Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Redlining It

Looking more like a Polish sausage than my left index finger, l decided to forego photographs in lieu of scalding water, cannabis salve and a poultice of comfrey and plantain. I will confess things got ugly there for a minute or two, and I even went so far as to pop my head into the [crowded] VA clinic in Ukiah, but no worries there:

“Well, we are understaffed, and behind, so…a few hours, hopefully?”

Gosh, such the invitation, but I decided to forego the pleasure and return to the drawing board, which meant soaking my finger in the hottest water possible, supplemented every ten minutes by another cup or two of boiling water from the tea kettle. 

Mama taught me at an early age the benefits of soaking body parts, to alleviate pain. I had much need of as many strategies as possible, to keep me out of the ER room, and this one cost nothing. Ingrown toe nail? You guessed it-soak that baby. 

Sliver under the finger nail? Soak it for twice as long; finger nails are sensitive. Plantar warts? Soak your foot. Cracked heels? Soak those kids. Finger swollen for no apparent reason (Bingo!)? Soak that dude indefinitely, and something is bound to happen.

That's me, the shortest one, with the shortest attention span...
Otherwise, it's Noel on the left, Brian and Eric, to my right.
Disneyland, circa 1957.
I am not unrealistic, If I have an infection that is painful, swollen and an angry red color, I am going to seek medical attention if I can’t make it go away. I’ll never forget Papa inspecting one of my ten-year-old hands, upon his arrival home from work, and pointing out to Mama a thin red line going up my palm and wrist.

“It looks like we’ll have to amputate. Either that, or take him to see Dr. Meisel. This red line means if we don’t do something about this infection, he will get blood poisoning.” Papa was a medical corpsman while in the service during World War II, and Mama frequently sought his opinion concerning my rough passage through adolescence. 

As long as there was no red line heading in the direction of my heart, there was still a little wriggle room. After all, one does not want to go off half-cocked, not when a few country remedies, long since well-established, will do the trick.

So where did this most recent affliction originate? When the question was first posed to me, I was clueless, more so than usual. Then an image slipped into my little pea brain, as easily as that three-quarter-inch-long sliver had breezed into my finger, about-hmmmmmm-two weeks ago? It had passed right through the [dilapidated] work glove I was wearing, running about a quarter-inch parallel to the finger nail.

Auntie Anne in the background; me with my hand in
a box of popcorn. 
For once in my life, about an eighth-inch of that chunk of plywood still stuck out, rather than being buried under my skin. Without overthinking matters, I put a vise-grip on that eighth-inch chunk of timber with my teeth, and slowly-agonizingly so-I withdrew the spear and breathed a sigh of relief. I even took it one step further and drizzled some peroxide over the entrance of the wound.

Apparently, my feeble effort went unrewarded.

Fortunately, BossLady had just replenished my supply of cannabis salve, so after soaking the miscreant for four hours, I slathered salve over it and let the magic just soak in. For one of the only times in memory, the salve did little to relieve the discomfort, and that got my little infection on the radar.

Gluten-Free Mama went foraging in the garden, returning with comfrey and plantain, from which she concocted a paste. This mixture she smeared on a square piece of gauze, which she then gingerly placed on the offending digit, while allowing me to draw the expandable cloth sleeve over the poultice to render it stationary.

Well, there wasn't any bun, of course,
but that looks about right.
I left it in place for eight hours, while I pretended to sleep, removing it early the following morning, ecstatic to find that there was gunk now starting to drain. Nothing comes easily, so I had to repeat these steps three times before the dam broke and proper drainage occurred.

I am now well on the way to complete recovery, which is fortuitous. I was getting tired of typing one-handed. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

"When Do We Eat?"

Pauline, on the trip to La Paz, 1972
“Pauline was a saint; if it weren’t for her and Robert, I would never have made it. Pauline saved my life!”

Widowed at 32, mom to four children under the age of 7, with a fifth baby on the way, it’s a wonder Margie didn’t just pack up and move her and the kids back to Wisconsin, and the shelter of her Mama’s home. That was certainly what her parents wanted her to do, way back around 1960, give or take.

Instead, Margie picked up the pieces, put one foot in front of the other, and moved on, with a little help from her friends. It’s not surprising that our family opened its doors up to our neighbors from four or five houses up the street. At the time Margie’s husband was killed in a car crash, there were already eight of us siblings, with number nine not due to make his appearance until years down the line.

What was another five kids here and there among friends?

When Margie and her oldest, Tommy, decided to embark on a road trip from SoCal up here to our mountain, it was to renew old friendships. Having reconnected via face/book a few months ago, I was flummoxed. Margie, 93 years young, knocked my sandals off by being able to make the road trip up here to North Mendocino County in the first place. 

The south-facing side of the Fellowship Street house. I know
the year was 1967, because that's the year I painted the house,
by myself, and was paid the lofty sum of five dollars.
She wanted to shift the credit to Tommy, from San Diego, who was instrumental in making the whole thing happen. Tommy is the oldest of the siblings, around four years younger than I am. The reason I was shocked, is because a road trip of such proportions would be impossible for me, one that I would never consider taking. 

Nonetheless, Margie and Tommy were slated to stay in Robert and Pauline’s mountain chalet, recently remodeled by my brother Matt, and his business partner, Keith. They were going to be on-farm Sunday afternoon through Tuesday morning, and they were flexible.

Returning from Willits on Monday morning, the first thing I did was stop in at the Big House, and touch base with the travelers. Of course, I wanted them to come visit my spot; we just had to work out the logistics. When I put forth this proposition, and asked what they thought, Tommy said simply that they had made the journey with the intention of spending as much time with O’Neill’s as possible. 

Papa, on vacay...
We agreed they should come over and spend the day, while I prepared a simple meal from whatever I could scrounge up on the mountain. By the time they arrived an hour later, I had scored two frozen chickens from the HappyDay Farms freezers, and was in the process of defrosting them, while putting on a large saucepan with potatoes from Irene’s farm, freshly scrubbed.

I had put painting on hold, and was content to peel and cut up potatoes, dice a few stalks of celery and some pickles, and boil a half-dozen eggs. I diced an onion, (forgot the olives) and all in all made a decent potato salad. The secret to good potato salad is the pickle juice and yellow mustard that gets added at the end, along with the black pepper.

It took me half the day to pull it off, but it didn’t matter: Both Tommy and Margie are easy. There was a comfort level in place, a half-century and more in the making, that allowed us to pick up the conversation as though we had only seen each other last Christmas. I mention Christmas, because I specifically remember one Christmas when our families gathered at the Fellowship Street house and had dinner together.

Front: Laura, little Tim, JT, Mark, Robert, and Pauline;
 rear: Kevin, Brian, Noel, Eric, and Matt, on the back right.
To seat at least sixteen people, and probably more, we had added card tables galore to the big dining room table, and the effect was incredible. When almost all was in place, with everyone expectantly waiting for action, there was a lull during which some last minute preparation was still unfolding.

Needless to say, I was on the point of fainting from starvation, a common enough state of affairs for a kid who could polish off four sandwiches at lunch, in record time. At one point I let it all hang out in the form of an agonized look in Mama’s direction. “WHEN DO WE EAT?” my expression must have screamed.

To my complete horror, at that instant, Margie caught my look out of the corner of her eye, and keeping her face directed at her own plate, commented dryly, “I think the natives are getting restless; maybe we should say grace and get cracking.”

I was mortified that somehow my indiscretion would be communicated to Mama and Papa, but I needn’t have worried. Margie was not going to spill the beans.

Front: Noel, Robert, Matt, Laura
rear: Tom, Mark, JT, Eric, Kevin, and Brian
As we romped from memory to memory, Monday, the subject of the storm drain came up. This was a twenty-four foot deep, by ten foot wide trench, dug for the purpose of burying cement pipe that was eight feet in diameter. In retrospect, it seems like overkill for a region that averages twelve inches of rain a year, but what do I know?

The drain system ran perpendicular to Fellowship Street, and paralleled our one acre parcel, running along the southern edge of the property. So close was this formidable trench, that I could stand on the shed roof in the back yard, and look down into the trench, the bottom now thirty-two feet below, due to the added height of the shed.

For a short time, as work progressed, the end of the trench was right alongside our property, so we kids were able to wait until workers went home, and then scramble down the side of the dirt and into the cement tunnel itself.

I should say some of the kids went into that tunnel-not this kid. I thought you had to be certifiably nuts to venture farther into the tunnel where you could no longer see the entrance, and I was having none of it. 

On the other hand, as Tommy and I compared notes, we found ourselves reminiscing about the house that Margie had bought with insurance money, and how much time I used to spend there. Across the street and back behind the houses, was a gully lined with eucalyptus trees, paradise for kids.

Ironically, a long way down the gully, there was another culvert, this one going beneath a street, and one that was far more manageable than the one 24 feet underground. I felt marginally better for being able to make it through this “tunnel.”

Front: Noel, Pauline, Robert, JT, Laura
Rear: Kevin, Tom, Eric, Brian, Mark, and Matt
Tommy talked about coming to dinner at Papa’s house, and the barbecue rotisserie, gently rotating with [at least] four cut up chickens being cooked. Papa did not mess around and we were allowed to eat chicken until we were stuffed. 

As I got older, my friends were always encouraged to join us at the dinner table, and they loved it. There was something about being included in dinner plans, simply because you were there, that tickled my friends immensely. They liked just being one of the tribe, and I think that’s how Margie’s kids felt.

Well, my guests certainly must have felt at home with my serving barbecued chicken, just like the old days, and we chatted until it was time to say good night. Margie asked great questions about the farm, and I relied on HeadSodBuster to answer them, simply because I couldn’t.

Front: Laura and Izzy, Matt, Robert, Pauline and Mark
Rear: Kevin, Tom, Brian, Eric, JT and Noel
When they departed Bell Springs, Margie and Tommy were heading over to my brother Brian’s house, in the Central Valley, before eventually heading back down south. When they left, I felt good, knowing that Margie had been given the opportunity she desired, the chance to get one more “dose of the O’Neill’s.”

Robert and Pauline weren’t there physically, but spiritually, I’m sure Margie would agree, they were very much there, just as they always were. Especially when the going got tough.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Better Homes and Gardens-Somewhere

My life’s book is in its 66th chapter right now, but with modern technology being what it is, I have been given the opportunity to reopen and revisit earlier chapters of my life in living color. Or, in this instance, I had characters from early on in my life’s story, emerge from the distant past, and visit me up on my mountain.

Laura and JT playing in the back yard on
Fellowship Street. The Tranbargers' house
is in the background.
This most recent adventure began innocuously enough with my posting of a piece of writing about Fellowship Street, a bit of fluff, really, with an unexpected result: A woman named Margie made the most amazing comment, “Have many wonderful O’Neill memories.”

I did not have to sweep the cobwebs out of my memory to recall in crystal clear detail Margie’s story. Now ninety-three years young, and still living in SoCal, (and a friend on f/b with my brother Noel), Margie first entered our lives as a neighbor, four or five houses up Fellowship Street, along with her husband Allen and four young children, the oldest Tommy being six. This would have been in the early sixties.

Specific dates are irrelevant so I will just say that I was about ten years old when Allen was killed in a car crash, leaving Margie with the four kids under six years of age, with a fifth one on the way. A native of Wisconsin, the natural thing would have been for Margie to pack up and haul the kids back to her Mama’s house, which is what Margie was being pressured to do.

I did not know any of this as a kid. All I knew for sure was that Margie was at our house after the news of Allen’s death had been revealed, crying in Mama’s bedroom, and the kids spent a lot of time at our house. When we were visiting the other day, Margie said simply, “If it weren’t for Robert and Pauline, I would never have stayed in California.”

As it was, insurance money allowed Margie to purchase a home across town from us, but only fifteen minutes away. As time went along, I used to spend time at this house, hanging out, reading a lot, and frolicking in the built-in swimming pool. I watched TV and explored the gully filled with eucalyptus trees, located across the street behind the band of homes, with whichever kids wanted to come along.

The author of Mark's Work, age ten
Being four years older than Tommy, who accompanied Margie on the road trip up here to Bell Springs Road and HappyDay Farms, I was naturally inclined to keep an eye out for the little kids, having five younger siblings of my own.

No one ever told me it was my responsibility to watch the kids; it was a given that I would do so. On the other hand, no one ever asked me to wash dishes, mop floors or do anything other than pick up after myself. Besides, my favorite pastime at this point in my life was reading, and books don’t make that much of a mess.

When Margie announced she was headed out on a road trip to visit the O’Neill complex up on Bell Springs Road, I was flummoxed. I have a devilishly hard time driving the one hour down to Willits, and am completely incapable of driving Gluten-Free Mama over to Sacramento, to consult with the pros from Dover.

For Margie to come driving up here with Tommy from SoCal as casually as that, makes her a savage in my mind. It made the visit that much more enjoyable for me. I am not a social butterfly, but because they were coming to me, at least I was in the best possible venue. 

Mama and Mark at St. Martha's
My topsy-turvy world found me down in Willits when Margie and Tommy first rolled onto the mountain Sunday afternoon. The accommodations had been arranged in advance, and they were staying at the newly-remodeled Big House, Mama and Papa’s home. The reality is that this was not Margie’s first visit, that having taken place back in the late 70’s, or early 80’s. 

In fact her youngest, Robert, or Boo, spent considerable time up here one summer. He was always Robert or Boo, which meant that me own father was never Robert, but rather, Papa. Even during this most recent visit, he was always referred to as Papa.

I stopped by the barn up above the big house when I came back from Willits Monday morning, because I saw my brother Matt’s truck. He had made a point of going over to the Big House Sunday evening to pay his respects, because he was also running his construction crew from Monday onward, so he was not going to have the luxury of playing host.

I, being retired, did have this luxury so I traipsed down and barged in on Tommy about nine or so. Margie emerged when she heard our voices, and we chatted for a minute or two before Tommy asked me, “Well, do you know why we’re here?” He went on, “We’re here to hang out with you guys; I have some grubby clothes; put me to work!”

The Big House, as seen from
the Pepper Pot
My first thought was I would play Tom Sawyer and coerce Tommy into painting that storage unit with me; we could knock that out in no time at all. Fortunately, I stifled that impulse and went a different route. I decided that if they wanted to sit around and reminisce all day, I had the flexibility to go along with the program. I am retired, after all, and can clock in if I want, or not.

“Give me a few minutes to spruce things up?” I asked, not because I was going to go home and try to actually clean, but just to give me a second to put away groceries and gather my wits. 

[Editor’s note: A second, huh?]

Eric, Mark, Noel and Brian,
with Auntie Anne behind, circa 1957,
at Disneyland.
“MARK! We’re the Gerlach’s! You don’t have to do anything!” And Margie was right. We did go back that far, and had spent enough time in both households, combining upon occasion, nine plus six kids, so yes, Better Homes and Gardens took a back-seat to reality. I do keep my home tidy at almost all times, for the simple reason that it is infinitely easier to maintain a clean living space, than it is to try and shovel out a sty, so I was in good shape for the shape I was in.

On my way home from the Big House, I stopped in at HeadSodBuster’s spot long enough to pilfer two HappyDay Farms chickens from one of the big freezers. Defrosted birds barbecue up much better after they have thawed, so I had to get that process under way.

I knew I still had potatoes from Irene’s farm that HeadSodBuster had given me a few weeks ago. Originally, it had been a good-sized box, filled with potatoes, and I had thought to myself that I would never be able to eat them before they went bad. 

That would have been just me eating them, however, but luckily I have had the pleasure of preparing several meals for the whole farm crew. Needless to say, I polished off that box when I made potato salad on Monday. I don’t know what I was thinking when I was cogitating putting Tommy to work painting. 

I had to get those potatoes on the stove-top most rickety-tick, so that I could get them peeled, cut up and in the refrigerator. No one likes warm potato salad, unless it is German potato salad with the onions, bacon and vinegar, which is served hot. This, however, was old-fashioned tater salad, flavored at the end with dill pickle juice and yellow mustard.

Next: Reminiscing 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Memories For Sale: $3.99

John Prine sang, “Memories-they can’t be boughten; they can’t be won at carnivals for free,” and to a certain extent he is correct. One can’t purchase a specific memory, but one can get caught off-guard, and get gob-smacked with an image or object, that will allow a memory to materialize for a nominal fee.

I'm reasonably certain that the hat I just purchased
is one that is designed to be worn by women.
Ask me if I care...
In my case the fee was $3.99, a price tag more reflective of 1972 values than those of 2018, and the object was a hat. I was striding toward the back of the thrift shop in the Ray’s shopping center in Willits the other day, heading for the section of used books, when this hat on a rack grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go.

The hat was identical to one I had rocked as a nineteen-year-old, having been the recipient of a handmade model, created by none other than my mother, Pauline. 

I was wearing this black, Russian, fur-lined hat, when I staggered off the six-seater plane onto the tarmac at Ft. Leonard Wood Missouri, in early January, 1972, around four in the morning.

Having arrived at the army entrance station in Los Angeles about twenty-two hours earlier that day, with the expectation that I was going to Ft. Ord [California], my ultimate destination came as a frightful shock. Wearing a light SoCal kind of jacket, the only thing that was appropriate for freezing January weather, was this Russian hat.

Ft. Dix, New Jersey, April, 1972
“I got a s’prize for y’all; y’all’er goin’ to my home state-Missouri,” the rotund, grinning sergeant had informed us, sucker-punching us for the first of an endless supply of rude awakenings, this one the worst one. Instead of riding a bus up the Cali coast about six hours’ distance to Ft. Ord, we were traveling halfway across the country to an outdoor icebox. 

Forty of us lads-er, make that thirty-nine-from the greater Los Angeles area, were sent to what was referred to as “Little Korea,” without any more notice than the announcement by the smirking sergeant. Stunned, we stared at him in mute dismay.

A lone voice in the back spoke up. “What if you have Ft. Ord guaranteed in your enlistment packet?” Thirty-nine sets of eyes swiveled jealously toward the lucky SOB who had had the foresight to get some sort of guarantee.

If anything, the sneer grew wider. “Well, ain’t you the lucky sack of shit? You’re goin’ smack into a meningitis outbreak, which is why the rest of these jaybirds are headed to Ft. Leonard Wood. They just got over one there, but you never know. You might catch another one…” His voice tailed off, and he grinned slyly. 

Thirty-nine sets of eyes followed the sacrificial lamb as he gathered up his stuff and trudged off through a door-gone-but not forgotten. For one nano-second there, we didn’t feel quite as miserable as we had been earlier. Hindsight is 20/20, was all I could think. Fuck Ft. Ord was the next thought that popped into my head.

As abjectly cruel as the world was at boot camp, one thing that became available after a short indoctrination period, was the nightlife just off post. For me nightlife meant the opportunity to quaff beer and shoot pool, and I went off post exactly once the whole ten weeks I was in Missouri. 

To drink beer and shoot pool, one did not have to leave the army base.

In the frenzy of being introduced to Missouri nightlife, a smoky, desultory sojourn in a noisy and crowded bar, I left my Russian hat behind as I stumbled out the side door, trying to keep up with my buddies.  

Dejectedly, I wrote to Mama and informed her of the calamity, suggesting that I felt bad enough already, that she should not be angry at me for being so careless. Or drunk-whatever. Beer will accomplish the task most capably, especially if you hate where you are, hate what you are doing, and miss being a college kind of dude with a girl friend.

Instead of berating me, Mama went into her sewing room, and whipped out another hat, out of the same bolt of fur-lined material, from which she had made the first. She then wrapped it up and took it up to the Sunrize (sic) Market Post Office, and sent it on its way the same day.

In addition to a letter responding to my lamentation of losing the precious hat, Mama sent the replacement. She didn’t even tell me to be careful and not lose this one, because she had a sneaking suspicion that would never happen.

Well, somewhere along the line the tattered remains of that replacement model, must have been sent down the line-gone but not forgotten.

I was after a book the other day, having forgotten mine up on the mountain, and I found one in Ed Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny.” I also found a hat, which I was delighted to pay $3.99 for, thus disproving the saying that you can’t buy memories.

I did, and I’m wearing my memory right now.

On a similar note, I reconnected with this dude, John Scott,
a couple of weeks ago, after not having spoken to him for
46 years.  We have exchanged numerous emails since then.