The Duet of Marriage


What does it really mean to be married these days? Has the subtext changed enough to infuse it with a meaning different from decades ago? Besides the obvious legal confirmation of unified forces? There is the money aspect of marriage: sharing incomes (and debts) and working toward common financial goals. Income tax status changes. His and her stuff legitimately become their stuff. And any additional beings in the picture get to be shared, whether human or otherwise. Plural homes morph into singular, thereby halving household expenses–in some ways. It demonstrates a clear public solidarity instead of a variable twosome-ness. Those who make their partnerships legal before the state, friends and family are informing the witnesses and themselves: this vow demonstrates my committment and caring. It is meant for keeps. What of those who have lived together for some time already? It is far more common now than I could have imagined when I became a young married woman. A temporary situation can lead to a permanent arrangement. Life alters, figuratively and literally, in some way after exchanging rings and words before a hopeful group of witnesses. But for each it is a different tale.

My youngest daughter, A., is getting married soon. Thanks for the congrats–we value D., the man who is the other participant. They have been together for a few years but this is different even if I may not know just how yet. It feels different to me. And there is so much to do that the classic Wedding List has generated offshoots of more lists. It’s like a lovely clematis vine that has somehow grown into kudzu that creeps into my sleep as well as my daily living. Well, it doesn’t strangle me but it gets much more of my attention suddenly. There is no formal wedding planner. The work force consists of the bride-to-be and her fiance, the MOB (“mother of the bride” sounds much better than MOB), and one granddaughter. And her sisters. Perhaps a friend of hers or two.

I should say, consisted, past tense. Now it is the twenty-two year old granddaughter and myself plus a couple of others who have time to help. A., our daughter just out of grad school, got a great new job fast. Relief! She and our future son-in-law are moving out-of-state in five days. The wedding, of course, is still being held in our home town. The distance from here? By car, two days away. By plane, hundreds of dollars. They will not be here to further inspect, research, interact or otherwise make immediate and minute decisions. So the labor is soon to become more intensive at the home front. I had a couple of days wherein I felt numb, as if I’d been doused with clove oil–delicious but stunning to the brain. I read the list and felt growing within an encampment of butterflies. I am better now, starting to feel lively, rallying around ideas. Find farms on a nearby island that have flowers in the right color scheme. Pick them and design things with them. View and help choose dinnerware for the reception meal. Finish the seating list (Help, daughter!) and print it along with pretty name cards. Centerpieces with little white pumpkins. Guest book–where do I find that? So it goes–it’s a sort of wedding madness. I went to the bookstore, studied their shelf on all things wedding-ish for a half hour, then came home with two. I need guidance.

Did I mention this culminates in only a few weeks? Luckily, this is a smaller wedding of about one hundred people and it is really “Northwest do-it-yourself”. The ceremony will take place at the edge of a forest, in a meadow with fairy-foresty themes. Minimal formality. Except: a vintage wedding dress and a flowing cape added when it is cooler. It works. She will be moving through the greenery, an enchanted woodland creature. They have added many creative touches to the celebration. It will be a fun yet ethereal event. And I will be stifling mother tears without success. My husband will be playing guitar instead of walking her down the aisle. This is, afterall, 2014.

And bam! there it is: the soft spot from whence deeper feelings rush forth.

We have had other weddings in our family. But A. is the youngest of five children. From the first breath she was an exuberant child, full of affection, easily entertained, curious and verbal. Struck by the magic of music. A favorite memory is when she was a few weeks old resting in her crib. I could hear rhythmical cooing sounds as I tiptoed to the room to check on her. I expected to see the frequent morning doves on branches near the window. But A. was on her back, eyes wide open, echoing every phrase that the morning doves sang, a happy chorus of “call and response.” It stirred me as I listened to those duets; it seemed to bode well. I felt gifted with that moment.

A. was also diagnosed with a rare medical condition that has challenged her every day since: extreme growth hormone deficiency (GHD), or hypopituitarism. She was born a nice size, five pounds, four ounces; eighteen and a half inches long. She was the largest of my children; all were born prematurely. But her growth was sporadic, slowed more and more as months and then a year went by. Her cognition and motor skills were not affected. Multiple specialists were consulted, hospital stays endured while difficult tests were run, possible diagnoses considered and rejected. The “likely but still tentative” diagnosis was presented following nearly two long years. It would be over two more before she would qualify for and then be required to maintain daily injections of biosynthetic DNA-recombinant growth hormone. The growth hormone we read about today had its earliest beginnings in the batches used for critical testing on severely impacted children over thirty years ago. It was so new then that the FDA had not approved it. But the alternative was risky: hormone extracted from human cadavers. Without the missing hormone, physical growth would be little to nil, and not just height. (We all, even adults, need continuous, adequate growth hormone for everything to grow as needed, ’round the clock.) Placed into a research study group of only two hundred other children in the U.S. with GHD diagnosis, we also placed our faith in God above and a major research medical center’s renowned pediatric endocrinologists. In time, she began to grow bit by bit. By age sixteen she would be four feet, ten and a half inches; we were thrilled with that height. Those hormone shots, among other medications, have continued.

But this is not an essay about growth hormone deficiency in children. That is a complicated subject, one the general public does not understand. It isn’t a disease, and is not terminal, but a rare anomaly of the endocrine system. People note her beautiful, voluminous hair, inherited from her bi-racial father. They see bright grey-blue eyes with clarity and depth, intelligence that gleams. A generous smile and raucous laugh. A.’s personality is that of a laser beam–brightly focused, intense, powered by wellsprings of energy even when she tires, as happens routinely. As a child people were drawn to her in stores or on streets, spoke with her as if they knew her. I had to firmly request even kindly strangers not touch her hair, not pick her up. Or grab her hand when they told me they wanted to hug her and “Please, can I take her home awhile?” Children always reached for her and talked to her no matter their age. Photographers asked if we had considered her auditioning for commercials; the reply was an adamant “no.” It was her heart they saw, I believe. It was her welcoming exuberance, the openness that children have but that she seemed to want to give away. A.’s way in the world was simple: “Aren’t we something walking around on this planet? Everything is pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

You see how I love her, the last of my children. They all have my heart, and tonight those places with her name embedded are beating strongly.

She grew up, grappled with and adapted to many situations. There were rude remarks to field, questions to answer, peace to be found or made. She carried on. A. still lives life with attention and verve. She has thus far been a songwriter and singer, an activist rallying for others and herself, an academic success, a lover of nature and Divinity. A hard worker who can be counted on. A devoted friend. And loving daughter. She is now perhaps more cautious, is a critical thinker, a careful seeker. But passion emerges as she throws herself into everything that matters. That has primarily included the fine and performing arts in various guises ever since she walked, talked, sang and danced. GHD has been only one facet of a kaleidoscopic life. Still, in elementary school she was given an award for “Most Courageous” and there are many who might still echo that sentiment. It is not so easy to be “rare” in this world, in any sense. So, A. and D. will share spiritual, emotional and intellectual matters as well as all sorts of physical ones. As couples will sooner or later do.

Every partnered duo sooner or later ponders whether the swinging bridge of their union will withstand the weight of their footsteps, if the journey across each plunging chasm will be too precarious to manage. It can seem death-defying, sometimes is so. Scrapes and scars of life give rise to well-honed skills and stamina that carry a couple just enough when there seems nothing left to lift burdens. And as we all learn, the physics of a secure relationship when well-designed and well-tended includes this counterbalancing act: one who can carry the load while the other recoups. Each has her or his tasks, talents and solutions. It’s the mix that makes the whole work, or not.

D. is appreciated by us partly because he knows A.’s medical challenges after seven years with her. He works at understanding the ins and outs of arcane matters. Supports her. Embraces her reality or at the least makes the effort to withstand the hardest times. He would need do almost nothing else for us to love him. She is a dear one, after all, she who has become an even braver woman. But he is also an artist, film and music lover and those provide him with stimulii to exercise a searching soul and diverse aesthetic viewpoints. He offers others kindness along with excellent art work. A. has her own insights into his innermost workings as well as arms and ears to offer reciprocal compassion and attentiveness. They can spark a room with their delight in one another. Surely their debates have interesting resolutions.

What more could one want? There is always a tallying, readjustment, lists of pros and cons about the joining together of two lives under one roof. So, what of actual marriage these days? In some ways it is unlike those in the seventies when I first married. Then it was likely more about security. Or even hard-won status. An expected rite of passage into adulthood. A reasonable semblance of “normalcy”. A psychological and emotional structure within which families grew. Yet I expect not so much has changed over the last few decades. We are still humans seeking love and other comforts of being with someone uniquely, deeply linked to us. Sympatico is still priceless.

But I am not the right author to offer dependable advice on this subject. I’ve been married more than once, with tales and lessons that might one day bear telling. I have thankfully gained some maturity since twenty years of age. I don’t give relationship advice if I can help it, only impressions and thoughts if my children ask. I don’t know what marriage is to mean for each couple, in familiar or different cultures or lands. It might be a lark for some, for all I know, and who know what stories they are making of that? Maybe good ones! People fall in love, for a fabulous moment or an entire lifetime. It is enough to propel us to take the next step forward even if the proverbial bridge swings a bit. It seems a good way to enter the unknown future. So diverse folks set a formal or even sacred seal upon their best intentions and cross over to new territory. And years later, may my daughter and her fiance find it a good homecoming much more often than not.

I stop here, right in the middle of what I am writing as I have in my daily routine lately and ask: What, dear God, am I to do without her near? The smart discussions? The anecdotes shared? The good laughs? Shopping and lunch, for goodness’ sake? This little bird who grew bright plumage, this person that came to me with snug embraces and stirring songs… But we give birth to set our children free. A. is naturally meant for the larger world and other people. For her D., and he, for her.

I have felt my parents’ presence more again even though they are no longer here in the flesh. They had the marriage most people would like to have–best friends first and last, romantic until the end, over sixty years of ups and downs. If here, they would join in the fun, hold her close, share approving words. A. is carrying on their legacy in the arts. She is about to marry a good, capable man. My parents’ example is strong; may she draw from it in the worst and best of times, and cross every kind of bridge with steady feet.

Let this wedding commence, and the adventure that follows be blessed by angels above, friends and family here on earth.


My parents' wedding photo
My parents’ wedding photo

After Len was Gone

Photo by Frank Horvat
Photo by Frank Horvat

He should have never come here, not yet, but his brother’s last words were “Meet Allen Z. at Tip’s.” And he didn’t want to dishonor Len, two years younger. Now gone. But it gave him the creeps. This was the epitome of the sort of place Len frequented, smart in a moderately chic way, crowded with bodies and words, chairs surrounding each table so people kept attaching themselves to conversations. Too many suits for Rudy. It had been hard to find a spot where he could wait undisturbed. He’d had to put his backpack on a chair across from him and his foot on another. Still, a man built like a cement block had put his hand on a chair back, eyebrows raised, as if he was sure of this seat with or without permission. He backed away after a pronounced glare.

He’d arrived before the lunch crowd poured in so he’d ordered and consumed a BLT sandwich, the cheapest thing on the menu. Len and he had met here once every couple of months when Len was about started college and Rudy had been moved to full-time at the Rialto Theater. Still, it was Len who could afford the salmon salad. He had money coming in from their great-uncle, whose vote of confidence was so great he’d long ago set aside money for his charming, studious great-nephew’s education.

Everyone knew that was right. Rudy didn’t think much about it until he couldn’t get a job following high school. He sweated it out in the basement rec rom at the parents’ and Len sympathized as he scored the honors’ list again. Rudy wished he’d had both the flair and committment to academics his brother did. But it was a short-lived sulk. The job at the New Rialto Theatre was one he’d coveted since he was a kid. It was perfect hours (late afternoon til one a.m.); it showed independent and old movies and hosted other kinds of performances; and it afforded him a good look at Lucy now and then. He had yet to find the temerity to speak to her. It was just as well. She looked the other way when she saw him. If only Len could tell him what to do about that.

“I’d say wait for her after her shift and offer to view an ole Lauren and Humphrey, then have a chat over a microbeer. Or exotic coffee. Dazzle her with film trivia. She’ll love it.”

“Good idea. I think. She’s so smart, I’ll probably put her to sleep with my little movie anecdotes.”

Rudy put his hand to his mouth. Had he been speaking aloud? That was happening lately. He mostly knew Len was gone, but he found himself talking with him, both in his head and as if he was there. How long would it take for that to stop? Six more months? Or maybe this would all be straightened out and Len would be back.

A sputtering laugh startled him. He looked around. A businessman was blowing smoke rings and his table mate was jowl-deep in the roast beef special. Rudy studied the front door as it opened and closed, finishing the dregs of cold coffee. He shivered. The air conditioner was blasting despite the forecast of cooler days. Len wore a sweater; he chilled easily. Or, as Len said, he didn’t thaw after March like others, but he did shed the ratty goose down jacket.

Where was this mysterious Allen Z.? The tasteful wall clock indicated he was fifteen minutes late. Allen Z. would be wearing a red shirt and black pants so Rudy wouldn’t miss him. But who would notice if he slipped in and out with all those people blocking the light from windows and doorway? The loudest people attracted attention but only momentarily. It was the ordinary, silent ones who needed watching. Rudy knew that from years of being one. No one was so observant as he because no one paid much attention to him. He could absorb a lot in a short time just by being still. And he knew much about fascinating things, including people, he liked to think.

Len told Rudy he had to have been a cat in his last life, quick and good at sneaking around. Len put him up to things even though he was the younger one, like getting him to bring up the carton of ice cream to their room when his mother was finishing laundry right by the kitchen. Or stealing the bourbon bottle from the cabinet behind his father as he read the newspaper in his easy chair. There was the one double date they had that ended up with Rudy being nearly charged with trespassing. He’d been sent ahead to scout out the lay of the land behind a mansion on Lake Road. Len had planned a take-out picnic at midnight by the big pond behind the estate. Instead, they were sighted anyway, the cops were called and Rudy was the last to roll down the hill, smack into a flashlight’s glare. After that, Rudy taught Len how to do the slinking around, passing for a shadow. It was a relief to be done with such games.

Rudy absolutely wanted to leave now. The call had been made to Allen Z. after everything happened, then quieted down. Rudy had not been in a hurry. It was so overwhelming when Len vanished after his car accident that Rudy half-forgot about the name and number jammed in his jeans pocket. Detectives had found no decent leads and time dragged on. After Rudy woke up from the shock of it all, it finally occurred to him that the stranger might know something useful.

The voice that answered was refined and smooth as fine leather, as if he was expecting a pricey client on the other end.

“Allen Z. here. And to whom am I speaking?”


“Well, Mr. Janus, good of you to finally call. I’ll meet you at Tip’s tomorrow at one o’clock.”

“It’ll be lunch rush. Couldn’t we meet somewhere else?”

“Not at all, it’s perfect, busy is good, they have excellent espresso if in fact I’ve slid right into an early slump. Which happens more often than not after noon.”

“But it was one of Len’s favorites and…”

“Yes.” Allen Z. paused a split second. “See you at one unless I’m delayed for some reason or another. Then I’ll get back to you eventually. I’ll be in a good red shirt, black slacks.”

It seemed impossible that Rudy didn’t know the person he was to meet any minute. He knew most of Len’s friends. Well, until the past year when his little brother made himself scarce. Their mother had often tried to send him to Len’s place to check on things, see if he was okay. Which he was, or appeared to be, when he was around. He was just immersed in another paper or the latest girlfriend. And why did everyone keep track of him when he had been on his own awhile now– just like Rudy? When Rudy said he only wanted a good dinner out of him, he chuckled. They ate well that night and talked just like old times. But that was rare.

Then Len was in a three car accident, was in the hospital with a bad concussion, deep lacerations, bruised ribs. They were observing him. And one night he disappeared.

Rudy rubbed his eyes.

“Mr. Janus, I suspect?”

The speaker held out a long-fingered hand. His back was to the streaming light so it was hard to see his face. Rudy stood and took the man’s palm hesitantly. The so-called red shirt was a muted wine color, the pants charcoal and expensively-tailored. They sat.

Allen Z. had the clearest, lightest blue eyes Rudy had ever seen, and the effect of looking at them too long was that of staring at a bright twilight sky or pristine pond: mesmerizing. He didn’t like them, or his silky shirt and beautiful slacks. Something was off. The man wasn’t Len’s type of friend, was at least ten years older. Something else bothered him that he couldn’t name. He looked down to break the spell, then up again.

“Allen–what’s up with the Z.?–whoever you are, we’re meeting because Len told me to call you. I’d like to know why. Skip the bull.”

“Neither are you who I was expecting–a surprise.” He waved the waiter over, told him to bring espresso. “It’s simple. I’m giving you money for him and clearing up a few things. He asked for this and because he’s a good one, rising fast when he isn’t put on hold, I’m sharing minor information. I always have discretionary powers.”

“‘Oh hold’? What does that mean…Are you some lawyer?”

He laughed from belly-up. “That’s rich!” He smoothed his pale mustache which Rudy found to be a poor excuse for hair growth. “Hardly. I’m his boss, but we are better described as associates.”

“I didn’t know he was in business.”

“Few do.”

“What sort of business?”

“Objects d’art, truth be told.”

“Like paintings and such? Fine art?”

Allen Z. gazed at him, then nodded at the waiter who put down the white espresso cup and saucer.

“How? Tell me. And where he is!”

“He has a talent for finding art, shall we say. He finds it for me. Rather, for my clients.”

Rudy sat back. “He has gone to auctions, prowled antiques shops or what? How did he get this odd, unknown talent you speak about? He likes art but he doesn’t make it a priority. I’d be surprised if he could tell the difference between a Van Gogh and a Picasso. That’s  more up my alley. I love the stuff, the older the better, the rarer the better.”

“You’re a wonder to behold. Len informed me of your interest before he left.”

Rudy sat forward and grabbed the man’s sleeve, hissed into his face.

“Left for where? Is he in trouble? And are we talking black market here, illegal activities, is that it, Z.?”

Allen Z. pulled his arm back slowly, beamed those eyes on him, then placed folded hands on the table between them. He leaned into Rudy’s space.

“Quiet now. You need to listen well. Your brother is quick of mind and hand, can access places no one else has, can perform a risk assessment before cameras know he’s there and then he brings back treasures. But he made a grave error. Now he has to do business elsewhere a few months, perhaps longer. He’s on a private research trip, let’s say. Just keep you mouth shut as Len said you would or there will be other matters for you to deal with. In the meantime, he wanted me to give you this.”

A medium sized, brown leather, zippered pouch was slid across the table. Rudy felt fear like a knife blade sliding down his back. He should get up and leave now. His brother couldn’t know this man. But there were the worn, gold stamped initials of “LJ” on the bag he had gotten for graduation from high school. “For incidentals” his mother had said and Len had used it ever since for one thing or another. Rudy fingered it, took a good breath and opened it.

Inside was something wrapped in paper, he thought, then, no, he pulled it out just enough to get a look. Crisp bills. Lots of them. He put them back in, zippered it shut, sent it back over to Allen Z.

“Not mine.” Rudy trembled despite willing otherwise.

“It is now. I don’t mix with small interests like this. It’s what is left of his trust fund and more. He wants you to have it. He said you ought to finally take Lucy to a good restaurant and if that goes well, to the mountains for a week-end.” He tossed back the espresso and licked his lips clean.

A heaviness came over Rudy. His head buzzed with the crook’s energy or it was fear or the noise of all those people eating and talking, making things complicated for each other. Why didn’t Len just call him from wherever he was? How could he know for sure this was the truth, at all? Or if it was money that belonged in the family?

“And he said to give you the temporary cell number, so here it is.” A blank card with two numbers was handed over. The first one was the Allen Z.’s, the crook’s. “I’m off. I have classier conversation to pursue.”

He rose and blocked out the light once more. Then he bent down to Rudy’s ear.

“If you’re ever interested in a job we might be able to use your burgeoning passion for the arts. Time will tell.” He stood tall and placed his hand on Rudy’s shoulder, gave it a rough squeeze, then walked away, leaving behind the scent of expensive cologne that made Rudy cough.

The pouch sat there, waiting. Looking too obvious. He picked it up. Paid his bill. Made his way through the line of customers at the door and into the blinding sunshine. At the corner Rudy held Len’s number up close and dialed it. It rang and rang. No voice mail. And then it was picked up.

“Rudy? That you, bro?” His voice was tinged with the usual huskiness.

“Len! What’s going on? We thought you were dead, maybe! Where are you? This is some insane joke!”

“No joke. Take the money, have fun, put it in savings. I’m okay, just away from the contiguous states. Tell mom I’m okay if you need to. Later, Rudy. We’ll talk again. And be smart.”

And that was it. “Be smart,” as if he meant something more. Rudy was taken over by a swift surge of adrenalin and he walked the streets of the city for a long while, thinking of everything, wondering why, wishing they were kids again, filled with an odd excitement. A twinge of guilt hung on–both of them playing cat in the dark all those years, snatching things. Then dread pounded his chest. Intense curiosity. Sadness. He thought he’d have to scream a little over the freeway, then just sat down, drained.

But he also thought about the room full of old films, some rare, and how he loved them and how others did, too. He would always protect them, that was what mattered to him, right? Then it was back to Len, his gifted brother, an art thief! Ridiculous, yet it made a strange sort of sense, too.

All of it worried him.

He locked away the pouch in a metal box in his apartment. Then he got ready for work, washed his face and changed shirt and tie, took the bus to New Rialto. When he passed her, he didn’t greet Lucy, not yet.

At break time she sauntered over to him, long hair swept up in a topknot this time. He liked seeing more of her.

“You have anything special going on tonight, after work?” she asked.

“Not at all,” Rudy said, leaning back against a wall. “Not one single thing.”






Rock, Paper, Scissors: Tools for Life


This isn’t about the game often played by kids. But it is telling that these are important enough materials from which to create a game. Value, even power, can be found in the simplest of objects. It can be easy to overlook them, yet when desired they need to be close at hand. Several events the past couple weeks have made me reaffirm their good and various uses.

My eyes are resting on split “thunder eggs” my son brought back from rock hunting in eastern Oregon. Broken open, they reveal lovely mineral crystals. Josh is an outdoors pilgrim, someone always alert to and in search of earth’s gifts, attuned to the power and complexity found therein. His interest in rocks and minerals has gained momentum the last couple of years. He talks of them fondly as he spreads them out on a cabinet, arranges a few on his mantel. In his hands they become more themselves as he explains what he sees and what he’s learned. His children camp, hike and nature hunt with him. My grandchildren can identify and hold forth on quartz, slate, granite, mica and jade as if they were common household goods. The grandson safeguards them in little cloth bags. But mostly they just love to touch, look. Prismatic minerals wink in the light and reveal an aged beauty.


My husband gathers river stones; he carries one in his pocket. I have a revolving group of agates from Oregon’s beaches that have a place on my bookcase. I admire them each time I get a book or dust. Rocks fortify me. They make indoors and outdoors landscapes more inviting with their sculptural applications, multiple textures and geological history. People build with them–houses and fireplaces and fences. Or towering cairns within tide pools we frequent. You can smash things with them. A smaller rock, a venomous insect that looks like it wants to keep house with you, a nut or seed that has interesting innards.


Stones and rocks belong to us as much as to the earth. The dark forms beckon from watery homes. Rest beneath us on a forest floor, line paths and roads, roll from hillsides and mountains to our feet. As children we find them endlessly entertaining–to throw at trees, skip across water, to build small designs and mark hopscotch numbers on asphalt (more rock). They can calm us, snug in our palms when nervous. We contemplate one found in the path as if meant for our eyes alone. There is nothing quite like a stone in hand if cool and smooth, shaped to fit right there. Our earth can be carried with us and that is no small thing.

Paper. I almost am afraid to speak of it! People recycle it which is fine, but don’t want to give you receipts or bags at the store. There is talk about how it is disappearing as if trees weren’t replanted, clearcut areas not being reforested. I live in the Pacific Northwest–we have trees galore. We sometimes hug them here. So I try to be thrifty with paper but I like to have it around to use.

Physical books are taking up less room at the big chain bookstores. Our home is dominated by books, mostly used ones as I do want to participate in the recycling bit. And there is paper everywhere in the form of prints, paintings and drawings. There are gifts from family and friends made of paper products. I print things from the computer that are useful, often filed away. Paper in my hand is still important–to see it, handle it, smell it.


What do my grandchildren want to do when they arrive? We draw with pen and pencil. Cut and construct things from paper. Paint with my watercolors on paper. Erect small buildings from geometric shapes and fly planes made of it. We use cards made of paper, keep score on scorecards during Yahtzee. We play checkers and Scrabble on cardboard game boards. Decorations are created from colorful sheets as well as chains, crowns, birthday cards. Paper defines many activities. I always have plenty of it around. I scibble lines of poems dreams, or ideas in notebooks when awakening in the dead of night. I shudder to think of the art that would not created if not for everyday yet extraordinary paper. Last week I sketched an old building I saw when visiting my daughter in New York and it was restful, quite happiness-making. Ah! paper!

Though not noted in the title, I must mention tape. I was at the post office yesterday and needed tape to secure the envelope carrying a gift to a daughter. A last eight of an inch was ripped from a roll left for customers and when I stepped up to the window, the employee didn’t have any, either. I had a moment of concern.

“No tape? I need this envelope better secured; there’s a good book in there!”

The woman smiled patiently. “Yes, that tape disappears before you know it. Even if it isn’t crucial, people have to use it. But I’ll find some before it’s mailed. No worries.”

Easy for her to say. My little parcel was likely the least of the office’s concerns. And I am certain sturdy tape helps packages make their way intact. As it should; that is its design and function.

I have packed up households many times over decades and thank goodness for cardboard boxes and tape, otherwise my things would end up in shabby piles, leaving a path from room to moving truck or van. Dispossessed. But that isn’t the only function. Try making papery things without it–a sailboat, a hat, a baking soda and vinegar volcano, decorations. Think of all the pictures on the frig that fell down due to cheap magnets: tape to the rescue. I used to roll out butcher block paper by the yards for our kids to draw on, tape it on the wall and let them have at it. Voila, a mural.


Anything that doesn’t want to be stapled or paper-clipped requires tape. Wrapping gifts, repairing torn book covers, fixing a loose hem in a rush, securing a spare pink shower curtain to a bedroom window before you have found the right curtain or rod. Nothing is safe in the home without tape at the ready. On the other hand, I have seen my kids and grandchildren tape each other’s mouths shut or fingers together; tape can be used for surprising things. I once affixed my car’s sagging bumper up with heavy-duty electrical tape until it could be repaired. I would never have made it this far without tape. I like to peruse it in the hardware, all the colors and variations feeling like creative stimuli. I won’t run out of tape.


Before we had scissors we had knives or very sharp rocks (see: rocks, again). Although box cutters and utility knives are handy for some jobs, scissors can be required. Very sharp ones are preferred when something needs to be divided into various lengths. I used to love watching my mother cut fabric with her worn Wiss scissors or the nice Fiskars. She had eye-hand coordination that I deeply admired. She looked a second, then slid those scissors across wafer-thin, even fragile material with nary a catch. Velvets, corduroys, taffeta and woolens required more careful cutting but edges always were clean and exact. She knew how to wield that cutting tool.

I use various scissors to open food packages, trim nails, slice open heavier-gauge envelopes, refresh flower stems, cut up meat, tame thorny bushes, size wrapping paper and curl ribbon, even up wayward bangs, remove pictures from magazines for collages I keep planning on creating. But mostly, I wouldn’t consider raising a family without scissors anymore than I could feature that without tape and rocks. How would we make paper dolls or tiny boxes? Exquisite snowflakes? Mobiles or booklets? Cheery Christmas trees and floating planes?


Sometimes I think we have become too sophisticated and trendy in our wanting and acquiring. There are more gadgets than I will ever use out there. I was recently at a store that was full of customers laden with things I hadn’t known about. Or didn’t need. A garlic smasher? How about the flat side of a knife? Boxes of bright, many-sized metallic clips for chip bags? How about using big paper clips–how about tape? I’m not against progress, investing in a tool that works far better at a reasonable cost. But it is the simple things I find myself going back to and appreciating.

It is what those basic tools can do for us–for less hassle and cash–that I enjoy. They create avenues of exploration. Solve problems. Take care of an emergency. Make something beautiful or silly. Create a way to say “I love you” and “thank you”. Take us into a world enlivened by constructive activity, help us use time in a leisurely fashion. Make it curiously satisfying.

My parents were educated folks yet I can recall my father re-hairing a violin or cello bow, scissors and glue at the ready. Above his workbench was an array of tools that helped make damaged things new. And I can see my mother with several straight pins held between her lips as she folded a hem, and hear her instructing me to cut the thread so many inches, then try my hand at it finishing her work. 

I well remember how I cut out and taped pictures on a large poster board of Grecian islands or Alaskan wilderness I wanted to visit, of admirable people or fashions. There were poems I was compelled to write with colorful letters snipped from magazines. The posters were hung above my desk. I frequently changed the exuberant or moody creations. My youth, my thoughts and dreams, were plastered there thanks to all the basic tools.

Living has always seemed very hands-on to me even though I often camp out in my brain, too. Doing, making and fixing things brings knowledge and satisfaction, and that is worth every effort. I hope others still often well celebrate the humble rock, paper, scissors. Pick one up. Discover something surprising. Develop something fresh for the heck of it. Fix an error. Make something whole again. Let something unexpected and fun happen before you forget the simplest things.


Iridia’s Shell

Photo by David Hamilton
Photo by David Hamilton

She had come from Grenada by way of L.A., they said, and it might be tough on her, living here. Too cold, for one thing. She’d be landlocked, a concept that sounded weird when I repeated it, like the person was a prisoner of Oregon. I guessed they knew what they were talking about. Tremaine was a newer professor at the college. He liked to come by and visit with my father, the history department chair. I was listening from a crook in the maple tree and whittling a stick with my Swiss Army knife. I could smell pork chops and green beans, the scents escaping from the kitchen window. I put my work in a small pull-string leather bag and shimmied down the rope.

I figured Tremaine would be eating with us; he usually did. We had a couple of chairs open for anyone who stopped by. As I entered the dining room Mother flapped open the floral tablecloth.

“Get me the rose napkins from the buffet drawer, Roan,” she said. I’ve been meaning to use them all summer. And put the glass candlesticks on while you’re at it.”

I did as I was told but scowled. I wanted to get into the kitchen to scope out the rest of the meal, then check my email. Where was my sister again? It was her last summer home before leaving for a private arts school. Sure, she was pretty smart–she had a talent for piano, too–but Gen tended to think she was exempt from ordinary work, boring things. Plus she was busy being wild before she had to make good on her promise to make the family proud.

The table looked good when I was done. The yellow tapers cast a cheery warm light even though it wasn’t even dark yet.

I bent down and called out a screen window that opened onto the front porch.

“Dad, Tremaine! Dinner!”

“Mr. Davison to you, son,” Dad reminded me sharply. He got up and closed the atlas they had been looking at.

I knew Tremaine didn’t care. He was just ten years older than Gen. I looked at him to make sure I was right. He smiled, perfect teeth glowing in the eveing’s duskiness, and nodded at me.

“Never mind, the boy’s fine.”

I touched my braces self-consciously, worried about the corn on the cob. I supposed no one would pay much attention to me. It was always politics, historical research and biography reviews that dominated meals when Tremaine stopped by. I was fourteen and a half but I’d learned a few interesting things despite resistance. I wasn’t lazy, just a dreamer, as my father once told a teacher. It sounded lame, like an excuse.

“Where are the biscuits?” Gen asked as she swung through the kitchen and plopped onto her chair. “We need biscuits and honey, oh, sorry I’m late. I was playing badminton with Rafe.”

I snickered. She looked way overheated, cheeks cherry red, dark hair damp and coming loose from her ponytail. She usually looked messy to me but mother said she was prettier by the minute, as if her face was a work of kinetic art that changed before our eyes. Mother passed the pork chops.

“Anyway,” Tremaine said as he ladled food onto his plate, “Iridia and her mother, Clementine, came to live with Aunt Vi who lives down the street from me. Clem lost her part-time job at a health clinic in L.A., she said, but there may be a new one soon at Premiere Health. The first thing Iridia did was run off to the beach. She was gone over an hour. They were frantic until they found her sheltered behind some grass, sitting on driftwood.” He took a bite, chewed thoughtfully. “But they lived right on the beach in Grenada. A bigger city like L.A. wouldn’t do. It’ll be better here on the coast.”

“I certainly hope for the best for them.” Dad poured wine for the adults despite my asking him if I could have a little.

“Who?” Gen whispered at me.

“A girl from Grenada is all I know.”

“Don’t whisper,” Mother whispered.

“She might be in your classes this fall, Roan.” Tremaine carefully unfolded the linen napkin as if it was a thing of beauty and laid it on his lap.

I looked at him. “Okay.”

“You could meet her, help orient her to things.” Dad eyed his sweet corn with anticipation, then took big bites all in a perfect row.

I searched Tremaine’s ebony eyes and thought I saw a humorous response there. He had noticed my reticence with girls. I usually sidestepped them.

“Sure…unless Gen could do it. She knows the ropes, can show her the sights and shops. She’s a girl, anyway. I think.”

Gen kicked me under the table.”Roan, curb your lack of intelligence for once.”

I kicked back; she squashed my toe with her shoe.

“Kids.” Dad sighed.

Tremaine was busy with his corn. His pleasure was kept to a civilized level but I knew he wanted to tear into it like I did.

I finished the chop and served myself beans. The last thing I needed was to babysit some girl the last two weeks of summer. I had basketball to play and a great sci-fi book to finish. I was afraid more and more was going to be asked of me with Gen leaving soon. She should stay here. It was worrisome.


I had been running a half hour and felt good, flying along the sand, a comfortable rhythm set, my legs feeling springy and strong. I passed by the headland where the tide was receding and thought I saw something on the wet sand, a heap. It occurred to me it might be an injured seal. I made a quick turn and headed back to see.  The closer I got, the slower I ran. It was not a seal but a girl.

She unfolded and rose in one smooth motion as I slowed to a halt before her. Her striking dark eyes took in my length, then narrowed as she scanned for information. Apparently she felt I was safe or decent enough. She brushed sand off her arms, shoulders. She wore a summery dress, orange and blue, and had a tan blouse tied around her waist. A brightly beaded bracelet clung to her wrist. I gauged she might be older, maybe sixteen.

“I saw you, thought you might be hurt or something.”

She shifted, looked over the waves. “No. Resting sorta. Listening to the ocean.”

She sounded a little different. Her voice rose and fell, words rounded in a way I’d not heard before. A wind swept up and ruffled my shoulder-length hair, lifted the hem of her skirt a little. She held her arms close to her chest and walked away.

“Wait a minute. Are you maybe Iridia?”

She whirled around, startled. “Why?”

“Tremaine told my family about an Iridia and her mother. You and your mom, maybe?”

“Oh. Yes, Tremaine, a good man. We know him. My auntie knows him well, I should say. He comes by. And you are?”


She blinked twice, then laughed. “Like the color roan? Like a roan horse?”

I shrugged. I was used to a reaction, sometimes the questions but not so rudely at first meeting. I should have taken off but this was just getting interesting. She walked briskly now and I followed.

“My mother liked it, loved horses. What about Iridia?”

“Oh, that’s after my great-grandmother or my great-great auntie, the story changes and each time it has a different outcome or meaning, sometimes good, sometimes bad.” She picked up her pace. “You live here long?”

“All my life. You’re from Grenada, Tremaine said. The Caribbean, a long way away.” We were almost running now. “Are you in a hurry?”

“Yes. I wish I was back home now. But I have to be at my Aunt Viv’s in ten minutes or she’ll call the police.”

I ran alongside her a little more. Clouds raced and gathered; rain streaked the mountain peaks above the south end of beach.  She pulled on her blouse without breaking her stride.

“You run track?” I shouted.

“Yes, have to go now, ‘bye!”

She took off without me, zigzagging across the sand. I could’ve run after her, I’m a champion runner, but she obviously didn’t want me around. I ran the other direction toward home as a light caught me. When I arrived, I dried off and hunkered down on my bed to read. Nothing better than rain and books together. But her large searching eyes kept blotting out the page. How was it to be forced by your parent to go to the Northwest after always living in a balmy, paradise? An island life left behind? It must suck.


The next day I was on the beach with Taye and Dean. We’d been sailboarding, breaking in Taye’s new board, but the waves and wind were less than prime. Dean had brought three ham sandwiches and we were catching our breath and eating.

“Who’s that staring at us?” Taye pointed to a girl a few hundred feet away.

Iridia was standing there looking at me. When I stood she remained still. I gestured her to come over but she was like a statue.

“It’s Iridia, a new girl from Grenada.”

“Iri-what? Grenada? What’s that? A town somewhere?” Dean said.

“It’s an island, idiot,” Taye cuffed him and got up. “Wait, Roan, how do you know her?”

“No, you stay here, I’m going to talk to her a minute.”

“Got a girl, Roan?” Taye yelled after me. “Holding out on us? Traitor!”

“Shut up, fools,” I said and took off in a trot.

When I reached her I saw she had a large shell. She nodded at me with a flash of smile, then we ambled down the beach toward a small cave. She talked fast in those softened words about her mother’s new job and asked me about the town and school. Tremaine had told me she spoke in French patois at times so I listened closely.

It was easy, though. All I had to do was act like she was an old friend, which is how it oddly felt, and pay attention. Our arms swung out and back with our steps. Once they collided against each other. She moved apart from me but kept asking questions. Was the school very tough? Did they have music classes? Was the girls’ track team any good? Were my friends nice or typical jerks? I stole little glances at her face, her deep bronze-chestnut skin gleaming in the light, her lips a brownish-pink. I was very tan but she was from Grenada, after all. I was just a sun worshipper.

I heard Dean yell my name but soon it was whisked away by the salty wind. At the scooped-out cave we leaned against rocky walls.

“See? I brought this shell with me. A conch shell.”

She held it up. It was glossy and and pink inside, a sort of cave made of texturedshapes and surfaces.


I held it to my ear and the sea echoed, first just a flutey call that floated inside my head. Then it roared and whispered, so familiar it seemed odd hearing it in a smooth shell when it was everywhere around us, slamming rocks, carving sand. Where did the sounds start and end?

Holding it close I turned to her. “Is it special? I haven’t seen one like this up close.”

“Conch shells are many places but this is from the Caribbean. My very own shell, my own bit of sea. For me this sea song is captured inside. It lives there.”

She took it from me and pressed it against her own ear, then started to hum a lilting melody, then singing words I didn’t quite catch but it seemed to be the sea itself speaking and falling out of her lips, silvery green waves rolling over us, unknown creatures rising and sliding over the water, spinning toward us. Her voice was rich like honey, light-splashed and sweet, and it carried me into the wind. Her face glowed. I felt shivery and sad and warm and good. A little afraid in a good way.

Then she stopped. There was only Pacific Ocean cresting and falling onto smooth, pale sand, then doubling back onto itself. The horizon blurred, thickened with fog as the sun began to slip away.

“My father gave this shell to me. He died last year, car crash. That’s why we came here, to start over, make a new life. To help forget, my mom says, but I won’t.” She turned to me. Her eyes glistened as she bit her lip then released it. “Is it always so chilly here? Will it be terrible in the winter? Will I be laughed at? Alone?” Her voice sounded like it had squeezed through a hole in the cave, thinned by fear, slick with unshed tears.

I took her forearms into my hands before I thought about it. “Your father, he died? You sing this song… For him, Iridia?”

She nodded, tugged her arms, so I let my hands fall.

“It was beautiful. But why are you telling me this? I just met you.”

She closed her eyes and shuddered, then leaned forward, inches from my chest, close but not so close she might fall into my arms without catching herself.

“Your name. My horse on Grenada–it was a roan. Really!” Her smile was small, shy. “And you are kind. It seems the right thing to do. So someone knows the truth.” She stepped back, peered at me hard. I felt her look way deeper than I was ready to have her look.”Not everyone, only you for now, okay? Just you.”

I’d worried she’d really cry then but it seemed she was alright. It wasn’t a big deal if she did–her dad had died. What was that even like? I couldn’t imagine it. But she had a horse? I liked that idea, her riding a horse on a piece of land in a turquoise sea.

“Yes, okay. I get it. There are things that need to stay secret. I won’t say anything. The winter isn’t bad here, just wet and cold but green. We have a fireplace if you don’t–you can come over. My family is nice enough. I’ll introduce you to my sister, Gen. She’s going to private school–she’s a musician–but she has pretty cool friends, you could meet them, too. And there’s Tremaine and –”

Iridia put her fingertips on my lips. I wished my braces were long gone and I looked really good. But she only touched me to stop me from talking. Still, my skin tingled when she lifted them away.

She leaned her shoulder against mine awhile and brought the conch shell to her ear as the sun shrank and vanished behind the grey swath of clouds. She was listening more. For her home, I guessed. For her father’s voice. It was a sacred shell, I thought; it would watch over her in her new life. It made sense to me. I felt this strongly enough so that she turned back, gave me a quick Iridia smile and linked her arm in mine as we walked on.


The Moon’s a Silver Balloon: More Musings from a Somewhat Reluctant Adventurer


After arriving at the airport at four-thirty in the morning, checking my over-packed bag, saying farewell to my spouse and settling on the plane, I waited for nervousness to expand and conquer. The plane ascended and my eyes soon found the rim of the world in its dawn beauty. I had barely enjoyed two hours’ rest the previous night. I fell asleep. Five hours later a flight attendant’s clarion voice announced an imminent landing at Washington Dulles. The sudden report snatched me from slumber. This was the trip I wrote about in “Becoming Bolder: Disclosures of a Somewhat Reluctant Adventurer” that would later become Freshly Pressed. I was thankful I had been deposited on the other side of our land without incident.

I did wonder how I’d locate my daughter within moving clots of people crowding baggage claim. Via her well-timed text, of course. There Naomi stood waving at her blinking, unseasoned traveller- mom. Her wave and smile were enough to encourage easy forward movement. So far, everything bode well for the coming days and nights. Until we stepped outside and August humidity pressed down on me like a heavy dampened wrap. Reality check: not in the Northwest anymore.

After a good, quick visit with my older brother and sister-in-law in near Washington, D.C. we proceeded to the town where Naomi had lived and taught for five years: Williamsburg, VA. Historical, stately, dominated by the College of William and Mary (second oldest public college in the U. S.) and the grand tourist attraction, Colonial Williamsburg. We arrived at the Alice Person House, bed and breakfast accomodations. We had reserved an attractive suite for three nights since Naomi’s old apartment had been packed up weeks earlier, after which she’d attended two artists’ residencies. Now there was the business of moving to complete. And warm farewells to friends and colleagues. I knew she had a running list of “to-dos”. I would not be an impediment but a cheerful support. I had come without expectations, on a whim because she had asked me to come.


The next days are a kaleidoscopic memory. We completed tasks or, rather, I accompanied her on errands. But we had relaxing hours as well. A favorite time was walking at dusk in Colonial Williamsburg, the authentic old shops closed and streets nearly emptied of others. The evening was a symphonic presentation of cicadas rasping, tree frogs chirping and crickets fiddling. Bats swooped like dancers in the twilight. Plainly designed, wooden and brick seventeenth century buildings were imbued with remnants of people and events. It was easy to imagine life there so long ago. We talked quietly, mostly observed the surroundings. Fireflies cavorted, a sight that made me giddy. The sky showed off clusters of stars. Horses nibbled at grass. We felt peace. I loved walking with my daughter. We both walk rapidly, with an appreciation of how all the parts move in concert, minds emptying and absorbing at once, a meditation.



I was inserted into her world in ways that had not occurred before due to the distance between us. I met many of her friends, big-spirited artists. We shared meals, enjoyed easy, thoughtful conversations. Although welcomed, at times I felt at a remove, as if watching film gaining definition as it develops. There was a gradual, startling awareness of a whole life utterly separate from my own, a history that did not include me. Naomi’s friends and experiences enriched a world that had been beyond my realm for years until these moments. I heard her congenial but rapid discourse, her quicksilver laughter, her humorous sound effects. I observed her lovely, strong hands create eloquent gesticulations. Her vigor and warmth flew outward and it landed, then boomeranged. Her friends gave her love. This grown up person was something, I had to agree.

Born a two and a half pound infant, far too early for this earthly atmosphere, she preservered from the start and surprised us. I felt charged with caring for an almost otherworldly being, she was so new. A naturally shy person, it was years before she ventured from the profound introversion that governed her thinking and doing. One of the memorable events of her early life occurred when she was just two. Naomi began to sit for hours and build with blocks, silent, absorbed, happy. Carefully she placed each geometric form, then scrutinized and changed configurations. She wasn’t speaking more than a few words–her favorite was “moon” which I, a young poet, suggested was a “silver balloon”. She always sought it in evening skies, blue eyes riveted. But words weren’t needed to create things that foreshadowed a future as a sculptor.


Another daughter, Cait, joined us for most of a day and we explored the Jamestown Settlement, caught up on news, shared meals together. Watching them I couldn’t help but recall their early years together. Though unlike each other in nature and work, Cait a dedicated chaplain and Naomi an artist and professor, and despite not being blood-related, they remain sisters at heart. It filled me with peace and pleasure to see it but I so regretted Cait couldn’t stay for the duration. What late night gabs we could have had, popcorn and tea and chocolate times!



The last morning in Williamsburg we shared a hot breakfast with a chic couple from New York and the garrulous proprietress. Then we packed up and left with the moving van. The drive through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York was punctuated by anecdotes, long stretches of comfortable and tired silence, music on the radio. She softly sang along as I smiled at her melodious soprano, sometimes singing a little with her. We talked about her flute playing days, the music that’s carried in our blood. We talked about her father’s family. Her missed grandparents. Memories unfurled like magic flags. But, too, stillness comforted me.

The oppressive heat of the Virginias dissiapated as we entered Pennsylvania. The summer countryside was verdant, a horizon rimmed with mountain foothills. I had explored the nearby Adirondacks as a child, leaning out my parents’ sedan’s back window, my head inclined toward trees. But this landscape was languid and sensuous. The blue sky beamed. Hours slid by. Although we were pulling a large trailer stacked with her art work, making the truck sluggish on hills and slow to pass others, I took the wheel. It wasn’t very hard to maneuver. I loved the sound of her SUV as we chugged up and over country roads. We took a break for a otur of caverns that was cheesey but educational. We stopped to visit a New York friend of Naomi’s where I enjoyed Ithaca’s own root beer, a fat deli sandwich, chances for more photographs. This world is full of odd stuff and fascinating people.











We arrived two days later at a crossroads. Here her new home awaited. Evening fell about us like a cool tent of fragrant air. Farm animal-fragrant, tinged with wild grasses and scents of water, mineral-rich. We unpiled things, lugged them inside until it was late. From the back yard we could see a moon throbbing in the luminous blackness. The new landlord ambled over to ask if the moon there was different than in Oregon and I laughed and nodded, maybe, yes. It beamed a fine beauty at that moment, a country sort of welcome. A rendering of mystery. Promise of more curious things. Naomi made a camper’s bed on the wooden floor and gave me the luxury of an air mattress in another room. We slept well enough the first night. Frankly, I slept better every night on the trip.

What can I tell you about helping to make a new nest with my daughter? We worked first and last. Scrubbed, unpacked, swept, ordered, tossed, shopped, rearranged. But we also walked old streets and nodded at strangers on enviable porches who would pass the news of our arrival soon. We visited waterfalls and enjoyed a hike, strolled along sinuous rivers. We danced–I more than she–to sometimes edgy, sometimes elegiac music. Hummed and whistled as we organized. I was inspired to sketch a half-empty hotel on the main street; it was fun and looked okay. We admired all art unwrapped, fingered a collection of objects with names she’d given them–a Marlene cup, Todd mug. A pen and ink drawing that recalled her four siblings swimming. Her making of art, her love of it–is sacred to her, I saw more completely. It is full of Spirit and longing and hope, of compassion, boldness and risk. I took a cup she had made and made it safe for its ride home.


When she took me to her big new office, showed me the new campus where she will teach, I felt satisfied: this would be her landing spot. She will give and grow much. I mused on the coming winter of this territory, something she hasn’t known for some years, how it may blind her with pristine fields, its bitter and sweet starkness, perhaps change her fair cheeks to a rouge-pink. She will trek her way across the landscape. Seek the heart of warmth. Throw snowballs that transform into water again, cook up food and ideas. She is a builder, a person whose vision requires daring as well as a sound center of gravity.

We smiled for our cameras but I don’t really need a picture of us. It’s all vivid in my mind’s eye. I have both of them, Cait and Naomi, right here, hold them close inside my motherness, deeply, deeper than ever. Even as I say farewell quickly at a Canadian airport so I do not cry, pass through customs with a backward glance, I carry them within like secret, priceless cargo.

As I packed up my bags I realized all the things I’d worried about–chancy food, unfamiliar sleeping arrangements, time changes–had had little impact on the big picture. The trip had ended well; it had offered more of many good things. Maybe next time it would be less so, but so it goes.

On the way back to Oregon I gazed out a plane window. I always take a window seat; I want to see where I am going. Storm clouds towered as we skirted them. We floated between two seemingly separate layers of clouds and a bright line of light parted the striations. I loved those clouds, that breathtaking light, even though the ride was bumpy awhile. I will be flying again, somewhere or other. Thanks for the invite, Naomi!