Friday, December 31, 2010

Here's To Life

Holding fast to tradition Ray Taliaferro ended his talk show at 5am this morning, New Year’s Eve, with jazz singer Shirley Horn’s Here’s To Life. It always lifts me up.

I linger at some of the words: No complaints… And no regrets…To dreamers and their dreams…Give it all you’ve got. Some day I must buy the album, because just listening to her words stirs me from whatever cares and doldrums drag me down. Oblivious to the date, Kodi stands impatiently nearby, red bone bouncing on the hardwood floor, demanding his morning spoon of peanut butter. It takes so little to make him smile.

I listen with strained interest to the current news. Oprah is starting a new network; Governor Richardson of New Mexico failed to pardon Billie the Kid. I titter because on the annual list of words to banish I don’t even know what most of them mean, and the banned phrase “I’m just saying…” is not in my normal platter.

All day yesterday in self-talk I predicted that 2011 would be a more joyful year. Sure hope so. Dear friend Jan Hagan came up at dusk with her camera and tripod to capture a sunset, but the chilly atmosphere made it less than spectacular. This morning it was 35 on the patio with light frost, but Cheari writes of snow and chill in Granite Falls, and Nancy writes that in Denver today with the wind chill it is -9.

For me 2010 has been a trial of challenges with more low points than high. An auto accident, hearing aids, allergies, a tooth implant and many physical complaints, none life-threatening but irksome all the same. Such negatives defined the months, which for me seemed to drag by. I can’t wait for the new year.

Two days after Christmas, submerged in my beloved Kindle, (82 books read now) toes steered toward the glow of the gas fireplace, my burgundy Laz-y-Boy stuck in the up position so that to extract myself I had to crawl on my knees over the left arm, a task made more challenging by a painful right shoulder which I have been nursing for two months. Now I surely hope that is not an omen for the new year! I’m ready to kick up my heels, aren't you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Buddy

With the stroke of his pen today Obama repealed the controversial “Don’t ask, Don’t tell". My thoughts are with so many friends, mostly deceased now, either forced out of service to their country because of discrimination, or destined to serve in a kind of silent exile, hiding their true identity. Many of my personal friends who led such a double life were nurses in the 2nd World War. Such a tragedy.

Propped on my seldom ever-used Hammond organ is the sheet music to My Buddy, published in 1922, with lyrics by Gus Kahn and music by Walter Donaldson. My dear friend Bill gave me the music. I’ve always loved the song and didn’t know until adulthood it had been attributed to the story of a soldier grieving his friend who was killed in the 1st World War, a war in which three of my family served (my maternal grandfather, in Canada's Princess Pat Regiment), and my father and his sister.

My 95 year old cousin Dollie in Vancouver tells me the whole family sang it---it was a favorite. Even as a child when my mother crooned it I presumed it was a love song. The instructions on my copy say it is to be sung tenderly. Indeed, that is how my mother sang it, as well as others, the likes of Al Jolson and Rosemary Clooney.

Sometimes at night (last night being the longest night of the year) when I am most missing Lee, I croak out the refrain, (thank goodness only Kodi can hear me) and it comforts me.

Of course I have known the words by heart since childhood, and I imagine I can actually hear my mother’s voice: Nights are long since you went away; I think about you all through the day; My Buddy, my Buddy, No Buddy quite so true. Miss your voice, the touch of your hand; Just long to know that you understand; My Buddy, my Buddy. Your Buddy misses you.

So today I pulled off the yellowing plastic sleeve and studied the words of the verse: Life is a book that we study. Some of its leaves bring a sigh; That we must part you and I. The second verse goes on to say: Buddies through all of the gay days; Buddies when something went wrong; I wait along through the gray days; Missing your smile and your song.

Such simple words, and kind of corny, but they pack a lot of emotion. I’m curious if they mean anything to any one else? Did many families sing it, or just mine? And am I the only one who sees the double meaning? Surely not. One of these days I must ask my friend Bonnie (senior) to sing it for me with full feeling, which it deserves.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Speaking of Transparency

Well, Wikileaks and all its implications dictates my sharing this week. My head is spinning with all the exposed secrets. Isn’t yours? Last week I wrote of a way in which government information and how it was withheld sculpted my father’s last years. And how family secrets molded my own confusing and often lonely childhood. Certainly I am not unique in this.

No secret that most psychotherapists, self-included, were drawn to the profession in order to smoke out their own conscious and unconscious threads of what makes them tick. In the process I believe some amount of good is done for others. I hope so.

By preference I have always been drawn to transparency in art and photography. Thick, opaque images do not stir me. That is why in my own painting I identify as a value painter, not a shape painter. In the days of color slides I recall how certain projections would give me shivers of excitement. I always yearn to know what is going on deep inside, and thrill when it is revealed..

A little over two weeks ago Catherine, my surrogate daughter, had a terrible fall. Her right arm dangling like a rag doll’s, the kind EMT’s in the ambulance administered sufficient drugs to contain her pain until a hospital x-ray revealed a seriously dislocated elbow. I gasped when I saw the x-ray. With anesthetic the arm was manipulated back into place. Splints were applied to immobilize the grossly swollen arm. A few days later, by plan, the doctors changed the splints, slightly repositioning the arm for healing. Terrible pain followed which resulted a few days later in another x-ray revealing the elbow once again dislocated. More anesthetic, re-setting, x-rays and splints. At this point she came to stay with me for two days. All went well until dawn’s early light yesterday when she woke with the same searing pain. Another trip to the ER and another x-ray revealed the joint still in place. What a relief. Nerve pain was the diagnosis, a pain feeling like a knitting needle being driven up her arm. A hard cast was applied to immobilize the joint until sufficient healing occurs to hold the bones in place. The transparency of the x-ray is the miracle that allowed the doctors in each case to make an accurate diagnosis.

When she studied in Cuba my former pilates teacher (and now surrogate granddaughter) Allejandra observed that the Cuban doctors had so perfected the science of the human touch that they could diagnose many diseases without the benefit of x-ray and special equipment. I tend to believe her. Though I do not cotton to psychics, I believe that the trained and focused mind of anyone can pick up things we normally miss. Sometimes I call this putting two and two together. Head often in the sand, it makes me shudder to think how much I miss. Can I improve? Of course. I think that being more aware will be one of my goals in 2011.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 7, 1941, A Child's Perspective

Although we were considered middle class, television, then tiny and black and white, was not one of our beongings. Neither was a car or a refrigerator, for that matter. Still we possessed a big lovely home, a Steinway baby grand, and a whole library of books, including a leather bound set of encyclopedia britannica. (We were destined to loose them all about a year later in some kind of foreclosure never explained to me.) I puzzled so often in childhood at the ways we didn't fit, because we certainly did not. I tried to hide my discomfort from both my mother and my father and my beloved big sister.

This was not as hard as it seems, for we were not a family that ever talked. Even at the dinner table, everyone read silently. Somewhere around this time my mother, who had always seemed like my big sister---so young and beautiful and talented, and seventeen years his junior---abandoned all of us for greener pastures. Though now 80, I remember the Sunday morning Pearl Harbor attack. Some of the details blur, but not the feelings.

Good ear twisted toward the large brown console radio, rocker unmoving, I watched with bewilderment and compassion as I saw the tears falling from my father's eyes, smearing the gold rimmed trifocals which had made such ugly big dents in the sides of his nose. The tears were wetting the one day prickly stubble of grey on his mustache and cheeks, for unlike the other days in which he dressed as a business man in vest and tie, he never shaved on Sundays.
It was the first time I had ever seen him cry.

He was fifty and I was eleven. I witnessed the silent tears many times in the four remaining years of his life, usually after work when he was plastered to the radio listening to the war news reporting the number of casualties of the previous day.

I was probably too old to sit on his lap as he rocked and read to me, though I sometimes still did. Usually it was the Seattle Times or Post Intelligencer, but sometimes it was Fortune magazine, or collections of favorite poems, or even the funnies. On that particular Sunday morning I sensed the depth of his sadness, but couldn't grasp all of the implications. I remember hearing the battleship Arizona had been sunk, but I hardly understood, and Hawaii seemed a million miles away.

It was more than a decade later, at least five years after his death at 54, that my sister revealed the whole story, or at least as she remembered it, and she was pretty savvy.

As the District Plant Superintendent of the telephone company, my father, though self taught, had developed incredible skills in telecommunication. These included the art of laying underwater cable. I can remember trips with him on the "telephone barge" as he supervised the crew in laying cable. He was also somehow in on the early development of radar, and at times the telephone company would loan him out to the Navy for special projects. Engineers building the first floating bridge on Lake Washington borrowed him for advice in securing the cables. Sometimes the engineers at Boeings, then small, would consult with him. All of this was over my head, of course. I distinctly remember one time, however, accompanying him to a secret underground military installation where we went through tunnels, and where I was actually blindfolded. Visions of Nancy Drew whirled in my head.

Here is the rest of the story. Approximately six months before the Pearl Harbor attack the phone rang one night at home, a call from Washington DC. My sister answered. It seemed that FDR was requesting that my father move, with his family, to Honolulu at once for a special mission. It was explained that the president was concerned about inadequate communications between Pearl Harbor and the White House, and the government wanted my father, considered such an expert, to move there and set up something better. Being a very patriotic person, he felt torn. In the end his colleagues convinced him it would be unfair to me to move me out of my school. I think I would have loved it, but no one ever asked me, of course. He declined the assignment. So on December 7, 1941, he felt that he alone was responsible for all the deaths and destruction. No wonder he cried.

Historians have revealed now, of course, that FDR knew all about the impending attack, and scripted it as a way to get us into the war. Sadly my father never knew the truth, and died, still carrying the giant guilt of turning down his country.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reinventing Yourself, Over and Over

About four years ago my good friend and former intern, Mary, made a dramatic change in her life. Mary grew up in Oakland springing from a family of Italian heritage, and not great means. I wonder at what age she chose to rewrite the family script? Not that Mary's life hasn't always been one of taking sharp turns, for to me she seems fearless in plunging off in new directions. From being a hippie student in encounter groups at Cal in the early seventies to careers in house painting, legal secretary, home nursing assistant, psychotherapist, and a dozen other occupations, Mary always manages to emerge victorious except in long term relationships. In this venue she remains good friends with her former lovers, but a lifetime partner seems to elude her luck or her preference. Art and the spiritual quest have always been a force in her life so I guess it is not that shocking that in early retirement, on a limited income, she chose to move to San Miguel Allende, Mexico, a place she had only visited once except in active imagination. San Miguel is known as a refuge for North Americans with its large art colony, and picturesque cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. It is also known as a place of spiritual inquiry.
Sadly, I can no longer explore our southern neighbor except in books and memory, since the air pollution there makes it difficult for me to breathe. I think I have travelled there five or six times in my life, always loving it, but I've never visited San Miguel.
Mexico is a country which has long enchanted, fascinated, and lured me ever since as a child my father told me bedtime stories about it. Sometime around 1915, in his early twenties and very poor, he took a job installing telephone wires in the rural parts of Mexico, A skilled horseman, he would ride alone though the remote areas stringing telephone wires. He came upon a small village at dusk one evening.
Spooky, here was no sound except that of a small breeze. Then he noticed movement in the trees. Looking up he saw a couple of dozen dead bodies hanging from ropes: men, women, and children. Horrified, he rode on. Later he learned that the folk of this town had been rumored to be traitors to Pancho Villa, and they were murdered to set an example. How could anyone be so cruel he wondered. My father was a particularly gentle man, even though his own life had been one of struggling for survival. Yet most of the Mexicans he met on the trail revered Pancho Villa, which was beyond his understanding.
Weeks later, again alone, he saw a campfire ahead. His apprehension lessened as the men welcomed him to join their campfire, fed him, and invited him to throw down his bed roll. It turned out Pancho Villa was their leader, and Villa, himself, welcomed my Dad with kindness and affection.
It was clear how his men adored him, as did most of the residents in the countryside. Mary tells me Pancho Villa is revered to this day. This presented an existential dilemma for my father. He puzzled over it for all of his remaining years, and passed the angst on to me.
Mary faces some different challenges today in San Miguel. She purchased a darling house in a very Mexican neighborhood and rescued a Mexican cat, SonRio. She teaches English as a volunteer, but acquiring fluent Spanish and making a whole new network of friends at 64 is not a snap. She has acquired Mexican health insurance, and in another year she will become a dual citizen of both Mexico and the US, but she will be denied forever any kind of participation in Mexican government, including political rallies, for outsiders are not trusted. She has been studying myths and storytelling.
When she returns next week she's going to start a dream journal, illustrating each dream with a collage. I wonder if that will lead to her reinventing herself once again?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Decisions Not Made

It seems like every November evening now even with the shortening days the sun still decides to put on a drama on the western horizon. I miss the evening news as the sky hypnotizes me, somehow each sunset like a handprint finding unique ways to imprint itself on the skyline. The photo above was snapped three nights ago, whereas tonight's production was enhanced by the blackened outline of a dirigible pausing in air, and then looping gently over twin peaks as it turned 180 degrees in a wide arc heading back to the old Oakland air port. I could see the tiny cabin lights under the giant balloon. In proportion to what's attached above, that cabin is so minute. For a birthday about twenty years ago Lee treated me to such a flight. The memory is fresh as yesterday. Two things about it both shocked and thrilled me. One was that in order to board, each passenger (it only held six) had to lunge for a swinging rope ladder. The air ship, like a puppy on a leash, was being held somewhat precariously be four men with guide ropes. It groaned and gyrated, yearning to be free. The other thing is that once aloft the windows of the dirigible were wide open, and passengers could actually lean out. Well, I leaned a wee bit out, especially as we "parked" high over the traffic on the Golden Gate bridge, but my decision was tentative, like so many in my life, balancing safety against risk.
Reflecting yesterday on last Thanksgiving, spent on Maui, I thought about what a poor choice it had been to go there, a place so dear to my heart. It turned out I was so sick with allergies that I spent most of the time in bed. Month after month as the year rolled on I was plagued by health problems, one after another. It seemed like each health crisis was in some way caused or perpetuated by my faulty choices in activity, or physician, or reasoning. Or was it fate, and not poor reasoning? Goodness gracious, I hope this will be a different year.
Another memory of a conversation many decades ago comes to mind. Folks who knew my friend Marcia, now many years deceased, marveled at her sage wisdom. As well as a college professor of music, researcher and author, Marcia was born to the role of a Cherokee medicine woman (yes, they had women, not just men) and her own life was one plagued by which role to follow. Searching for the right path, she flipped back and forth more than three times that I know of. At times she would go back to reservation living, wearing her grandfather's cloak, the inside of which was filled with many pockets, too numerous to count, full of herbs.
Once, while ruminating over a decision in my usual style, Marcia said "Bonnie, there is no such thing as a bad decision. BAD stands for BEST AVAILABLE DATA. We all make decisions intending for them to be right, and consider all the facts we know. No one intends to make a bad decision. Sometimes more data becomes available, and then we make a different decision."
I doubt that Marcia invented this pearl of wisdom, but what a comforting thought.
As I write this I'm thinking especially of my friend in France, searching for the right alternative/additional therapy for ovarian cancer, and of my friend who three years ago made the same kind of hard decision in his successful fight with melanoma.
My ruminations fade in significance. Somehow what color to paint the living room ceiling, and what brand of hearing aid to buy, seem like decisions of such little consequence, like the wee cabin under the giant airship.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dear Andrea

Tut tut, or should I say gobble gobble? Its almost Thanksgiving, and you still haven't let me know what it is you want me to bring for dinner next Thursday. If its fruit salad or my homemade persimmon cookies, famous as they are, I may balk, because right now I have a sore right shoulder (from picking up a too heavy bag of rotten deck wood, I think) so chopping and stirring does not appeal. How about ice cream?
Little did I dream forty some years ago when you were my still-wet-behind-the ears waterfront assistant at the Yakima YWCA camp (what a poor excuse for a camp that was) that Lee and I would eat so many turkey dinners with you and Stace, and that our friendship would endure over four decades. We have seen each other through a lot of holidays, indeed, including many silly ones, like the scene above. This coming Thursday, incidentally, would have been Lee's and my 54th anniversary. Inaccurate as I am about some dates, as you correctly point out, I'm not in error on this one. Besides, your perceptions are not always without error. Remember the whipped cream you raved over that was really Cool Whip?

So to set the record straight, as you accurately corrected me following last week's blog, Aunt Celia could not have been conscripted into the Army in 1918 and served three years in the trenches of France because the war ended in 1918! Regretfully I threw out all her memorabilia a couple of years ago so I was fudging on my inadequate recall and not checking the data. Like you, I am gifted with a great imagination, and sometimes mine runs away with me. In twenty years when you catch up with me in age perhaps you'll do the same.

Checking Google, I find that within weeks of the US declaring war against Germany on April 6, 1917, the American Red Cross dispatched a ship to Europe loaded with medical personnel and supplies, carrying 170 surgeons and nurses. So I wonder if that was the ship Celia was on? I suppose the list is somewhere in the Red Cross archives, but since I'm not writing a novel it really doesn't matter to me. What does matter is that I might have inherited some of her risk-taking genes. The other thing that matters is that the "e" on the end of my last name is attributed to her, for like the rest of my father's family, she was born a Cross, not Crosse. I do know in the army she was called "Crossie" because I saw in in her old letters. Its said she took on French Aires in Paris, and ordered her brothers to change the spelling, as it would be more elegant. Only my father conceded. Of course, if YOU were writing the story you would get all the facts documented, whereas I am content to live on my own fantasies. To my credit though, I have not missed a week since I started my blog on April 1, which is probably more writing than you, the educated one with a passion and gift for writing, has produced. If you think this is another gentle nudge, right you are.
Tonight just before I started this meandering saga something wonderful happened to soothe my wounded ego, no thanks to you.
The door bell at the locked front gate rang. Dark as it was and ignoring Kodi's frantic banking I turned on the the patio lights. I could just make out the UPS driver with two big boxes from Omaha Steak. With relief I thought I recognized him. (How many ebony skinned delivery men have to duck to clear my iron gate, and still prance around in brown bermuda shorts in November?) Indeed, he was the driver who witnessed my car wreck last June, and was so helpful in calling the police, ambulance, fire, etc. He carried the heavy boxes all the way to the kitchen. Then he inquired what had come of the accident. (He'd been a volunteer witness, seeing the whole thing.) When I told him the other driver planned to hire an attorney and sue me, he wrote down once again his name and phone number. "I'll be there" he insisted. He swore the other driver was delerious, totally lost, and was even unaware he had been hit, and that the accident was not my fault. He attested to my innocence and praised me for my driving skills. I told him the other driver, legally, had two years to sue, but I doubted that it would come to that. Still, I felt a big smile of gratitude deep inside, and his thoughtfulness will long stay with me. Besides your presence to tease, I have one more gratitude for Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Perspective on an Unusual Veteran

My aunt Celia never wore any underpants. I never could figure out why, but then I never met her until she was in her sixties, and, at that point, it seemed rude to ask. Not that she was immodest. Quite the contrary. She always dressed in tailor made lavender suits, with hems five inches below her knees, remarkable considering her measly pension from the U.S. Army and the State of California. She never left the premises without white gloves and fancy hats. At her neck, she sported either a purple chiffon scarf or lace folded carefully over the suit lapel, usually matching the embroidered handkerchief, with a monogrammed C tucked in her black leather purse. She once advised me (unsolicited) I could never get a decent job if I continued to carry Kleenex in my purse to an interview.

I never understood Celia. For one thing, she looked and acted so differently than her brothers Sandy and Gus, the latter being my father. Whereas Celia was pale, squat and round, they were thin and swarthy. All were small of stature, but their genes produced rugged Western men, most at home in the saddle. All were born before 1900, poor children of the Rocky Mountains, their father eking out a living at whatever presented itself; cattle, sheep, or horse trading, mostly, near Trinidad, Colorado. From stories I’ve heard, there was gambling and womanizing thrown in, also. Often shuttled from relative to relative, mother deceased, its a wonder that any of the children survived. In their teens they were taken in by a distant aunt and uncle in Maine, a strict religious household, which troubled all three. Sandy was placed in a boarding school for delinquents. Gus ran away, and rode the rails back to Colorado. Celia, however, persevered, and made it to the Boston School of Nursing, from which she graduated a year later at 19. The year was 1918.

Concurrent with her graduation, the Red Cross was actively recruiting nurses. Celia enlisted. Two weeks later she found herself on a troop ship crossing the Atlantic to France. Half way across the loud speaker on the ship ordered all Red Cross nurses above deck. There the captain reported a sub had been sighted, and the president had ordered all Red Cross nurses be sworn in as Army nurses. On pitched decks they raised their right hands and took the oath.
Back below, they were given physicals. The requirements were that a nurse must be 5'2". Celia, at 4'11", was instructed to stand on her toes.
Soon followed three years nursing the wounded in France, often in field hospitals set up in trenches. Celia told me that often all she could do was hold a soldier's hand while an arm or leg was amputated without anesthetic. At one point she had a "beau" as she called it, a wounded soldier. Alas, he died. She never married, and returned following the armistice to become a public health nurse.
She lived to age 94 in spite of a bad heart, macular degeneration, and a trying life.

Though I tried hard to be a good niece, it was a struggle for me. I found her rigid and judgemental, and her religiosity over bearing, nothing like my gentle, loving father. I suppose I carried resentment that he died so young, and that in my later years I was burdened with her care. She found me liberal, immodest, and irreverent. Its a loss to both of us that we struggled unsuccessfully to understand each other. I really don't know how she found the courage and wits to survive. She was so brave.

All that aside, when I saw today the American Legion table at the local Safeway, I felt a potato sized lump in my throat.

Women veterans are so seldom truly honored, I feel. I salute you on this Veteran’s Day, Celia M Crosse, RN. A true veteran of the First World War.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Open Wider, Please

Yes, doc, I’m ready, or at least as ready, at 80, as I think I could ever be. Incidently, do you like my black patent leather sandals, because I wore then especially today for this procedure. They slip off easily as you can see, in case I have to run to the bathroom. Just kidding, of course. Whereas I have procrastinated on this cavity for three years, I took time to use your bathroom on the way in. There shouldn’t be a problem, although at times age catches me unawares. By the way, your wallpaper in there is rather painterly, if a bit outdated, like me. I’m not sure I like this paper tissue hat your nurse made me put on. It feels like I’m going into surgery, or something. Not very becoming. Ah, yes, denial is one of my other character defects. Hold up, doc. Right now I’m pretending I’m at a pilates class. Inhale, Bonnie. Shoulders down. Gut sucked in. I’m usually excellent at following instructions, you know. Whoops, I almost forgot to exhale. But honestly, doctor, I just can’t open my mouth any wider, even though (tee hee) I have always had a reputation for a big mouth. And by the way, doctor, I’ve never seen a periodontist before, and I can’t say I like the name. Is it from a periscope or something? Up, periscope, down periscope. Is that scalpel your periscope? Which reminds me, my torso is getting more and more pear-shaped with every passing decade. Gotta do something about that. Another procrastination has caught up with me, I must admit. By the way, you said if this took you'd also be doing a sinus lift in February. Is that some kind of internal face lift? If so, could you please do both sides, because I don't want to walk around lopsided. So you were telling me that the material you will put in following the extraction is sanitized. Or was it pasteurized? Or did you say homogenized? Oh, now I remember, sterilized. Because, I’m curious. Do they sterilize it before or after its ground up? Do I have any choice of donor? Because I would prefer to know the source of the cadaver. I’m really an atheist, you know, but I’d prefer ground up bone from a Bhudist priest in Bali. I once saw the cremation of such a hallowed person, and boy, was I impressed. The whole small town celebrated. They danced and sang for hours. I’d like that. Perhaps you mix several sources together, and if that is the case, because I’m also a feminist, could you throw in a little feminist bone matter? This is another fantasy but I wish I could have some of Eleanor’s or Amelia’s. That gives me an idea, by the way. When I croak could some of my bones be donated for other folks dental implants? I’d love to have Hillary thinking of me with occasional swallows with heads of state. Heck, I might even settle for Nancy Pelosi. Upward and onward, you say?

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Somewhere in the depths of my guest room closet, I think tucked between the 1980-90 tax returns, obsolete photography equipment, a favorite floor length dress my mother made me which I can't bring myself to recycle, and a discarded but still functional bedspread, lies a medium sized light canvas, faded white tote bag. I think Lee bought it for me in the early sixties, long before my two master's degrees and my doctorate. Why? Silk screened in dull brown on the outside: Chronic Student. It was directed towards me, with some humor, because all my life I have been addicted to taking classes. Everything from Birds of the Sacramento Valley to the Call of the Galapagos to Zoogeography of the World. Lee would smile and say "Bonnie is always happiest when she is taking some educational thing." True observation, indeed, and she never growled at my intellectual meanderings, even when they took me to Colorado or New Mexico or South America. Later in life I amused myself with Elderhostels.
So it is with ongoing pleasure that I now indulge myself in watercolor classes, which have taken me to France, Bali, and Belgium, as well as local environs with teacher and friend, Sandy Delehanty, and others.
Currently I amuse myself in a monthly critique class with a painting teacher I like and respect, Myrna Wacknov. This week we met at my house, which was a pleasure, and I displayed the painting above for Myrna's comments. It shows my down-eastern Maine friend, Mason, whom I first met many years ago in a painting class in Maine. Mason and his wife often visit, and I composed the painting from a snap I took of him while they were entertaining me at a snazzy SF restaurant, the Water Bar, this spring. One of Mason's common expressions is the title of the painting, and of this blog. It refers to his attitude! Often its hard to know if he is teasing, or serious, and I often confuse his intent. Myrna thought I did a good job of portraying his attitude, but had much to say of criticism of composition (the background on the left is distracting) and my portrayal (the ears are too small, do more with the eyebrows, avoid hard edges in the background). Its hard to not be perfect, but then perhaps that is what compels me to keep trying, and I hope I always will.
When my friend Anne Watkins died a few years ago I was blessed to receive her painting books and materials. She was a great fan and student of Charles Reid, whose work I distinctly dislike. Spotting a Charles Reid book on my shelf, part of Anne's collection, Myrna assigned me to learn his technique, and repaint Mason in a Charles Reid style, which is the extreme opposite of how I usually paint. Oh, my. This is going to be a hunk of growth-giving. More may be revealed in a later blog. On the other hand, I may just give up my addiction to learning.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Lorraine,

Its almost Halloween, and I'm reminded how you used to escort me around our neck of Magnolia Bluff to gather treats. Usually we wore white sheets with holes cut for eyes. I thought that was grand, and you never complained, though it had to have been a drag, my being four and a half years younger. 28th Ave was where the richest folk lived, giving out the best candy and caramelized apples.

So now I'm asking you to stir your ashes and offer some advice. Your granddaughter, Darcie, now 28, living in Portland Maine, wrote yesterday via email, (something not in your scope of experience) asking for help in planning her wedding. “My mother is not a reliable source of information in this area,” she intoned, “and I want it to be GOOD, since I‘m assuming it will be the only one….”

Its easy for me to remember how very very much you loved Darcie, and wanted to live long enough to see her grown and married. Sadly, leukemia had a mind of its own. I doubt that she was old enough to remember the extent of your devotion and caring.

Now the curious thing is Darcie never called, emailed, or snail mailed me to say that she was enraptured with this ex of hers, and had been keeping it a secret that she was about to be engaged. He’s a problematical choice in my book, but then I only know him through her past disillusionments with him. I learned of the secret tryst on a hunch, by checking on Facebook, which is, as far as I’m concerned, another insanity created by the digital media.

You’d be amazed to see Darcie today, of course. The photo above shows her sitting with me at my 80th birthday celebration in August. Not the tiny preemie you visited every day after work in the hospital, rocking her in your arms begging her to live, even after she lost one kidney.. Not the quiet, sweet, self possessed little girl she was when you died. Nor the reliable surrogate mother role she assumed for her little brother for so many years. Not even the talented and poised star of her high school musical. Not the beautiful and sometimes naughty gypsy vagabond wandering the country for years with various attractive and unattractive men, searching without success for the deeper psychological identity of home, and who am I?

You were always more romantic than I, Lorraine, so I suppose you’d tell her wear orange and white flowers, your favorite colors, in her lovely hair. And to make it a beautiful day and a beautiful ceremony. Your own two marriages, neither of which included the presence of me, your little sis, were disasters although I imagine your first one to a military officer was full of pomp and circumstance.. In retrospect, I was never invited to attend the weddings of any of your five children or many grandchildren, a sadness to me. Why did they reject me? I could never understand it but it hurt at the time. With a couple of exceptions, most of these joinings did not last, anyway . Our own mother was married so many times I could not keep track of her changing last names. I never attended any of those weddings either, did you? Poor Darcie, she doesn’t spring from a family with a good track record.

So what my heart wants to tell Darcie is this: weddings are not all they are cracked up to be. Costly, and phony often. There are rare exceptions, of course. Until very recently, legal vows were something of heterosexual privilege, not available to me. Anniversaries, on the other hand, are sacred. Five years slips to ten, with luck, and both partners have figured out roles, and who does which chores, and how powers of decision play back and forth. Both partners have learned joy and pain. Soon 25 somersaults to 50, if health allows, and that is rare. Anniversaries stand for loving and giving and sharing, and all that is really growth living. They are to be cherished.

I’ll be sure to remind Darcie that whenever, however, and wherever she decides to exchange rings, you’ll be there in spirit adoring her as always. For me, I’ll stand in the wings and try however briefly to swallow my skepticism. I'll wish her happiness, of course, and mean it.

Your loving little sis,


Friday, October 15, 2010

Reflections on Fear

Today my primary care doctor told me that the best thing I could do for my atrial fibrillation was to avoid fearful situations. Now just how does one do that?
Fear is something we face uniquely, of course, based on our life experiences, and to some extent, I believe, our genes. When television brought the one by one rescue of the 33 copper miners in Chile to our living rooms this week, I was clutching at the arms of my recliner, like so many others.
When Lee and I were young, visiting friends in Bisbee, Az., they took us hiking deep into the "lavender pit" an abandoned copper mine there. Well, to me it seemed deep, but it was probably no more than ten or twelve feet. When I expressed fear of the walls falling in they laughed and said that the greatest fear would be rattlesnakes, who might have crawled in to escape the summer heat. I still have a huge crystalline rock in my garden that we hauled from there, though the intense green color has faded, like my hair, to dull grey.
My particular interest in Chile hails from my connection with my former pilates teacher, and surrogate granddaughter, Alejondra, who is now living back in her native land, having arrived in Santiago with her husband the night before the earthquake. The tales Alejondra has told me about the Atacama desert, the site of this week's mine rescue, are so spine chilling that I will never forget them. This is the largest and driest desert in the world, for one thing. It is in the desolate and remote north. There are places where it has not rained for 400 years.
Following the bloody coup de'etat in '73, in which Pinochet became the dictator until 1990, some 80 thousand Allende sympathizers or military personnel were cruelly interned. According to Alejondra their wives and daughters would often "disappear" in the night. It is now known, but not widely publicized, that they would be driven to the Atacama desert, raped, and abandoned to die of thirst. A shovel dug into almost any sand dune there will reveal the parched white bones of these poor victims.
Just how the 33 survivors of the copper mine cave-in faced their fears and survived, is indeed a story that needs to be told.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

All Things Are Sacred

In search of fall color, and even more in need of an emotional lift, I decided to venture for the 4th time in ten years to Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe. Climbing cautiously over Carson Pass, 8900 ', in my new Malibu, Kodi dozing in the back seat, I wondered how we would get along? The doctors tell me my atrial fibrillation is still not controlled, but heck, what more stunning land in which to pass eternity. I just don't want to endanger any one else. It turned out that I felt no more shaky than I do at sea level. My friend Dottie from Fernley, Nevada, offered to meet me there and host Kodi on wades in the river, which he adores.
Hope Valley is famed for its fall brilliance. At the peak of color, up to 100 photographers can be seen at one time lining the road, tripods at ready. The task is to find the perfect day for the peak color. Alas, I was probably four days early. Lots and lots of yellow quaking Aspen, but shy of the brilliant oranges and reds.

This land, along the West fork of the Carson River, was originally peopled by the Washoe tribe, and in fact, our log cabin at Sorensons was named after them. The Washoe Indian people consider themselves the original inhabitants of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Moreover they view all aspects of the environment as sentient, and hold all things as sacred.
Today the Washo (Washoe) language is only spoken by a handful of elders.

I returned home weary, but happy, with another array of color on the emulsion of my brain, albeit crimson.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hoo-hoo, hooo hoo hoo

Where I live in the Oakland Hills adjacent to the regional park, many critters abide, besides the skunk in last week's tale. For forty five years a pair of Great Horned Owls have serenaded me at certain seasons, one perched on either side of the house. Invariably their call, beginning at late dusk, sounds the same: hoo-hoo, hooo hoo hoo.
First discovered in Virginia, their Latin name is Bubo virgianus, after Queen Elizabeth I, the virgin queen.
I've learned to stand on the deck and mimic them, and invariably the one on the top of the cedar tree off the kitchen will crane his or her neck (for their necks turn 270 degrees) and talk back to me, sometimes carrying on a lengthy conversation. How stupid, I thought. I've sometimes focused a flash light in their yellow eyes, meanie me. They are quite huge, and when they alight, which is silent, the top of the tree bounces. I marvel at the wing span, three to five feet. They have excellent sight, which improves in the dark, and their hearing is even better. Strangely the ear tufts, from which they get their name, have nothing to do with hearing, being just tufts of hair. What makes their hearing so good is that the right ear is set higher than the left, giving better sound (up and down) elevation.
Last Wednesday night about midnight the first arrival of the season started hooting, only this time from the rose garden side and the call was hoo hoo hoo hoo. I found that terribly disconcerting. It took me two hours to get back to sleep, as it puzzled me so. Was this my same talkative owl? Was she hurt or lost or looking for her mate? I've since researched and found that it is a known variation. Of course an owl's life span in the wild is 13 years, so in the almost fifty years I've lived here, I calculated, I've probably hosted four or five generations. This awareness came in the night, as I tried to unweave the puzzle.
Synchronicity rears its head again. For the last twenty five years or so, I've been troubled with a hearing loss, a rather strange one, so the experts say, which I experience as stressful. Audiologist after audiologist has tested me and pronounced my loss so slight as to be untreatable.
Recently I've been consulting a Walnut Creek audiologist, who is very much into the science of sound. After eleven hours of testing (believe me, I've counted) he fitted me today with temporary hearing aids. He explained that it remains to be seen if my brain will learn to accommodate the difference in sound from what I am used to hearing. Hmm. I had always thought of hearing as in the ear, not the brain. When I told him my owl story of this week he shared his own back yard owl story, which was not so different than mine. Perhaps I am going to revise my opinion of Great Horns as being more than giant dumb birds!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What the Autumnal Equinox Brought Me!

NASA warned that Wednesday was a rare autumnal equinox around here and to watch out! The moon would appear inflated and there would  be a rare glow, with Jupiter hovering nearby.  So when I awoke for the third day with a raging sinus headache (or allergy?) I was not encouraged.
(I'm getting a CAT scan of my sinuses this morning). Jen came to clean, which cheered me, and I managed to paint and read a little, comforting myself that the second episode of Survivor would be on at 8pm and I could distract myself with pizza and silly women in bikinis, this series featuring the old versus the young, except that Survivor's opinion of old is 40, not 80. My practice is to bring Kodi in before dark, to avoid any night critters, but it was a hot night and he seemed so blissed out sprawled in the patio on the cool I decided to procrastinate until the first commercial.  Suddenly about 8:09 I heard a single bark.  I leaped to my feet. Then the odor struck me.  Skunk! Kodi was nowhere to be seen.  I armed myself with a spoonful of peanut butter, which usually attracts him. Leash and flashlight in the other hand, bedroom slippers flopping, head throbbing, I stumbled around the greenhouse, through the orchard, down the paths, calling, Kodi, Kodi.  No response.  The moon mocked me. The odor grew more intense.  I cursed the moon and all the planets, my headache, and especially my own inertia.  Finally I caught him down the front bank.  Of course now we both smelled like skunk.  I coaxed him inside to the laundry room, where on the top shelf of a cupboard I found an old bottle of "Skunk-Off".  It probably had not seen daylight in ten years.  At nine and a half, I think it was his first encounter with a skunk.  Memories of other days and other dogs saddened me.  I remembered forty some years ago when Lee and I came home from work to find our two Schnauzer puppies had played tug of war with a banana slug.  That was the worst! Meanwhile, here was I alone to deal with Kodi.  I doused and scrubbed for about twenty minutes.  Then I closed him in for the solution to do its work. Still the whole house reeked.   I got back to the tv just in time to see the ending.  Apparently the "young" lost the challenge, and one was being eliminated.  Meanwhile, this old woman was facing her own test of survival.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

In And Out House Stories

Family members and friends are still sending me outhouse stories, but my allergies have kept me IN, so time to change subjects.  To amuse myself indoors I've been painting happy scenes, sun flowers and sea turtles.  A week ago last night a gas main explosion in San Bruno lighting up the sky directly across the bay from me.  From any window on the west side of the house I could see flames shooting 100' feet into the air.  This included the view from my front deck, kitchen, living room, and study, where I now sit.  Not a view I relished. Sadly seven people died, and many were left homeless.  The flames raged over two hours, triggering for me memories of the Oakland Hills fire over a decade a go, which killed one friend who was housebound, and destroyed the homes and disrupted the lives of so many others, including many close to me.  Like a stone that skips over the water. loosing momentum with each plop, I find that each fire around here awakens a memory of a previous one.  About thirty five years ago, asleep in bed one spring night, I woke to notice the strange yet beautiful glowing color of the rayon draw drapes. This was long before I painted, and took interest in unusual colors.  This window faced south, towards the rose garden, a canyon, and San Jose. I glanced at the clock on the night stand, a digital readout, in a time before most clocks were digital: in large read numbers it flashed 4:44.  Strange, I thought, for the sun to be rising so early...  I rose and peeked through the curtains.  It took a minute to register.  On the other side of the canyon a large home was an inferno of fire.  I screamed, waking Lee and the dogs, and called the fire department.  Shortly sirens could be heard.  The structure was a beautiful new house, just ready to be occupied.  It burned to the ground quite quickly.  No one was hurt, fortunately, and it was eventually rebuilt.  Other than photos and movies, it was the first structure fire I actually witnessed.  The imprint it made on me was the clock.  For about five years, I woke almost every morning with a jolt.  I would glance at the clock, and leap out of bed.  It always said 4:44.  The trauma of it all was imprinted on my unconscious.  Thank goodness I eventually processed this.  Nowadays if I am lucky I sleep till 4:10.  Old age seems to do that for me.  I move to the living room lounger, where, with a cup of tea, I pick up on whatever book is enchanting me.  This week is Ivan Doig's the Whistling Season.  Each page is like a poem.  What a great writer.   

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Last of the Outhouse Stories

My Mother had a way of enhancing all stories, which, as a child, entranced me.  As an adult I learned (and at 80 am still learning) that most of them were giant exaggerations.  None the less, growing up in Moosejaw, Sask., most of them centered around small town life.  I loved the stories, and wanted to hear them over and over.  They were in such contrast to my life as a city girl.   One such yarn centered around Halloween, when, according to her, she would lead the gang of kids, (all boys except her) as they raided outhouse after outhouse, pushing them over, and then running for cover, apparently never getting caught.  The way she described the gyrations was probably overdone, but others have told me that this was a common practice for kids in rural settings at the turn of the century, and later.  
My personal experiences with outhouses are much more limited.  When I first moved to California, in 1956, Lee and I were often the guests of a beloved friend and physician, Jane.  At that time Jane owned a rustic cabin north of Calistoga on the Maacama River.  It had incredible charm, and much poison oak.  It was without electricity or running water, but being a doctor, Jane kept everything in pristine condition, including the outhouse.  For all the years we camped there, the following sign was posted on the inside of the outhouse door, in lovely caligraphy:

O Cloacina, Goddess of this place,
Look on thy suppliants with a smiling face.
Soft, yet cohesive let their offerings flow,
Not rashly swift nor insolently slow.

Like my mother's stories, I loved the composition.  Recently I have learned that Cloacina was the Roman Goddess of Sewers and Drains, and that the main drain in the Forum was named Cloaca Maxima in her honor.  How enchanting.  I think now I need to make a copy an post it in my own digs.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More Outhouse Stories

No one answered my request for more outhouse stories, but a little research revealed that many books have been written about outhouses.  Not only that, some art books have been published with nothing but pictures of outhouses.  I'm flabbergasted.  I'm still hoping to tease out more stories from my buddies.  On coaxing, my friend Nancy, a retired teacher, revealed this story: as a child she once attended a country school in Arkansas.  It sported a six holer.  Her modesty prevented her from ever using it, she thinks. Now Nancy, who probably always was the teacher's pet, was given the highest honor, that is, of guarding the door while the teacher availed herself of the facilities.  Nancy was so proud!
Just this week I recalled a true story by a former Girl Scout colleague.  It occurred one summer when Cappy, now an adult,  went home to visit the rural country home of her childhood, somewhere in Oklahoma.  It was a primitive place, so that, in the night, when Cappy felt the call of nature, she followed the well-worn path in the dark to the facility she knew so well.  As she started back towards the house, something struck her leg. It hit hard.  She screamed and screamed.  It turned out to be a rattler, a huge one.  Apparently she stepped right on it.  She spent a few days in the hospital and several weeks recouperating.  I guess the moral of this story is that a Girl Scout should never go out unprepared... 
Can you top this?  I'm still searching for more stories, so send me yours.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Low Expectations

At dinner one night in La Conner two weeks ago six of us suddenly got on the subject of outhouses.  Why or how I'm not sure.  It was a charming restaurant, with elegant food, certainly not suggestive of anything other than chic.  Perhaps it was my "shit-a-quart" story which took place that very day (last week's blog).  Now I was a city girl, but one in love with camping, so outhouses and "dig your own latrine"were not activities out of my frame of reference.  Also, I lived the last two years of high school in a log cabin with neither electricity nor running water. Incidently our outhouse there had a stunning view of Bear Creek.  Someone with an artistic sense planned well.  It was a well built sweet one-holer.  Sometimes I would sit there and write poetry, for at that time it was my life aspiration.  However, none of my memories matched Stacey's.  I'm hoping I can get Andrea to write out the exact details, and share it with you for next week's blog.  Soon everyone in the restaurant was gaping at us.  We laughed so hard the tears flowed.   
Back at my niece's house in Granite Falls I discovered that almost all country folk have an outhouse story to share.  Her husband rendered this one, about the primitive acreage where he grew up: One of my brothers was always the object of our jokes. Poor kid.  Our outhouse, like most in the area, had to be moved every year, and it was our job to dig the new hole and slide it on skids to the new resting place.  Naturally it got older and more ramshackle each year. It was probably built of scrap lumber to begin with.  One evening we decided to play a trick on my brother.  He was inside the outhouse with the door closed.  Quietly we built a fire on the side of the structure, planning to scare him when it started to catch.  The maneuver was ill planned, for as soon as we lit the fire, it ignited the whole structure.  My brother came screaming out.  He was terrified but safe. It was all we could do to put out the fire.  From that time on our outhouse was REALLY ramshackle.  
Now that I am 80 I appreciate indoor plumbing dearly, but wonder what good stories I'm missing.  If you have an outhouse story to share, I'd love to hear it.  

Friday, August 20, 2010

High Expectations

Arriving in La Conner, Wn. in our rental car Aug. 12, Dolores and I swooned.  Charming is the best description for the town and inn which we had had found on the internet.  Friends for 62 years, we chose this base to celebrate our joint 80th birthdays.  Our only sadness was the absence of one of our trio, Shirley, whose husband had been taken seriously ill.
When we parked outside our room at the La Conner Country Inn, we had high expectations: perfect weather, great food, a reception and a luncheon all to be shared with dear friends and family.   The skit I wrote in which six of us acted out our early months of friendship in a sorority house turned out to be a smash.  I can't imagine how the weekend could have been more fun.
On waking on the day of our party, I glanced at our car.  The whole front end seemed to be covered with something thick and white.  It enveloped the roof, the front window, the hood, and even the front bumper.  It looked like bird poop.  How could that be? I looked up at the tall tall cedars.  Of all things, we had parked under a blue heron nest!
Later I learned that the locals call them slough-pumpers, because of this habit, and the memory trail they leave is referred to as shit-a-quart.  It took many towels and washings to remove most of the traces, and there was still a white film on the windows.  To me it seemed more like shit-a-gallon.  Another precious memory to add to a perfect birthday celebration.  


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Can't Be In Control, Eighty or not

Saturday is the day planned for the big joint 80th birthday celebration for three college freshmen, Bonnie, Shirley, and Dolores, friends for 62 years, since we were thrown together as sorority roommates in 1948. The University was flooded with returning GI's celebrated the end of WW2, the last great war.
We  planned this event six months ago, because I did not want to be at home, feeling it would be too sad without Lee.  We picked a small inn over the internet in the town of La Conner, where none of us had ever been, and invited our respective families for a reception and luncheon.  As I pack today for the week's trip to the Northwest tomorrow I'm flooded with feelings: Shirley's husband lies on life support in Reno, as I write. She may not make it. My 95 year old cousin Dolly from Vancouver, BC, who was preparing a speech to give about my life, lies in Peach Arch Hospital with a broken hip.  How unpredictable is life! With luck Dolores and I and friends and family will pull it off.  Four of my friends from here are flying up, and eight of my  family members from Western Washingon will attend, as well as my great niece from Maine.  I'm sure it will be wonderful.  My dear housekeeper just arrived with a sore throat and news her daughter has strep.  I sent her home fast.  At 80 I'm still struggling to learn that no matter how hard I try, I'm not in control.  I doubt I'll ever get it!  Wish me luck.  

Friday, August 6, 2010


I squint through the thick fog which is enveloping us daily, and hear the weather man bemoaning that this is the coolest summer we have had in forty years in the Bay Area.  Still I embrace it better than the  heat enveloping most of our country.  Growing up in the Seattle area, where I will be a week from today, fog was a gentle friend, tickling my toes and fueling my imagination, and often leading me on mystical walks alone through the woods , playing tag with the Madrona trees and bracken fern and stinging nettles,  surrounding our Magnolia Bluff home.
By plan I am going back to my roots to celebrate my 80th birthday with close friends and family, a change in venue and kind of celebration for us all.  In the fall of 1948, Shirley, Dolores, and I were randomly assigned to be roommates at Delta Zeta sorority at the University of Washington. Our paths through life have been diverse, but we have remained friends for 62 years.  Egad. So it seemed fitting to come together with other friends and family for this octogenarian occasion.  
First we will hang our hats at a quaint inn, in La Conner, where on Saturday we hope to regale our audience with a skit I wrote about all the trouble we got into during our first few months of sorority living.  This will be followed by a luncheon for about forty, and toasts to our long friendship.  
I'm saddened that my cousin Dollie, 95, who was going to speak about me at the luncheon, is in the hospital with a broken hip, but my niece Cheari will speak in her place, and four of my friends from here, (Catherine, Mary, Andrea, and Stacey), will be present to liven the party.  
Meanwhile, despite the fog, this has been a historic week in so many respects: with the 9th circuit decision in San Francisco, gay marriage rights will certainly go to the Supreme court, and for the first time ever, three women will be serving on the court.  And on Cathy Lane, the elusive  puya bloom has finally opened.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How Lucky Am I!

Yesterday Jackie Grandchamps (Jac to me) dropped by  for a visit, before returning to France today to continue leading French Escapade Tours in Europe.  
Over forty years her senior in age, I can't imagine what Jac appreciates in pokey octogenarian me.  But whatever it is, I have gratitude for it. I have been blessed to be on three European trips with her; twice to the Rhone Alps, and once to Belgium.   She never fails to wrap her arms and her spirits around me, to encourage my painting, and generally to add zest to my life.  This week she brought her house guests as well, two women working at the American school in Shanghai, who really live in New Zealand, but who Jac knows from Malaysia. They were delightful as well.  
I adore Jac's stories, her accent, her laughter, and her personality, but most of all I treasure her friendship.  How lucky am I.
In my lifetime I have not travelled much in Europe, so she is a great source of education for me.  
I did this painting a couple of years ago from a snapshot taken in the farm house in the Rhone Alps.  She is much cuter than this, but perhaps you can sense my caring.  

Thursday, July 22, 2010


What’s the point of this story? I’m not sure…  Back about ’64 when Lee and I bought this property it was a rare tropical garden, graced by over a thousand orchids, a giant rose garden and a large bromeiliad collection.  Most of the roses have survived but the orchids. fushcias and begonias hit the dust years ago during a gigantic freeze which left us without power for ten days. 

But back behind the green house, in the shadow of the trash burner now long gone, were four large rusty cans, each containing some kind of ugly prickly plant. It took several years of neglect, but eventually three of the four got tossed over the fence into the dead plant pile.  The plant label, as best I could make out, read puya raimondii. 

Giving some kind of respect to the lone survivor, I pulled it out of the rotting can and planted it on the northwest side of the property, in a bare spot near the kitchen sliding door.  It smiled thanks, and thrived.  It now has a circumference of six feet, and on certain years, as this one, it puts out gigantic stalks, some six feet high.  One year it put out six stalks, but other years it moodily chooses to display nary a one.  When it does bloom, the center blossoms are an incredible waxy blue, a color I have seen nowhere else in nature.  And the tiny white and pink flowers in the blue center attract bees to the extent that I sometimes have to wire cage it to prevent Kodi from getting his nose stung. 

In my limited botanical research I have learned that a puya is a member of the family of bromeliad, and that many of the species are monocarpic, with the plant dying after one flower and seed production cycle.  If the original label was right on my specimen, it is noted as the largest species of bromeliad known. 

All of this aside, what fascinates me is that I only today learned the name ‘Puya’ was derived from the Mapuche Indian (Chile) word meaning “point”.   Here’s where the synchronicity comes in.  Until six months ago I hardly knew of the Mapuche Indians, but since November and my last meeting with Alejondra in Maui, I have been reading extensively about Chile and the Mapuche, since it is part of her heritage. 

It’s a small world after all!  The single stalk appearing now grows about five inches a day.  I wake each morning to see if it has popped!  

Friday, July 16, 2010

Finding Peace With Differences

Will conflicts in the world never end?  For the last dozen years, I’ve employed Santos, a young Guatemalan man of Indian heritage, to help me with house and garden projects. Barely reaching my shoulders, Santos does not know how old he is, and considers it not important.  When he started working for me, he thought he was fourteen. To him what matters is having enough money for food and rent for his family, and singing and playing musical instruments. He is always smiling and of good nature. When I get exasperated because he does something “wrong” he just laughs and laughs. Once he cut down the wrong tree, and thought it was a big joke.  I was livid.  Clearly we come from different worlds, and share different values.  He is not fussy. When he needs a tool I don’t have, he makes it out of scrap.  He never cleans up his work area, feeling it is unimportant, which infuriates me.  I probably depend more on him than I’d like to admit.  He is a hard worker, honest, and always of good humor. He will tackle just about anything, from a stopped up drain, to a huge painting project. What is problematic about the relationship is that we are both strong minded, a nice way of saying pig-headed, and we do not speak the same language.  We share an adoration of his little daughter, Lilliani, now almost three.  She is often the subject of my paintings, and when, as often, she snuggles in my lap, it melts whatever cultural differences divide us. 

Last Sunday Santos glowed with pride as he added a small safety railing for me for the two steps down from my deck, a project to help my aging bones.  .  

Friday, July 9, 2010


When I announced to my friends in late spring that I was choosing to celebrate my 80th on August 14 instead of July 7, I REALLY meant it.  That is to say, I wanted NOT to celebrate it here, but at a gala party in La Conner, Washington with my two college freshman roommates also turning 80 this summer. I’ve been writing a funny skit we will perform.  It seems like time to lay down new rituals and new memories.  Still, as the 7th rolled around this week I was delighted to receive many cards and many phone calls, and not a few visitors.

In quiet times I tried hard to recall some of the more important celebrations over the years, and was amused at how few I could remember. Growing up in depression times I was used to receiving only one gift, yet it was so very important to me.  Daddy would bring it home with him from work, and I would meet him at the yellow rose trellis in the back yard, as he came panting from the bus, camel hanging from his lips.  He would give me a kiss, his graying moustache tickling my cheek, and I would rip off the wrappings. Most years it was a children’s art book, with reproductions of famous paintings.  I adored this. 

Finally a year came when tearing off the green paper I discovered a book on American cowboys.  I tried to mask my despair.  Daddy explained patiently that there were no more art books in the series.

I was crestfallen.  How could he fail me?  Now my father had grown up in Colorado, indeed been a cowboy, and a cavalry soldier, and horses were part of his heritage, not mine.  I can remember the paintings on the cover, but I doubt I ever opened the book.  Instead, I began to comprehend what it meant to lie, to deceive, to pretend, in order to protect the feelings of someone you loved, and the heavy weight on the heart to be caught up in that conflict. Perhaps I was nine or ten on this occasion, yet I remember today that painful moment.  I wish life would quit presenting these tug of wars, but it never does.  It seems unsolvable.  If there is one thing I have learned in 80 years it is that when I am authentic, it often hurts others; when I am not, it hurts me.  I’ve yet to find the answer, and don’t expect to.

Just now I am reading a book, How the Crows Flies, which illustrates this well, from a child’s eyes.  My first creative writing teacher, Izabella, visited unexpectedly for lunch last Monday and suggested it.  Izabella, a student at Mills last year, has returned to her native Poland to teach at a University in Gydnia. She shared stories about her life there. I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in a communist country and come to terms with all the internal conflicts.  Even though I loathe many of our positions on war, I’m more thankful than ever that I was born an American.  Izabella is excited having just started a writer’s institute for Peace. How brave. Before I snapped the picture, I told her “Look like a writer!”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bonnie's Personal Fire Storm?

Where  I live in the Oakland Hills I have a magnificent view of SF Bay and the cities around it.  The big deck has hosted many 4th of July parties to see the fireworks, sometimes ten or twelve cities at once.  Half the time the fog comes in and the fireworks are obscured, but by then the party goers might not even notice.  These days most cities cancel their firework displays because they are broke.  Kodi and I plan a quiet meditative day, reading and perhaps painting. That is, I HOPE.

 Oakland police are on riot and fire watch this weekend as the LA Johanes Mezherlie trial goes to the jury.  The air is tense.  Many store windows are boarded.

 Meanwhile  the annual special fire inspectors are making their way through the Oakland Hills inspecting personal land for fire hazards, a good thing, and a tax supported activity since the big big Oakland Fire. I usually pass but some times I have to invest more money in removing hazards.  For one thing, the branches of each tree may not touch the branches of another tree, and we all know how trees grow. It looks like the inspectors will arrive here tomorrow or the next day.  It always makes me anxious.

 Some time earlier this year I had an electrical fire in my kitchen, caused by a freak accident when a worker cleaning kitchen grout got chemicals in an outlet and caused an electrical fire and explosion.  It was mighty scary.

But the latest electrical hazard hit me out of the blue.  Three weeks ago I was about to surrender to anesthetic in the hospital for a routine cholonoscopy/endoscopy when the surgeon announced I was in atrial fibrillation.  I have never had a heart problem and didn’t even know what that was.  Eight hours in the ER followed, and many heart tests, the last of which was yesterday.  The conclusion is I have a good but aging heart, but I have a very faulty electrical system.  I keep shorting out and my heart keeps dancing the Swedish Polka and I am English. I have no symptoms I am aware of.  Next week I have a consult with an electro physiologist cardiologist for a plan of what to do. I guess there are many ways to squelch an electrical storm. 

Question: do you think Chunky Monkey can put out a firestorm?  I’ll have to write to Ben and Jerry.  Cross your fingers.





Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pushing the Envelope

Last week was one of those weeks when everything went wrong.  Don’t we all know the feeling? Plus, it was the third anniversary of Lee’s death. So it was with some trepidation that I contemplated Sunday.  I’d had plans for some time to have lunch in the city and then attend one of the GLBT film festival films with old friends.  We picked out the Popp Twins anthology, which turned out to be marvelous. It was totally upbeat, which was exactly what I needed.

Should I take the truck or the new car?  Parking in the Castro is always challenging, but I decided to drive the new Miss Pearlie, and allow thirty minutes for parking, which is exactly what it took.  Yeah! My friends and I had a great lunch at the Bagdad cafĂ©, and began ambling up Market to the Castro theatre, where the line already stretched a block.  I began to relax. The sunshine was mood lifting, and the whole atmosphere was entrancing, as we passed various shops, exuding exotic fragrances, and toting unusual goods, like crystals.  Gay Pride Week was starting the next day, and everywhere strollers seemed to be breathing deeper and calmer.  Just before passing Gold’s Gym, I looked up in wonderment to see three young gay men, strolling arm and arm.  Their skins were lightly tanned, and their smiles stretched from ear to ear.  They looked sweet. They were not being flamboyant or obnoxious in any way, so I did a double take as I glanced downward and observed that all three wore not a stitch, except sandals and penis rings. I stared, even as I tried not to, as they turned into the gym, still arm and arm.  My impulse was to follow them, but I squelched that.  No one seemed to be paying any attention.  I nudged my companions. “Only in San Francisco”, I quipped, and “only in the Castro.” Gay Pride Week doesn’t start till tomorrow, I observed. Isn’t this pushing the envelope? Something about the encounter felt wonderful, normal, and healing. A smiling memory for the end of my incredibly difficult week.  

Thursday, June 17, 2010

By Any Other Name...

Last night my old friend Bonnie (Lou) was visiting and we kidded each other, as we usually do, about having the same first name.  Growing up in different parts of the country, neither of us knew any other girls named Bonnie, although it seems more popular now.  We were often accused of going by a nickname, not a REAL name, and I was often taunted that I was named after the song “My Bonnie lies over the….”

All of these name stories are true, oddly enough.  My good friend Brenda, in her thirties, inspired to make herself over, declared her name evermore as Phoenix, Thirty years later I have not yet made the transition to that one.  Once, as a reading teacher, a new boy in the second grade was referred to me: “Dr. Crosse,” the teacher complained,  “Sean can’t even read or write his own name.”  Checking his records, I was horrified to learn his mother called him Sean but spelled it PSHAUGHN.  Now how could any child in a phonetic reading program learn to spell that? 

Another primary grade teacher in Denver shared what was the oddest name she had ever heard: a girl enrolled in her room named Aquanet, after her Mother’s favorite hair spray.  When it comes to names, some parents don’t think rationally.  Perhaps you are a victim in that group?

At birth my mother was named Blanche Beatrice, two names she shunned.  She insisted therefore that everyone call her Bunny, including her two children, though her motivation for the latter may have had ulterior motives, since she generally shunned motherhood, as well.  My sister was christened Lena Lorraine, but chose to go by Lorraine, as she abhorred Lena, to which she added an accent mark, and pronounced it Layna.

I’ve always enjoyed my name and the stories that accompany it, though there is little data to support the accurate truth, I’m afraid.  My father, who died when I was 15, was supposed to have named me.  Yes, I was named after a song, according to the story, but a folk song about the Mohawk Valley.  The chorus goes “My blue-eyed Bonnie, Bonnie Eloise, the belle of the Mohawk Vale. Now I have never been to the Mohawk Valley, nor had my father, and I only heard him croon cowboy songs, always off key. Moreover I never had blue eyes, and I doubt that I was ever anyone’s belle.

However it is the spelling of my last name, Crosse, which holds the most intrigue.  Part of the tale I can document.  My father’s older sister, Celia Marie Cross, just out of nursing school in Boston, in 1917, age 18, volunteered as a Red Cross nurse to support the war.  In a twinkling she was on a ship to France, whereupon half way across the ocean the captain ordered the Red Cross nurses to appear on the heaving deck, as a submarine had been  spotted.  They were instructed to raise their right hands and take an oath to become Army nurses.  She complied, having no choice, and stood on her 4’11” tippy toes to pass the physical.  Three years in the trenches followed, conditions grim, during which time she fell in love, but the soldier died.
On mustering out in Paris, she spent her clothing allowance on a French chapeau instead of a new uniform for the parade, an act considered scandalous. Ever afterwards her unusual ways were explained by family members as “having taken on French aires”.  At this time she wrote from Paris to my father and his brother to change the spelling of our family name from Cross to Crosse, as it was more French, therefore more elegant.
My father, being the baby brother, complied, whereas other family members just laughed.  Thus my birth certificate adds the “e”.  So that is one version anyway of why I am the only Crosse at the occasional Cross family reunions.  They put up with me, though I know they think me a little odd as well. 
Aunt Celia. by the way, never got around to changing her own name, though her love of all things formal and Parisian remained with her until her death at 94.