Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Celebrating Sisterhood

Officially launched today!

One of the joys of writing about my life's adventures is revisiting my early years. I've told many stories about my parents, my grandparents, my in-laws, and my siblings. A lot of my childhood stories feature my sister, Patti. She's included in "Upside, Downside," one of the great stories in this new book.

This would be a good Hanukah or Christmas gift for your own sister! Trisha Faye once again has put together a classy collection of true stories.

Here's more: In Celebration of Sisters rejoices in the dynamics of sisters of all phases: sisters that have had a falling out and been reunited, sisters from another mother, sisters we have lost too soon, and even loving thoughts from brothers about their sisters. Overall, whether the sisters don’t see eye to eye, whether they were born from another mother, or whether they’re the best of friends, the message is as Isadora James claims: ‘sisters are a golden thread to the meaning of life.’ Come take a peek as over forty authors share their stories of sisterhood in essays, reflections, and poetry. On some you’ll laugh. On some you’ll cry. But on all, your heart will feel the warmth and love as you read the tales of sisters.

Here's the photo of my sister and me that appears in the book, taken around 1942.

Patti in 1952, with Dan Beattie
 My sister died on February 28, 2014. This past summer I visited her daughters in the Santa Cruz mountains, right before what would have been her 81st birthday.
RIP, Patti French Pappas, 7/2/1936 - 2/28/2014
Spring, Terri and Star 2017

Upside, Downside

By Terri Elders

“Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”  ~Charles M. Schulz

The doorbell clanged twice. “Aren’t you going to answer that?” Mama asked, observing me from the kitchen as I scuttled down the hall towards the back bedroom I shared with Sissy.
“It’s Cathy and Sheila from school. I’m scared.”
The doorbell shrilled again, followed by a series of thunderous rat-a-tat-tats.
Mama shook her head and sighed. “We’re not going to find out what they want, will we, if we don’t open the door.”
She sneaked a quick peak at the cake baking in the oven, whipped off her apron, and fluffed up her hair. “Sit down on the sofa and don’t say a word,” she warned, striding towards the door.
“Be careful,” I called after her, “Everybody calls them Spit Cat and She Wolf. They’re bad news.”
“Good afternoon, ladies,” Mama trilled, welcoming the menacing duo on the doorstep as if they were expected teatime guests. “What can I do for you today?”
Cathy stepped forward, hands clenched at her sides. With her eyes squeezed to slits, I half expected her to hiss and sputter and raise a claw. Instead she barked, “We’ve got a beef with your daughter.”
“Terri? What on earth did she do?” Mama cast a puzzled glance in my direction. In l949 I hardly posed a threat to anybody. Because I’d skipped a grade, my sister and I had just started junior high together. But unlike fully developed Sissy, I still sucked my thumb behind my textbooks, unless I was too busy gnawing my pencils to shreds.
“Not Termite,” Sheila growled, glaring in my direction. “Sissy. She’s trying to steal my boyfriend.”
I squirmed on the velveteen sofa cushion. If the two bumped off Sissy when she came home, a jury might well bring in a verdict of justifiable homicide. Sissy had been turning heads since she was six. By the time she hit adolescence, grown men stopped dead on the street to stare at her. She just batted her turquoise eyes, tossed her thick head of hazelnut curls, and smiled back at them like a queen awarding a favor to devoted courtiers.
On the other hand, in a down and dirty tiff, Sissy might emerge victorious. From our sisterly tussles, I knew the strength in those deceptively slender fingers, well exercised by years of spanning octaves and trilling arpeggios at her little upright piano. “Just remember, I’ll always be bigger, stronger and prettier,” she’d crow, pinning me to the floor.
“Sissy should be home soon,” Mama said, stepping back and waving the pair in, “You might as well wait inside.”  
The pair trudged in, without as much as a token swipe of their feet on the welcome mat. Cathy swiveled her head around to take in our post-WWII d├ęcor: knickknack shelves stuffed with ceramic elves, embroidered antimacassars, a braided rag rug, and Sissy’s dainty spinet tucked into the corner. Daddy used to say that we barely had room to swing a cat in the miniscule living room. I suddenly pictured Sissy swinging Cathy into one of the whatnots, elves hurtling to the floor. I’d likely be the one scooping up shards and comforting Mama.
Sheila sniffed suspiciously. “What’s that I smell?”
I, too, had noticed the rich brown sugary aroma drifting in from the kitchen. I’d nearly forgotten about the cake. Daddy raved about this exceptionally moist, buttery, gooey dessert, and even I, who generally lacked a sweet tooth, appreciated its citrusy tang and caramel crunch.
“Why, ladies, it’s pineapple upside-down cake. I was just about to offer you a piece,” Mama said, waltzing back towards the kitchen. I knew she had baked that cake for Daddy’s Friday supper surprise. But now she returned, clutching a pair of her best Woolworth’s pink glass plates, each laden with warm slabs of the treat. Our guests eyed the steamy squares with their pineapple circles and maraschino cherries, and licked their lips. Mama and I watched silently as they shoveled spoonfuls into their maws.
As they forked up the last few bites, Sissy breezed into the house. I stiffened, wondering if I should snatch Mama’s beloved plates away from the so-called ladies before Spit Cat and She Wolf hurled them at my sister.
Sissy cast an eyeball at the living room tableaux, and didn’t wince. “What’s cooking?”
Sheila jumped to her feet, clutching her pink plate in both hands. Mama stepped forward and took it from her. Cathy rose more slowly, stabbing her last cherry and moving it to her mouth. Mama snatched that plate, as well. I exhaled.
“You’ve been making eyes at Roger and I want it to stop!” Sheila snarled. I well understood how she’d earned the moniker, She Wolf. Her eyes even glittered like a rabid canine’s as she tried to stare down my sister.
“Roger? Oh, h-e-double-toothpicks,” Sissy said, shaking her head, curls afloat. “Roger’s OK in my book, but I’m interested in someone else.”
“You were hanging with him this morning by the cafeteria,” Sheila continued, not giving in.
“Sure. He was asking me I could go to a party tomorrow night.”
“See?” Sheila howled, turning to Cathy, who in turn glowered at Sissy and raised a balled fist.
“Hey, wait, not as his date, just to play the piano at the Town Club party. It was supposed to be a surprise for you.”
Sissy scurried to her piano. “This is the song he wanted,” she said, hitting the opening notes to that latest Andrews Sisters hit, I Can Dream, Can’t I? “He said it was the song that the two of you first danced to this summer, when he realized how crazy he was about you.”
Mama’s guests exchanged sheepish glances as Sissy sang the haunting lyrics. When she finished, the room remained silent for a few seconds, then Sissy jumped up, helped herself to a piece of pineapple upside-down cake, and offered more to the visitors.
Cathy and Sheila thanked Mama profusely for her hospitality, and left. Sissy hurried to the phone. “I’m lucky there’s nobody on the party line,” she said, as she dialed.
“Roger? Your girlfriend was here. Yeah, Sheila. She saw us together this morning. I said you wanted me to come to the party tomorrow night to play her favorite song at the party. Yes. I think I convinced her. She and Cathy left, all smiles.”
When she tucked the receiver back in its cradle, Mama demanded an explanation.
“I can’t help it if guys always try to hit on me,” Sissy wailed. “It’s not as if I invite all that attention.” Then she blinked her mascara-laden lids at us, and huffed off to our shared bedroom.
Dang nabbit, I thought as I washed the dinner dishes that night. Only one little square of pineapple upside-down cake had remained in the pan, and of course it had to be for Daddy. My gorgeous sneaky sister had bamboozled me out of the only dessert I loved.
As always, I forgave her. Whatever trickery Sissy got up to, it somehow always seemed worth it if I could hear her sing.

Mama’s Searchlight Cookbook Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

2/3 cup sugar                                                  1 large egg
½ cup shortening                                            1 ½ cups flour
¼ tsp. salt                                                        ½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla flavoring                                   2 tsps. baking powder
1 20 oz. can pineapple slices                          2 tbsps. melted butter
½ cup brown sugar

Cream shortening and sugar. Add unbeaten egg. Add flavoring. Beat thoroughly. Sift flour, measure, and sift with salt and baking-powder. Add alternately with milk to creamed shortening and sugar. Cover the bottom of a shallow cake pan with wax paper. 3 Bake in 375 degree oven 40 to 45 minutes.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Shined on By His Grace

Caribbean Moon, 1987

In 2009, I posted this comment on Facebook. I'm reminded of Kelly Presley again tonight as the Dodgers begin Game 7 of the World Series:

This is the time of the year I miss Kelly the most...the World Series and the start of the NBA season. He used to explicate every play for me, and, of course, tell me what the coaches and players should have done.

Shined On by His Grace

 By Terri Elders

The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life. --Psalm 121: 6, 7

After weeks of training in Belize, my Peace Corps group swore in on Sunday evening, November 1, l987. We feasted on rice-and-beans, waggled our hips to punta rock, and took a zillion photographs.

Finally my friend, Kelly, approached. “Come on, I’ll walk you home. I’ve got an early bus in the morning.” 

We hugged everybody, wishing them good luck. I’d be working at the Council of Churches in the Mesopotamia neighborhood of Belize City, so I’d stay right in town. Most everybody else would move to rural areas. We’d joked about our jobs beginning on Monday, the Day of the Dead.

Though we’d been warned about muggers lurking in the shadows, Kelly insisted we didn’t need a cab.

“It’s just a few blocks, it’s still early, and we don’t look like tourists,” he claimed.

The harvest moon shimmered high over Caribbean Shores as we walked up Baymen Avenue toward our host homes. The air grew fragrant with frangipani, a welcome contrast to the odors emanating from the open sewers we’d recently passed.
Nonetheless, I grew uneasy as we passed a knot of what the locals called base boys, unemployed youth who gathered on corners to hassle passers-by for a shilling or two. I glimpsed a few glancing at us, then nudging one another.

As we neared a corner I heard quickening footsteps and two young men rushed up. One swung a bat at Kelly’s head. The other thumped something against my arm, then grabbed my shoulder bag and yanked. The strap twisted around my wrist, and I was jerked to the ground. As soon as my assailant could free the bag, the pair sprinted off toward the sea.

As I leaned over my friend, I realized that this was my darkest moment yet. Even as I wondered if either of us would survive, I realized the irony of the moment…just as we were about to begin realizing our dream of service, we’d been assaulted.

Kelly’s eyes were closed, but he breathed steadily. I noticed dark blotches on his shirt, and then realized that blood was spurting from my arm. I’d taken first aid so knew I had to stop the bleeding since an artery had been nicked.

“Lord, let me live long enough to get help,” I prayed, struggling to my feet. I ran several yards, shouting for help. Lights flickered on in surrounding homes, and people thundered down the wooden staircases.

“We’ve been attacked. I’ve been stabbed. Somebody please help me tear up my slip to make a tourniquet.”

While they ripped and wrapped, I stared up at the brilliant moon. Suddenly I no longer feared the outcome of the attack. Its light beamed down reassurance that the Lord would see and protect us. I felt convinced we would survive.

A police car arrived. “Please take us to the hospital,” I asked, “and let the Peace Corps director know we’re there.”

We survived. A stateside ambulance jet arrived to ferry us to Florida where I immediately underwent an emergency bypass operation. Eventually Kelly had plastic surgery to repair his forehead.

“It’s a miracle we didn’t die,” Kelly later remarked.

“The reassuring moonlight convinced me the Lord had other plans for us.”

Against all odds we both returned to Belize and successfully served our terms. Jointly we made a lasting impact on social services there. I believe we did the Lord proud.

When things look dark, I remember to repeat this prayer: Dear Lord, keep your light shining on me today. Keep me safe in both the sunlight and the moonlight and guide me to do your will.

 RIP, Kelly Charles Presley

Kelly's family remember him, St. Louis, 2008

Saturday, October 28, 2017

H-W Warriors Walk for Alzheimer's

Mama showed signs of dementia in her late fifties, but at that time none of us recognized at first what later became obvious. Her decline gradually left her unable to speak or even walk. My story, "The Valentine's Sweetheart," about her late middle stage, appears below.

Today Huntington Beach staged its Walk for ALZ, and my H-W Senior Living apartment complex neighbors and I joined our management team in a fundraising walk for this devastating disease. As always, our Activities Director Kathie Hurley managed to ensure that we all had a great time, even topping off the morning with brunch for us at Jack in the Box.

The Huntington Beach weather cooperated, with a heavy marine layer that didn't lift until our two-mile walk from the registration booths to the pier and back had been completed. We had a great time visiting the exhibits and learning about resources for caregivers, and assisted living facilities. We also collected a variety of pens, Halloween candy, apples, nuts and fans from exhibitors.

Jack's Chicken Fajita Pita for lunch

To see the warning signs of Alzheimer's, check this link:

My story about Mama appeared in 2009 in HCI's book, The Ultimate Mom:

The Valentine Sweetheart

As a nurse escorted her to the center of the recreation room, I remembered Mama’s insistence that she’d been born dancing. “I tapped right on Mother’s tummy,” she’d joke. I’d seen photos of her pre-teen self in tap shoes or tutus, but I never could coax her into demonstrating any of her childhood routines. “My mother made me drop those lessons for fear that my legs would get too muscled,” Mama recalled. 
In the early ‘40’s, Mama favored a jazz step called Truckin.’  One day when I came home from 1st grade to help start supper, she was shuffling perkily pigeon-toed across the speckled kitchen linoleum as the Philco Transitone atop the dinette table blared, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”  Left hand clutching her midriff, right index finger wagging like a windshield wiper, in what she assured me was authentic Truckin’ style, she’d nimbly sidestepped Suzie, her latest adopted tabby. 
She winked at me as she snatched up the potato peeler. I joined her and the Andrew Sisters in the final chorus, “Anyone else but me, no, no, no,” shook my own index finger once or twice, and began to set the table. 
The summer before I started high school Mama taught me the Lindy Hop so that I could go to Town Club dances at the local playground and not be embarrassed. By then I was taking tap and ballet lessons myself, but when it came to pirouettes or plies, or even a Shuffle Off to Buffalo tap maneuver, no amount of pleading could persuade Mama to perform.
Now Mama glanced vacantly around the rec room before bending her head forward to sniff at the crimson carnation corsage pinned to her shoulder. The staff had chosen Mama as Valentine’s Day Sweetheart. I had taken time off work to come to the afternoon party. She wore her favorite but now-faded pink checked gingham dress, and her now-white hair looked freshly coiffed. She’d been an ash blonde for so many years I’d forgotten it wasn’t her original color. I think she had, too. 
A tanned male nursing attendant, who looked more suited for a surfboard than a dance floor, switched on the stereo. Tommy Dorsey’s sweet trombone swung out on the opening bars of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.”  It had been my parents’ favorite. Their eyes lit up when it came on the radio, and they would leap up and whirl around the living room. Now Mama smiled, as if she remembered those other days. A nurse stepped forward and snapped her photo.
The attendant surprised me by gliding towards Mama, proffering his right hand. She moved into his arms and they began to float together in an elegant fox trot, each breaking into grins as applause and cheers erupted from the other residents of the long term care home. I had not witnessed mirth illuminate Mama’s face for a long while. Other residents clambered out of their chairs to join in, snagging partners and tottering towards the floor. 
I wondered if Mama would recognize me. The last time I visited she told folks that I was her mother. The time before she thought I was a neighbor. Once or twice she didn’t know me at all. I just never could tell. 
Her partner twirled her out, and Mama double stepped, not missing a beat, despite the pink satin slippers she wore instead of her customary high-heeled pumps. Mama had always worn high heels, probably because father was a full foot taller than her barely 5’ ½ “. That half-inch had always been important to her, and she always emphasized it when people asked her height. 
A silver-plaited lady to the right of me, strapped to her wheelchair, began to sing along in a soft but true soprano, petting a tortoise-shell cat curled up in her lap. “Won’t you please be kind, and just make up your mind, that you’ll be sweet and gentle, gentle with me?”  I smiled but she turned away, falling silent once more. 
The music stopped. Her partner led Mama towards the vacant seat to my left, but as they neared, she spied the cat and veered towards it. “Suzie,” she murmured, “Suzie.”  The wheelchair-bound woman held up the cat, and Mama snatched it and cuddled it to her bosom. All of her female strays had been Suzies. She called the males Tom. Once two appeared, brothers, she said, so we had both Tom and Tom Tom. 
She sat beside me, petting the cat. “Mama,” I whispered, as the music started up again. This time it was “Little White Lies,” and again a few dancers took the floor. “Mama.”  I reached out my hand and patted her arm. She tore her eyes away from the cat and looked towards me blankly. 
One of the nurses approached. “This is your mother, right?  She’s been practicing her dance steps all week. That’s why we decided to make her our Valentine Sweetheart. The others were in favor of it, too.”  Her hand swept the room. “You know, only three or four here have dementia. The others are simply aged. But your mom has been a favorite, because she’s always willing to get up and dance and to show others how.” 
I nodded. In the early days even when all the family began to notice that something was not quite right, Mama still would dance. She’d fox trot with my father. When my brother visited, he’d teach her county line dances and west coast swing. One Easter, the entire family, me, brothers, parents, aunts and uncles, all joined in a raucous Bunny Hop around the living room before heading towards the kitchen to feast on Mama’s signature tamale pie and cherry fruit salad. That was the last family get-together before father died. 
Suddenly Mama looked at me, her eyes twinkling. “My sister!” she exclaimed, turning to the nurse. “This is Terri, my sister.”  I nodded. At least she had my name right. “How are you feeling, Mama?” I asked. But the vacant look had reappeared. 
One of the few gentlemen residents walked up. “Luella,” he said, “Would you care to dance?”  Mama jumped to her feet, dumped Suzie into my lap, and clasped her hands in front of her waist. Then she twirled twice and executed a perfect arabesque, which she held for several seconds. A few people clapped, and Mama applauded herself, too, before bowing graciously. She glanced in my direction and I like to think our eyes caught. The old man laughed, took her hand, and off they glissaded to join the group already swaying to Dorsey. This time it was “Autumn in New York.” 
Actually it was winter in Southern California, and I had to get back to work. It had been an eventful afternoon. Mama had remembered my name. It was the last time she ever did. More remarkably, I finally had seen her perform one of those dance moves I’d longed for throughout my childhood.  
Even now, I still regret not asking the nurse for a copy of that photo. Mama had been my Valentine sweetheart, too, my lost, but sweet and beloved, funny Valentine.