Saturday, November 16, 2013


Before the Hollywood movie coined the phrase “bucket list” mine was already started.  I made it in my seventh grade year. 
I was a geeky, mousy, bespectacled girl with crooked chipped front teeth and clothes a decade out of style.  Just the kind of kid who bullies target, and that year, I was unfortunate enough to have the locker right next to the biggest bully of them all.
Chuck was a handsome, athletic guy whom everyone admired and feared.  I usually cut him a wide berth.  In the fourth grade, he punched me in the head so hard I saw stars and had a headache for days.  After that, I learned to keep my head down and my mouth shut to avoid Chuck and his friends, but then fate placed us side by side in the seventh grade locker room.
Every day I was subjected to his taunts and his physical threats.  I tried ignoring.  I avoided going to my locker.  I did everything I could to keep from antagonizing him, but three times a day, there we were, side by side, a disaster waiting to occur.
Finally, one day in the spring, I went to get my books for the afternoon session.  “Get out of my way, Molesteeth,” I heard Chuck say as he pushed me sideways.  I stumbled and fell against the open locker door, slicing my arm open on the cold gray metal.
“Goddamn it, Chuck, why don’t you leave me alone!” I screamed into the now thinning crowd of students.  I went off to class, wiping the blood from my arm.
Later that day as I was sitting in my Language Arts class, an announcement came over the intercom.  They were calling the names of people who were to go to a meeting of the student discipline committee.  I was stunned when they called my name.  Mrs. Carlson glared at me and I felt the mocking eyes of my other classmates as I gathered my books and slinked from the classroom.
When I arrived, Chuck and the rest of the student government from the 7th and 8th grades sat behind a table.  They were to be my judge, jury and executioners.  I was told the nature of my crime.  I was to be punished for swearing in the hallways.  Since I rode the bus home and could not do after school detention, I would spend my lunch hour in the library for two weeks.
I was ashamed and embarrassed as I left the room, but on another level I was relieved.  Two whole weeks without having to hang around the play ground, alone and friendless.  It would be a vacation for me.  Two whole weeks to read.  I couldn’t think of anything better.
While serving my detention I discovered in a closet in the library filled with stacks of old National Geographic magazines.  I spent my days, flipping through them, discovering all the wonders of the world outside my tiny rural home.  They sparked my imagination and fueled my desire to get away from its limiting boundaries.  I saw for the first time the treasures of King Tut’s tomb, the grandeur of the Parthenon, and the mysteries of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan cultures.  I read about Africa and the Far East and I saw people of different colors than my own.  I wanted to get to know them first hand, and I promised myself I would get there someday.  I made myself a list: The Pyramids and the mysterious Sphinx in Egypt, Teotihuacan and Chitzen Itza in Mexico, and Macchu Picchu in Peru.  I would see those places before I died. 
A few weeks later in Language Arts class, Mrs. Carlson suggested we draw a picture of a place we wanted to go.  I took out my colored pencils and I drew the Pyramids standing solid and red upon the sandy banks of the Nile.  As she came by to see how we were progressing, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Delores dear, igloos are white.”  I looked up and realized that she a totally ignorant product of my home town.  Not only did she not recognize the Pyramids but that a whole year had gone by and she did not know my name.
Years passed without me reaching my goals.  There was school and life to deal with and my husband didn’t seem to share my dreams.  After we divorced I was looking for something to do.  I was looking for a singles group and found the Single Boomer’s Social Club on Meetup.  They seemed to be doing a variety of activities, so I applied for membership.  As part of the application process we had to write our “Bucket List”.  All these memories and the still burning desire to see the places I had first discovered in detention came back and I wrote them down: Egypt, Greece, Italy, Macchu Picchu.  And when the leader wrote back that Macchu Picchu was on her list too, I joined the group.  Mary Ann and I became friends and on October 21st we left for Macchu Picchu. 
We flew to Lima and spend a days in the capitol of Peru.  We visited grand old homes and visited a Paseo horse ranch.  We watched a display of these beautiful horses followed by a delicious meal of Peruvian foods.  Then we traveled up to Cuzco to get acclimated to the altitude for a few days.  We traveled by bus to the Sacred Valley of the Inca and visited the famous market at Piasic.  The following day we traveled to Ollyantambo to see the Inca fortress there.  I walked up to the top for a view of the lovely valley and walked the beginning of the Inca Trail.  The following day we boarded a train and to one of the most popular World Heritage sites. 
After arriving in Aques Calientes, we took another bus up thirty switchbacks to Macchu Picchu.  I stood where the ancient Inca’s stood and I marveled at the stone terraces, carved with primitive tools and set without mortar, which have stood in spite of the elements for thousand years.  I breathed the air they breathed and walk the stone walk ways they walked.  I climb as high as my body allowed in the thin atmosphere.  When I could go no higher I whooped allowing my voice to echo off the mountain sides.  I thrilled at achieving my goal. 
While I stood there, I was grateful for Chuck and Mrs. Carlson, because without them, I would not have become the person I am; the one who sets goals and takes chances.  The person who travels and learns.  The woman who continues to grow and work toward achieving those bucket list goals.  The human being who gets to whoop from mountain tops.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


I have been working on dieting and exercising since the first of the year.  It is hard going because I love to eat and I hate the gym.  So much of my life has been about food, that to leave it out is like taking away a little part of myself.  I look at my yogurt and granola or my wassa bread with peanut butter and harken back to the days when my family’s kitchen was filled with the smells of cooking.

 “These are people who like to eat!”  my mom always quipped whenever there was a gathering of my large, noisy extended family.  It was true that every family event and holiday was celebrated with food and beverages.  Family pictures were taken around tables laden with holiday fare.  We celebrated weddings with food.  We mourned each passing with food.  Every holiday had its own set of food traditions.  So it is no wonder that many of my early memories are about eating. 

Even when we weren’t celebrating our everyday activities were scheduled around meals.  Usually my day started with breakfast cereal and Tang.  I especially relished Cocoa Krispies drenched with the cream which Mom skimmed off the top of our household milk.  I would eat my breakfast, listening to the radio while Mom drank her coffee and smoked.  Then I would sit on top of the heat vent until it was time to catch the school bus.

In the summers, lunch was the big meal of the day.  Mom spent all morning making it.  We always had beef and potatoes, some type of vegetable and bread and butter on the table.  Mom made a sheet cake every week because my dad liked to finish off the meal with dessert.  My mom, dad and I were joined by my Uncles Harold and Howard and I remember feeling that I was competing with them for the food on the table.  And if I didn’t take seconds, I was somehow letting my mother down.  On Sundays, Mom made fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy and some special dessert.  My Uncle Dale would join us on Sundays and the men ate heartily while my mother nibbled on bony chicken backs.  She always said she liked the backs, but inside I knew she was leaving the choicest pieces for everyone else.

My mother was a great cook and she seemed to enjoy it.  She was in her element when she was in the kitchen.  I often joke that she could serve the multitudes with six loaves and two fishes.  It didn’t rattle her when Mary and Walt or the Martins would show up unexpectedly.  She would just add another can of this or that, and pull out some pickles and extra bread and we would eat in style.

The same went for holiday dinners.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were always celebrated with turkey.  I remember big birds filling the entire stove.  One year she sold enough Tupperware to earn a double oven range.  She kept that avocado green monstrosity going for days prior to the event.  On the day of the feast, she would rise before the sun came up to prepare all the dishes for our dinner. She loved having a household full of company.

One of my best food memories took place during a family funeral.  My mother’s brother had died of cancer and in the way of my large noisy extended Italian family, food needed to be prepared.  The post funeral get together was being held at the home of my mom’s oldest sister, Katie.  Aunt Katie and I shared a birthday and we had a kind of bond I didn’t have with a lot of the other family.  When I told her I wasn’t interested in attending the funeral she asked if I could stay at the house with her to prepare the food.  While my mom had always shooed me out of the kitchen, but Aunt Katie let me stay as we fried up what seemed like a dozen chickens and made several huge bowls of spaghetti.  We chopped potatoes for potato salad and Aunt Katie even asked my opinion on the dressing.  Then we boiled corn on the cob until the windows wept.  Katie was the patient teacher my mother was not. 

I wish I had had the time and skills to share cooking memories with my children, but I was too busy with life and school.  We ate a lot of fast food, because, unfortunately, I never learned to cook.  Probably my mother’s reluctance to get me involved played a big role in that.  She used to shoo me out of the kitchen because I slowed her down.  She had no patience to teach me anything, so I confined my cooking to mud pies and magical potions.  After I was married, I taught myself to make a few things.  I can cobble together a meatloaf from scratch and my holiday lasagna is famous, but there are few things I can make without a recipe in front of me.  I don’t find joy in it like my mother seemed to. 

In my family food was the foundation of love.  My mother’s family was never people who shared their feelings but the time and care it took to make those meals was an external manifestation of their emotions.  My daughters and I have family food traditions, like Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas lasagna, but my offerings always seem so dull compared to fare my mother and aunts always had to offer.

The interesting thing for me is that my daughter Robin is now the family cook.  When she was ten or so we sent her to live with my mother for the summer.  My mother, who had no time for teaching when I was little, taught Robin all the skills she had never given to me.  Robin comes up with elegant recipes of her own creation.  I told her that soon she is going to have to take over the family get togethers because she is so much more skilled than I am, especially with gravy. 

My love affair with food came from heartfelt beginnings and giving those feelings up to lose weight has always been challenging for me.  Changing food from a loving friend and companion to something necessary for life and energy is a difficult transition for me.  Each day I have to remind myself not to overeat and turn away from the goodies which would cause me to stumble.  When a basket of cookies arrived at the office the other day I had to tell myself that one cookie would make me feel worse rather than better.  I tried to be noble and set a better example for my employees by declining the goodies.  But I would have killed to have a cookie. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Leila Fern Beyers became a part of my family when I was about seven.  Lelia had gone to nursing school at St. Alfonsus Hospital in Boise, Idaho.  She was a classmate of my cousin Sharon, and somehow, I don’t remember the whole story, Lelia was introduced to Sharon’s brother Wally.  My mother once said that when Lelia met Wally she set her sights on him, nothing was going to stop her having him.

What I will remember most about Lelia was her smile and laugh.  Her smile split her face wide and her laugh came from down deep.  I loved the way she would throw her head back and cackle.  She was smart with a quick and wicked sense of humor.  She loved a dirty joke and swore like a sailor.  I thought she was beautiful.  I followed her around, emulating everything she did.  I wanted to be just like her.

I was scheduled to be the flower girl at Wally and Lelia’s wedding, but an unfortunate case of mumps felled not only me but my other cousins Reggie and Lark.  We were relegated to the sofas while the rest of our extended family went off to the wedding.  There was a rush to replace Reggie, who was to be an usher, and me, but Lelia took it all in stride.

I saw Wally and Lelia frequently when I was growing up.  They would come to Twin Falls to visit Aunt Mary and Uncle Walt or we would go to the big city of Boise to visit them.  I remember staying with them for the Idaho Centennial.  We were all decked out in our pioneer clothes.  There was a houseful of people to feed but Lelia held center stage and got everyone fed and where they needed to be and on time.

When I was eight Lelia and Wally’s first son was born.  Brad was a noisy bundle who everyone was enamored with.  I was so jealous of him.  He was quickly followed by Brent.  They were like little brothers to me, beloved but bothersome.  Lelia was a strict but loving parent.  She rounded off the sharp corners of my cousin Wally.

Our families continued to spend family holidays and hunting trips together.  I remember being stranded in an unexpected snowfall in the Idaho South Hills.  My mother was frantic and I was scared we would turn into the Donner party, but once again Lelia was cool, calm and collected and we got home without any incidents of human cannibalism.

Time goes on in rushes.  I was newly married when my dad developed cancer.  Lelia provided my mother with a home away from home while my dad underwent his cancer treatments in Boise.  My husband and I had just arrived from Seattle for my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary at Mary and Walt’s.  We had barely made it through the door when Lelia came running up the stairs to meet me.  “I have to talk to you,” she said, grabbing my arm.

She took me back outside and we walked the backyard as she filled me in on my dad’s condition.  She let me know the truth because she knew my mother had been sugar coating everything.  She said, “I needed you to know before you see him.  It is bad,” she said.  I will forever appreciate her candor and honesty in a difficult time.

We stayed with her one weekend when my husband and I came down to see my dad.  Again she and I went for a walk.  I told her about the difficulties I was having with my life and my marriage.  She listened and while I don’t remember her giving me advice, she didn’t criticize me or downplay my feelings.  She was just there when I needed someone to talk to.

After my dad passed, Wally and Lelia divorced.  I sent her Christmas cards for a few years and then we lost touch, but I never stopped thinking about her.  I was so happy when I saw her at Wally’s funeral a few years back.  She looked frail but her bigger than life personality was still in place, punctuated by her infectious laugh.  She gave me her address but my Christmas card when unanswered.

I was surprised when Brad called me last fall to let me know Lelia was ill.  His call gave me a sense of foreboding.  I went to visit her at Swedish Hospital not knowing what I would find.  Even though she was thin and her hair was grey, but the smile and the laughing eyes told me Lelia was still in there and fighting.  We spent an hour catching up on life, discussing medicine, and enjoying a laugh.  She told me that she thought about me often and I told her how much she had meant to me when I was growing up.  She was a big sister, confidant, and surrogate mother rolled into one.

Lelia passed away on February 27th.  I found out though Brad’s Facebook post.  It was accompanied by a picture of Lelia in her hospital bed, smiling that big smile and waving to the camera.  I was shocked to see her there.  I broke down weeping at my desk.  The world is a little emptier without Lelia’s infectious laughter and her big heart.  I am glad I got to visit with her a few times while she was here in Seattle.  I feel a sense of closure but deep sadness for the loss of another tie to my past.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


For my writer's group, this month's prompt was pleasure and I found it to be a difficult subject.  I started with a list of ten things which give me pleasure.  It reminded me of the things I love to do and at the same time it made me nostalgic because I do some of the items on the list so rarely.  I struggled with writing something positive and uplifting and all I came back with was pleasures that I have gone without.

Everything changed tonight as I left the community center in the city where I live.  It was about 6:30 and the sun had just dropped below the horizon.  The western sky was still bright yellow above the hilltops.  The yellow faded to green and then to azure blue.  As I turned south the sky continued to darken and there was a sliver of silver crescent moon hanging in the sky.  I looked up and saw two large stars above me, and from the southeast the lights of a jetliner headed north into the airport.  When I turned east the sky was dark indigo.  I had viewed Mt. Rainier there not an hour before.  There were cars moving through the parking lot but I was unaware of them.  It was as quiet as evenings are in this area.  I rejoiced of the beautifully sunny afternoon and the cool blue evening which it had given birth to. 

The view tonight was a reminder of the beauty of my home.  I fell in love with this place in 1962 when our family came here for the World’s Fair.  My aunt and uncle had a house above Eastgate in Bellevue and at the time there was nothing behind it but forest.  I walked out their back gate and into a dark green cathedral of cedar and Douglass fir.  My footsteps were muffled by a thick layer of needles and when I had gone far enough that the houses disappeared from view, I had a close encounter with the deer which populated the forest.  I wanted to stay there forever.  I set a goal of living here and after I graduated from college I did just that.

I love this wondrous place I live.  It is alive with nature and the changing seasons.  I am never so aware of that as when I visit the Olympic National Forest.  I love to walk on the beaches between Kalaloch and Forks.  The eerie seastacks stand on the beach like Titan sentinels.  I love the piles of drift wood and the dark red sands of Rialto Beach where I stood one one late summer afternoon counting two dozen bald eagles in the surrounding trees.  I love hiking the trails of the Olympic National Forest.  There life is primitive.  I love the quiet, deep green of the moss and the rushing sound of waterfalls.  And round every curve there is something new.  I love the tiny black winter wrens and the variety of pale fungi which decorate the trees.  I love rounding a curve in a trail to find deer and elk, so calm and trusting that they don’t run, but stand looking back at me with dark, fluid eyes.
I especially love soaking in the hot pools at Sol Duc at dusk, looking at the tall hills surrounding me.  I sit there in the heat smelling the sulfured waters.  I watch the swallows dive for insects overhead and I listen to the silence of the forest.

Back here at home I love the magic Mt. Rainier.  I saw a peek of it as I drove to the community center tonight.  It sat there stark white against the darkening blue sky.  The girls used to tease me about how I would always point “The Mountain” out to them.  It never bores me because each time I see it, it is different.  Interestingly though after living in the Pacific Northwest for nearly 30 years, I have never been there to see it close up.  I just like to watch it from the distance.  I love how it hides behind the clouds and other times like tonight when it is “out” you can see it all.  I love how sometimes it is topped with a little stratus cloud like it’s wearing a hat and how sometimes in the evenings it lights up like a giant strawberry sundae.  It seems to move with me wherever I go.  Sometimes it looks far, far away and other times it is huge and right there.  I understand why the Native American people thought the gods lived there.

I have written before about my lifelong love affair with birds.  I always like to see something new but it is also fun to see old friends like robins and mallard ducks.  I am also always on the lookout for animals in the forest, sea creatures on the beach, and sea mammals when I can see them.  When birding in West Seattle this fall we spotted a pod of orcas playing tag with the Vashon ferry.  I stood in awe of these gentle creatures as they breached and blew their way across the Sound.  It reminded me of a salmon fishing trip we took to Victoria many years ago.  The fishing had suddenly dried up and we were about to head back to shore when our boat was surrounded by the dorsal fins of orca.  I crawled out on the prow of the boat feeling the sea spray on my face and hoping I could touch one as they passed.

When the girls were in co-op preschool we took trips to the beaches around West Seattle in the summer.  I remember one of the kids finding a moonsnail.  I always find the shells but to find one alive was memorable.  I sat on the beach surrounded by ten five year olds watching the huge mollusk squeeze himself back into his shell, his exeuded water pouring across my hands until he was all in, slamming his opeculum door after him.  I made sure to put him back into deep water so he wouldn’t be attacked by the marauding gulls or crows.  We did the same with the crabs, sea stars, and anemones which we also discovered during our adventures.  And that memory took me back to all the wonderful family vacations to the Oregon Coast, walking wild beaches with the wind in our faces, picking up agates and shells and exploring tide pools with Sarah and Robin.  I haven’t been there in eleven years.  It seems time is too quickly passing me by.

Today, as I walked out the community center, I felt the beginning of spring.  Through this dark winter, I have missed all the colors and the beauty of my home.  I want to get out and enjoy those things, using them to wipe away my winter funk.  It has been too easy lately to focus on the negatives; the parts of my life that will never be the way I want them.  However, I know that to find true pleasure all I have to do is look outside my patio door and enjoy a hummingbird at my feeder, the tender shoots of hostas in my tiny garden, and the quiet beauty of a Pacific Northwest evening.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gilligan’s Island

At the far southern end of our family farm, stood an old weeping willow tree.  I don’t know why it was there alone, so far from anything else.  Perhaps it was the presence of the stream which flowed next to its roots.  Maybe in the past a small house had stood there.  The tree had a broad grey trunk which was knarly and split.  The cracks formed proper foot and handholds so it was easily scaled.  Three large branches came off from a center crotch, where I could easily sit and survey my kingdom.

On hot summer days, I would crawl out on the low branch which hung over the stream and watch the water slide silently by over the dark green moss.  I imagined myself hanging in a hammock on a deserted island somewhere, far from the dullness of my southern Idaho life.  Over the years I collected cast off pots and pans to cook imaginary meals.  These were stored high up in the tree along with my collections of rocks, shells, and bones.  I even had a pair of thongs hidden in a knothole so I could wade in the icy stream without cutting my feet on the stones which lined its bottom.  Part of the year the area around the tree was green and grassy, and I would lay there watching puffy white clouds scud across the azure sky.

I don’t remember when I first started going there alone, but I must have been young, maybe eight or nine.  I would take the half mile walk down the gravel main road, cut across the dirt tractor path and scurry under the fence to my imaginary kingdom.  Other days when I wanted a longer journey I would travel east on the mile road to the longer tractor path between the fields of wheat.  I would walk along kicking up dust to the end and then traverse the fields to another fence which I could easily step over into my secret world.  If I went that way I had to jump the stream which seemed to appear from nowhere under the fence to get to my secret hideaway.

I nicknamed my place Gilligan’s Island.  There I would play out the various roles of Gilligan, the Professor and Mary Ann.  When I tired of my island, the tree would become the center of intrigue as I solved mysteries with The Man from Uncle or traveled into the unknown with the crew of Lost in Space.

My mother never understood.  “Why do you have to play so far from the house,” she would yell at me.  “How would I know if anything ever happened to you?”  I would answer her question with silence.  I didn’t know why, but to me it was safer there.  There no one knew my secret.  No one knew that I played all the parts.  No one else heard the dialogues that I carried on with my imaginary friends.  No one knew that I was crazy.

At least that is what my immature mind told me.  I had seen my grandmother’s craziness; how she talked to herself.  I saw the family’s shame about her.  I was doing the same thing and I didn’t want people to be ashamed of me.  I carried enough shame for all of them.

“It isn’t good for you to spend so much time alone,” Mom would say as she shooed me out of the kitchen.  “Why don’t you find some friends to play with?”  I would stand on the step looking at the grey, dusty farmyard wondering how I was supposed to do that.  The kids at school didn’t like me; there was something wrong about me which made them avoid me and bully me.  Maybe it was my crooked teeth, or my glasses, or my old fashioned hand-me-downs.  Maybe it was my shy nature or that school was too easy for me.  Whatever it was, I couldn’t fix it.  So I keep my head down and my mouth shut.  I tried not to be in the way.

I would have liked to have had playmates but the only families with children in our area lived miles away and Mom was too busy with her cooking and cleaning to take me anywhere.  And she was in too much denial to see me clearly.  It was as though she believed that magically I was going to become popular and find friends.  Friends who wanted to play at being shipwrecked, or lost in space or hunting down nefarious bad guys. 

As I got older the imaginary games stopped. The shells and stones were scattered.  The thongs disappeared and the pots and pans were smashed by the cattle which grazed there in the winter.  But the tree was still my secret place; a safe place where I could go to rant at God.  I would sit in the crotch of the tree, trying to understand why any kind of God would let one of his own have such a miserable life.  I would think deep thoughts about the purpose of my existence.  I would construct elaborate scenarios for my escape from my deathly dull hometown.

I still had no friends and I hated myself.  I was still a shy, bespectacled bookworm.  While other girls were talking about fashion and I was still forced into my cousin’s hand me downs.  Other people were dating and I was sitting at home on the weekends with my clueless parents, using books as my new imaginary friends.  I was still avoided and bullied at school for being different and if I complained about my ill treatment I was criticized by my mother for things I still had no control over.  Only the stream knew how often I wished I could drown there.  Only the tree knew of my wish to fall to my death from its branches.  I would lie on the grass and look to the sky wishing to be carried away.

After my father died and my mother decided to move to town, I went to the tree one last time.  This time I drove my car down the gravel main road and parked on the tractor trail.  It was harder to shinny under the fence and when I stood up, Gilligan’s Island seemed much smaller.  The tree had lost a large branch to a storm.  The ground was bare and lifeless from overgrazing.  Only the sky and the stream remained the same.  I remembered when this place was my whole world.  I remembered the battles fought, treasures found, and tears shed there.  On the breeze I could hear my mother’s voice calling me in for dinner.

When I reminisce about the farm I think of Gilligan’s Island.  The knurled weeping willow, the cool mossy stream, the clear blue sky.  It was my magical place of refuge and reflection.  It was a silent place where the impossible could be possible.  It was the place where I could truly be myself as I searched for myself.  It was a cathedral of wood, water, and air, and some days when life is too busy and complicated I long for the solitude I found there.