Thursday, May 5, 2016

Going to Canada?

With Trump running for president, the joke is that people are moving to Canada.  Wasn’t so long ago that Hubby’s parents sought to get there to flee post war Germany.  They had Mennonite relatives in Winnipeg willing to give them sponsorship, so they crossed the Atlantic in October, amid storms and mountainous seas to get there. It was no joke.

Years ago, I myself boarded the USNS Kelley out of New York, bound for Newfoundland one early spring.  We lived in Newfoundland for two years.  

My grandmother, who lived in Pasadena (really, the little ol’ lady from Pasadena) thought “going to Canada” sounded fun.  Sorta the opposite of snowbirding.  She came to visit us one Christmas, got snowed in and she wound up staying until late February.  Can’t say she regretted giving up her sunny winter in southern California.  She and my mom drank Earl Gray tea and ate fruitcake for weeks.

A friend of our loans us a condo in Whistler occasionally, in trade for loaning him our boat for a week.  So off we go to Canada once more, like regular migrating Canada geese.  On a recent trek up there, we picked up some friends who were joining us, and prepared to enter the freeway on a cloverleaf access point.  There stood a solitary Canada goose.  Not another goose to be found, no water to swim in. 

 “That goose looks lost,” said our friend Judy.

“He must be trying to get back to Canada,” said her husband Dave.

"Even the Canada geese are going back to Canada now. Are they worried about Trump too?" I asked.

At that moment, the goose stuck out a wing.

“He’s trying to hitchhike,” Hubby said. "Why fly when you can get a ride?"

“Don’t pick him up!  He looks dangerous,” I hollered.  By this time we were all dying of laughter. 

We passed the goose by, and he glared at us, wing still outstretched.

“Look, he’s flipping us The Bird for not picking him up,” said Dave.

Sure enough, as we looked back at the goose, he was bloody annoyed.  We laughed for five miles.

If you want to move to Canada, make sure you have lots of Earl Gray tea and cakes.  Just don't ask a Canada goose how to get there.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Creative Storytelling

I think it is great when creativity enters a story.  Embellishment, I call it.  All in the spirit of getting a laugh or making a funny story.  Never hurtful.

Exaggeration can be used in good writing, especially when told in a matter of fact way.  

When we passed by some cranes in Seattle's harbor used for loading ships, they loomed up pretty high over us, and I asked the grandchildren if they thought there was an elevator in them, or if the man who works in them had to climb up a ladder.

Hubby offered his opinion.  The crane simply picks up the operator in its teeth and lifts him to his station, like a giant friendly brontosaurus.

I'm glad he put in the "friendly" part, having learned his lesson from telling the previous generation that the Goat Tree (merely a boll-ridden gnarly specimen) came to life at night and ran through the forest where we were camping.  They still bring that up.

After a moment of silence while the children contemplated this, Ellie piped up, "I used to work on a crane."


Not "I want to work on a crane someday."

Not "It would be fun to work on a crane."

But "I USED to work on a crane."

She had it all worked out what it was like, what she did, and pictured it in her mind.  A storyteller, born and bred.  True to the breed, she is.  I suspect she's not going to grow up to operate a crane. President speechwriter, maybe?

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Shield of Truth, The Sword of Valor, and a Hairdryer

When I was in preschool, I distinctly remember one cold Newfoundland day when a little boy cut himself.  The teachers went to the closet where the Band-Aids were and THERE WEREN’T ANY.  

No Band-Aids? 

This was a disaster.  We kiddos began to be worried.  What to do?  No matter, the teachers assured us, there must be some in the desk.  No?  We children looked at each other fearfully, and watched as blood ran down our friend’s leg.  There is another closet, don’t worry, the teachers began using louder and louder voices.  By this time, panic had ensued, and many of us began to cry.  We must have a Band-Aid.  He’s bleeding.  BLEEDING!  With REAL blood!

One teacher announced, “Well, if we can’t find a Band-Aid, we’ll MAKE a Band-Aid.”

You can do that? We paused in our sympathetic sobs and wondered how this was even possible.

“Here, little ones, gather ‘round and pay attention. You may have to do this someday,” the teacher said.

She got into the big, big first aid kit for Dire Emergencies, where they had already looked for real Band-Aids, found some gauze and a tin of adhesive tape.  She held it up to a hushed crowd.  Then, while we watched with eyes the size of fried eggs, she proceeded with great aplomb and flourishes to cut a piece of gauze the very same size as a Band-Aid, and pulled off a piece of adhesive tape and snipped it expertly, so that it looked like our old familiar wonderful, healing Band-Aids.  She gently applied it, gave to boy a hug, and the entire preschool sighed in relief.  Crisis averted.  The boy was not going to have his leg fall off, nor was he going to be carted off bleeding to death. 

This brilliant woman had forestalled a major emergency of catastrophic proportions that day.  In the opinions of us wee ones, she deserved medals and crowns.  With sparkles. I never forgot her.

Fast forward a million years to the present, when we graylings have preschoolers coming to spend the day with us.  Believe me, I’ve got plenty of Band-Aids, including the sought after Frozen Anna/Elsa ones.  I’ve got boo-boo frogs, Elmo Ice Packs, cuddly animals, and every sort of thing a bumbling three-year-old might want.

Oh, we have our fair share of bumps and knocks, but the grandtwins are pretty resilient.  Their mother has called up “Up-a-dee!” when they fall, or “Good one!” when they run into each other.  They have a quick cry, want a hug, and they’re off running.

It was the Ice Monster that got them.  In Frozen.  If you haven’t seen that ubiquitous movie, look here: 

Scary, huh?  Then we pulled out an old book, Sleeping Beauty, and oh my, there is a dragon.  Band-Aids were not going to help, and one of them was so frightened by the Ice Monster and dragon that tears and hiding were necessary. This went on for some time, and it was obvious that helpless hiding was not solving the issue.

C’mon out!  Ice Monsters know not with whom they deal here.  No Ice Monster can withstand (dramatic pause) the purple Hair Dryer!  Ah ha!  Come with me.  Look in here.  Third drawer.  Anytime you need it, you just come in here and get it.  If you want, we can melt a whole ice cube to see what will happen to ice. 

And that Dragon?  I’ve got Dragon Weapons in the Halloween Box.  This!  This, my friends is The Sword of Valor, once taken from a pirate.  Plastic notwithstanding, it gleams!

You want to know how to make The Shield of Truth?  You have come to the right house!  You don’t get to be an adult without being able to pass the class in how to make Shields of Truth.  So you better learn now.  You must have a pie tin that’s been used to make a real apple pie. The pie has to have been made by someone who loves the people that will eat it.  Then you must use a gold ribbon that has once been wrapped around a present.  It can’t be a hair ribbon, it must be a present ribbon. Now, tape that around!  Look.  What you have here, my little valiant soldiers, is a real, honest Shield of Truth.

Now, when one of the twins wants to read the Frozen book for the 10,678,592nd time, the other one says, “Just a minute, I be right back,” and runs to the bathroom, where in the third drawer is the Greatest Weapon of All Time.  Meanwhile, the first twin pulls out The Sword of Valor from the book box where it now stays for such emergencies, and slips the Shield of Truth on.  Thus armed, they venture forth to do battle with foes of fear, and come out the victor.

Just today, I asked them if they wanted to go get the hairdryer and Jack said, “I don’t need that anymore.”

Everybody needs to overcome villains in their life.  It helps to have just the right sort of supplies to help you.  So be sure to pay attention, little ones, you may be making them for someone someday.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Renaming Food For Picky Eaters

One of our little grandmonkeys is a very picky eater.  His mama fixed him a smoothie the other day for breakfast.  Normally you’d think this would be a great surprise, and so yummy on a hot day.


It was new and therefore inedible.  Forget it.

Mama, however, has a lot of experience as head zookeeper, and knows just what to do with little monkeys who won’t eat.  “Did I say smoothie?” she asked.  “I meant Breakfast Ice Cream.  This is pink Breakfast Ice Cream.”

The Breakfast Ice Cream was gone in a flash.

Another mother tells of her daughter not wanting to eat ravioli.  She told Little Disgusted Daughter that ravioli were really Pizza Pillows.  Yum!  Disgust morphed into delight.

Didn’t all our parents tell us that broccoli were really trees, and we were the giants?  Didn’t they tell us that carrots would give us X-RAY VISION?  Wasn’t asparagus really Thunder Grass, and we were dinosaurs?  Of course, there is no better name for grapefruit than the French word pamplemousse.  My daughter was 15 before she found out it wasn’t called that at Safeway.

The Sugar Pops cereal of my childhood (pleeeeeease Mommy, buy this) became Corn Pops.  Healthier now?  I think not. The kiwi used to be called Chinese gooseberry, which sounds suspiciously like goose droppings. Around 1962, New Zealand growers rebranded it kiwi fruit, which is exotic and at the same time cute.  Perfect.  Canola oil used to be rapeseed oil.  Not buying THAT.  Orange roughy fish used to be slimehead fish, chilean sea bass used to be Patagonian toothfish, and sea urchins used to be whore’s eggs.  Sea snail can be legally marketed as abalone.

Not all picky eaters are children though, witness me and asparagus.  Hubby’s father, Opa, was not about to eat clam chowder.  “Pah,” he said. “I want good food!”  We told him we decided not to have clam chowder that night, so I made homemade potato soup instead.  Being a good German, he loves all things potato-y.  “Potato soup” was served and he gobbled it up.  Later we ‘fessed up and admitted our renaming.  To his credit, the next time we went to Red Lobster, he ordered clam chowder, saying it was his favorite.

So what are your renaming favorites?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sea-Faring Fourth of July Tale

In view of the fact that Independence Day is approaching, I have a sea tale for you.  The original was written by sea captain Charles H Barnard, whose adventures are chronicled in Marooned: The Sufferings and Adventures of Captain Charles H. Barnard.  It is a highly readable, intelligent, and often comical story of his sealing voyage south during the War of 1812.  Upon reaching the Falkland Islands, he finds a shipwrecked group of English men and women.  Offering to save them, even though his native America is at war with their country, he nevertheless has his ship seized from him. Marooned with four other men, the English sail off with Captain Barnard’s ship.  He lives two years on the islands, and eventually makes his way to Peru, Juan Fern├índez Islands, the Galapagos, Hawaii, China, around Cape Horn, the island of St. Helena’s in the middle of the South Atlantic, then finally after four years, comes home to New York.

The book is a good survival adventure and seafaring romp through the early 1800’s, and spares us wordiness in order to get to the action.  One of the places his visits is Juan Fern├índez Islands, where Alexander Selkirk was himself marooned, upon whom the book Robinson Crusoe is based.  By the early 1800’s they are controlled by the Spanish, and much more frequented than when Mr. Selkirk was their inhabitant.  In fact the sealers are so populous there that the Spanish send boats to chase them off.

Here’s a selection about a Fourth of July celebration undertaken by some sealers there, and the Spanish efforts to arrest them:

At the time to which I allude, it was usual for eight or ten sealing vessels to have gangs on this island; and besides these, there were generally others, to the number of one hundred and fifty, who remained constantly on the island.  Some of these men had deserted, and others had been discharged from different sealing ships; the latter of whom were desperate characters: they would barter their seal skins for rum and other articles, deemed by them necessary to their comfort and enjoyment; which was effected with the officers of the different ships that occasionally stopped here. 
The Spanish Guarda Costas [Coast Guard] frequently cruised round the island, ran close in the different landings, sent their boasts ashore with armed crews, who had orders to make prisoners of all persons they found on the island, and burn every hut, skin, and implement used by the sealers.  So extremely sensitive were they to the most trifling occurrence relative to their possessions in this part of the world, that they would rather the island should be sunk in the ocean, than that it should afford even a temporary residence to any who were not subjects of his most puissant and Catholic majesty.

At the time period referred to, there were perhaps an hundred men, including lopers (or those who had left their ships), collected on the north-west plains to celebrate the Fourth of July, with great glee and ceremony, and the American flag proudly waved from an elevated staff over this part of his most Catholic majesty’s territory.  They had constructed thirteen large rope-yarn wads, containing a quantity of powder in the center, which on exploding, which is effected by means of a fuse or slow match, causes a report louder than a six pounder: there were arranged in order of firing.

The song, toast, and glass were following in rapid succession when twelve o’clock arrived; at that moment the match was applied to one of the wads, which exploded just as a Spanish Guarda Costa was coming round the head or boundary of the plain.  After the proper interval, another was fired.  The surprise and consternation of the Spanish captain was indescribable; here he saw American colors flying, a large body of men, one thousand at least, according to his estimation, assembled; and formidable battery mounted with a large number of heavy cannon.  Hi piously crossed himself, gravely believed it to be the work of the devil.  At this moment another report rent the air, for the Yankee tars determined not to suspend their sports until compelled by superior force.  Off went another wad. 
This was too much; for the fortitude of the Spanish hero failed him; if he remained a moment longer he should be sunk before he could repeat his credo, by this tremendous and destructive fire.  So he put up helm, stretched out all canvas, and gallantly ran for it; and when at the distance of a league, bravely rounded too, and returned the fire; and then proceeded direct to Valparaiso, where he arrived before he had entirely recovered the effects of his fright.

To the governor he repaired immediately, and gave a true and particular account of all he had actually seen and heard—the imminent dangers he had so heroically encountered and miraculously escaped from; for which his patron saint was loaded with praises, and his shrine most brilliantly illuminated.  The gallant captain was highly complimented for his courage and tactics in effecting his retreat from such a vast superiority of force.  All now was bustle, confusion, and military preparation at Valparaiso.  The best soldiers, and the most experienced and approved officers, were selected to go on this chivalrous expedition, of breaking up so formidable and threatening a settlement, and bring the daring castoffs in chains to the feet of the Viceroy.  The captain of the Guarda Costa accompanied the train, and began already to fancy himself a knight of the golden fleece, as a reward for preserving this part of the territories of his royal master.

In due time they arrived at the expected scene of action, and each officer swore to rival the martial exploits of Don Gonsalvo, the hero of Granada.  Detachments were landed to the eastward and westward of the plain, without being obstructed by any movements of the enemy.  The Spaniards threw out reconnoitering parties, and advanced with due military caution, and finally their advanced parties were thrown forward until they met in the center of the pain.  No battery, showering a storm of iron death, had opposed the; they saw no encampment filled with warriors, whose arms glittered in the sunbeams.  All they found, were a few miserable huts and wayworn mariners, for the lopers had effectually concealed themselves.  The Spaniards were confounded, and suspected some stratagem; they crossed themselves more frequently than usual.  They however made prisoners of the few sealers there, and a thousand inquiries were put to them concerning the large encampment, and the great battery with its heavy cannon.  Their answers were, that they knew of none, nor ever had heard of any.  “Diavalo,” exclaimed the infuriated captain, “did I not see the thousand men, the colors, the big cannon that you had liked to sink my ship with?”  They explained; this only added to his irritation, and the Spaniards concluded that he was deranged.  The troops were re-embarked, and sailed for Valparaiso, carrying their prisoners with them.  As for the captain of the Guarda Costa, he has not as yet been able to decide whether he was enchanted or not, and thus ended this ignus fatuus expedition.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Browns Point Lighthouse Keeper's Wife Annie Tells Her Story

This summer there will be a cemetery tour at in Tacoma, and I portray the ghost of Annie Brown, the wife of the lighthouse keeper at Browns Point.  There are always way more stories than time to tell them, and I am going to have to cut the following script down by probably two-thirds.  But I thought blog readers might enjoy the whole thing.  Picture the graveyard on a shadowy afternoon. Approaching from the shade of a giant rhododendron is a woman dressed as if it were the 1930's.  Here's what she says:

I’m Annie Louise Wayson Brown, wife of Oscar Vernon Brown, the lighthouse keeper at Browns Point.  I was born in Port Townsend in 1869, the daughter of James Wayson, who was a captain in the US Revenue service, which later became the US Coast Guard.  In those days, Papa would intercept ships which sought to bypass the customs house in Port Townsend. So I consider myself sprung from a seafaring family.

Most girls married, but I didn’t, at first.  I loved sewing and worked as a dressmaker before I even finished school, but Papa suggested that I try my hand at bookkeeping.  I was accepted at the Collegiate Institute in Olympia and after I graduated, got a very good job as a bookkeeper working for a fish company. Papa was right, it paid decidedly more than dressmaking.

I was 30 years old before I met my future husband, Oscar.  At the time, he was stationed at the Dungeness lighthouse.  Prior to that he’d been out at the tiny island of Tatoosh off the NW tip of the Olympic Peninsula.  He had stories of shipwrecks and rescues from that remote, windy, rainy site.  Oscar was an accomplished musician and sang me songs while playing the piano.  He could also play the trombone, cornet, and harp. 

Soon after I met him, Oscar was transferred away to teeny Smith Island at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, some ways west of Whidbey Island.  We were able to keep up our friendship by letter.  In those days, lighthouse tenders brought mail, food, fuel, and oftentimes even water to the far flung lighthouses, in fact they been doing it on the West Coast since 1840.  When Oscar proposed, I accepted, and we were married in 1902 when I was 34 and he was 35. 
Immediately I was swept away to the tiny Smith Island. When we were there, the lighthouse was 200 feet from the cliffs, but I’m told the cliffs eventually eroded away and the lighthouse fell into the water.  We were only there a year, then we were sent to the brand new Point Brown lighthouse across Commencement Bay from Tacoma.  It was already named Point Brown, so wasn’t named after us, but eventually it became Browns Point, which I believe had something to do with everyone’s fondness for Oscar. 


Annie and Oscar on Smith Island 1902

The lighthouse tender Heather brought us to Point Brown one cloudy day, Oct. 26, 1903, as there were no roads out there.  We were rowed ashore, but they lowered our pedigree Jersey cow over the side by sling and she was meant to swim in.  The poor thing got frightened and started swimming the wrong way, out into the bay, mooing piteously.  Her name was Timber, as she had been calved in the woods, and I stood on the shore, atop great driftwood logs, screaming, “Timber, Timber!” as if I were a deranged logger.  By this time the horse was lowered over the side.  I worried he’d swim after her, but he started toward me.  Timber saw him and tried to alter her course.  Although she possessed an udder, she hadn’t a rudder.  Some little Indian children appeared, running up the beach wondering who this woman was who could call sea monsters out of the deep, for by this time the cow had kelp trailing from her right horn, and from the left dangled a jellyfish.  Eventually, with her mooing and me calling, like star-cross operatic lovers, she made it ashore. They unloaded our furniture with less drama, including Oscar’s piano, which had to sit out under a tarpaulin for several days until we could get people over from Tacoma to help us move it into the house.

Oscar immediately set to work building a stable and chicken coop.  We laid an oriental carpet in the parlor and dining room, laid planks down the muddy swamp to the beach, plowed in front of the house and put up fences for the horse and cow.  We planted potatoes, rhubarb, onions, and lettuce.  There was no well, we had a water tank that collected rainwater up in back of the house.  Oscar eventually had a nice little orchard with apple, plum and cherry trees, selling the cherries over in Tacoma.  Oscar worked very hard clearing brush, building feed bins for the stable and making the place comfortable for us.  He chopped wood nearly every day we lived there.

Browns Point with Jerry Meeker's dock

His work as a lighthouse keeper could be demanding, but mostly he lit the lamp precisely at sunset and extinguished it at dawn, keeping track in the log book of ships that passed.  When it was foggy, work became more demanding.  We had a bell that had to be rung whenever it was foggy, day or night.  It was called the Gamewell Fog Bell Striking Apparatus, and would strike a huge bell every 20 seconds.  It had to be re-wound every 90 minutes, which kept Oscar awake most of the night, then if the fog persisted during day I took over while he slept.  However, when the Gamewell broke, which was frequently, I assisted him by keeping time, and calling out to him every 20 seconds.  He’d strike the bell as loud as he could so the ships would hear it.  It was exhausting work and our ears were ringing for days.  We got electricity in 1922.  Now Oscar did not have to light the lamp at sunset, we could flip a switch from the cottage, and the Gamewell was also electrified.  That was relief, as we had sixteen straight days of fog in January of 1926.

We were not blessed with our own children, although my brother’s two daughters Ruth and Annie Lou came to live with us.  I taught them to sew on my old hand crank sewing machine.  They liked cooking, as did I, saying their favorite was a steamed date pudding with hard sauce.  Oscar’s mother also lived with us and enjoyed gardening as much as I did, so that our little cottage was a higgledy-piggledy profusion of flowers, vegetables and three generations of family.  It is said that Mother Nature’s colors never clash, and I find that people can all get along if left to bloom where and when it suits them.

Browns Point was a panorama of passing boats all hours of the day, as there were few roads.  Enterprising men, including the local Indians, built piers and docks all up and down the shore.  Boats stopped every few miles, bringing beachgoers, sightseers, and even groceries.  When Capt. McDowell built a dance hall on one of his docks nearby, his clientele increased and I worried for my nieces.  But they turned out all right.  In World War I Camp Standby was established on Dash Point for the girls of various War Camp Community Service Clubs to let them experience the great outdoors. The WCCS was formed in 1917 to organize recreational and social activities where servicemen and women could spend off duty time together. We often saw the boats taking young girls to Camp Standby.  World War I was very good for industry in Tacoma, as lumber, salmon and food packing were high in demand.  Lumber and wheat prices climbed to record levels and new flour mills and salmon canneries were busy. Wood and steel shipbuilding grew to be second only to the lumber industry in the Northwest. Todd Shipyards in Tacoma was working nearly round the clock to provide ships for the war effort. 
Camp Standby

Tatoosh Island
Oscar saved many people from capsized boats, including three Japanese men who actually jumped in the water, thinking their companion in a rowboat would pick them up.  Evidently he didn’t see or hear them, but Oscar did, and rowed out to pluck them from the water.  He declared it no easy feat to get them in the boat.  He had lots of stories like that.  His former boss, the head lighthouse keeper out on Tatoosh Island, told how he was nearly blown off the island during one fierce gale, blown, in fact, head over heels for 300 feet before arresting himself by means of clinging to grass and vegetation before plunging over the cliffs into the crashing ocean.  The bull they kept out there was not so lucky, but WAS blown over.  They thought the bull was lost, in fact they wrote in the logbook that he was “lost at sea”.  However, the plucky bull found his way through the high surf back to the island, climbed up the steep cliffs, and demanded an extra ration of hay for privations and exposure suffered in sea and surf.  The cow however, named Mrs. Shafter, was not so ill-fated, and managed to remain sanely on shore.  Why she was named Mrs. Shafter was anyone’s guess, and one can only wonder about the original Mrs. Shafter.

Oscar and I had a fine life together in our little cottage on the point.  We loved to read National Geographic, the Sat Evening Post, Etude, Rudder and Yachtsman.  Oscar taught music lessons, I taught the girls how to cook, garden and sew.

Oscar had to retire when he was 70, and we told everyone that we were happy to move to an apartment in Tacoma because it would really be ours.  It wasn’t ours though, we rented it.  I miss our cottage, the boats passing and waving, our flowers, our chairs on the front porch, our nieces laughing and bringing me shells from the shore, showing me their fine sewing, or sniffing the aroma of  the dinner they’d cooked for me.  I miss the beacon of light that spoke of a caring lighthouse keeper who sang me love songs and gave me a beautiful little home beside the sea.


Remember, you are the guardians of the memories of those who have gone before.