Archive for September, 2010

Oceans ten

Well, we learned something a few weekends ago. Going on a family vacation when one or more members of the family is an infant is not the same as going on a family vacation when no member of the family is an infant. If one hopes to “vacate” one’s daily routine, one is sadly delusioned: one only makes it more complicated and difficult. And as it turns out, Emilia likes car travel even less than I do. We managed to enjoy ourselves — a lot, actually — but really it was like we all took Mara to the beach, and even Mara had to wait around a lot wishing we were doing something else besides feed Emilia or watch her sleep.

Crickets serenaded us at night in the big field outside our windows. Practically all of Gearheart is visible in the background of this photo.

Beauty and the beach. The sun sets in the surf at Gearheart.

Nevertheless, we got our licks in. We stayed three nights at the Gearheart Ocean Inn, a delightful little hostelry a mile or two north of Seaside, Oregon, which is just north over the hump from Cannon Beach. Gearheart is cheaper and quieter and offers guests its own private beach. It’s an expansive beach, and it is preceded inland by a hundred or so yards of grassy dunes. Tidepools form as the ocean ebbs away from high tide, in which one might find crabs and sand dollars, if you don’t wait for the seagulls to find them first. The only think the beach at Gearheart lacks is Haystack Rock, which is a lot to lack, but there is only one beach in the entire world that does not lack Haystack Rock*, and we were just a short hop down the highway therefrom.

Gearheart looks like nothing much out on the main highway. Strip malls with tax preparers and hair-and-nail salons, auto-wrecking yards, real estate offices, the odd antique barn or espresso shack. But toward the beach there is a tiny business district — a cafe, an ice-cream and candy shop, a garden shop called Seven Dees (part of a local chain) a grocery and a post office, and the Gearheart Ocean Inn —  surrounded by quiet little beach residences, some very charming and old.

A girl, a bucket, an ocean, and some sand.

Rest for weary souls.

Mara calls most old cars "Chitty cars". There were a LOT of Chitty cars in Seaside that day, my friends.

We expected lousy weather and came resolved for the sting of wind-whipped rain in our faces, but it was just warm enough during the days and bracingly chilly in the mornings and evenings after sundown, and the sun was out for a good portion of each day. Mara and I ducked into Seaside the second day to find a book store because we forgot to bring any books for her nighttime routine (right, like I would need an excuse to go hunt down the local indie bookseller), and found ourselves awash in the largest roadster rally I’ve ever seen. Both sides of the main drag through town for half a mile or more were lined with glimmering souped up old cars, and the sidestreets and parking lots were full of more of them — hoods and bonnets up so the throngs of mainly aging enthusiasts could peer inside, comment and query, nod approvingly.

One afternoon we zipped down to Cannon Beach, where the sands were teeming with vacationing life forms. We’d hoped to get out to Haystack Rock to poke at starfish and anemones, but we had come midway between low tides. Mara and I built a sandcastle, pausing to marvel at a flock of pelicans that swooped down and disappeared between the waves as they skimmed the surf for whatever they eat, while Angela put Millie in the Moby-wrap and took her for a long, pacifying stroll down the beach toward the Rock. Later we strolled through Cannon Beach town and ate ice-cream cones that were positively indecent in size.

Pelicans.

The sandcastle is an annual tradition. I tunnel while Mara adds architectural embellishments.

A lucky shot, considering how few other souls were at Gearheart's beach to ask to take a photo of us. Note that Mara is dry only from the shoulders up.

Mornings, we nipped over to the Gearhearat Cafe (I don’t know if it was called that, but there is no other cafe in town so anyone would know what you meant if you called it that) and availed ourselves of their fresh-baked pastries — sticky buns, apple turnovers, mixed fruit and peach tarts and cream cheese danishes, croissants and blueberry muffins, yumm — which drew a perplexingly large crowd to the cafe’s inside and outside tables, considering it is in the middle of absolutely nowhere, or rather at the edge of nowhere.

We had lots of books and games and DVDs for hunkering down in the cottage during foul weather, but we actually spent most of our time exploring. We took some pictures, naturally. We took lots. I’m surprised we don’t have any photos of us doing what we do most and best on vacations, and that’s hunt down brunch. We tried a place out on the highway at Gearheart — suitable, not ravable — and of course we had to go back to our favorite, the Pig ‘N Pancake in Cannon Beach (there’s one in Seaside, too, but tradition is tradition). We tried the crab omelette and the Polish kielbasa scramble this time. Never a bad mean at the Pig ‘N Pancake.

Mara twirling her dance while the Tillimook Light hoves like a whale's flukes in the distance.

My annual "happy place" photo. In case of emotional breakdown, send me here.

Emilia looks serene because we paused in the long homeward drive to feed her. I look grumpy because we're at a Starbucks that's completely surrounded by the parking lot of a mammoth outlet mall. My idea of a view of the sea is not a sea of cars.

All in all, it was a lot of work to get to the beach, and we still had a great time. Next year, we might try something closer, even if we have to trade the Columbia River area’s sandy beaches for northern Washington’s pebbly ones.

*Not true, actually. There are dozens and maybe even hundreds of them. Just consult any high-resolution coastal map. 

These are the days

And stay right here ’cause these are the good old days”

– Carly Simon

My old friend Kip brought his family to town this week, and tonight we all descended on the Old Spaghetti Factory down at the foot of Broad Street. Marni, who was a buddy of Kip’s even before I met her — she was one of those younger kids, a freshman, when Kip and I were sophomores in high school — jumped through firy hoops to get off work at the book store early so she could be part of the soirée

The Old Spaghetti Factory is a national chain, but it feels local because they've always used spacious old warehouses to serve up their pasta in. This one's been here since the '70s, I believe. (I took this photo a month or so ago.)

There’s not a big story to tell about the evening, or rather, there is a very deep and rich story of why Kip and Ami brought their beautiful children over the mountains but it is their story and I am not at liberty to tell it. Else I would. The smaller story is that Marni and Kip got to reconnect a little bit over plates of pasta after not seeing each other for I think fifteen years. They’ve changed as they must inevitably change — we are all getting older — but it is my experience that both of them are the kind of people with whom, after a decade or so, it is possible to pick right up where you left off.

It went by too fast. A baby and a toddler and the kids and the arrival of plates of food kept us all hopping throughout the dinner, and I don’t think there was a single moment when all of us were seated. But we had fun catching up and just generally being merry, something Angela and I have long recognized that Kip and Marni are both good at. Ami we’re just getting to know, but she married Kip so you know she’s got a wicked sense of humor. Their toddler Claire, two tomorrow (Happy Birthday, little princess!), spent most of the evening in some position of adjacency to Ami (next to, on lap of, on shoulder of, etc.) and they brought along Ami’s niece Abbie, who held a fourteen-year-old’s special whammy charm over their four-year-old son Will. Mara felt honored to be able to sit next to Marni and show her her new shell necklace.

Right to left: Mara, Marni, Ami, and Claire.

So we didn’t talk deep and late into the night — what made me think we would be doing that? — but it was a time I wouldn’t trade for anything. It ended abruptly, too, as gatherings of families with youngsters often do. Time on the kid-clock runs out parabolically and you suddenly have to get them home and started on their routines. We managed to catch the last rays of a sunset from the Sculpture Park across the street and take a few pictures, and then — bizzanggg! — we all drove off in different directions.

My tendency toward melancholy makes me want to rue afresh all the years when we weren’t in touch, Marni and Kip and I, and the “lateness of the hour”, as it were, but it feels right to simply enjoy and savor the time we had tonight, and be grateful that I have great people in my life, right now, today, that I once thought I’d forever lost, along with a new jewel or two, too.

Gettin' wiggly. We walked across the street to pose on a concrete bench that turned out to be a work of art called "Untitled". Note the two reunited pals yukking it up top right.

Adoption Day

You’ll fly away
but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job’s done, you’ll be the one who knows”

– Dar Williams

This morning on the third floor of the King County Courthouse on Third and James, the State of Washington recognized and established Emilia Jane as a member of our family and Mara officially became a big sister. Now when the cyclops eye of the state looks out upon the world, it sees, as all states do, only one truth without any gray areas or previous realities or multiple intertwining existential perspectives. As far as the state is concerned, it is as though Emilia was born of Angela’s and my loins, and there is no other condition of affairs as regards this family. We, on the other hand, carry with us the complexities of our situation, in particular the future questions to be answered about “why” and “what if” and the present questions of how to forge an ongoing relationship with Emilia’s birthparents in a very open adoption.

Waiting to be called before the judge. Some of our support team.

And yet…And yet, the fact that we have adopted both of our daughters is in our minds the least interesting thing about them. They are simply our children. When I call the house as I walk home from the bus stop at the end of the day and tell Mara that I’m getting near our street and she hangs up and runs outside and rushes down the sidewalk with her hair flapping and her bare feet slapping the pavement until she hits me with her arms wide open and I lift her up into the arc of her momentum and hold her in my arms, I never think “this is my adopted daughter Mara”. I stopped thinking of her as something other than my child about three seconds after she was born, and it is the same with Emilia. The decree of the state is a nice thing — it feels good to have the Big Wheel Turning acknowledge us as a family — but it is only the acknowledgement of what is already true. We have been on the job for eleven weeks in Emilia’s life, actually much longer. 

We consider ourselves blessed. Because of two women’s courageous decisions, made in love, we are the family we dreamed of being. And we joyfully accept the added difficulties that present themselves now and will emerge later. 

and yes we said yes we will yes...

Those difficulties, real as they are, were far from our minds this day as we approached the bench of Judge Carlos V– with our adoption attorney Albert. Uncle Albert, as we call him, was our lawyer all through Mara’s adoption process, and we are particularly fond of him. He talks fast and is always right, and he begins most of his statements with “Listen…”, which took me a little getting used to, but he is really an old softy and is very good at what he does. He has worked miracles on our behalf, cutting through red tape and o’erleaping bureaucratic hurdles to get the proper motions and pleas in place at the proper times in very hectic situations with very narrow margins for delay.

Albert introduced us to hizzoner the judge, noting that we were “veterans” of this process, and then asked Angela and myself each our names, then whether we were married, then whether it was our desire to adopt this baby, and then whether we were “in a position financially, emotionally, physically and in all other ways to care for her and provide for her needs”, and then what the baby’s name was to be. After saying our names, we said yes, yes, yes and Emilia Jane F—.

Judges like this sort of thing on a Friday.

I got tears in my eyes. The judge, who I’m pretty sure was the same judge as in Mara’s case, did not study our faces while Albert asked us these questions, did not seem that interested in us. I don’t think that he even looked up from the papers (or crossword puzzle?) he was working on, though I can’t be sure because I was looking mainly at Albert. You might surmise from his demeanor that he considered all this to be a dreary routine, but Albert once told us that judges in this kind of court love to preside over adoptions, because families come in all bubbling over with joy, which is a rare thing in the courtroom. The rest of their cases are divorces and custody battles and usually involve parties in bitter opposition.

Albert then turned to ask members of our family who had come to share in the event with us whether they were in favor, and my mother, sister and brother-in-law and our friend Bethany behind us all said yes (I think Randy said “aye”), and then Albert told the judge that in light of all this testimony he recommended that the judge sign our adoption decree. Then in the same tone that one might mutter “hmmm, I seem to have left my car keys on the counter at the hotel” the judge told us he was going to go ahead and sign our papers. And that was that. He invited us to come up behind the bench with him so we could get some photos of us with him.

The party in question. The dress is the same one big sis Mara wore for her finalization hearing five years ago.

As far as the adoption itself then, we’re finally done, but the journey of raising baby Emilia, and her officially recognized big sister Mara, continues. We’ll keep you posted, naturally.

The girl from Ketchikan

A hundred years ago a girl was born in Ketchikan, Alaska. Her name was Evelyn. Her family was doing well for itself. The father owned a cannery there, which prospered selling canned salmon to the thousands of gold seekers provisioning their adventures into the Klondike. But the father lost the cannery “on the turn of a card”, I’ve been told, and the family was left destitute. They moved to Seattle, where Evelyn’s older sister started a nursery and supported the family selling plants. Perhaps this is why Evelyn herself eventually became a very enthusiastic grower and propagator of hybrid rhododendrons.

When I was a young boy, I knew Evelyn in that way children know people. Married to my father’s oldest brother, she was half of a pair of people I knew as Uncle Jim and Aunt Evelyn, and I thought it had always been that way. They were one in my mind. But as we grow up to learn, our aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents all started out as singletons, growing up as individuals in families of their own, with or without brothers and sisters. In fact, Evelyn had been married before and had borne children in that marriage who, by the time I was born, had already borne their own, so that I had a first cousin my parents’ age whose first daughter was my age. This girl my age, two months older than me, was named Karen and I adored her.

Mara, Angela, Emilia (in sling), Miriam and Karen. Miriam and Karen are related as second cousins in law...or something. Both of them are my first cousins once removed...sort of.

Karen and her siblings, and their mom, my cousin Maureen, arrived in Seattle out of nowhere one day when I was eight or nine, to my great confusion. I’d never even heard of them. Actually, they came from Spain. Maureen’s husband was a pilot, I believe, in the Air Force or the Navy, and they’d been living over there. Karen’s little sister Diana was born there. It never occurred to me to ask in what way these people were my cousins. Cousins were cousins, and the more the merrier. I understood they were not blood relatives, but I didn’t know that Maureen was part of a family Evelyn had raised before she married my uncle. Karen called my Uncle Jim “Grandpa”, which I thought was a riot. It was only many years later that I understood that Maureen was Evelyn’s daughter and that Karen was her granddaughter.    

It is not surprising, in retrospect, that I didn’t know anything about this family before they moved back here. My dad, born in 1930, was the youngest of six children, and Jim, the oldest, was born a decade and a half earlier. We went to Uncle Jim and Aunt Evelyn’s house in Seattle — we called it a mansion — a few times a year, most notably on the first weekend in August to watch the hydroplane races from the balcony, and on this day the house was always full of people I didn’t know, almost all of them cousins of some ordination or removal. 

Evelyn spent a lot of time outside in the garden, and when we visited she always greeted us with an apology for her unkempt appearance, even though she positively radiated beauty from deep within. Her cheeks were always bright rosy red. I had the impression every time she opened the great wooden front door that she had just run in the back door doffing her garden gloves and brushing the soil off of her elbows. She often opened the door in a green button-down sweater and slacks, as I recall, and she had curls of red hair that did not fall as hair does today but rose up like cumulus clouds on a breeze. When I became interested in plants later on, working in nurseries and even dabbling in propagating some fragrant ornamental shrubs, Evelyn was very excited and shared with me her experiences attempting to develop rhododendron hybrids that might prove interesting. At that time, seventeen years ago, she was eighty-three and still working outside in her large fields of rhodies.

Evelyn (center) and her extended family enjoy a laugh about the trick candles. Apparently, living a century doesn't exempt you from family pranks. Evelyn's daughter Maureen is seated at left and her son Earl is standing behind Maureen.

We honored Evelyn last Sunday at a party celebrating her 100th birthday. Evelyn has always struck me as someone who loves people but doesn’t like attention, so this event, which brought her children and grandchildren from far north in the Canadian province of British Columbia and from Portland, Oregon, and who knows where else (I didn’t even get a chance to meet and talk to them all), must have been a mixed blessing for her. The amazing thing to me was that there were so many people whom, once again, I didn’t know; older ladies who pointed to photos of Evelyn standing with people in a house somewhere long ago and said things like “well, that’s got to be the summer house, I can tell by the windows”, and “there I am with bad hair”. I asked some of these people who they were, how they were related to Evelyn, and it turns out that here, at last, were the people from that shadowy past I had never even intuited as a boy: her sister’s children, and their children and nephews and nieces. These last, handsome men and women just starting to go grey around the temples, turned out to be the children I had run around with at the “Big House” on race days. They remembered the balcony, and the secret closet that led from one bedroom to another, and the secret back-stairway from the upstairs down to the kitchen, and the skateboards that Uncle Jim brought out for the big kids to skate down the driveway on. Some were new members to the family, like Miriam, the wife of one of Evelyn’s grandsons, and Alistair, the husband of one of her granddaughters.

Mara took a particular shine to Miriam, who has an uncommon capacity for the kind of energy that the only person between two and thirty at a three-hour-long stand-around-and-talk event would be brimming over with. (When later we told Mara what a trooper she had been and empathized with her that the afternoon must have seemed a little boring, she said, “Yeah, I just sat there the whole time counting wheelchairs…in my head.”)

The birthday girl at 100.

All of the attendees had a different experience of this wonderful woman, and they all loved her and called her their own, and very few of them had my last name. Evelyn’s life filled the room on Sunday, and now it all made sense to me. All these people were my family through her. It was a strange experience, and I wish I’d had time to get to know more of them, but many had to leave before I even learned their names. And the best surprise of all was that Karen — whom I still adore and whom we have not seen since before Mara was born — was there and waiting for us with a big hug (Karen, too, had a certain something that Mara was drawn to, but as long as I’ve known Karen she’s had that effect on everyone).

Oddly enough, it occurred to me Sunday that anyone could see at a glance that my Aunt Evelyn, my cousin Maureen and my first cousin once removed Karen are mother, daughter and granddaughter. I chuckle now that this was not obvious to me when I was younger. It is only in the last decade, however, that I have developed that particular vision about people’s faces — both men and women, and especially strangers — whereby I can see the once-young face in the old and the old face yet-to-be in the young. It makes me view the aged as more beautiful and the young as more tragic, and all of them as people whose lives are real and important and priceless, even if those lives are barely or not at all known to  me. It seems to me now that we come into and go out of our prime of beauty and strength so quickly, but we do not go entirely.

Last call at the Treetop Grill

We hear from local meteorologists that today’s superb weather might be the last we get this summer. Cold winds are on the way, even now they race through the valleys of the southern part of the Olympic Peninsula on their way to spoil our Labor Day weekend. We dined al fresco on our little deck this evening, because it’s likely to be our last opportunity to do so.

Mara sat on the little wicker loveseat out there and shucked the corn, and I fed Emilia while Angela made burgers on the barbeque, which sits on our deck too close to the house and underneath a low fiberglass roof, which makes my fireman brother nervous.

A new face in town.

A blimp went by, the Farmers Insurance blimp. I’ve seen it around town a few times lately, and I’m trying to warm up to it. There was only one blimp when I grew up around here, and that was the grey, and later blue and grey, Goodyear blimp. Actually there were several of those, but only one of them ever showed up here, and only once a year at the beginning of August, so looking up in September to see a completely white dirigible with the legend FARMERS on it feels a little like I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

It’s been such a short summer. Really we only got any decent warm weather at the end of July, and so soon we’re being run off the beach, as it were. Already the globular, speckled fall spiders have spun webs among the deck furniture and have settled in. We had to incommode several of them to set up a dinner table out there. 

I took a moment to let the moment soak in. If I know the Northwest (I do),  we’ll get a few warm days again, and we may use the barby all winter long, but it won’t be the same. If this was really the last I get of summer I wanted to remember it.

The burgers were perfect — nice job Angela! — and the corn was sweet and tender. Yellowjackets came and begged until we put a few large chunks of burger to the side, where they bit off chunks bigger than their heads and, grasping the meaty provisions with four or six of their legs, careened into the air like little helicopters with drunken pilots.

Pitmaster Angela fires up the grill for one last summer fling.

Neighbors down the street were out on their porches. Some girls in the rental house across the street were moving out, making last trips to the trunks of their cars with odd-shaped items. They’ll be replaced by a new covey of female students probably this very weekend. We have quite a nice little view of the neighborhood from our deck. Mostly we look out on a wall of light green leaves formed by a row of deciduous trees — I think walnuts — a few yards down the hill in combination with several very tall Lombardy poplars to the south. The escarpment of holly and English laurel in the yards behind us finish off a sort of green-canopied corner surrounding us. We could call our little outdoor dining nook the Treetop Grill. 

Golden sunlight lit the tops of these trees, as well as the brick tower and steeple of Blessed Sacrament across the freeway, and the far clouds — piles of cumulus — above the Cascades, which in summer we can just barely glimpse through the foliage,  took on a worn ivory look that would later deepen to mauve and finally disappear into night.  


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