H is for Helen

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-his for Helen Valentine.

Miss Valentine, to be precise, was my high school sophomore English teacher. Beautiful, tall, dark hair streaked with silver, always simply yet elegantly dressed. A rumor had it that in her youth she had been a county beauty queen. Another rumor was that Karen Valentine is her niece. Rumors not withstanding, Miss Valentine was an excellent teacher from whom I learned grammar and clear writing skills I use every day.

Miss Valentine wrote a grammar and style handbook, her own version of Strunk and White. Hand-typed and mimeographed, each of her students received a copy on the first day of classes. She read essays, meticulously noting grammar and style errors with references to applicable sections of the handbook. Students were required to write the rule, correct the error, and return the paper to receive credit for the assignment.

Three teachers from my junior and senior high school years stand out for their significant contributions to my education. I will always be grateful to Miss Valentine for her subtle yet powerful teaching style and its impact on my life.

 

G is for Gaynl and Gary

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-gis for Gaynl and Gary.

People tell me you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family. Given a choice, I doubt I could have made a better choice of a sister and a brother.

My sister, Gaynl Ann, is a rock, best described by the word “loyalty.” She is devoted to family and friends. Gaynl worked for the same company for forty years. That’s loyalty.

We make an interesting contrast. Raised by a mother with definite ideas about roles and who does what, Gaynl and I must have been a challenge. We didn’t fit the molds Mom had in mind for either of us. Not the least bit interested in sewing, knitting, crocheting, or any of the “girlie” things Mom wanted her to do, Gaynl was an ace with a ball, a bat, a golf club, and anything else related to just about any sport. Don’t mess with her when it comes to the Forty-Niners and the Giants. I, on the other hand, had no clue about or interest in sports. Thank god for my grandmother who thought boys should know how to cook and to sew on a button.

On the other hand, Gaynl is a consummate cook. She knows her way around a kitchen. I am speaking of the high end kind of cooking. Everything she cooks is perfectly done, elegantly displayed, beautifully served, and thoroughly enjoyed.

My brother, Gary Michael, is called “Mike” in the family because Gramma didn’t think Gary a suitable name for a boy. Poor Mom. She lost that one, too. Even though Gary makes for better alliteration, Mike is my Go-To Guy. He’s calm, easy going, solid, dependable. He’s the one who talks me off of the ledge when times get crazy, as they sometimes do. “Loyalty” defines Mike, too.

The best example of our relationship as siblings has to do with our mother at the end of her life. Shortly after Mom turned eighty, Mike suggested we have a family meeting to talk with Mom about how she would like us to handle things when it got to a point where she could no longer handle them. Mom was delighted by our interest and concern. Well-organized, she went through all of the details for us. We acknowledged her plans and promised we would carry out her wishes.

By the time she reached eighty-four, Mom had begun a serious decline. We decided it was time to take action. Each of us took on a specific area of responsibility for Mom’s care. I was in charge of day-to-day and healthcare issues. Gaynl handled the finances and insurance. Mike was the “Sunshine Committee.”

Whenever something related to Mom’s care needed to be changed, I called Gaynl and Mike. They always agreed. “Okay, Mike,” I’d say, “call your mother.”

“I just talked to Mike,” Mom would tell me.  “You know what he said?” And she’d proceed to tell me exactly what I asked Mike to tell her. “Isn’t that a good idea,” she’d say.

Yeah, right, Mom, I’d think to myself. I could have called to tell her the same thing, but she wouldn’t hear it from me. That’s why we called Mike the Sunshine Committee.

During the final two years of Mom’s life, Gaynl, Mike, and I handled everything. There was never a moment of hesitation, a harsh word, or a single disagreement. We did exactly as we promised we would do, confident Mom would approve. Loyalty is a family value.

 

F is for Frank and Louise

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-fis for Frank and Louise.

I met Frank and Louise while I was in the Navy. The ship I was stationed on was at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. Frank was an electrician in the shipyard. Frank and my shipmate, Bill, became friends while I was away on a temporary training assignment. One Saturday afternoon, after I returned to Bremerton, Bill and I were out driving around. “Let’s stop to see my friend Frank,” Bill said.

Bill introduced me and we hit it off. In no time, I was living at Frank and Louise’s. They had three sons. The two younger boys were still in school and living at home. As I was between their first and second sons in age, it seemed right to  Louise to expect me for dinner with the family. Nights and week-ends when I didn’t have duty, I was there.

Saturday nights, Frank, Louise, Bill, and I would go out, starting the evening at the Outside Inn. When the Inn closed at midnight, we’d go over to the Enlisted Men’s Club at the shipyard. It stayed open until 2:00 a.m. The club had a band and Bill loved to sing. He had a Dean Martin-like voice and the band let him sing with them. We’d end the evening at the only Chinese restaurant in Bremerton. Frank and Louise introduced me to their favorite dish: pork noodles. I’ve never found pork noodles as good anywhere else. Those were fun times filled with happy memories.

Frank and Louise were a part of my life for many years. Their deaths left a great void. I was one of their boys. They loved me. And I love them.

E is for Eleanore

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-eis for Eleanore.

Eleanore entered my life by marriage, like a wedding gift. The second wife of my father-in-law, Eleanore was a gift in every sense. A beautiful, stately, elegant woman, Eleanore’s beauty came from within.

Born in Osseo, Wisconsin, Eleanore was one of five children of Norwegian immigrants. She was the embodiment of the Christian values she learned from her Lutheran upbringing which she lived out to the end of her long life. A single mom, Eleanore raised three children and enjoyed a successful career as a registered nurse.

An excellent baker, Eleanore always had cookies, fresh fruit pies, or luscious cakes to offer with tea or coffee in the afternoon or for dessert following dinner. Eleanore’s Norwegian Christmas cookies always made Christmas merrier. Ever true to her Wisconsin roots, Eleanore was “The Queen” of Jell-O salads, some of which are standard fare for holiday and festive occasions to this day.

In some ways, Eleanore reminded me of Rose, the Betty White character of The Golden Girls. Perhaps it was her speech pattern or the amusing way in which she told a story about growing up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin. No intellectual lightweight, Eleanore was well-read and open minded. She was the source of reliable information on everything from health and wellness to popular culture and issues of social justice like poverty, civil rights, and same sex marriage.

When I divorced and subsequently came out, Eleanore and my former father-in-law stood by me, as supportive as it is possible to be. “We are a family,” Eleanore said. “And you are one of our kids.”

D is for Dori

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-dis for Dori.

Dori and I met in 1995 when I joined a gay and lesbian business networking organization in the San Fernando Valley. She had recently lost her beloved son to AIDS. Through her gay business partner,  Dori became active in the organization as a way of giving meaning to her life and of dealing with Kirk’s death. Our friendship was instant, organic, and without any question that we were destined to become the closest of friends.

Vivacious, effervescent, and intellectually curious, Dori radiates joie de vivre. Her presence lights up a room. People love her and love to be with her. Dori paints, writes poetry and prose, loves movies and music of all types, enjoys travel, and reads voraciously. “Enthusiasm” describes the time we spend together. There is never enough time. While we’re sad when our visits come to an end, we’re always enthusiastic about the next time we’ll be together.

C is for Chandler and Chloe

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-cis for Chandler and Chloe.

Sugar and spice and everything nice was written to describe my two beautiful granddaughters.

Chandler began ballet at age four. At six, she performed in the Nutcracker with the Bakersfield Symphony, making her debut as the (best ever) Baby Mouse. Fourteen years of ballet have given Chandler grace, poise, and a presence that is natural and unaffected. Graduating from high school in May and accepted at three colleges, Chandler is deciding which one she will attend. True to the origin of her name, Chandler lights up any space she occupies.

Chloe, age twelve, is Chandler’s younger sister. Equally beautiful and talented, Chloe has her own divine spark. She plays the violin and is student body president of her school. She is bright, funny, articulate, and very deep, her incisive mind cutting through complex issues to explain them with simplicity and candor. The love of Chloe’s life is Maggie, Grammie and Papa Dick’s four year old Sheltie, Maggie, exceedingly tolerant of Chloe’s attention, suffers such indignities as being dressed in Halloween costumes and reindeer antlers to the most un-Sheltie of all activities, swimming! Chloe and Maggie are inseparable.

It is impossible to quantify the joy and pleasure I derive from my grandchildren. Without them, my life would be diminished and impoverished, indeed. If it is true that grandchildren are our compensation for growing old[er], I am a wealthy—and very grateful—old[er] man.

B is for Blake

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-bis for Blake.

Almost sixteen, Blake is the older of my two grandsons. It is difficult to believe that so many years have passed since the day I held him in my arms for the first time, only a couple of hours old. He’s good. He’s nice. He’s real. He’s over six feet tall.

Blake is the kind of kid I enjoy being around. He’s quiet, respectful, and willing to help out. He’s kind, fair, and cares about people. He loves his family and prefers spending time at home, especially if his cousins are there.

Blake likes to play football, baseball, and golf. He has uncanny coordination, learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle by the time he was two years old.

He loves to race BMX bikes and motorcycles. At seven or eight, he was anxious to show me his motorcycle.

“Start it up and let me see how you can ride it,” I said.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Why not,” I asked.

“I’m grounded from it.”

“Oh,” I said, dropping the matter.

After dinner, my daughter presented me with an exquisite birthday cake. “Want to help me blow out the candles?” I asked Blake.

“Sure,” he said.

“Make a wish,” I said.

“What did you wish for?” I whispered to Blake, when the candles were blown out.

“A fairy godmother,” he said.

“A fairy godmother,” I said, still whispering. “Why?”

“Because they can change things,” he said. I understood at once and laughed to myself. A fairy godmother could change someone grounded to not grounded. Pretty deep, I thought.

Sports, bikes, and other “boy” things aside, Blake is and always has been an epicure. He takes great pleasure in eating with discriminating enjoyment. No Spaghetti-Os or Kool-Aid for Blake. At a restaurant, it is likely to hear him say, “I’ll have the lobster crepes and the field greens with pear, Gorgonzola, and glazed walnuts.”

I brought him a handmade leather and silver bracelet, a souvenir from a recent trip to Mexico. “Bad news, Papa,” he said after trying to fasten it without success. “”It’s too small for my wrist.”

“B” is for Blake, Big, and the Best grandson a grandfather could want.

 

 

A is for Allan and Annis

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-ais for Allan and Annis.

Allan and I met at the beginning of our junior year in high school. At the threshold of sexual awakening, our friendship developed a trust that allowed exploration of intense feelings for each other. Aware of what we felt and enjoyed feeling, we were terrified at what exposure of those feelings meant. Our fears drove us into closeted existences well into midlife. By mutual choice, we did not see each other for several years. Though life took us in different directions, our friendship spans more than fifty years. I look back on all those years with deepest fondness in acknowledging that Allan was my first love.

Annis is my dear friend and writing buddy. A poem I wrote, describes her best:

How To Be Annis
Teach a journaling and memoir class
Coach lives
Share book-ends with a writing buddy
Survive breast cancer
Ride a motorcycle
Wear bright colors
Know you are loved
Share your life with Judy
Write a daymaker blog
Fix your eye on the summit of the mountain
Hug life
Send an email that says, “Just to let you know how much you mean to me”

Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2013

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘A2Z-2013-BADGE-001Small_zps669396f9My writing needs help. So, I am kicking it up a notch by accepting the April 2013 A to Z Blog Challenge (Click on the image at the left to read the details.). Participants are required to write twenty-six blog posts, one for each letter of the alphabet—in alphabetical order—beginning Monday, April 1 (Sundays off for “good behavior.”). We are free to blog about whatever we want as long as the subject of the post begins with the letter assigned to that day. I decided to blog about important people in my life. Coming up with names for each letter of the alphabet is a challenge in itself with the letters Q and X representing true tests of my creative abilities.

I wrote a fifty thousand word novel for  NaNoWriMo in 2011. No one but the NaNoWriMo word count validator and I know the content of my novel. For the A to Z Blog Challenge, everything is out in the open. A scary thought. I guess that’s why it’s called a “challenge.”

My Life in San Miguel

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘sma-banner

 

I’ve lived in San Miguel for a month. Some might argue that a month is not long enough to have a life anywhere.

 

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘animas-8-sma‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘calle-animas-smaHome is a feeling, a sense of being. Like a tortoise, I take home with me wherever I go. La calle Animas 8, is home in San Miguel where I live in a small one room studio apartment. The apartment is furnished, including linens, kitchen equipped for basic cooking, and maid service four days a week. My neighborhood offers everything I need: pasteleria (pastry shop), tiendas de conveniencia (convenience store), lavandería (laundry), tortilleria, newsstand, restaurants, and cafes. A mercado at the far end of the street offers an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit. I especially like the mangos, platinos, and the bags of mixed chopped vegetables that I use to make a hearty soup.

 

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘door-sma‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘knocker‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘pieta-sma‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘colors-smaEvery day I venture beyond my neighborhood to explore different areas of the city. I have two rules for sightseeing: Rule 1, ABC (Always Bring Camera); Rule 2, ABN (Always Bring Notebook) (and pen)).

San Miguel is a feast for the eyes. The buildings lining the streets are a riot of colors. Battered to ornate doors with simple to ornate doorknockers and fittings conceal mysterious worlds and secret gardens. That it is possible to frame a photograph in nearly every direction may explain the more than 1,600 photographs I’ve shot.

Getting around San Miguel is easy. Walking is the best, though caution is advised owing to the cobblestone streets, slippery paving stones, and narrow sidewalks.

Mid-morning, I stop for a coffee break at one of San Miguel’s many cafes. While I sip my coffee, I make notes about the route I took and my impressions of what I observed.

 

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘SectionsEd-SMHLast Sunday evening, Annis, Judy, and I sat in the open-air Luna Bar atop the luxurious Rosewood Hotel where we came to watch the sunset as we enjoyed tapas. For dessert we treated ourselves to crispy churros that we dipped into a luscious warm chocolate sauce. The churros and chocolate sauce euphoria was enhanced by the rising of an almost-full moon. “Algo mas? (Something more?)” our server asked.

Una cuchara, por favor (A spoon, please),” I said. There was more chocolate sauce than churros.

Like that luscious warm chocolate sauce, there is more San Miguel than there is time. My adventure ends very early tomorrow morning when the shuttle arrives to transfer us to the airport in León for the return flight to Los Angeles. I have packed memories of the charm and the magic of San Miguel, the wonderful new friends I’ve made, and reservations for next year. I’ll be back.