Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I worry.

I worry about my people and I worry about strangers.

I rarely worry about politics, but I worry about war.

I worry about the soldiers.

The knocks on the head, the severed limbs.

My son is leaving Friday for Cambodia, for a summer adventure teaching English with one of those dogooder groups.

He has traveled abroad to dangerousish places several times.


He was in Uganda three years ago.


Don't say a god damned progressive thing! Keep your mouth SHUT!



Is what I said to him.



This time he is going alone and this time he is an adult.

I don't really buy the adult thing, but he assures me it's true.


This week I worried about a couple of new mothers I know.


I told my friend Barb

Being a new mother is like sex work, it degrades your sense of personhood, and you aren't allowed to talk about it. 

I am sure there are many mothers that would find this an offensive assessment, but for me it was true.

I chose with great intention to have my babies.

I wanted them, and I love them intensely, but the early days of mothering, particularly when you are poor, and without support, are terrifying and dark.

My own mother, interestingly enough, has always maintained that she loved having a nursling, and that mothering me as an infant was easy, despite that fact that she was 16 and living in a tiny trailer in the middle of nowhere.

As a child  my mother often said that I was difficult, which means sensitive, however, like Schrodinger's child, I was also praised as being easy.

My easiness came in infancy and toddlerhood.

Where by all eyewitness accounts I was an eager and enthusiastic nurser, slept beautifully and demonstrated advanced developmental growth.

I also talked early, and according to both my parents and my grandmother, was an exceptional conversationalist, by two (my Grandpa Chuck, a man of few words, and the one dissenter,  once asked my Grandma Eva, as they hit The Dalles on the Way to Boise, "Does she ever shut up?").

I grew up in a family of story tellers.

In a family of poor, deeply religious, complicated people. 

I grew up hearing my own story, the story of my extended family, and friends and neighbors.

The stories were of family and care-giving and birth and death.

I know that I was in a Plymouth Fury, driving from Portland to Boise, the summer of 1970, and that I stood behind my Grandfather's shoulder, and talked his ears full.

I know that when I was born, my parents lived in Aloha, and had to drive all the way to NE Portland, on surface streets in a snow storm.

I think they were driving in a Ford Falcon, but it may have been a pickup truck.

My mother was afraid, because she said she wasn't entirely clear on how the whole birth thing worked.

That she was knocked out and woke up and "had a baby".
 

That when my grandmother phoned her and asked her what I looked like she said, "her eyes are kind of squinty", and upon hearing that, my grandmother, who at the time was doing piece work sewing, worked herself into a complete anxiety attack, thinking that there was something terribly wrong with THE BABY! and sent my Grandfather ahead to scout out the situation.

As Grandma sobbed through her shift, Grandpa left the dairy, drove across town, went to the nursery and declared to everyone there that "this girl is just about perfect!"

Which he told me often as a child.

There are pictures of my mother holding me in the hospital, looking like a tiny, damp 16 year old, wearing a white slip.
Her strawberry hair is long for her, and there is still a space between her teeth, the space would be fixed in the mid 70's, and her hair would never be that long again.

There are pictures of Grandma holding me, her jaw stern, black hair.

She never cared for smiles in photos.

Don't go up there and grin like a damn monkey.  

Resulting in a picture album of my childhood, filled with somber studio photos, pale blue eyes, a slight droop on the right side of my mouth

she looks like Dan Lawler's people

My grandmother pronounced my appearance to be the fault of my paternal grandfather.

My own children have no such narrative.

There are no grinning monkeys, or car trips to see extended family in farm houses.

Most of the time I find this liberating.

To be free of all the baggage and discord that swirled around me most of my life.

When those big worries wash over me, when I think of the new mothers I know, or the soldiers, or of my own son leaving my protection, I wrap up in my stories, dip into the past, the connectivity is comforting, as comforting as it is disturbing most of the other time in my  life.

God would not let anything happen to Maxwell, I say.

You don't even believe in god, Mark says.

Maybe I have a tiny corner in my heart, where the god that protects my son lives! I tell him.

And in the same corner, I push all the people, all the babies, all the soldiers with their missing parts, and try to keep them all safe with my white lady Baptist voodoo.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mother's Day weekend of 1984, I stayed over at a small apartment in downtown Lake Oswego.

My mother was living there temporarily with my brother, while she waited for the lease to run out on the house she owned a few miles away.

She had been renting out the house, while we all lived with her boyfriend in Dunthorpe, but that whole arrangement had gone slowly south, and now my mother and my brother were here in a dumpy little rental, while I stayed on with the boyfriend and his cat and one of his daughters.

It was an odd time of flux.

I was just over sixteen and weary of change.

I liked the house.

The cat was fine.

The boyfriend was teaching me to cook in a more sophisticated way than my own family had.

My mother was away at her army reserve weekend, and I was staying at her tiny apartment, writing a paper on Marx, seated cross legged in front of an Ethan Allen coffee table that was way out of scale for the room.

I know this, because there is a snapshot of me, hard at work, with a severe bi level haircut, long swoopy forelock across half my face.

The photo was snapped by the older daughter of the boyfriend that was living here and there and occasionally with my mother.

In the photo, I am wearing a frayed Brooks Brother's oxford, with the sleeves cut off at the elbows, a blue sweater vest, and enormous silver moon earrings, and I have about 6" of silver bangles on my left arm.

I have on blood red lipstick and a great deal of green eyeshadow.

I look like a child playing dress up.

I am making a face my mother would call a frown, and that would be called resting bitch face, today.

At some point in the evening my friend Chris phoned to say he was coming over.

As it turned over he was coming over by freight train, from downtown, which was a thing that you used to be able to do back then, hitching a train from downtown to Lake Oswego.

It was a very dirty and dangerous thing that we used to do.

He arrived covered in soot, with a fellow I didn't know, named Colin.

My friend Dom worked a few blocks away at a Chinese diner, at the time, waitressing.

I called the diner and asked her to come over.

We all decided to walk up to meet her halfway.

The fellows were absolutely filthy, so I suggested cleaning up.

Chris adamantly refused, due to some attachment to either his leather jacket, or the notion of cleaning up being an affront to punk rock.

I went to work looking for something clean to put on Colin and in my search, came across our mouse costume.

My mother made the costume for me in 6th grade, out of pinstripe flannel, but because I had shunned food for several years, it still fit.

Colin put the mouse costume on, because it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time, and we all set out to meet Dom after work.

One soot covered leather jacketed boy

One in a mouse costume

And me.

We met Dom and she suggested getting beer.

I am now and was then very risk adverse, so the notion of procuring beer made me queasy, so we split up, with Chris and Dom heading out to shoulder tap, while I went back to the apartment with Colin to wait.

We waited, and waited and waited and waited.

We waited a very long time.

Eventually hours later they returned with beer.

It turns out they had walked to the 7-11, followed by a stray dog.

As they sat in the parking lot waiting for someone to buy them beer, the owner of the dog showed up.

"HEY THAT'S MY DOG!"

He was so happy to have his dog back that he bought them beer and offered them a ride back to my place.

He just had to make one stop along the way.

The one stop turned out to be at his drug dealer's place.

They thought it would be a in and out type of deal, but the drug dealer was getting a haircut in his kitchen from his sister, and it took a while.

Eventually the dog guy did make good on his promise and drove them back to the apartment.

At that point it was very late and we realized that there was no real food in the house.

Chris set about pouring all of the condiments into a frying pan and mixing them together and eating them.

A sort of giant mustard and pickle omelet.

There rest of us sort of lost our appetites after that.






Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I went to an awards dinner last night, where my son was honored, along with eight other seniors.

Eight in the state of Oregon.

He had been nominated for a college prep program his sophomore year, and we learned last night that the nomination came from two different teachers.

This program is unique because it reaches out to children that have a sort of X factor, something special that a teacher sees, rather than just grades, or the predictable jock angle.

Students apply for the two year program, and the chosen folks meet weekly to form a plan.

A master plan for how they are going to be successful in college.

Sound simple, but my goodness, what I would not have given for any kind of guidance at that age.

In addition to strategic planning, they were supported in applying for grants and scholarships, given field trips to colleges and coached on the etiquette of being successful.

Maxwell is was born diplomatic and eloquent, but this program helped point him in the right direction, in ways that I, raised by a pack of wild corndogs when it came to college prep, could never have done.

Two years is a long time for a teen to stick with something, particularly something as boring as these meetings surely were, but he did and in the end he got a $6000 scholarship, but more importantly, he will have on going support for four years, from the advocate that runs the program.

One of the very best pieces of this whole experience, is that each child was plugged into a project that was uniquely suited to their skill set.

Maxwell was able to do an internship with the city of Milwaukie, and fell in love with urban planning and the notion of local politics.

Instead of flipping burgers this year, he was making $15/hour working at city hall, and more importantly, making connections.

Mark and I have worked with him extensively to make sure he makes good choices, does well in school, feels supported, has enriching experiences, but we can use all the help we can get.

While so many people I know have the wheels falling off with their teens, I feel like we have had an amazing experience parenting him through high school and that he can have reasonable expectations for a bright future.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I recently watched The man in the high castle, which is a dystopian two season series based on a Philip K. Dick story.

I really liked the first season, the acting was excellent and the story was fascinating-   what if Germany and Japan had won WWII?

The story took place in 1955/1963 (sort of a vague time travel vibe) and demonstrated both institutional  oppression and man's drive for independence beautifully.

My friend Steve said seeing all of the displays of swastikas was disturbing, but naturally that was the whole point.

Many people are comparing the show with our current political shitshow, which I think is absurd.

Both the Nazi's and the Japanese ran their respective parts of the conquered US with great precision-

Oppressive as fuck?

Yes

Crumbling infrastructure and toxic drinking water ?

No

I would liken our current political situation more to Dr Strangelove, or may Jerry Lewis' Cinderfella.

Anyway, I continue to keep my garden loppers sharp in the event the reinstate the draft, and I need to remove a toe from either of my babies.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I took Mark to see Patton Oswald for his birthday.

He is turning 50, a big one, and impossible to buy for, and experience gift seemed like the way to go.

My friend Barb was shopping for gifts for her husband over Christmas, which made my heart catch a little.

I cannot think of a single deeply meaningful gift, that I have ever given Mark ( and I am a really good gifter, usually).

He is just one of those people that buys himself the things he desires, and he is terribly unsentimental, so it makes him my great challenge and failure, which is doubly terrible, me being me and taking that sort of thing very seriously.

So when I read on Facebook that Patton Oswald was performing in May, in Portland, I snatched up those tickets like a crazy person.

I got one for Maxwell, too, since he just had his big, meaningful 18th birthday and comedy is something he shares with his father.

I was WINNING, as the slang goes.

I also bought a ticket for myself, which was highly unusual.

I am typically so frugal, so cheap, that we have in 20 years together rarely done things together.

In some ways my neurosis around money has been good.

We almost own our home outright.

We have no debt, and money in savings.

But in some ways it has been damaging to our relationship.

I am terrified of debt, homelessness, wreck, ruin, failure, that ominous rainy day you always plan for.

TERRIFIED

Living with real and imagined danger around every turn is wearing, and I know it has been hard on Mark to navigate my fear of spending money.

So this time I shocked him and went along and we had a terrific time.

I did not complain, or fret, I just went and even purchased a teeny plastic cup of $9 wine for me, and a $5 bottle of water for him.




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I buy coffee every morning at a small cafe near my house.

The coffee is much too acid for my taste, but I buy twenty ounces anyway, because I like to be supportive.

The cafe is on Foster, a street that needs a great deal of support.

The cafe is not very cute, despite some effort from the owner, a man I suspect is about my age, but looks older, with a bald head and an unfortunate beard.

He wears hats most of the time, felt fedoras beige and loden.

He is a darter and and lacks charm.

He parks wonky and makes it challenging for me to get in and out of the gravel parking lot.

The whole place is a small L shaped room, with a restroom tucked into the corner.

Homeless people try valiantly to use the restroom and the staff, grumble at them to purchase something.

I watch this exchange almost every morning.

There was a very large homeless camp in the large gravel parking lot, but a developer bought most of the lot last year and put up a chain link fence.

So now most of the campers are more covert, slipping under hedgerows after dark.

Foster is one of the last ungentrified stretches of old Portland.

A place with wide unencumbered streets with plenty of parking, and run down buildings, with interesting storefronts.

The inside of my charmless cafe, suffers from an identity crisis.

The tables look as though they were meant to sit outside in a beach town.

Round with orange mosaic tile.

The mosaic tile tables were no doubt purchased from a big box store and cheaply made somewhere with shameful human rights practices.

It is one of those things you can just tell about things.

There are pastries in a plexiglass case, which looks a little old, even at 6:45am.

There are also breakfast sandwiches, which people seem fond of.

Some mornings there are several people ahead of me, and two or three invariably order a sandwich.

Usually the ponytail guy and the mail carrier woman.

They may think of me as impatient, frumpy, red lipstick lady, or messy bun, zaftig, gal, who knows.

I always ask if I can cut ahead and grab just a coffee, and they always let me.

There are two fellows that work the counter, both named Andy.

I call the dark haired one Jimmy, because he looks like Jimmy from Quadrophenia.

The other Andy is tall and skinny and appears to cut his own blonde hair with clippers, and I think of him as Shawn, because he looks like my friend Shawn did in 1984.

They like to play jazz and I like to surprise them with a tiny bit of jazz recognition.

This morning Jimmy asked me again why I call him Jimmy and we had a nice laugh over Quadrophenia.

Jimmy is from Salem and plays in a band.

Shawn is from someplace more sophisticated and has the demeanor of someone that studied philosophy, or maybe comparative literature.

Shawn never greets me, but Jimmy always does.

I'm not really keen on sales people calling me by name, but coming from him, it feels ok.

He is just on the very edge of smarmy, but he pulls it off well.

We talk about the changing neighborhood often, and about food service, and a little about movies and music.

I have precisely the taste in movies, books and music that arty school drop out boys have, so it works well.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I made my bed with great care and attention to detail, which is a departure from the slapdash job I typically do.

I have a quilt from my grandmother on the top, having given up bedspreads ages ago.

The quilt is enormous and made up of blocks embroidered flowers, on a field of white. 

Each block was made during the war, by one of my grandmother's sisters, or sister-in-law, or aunt. 

There is a block for each member of the family, including the children, and I suspect it was made as a gift to my great-grandmother Anna.

In those days most women had some degree of handwork skills.

You can tell the ones that were not enthusiastic, or gifted.

The daisy people.

Then there are the strongly gifted like my grandmother, with more intricate designs, done in a traditional palette of color, deftly sewn, with fancy flourishes and French knots. 

On the other end of the spectrum there is my Aunt Alice, baby sister of the family, the sweet one, who elected to embroider pineapples and hibiscus, despite being in Idaho. 

And finally, the rebel, with garish burgundy, done in a sloppy hand.

In addition to the flowers and cones and occasional pineapple, there are names on each block.

My Aunt Mable cheated and did one block for both children, with a Tommy & Sherri, crowded into the corner.

Bad

Form

I can imagine my grandmother sighing at both her eldest sister's burgundy rose, and her middle sister- the good looking one- and her double name block.

There would have been a certain resignation and vague disapproval. 

When I was a child I loved to hear my grandmother's stories. 

I sat upon her draped like a cat, around her neck and asked her 10,0000 questions. 

This was one of the few times you would find my grandmother inactive. 

She was a powerful woman that had many things to do, and limited leisure time, but we would sit and watch Perry Mason at noon and I would chatter in her ear and she would tell me stories of the farm, or her harsh, alien childhood, and her courtship with my grandfather.

All of the names, of the colorful cast of characters, where represented on the quilt, which would much later wind up on my bed.

At four I was scandalized by the block with the mysterious Viola embroidered in black, with a blue heart basket, filled with tiny forget me nots.

"Her name was VIOLA?!"  

Her name was Viola and she was Grandpa Jesse's first wife.

I was from an old fashioned family, where people had one wife, and one only, so this was doubly fascinating to me.




I would make my grandmother tell me how everyone died, and how many children they had, whether they were beautiful, ambitious, homely, or shiftless, who could bake a decent pie, who bought store brought bread, and never swept up properly.

I knew my grandmother's aunt Effie had eleven children, and was loving and kind to every, single, one (something her own mother was not.)

I knew that Alice was the pie baker, and my grandmother's specialty was cake, and that her mother would pull them out of school at harvest time, to cook for the threshing teams.

My grandparents lived in a sort of time capsule, with wood heat, and a wringer washing machine, and home grown vegetables.

While other children were charmed by shows like The Waltons, my family lived it.