Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dividing Lines...

     Three strands of barbed wire, once stretched tightly between wooden posts, now droop in lazy curves. Some of the sturdy posts were replaced long ago with bent branches, deadfall from sturdy oaks. Crooked posts, crooked wires, crooked fences marking crooked lines.

     There are old fences in all states of repair and disrepair along the country road I take to work and back each day. Some follow the road's curves and straightaways, others take off from the asphalt and disappear over hills and into meadows.
     A few of the enclosed fields are inhabited by horses or cattle; others sport driveways and dwellings. Their fences efficiently separate the wild from the domesticated.

     But it's hard to tell what some of the barriers are meant to divide; the lush and scraggly green grasses look exactly the same on both sides of the man-made line, as do the towering oaks and the spreading manzanita. Seasonal creeks have undercut them here and there, and old trees have thrown discarded branches across them in other places.
     It's as though these markers of civilization's edges. placed in the ground by so much muscle and sweat many years ago, have gone over to the other side. The wood and iron have gone feral. Abandoning, or having been abandoned by their human creators, they fend for themselves amidst the wildlife. Now it is the boundary of wilderness they mark, the territory of the deer, wild turkey, quail, raccoons, foxes, and other inhabitants.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Look What I Found...

     While cleaning out my parents' garage in preparation for moving my mom to a smaller place, I discovered an old tool, now a new treasure... my old skate key! I recognized its singular shape immediately, but it was the soiled old string-necklace still laced through it that initially caught my eye, as I dug through Dad's battered metal tool box. Memories rushed at me.
     In the weeks since my discovery, I have carried my skate key amongst the coins in my wallet and shared it with friends and family on a variety of occasions. There is a thick, solid, line-in-time that defines those who recognize the key immediately for what it is and those who have not the slightest idea what they are looking at! People born in the '50s or earlier break spontaneously into wide smiles that include the whole of their faces, and then quickly wax into nostalgic childhood anecdotes about skates, skating, skating accidents, favorite skating shoes, skating events... everything skating. Most of these stories were long forgotten until the spark of seeing my lost-and-found treasure sparked their remembrance.
I got a brand new pair of roller skates.
You got a brand new key.
I think that we should get together and try them out, to see ...
     Younger folks, certainly those born after the '60s, sport a puzzled look upon first seeing my skate key. They invariable take it into their hands, flipping it this way and that. They recognize the "toolness" of the object, but see no special purpose for which its bends and holes might have been designed. When the words "skate key" are lovingly spoken by their elders, their heads cock to the side and their puzzled looks deepen, "a what?" A lengthy explanation then ensues, with special emphasis on special facts, akin to advice given by an experienced mentor to a younger protege recently deemed ready to learn how to properly skate.
  • First, those old-fashioned skates require you to don hard-soled shoes with a sole-lip thick enough and firm enough to support the metal clamps of the skates.
  • Second, the skates must be properly fitted to your feet before they are clamped to your shoes. To do so, the various bolts must be loosened with the skate key, the foot piece must be adjusted to the proper length and width, and then bolts must be tightened again with the skate key.
  • Next, to prevent its disastrous loss, the skate key must, at all times, be worn on a string around your neck and tucked into your shirt all summer long, even when not skating.
  • Periodically, you must pause, inspect, and readjust the tightness of the clamps. Failure to do so could easily result in mechanical failure and a painful crash.
  • Finally, the skate key must never, ever, ever be misplaced, or you could never skate again without mooching off a friend.
      I remember... playing follow the leader while skating with the neighborhood kids, going 'round and 'round and 'round the block in our own little parade. We skated downhill on Newton Street's sidewalk, turned right at Library Street, skated back uphill on the sidewalk along Brand Blvd, and turned right again on Fifth Street to get back to Newton and start all over again with a new leader. Sometimes, after getting to speed on the downhill run, we would close ranks, grab one anothers' waists, squat down low to the cement, and glide down the street like a giant careening snake. Care had to be taken over the rough spots, as those metal skate wheels could catch in a crack or on a small stone and launch you head over heels! (I have a pale scar on my forehead to this day that proves that warning!)

     I remember... putting on dramatic performances, performance-art storytelling on skates, complete with princesses and fairies and heroes! MaryAnn Macey, Lynn Monteverde, and I practiced for weeks on Ione and Otis Crawford's perfectly shaped and sloped driveway, distributed handwritten fliers to every home in the neighborhood, set up chairs on the sidewalk, and created both scripts and costumes for our summer evening debut. I remember there were grand entrances from alongside Crawford's house, swirling spins and swift strides in the wide space front of the garage, and deep curtsies at the conclusion.

     I'll wager my elders and contemporaries out there have similar childhood skating anecdotes to share! Do tell...

(The photo above is of my mother, Louise Griffin, age seven, resting during a skating session in front of her house in San Diego in 1932. The lyrics above are from the song "Brand New Key" released by singer/songwriter Melanie in 1971.)

    Peaceful Resting...

         "You're never prepared."

         How many times have I heard that phrase concerning someone's emotional reactions to the death of a loved one? I thought I understood it, and intellectually I did. But physically and emotionally, I couldn't have understood, because I had never actually experienced it before.

         Then Daddy died this year, on Good Friday, on Mom's birthday, on April 22, 2011. Dad wasn't ready to go. Even at 89, after a long and rich life filled with adventure and love, Dad valiantly battled with shrouded Death, determined to win. During his 80's, Dad fought back from the brink several times, escaping Death's clutches in the form of kidney failure, heart disease, "every chronic affliction known to man." Those successes drove him to continue his fight even as his last day approached and he slipped further and further away from us.
         The "apple of Dad's eye," his only grandchild, Dean, hurried home to visit and say goodbye. When he arrived, Dad propped himself up a little higher on his bed cushions, smiled a little more, and became almost "perky" as we all talked about "the good old days." After an hour-and-a-half, Dad slipped into a peaceful sleep. He never regained consciousness, though he responded to the touch of our hands.

         Mom and I camped out at the side of his bed all day and well into the night. We talked to him, believing he could hear us even though he couldn't respond. We recounted stories and discussed important and frivolous things with him. On Friday morning, shortly after we both returned from a sleep break, Dad found enough strength to squeeze Mom's hand (happy birthday? goodbye? both?) just before he breathed his last breath.

         The lovely cards and calls that we have received from friends old and new universally extol his kindness, his humor, his brilliance... and the twinkle in his eye. We miss him everyday.

         Wallace Miles Griffin's obituary is here.

    (The photos above are of 86-year-old Wally on Christmas morning in 2008 at my house; two-year-old Wally in coat and hat on the running board of his father's car in San Fernando; and young married Wally and Louise in the 1950s in San Fernando.)

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    The Smell of Roses...

         For Christmas, a bit belatedly, I received a Kindle, and for that I am very grateful. I am an avid reader, with a large library; buying books is my strongest vice. If he didn't know better, the postman would think I was having an intimate affair with someone by the name of Amazon; so many boxes he delivers to my door are emblazoned with that name.
         Currently, I have four books actively "in progress", and several others awaiting my attention in precarious piles. For a complete look at my reading lists, past, present, and future, you can become my "friend" on a really fun social networking site exclusively dedicated to reading and talking about reading.
         So, despite being in the midst of several books, I took my new Kindle in hand, and downloaded my first Kindlebook last night: 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik. Mr. Kralik really took an idea and ran with it, an idea many of us have had, but never followed through with. And I'm pondering following in his footsteps.

         In this crazy-busy world we live in, everyone is running from one thing to the next, barely pausing to (forgive the cliche') "smell the roses." Many an expert has suggested that one way to greater happiness is through practicing mindful appreciation of the world around us: people, nature, beauty, etc. But it's hard to appreciate what you are rushing past, even pushing out of your way. Experts also tell us that by contemplating and writing a list of gratitudes every evening we become better at noticing the people and things in our lives we sincerely appreciate and find meaningful, things big and things small... sort of like priming the pump (another cliche', sorry). If I have an "assignment" to come up with three specific things that I feel grateful for every evening, and I don't want it to get repetitious, then I had better start noticing what's going on around me. I'd better slow down and allow myself to be aware of my surroundings and those with whom I interact. "They" say, eventually, this practice becomes a habit--a way of life that leads to greater happiness.
         Mr. Kralik's idea goes one step further. He challenged himself to not just write a gratitude list for himself, but to write and deliver a written thank you to someone, everyday for a year, expressing that gratitude. His notes weren't long or mushy, just honest and sincere. He began, easily enough, by writing thank yous for Christmas gifts he had received. It wasn't long before he had to look deeper and watch more carefully. It was interesting how touched people were by his simple notes. People's need to be appreciated, was as great as his need to be appreciative. The connections created by his thank yous brought energy to both the giver and the receiver.
         Kralik's personal goal was for greater happiness for himself; he needed to pull himself out of the deep dark hole into which he had fallen. The end result was a "pay it forward" result. By passing on his appreciation, his gratitude, to others he succeeded in passing along his greater happiness as well.

         So, I'm going to give this a try. I am challenging myself to write a thank you note a day for all of 2011. It sounds daunting when I say it, write it, like that... 365 is a big number! So I am also allowing myself forgiveness when I mess up, because it's sure to happen. I want to begin right now.

    Dear Readers,     I am deeply grateful to those of you who read my blog, especially to those of you who comment from time to time. Your readership and your comments are encouraging to me. I get excited every time I see on my "stats" that my blog has been viewed! I feel giddy when there's a comment waiting for me. When I grow up, I want to be a writer. I began this blog a year ago as a challenge to myself to "go public" with my writing in order to face my fears; fears that really kept me from actively pursuing that writing dream; fears that you have helped to dispel with your encouragement. So, I sincerely appreciate, you, my dear readers!           
         THANK YOU!      Joan