Limbo Land

A few weeks ago, after years of saying no to my dermatologist’s recommendation of a two week efudex treatment on my face and upper chest, I said yes.
It isn’t pretty or fun. And you don’t get a picture here. Look it up – effing efudex.
The fact that I couldn’t go outside made my world even worse. Yes, Dr. May, I know it’s for a good cause, fighing skin cancer and all. After all the skin cancer I’ve had, I’m ready to try something different. All the same, all I could think about was all the things I couldn’t do.
Since I couldn’t go outside anyway, I started on my planned home remodel project. Bathroom first, then bedroom, then the rest of the house. I painted the bathroom in shades of white and lavender, adding new window and shower curtain treatments and finished it off with artsy faceplates of irises and lillies.
Prettiest room in the house now. Here, you can have this picture.
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Next I started on my bedroom/office. You know the first step – clearing everything out. Paintings, books and journals before taking down the desk, bookcases and bed.
After going round and round with myself about whether to really clean out the stuff on my desk, or just procrastinate and put it in the basement to go through later, I decided to tackle now the stacks of journals, letters, and notes, transcribing them into computer files so I can throw out the journals themselves. I figure I won’t be really going anywhere for the next several months, so I’ve got plenty of time and I work on it every day as long as I can focus. When I can’t, I stop and write. Like this. Or I go read some more Moby Dick.
One thing I noticed while reading and transcribing is how much more emotional are the reading of words and lines – and between the lines – in the handwritten version vs type on a page. I actually paused to consider keeping the journals. No, I am not keeping them. Well, maybe bits of one or two of them. We’ll see.
It’s entertaining, discovering things I did years ago, some of which I’d completely forgotten about. Re-reading and transcribing notes written in fits of happiness, anger, love and despair, looking back on good times and terrible ones as well. Life. Nothing too extraordinary, really. Just life.
Sometimes I’ll throw in an addendum, with the current date. I’m thinking I have a few treasures here for various upcoming writing sessions of yarns and tales. That’s for you, Peggy.
Something like this note at the beginning of a month-long train trip across the country with my two boys, Rob and Tom when they were 11 and 8, 1979:
Set-up: We were visiting friends in L.A. (and going to Disneyland!), and while my friends went to work one day, we took a bus out to a little lake in some canyon somewhere or other.
The boys had a great time swimming, rolling down the grassy green hills and watching some guys with their sons running a remote control boat on the lake. Each time the boat would nosedive, one of the kids would paddle out on his little raft, retrieve the boat and they’d do it all over again. Everyone laughing and having a ball.
An ice cream truck came by, exciting the heck out of us. The truck driver, I suppose he thought we lived around there, asked Rob if he wanted a job helping on the ice cream truck. (What? – I ask myself now).
It was time to get back to Bill’s house, and we started our little trek to the bus stop. It was hot and sunny and we felt lucky to stumble upon a little market where we grabbed a couple of beers, crackers and soda pops.
Outside the little shop, we found this.
oldmailbox stamp machine
Now, there’s a little history for you. A stamp machine and a mailbox on the wall of the shop.
Just one of the unexpected and sweet conveniences that made our entire trip so enjoyable. And kept us, for the most part, in good spirits.
Okay, I’ll leave you here.
I’ve got more work to do. A lot more.

I Just Called…

“…To say…I love you…”

There it was again, playing on the radio as I drove my grandkids to school the other morning.

“Have you ever been to a funeral?” my 8-year old grandson asked as we drove past the cemetery. 

I’d just mentioned in passing, covering over the scary cemetary thinking, that I enjoy walking through cemeteries, listening to the quiet ones, reading headstones and sometimes making up my own stories of how some of those now dead people may have lived. 

“Yes, I have.” 

“Have you been to a LOT of funerals?”

“Well, let me see. There was my mom’s funeral, and my dad’s. Your Pop-Pop’s funeral. You were there, too.”

“I was? I don’t remember that at all.”

“You were pretty little then.”

A lot of silence coming from the back seat.

“And then there was your cousin Katie’s funeral.”

“I don’t remember that either.”

“Yeah, you were just a little guy. You wouldn’t remember. She was your mom’s age.

“She was!? How did she die?”

“She had a really bad sickness and she couldn’t get well. My best friend’s dad’s funeral – a long time ago – I was there for that one. That was even before your mom was born. Liz’s mom, and her dad, we were at their funerals. Oh, and your mom’s dad.”

Another long pause from the back. 

Slowly drawing out each word, he asked, “What kind of suicide did he use?”

A sigh and a think, how to say this to a little guy. “He hung himself.”

“Ohhh.”

We were both quiet then, in our own thoughts.

It got me to thinking. I hadn’t actually been to that many funerals in my several decades on earth. I can count them all on two hands. Had I forgotten? 

Few school friends have died that I know of. A few years back, a good school friend was actually dying in the nearby hospital as many of my school buddies and I held another class reunion at the Lake. Now THAT was sad, and felt really weird. Like how could we be having fun when he was dying? 

My brothers are still alive and well, and my Auntie. I thought back on the time I spent with my  favorite Uncle, Dad’s brother Ridgway, when he was dying, holding his warm hand in mine, sitting with him and humming a little “hush little baby” as he passed on. There was no service later.

Whenever Wonder’s song pops up on the radio, one thing comes to mind. A moment, really, more than thirty years ago. At home, taking care of my little guys. Mom had died a few months earlier and I was still processing all of that. Each day unfolded anew. 

Life is for the living. 

Life goes on.

The song, high on the charts then, popped up on the radio station I was listening to at home one day, the station where my husband was the local DeeJay, flipping albums all day long. We were living in Titusville PA then. Old oil town. Our home after New York City and before Richmond VA.

The phone rang. It was Matt.

“This is for you,” he told me. My heart fluttered. It still does, in a much different way now. Happiness mixed with the sad.

This past year has provided so many opportunities to pick up the phone and call someone we care about. Maybe we haven’t actually said those three little words, yet we know that’s why we’re talking. Talking over the sadness of it all, piping up about good things like our gardens, musing over how much we miss seeing each other, how the families are getting by, that beautiful loaf of bread we just baked, or the anger we feel at the injustices of the world. 

I called one of my best friends the other day. Friends since elementary school. We hadn’t connected in a while. Not all that unusual, but I sensed something was wrong. 

Her step-daughter answered. 

She told me her Dad, Lynda’s husband Michael, had just been released from the hospital, terminally ill, with hospice at the bedside. I’d known him over half my life. He was a good man, a loving partner and husband.

I called back the next day and chatted with Lynda. He’d died early that morning, with her and Michelle at his side, calm in his sleep.

She said that she’d started to pick up the phone so many times during the last couple months. 

“I just couldn’t. I knew I’d start crying and blubbering and didn’t want to do that to you.”

“I know…” I, myself, never can pick up the phone and call someone when I’m in the depths of despair.

This past pandemic year of grief and mourning for people I don’t even know, it’s been life changing. Twelve months of being home, being away from crowds and people I care about, has set me back in my socializing. 

I’m just now beginning to make plans, and I admit, they often fall through because some days I’m not really ready to go out.

 

It’s easier to just drive the kids to school, on past the cemetery.

Quiet. In my own thoughts. Wondering and remembering on I-just-called. Some days wondering who I’ll talk to next.

The sun is bright today, it’s warm outside, almost hot, my kayak is ready to go and I’m thinking ahead on good times to come. Time in the sun, in the gardens, at the water. Some days just me, and other times, hanging with friends and family. 

I think I’ll go cue up that sweet song, grab a cup of coffee and get started on that next loaf of sourdough.

Hey, Rob!

Today is my son’s birthday. My first born. We were living in Monterey back then, just up the street from the US Navy Language School. My husband Dave worked at a supermarket and attended junior college. We had a tiny duplex apartment close to the parks, Monterey Peninsula College and the sea.

It was a month after he was born, at Christmas time, that my parents, who’d been divorced several years, each came to visit. One came from his home in Brookings, Oregon, the other from her home in Carson City, Nevada. The weather was beautiful and sunny, just like today and Robbie was being loved over in his little bassinet out in the fresh air under a beautiful blue sky.

My husband Dave and I thought it a bit odd that Mom and Dad would both show up at the same time. We shirked it off. Afterall, Rob was their first grandson, why wouldn’t they show up at Thanksgiving time? We laughed even more when they disappeared overnight and showed up together the next morning. Just one of those funny stories that pops up around Rob’s life.

It was a happy time in life and the joy of my baby boy was over the moon. He was healthy, happy, growing, learning and always curious. We had good friends in our little complex and he had little buddies to keep him occupied, besides his doting mom and dad. He sat on my lap as we watched the moon landing on our great big entertainment console – with a wired remote control – and Walter Cronkite.

23843520_10212379765588324_1019133884274265689_nHis curiosity of the world got the best of me one day when I went into the house for just a few moments and came outside to find my little toddler nowhere to be found. I freaked out. Calling out, racing back and forth to the street and calling the police. I think that was one of the worst ten minutes of my life. Soon enough, a police cruiser pulled up to my house.

The Officer got out, opened the back door of his car and helped little Robbie out of the back seat. “We found him at the park. He was just playing there, all on his own. Now, you keep this little guy closer, huh?”

He’d just walked five blocks, crossing streets, safely it seems, all the way to the playground that we walked to regularly. He was a smarty pants, for sure. Knew how to get around even then.

I’m so proud of the man he’s become. An extraordinary Chef, a published author, a much respected and learned member of management in his career. He started on the ground and is pretty close to the top of that ladder. He’s part of a remarkable loving family that’s seen its share of grief in the past several years. He always gets back on top, bringing the rest of us with him. This day, with so much grief wearing us down, with so much love piling up, he’s a wonderful example of what a 53-year old man can be.

We have so much to be thankful for and sometime later today, I’ll make a brief stop by his house to pass on a little birthday love. This Thanksgiving, our big local family will not be sitting at the same table together. We all gave it a lot of thought, and just decided to be more safe than sorry.

It’ll be Thanksgiving dinner at Rob and Liz’s place (with Sami, Nicole & Ben), at Howie and Heather’s home (with little Vivi), and at Mollie and Matt’s house with Noah, Micah, Peyton, Brooklyn, my son Russ and me.

Tom, Rob’s younger brother, will be fixing Thanksgiving dinner at their dad’s house in Montana. Rob just left there a few days ago after a quick trip. Their stepmom Leona, suddently died (not covid related) and they each got themselves together as quickly as they could and are taking care of Dave now. They’ve really stepped up for their dad. No surprise there.

So even though we won’t all be at the same table tomorrow, or even at the same birthday cake today, we’re all together, grateful for today, for Rob and for the time we have ahead of us.

Happy Birthday to you my son. Looking forward to another meal we make together. Soon.

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No Need to Bow

I opened my email the other day, and courtesy of a meditation group I follow, I was given a task to do: for every letter of the alphabet, write down something that you are grateful for.

 

At first glance, I balked

What the heck my next thought was

Okay, let’s do this.

 

I don’t usually take orders from my email. However, after dealing with the remainder of my inbox and a few other tasks, I returned to make my list. It’s at the very end of this post. Before you read any further, you might want to make your own gratitude list. See what you find.

Not only did my A to Z list lay it all out in black and white, I was blanketed with that early morning peace I crave.

Awareness. First word.

In thinking on it, awareness has always been my road to truth and victory. Sometimes it takes me a while to find it. The awareness, the truth and the victory.

I ended up thinking back several years, just about this time of year, to a conversation with Bobby and Terry, brothers of one of my closest friends. We pretty much grew up with each other. A photograph of them sits on my desk. As usual, like it seems we always did, we were talking about life and different challenges we each were each facing.

We sat in the warm sunshine that poured into Terry’s itty-bitty cottage through the glass slider that opened up to a sparse meadow off the back deck. Bobby was perched near the fireplace and a wall full of long playing albums. Joni Mitchell, or maybe Joan Baez, someone like that, played in the background while we chilled.

Bobby the elder, always the one to keep us real, casually led our conversation with laughter, reminiscing, philosophy and strings of truth telling.

”Kathy Thomas,” he said to me. “You’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter. Every time life lets you down, you get right back up and do something different – and you always make it better. You really are the Queen of Reinvention.”

We all face challenges in life. If we’re lucky, and smart, we learn that it’s what we do about those holes in the road that makes the difference.

The positive spin I’m wishing to sell here is the awareness that there’s more to life than our negative experiences. Abandonment in its many forms, news of the day, covid, the death of a loved one. We cry, we sit, we mourn and we learn something.

With a fresh awareness, we can discover how we’re growing into the people we want to be. We really can get up, dust ourselves off, and make a new start of it. It doesn’t always happen overnight. Generally, it doesn’t. Honestly, who knows what’s around the bend?

One thing I do know, is that what’s next would never amount to planning for another defeat. Who does that? Plans for defeat? No one I know. We plan for victory, hopefully remembering that failing to plan is planning to fail.

Being aware of what’s around us, who’s in our world, and our actions in it can all lead to a better life. If we let it. Leaning on each other to remember that we’re valuable human beings is the gift that keeps on giving. And when we seemingly have no one to lean on, being our own best friend is truly the best gift we can give ourselves.

 

So simple, really. I don’t know what made me think I should write a whole paper on it.

 

With Bobby’s blessing

My crown still rocks on my head

Tilted yet gleaming.

 

Like I said, so much to be grateful for. 

 

 

awareness babies covid destiny elephants fun gardens hijinks islands jetties kids love me nuts oats painting questions roses sandwiches tenderness undoing victory wishes xanax youth zoos

 

You may wonder why covid is on my gratitude list. The past several months have taught me so much, reminded me over and over again of what is important in life. Love, life, and a little laughter, even while longing for a better day.

 

 

 

 

I Know a Few Things

You know how sometimes you’re in a rut and you don’t even see it? Until you see it?

That’s my pandemic rut. It started all the way back in January and here it is October. When it all started, I never dreamed it would be NINE WHOLE MONTHS ALREADY. I know I’m not the only one. I know.

Lucky for me, the sun is still shining hot and I can get out when I wish. That wasn’t the case for much of the time these many months. Maybe you know what I’m talking about. If it wasn’t covid, it was rain, or fire, or smoke, or everything closed, and more covid. Wear a mask, yes, I wear a mask. I scuttled my travel plans before the president even knew what was happening. Along with the virus’s appearance, seeing a few good friends in far away places came to a screeching halt. That was sad. It still is.

Know what else? I’ve been reading more poetry than ever in my life, sitting still with joy in the black and white stanzas. I don’t need the sad and angry ones, melancholy, perhaps, I can take a few of them. And then there’s Haiku. Another new interest. As much as I like to think I’m a writer, I never did learn what haiku was until last week. Now I’m a fan, easy to please, I guess. Here, I’ll put one together for you right now.

Sitting at my desk

I think I am a writer

Do I believe me?

The stereo plays some light acoustic guitar and if I were to get up and walk into the living room, I’d see the most beautiful golden and emerald blue waves crashing on the shore of the video. It’s broken the monotony of my thoughts.

And right in front of me, out the window at my desk, are gardens full of joy and luscious growth. Sun and shade mixes it up. A new winter garden competes with my time in the weeds under the old roses.

It’s not like I wasn’t enjoying pulling weeds just now, because I was. I really was. It’s not because I didn’t enjoy a little family time this morning with the little baby next door; that was sweet. It’s not like I didn’t enjoy laughing with my daughter over politics and coffee. But left on my own, I can easily go back to the depths of what? Armageddon? No, that’s not it. It’s more like what the hell?

I know a few things. I know how to read a map. I know how to write in cursive. I know how to play the piano – and chess. I know what to do with eggnog. It’s not just the things I know that keep me going. I know how to write; I’m a member of an excellent writing group, that must count for something. With my memory recently, even one word can be a fleeting thought at the most inconvenient times.

No, it’s spirit that fills my heart and soul with encouragement and peace. It lazes with the pictures in my memories, the smiles around me in my dreams. My heart, you know it opens to the sound of music, whether it’s classical, jazz or rock’n’roll. Springsteen usually wins.

My intent today, the plan I admitted to Mollie is to stay away from the news. A look at what’s happening in the morning, a quick peek, and go check again tonight. But, please, Kathy, stay away. You have so many other things worthy of your attention. Reading on gardening, lotions and potions, history, CBD/THC, writing & writers, etc.

Stay away from NPR on the radio. News shows on the TV. All the newsy online sources.

So far, in my opinion, today I sat too long in front of the TV with the Nevada Clark County Elections Commissioner, for no good reason at all. Except that I was at Mollie’s and I couldn’t keep my eyes off Noah – his love squeezes my heart every single time he’s around. He and Vivi, our newest family babies. These babies have certainly made the covid time easier.

So, here it is, 1 o’clock, and instead of hours, I’ve only spent minutes in the news. I feel better.

And I feel like I’m rambling. Am I rambling?

I know I’m getting anxious to get back out to the weeds under the rose bushes. When I came in the house to get a drink of water, as I was walking back outdoors, I was pulled by something deep inside to take my laptop to my desk and write. Write something. Anything. Something not totally negative.

The greens await me

And there’s the red hummingbird

Seeking me out.

Russell Alvin Thomas

Born May 4, 1918, Dad was the youngest of three boys. He was a bit of a rake, he said. He was certainly a story teller. We never knew what to believe. Did he and his brothers really get sent home by the cops when they climbed up the old windmill at Ocean Beach? Did he really learn to swim when his brothers threw him off a pier into San Francisco Bay? And years later, did he really go on to swim across the bay from Alameda to San Francisco? He says he was one of the first to walk across the newly opened Golden Gate Bridge.

I could tell you a lot of stories about my dad. Some I really don’t care to tell, and some you would probably rather not hear about. But this first one is a true story.

Dad served as a civilian contractor on Wake Island during WWII. Not for long, though. He arrived on Wake mid-November and was just getting the lay of the land when the island was surprisingly attacked by the Japanese, just hours after Pearl Harbor’s bombing.

He’d been hired and shipped there by general projects contractor Morrison-Knudsen. He was one of a thousand strong army of builders, diggers, plumbers and other civilians  stationed on Wake. They supported and worked alongside 450 U.S. Marines preparing a workable air base for the U.S. military.

This small band of Marine and civilian warriors resisted their attackers with no re-enforcements through 16 days of combat against a much stronger enemy force. No one was exempt in joining the shooting and grenade launching in any way they could. Eventually, though, the commanding officers walked out the white flag.

After days of threats and beatings by their captors, Dad and most of the men at Wake, dressed in their light-weight uniforms, walked across a plank into a dark and dank ship. They left that sandy and sweltering island and moved into a brutal life in filthy prisoner-of-war camps. The ones who didn’t die spent the rest of the war being bullied and tortured by their captors.

If you want to know more, you can take a peek here: Battle of Wake Island. For an in-depth read, I highly recommend Bonita Gilbert’s excellent book, The Epic Saga of the Civilian Contractors and Marines of Wake Island in World War II. Bonnie’s dad was also on Wake Island. She spent a great deal of time over the years getting to know many of the vets, including Dad. Their stories are in her book.

Decades later, after thousands of civilians like Dad petitioned the U.S Gov’t. to be recognized for their part in the war, Dad was happy, proud and financially relieved to be handed lifelong veterans benefits, an Honorable Discharge and three shiny medals. 

He was 27 when he came home from war, when he met my mom – a candy-striper in the hospital he landed in – and they soon married. My brothers and I came along a few years later. Growing up in a working class family, much of the time we were on the economic downward slant of the road. Dad was mostly self-employed; money was a kind of what-if thing. When Mom worked, her earnings sustained us.

He was a salesman, always selling something. One of those guys. Sometimes it was insurance, or maybe cemetery plots. Yeah, I know; go ahead and laugh. But mostly I remember he was the cook in the family. He was a carpenter, a painter, a plumber and all around handy man. Later in life, he built fishing boats. He fished for a living. He could fix anything – one way or another. I don’t know if he ever read a manual in his life.

For some reason, I like to think I learned how to do certain things from my dad. I don’t really remember him teaching me – I guess I just watched, but I can pretty much troubleshoot any minor electrical problems at home. I can usually solve most plumbing challenges, and I can design and build something from nothing. I’m lucky to be able to string a few words together into my own stories, and I enjoy putting paint to canvas, or walls. I feel like I’ve got a good eye for photography and the arts, and for me, that’s a plus.

I know my brothers can do all of this as well. Maybe everyone in the world can. But I like to think we got it from Dad.

He died back in 2013, so he’s not around for a tasty birthday cake, candles and a card.

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me.”

I read that Albert Einstein wrote that in a condolence letter upon the death of his close IMG_6583friend, Michele Besso, in 1955. “That signifies nothing,” he said. “For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

I’m with Al. And with the help of my fine friend Tom John Flynn, I’ve learned I can have a nice little chat with Dad now and then, wherever he is, even if it’s only in my heart and soul. Or in the back yard.

 

Happy Birthday Dad.

 

 

May Day

May Day. I opened my eyes, rolled over and looked out the window. A couple of birds hopped through the arbor grapevines into the feeder. May Day thoughts as a child came to me, rhyming songs and dancing around some May Pole (or maybe a tether ball pole),  images of little children tossing flowers in the air.

I felt my body and brain tense up as my mind switched places to the workers of the world – this May Day. I could almost hear my heart aching.

Everything in my home is here because of a worker somewhere. Everything I listen to comes from a worker. The books I read and the paintings that surround me. Everything on the telly is there because workers figured out how to get it there. My clothes in a dresser made by workers, the socks on my feet keeping my toes warm, the streets of my town, the cell towers, the food on my breakfast table, the tea in my cup, the laptop on which I write. The grape arbor and the backyard fence. The garden seeds that come in those bright little packets. Everything.

There are new protests around the world today, pleading for the health and safety of our fellow world humans. In Covid time. Workers out in force behind (working) police lines, red flags waving, bullhorns blaring and Personal Protective Equipment six feet apart.

But what can I do?

I can honor the workers of the world, those men and women who walk out their door every single day to help others, no matter the weather, no matter this Covid time. I can send money to support a workers group. I can buy a beautiful new painting from artiste/worker Eduardo Guzman. I can do my own yardwork in the weeds under a warm sun.

I can meditate on life in our world.

And in my daughter’s house next-door, where she tasks her three kids in their schooling and cares for that scrumptious little 3-month old, while her essential worker husband is out on the road, I can sweep the floor, wash a few dishes, do a load of laundry, and snuggle a wee bairn.

The sun will be out until it’s not.

From me to you – take care, be well, be safe. And thank a worker somewhere somehow. Keep them in your heart. Keep you in your heart and I will do the same.

https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/may-day-protests-during-a-pandemic-idUSRTX7GQP2

 

It Was a Night

 

On any given morning, I roll out of bed after listening to some KQED Radio/NPR Morning Edition. One particular morning, the “fundraising drive” commenced. Yeah, you know the one.

I listened as someone hawked Paul Anka tickets once, and then a few days later, I heard it again. That time I decided we’re going to see Paul Anka. Mollie and I both quite often have the Paul Anka Pandora station on, so I was pretty sure she’d go with me.

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The show started with a long set of instrumentals, no Anka on the stage. When he finally emerged, he didn’t come out from behind the stage. No, he came in, escorted by a couple of big body-guards, from the up-front exit doors. He walked in slowly, shaking hands, touching the shoulders of those close to him, and allowing his fans to get up close and personal with him.

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“Mom, these old women are really rude.” And she was right – there they were (not us!) swooning, half-drunk or overly medicated – they were everywhere. My sweet daughter was at least 35 years younger than anyone else there. I’m pretty sure she was the only one of her kind. The two of us grinned happily as we we showered by his amazing voice cranking out the tunes.

fullsizeoutput_df89The San Jose Civic Center was set up in a big band venue, complete with an extraordinary sax player, John Cross, musical director of Anka’s orchestra for many, many years. Indeed, the entire orchestra rocked along with Anka. I don’t know what kind of set-up I expected, but the big-band one was perfect.

Anka was my teenage idol as a youngster, along with Ricky Nelson, and then of course the Beatles and Elvis. But Anka was really the one and I still love his music. He sang hit after hit, his voice clear and strong, amazing range able to hit every note. Wow! He told funny jokes and crazy tales during his time with us. No intermission, a small audience, one that was full of the people who really wanted to be in the same room with Paul Anka.

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He never seemed to be in a hurry.

“I got lucky as a kid. I was writing kids’ songs. I was hopefully writing the way every teenager thought, how they all felt in that world.” He smiled when he spoke of Annette, you know, Funicello. He reminisced on American Bandstand. He spoke fondly of the great ones who died much too young.

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He laughed as he told us the first time he met Frank Sinatra. “Mr. Sinatra.” Anka was living in New York. He got a phone call one day from ‘a guy’ telling him that Mr. Sinatra wanted to meet with him.

Anka got on a plane, following directions, and he flew out to Las Vegas, where he was met at the hotel by Sinatra’s guy. “Take off your clothes and get into this robe.”

Everyone in the audience laughed, as you can imagine.

His escort led him to the steam room and slowly pulled the door wide open.

“And sitting there was Sammy Davis…and Dean Martin..and Frank Sinatra – all naked looking up at me!”

He spoke about how much he learned about the business during the years he was with the Rat Pack. And then about the time he was 28 years old, he met up with Sinatra in Florida, in Miami Beach.

“Sinatra told me he was quitting show business and he was going to do one more album. And would I write him a song? I was shocked, we were all shocked – quitting the business? And he did leave, but he came back later!”

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“I had never written for him. He had asked me, but I was scared to death.”

Some time went by, Anka was living and working in the big apple, and as he says, he kept getting this tune in his head, the song swirled around and then boom! he wrote it in six hours. He hopped a plane out to Vegas and gave it to Frank.

“I was old enough at 28 to write it, but I was too young to sing it. You needed someone of Mr. Sinatra’s vintage to sing that one.”

During the show, he wandered down a few times and those “rude women” would mob him. I tried once, but tried too late and never got close. But we did get this:

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He told us his friends often ask him why he keeps doing these show; he doesn’t have to, at 78 years old.

“I love doing this. I don’t have a job, I have something that keeps me alive, along with the love of my family and friends. I take care of myself, I exercise, I eat well, most of the time. I diet! Oh, do I diet! I’ve been on Jenny Craig more times than Mr. Craig!”

I saw Anka twice in my twenties. I was surprised then how short he was – shorter than me! This time, I felt like I was watching a friend on stage. The memories the songs brought to me – the sad and happy times of my life.

My KQED sustaining member contribution is larger now, and so is the happy place in my heart.

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Any Day on the Water is a Good Day on the Water

On Mother’s Day a few years ago, my kids all chipped in to surprise me with a tandem kayak; it was just what I wanted. I figured I could take the grandkids out in it. It eventually turned out to be a little more than I really wanted to handle. The weight and unwieldiness became a barrier to my paddling and I quit taking it out, even though I loved each and every time I was in the water. I decided it was time to get my beloved kayak a new owner – and then look for something different for me.

So I sold it to Kevin. A friend of mine, he lives on a boat, a boat quite a bit bigger than a kayak. And he has a kayak as well – a white sit-on-top that’s all decked out with bunch of electronic something or others for some reason or another that I don’t understand.

But my Pemlico Wilderness Systems kayak is pretty sweet and he wanted it. Late in the morning this past weekend, he came by with his friend Ann. I like her; we’d met when she and Kevin helped me to evacuate a bunch of my valuables during the Napa fires in 2017.

My son-in-law Matt helped Kevin to get the kayak up on Kevin’s pick-up truck racks and he and Ann took it to his place. It was a great day for kayaking (every day’s a great day for kayaking), Ann had to go to work, but Kevin and I didn’t, so I met him at the docks and we set out for an afternoon on the water outside Benicia’s boat harbor. It was a bit breezy, but wind is just air, right? No matter how the flag is uplifted.

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Kevin’s back porch

Kevin pointed out a small rock island outside the harbor – that was our destination. Our trip initially began with me paddling Kevin’s “sit on top” kayak, with Kevin in my – now his – kayak. I paddled alongside, or behind, taking direction in a new body of water, and we headed out. It turned out the wind was roaring in from San Pablo Bay, and this girl was making no headway at all.

I could laugh all right, but paddling in place was not really what I had in mind. Kevin had a new plan. We’d each paddle close to the edge of the harbor’s retaining wall and pull into the little beach nearby. A beach, by the way, in name only. It’s mainly covered with old wood sediment from a long gone mill. The only sand is like quicksand. Seriously.

After we pulled in, I got out of the sit-on-top, settled into the bow seat of the tandem while Kevin reached around to tie the sit-on-top to the tandem, and we towed it while paddling off on our grand adventure. Great idea! Two power paddlers in the same boat.

Now we were in business. The wind still pushed at us, but we were better. We would prevail. Not a moment to spare for taking pictures however. I’d forgotten to put the fully charged battery back into my good camera, so didn’t have it with me anyway. And, I was a little leary taking it out on the boat with no good dry-bag on me.

We made good time to the little rock island, guiding the nose of the kayak onto shore amidst assorted rocks and piles of boulders, covered with slippery, slimy green algae. You know the kind.

“No, you get out first,” I replied to Kevin’s query whether I was ready to get myself out of the boat. He’s an expert at getting in and out of kayaks, and I’m nowhere near excellently experienced, much less an expert. So he could get out first. And give me a gratefull pull up assist as well.

fullsizeoutput_d5e9I had the tie-line in hand and offered to wrap it around and and tie it onto a 10″ diameter hanging piece of driftwood stump that was protruding from the shore right in my face.

“Like this?” I asked.

“Yeah, that log ain’t going anywhere. That’s great.” he said.

“Okay,” I replied somewhat hesitantly, grimicing to myself, not really sure about it. But I figured Kevin’s the expert, not me, so I shrugged it all off, chuckling and all. 

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We hiked up a dry, steep short slope of rocks, sand, dried grass and weeds to the top of the isle. Both of us being the artsy-fartsy types, we commented on and admired the various shades of tan and brown and yellow in the rocks, the golden tree pollen, while attempting to come up with the proper names of plants, birds and trees right there in front of us. We scoffed heartily at the few-thousand-tons-of-deadweight oil tanker sailing out to the Pacific, tug boat in tow.

The mountain top was covered with evidence of previous explorers who’d actually built a tree house. A poor attempt, I might add, but it did have a nice wide piece of lumber laying across two branches. On the ground were three windward walls nailed together and an open lanai, if you want to call it that. It was pretty much a mess. We found their hammer and nails left inside, so maybe they had more improvements in mind for future visits. Or else they fled for their lives from a giant hungry sea-monster, never to be seen again.

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Anyway, the outer wall to the north had a few wide planks of lumber on which we could sit. Settle in we did. With a little chilled white wine, a bunch of cheap snacks and a little smoke, the chit-chat commenced. It had been a while since we’d had a good visit, and we had a lot of catching up to do.

We used to work together at Napa State Hospital, so that topic always comes up. We’re both glad to not be working there anymore. We reminisce on a few colleagues and wish the ones still working to be the safest they can be. We laughed and reminded each other of the antics of some of our favorite crazy patients. We talked about various friends, also former employees, who are as happy as we are to be out of that grossly mismanaged hellhole.

Any successful day on the river with friends provides plenty of time to cover lots of territory. We discussed conspiracy theories – large and small – real or unreal. Death and dying and communicating with spirits who’ve passed on. We shared talk of our day to day living and the people in it. We commiserated on and celebrated our lives on earth, in America, in our neighborhoods, and the many ways Kevin’s found, after a few hardships of his own, similar to all of ours, to help many people down on their luck right there at the edge of their world.

fullsizeoutput_d5a5We watched sea-birds “cruising for burgers.” My friend Cristy taught me all about birds cruising for burgers; I think it was in the wilds of West Virginia, or maybe Austin TX.  Or was it NYC? It was a long time ago, I don’t remember.

Kevin pointed out a U.S. Coast and Geodedic Survey Topographic Station metal tag drilled into the top of a rock, complete with notification of the threat of fine or imprisonment  for disturbing the darn thing. WTH?

 

The wind had died down a bit and Kevin decided after a while to go check on the boats we’d left tied in the rocks. He just wanted to see that all was well. What he discovered was an empty beach where we’d left the kayaks. He quickly scuttled around to locate them at the base of the isle. Thank goodness they had not floated completely away but had just moved with the wind clear around the back of the island. The first thing he noticed, after the kayaks, was a single Herman’s gull hovering on the wind currents 20 feet above the kayaks. Laughing like he was the instigator or something. Kevin started laughing with him.

He couldn’t tell for sure if the whole thing was so hysterical because he was lightly toasted from the green bud we’d had, or something else, but it sure seemed that the gull was actually laughing like a child who’d played a joke on a parent. The more the gull laughed, the harder Kevin laughed, making it treacherous to keep his footing down the steep embankment towards the water. He looked up at the bird, yelling out, “Oh, you think that’s funny, huh!?”

The crazy bird was laughing too hard not to be convincing. On an island normally covered in birds, it was odd to see a single solitary bird keeping eyes on our lost kayaks while the other birds were nowhere to be found…as if they too were part of the joke, but had no faith in Kevin’s sense of humor and so had flown to some hideout instead of staying to see what happened. Lol. Pirate gulls, no doubt.

Completely ignorant of this escapade, I heard my name being called from a ways behind me – definitely not where we’d left the boats. Thank goodness he caught those little rascally boats. It could have been a long swim for us. A difficult swim as well, because–of course–our PDFs were in the boats.

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After getting the boats back to where they belonged, Kevin spied a beautiful and extremely heavy piece of driftwood. He dragged, pushed and pulled it up to our topmost lookout and proceeded to wonder how to display the darn thing.

After a bit of discussion, and a little dancing around about which end was the top, which was the bottom, and all the aspects of this fine piece of nature’s art, we finally got it in place.

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The last thing we did before heading out was to shore up this new piece of art that now sits next to the treehouse. With the aid of a few pieces of lumber and other scrap wood–voila!

The wind had died down, we headed out and had a fine paddle back in the Pemlico (which I miss already) to the docks. No better way to spend a long afternoon than talking about life and our parts in in while hanging out at the water’s edge. 

So what’s next?

I get to go to the Raiders training camp! Yippee!

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“Grandma! Grandma!”

Today is one of those memorable “Moments in History.” Something like the ones they write about in your local newspaper.
On this date:
800px-Custer_Bvt_MG_Geo_A_1865_LC-BH831-365-cropIn 1876, Lt. Col. Colonel George A Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana.
Ninety-one years later, in 1967, the Beatles performed and recorded their new song “All You Need is Love” during the closing segment of “Our World,” the first-ever live international telecast which was carried by satellite from 14 countries.
In 1973, former White House Counsel John W. Dean began testifying before the Senate Watergate Committee, implicating top administration officials, including President Richard Nixon as well as himself, in the Watergate scandal and cover-up.
In 1986, a deeply personal moment in history, Mom died.
My little boys and I had been in Carson City for a couple of weeks, helping Mom to pack up her stuff for the move to our home in Pennsylvania. On this particular day, I’d taken Howie (5-years old) and Rusty (18-months old) to the library to pick up a couple books on caring for emphysema patients. Mom wasn’t doing well and after several invites to come live with us, she’d finally agreed to do so. My husband Matt was home working as a DJ in the local Titusville radio station.
I returned to Mom’s apartment with the little guys, all excited. Howie rushed out in front of me, happily calling out, “Grandma! Grandma!” and before I could get inside the doorway, he came back to me, a bewidered look on his little face. “Grandma’s in the kitchen – she’s laying on the floor.”
Holding Rusty in my right arm, I reached out with my left to Howie’s to walk around the corner into the kitchen.
Like all of us, Mom had a few habits. One of them was to watch her soaps – General Hospital was one – every weekday afternoon. Each time the first commercial came around, she’d get up to make herself a vodka and 7. I looked at the glass of ice on the counter. The 7-up can was open and abandoned.
I put Rusty down, checked Mom, and trembling, walked with over to the couch where I held the boys tight on my lap. I told them how Grandma Mollie had been really sick and her heart just couldn’t work anymore. I settled them in the other room and began to make phone calls. My voice shook with emotion. I cried. I called her best friend in town. I called 9-1-1. Or was it the Sheriff’s Office? I don’t remember.
I called Mike and Fred. I called Dad in Oregon, and Aunt Marne, and on and on and on. It was a terrible no-good day. I weirdly remember thinking at the time of Jackie Kennedy and how she had to be so strong for her kids, and that I had to do the same. Isn’t that weird?
We all got together in Carson City, we had a service. Fred, Mike, the boys and I took a short drive around Tahoe before we said our goodbyes.

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I miss her so much. She’s missed so much. She was only 66. So many milestones in life, in her family, that she missed.
She had a difficult life. She had a good life, much of it a happy life. The kind of life we all have. Good times. Bad times. Sad times. Wonderful times. Momentous times.
Fred reminded my recently, when I was with him in Colorado, that he’d introduced Mom to pot. We were cracking up. When I visited her in ’79, she’d taken out her little stash and whispered to me (there was no one in the room but us), “Fred gave this to me.” Cracked me up. Still cracks me up.
I’ve thought for a long time that I must have raised my own kids right ’cause they bring me weed. Did we start a family tradition and not even know about it?
In the end, she just couldn’t give up those damn cigarettes. Her last months of life revolved around an oxygen tube in her nostrils. She didn’t sleep well, she didn’t eat a lot. She wouldn’t go out for a walk.
She’d periodically leave the O2 tank, the hose laying over the arm of her recliner and go have a smoke. It was a terrible business – the one thing she couldn’t quit.
I feel her presence today, as I do every day. I felt it when I was out in the garden before sitting down to write.
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Tonight I’m joining a tour of local houses with a history of ghost inhabitants. She lived in Napa when she was a girl. Maybe she’ll reach out to me!

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Tom, Howie, Mom, Rusty, me, Uncle Charles. June 1986

This photo was taken days before she died. We’d taken a road trip to the bay area to say goodbyes before heading off to Pennsylvania.
I love you, Mom. We all do.