Candace & Bob

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘My phone rang at 8:06 a.m., the caller ID announcing my friend, Allan.

“Dennis,” he said, “Who is your friend in Redding? Bob?”

“Bob Watson,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news.”

Allan read a short article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat describing a horrific scene in which Bob and his wife, Candace, were attacked in their Redding home by Candace’s thirty-year old nephew. Candace was found stabbed to death in the garage. Bob sustained numerous stab wounds and “clings to life,” the account reported.

When I finished the phone call with Allan, my thoughts turned to what I could do. There was no one I could call. Even if I were in Redding, I could do nothing. I googled “redding california newspapers” finding The Redding Record Searchlight and a ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘detailed account of the incident.

My cousin, Regina, lives in Redding. I could call her, I thought. She knows a lot of people there. Maybe she could find out what’s going on or put me in touch with someone who knows.

My phone rang again at 8:36 a.m. “Who’s your friend in Redding,” Regina asked.

“Bob Watson,”  I said.

“I was afraid of that,” said Regina. “When I saw the news, I hoped it wouldn’t be your friend; but, in my gut, I knew it was. I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks, Honey,” I said. “It’s sweet of you to call. There’s nothing I can do because I don’t know how to contact any of Bob’s family or friends.”

“I’ll call the hospital,” she said. “I’m sure they won’t tell me anything because I’m not family. But, it’s worth the try.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” I said.

“I could go to the hospital,” she said, “to see if I can find family and ask if someone would call you.”

“Thanks, Honey,” I said, “But that’s not necessary. The family is going to be stressed enough.”

An errand took me away from home and occupied my thoughts for an hour or more.

Returning home, I thought to check Bob’s Facebook page to see if I could find one of his sons, his brother, or any family member who might give me an update.

To my surprise and relief, Dawn, Candace’s daughter, posted an update as a comment on Bob’s last FB wall post:

Sat am update: Bob is tough. He woke up a couple times last night and did what they asked of him. Great sign. His organs are weak and need healing strength. His heart was empty yesterday and he stayed with us anyways before they could give him more blood. A testament to his strength and will to live! And all the loving prayers of course. Thank you all!!! 😉 I will continue with updates on Facebook.

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I thanked Dawn for the update, wrote a post to Bob, and posted the Searchlight story on my FB page. I sent a personal message to Dawn to say I am available to spend time with Bob and that she should not hesitate to tell me how and when I can help.

The number of FB posts expressing concern, support, love, prayers, and good thoughts from friends, neighbors, colleagues, and former students pay tribute to the loving and compassionate people Candace and Bob are.

Bob and I have  known each other since we were in the sixth grade. Friends for over fifty years, we were delighted to connect about three years ago on FaceBook and to be able to share our common history and memories of growing up, families, and mutual friends. We’ve recently talked about our 50th high school reunion in August that we planned to attend.

Latest update from Dawn:

Sat nite update: Bob is a survivor. He’s doing his job. Hospital is trying to keep it quiet. There’s been too many phone calls for them. I will keep posting here. Stay positive everyone! Big Love!

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Biography

Dennis

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Articulate
Creative
Thoughtful
Liberal

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Son of Clyde and Drusilla
Brother of Gaynl and Gary

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Lover of
tout les choses françaises

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Who feels depressed by
illiteracy
ignorance
bigotry

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Who needs
creative people
old and dear friends
his grandchildren

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Who worries about
the economy
the planet
the world we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren

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Who would like to see
a return to the values of a liberal education
reverence for rational thought
consideration of evidence

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Resident of North America
Citizen of the world

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VanderWerff

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Remembering Grandma

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Catholic Schools Week is January 29 – February 5, 2012. My granddaughter, Chandler, a junior at ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Garces Memorial High School, invited me to attend the Grandparents’ Mass, one of the events planned at Garces for the Catholic Schools Week celebration.

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I was happy to be invited. The service was lovely and I enjoyed sharing the experience with Chandler. At the conclusion of the service, Michelle Jackman, Dean of Students, thanked grandparents for attending, adding how fortunate kids are to have so many grandparents present. She went on to say she had fond memories of her grandmother. “Somehow,” she said, “the Cokes were never as cold or the bologna sandwiches never as good as they were at my grandma’s.”

I know how she feels. I am fortunate to have fond memories of my grandma, too. My sister, brother, and I spent a lot of time with Grandma making unforgettable memories. She baked oatmeal cookies. And her specialty, spice cookies. Nobody else made spice cookies. If they tried, they were never as good as Grandma’s. Her technique, along with the recipe that she kept in her head, went to the grave with her.

And pasties. Grandma made Cornish pasties filled with meat and potato wrapped in an out of this world flaky crust. She made trays of them and the whole family came for dinner.

Grandma fixed Sunday dinner. Every Sunday morning, she set her dining room table. She never knew who would be there, yet every seat at the table was taken. “Grandma’s Sunday dinners were an act of faith,” Mom said.

Grandma and Unkie (my dad’s oldest brother) gave me a radio for my seventh birthday. It think it was an Arvin radio. It had a red metal case with a cream colored dial. There was an antenna wire that hung from its back. When I held the wire between my fingers the sound and reception was clearer. I put the radio on a table next to my bed. There were lots of radio shows I listened to: Our Miss Brooks, Big John and Sparky, Let’s Pretend, and shows I don’t remember the names of: like the detective who reminded his sidekick, “Keep your eyes peeled.” I didn’t understand what that meant and it sounded silly, if not painful. When I was older—eleven or twelve—I began listening to Lucky Lager Dance Time, a program that played the latest popular music. It aired at 10:00 p.m., so I had to keep the volume low and the radio next to my head so my parents wouldn’t know I had the radio on that late.

For my tenth birthday, Grandma gave me a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy. The book has beautiful color plates and pen and ink drawings by Reginald Birch.

Grandma died six days before my fourteenth birthday. We went to Auntie Beth’s house after the funeral. Auntie Beth handed me a five dollar bill. “This is for you,” she said. “Before Mom died, she said ‘Give ‘Dennis five dollars for his birthday.'”

Grandma thought boys should know how to sew on a button and how to cook. She always had scraps of fabric, buttons, needles, and thread and would let me sew buttons on pieces of fabric. She taught me how to crochet. And, she taught me how to cook, often letting me have her kitchen to myself. Once, I bought a Butterfinger candy bar and discovered a recipe for Butterfinger cookies on the wrapper. I showed it to Grandma.

“Next time we go up the street,” she said, “we’ll stop at Rata Brothers and pick up the things you need to make those cookies.” “Rata Brothers” was Arata Brothers Market, but to Grandma it was “Rata.” She often left the first syllable off of a name and some times she would drop the last syllable.

Grandma lived in the Oak Park section of Sacramento, and “going up the street” meant walking up 35th Street, Oak Park’s main street. Going up the street was an event because Grandma knew everyone on both sides of the street. All of the shopkeepers knew Grandma, too. At one time or another, she lived on just about every street in Oak Park. For a time, she lived at the Oak Park Hotel. Auntie Vera and she had a room with a bathroom but no kitchen. They ate in the hotel dining room. Usually, Grandma lived in an apartment.

In the 60s, there were race riots in Oak Park. I remember seeing the television news pictures of burning buildings on 35thStreet. “Grandma would be so upset to know that Oak Park is not the friendly place she loved,” Mom said. Today, apartments line both sides of the 2900 block of 35th Street. There are no shops.

Grandma didn’t have a lot, but she gave me a lot: the gifts of her time, her attention, and, most of all, her love, gifts that created the unforgettable and “nonesuch” memories of childhood.

I think Michelle Jackman is right: Somehow nothing is ever as good as when Grandma did it.

My Mezuzah

“You’re such a Jew,” Eileen said with a smile.

“What do you mean,” I asked, knowing what she would say; but, I love hearing her say it.

“You’re so hamish” she said, “so easy to be with. What can I tell you?” I smiled, enjoying the glow of her compliment.

“You know,” I said, “every time you say that, it only confirms my belief that I was switched at birth and my Jewish parents, my real parents, took the wrong baby home from the hospital.”

“You’re a real beauty,” said Eileen, shaking her head.

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘When I bought my condominium in Pasadena, Eileen and her sister, Phyllis, gave me a mezuzah as a housewarming present.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, “I love it. I’m going to put it on the front door-jamb.”

“Don’t do that,” said Eileen.

“Why not,” I asked.

“You’re not Jewish,” she said. “People might misunderstand. Put it by the bedroom door.”

I agreed and that is where my mezuzah lived until I moved two years later.

In my new house—a townhouse—the master bedroom was upstairs. As soon as the movers left, I unpacked my mezuzah, went to the garage for my hammer, and climbed the stairs to put the mezuzah in place on the bedroom door-jamb. The installation took only a few minutes. I went downstairs and out to the garage to put away the hammer.

Upstairs again, I looked at the mezuzah only to discover it was upside down. I went downstairs, out to the garage, retrieved the hammer, went upstairs, removed the nails, turned the mezuzah right side up, replaced the nails, went downstairs, and took the hammer to the garage.

Coming up the stairs for the third time, I noticed something small and white on the floor near the bedroom door-jamb. On closer inspection, it turned out to be the mezuzah scroll. I went downstairs, out to the garage, retrieved the hammer, went upstairs, removed the nails, replaced the scroll, nailed the mezuzah in place again, went downstairs, took the hammer back to the garage, and went upstairs.

I checked the mezuzah. Satisfied that everything was in order, I called Eileen who laughed when I told her the story of installing the mezuzah.

“Ei,” I said, “I’m exhausted. Who knew being Jewish could be such hard work!”

 


“A mezuzah is the little oblong container (about the size of two cigarettes) that is affixed to the right of the front door-jamb of [their] home[s], in a slanting position, by a Jew[s] who believes in putting up a mezuzah.

“Inside the mezuzah is a tiny, rolled-up paper or parchment on which are printed verses from Deuteronomy: 6:4-9, 1:13-21. The first sentence is Israel’s great, resounding watchword: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.’ The inscribed passages contain the command to ‘love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul’; they end with an inscription reminding the faithful that God’s laws are to be observed away from, as well as at home, and that children must have a respect for God’s laws instilled in them. (The enclosed material also includes the injunction to inscribe these words ‘upon the door posts of thine house.’)

“The mezuzah consecrates the home, which is so very important in the life and the ethos of Jews; the home is, in fact, a temple; it is known, in Hebrew, as migdash mehad.

“Some scholars say that the mezuzah carried on the Egyptian practice of writing ‘lucky’ sentences over the entrances to their houses. Muslims inscribe ‘Allah,’ and verses from the Koran, over their doors and windows.” (Rosten, Leo. The Joys of Yiddish. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968. p.239.)

 

Gratitude & Mindfulness

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘A favorite blogger, the Healthy Librarian, published a blogpost about the research behind the “gratitude attitude,” in which she summarizes some of the research studies that conclude that developing the habit of thankfulness is a sure-fire way to quell anxiety, neutralize anger and bitterness, increase happiness, eliminate depression, and improve the quality of sleep. “Who doesn’t want more of that,” she exclaims.

I know I do.

Gratitude is not only thankfulness, but also consciousness  or mindfulness of being thankful for the gifts and resources that fill my life. The idea of gratitude with mindfulness reminds me of my dad whose motto was “Be grateful” and who encouraged me always to think about what I was doing as well as why I was doing it.

The significance of my dad’s mindfulness reproof became clear when I happened on a quotation from the French philosopher, Michel Foucault: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”[1. Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988.]

Mindfulness enables me to pay attention to my feelings and to the ways I respond to my environment and to the people around me. Mindfulness allows for that critical space between action and reaction in which I can make a choice.

I choose equanimity rather than anger or other emotional responses that keep me off balance. Yelling at someone who cuts me off while driving on the freeway serves no purpose other than to raise my blood pressure; and, I don’t like the way I feel after that kind of reaction.  Besides, I don’t know what is going on in that person’s life. Preoccupied with whatever is important to him at that moment, he may not be aware that he cut me off. Stuff happens. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

My dad didn’t need a research study to prove the importance of the gratitude attitude. I don’t know how he came by that wisdom. I do know that it is a gift he passed on to me. I am grateful he did.

 

 

Know Thyself

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘This is the time of year when I think about new year’s resolutions. At the end of the first full calendar year of retirement, I have a clearer picture of where I am, where I want to go, and where I want to expend my time and my energy.

The word “resolution” implies constancy in carrying out a course of action. Constancy is critical to success in achieving new year’s resolutions. My new year’s resolutions (goals) come, in part, from reflecting on goals met and unmet at the ending of the old year. As I look forward to the beginning of the new year, I find that some resolutions continue into the new year because of awareness gained in the previous year. New year’s resolutions, however, are not a matter of rolling the previous year’s resolutions into the new year. A resolution can be modified to reflect what I learned from attempting to achieve it. But, new ways of thinking about a resolution are needed for the new year. In this way, resolutions become organic, growing and maturing as they are refined through experience and constancy.

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language,” wrote T. S. Eliot,[1. Eliot, T. S., “Little Gidding, II,” Four Quartets.] “and next year’s words await another voice.” The words that describe next year’s goal will come from constancy in the pursuit of that goal. What we learn from pursuing a goal is what gives it voice and meaning.

New years resolutions are intimately linked to self-awareness. Making new year’s resolutions, setting goals, refining goals, and evaluating progress toward goal achievement are responses to the dictum: “Know thyself.”  News year’s resolutions are about self-exploration, about knowing who we are. Thus, as Eliot tells us,

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Shall be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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Get going or get miserable

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘I developed a Web site six years ago where I planned to publish an annual update and recollections of travels and major events in my life and in the life of my family.  Although I have managed a 67% delivery rate on the annual updates, the rest of the Web site suffers serious neglect.

Working full time, along with “everything else” that had to be done, provided the excuse needed to justify the site’s neglect. When I retired a year and a half ago, I planned to get the site up to date and to keep it current.  Six months, seven months, a year passed. I did nothing.

Annis, a friend who writes The DayMaker blog, inspired me to set a goal of publishing a blogpost every ten days or so. That works. In a blogpost entitled “Why Wait?”,  Annis talks about tying up loose ends in the last month of the year and the “wait until the first of…” syndrome. The subject and tone of the post resonated with me, creating what I call a “get going on it” conversion experience.

Last Sunday morning, I wanted to do something minor on my Web page in preparation for tackling the major reorganization I planned for after the first of the year. My recent conversion experience must have penetrated my subconscious. Before I knew it, the day was nearly gone and I had worked for ten hours on the site . Fueled by Sunday’s success, I spent another eight hours the following day. In those eighteen hours, I wrote my annual update and holiday greeting,  emailed them to family and friends, reorganized the Web site, deleted duplicate and unwanted or unneeded files, and organized an archive. The file structure for the site is lean and clean.

Within hours of clicking on the email send button, I began to receive replies thanking me for the holiday greetings and update and commenting how much they were enjoyed. Pamela, who I refer to as the “muse of my online life,” observed that an annual update is “all the things you would tell your friends if you had lunch with them.”

Achieving a goal is a good feeling. Achieving a goal ahead of schedule is like no other feeling. Staying in touch with people  I care about, even once a year,  lets them know I’m still here and that I care about them. The real payoff is being reassured they are still a part of my life and that they care about me.

Despite the excuses I can find for not doing something, I know it’s never anyone else’s fault that I am not accomplishing the goals I know I want to accomplish. So, I make a choice: “get going” or get miserable.

Why Write?

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘I began writing a journal twenty-six years ago, in December 1985. Yesterday, I went to the garage to retrieve the boxes in which seven three-ring binders of my journals are stored. I halued the boxes into the house, unpacked the binders, and arranged them chronologically on the kitchen counter.

For a number of years, I journaled in 8-1/2 by 11-inch spiral notebooks. When I filled a notebook, I removed the spiral binding and put the pages into a loose leaf binder. After a year or two of dismantling spiral bound notebooks, I discovered it was easier to write on loose leaf binder paper and put the pages into a binder. What a concept! In 1992, I found a ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Blueline A9 composition book that I have used since. In addition to the binders and composition books, I have four years of “Morning Pages,” a daily writing technique I learned from Julia Cameron’s book, ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘The Artist’s Way.

Journal writing led to an interest in other types of writing. In 1988, I came across Natalie Goldberg’s book, ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Writing Down the Bones, that introduced me to writing as a way to “penetrate [my] life and become sane.” Natalie gave me permission to write the “worst junk in the world” and to feel okay about it; she  introduced me to “writing practice.” The basic unit of writing practice is a timed exercise, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, an hour, whatever works. The rules of writing practice are simple:

    1. Keep your hand moving.
    2. Don’t cross out.
    3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
    4. Lose control.
    5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
    6. Go for the jugular.

I keep a list of ideas for writing. Some writing describes memories and events I may want to add to my memoir. Other writing captures particular ideas or feelings I may or may not use in one of three novels I have begun or in the non-fiction book about a gay man and the extraordinary relationship he shares with his ex-wife and his family.

Though keeping a journal is a habit, there are days when I skip making an entry.

Why do I write? I found an answer to that question in the form of a poem in a journal entry from July 17, 1988:

Writing

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makes visible my thoughts

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feelings

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emotions

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peels away the layers of armor that separate me

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from myself

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from others

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exposes vulnerability

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risks intimacy

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allows me to be seen

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as I am

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naked

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raw

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reveals me to myself

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to those around me

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teaches love

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Writing is salvation

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Shirts My Mother Sewed

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘Every morning, after I let Robbie, my seven year old Chocolate Labrador Retriever, out into the backyard, I walk through the house opening the shutters. The morning light fills my house and my life with the glow of a new day. I change into sweats and go to the kitchen where I lay out my place mat and antique silver napkin ring that holds a meticulously folded cloth napkin.

The place mat, one of six, was sewn by my mother from scraps, remnants of material for shirts she sewed for my brother and me, and dresses she sewed for my sister. Patchwork place mats. I look at them and I remember my mother. I look at the individual squares of fabric, and I remember the shirts my mother sewed. I remember how old I was when she sewed them. I remember when I wore them. I remember where we lived. I remember what grade I was in. In the fifth grade, I wore casino shirts. There were long sleeve and short sleeve shirts, striped shirts, plaid shirts, checked shirts. There were wide collar shirts, narrow collar shirts, button down collar shirts. There were shirts always in the latest style.

The shirts my mother sewed, were not only sewn by her, but washed, starched, and ironed by her. My child self didn’t give much thought, if any, to the closet full of made-for-me shirts. I was in high school before I learned that shirts could be bought at a department store.

When I entered high school, my mother began working at a full time job outside of the house and was still ironing my shirts.

“This shirt isn’t ironed right,” my smart-ass-adolescent self said.

“Well, let me show you how to fix that,” she said.

Never tell your mother you don’t like the way she ironed your shirt, my mature adult self thinks.

As a white collar professional, I believed a starched and carefully ironed shirt made an important statement about me, about my commitment to my job, and about the quality of my work. Working full time, I did not have time to wash and iron shirts. I sent them to the laundry.  My mature adult self wonders how my mother accomplished all she did.

Shirts are outgrown, handed down, worn out. Mothers grow old, quit sewing, and die. A set of six patchwork place mats provide a tangible memory of a loving mother and the shirts she sewed.

Eternal Bragging Rights

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November is ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). On November 1, I embarked on a journey into my imagination. With a suitcase packed full of creativity, conviction, and plenty of clean socks,  I set off down a road never before traveled…  into the realm of my own novel. On the journey, I met guilt monkeys, plot bunnies, and countless unspeakable creatures that tested my devotion to my story and called into question not only the wisdom of noveling at such speeds, but my sanity, as well. I pressed on, dirty socks and all—an intrepid traveler charting a path toward “The End.”

Twenty-five days later (five days ahead of my deadline) I emerged into the realm of authorhood with my fifty thousand word manuscript in hand. The NaNoWriMo staff, thrilled to see me cross the finish line, could not say enough times how very proud they are of my epic accomplishment! They congratulated me again and again on my NaNoWriMo 2011 win, directed me to my winner’s certificate, and assured me of eternal bragging rights. Better yet, for the first time, I was called a “Novelist.”

The  NaNoWriMo experience

  • taught me a lot about the writing process
  • introduced me to my Inner Therapist who I call “The Moderator.” He helped me escape the taunts of my inner critic (There is a cast of thousands of critics in my head!).
  • assured me that it is okay to write over 40,000 words before the story tells me where it wants to go.

It’s been a great experience. I am grateful to all who encouraged me; but, especcially to ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Annis, my NaNoWritMo Coach and ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Bookend buddy, for her unfailing encouragement and support. Thank you everyone! I am already looking forward to NaNoWriMo 2012!