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THE GREYHOUND BUS


During the years I was busy growing up in Long Beach, CA, my maternal grandfather came to celebrate each holiday with us. Having been long divorced from my grandmother, with whom we made our home, he lived alone in the tiny town of Tujunga, nestled in the arid foothills of the San Gabriel mountains east of the city of Los Angeles. He moved there sometime in the 1930’s, taking advantage of the dry mountain climate as a palliative for his asthma.

I remember the long hot, infrequent drives we made when we visited him. Upon arrival, we asked for him by name, and were directed to the clump of large oak trees in the park, where card tables with other old men seemed to play unending cribbage games. But our best visits were when he came to stay with us.

It never occurred to me to wonder how he got to our house. He had no car, yet there he would be standing on our front porch; a small grey man, dressed in a grey suit and wool cap, carrying a battered cardboard suitcase and a jolly smile. To my knowledge he never owned a car, so he took the bus whenever and wherever he wanted to travel.


“GO GREYHOUND AND LEAVE THE DRIVING TO US”

Aptly named, the Greyhound bus has been in operation since 1914, thanks to a young entrepreneur named Carl Eric Wickman, who came from Sweden in 1905 to work in the mines in Minnesota. When he was laid off in 1914, he went to work as a Hupmobile salesman. Failing as a car salesman, he took his own vehicle, a seven passenger car, and transported mine workers from Hibbing, Minnesota to Alice, Minnesota, (which also happened to be where the saloons were) for 15 cents a ride.

In 1915 he joined forces with a similar service going as far as Duluth, Minnesota. By the end of World War 1, Wickman had 18 buses, and saw a profit of $40,000. Four years later, he purchased a West Coast operation and began the first national intercity bus company.

The Greyhound name had its origins on the inaugural run from Superior. Wisconsin to Wausau, Wisconsin, when the operator, Ed Stone, saw the reflection of his 1920’s bus in a store window as they passed. For some reason it reminded him of a greyhound dog, so he changed the name of that segment of the route from the Blue Goose Lines to Greyhound. The name became popular, calling to mind the speed of the greyhound dog, and later applied to the entire network.

After my father retired from the Navy, he and my mother moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, my father’s hometown. In order for me to visit, I had to drive or take the bus, as there was no airport, and the railroad only went as far as Dunsmuir, CA. So gathering my two daughters aged four and six, the three of us set off on our first Greyhound bus ride. My husband drove us to the downtown station in Oakland, CA for an overnight adventure. And an adventure it was.

A big city bus station at night was seemingly a gathering place for people who had no place else to go. As I look back on it, it brings back memories of the depressing Marilyn Monroe movie “Bus Stop” But a night trip with small children seemed a better option for us,.

Once on the bus, we found it to be large, spacious and clean, with enough room to spread out. I had packed enough snacks to last the night, but the convenience or inconvenience of bus travel is that it stops at every small station along the way to pick up or drop off passengers. Greyhound operates 2,700 stations across America, but in small to mid-size cities, an agent can operate from a convenience store or a roadside stop.

It seemed that just as we fell asleep, we were awakened by the bright lights of a new stop, and the voice of the driver telling us to get off and stretch our legs, drink coffee, or get a bite to eat. Luggage is stored in an enormous cavern under the bus, which sends bangs and crashes throughout the night as it is loaded. Then we were back in the bus and on our way again.

The long night over, in bright sunshine with dry mouths and sleepy eyes, we were met at the Greyhound bus station in Grants Pass by happy grandparents. A successful journey.

The Greyhound bus can take you anywhere, anytime.

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WINTER DREAMS


MANY WINTERS by Nancy Wood

If I had known before, all the things I know today,

I would have begun my life as an old woman.

Tricked by old men telling me there was nothing to fear

Except leaving my youth behind.

What would have been the fun of that?

What home would my mistakes have had?

It is better this way.

Now I can wish for my youth to come back.

Just so I can tell it, how old age is nothing buy

Remembering how rich the green fields looked

Despite the lack of rain.

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SHADOW PATTERNS


I don’t remember any of the expected exhibits at the opening of the Asian Museum in San Francisco when we attended some years ago. The building itself was austere, cold and grey as I think of it. Serious rather than fun. Since it was the opening night it was crowded with erstwhile art enthusiasts, some dressed in colorful artwear, many in more casual jeans and Birkenstocks, a few bearded, grey pony tailed men. The usual group who show up to see and be seen.

It was all very shibui. Quietly elegant I would have described it if asked. Not quite up to the old Gump’s store in San Francisco, where the rich classic and beautiful displays on the third floor was a frequent destination for me. On this night I was drawn to the large black chains hanging from the high ceilings arranged in intricate configurations. Obviously it was the intention of the artist, and I found myself admiring the shadow patterns on the walls more than the chains themselves, even more than the large installations on the floor. Even today when I think of that show, it is the shadow patterns which remain.

Sometimes the separation of the real from the imagined becomes more intriguing. In my art classes I often suggested sketching the shadows of leaf patterns of trees or architectural designs as a jump-start to a student with the blockage familiar to artists and writers at the sight of a piece of blank white paper.

Our memories are the shadow patterns of our life. The bits and pieces of our journey which lodge in the nooks and crannies of our remembrance. These ghostly shadows keep us in touch with our past.

I have a small antique chair which belonged to my mother in law, upon which she worked a lovely petit point seat cover. I sit on it each morning while putting on my shoes and socks. It is old, like me, and also like me, has a couple of creaks. My MIL always laid the blame on Auntie Carmen’s excess weight when she perched on it. My shadow memory kicks in with each creak. I don’t recall an overweight Auntie, rather a nice looking well-dressed, white haired lady who often joined my MIL’s bridge group. The shadow patterns become more complex when that memory segues into another, and yet another.

You could say that habit is a form of shadow memory, which presents a whole new concept. When we bought each of our homes, we made changes which better fit our plans. After relocating a light switch or moving a door, and even the refrigerator, at the beginning of our residence, it confounds me when I reach toward the old position of things which are no longer there. Is it carelessness or shadow memory?

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EVOLUTION OF A GARDEN


When I was growing up in Southern California, the trees I mostly saw were palm trees. Out of 2600 varieties of palm trees, there were perhaps three or four living in Long Beach, California. There was a climable fig tree in our back yard which gave a nice view of the operating room in the dentist’s office next door. Other than that we were treeless. When the dentist caught me and neighbor kids spying, he gave us all a couple of tubes of Ipana toothpaste and told us to mind our own business.

When we got married and bought our first house, we planted a virtual forest of pine trees. A gigantic curly leaf willow shaded the back yard, and the front of the house was sheltered by birch and rhododendron.

we moved to Seattle, where a tree pops up if you drop an apple core. Part of our farm house property was woodsy, and we actually had to remove a few trees to build the barn. I wept at the loss of each one.

When we took possession of this house 45 years ago, there were a few resident trees. A large deodora cedar and a Shamel Ash in the front yard, plus numerous street trees. The previous owner had planted a few fruit, plus two good sized orange trees. Not too bad, but not what we had in mind.

Thus began the never ending job of re-decorating the garden, front and back. I say “never ending, because Dr. A frequently decides to change the position of a tree or bush and the garden has had many iterations in the years we have lived here.

There were grandchildren and dogs to think of, so except for planting beds, it became covered with brick. A large kennel and a shade pavilion went in, then a large pond, swimmable for a toddler, and pleasant to sit in on a hot day, went in the middle. We were traveling often to the Southwest, so the entire ambiance was redolent of New Mexico.

However, the Southwest isn’t known for its trees, and we missed a few shady spots in the back yard, which had become a garden, so the procession of trees began which sometimes seems never ending. There have been evergreen pear trees, oleander, apple, nectarine, flowering plum, birch, a couple whose names I can’t remember. Then a few fig trees showed up.

A great number of years ago, accompanied by two house guests, fueled with a bottle or two of red, and a good idea, a Mission fig tree took up residence outside our back door. It was debated throughout the afternoon whether or not it was too close to the house, but it was small, and hard to determine how large it would become, so in the hole it went and a bucket of water poured on it for good health.

Today in the warm California sunshine, without fertilizer or water, this fig tree is attempting to join us in our family room. It has burgeoned into a sturdy highly climable, shade producing, quite beautiful, but admittedly too close to the house tree. The critters arrive when the figs ripen, and those they don’t eat, fall on the ground. But the leaves are easy to pick up due to their large size so it’s a toss up.

Of the original trees, one very large orange tree remains, which two dear friends trimmed last week, for which we are so grateful.

The past years of drought told me that we needed another shade tree in another part of the yard. I thought perhaps another evergreen flowering pear would be lovely spreading its branches over this area, with a nice sitting bench underneath for thinking. I realize that it takes time for a tree to grow, but we plant trees for the next generation to enjoy.

Dr. A came home from the nursery with a tree which they assured him was an evergreen pear. Though that was a misnomer, it had a nice shape, and its shiny leaves were pleasant, so he planted it. There were no flowers, and it shed its leaves the first winter after they turned color. I took a picture of it and took it to the nursery for identification, but they didn’t recognize it.

Though it gives little shade so far, our mystery tree stands tall and proud and gives promise. We refer to it as the Shade Tree, and what more can one ask?

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REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

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THE CHILD


In those dark quiet hours of the night before sleep comes, our mind travels over many miles, exploring and revisiting memories from the past. Long dead relatives and friends come calling, often mixed in with an unfinished garden chore of that day. Vestiges of unrelated minutia crowd in to confuse and confound.

On nights when I fight my pillow and toss around like a tree in a windstorm, I remember all the beds I have slept or tried to sleep in. Moving often, as I did as a child, made me an expert bed tester. I mostly slept with my mother when my father was at sea, rarely having a bed of my own. When at Auntie’s, I slept on a cot in her sewing room, looking out the dark window at a few twinkling stars, and listening for the sound of a faraway train, while counting each chime of the old clock outside my door.

After moving to Connecticut, I often listened to the sound of the radio from another room, and joined the realistic panic after listening to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds”, or “The Battle of the Sexes” radio show. Later, during the War, while staying with Aunt Hazel, my mother and I shared a makeshift bed in their common room, all of us listening to the Richfield Reporter give us the latest news of the War, and wondering where my father was that night. The summer we were with them, my mother and I slept one night outdoors in an open field counting shooting stars in August.

On a recent sleepless night, I was confronted in my mind’s eye with a child standing quietly while gazing around her in a tentative way. She simply stood in the middle of the room looking over at a piano which stood against one wall, and then at the many books on shelves in an alcove. She made no move to walk over to either, nor did she ask permission to either play the piano or read a book. She exhibited no interest in what the others in the room were doing, and seemed not to care that she was not a part of it. She simply stood alone in the middle of it all.

She was about eight years old, with a short Dutch cut hairdo, and dressed in the style of the 1930’s; cotton dress with puffed sleeves, and black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. As I wondered who she was and where she had sprung from, I recognized my mother, Grandmother and Aunt Georgia greeting one another with hugs and kisses, and I realized the child was me. I was being delivered to Auntie’s for another extended stay. I don’t remember if I had a little travel case, or what I often brought with me when I came to stay.

While recognizing this, it made me wonder just what my thoughts had been on the many times I came to visit. Was I happy to come, or sorry to leave Grandma’s house. I think I simply went where I was taken without any drama. Surely I loved Auntie and knew she felt the same, after all, I had been taken there since I was a baby in arms, while my mother would take a job. Remember that it was the Great Depression, and jobs were not easy to find and keep if you had few skills.

The great love affair of my parents lasted throughout their lives, though they were separated through a great deal of it due to the call of the United States Navy. When his ship came in, and she found it possible, she traveled to where he was. I was fortunate
to have a loving Grandma and my dear Auntie, though I sometimes wondered if Uncle Phil was as thrilled to have me.

Looking back at the child, I saw that she/I, though not shy, politely waited on the sidelines, deciding whether to sit or wait to see what the rest of them did. When I realized that, I saw that though not an introvert, I really DO wait to see how the land lies when in a new or different situation. Perhaps this is what the child came to show me. We do not change very much through the years. We are what we have always been, only more so.

I was an only, though not lonely child. Being alone most of the time, I created my own fun or amusement. We did not live near other children, and moved so often I did not make friends easily until my high school years. Those friends are still with me after all these years and we meet once a month in Alameda. I am frequently reminded by those women of some of the wild or risky things I apparently got them into. Perhaps the quiet introspective child was simply biding her time and plotting all those quiet years. Or maybe she was simply weighing her options. Either way I’m glad she showed up the other night. It was good to meet her again.

Through the years, most of us cove a lot of territory during the night hours. No one has come up with a foolproof way to get and stay asleep, but as long as we can recapture the scenes of our life while safe in our beds it’s a nice end to the day.

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MOSTLY TRUE


Some said they would come back as horses, my husband thought he could be a giraffe, most said they’d be some sort of cat; but I noticed that no one chose the dog, and I don’t know why.

The horse, by tradition, lives outdoors rain or shine and gets sat upon by people large and sometimes larger. I asked my husband why a giraffe, and he thought it would be nice to look over high fences. I wonder if this is indicative of some sort of perverse peeping Tom syndrome. The cat people are nice for the most part, though prone to play hide and seek often, and I was never any good at that game, because I’d always make enough noise so they would be sure to find me. When they got to me I chose the dog because I can’t imagine a life without dogs, and dogs know about things children and old people need.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are no guard giraffes or cats, though cats sometimes earn their keep by good will hunting. The various ways a dog hunts is not always with good will. Watching a Border Collie at work shows how it should be done; shoulders hunched, eyes squinted, a crawl on the belly while eyeballing the sheep, a quick dart, and the race is on. A Jack Russell Terrier, on the other hand, feels he needs to shout at them until they submit to him. He cannot be deterred from the chase, though to my knowledge never catches sight of his prey.

Do we as humans, carry similar animal traits? If a dog, I could choose to emulate our old German Shepherd or now, in later life, perhaps our Old English Sheepdog. In the first choice, I could be alert, a little intimidating, loyal and protective. As a Sheepdog I could just take it slow and easy and enjoy life while waiting for my next meal. I could do that.

I wonder if I was a Jack Russell as a young woman—barking a lot but not accomplishing much. On the other hand, Jack Russells are very smart, very intuitive. I WAS a fast learner, and my father told me I had good common sense, so that’s a plus. I was low maintenance and put up a good appearance. I was great at parties and never embarrassed myself or my hostess, which is unlike the JRT I know who would enliven the party too much and has been known to do so. Which is why there are places for dogs and people like that.

When I die perhaps I’ll come back as a tree. It’s much less complicated.