Friday, December 28, 2012

Sentimental Journey

Try as I might I can't keep myself from looking down at the living room rug in the place where Kodi usually stretched out at the foot of my recliner, for when I do, or even when I think about it, the sobs form in a special place in my cheekbones and I am unable to stop them. It takes ten to fifteen minutes to compose myself, during which time I am unable to answer the phone or do anything productive and there is a heaviness right in the middle of my chest that feels like a big grapefruit. Oh, Kodi, I miss you!

For my first Christmas here Catherine and her house guest Kate came over Christmas Eve and we ate turkey, dressing, mashed and sweet potatoes prepared from the small Oakmont market here.  I took them out of the tightly stuffed 8" x 10" hard foam boxes, reheated the contents in the oven, and served all of it on Lee's Mom's lovely china. Several unpacked boxes from Cathy Lane were inches from our feet.

My guests' admiration of the dishes gave me an excuse to tell the story of how Lee's mother came to get the dishes. Juanetta and Verne were anything but wealthy yet Juanetta yearned for pretty china. She searched and searched, finally finding in Breuner's bargain basement in downtown Oakland a large wooden barrel, slightly opened. She fished through the packing material and spotted this china, gold rimmed with paintings of roses, chrysanthimums and blue bells. She knew it had to be hers. The back side said made in Chekloslovakia. She adored them, as do I.
I have treasured them for about fifteen years now, and on Cathy Lane had them displayed artistically in her large china cabinet (which recently got ruined in the storage locker flood).
My story gave Catherine permission to tell the story of her Mother's Noritake china which she now uses, although mostly grey it is not to her taste.  Eva was a young bride, married to an Air Force officer assigned to Japan at the end of the 2nd World War. Waiting for a troop ship, the wives and children were billeted temporarily at Fort Lawton, in Seattle.  Curiously, I lived at that time only a few miles away, though I was still in high school and Eva was not to become my best friend till about twenty years later.
Eva was excited, scared, and lonely. She was also pregnant, being a good Catholic bride. Her frugal German mother sent her some money so that when she was in Japan she could buy a good set of china. Eva took the money instead and opened a charge account at what was then Frederick & Nelson, in downtown Seattle.  Why Frederick's, as we called it?
They sold a delicious chocolate mint, called Frango's. I vaguely remember them from my childhood. Each week Eva would buy the mints using the new credit card, and soon the china money was all gone.
Returning home to Oakland after his assignment in what was called Occupied Japan, Catherine's grandmother became furious that her daughter brought home no lovely china, all the money having been spent on her daughter's chocolate fix. Eventually Eva got a part-time job at Capwells (now the Emporium) selling hankies until she had sufficient to buy a set of china which was on sale there with the inscription on the back: made in occupied Japan. We hope her mother forgave her.
Frederick's is now Macy's and I am advised they still sell Frango mints, in several flavors, especially popular at Christmas. I love the story.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End Of An Era

This week marks the end of an era for me. I wish so deeply that it would be the end to violence in war and shootings everywhere but alas, I fear that is not the case. Meanwhile the country is obsessed with the tragedy in Connecticut this week in which 20 little children were murdered. How I hate guns.
A different kind of sad closure occurred for me this week as I made the decision to relieve my beloved dog of his suffering from neurological and intestinal problems.
When Lee and I chose Kodi at the Oakland SPCA almost 12 years ago he was just seven weeks. He fit snugly in one hand, such a furry bundle of sweetness. They had named him Frankie for his Sinatra like blue eyes. "Half pure-bred siberian husky and half traveling salesman" the woman volunteer stated. She offered that he would probably grow to 40 pounds. (Hah! At times he topped 100.)
Lee's health was already complicated by heart and lung problems but the dementia that characterized her last two years was to come later.  All huskies are escape artists and Kodi was no exception. Having raised dogs most of my life I'm a pretty experienced trainer, but no trick in the book helped. He simply never learned to spell "c-o-m-e". Until about a year of age he was a total mischief maker. Too much energy. In all other ways he was a charmer; healthy, beautiful in appearance, loving beyond measure. He captured everyone's heart. But Lee was the clearly the object of his devotions and she returned it in measure. Their bond was incredible. His thick coated chest was always inches from her recliner or wheelchair. Occasionally I felt jealous of their closeness. At the same time I was filled with gratitude that he so enriched her life. Since her death five years ago Kodi has grown closer to me, serving as both a companion and a guard dog. His dog walker even brought him to the hospital to visit me as I recovered from my hip surgery. Granted, folks in the hospital elevator stepped back. His wolf eyes scared them. They could not know he was really a mush-pot. My responsibility for his care in his senior years gave me an urgent reason to recover. I'm grateful for that. Do you suppose the heaviness in my heart will pass one day and I will again be able to picture him running full speed through the woods, or perhaps even the clouds?
Below, two of my favorite photos of Lee and canine companions, the first being Max who wandered in the back door of her frame shop, a skinny runt. The vet thought he was part beagle. Another misconception. He soon topped 100. He slept beside her at home at night but accompanied her to work as a guard dog for about ten years. The second is Kodi at about three years.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Whimsy Not Flimsy

When most of my moldy furniture when to the dump last month due to the flood in the warehouse I shopped locally for  replacements of dish cabinets and bookcases. Finding nothing that suited me, I turned to the Ethnic Arts web site in Berkeley. I have long been smitten with the David Marsh hand crafted furniture displayed throughout the house of Stace and Andrea, part of my Hayward "family". David Marsh furniture is whimsical, hand-crafted, and each piece unique. From photos and their endorsement I selected two pieces, a large blue-purple bookcase and a basura stick cabinet, shown above. (Basura means garbage.) They don't begin to hold the contents of my boxes (about thirty yet to unpack) but they are fun, unique, planet friendly, and so why not?
Made in Texas, each piece has the signature on the back of each artist who contributed to it, and my pieces have many. The cabinet is made of pine, recycled wood, marbles, old broom sticks, old yard sticks and pieces of wood I can't identify. One piece is stamped Psychiatric Institute of Fort Worth. Another says TOYS TOYS TOYS.
Perhaps I am turning a corner of being more creative and planet friendly.  Anyway, my house is.  I hope you will come and see for yourself.
Next on my list are 24 x 36 replacement flat files for my own art.  Suggestions welcome.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Reinventing, Part 2

Unlike Alameda County with its Mediterranean climate Sonoma County boasts a sense of seasons.  Everyone around experienced the three storms last week but up here we had almost 8 inches of rain in three days, compared to three in the Oakland hills.  My maple trees so full of color last week are now bare and the gardeners are intently raking up my piles as I write.  "Not sure I can get them all in my truck," the head gardener conveys. Not surprising, though.  I can't even see the patio bricks.
Yesterday was a down day for me. My hip and back were complaining from the slightly more rigorous physical therapy on Tuesday so when I saw the kindly PT yesterday she gave me a pep talk about how well I was doing.  "I only have two sessions left" I whined, "and I can't even get up from a prone position on the floor". Then she informed me that even though I had only scheduled two more, I would need another 12-16 appointments.  "Don't worry, though, your insurance covers it." My chin, already scraping my knees, fell even further. I guess I imagined I would be bouncing around and full of life by Christmas, ready to set the Oakmont community on its toes. Hah!  I'd already given myself to the middle of January to unpack boxes and replace the mold damaged furniture and get on with life.  I wonder how long it will be before I have roots here? I was feeling depressed and discouraged. Worse, last night was one of those nights Kodi choose to howl from midnight on.  Picture me walking him on leash at 1 a.m. in my small back yard, cane in one hand, phone in my robe pocket in case I fall, making husky cooing sounds.  Its a pretty funny scene, really, and I must add the stars up here are twice as brilliant as in my old city haunts. The big dipper was spilling right into my yard.
So I got up with sunshine and renewed commitment this morning.  That is until I tried to toast my English muffin.  Then it was hard to hold back the tears. Suddenly the used white Phillips toaster my friend Nancy bought for me at a garage sale for $5 would not hold down.  I tried every  invention possible.  I even tried the broiler on this fancy oven here which I do not yet understand.  Nothing worked.  Desperate, I tried holding down the toaster lever with my two thumbs but they soon got cramped and exhausted. Nothing tastes worse than half toasted English muffin, but I choked it down.  Then I remembered there was a garage sale today a few blocks from here. I jumped in the car and located it.  Since this is a retirement community and folks are always dying, estate sales are a weekly social event. I sometimes attend but always with mixed feelings.
(One can't help but picture their own demise and sale of their treasures.)
Yes, they had a toaster, a Hamilton Beach that worked, and now I am a happy camper again.  A stuffed toy from the Lion King is adding his two bits.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Reinventing Bonnie, or Parts Thereof...

Hello after an almost two month hiatus. The photo below displays the huge Japanese maple out my new bedroom window. Today finds me only partially settled in my Santa Rosa digs. Oakmont is advertised as an active adult community of over three thousand homes. Its beautiful, safe, and perhaps a bit boring, at least this writer finds it so, as I see on tv the dramatic winter sunsets I am used to overlooking San Francisco Bay. Just now we are experiencing the second of three contiguous rain storms and my mind keeps going to Cathy Lane. Tsk, Bonnie, stop it. "Did the new owners remember to clean the drains in the driveway and close the windows on the greenhouse?" "Is the water level rising in the patio?" "Are they checking for downed limbs?" It becomes more and more clear, like the master of Downton Abbey,  how seriously I took my role as caretaker of that land for 51 years, and how I can't quite shed the mantle of love and responsibility.
Reason tell me  it is time to transfer my concerns to my small plot on Oakmont Drive as I try to reconstruct a life and make new friends, while still treasuring the old. The neighbors here (so close) have been wonderful. A big task awaits as I embrace new doctors, new stores, new dog walkers, a new gym, new gardeners and new handy men. Meanwhile, recovering from a fractured hip (doing well, thank you) and replacing the furniture damaged in a flood in my storage locker in Oakland (going slowly).. Some days I cringe at the stacks of unpacked boxes strewed around my living room and shudder at the stacks of insurance papers to process, but I try to do a little each day before I collapse with a book.
Kodi is having a hard time with the adjustment, too. I try to balance his stress with more TLC. He adores being rubbed down with dry towels after a rainy hike in Arundel State Park which he did this morning. This house has one great room with dark hardwood floors, called Tiger Eye.  They are quite beautiful but of course highlight every wet doggie foot print. The house seems very dark to one being used to a house flooded with light. Wish me illumination!

Monday I am having four solar tube lights installed here to try to bring more light into my life.  More on reinventing Bonnie next week.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


For a short time, my world is defined by the number of pees and poops, rather than comas and semi colons.

I had a fall on October 10th and broke my hip. I am getting better day by day. I will be back online soon.

(Written for Bonnie, by Sheila Fimreite)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Empty Places At the Table

Here sits the empty table in my Cathy Lane patio artfully staged to tweak the imagination of prospective buyers. Note that even Kodi (in the background) rejects it.
Lasts week's buyers, the ones who loved the property so much they promised, in their letter of intent, they would treasure the land forever and never move a single plant. They dropped off on day 4: "Just too much work." This theme is echoed by so many. Meanwhile I juggle my life between two addresses, grieving one and trying hard to embrace the other.
This week's buyers were reported to have cried when they were told they got it, and promised in their letter of intent that the land was so extensive there would always be room here for my spirit to roam around. I'm not sure I want it to.

Meanwhile in spite of my juggling back and forth between Oakland and Santa Rosa every few days they garden here continues to bloom. The roses are frowning at the hole where the septic tank is exposed for legal inspection, the persimmons are beginning to show color, the camellias are starting and the arbutelon are hanging loose.

Friday, September 28, 2012

In Contract

This week on Mars the Rover is finding more documented evidence that there was once water on the red planet.  As of yesterday here on the home front  I am officially in contract on the sale of Cathy Lane. I'm wondering what historic clues the various inspectors will find as they peruse the cracks and crannies, for this land was certainly once redwood forests inhabited by Ohlone Indians, I believe, as well as early Spanish settlers and loggers. The most native treasures I've found here in 51 years are some very old deer antlers however much of the land is unexplored. But its fun to spin the clock forward and imagine what will be found in another 50 years. Lee and I were always rock hounds hauling home specimens from all over the west to build rockeries and line paths and personal memory banks. The yard is full of rocks out of place, that's for sure, confusing future generations of geologists. As I look around  I contemplate which ones will be moved with me? The back of Lee's old pickup is already full of little rock treasures awaiting their new nesting places in my Sonoma County yard. Others are being perused for consideration, like the big crystal hunk we hauled from the rattlesnake infested lavender pit in Bisbee, Arizona, the geodes from Grizzly Peak in Berkeley, and the conglomerates from Dr. Jane's cabin on Mayacama Creek near Calistoga where we spent so many happy hours. Even little agates from Mexico and Alaska shine up from the gravel paths.  I hope future generations of rock hounds will find them and take the same delight as I have.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Layer Upon Layer

Soon from my living room picture window I shall watch the dusky fog creep in through the Golden Gate for the last time in fifty-one years as I make the sometimes gentle sometime jerking transition to Sonoma County.
Kodi seems to be ahead of me in the process of adaptation having already made friends with a new pack of dogs ("They just smell each other, as dogs do," Juan the new dog walker says. Wouldn't it be fascinating if people did the same, I chuckle to myself?  Kodi has already found a nice niche in his new yard, squashing a bed of white daisies so it is soft and molded to his furry 90 pound husky shape.  
I'm much slower to shape my own niche, but I am already registered to be in an art show at the community center Oct. 11 and last Saturday I engaged in one of the joys of my new community: the library. It is a large collection of books, tapes, magazines, etc. available to community members on the honor system, that is residents just take what they want, in any quantity, and return them whenever they wish: no signing out required. Wouldn't it be wonderful if all libraries could do the same?
At my new home the sky view from the great room looking east is the sunrise, as seen here.  I'm not sure it will ever match the glories of the sunsets I am used to embracing.
Each day now, even as new friends and experiences surround me, it seems I experience a new level of loneliness and loss. When a realtor in Oakland presented a client's offer to buy Cathy Lane last week she spoke of the serenity of the view with such eloquence that the tears welled up involuntarily deep within me.  Making such a dramatic change is a big deal for this old dame. Dear Lee, I sure miss you in this process, but I think I'm going to encompass it. Maybe with grace? Maybe not.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Heading North this morning for another four days of camping out at my new home in Santa Rosa while the realtors down here do their stuff matching Cathy Lane with some new client who will love it as I do. The fog over the bay is just thick enough that the tops of the San Mateo hills emerge and pale pink streaks soft as satin are beginning to swipe the fog. Looking out the study window I see Kodi has just stretched from his current favorite sleeping spot on top of the red bricks in the rose garden covering the septic tank.  The best house tour on line is at for it contains some photos I have taken over the years of the magical sunsets here as well as the fog on Skyline.
When I say camping out it is because all I have in Santa Rosa is a blow up air mattress,
one chair, a few dishes, a dog bed and the four footer who sometimes occupies it.  Tomorrow morning at 8 he will experience his first hike with his new dog walker, Juan, and three other big dogs in Arundel State Park. I hope he passes the test of good behavior.
So far the neighbors, nursery and store owners in Santa Rosa have been patient with this Alameda County transplant to Sonoma County who knows not yet where anything is, or what she is doing, or what plants will or wont grow up there. I find the soil in my new back yard hard as a rock; amendments are in order soon.  Oh, I need to put garden pick on my list of what to pack today! The photo above is my new back deck.  Soon I hope it will be filled with Bonnie plants and trivia. Wish me happy digging.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Trying to Understand

First Lee went away, the one who always held me and gave me bites off her plate, and  called so tenderly "Where's my puppy?" and then Bill and Dean who sometimes baby sat me and were forever taking my picture disappeared, and then the tall blonde hiker they called Debbie vanished and they had a dog party called a memorial but she wasn't there, and now the one Bonnie calls Debbie #2 is saying how much she will miss me while holding back salty tears.  I just don't understand.  Have I been bad or something?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Quiet Contemplation

Here I am contemplating the unknown, grounded in my old leather teal colored San Francisco therapy office chair.  Right now it is the single piece of furniture in my new home in Santa Rosa, except for a borrowed blow up air mattress. Friend Susan Logan drove me up on Wednesday, the day I got the keys to my new address. I am still on drugs from the emergency dental extraction Tuesday and not quite with it.  The rest of my furniture is either in the storage locker or back at Cathy Lane awaiting the stager on Monday to do the final arranging to attract a new home owner whom I hope will love my old digs as much as I. None of us can know what the next day will bring, right? I hope my new life on Oakmont Drive will soon be full of the richness my new Brazilian Cherry floors reflect.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


 This morning as I was purging my files in preparation for the move to Santa Rosa I came across a letter I wrote to Lee June 13, 1992, 5:15 am.  She had sold her beloved business the day before.  She was 67 and her heart and lungs so weary. Here's what I wrote:
"And so the day has come when you say good-bye to Accents and Art and hello to a life far different in scope and challenges. I'm a little scared, very sad, and very glad all at once. I remember my idol Carol Rogers saying at the beginning of our 17 day intensive how he grieved the loss of the group who had just left, at the same time feeling expectancy for the unknown connections with the group arriving. I was puzzled that he so much stressed the loss. I hope I understand better now that in order to embrace the new we must feel the loss of the old."
This is the week I signed the title papers for my new home. This old one will go on the market shortly. My body is stressed from the work of moving and my emotions are playing ping pong. So much is happening.  I hope, as my own words say over 20 years ago, I will be able to embrace the new.
I was able to photograph quickly the floor plan of the new house. Can you figure it out?
Its mostly one great room, with three small bedrooms.  Bear with me. More will be coming in the weeks ahead.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tears and Fears

Even the littlest thing makes me tear up these days, like the Safeway clerks showing unusual kindness. I can't drive up and down Skyline Blvd. and Redwood Rd. without swallowing sobs which seem to sneak up and hit me totally unexpectedly. Saying goodbye to rituals and memories is so damn draining, huh.

Wednesday my friend Marta accompanied me to Santa Rosa to be present for the structural inspection of my new digs at 8824 Oakmont Dr. It all went pretty well. There were more than 40 pages of documents for me to sign.  I paid little attention; my mind  on where my furniture would go and what changes I would make to the garden and my disappointment that the house looked smaller than I remembered.

Yesterday as I accompanied the wonderful movers with three fourths of my furniture to the storage place. The stagers, Ike and her sister, my friend Jan,  remained here and transformed the patio.  It looks stunning, doesn't it, even though it does not say me.
I remind myself tenderly it is not supposed to say ME any more.
I was only 33 when we bought this house so now its probably Bonnie weary of my expressing myself here for 49 years.
Time to invent a new life and a new yard and a new identity. I just hope the excitement of that task replaces the empy spaces in my heart.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

From My Perspective

Gathered around Jan and Bill Hagen's lovely dining room table in Castro Valley last night felt both celebratory and sad as it began to sink in to me that soon I will no longer be a part of this diverse community that has been my pride and identity for 54 years. If all goes like clockwork (does it ever?) in 20 days I will be the owner of a new (to me) drop dead stunning home in Oakmont retirement community in Santa Rosa. The moving date is still up for grabs as Cathy Lane goes on the market Sept. 6. Moving will depend on the prospective sales date, my energies, and Kodi's adjustment to new hiking trails. Packing and painting and scheming and scrounging for packing boxes consumes me.  So does jockeying rapidly diminishing bank accounts. My beloved garden is suffering from neglect at a time when it needs to be nourished and cherished.  Oh, my. Do the fifty rose bushes, many 60 years of age, realize I am soon to desert them? Does the persimmon tree, come December, realize someone else will soon be collecting and painting its leaves and harvesting its fruit?
Last week I moved to the front bedroom (guest bedroom, study, etc.) in order to suck in the night memory of the panorama of San Francisco Bay at night.

I chuckled at the contrast between the new slick "staged" master bedroom (below) in Santa Rosa and the unstaged one (above) in which I am sleeping, heaped to the gills with clutter and yet to be filed paper stacks. Tomorrow the painters begin to try to cover the deep purple painted wall behind my bed in the master bedroom to transform it back to white. I wonder how many coats that will take? This whole process is like erasing a vital part of myself.

Will I have the strength and courage to reinvent myself in a new community? Of course, but first I will have to spend some time grieving over this land I am loosing and the loss of this long chapter of my life.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Amid the chaos and confusion of planning to move after 49 years in the same digs I often fail to remember to feel and express my gratitude.  Its so easy to let frustration take the  reins.
Last Friday was the exception.  Lee's great niece Julie was in town from Virginia both for work and to run her first ever marathon in San Francisco on Sunday, which she accomplished in a little less than four and a half hours. She treated me to a luncheon at the Concord Hilton the likes of which I have not seen since France. Served in a beautiful patio with a cadre of staff cooing over us, each course surpassed the one before.  My eyes were bulging before I finished the first one of four. In turn, I treated Julie to the inheritance gift of her great grand-mother's sterling. (Unfortunately the air lines required she ship it; table knives are considered a lethal weapon.) I sure wish the NRA felt that way about assault weapons, don't you?
Here is the latest photo of dear Julie and her son Jordan, a full time volunteer, at an Obama rally in DC this week. Jordan will be going into his senior year at PennState and hopes to be a full time politician. I'm so proud and entranced with them both.
As you may recall, I have a fractured rib so packing is a painful chore I'm trying to delegate.
On Monday five good elves from my WCC water color group brought lunch and tenderly packed all my little figurines. They are already toted to my storage locker, thanks to my Guatemalan gardener.  Tuesday friends Gayle and Marilyn helped tote about 300 books into the San Leandro library.
The whopper example of a dedicated helper arrived at 11 today to take another load for me.  When I met Marta at the gate she was holding a compress over her mouth and talking like this: "Bahney, I ha.. a..accident th.. morn...." The compress was to stay the bleeding.
She had fallen picking peaches this morning and not only split open her lip but cracked off a third of a front tooth. This afternoon was to be spent at the dentist's and at Kaiser getting her lip stitched. She insisted we proceed with the task.  The kind office manager at the Storage Place supplied her with more compresses as the bleeding continued.  Now that's dedication! Or is it love? In any case, I'm so grateful for all my helpers.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Week of SNAFU

Though I scoff and laugh at my purported psychic friends who tell me Mercury is in retrograde and I should make no decisions because everything will have glitches in it, this has been a week that I questioned my belief system. As the WW2 acronym says, everything was SNAFU, and in this case the F does not stand for "fouled" but the more colorful original verb.

I remember, or imagine I do, the expression coming into use in my childhood. Its actual origin is controversial. This is supposed to be the first printed version of it:

Frederick Elkin noted in 1946 that there "are a few acceptable substitutes such as 'screw up' or 'mess up,' but these do not have the emphasis value of the obscene equivalent." He considered the expression SNAFU to be "a caricature of Army direction. The soldier resignedly accepts his own less responsible position and expresses his cynicism at the inefficiency of Army authority." He also noted that "the expression ... is coming into general civilian use."

For me, Thursday was the corker.  A dental appointment I had scheduled for four months to replace a four tooth bridge in the front of my mouth got cancelled because the dental lab cracked the bridge. The dentist goes on vacation now for two weeks, of course.  

Then about 11 am my computer and phones went out.  It took a couple of hours to figure out my housekeeper had accidentally disconnected them.

I thought my luck had changed when the UPS driver brought my replacement generation two kindle which I ordered from the Amazon marketplace, as they do not make this model any more.  I 
had broken  mine the week before. I couldn't get it to register and after several frantic calls to Amazon I discovered I had been sent a stolen device.  Amazon will eventually make it good, but it will take a while. More glitches followed.  It got so I was afraid to take a glass of water.  So I sat quietly at my computer (see the self photo) feeling perplexed and writing silly lists of disclosures for the realtor. 
(There are wood rats and pine bark beetles here but no ghosts). 
Later in the day my broker arrived with four other brokers from her office to look over the property 
in preparation for staging and marketing.  I was sure they would fall or get stung by a yellow jacket but nothing untoward happened that I know of.  I will be glad when next week arrives and life returns to normal.  Oh, do you promise it will?

Friday, July 20, 2012

If Change Is Growth, I'm Exploding

Change Is Growth, Or So The Saying Goes

I’m known to  spout the adage that all change is growth, and growth is to be welcomed at every stage of life.  Anyway, I believe it in my head.  Not necessarily in my bod and heart.  It’s such an emotional tug of war. 

Now that all my wonderful company are gone I’m chugging along in preparation for selling my home and moving to Oakmont in Santa Rosa either this fall or next spring.  Well, sometimes chugging; sometimes dawdling; often groaning. In retrospect, there should be a law against living in one place for 49 years.  I’m not a hoarder exactly but Lee and I are both guilty of being big time accumulators; everything from black pottery in Oaxaca, Mecico, to tiny blue ceramic  horses from San Francisco’s Japan Town. 

To complicate matters I fell last week and fractured a rib.  Even breathing makes me groan.  So my movements vary from sloth-like to snail-like.  Not that I’ve ever seen a sloth, except on tv and National Geo, but plenty of slugs ascend my bathroom window in the spring and I amuse myself by pacing them. 

Since I am using hired help to do all the grunt work you may ask me how I got the recent fracture?  I got up in the night, not out of urgency, but because I could not sleep. “Why not pee?” I said to myself.  I carefully turned on all the lights, donned my specs, and shuffled to the bathroom.  I stoically sat down on the toilet.  Then resounded a  “Crash, bang” like the flash bangs the feds used when they raided the house next door last year. 

I missed the toilet by a foot and landed on top of the Weight Watchers scale, (ironic, aye) hitting my whole right side against the bathtub.  It hurt terribly but did not waken my house guest.  By the end of the next day the purple was spreading across the overly generous slope of my right hip but the rib did not go crazy till three nights later.  Now its taped and too tender to touch with even a feather duster.  Tut tut. 

Two workers , Skip and Akicito, have almost completed the greenhouse cleanup. When I go to look at the progress Skip warns: “I don’t want you out here”.  That’s because I am so allergic to the dust and mold and besides, she has found at least ten black widows out there.  Lots of other critters live in the dirt and crevices out  there too.  The photo above actually came from a slide I took in Colorado in ’77 but it looks like  a critter I pulled out of a box here yesterday. 

In a couple of weeks my friends are coming to help me pack my chatkas.. All of that will go into storage along with half my furniture in preparation for staging the house for sale, temporarily scheduled for Sept. 17.  Cross your fingers.  And when you are tempted to collect more little treasures from your travels, think again. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The End of Once Upon A Time

My great niece, now 28,  volunteered to write the last chapter of this family tragedy, so this is her voice speaking. I've done some editting for length.  

 I’ve never thought much about my life was very fair.
I don’t remember a lot about my early childhood. I know my Dad loved me a lot, but had a drug problem, especially after he hurt himself at work and had to lay around the house all day on workman’s comp. I know my mom was (and is) very shy and passive-aggressive. I’m the opposite, so our relationship has always been weird.

My parents got divorced when I was about five years old. It was probably about a  year or so after my Dad’s accident, when he got too caught up in the drugs, and my mom couldn’t handle it anymore. 

Before that happened, while my Dad worked, my mom stayed at home and took care of me and my two year old brother. My brother never really got to know my Dad, which I always feel kind of sad about. I didn’t get to know him much either, but more than my brother.

Anyway, when my parents divorced, my mom had to work for the first time in a long time. Over the years, I have come to suspect she was never very good at being independent and taking care of herself – even though she always SAID she was; “ I am very IN-DE-PEN-DENT,” she would always tell me, accentuating every syllable. It occurs to me that she was probably just trying to convince herself.

My mom relied on my grandma a lot when she was in monetary trouble. This, unbeknownst to me, was quite a bit. No big deal on her end, though, cuz Grandma was always there to bail her out. Part of me feels really bitter about this, because I have never had (or needed) that. Then again, another part of me knows that very reliance was a big part of my mom’s problem.

My mom never tells me anything. She has even gone out of her way to inform me; “ There are some things you will NEVER know about me!” My point being, growing up, everything appeared stable. Our physical needs were met, anyway. We always had a house, a car, food on the table, heat. That kind of thing. My mom could be really mean, though. Sometimes physically, but more mentally and emotionally. From a young age (7 or 8) I took over doing most of the household things because my mom worked so much. Laundry, dishes, meals. It was only me that this was expected of, however. My brother never lifted a finger. I remember being about 12 and getting sick of it, so I would purposely not do any of his dishes. It never mattered, though; they would just sit in the sink until their smell drove me crazy enough to where I would break down and do them.

I was pretty resentful of all of this, especially since my mom never praised me or thanked me, merely expected it to get done, and it was never to her liking. She was a critical old nag. If it’s not up to your standards, do it yourself, is what I wanted to tell her. I probably did at some point, but kept on doing all the work anyway. I tried to ignore her daily telling me that nothing was done right, I was stupid, I was awful, she wishes she never had kids, we were the source of her misery, etc. I got pretty good at ignoring her, but it still hurt. I got to the point where I hated my mom. Hated. I couldn’t wait to get out of that miserable house.

My mom had very few friends or boyfriends, which dwindled to none after awhile. She seemed content to go to work, come home, barricade herself in her room, while smoking and watching TV. Sometimes she would talk on the phone to her sisters, but more often than not would let me answer the phone and then have me tell them she was in the bathroom or something. When someone came to the door (which was not often) if she wasn’t already in her room, she would bolt for it, and slam the door, leaving me to deal with whoever had come over. In fact, that was the definition of our relationship. Her acting completely helpless until I got pissed and impatient and did whatever needed to be done.

I learned to know the exact squeak of the floor when she was about to come out of her room, so I could run and hide in mine. I despised interacting with her because I never knew what to expect. One thing was certain, though, she would probably be talking to herself. A very long, negative, conversation. I rarely invited people over because, the few times I did, they commented on it; “Who is she talking to? Why does she do that?” I didn’t know. I found it embarrassing and weird. I just wanted to stay out of her way so she wouldn’t spray me with her negative energy.
One time I tried to cut my wrists with a leg shaver. I made a big dramatic production of it, so my mom would actually notice something outside of herself for once, and talk to me like I was an actual person. It escalated into a big dramatic scene in the kitchen, “This is how you make me feel!” I screamed, showing her my wrists. “What about how I feel? How could you do this to me?!” She replied. I was filled with a cold realization: My mom didn’t really care about me or my feelings. She wasn’t lying when she said she never wanted kids.

That last episode happened after my grandma died, which was when my mom really went down hill. Her only friend and protector was gone – what would she do? For years after that, her ceaseless monologue would include how much she missed grandma. All I could think about was that I wouldn’t miss her when she died. She was lucky she had a mom, because I didn’t. I became her mom. The unfairness of it engulfed me.

As I grew older, she could barely function in public situations. In the grocery store she would embarrass and frustrate me deeply, because if she had a question about something grocery related, she would walk around and complain and complain … Would she take action to correct her situation, and ask a grocery clerk? No way. I would be the one to have to track someone down, just to shut her up.
Her whole life became like that. By this time I was 16 and my brother was 13, he was the same way as my mom. Passive. He failed at most things in school because he just wouldn’t do them. Or he would do something outrageous and get in huge trouble. My point being, they couldn’t seem to do anything without my guidance. Without me doing it for them. I hated it. Even driving with my mom was a nightmare. She would be so confused about where to go and what to do that she would be swerving all over the road like a drunk person. She’s even been pulled over before because the cop thought she was drunk. “No, officer, my mom is just completely non-functional.”
As you can imagine, I was never very nice about all of this. People had suggested that perhaps she was depressed. I didn’t care. “So what?!” I would think. “I’m depressed just being around her, but I still have to live my life AND hers. Why can’t she get her shit together, she’s an ADULT!”

I left home when I was 19. I tried college, but really all I wanted to do was escape. The boyfriend I had at the time and I travelled to Alaska together … Then about a dozen other places, working the same amount of jobs. I always came back to visit my mom and brother about twice a year. It was nice for about a day, until they started driving me crazy again. Then, when it was time for me to leave, my mom would cling to me and say things like; “There is so much life in the house when you are here! I wish you would come back here and live!” It was all I could do to NOT peel her off of me and run screaming from the house. Why did she want me to stay if, when I was there for any length of time, she barricaded herself in her room, only to come out and lavish abuse upon me? It didn’t make any sense.

Every time I came back, they were both worse. My brother  never graduated high school and never got a drivers license. Hell, he never even had a job. At 23 and 24, he was still living in our childhood room, playing video games and watching talk shows … And my mom supported him. I loved my brother and enjoyed talking with him, but he would constantly ask me for advice, and then never take it. He would always ask, “How do you DO all the stuff you do?”….  “I don’t know. I just do it.” I didn’t realize until now that the terror of being stuck with them in that house forever is partially what propelled me. Also, a curiosity about life. Didn’t they want to live? Weren’t they curious about what they could do and see in this world?
One of the last times I was there, my mom complained and complained about my brother. He never did anything. He smoked all her cigarettes. He stole money from her. Then she told me he threw a phone at her. This piqued my interest. “Mom, do you really want him gone?” I asked. “Yes,” was her immediate reply. So, I went to work.
I called around and found out he could be forcefully removed from the house if my mom would sign a paper stating she was afraid for her safety. Essentially, it would be a restraining order. But, they would be separated, and isn’t that what my mom wanted? I told them both this and they freaked out a little, but my mom agreed to do it.

We went to the court house and, as I handed my mom the pen to sign the paper, she went all weird on me. Started acting ultra crazy, like she didn’t know how to operate the pen and couldn’t understand english. It was very eerie. We left without her signing a thing, me fuming with embarrassment and rage at all the effort I had just wasted. That’s when I officially stopped trying to do anything for my mom.
There are so many stories, but this is long enough already. I will tell you the last one and then I have to stop because I am getting tired.
I hadn’t spoken to my mom for about a year. I stopped trying to call her because she never answered the phone or returned messages. She had my number, but she never called. I live in Maine – you would think a mother who lives in Seattle, Washington, would want to keep track of her child, who lives in Maine. Apparently not.
Anyway, so here I am, in Maine, at the ripe old age of 29, finally putting myself through nursing college (after my dear old Aunt Bonnie pressured me for several years until I finally saw the wisdom of her words and was tired of her badgering me all the time … just kidding, Aunt Bonnie) working part time at a hospital as a nurses aid, just got married (which is another long story about how my mom never came to my wedding because she GOT LOST) …. In the middle of my first nursing semester, as I’m trying not to have a stroke from all the work I have to do, I get a call from my brother telling me that he and my mom are getting evicted.
Selfish as I am, I’m pissed that this is thrown into my lap amongst other things. I communicate with my family, but there isn’t much anyone can do, because my mom is so batty that even if she would actually get on the frigging horn and CALL someone, she seems to have no idea why this is happening. Neither does my brother.

They get evicted. They stay at friends houses for awhile, and then are officially homeless, sleeping behind a grocery store. My brother still has a cell phone the state provided for him, so I keep tabs on them that way …. But it doesn’t sound like they are doing much of anything besides sitting behind the grocery store, getting rained on, and waiting for some knight in shining armor to save them.
I talk to a friends mom about this, and she gives me a long list of all the resources they could tap, if they would just … Well … get MOTIVATED. “Your mom and brother really need to advocate for themselves and not sit behind the grocery store doing nothing,” she tells me. Can you guess what my reply was? Something along the lines of: NO DUH. I HAVE BEEN TELLING THEM THIS FOR ABOUT 15 YEARS.
I mention their situation to my Uncle in California and he immediately becomes their knight in shining armor. His ex wife works for united airlines, so he gets them free tickets to fly out of sea tac just a few days later and come live with him and my grandma (these are my Dad’s relatives).

You know what the funny thing is, though? He’s already noticing their ambivalence about life. They got to LA about a week ago, and he and I have been talking quite a lot, and he’s already mentioned their “motivation problem” several times. He is such a kind heart, I’m so happy he did this …. But I am also wondering if he is now saddled with two bumps on a log that will smoke and watch TV all day and barely contribute. My hope, though, is that, he being my Dad’s brother (I forgot to mention my Dad died of MS when I was 13) will have some sort of positive impact on my brother, who has never had a male figure in his life.

Also, my Uncle and his girlfriend, after doing some digging, found out why my mom lost the house. They were absolutely stunned (and I got a lot of phone calls over this) that my mom had no idea why it happened.
Obviously this story isn’t over. I do know one thing, though. Over the years, my mom has made a comfortable home in “mental-illness land”. I used to be so pissed off and resentful and full of hate about the unfairness of it all ….   But that hurts me more than anyone else. A cousin of mine, who dropped my mom and brother off at the airport last week, sent me a picture of them standing at the gate. Just seeing my mom looking so frail and unhealthy made all the fight go right out of me. She’s just a sick lady and, even if it was her fault at some point, it’s not anymore. Me pointing my finger and blaming her for being a bad mother would be like me pointing my finger at a paraplegic and screaming, “YOU SUCK AT WALKING!” … If that makes any sense. She’s just not very good at life. It’s tragic, but it is what it is, and we need to accept the way things are and work with them to the best of our ability. For me, that is the biggest lesson in all of this.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Missing the Red Flags

Predictably the themes on Meet the Press last Sunday  were 1: Health Care Reform 2:The Future of Obama and 3:Legacy of Roberts. 

As much as I wanted to watch I’m swamped with other matters of consequence like the crisis in health of a dear friend and neighbor; spreading the impressive piles of pine bark mulch from my recent tree cutting to comply with fire regulations; and interviewing realtors for the future sale of my home.

Maybe all these things are related.? Here is the next chapter of Once Upon A Time. I am using fictitious names except for my own. 

Not all middle children have the same personality traits, research shows, but most either lack self esteem or display courage and confidence.  Much depends on the coping style of the child.  This is affected in part by the parent’s style of child rearing. A middle child who never learned courage will run from problems and become shy and withdrawn. 

Hence when her Mother protected and sheltered her, Shelly went the second route.
Her petite physical stature probably contributed to her lack of internal strength.  She was the invisible compliant child in the family. Though withdrawn, she did well in high school, once surprising everyone by trying out for and being selected for cheerleading, a seeming total contradiction to her nature.. 

She was the only one of the five children to even attempt college.  She graduated in art but lacking assertiveness was unable to find employment so took jobs in clerical work and banking.  Meanwhile she engaged in several romantic relationships, including one in which she was physically abused. She finally sought a women’s shelter. As in the past she took refuge with her Mother, whose arms and heart were always open.  

When she married both husband and wife, while still unemployed and experimenting with drugs, continued to live with her Mom.  In time the husband found work and the two purchased a small house rather nearby. Two children were welcomed by the couple, a girl and a boy, and while the grandmother was still working she invested as much love as possible in these and her other grandchildren. 

When Shelly’s husband succumbed of an industrial accident my niece returned to work, this time finding employment in the insurance field.  Times were tight and the older child, of necessity, assumed the parenting role for her younger brother, as best she could. 

One warm evening when both children were still young and asleep upstairs a sexual molester climbed in through the bathroom window.  I have always thought he raped Shelly, but she thinks “he never got it in”.  By this time in her sad life, she was skilled at a kind of psychological amnesia anyway.  With her tiny frame she tried to fight him off but he slashed her right hand deeply leaving her middle finger inflexible for the rest of her life.  Already untrusting of most everyone, she refused counseling.  He was never caught.  This can not have added to her tenuous grip on coping with life.

When her Mother died, Shelly suffered deeply and withdrew further into herself.  Her self esteem, always precarious, plummeted.  She even sought the advice of a t-v psychic. She shared her thoughts with no one, even her children, who had mostly learned to survive by their own means.  Still she worked and maintained her neat small home. 

After her daughter graduated from high school and left the state to seek her own path, Shelly declined further.  Like her mother, grandmother, and great grandmother her daughter would face a giant struggle to find her identity. She is currently married and going to nursing school 2,000 miles away.

The day came when, like the rest of the accounting department staff at a large city hospital, my niece lost her job because of outsourcing to India,

In financial desperation after a year or so, Shelly found work at the only source available: Walmart.  Meanwhile, her son, always a school misfit, got into trouble, eventually dropping out of school.  To complicate matters he developed epilepsy, for which he was seldom treated. .  His preoccupation was playing computer games.  Neither was emotionally equipped to handle what was to come. Though they communicated poorly with each other, each withdrawing into their own worlds, the therapist in me defines their relationship as classically codependent.  

I live some distance away, and could only assess this by the increasing brevity of communication.  Christmas cards that used to be long and chatty became one sentence: “I love you.”  Phone calls were never answered.  The answering machine never worked, even though her older sister gave her another one, (or when it did messages were never answered). The hints of mental and/or physical illness became red flags.  Given my psychotherapist  profession I should have seen what was to come. Alas, I missed the fact she was was ceasing to cope and that two children now teenagers were at risk. 

Above is just one set of debris gathered this week to go to the dumpster. Like my family history, there is a lot of mess to clean up.  

After reading a rough draft of today's story my g. niece, Shelly’s daughter, asked if she could write the ending from her viewpoint.   What a terrific idea.  So next week you’ll get to read the third and last part of the story from a very different perspective.