HURRICANE (I was there!)


My hurricane was called Yankee Clipper, Long Island Express, or simply The Great Hurricane . People still talk about the New England hurricane of 1938.  Today we designate  hurricanes by female names, which may or may not be significant.  For instance those girls named Katrina may wish to rethink the spelling of their name at least.  Today Irene seems to be slowing down or pausing for reflection.  The wisest residents of states in her path have evacuated at least to higher ground.

In 1938 we moved to Connecticut, where my father was to be attached to the New London Submarine Base.  Right after my 10th birthday in April, we loaded our few belongings into our black Chevy sedan, and drove across country, taking four days and nights to do so.  It’s a good thing I was small and could curl myself into a ball in the back seat,  and liked to read and sleep, because otherwise it might have been a miserable four days for my parents!  There weren’t many motels then (they called them motor courts), which was a good thing as we couldn’t afford one anyway in the Depression.  My main recollection of the long trip was that the middle of our country is very hot and dry in the summer, and I have subsequently been very happy to live on its Coasts for most of my life.

The New London/Groton area in those days was mostly sleepy rural village, with a Norman Rockwell atmosphere.   The small two-room school which I would attend, was three miles from our house.  The small collection of houses where we lived were on a tiny lake, which would freeze in the winter, and allow us to skate across thus saving about a mile walk to school.   Right after the first of September,  the journeys to and from school were still quite warm with the added  pleasure the autumn colors offered.  Not that I was a bird fancier then, but I still recall the first and only brilliant red cardinal I ever saw flitting through the red/gold leaves.

On September 21, a gigantic hurricane struck, which to this day is said to be the most powerful, costliest, and deadliest to hit New England in its 350 year history  It began with light rain, which increased as the morning continued. The morning walk to school was wet, but not too windy.   The cloakroom was filled with the children’s wet wool clothes, and the smell, along with the accompanying odors of deviled egg and tuna sandwiches was unpleasant.  Later I remember the winds picking up and beginning to howl, and our little wooden building began creaking ominously.

We children couldn’t stay away from the windows, watching the trees in the nearby woods whip around in the gale.  Now and then a deafening clap of thunder shook the building.  Our teacher was obviously alarmed, and had trouble keeping us away from the large windows which shook with each gust of wind.  Some of the smaller trees were being uprooted and small undergrowth was tossed about like beanbags.  The noise was frightening.  It became apparent that we would be released as soon as the teachers had a plan.  The phone was out, and then the lights went out.  When I went to collect my damp coat, the building lurched, and I dropped the lunchbox I was carrying.  It was a loud and confusing scramble trying to get 25 children back into wet clothes and out into the rain.

A few parents were there to pick up some of the children, though most of the others seemed to live in the same direction as I, and we were left to walk.  It was difficult trying to jump over fallen debris, and avoid anything still being blown down.  As we hurried along the road, it became apparent as to why no one had come for us.  Many of the very old and large trees had fallen across the road preventing any traffic.  I don’t remember any of us being afraid, rather as a rather wet game which allowed us to escape school.  Some of the children lived in farmhouses along the way, and were very happy to get back home safely.  Finally I was left walking alone as I lived the farthest.  I tried playing mind games putting myself in a warm safe place, but as it became darker and windier the woods became scarier and more malevolent.  The howling of wind is possibly the loneliest sound there is.  I lost my prized new lunchbox when I tripped over a log, and while I was down on the ground, I heard a weak pathetic whine coming from just inside the woods.  Going to investigate, I found a small very wet dog whose collar had been caught by a bush.  Breaking him loose, I picked him up and we went home together.  The next day, my father found the owner, who was delighted to have him back home.

My main recollection is arriving home to the warm comforting smell of freshly baked bread, which my mother baked in our old black iron wood stove.  Never has bread been so welcome nor tasted so good.

The next day we discovered that the storm had accelerated later in the day, and took the roof off the old schoolhouse, and all of its windows.  The only thing left standing in the playground was the large wooden outhouse, and the swing sets.

PADDLE TO SEATTLE


For at least 8,000 years before Euro-Americans arrived, there flourished on the western shores of the North American continent a people and a culture highlighted by the omnipresent and hallowed dugout canoe.  It was an economic necesssity like a railroad or highway and also provided recreation which persists today in the sport of racing.

In 1985 our good friend Emmett Oliver, a Quinault, a prominent   educator and retired Coast Guard commander, conceived the idea of bringing Native canoes to the shores of the Puget sound  to celebrate the centennial of the State of Washington in 1989.  Emmett was at that time Supervisor of Indian Education for the State, and felt that the endeavor would bring pride to the native people of the state and renew the tradition of the importance of the canoe .  Initially in the first year,  13 tribes were interested, which grew to 18 canoes.  Canoes were to come from Washington and Canada to Suquamish.  The flotilla of Native canoes would then make a seven-mile journey to the shores at Shilshole Bay.

In 1985 dugout canoes were almost a lost art in the Pacific Northwest, found mostly in museums.  The idea was to have the tribes carve their own canoes, assemble at a rendezvous, and paddle across Puget Sound to Seattle.  They would camp in the park, and spend 2 days canoe racing on the sound and enjoying time together celebrating cherished features of Norhwest Coast culture.  Permits for trees were granted by the state, trees were transported and the actual work began in 1987.  Some had not carved a canoe for over 50 years, and some tribes had never done so.  Carving workshops were formed and finally,  framed by the rising skyline of the city, 18 canoes were ready to paddle across the sound.  With Emmett aboard a Coast Guard command vessel, and with 5,000 people ready to greet them, Paddle to Seattle was accomplished on July 21, 1989.  A roar of encouragement arose from the beach in a great surge of pride for the carvers, the canoes, and the paddlers who performed as though they had manned those canoes lifelong.  their shoulders bore the traditions of 8 millenia.

Last month, on July 25, 22 years after the first Paddle, 89 canoes arrived to be greeted and invited ashore by the Duwamish tribal representatives.  Marvin Oliver, son of Emmett and Georgia, is a well known artist and professor of Art at the University of Washington.  An Oliver Family honoring canoe was built to honor Emmett for this year’s Canoe Journey.  These family members make up the Quinault, Lummi and Duwamish.  The canoe was flying the Quinault flag, and family members were pulling, including 2 granddaughters of the 97 year old Elder., who were with him at age 9 as he greeted canoes 22 years ago.

The theme of the Oliver Canoe Family is “Homeward Bound” and all art was done by Marvin Oliver, which this year had a bright green and red salmon on the front and an eagle on the back.  Daughter Marylin Bard, is the Chair of the Family and organizer of the funderaising.

“The survival of the Indian people is knowing who you are and where you came from.”  James Rasmussen of the Duwamish tribe!    Isn’t it true of all of us?

“Love many, trust few, and learn to paddle your own canoe.”

Emmett with Granddaughters

Christina and Lisa

Marvin Oliver print

Quinault/Pueblo

CHOICES


Forty-two years ago, in  a period of relative innocence, I asked a recently graduated daughter who was soon to enter the University of Washington what she thought the most important social problem we faced as a nation.  She quickly answered “Overpopulation”.  I said yes, that is indeed a big problem, but I think drugs may be our Waterloo.  Today, with more population and more drugs on the street, I have not changed my opinion.  Both involve choices.

The basic social element in any society is family, but what is family?  When life was simpler, it involved two parents and various children who were all related.   Today there are so many variations of “family”,  some of whom never sit down to a communal  meal together, that it boggles the mind.    But we are naive if we fail to recognize them as “family”.   We are all looking for approval and support, and hopefully, love, and this is what family is supposed to supply.

Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce.  We all know the statistics by rote, but do parents actually think about the children of divorce when the heat of anger and self-pity is burning?  In some cases, a good divorce is better than a bad marriage, and with mature caring parents who can work together in support of their children, it can actually work.  Many years ago, I heard a young boy tell another who was lost and crying in the throes of his families’ breakup, “But you will have two houses, two Christmases, etc.”  It never works out that way.  Mostly, one parent is driven away by a bitter spouse, and somethimes sees the child rarely.  Then new step-parents and half-siblings become a part of the child’s life as well, which further complicates matters.  What then has become of the child who was?  Where does she fit into the family?

Since the two people who were supposed to care for her parted, it surely must be some fault within her which caused it.  Otherwise they would never have left her.  So she looks for friends who can understand her problem, (perhaps having the same difficulty with self-approval), and as we have seen, there are far too many of them around.  The local Malls are great places to meet friends, as is Facebook, parties, and of course, school.  Whichever parent has custody is busy working , or just busy with Life.  Too busy for schoolwork, other children, or just talking.  They quickly lose touch with the child’s life, but she keeps seeking someone who understands and cares about her.  The sad part about this is that the parent has no idea that things have changed.  That somehow this child has grown apart from them, and they never noticed.  Some children are  indeed fortunate in having adored and adoring grandparents who live nearby, but even then it’s difficult to see changes.

The drug culture is rampant, and thrives not only in urban and suburban areas, but surprisingly in the farmlands of the Midwest and South, and in  deeply evangelical communities all over the country.  Where do the drugs come from?  Are there shady people hiding near the corners ready to pounce on unsuspecting kids?  We are all familiar with “Drug Cartels”, Mexican gangs, etc.  Surely, we have taught our innocent children to avoid these people, and “Just say no” as Nancy Reagan so naively put it.  Easy to say, and if this were the way drugs were presented, it would be easy to do.  But the kids give/sell it to themselves.  If you give me some, I may split it up and sell the rest, thus insuring that I can get more.  Besides, pot smoking is fun.  Everyone says so.  Older kids think it is a lark to “turn on” some younger child, just to see his reaction, and lo and behold, he likes the effect.  Parties are a wonderful place to share new drugs, and soon there is a real “pharmeceutical representative” born.  Prescription drugs stolen from parents, such as vicodin and oxicontin, both highly addictive, bring a high price.  The astonishing thing is the young age our children are falling prey to the addiction.  Age ten and eleven is not unusual, long before their young brains have formed .

Are all these children victims of divorce and abandonment?  Of course not.  They come from the “projects” as well as children of high society parents, and everything in between.  Wherever kids gather, it is a possible threat, unless SOMEONE IS LOOKING OUT FOR THEM!  But the so-called “troubled” children are most vulnerable.

Once addicted, can these young children recover?  There are Rehabilitation facilities all over the country, where those who can afford it may go for 30-60 days of  counseling, sometimes in a “12-step program”.   And afterwards they must go to a daily meeting with their counselors, perhaps forever.   It may take more than 30-60 days to “cure” the problem in which case the child lives with another “family” group of fellow addicts.  They are  given a mentor whom they can call on at any time they feel they may slip back into the morass.  In these days of cell phones, and social networking, it is so difficult to isolate a victim  from those who would drag her back into the Dark Side.

The effect upon the family is catastrophic and expensive and the outcome unsure.  It becomes all about choices.  And of course, a great deal of love.  There are so many successes, and we all pray for the same success with our troubled children.  KEEPING KIDS SAFE IS OUR JOB!!  When does childhood end?  Di it ever begin?

WHERE IS HAPPY?


Webster devotes half a page to simply defining the word happy, but where is it?  Is it memory, or a place, or both?  We all have a memory of something wonderfully rich and satisfiying.  A sight or a place where you caught your breath in amazement, or comfortably settled in and stored it away in your memory bank to draw on when your funds run short.   I heard a young mother tell her overwrought child to “go to your happy place”, and thought that we all have a place in memory where we were extremely happy and content.

My “happy place” belongs to my dear friends Georgia and Emmett Oliver.  Their elegantly rustic home sits upon a rocky promontory jutting into the Hood Canal in Washington state near the post office “town” of Lilliwaup, on Highway One.   It touches the Olympic rain forest on one side, and is lapped by the tidal waters of the mile wide, deep water channel which is the Hood Canal on the other.   The Oliver family generously shared this beautiful spot with us for many years, and it remains my “happy place”.

In memory I lie on the large rocks which form the shoreline, feeling the cold salt water touch my sunburned legs, and I listen to the sound of the gulls fighting over an occasional fish.  My snorkel and fins are close by whenever I choose to dive under and reach for a sea anemone or small fish. An occasional small sailboat can slowly slip around the point, and since it is a deepwater channel, now and then a very large ship or tugboat will chug into “view”.   Sometimes (in my mind) my friend calls down to me from her comfortable perch on the deck above to see if I am still alive, but mostly I just vegetate alone.

It is a fine place to go during  a root canal, or any uncomfortable spot my body tries to take me!  I “visited” it a lot during the first part of this year while having a series of acupuncture, and most recently during an early morning MRI.   So “where is happy” is obviously grounded  in  each of our memories.   Perhaps instead of a place, it is a spot in Nature, or a beautiful painting or piece of music.  It is unique for each of us.  The important thing is to be able to withdraw it whenever we choose, and somehow replicate the feelings that memory invokes.

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO


A long and sleepless night filled with anger and self-pity.  It doesn’t matter that it is your own idea, or that it is the right thing to do, when you watch all the heavy euipment which has been the source of your refuge and comfort for fifty years pass out the door, now belonging to someone else.  And it doesn’t matter that physically you are no longer able to throw another pot, or lift a 50 pound block of clay at a time.   And there is where the self pity takes over.  Laughable really, when I think of all the pages I have turned, and all the people I have admonished to “get on with it” when something didn’t go their way.  It is human nature to blame someone else for our own shortcomings, but worse when you have to turn the blame back onto yourself.  I am embarrassed when I think of my mother-in-law, who lived around the corner and daily complained that life was no longer worth living because she needed hearing aids and could no longer drive her car.  Both her children lived around the corner from her, and visited each day.  I was fond of reminding her of how lucky she was.  How insensitve and foolish I was in my youth.  She lived in her own home until she was 93 and died in her own bed.  We always hope for understanding from those closest to us, but no one else walks in our shoes.

I have recently watched so many dear friends come to the realization that they can no longer manage their large homes,and choose another path.  Surely this is far more difficult that breaking up a sculpture studio.  It has been a week, and becomes easier each day as I dispose of more and more bits and pieces, finding so much I had forgotten, and some which made me think “what in the world were you thinking?”  Strange the things I am keeping: dusty tools, boxes of dried up paint tubes, etc.  Perhaps one day I will part with those as well.

 

“At the end of the day, only kindness matters.”

FAIRY TALES


We presume all people to be rational; they aren’t.  People are complicated.  We each have multiple selves which emerge or don’t depending on context.

As a child I was busy collecting a glass slipper, a red riding hood cape and muddy boots and birdseed, hoping Superman showed up to rescue me from the wicked witch’s cottage in the woods.  From childhood we expect rescuers from the forest of thorns.

As a quiet only child I consumed fairy tales like self-help books.  What steps I should take, which door could be opened.  The power of their magical answers led me to art.  Buried deep in fairy tales lies the long-shot promise that we can find our way out of the forest again.

Dakota, age 3

PATTERNS


Do people still lie on their backs and watch the cloud patterns as they slowly move across the sky?  If not, they miss some of the most diverse patterns available to us.  By just using our creativity to imagine what they might represent can add to the pleasure of a delightful summer afternoon.  To me, piles of large, white fluffy ones are great bowls of mashed potatoes.  All the other types take on their own identities in turn.

But patterns are all around us.  Watch the swirling patterns of water, ever changing, both in color and speed.  They are by nature, rounded shapes, and cooling,  while blazing tongues of fire in a fireplace or pit can be  spiked and somewhat intinidating, and of course hot.

The patterns of leaves on the ground, especially when a wispy, slightly agitated breeze drifts through, can be mesmerizing.  I have done many paintings simply from those patterns, which always remind me of the day and the feeling  I had when I painted them.
Though I could not acquire them, the patterns of the old Roman roads remain in my head.

Rocks and shells are loaded with patterns.  Wherever you happen to be in the world, mountains, by the sea, or in your own backyard, rocks and shells inspire you.  I have gathered them both from wherever I have been, and again, they evoke memory.

Feathers are my “thing”, and dear friends collect and send them to me to enclose in notes I send.  Others have gifted me with feather jewelry which I dearly love.  I am not a birder,  I don’t really know much about different types of birds, but if I am stumped, my wildlife biologist grandson can always help me out!  Maybe someday  I will explore that more thoroughly.  Meanwhile, the patterns on each different feather are  fascinating.

Hey, it’s a lovely summer day.  Go lie on your backs and count clouds!

TAOS


Taos stands resplendent in the late afternoon sun, magnificent against the backdrop of the Sandia Mountains.  Taos is the jewel in the crown of the 19 New Mexican Pueblos, unchanged throughout the centuries, despite the influx of visitors who come to marvel at the three- story architecture still inhabited by this proud people.  The tourist town of Taos and the Pueblo village of Taos are separate places, and no where is this more apparent than in the peace and quiet of a sleepy summer afternoon, with a few wispy white clouds drifting around the mountain, and the buildings painted hues of pink or yellow with deep purple shadows,  all accomplished with a solar paintbrush.  It is the most highly photographed of all the villages, and the camera fee has increased throughout the years.  In the 1960’s it was $5, but a number of years ago when Dr. Advice and I were there, it had grown to $15.  There are restricted places where visitors may not enter or photograph, and  of course, common courtesy demands that permission must be obtained before photographing the people, and a fee tendered, whatever the going rate.

During the summer, my Laguna/Isleta friend and I visited many of the villages, sometimes to renew longtime friendships of Georgia’s, and sometimes to attend a seasonal celebratory dance.  All villages do not welcome outside guests, and those which do, expect that strict rules of decorum be observed.  This includes no cameras, no unnecessary talking during the performance, and to my great shame, no quick drawings of the dancers!  I was unaware of doing anything wrong, until I heard Georgia’s whisper not to look up.  Keeping my head down I saw two moccasined feet directly in front of me, and heard Georgia say that I was writing a letter home.   I guiltily looked up into an old and angry hawk-nosed face, deeply tanned and wrinkled, with not an ounce of compassion or forgiveness.  I smiled weakly and quickly looked back at the dancers.  After an abnormal length of time, the old man moved on to try and find any other miscreants.  I realized that the best sketchbook is frequently in your head, and a lot safer too!

As the summer drew to a close, we spent a lot of time in Santa Fe, which was not completely taken over by the tourists yet, and was beginning to develop a thriving gallery business on Canyon Road.  I entertained highly unrealistic dreams of living there, being quite sure that Dr. Advice would thoroughly enjoy running a gallery while I spent my time painting and sculpting off in the hills somewhere.  Alas! he did not agree, but did agree that we would make an annual pilgrimage, which we did, if not annually, at least frequently, for 40 years.

In the week before we departed for home, there were many bread bakings, stewed chile feasts,  and much laughter.  On one such evening, more women seemed to be dressed in traditional clothing, and there was lots of giggling and whispers as if a secret were there trying to escape.  I became aware that I was the object of their mirth when they scooped me up and announced their intention of bestowing a new name on me.  I was overwhelmed and waited breathlessly to know what it was to be.  The governor of the village approached and said a few words in their Tiwa language, and then asked Georgia to come forward.  She said that after much discussion, she had suggested the name of “Pacho Fa” which means “Three Feathers” denoting the three paths my life takes of family, friends and Art.  It was a special moment for me climaxing a long visit which began as strangers wary of one another, and ended with being a part of an ancient civilization which had embraced me and honored me as “one of their own”.

May we all walk in balance. Aho    

Taos In Winter

My Dad


I didn’t really know my dad.  At least until it was almost too late.  As a small child living within the family at my grandmother’s, he was a recurrent visitor full of fun, who came for short periods between trips to the sea.  He was a young man who had chosen the United States Navy as his career.  Unfortunately, this included being away from his family frequently.  I looked forward to his “visits”, and was saddened by his absences.  It was during the Great Depression, and his seemed a good choice as a profession, since most of the country was out of work.  Occasionally we packed up our few belongings, and the three of us, my parents & I, lived for short periods in San Diego, Port Orchard, WA., Alameda, and always back to Grandma’s in Long Beach.  These were the Naval bases along our western coast.

In 1938, when I was ten years old, we bought our fiirst car, an old Chevrolet sedan, packed up again, and moved for two years to New London, Connecticut, the United States submarine base.  My father was to take his training as a diver for underwater repair work.  I did not understand that he was being promoted rather rapidly,  I simply enjoyed the experiene of having him at our dinner table every day.  We fished, and hunted, and he taught me to swim in the Thames River by throwing me into the stream and ordering me to swim.  We lived on a lake which froze in the winter, so we all learned to skate, except my father, who simply ran on his skates  and hoped for the best,  After 2 years, in 1940, we moved again to Long Beach, and he shipped out to sea, this time for 2 1/2 years.  The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor , Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, and unbeknownst to us, my father was there in port during the bombing.

He came into port again for a couple of weeks when I was a sophomore, and was bewildered to find that I was a young lady.  He didn’t like it much!  He was much changed after seeing so much war, and really never regained his former cheerful self.  By this time, he was a Master Chief petty officer, and used to giving orders which he expected one to follow without question.  I was much used to doing as I pleased, which in those days was really quite harmless!  He was rather gruff, and I was intimidated by him.  He was sent to sea again, and did not return until nearly my wedding day in 1946 when the war was over.

We lived in Alameda then, which was home to some of my father’s relatives, and had an apartment in his aunt’s large home, which had been built by my great-grandfather in the mid 1800’s.  Shortly after I was married, my parents moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, where he had been born and raised.  My mother and I had lived there for a number of months during the war, and had then moved back to Alameda.  Naturally, during the ensuing years, we visited them and went fishing and camping together, but I never had a real conversation with him; he always deferred to my mother.  He would answer the phone, and then pass it to her.

When my mother lay dying, I went to Brookings, Oregon where they were living then, and stayed with her for two long months.  He had to be forced to leave her side to get some sleep, but still no conversations.  Finally one night I told him we were on navy time now, and he would serve a 4 hour watch just like everyone else.  He went meekly to bed and we carried on as before.  He was particularly grumpy one evening,  and suddenly I remembered grabbing him and tickling him when I was a child to get him happy again.  The ice was broken and we started a friendship.  It didn’t last long enough.  He died 10 years later after having a massive stroke. 

I’m glad I knew you Dad, and I still miss you.

 

A heart is the easiest thing to break.

 

 

Great-grandmother


“How does it feel to be a great-grandmother?”  I have been asked this question numerous times in the past few months, and each time I have have unthinkingly answered “Great! in the same offhanded manner we reply “Fine”, to those who inquire as to our general health.  In the latter instance, no one really cares, but recently I have given more thought to the larger question of “how does it REALLY feel to be a great-grandmother.

Great-grandmothers are supposed to be old and bound to their rocking chairs and a certain amount of dignity.  I am neither.  I don’t think I am inordinately vain, but I do not deny that when I heard of my promotion to this more recent station in life, I hastened to examine my face for any newly acquired wrinkles.  To my great relief, there were none which had not been there the day before, and I was still able to climb into my jogging shoes and take off on my daily run.  I am active and agile, and have always clocked in a mile or two every day , so clearly being a great-grandmother has nothing to do with old age and infirmity.  Our society does seem to stereotype people, and perhaps we react   accordingly, adjusting our dress and behavior to match what we think is acceptable.

Are great-grandmothers supposed to be wise, all-knowing, and full of good advice?  I am not.  I am still learning luckily, and as the years pass, there is so much more to learn.  And occasionally I forget what it was I knew so well yesterday.  I am also evolving, which to me means living.  for to remain the same person year after year with the same values and habits, would be like wearing the same dress one’s whole life.

So, what IS being a great-grandmother and how does it feel?  I am in the middle of five generations, and I have known members of all these generations, my grandmother being the earliest in my recollections.  I remember how it felt to be a child, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.  It felt natural and wonderful.  Of all those roles, the characterization of “child” was the only one which occasioned no curiosity.  No one really cares how it feels to be a child.  Wouldn’t they all be surprised to learn that a child stores all the memories good and bad in their memory bank and learns from those experiences forever.  All the other parts we play in our lifetime fall naturally into place and can be just as wonderful.

I look forward not only to holding my great-grandchild, but to running and playing and sharing all the magic in my world.             Written in August 1995

This lovely great-granddaughter will celebrate her 16th birthday this summer.  She is learning wisdom, and the lessons of today are not always easy.  She is tall, beautiful and strong, and a great joy to our family.  The world is hers to explore and to claim her place in it.  How has it felt to be a great-grandmother?  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.   May you always walk in balance dear Dakota.