Thursday, July 16, 2020

Ain't It Over Yet?

There's something about the difficulty of change. At first you are all gung-ho to make this happen. Then after some time, that desire to make the change wains.  Look at the desire to lose weight. 
  • Day one on your new diet: Wow this is great! Such energy! 
  • Day six: This is working! 
  • Day 27: Dang I want ice cream.
  • Day 40: Get off my back 
Maybe that's just me.  

Anyway, that change is understandably difficult. We know we need to make changes but it's often just too hard. It's just so drastic!  When I quit smoking (2-3 pack-a-day, cold turkey), I was using an online Quit Smoking Diary. I noticed that at around the 3-4 month mark, many of the others on this site were going back to smoking. So I was prepared for something to happen about that time in my journey. Sure enough, I became really focused on smoking. I figured it was that it had been a long time and I was STILL wanting to smoke, STILL feeling cranky, STILL craving even though I knew my body no longer wanted the ciggie. And because of this awareness, I persevered.

Little changes are actually easy and we can follow through with much less rebellion. It is these humongous changes that smack us in our faces.

Along comes COVID-19. So many changes. Small changes and humongous changes. We are told to wear face masks to slow the contamination; they are mandated in many states. We are told to stay-in-place, stay home as much as possible; some states and counties opened up and are trying to close down again. We are reminded to wash our hands, clean up with sanitizer, watch our distance. Grocery stores and others who are essential (pot shops? I mean really, essential? LOL) have limited number of people allowed inside at a time. And signs on the floor telling us where we need to stand.  We are constantly hearing about the "new normal."

At first most people jumped into these practices gung-ho. My son was in quarantine for two weeks because he associated with someone who they thought had COVID-19; his company was being vigilant. I made masks and sent them out to family and friends. And we wore them proudly. We were doing our part! We tried to remember to wash our hands, not touch our faces, and use good social distance. Grocery stores had Old People Shopping Times so we ancient and elderly could feel safe getting what we need.

But then the three-four month time hit and people got restless. My husband and I enjoy one another and were happy to spend time together...we started getting a bit snarky with one another. Some of those who work from home felt they could never leave work. Children who were taking classes online, teachers who were trying to teach online, all were frustrated. Were they even learning?

Some people went into depression. Some people said it's all a hoax and stopped doing the "I care about others" aspects. Some people just couldn't take it all and said they didn't care. The weather got better--summer came along--and many feel it's all over--life can get "back to normal." And it is so easy to fool ourselves that we are doing okay. No one around us is sick. We're not sick. It must be over!

Meanwhile, the death toll in the United States just keeps rising.

Dr. Fauci is the leading expert on infectious diseases and has advised six presidents on what we need to do to stop crises. He predicts it will get more difficult before it gets better. The truth is, it ain't over yet. We will continue to experience, give up, change our normal to a truly new normal. When the time comes that this whole horrible thing is actually over (rather than the time we want it to be over), when the fat lady sings, we will have made major changes to our lives.

And it will get better. But not yet. I am sorry, not yet.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

My Dad Could Do Anything

My dad was a hero.  I'm not making this up; he'd tell anyone that he was a hero.  

Oh, not a war hero, although he served in the Navy during the Second World War. He worked in the ships metal shop, making what he told people was a Blip. They wondered what he was doing, but perhaps thought it was a special assignment so never asked what it actually was, this Blip. One day his commanding officer insisted he show him this Blip. So, Dad took it to the side of the ship and suspended it over the water.  They all watched in anticipation. Then he dropped it.... It went "blip" and sank to the bottom of the sea.

Well, that's the story we heard.

His ship only left the dock once during his tour of duty. It went out to sea and then turned around to returned to the dock. On his service record, it states he went to sea; therefore, his severance pay reflected this fact. 

He wanted to continue working in a machine shop but realized it would not pay the same as some other profession. His first daughter was born in 1948 and he needed to support his family. Instead he became an electrician. 

He worked for Waltersheid Electric in San Dimas, California and became an asked-for electrician for repairs and builds. He spent enough time at LeRoy's Boy's Home in LaVerne to get to know some of the kids.  It was the same at the David and Margaret Children's Home, also in LaVerne.  His longest gig was serving Vita Pakt Citrus Company. He liked working there for Waltersheid because it meant no traveling around and it was close. Plus he could stop and see his mom on his way home. He told us he knew how to stay looking busy so they would keep him on: when a boss came near, he always pulled out his little notebook, looking through it as if he was looking at his list of chores and problem spots. I've tried this but I always goof-up and give the boss eye contact...blows my cover.

Boating became a great family outing.  Salton Sea was one spot we visited.  It wasn't far, so an overnight weekend trip was the destination. The Colorado River was the best. Hotter than hell but the water cooled us down. 

Every summer as teens, we would vacation for two weeks on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. New Hope Landing was our base and every day Mom would pack a lunch, water, and cookies and we would take the boat out on a river beach for the day. Swimming. Skiing. Cruising the waters. We went with other families who were members of the Mt. Baldy Boat Club. All day, boats towing skiers came in and out from the beach.

The Hero Was Born
New Hope Landing--our vacation paradise
It was there on the beach of the San Joaquin River that Dad's hero cry, "I'll save you!" began and Dad became The Hero. If a boat was coming in, he would jump splash into the water and get the kids out of the way. If some of the women were splashing around, whether or not a boat was incoming, he'd jump in with The Hero's cry!  I'll Save You! splash splash

Dad had a favorite skiing event. He would ride, not every day of the vacation, but enough to keep it exciting... With his zinc-oxide-white nose, he would grab his home-made ski disc and his wooden chair and get out on the water.  As the boat towed him, he would, chair slung over his arm, stand up, set down on the chair.  Sometimes he would stay there for most the ride. But the real excitement was when he stood up on the chair, stretching out one arm, and yelling that he was The Hero. And then he would turn circles on the chair on the disc.

My dad built the house where we grew up. He could fix cars. He could fix toys. He could make electrical things work. He could blow air in your bike tires with his air compressor.  He could find a bargain at the Scrap Meet--and his back yard showed this feat. He built a screened fence around his goodies so we couldn't call it a junk yard. And then, if you needed anything fixed, he could fix it! His love for metal shop work never left and he built a good sized metal shop in the back of the garage. That's where he would be after dinner. 

Neighboring kids would come over and watch him work, whether they wanted him to fix something or not. I had a few high school friends who knew him better than they knew me. He and my sister fought the city of Montclair in order to remain county.  They won the first fight.

My dad was a clever funny smart man who was similar to Will Rogers in that he never met a man he didn't like. And people loved him. He enjoyed playing with his little grandkids (he called it "hop on pop" time) and loved his older grandsons. My kids and I last saw him when he insisted he come to Oregon to see my younger son's 1990 high school graduation, even though he wasn't feeling well enough to drive. He died a month and days later.

My dad was truly a hero.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

We Never Knew We Had It So Good

Across the road to Mr. Cooper's farm
I grew up in a rural area. Our house, along with half a dozen other houses, sat on a dead-end dirt road. There were two large open fields along the road—Mr. Cooper’s farm with acreage that was leased out—probably by a company—for crops, and the huge field on the other side of Granny’s house. And then the dairy pasture that went all the way to the orange grove that ran along the next-over road. Across the pasture was an old house, big and mighty like maybe Victorian, that had a row of eucalyptus trees standing sentinel.

We always had plenty of food and clothing; we weren’t poor but a comfortable middle-class family. Mom made our dresses, cooked our meals, and made sure we were clean and presentable. Dad wasn’t a miser but we weren't to spend money foolishly. If we were able to eat dinner out—a rare treat—my sister and I could each spend a dollar. That meant we could get a burger and fries or a burger and a drink. My sister would search then whole menu, every time, and every time, would select a Patty Melt. It is still a family tradition :)

View from the bedroom window
We each got a bike when we turned ten years old. We’d take all-day bike-hikes out and about. At about sixteen, Dad rebuilt a car for each of us. We went camping and boating as a family. Water skiing, swimming, playing. We played hide-and-seek after dark every summer with Gary and Donnie, who visited their grandparents every year. Our lives weren’t exactly the same as our city classmates who had lots of playmates moving from yard-to-yard, but we had a good one, lacking nothing.

When my children were three and five, their father and I divorced. Compared to my growing up years, we were poor. At first I used welfare and food stamps to survive. I always made sure my sons had clean clothes and brushed hair, new shoes as needed, and toys.  While their hair may have needed cutting, it never needed washing.  If their clothes were sometimes hand-me-downs, my kids were always kept  warm. My sons received free breakfast and lunch at school; our family received government cheese. 

I was proud of what we had and how we took care of one another. One Christmas when the boys were maybe five or six and seven we had almost nothing.  I asked the kindergarten teacher at their school if I could have a few pieces of construction paper so I could make a tree. We cut out pictures and taped them to the tree to decorate. I whispered to each boy to quietly go into their toy box and pick out something of theirs to give to brother. We wrapped them with a bit of paper and put them under the tree. And then we baked some cookies for a holiday treat. We made do, we always made do, hopefully bringing some laughter along the way.

I worked many hours a week at multiple part time jobs. Clerk at the convince store across the street. Aide to an elderly woman down the street. Sweeping the parking lot at the store. Collecting newspapers and getting pennies for a pound. I started college and worked part time at the public school special education department while working at the store. I worked part time at the college. I became the assistant for a man who was disabled.

As years passed, I looked back to these times as that my sons and I accomplished a great deal within a loving household. I believed we did okay, we did just fine. But this wasn’t their perception of their growing up years. They told me they had always felt different than their friends, who had better clothes, better shoes, better toys. I wasn’t home because of work and school; they had needed me with them more. And while I had thought quality time would make up for quantity, they just wanted more of me even if we were in separate rooms not communicating.

Recently I was reading people’s stories about growing up poor. I realized, while some of their truths were my sons’ truths, we had it okay. One homeless child said Walmart was open all the time and was a great place to get some warmth and to get away from the riff-raff. One young woman said she would skip a meal by simply going to sleep. These stories and other stories are harsh and sad, reality.

It saddened me that my sons had a rough time growing up poor and I never knew. It saddened me to find they didn’t ask to play community sports like Little League because they knew I would try to find a way to buy them the shoes and equipment needed, probably by finding another job. It broke my heart to learn that those things didn’t matter in the face of simply wanting me home more with them.

Kids with their Gramma

My sons were good kids who were watched over by the neighbors, watched over by the neighborhood, by me. They were loved and cared for and learned to be loving and caring men. And we were poor...but seeing how those who were truly poor lived out their lives, who had little or no support, how they had to struggle...well, we really never knew we had it so good.


Friday, January 24, 2020

Oh the Adventures We Had!

Mom always said, “He’s such a handsome man.”  Every time we’d get together with Bill and Candy.  Dinner or bbq or neighborhood chitchat.  “Such a handsome man.”  To me, well he was just Bill.

He and Candy bought the little store across the street from our home in 1978. Candy was as sweet as they come, a little naive about the ins-and-outs of running a neighborhood market, and soft-hearted. Oh she learned!  But to start with...well we worried about her. But Bill was an old hand at dealing with all the riff-raff. He had an outwardly curmudgeonly approach, giving the stink-eye to any rebel-rousers. He had a great voice that demanded to be obeyed. And the kindest heart around.  You needed anything?  Both he and Candy made sure you got it.

Bill loved gadgets.  He and my dad got along so well; they could compare gadgets.  He loved trains that ran around the Christmas tree.  And beer. He liked having ice cold beer on tap in the reconfigured refrigerator he had in his garage.

I started working for Bill and Candy at the store the summer of 1979.  I had just finished my freshman year in college and my job at Portland Public School was finished for the season. I asked if they needed any help. I think they felt I might as well get paid as I was over there visiting all the time.  I started working from 3p to closing at 11p. 
Not long after I started working there, we hired Nellie—she lived across from me—to work the weekend days, me on nights. Then Shirley—she lived next door to Nellie—started throwing freight on Wednesdays.  All our kids were hired as bottle kids.  Bill and Candy became an important part of the neighborhood.  They became family.

And they took wonderful care of us.  They paid above minimum wage. There was a time that I could not afford to pay my water bill.  It wasn’t much—maybe $10–but just one too many bills that month.  They paid it for me.  They hung a filled stocking when I opened the store on Christmas Day.  They made sure I had a ham or a small turkey for my kids on Thanksgiving.  They co-signed small loans for me in order to build up my credit and so I could get through humps and bumps.  

Fourth of July was a great time to hang out at their house.  Lots of noisy bangs, sparkles, flying stuff.  One year the man I was dating and I went to their house to play with them and their family.  Unfortunately Scott's wheelchair ramp on the van broke right when we arrived.  It wouldn't go down, so Scott couldn't get out.  Bill took out time, trying to fix it so that my fella could get out when we got home. Didn’t work, so we decided to just go with the flow and celebrated the holiday anyway!

They celebrated with us at my sons’ high school graduations, my college graduation. They mourned with us my father’s death.  They celebrated my son’s wedding, my  wedding.  Together we celebrated their kids’ ups and outs, Candy’s mother’s wedding.  Our lives were all intertwined in a glorious and loving way.

I worked for them until 1998 when I took a teaching sabbatical.  Even as I stopped working, Shirley stopped, and then Nellie, we continued to get together to celebrate our friendship by having summer potlucks at the park, Christmas dinners at the buffet. As time went on, our dinner gatherings became smaller.  Shirley passed in 2015; Art, her husband, the next year.  Nellie’s husband Bob and Bill’s health declined.  Bobby passed Christmas Day in 2018.  Candy would join us for lunch or dinners but Bill was too fragile to come along.

Yesterday our dear friend Bill passed away. I will miss his wicked teasing, his beautiful smile, his cranky voice that was meant to be obeyed. And his delightful laugh, his handsome face.  He and Candy are a blessing in my life and one of the best things to ever happen to me and to our little neighborhood.  And if they were still with us, Dad would tell me what a great guy Bill was, Mom would remind me that he was such a handsome man and they would also mourn his death.

Rest In Peace, my dear friend.  Know you are loved.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

smokin hot!

I was a junior in high school.  My boyfriend had just broken up with me and I wanted to make a great change in my life.  I thought maybe I was too much a "goody-two-shoes" and wanted to be more of a bad girl.  So I stole one of Mom's cigarettes--a filterless Pall Mall no less--and smoked it!  That'll show him I'm a bad girl!  No coughing.  No queazy stomach.  I was a natural.

And talk about a Bad Girl!  These ciggies were FILTERLESS!  I became good at tamping down the cig and spitting off that little bit of tobacco that wanted to be on my lips.  Oh yeah I was a. Bad. Girl.

I switched to filtered Kools when Mom did.  At 16, my choices of what I smoked pretty much depended on stealing my mother's brand. *singing* You're not smokin cool enough 'til you come up to Kool!

By a year later, I was buying my own.  Oh, still hiding them from my parents, but buying my own.  Marlboros were the youth brand of choice.  We still tamped them down tight but that was just to look cool.And that flip-top!  Very cool.

And talk about being cool, I smoked clove cigarettes when in college.  I felt so college-studentish. The scent of cloves alone was cool, like coffee shops were cool and poetry readings. I stopped smoking cloved cigarettes when I couldn't breathe well and was coughing up thick clovish phlegm.

The best part of smoking was the friends you can make with all those other smokers.  When I first started college, professors would actually smoke in the classroom.  Then the college moved smoking to the halls, to the out-of-doors, to eventually no smoking on campus.  I was teaching college when we hardy smokers would stand outside the building and talk about the cold winter air.  Then we became friends.  Then we hung out together when we weren't smoking.  Got to be great friends with some of my students that way.

I smoked for about 35 years and was up to about three packs of smokes a day.  Finding the Internet increased my smoking to three packs because I would sit in front of the computer screen for hours and hours and hours, smoking while chatting online.  I had once postponed a cigarette for about three months but was a pretty consistent smoker over those 35 years.  I liked smoking.  I liked the camaraderie that smoking brought.  And it was still, you, in my head anyway.

And then I just quit. Cold turkey. Quit. Why? No reason except it was time. Tough thing, quitting.  At first I would light a match, blow it out, and inhale the smoke HA!  I would say out loud, "I really want a smoke!" and move on.  I would say it because I just had to get that OUT instead of allowing it to fester and explode. I became that person at work who never left her office unless she had a class, a meeting or needed to get a people intake. I usually ate lunch at my desk. I gained weight, got into the Altoid thing--curiously strong mints were a nice substitute--and cut my hair.  Never have been sure why women cut their hair when they are going through stuff, but we do. Break up? Cut your hair. Quit smoking? Cut your hair.

I forgot how to argue. Previously, I was a very good person in an argument.  Smoking allowed me to think through what I was going to say.  Quit and every thought that ran through my head came out my mouth. There was no stopping that flow. At one point, my fairly new husband said, "I just want my wife back!"  Well, that never actually happened...but a new version of the same wife emerged. I'm okay now...usually.
I've been a former-smoker for 19 years now. I still miss the smell of fresh smoke. I miss the social aspect of chattering with smokers. Interestingly, when e-cigarettes came out, I wanted to try them...wasn't like really smoking, right? Still do if I think about them, even with all the horrible things happening to people who do use them...but glad I never did, never will.

I'm not quite as cool as I was back then, but cool enough.
And so it goes.