Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Great Depression and World War II

Jeanne has once again graced us with her memories.  Thank you for sharing!

The Great Depression and World War II

For the past week I’ve been watching “The Roosevelts” on TV, Ken Burns’ latest serial about American life.  I was born in December of 1934, and FDR was the president throughout my childhood.  The events portrayed were happening as I grew up.
            Until I was seven we lived in Northeast Portland.  The Great Depression was apparent everywhere around us.  Fortunately, my dad always had a good job; we lived in a nice house and had plenty to eat.  That wasn’t true for some of our extended family.  I remember my mom making food boxes for my dad to deliver to aunts and cousins who had no work.  There were abandoned houses in our neighborhood because families had to move out due to the lack of employment.  Almost every day single men would knock on our door and ask my mother if they could work for food.  Sometimes she had no work for them but fed them anyway.  They would sit on our front steps, balancing a plate on their knees and silently eat whatever she served them. I was four or five years old and very curious about these people, but I don’t remember them acknowledging me in any way.  It seemed to me they were slightly embarrassed by their circumstances.
            One time when I was riding in the car with my dad we stopped at a light and there on the corner was an older woman, sitting on a couch with all her belongings piled around her.  I had never seen such a thing.  When I inquired about it my dad said she had been evicted by the sheriff because she didn’t pay her rent.  I asked my dad where she would go.  He didn’t seem too concerned or interested, but I was very upset by it.  When I was older, I realized he must have seen similar circumstances all the time as he drove around Portland.
            In April of ’42 my parents bought a house in the country.  We sat on a hill overlooking Tigard, Bull Mountain and the Coast Range mountains.  At that time we were really out in the country; all the growth in that area occurred after the war.  I think my parents moved there because people believed there was a real threat of the Japanese invading the west coast or at least bombing the cities.  No one knew what might happen, and people and the government became very irrational as witnessed by the interment of the innocent Japanese-American citizens.
            In school we learned what to do in a bombing raid (get under the desk; stay away from windows) and were paired with another student who lived very close to school so we could go to their house with them if there was time.  I decided right away that I would run the mile to my house rather than be with strangers.
            Every residential area was assigned a Fire Marshall for their district.  This was a neighbor who came around periodically to make sure you had a bucket of sand, a shovel and a fire extinguisher in case of an incendiary bomb attack.  No outside lights were allowed at night and windows were covered with blackout shades so no light was visible from the outside.  Car travel at night was restricted, and cars that must be out had special headlight shades installed.
            All kinds of good were rationed and some weren’t available at all.  Meat, sugar, butter, and coffee all required ration stamps to purchase as did shoes, tires and gasoline.  Many people had Victory Gardens.
            We observed more signs of war as time went on: convoys of hundreds of Army trucks and jeeps going form Camp Adair near Corvallis to Fort Lewis, squadrons of bombers coming and going from who knows where.  Everything was “Top Secret”. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was the motto of the day. 
One day my four-year-old brother was playing outside by himself.  He came tearing into the house, his eyes huge.  He pulled on my mother’s clothes, “Mama, mama, look! There’s ……..somethin’!? The “somethin’” was a huge blimp form the Tillamook Naval Air Station handing right over the house so low my mother said you could clearly see the people inside.
            It was an interesting and scary time.  Then we entered another scary time when school kids once again had to practice for attacks. It was called “The Cold War.”
Jeanne R.

1 Oct 2014

Sewing Struggles

Once again, we have a guest writer from my writing class in town.  This class is not designed to make published writers, but to share childhood memories and family stories with their descendants.  Thank you Jeanne for your contribution!  I'm sure there are many others who feel the same way about sewing.

Sewing Struggles

            I can’t sew.  Oh, I can mend a tear and sew on a button or shorten a skirt by hand.  As a kid, I learned to darn socks and embroider dish towels.  But I can’t sew on a sewing machine, and I’ve always admired those who can.  They seem to me miraculously blessed with great talent. 
When I was in grade school there was a class called “Home Ec” for girls only. (Boys took what was known as shop.)  One semester of Home Ec was devoted to sewing and one to kitchen skills.  During kitchen skills we made biscuits, learned how to set a table and what R.S.V.P. meant and what to do about it.
During the sewing term we learned how to hem flour sack dish towels and operate a sewing machine.  In the Home Ec room at Multnomah School there were rows of treadle sewing machines, leftovers from the 1930s.  Because of the war, new machines were not made during the 40’s. A treadle machine is powered by feet rather than electrically and the faster you “treadle” the faster the needle goes up and down.  It’s like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.  I never could coordinate these movements. 
My mother had an electric machine which she rarely used.  When I was in high school I tried sewing on it and even cut out a dress from a pattern, but the thread kept tangling and the machine kept stalling.  I kept going into frustrated crying jags so my dad urged me to quit.  He tactfully told me what a good cook and baker I was and that I should further develop my kitchen skills.  I’m sure he was trying to protect the household from my emotional outbursts. 
Lately, I have had thoughts of buying a machine and learning to sew.  I’d love to learn.  But, on the other hand, would it make sense financially to invest in a machine at my age?  Could I possibly get my money’s work out of it?  AND, I don’t like to go on emotional tears anymore so I’ll probably stick with kitchen skills.  If you have thoughts for me on this, R.S.V.P.  I know what it means!
                                                                                                            Jeanne R.
12 Nov 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thank You, Mr. Bell

Once again, we have a wonderful story by a guest writer form my local class in Portland.  You may recognize her from some previous blog posts. Lee adds wonderful humor in her writing and definitely has had some great experiences!  I hope you enjoy this piece.

Thank You, Mr. Bell

            Jerry Seinfeld was ranting about some of the things in everyday life that perplexed him. It’s funny how he makes you think of things that annoy but can make you laugh. It reminded me of some of my life’s funniest moments that have happened on the telephone. Some sad and tragic news has also come along those wires; however, where would we be without it?
            Remember the days of going to the neighbors to use the telephone because it was the only one in the neighborhood? And now I have three in my four room apartment, and, of course, I can never find one when it is ringing. I often wonder if Mr. Bell knows what he started those many years ago.
            It took my mother a while to believe that the phone didn’t ring only in times of disaster. The telephone brought a call to inform my mother of the death of her younger brother. It was a freak accident while he was driving from Pennsylvania to California. Then there was the call from the coast guard to inform us my father and uncle had been rescued at sea. We knew they were late coming home from their fishing trip, but we didn't know they were adrift at sea. However, the telephone could be a very handy thing for my mother. She could call my friends on the phone and tell me it was time to come home.
            As I reached my teenage years I discovered the art of talking endlessly and not saying anything to my friends who did the same. The sole purpose being to irritate my parents, and this I learned when I had teenagers.

            In my later years I found the phone a nuisance but necessary in my business as an interior designer.  I spent most of my days on the phone with clients and vendors. One day a salesperson appeared at my office begging five minutes of my time. “I have the perfect solution for people on the go, you will love this.” was his opening line. He opened his brief case and pulled out a telephone that was at least a foot long and big enough that my hand could barely fit around. It weighed at least two pounds.
“This is a car phone. It will allow you to keep in touch with your office whenever you are on the road. You can conduct business from your car. It’s fantastic!”
            “You’re joking,” I replied. “The only time during the day that I have any peace and quiet and time to think creatively is when I am in my car. Thanks but no thanks!” The look on his face was non-believing. “
“How could I not want the latest thing? Any body who is anybody will have one!”
“I guess I am nobody,” was my reply.
Two day’s later I entered a client’s home with a key. She was at work in the Portland Mayor’s office and had called to say she would not turn on the alarm if I wanted to go in and measure the windows. Of course she forgot and turned on her alarm. It was so loud that it was rattling the windows and hurt my ears. I ran to the neighbors on both sides of the house and across the street, but no one was home. I waited in my car for the police to come, and about twenty of the longest minutes of my life later, a patrol car pulled up. “Should I arrest you for breaking and entering or noise pollution?” he asked with a grin.      
He went in the house, turned off the alarm and explained that he got the code from the alarm company. He told me to finish my business and lock the door on the way out. He also told me that he knew my client well and had responded several times to her alarm. He called her at work, and her office informed him that she was chairing a committee meeting on the escalation of home burglaries in the Portland area. We had a good laugh and then he said, “Too bad you don’t have one of those new car phones, you could have called the police”.

            One night after a dinner out with friends, I came home about 10:00 and since it was too early for bed, I settled on the couch to catch some television. The phone rang and when I answered a quavering voice said, “I would like to make a pledge.” 
            I told her she had the wrong number and we both hung up. I turned to OPB, and sure enough it was pledge week. My phone number was 245-2345. The pledge number was 245-2346, and I usually got a call or two during pledge week. About 10 minutes later the phone rang again. It was the same quivering voice wanting to make a pledge. Again I told her she had the wrong number and this time she apologized profusely, but before hanging up I explained that she wanted a six instead of a five.
            A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time I had pen and paper ready, and I took her pledge information. Then she told me the story of how she had been calling the wrong number and a very nice lady answered and gave her the right number. After we hung up I called in her pledge and mine, and I have been an OPB member ever since.

            It was summer and the weather had been great. I told my crew that I wouldn’t be in the office before 10:00 the next morning because I had client appointment that night and I fully intended to sleep in. My phone rang at 7:30. I answered, “Do you know what time it is?”
            A male voice responded, “Yes gorgeous, I know what time it is, and I know how you look just waking up, and I was wondering why I wasn’t there? But I’m calling to see if you would like to go on a picnic today. The day is beautiful, and I don’t have to be in the office today, so what do you say?”
            By this time I was awake and wondering who on earth this was. I would hate to think I have slept with someone and not recognized his voice…that was just not my style. When I asked who is inviting me to a picnic? He responded, “Come on Sally, don’t kid. You know who this is.  We had dinner last week and a great night and morning in bed.” Evidently Sally had more style than I did, and now I was intrigued.
            “Where did we have dinner?”
            “Zeffiro. Come on, you remember.”
            Wow, I thought, that was the newest restaurant in town and very expensive so Sally did have more style. “Listen to me, we did not have dinner and my name isn’t Sally. You obviously have a wrong number at 7:30 in the morning, and I am not happy.”
            “Are you sure this is not Sally? Is your number 245-2345?”
When I replied, “It seems Sally gave you a wrong number.”
I expected some protests that she wouldn’t do such a thing but without missing a beat he said, “Well, she wasn’t that good in bed anyway. You sound really sexy, would you like to go on a picnic?”
“Well, I would. You sound sexy, too, and I think we could have great fun. I will be honest with you, I have a weight problem, but I am down to 350.” The phone went dead.
Now that I was wide-awake I got ready for work and went to my office. When they asked why I came in so early I told them about my phone call. They all laughed and Helen said, “Lee go write that down and put it in your book.”
I used to say when something crazy happened, “One day I am going to write a book!”

I had been retired for one week and was already bored. My son’s friend was working with a company that did political polling and had just been promoted. One day she called and pleaded for me to help out as they had a rush poll to do and had several people out sick…and two had quit.
I went to the office took a short test, and they hired me. What an experience that was!
I was amazed at the messages people left on their answering machines and the old people who loved answering polls just to have someone to talk to. It was also a confirmation of my opinion that a large percentage of the American people should not be allowed to vote due to stupidity. The call that made me quit was truly funny.
A young man of twenty-eight from Hood River didn’t know the president’s name let alone his congressman or senators. He answered every question with a question. I was thinking, “how does he live, he’s as dumb as a fence post”. At the end of the poll we were supposed to ask, “Do you have any questions?” 
When he answered yeah, I thought maybe he’d taken an interest in his government. Then he asked, “Do you date?”
Flabbergasted, I answered, “Yes, yes I do but I live in San Francisco.”
“Oh damn” was his response and hung up.
The auditor who listened in on phone calls came over to my desk laughing and said, “I could not believe how dumb that guy was but you were great keeping your cool. You deserve a raise”
I said, “Thank you very much but this will be my last week. My frustration factor is full.”

Yes, Mr. Bell you gave the world a great invention, but gone are the days of the polite phone operator; she has been replaced by the frustrating voice mail. Gone is the rotary dial and the ability to connect with people.
Instead we have phones that can answer any question that you ask, take pictures of things that should not be photographed. And now you don’t even have to talk on a phone; you can type out your message in shorthand. But mostly today’s phones keep humans from connecting to humans. I thought it was just desserts when the Japanese government said that the number one accident for teenagers was walking into objects while texting. If I never hear the words selfie and apps again, it will be too soon.
I am hoping that soon texting will be limited to a certain area like smoking. I have banned phones at my dinner table, and if someone has to answer their cell phone they can go into another room. Phones should not be allowed in public places as there are things I have overheard that could get people arrested and things that make me think less of my fellow man. But the lingering question I have Mr. Bell is why does my phone mostly ring when I am in the bathroom?
                                                                                                          Lee V. 
                                                                                                          12 Nov 2014

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Italian Christmas


   About the time that I realized that it was impossible for the big fat man in the red suit to slide down a chimney, I knew what Christmas was all about. It was the Christmas Eve gatherings in the Italian tradition: Aunts, uncles, cousins, special food, things that we looked forward to all year long. The days of preparation, and when old enough, I got to help. Grandpa Biase had a small room that he used as a pantry, with all his pots and pans and shelves from ceiling to floor and by Christmas Eve it was filled with Italian Cheesecake, an assortment of cookies that would make the local bakery look wanting.

   For Catholics, it was a fast day, no meat just fish, several kinds and pasta of course. The dough balls were my favorite. Little balls of light, fluffy dough with an anchovy in the middle was for before dinner and the ones with white raisins and warm honey mixed with whiskey drizzled over the top, were served after dinner with the other desserts. We had pizzelles, biscotti, little turnovers filled with dates and raisins and various Italian candies. My brother and I loved the nougat and almond that came in little boxes with beautiful pictures on them. We would collect and save them to build things.

   After dinner, while the woman cleaned up, the men would usually start a card game and they would play until it was time for church. It was a struggle to stay awake but I loved midnight mass, as there was music and everyone was in a good mood and it was all very festive.

   We usually took turns, one year with the Seraphines, the next with the Palianis. I loved them both, but my mother's family, the Palianis were known for their volatility. So it was always interesting. The penny ante card games were a lot louder than the Seraphines. Grandpa Paliani played Santa Claus and with his mustache and round belly he was very believable but the Italian cheroot that he always had in the right side of his mouth gave him away.

   The first Christmas in our new home in Baden was memorable because my brother and I looked in the cubbyhole upstairs, which was forbidden and saw all the Christmas presents. Everything I had asked for and them some. We must have been good! Christmas morning brought me a coloring book and a 10-cent box of crayons. My brother got something like an airplane model. What a shock, we acted appropriately grateful and it wasn't until about two in the afternoon and I couldn't stand it anymore and blurted out, “What happened to all the presents in the cubbyhole?” To which my mother calmly replied, “Those went to children who didn't look in the cubbyhole before Christmas. . After my parents had a good laugh, they brought out the presents and we never looked in the cubbyhole again at Christmas time.

   After the war, when the Palianis headed to California, Christmas looked a lot different. Our first Christmas in California was such a shock. It was at least 75 degrees and we had dinner on our patio surrounded by flowers and a banana tree. Lots of family did not make up for the lack of snow! My brother and I moaned and groaned and when friends came after dinner one of them had a Lincoln convertible and took us for a ride and we went to the beach. Sand does not make up for snow.

   The families grew and the children became adults and we still went to Aunt Lena's and Uncle Carlo's for Christmas Eve. Grandpa Paliani was bouncing great grandchildren on his knee while playing Santa. He was 95 when he died. He was caught in a rainstorm while on his daily 10-mile walk and came down with a bad cold that turned into pneumonia. That brought an end to that era of Christmas Eve parties.

   Being married, it would soon be my turn to host Christmas Eve. We had been in our new home a few years and it was our turn to host Christmas Eve. My two nephews and our two boys were the same ages, five and four. My aunt and her family and three children were there also. My parents and younger sisters completed our gathering. We had our traditional dinner and were just finishing up when we heard the sound of jingle bells and noise on the roof and the front door flew open and in pranced an elf. He yelled at the children, “Rudolf needs carrots, quickly, carrots!” Where upon Mark who was the oldest passed out cold, he hit the floor in a split second and the three others ran to the refrigerator to find carrots. They ran to the elf and gave him the bag of carrots while Mark laid on the floor with his hand to his head moaning, “I don't believe it, I don't believe it. Santa is on the roof.” While the elf was feeding the reindeer, Santa came marching through the door and thanked the children for the carrots. We had no idea who this Santa was, but I did recognize the elf as someone from church. After the all the children got to talk to Santa, my aunt who may have had too much wine sat on his lap and sang Santa Baby ala Eartha Kitt. We never did discover who played Santa, I think Aunt Jean embarrassed him so he never ‘fessed up.

   Another memorable Christmas Eve was our first Christmas in Salt Lake. There were 12 children so we hired a Santa and he was very good. We left a bag of small presents on the front porch and he brought them in for the children. By the end of the party one of the children was not feeling so good, we figured too much candy and cookies. A Christmas morning phone call let us know that she did not have too much candy, she had the chicken pox. What a present! Two weeks later one of my children came down with chicken pox and one by one every two weeks we had chicken pox. It was the gift that kept on giving.

   Many Christmases have come and gone, the loss of family members makes it a bitter sweet time. My sister and her family and I and mine still celebrate together with the old fashioned seven fishes and everyone seems to love it. We have included a few friends with an Italian background and the young people talk about keeping up the traditions.

   My responsibility is cookies for dessert and if I can find smelts this year it is my turn to fry.

   I wish I could do some of the cookies Grandpa Biase made, but Santa would have to bring me the gift of endurance and patience. May your holiday be filled with good food, family and friends.

                                                                                                                                    -- Lee V., 2013

Thank you Lee for a wonderful memory...

Happy Holidays to all...

Friday, August 16, 2013


Many people do not believe in the supernatural, "fortune tellers", or past lives, and some do not believe in fate while others accept some or all of these.  I've personally known too many people with such experiences, including my own.  Even before my experiences, I've always said that life is stranger than fiction, and it appears so!


On November 5, 1981 a friend dragged me off to visit Portland’s famed psychic, Michael Thompson. I remember the date because it was my ex-friend Terry’s birthday. The object of this visit was for Michael to tell me how or should I get Terry out of my life.

Michael was sitting at a little round table draped with a paisley print cloth (very gypsy looking), and in the middle of this table was an honest-to-goodness, real live crystal ball! I almost laughed. 

As I sat down, he closed his eyes, and soon his chin dropped to his chest. After a few minutes I thought, “This joker has fallen asleep!  The thought had barely passed through my mind when he said, “I am not sleeping. I am seeing things that concern me.” 

He then picked up a deck of cards and dealt out a row, studied them for a moment; still he had not looked at me. He picked up the cards, shuffled and dealt them again. He turned to look at the wall next to him and said, “You think you are divorced, but you are not. You have two Scorpios in your life, a husband and this boyfriend. Get rid of them both. It will take you several years but you must make a permanent break with both of them. Your husband thinks of you as his possession and will not easily relinquish this relationship. The boyfriend is one of your life teachers. He will always be in your life, but the relationship will change. Before that happens, there will be much happiness as well as tears. You will learn life lessons that you need in order to progress; the most important being self-introspection. From that you will grow to be a better person, but it will be a painful journey. You will help him with a major change in his life. This man will never be happy in this life, as he is not willing to learn his lessons. It is the same for your husband. These two men are not willing to make the changes necessary to achieve what they want in this life. You are willing to do what is necessary, but don’t always know what that is. Your confusion comes from major issues involving your mother.” (Now that, I already knew.)

 “You should not travel in a car during the month of December.” That was not good news for someone who made her living traveling in a car and whose busiest month was December.

“I do see you traveling south, next year about the fourth month. It has something to do with your parents.”

I said, “Yes, they live in Ashland.” 

He replied, “Please don’t tell me anything, I am here to tell you. No, it is not Ashland, it is further south, maybe California. Yes it is southern California and while it will be very difficult for you to make this trip, you must do it. The discomfort must be overlooked and you must go. I can’t tell you why, only that it is important for you to go.”

All this time he is staring at the wall with his eyes closed. Then he picked up the cards, shuffled, dealt and finally looked me in the eyes and said, “Someone with dark hair, very close to you will die.”  Again, he read my thoughts, “No it is not your mother. She has much to do before this life is over. I can tell that you do not want to know more. Just remember you must take this trip.”  

He turned to the wall again. “You have four sons. One will cause you much heartache. There will be an enforced break in your relationship but he will use this time to make major changes in his life and will do very well. You will then become closer. Another son who is musically gifted will go through much anguish over his career and his relationship with his father. He will have moderate success as a musician, but will be very successful in another field.

“You will meet a man who is tall, dark and handsome (Ha, all the fortune tellers say that!). He has something to do with the Army Corps of Engineers, but he is not in the Army. I see the Navy or Marines involved.”

That didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but none of this did. Michael stood without looking at me and said that’s all I can tell you today.” He turned, walked behind a curtain, and that was it.

The hair on my arms stood up, and it was the eeriest feeling I ever had. All the way home I concentrated on what he said and how he said it and immediately wrote down everything he told me and impressions of him as he spoke. I was going to remember all this and make sure Madeline knew that he didn't get anything right. After all, Val swore he had signed the divorce papers, and I was sure that Terry would come to his senses and act sane!

That evening I called son Mark in Salt Lake City, and asked him to find out if his father lied to me when he said he signed the divorce papers. When I think back to that moment, I can still hear Mark laughing. Well, that answered that question. We would just have to wait and see about the other things.

About a week later my brother Del called my sister and me to remind us that next year would mark our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and his and Kay’s 25th. Did we think it would be a smart thing to start and planning something now? Also we should do it in Southern California because that is where friends and family were. We decided on April 4th. Oh boy, here was that trip to Southern California in the fourth month of next year. But surely it wouldn't be so difficult for me to get there. I had a new car; Brad and I could drive it or fly.

I wasn’t thinking about Michael’s dire prediction for December until Brad and I were sitting at a red light the week before Christmas. I looked up in time to see a car run the red light as a car with the right of way entered the intersection. The car that got hit spun around and stopped. The car that ran the red light picked up speed and headed right for us. It wiped out the driver’s side of my car, bounced around the car behind us and wiped out the next car which was a brand new Cadillac being driven home from the dealer. She spun around that car and went up over the curb into a parking lot where she managed to destroy two parked cars. It wasn't until late in January that I learned that the lady who ran the red light was looking into the sun and thought she had the green. On impact with the first car, she hit her head and was unconscious as her foot got wedged on the gas pedal, which caused the speeding. I learned this when we both went to the same chiropractor, and he realized I was part of what she called, “a minor mishap!”  We all thought it was a major disaster. Michael called it again!

The month of January went by and the body shop had still not received the new doors for my car. It seemed to be a problem with the factory in Japan, and no one could tell me when we would get the new body parts. The first of February found me at a charity auction where one of the items up for bid was the use of a 15-passenger van. Now I ask you, wasn't that the answer to my problem? We could get my sister and family, Brad and I, and our entire luggage with room to spare. Oh, we would have great fun all driving together to So Cal. Boy, was I going to outsmart that pessimist Michael. I plunked down my $200.00, which was the winning bid and gloated all day Sunday.

Monday morning found me sitting on my rear in my parking lot, where I stepped into a small hole and broke my foot. The doctor told me I picked the worst bone in a foot to break, and I would have to go to the hospital and have a pin put in it. I informed the doctor that when I broke my elbow years before, the pins worked their way out because the doctor said I was allergic to surgical steel. He assured me that people were not allergic to surgical steel.

Four cast changes because of swelling, and six weeks later, still no healing. They then determined I was allergic to the pin and they would remove it, and for sure I would have no walking cast. I was in a wheel chair for a month and panicked because it was getting close to the time to leave for California. 

When I told the doctor what I had planned, he said absolutely not. Driving all that way was out of the question as the vibration would not be good. After I cried and threatened to jump off a bridge and leave a note to his wife naming him as my lover … he agreed to put a walker on my cast, but I would have to fly and have to have two seats so I could put my leg up. I could only get two seats as far as Fresno but figured that it wasn't so far from Fresno to Orange County, and he didn't have to know. 

Well, my leg knew and that was the most miserable flight and week I have ever spent. Michael was right, it was the most difficult trip I ever made, but I still didn't know why I had to make it. I soon realized that it was just wonderful being with my family because it was the first time in years that Del, M.J., Judy, Mom, Dad and I were all together.

August of that year was one of the worst times of our lives. Judy died and then I knew why we all had to make that trip to California. She was the dark haired person close to me who would die.

I am not sure that it is a good thing to know about the future unless it is all good or you can do something to change the bad things.

About a year later, Mark took an extended vacation to Texas courtesy of the federal government. Some might call that a break in our relationship, but he did make a major life change. That was another one for Michael.

That just leaves tall, dark and handsome to be accounted for. An acquaintance that knew Terry said, “You must get him out of your life, and boy, do I have a great guy for you.” He hounded me for about a month before I finally agreed to have dinner with this person. It was the first week of December; we were in the midst of a huge job redoing some models in a Palm Springs project. The other designer was an episodic drunk and chose that time to do his thing. That left me in charge of everything so I was not looking forward to the usual turmoil associated with a blind date. 

Saturday night came, the doorbell rang, and when I opened the door ... there he was, six feet two, broad shoulders, narrow hips, black hair with a smattering of silver at the temples, bright blue eyes and a smile that could have sold toothpaste. That was the beginning of a great evening. We went to dinner and conversation was easy and good. He sold commercial insurance but didn't really like it. I asked how long he was doing a job he didn't like. “Only a year,” he replied. “I retired as a major in the Marine Corps, but most of my 30 years I was attached to the Army Corps of Engineers.”

The first thing I did when I got home was look in my journal and sure enough, that was exactly what Michael said. But he made no mention of the fact that tall, dark and handsome was going to quit his job in two weeks to live in an art colony in Mexico and paint.

This is the story of my psychic, and it is all true. Gathering the pictures of my parent’s 50th anniversary party brought back these memories. When I look at the pictures of the party, I saw so many people who were dear to me and within a year or so they were dead. So yes, Michael was right when he said, “No matter what, you must go to California.”
- Lee V., 2013 


Lee is a member of the Woodstock Community Center writing class which encourages everyone to write childhood memories and family stories.

Thank you Lee for sharing your wonderful story.


Thursday, July 25, 2013


Once again, a member of the writing class has shared a wonderful story.  I can't imagine being this brave and this lucky!  Although times were different then, no doubt luck had a huge part in his adventure!


Sometimes when I get caught shaking my head at the perceived foolishness of the young, which is so easy to do at my age, up pops all my past mistakes, my hubris, my misconceptions, risks taken in ignorance.  One such a blissfully ignorant undertaking still makes me shake my head in wonder at my stupidity, and I shiver. 

My first baby girl was born in August of 1964.  The miracle of this event hit me like a bolt of lightning after the plodding months of pregnancy.  This beautiful little being was mine, my responsibility, my joy, one reason for being. My first thoughts went to my mother. I had to go home to have her hold my Christina, share my joy with her.

Since home was over 6,000 miles away, this was not so easy to do.  I had lived in Oregon for two years.  My husband and I were married in my hometown in Germany.  It took six months to get my visa so that I could come to the USA with him. My German passport was still valid at that time. It had been granted several years earlier for a high school trip to Great Britain.  I was set to travel to America and to exciting adventures in my new home. 

A green card was sent to me several months after we arrived in Baker, called Baker City today. I was adjusting well to the American way of life, but the need to go back and connect with my mother was now overwhelming. So when Christina was nine months old and the sweetest easiest baby ever, I had her ticket and mine to Hannover, Germany via New York and Frankfurt.  Since Christina was an American citizen and I was not, she had to have her own passport with this adorable little passport picture.

When I checked my own passport, I noticed that it had expired a few months earlier.  Here comes the incredible act of foolishness I tended to be possessed with in my youth.  I assumed that I no longer needed this passport.  I did not find it necessary to check with anyone who knew anything about traveling across borders.  On my green card it said “in lieu of a passport” and that was good enough for me.  Off I flew with the baby in my arms to New York. 

I got to New York without any trouble, no security checks. There was a special airplane bassinet and other pampering from a not overworked attendant for Christina and me, after all this was 1965.
At La Guardia airport I checked in at the International desk of Lufthansa to continue my trip. The agent looked at me with open mouth when I presented my tickets, Christina’s passport and my green card. 

“You have to go back,” he said, you cannot leave this country without a passport.  

“Impossible,” I replied, “I paid for this expensive trip, and I have to keep going!”

Visions of an embarrassing return to Baker without having been in Germany, knowing that I would not have a chance to repeat this trip for a long time kept me fighting.  I really do not remember how I talked them into letting me board the plane.  I told everyone I had a passport in Baker and I would send for it as soon as I got to Germany, leaving out that that passport was expired.  The knowledge I have now that it is a lot easier to allow someone to leave a country than to get permission for entrance probably had something to do with it. In any case we were on our way across the ocean.  

In Frankfurt I climbed down the stairs of the plane with a bit more apprehension and continued to go through customs.  There was no discussion, just a look of disbelief and I was led into a small office.  Here someone took Christina out of my arms.  I started to panic but was told that she would be fine at an in-airport nursery close to us.  Then the questioning began:  Where was I from, where was I going, why was I going, had I run away, was I stateless, was I a fugitive, a refugee and on and on.  I told my story and told it again – my interrogators could hardly believe that someone could be so blissfully ignorant, so dumb, so careless about international travel. They really did not know what to do with me and my baby.  

Finally, they decided to call my hometown and check with the courthouse there about the information I had given them – birth date, place, address of my mother, etc.  It all checked out and all was as I had said.  Then it was decided that I could travel home since I was going to send for my passport from there. A parting remark from one of the agents was.  “Make sure you have that passport when you return. If you think we were hard on you, it will be much, much harder to get back into the USA!” But I would have my passport renewed in my hometown, and I would be fine.

It was wonderful to be back home after three years.  I showed off my baby wherever I went, Mutti cooked my favorite dishes, friends and relatives wanted to hear about my new life and told me about their changes.  My husband had sent my expired passport.  I went to the courthouse with confidence.  “No,” they said, “we cannot renew your passport.  You are no longer a resident here.” 

I was stunned.  I knew better than to argue with a German bureaucrat.  I slunk home to consider my options.  What amazes me today is that I did not seek advice from anyone, nor that anyone asked me about my passport.  Everyone must have assumed that I knew what I was doing, and I was too embarrassed to tell them otherwise.  

I decided (or did I decide?) to do nothing and so the last day of my stay came and my family escorted Christina and me back to the airport in Hannover.  Our tickets were checked, suitcases weighed, but no one asked for passports since we were leaving the country. Today that would never happen! I looked with foreboding at my mother and uncle and aunt who were hugging Christina and kissing me ‘Good Bye.’  Would I see them again very soon, or worse, would I not see them for a long time, locked up somewhere with my baby on Ellis Island?  I didn’t even consider that my precious baby could be taken from me ... which has happened, as I now know,  to other immigrants with faulty papers.

We arrived in New York tired of course.  Customs loomed.  I handed over the passports, Christina’s on top with her immunization records all in order, legal, and my passport below, outdated.  The middle aged customs official smiled at us and started paging through the green booklets.  I was waiting for the explosion, for the open mouth, the incredulous questions.  But none came.  He handed the passports back and I moved on.  I could have hugged him, but no, I moved coolly on.  He had not notice the date of expiration in my passport, and I was back in the USA!  We probably looked so innocent, so average, young mother with baby going home. It never occurred to him that there could be something wrong, that someone would dare to travel with incomplete papers. Forty-eight years later I can still see the face of that agent and his absolutely wonderful smile.

The year after I got back I applied for citizenship. It was granted just before my second child was born.  Being separated from my children because of my different nationality had been giving me nightmares. There are lots of stories of immigrants being sent back to their country of origin while the children, American citizens, have to remain here in the USA.  I have heard of people trying to enter with incomplete paper who were not allowed back in the USA for many years.  I shake my head at my incredible foolishness.  I was young, I was lucky, but at least I now always carry an up to date passport!
                                                                                                                                                     – Kaethe W.

Kaethe, thank you for sharing!


Sunday, July 7, 2013

My Friend Roy by Norm E.

Harry Chapin's Song Circle was the inspiration for Topic 130 in my writing booklet.  His song states:

"All my life's a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.


It seems like I've been here before;
I can't remember when;
But I have this funny feeling:
That we'll all be together again."

My focus on this topic stems from a personal experience where I was drawn back to people in my past.  I believe in circles.  Our lives are so intricately entwined, and if we open enough doors, we will all make that discovery.  As you can see one of the members in the write groups I facilitate has experienced his own circle.  Thank you Norm for sharing with all of us!


Following high school, I suppose that I was like many of my peers who knew that they wanted to go to college but didn't know in what to major.  Going both full and part time, I finally was able to complete my lower division courses, and it was now time to commit to a goal of some sort.  After some thought it seemed an easy decision as I had always been interested in art and therefore a career as an artist seemed to be the best match.  So I proceeded to take classes emphasizing fine art with a few classes in commercial art thrown into the mix.  Being young and not certain of what the future would hold, I still did not have a specific plan for a profession after graduation.  Also because of my age, thoughts of how I would make a living with my art never really entered into the equation.

A few terms went by, and I was making progress toward my goal of graduation when I decided that I needed to shift gears and work toward a major in Secondary Education with the emphasis on teaching art.  A major factor influencing my decision was the mentoring of an art teacher in High School by the name of Ruth Tennant.  She symbolized the bohemian, youthful energy of the 60’s  despite being from another generation.  Ruth was truly an “older” person---probably in her early 50’s!   But even at her “advanced” age she was a free spirit and encouraged her students to experiment with their art, try new things and really find the joy of making a work that was truly their own.  In 1966 she was one of those teachers that broke the mold of those in that profession.  Ruth not only channeled my thinking about my art but also about life and the changes that were happening to our world at the time.  By 1969 I knew that I wanted to be like her.

Filled with youthful vigor that was not tempered with practicality I started taking the courses needed for my new major.  The course requirements were difficult, and I struggled.  As time went on I began talking with others that I knew that had graduated with their teaching degrees and who were unable to find jobs.  Teaching jobs at that time were nearly impossible to land, and many had to leave the state to find work.  I began to question whether the course I was on was the right one, and on an impulse I decided to drop out of school for a while to reassess my life goals.  Doing so, I lost my student deferment and one month later received my draft notice.  Uncle Sam had some other life goals in mind for me, and it involved learning to be a soldier in the US Army.

There is a lot of ground to cover in my military experience, but I would like to fast forward to 1972 when, having left the Army, I needed to plan again for my future which involved more education.  Having amassed a lot of credit hours and not wanting to go back into Secondary Ed, I decided to get some additional art training at PCC this time following a path to a degree in Graphic Design.  One of classes was called “plate-making and printing”, and was taught by Roy Gyllstrom.  Roy was a part-time teacher and worked full time for an advertising firm.  Many of the teachers that I studied under at PCC were also professionals that used their art skills in the real world.  So the students were not just learning theoretical ideas from a text book, but they were learning practical skills that had a direct application in the job market.  This is what those of us in their classes wanted----to learn real job skills that would land us a good job once our studies were completed.

Roy was a good teacher, but strict, and he expected us to be exacting in the work that we did.  The other classes that I was taking taught us how to create quality original art that could be used for advertising.  Roy’s class showed us how to copy that artwork, make it into a photo negative and position it in a layout with print that could be used in a magazine or newspaper.  It was the final step in having your artwork published and it was rewarding to learn this important skill.

So after two years of learning a variety of job related skills and producing a portfolio of some of my best work, I graduated and walked out into the real world looking for a real job in my field, filled with high hopes.  After a few months of going door to door, showing my portfolio to every advertising agency, print shop and independent art studio in town, I wasn't able to find a job.  It turned out to be a kind of catch 22.  I was told that I couldn't be hired because I didn't have any published work.  But I couldn't get my work published unless I had a job.  And so the cycle went on.  Totally exhausted and terribly discouraged, I finally gave up on my dream.  I took a variety of part time crummy jobs to help out with the bills.  I even worked for a friend for a couple of years in his furniture refinishing shop.  Finally, I got a call at 9:30 pm one night in 1977 from a guy named Dale Johnson who was the head of personnel at Northwest Natural Gas Co.  He told me that he was looking at my job application (that I turned in about a year before and had no recollection of doing that) and said that everything looked good and would I be interested in coming in for an interview.  I said sure, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The story of my career in pipeline construction will be for another time, so we will fast forward again 31 years to the time that I retired from NW Natural in January of 2009.

Due to physical problems and job related stress, I retired early at 60 years old.  Because of my years of service I figured that I could live comfortably on my pension and my social security benefits.  The next decision was to decide how I was going to spend my retirement years.  I have a number of hobbies which I knew would help to take up some of that time and there was always things that needed to be repaired around our old house.  But there was a desire in me to get back to doing what I started to do almost 40 years before.  I really wanted to start doing some sort artwork again.  During those intervening years from the time that I quit looking for a job as a graphic designer, people would ask me to do posters to advertise community events and I even designed some of my own personal greeting cards.  Each card was an original piece of art custom designed for only one person.  These small projects kept me busy for a while but as we had kids and other commitments outside the home, time and energy for art became less frequent.  But with retirement came a lot of extra time, less energy than in my youth, but still a lot of desire.  One day I was thinking back to a gentleman that I met during my short working experience at a company called Pacific Stationery co on 2nd and SW Washington in downtown Portland.  His name was Larry Smelser and he ran an art studio called “The Brush and Palette Association”, located in the Oak Grove area.  He invited me to pay them a visit sometime.  That was back in 1972!  Well by this time it was 2010 and 38 years had passed.  I didn't know if the association even still existed.  So I looked them up in the phone book and was pleasantly surprised to find they were still around and so I gave them a call.  A nice lady answered the phone and I said that they were recommended by Larry Smelser and I was wondering they were still taking new students.  She said yes and the next day I went to pay them a visit.  As soon as I walked in the door I was welcomed by the studio full of artists.  Many of them said hello and made me feel right at home.  I also found out from one of the students that Mr. Smelser had passed away back in the 1980’s.  Well, one older gentleman on the opposite side of the room looked familiar so I decided to go over and introduce myself.  I extended my hand and told him my name and was shocked when he told me that he was Roy Gyllstrom.  This was the same gentleman that had been my art teacher almost 40 years before!  The very idea that my former teacher and I could be peers in an art class together was mind boggling.  But here I was and there he was and it was so hard for me to believe that our paths had crossed again after all of those years.

I asked the teacher of the class if it was o.k. for me to join the class and was told  that I could.  I explained a little of my background and she thought that I would fit right in.  So the following Tuesday I showed up with drawing pad and pencils in hand, ready to go to work.  I spent the first two or three classes mainly doing sketches.  There were models who came and posed and even some of the people in the class volunteered to be models.  Our teacher was Helen Trayle, a retired art teacher, professional print maker and an outstanding artist in her own right.  She was 92 and the same age as Roy.  Helen was strict with us on the fundamentals of composition, mixing colors and having a clear goal of what we wanted to do with each piece of art.  Her discipline was necessary for me as I had been so long out of practice and away from the very basic principles of art.  In time I began to feel more confident and my completed work reflected that.  The people in the class were so helpful in giving me tips and ideas to incorporate into my work.  It was a very positive and entirely enjoyable environment to be in and one that I have looked forward to each week.

But let me get back to the essence of my story.  One day after class one of the other students asked me if I could give Roy a ride back to his residence after class.  I told them that I would be glad to do that.  Little did I know that this was just the beginning of what would be a lasting friendship.

The 2 mile drive to his retirement home each week gave us a few moments to talk and get to know each other.  The man that I had known and respected as my teacher was now my fellow student and I could relate to him as more of an equal.  That is not to downplay the years of experience and skills that he had gained as a professional artist, teacher and as a recreational artist in his own studio.  But he was no longer just my teacher Mr. Gyllstrom...he was now my friend Roy.  Most of the time I would just drop Roy off at his front door, say goodbye, we wave at each other and I would leave.  After a few months he would occasionally invite me up to his apartment for a visit.  We would talk for an hour or more and it seemed that we had many things in common.  I really enjoyed our visits and it gave me the chance to get to know more about this man that I respected and admired.

Roy had been born in Chicago and his family moved to Michigan when he was very young.  He grew up there with his 6 other siblings, Roy being the 3rd oldest.  Now the only ones left are Roy and his youngest brother who lives in Minnesota.  Roy’s parents and grandparents were from Sweden and he is very proud of his Swedish roots.  His grandfather was a fisherman and Roy remembers him being a very tall and strong man.  He was also a tough, no-nonsense kind of person with a gruff exterior.  But there must have been a kinder, gentler side to him because his hobby was crocheting doilies.  A real man of contrasts to say the least.  He mentioned that his last name in Swedish mean “strong river”, which Roy is very proud of.  When WWII started Roy joined the army and spent his service in the Pacific theater as a combat infantryman.  He recalls one incident in particular that changed his life.  Roy had jumped in a foxhole to take cover from Japanese gunners that had his unit pinned down.  As he was laying there another soldier jumped into the same foxhole, not knowing that Roy was in there, landing squarely  in the middle of his back with his combat boots.  Roy heard a loud crack when the other soldier landed on him and pain shot through his body.  But there was no time to worry about the pain and so he continued to fight and survived the battle.  Roy’s combat group continued on through the months of fighting, capturing one island after the next.  Finally it was time for him to go back home.  When he arrived back in the states he was told that x rays showed that he had cracked vertebrae, but there was nothing that they could do to treat his injury and he would have to live with it.  That injury has stayed with him all of his life and he lives with constant pain in his back. Despite this he married, had children and had a wonderful life.

On one of our visits, as I was preparing to leave he came over to me and said “For what it’s worth...I love you.”  I told him that I loved him too and we hugged.  He went on to say during another one of our visits that he had perhaps 5 people in his life that he could count on and I was one of them.  I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.  My own father passed away in 1982 and Roy had become not just a friend but a kind of father figure to me.  I plan to continue to be that friend that he can count on and enjoy him for as long as he has left on this earth.  His friendship has added a new and wonderful dimension to my life and I will always remember the time we've had to spend together.

*     *     *     *     *

What stories do you have which can relate to some type of circle?