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....

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Swept Away

Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans August 29, 2005
This Day in History: 2005 Hurricane Katrina slams into Gulf Coast

A dozen years ago, I responded to the call for federal agencies to send volunteers to work with FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I was one of 272 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to serve with what then was called Crisis Corps. From November 7 to December 7, I worked in Beaumont, TX, with refugees from those twin disasters. When I returned I wrote a piece called "Fe, Fi, Foe, FEMA," which was published in my local weekly, the Colville Statesman-Examiner, as well as Peace Corps Writers online. Here's a link to the original article...
And here's an update I wrote this past May:

Swept Away

"One can't predict the weather more than a few days in advance." –Stephen Hawking

A dozen years ago I decorated a Christmas spruce with treasured trinkets. As I positioned a miniature violin from Vienna, an embroidered heart from Kenya, a carved parrot from Costa Rica, I reflected on the people I'd met a few weeks earlier at FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center.

I wondered then what I’d do if all my possessions abruptly ceased to exist. Not only my Christmas ornaments, but everything... my income tax returns, birth certificate, photographs, school annuals, marriage license. That’s what had happened to people in the Gulf States that year.

Their belongings had washed away in the New Orleans floods that followed Hurricane Katrina, or had rotted in the house trailers of Beaumont, Texas, on the heels of Hurricane Rita.

When that harrowing first storm approached New Orleans, my husband and I had been huddled in a shipboard cabin, staring at our TV screen. We'd long anticipated our Alaska cruise. But our enjoyment had been diminished by the scenes of crowds pouring into the Louisiana Superdome, seeking shelter.

I'd turned to Ken. "If the predictions are right, this could be a horrendous disaster."

"There's nothing we can do about it, baby. Let's relax and enjoy our cruise."

We tried. We gazed at totem poles, marveled at calving glaciers, and feasted on steak and lobster. When we returned home, the evening news still was filled with the plight of people who couldn't evacuate New Orleans before the hurricane hit and the levee system failed.
ms Amsterdam, Holland America

"There might be something I can do," I said. "I'm a therapist. Maybe I could help some of those who are being uprooted. I'm going to check into it."

My husband nodded. "Do what you think is right."

Health and Human Services reported that over 30,000 medical personnel had come forward to volunteer. Unfortunately, I'd been unable to serve in my professional capacity as a licensed clinical social worker. My California license wouldn't be accepted in Louisiana. I resigned myself to sitting on the sidelines. I sent a check to the Red Cross. It was the least I could do.

Then, weeks later, the winds of Hurricane Rita destroyed a wide swatch of gulf coast homes. Uprooted trees toppled homes. Hot temperatures and soggy furniture paired to create layers of mold. Hundreds of thousands now sought emergency shelter.

Federal agencies sought volunteers. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, in late October I received an e-mail asking if I could serve with Crisis Corps. For the first time in Peace Corps' history, Volunteers would work here in the States rather than on foreign soil.

"What do you think, Ken? If I join Crisis Corps, I might be assigned to work with the toddlers evacuated to Arkansas and other surrounding states."

"Do it."

I could depend on Ken to give me the answer I'd been hoping for. When we'd first married, I'd heard him brag to old friends about my adventures with Peace Corps. Now I overheard him bragging anew of how I’d be one of 270 former Peace Corps Volunteers who would serve with the Katrina Initiative.

Peace Corps rolled out assignments, sending new batches of Volunteers weekly. I didn't leave until November 7 when I flew to Orlando to be trained as a FEMA "affiliate." Instead of conducting play therapy sessions with children, I'd be processing applications for aid in one of the Texas FEMA Disaster Recovery Center outposts. I’d return home December 7.

My job was to greet and register applicants at the reception desk area, nearly 300 of them a day, working 12-hour, six-day weeks.
Katrina, 2005

Even now I still remember several. There'd been Carol, a carefully-coifed 74-year-old blonde, who'd sobbed that she'd put a gun to her head if she were to be put out of her midtown Holiday Inn on the deadline FEMA initially had announced. Though FEMA and Texas agreed to extend this deadline, I wondered if she’d go to church on Christmas morning. She'd lost 40 pounds since Rita roared over Beaumont, destroying her travel trailer and her personal belongings. She owned one decent outfit, purchased at Goodwill.

For a while, she’d believed God was punishing her. But when her application had been accepted for a mobile home, she brightened.

“I’ll have a home now,” she told me. “I’ll be happy.”

Cathy, who'd broken her collarbone in an auto collision just days before Rita swooped through, had been a mandatory evacuee. She'd been bussed to Houston, housed in a hotel there, hours from her local physician and available medical treatment. Because she wasn't allowed to take Heidi, her border collie, she'd boarded the dog into a local kennel. Heidi escaped during the hurricane aftermath. Now Cathy roamed Beaumont, posting flyers about the missing pet.
Houston, 2017

“It doesn’t feel like home without Heidi,” she said.

Jim and his son Bobby came weekly to check on the status of their applications for personal property damages. Jim had been evacuated earlier from New Orleans when his 9th Ward home had been washed away. Then he and his Beaumont son fled oncoming Rita.

 “I’m Rita,” Bobby said, grinning, “And Dad's Katrina.”  He understood FEMA’s habit of identifying applicants by disasters. “We’re glad we got each other.”

Over a decade later, the full extent of the hurricane damage remains unknown. An area nearly the size of the United Kingdom had been declared a federal disaster zone. Close to 600,000 Americans eventually had volunteered help in some form.

I still remember that all the people I met at FEMA wanted one thing most of all…to go home. Even when there was no home…no schools, no daycare centers, no grocery stores, no houses, no apartments. Nobody wanted to be relocated forever.

"I realize New Orleans might flood again," one grandmother said. "But it's home. That makes me happy."

A few years after the hurricanes, my husband died. I no longer put up Christmas trees. Without him to share the holiday traditions, I'd lost interest. And the home we shared no longer felt like home.

 I know that everything we hold dear could be swept away. What remains are memories and yes, a longing for place, for what feels like home.

So, I sold my house and gave away nearly everything I owned, including those Christmas ornaments. I no longer treasure trinkets.

I’ve moved back to California, not far from where I grew up. I’m near my son, near old friends. I live alone in a tiny apartment. I'm safe. I'm comfortable. I'm home.

At Christmas, I’m happy to simply hang a wreath on my door.

Houston, TX, August 28, 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

And the Angels Sing

6th and Grandview, Scotts Mills, OR
Last week my beau, Frank, and I went north to witness a total eclipse. As if the celestial spectacular weren't enough, I'd promised I'd show him the Willamette Valley, as well, where I'd lived for three years at the close of WWII. It's the second time I've been back to that part of the world. The first was 11 years ago. Nothing's changed in the intervening time. Oh, the Scotts Mills general store at the crossroads has spruced up a bit, but the hamlet still has a population of about 200...and the only public restroom in town is in the city park. Silverton, though, continues to boom, and we loved sitting on the Mac's Place deck overlooking Silver Creek.

And the Angels Sing 

For decades I’d planned to return to Scotts Mills. I’d learned something there once, but couldn’t quite recall what it was.  At troubled times, I’d muse and mull, but that will-o’-the-wisp memory flickered just beyond my perception.

At the close of WWII, my family, like many others, fled Los Angeles in the paranoia over potential nuclear submarine attacks.  They headed for Oregon’s Willamette Valley, miles from the Pacific.

For three years we lived in this hamlet of fewer than 200 people, in our two-story Victorian house with a wooden staircase, a root cellar and a barn.  In l948 we scurried back to Los Angeles.  My family bitterly regretted their hiatus from city life.  I hadn’t wanted to leave.
The little tea barn where I used to play.

Grandma had grumbled about the dark clouds, fog, and drizzle that cloaked the area.  Tracking the weather on her kitchen calendar, she claimed the sun peeped through the mist only nine days one entire summer.  Daddy, who played cornet in the sweet swing of style of Bunny Berrigan, rounded up a trio to play at local dances, privately grousing about having to include a schmaltzy accordion for keyboards, which didn’t seem quite right on And the Angels Sing, his signature song.

Mama lamented her suburban coffee klatches, and on weekends would bribe my big sister and me into playing Chinese checkers with heavily-sugared cups of her favorite beverage.  Grandpa reveled in growing parsnips and endive and teasing my little brother with garden snakes, but even he muttered about having to drive seven dang miles to Silverton to purchase his Old Crow from the state liquor store.

For me, a curious 8-year-old, Scotts Mills was Wonderland, Oz and NeverNeverLand all rolled into one.  I picked wild iris, blackberries, and crab apples.  I could earn a dime for a comic book by taking Grandma’s shopping list and wicker basket to the general store for items she’d forgotten to buy at the Silverton Safeway.  I could spot what Daddy said was the Andromeda cluster at night, and he promised when winter came we might see the aurora borealis. 

I learned something new every day that first summer.  Grandma taught me how to dogpaddle in the dam and to ignore my classmates’ claims of spotting cousins of the Loch Ness monster in its murky waters. Daddy taught me always to wear a long-sleeved flannel shirt on the mornings when it was my turn to carry wood to the box next to the kitchen stove.  Mama taught me to watch for broken glass when I waded in Silver Creek, and some sneaky opening Chinese checker ploys.  Grandpa taught me how to identify poison oak and make vinegar compresses, but only after I came home blistered and weeping.

When school started, I skipped third grade, since my reading scores indicated that I could do fourth grade work. I had missed multiplication and long division, so my teacher, Miss Magee, spent endless after-school hours helping me understand times tables and what to do with remainders. 

The three-room schoolhouse lumped grades three through five together.  Younger and smaller than my classmates, I was shy and nervous.  I sat with grade four in the middle row, where classmates on each side could jeer I sucked my thumb, chewed on the ends of my pigtails, and gnawed my pencils.  They called me Terri Termite until Miss Magee held a pointed discussion on The Golden Rule.  I worshiped Miss Magee, and studied hard so she would be proud of me. 

I learned outside of school, as well.  The town had been founded by Quakers, and just a few blocks downhill from our home on Grandview stood a Friends Church, built in l894.  Every Sunday I would trudge off to Sunday school, intent on earning my first New Testament, offered as a prize for four months of perfect attendance. 
Where I first sang "This Little Light of Mine."
I craved the pocket-sized book with the red leatherette covers, so I would set out even on rainy mornings, ignoring Grandma’s predictions that I’d catch a cold or the dreaded flu. 

In the basement, we would listen to missionaries tell exotic tales of their work in East Africa.  “I’m going to be just like them,” I’d tell my family.  “I’ll see jungles and monkeys and teach children how to read.”  From the missionaries too I had learned how to pray for others, and not just myself.  I prayed that my classmates would grow in grace enough to stop teasing me and other vulnerable children, such as the boy with the hare lip.

After we returned to Los Angeles, I got caught up with junior high and high school, boyfriends, youth groups at a variety of churches, and not too much later, even marriage and a child of my own.  But the values I learned from Miss McGee and the Friends Church remained with me, perseverance and discipline, compassion and social justice.
Still "Friends"

As I neared 50 and was preparing to leave for an overseas assignment with the Peace Corps, my son came by to visit.   He wanted to see his childhood photos, so I got out the duffle bag.  We sipped lemonade and reminisced about his early years.  As we neared the bottom of the bag, Steve pulled out an 8x12 and there I was in pigtails and bangs, clad in plaid flannel shirt and rolled up jeans, surrounded by Scotts Mills classmates. 

I told him about singing Do Lord in the choir, leaving secret messages coded from Bible verse under the maple tree for the neighbor children, about Grandma’s lemon meringue pie winning praise at the covered dish suppers in the basement of the church.

 “It sounds as if you loved it there. Will you ever go back?”

“I really did,” I said, surprised at much I longed to see the verdant hills once more.  “I know I will someday,” I said.  “There’s a reason to go and I will.”

Finally, in spring 2007 I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Oregon School Counselors Association annual conference in Bend, Oregon in October.  The slated theme was “Global Vision, Local Action.” I’d been invited to talk about my adventures all over the world with the Peace Corps.  I had not returned to Oregon since l948. When I looked on the map I saw that Scotts Mills was just a few hours drive from the conference center.   I began making plans.

I discovered that the Scotts Mills Friends Church had a website, so I wrote, mentioning how the church and Miss Magee had influenced me.  The webmaster knew the Magee family and put me in touch with the children of Barbara McGee Hays, who had died of cancer in l972.  Soon I had letters from them, saying they would be at the church when I came in October.  

I drove over early from the motel in Silverton and sat quietly in the rear pew.  The pianist played a few quick practice notes, and I recognized the song.  I reached for the songbook before me, and flipped through to find the old hymn, Be Still My Soul.

I opened the Bible, and found the verse that had eluded me.  “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.  I smiled.  It was so simple.  I relaxed and the words “center down” popped into my head, the long forgotten but basic premise of the Friends Church.  What I had learned as a child was to clear my mind of chatter so that I could be receptive to a spiritual message. 

After the minister arrived, he approached me and asked if I were the woman who had contacted the webmaster.  He invited me to say a few words when the time arrived for offerings.  “We don’t always have much money to offer,” he explained, “but we always ask if somebody has something personal to offer.”

When it came time, I raised my hand and stood.  “Who is this strange lady?” he asked, smiling.  “Not so strange,” I answered.  When I got to the lectern I looked out at the congregation.  “The last time I stood on this stage was Easter, l948,” I began, “nearly sixty years ago.”

Park has more rules than people...
After the service Miss Magee’s grown children chatted with me. Amazingly, my fourth grade teacher’s son had done some international missionary work in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and knew the Peace Corps director who had been there when I had conducted an international workshop on HIV/AIDS prevention there in 2003.  We agreed to remain in touch.

I toured the town’s museum later that day, and chatted with one of my former classmates who lived across from it.  He remembered how the children teased.  When I learned to center down, I found I no longer needed to chew my pencils.  I hope the boy with the hare lip learned to ignore the taunts.

As I drove back to Silverton I found myself humming my father’s favorite, And the Angels Sing.  They will, I thought, if you remain still enough to hear them.  If you remember to center down.

At Mac's Place, sipping cider, munching chips
On the deck, Mac's Place, with Frank

Mac’s Place, located at 201 N Water St. in Silverton, Oregon, is the oldest building on the Silverton National Historic Registry! The building survived the fire of 1885 and was the only building in downtown to survive the fire of 1934!

Where I finally located a copy of Robert Paul Smith's 1957 memoir

Back in 1957 I read Robert Paul Smith's memoir about growing up in the age where boys wore knickerbockers...and was so enchanted with it I read it to my son's father, chapter by chapter. For years I've sought a copy, and finally was able to buy one at Books-N-Time, Silverton. This time I read parts of it aloud to Frank, who listened with great patience.

Monday, August 14, 2017

By the Sea...A Summer Wedding

Reception supper at Fisherman's, San Clemente Pier
My guy, Rabbi Frank Stern performed the wedding ceremony before the onset of Shabbat, Friday, August 4 at San Clemente, for his son, David Stern and fiancée, Claudia Gil.

Mrs. Claudia Gil Stern
Claudia Gil, still bride-to-be, with family

Beneath the chuppah (canopy), the ceremony begins.

A Dr. Pepper takeout cup substituted for a glass to stomp on

David and the wedding women

The wedding partiers, just before sundown

Embarking on "Happily Ever After."

"Mazel Tov," David and Claudia
Terri, Frank, Frank's daughter Debbie, grandson Josh

San Clemente Inn for pre-nuptials sangria and snacks

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nevertheless, She Persisted

MooTime Creamery, Hotel del Coronado
Sometimes all you want to do is submerge yourself in despair. It's been weeks, months, years...and a piece you spent hours crafting and submitting still hasn't found its home. You've bravely resubmitted once, twice, even three times. But no, your orphan still isn't acceptable, no matter how much you've spiffied it up. 

My late daughter-in-law, Mari Lou Laso-Elders, a beloved writing teacher in Orange, CA, once patiently listened to one of her students complain that she had rewritten a section of her memoir three times. 

"Three times? I  spit on your paltry three times," Mari Lou said, before going on to explain how it had taken her ten years to craft her YA novel, Otherwise Known as Possum, published by Scholastic Press earlier this year.

I've written on this blog previously about rejection and how I've dealt with it:

Here's an update on my submissions, one ancient and others reasonably current:
  • A magazine contacted me last month about a story I submitted in 2008. That's not a typo. The editor inquired if I would allow the regional magazine in the south, with a circulation close to half a million, to publish my story next year...that's right. A full decade after the original submission. Of course, I agreed. Though the story, in a slightly different form, had been published in a Canadian anthology, it's never previously appeared in an American magazine. It had been rejected by several anthologies. I'd rewritten it several times, both before and after that 2008 submission.
  • Though I've not yet heard back about some new stories I've sent out, I've listed below the anthologies either now available or soon-to-be-available that have accepted my stories.
  • 07/17 Sarah Miner, Narcissist's Playbook (Needs)
    07/17  Marfa House, Love is in the Air (Secret Love)
    08/17 Grace Publishing, Loving Moments (An Astonishment of Unicorns, All Those Years Ago)
    08/17 Dr. Zeal Okogeri,  You Can Never Go Wrong By Being Kind (Just Like the Others)
    09/17 Anne Bardsley, Angel Bumps (Painted Ladies)
    10/17 Kelly Ann Jactrobson, The Way to My Heart (A Pair of Merry Mollusks)
    10/18 Trisha Faye, In Celebration of Sisters (Upside, Downside)
  • Of the stories above, three are reprints or revisions of previously-accepted works, one is a recently-crafted story, and FOUR are orphans, some having withstood multiple previous rejections. A couple of the orphans have been languishing for six or seven years.
Still dejected? Try ice cream. If you've wondered about why I'm petting the cute cow at Hotel del Coronado, it's because my writer boyfriend, the eternally-thoughtful Frank Stern, treated me to a great dish of ice cream on my celebratory 80th birthday trip last month.

I know it's a cliché. Nonetheless, when all else fails, try ice cream. But not gulping down a quart of Ben and Jerry's, while slumped on your couch in your nightie and slippers. Get some fresh air, preferably near a body of water. The Pacific Ocean always works for me. You'll come home refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to submit again...and again. Nevertheless, you persisted!

Here's some literary authors on rejection...real words of wisdom:

And here's Chuck Wendig at his profane, foul-mouthed best...and don't click on this link, despite its solid advice about rejection, if you can't deal with this writer's sometimes-colorful-beyond-belief language: