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....

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer: Beauty and Resilience

When my late husband, Ken Wilson, and I first began an online correspondence in 1999, he had his own domain and his personalized email address: ken@sunflower7041. So until we actually met, I naturally envisioned that he favored sunflowers. Gleefully, I mailed him a gift of a giant potted plastic sunflower, motion activated so that when anybody strolled by the plant would churn out a player piano version of "You Are My Sunshine."

Later I learned that Ken preferred Asian lilies. He'd only selected the domain name because his eye fell on a calendar print of Van Gogh's Sunflowers while he'd been filling out the online application. But, he confessed, that song was one of the only two he knew all the lyrics to. I wasn't surprised to learn from this man who loved Western movies and TV shows that the second tune turned out to be the theme from Paladin.

Nevertheless, I still think of Ken when I see a sunflower. Therefore I'm happy that Tending Your Inner Garden, just in time for what would have been Ken's 78th birthday on June 23, has announced the publication of the third of its series of season books. I love the title: Summer: Women's Wrings for the Season of Beauty and Resilience.
My story in this book is about attending my first husband's memorial service in 2005. The allusion to me is in the book description below:

We’re proud to announce Summer: Women’s Writings for the Season of Beauty and Resilience. It’s the third of our four-book series, featuring women writers from around the world as they reflect on the meaning of the seasons in their inner life.

Summer blesses us with both gifts and challenges: Riotous color and parched grassland. Thunderous storms and blissful sunny days. Hot, buggy evenings and cool early mornings. Kaleidoscope-like butterflies and ravenous locusts. Most of us welcome summer if for no other reason than it surprises us year after year.

Summer: Women’s Writings for the Season of Beauty and Resilience will delight you with the adventures it offers and the memories it evokes. Open your heart to a grandmother who recalls her own summer barefoot childhood as she shares a beach adventure with her granddaughter. Empathize with the resilience of a gardener who fought the bugs and worms in her garden by learning to work with nature, rather than resist it. Listen to the warm remembrances of an ex-wife who decides to share stories only she knows at her former husband’s funeral.

“Now is the season to call back your heart,” Celeste Snowber tells us in “Bodypsalm for Playing.” This volume will help you do so by evoking feelings associated with both storms and resilience, beauty and mindfulness. Then take pen and paper and use the journaling questions at the end of the book to capture your own memories of summer.

My stories are in the earlier Winter and Spring volumes, as well. All three of these inspirational books for women are available on an introductory special right now, $14.95, through the online bookstore:

Here's a version of You Are My Sunshine from a 1969 album featuring the unlikely duo of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

This one's for you, Kenny D. You're still my sunshine.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daddy and the Dodgers

When the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks staged their street fight at Chavez Ravine last Wednesday, I imagined Daddy's scorn. His words would echo what he'd said decades ago about a similar shamefest. Though my adoptive father, Paul French, didn't exactly exude charm and loving-kindness, he held tight to his principles with an unshakeable grip.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy. RIP, Paul A. French, 1910 - 1983

Daddy and the Dodgers

By Terri Elders

Daddy never minced words when it came to his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. The old Ebbets Field fans mantra of hope, “Wait until next year,” never crossed his lips. “Those damn Dodgers,” he’d growl instead, “They deserved to lose. They threw the game away. You've gotta earn the victory. It doesn't just get handed to you."

He espoused an equally no-nonsense approach to child-rearing. After he and Mama adopted my sister and me in l942, whenever we would visit Newberry’s or Woolworth’s and plead for a new toy, Daddy would quote the slogan, “Use it all, wear it out, make it do or do without.”  Daddy could have written that World War II motto himself. “You each already have a doll,” he would say, shaking his head at our grandiose expectations. Mama tried to make up for it, spending long December evenings ripping up our outgrown blouses and nightgowns to make new doll clothes, hoping to counter any Christmas morning disappointment.

Raised in Kansas, the son of a prison guard and a mother who would later become the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Daddy frowned on frills. Because he worked two jobs, as a diesel mechanic by day, and a shoe salesman on Friday night and Saturday, he had little spare time. He and Mama traditionally spent Saturday night together, visiting friends for a Pinochle game. That left just a few week nights and Sundays for family activities.

By the time I was starting junior high in l948, I used to beg Daddy to take us all to the Sunday matinee. All my friends had gone with their families to see The Red Shoes or Portrait of Jennie. “Just listen to the radio,” he’d say. “It’s free and good enough.” So instead of heading for the Temple or the Rialto, we’d chuckle along with studio audiences at The Jack Benny Show.

When Benny got the biggest laugh ever registered on radio by replying “I’m thinking it over,” when a mugger demanded, “Your money or your life,” Mama said that sounded just like Daddy. Daddy scowled at first, but then nodded, as if these were words of praise. Mama also used to joke that when Daddy opened his wallet, moths would fly out. Daddy would counter that he was frugal, not stingy; thrifty, not a spendthrift. But he would turn his back to us when he opened his wallet to fish out some change

The Dodgers were his one indulgence. Whenever the reception from the east coast was strong enough, Daddy hunkered down in front of the Philco, munching on a peanut butter sandwich, scribbling on a sheet of paper he called a scorecard. Seeking a way to get his attention, I, too, became a fan. I checked out stacks of library books to learn about the infield fly rule and why triple plays are so rare.

In the late afternoon I would hover by the front porch, watching for the Herald Express paper boy so I could follow the daily recounts of the Dodgers’ battles. Though Daddy and I admired Jackie Robinson, we especially cheered when Duke Snider, deemed the Duke of Flatbush but actually a native Angeleno, hammered in another homer.

Soon we expanded our fandom to the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars, as well, and doubled our evening listening time, tuning out complaints from Mama and my sister about missing Your Hit Parade and Lux Radio Theater. When we weren’t nodding our heads in approval over the feats of outfielder Frankie Kelleher, Daddy would help me with my geometry homework. “I don’t know why they make girls take this stuff,” he’d say, as I struggled with lengths, areas and volumes. “It’s not as if you’re going to be an engineer.”

“But, Daddy, I need to understand math if I’m to figure out the baseball odds and understand the stats.”

“Well, that’s certainly true,” he conceded. 

Once I started high school, I began a series of evening and Saturday jobs as a waitress, a sales clerk at a hosiery counter, a bus girl, so could no longer join Daddy in listening to the games. By then we had a second radio and even a television. And my interests had expanded beyond baseball, mostly to boys.

So when Daddy asked me to accompany him to Gilmore Field one Sunday to watch the Stars play a double-header against their archrivals, the Los Angeles Angels, I was both astonished and ambivalent. Sundays I usually went to the bowling alley or the miniature golf course with my boyfriend. On the other hand, Daddy had never asked me to go anywhere with him before. I hesitated only a second before accepting.

That Sunday game turned out to be one that became infamous as “The Brawl.” The popular and usually mild-mannered Kelleher took an Angel pitch to his back after a pair of close brush-backs, strode out to the mound, and threw a punch, setting off a violent brawl that lasted over half an hour and required fifty police officers to break it up and restore order. A second donnybrook erupted a little later. And that was only the first game of a double-header.

I spilled my popcorn when I jumped up to cheer when Kelleher decked the pitcher, but Daddy told me to sit down and refused to buy me a second bag. And when I wanted to stay for the second game, Daddy shook his head in disgust. “It’s bad enough that the players were behaving like hooligans,” he said, “but that the audience was endorsing it makes it worse. And that includes you, young lady.”

On the long drive back from Hollywood to southwest Los Angeles, Daddy asked, “What if the Dodgers behaved like that? What if they had spilled off the bench and ambushed Bobby Thompson when he hit that homer off Branca back in ’51?  Would you have cheered just because they were Dodgers?”

“No,” I said, “But that’s different. Thompson hit ‘the shot heard round the world.’  Kelleher got hit by a ball.”

“How do you know Hatten hit him on purpose?  Didn’t look like that to me.”

Daddy shot me a sideways glance. “Terri, one thing you have got to remember, both in sports and life. You have to earn everything fair and square. It’s not fair to take advantage of somebody else’s mistakes. The better team should win. The better player should prevail. And hard work will pay off, not cheap tricks. There’s no room in baseball for brawls.”

“Well, the Stars did win. So I guess they’re the better team.”  

Daddy shook his head and drove the rest of the way home in stony silence.

A few nights later I started to tune in the Stars game. “Turn it off,” Daddy ordered. “I’m through with those guys. And they call the Dodgers ‘bums!’ That should be the name of the Stars.” We never again listened together to the Hollywood Stars.

It was that simple for Daddy, no ambiguity, no shades of gray, and no mitigating circumstances. A couple of decades after his death, in this era of corporate corruption, political chicanery, and athletes who lie, cheat and steal, I often think of his old-fashioned principles, and how he tried to use sports as a metaphor to teach me about right and wrong. Not that Daddy would ever use a word such as “metaphor.”

Not long after he died, Mama told me he had never stopped talking about the day he took me to Gilmore Field and how upset he was about that legendary brawl. I reminded her that a few years later he escorted me to Chavez Ravine to see our newly relocated Dodgers.

I well remember both of those days. And I especially recall his words when we sat down to watch our beloved boys from Brooklyn. 

“Now, Terri,” he said, “You’re going to see some class.”

(Published 2009, Literary Cottage, My Dad is My Hero.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Beyond the Blue Horizon

Joel Glidewell to the Rescue
Most years I leap into June. It's my birth month, after all, so always has been my favorite. A couple of weeks ago though I said "rabbit" hesitantly when I awoke June 1. I doubted that even my "rabbit habit" would bring me luck. Three months of ongoing sciatic pain had choked my optimism. Now, everyday tasks seemed insurmountable. I'd survey the dusty house, the weedy yard and my dismal self...and see nothing but decay.

Then on June 5, the fourth anniversary of my late husband's death, Ken's indefatigable spirit from The Great Beyond, sent me a message...his backyard rosebush, so scraggly last year, suddenly burst into bloom. Moreover, every day since, more blossoms have erupted. It's now a crimson circus.

It got better. Joel Glidewell, the son of Ken's former hospice nurse, came home from college for the summer and offered not only to mow the lawns and pastures, but to weed and trim shrubs and be a regular Joel-of-All-Trades. He even brought along his little sister, Jessie, a recent grad of Colville High, to help with the serious uprooting of the infestation of dandelions and crabgrass that had prevented me from sowing zinnia seeds this spring. By yesterday afternoon they'd completed clearing away most of the mess.

Then I had a phone call from the office of an orthopedic specialist I'd hoped to see for an epidural cortisone injection, a procedure that's been effective in relieving sciatica when physical therapy, rest and other interventions fail. He can do the procedure next week, I learned, but I'd need to have somebody drive me to his Spokane office, a 140-mile round trip from here. I momentarily despaired, but thought of Joel. His day off from his regular summer job at an assisted living facility here fortuitously just happens to be Tuesday. Once again Tuesday could be my good news day, because he's agreed to accompany me to the appointment next week.

They say it's always darkest before the dawn, but recently I've not put much credence in "they." "They" have been less than 100% accurate on so many sure bets recently...why, look at the NBA playoffs, where the supposedly unbeatable Heat nearly tumbled to the Pacers, and have fallen behind 1-2 to San Antonio!

Nonetheless, when I went out to move sprinklers in the dogs' yard, I noticed that there's not an inch of Ken's rosebush that isn't covered with blooms. And when I checked Facebook, my stepson had posted that the Black Forest fire near Colorado Springs that had forced him and his wife to evacuate two days ago hadn't reached his neighborhood. His home is on the safe list, for  now.

Maybe everything's coming up roses!

Ken's cheering me on from The Great Beyond!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Roses for Remembrance

“They are not long, the days of wine and roses. Out of a misty dream, our path emerges for a while, then closes, within a dream.”
Ernest Dowson, The Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson 

My late husband, Ken Wilson, left his beloved country home four years ago today. I've written elsewhere on this blog about how he intended to keep in touch, 

For the past couple of years no books have tumbled from the bookcases...and the dogs haven't refused to come in from the backyard at night. I'd guessed Ken had grown tired of haunting us. But late yesterday afternoon I arrived home late from my recent booksigning trip to St. Louis, glanced around the yards, and noticed the rosebush in back held a few tightly folded buds, but no blooms. This morning it was ablaze with color. I get the message, Ken. Once again, you seem to be trying to outdo your hero, Harry Houdini. 

It's been four years, baby, but you're still The Unforgotten! Unfortunately, during the long weekend I was gone, the noxious weed that you thought so pretty and refused to mow, the hoary alyssum, staged a comeback, and I spent an hour touring the fields, uprooting it, alternating curses with giggles. Your legacies live on.

Natty and Nami continue to sniff at the family room sofa periodically. They still miss you.The cats? Chico still sleeps on the back of your recliner. Groucho and Harpo send their regards, which you know are minimal, since they weren't your favorites.

So far this spring the deer have left your Asian lily plants undevoured. I'm hoping your spirit can continue to keep them at bay so they'll be blooming when your namesake grandchild, Kendra, comes to housesit in July.