Adventures in a Nash Rambler

I was too young to drive when I marched for the first time. I was also too young to understand the complexities of the so-called “conflict in Vietnam.” I only knew we were sending young men to die in a country on the other side of world; a country that didn’t seem to pose any real threat to the United States.  My father’s refrain (shared with most of his generation) was “when you’re asked to serve your country you just go. No questions asked.” Which seemed to be a stupid thing to do.

There were no anti-war marches planned in my hometown of Reno Nevada for two reasons. One, the good ole boys, who were proud they couldn’t even find Vietnam on a map, would have loved an excuse to commence a shootin’ party on the nerds who actually planned to graduate from high school.  And two, the city fathers would have loved  to advertise that Reno was “the place where them damn anti-war protestors got what was coming to them.”

From estuarypress.com

San Francisco, that was where it was all happening. So I hitched a ride to the City with my best friend, her father, and Dr. Mole (not his real name but what he looked like). The drive required us to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains which at any time of the year is a crap shoot (just ask the Donner Party) and sure enough we encountered heavy snow just past the summit and could barely see the road.  Then the radio, which had been iffy since we left Truckee, suddenly sparked to life.

The song that brought the radio to life was “If You’re Going to San Francisco.” I saw this miraculous coincidence as a validation that my deception had the cosmic seal of approval. You see, my parents thought I was going to a book fair with a friend who was an A+ student, her father who was a noted Chaucer scholar, and the dean emeritus of the philosophy department. Had my father known that I’d lied and I was on my way to an anti-war march with two socialist-leaning democrats, he would have had me locked up. 

After dropping Dr. Mole off at a shabby Victorian belonging to his elderly mother, the Chaucer scholar, A+ student and I checked into a motel near the UC Berkeley. It was one of those motels on University that generally rented rooms on an hourly basis which only sharpened the perceived danger of our escapade.  

In the morning we wandered around the campus where other anti-war rallies were being held and then met Dr. Mole at Moe’s Books on Telegraph. Moe’s is the sort of place that caters to obscure classics and rare out of print books. In other words, nirvana for any academic so soon both men were lost in the dusty back shelves. We had to constantly remind them about the march.

View from the water

If you’ve never been to San Francisco, there are only two ways to really appreciate the skyline for the first time; either by crossing the Bay Bridge or taking the ferry from Larkspur to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Some people may argue for the Golden Gate approach and I wouldn’t say they’re wrong but you don’t really get the whole skyline and it was spectacular on that day.

The parade started in the city’s crowded financial district and meandered up to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate park.  I don’t remember anything other than marching behind a flat bed truck from which Country Joe and the Fish played acoustic guitars and led cheers but it’s not a short distance and there are steep hills along the way.  Today that walk would kill me.  I do remember poor Dr. Mole complaining mightily when we finally reached the stadium and found a seat but it didn’t take him long to revive once the speakers began describing the horrors of a totally unnecessary war.  For such a little man, he could really let it be known how he felt “No More War!”

We drove back to Reno that night; this time there was fog on the summit and ice on the road.The old Nash Rambler’s electrical system shorted out somewhere along the Truckee and we had to stop while the two men, neither or whom had any mechanical skills, tried to figure out why the lights were no longer working. But the gods spared us that night, the lights miraculously came back on, and we all lived to tell the tale. However, after my father found out about my adventure, peaceful dinners at our house were officially a thing of the past. 

As I watched the recent marches for stricter gun control, I thought about the arguments my father and I had almost nightly during those years. What a waste. I hope that’s not a scene played out in the home of any young marcher but sadly, it probably is. 

I never thought back in the sixties that I’d be marching in my actual sixties…  Just goes to show that the fates are fickle and love to play a good prank or two on our sorry selves.

Licking wounds that won’t heal is called being a writer

For over a year now, I’ve licked wounds that refuse to heal. I’m a failure. My books, despite kind reviews from friends and colleagues, didn’t sell well and so my publisher went out of business.

Okay, perhaps it wasn’t totally my fault.

Many Booktrope writers immediately republished after being kicked to the curb. But I thought it was a good opportunity to address the confusion some readers had over the ending of my great masterpiece, Flipka. My plan was re-introduce sections the original editor suggested I remove. They were my precious little babies, so beautifully written and funny and close to my heart. But she killed them.

Well, y’all can probably guess the folly of that sort of thinking.  Yes, according to not one but two editors, reintroducing those sections resulted in an even smeller pile of dog shit. Total and complete manure, not worthy of dirtying your boots on.

Those of you who are writers, I can feel you cringing in sympathy and I thank you for it.

Anyway, it would have felt good to quit. Stamped the whole effort with a Failure, get over it label and burnt all copies of Flipka past and present in the fireplace.  I could have invited all of my friends over for KFC (who am I kidding, I don’t have any friends) to witness the celebration of my failure and they could have said things to me like “I could write a great story” or “Why did you ever want to be a writer in the first place?” and fed greasy chicken bones to the insatiable flames of failure. Probably a few of my imaginary friends would not have survived that particular party.

But I’m haunted by the characters I created. I can’t leave them in a simmering pot of pooh, now can I?  So back I go to writing. I may return now and then if I have something I think worthy of your time to read but otherwise, it’s back to the agonies for me.

I do plan to keep up with those bloggers who have been so supportive of me.  Thanks, thanks and thanks again.

A Door You Don’t Want to Open

From my junior high school yearbook.

By high school I’d decided that I wanted no trinkets (such as yearbooks) to remind me of the four miserable years I’d spent in high school. Truth be told, I probably brought on my own misery by telling my classmates that everything they held dear was stupid.  Football – stupid.  Proms – stupid.  Cheerleading – really, really stupid. And what was smart?  Protesting senseless wars, archaic dress codes and, well, just about anything. It’s a miracle my classmates didn’t drown me in PE, which I probably also protested. 

However, before I became such a sanctimonious nincompoop, I was an insecure junior high schooler desperate to fit in.  Not only did I buy yearbooks, but I had everyone I ran into sign the darn things, even the teachers!

Recently I cracked open my junior high school yearbook. I was looking for a name mentioned by a friend that sounded familiar.  I didn’t find the name but I was opening a door that should have remained forever closed.

First to the good memories: Above  is my favorite science teacher.  He was young, red-haired and fool-hardy enough to lead an astronomy club full of thirteen-year- olds up to the shingled rooftop of a four-story building where there was nothing to stop anyone of us from rolling off the edge.  

My German teacher insisted we call him Herr Assmus. I guess he figured that if he was going to be teased for his name by students, he might as well go along with the gag.  However he had his limits. One day, after being forced to teach German in a room also used for Sex Education, he erupted in a fury: “I cannot teach German with a penis staring at me!”  Then he proceeded to rip a diagram of a  penis off the wall while we all cracked up. 

This teacher hated me.  I had absolutely no homemaking skills and practically burnt down her kitchen.

My art teacher reminded me of Tony Randall from the Odd Couple.  Fastidious and neat but always smiling. 

Our custodian was always on the spot when we forgot the combinations to our locker but never scolded us.  I guess that’s why he got a special place in the yearbook.

 Nori had it all:  Looks, athletic ability, and a stable family. He was also an alcoholic. I went out with him once in high school; he picked me up drunk and took me to a party with other football players and their girlfriends.  There he proceeded to get even drunker and wandered off to a bedroom where the school’s “easy” girl serviced the boys while their prim girlfriends sat together and gossiped. One of the other football players became disgusted with the game and took me home. Not long after, Nori drove off a cliff up at Tahoe.

After his death, we found out his other “shameful” secret:  he was Jewish.

Blake took one psychedelic too many and ended up in the state mental institute. When we went to see him, he claimed to be Jesus. Not long after, he also died.

Dee was so cute and bubbly that all the boys had crushes on her, even the ones from out in the sticks where she would have been called “colored” or worse.  She disappeared from school one day without a word.  Months later we found out from our sex education teacher that she’d bled to death in an alley in Oakland, California after an illegal abortion.  I often think about her. Fourteen years old. 

My mother tried to set me up with this guy because his father was a self-made millionaire. He had a Trump-like personality and actually shot someone he’d never met in the back thinking he’d get away with it. Pretty boy didn’t last long in jail. 

Above is the James Dean of our class. His rebellious streak got him slapped around (and worse) by the male teachers (hey – this was a different time).He’s probably in jail but I liked him.

 This gal actually murdered someone and got away with it. But it was okay because he was a Piute Indian and she was the daughter of a prominent socialite. On her picture she wrote “Nancy is a queer.”  As far as I know, she is still alive.

Okay – we didn’t all turn out to be murderers or drug addicts or dead in an alley somewhere. Jon, who was a neighbor of mine, is a lawyer who worked in the Obama administration. The last time I saw Johanna and Lucille was at the premiere of their art show at the De Young Museum. Steve was Mr. Popular all through school because he was kind and thoughtful to everyone.  He’s a basketball coach out in Winnemucca.  

Oh and I found a picture of my ex-husband as a thirteen year old which you don’t get to see  because I want you to have some respect for me!

My advice to you all is stay away from those old yearbooks.  Reopening them is often  like playing the game Jumanji.   

To see legitimate doors, check out Norm Frampton’s ThursdayDoors challenge. 

Hell is a Children’s Ward

This post is for all the Make-a-Wish kids I worked with who still haunt me:


Their sedan was on a narrow causeway just beyond the Ghost Fleet when the already dented delivery truck a couple of cars ahead spun around and hit the guardrail with such force that its rear axle flew off with the tail shaft still connected.  Together they twirled high into the air, spinning wildly out of control until returning to the ground and bouncing between the hapless cars. Sara watched from the backseat keenly aware that if it hit the windshield, the consequences would be gruesome.  There was no time to duck behind the seat or to say silent goodbyes to her children.

The axle and tail shaft cartwheeled in front of them and then the shaft plunged into a patch of soft asphalt like an arrow shot into the mud, causing the axle to detach, catapult over the guardrail, and roll down the hill toward the bay.  Sparks flew as the truck skidded on bare metal to a smoldering ruin, leaving deep ruts in the road. Miraculously the driver of the truck was not hurt nor were any other vehicles damaged.

They drove the final twelve miles to the army base in silence.

“I want a party – a HUGE party,”the girl began. “In a grand ballroom with at least two hundred people.  And I want Madonna to be there and Boy George.  Oh, that would be so cool.  And of course, kids from school,” she stopped to catch her breath, “and they’d come to the party in limos.  Or maybe helicopters.” She wore a purple terrycloth bathrobe and her hair was brown and stringy. 

Get the dead boy out of your mind, Sara ordered and force a loving look upon your face.

He looked about ten years, the dead boy did, and lay flat on his back just down the hall from the girl’s hospital room. The door to his room had been left wide open.

“Oh my God,” she’d said to the driver pointing to the body.  The man took one look and yelled angrily down to the nurses.  “Hey! Get down here.”

“How did you know he was dead?” the first nurse to arrive on scene asked. 

“I was an Army medic.  Hell, this hospital is still a shit hole.”  His wife, the other Make-a-Wish volunteer, hushed him.    

“You’ve been here before?”  Sara asked.

“Nam,” he replied.  “There was a tunnel running from the airstrip to the morgue so that no one on base got a good look at the steady parade of corpses.  It’s bad for morale, you know,” he said as through it was a very dark joke, “It’s probably still there.”

“I’m amazed you wanted to come back here.”

“I had to keep my sweetie safe.  Don’t like her to drive at night.”

The man and wife were now interviewing the foster parents in another room while she transcribed the girl’s wish.  There would be purple balloons and flowers and even purple gummy bears.  And a band of course, maybe Boy George or Madonna would sing.  “Do you think that’s too much to ask?”

Sara shook her head, no. The nurse trying to insert a tube into the girl’s already bruised and frighteningly thin arm, glanced at Sara with wet eyes.  Many of the “kids” she interviewed looked so healthy that it was hard to believe the doctor’s reports but this girl could have been mistaken for a victim of the Holocaust.

It’s so much easier to interview children under five, Sara thought.  They have no idea what they’ll be missing in life. Dying was the same as going to Disneyland.  Maybe better as they’d get to see Grandma or sit on Jesus’ lap.  No more needles, medicine that made them puke all night long or worse.  No more barbaric excavations into the marrows of their bones that had to be done without anesthesia. 

But the teens and the pre-teens want it all. They are vampires, voracious for life, wanting to suck as much nectar as they can before giving way. They go down fighting. Interviewing them, she felt her energy sucked into a useless, self-absorbed past.

After she finished interviewing the girl, and the man and his wife finished completing the legal paperwork with the foster parents and the doctors, they drove back to the Bay Area across the causeway where they’d almost died and past the rusty ships of war whose drunken ghosts saluted them with their middle fingers.  They all knew the girl would have her party in the hospital ward.  There would be purple balloons and gummy bears.  The Foundation might convince a local celebrity to drive out to the base.   And she would say “so what” because, in the end, that’s what we all say.

Last but maybe least, Sara’s transcription of the grandest party ever planned would be filed in a cabinet somewhere in the Foundation’s basement. Or maybe tossed or shredded or burned.

What a Miserable, Mother-Swiving Profession

“What a miserable, mother-swiving profession it is…”

“. . . to be a writer.” Christopher Marlowe

I’d rather be pussy grabbed by Trump than re-publish a book of mine ever again. Flipka, my first book, has had four editors over the stretch of four years.  As a result, I’ve been hornswoggled into a flummoxed higgledy-piggledy, lolly-gagging pusillanimous puke.  It’s not the editors’ fault.  They just didn’t agree with each other which always puts the writer on a ride down the Iron Maiden.

Coincidentally I’ve also been watching the miniseries “Will” which focuses on the so-called “lost years” of William Shakespeare, in this case, the years during which he made a name for himself in London.  Since not much is known about those years, the writers took a few liberties based on events of the day. The first season focused on the dangers he would have faced in London because he was Catholic in a society dominated by blood-thirsty Protestants. This is not something I remember coming up when studying Shakespeare in college but perhaps it did and age has dulled my mind.  I do remember endless discussions about his sexuality which brings me to that other great playwright of the time: Christopher Marlowe.

In this series, Marlowe is the “writer,” agonizing over the meaning of life and the futility of it all, whereas Shakespeare just wants to make a buck to support his family.  He’s the story teller.  I know people who consider it a personal effrontery to be called a story teller. They are “writers.” Their work does not rely on a plot or characters but journeys to the soul of the reader through the divinity of their prose.  Well, that’s cool. But few people can actually do that and I’m not one of them.

Anyway, if I wanted to spend my days intellectualizing over a process no one really understands, I would have made my father a very happy man and gone on to graduate school.  So, my question for you all is, are you a story-teller or a miserable mother-swiving writer?

By the way, I’ve been reposting a lot of “cuttings” from Duke Miller’s soon to be re-released (hopefully) Living and Dying with Dogs, Turbo Edition.  In his over twenty years traveling the world working with refugees he’s seen things most of us only run into in sweaty nightmares of the Apocalypse. It’s a remarkable report from the wreckage of Planet Earth: the Human Edition.  Quite timely.

Flaming Balls of Gas

It’s that month again; the one in which I get to turn another year older. When I was a child I got it into my head that the date of my birth held the key to my destiny. That I had been sent to earth for some special reason. By this logic anyone born on my birthday was special too. This idiocy was reinforced when I found out how many famous people were born on May 26th. 

John Wayne was born May 26, 1907. He rode horses and shot guns.  I tried to ride a horse once but the critter paid me no never mind (as my grandmother would say) galloping off into the desert until it finally got tired.  Luckily it knew the way back to the barn because I sure didn’t.  Clearly being a cowboy star was not in my stars.

Sally Ride was born May 26, 1951. At one time I wanted to be an astronaut. My motives were entirely selfish.  I wanted to sail off into space to find the mothership that deposited me on Earth like a demented stork with a sick sense of humor.  But then I hit high school and realized I have math dyslexia.  I can’t even copy down a telephone number without transposing the numbers.  Plus they drink their own urine in space,  Yuck. Did I ever mention that  I’m a real picky eater?

Stevie Nicks was born on May 26 1948 and Peggie Lee, May 26. 1920. I tried out  for choir once and sang so beautifully that the choral director suggested I consider a career in comedy.

Indeed, of all the celebrities born on May 26th (Dorothea Lange, James Arness, Jack Kervokian to name a few) the only one I feel a kinship with is Isadora Duncan born May 26, 1877.  I love to go barefoot in the garden. I love to dance in loose clothing. And I suppose one day my scarf will get caught in the spokes of a Bugatti and that will be end.

As I got older I realized that having my picture taken all the time or reading about myself in “stars who’ve aged badly” would have ended, well, badly.  Very badly.  It’s a good thing my path was not one that led to celebrity.

Do you feel a kinship with any celebrity born on the same day as you or are the stars just flaming balls of gas twirling out in space?

The Beatles’ Slept Here (or not)

Last week I wrote about the legendary Mapes Hotel in downtown Reno Nevada. Well, if you cross the Truckee River and walk down a block you’ll run into another landmark hotel, the Riverside.

The Riverside. Today, low cost artist lofts and studios.

The Riverside. Today it contains low cost artist lofts and studios.

As you can see, it’s a good, solid structure, almost boring in design. However, at one time it was more notorious than the Mapes.  Not because it was a rocking, rioting fun place to stay but for a different, almost more scandalous, reason.

The current structure was built in 1927 reportedly on the spot where the city of Reno was founded in 1861.  During its heyday (1930 to approximately 1950) its select clientele stayed in two or three bedroom suites on the upper floors which were equipped with kitchenettes and had been designed specifically for them.  Generally they were women traveling alone or with children and servants in tow.  Many books and movies set during that time contain references to the Riverside including the “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand and the movie “The Women.”th-4

Another clue to the hotel’s notoriety (if you haven’t guessed yet), the old courthouse is virtually right next door. 

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Lobby of the Riverside from Historic Reno

After the women no longer needed to trek to Reno for its special services, the hotel went into a tailspin and by the time I knew of its existence it was a moldy though dignified and staid sort of place where one’s grandparents might stay.  Finally it closed in 1987.  But, unlike the Mapes, preservationists prevailed and the building now serves a community of artists and has an organic coffeeshop in the lobby. What an interesting life that old gal has had!

As to why the Riverside has a place in my heart, well, according to a popular urban myth the Beatles once stayed in one of those multi-room suites on the sixth floor. Only, I know it never happened. It was just the mind fart of a couple of silly girls that somehow got out of control, resulting in an assault on the sixth floor of the Riverside.  Unfortunately the word got out at school and for years after I was the butt of many jokes.

I left Reno shortly after high school and only returned for short visits with my family thus I rarely saw any of my old classmates. So when I found out at my 10 year reunion that the kids who’d made fun of me now firmly believed (and supposedly had evidence) that in October 1965 the Beatles hid out in the Riverside Hotel, I felt like I was on an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Even when I told them it was hokum, they stuck by their stories. I, the instigator, was irrelevant.  The story had a life of its own and was now entrenched in the minds of people who wanted to believe. (I fictionalized the whole thing a few years back on Wattpad.)

So if you haven’t guessed the Riverside’s claim to fame, here’s one last clue: For many years the phrase “I’m going to Reno” meant only one thing and it generally wasn’t something any man wanted to hear.

Mary Ness

Dear Sister,

After you called I opened Dad’s tattered briefcase. I’m not sure what I expected.  Perhaps something as mundane as lecture notes that he never got around to throwing away or an old slide rule. I was right about the slide rule.  From the size and condition, it was probably a college graduation present. I had to chuckle at the belt hook on its leather sleeve because Dad was the only professor nerdy enough to hang a foot long slide rule from his belt and strut all over campus.

sliderule

Another mystery of the tattered briefcase was a pair of beaded moccasins which fit me just fine. I paddled around the house wondering who had worn them before me – an Indian chief or his squaw?  They were in too fine a condition to have been worn everyday and certainly too fancy to wear while scalping blue-eyed devils. I googled their worth and quickly removed them from my smelly feet and put them on the shelf.th

The moccasins sat on a third mystery.  Copies of a law suit filed in 1982. Isn’t it funny what people decide to hang onto?  I’m guiltier than most of hoarding things that will mean nothing to my children. My guess is they’ll just say:  “Bring on the dumpsters.” 

But these papers meant something to Dad otherwise why would he have held onto them so long?  You know me; I had to know why and so I read through them.  

The law suit pertained to the estate of Mary Ness who died in Fargo North Dakota in 1981. She died intestate which meant she had no will.  You’re probably wondering who she was. I have to admit, I didn’t put two and two together right away either but – remember those five dollar checks that came faithfully on birthdays and Christmas from an aunt we never met but to whom we had to write thank you notes. Well, that was Mary Ness, Dad’s aunt.  And who filed the suit?  Dad’s sister and our cousins.

When you die intestate, the state decides who inherits your property but before they do, they have to conduct a search for all of your living relatives. In her case the state discovered that from the age of fourteen Mary Ness hid what she must have considered a shameful past.  When she met Elmer, our GrandMother’s brother, she claimed to be an orphan with no living relatives.  Elmer, badly wounded in WWI, suffered for twenty years until alcoholism did him in, leaving Mary in the talons of that beacon of virtue and propriety GrandMother Myrtle. You remember how kind-hearted and non-judgmental GrandMother was, don’t you?  Ha! Even her own mother was scared shitless of her. 

Mary never remarried and never had kids.  She lived her entire life in North Dakota where she worked as a clerk. And when she grew old and infirm, our aunt took care of her with the assurance that she would inherit her estate of approximately $250,000, mostly held in bonds. 

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Only picture I could find of a young Mary Ness.

You’ve probably guessed the outcome of the state’s search.  Mary Ness lied.  She was not an orphan. She was an outcast. The search for heirs revealed she had a living brother and sister, two nephews and a niece, all of whom – except for one of the nephews – lived in small farming towns in North Dakota and Minnesota. When Mary Ness’ “family” found out money was involved,  they promptly came forward. One of the “nephews” even produced a birth certificate proving that Mary was his mother and not her sister, Gerta, who raised him. 

The nephew’s birth certificate (dated Feb 17, 1914) states that his father was Vernon Scott, 27, a farmer and Gerta’s husband. His mother was listed as Mary Ness, 22, a housewife born in North Dakota.  However, lawyers for the state quickly discovered that Mary Ness was born in Sweden in 1899 which would have made her 14 when the boy was born; not 22.

As to what happened, who knows.  Did Mary Ness seduce her sister’s husband?  Was she raped?  The only thing we know is that after the birth, she was shuttled off to the city to try to make it on her own, where she met Elmer, himself a broken man.  Did he know her history?  If he did, it died with him.98444731_134965700127

Dad’s sister quickly latched upon all of these inconsistencies and contested the state’s decision. She went so far as to claim she was ‘betrayed’ by Mary because she and Dad were led to believe they were her only heirs.  Oh, how Dad hated to be part of that ugly mess. One of the documents is a notarized statement from him that he wanted nothing to do with any of any proceeds gained as a part of the suit. Sadly the bulk of the inheritance went to a family that turned their back on a fourteen year old girl. 

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They’re all dead now.  The aunts, the cousins and all who came before them. Their secrets in briefcases, saved by someone who didn’t want to remember, inherited by someone with an inconvenient imagination.

What We’ve Missed

Dear J,

I’ve been writing you letters in my mind. They swell up whenever I see pictures of your grandchildren – age three and one – posted on the Facebook as everything is these days. You would have gotten yourself into big trouble on Facebook with an inappropriate comment or two, just as I have. But in your case alcohol would not be to blame because you did not drink. Until you knew it was the end and then you said perhaps I’ll have a glass or two. That night we drove to Grizzly Peak and watched the flamed-out sun sink into the Pacific and you sang “Farewell Angelina, the skies are on fire and I must go.”  It took us back to where we began, a basement on Washington Street, a record player, incense, your love of apocalyptic visions and mine of fairy tale endings.  Eventually we blended into Tolkien. 

We left each other’s lives because of the men we married which is how many relationships between women end.  But somehow we managed to stay in touch, if only via a yearly phone call on our birthdays which would go on for hours and cost a fortune. We missed seeing each other’s children grow. We missed being there for each other during long and painful divorces and the death of parents. In fact if it hadn’t been for your cancer, we might never have made that last ditch effort to recapture our youth.

I try not to be maudlin; I try not to cry but when I see those darling faces I can’t help but think of a line from one of my favorite movies, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

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How you’d have loved the North Cape and the Fjords and the Midnight Sun. To sail across the reef at Barbados where the blue water turns to green. To the Falklands where a southernly gale rips the whole sea white. What we’ve missed Lucia, what we’ve both missed.

We said our good-byes at the TSA checkin. Well, it’s more like we yelled good-bye. I was being dragged to the exit for allegedly trying to “smuggle” my grandmother’s tiny manicure set through security and you were waiting in a wheelchair for someone to take you to the gate. The poor TSA agent’s body trembled. He was just doing his job. Of course you made it worse by telling him you had terminal cancer.

I got to keep my grandmother’s ivory manicure set but I lost you.

Love,

Jan, the Fratz of Pooh

Professor Flappy Pants

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Dad where he was happiest – on a ranch in Montana

In honor of Father’s Day, a repost from last year.

This is a day on which those of us whose fathers have died often flay about with our emotions.  At least I do.

My father’s words could kill. He had no patience with sickness, weakness or young children. His idea of the perfect family vacation was a grueling four hour back-packing trek up the face of Mt. Whitney (generally behind a pack of pooping donkeys), followed by a night spent next to an insect-infested lake with no plumbing facilities and the likely prospect of a visit from a bear. 

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On the other hand, he was a Renaissance man, well-versed in the Greek mythology, astronomy, literature and classical music. As a pilot he was a madman in the skies but on the ground, never once got a traffic ticket.  He never swore and always had a book in his hands. He often said “when I become a burden to the tribe, I will wander out into the desert with just the clothes on my back.”  I don’t know how many times I heard him say that, especially as his parents aged.  I’m sure it comes from the years he spent with the Sioux. 

We fought about everything.  He was a hunter while I liberated rabbits from their cages. He supported the Vietnam War while I helped friends burn their draft cards.  He wouldn’t let me ride on the back of motorcycles with boys so I bought my own Honda 90. 

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He ordered me not to live with my boyfriend before getting married. You can probably guess what I did. 

For someone perceived as somber and dignified, he did have his quirks.  He insisted on wearing WWII era ski pants which flapped in the breeze as he marauded down the slopes.  My sister and I called him Flappy Pants.  

skipants

WWII Era Ski Pants

Although his eye sight was excellent, he often went to work wearing mismatched socks. He had a legendary weakness for bow ties, particularly red bow ties. And he often got so wrapped up in the lab he forgot about his classes. They tried to make him Dean of Engineering and it was a total disaster. He was far too honest and forthcoming with his opinions to run the department or get along with other college VIPs.

He lived long enough to laugh at the fact Arnold Schwartzenegger was elected governor of California but not long enough to see the rise of Obama, which is a shame as I think he would have been proud.  Racist was one thing he could never have been called.

Dad didn’t die in the desert with just the clothes on his back.  He died in the Pacific Ocean in his speedos.  I like to think he was trying to swim to China.