Posts Tagged With: children

USS Goldsborough, DDG 20

USS Goldsborough DDG-20.jpg

USS Goldsborough, DDG 20

It was my brother’s ship. A big old destroyer. I was living in Honolulu, and spent a lot of time on that ship when it was in dry-dock. Bill and I hung out together all the time for over a year; much of that time was spent on the Naval Base, as my husband was out to sea on an old pig boat sub off the coast of where I was not supposed to say.

It was the Viet Nam era, and I normally met Bill at Pearl after I got off work. The Goldsborough was in dry-dock, and this one particular day I had to use the lavatory. Bill supposed the Commander was not going to be showing up, so he just told to use the commander’s unit and to be quick about it. I very confidently told him about all the boats I had learned to go potty on. My poor bro believed me.

When my mission was accomplished I took a look at all the gear and pushed some buttons, turned this knob, pulled on the ring it was much like flushing the Coast Guard Cutter and the Submarines I’d been on. Well, I found out they aren’t all the same.

My brother was freaking when I told him I pushed this, turned that, and pulled that little doo dad there!! But he got me covered ASAP.

(I think I feel him laughing over my shoulder right now: “Aww, Sis, don’t go public with the toilet.. Please?”)

Bill didn’t live long enough to learn what a blog is. And now my poor dear bro, I miss him so, is my subject . He is such a special guy that I just want to share him with everyone. And if you think I made a mistake in tense, I didn’t. He often comes to me in my dreams, cheering me on.

After the bathroom event I inadvertently blew serious cover on PEARL HARBOR’S TOP SECRET MILITARY CODE NAME in the Officer’s bar!

I wasn’t even drinking, Bill and me and a couple of guys were playing cards. Somehow or other I said the phrase so closely guarded (not!) and the entire bar froze into silence.

They watched as I was swarmed by a bunch of uniformed men who escorted me to a room filled with uniformed officers. Bill insisted on staying with me. I needed to convince everyone that I had no idea where I’d heard the phrase I thought so amusing.   I didn’t know, and was terrified I was going in the clink.

My brother had to talk real fast, and I can’t imagine his feelings about his job security. I mean it was a stupid sounding password, and I thought sounded hilarious for the tropics. I thought everyone would get a laugh.

I believe Bill was kind of glad when my husband arrived and we went stateside again. Back to Northern California, San Francisco, with the famous cool and foggy weather.

Years later, we were a family, a daughter and a son and a great job with Chevron. We had an opportunity to travel the world and we did our best to hit as many continents as we could. South America and Antarctica are the two the kids and I missed.

But all the joys of travel bring potential problems. While returning from a holiday our family was held under armed guard because we didn’t have an international visa. Chevron’s Mr. Ten Percent had neglected to provide one, and In Saudi Arabia the potential for serious trouble was everywhere. We could, depending on which way the wind blew, end up as hostages or worse. Here we were in the Jidda airport for 24 hours, arrested and under armed guards. Both kids were very small, 3 and maybe six going on 7. The little guy was tired, hungry and ticked off and expressed his frustration by giving the armed soldiers the raspberries….which is not as belligerent as throwing shoes at them, but is hugely offensive and unacceptable behavior! Fortunately, Arabs are often softies, especially when dealing with children. They seemed to appreciate that I did my best to apologize to them in my not-very-classic Arabic.

A very important lesson came several years later, when we were back in the States, and I was driving home from an afternoon wedding in which I had not imbibed. I don’t like champagne, so my nieces and nephews – and me, well, we had this champagne fight. Nobody was hurt, but boy we were soaked!

When it was time to go home I remembered it was late Sunday evening, and I hadn’t washed my son’s baseball uniform!  He had a game Monday afternoon, and for the first and only time in my driving life I looked around, coast seemed clear, and I put the pedal to the metal:  Go!

I blew right past a county Sheriff’s car and heard the siren, saw the lights.

They pulled me over, and though I passed all the usual tests you see on TV– backwards alphabet, finger to nose… counting and what not, even my breathalyzer was under the limit at that time.

But, I sure didn’t pass the scent test as my pretty pink jumpsuit reeked of the fermented grape.

Then they had me walk the straight line (in high heels – men don’t have to, huh?) And the coppers had no choice: I wobbled in the soft dirt with my damn left leg. I felt hecka pain inside my left hip for the very first time. I probably looked like I was staggering, as it sure felt like it.

So, right or wrong I was arrested, read my rights, and one Sheriff took my car to drive my kids to my nearby friend’s house; and the other drove me and the patrol car to the jail.

For 2 whole hours they “held” me in a cell with several crazy women. Scary, scary, crazy women.

Yes. It was a “wrongful arrest” – Yes, I really should have got a big fat speeding ticket…. instead of a… valuable lesson, hmmm? I am okay with the whole ordeal, and in many ways it was.

I would not know the real story of my gimpy hip and 24 degree scoliosis for nearly 20 more years. But first I danced a Hula with seven other beauties at the Sudanese Club; I also took up Belly Dancing. I ran in the Hash House Harriers, that famous worldwide running club that pops up anywhere one finds Brits their Beer.

And at the age of 50 I learned to play tennis and was recruited to a Senior Women’s team in another town. Within four years and a lot of worn out tennis shoes, my team went to USTA National Tennis Championships in Tucson, AZ. ranking #5 of 25 teams in the USA. Champion or not, I was not able to play tennis after that. Not yet. But.. next summer, I’m thinking?

Sometimes things in life have to go down the way they have to go down. I safely learned a very important lesson: MY fabulous judgement can be faulty, even when I’m stone sober.

However, there is one issue that still floors me. It is the hat/uniform/badge “power thing” that some peace officers, male and female, can really get caught up in. I’m afraid it may be a part of some problems we suffer now in our country right now with renegade cops and outraged populations. Hats/Uniforms/Badges. Think about it.

But on that evening, at the Sheriff’s office, I was being booked and fingerprinted by a pimple faced jerk behind the counter.   He wanted to know what color my underpants were.

Obviously he was playing Pimpled-Power-Man to my Trapped-Woman-Woman.

So I just told him the straight truth. I told him I was going commando!   No UnderRoos for this lady, Sonny! I took his little power away and Pimples gasped and nearly fell off the high chair he had been sitting on. It is hard to express just how very satisfying that was.

I don’t know what our parents would have said had they got to know a grown up me. But believe me, I do know that my brother truly would have been ROF and cheering me on. I think he still does.

(The USS Goldsborough was purchased for parts by The Royal Australian Navy, but I’m not telling Bill!)

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WELFARE BRAT

Winter-time lighting

The gas oven for warmth

I learned to beware

of the flare

Singeing eye-lash

and eyebrow

But never my hair.

Whooosh!

Door full open,

To my straight-back chair.

Ahh, wrapped in my blanket

Pray hurry, the warming

Of winter’s night air.

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The Truth about Tilapia

This was a catchy lead that caught my eye as I did a quick-browse-about this morning.  And by way of chasing this lead I got a great recipe for White Bean Soup – it might even be the kind my Mom used to make and I’m most excited about it.

In chasing Tilapia I got a lot of information that made me go cross-sighted, as a friend of mine coined it.  I was offered tips to improve my life, my locks, my looks PLUS access to a Victoria Secret’s Angel Guide to Gorgeousness!  This offer was followed by The Best Fast Food Fried Chicken in the Universe which would never be allowed to touch the petulantly plump lips of these children.

The Truth about Victoria lies in the fact that their run-way models are typically fashion models fodder:  barely pubescent girls with a keen yearn for glamour, aided and abetted by family.  Dewey-eyed girls with the required glowing, silky skin are not allowed to smile for fear of encouraging wrinkles and are hired for their pouty lips, their talent for a wide eyed and beguiling stare.  This is a dangerous thing to teach our young girls.  Their fear is around wrinkles and income, not at all about how vulnerable they are made to look.

These rascally little girls trick reasonable women into thinking a 30-year old woman is akin to a Sub-teen.  For those who don’t know what Sub-teen means, it is an old-fashioned clothing size once used to acknowledge that though puberty is imminent, there are no boobs yet.  I think it is now represented by Vanity Sizes 0 through 2 these days, because size 3 work with boobs.  I would hate to think any young models are encouraged to use add-ons in their bras at these tender ages, but if it’s profitable I suppose some do, their salaries probably cover the cost and as a business expense it might be write-off-able.

I took a note or two on how to improve my Life, Locks & Looks and increased the font size to so I would be able to study it when I felt the need.

And then…..I printed out the recipe for the White Bean Soup and made my shopping list.  I’m really hankering for it in these days of California’s dry, freeze-assing-cold.  I cannot handle cold unless I’m extremely active, as in the two fabulous ski-trips I have been on.

I feel like The Lone Californian, for I cannot wait for summer though it’s supposed to make our droughts even worse:  at least I will be comfortable in my thirst.

 

The Truth About Tilapia:  It ranks #4 in the USA, behind shrimp, salmon and canned tuna.

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FAIRY DUST AND GUNS

I recently found those places in my youth

Where I knew pain, anger, terror and violence

That I had to forget decades ago and just

March on with my hopes of a kinder, gentler world.

I’m still on the lookout for Fairy Dust and Miracles!

I find them still in stray animals, small children,

The occasional adult with a sensitive heart.

We can get what we need, if we pay attention.

And despite what my teachers said about me

I paid a lot of attention!

My Big Brother Bill played alternate roles of

Tormentor and Protector in my early years.

He hated having to protect me and he never ever failed.

Our father came for visits, took us to the shooting range

For target practice with his friend and son.

My Dad taught me to plant my feet for steadiness;

To line up the site with my target;

To take a deep breath, exhaling slowly as I squeeze the trigger.

I still do.

Melanie Alcorn Wood

16 Nov. 2014

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Malta Madness, Part 2

I initially leased a flat for two weeks on  the peninsula with a lovely view of mainland Malta.  We slept well the first night, but when I got up in the morning to draw a bath the children I saw a million little fishes in the water.  I immediately went to the kitchen and found the same in that tap water.  These were no fishies..these were mosquito larvae.

Valettta is the capital of Malta, and unlike Khartoum telephone service was available, even telephone books, so it was easy to find the board of real estate rentals.   I immediately lodged a complaint, stating the landlady should never have rented the unit, especially to a family with very young children.  They took a complaint from me and told me I would legally get my deposit back.  I copied down the name of the agent, the phone number and the comment that I should get a real refund.

Then I called my landlady and she was furious.  She argued that I had no right to a full refund and she and her son the attorney were coming over that evening.  I said I didn’t think I would be there because we needed baths and I’d already taken a room at a nearby hotel that had water.   She insisted on meeting me at the Mosquito House and I thought that was a good idea.

When I knocked on the door of my old residence, I found Mother had brought her son The Attorney.  We came in and sat down and she demanded knowing just who I thought I was, she may have asked if I had my head up me are – I can’t recall.  Anyway I gave her the business card of the official at the Real Estate Board, and suggested the two go look at the bath water I’d run for my children the night before, and while they were in the bathroom I prepared two nice tall glasses of water for them.

Then I heard mother and son go at it in the bathroom.  Her son the attorney left the flat, wanted to go see the water tank on the roof.  She came into the sitting room and asked for “a few days to resolve the situation”.  I declined, saying I was not interested and explained I already found a hotel for nearly the same price with a swimming pool.  She pointed out that I couldn’t cook there; I pointed out I couldn’t bear to think of cooking in her flat.

Sonny returned as we completed our discussion, and shaking his head he said “Let it go, Mama.”  Then he explained his findings:   somehow the water tank cover was removed and it would a few days to clean out the tank.  He explained it was an illegal rental and should give me a full refund  immediately.  He insisted on giving me money from his pocket to buy ourselves a meal as an apology.

We moved into a nice old with comfortable furnishings, clean water, a good restaurant, and a salt-water swimming pool.  We took day trips, went to the park, and just enjoyed sunny but not roasting-hot days and dining out every night at The Yellow Umbrellas.  I couldn’t pronounce the name, but each out door table had a beautiful yellow umbrella.  Rebecca’s sixth birthday dinner was at a place we called The Yellow Umbrellas, and the staff provided her with a surprise birthday cake.

Every day we went to David’s for lunch.  He was a handsome Maltese man about my age, and was taken by my kids, as people always were:  Rebecca was tall and slender  with long dark hair, looking very Maltese with her dark brown eyes;  and  Steven, the chubby  two year old, with blonde hair and green eyes.  David, a father himself, was mesmerized with the kids and let them take orders at his street-side window.  We went there every day and the kids started picking up some Maltese – a combination of Arabic and Italian. I was surprised to find I could get the gist out of certain newspaper articles.  He also made me a plowman’s lunch every day and sat and talked with me while my children stood by to alert when a customer came to the window.

We enjoyed the old hotel immensely.  The children learned to stay afloat in the salt-water pool and I warned them that they would have to work to stay afloat in the fresh water pool in Khartoum.  We did some massive shopping – they had grown already and needed replacement shorts and shirts.  Shopping was difficult in Valetta: the shopping district was built on a series of hills steep like San Francisco hills, tough for short-legged people.  Fortunately we discovered the Karrozzin, fabulous horse-drawn carriages to take us up and down the hills.  It was in Valetta that Steven committed an embarrassment that his sister never forgave:  he had to go to the toilet and dropped his drawers on the sidewalk and peed on a parking meter.

I was aghast, Rebecca was red-faced and furious, and I asked him what in the name of the gods did he think he was doing?   His reply was he didn’t think there were any toilets in Malta.   I explained that this was not like going shopping in Khartoum:  Malta has stores and restaurants and they all have toilets.

 

The DC8  was stalled out,  some parts had to be sent from Europe, and the kids needed  a change.  The concierge recommended a boat ride to Gozo, an island off the coast of Malta.* He would make reservations for soft drinks and a box lunch for three. We could spend the day in the sea with sandy beaches and shade and be home before nightfall.  It sounded lovely, and we were delighted.

We went by cab to the boat, and settled aboard with tea and cookies.  The trip should take about an hour.  We would disembark, be escorted around the tiny island to locate places where we could buy water or other items, and then turned loose.   If we got lost, we could walk the perimeter of the little island.

The kids and I were the only family of strictly English speaking people.   We took our towels and umbrella, our box lunch and drinks went off a little ways and found some tide pools behind the rocks with safe wading water.  We spent the whole day climbing the rocks,  examining the tide pools, swimming in the surf.  The sun was lowering in the sky, and a breeze was coming up, a warm breeze, and we saw other families packing up and trekking toward our boat.  Everyone still wore their swimsuits, and I went along with the crowd in my bikini and straw hat.

We all settled in at picnic tables, were served fresh fruits and plenty of water; liquor if anyone would be drinking after such a day.  I leaned back, totally satisfied with our outing.

“Hello, did you and the children enjoy your day?”  I looked up into the eyes of an older man, maybe 45.  He was obviously Maltese, the features handsome Italian, and those glowing Moorish eyes.  He was friendly, and complimented me on my children, he’d noticed they were quite at home with travelling and hadn’t got into mischief, and surmised I was not British.  We both laughed, and I told him we were American.

“You came to Malta? From the United States?”   He frowned, “Why?”

“We are Americans living in Sudan.”  His face lit up and he nodded, “Ash, yes!  That’s a lot closer!”

We laughed, because we both knew it would take us over eight hours to fly back to Sudan.

Then he asked me if I’d heard about luminescent waters off Gozo, and I said I hadn’t.  He offered to take us there in his speed boat, which was on board.   It would only be for a few minutes so we could swim in the waters and see the powerful illumination.  He had a wife and twin sons waiting for him at home.

Rebecca and Stevie wanted to go, I wanted to go and so men were called to get our towels and gear, to be transferred and we went to the rear of the ferry and there was the bright red speedboat.  Our gear was tossed into the boat and passengers gathered to watch us get in the boat and be lowered down into the Mediterranean Sea.   They laughed and waved to us as we sped off.

“Plenty of witnesses, eh?  ” he winked at me, got in the driver seat and we purred away for perhaps a half mile.  He slowed down, and had us turn with our back to the sun, and see what had happened to the waters:  they shimmered and shined with each wave, purple and pale turquoise hues.  He reached his hand into the sea and it turned iridescent, seemed outlined in dark blue, floating beneath the water all sparkly and shiny.  He cut to motor and invited us all to swim to see our skin in the waters.  The kids weren’t so keen about that, so I dove in and the glimmering water was a powerful visual.  Both kids gasped and said “Mommie!  You look like a fairy!”

Within forty minutes we returned to our boat which now had docked.   We climbed up the ramp, and I had to turn back and take a look.  Night was falling, stars were coming out, the ferry was docked, and there was no evidence of a speedboat.

The captain laughed, “It’s a very magic thing, isn’t it when you are still wet from swimming in the glow, yet it hasn’t changed anything.  It should have, shouldn’t it?

When my family comes out, they swim closer to the grotto, and swim into the cave.  The iridescence is even brighter in the dark.  So! The  next time you come to Malta, you contact me!  My family will come – the boys are near your children’s ages and we will have a picnic inside this cave!”

I promised we would do just that.  I mentioned it to the Larry when we got home.

He said it sounded boring.

 

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MALTA MADNESS Part One

It was Just another yellow day of my first Springtime in the Sahara.  Spring was something the local citizens knew little about other than Haboob season kicked in and the dust storms would annoy us until November.  

Larry came home promptly at 1:30 from his day at the office and announced that Chevron’s DC8 needed maintenance.   A couple of the Air Wing fellows were flying her up to a facility in Malta, and  any dependents could fly for free but had to commit to a 2 week or more stay-over, so how woud I like to have a little vacation!  He encouraged me to take our children, three year old Stevie,  and Rebecca  who was nearing six.  She would have her birthday in Malta!  It sounded like fun, and images of the Maltese Falcon flew through my mind so we went.  I didn’t know at the time the movie was about Casablanca.  Wrong country.

Connie came along with her 2 year old son and 5 year old daughter. She and her husband were the very first couple to welcome our family to Khartoum by inviting us to dinner at their home.  The meal was particularly memorable to me because we were served a roast chicken the size of a dove with no seasoning,  and a mess of grey matter that she said was millet.  It tasted like parakeet food and got trapped between my teeth.  

Still, Connie and I hatched a plan to share expenses in a flat – expats can be real cheapskates.  They never know how long they will be posted and want to claim as much of the sumptuous expatriate earnings as possible.  Our housing plan was done in before we set foot on Malta.   This was to be the last plan we made together.

Connie’s daughter Gretchen was a dear little girl, but the little fellow was a spoiled brat.  Sean was a few months younger than Stevie and still nursing.  He wasn’t housebroken, instead he was being reared as a free-range child who could not speak English and certainly had not been taught The Polites.  Sean was a smelly, demanding two year old.

Everyone brought snacks and drinks for the eight hour trip, as there were no flight attendants and amenities on a DC8 maintenance flight.  My children each had lunch boxes with water, cheese slices, crackers and a small apple tucked inside.  I also brought color books, reading books and some toys to keep them entertained.  They were aware that they would not be allowed to wander through the plane unattended: they were to stay buckled in their seats unless they had to use the toilet. 

I opened up our small chest of drinks and snacks at the same time Connie, who was seated across the aisle from us, unloaded her suitcase from the rack above her.  She too had apples, plus a jar of peanut butter, and a knife, a sharp knife. 

I watched uneasily as she sat down, suitcase on her lap, and sliced her apples and I prayed we would have no turbulence.  Connie carefully spread a measure of peanut butter on each apple slice then handed them to her children along with a small Sippy cup of lemonade each, clearly a plan with flaws: lemonade plus small children on a flight. 

Gretchen sat quietly in the window seat looking out, a peanut butter-apple slice between her teeth.  She suddenly sneezed.   The apple slice fell from her mouth, bounced off the window and skidded to the floor peanut-butter-side down.   When she  tried  to pick it up, she slipped on the smeared peanut butter and fell down.  She rose just as Sean, who was sipping lemonade, bent over to see what the commotion was.  Her head bumped his Sippy cup hard and the cup split his lip.

Sean yowled a bloody scream, and threw his Sippy cup his big sister, splattering Gretchen, himself, his mother  and the two  grey haired women seated in front of them.   Sticky sweet lemonade was in their hair and dripping down the backs of their necks .  They turned to each other and spoke quietly.  One lady quietly got up and went to the restroom and returned shortly with a pile of wet towels, some of which she shared with Connie and me, then joined her friend who had  claimed two seats near the cockpit for their own clean up party.

Sean began screaming for his TeeTee.  My kids were horrified.  They had never heard of a walking child nursing:  they had been cup-trained as soon as they could sit in their high-chairs.  They never used bottles, and were totally on their own by six months.

 Connie calmly picked Screaming Sean up in her arms, shooed Gretchen to the aisle seat and plopped down into the window seat with her squirming, bawling man-child.   Sean  pulled her shirt up so he could have his TeeTee.   Five minutes later  he was done feeding and proceeded to squirm and scream until his mother put him down.  Apparently Connie expected her 5 year old Gretchen to contain Screaming Sean while TeeTee was carefully put away. 

Of course, Sean had other ideas:  he bit his sister’s knee, snatched her Sippy cup from her hand and headed down the aisle toward the cockpit at which time the captain announced that all families must move to the far rear of the airplane “as a convenience to the children with easy access to the lavatories.”

Within a few hours we stopped over in Cairo to fuel up and endure a bug-spraying, in case we had live critters coming up from Khartoum where the only insects I’d seen was a terrible Blister Bug and one huge cockroach that jumped out of our shipment from the States.  This desert is not a hospitable place for any kind of life. 

As the team walked throough, we all covered our faces as best we could.  We were not allowed to  leave the plane and had no idea of what chemical (if any) was being sprayed.  And one of the uniformed bug sprayers saw Rebecca, who often passed for an Arab child with her long dark hair and big bown eyes. 

“Wat iz you Fazzer name?”  he asked my daughter.  Before I could speak, a young woman sitting in back of us said “Tell him DADDY!” 

I got her message, the message about security when travelling in foreign countries with small children.  The white slave traffic remains alive and well, certainly not restricted to Caucasians.  Over the next several years we were continually reminded by good citizens in Tunesia, Greece, Turkey, Thailand and other countries to mind our children. 

I took it a step further and refused to allow them to have “personalized” possessions, which was a big fad in the 1980s.  I didn’t want their names to go public.  And I continued the rule after we returned to the States. 

We exited the plane at Malta International Airport and caught a cabbie who recommended that we take a visit to Hagar Qim.  It was an interesting and ancient destination and the children could safely get a little exercise.  At that point, 1982, the exact age  of the ancient  temple complex was not known and estimated to be older than Stonehenge.  Subsequent research dates Hagar Qim to 3200 – 3600 BC.  In 1982 we were told quite factually that it was an ancient temple built to honor The Earth Mother, however I find no mention of this in current research.  I will continue to believe it because I llike the concept of a female deity.

After Hagar Qim we intended to get a snack somewhere, but the boy Sean had soiled his pants, and Connie forgot to bring clean diapers.  It ruined any thought of food for everyone, especially our poor driver.

I exited the taxi as soon as we arrived in Valetta, and told Connie that I thought it would be much better for us to make separate accommodations, that my children weren’t accustomed to being around young children.  She looked blankly at me and I realized both girls and the boys were the same age.

We bid adieu and never saw each other until the return flight two weeks later.  And we sat a comfortable distance apart.

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A Carton Full of Khartoum

 

I couldn’t resist a cheap title for today’s blog, which resulted from clearing clutter in the attic and finding a box of “souvenirs” from our family’s Sudan Days.   Memories came flooding back, of the excitement and the split second decision to go.  We had no concept regarding the decision to leave home and take a lesson in The Real World.  Nothing is quite like moving family, dog and preconceived notions out of the good ole USA and landing in the middle of a very foreign country. 

As I write this, I am thinking once again, of those Ancestors, all those many-times-grandparents who arrived in the 1600s and 1700s.  How strange was this country to them?   The long-time owners of the country, tagged with a name that had nothing to do with their heritage were of other cultures, other languages; they were a people who took pity on our sick and weary passage survivors and taught them how to survive, even thrive the late ice age storms, the hurricanes; how and when to plant our own food and where to go for the best hunting on the Eastern Seaboard.  And the people who settled the Gulf States: learning to live with deadly snakes, alligators, and bugs the size of helicopters. 

If nothing else we do come from brave and hearty stock and I’m wondering if it is just another genetic blip, started by the infamous Mother in Africa and her tribe that settled the world. 

For years Larry, my husband and I had dreamed of moving to France.  Neither of us spoke French which is important in that country, but we felt we would get along swimmingly since we really liked French cheese and champagne.  We hadn’t thought of family when that dream began.  We believed we would not have children.

 The day came when I was at home with my five year old daughter and my two year old son playing with the phone book on the floor which is a great pastime for keeping kids out of your hair, and the phone rang and I answered.  Their father, Larry was bursting with excitement,

 “Mel!  Guess What!  Remember how we always wanted to move to France?”

My heart jumped and I salivated as images of Chevre Cheese, The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower and the Loire Valley flooded my mind.  This was not really happening!

“Well, I just got a job offer with Chevron and they want to know how you feel about it!

“Oh, okay, yes, it sounds fabulous” 

“It isn’t going to be France, but we can always travel there for holidays, we will get three holidays every year.  But the job is in The Sudan,” he paused for a moment waiting for a response.  

 I wondered where the Hell is The Sudan as he plunged on, “Go get the globe, The Sudan is just South of Egypt, the capital city is Khartoum, at the concourse of the Blue Nile and the White Nile.” 

I ran into the living room marveling over there being two Niles, and brought our globe back.  I’d spotted The Sudan, just South of Egypt, and Khartoum was at the intersection of the Blue and the White Niles. 

It was a long way from Sonoma County, in the Wine Country of California, traveling East across our country then north-east, crossing Baffin Bay, probably landing in England.  Maybe a change of plane and then crossing Europe to somewhere around Italy then heading South to Africa nearly to the Equator!  This was not going to be a one plane flight.

I picked up the phone, glanced at the kids and said “Okay!”

 There was silence at the other end.

“Larry?”

 “Well, did you find Khartoum?”

“Yes I see it. “

“Well, what do you think?”

“Sounds good to me, Let’s go!”

That pretty much sealed the next part of our lives, for he and I passed muster by Chevron.  It is just as well that neither of us knew how the relationships between Chevron, Larry and our family would be strained.  At the moment he and I were delighted he even had a job, more so that we were embarking on an adventure.  

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A Complicated Question

A COMPLICATED QUESTION

Jazzbo was about seven, apparently in a romantic mood:

 “Mama, did Gigi get down on his knees and ask you to marry him?”

“No, he didn’t Jazz”

“Well how did you get married?” his face puckered.

“In the surf On Virgin Gorda. The British West Indies.  Barefoot.”

“No. Mama! Did he ask you first before you got married?”

“No.  I asked him.”

His face un-puckered as his eyes widened,

and one of his eyebrows shot straight up.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“What about Grampa, did he ask you?”

“No.  And we went to Reno, got married in

Golden Wedding Bell Chapel  Number 2.

Number 1 was booked up”.

“Mama! Did anyone ever ask you to marry them?”

My grandson seemed a little desperate.

“Yes, Jazz.”

“Who?”

“Well, there was a Sea Captain named John in Portland,

And an Englishman named Stephen in the English Channel,”

I paused, lingering in the hall of incomplete marital memories.

“WELL?  Did you marry ANY of them?”

“No, Jazz, I was already married.”

“Well, how am I supposed to do it then?”

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Alex and Andy, 1988

Sonoma County is about 55 miles North of San Francisco and to a large degree it remains a farming community which has never provided a lot of support for it’s mostly middle income workers. Many residents commute South to the more moneyed counties of Marin and San Francisco in order to afford to live in Sonoma County.

It is bordered to the South by Marin County, the haven of San Francisco executives who commute to work by ferry and their families with their attendant up-scale shopping malls.
Napa County, renowned for world class wines, hot springs and spas lies to the East.

To the North is Mendocino County, well known for the lovely little oceanside village of Mendocino, where lived the imaginary author in the television program “Murder She Wrote”. It is just as famous for wide open spaces, mountains, valleys and pocket canyons that hide acres of marijuana farms. This beautiful county remains enmeshed in a triangular struggle between the law, local pot-growers, and the cartels who want to take over these businesses.

I live in a little town in Sonoma County, a bedroom community that provides Marin and San Francisco Counties with many “drone” employees. The salary disparity is commanding and keeps many of us on Highway 101 for hours every day.

I was an Escrow Officer at ABC title company, hired by the office manager and soon to be dear friend, Gwen. I had a private office, and one morning our secretary knocked at my door to see if I could take some clients. I was free and told her to bring them in.

Two youngish men came into my office one Spring day. Both wore neatly pressed blue jeans. Alex, tall and handsome with deep blue eyes wore a long sleeved blue checked shirt tucked neatly in. Andy’ grey eyes were behind wire-rim spectacles. He was a little shorter, a little edgier, very slender, almost fragile. He wore a white long sleeved shirt beneath his grey knit vest.

I figured they were around my age, maybe younger, in their late thirties. They were bright-eyed and expectant as they told me they were moving from San Francisco and wanted to open an escrow on a beautiful cottage in West Sonoma County, in the hamlet of Graton. They were obviously a couple, and they chose the right place. West County to this day remains known for welcoming men and women of different ages, cultures and persuasions. Alex and Andy would fit right in.

In the eighties Graton was rustic, worn and welcoming but a little beat up here and there, not yet “charming”. That would come later.

The real estate boom of the 1980s was in full bloom, and newcomers sold homes in Southern California migrating north to become gentlemen vintners on private estates where they often constructed enormous and architecturally stunning homes. And they entertained old friends who generally followed their lead to live in “The Wine Country”.

West County, historically a haven with artists, writers, sculptors, hangers-on, pot-heads, architects, environmentalists, lesbians, gays, transgenders, and slackers: a hodge-podge of welfare families, dopers; artists and wealthy business retirees of all ages creating a culture as welcoming as it was stimulating.

Entrepreneurs established new businesses of specialty bakeries, commercial vineyards for their new “vintner” status, and cottage industries of weaving, making candles and Panama Hats, beekeeping, honey sprang up. Alex and Andy were going to be very happy in their new home.

During the course of their purchase escrow they drove up from The City for weekends, and stopped to visit with me and Gwen. They always brought a little something: sometimes pastries, sometimes flowers, and if we had the time, they just sat and visited with us. They told us how welcome they felt in their little village of Graton, how Sonoma County in general felt like a personal Shang-ri La .

They held a housewarming party when escrow closed, and invited Gwen and me to join them. It was a lively party, a mix of their old friends from San Francisco and their new neighbors, the “Gratonites”.

Over the next year or so, “the boys” as Gwen and I came to call them, continued to drop in for a quick chat, sometimes with friend, usually straight. I never quit got it until Gwen, safely married, explained that they were bringing in suitable swains for me: I was single, and she suspected Alex and Andy were trying to introduce the “single mom”, to a manly “someone nice”.

 

One day Alex and Andy stopped by the office with their Perpetual Powers of Attorney. My heart sank as I looked at them, suddenly aware of the weight loss, deep purple shadows under Alex’s eyes, how Andy’s hand shook. Alex  answered my unspoken question. It was Aids and they didn’t know how long Andy was going to last. There were new drugs to try. He wanted his PPA done too, one never knew.

They both said they were grateful they found their way to Sonoma County. Here they found an extended family of friends from all walks of life. He said they both included Gwen and me in that family.

I filled in the document dates, signed and stamped their final documents in a daze.

But Andy was not the first to go, it was the younger and more robust, the beautiful Alex.  A  shock to everyone;   a disaster for Andy.

I was devastated, could not imagine life without those bright blue eyes, that playful fun-loving spirit of Alex. I could not imagine Andy going on without him. The boys were a part of our lives now.

Andy and their many friends held a celebration of Alex at the cottage. Friends and neighbors brought a banquet of foods, barrels of wine and flowers.  Someone brought a Japanese Maple, Alex’s favorite tree, and several men got busy getting it planted .

So many people gathered that they spilled out of the boy’s garden, overflowing into neighbors gardens. And the neighbors quickly put out chairs and tables for the over-flow.

I was rather conspicuous in my work clothes: suit, heels, pantyhose, full makeup and probably hair-spray on my hair. I milled around introducing myself to strangers. We shared how we knew the boys, how we were going to miss Alex, and how friends had already aligned to support Andy.

A tall man in a dark suit slowly smoked a cigarette in a corner of the the boys living room, observing this gathering. This had to be Alex’s father, so tall and handsome.  He looked my way and his brilliant blue eyes proved it.

I approached him and introduced myself. He wiped tears with the back of one hand, took a deep draw on his cigarette with the other. Exhaling, his words came out a little high-pitched, in staccato bursts.

“I didn’t know he had friends – like you, you know. People, people like me. I thought he was someone to be ashamed of.” He paused, then said “I ran my son off!”

A thick silence rose between us. I was at a loss witnessing such raw agony from a stranger. I breathed in his pain and ammonia shot up my nostrils, cauterizing them, leaving a dull ache behind my eyes. When he finally spoke again his voice was angry and condemning,  raspy with held-back tears.

“I never gave my Alexander a chance! I never got to know him, the real him. He will never know how sorry I am right now”

I needed fresh air. I asked him if he would like to go out to the garden, so we could sit in a place that Alex dearly loved. Before he could answer I grabbed his arm.

 I might have jerked him outside.

In the warmth of sunshine and the fragrance of Alex’s flowers I told him just how happy Alex had been. I told him how full of hell he was, that he was a prankster and continually pissed Andy off, that Andy grew to enjoy this.  I told him  I thought Alex was searching amongst his straight friends for men to match me up with.

I told him he was the spitting image of his handsome father, and that he surely had a heart as big as the heart his Dad was showing me now.

He listened when I said Alex spoke of him often, sometimes sadly, And I told him Andy’s version of stories from his childhood: how Dad taught him to ride his bike and  they both ended up in the swimming pool, and Mom captured it all on film!

I told him Alex loved that memory and always roared telling it!   Alex was okay with who he was and accepted the way his father was:  “They didn’t understand homosexuality:  they thought this was choice and choice is always reversible,”

 “In the end, all is okay, all as it should be: you are born, you live, you grow, you love, you lose, you die, but not necessarily in that order. And sometimes in your dying, you make others grow again.”

He looked at me strangely and wiping his eyes asked “How do you know all that?”

I stood up and felt my face turn red, embarrassed by my audacity to spill such weighty words to a grieving stranger. But before I could reply, he stood up and gathered me in his arms, He hugged me tight, then held my face and kissed me on the forehead, like a daughter.

“Thank you, my dear. Thank you for letting me know he doesn’t hate me.  My Alexander had no hate in him, bless him,” With a sob he let me go and excused himself.

“I really must speak with Andy now. He has been such an important part of my son’s life for a very long time. I need to let him know I to be there for him if he needs me.But more, I need to tell him that I thank him for loving my son so well.”

He strode purposefully back into the cottage, an executive on the move to straighten out a glitch in his system.

I sat back down, exhausted in Alex’s garden and thought about my pre-teen daughter and eight year old son. I prayed we would never have such an estrangement.

Thank the stars I couldn’t see what lay ahead.

 

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Blabbin’ da Book Part I

Over the past two years of blogging on three different sites I worked up a few chapters into a memoir. According to persons more experienced, I should blog my book, as a memoir.  According to other writers, instructors, editors (as well as my personal not-yet-for-profit Copy Editor) I’m working my writing: I have “voice”.

For decades it has made me feel uncomfortable to go public with what I want to say.  Yesterday I read in an article on writing that when we finally set ourselves to do something, we either keep it secret or we never stop talking and doing that something.   I’m ready to blab.

I shook down the content of my past and finally got a feel for how it brought me to the life I am in, the one I believed in, and eventually created.  I like my journey.  I am happy with me remaining a works in progress, hopefully to my last breath.

As a child I annoyed my mother by saying “I just can’t wait!” and her weary reply was “You are just wishing your life away, Miss Priss.”  

As I move on down the line of life, gaining new “retrospectives”, then this is indeed the larger, juiciest part, I think.  It’s about gaining new perspectives;  releasing others.

My early years, were fairly ghastly until the day I threw my mother across the room.  I was sixteen and I don’t remember what set her off, other than something to do with my sassy mouth, and for the last time she laid her hands on me. 

Mom broke a thick wooden coat hanger over my head, and with blood spurting from my scalp I lifted her up by the elbows and sent her flying across the room.   We had our “special bonding moment” with my stunned mother sprawled in the armchair staring at the blood streaming down my face.  Did she tend to my wound?  Probably.  Mom always showed a remarkably generous and tender side when nursing Bill, me, neighbors or friends when we were down with a flu or other condition.  She had a wonderful way with her hands.  Her touch was gentle, warm and healing.

Mom finally respected me and we became friends, and once we became friends, a playful little bratty part of me appeared, one that others have commented on and seem to enjoy:  I began to sneak up behind my mother when she was least expecting and gave her a big hug.  Her body always stiffened, like I was hugging a telephone pole.  

I hoped against hope to  feel relaxation in her body, some warmth, some pleasure.  It never happened.  So I just kissed her on the cheek and “let her go”.   As soon as I broke touch with her she giggled and blushed like a delighted two year old.

So I ask, dear reader, dear copy editor, can that into a useful book?  Can I format broken histories without making my readers think “Okay, we get it, Would-Be Author, we see you as a survivor, and we will believe you, molestations, hardship, violence and all!  It makes a sorry sense that when your Mom found out about the pre-teen sexual abuse, she beat you not only with the belt, but perhaps more with her own feelings of failure.”

Well, I have never been hesitant to follow hunches and my hunch is telling me I have bits of information to share, methods to pass along regarding learning to live with the kind of wounds that won’t disappear.  My wounds no longer obstruct my life, in fact they remain present and real as information now, neither good nor bad, but a permanent part of me, showing up only as just another memory.

When I started my Genealogical Safari I had no awareness of living family with the exception of  an 87 year old half brother I’d met when I was about 23 and a couple of half-nephews my age.  We send Christmas Cards every year without fail. 

Minutes into my initial genealogical searching I “found family’ on both maternal and paternal sides’ right here in Northern California, a few of which were within hollerin’ distance.   An hour later I discovered a Family Tree with my name in it.

That piece floored me.  It was difficult to grasp that somebody knew we all existed:  me, my brother, our parents.  I wondered uneasily if my parents ever knew  of them.  The family tree took me immediately back to our first paternal Scot-Irish Immigrant, who arrived in Pennsylvania around 1720, Revolutionary Soldiers and all that. 

During the first two years I unearthed stories of my parents lives, and their ancestors lives in census, newspaper articles and in obituaries. I learned how  both Mom and Dad felt their parents deserted them, abandoned them. 

It’s a fact that Dad, abandoned by his natural father, lived only occasionally with his natural mother; a sadder fact that Mom was sent to be reared by maternal grandparents around the age of thirteen months.  And, she had an older brother I hadn’t known about who was sent to the paternal grandparents when he was just two.

Lost Children always find each other. The shame is that in their neediness they didn’t know what to do with or for each other.  My parents had no way of passing nurturing love on down to little kids.

Sometimes I hear thuds and shouts in the middle of the night, see the flashing lights of a squad car.  Their relationship was all about who wasn’t staying in the guidelines of the other partner’s idea of “What You Would Do if You Really Truly Loved Me!”

I’ve reared two children of my own, imperfectly, but always lovingly.  I wish I could have raised my own dear, deceased, middle-aged-kid-parents.

 ~0~

 

 

 

 

 

 

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