to JFK that says:

​ ​"Robert​ ​White​ ​called​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​he​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​know​ ​if​ ​Jack​ ​was bringing​ ​his​ NEA ​rocking​ ​chair​ ​to​ ​the​ ​White​ ​House."
Next to it​ ​a​ ​letter​ ​from​ ​JFK,​ ​his​ ​response​ ​is​ ​epic!​ ​
"Whither​ ​I​ ​goest-​ ​it​ ​goest!"​ ​August​ ​of​ ​1960.
The​ ​rocking​ ​chair​ ​NEA​ ​referred​ ​to​ ​was​ ​the​ ​chair​ ​of​ ​his​ ​father​ ​Joseph​ ​P.​ ​Kennedy.

Wandering through the exhibit I find myself smiling at a ​picture​ ​of​ ​JFK in​ ​1960​ ​with​ ​three​ ​nuns​ ​in​ ​full​ ​habit​ ​at​ ​Marycrest​ ​High​ ​School,​ here in Oregon, ​with​ ​his famously​ ​large​ ​grin​ ​and​ ​purely​ ​enchanted​ ​looks​ ​on​ ​the​ ​faces​ ​of​ ​the​ ​nuns.​ ​​ ​His​ ​charm​ ​not​ ​lost​ ​on them.
This exhibit doesn’t let you loose contact with the realities of the time, and the cultural unconscious.  It looks at the president as a boy, a brother, a man, a husband, a father, a politician, a resolute leader, and icon.

I think many people may not want to reflect on this subject because of its weight and melancholy reality. This exhibit addresses the tragedy of John’s death, but it does not dwell there. Visitors are greeted by an old t.v. and Walter Cronkite saying the words that changed our nation forever.  
I observed elementary age school children fascinated by this piece of American history. I notice one boy whose hand was held by an elder woman who leaned down to whisper in his ear: “I remember that day, it was awful, I cried for months, we all did.”

On the wall to the left past the old t.v., I take in the quote from J.F.K.
"The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy."

Then I notice the intro to High Hopes from the museum:
"One hundred years after his birth and more than a half century after his shocking death, John Fitzgerald Kennedy remains a subject of endless fascination for millions of Americans. The youngest president ever elected, Kennedy's 1,037 day administration was marked by great hope but also great tension.  How he reached the White House is a story of both privilege and determination.  The second-born son of a rich and influential father, Kennedy's rise to power may be seen as inevitable, but his ascension was hard fought, as he persevered through severe health problems and religious discrimination.  The hope and promise of Kennedy's life was cut short when he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd, 1963. He was 46 years old.

Through artifacts and documents from the Mark Family Collection, Shapell Manuscript Foundation, John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and Oregon Historical Society collection, this collection explores the life and legacy of one of the most iconic figures in American history.

You are shown a glimpse of the boy John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the handwritten letters to his mother, which I have transcribed here:

Dear Mother,

I hope you and Dad and all the little girls including Bobby and lastly Buddy and Pal are feeling o.k.
I was weighed yesterday and lost one pound and have not grown at all. I guess the only thing wrong with me is that I am pretty tired.
I have been doing a little worrying about my studies because what he said about me starting off great and then going down sunk in.  I will admit I did not work anymore than usual and I got pretty good marks.  I am not doing as well in Latin having an average of about sixty so far and I don't want to flop. My marks might not be high this time.  

This exhibit is a time vault in which I can peek into his childhood, his worries are palatable.  I think of how he tries to downplay his anxiety about “flopping” by saying he was doing "a little worrying".  I think of my own son, and how when he read these words to me, it made JFK more real to him.  He saw that he had worries and concerns, that my son Alexander has. Later when we talked, Alex said that this was his favorite part.  At the top of the letter there is a note signed by JFK that says “file this”. 

In the reel to reel playing tucked into a small theater in the back, JFK speaks to visitors, he says it is important to preserve the possessions of the past Presidents for future generations, I think he knew how impactful it would be for a person to see that the man who became our thirty fifth President, felt fear of failure, but overcame it with faith and hope.

I watched the reel to reel of him larger than life. I laugh at the end when he says he thinks "even the girls should run for president".

In a second boyhood letter to his mother, JFK says
Dear Mother,
It is the night before exams, so I will write you wednesday.
Lots of Love,
p.s. Can I be Godfather to the Baby? ( the soon to arrive RFK)

My favorite part of the exhibit was definitely the rocking chair that sits eerily empty behind a cardboard cut out of JFK leaning on the resolute desk with his head down, bearing the weight of the nation.

Next to the chair is a painting JFK did in watercolors at Palm Beach 1955 after back surgery. As a person who struggles with chronic back pain, I understand deeply how art can be healing as an invaluable tool in placing one's mind elsewhere.  The elsewhere JFK preserved is of the sea there in Palm Beach and his family home.

As I said goodbye to this amazing exhibit, and walk into the Portland rain, I whisper to myself,  "Peace be with you Mr. President."

*I would also like to express my appreciation and gratitude to Kerry Tymchuk the Executive Director of The Oregon Historical Society for being so kind as to allow me to write on my laptop in the exhibit after instructions to not take photo’s (which I absolutely did not). I think this helped me to feel more deeply the weight of the exhibit by challenging myself to describe each piece.  I am grateful that The Oregon Historical Society chose to honor JFK with a unique Oregon perspective, local photos and historical documents.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

See You Next Trip

“See you next trip” were the words I heard from my father’s lips every time he left for sea.

This refrain was not accepted by me.  He told me that goodbye was for when you left this life, a sort of superstition he had.  If I pressed him to say goodbye to me, he would say “no”. He would always lower himself to eye level when explaining something to me.  Many of the loving things my father did where non-verbal, but in this case he wanted to be clear about why and how he used language.

I was just five, an October baby, I was already in kindergarten early and seriously suspicious of formal education given my two month experience with it.  On top of all this, it was time for Daddy to return to the sea.  My little nervous system was on overload. He captured my gaze with his cerulean blues and waited until my attention settled on them. “I will never say goodbye to you until it is time for me to leave the earth.”  He let me take that in.  Then he said, “If you don’t like see you next trip, we can always say, so long, another words, it will only be so long until I see you again.”  I decided “See you next trip” wasn’t so bad.  

It simply was my father in his controlled differentness. He was laying the ground rules for himself of the soul and connection. He told me that we are interconnected with those we love.  He explained non local consciousness in depth and still at the level a child could consume without much effort. The talks would sometimes be side by side as I sat at one of the stools of his bar, or while he was teaching me Mandarin and calligraphy. Or while I was dancing on his fabric cutting table, or while I was working with the wood.  I think he understood that I could sometimes take in more information while distracted by a kinetic exercise. I can’t really know why he did this, perhaps it was just instinctual. But, those lessons are the ones that stayed with me.  I can remember very little wisdom I received while in formal education. Certainly nothing that lasted me a lifetime.  And, I remember that there was little drama, or extensive explanations.  Often my father’s wisdom came between hammer strikes of this project or that, with a nail hanging out of his mouth, a cigarette tucked behind one ear, and a small pencil for measuring in the other ear.
Now scientists have newly discovered proof that our brain operates on a non local consciousness.  An interconnectedness that is not affected by time, space or distance.
They do not understand it.  This is of the next frontier in the study of the mind as the soul, I believe.
They have been able to show that this is true of all sentient beings.  There is a study where a camera is put on the dog of a person at their home, their human goes to work, they lay down.  Then when their human is ready to come home and is leaving work, time after time the dog will go to the door in anticipation.  Some observing the study said, ‘Well, the dog could know what time their human gets off work.”  So the study included randomizing the event.  The human would get in their car and start home, then turn around and go back to work.  When this happened, the dog, would go lay down, knowing that their human was not on their way.

My father did his own version of this study for me.  He called me Poopsie. I know, right?  He said "Poopsie, I am going to be gone for three months.  If it gets really bad and you just need to talk to me, send me a message with your mind.  But only do it if you really need me because it is hard to call from sea."  This was the seventies and ship to shore calls were often difficult.  

The first week of his absence I thought about sending him a message, but then thought better of it.
I had complete belief that he would call.  About six weeks later, my dog Teasha died.  She was a big white Siberian husky with blue eyes and the soul of a guardian.  I went to school knowing that Daddy would call me after school, I just knew it.  He did.  His first words to my mother where, “I am sorry about the dog”

My father died from Parkinson’s Disease.  A disorder I can only think of as a cruel reality of life to become a prisoner of your own body. I know the physical reasons for it.  In fact, I have extensively researched its neurobiology.  But for me, it is nothing less than the cruel curse of the Medusa. A robber of one's own ability to move their own muscles,  a slowly creeping goregaon that freezes you in slow motion while your loved ones witness the event in slow motion too. In this way, perhaps I am giving Medusa a bad wrap, her way seems a little kinder. I was sixteen when Daddy came home from the ship for the last time.  Finally, my Daddy was home to stay.  We would have time alone to talk, I cherish those times.  Reading to him “The Old Man and The Sea” after my mother would leave very early in the morning to work at the local gun factory.  But those cherished memories are all mixed up with pain, and the terror of seeing my Daddy die.

I remember the day he died.  I was late for work.  I was irritated because he wanted a chocolate Ensure before I left, and I was young, thinking “I’m gonna get fired”.  As I scurried out of the room, my Daddy said, “Poops!” I turned to see his cerulean blues, they met mine.  A feeling passed through my body that I could not feel as anything but coldness at the time, he raised his left hand, battling the tremors like King Arthur fighting a dragon, and the dragon was winning.  He said very clearly, “Bye, bye Poops.”

I said, “Bye bye Daddy” and rushed to get to work. I think you can imagine that if there was a point in time and space that was accessible to me,  I would go back there, hold his hand, and tell him it was o.k.  But, he was my Daddy, he never wanted that. He was strong and brave, and Medusa will never sever my soul from his soul. Someday, I know, we will meet again. See you next trip Daddy!

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 plucked 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 years old 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, it 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 work shirt, 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..”