News From Home

Traveling in East Africa in 1970s and 1980s was different than it would be now – not much communication was possible.  Occasionally I would see a news story from home in a local paper, but US news was hardly a priority.  I might hear of an earthquake in California, but that’s as specific as it would get – no city, no size noted.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this article in The Standard (Kenya) that mentions my little hometown, Lakeside, California.  Now it wasn’t very accurate – I doubt if San Diego looked like a ghost town.  And El Cajon is not on the river.  And I know that the dam did not burst.  But it sure got my attention at the time.


Fifth grade was a big year for me – I could see! Not that I realized before that I couldn’t see.

I used to sit about two feet from the television. Mom and Dad would tell me to move back. I did, but slowly moved up close again. They’d tell me to move back again and I’d leave the room. I didn’t understand what was so great about TV at a distance.

The school nurse told my mother that I should have my eyes tested. So we headed off to Dr. Root in San Diego – quite a trip in those days from our rural town. I liked the eye tests (still do). We had to wait a couple of weeks for the glasses to be made. Then on the big day, we drove back to the city.

I was astounded – I could see windows in buildings and leaves on the trees and people’s faces. I exclaimed over everything. It made mom feel so guilty for not knowing that I had such poor eyesight. No one else in the family wore glasses. Even now I’m amazed when I see babies in glasses. In those days it was unusual for someone in elementary school to wear them.

On the first day I took the glasses to school and hid them in my desk. When the teacher wrote something on the board, I slipped them on. It was magic! After that I never tried to hide them. I did think I looked awkward in them, but at that age I would have felt awkward anyway.

Zuni Woodcarver

A year ago I camped at the El Morro RV park.  Wandering around the grounds, I came across a woodcarver.  Serendipity.  This was Loy Lewis, a carver from a long line of Zuni woodworkers.

He was working on elaborate pieces, mostly of ravens (crows?).  I bought a small piece; my camp neighbors bought one of the bigger ones.  Mine lives on my RV dash.

Kindergarten Class of ’51

I was in Mrs. Lyons’ kindergarten class at Lindo Park School in Lakeside, California.  There were two kindergarten classrooms, separate from the other elementary class, with our own fenced playground.

Class of 1951

We painted at big easels, wearing our fathers’ shirts backwards for aprons.

We had graham crackers and milk for our snack and naps on bath towels brought from home.

Notes between Mom and Mrs. Lyons were pinned to my blouse or sweater.  And milk money was wrapped in one of Mom’s handkerchiefs and pinned to my clothing.

Once Mom brought one of our lambs for the class to see and pet.  Wish I had a video of her putting it in the truck to drive the three miles to us.  My city-bred mother toughened up fast.

Graduation from kindergarten was a big deal.  We had caps made from black construction paper – a ring of paper topped with a square, plus a tassel.

And here is my report card.  It says I am promoted to pre-first grade.  I have no idea what that means!

Meeting Jacqui

I was 16 or 17 returning to California on a Greyhound bus after visiting relatives in the Midwest.  As happens on long bus trips, my seat-mate and I got to talking.  This time it was Ivan Day from New Zealand.  The important part of that chat was that he suggested I write to a family friend of his.  Jacqui Knight was a few years younger than me, but we shared a love of animals, especially horses.  Thanks to Ivan, Jacqui and I became pen-pals.  And pen-pals were all the rage then.

Jacqui with my Mom 1973, Lakeside, California

We wrote frequently for a couple of years, exchanging letters, cards, and small gifts.  Some years the letters tapered off, then began again.  She visited the States in the 1970s. I was living in Swaziland then, so she met my parents, but not me.  We had never met until this week.

Social media has made it so much easier to keep in touch and to make quick arrangements.  Snail mail was quite slow.  She visited the west coast earlier this year – I almost flew to LA for a lunch with her.  She suggested waiting until May when she would be back for various conferences and events.  She is the butterfly advocate in New Zealand and founded Moths and Butterflies of NZ Trust.

She planned to be in Lawrence, Kansas for Monarch Watch’s Spring Open House.  I decided to take a road trip to meet her.

We stayed at a delightful bed and breakfast – Cedar Acres Farm near Oskaloosa, Kansas, for three nights.  We had time to talk, visit Lawrence and Monarch Watch, talk more and more.  We had some catching-up to do do.  There were a few gaps and for me a few memory lapses.  It was amazing.  We hadn’t met before, but we have known each other for over 50 years.  Definitely not strangers.  But I did learn some things about Jacqui.

She can keep up a frantic pace – very energetic, gets a lot accomplished, and keeps up with a huge network of friends and colleagues.  I need a day off every once in a while – even on a road trip.  She doesn’t – she thrives on this life.

She’s very tech savvy.  On this trip as I drop off social media, she seeks it.  The American car, the GPS on her smart phone, and her computer – along with everyone’s version of wi-fi:  none of it fazes her.

She’s very knowledgeable about butterflies, not just Monarchs.  She knows the habitats and ecology as well.

I’ve always known she was adventurous.  About 20 years ago she rode her horse from one end of New Zealand to the other.  You can read about it here.  I learned she’s still adventurous and interested in what’s around her – water tanks or children’s games.  She tackled her own road trip here – a couple of thousand miles.  No fear.  Which leads to the next discovery.  She’s an excellent driver.  And brave.  My proof:  she drove in Mexico City.  Enough said.

Jacqui giving her talk at Monarch Watch.

She still watches horses.  Maybe that never changes for us horse-crazy girls.

She’s very easy to be around.  This definitely felt like an old comfortable friendship.

I didn’t want our time together to end.  It was hard to watch her drive away from our one meeting in fifty some years.

Sentimental about a Tree

Always Backroads

I’ve just picked the first apricots off the scraggly little tree in my yard.  The entire crop will be about a couple dozen apricots – most will go to the birds.  And that’s fine with me.  But the taste of that real, that fresh apricot took me back to the wonderful tree that Dad planted at the family house in Lakeside, California.

Apricot tree in Lakeside backyard.

When I was planning to leave California and rent out the house, my nephew asked if I would be okay emotionally letting others live in the house that up until then had sheltered only family.  My response was that I could let the house go, but I was a little choked up about leaving the apricot tree.  It was about 35 years old, pruned to a perfect bowl shape and every year produced a huge crop of apricots.  They were almost too fragile…

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Childhood Replay

Yesterday I was watering a big pecan tree for a neighbor who was away.  I dug out a bit of a basin and filled it twice with the hose.  The memories returned of watering the avocado trees when I was a kid.  There were about 12 or 15 young trees in three rows on a slope above the horse corral.  Dad had already made the basins, but if I didn’t pay attention, I could over-fill them and a small crisis occurred.  Hurry, move the water wand to the next tree, grab the shovel and repair the damage.  Every tree was watered twice.

Today I was ironing some handkerchiefs – I sell vintage items online.  And I again returned to childhood.  My first ironing chore was pressing Dad’s handkerchiefs.  Not quite foolproof – I can remember the smell of scorched cloth and the permanence of that mark.  But they were the easiest thing to iron.

Now maybe I should go dry some silverware.  That was my first job in the dishwashing department.  Couldn’t break anything.  I, of course, graduated to washing and drying all the dishes and now have regressed to never drying anything.

There is something to the idea of becoming young again in our advanced age.  It’s a loop and I’m enjoying the replay.  Want to come over?  We could build a fort out of sofa cushions.

The Scar

This was an assignment from a writers’ conference in Santa Fe a few years ago.  The instructor said to write about a scar and would you want to have it removed.

The Scar

     It should be across my chest, just below the collarbones.  An imprint of a wall I’d never seen before – hundreds of yards long, twenty feet tall and forever thick.  Cemented rocks to block my eyes, my ears from my heart … and from this newborn in my arms.  It’s preventing me from feeling love for this grandchild just as it shielded me years ago from feelings when the social worker took the signed papers and my son.  I built this barricade with river rocks of lies and jagged blocks of denial and hid it from sight.

Now that my son is back in my life and I hold his son, the infant sends the feared question through the wall at me, ‘How could you give up a child?’  And I know now.  I know I had to build the barrier.  And that knowledge causes the wall to dissolve leaving just a ragged furrow.

No, I won’t have the scar removed.  It’s too new.  I remember the weight of the wall.  I haven’t yet found the extent of its damage.