The Author

The Author
Any day is a good day to write

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I was the last to find out

     Normally, we go through our lives knowing important dates, without giving them much thought. There are those of us, however, who find out later in life a startling date that gives one pause. I had just such an instance recently while talking to my dad's only surviving sister, Jane. Aunt Jane's memory is remarkable for a woman who is going on 86. She gave birth to 16 children, 4 of whom died as infants or toddlers, but who lived long enough to break her heart. She also had three miscarriages, that she is aware of. She said there might be more, but she was pretty busy just trying to keep up with 12 children who did live - and get this - three of them still live with her, one of them with several children and grandchildren of her own. I also suspect she was busy hiding from her husband, Andrew. 
     We have an interesting relationship, she and I.  Those children of hers are my double cousins. We share the exact same bloodline. DNA experts would go crazy. She is my dad's younger sister and was married to my mother's older brother. Just for the record, my father had 8 brothers and sisters, and 3 half brothers; my mother had 10 brothers and sisters and one half brother; my step-mother had 12 brothers and sisters, and my wife has nine brothers and sisters. I have more relatives than a Utah polygamist. And I was raised as an only child. Go figure.
     While I was talking to my Aunt Jane - it was her birthday and I know she doesn't have many left, so I wanted to be sure to wish her well - she gave me the date I had never known. She has a remarkable talent for remembering birthdays, and knows the birthdays of all her siblings, and their children. No small feat, since there are over one hundred of them - children, that is. She could even tell me the birthday of my children. Anyway, I asked her if she knew the birthday of my mother and she said yes, and told me what it was. 
     Just to confuse you even further, the week after my mother and father got married, my father's father, a divorced man, married my mother's mother, a widow. Yep, I'm my own cousin.  (My parents are step-brother and sister - my dad's step-sister's child is my step cousin, me.)
     I never knew my mother's birthday because she died when I was 15 months old. She died a week before her second son died, from complications of Toxemia. Eclampsia, if you will. They didn't know much about it in those days, and she couldn't pull through it; neither did my brother, Richard. My father  remarried about 15 months or so after her death, to a woman he had known for only two weeks and stayed married until she died in 1991. Her name was Pearl, but everyone called her Peggie, because her mother was named Pearl. She had 11 brothers and sisters. Like I said, I got relatives coming out of the woodwork.
      My dad NEVER mentioned my mother, and when we would visit relatives, woe be unto the one who mentioned my mother in either my or Peggie's presence. That all changed when I got older, as my step-mother estranged herself from many of my dad's brothers and sisters, so they would "fill" me in on what my "real" mother was like. I grew up knowing about my mother, but nothing about her life at all. And then, last month or so, my Aunt Jane dropped the bomb. My mother's birthday is October 17th,  1927. She was married in September of 1941; gave birth to me in June, 1942; gave birth to my brother in September, 1943 and died a few days later. Here, I've done the math for you. Married at 13 years, 11 months, first child 14 years 8 months (yeah, I was full term), second child, 15 years 10 months; and took her last breath before her 16th birthday.
     They did things differently in those days. Today, I doubt if it's legal anywhere in the US, well, maybe Utah, but that's a whole different can of worms. Interestingly enough, when my father had his stroke and his memory was fading, he couldn't remember my name or who I was, for the most part. I asked him one day if he had any children and he said, "Yes, a son who's name I can't remember and a son named Richard Marlin." I then asked him how many times he was married and he got angry and said loudly, "I only had one wife, Lula Marie, the love of my life." And that was the end of that conversation. I asked him once while he was in his 80's if he remembered her face. He nodded and said he could see it as if she was sitting across from him. I then told him, "You know, you'll always remember her as young and beautiful. Isn't that a good thought?" He looked startled when he thought about it and said, "I never thought of it that way. Thank you, son." That's something I got to set straight for my dad. Nice.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Hold on a minute, I'm making up my mind.

     A writer friend of mine, Virginia Llorca, who I think is an extremely talented writer - you can see what I mean by catching her blog at - recently wrote about having pets.  It started me thinking about the pets in my life.
     I grew up with a dog at my side, until I was about 16. I'm not sure where Stuff came from, but she was a mixed breed, mostly short-haired terrier. She was black and white and seldom barked. A small dog, but bigger than a chihuahua, and without the attitude. She was just a great companion. Where I went, she went. However, she used to go to a few places I didn't when I wasn't around. As she got older she started showing signs of the wear and tear that life causes in general. She had cataracts and walked stiff legged; sure signs of old age. Didn't eat well, and left occasional deposits here and there. Not enough to make you angry, but enough to feel concern for her, because she never did that before. All in all, she was about as good a dog as a boy could ask for. And, she was my dog. She tolerated my parents, but slept at the foot of, or on, my bed. No one else's; seldom her own.
     Then, one day when I was 16 or so, I came home from school and things were different. Usually, Stuff would be waiting at the door for me, tail wagging, tongue hanging out just waiting to shower me with licks as she jumped up and pranced around. It hadn't been as joyous lately, but she still still gave it the old college try. She wasn't there. I walked into the kitchen and noticed her water bowl was missing. I swear that dog could count. Towards the end she like her water with ice in it. Three cubes. Not one or two, or four, but three. She would stand there waiting for you to put in the right amount. If you didn't, she would look at you with her head tilted to one side, as if saying, "Come on, you know how I like it. What are you doing?" When you finally added the third cube, she would step over and take a few licks. Then look at you again as if saying, "Thanks," and then she would resume drinking until she was happy. Then she would wander over to her bed and lay down, her nose tucked under one paw and generally nod off to sleep. Like I said, she wasn't home when I got there.
     So, I asked my step-mother, (I would normally have said mother here, but over the years we'd grown estranged, and after she died I took to calling her my step-mother when I talk or write about her.) "Where's Stuff?"
     In just a matter of fact way as I said those words, she answered back. "She wasn't doing well, so I took her to the vet and had her put down."
     At first, what she said didn't register. When it did, I blurted out, "Without telling me? You had no right to do that. She was MY dog, not yours. Where is she?"
     My step-mother, not really taken aback, but surprised I guess, simply stared at me for a minute before answering. "The vet has already taken care of the body," she said, and then turned back to what she was doing.
     "I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye." Anger isn't a strong enough word to describe my emotions. Rage comes to mind. Knowing I might do or say something I would regret, I left the kitchen and went to my room. I was to angry to cry, besides, I was a foolish teenager, and it was a fact that big boys didn't cry in those days. So, I just harbored dark thoughts and in general talked to myself about appropriate punishments for people like her. I think that was the start of our troubles. Her indifference to my feelings.
     When our conversations resumed sometime a few days later, she figured it was over and actually brought the business about Stuff up. Didn't apologize, but came up with what she thought was a good reason for her actions. I just shut her out. I went through the motions, but I realized at that moment, our relationship would never, ever be the same. She never apologized to me for anything that she ever did, even when she was egregiously wrong. And that's a shame.
     Next time I'll tell you about the time I came home as an adult and my wife greeted me with this comment. "Either the dog goes, or I go! Pick one!" My answer is legend in our family.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Today's laundry list actually includes laundry....

     I was told as a child that we don't air our dirty laundry in public. Well, for starters, in my neighborhood which is under the control of an HOA, we don't launder anything in public, it's against the rules, therefore, NO clotheslines. However, I'm not writing this to whine about that, but to talk about laundry. That's right folks, laundry.
     It all started a few years ago when I accidentally left a ball point pen in a white dress shirt pocket and my wife didn't see it and washed it along with some of her things. One of which was a brand new white blouse for which she had paid a significant sum of her hard earned money. Which, as she held it up to show me, eyes blazing, was now RUINED! thanks to me and my forgetful ways. Then the tears came.
     "I only got to wear it once and now YOU have RUINED it."
     I tried to explain, but let's face it, what could I say. She was right. Never mind the fact she didn't check my pockets, and the pen was probably in plain sight. And there was no smoking gun that ever proved it was me who did it. It was circumstantial evidence at best, but I must admit, she keeps her pens in her purse, and I keep mine in my pants pockets, shirt pockets or anywhere I might keep one because I don't carry a purse, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, I digress. 
     There I was feeling guilty as a forgetful husband can feel, and with a great deal of bravado, said, "You forget I was in the laundry business for quite a few years, my dear, and I can take care of this stain. Give me that blouse." And, here's the really good part, I took that blouse, the white shirt and the other items that had ink on them and completely removed the ink. All through the magic of a little laundry product called Fels-Naptha soap. It's very effective and all it took was a little Fels-Naptha, some elbow grease and lots of patience. Anyway, a few minutes later I was standing in front of her with my biggest smile, holding up her blouse and saying, "Ta-Da!", triumphantly. 
     She had to admit that, indeed, I had done it. Then she said, "you are so good at this, you can start doing all the laundry."
      (To be fair, she works at our flower shop and I don't. I'm home all day trying to write the Great American Novel in my old age.) So, I agreed I would take over the laundry duties. Besides, I knew I would do a good job. You might think that would be the end of this. But, Noooo! She comes in while I'm doing laundry (that doesn't happen anymore as I don't do it when she's around) and then proceeds to tell me how to do it. 
     For instance, she says, "Wash my blouses with the little sequins and rhinestones on them inside out."
     "Why?" I ask.
     "So the little sequin and rhinestone thingies don't catch on each other and rip off."
     "Where did you learn that?"
     "Martha Stewart."
     "How the hell does she know anything about laundry, outside of that stint in prison?"
     "She's Martha Stewart, for God's sake - just do my blouses that way. Do whatever you want with your clothes."
     "I don't have little sequin thingies on my clothes," I point out. "In addition to which I spent 14 years of my life working in the detergent and laundry field. And was pretty good at it, I might add."
     So I did a little research into washing clothes inside out and pretty much a lot of people agree it seems like a good idea. However, all of the evidence is anecdotal. A few mention they have tried both ways and see no difference, but one person said it improved the look of her jeans by three times as much, and another said that cycling shorts faded immediately but when turned inside out, still looked as good as new two years later. To which I say - poppycock.
     Turning clothes inside out protects them from nothing, not water, rubbing against each other, chemicals and so on. In fact, turning a sequined shirt inside out, would more than likely assist the likelihood of snagging, because each little sequin would have all those other sequins to rub against and snag on. Common laws of physics. So, here's what I did. I started washing some of her tops inside out and others right side out. Guess what? The old dad was right. Over time, several of her tops lost a sequin or two when turned inside out, but not one of them lost a sequin or rhinestone when washed right side out. TA-DA! No longer anecdotal evidence, but empirical, scientifically proven evidence.
     So, all you wonderful people out there who wash things with sequins on them, take my advice. Do it anyway you want, but if you want to save your sequins and rhinestones from snagging and getting removed, wash them right side out. There are a lot of other ways to help, too. For example, by putting more water in your load, you decrease the mechanical action. A gentler wash means less likelihood of snags. And, vice-versa. If the clothes are a little dirtier than normal, decreasing the water will help, but additional detergent, a longer washing time and a little more heat (warm water, not hot) will also do the trick. And for you husbands, not doing the wash, do yourself a favor. Don't leave a pen in your shirt pocket, or, you might be spending a lot time in the laundry room. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Life isn't fair, but is there a reason that's true?

     I can't believe I'm back writing a blog on the same day I wrote one, after not writing for a year or so. But, this afternoon, we found out that my wife Kathy's cousin Judy and her husband, lost their son, Chad, today to cancer. A particularly vicious form of cancer because it was one that offered hope that perhaps her son wouldn't die, and then, the shitty disease cancer is, it takes him anyway.
     It's not like we are really close, but come on folks, she's family, and so was her son. We have been away from the family, for over 35 years, separated by distance. They live in Illinois and we live in Nevada. However, with the advent of social media we manage to keep in touch and we also got regular reports on Chad's condition. The last ones I read were positive, but then, that's what mothers do when they write about the fact their child has cancer. They write positively to others, keeping what little strength they can manage to muster and say the words to family that the mother knows people are so desperate to hear, and the words they keep telling themselves, over and over.
     Judy's father, Manrow, is a favorite uncle of ours, and is still kicking at the age of 92. I'm not quite sure if they've told Uncle Manny about Chad yet, and if they do how he is going to take it. Grandparents make attachments to each of their grandchildren, all in different ways. I have six of those precious little people and just the thought of losing anyone of them sends me into spirals of depression and paroxysms of despair.
     I am reminded of when I was in the third grade, kind of about the time most kids come into their own and are pretty sure at that point they are masters of their own destiny. And when the teacher would ask which of us would want to perform some particular task, I would always have my hand in the air, waving it back and forth saying, "Pick me, Pick me." without even knowing what the task was. I think a lot of us are like that. We liked being picked for things. Well, the reason I brought that up is this is one of those times, that given the opportunity and the chance to be chosen to go to where ever it is that you go when one dies, instead of someone you love unconditionally, that Uncles Manny's hand would be in the air waving, saying, "Take me, take me."
     I know if it were one of my grandchildren, my hand would be in the air, waving back and forth, trying to get the attention of whomever is making the choice, and saying the same thing.
     So, the next time you think about a person who you think is taken before their time, perhaps, just perhaps, they received some cosmic message and had the opportunity to put their hand in the air. For all we know, Chad may have made the same choice to save someone he loves, unconditionally, and that's something we need to think about. There's no setting some things right, but perhaps this is one of those things you have to accept on faith. I'd like to think Chad had the opportunity, and made the choice to say, "pick me", for someone he loves.

I'm Baaaaaack!

     In general, life, for most people, is always getting in the way of what they really want to do. Consequently, I let little things, usually unimportant, stop me from writing this blog. Never mind the fact I don't have a readership that demands it. I mean, let's face it, four followers aren't a lot. I'm working on improving that. Well, I did have one reader who asked me why I wasn't doing it, and I need to start again. She likes it, she likes it. Ironically, it came the day after I had been on the blog thinking about starting to write it again. And, using that sign from the heavens as encouragement, (asking me why I wasn't doing it - right after I was thinking about it - is a sign, isn't it?), I've decided to write a least once a week, perhaps more. There are a few things that need setting straight and I hardly know where to begin. 
    First let me talk about my grandson, Joshua, the one who used his newly found money (from under the self check out registers at the grocery store - he always finds some) to buy a poppy last Memorial day. That grandson. He and I were in a grocery store recently (he's 9 years old) and we were checking out the snack aisle. Grandma wanted us to get some snacks for a day trip to Death Valley. We always take some snacks on any kind of road trip. It sure beats paying the high prices in the convenience stores that are on the way, they are called convenience stores, not inexpensive stores, for a reason. Having snacks is a good distraction from "are we there yet?" to just say, "here, eat a peanut butter cookie", or whatever you have. I digress - by now you are aware I'm good at that - anyway, there we were in the snack aisle and I suggest we get some Doritos. Doritos, which, along with bacon, I consider a food group, are Mother Nature's gift to me for being a good steward of the land. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
      I said, "let's get some Doritos".
     Joshua, said "Okay, but let's get Cool Ranch flavor."
     Me, being a nachos cheese and original flavor kind of guy, said, "Why? Do they taste better?"
     "No", he said, "but you won't get the orange stuff on your fingers and Mom won't know when you've been in 'em."
     There we were, eating our Cool Ranch Doritos, when we went right through Beatty, Nevada, Gateway to Death Valley, without stopping to gas up. I knew there weren't a lot of opportunities to get gas in Death Valley, and a few miles out of town considered turning around to go back, but we were running late. There were a few stops we wanted to make and time was getting short. I figured it would be more expensive, hence my reason for wanting to fill up in Beatty, but reasoned how bad could it be? 
     So, we pressed on to Rhyolite, an absolutely great ghost town while my kids were growing up, but now a mere shell of itself. All the buildings are roped off for the most part, especially the interesting ones, like the train station with forbidding signs that say things like, 'danger' and 'contaminated'. There were massive fences all locked up, around those buildings, and I guess it's just another example of the Nanny State protecting themselves or us, although, I can never figure out who they are trying to protect. 
     We tooled around to different places, (wonderful places, I might add) and finally got to Furnace Creek. It was a pretty hot day (February and it was already 90 degrees) so we decided to stop and get gas before we went on to check out the 20 Mule Team Borax wagon, which has wooden wheels, wrapped in iron, that are taller than I am.  Which is almost as good as stopping in Iowa where they have the world's largest ball of string. Maybe better. 
     As I pulled into the station I was hit with the biggest case of sticker shock since the gas crisis of 1973. Gas in Las Vegas before I left was $3.56 a gallon. Gas in Furnace Creek? $5.78 per gallon for Regular; the high test stuff was $6.08. It was outrageous. 
     I said, "I won't pay it. That's GOUGING. That's HIGHWAY ROBBERY". I used capital letters when I said it, too, if you get my drift, plus probably a few words my grandson had not heard before - then again, he is in third grade and I heard some pretty salty language last time I was with him on the school playground. 
     Then my lovely wife, Kathy, and much more calm in these types of situations, although she has her own moments too, simply said, "Roy, they call it Death Valley for a reason. And it's about two hundred miles before we get gas again, unless we go to Beatty now and then come back. But, by then, we'd miss Scotty's Castle, so we may as well leave now." 
     I looked in the mirror, into the eyes of my grandson sitting in the back seat, who said nothing, but his eyes said it all. He knew I was going to buy the gas, Kathy knew I was going to buy the gas, and at that moment so did I. But I did it reluctantly, understand? All the while mumbling about being gouged, and them having a captive audience. The signs all over saying last gas for 110 miles didn't help my mood either. All because I missed topping off the tank in Beatty. 
     I guess in thinking back over everything, I knew the circumstances when we left, and I have no one to blame but me. Even though I do harbor black thoughts about the ownership of the gas station who use their situation to take advantage of people. And that's something that needs set straight.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Things we can learn from our grandchildren

    Like all grandparents, we often think our grandchildren wear these little halos and say the cutest things. Occasionally, they say amazing things, and once in a while, they DO amazing things. Yesterday was one of those days. We took one of our grandchildren, Joshua, who is 8, to the grocery store with us and while we were there, he spent his time doing all the things an 8 year old will do, and at one point, was on his hands and knees looking under the self checkout counters for coins. Which he found - 48 cents worth - and was very proud of his find.
     As he held them tightly in his fist, I asked him what he planned to do with this newfound wealth. He replied he didn't know, but you could see his eyes and mind wandering as he gazed at the impulse items aligning the shelves next to us as we checked out. (He was with two of his four grandparents who would have indulged him in his choices, unlike a parent who would say, not that, not this and so on.) He didn't buy anything though, and as we walked out of the store, behind a table, sat an older man. Piled on the table were bunches of paper poppies and a donation box with a sign saying, Memorial Day Poppies.
     Grandma said, "Josh, if you wanted to spend your money, that would be a good thing to spend it on." Joshua asked why. Grandma said, "Because all the money goes to help veterans who return home from the war. The man will give you a poppy and you can keep it and it will always remind you that there are people who fight for your freedom and even give their lives so you can live in a free county."
     Without hesitating, he walked up, put the 48 cents into the money box and collected his poppy. He said, "I'll show this to my mom and dad tonight, when we go to Grammy and Grandpop's."
     As we walked to the car, apparently I started experiencing an allergy of some sort, because my eyes were beginning to water, and I had a funny tightness in my chest. As we were putting the groceries in the car, my wife asked me, "Why do they sell poppies for Memorial Day? Do you know?"
     I answered, "It's because of the poem, Flanders Fields, which starts, "In Flander's Fields, the poppies grow, between the grave sites row by row, or something like that. It's one of the most famous poems of World War I, and honors the men who are buried in Europe after being killed in battle. On Memorial Day we buy poppies to remind us of why they died." (Actually, the first two stanzas are, In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row by row.) 
     As we rode home in silence, each of us thinking our own thoughts about the past few moments, Joshua was gripping his poppy and looking at it. He then suddenly spoke up and said, "I did a good thing, didn't I?" I couldn't answer for at that moment, for that funny allergy business returned suddenly and I found it difficult to talk. So, I just drove home as Grandma was able to softly answer, "Yes, Joshua, you did a good thing."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Retail Madness

     In the midst of all the Christmas hustle and bustle, I had need to buy some undergarments, strike that, let's call it what it is: Underwear. As in briefs, whitey tighteys.  (I don't do the boxer thing - not enough support.) My wife actually said, “Are you going to buy something now with Christmas so close?  Put them on your list.”  I declined. 
     Now people in general shy away from talking about underwear at any time, except in the concept of mother to son and/or wife to husband saying things like, "You really need to get new underwear, aren't you afraid you'll get in an accident and the nurses at the hospital will see them?" Notice I didn't say mother to daughter, and husband to wife. Males tend to not worry about their underwear and females stress over them. 
     Underwear was invented for one purpose, and one purpose only; to protect your outerwear from the ravages of natural body functions over which, apparently, boys and men have absolutely no control. Nor, do they seem to be worried about how they look figuring no one is going to see them, ever, unless, of course, you do get into that accident your mother warned you about, but as you are laying on the sidewalk bleeding and they are ripping your clothes off to see where you are bleeding from, the last thing on your mind is whether or not your underwear is clean. Officially, then, males don't care.  However, after constant nagging from mothers and wives, sons and husbands generally change them daily, but wear them until they are threadbare, with holes in them, and sometimes stained beyond what would be considered polite. 
     I had cause recently to go buy new underwear, because some of mine had reached the, "If you put those on and wear them out of this house, I swear by the time you return home you will not have any underwear left in your drawer, and you will be forced to buy new ones."  So, she's willing to send me to the store, sans underwear, which in my view would be far worse, as you are laying on the sidewalk bleeding from the afore mentioned accident, and when they rip of your trousers, the crowd would gasp, and the nurses would be forced to turn their heads. 
     However, I went (on my own, honest) and went to one of the nation's largest discount department stores and found them for the ridiculously unbelievable price of $36 for three pairs - 40% OFF!  I mean, come on.  $12 apiece?  On Sale? And these weren't those fancy dancy, low slung Chippendale briefs in shocking blue, these were run of the mill whitey tighteys.  After shopping at a few other, higher priced department stores, which were about the same, I ended up in a Big Box store where I found 7 pairs for $12.  Let's see now, $12 for one, or 7 of 'em for the price of one. I asked the lady helping me (there were no men working there - go figure) in the high priced store why the briefs there were priced so high.  She gave me this really big speech about thread count, dependable elasticity and something about "pocket" comfort. Her words, not mine.  I opted for the ones that were less than $2 each.  Keep the thread count and the elasticity.  These have plenty of pocket comfort and they will do the job, just fine, thank you. And, I can throw them away with impunity and buy new ones far more often, so they will always be clean.  If I do get in that accident we've been discussing I'll be fine with the nurses ripping off my pants.  Really.  I mean, who besides Mom's and wives will be looking anyway, and they're used to seeing men's underwear look like that.