Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Last Call for mail Call
I lifted the following excerpt out of “Military Madness-Support,” a detailed account of the support I received from family members and friends, while I was in the military, back in 1972-73. Not surprisingly, Pauline was my biggest supporter, primarily because she had perfected the role while Robert was in the service, but also because she couldn’t help but feel bad for me, because I was pretty miserable. I whined a lot, page after page, which I now have in my possession, but she was always there for me.
Here we go:
“The intensity of my correspondents, for the most part, was astounding. Talking is the most common form of communication, but there are many avenues in which to get sidetracked. Through mishearing, misunderstanding, or impulsive responses to offhand or thoughtless comments, people often struggle with emotional dialogue, because the heart and the head are not necessarily always aligned.
‘Mama was a veritable gold mine of goodies, sending a non-stop stream of creature comforts. I asked her early on to send me some civvies, and then commented when they arrived, that they made me temporarily feel as though I were back in “the World.” She had sent me off in the first place with this black, fuzzy Russian hat, designed to keep my ears warm. Predictably, the first (and only) time I went to a base club, I left the hat behind.
She replaced it for me once while I was at FLW [Fort Leonard Wood], and she had to replace it again after I arrived in Korea. She sent fruitcake, fudge, brownies, fruitcake, avocados (!) Sunday funnies, newspaper clippings, fruitcake and anything else that she could find.’
Therefore, when I switched to communicating through letters, I found that words took on a new meaning, and that once they were on paper, they didn't change unless someone erased and then replaced them. Unlike spoken communication, in letters there were no interruptions. There were no hasty asides, thrown out in the heat of passion or in response to a telling point.
‘Mama sent candy, suckers, fudge and other sweets to Eric, either directly to Kwangju in the early days, or then later on, to me, through the APO. To me she sent chips, pretzels, cookies and lots of reading material. When she sent the avocados, we had to break out the company safe to store them in, they were considered so precious.’
Not only that, but there was almost always a delay between the time the words were written and the time the letter was sent, in case I wanted to back the truck up, and revise something before placing it irretrievably in the olive drab mailbox in the day room. Just as we came to the day room to send out our letters, we came here for mail call.
‘Besides the cookies, fudge, or other baked goods, a package might have a crossword puzzle book, a box of raisins, ten packs of Kool Aid (again for Eric, for whom potable water was at times an issue) a medicine bottle with aspirin or throat lozenges, and always a letter. During the period when Brian was in Guadalajara, Eric in Kwangju, and I was in Seoul, Mama did what a lot of moms did, and put a piece of carbon between each piece of paper when she typed out her letters.’
Mail call was the center of our universe at Ascom; all plans, all splurges, drunken or otherwise, revolved around the mid-afternoon arrival of the mail orderly from Seoul. It was ritualistic that we swung by the orderly room to check the mail, after leaving the barn, en route to the hooch, via the day room.
‘Whoever got the third copy had hard times, but I would rather have gotten the third copy than no copy at all. Besides, it's easy to second guess how I may or may not have felt back then, as I sit here today, and try to decipher the carbon-smeared words. If this letter had been word processed today, and printed off with a nice laser printer, each copy would have been as pristine as the next. It's easy to see how from today's technological perspective, a smeared carbon copy might seem annoying.
There was hardly a letter that went back or forth that did not include some reference to a pending package, a package that had recently arrived, or the bane of our existence, a package that was missing. Oh...my...God... Looking back and reading the letters, it was an ongoing soap opera, especially when the missing package actually finally turned up, having been sent overland instead of by Air Mail.’
At the day room we could purchase any of four types of American labeled beer for a dime apiece: Hamms, Black Label, Falstaff and Micholob. They might not have lined up as the four that I would have selected, but I didn't see anyone boycotting the machine that dispensed the beer as regularly as the dimes which flowed through it. It cost the same to buy a twelve ounce Micholob, as it did to make a phone call.
‘All of the edible contents were enveloped in mold except for...the fruitcake, which was wrapped up in cloth and waxed paper. I'm sorry, but fruitcake was immensely popular, for the simple reason that it bellowed out not only the word “Home,” but rammed it home with a fragrance universally associated with homecomings and family.
All of you who snickered when you saw that fruitcake not only made the list, but multiple times, better laugh out of the other side of your mouth, because Mama knew what she was doing.’”
Monday, November 24, 2014
They Don't Take up Much Room
How a person could be frugal and generous at the same time is hard to explain, unless one is a product of an era known as the Great Depression. Both of my folks were born in 1922, which meant they were seven years old when the stock market crashed in 1929, and nine years old when things started to get really tough, in 1931.
Both came from large families, and both had to scrimp to get by. We saw examples of Mama’s thrift every day of our lives, growing up, as she shopped smartly, taking advantage of bargains, trying to feed us all on Robert’s annual salary of $7,000, give or take.
A few years back, when Aunt Cecilia passed, she left Pauline some of her hard-earned loot, and for the first time in her life, Mama did not have to sweat the small stuff. Mind you, nothing changed eternally, but at least if she wanted to visit Germany, especially if Ralph accompanied her, then she could.
Or if she wanted to lend one of her grandchildren some money, she had that flexibility. Did she go out and buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so as to be able to leave the little non-drivable Ford Escort up on the mountain whenever it snowed to go to town? No, she did not.
When asked why not, she replied that “if” it should snow, she simply would not go anywhere. And that logic served her well for many years, until the times arrived when she could no longer always be in control of when she needed to leave the hill. Mother Nature and Mama occasionally butted heads, and much to her dismay, Mama came in second.
But only until the snow melted.
I wrote about migrating over to the Big House during the snow, and how everything was so wide open, unencumbered by walls in the big downstairs area. Lining every wall, however, were storage cupboards, many labeled with the contents in Mama’s neat hand. “Tax statements-19??-19??”; “Puzzles”; “Letters from Mark”; “Puzzles”; Fabric”; “Puzzles” and so forth.
The cupboards that were not labeled, of course, might contain canned goods, dry goods, neatly packaged in big gallon glass jars, so that bugs could not invade, and a plethora of other common-enough items, except that there would be a lot.
Mama saw the practical value of reusing the plastic containers in which various fresh produce was packaged, and well, they stacked together so compactly and all, that she could stockpile an amazing quantity in a small space. And there were so many different shapes and sizes of these types of containers, all serving one or more purposes, and all carefully categorized in her head as to whereabouts.
When queried about the volume, she would just smile and tell me not to worry-that she knew what she was doing. All of us gently poked fun at her behind her back, but more importantly, I did so to her face.
“Never you mind, Markie,” she’d say. “You take care of your pantry and let me take care of mine.”
“Fine, Mama, but are you really sure that you need all 35 of these little Cool Whip containers? How many leftovers can you put in the ‘fridge at any given time? Why do you have to save all of this stuff”
“They don’t take up much room. And besides, you never know when something up on one of those shelves will come in handy. Are you going to town tomorrow? If so, will you stop at the post office for me?” And thus the conversation would go.
Until one day, in February of 2011, when I had time on my hands, and a willingness to embark on a perilous journey: a planned thorough cleaning of the Big House, from top to bottom, with an emphasis on going through all cupboards to remove everything, and clean. There had been recent evidence of mice, an inevitable force with which to be contended in the country, and we were on a mission to divide, clean, conquer, scrub, and eradicate, in no particular order, me on my hands and knees, and Mama in her director’s chair, keeping a close watch on the proceedings, to make sure that nothing was inadvertently put in the recycling bin, that belonged in its rightful place in the cupboards.
The ledger was retrieved after each two or three-hour push, generally Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, through February and March of that year, until the job was completed. We did not go into either the office, which I had not been in for twenty years, prior to the recent cleanup, or her bedroom, but we did everything else.
And somewhere in there, much as Mama said it would be, was something that turned my life upside down, at least for a good spell. It was that box that said “Letters from Mark” in Mama’s neat cursive, which every one of my siblings, and many others besides, can see clearly in his or her minds, and which I [others, also?] can easily duplicate-flawlessly, if I do say so myself. I did have a fair amount of practice, when I was younger.
The box contained the correspondence from me to Mama, with hundreds of pages of descriptive writing, detailing time, events, and specifics, that provided for me, a wealth of minutia from my twenty-one months in the service. It was an encounter of unparalleled proportions.
Finding the letters unleashed in me, a forty-years-in-the-waiting explosion of verbiage, in which I chronicled my military experiences, in a very non-chronological manner, in thirteen vignettes of varying length, beginning with Ft Leonard wood, moving on to Korea, and then later in the year, completing the trilogy with ten vignettes from Ft. Dix, New Jersey. I wrote around ninety thousand words in all, and posted them on my blog under the titles of “Military Madness” and the name of the vignette.
It was immensely cathartic for me, allowing me to release forty years of internal bitterness at being drafted out of college, and metaphorically imprisoned for 21 months. But the writing left me not only euphoric, but anxious to keep on with the process.
I had needed to spew for so long, that once I got past the initial blast-off, I never came down, and I owe much of it to that box of letters. What had become long-forgotten drama, from 1972-73, became volcanic lava in my brain once more, as I relived such an emotionally volatile mine-field once again, only this time capturing it on paper.
“You never know when something on those shelves will come in handy,” she’d said, and she was right.
Mama was right about a lot of things.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Just Revel in it All
I saw a post on face/book yesterday, that showed a scene from Buffalo, New York, with snow inundating the image, and the caption implying that this was a setting straight out of paradise. My knee-jerk instinct was to supply a curmudgeon-like response, something to the effect that snow is the guest who continuously overstays her welcome, but then I stopped.
As I studied the serenity of the picture, a wave of nostalgia washed over me and I allowed myself the luxury of fixating on the beauty and the stillness of the scene. I remembered a time in my life when the thought of such a venue still cast a magical spell over me, and the world slowed down to half-speed, at best.
Before computers were available to provide seven-day forecasts with uncanny precision, we relied on the radio, which would occasionally forecast hazardous storms advancing ominously down from the Gulf of Alaska. My heart would beat just a little bit faster, in anticipation of one of those three-dayers, in which we would get just about a foot of the white goodness a day, for three days.
When it would become evident, that we were indeed entrenched in one of these, Annie and I would gather together the boys and whatever we had in the way of contributions to the cause, bundle everyone up, and make our way overland to the Big House, so named because it is forty by twenty-eight feet, and like a Swiss chalet, A-framed, rustic and expansive, which meant there was plenty of room in which to get comfortable.
There we would set up headquarters, with the understanding that we were there for the duration. I was still fleet of foot, being in my thirties, so I-and undoubtedly Casey-would troop back and forth from the Big House to our place, to obtain that, which could not be done without.
For once in the universe, the hands of time slowed their inexorable march around the face of the clock above the entrance to the Big House, allowing us to forget about responsibilities other than cooking, wood-box logistics, and an insatiable need to just revel in it all. So we did.
Pauline was as enthusiastic about the invasion, as we were to come in from the cold. These were the times when she radiated warmth and hospitality. Anyone who ever knew Mama for a second, knew she had a hard time slowing down, and just letting things go, there always being some sort of project or puzzle in her life.
But when the snow came, and we couldn’t get out to Bell Springs Road anyway, she recognized a good thing when she saw it, and was as excited about company as we were to be there. She played bridge, worked jig-saw puzzles with us, and kept the big cast iron tea kettle on the wood stove always primed with water. And she made sure we knew where the “good stuff” was beneath the counter, even if the good stuff was actually a 750ML bottle of Gilby’s. Hey, any port in a storm.
We spent time outdoors, tobogganing, making igloos, and throwing snowballs, and then came back in to hot chocolate with marshmallows, hanging wet clothes on a rack that was conveniently placed in the vicinity of the barrel-on-its-side-shaped wood stove, so that the next time they went out, everything would have dried.
When the boys were younger, the Legos were brought out, the VHS machine activated with “Flash Point” on the marquee, the bridge cards dealt, the tea brewed, and the good times became the implied reality of the picture to which I was referring, when I mentioned the storm in New York.
Robert loved cooking for the boys, because they paid him the compliment of eating every morsel he put in front of them. They came stock with that component, being normal country lads, who needed fuel to keep on trucking, but we allowed Robert to continue believing that it was solely the exquisite quality of the fixin’s that created such ravenous appetites.
And for dessert? Mama had her specialty, much to Annie’s dismay. Well, let’s maintain the suspense for a moment, if you don’t mind, while I prattle on a moment about what makes a successful union of any more than one component. Like two people in a marriage.
Annie and I have obviously figured out how it all works, so that when it comes to those politically hazardous times, when the waters are white and treacherous, the rafting continues as smoothly as that toboggan gliding down the ice-packed slope.
There is one particular dessert that my Annie has always believed was better left behind, simply because it has no redeeming value, and that is Jello. Even including the fruit cocktail, was a thinly veiled attempt to make lemonade out of lemons, sort of like forgetting to put in the sugar, in a reverse kind of analogy, especially when you include the “smog” on the top of it all: Cool Whip slathered with rare abandon.
But she bit her poor bruised and battered lip, smiling on top of all that abuse to her poor lip, and encouraged the boys to enjoy their dessert, while trying not to look askance at the sight of me, also filling my dessert plate with Jello.
See, unlike Annie, I as willing to throw caution to the wind much more readily, and so the smile on my face was genuine.
Especially when it was Cherry-flavored Jello, with fruit cocktail, and no limit as to the amount of smog..
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Up at the Big House
Pauline was generous to a fault. Mind you, there were hard times when her generosity could only come in the form of moral support, for which the fountain was bottomless, but if she had the bling, she was more than happy to bring it with her to the table. What happened next would go something like this.
“So, if I LEND you this thousand dollars, how do I know I’m going to get it back?” she asked me, in June of 2011, when Annie and I were scuttling around like chickens after a fat worm, trying to rustle up enough loot for plane fare to Ireland. It was a lifelong goal of Annie’s to travel to the Old Country, whereas it was a forty-year-long, self-imposed ban on flying, that I was more interested in remedying.
So we trotted out the ledger, a four-by-six-inch spiral notebook, into which she would enter amount, date, and some sort of notation, to the effect that I was indeed, planning on making good on my debt. It was business as usual. She provided a similar service to many family members I can think of, including one grandson in particular, who picked the wrong night to hang out with a dude who chose-for whatever reason-to drive though a gate.
Unfortunately, the gate was closed at the time, and the damage came to somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,500. When the integrity-challenged driver of the vehicle refused to pony up the compensation, said grandson was left holding the bag. At the time the bag was empty, but after the ledger was brought down off of the refrigerator, and an entry made, with all of the relevant details, the bag contained a check for the necessary amount.
It was the best of all worlds. Interest was a dirty word, when it came to dollars and cents, but there was always wood to be gathered, wood rings to be filled, compost/ashes to be taken out, or mail to be picked up at the post office, once grandsons were driving cars. Not only was interest "repaid," but conversation was had, bridge might be played, or that stellar black and white film, "Them" might be playing on the VHS machine.
Pauline was almost as excited for me, as I was to be contemplating flying-first to New York-and then on to Ireland, after having flown 35,000 miles while in the service, but then vowing never to fly again. It's not that I found the experience unpleasant, it's just that I had had enough.
Eric was the organizer of the whole Ireland gig, having contacted the owner of a beautiful, four-bedroom, very modern home in Carigaholt, a tiny village in County Claire, on the bottom, left-hand corner of the island, for the purpose of renting the house for six weeks.
It was full speed ahead, and Annie and I were slated for the first two weeks in September. Many family members were able to take advantage of this superb opportunity, pulled off by one of the best in the business, Eric. We went the last two weeks, because so many others had to be back by the start of school.
At 59, I had made a full comeback in the carpentry business, and was working under Casey, building a 42 by 28 foot home, for a pair of former students, who were also classmates of Casey throughout their time in Laytonville. The work was brutally savage, but lucrative, and I had no problem being able to pay Mama back.
However, as I sat there with the goods, all one thousand of them sitting on the kitchen table, up at the Big House, the day before we were set to drive down to San Francisco, in preparation for boarding our plane, she asked me, “Well, Kiddo, do you have any spending money?”
“Hey, do I look like the kind of guy who would travel across the Atlantic Ocean, without any money?”
Of course she saw though my transparent ploy. “Broke, huh?” she queried.
How does she do that, I wondered? “Broke is a four-letter word,” I said, indicating once more why language arts was always my strength. “I’m not broke-I just don’t have much money.” But I hastened to add, “Eric says we can buy food at the local grocery store, and cook at ‘home,’ thus saving a lot of loot, and having fun at the same time.”
“And what are you going to use to buy those groceries?” You had to get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on Mama. And thus it was settled, the money was back in my hand, but I walked out the door, flummoxed.
The ledger was nowhere to be seen.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Sans White Horse
If I have heard one person say it, then I have heard twenty: Pauline must have been a remarkable woman to have raised so many fine children. What kind of personality does it require to be able to instill in her children, alongside of Robert, ideals and values which combine and reflect pragmatism, humor and perseverance? It takes a remarkable one.
Pauline learned from an early age, that what you had in the hand, was worth more than whatever it was that could found in the bush. She knew how to get her money’s worth out of a dollar. When we still lived on Fellowship Street, down in the San Gabriel Valley, she would sit down in Papa’s place, at the head of the sky-blue kitchen table, KPOL softly wafting out of the little portable radio above her head, a permanent fixture in the kitchen, from the early years we lived there onward.
On the table she would have gathered the ads respectively for Sunrize (sic) Market, Market Basket, Lucky’s, Alpha Beta, and Vons and Shopping Bag, and with red marker in hand, she would methodically-and rapidly, scan and mark, flip the page, and repeat, until she had gone through the bunch.
Then, with one or more kids in tow, to help with groceries, she would make the circuit of local grocery stores, “cherry-picking” as it was known in the industry, thereby stretching her budget to be able to make it through until payday, whichever one came first: Papa’s, Eric’s, Brian’s or mine. Working at the post office in Eric’s case, or Sunrize in Brian and mine, Mama raked in a significant cut.
There was no palaver: Just hand over the money and know that you got to eat dinner for the next week. Well, there may have been some minor fireworks between Mama and me, when I got to Cal Poly, in September of 1970, and deemed that 25% of my weekly income, was just not enough for a college lad. After much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I managed to shift the paradigms, and settled for half. I would have settled for less, so I figured I got the better end of the deal.
This was the same period of time, when grocery stores fought for business through incentive programs, featuring such novelties as the premium stamp exchange, where stamps were issued when you bought groceries, corresponding with how much you spent. The rate was something like ten stamps for every dollar, so that if you spent $20.00, you ended up with 200 stamps, enough to fill two pages in the redemption booklet.
So JT or I, or whichever other kid was handy, would be recruited into pasting the stamps into the booklets. There were Blue Chip stamps, Green stamps, and I seem to remember an orange-colored one, probably from shopping at one specific store, slightly off the beaten track, like maybe Gemco, or even Stassi’s, down by St. Joseph’s Church, in downtown La Puente itself.
Then when the momentous occasion arrived, and Mama would go to the store to redeem her stamps for valuable merchandise, it was Bonanza Day. To put both the redemption store, and possibly our own general degree of poverty into perspective, I remember being invited to a wedding in SoCal, after having moved to San Jose, and being desperate for a wedding present.
We had no money. We filled the little white VW Bug with two dollars and fifty cents worth of gas, exactly ten gallons, which was the size of the little beetle’s gas tank, and made it all the way to the San Fernando Valley, before filling it again. When I asked Mama, what she thought I could do about a wedding gift, she went through her stash of stamps, and we went to the redemption store.
In case you think we scored big-time, maybe a mixer or an iron, think again. How about a nifty selection of wooden spoons for stirring the soup, of varying sizes, obtained for the equivalent of about three dollars. It wasn’t pretty, but it got us into the wedding, with a gift in our hands.
She was a lifesaver, again, producing a beautifully wrapped wedding gift, for the cost of the gas it took us to drive to West Covina, and get it.
Practical Pauline, sans white horse, scores again.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Fairly Useless, but Highly Entertaining
Annie and I are down in Willits for a few days this week, first of all, because Annie needed to renew one of her prescriptions, but also because it has become the pattern that she rarely stays up on the mountain for more that four or five days at a span, before she needs to take a break.
When Annie is on the mountain, she never stops cooking. She cooks lunches for Happyday Farms, she bakes, and she cooks for Lito and the two of us, so when she heads down to Willits, it’s for the purpose of collapsing. It’s been two years and three months since the little Pine Street Motel came into being, and it’s not likely to end its reign anytime soon.
I used to hate coming down here, partially because of the circumstances of Annie having to be close to medical attention, and the prescription drug store, but also because, well, it’s Willits, and I have never been a fan of Willits. I used to have to be so very careful not to so much as breathe that sentiment, because it would have made Annie...well, I was going to say mad, but of course, Annie does not get mad.
In winter it is frigid. If it is thirty degrees on the mountain, then it is twenty in Willits. There is incessant traffic, even on the side streets, because of the way that the highway goes straight through the town. Kids do not walk to school in Willits; they are driven. We never take our walks any time in the 8:00-9:00 range, because it doesn’t matter where you are, you are engulfed in cars.
When Annie’s folks moved from San Jose to Willits, in 1985, we were thrilled, because now the boys could get to spend tome with their grandparents. Willits took on a new glow, because frequently it meant that the boys were going to stay a few hours, or a few days, so that Annie and I could get away for a much-needed break.
Now, though the grandparents are gone, and Willits is still here, I am finally-after close to thirty years-beginning to gradually develop an affection for the little ice burg, located an hour south from my mountain. For one thing, when I am on the mountain, there is always a mountain of work awaiting. That is a given.
That doesn’t mean I work 24/7, but when I’m not, I stress because I feel I should be...doing something! Well, down in Willits, by definition, there is very little in the way of work. I do the dishes after a meal, I feed and walk the Dozer, and I rake the leaves on the side driveway, and that’s about it.
Otherwise, I write, read some, write some more, maybe even work a jig-saw puzzle, and then, just for the heck of it, I write another little something, something. And I try not to feel guilty. I do love to walk the back streets, taking my camera in hand, when it is not raining, and I do know a lot of people who live down here, half-hour south of Laytonville.
I like to walk Dozer in a big square, one of its borders being the 101 itself, so as the Doze struts along the highway, he inevitably draws a lot of attention. One morning last week, a woman driving a mammoth fire engine-red pickup truck, almost fell out the driver’s side window, because she was leaning out the window so far, craning her head backwards to be able to keep the Doze in her sights. She was determined to continue telling me her story, which obviously had something to do with English bulldogs.
I couldn’t make out what she was yelling, and furthermore, I was afraid she was going to run into something. Fortunately, the Doze took it all in stride, as he usually does. You know what they say about old Dozer: He’s fairly useless as farm dogs go, but he is highly entertaining.
Just ask the woman in the big red pickup.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
You Can’t Beat that with a Stick
Our family matriarch, my mother Pauline, passed November 15, and though unexpected in the sense that she was still ambulatory and mentally alert for the most part, we had been advised by Pauline’s primary health care provider, that Mama’s heart was experiencing an ongoing spiral downward, and that we should be prepared for her impending demise.
Knowing objectively that what cousin Mary said was true, and that Mama’s heart was weakening, was only one of many signs that the recently-celebrated, ninety-second birthday, would be her last. Honestly, she started a more subtle transition towards her passing, the minute she moved off of the mountain, and down to Willits, a move precipitated primarily by me, in the summer of 2011.
I was concerned about her being isolated on the mountain, during times of severe weather, when I wrote “Swan Song,” (http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/2011/10/swan-song.html) and I used that concern as justification when I asked my siblings to rally together, to urge Mama to relocate.
Pauline had been experiencing mild symptoms of confusion in her thinking, but she was adamant that continuing to drive her little Ford Escort was non-negotiable. This prompted me to chronicle a humorous account of her triumphant acquisition of her California Driver’s License, on the occasion of her 89th birthday, in “Born to Drive.” (http://markyswrite.blogspot.com/search?q=Born+to+Drive)
Whereas, this fierce independence precipitated, on the one hand, a concern for her health and safety, on the other hand, it fostered an admiration for her spirit and determination to not allow circumstances to prevent her from getting what she wanted. Mama was still a child when the stock market crash of 1929 signaled the onset of the Great Depression, a time when she grew up, first helping, and then ultimately substituting for her own mother, who passed prematurely of complications from heart failure.
When I was in eighth grade, and JT in seventh, in September of 1965, Papa took the two of us aside, early on in Mama’s pregnancy with brother Kevin, and told us quite bluntly that Mama’s doctor had warned him that if she did not slow down, she would die from the same disease that killed her own mother.
JT and I were seriously frightened, and it produced an unparalleled time of cooperation and helpfulness from both of us, as we made lunches for ourselves and three younger sibs, and found time to do the breakfast dishes every morning, before leaving for school. That was 49 years ago.
Mama resisted moving up to Bell Springs in the first place in 1977, recognizing that to do so, was to say good-bye to all of the friends she had made in SoCal, over a twenty-five year period of time. And when she first got up here, it was hard, because there was no extended family in place, the way there was when Annie and I first came up, in 1982.
The closest neighbors were incredibly welcoming and were able to provide many answers to the hard questions, but these same neighbors were almost all young enough to be Pauline’s daughters, with babies and toddlers occupying their attention. So the notion of new friends kind of fell alongside the wayside, much the way her ability to communicate with old friends, also fell off, with trips to town being few and far between, and the internet still twenty-some years away.
Isolated on the mountain with only immediate family, Pauline began to write, chronicling the story of her upbringing in Wilmar, what life was like during WWII, and then life on Fellowship Street, down in La Puente. The fourth in her series was the story of her experiences up here on the ridge.
I know of only the copies that she had printed and given to immediate family members, and none beyond that. The time may come when it is deemed appropriate to pursue the matter further, especially through cyber means, but for now the novellas remain very near and dear to the hearts of those who have read them.
I focus on the writing in particular, because it was a source of immense pride to her, that she was able to produce those four pieces of invaluable family history, forevermore to remain as treasured memoirs of an extraordinary woman.
Mama’s passion for writing was reinforced through a little exchange that JT shared, between Mama and Stephanie, the liaison between Pauline the facility at which Mama resided. Stephanie shared that Mama had made it clear when she first moved in that if she ever stopped writing, she would die.
Well, Stephanie went on, whereas Pauline did not keep writing, she actually ended up doing something far more surprising: She found a friend, Sister Maura, a gentle woman with whom Pauline made a tight bond, in as short of a period of time that it might have been.
The last several times that Annie and I visited, the two could be found together, sometimes hand in hand, and my impression was that there was a deep sense of acceptance and camaraderie between the two, something I had not seen Mama experience since she moved up on the ridge.
Being in Windsor may not have been the way Mama might have envisioned her last ten months of her life, but I would venture to guess that if she could have written out a plan for her final chapter, and included in it, her most wistful idea of existence outside of being with her children, what actually unfolded in this comfortable assisted-living facility in Windsor, might just have been the exact outline that she would have penned.
As she might have said herself, “Well, all right! You can’t beat that with a stick.”