"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Good Friends, Good Food, Good Grief, Let’s Eat.

Ever have a blast-from-the-past, let-the-good-times-roll, crazy fun good time? 

Just waved some friends off after they spent several days visiting us from California’s Central Coast; amazing storytellers who grew up on the same street as my husband and who knew the old crowd. I suspected something great was in store the moment Cindy began pulling frozen Cattaneo Brothers sausages out of her tote and started with a great story about the local legends. And the stories never stopped.

It was an intense, creative, problematic, story-telling, throwback Thursday sort of week that left us giggling like seventh graders at a slumber party. I sat and listened as the three of them (Classes of 65, 66, 69) reminisced about hamburger hangouts, cherry Pepsi’s, days at the beach—and jet skiing at the lake, the Sunset Drive-in, late night escapes in borrowed cars, stolen kisses and the cops on the beat. Growing up in San Luis Obispo in the 50s and 60s sounded like a hoot. Names from the past peppered with stories about defending the huge letter “M” that marked the territory of Mission High School from the “SL” that marked the territory of San Luis High. High school rivalries, beauty queens and Vietnam casualties remembered with love and respect.

So many stories, so many great times. I watched the years roll off and laughter soften the wrinkles. Let the good times roll. We toured the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast, Crater Lake and Lake of the Woods while stories flowed. We target shot, shopped, sipped phosphates at the old soda fountain, toured antique stores and explored Southern Oregon while stories of another time and place kept inserting themselves into the here-and-now. I learned a lot listening to three people share their deep roots in one town. Good for the soul, those memories.

So now they’re gone and it’s back to the business of living. But the energy of their visit remains like the fading scent of a favorite cologne. I learned a lot about being a welcome visitor from watching these two. That’s how a visit should be—each party thinking they got the better of the arrangement.

Adios for now, Tom and Cindy. Don’t be strangers. We’ll keep the light on.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Got the Hanging Out, Old Man Blues

I’m retired. It should be easy to spend an afternoon in the hammock. To lie beneath the sky on a spring day and watch the cumulus clouds float by, to watch the breeze push the fluffy cloud bridge into a puffy old man with a sunshine wink. But I think I’ve forgotten how to do this. I remember from days past a childhood when the hot hours of the day were spent beneath the elm trees, just being alive. One day I found a patch of shamrocks in the lawn, huge shamrocks with four-leaf-clover leaves and I plucked one and pressed it in the old dictionary that had been my grandfather’s at the turn of the century.

It’s still there. I saw it the last time I rummaged through the old trunk. But where did the girl disappear to, the girl who noticed all those sweet clovers just under her nose? Is it a coincidence that I’ve never found another four-leaf clover in all the passing years? Maybe. But I never looked.

So now I’m the puffy old lady in the clouds. My granddaughters think I’m wise beyond words. I guess to them, I am, but inside I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen. And all that waiting makes me nervous so I stay busy.

On my list for today: Write the next big American novel, cure the lawn of whatever ails it, give a talk to my marketing group, go to the gym, post two letters, clean a closet, bake a pie, participate in a conference call for an organization I lead. Oh, and in the middle of it all, sit at the computer and write a blog.

Creating Balance seems to be the national pastime. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but something is seriously out of whack. I sign up for more than I want or need in my life. Make promises to myself, my family, my God, my community that start smarting before the ink is dry on the contract (metaphorically speaking.) Hard to admit, but I’m that smarty pants kind of person who thinks she can do it all. I like the sound of my own voice.  

Spring is shortly here and quickly gone while housework is forever. Add to that the constant pressure of clubs, social media and the smart phone. I don’t mean to be cranky, but none of them are a fair trade for the old man in the sky. So that's it. It's midnight--officially a new day. Time to apply the lessons that I learned today. It was a good one, this day. But tomorrow... 
No matter what, tomorrow I’m hanging out in the hammock.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sharing the Deep Roots of Belonging to a Place

I recently read a man's journey of coming home that stirred a need to share my own story. This is a reprint of the article published in the Grants Pass Courier on Sunday, March 22,2015.

I grew up in similar circumstances in Thousand Oaks, California, then a small community where my family farmed for five generations. My family lived on a rural road, on land my great great-grandfather Borchard divided among his eight children. The elementary school I attended was filled with first and second cousins. My roots were deep; I was twelve years old before I ever entered a room where everyone there didn’t know and love me. I came to see death as an occasion for grand family reunions.  My world included a half-dozen Catholic funerals by the time I was ten; elegant events for ancient, regal German great aunts and uncles, great-grandmothers.

In 1959, Los Angeles exploded into our farming community. We moved to a tiny town, Shandon, east of Paso Robles, California, where my father established a sheep farm. Shandon was a closed community that required my six brothers and sisters and me to find a way to fit in. We were the odd, sheep-raising Catholic family in a Protestant community of cattlemen and pioneer families with their own deep roots. Everything in me wanted to shout, “I have deep roots, too!” But I said nothing.

The first week in my new school the class took a field trip. Afterwards we were required to write an article for the Paso Robles Press about the field trip. The teacher read the top articles and after three tie votes, someone shifted their vote from the popular boy’s to mine. When I saw my byline printed in the newspaper, I knew I had found a way to survive my loneliness. I would be a writer.

In later years I wrote a memoir of my family roots; Branches on the Conejo: Leaving the Soil after Five Generations.  I later wrote another memoir about the small steps of a woman’s journey: Ordinary Aphrodite. As a writer I learned to see the world with eyes wide open. My husband and I traveled the West and I wrote short stories and essays for print magazines.  

In 2012, we saw a house and ten acres in rural Grants Pass that we loved, but I wanted to meet the neighbors before we made a decision. Jack and Ruth are lovely people, he in his eighties. It turns out that he and I attended the same college, Cal Poly. But more surprisingly, his family was a pioneer family from Shandon. He asked if I had ever heard of Truesdale Road. I told him that my family had lived next to Truesdale Road. His grandfather was the Truesdale, he said. His family is buried in the Shandon Cemetery. I took that as a sign and we bought the property. 

When I am downtown I’ll hear it repeated five, six times a day, the boast that someone is a lifetime Grants Pass resident. I understand the pride, the sense of place that this feeling expresses. In many ways I envy them. But I also understand that everyone has deep roots somewhere. I honor mine by writing our history for other newcomers to discover

What I have learned is that there are two kinds of joy. There is the joy that comes from having deep roots; a family in one place for five generations, but there is another kind of joy in leaving the roots behind. I am an Oregonian now, one of the working people with a smile for others and appreciation for the basic joys in life. I see bent-over, work worn men on the streets of Grants Pass and they remind me of my father, who passed, like some of his hard-working neighbors, of a heart attack when he was fifty-nine.

Life is good in the woods. I live among the treetops now, seeing life in a new and fuller way. Still, I’m so grateful for the people who have tended the deep roots of my new home, Grants Pass. Thank you to everyone who shares their history with  others.