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Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Day at The Cottage Gallery

Dennie Hahn couldn’t have picked a better place to open her art gallery. Los Rios Street in San Juan Capistrano, California snuggles up to the railroad track lending its peaceful old worldliness to the frequent clang of warning bells and noisy entrance and exit of the Surfliner train and its Metro cousins. An occasional car passes through carefully, a delivery truck or the U.S. Mail wagon. No vehicle is allowed to stay except maybe a bicycle hugging a picket fence or a baby carriage or tricycle with its family. People stroll down the middle of this narrow street as if they own it, and they do. 

From the 1800’s these little houses have survived since their first resident families gave way to the coffee shop, the outdoor restaurants, the tea room and gift shops. The street needed an art gallery and close to a hundred a day are drawn in to this one. Other quaint shops and restaurants, all carefully restored modest dwellings with old-fashioned gardens of hollyhocks, geraniums, jasmine and morning glorys, surprise those who come to this famous old mission town where "The Swallows Come Back to Capistrano." Only the trees could tell of the history here but they don’t. One has to dig to find it.
Sufficient to most is the peaceful awe of Los Rios Street, and I sit enjoying it on a wicker chair on the front porch of the gallery taking in the beauty and wonder of the place while people come and go exchanging greetings. Often a husband or two will hang around the little garden behind the picket fence out by the front gate while the women go in, but soon there will be an urgent call from the front door. “Come in here, Hank, you’ve got to see this!”

 The gallery truly is a perfect asset to Los Rios Street. Its thirty plus artists of various mediums quietly draw a hushed “Wow!” from the lips of even the men who have reluctantly come in. Dennie’s standards are high and her presentation of each artist, including herself, is perfect. The variety of paintings, sculpture, glasswork, jewelry, photography, silk screen artists, and even vintage caps is so beautifully featured in these rooms and even outside this little house, one could stay for hours taking it all in. Often other artists will stop by to set up their easels and paint in its garden. Or a Gallery class will take place under the tall trees.

The Gallery artists themselves take turns managing the place for a day or two or three a month. When I come with my daughter, Robin, I sit out on the porch and work on my latest piece of clay sculpture, faces and heads of people out of the past. Today I am not sculpting but rather writing this blog. The Cottage Gallery is new and I want to tell about it but am searching for words to do it justice. 

As I sit here with my white hair, long skirt and grandmotherly look, I probably fit the scene. And I do feel perfectly at home. If one or two want to they can join me to enjoy this front porch perch, visit a while or find another quiet place in the garden out in back or the patio on the side. It’s entertainment in itself to drink in the serenity here punctuated by the frequent trains that plow through on their way up and down the coast. 

The next time you want to get away from it all and step into a small wonder-world, come along and join us at The Cottage Gallery. You too will be quietly wowed!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Words Only Friendship

His name is Fredric Klees. I’ve known him for years through his book, The Round of the Year. I can’t remember if I just stumbled on the book while browsing through some library shelves or if someone recommended it to me. It’s an almanac of a year in his life when he tried to find at least one flower in bloom every day. In Pennsylvania that would not be easy.

Some entries are so brief as to be one or two liners, but others stretch over a page or two. What intrigues me is that I got to know him (and even maybe fall a bit in love with him) though I never saw a picture of him. He wrote rarely about his occupation, (professor at Swarthmore College), his students, his friends or relatives, his marital history and such. Obviously, he loved nature and meant to share that interest, but his personal life rides quietly in the back seat. And I’m not one to pry, even on Google.

He had a little stone house beside a waterfall, which he portrayed in delicate pen and ink on the book cover, and he spoke of the weather, wildlife, and occasional visits to his stepmother’s little farm within a few hours' drive from him. He was obviously fond of her but there’s no mention of his own mother. His father, the lone parent in his childhood, is spoken of fondly with a few flash-backs but personal references seem carefully edited. Is that the way of the Pennsylvania Dutch? There is no picture of Fredric Klees on the book jacket. In my mind’s eye the man is portrayed not in the flesh but in his words, his interests, the occasional betrayal of a gentle man content with a bachelor life and glad to share his interest in flowers and nature in his book.  

There is one longer entry of a day on a walk with a young woman into the woods and their discovery of an old abandoned house. Without saying as much you can sense his feelings for her but that, the only hint of a possible love interest, was left hanging in the air. Who knows what became of her? I wish I could find a biographical reference somewhere to satisfy my curiosity. On the other hand I’d rather not. There’s just enough of him in the book and by reading along with him through the year, one day at a time. I’ve done this two or three times, and he’s become a friend to me, though I am unknown to him.

Most Fridays I’d be getting ready to leave now for the Senior Center to play bridge. Ir's about a mile or so up the street Today the whole building was taken over by some school to offer classes in art so I’m at home alone. When I came across this book on the shelf next to my bed I decided to get it out again. Since it was copyrighted in 1963 I’d guess he wrote it in ’62. 

He begins his entry with “A perfect day with a flawless sky of jay blue. The air crisp and refreshing, the sun just warm enough to be pleasant on the back. ...I drove out into the country...and then down to Brandywine, where I saw a white heron intent on fish. There was goldenrod everywhere and wild asters, masses of pale blue.” 

Couldn’t you just see yourself in the passenger seat?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Intoxication of Joy That Sticks

It’s a clear and sunny afternoon and I’m feeling high as a kite. Not from the ice water I’ve been drinking or any other kind of drink. This feeling must be coming from a mixture of things. One is the music I’m playing as I write. It’s Western country and some other numbers I’m especially fond of like Skylark and Speak Low. And this one - Sixteen Tons! Boz Scaggs sings it just right. I can hardly sit here. I want to dance! Even Tommy, my canary, has joined in, proving he's a better and louder songster!

Another reason I’m feeling this way may be because of the new arrangement of my desk area. Now I can look out on the little creek and foliage and flowers around it beneath the tall pine trees as I write. Those of my sort know the excitement that can be derived from moving furniture. After the job is done, of course.

My high could be coming from the fact that I just finished painting my latest sculpture. He’s a quirky man wearing a feather in his cap and a smile that is so fetching he’s got me smiling too. I can’t take the look off my face and he surely can’t take it off his! I painted him gray to look like the raw clay he came from. He’s one of the”Old Souls” who come so effortlessly out of lumps of clay for me that I can’t take an ounce of credit for them. I love them all! The Garden Gallery sold one the other day. My first sale. Someone was willing to write a check for $85. to take little “Sister Carrie” home. As pleased as I am for the fact that she’s found a loving home, I’m sad too to think I’d  sell her at any price. It seems almost sacrilegious. 

Another reason I’m feeling so exhilarated is that Katie, my live-in granddaughter, has found an artistic outlet too. She’s doing some calligraphy for a neighbor, copying well-wishers‘ notes on the mat of a picture of their wedding portrait. She has a unique style of penmanship that she's hoping might give her a little side business of her own. It’s so good to see Katie eager to get home from her new job to work on her art. A new job she likes, and now this too! And never far from her thoughts is the number of days when Jeff, her new husband will be coming home! The number is growing shorter all the time. It’s a happy household we share these days!

I think everyone has within him or her an artistic talent or some passion to feed the soul, and when they find it they’ll float ten feet high. If they’ve known the happiness of a deep love for one to call their own, then, then I think they’ve glimpsed God! When we can embrace all mankind in love, then, then, we may get more than a glimpse! 

Dear Readers, I hope you're feeling high today too!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Who's the Boss Here Anyway?

What day of the week is this? What do you want for breakfast? What will you wear today? What appointments are on your calendar? If you can stay at home what will you do at home?

In that order these are the questions I ask myself as I get up in the morning. I’m blessed, I know, not to be readying myself to go to work for someone else. What I find frustrating is the fact that I work, nevertheless, for someone. Me. I’m my own boss. And I’m my own employee. Because I’ve been free to choose between these most of my life it’s been a continuous see-saw deciding between the two positions. I never know which one will weigh the most. And here I am in my late eighties and still having to come to grips with it.

Outside of my own home I have the luxury of being excused from participation in work. People don’t expect a lot from the elderly. You just get admired, not for the things you do, but for the fact that you’re still around, still looking quite good. The walking cane, I’ve found, gives you added deference. Carry it as an ornament, not as a necessity. Walk erect and briskly and you get the benefit of both respect and admiration. Dress with imagination, wear make-up in moderation, comb your hair in an easy style suited to you, and you’ve got it made.

There is, though, this thing called self-satisfaction. I’ve read that we’re only deeply satisfied when we can feel some conscious worth in what we are and what we do. So, there’s the rub. 

The Bible says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” 1st Corinthians 14:40  Ok, I say to myself, but what is the definition of order? My dictionary says, “A state in which everything is in its appropriate place. And “decently?” An “acceptable standard.” 

My boss-self and employee-self begin immediately to see-saw. Employee-self, looks for a loophole. Ah ha! That word “acceptable.” An acceptable standard to whom? Right there the see-saw starts moving faster. My boss, the strict and conscientious side of me, wants to see her surroundings in perfect order. The employee me is more interested in getting the job done so things look good, and the standard of that depends on who’s coming to my house to see. Will they be perfectionists? If I expect no one, my “standard” goes down like Newton’s apple. I can excuse myself big time when I find something more fun to do. Then I brush aside the boss of me, let loose the employee, and I’m out the door again; to heck with other people’s standards! 

I blame my mother for being this way. She was particular about housekeeping. As soon as I was old enough to wield a polishing rag and use it to dust furniture I was expected to make things shine and until they did I could not go out to play. She set such a high standard on housekeeping that even today, seventy-some years later, the boss in me expects that high standard and the child in me rebels.

Crazy, isn’t it? I’ve even unearthed past resentments against other perfectionists, like the girl, Georgia, who came to our town when we were sophomores in high school. She was the one who got a straight A or A+ in every class and was determined to end up as valedictorian at graduation time. She did, of course. I suppose I’d had it in mind myself deep down but I gave up striving for top grades and settled back into an “acceptable standard” to myself rather than trying to beat Georgia. I even prided myself in not letting pride drive me into competition. I was fifth in a class of 30. Ever since I’ve consciously muted the perfectionist me and settled for the good enough.

Funny how things like that come to the surface when you’re in your senior senior years, if (and “if” is a big word!) you stop to think about them at all.

I’d thought to stay home and clean house today but I got an offer to go out with my daughter. A car trip to a near-by town, maybe a lunch out too. A Goldilocks day, neither too warm or too cold. How could I say no? How could I side with my boss? I’m a free soul. And I am letting the employee go. Whoopee! I’m out the door!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Conjecture, Invention or Revelation?

“Oh, Joycie, you’re a dreamer!” I was about ten then and had discovered Aunt Jenny’s True Life Story, a serial radio program. I forget what time of day it came on but there was a spell one summer when I made it a point to sit down in the living room and listen to it. It might have been a transition from night time stories my parents used to tell us.  Somehow the radio stories were even more fascinating than movie or TV stories because I could use my imagination to picture them. Entertainment is better when it makes us participate.

One day as I was listening to my Aunt Jenny’s True Life Story Daddy passed by me on his way upstairs. I said, “Daddy, I’ll bet someday there will be movies on the radio.” That’s when he called me a dreamer. I didn’t know then that some “dreamers” in laboratories were making that dream true. Later, in the summer of 1939, our family went to the San Francisco World’s Fair and saw one of the first television sets before it was ready for marketing. It was in the General Electric Exhibit. I said, “See, Daddy, I told you so!” 

With me, the idea had been mere conjecture. With the inventors it was scientific development. I’m good at conjecture but if I were set back in time and could remember things from the future like radio, TV, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, and even electricity, I could not produce any of them. I could use the wheel, the inclined plane, a pulley, a ladder. I could make a swing, providing I could make a rope strong enough. If I could make a swing I'd be so happy I’d probably retire!

Now, when it comes to conjecture, that’s something I’m good at. I can dream up things like a reverse gravity belt to carry me up and away. I can imagine a device that can place a receptor on a distant planet. a planet so distant that the light from earth reaching that planet today left our earth centuries ago. Then I can imagine a telescope connected to that receptor that could show me historical events in real time. I can imagine having far more senses than the five we now possess. I can imagine being able to see civilization on Mars or Venus or any of the other planets, civilizations that we don’t see now because we think they are not there. Our limited perceptions and senses don’t allow that. 

Conjecture is mostly impractical and it would be a waste of time to dwell on such guesswork for long, yet even scientists sometimes start with conjecture. I admire the marvelous leaps of imagination they are able to make practical. 

I sometimes wonder if that old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” could be true. Are we humans dreamers and inventors of things new, or are we opening our eyes to things long remembered? Are we learning like babies learn, through experimentation and observation? Is there a reality here that is far beyond our capacity to imagine, much less experience? I can’t swear to it, but I can conjecture. Maybe I’ll get past the “I can’t “ mode and start saying, “I can.” If I’m given eternity anything is possible. If I depend on time “I can’t” is the answer. If there’s anything good about dying, it’s finding out if I really am in this body or if the body was in me. While the survivors do what they must with my old body what will I do without it? Will I have another body, another chapter, another book? 

Daddy was right in one sense. If I can’t prove my conjectures don’t waste time on them. Just enjoy what the scientists and inventors have done. Sit and read, play with the gadgets I’ve been given, do the dishes, sweep the floor. Or, yes, I can write another blog!   

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who Needs Grammy or Gramps?

Wally G. and I were talking about the future. You know, like, “What would you do if I went away? (a euphemism for dying.) I couldn’t imagine then what either of us would do without the other but I asked him first. “Why, I’d go to live with Wally K. and Nancy,” he said without hesitation. He and our older son who bore his name, had always been close. 

“Oh, Wally, you wouldn’t do that!” (I thought of how his mother and my aunt had lived with us. How having older folks in your home changed things. How that would set with our daughter-in-law.) His answer though was quick and certain. “Why not? Why, I would be an asset to their home!”  I had to admit, it was a darned good answer. Older people, especially, need to know their worth, not just feel they’re wanted but know they’re wanted, even needed. My mother-in-law, Gracie, had known that. She'd been sometimes feisty, sometimes an irritation, but always sure of herself. In spite of the drawbacks, she was an asset to our home. When both Wally and I were working, the kids, teen agers then, didn’t come home to an empty house. Grandma was back in her room and always ready to play a game of dominoes or rummy. She could tell stories about “the olden days,” or tune into the one TV in our house, hers, and always have a plate of cookies she’d made along with lemonade in her tiny fridge.

When the question turned on me, I said simply, “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Wally.” Then a few years later I was the one left when Wally “went away,” and I had to decide. We’d been living near Seattle, far from our sons who were in the Air Force and Navy, neither of whom would be long in one place. And I was far from our daughter in Southern California. She and her husband had little girls, two at that time and another later. Their business took them away evenings so that they had to rely on baby-sitters for the children. “Mom, won’t you move down here? You could find a place near us and it would be such a help if you could watch over the girls when we’re out at night.” Then she added those words that cinched the question. “Mom, we need you!”

Right now the youngest of my daughter’s girls, Katie, whom I’ve written about in my blogs, is living with me. She’s needed a home to get her life on track. Her mom with a new man, her dad with a new woman, have not been able to provide a place for this daughter. So, here I am, glad to be of help to my family, but still in my own home with room for Katie.

I wonder about how it will be when Katie moves out. Living alone is easy for me. I always have lots to occupy my mind and my time, but still it’s cozier to have someone you expect to come home at the end of a work day. Needing another who also needs you is good and couples that can live long enough with each other and who have a lifetime of memories to share, must be best of all. If I were to answer the question of “What would you do...?” now I’d say to Wally G, “I'm not going anywhere and I'm telling you, 'Stick around and don’t make me answer that! I need you, Pal! We can be an asset to each other!'” 

Katie says, “Grandma, I want you to keep on living so if you ever need a home you can come live with Jeff and me! We’re going to have babies, I hope, and we’ll need you!” Yes, we old folks have a lot to share. If we can catch the great grandies before they get hooked on TV and computer games we can make our stories more fascinating than all the make believe artists can dream up in the movies and on TV. We can make their ancestors, their heritage, so vivid and alive through our true tales and old picture albums that in years to come they’ll know we were a real asset to their lives. 

If you doubt that, just think what it would be like to have your great, great, great grandparents drop in now to tell you of their lives and paint their words so well that you can feel it, see it, be in it, as if on a holographic deck. Don’t hold your breath, but we may be coming to that. You'll really be needed then!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How Times Do Change!

“ Another day, another dollar.” I don’t know who first uttered those words or in what context they came. Couldn’t find the answer on the Internet. I suspect they came in a time when a dollar a day was the going pay for a day’s labor. Imagine that!

Well, I don’t have to imagine $5.00 as being a day’s wages because that’s what my father was paid working for the Water Department in Laguna Beach back in 1938. It was hard work too, like digging ditches for water lines, repairing broken water lines, and that sort of thing.

Daddy did it without complaint because he was trying to fulfill Mother’s desire to live in sunny California rather than the state of Minnesota where she had always lived before. One visit to her mother, my Grandmother Darling, had hooked her. 

Mother was not well, had been given up by the doctors at Mayo Clinic. She was not expected to live long. I’ve always said Daddy would have moved to Timbuktu for her. But instead he leased the Standard Oil gas station he owned, packed up our old Buick, left our home near the little town of Preston with Mother, my two brothers and me, and moved us kit ‘n caboodle (another old expression) to California a week or so before the Christmas of 1937. Grandmother lived in Laguna Beach with her Uncle Chet and they had rented a cottage for us only two blocks from the ocean. 

Things began to look up when Daddy got work. I remember the off and on times he worked for the Water Department because of his pay, $5.00 a day. I remember his smiles when he'd say to Mother, "They hired me again at the Water Department, Faithie!" Now my father was no stranger to hard work. He had built the country gas station in Minnesota on a five acre tract of land which was a part of the family homestead. He’d planted trees there, dug a well there, set up a “wind electric” there, and struggled to build up his business selling gasoline and oil to farmers with tractors, neighbors, travelers on the two main highways, 52 and 16 that intersected at that corner. But in California, as all across the nation, we were still in the throes of the Great Depression. Times were hard.

I don’t remember a word of complaint about the jobs Daddy took wherever he could find them. One was with Bert, the Roofer. He was not familiar with the composition materials used on that roof and accidentally poured hot tar over his hands. This not only put him out of work but served to cause my father to yell out in pain as he soaked his hands in Epsom salts. His one complaint, without words. After two years he and Mother decided it was time to go back to the station and our Minnesota home. That winter Mother died at the age of 35. 

 “Another day, another dollar,” reminds me of those hard times. When I hear about couples that quarrel in front of their children I think of my parents and how I seldom heard them quarrel. If they did, they were careful not to do it in front of my brothers and me. Money was precious but our wants were few. A lollypop or bottle of root beer was a real treat for us kids. Even a coloring book or pad of paper were precious possessions. Now? Now children enjoy an overload of toys. They are carried off to entertainment parks and swimming pools and restaurants. And when they are older and discover money a dollar is a relatively small sum to have in the pocket. Seldom is it earned by them. 

When I was a child back in the old days I didn’t know much about money but I did know that Daddy’s $5. a day job was enough to pay our rent of $25. a month and buy us food and clothing. The job was only when they needed him though so it was not steady. No unemployment pay then. My brothers and I spent happy carefree days at Divers’ Cove in the summer. In winter we walked to school and I could enjoy a class in singing chorus, take ballet lessons after school, play marbles during recess. I carried a lunch bag because we couldn't afford to buy lunch at the school cafeteria. That only bothered me a little. I never had, or needed, money to carry in my pocket. I wouldn’t have known what to do with a crisp dollar bill! 

How times do change!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What "They Say..."

They say happy people live longer. I read just enough to notice what “they say.”  It was a book review but I didn’t jot down the title of it, and even if I do get the book it might simply rest with its cover closed among the other books that have caught my fancy not quite enough to get read all the way through before another grabs me. 

What fascinates me most is that some idea like that gets lodged in my mind and I have to go to my notebook and start writing about it. When you’ve lived long enough and have the luxury of more time to think about things you’ll find that there’s a deep well of wisdom within you. All you need to do is let down your bucket and draw from it. You can’t take credit for it, it’s just there, and when you stop to think about it, you don’t have to be old to discover it. That well is there for us at any age. We get tired of just sopping up what “they say” without challenging it with what “I say.”

So, happiness. Does it really contribute to longevity? You’ve known some older people, perhaps, who are crotchety, cantankerous, and anything but happy. Could they get their happiness from being that way? Well, rules always seem to have their contradictions, even definitions of happiness. We have to test them in our own lives. I look at mine and can attest that I’ve been a happy person. Except for that time when...and that other time when... and I do remember when... But looking at those times I find that they are long gone, are no longer a part of me, and I so rarely remember them that I have to conclude the obvious, they are buried in happiness.

Why is that? I can tell you one reason. It’s that I don’t hang onto the bad times. I don’t rehearse them. I don’t glorify them by writing about them so somebody can gain salacious pleasure from reading about them. Or hearing about them. (Don’t you love to hear someone carry on for hours about every bad thing they’ve ever experienced?) No, I don’t just bury them out of sight, I simply lay no claim to them. They are not now and never have been a part of the real me. Sure, guilt and sorrow had their play, but even that is over and done with. I’ve got a better sense of who I am and that’s because I’ve known good. I’m ever learning more about God who is good.

“OK,” I can hear some saying, “here’s where you’ve lost me. There’s no god, and if there were one, it certainly is not a good one. All you have to do is look around and see what such a god lets happen in this world of his. If you do open your eyes to the evil out there you can certainly not believe in a good God! Things are just randomly good and bad according to how you see them. But don’t blame them on a god. That’s just the way they are.”

So, I can understand that point of view, but here’s mine: There’s enough I can call good in this world to believe that there’s good everywhere. Where it seems not to be and something called bad is? Well, that’s only a place where good seems absent. It’s a phase of nothingness claiming to be something. Like a mirage, an illusion, a temporary misconception. At times the bad things in life are so bad that, like bad dreams, we let go of them by dying. We give our consent to the worst. And then? 

Your guess is as good as mine about “then.” I believe that, like sleep, death simply releases us from a bad dream and gives us a respite until we can wake up and start over again. Maybe as babies, maybe as we were before death, maybe as it is when we wake up from a night’s sleep, not much different at all. Or maybe it's really over. Maybe there is an end in death. That’s the unsolved mystery that some have come back from to tell their tales. But we don’t know. Not until we ourselves go into the great unknown.

In the meantime, if you can keep being happy you don’t need to escape. The longer you can keep living on the side of faith in the basic goodness of all things, (how else can you keep happy?) you see reasons to live in a happy frame of mind. You cease to give credence to the ugliness, the horrors that come from ignorance of the one infinite Life that is totally good. You take those horrors as no part of the grand reality that is even now working its power over evil by bringing it into the light where it can be seen as it is, simply bald illusion. They say (again,) that "the darkest hour comes just before the dawn."

When I dig into the reasons why I can stay happy it all boils down to this: I can see the dawn of intelligence. I don’t look back. I live in the present and find my interests here. I find some purpose in sticking around. I will not be sucked into thinking oblivion is better than what I have. I don’t give my consent to death. The errors that would appall me are just that, errors, mistakes, things I need to do something about by learning more of what is real and what is not real. Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Even my atheist friends can agree to that. Freedom from ignorance makes us free to be what we want to be and if we choose to be happy we have no reason to escape through dying. We will escape though, and peaceably. We'll escape through living, discovering more of what is true, what happiness is all about, now, in the forever now. So, whether you're old, young, or middle-aged, be happy now. And always!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

In Defense of the Non-Activist

Activism: “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” I was tossing about ideas for another blog yesterday when I caught sight of the Google logo for the day. It was honoring Jane Addams, a pioneer settlement worker and activist. I needed to refresh my memory about her and found much to read. It set me to wondering what it is about me that has kept me from being an activist for some worthy cause. After giving it some thought, here’s what I’ve come up with:

1.Maybe I’m not born that way.
2.Maybe I’m not unselfish enough to spend my days that way.
3.Maybe I haven’t enough money to make much of a dent in what’s needed.
4.Maybe I have been burned in the few times I’ve tried.

Well, as usual, I don’t know exactly where this blog is going or if it will get published, but let’s start with numbers 1,2 and 3.

These would be the easy answers. “It’s just not in the genes,” is one. That covers a multitude of shortcomings. Also, I was neither born into wealth or poverty. My parents were hard-working middle class people from hardy immigrants who came to America in the early 1800‘s to seek freedom and a good life. They were industrious, honest and prosperous, but none of them attained fame or great fortune. They were God-fearing, respectable and good neighbors, yes, but other than a great grandfather who fought in the Civil War on the Union side and was fatally wounded, and one grandmother who became a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, I know of no activists among them.

As for my own record of activism, about the only time this label could have applied to me was when I became a “Nixonette” prior to Nixon’s first run for the presidency. My friends talked me into it and I wore the uniform, went from door to door, and did all those things we were supposed to do. Nixon lost, and of course I was sad. I didn’t campaign for Nixon when he ran the second time but I voted for him. When Watergate came along I stood staunchly behind our man but those tapes with the “expletives” that needed to be erased appalled me. How could such an honorable man use profanity or language unfit for children to hear? Or lie to his fellow citizens? Though he did many good things I was disillusioned with politics and never again became active in campaigns.

I’ve taught Sunday school, volunteered to take bag lunches to the homeless, contributed to community projects like the Main Beach park in Laguna, as well as being active in church affairs, but the bulk of my efforts have been more in the line of trying to be a good wife, mother and grandmother, neighbor and friend. My modest donations in the past to worthy causes have been sufficient to bring letters with calendars and note papers and return address labels to my mailbox everyday, but I’m learning to be more selective in answering those now. 

You’ll notice I left number 5 blank. I’m out of excuses and I’m not sure I’ll be publishing this blog anyway, but if I do, it will be to applaud publicly all those men and women who stand tall in the history books for their efforts to help the needy and to establish equality of rights for all people.They are towering examples of what it means to be activists.

No need to enumerate the ways I’m trying to stay active now, but I get up every morning grateful for each new day and the opportunities it brings to me. About the only social life I have is with my family and a few friends. And here's one I could put in the number 5 slot: I pray daily for the world and its great needs. Nights I usually sleep well, but here’s a little something I saw in Suzie’s, (my centenarian friend’s), bathroom. She’s not been an activist either, but she’s lived a good life and is greatly loved.

“If you can’t sleep, go to God in prayer.
He won’t mind; He’s awake all night anyway.”

Apologies are done now. In the years I have left I may yet become an activist but, if I don’t, I think I’ll be doing the best I can to help others and, to quote another friend of mine, “That’s all the angels are doing nowadays!”

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Arranged Marriages

“Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife? ...this man to be your husband? Do you promise to love, cherish,......?

A wedding seems to be the highlight of any life to a person who weds well. Today’s society is beginning to recognize marriage as between two persons, in some cases persons of the same sex, but I won’t get into that now. What I’m thinking of is the idea of arranged marriages. Can someone else do a better job of bringing two people together than the principal parties themselves? The Western world would say no, that the idea is antiquated. Or is it? The Internet match makers are doing quite well. I believe though that the heart and the head need to stick together when contemplating marriage in order to make it work.

My first marriage was arranged. Well, close to that. My grandmother was the matchmaker. My second marriage? I think some angel got in on the act because I certainly had no expectation or desire to marry again. Forty years with a good man was enough. A part of me went with him when he died, but the empty space it left caught me up unexpectedly and boom! Cupid’s arrow hit home. I had another seven plus years of happily married life. Now I’m alone again, have been for about six years, and happy to stay in a state of single blessedness. Besides, I doubt that there’s anyone out there who’s looking for the job of matchmaker for the likes of me. They’d say, “At your age? Don’t push your luck, lady! You’ve had it good!”

So, how were my marriages arranged? I’m going to try to tell it in as few words as possible:

First husband, Lt. Col. Wallace G. Wethe USMC 
When a little boy 
he knew me as a baby girl.
Families were friends
who soon moved apart.
Miles apart. Years went by,
war took him away,
but Grandmother 
knew, and when I came
to stay, live with her,
go to school, she
set his picture on the mantle.
Handsome too!

Wrote letters, with post scripts by me, 
to that fighter pilot somewhere
in the great South Sea. 
WWII but he came back safe,
met the grown-up me,
Where else? At Grandma’s,
of course. Took me out 
on dates, then asked for my hand.
Grandma just smiled!
Forty years of many homes,
three children and fun.
Struggles too, but growing like one.
They called me a widow.
I thought so too.
But little did I know what
was yet coming to view.

Second Husband, Dr. Forbes S. Robertson PhD
Fifty-three years after
the walk down the aisle
a widow for twelve,
a summer school for adults.
Met him through friends,
a lonely man who
had been married too,
for fifty years "and three months"
(don't forget those!) 
six years widowed.
We were partners at bridge.
School friends only, until
a walk in the moonlight,
a kiss on the path,
struck as by Cupid,
later to laugh at how
could this happen to
people our age? We felt
like kids, parked in the car.
School almost over, what then?
Our homes were too far for 
courting like folks say we 
should do, the sensible way.
We jumped on the carriage,
the one that's spelled marriage.
Happy years, those seven, 
with cruises and friends, 
card parties, families, 
concerts and home.
Hearts held together
‘till another goodbye. 
But good memories and love,
These never end, love doesn't die.

A Grandma and Cupid,
"arranged" weddings for me.
I could not have done better,
my life has been good,
as well you can see.

That’s it in a crude pencil sketch and old-fashioned rhyme. Fill in the outlines with color and music, the happiness of love known twice. Two different men, decent and fair.  Doubled our children and grandchildren too. And now I’m thinking how “love and marriage (do) go together like a horse and carriage,” The horse is the heart, alive and faithful, pulling us home. The carriage, the head, wise and true, making the trip comfy and safe.

Arranged by whom? I think more than Grandmother. Or even Cupid. I think the old saying that good marriages are made in Heaven must be true. What an arrangement is that!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Blank Books

Until blogging came along blank books were my thing. Now I rarely write in my journals. The background graphics on my blog show book shelves with no bottoms or tops filled with endless books on them. Here’s the other interesting thing about the books on those shelves, they have no visible titles, no visible authors, and nothing on the insides of them is visible. I think it’s symbolic of our personal lives. The covers hide us and what they do reveal looks so similar to the other book covers that it renders them of little interest. On the other hand, the page on top tells what the eye cannot see, something the words can’t spell. It tells of the author, but it tells even more of the reader. The reader sees himself, his tastes, his expertise, his compassion, his interest or lack of it, - well, you see what I mean. 

If the story on these pages told itself in pictures we’d either be hooked as in TV or turn to another channel. Maybe Facebook would capture our time. But the blank books I’m thinking of are the ones that are being written today as the minutes turn into hours. We have an idea of what the day might bring but it’s like a title with no words following. We have to write the page and read it too. Will I get the clutter of magazines and letters and books sorted out today? If I do, how long will it be before I need to do it again? Will Katie get the job after her interview this morning? She thinks so. “I’ll get that job, Grandma. It’s perfect for me and only five minutes away.” I admire her certainty but always qualify it.

My thought about the future goes something like this: We’re each one of us in his or her right place at the right time. The events in our lives are all a part of some vast harmonious whole and often not at all what they appear to be, as my former blog about the sunset brought out. I tell Katie and she nods in agreement. Her confidence and my theory await the unfolding of the day’s events and there are untold unnumbered unknowns. Somehow the pieces will come together in some way like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. 

Do I really believe that? I’m not sure. It would mean that the picture on the puzzle was completed some time ago, that the future will only restore the whole scene of what already is. It would be a fatalistic view of life, one we have only to step into cautiously and let play out. I prefer to think we have more of a hand in painting the picture.

You see, as we grow older we generally take more time to think things out. We need to watch out that we don’t become mere spectators, live our lives vicariously through others. Book-reading, television, movies, the daily news, and what goes on in the lives of those nearest and dearest, all these are all right if they don’t eclipse one’s own unique purpose in the grand scheme of things. And what is that? Well, if you do as I do, you’ll sit down and begin to write. You smarter ones may skip that step; you'll just be up and doing. Ideas tend to come out of blank pages, whether on paper, electronic devices or getting right down to business. We need at some time to get up and start doing. See what happens, pray along the way that wisdom and love are leading, and before you know it that page is done. Like this one.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day, 2013

It’s a holiday today and I’m watching a light show that many would pay to see. It’s our Sun again, dropping into the creek to dance on the waves those ducks made passing by. At the same time He’s playing hide and seek through the tree tops and painting Himself softly over the bushes and lawn across the way. Wow! What a way to celebrate! Better than fireworks by far, cheaper too, and all in the early morning! 

My neighbor, Bonnie, the tall slender gal, the single bachelor one who works in a bank, the neighbor I know best but don’t really know at all, just walked over the footbridge downstream with her basket of laundry. She usually does her laundry on Sunday mornings in the laundry machines provided by our home owners association over by the swimming pool. I don’t know why she doesn’t have laundry appliances in her place. Maybe she’s economizing. Maybe she likes to do it that way; laundry can be a pleasant thing, the handling of clean fresh clothes compared to the handling of “filthy lucre,” as we used to call those coins and paper bills. Then again maybe Bonnie’s bank job only involves spread sheets and such. She may not be a teller, but if she is, she’s a good one. Friendly, pleasant, efficient and easy to look at. 

That’s the way I see Bonnie. We’ve stopped to chat on the paths near our places but we’ve never been in each other’s homes. I sense that we’re alike, not indifferent to our neighbors, even kindly aware, but still private people. Not the “come on in for coffee” types. Each of us occupied in our own ways. With Bonnie it’s workdays and weekends to herself. I’ve never seen her place occupied by visitors or parties but she does have a black cat called Bandit. With me it’s Katie, my youngest granddaughter who lives with me. And Robin, my only daughter, who lives about 200 steps away in the Quail Creek area where I live. 

Katie’s looking for another job today. “I’m just going around the neighborhood looking for help wanted signs, Grandma.” It’s crunch time for her too with her bank balance shrinking. I sense that her outing today is just that. She needs to get out. She’s already been on line sending out her resume and getting leads and she already has two interviews set up for tomorrow. She’ll do OK. She’s a good worker. And right now she needs to get ready for her husband when he gets out. 

The two of them were married in jail. Jeff is there for...let’s just say 9 months. They’d hoped to elope that week he was arrested, but decided later to do it in jail. May 17 was their wedding day. Nobody was allowed to be with them except the “facilitator.” The witnesses? Two cops who watched on a video camera from another room. All of it with a plate glass window between the bride and groom and telephones for them to talk into. "I don't even remember reading and repeating our vows, Grandma, we were both crying buckets!" That will be something their grandchildren may hear about in whispers. (She doesn't mind my publishing it here. Everyone who knows her knows her story.) The date for them to seal it all with a kiss is set for November 9th in the early hours about 1 or 2am. when she picks him up at the prison gate. They will be spending their honeymoon here at Grandma’s where the rent is free, the food is plenty, the use of Grandma’s car free except for the gas it consumes. Two weeks of home life should make for a homey honeymoon.

 And Grandma? Well, she and Robin will be off to Oregon on a two week vacation. There’s a place that’s on my time-share plan called Whispering Woods Resort, close to Mt. Hood. We'll be there for a week. Will visit my sister-in-law who lives in McMinnville the other week. My two weeks should be quite pleasant while the honeymooners keep house and care for the dog and canary and houseplants and patio plants. Now Katie needs another part time job to pay for movies and dinners out and all the fun stuff that goes with a honeymoon. 

Then after the honeymoon Jeff will live in a place the government supplies for three months while Katie stays on with me. She'll get a more permanent job then. About Valentine’s Day they will be on their own, have their own place and get started with the life they've been waiting for. They’ll be a part of the work force of this nation, choosing when to start a family. The bad times will be left behind. They’ll be contributing to Grandma’s Social Security checks through their work. And I’m sure Labor Days will be a welcome days for them. If only I could peek ahead for a minute to Labor Day 2020!

Life goes on, sometimes at a snail’s pace and other times like a rocket. The news is that right now Congress is deciding whether or not to go to war again. I’ll come in from the patio, put away the breakfast dishes, type out this blog, and then, maybe then, tune in to see what’s going on outside of Paradise on this Labor Day, 2013.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Where the Sun Goes

I went back to Sunset Rock today, this time on the Internet, and it prompted me to tell my story again.

Our trip to Sequoia National Park was in the fall of 1972 as I recall. Wally and I had built a house in Laguna Beach and stretched our resources thin. Still, the urge we always felt to get out in the wilds pulled on us. Children were back in school. Ours had flown the nest, one left in college back east. A good time to take a vacation away from the madding crowd. 

“We could pack up the Volksie with our pup tent and sleeping bags, Wally.” I’d sat down in his home office to chat. “Make it a five day vacation with two days of travel time up and back and three days to drive around the park and sleep in the tent. It would do us good.” I didn’t need to sell him. He looked out the window before responding. He’d no doubt been thinking along those lines before I mentioned it. “I suppose it wouldn’t cost much that way,” he said. Wally was always conscious of the cost of things, especially after house building and starting to live on his retired pay.

The drive up from Laguna Beach only takes about four and half hours, but we didn’t hurry. It was just good to get out on the road again. We started out in the dark, early enough to beat the commuter traffic around the Los Angeles freeways. Somewhere north of L.A. we pulled off to the side of the road along a stretch of desert to watch the sun come up. After that we locked the car doors and stayed to take a little snooze. Packing up the night before and then leaving so early, both of us were pooped. 

It was an easy trip though. We arrived in mid afternoon. We’d been to the park before and loved the giant sequoias. We took our time stopping to look at them, stand in awe of them, touch them, feel the reverence of being near such ancient living wonders. Later on our way to the camp ground I saw a sign on the side of the road that said SUNSET ROCK.

 “Oh, Wally, it’s nearly time for the sun to set. Can’t we stop to watch the sunset?” Without a word he slowed down and turned into the road by the sign. When we’d parked and walked the short distance to the rock I saw that it was not a protruding sort of rock but a huge built-into-the-hill kind that offered space to sit for dozens of people. But no one else was there. Just the two of us.

When I saw we were alone I could have snuggled up next to my dear hubby and watched the sun go down with him. It might have been a romantic time. I would have too except that for some reason I saw our solitude as even more special than the two of us. “Let’s sit apart from each other, Wally. Somehow I feel so inspired here I think we might each enjoy it in our own way without talking.”

Wally was in a similar mood apparently. The absence of people made it seem like we’d stepped back in time, even into prehistoric time.The air was crisply cool, but there was no wind and the place seemed silent and sacred. I smiled at Wally sitting about 30 feet from me. He’d been so compliant this trip. Not at all like he used to be when we made our way across the country from one tour of duty to another with the US Marine Corps.  Then I turned my attention to the sun. It still hovered above the horizon and was too bright to look at directly. Out beyond where it would be setting lay a thin stretch of haze along the horizon. In front of us the hills spread in pristine shades of green and browns. I looked but couldn’t see a single sign of civilization. It was as if this place had escaped humanity’s footprint. Not a road, a cabin, a telephone pole. Just the stillness of a fall day like all the rest of the days the place had known since time immemorial. How many sunsets this rock had seen! 

And the one we were about to see, what would it be like? Not one of those spectacular sunsets I’d seen with a canopy of clouds catching all the shades of red and gold. I wondered what it would look like when it reached the horizon. What would be that something special I felt we were in store for? 

As the sun got lower I wondered how the haze on the horizon would affect it and slowly I saw. The brilliant white orb began to change color. It became orange with horizontal dark streaks across it Japanese lantern style. As it sunk a distant hill took a bite out of it. Then it was as if the sun let go and spilled out its blood becoming shapeless. Dark blobs appeared on its redness and the hazy horizon spread the paint across the landscape. At last the glowing orb slid down and disappeared into one tiny brilliant white flash of light as if it were bidding us goodbye. 

At that moment, that tiny bright light, so similar to the ones that used to flash when we’d turn off our first television set, began to tell me something. It said, “Don’t be disappointed, my friend. I didn’t suffer one little bit when I got sick and died. See? I’m still as white and bright as I was at noonday. I haven’t changed at all even though you saw me disintegrate. You watched it all and I know you thought I was beautiful even then. You didn’t think of those sunset symptoms as some sort of horrible disease that sent me out of your life. I know you’re not grieving for me.”

It was as clear a message as if spoken in those very words. I looked over at Wally. He was still sitting there staring out over the horizon. Then I thought of the sun again and remembered how that morning we’d watched it come up over the desert. One tiny bright white flame broke through the warm red radiance blanketing the landscape. The brilliance of it grew, the shape of it grew, and the glorious orb of white we all know so well forbade us to stare at it anymore. 

The same sun. Hello and goodbye. Yet all the while we’d watched it being “born” and later go through the agony of “sickness and death” not a thing about the sun had changed, even for a moment. What’s more the sun had not risen or set. The phenomena of sunrise and sunset were the result of the earth’s motion and our earth-bound view of it. We gave it birth and we gave it death, names we’d never call them because we know it’s an illusion both times. Our limited views had caused us to see a limited span of life, one sunny day.

I’ve never forgotten that day’s lesson. It showed me how arrogant we are to think that all there is to true being is what we see of it in human form. We are no more in the short span of a human life than the sun is in a daytime. We see only what we can understand at this moment and much of that is educated guesswork. When the ego is lifted up we’ll get a better view and eventually, like the sun, see ourselves and others from a higher point of view where there is no night. Scientists say that the universe is filled with invisible light and we know only a tiny fraction of it as yet. Gives us something to think about, doesn’t it?

Some fifteen years later my husband passed out of my sight. That time at Sunset Rock helped me to see past the grief, helped to comfort me, and as I write I wonder if Wally is waiting somewhere along a desert road to greet me as I come over the horizon one morning. If so, we won’t be silent. We’ll have lots to talk about!