Archive for the 'Continuity' Category

Electric locomotive blood

My mother, waving a fork forlornly over her salad at a favorite spot in Issaquah where we go to lunch together every month, expresses frustration that no one in the family seems eager to receive things from her walls and shelves and cabinets, the things she has spent a lifetime collecting, by bequeathal or purchase, and now wishes to pass on to the next generation. They’re not only in her way since she and my father moved out of my childhood home in Bellevue to the smaller condo she now occupies, but they also threaten to be a burden to others (me, mostly) after she’s gone, l.m.s.l..

Finally, she’s just plain sad that no one wants to cherish these things. What will become of them — these platters and trivets and teacups and serving bowls and creamers that she has lovingly safeguarded against the ravages of time, pilferage, breakage? Her granddaughters, the ones close by here, are starting their own families now but for various reasons they don’t clamour for these objects.

One reason is that — as I keep hearing — “millennials” are not as possession-oriented to start with. Partly because they’re more nomadic, partly because the American Dream of home ownership seems to slip further beyond their grasp as the years go by, they feel neither the necessity nor the capacity to house loads of stuff that they don’t use often, exactly the kind of thing that middle-class homemakers of my mother’s generation loved to collect and display. Millennials are happy to rent flex- and zip- cars rather than deal with the insurance and maintenance and parking costs associated with what was once the first and most important status symbol in American society — owning a car. They pay for music as a service rather than buy CDs that then need to be both copied to mobile devices and stored somewhere, trusting, as I never could trust, that some server out there on the interwebs will keep track of their purchases and let them have that music again if they lose it.

Then there are style incompatibilities. My mother’s only daughter, my sister Jeni, went out of this life earlier than we expected, but Jeni was not very sentimental, and she was also blunt. There were a few things I think she had earmarked among my mother’s treasures that she would have taken had she lived longer, but for the most part she had her own style that was different. Jeni’s daughters mostly value a modern style, cleaner lines, more empty space, less clutter and less ornament, a style more suited to apartment living. One of them is a missionary in Africa, and she and her husband indeed live light on the earth.

While Mom sizes the situation up I nod sympathetically. Not empathetically but sympathetically, because I feel her pain. I’m a keeper. Despite great strides made by me in recent years in throwing things out, I still seem to find myself standing in piles of things that I can’t really use for anything but to which I am attached by a feeling that they have inherent value that is not utilitarian. The basement of my life continues to cough up useless but keepish items the way farmers’ fields grow stones. They just rise up with the freeze-thaw of life’s seasons, no matter how many wagon loads are carted away.

Scratch-built, hand-painted, unique in all the world. And about to be terminated.

Scratch-built, hand-painted, unique in all the world. And about to be terminated.

Another view. The middle section is precariously balanced on its paper-thin wheels.

Another view. The middle section is precariously balanced on its paper-thin wheels.

One such item is a tiny balsa-wood model of an electric locomotive that my Uncle Jim made from scratch and gave to his littlest brother, my dad. I don’t remember when Dad gave it to me or where he had stashed it all those years; maybe in his top dresser drawer, maybe in one of the many cluttered cabinets in his shop. I took it because he handed it to me, and because I liked the picture in my head of how delighted my dad, as a boy, would have been to have received this amazing piece of craftsmanship from his older brother. Jim was the first of six kids, and something like thirteen or fourteen years older than my dad, who was the last. Jim was the family hero; he went to sea in the Merchant Marine, and was the first to go to war. Looking at this little model, seeing the fine paint work and the individually applied rods and electric thingies and hand rails, and thinking that he made it for his kid brother Billy, just gives me a good feeling.

It sits on its own track and trestle, so it could in theory have been displayed at one time, but part of the trestle supports and many of its fine details were broken off during my dad’s tenure as its guardian, and in my own administration the whole middle section has come away from the end sections. It’s that brittle. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just a tiny, amazing piece of craft, unique in the entire universe.

And I don’t want it anymore.

But what to do with it? It has no monetary value and it’s unable to stand up in the slightest breeze. I guess the center could be glued back, but it would be a dodgy operation because the break from the tracks was not clean and all of it is so blasted delicate.

My daughters remember their Pop-Pop, my father, but Uncle Jim died long before they were born, so the thing has little inherent sentimental value for them. So there’s little reason to hang on to it for my offspring’s sake.

I was recently preparing a box to ship to my own little brother, Ben, containing one of his model railroad boxcars that somehow ended up in my stuff years ago when our parents were getting rid of the old train layout and boxing up our rolling stock for us. I’ve been meaning to send it to him for years. I boxed it up last week and included — very well padded in paper and styrofoam and several nested boxes — the little balsa model. In the little thought bubble above my head, Ben was opening it up with delight and saying “hey, this is so cool!” I had it all taped up and addressed to my brother in Alaska when the thought occurred to me, and I said aloud…”whoa, wait a sec. Am I just doing that thing?”

Angela laughed, recognizing a thing that happens in my family a lot, especially in recent years with so many people shucking the coil. She then summed the whole situation up brilliantly. “You cherish the thing, but you don’t want to be burdened with it anymore. You’d feel guilty getting rid of it, and you hope that someone else will cherish it. But you don’t want to risk asking them and having them say no. So you just send it. And then it’s their problem.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was doing that thing exactly. Even after the myriad times that Angela and I have laughed together and rolled our eyes after I’ve opened some package and found some thing returned to me that I had given (or sold) to someone decades ago — a drawing or painting, a poem or letter. “Thought you might want this back,” invariably goes the accompanying note. That’s part of our Particular Tribal Crazy. We view gifts in this bizarre way, so that when we’re done with something someone has given us we don’t feel free to just give it or throw it away. Gifts come with strings. They have to be returned to the giver when we’re done with it. But we don’t ask.

Years ago, when my Uncle Jim (the same uncle) and Aunt Evelyn downsized to a smaller house, they told me they had my painting for me to come and get when it was convenient for me.  The painting was a mammoth 2-foot by 4-foot oil on canvas I’d done as a teenager, when I took painting lessons in the basement of the Ilona Rittler Gallery in Bellevue. It was a copy of one of the translucent ocean wave paintings by an artist named Galen who was known for those kinds of seascapes. My uncle and aunt had commissioned me to make a painting, a large one for their large house, and I chose this amazing Galen wave and copied it fairly faithfully. That was what we did as students; the studio had lots of full-sized prints of paintings of various kinds, and we honed our craft by copying them when we weren’t painting something from a photograph. I was proud of the technical achievement — the skill it takes to faithfully reproduce some existing work — but it was the forger’s skill, and I began to see early on that I was not an artist myself but a technician. Consequently, I did not love the idea that this behemoth, for which I had been paid the fair sum of 200 American dollars decades ago and which I considered the rightful property of Others to dispense with as they saw fit, should land on my house in one of these “keep it in the family” lateral hand-backs.

The locomotive is smaller by orders of magnitude, but I realized I was pulling a F– Family Lateral on my kid brother. So I emailed him some photos of the little model and asked if he wanted it. Turns out, no, he too has no place nor need for such a thing, as impressed as he was by its unique craftsmanship. Softy that he is, he said send it if I must, but all he would do was take it to an antique shop — there’s only one in Fairbanks that he thinks would even consider taking it. I realized that this would only be a further attempt to free both of us from guilt, as they’d probably throw it away. It can’t have any monetary worth. So I told my brother that I would not send it, that I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it but its blood would be on my hands and no one else’s.

But without the option of a Lateral, I’m not sure I can part with it. I am not psychologically sound enough. It would be cool to have the space and display cabinetry to keep all these things forever, but it would be even better to be able to keep our parents and uncles and aunts and other family members forever — because that’s what the guilt is about. To throw the object away — an object unlike any other under the sun or beyond the stars, from an age before everything that we own sprang from a plastic mould; an object that houses and symbolizes the discipline, the artistry, the effort and time dedicated; embodies the love — well, it feels like we’re saying none of it mattered.

I know all of it did matter and matters still, historically forever. And I know that the object ultimately does not matter. It isn’t cruel or callous of me to throw the little engine away. It’s just a damn shame.

The u-fish were biting

Just past Issaquah on Interstate 90, where the old highway curves up into the hills on its way east to Preston, a train trestle used to pass over the road. I don’t recall ever seeing a train on it, but the bridge was there until 1975, my thirteenth year, when it was removed so that the highway could be widened into a freeway. A few yards east of where this trestle was the highway crossed the East Fork Issaquah Creek, which drains Tiger and Taylor mountains, two of the ancient mountains that the sylvanophile and hiking-book author Harvey Manning named the Issaquah Alps.

The Northern Pacific Railway using its trestle in 1955.

“Northern Pacific Railway’s North Bend Local at Issaquah, 1955”. To reach our fishing hole we parked right about where this photo was taken about a dozen years earlier.

It is certainly dangerous and probably illegal now to pull off the freeway unless smoke is coming out from under your hood or your tire is flat, but in those days a man might without worry pull his old but well-cared-for ’57 Chevy wagon over to the side of the highway early on a Saturday morning and leave it there, leading his young son a few yards through the damp understory of salal and sword fern to the creek’s edge, where the bespectacled and fretful lad would have a hard time casting his fishing line into that deeper, darker water just behind big boulders, which is where — his father said — the fish were resting on their journey upstream. I don’t know how many times we fished there, but my memory of the place seems to encompass multiple events. I also don’t know whether or not it was my first fishing experience. I think not. At least, I think it was not the first place I caught a fish, because there is a very clearly tagged memory in my head of a place — God only knows where, now — called Helen’s Cove, a place of morning sun on the shore of what I remember as a good-sized lake, where there was a fishing dock, and where my sister Jeni and I fished side by side under my father’s tutelage, and where for the first time in my life I saw my pole, which was not in my hand because I was jumping around on the dock at that moment, I saw my pole begin to wiggle and the red and white plastic bobber out in the lake to dip under the surface of the water, and my father shouted to me that I had a fish on and told me to reel him in, and I did, and it was a perch, and it was the first fish I ever caught. “Perch”. I never forgot that word or that fish. I believe that the morning I’m thinking of now was sometime after that sunny morning at Helen’s Cove, and I believe we caught some trout this time.

I remember the fact that the highway crossed the creek because I remember being almost directly underneath the bridge, standing on wet pebbles reflecting a grey sky, when my father kneeling at my side showed me how to smack the fish’ head smartly against a rock so as to kill it quickly. I don’t know that dispatching the fish like that bothered me much at the time, but I do know that I have never forgotten that moment.

I thought of this a few weekends ago. Mara, who is now eight, has told me once or twice that she wanted me to take her fishing. While looking for a fun weekend thing to do on a Saturday morning that promised to warm into one of the last beautiful Saturdays before the darkening of the season, I found Old McDebbie’s Farm and Jim’s U-Fish online. Old McDebbie’s was a petting farm in Spanaway where kids could ride ponies and feed pigs and goats and donkeys (and a camel), and hang out in the barn petting kittens. There was also a pond there stocked with rainbow trout. We piled into the car.

It turned out to be the perfect place.

It turned out to be the perfect place.

Spanaway is south of Seattle an hour and a half or so depending on traffic, and the farm was a little further south, just off Highway 7. It wasn’t so much a farm — no agriculture was being undertaken there that we could see — as someone’s 10-acre rural backyard, into which every rural or outside activity a kid might like to engage in had been provided for. At first blush it seemed a little cheesy for a farm — a putt-putt golf course would not have looked terribly out of place here. Fun, jokey signs and decorations were everywhere, and there were picnic tables and benches here and there around the spacious lawn, which was green and lush. A fountain feature burbled into one of the two ponds at the back of the property near the woods. There was a playground with swings and a play structure, and there were lots of outside games around, like bean bag tosses and hula hoops and the thing where you toss two bolo’ed balls at a ladder of horizontal bars in hopes of wrapping the balls around the highest bar. Angela and I looked at each other a little dubiously; we tend to value authenticity highly, sometimes perhaps too highly for our own good, and we were expecting more of a working farm that happened to have also some accommodation for little people. The carnival atmosphere made our artistes’ hearts quail for a moment.

But the girls loved it and they loved it immediately. It turned out to be the perfect adventure. A fin gets you in, no matter your age, and although almost everything you do costs extra, I considered it a good value because the place was such a rich condensation of fun and hands-on furry activity for the kids (note: there’s no food concession here, so bring your own picnic lunch unless you want to eat candy). Both girls took a pony ride (another $5 each), Mara on Dotty and Millie on Henry, once around the ponds led by one of the helpers there. We fed the animals in the barn ($3/bag of scraps), which was kinda scary. The larger donkey bruised my thumb trying to chomp the stick of celery that I was feeding to the smaller one. One little girl got bit by a pony. In the barn at least, the farm experience was authentic. Millie sensed the potential danger and didn’t want to feed anything larger than a hamster. Mara bonded with some of the barn cats over the course of the several hours we were there. A baby pig was penned in a little circle of fence right in the middle of the yard, with a little umbrella for shade and a sleeping black rabbit for company, and small children who might be intimidated by the full-size pigs in the barn were invited to get inside this pen and pet the piglet.

A responsible child leads Millie around the pond on Henry.

The responsible child leads Millie around the pond on Henry.

In the end, Millie was more interested in the bunny.

In the pigpen.

The girls had a gas. They got to hear the donkey bray, which was a really unusual sound, and the goat kids bleat, which was another really unusual sound. I imagined that a lot of the sounds Millie has been told animals make in her books were that day realized in a new, first-hand way. I say “meh-eh-eh” when I’m reading her a book with goats in it, but the real thing is the real thing, and it’s easy for adults to forget that until you hear the real thing, you have not heard a goat bleat.

Then we fished. I rented poles from Debbie at the gift shack ($2 per pole includes one baited hook, which should do for several hours of fishing; additional bait extra) and we took the girls to the pond’s edge. Fish were jumping out of the water every minute or two, as though they had been trained. It seemed unreal. The hook came with a brightly colored green or orange ball on it, which was supposed to attract the fish, although I don’t know if it was actually food. The lines had no bobbers, which confused me at first. The girls could not cast the lines; I had to do it for them, and it took me an embarrassing dozen or so tries — during which both girls began to get bored — before I could successfully get that hook to sail out over the pond. Debbie had said that the fish liked to hang out in the cool water down deep, so let the hook sink a ways before reeling it in.

Millie's first fish.

Millie’s first fish. Fun, she’ll aver, except for the killin’ part.

So I cast out for each of the girls, then we let the lines sink before the girls began reeling them in. Bingo! Within about four casts, Millie caught a fish. Millie caught a fish! My three-year old daughter caught a fish! She was actually holding the pole when it bit, and Angela helped her land it on the grass. This was where things started getting sad. I got the hook out of the fish’ mouth pretty quickly, and lo, there was a large smooth rock protruding from the grass at my side, just begging for a fish to be brained on it. My impulse was to smack the fish quickly (as I had been taught by that venerable fisherman, my father), but the girls were right there and I had until then failed to consider how this execution might affect Millie. I asked Angela to take the girls away a few yards — a gross dereliction of duty on my part, I now realize, since it was hiding the truth — and I beaned the unhappy pond-dweller on the rock. It’s difficult to hold on tightly to a fish in any weather, but when you’re trying to swing it like a hammer it’s particularly challenging, thus I think I only stunned it the first time, so that its side fins fluttered like butterfly wings. It was over in a few seconds, but I felt like the suburban desk pilot that I am, and also a death-bringing ogre.

Mara's first fish.

Mara’s first fish. This one was still jumpy. If you look closely you can see the fishing line running into its mouth.

Angela took Millie to ask Old McDebbie what we should do with our fish, which I’d put in a bucket with some pondwater. We wanted to keep it so I could cook it up at home. The rule was you had to either take any fish you caught with you ($5) or donate it to charity via the farm (still $5). There was no throwing maimed fish back into the pond. I was worried Mara would feel left out if her little sister had caught a fish and she had not (this turns out to have been more my worry than Mara’s, as usual), so I kept casting Mara’s line out, and bam! it wasn’t more than three more minutes before Mara’s line dipped and she reeled her first fish in. I helped her land it, but the hook was deep and I couldn’t get it out because the pliars-like implement Debbie had given us would not close fully, and I didn’t want to whack the fish with the hook in — not only did it seem, well, not cricket somehow, but it also seemed dangerous, since the fish kept flopping in my hand and I didn’t want to get the hook through my palm. Eventually I carried the writhing fish and the line and the bucket with the other fish (the dead one) over to Debbie’s shack, where she removed the hook (with a better set of pliars), and after asking me whether I wanted to cook it with the head on or off, took the fish to an outdoor washtub and sliced off its head with a knife while it was still alive. I inwardly cringed. In another instant she had gutted it and scraped out its entrails. She was busy talking about the 10-year-old girl whom she had hired to help her that day, how the kid was better than any teenager you could hire; more responsible, more alert, better with the animals, better with the customers. I was thinking that by rights I should have cleaned the fish. In the tradition handed down to me (this part by another fisherman, my friend Jeff’s dad), you clean your own fish.

Angela is fond of old goats.

Angela is known to have a soft spot for an old goat. This is not that goat.

Angela was rather dismayed by the whole affair, and anyway didn’t want me to cook the fish in the same iron skillet I use to make Dad’s Sunday Morning French Toast. “Get another skillet for savory,” was all she said while making a face, and I could tell she’d have been content if the whole fish thing had never happened. The next day I bought another skillet, googled “how to cook trout in an iron skillet”, and went to it. Flour, butter, oregano, some dill, a squeeze of lemon, and the magic of hot iron. We thanked God for the fish and thanked the fish for laying its life down so we could eat, then tucked in. Angela and I agreed that our scaled friends made a good meal. Mara tried it and was not strongly put off, which is to say she ate more than her “no thank you bite.” Millie abstained entirely, and was later heard to say “I wish we didn’t have to kill the fish so we could eat,” this a delayed response to the conversation that Angela and I forced upon the girls about the uncomfortable truth that something — animal or vegetable — must perish in order for us to eat.

Here is one of the wishes I have that will remain an unfulfilled wish as long as I live: I wish that while my dad was alive I had asked him to tell me more details about the places where we fished, what fish we caught, and how we caught them. The business of teaching your children to fish, it strikes me now, is an enterprise to which you want to bring the full collective knowledge and traditions of your tribal ancestors. My dad’s fishing lore would have been a treasured link to my forebears, a bridge from the present to an eternal past. Its loss is like the pulling down of the old railroad trestle at Issaquah, which removed a historic path between two sides of a valley forever but escaped my notice until years later, when I peered out the back window of the family car and wondered what trick my mind was playing, whether this could really be the place I was thinking of.

Glancing back forward

These are the good old days.”

–Carly Simon

A week or so ago, Emilia and I were outside in the early morning and that early morning sunlight was filling up the world around us as I watered the garden on the east side of the house. I grew up here, just across Lake Washington, and mornings like this touch a spot in my deep memory and feel very familiar, more familiar than the interminable cloudy cold days, so while I was watching Emilia give the plants an extra drink with her little yellow watering can I became a little lost in time.

What’s in a memory?

I can call up a goodly number of memories of just such mornings as this one from the mid to late ’60s, most of them not of discrete, specific moments but more like mosaics of moments similar enough in some aspect — maybe in the time of day or the time of year, or in emotional association, or in their events — that they have fused over time, the details having been extracted and perhaps sealed up in vaults that lie yet deeper in my memory (or discarded, who knows?) so that all that is left is an impression of light mixed with a feeling, and maybe the feeling is safety or contentment or wonder or perhaps even that unanguished boredom that kids get sometimes after doing everything they can think of and just before a burst of creativity that expands their world of play and exploration.

It occurred to me, standing there looking at Millie, that she was having an experience at that moment that may someday inform a similar kind of collage in her memory. Like Cindy Lou Who she is “not more than two”, and according to my understanding she is not yet forming the kinds of memories that will facilitate conscious recall of these specific, quiet moments, but some of the colors and tones and moods are making some imprints and might one day be enlisted in the assembly of some early, vaguely drawn memories of life outside in the garden at her first house.

And even if this moment does become a specific, tagged memory that she can recall in her minds eye, it will not look to her then the way it looks to her now, and certainly not the way it looks to me now. My mind observing her in this moment is full of the whole world of my experience, five decades in which I have been alive and doing things, feeling things, learning things, and not five decades worth of individual impressive moments connected backward through history, like postcards on a string receding in my memory, but fifty nonstop years of a continuum of existence, one moment blending into the next, my position in space and time always preceded so closely by my last position in space and time, my activity part of such an even flow of movement and being, that there can not really be said to be individual moments at all, nothing that you could tweeze out from other moments without pulling the whole fifty year string along with it, everything connected both fore and aft of it. My whole being and experience and who-ness, speaking of Whos, is here in this moment. But in Emilia’s memory none of all that will show in the frame — my worries, my satisfactions, my disappointments, my hopes yet for the future, my idea of myself, my idea of her. In fact I myself will only be hazily represented, if at all. I’ll just be this parental presence standing nearby, blank except for whatever good or ill associations she has so far formed of me — dadness — and my individual self in this particular moment may in fact be replaced by a similar memory of Angela, so that the picture evolves and morphs and becomes like the pictures I have in my own memory. Kaleidoscopes.

That was when I felt myself splintering into fractals, into tiny particles of light and shade and mood, whatever can be remembered finally to paint a memory with. It felt strange to look forward in time and back to this moment, seeing myself virtually disappearing into the future past, realizing that the clarity with which I am experiencing this instant — I am fully here with all of me — will be gone when Millie gets around to calling it back up as memory. It will all be so different, and yet, someday, what she remembers of this moment is all there will be.

The way this moment may look someday.

It made me think of all the memories I have now of days like this in my childhood. They seem such hazy, thin scenes so disconnected from other memories, but to the adults who shared those moments — my father holding my hand while I toddled or my mother keeping a watchful eye from the kitchen window while I played in the backyard — those moments were all part of their continuum. I ran right off the wharf at the Anacortes ferry terminal when I was very small. I myself have no recollection of the actual moment when my running back and forth ended in my shooting between the balusters and falling the few feet to the rocky beach just below (if it really was the wharf itself it must have been a part that was well back from the tideline). That part of the story I remember only as a story, one I’ve been told all my life. I do, however, have an image of a wooden deck awash in bright Pacific Northwest morning sunshine, and attached to this mental picture is a feeling of expectancy and excitement. I don’t know if it is an actual memory of the Anacortes wharf — it may be a memory of someplace that popped into my mind when I was first told the story and appended itself to the memory. In any case, my parents — who were as a rule very cautious and whose hearts leaped into their throats when they turned around after just a couple of seconds to discover that I was completely gone — brought the fullness of their histories to that moment in time, and none of that made any impression on the clear but very spartan memory that formed in my mind.

So it is now. I stand watching Millie with a brain absolutely stuffed with cellular networks representing arrangements of all the data I’ve taken in over my life, any combination of which could be assigned to the moment at hand as handles for me to make sense of it and give meaning to it, as I’m doing now. But none of it will become metadata for this image in her mind, which will over time simplify and merge with other images and probably lose some of its sharp edges, until it looks like an impressionist painting. In Millie’s experience, it’s just a sunny morning somewhere in time.

Granddad’s violin

In October of 1995 when my friend Jeff was studying in Columbus, Ohio, I wrote him a letter that he eventually sent me back a copy of. He’d told me, “Your relation of your grandpapa’s violin is just the sort of stuff you should write. Just the sort of stuff I like to read, in fact.”

I never forgot that unmitigated affirmation, rare from him, and I’ve always meant to slip the piece in here when the blogging was slow. You may or may not notice but the style of this older piece — reentered here in original form minus my last name — is a little different from that of the writing I do now, though its subject matter somewhat foreshadows it. It’s slightly more acrobatic, more deliberately self-conscious and post-modern — more winky — but much less so than other things I wrote back then. Even though I would write it differently now, the heart of the thing is still a story I feel good telling.

*  *  *  *

When my father returned from a trip to Baltimore a few years ago he brought back his father’s violin, or at least its remains. Before finding several decades’ rest in my Aunt Miriam’s (dad’s sister’s) attic, the old fiddle had apparently been the target and recipient of neglect or abuse or both, for it had come apart in several places: the bridge was off, as was a string, one of the keys, and the entire fret-board. In addition, the post supporting the bridge inside the violin’s body had come unglued and was rattling around inside. Missing completely were an ebony string support at the narrow end of the instrument’s neck, and aught to draw across the strings: No bow. Most of the dislodged pieces were in the battered case, and the body of the violin itself was intact but for one small crack near where player puts chin. Withal it was a sorry sight and no sound.

My father could remember James Ezra F-, Baltimore college teacher of German and French, stern disciplinarian and tolerator of no back-talk, father of five who did not talk back (including my father Willard Foster) and one who did (Aunt Vivian, who for her insubordination was once chased upstairs with a glass of water by Granddad) and lover of music, scratching away on this violin in his upstairs bedroom late at night, after the children were put to bed (when Dad was a child, the youngest of the six) and in later years whenever the mood took him, though by then my dad was out with his buddies, far from the noise of Granddad’s fiddle.

My dad’s older brother Jim told him (Dad tells me) that before Willie was born James Ezra and Jennie Viola, his wife, my “Granny”, used to play popular duets in the living room, she at the piano, he standing or sitting nearby. Uncle Jim, who is my dad’s senior by fourteen years, has told him they made beautiful music together. Dad has his doubts, judging from the sounds squeaking under the upstairs bedroom door years later. Who knows, though? Those would have been the years after the Great War and before the Depression, and wasn’t everything more beautiful then?

The violin is a forgery, technically. This startling news from Herr Hermann Bischofberger, Seattle Violin Maker and Reparateur since 1956 (of Chicago before that since 1948, before that from Germany or Austria somewhere) to whom my father and I took James Ezra’s fiddle-pieces in hopes that they might be reassembled and once more made to bring forth sweet sounds. After holding the thing up like a newborn babe and tapping on its body several times in several places, and after rummaging through the case — essentially a puzzle-box of broken parts, only some of which could be reused — he assured us that it could be made good-as-almost-new, but that it was not an echt Jacob Stainer wiolin, othervise ve vould be sitting on $50,000 – $100,000, despite ze damage. As it was, hundreds of mediocre “copies” of this “Stradivarius of German violins” were being hastily assembled toward teh end of the last century and sold as J. Stainers. The real ones were made by the master in the late 1700s, an entire century before, and (though Herr B. did not say so) I imagine that the real McCoys were not fitted with a parchment-like paper inside — visible through the * slots — with the first two numbers of the alleged manufacture date printed and the last two penciled or crayoned, as ours was, thusly: 1799.**

We were disappointed, though only in an immediate sense and only in relation to the news that a Stainer was any kind of violin name at all. We had not entered the violin shop with any hopes that our busted fiddle was a collectors item worth tens of thousands. My chagrin was not about the money, but at the fact that granddad’s fiddle was a copy of something instead of that something itself. Once repaired our forgery will be worth $500 or more (it is still, and will ever be, an antique) but I would almost rather have an actual cheapo, an authentic beginner’s fiddle, than a copy of something better.

Be that as it may, and forgery or no, it was my father’s father’s violin, and both his son and grandson (the latter of whom he never met, having succombed to a liver infection in 1951, eight years before yours truly was born — first born son to his last born) valued the thing as such. “We’ll go ahead and do it,” said my dad with quiet certainty, despite the $350+ repair estimate.

“Don’t you want to take it home and think about it?” I asked him [aside]. I had not expected such cost, and felt a pang of guilt since it was I who had suggested to Dad that we bring the thing in after having it sit in a corner of our house, shut up in its dusty case, for four or five years. I had been about to open my mouth and tell Bischofberger that we thanked him for his prognosis but would have to go home and speak with our inner piggybanks. Dad’s quiet announcement surprised me.

“I don’t want to take it home and have it sit around for another forty years and get banged up even more,” he reasoned. We agreed that we didn’t know what he would tell Mom (for whom, it turned out, the impulsive decision needed no justification whatsoever, James Ezra and his violin being who and what they were), but he’d worry about that later. I agreed to lay out for a bow, which cost was not part of the estimate since that missing piece was not known to be broken but merely missing and was anyway not necessary to make the violin whole and playable again. I’ll choose one when we return around October 20th to pick up the restored violin. Since this whole adventure came about because of a renewed desire on my part to play jigs and reels, I figure the $50 for a beginner’s bow is a justified expense…

*  *  *  *

There was a little more at both ends of this letter that I’ve excluded. In Jeff’s enthusiastic response, which I reference for historicity and because Jeff was an inimitable correspondent, he scolded me gently for giving any thought to the idea of forgery, saying “For sooth, Sternherz†, a copy it is not. It’s your grandpapa’s violin! And there’s only one…This is magic, Matthew. What you are doing is that which should be done. You and Willard Foster are okay in my book. That violin’s voice, a voice all its own and exactly matched by no other violin anywhere, will be heard again two generations after its last stroke. How very Middle Earth. Bravo Matt!”

Bischofberger’s was located at the time in a century-old Victorian house on East John Street near 14th Avenue on Capitol Hill, but after a four-alarm fire gutted the place in 2000 they retreated to 1830 12th Avenue East, which according to the Seattle Times (July 20, 2000) was the shop’s original Seattle location, a building the family still owned. They are still in business on Capitol Hill, and an elder son has opened a shop on the Eastside.

As for the violin, I never learned to play it, and I gave it back to my parents when a young niece expressed interest in violin lessons. I don’t know where it is now or what became of it. But it’s okay, I have a concertina to wrestle with.

*In the letter, I drew a slot shaped like an elongated s.
**In the letter, I wrote in the two nines by hand as they were done in the instrument.
German for Starheart, one of Jeff’s nicknames for me.

A hallowing

From about my late teens until a few years ago Halloween didn’t mean much to me, and like many people who don’t particularly enjoy suiting up, I wished this day would go away. The pressure to don a costume, my laziness or embarrassment or whatever it was that kept me from doing so, and then the dim self-hatred for not being able to participate were all external or internal discomforts I had rathered not deal with.

Millie teeters off toward Coren, Mara and Gwyneth (far right).

But like many things I didn’t fully appreciate until I had children (they weren’t apparent until I was a parent, har har), Halloween has become a treasured annual tradition in our family. It’s drawn out over weeks with us, though not intensely. First we go to a pumpkin patch with friends in mid-October to get our pumpkins — in recent years we’ve gone to Craven Farm in Snohomish, where there is a big central area with old boats and tractors and other things to play on and hot dogs and bowls of chowder to buy, plus a tractor-pulled hayride and pumpkin catapults, though years ago we went to Jubilee Farm near Carnation, a smaller farm run by a charming pair of biodynamic farming pioneers named Erick and Wendy. Mara and her buddy Gwyneth cannot remember a time before this tradition in their lives, and their little siblings Coren (Gwyn’s little brother) and Millie are jumping into it gleefully behind them. This is something I really value for my kids, the scrounging about outside in the mud of a real farm, the annual reinforcement of smells and air temperature and angle of light and community that will inform a lifelong deep-memory association of this time with the earth and good friendships — and the cultivation of both. To me it’s the perfect way to kick off what I must inevitably call our Halloween Season.

A barrow full of smiles.

Let the carving begin. Mara hunkers down at Hillary's elbow to wait out the sharp part.

Next, there’s a day when we carve the pumpkins, which we usually do separately, Gwyn’s family tending to be on the ball earlier while we are lucky if we get carving done the afternoon of Halloween. This year our friend Hillary came over to carve with us and help Angela alter the clothes that would become Mara’s Rapunzel outfit. Angela bakes up the pumpkin seeds just right for a delicious and wholesome harvest-time snack.

And finally the great day, the hallowed e’en, comes. Although dressing up as princesses with your best friend and running around yelling and squealing is actually kind of a weekly thing for Mara and Gwyneth, the addition of being outside (after dark!!) and getting free candy at house after house turns routine fun into a sublime hoedown of candy-coated madness. But even a parent worried about tooth decay can see that it’s about more than just the candy. For Mara it’s the door opening…that moment of expectation. Will there be a scary person behind the door (always a possibility, and she has never forgotten the time when the man in our neighborhood we call the Halloween Man opened his door wearing an Edvard Munch’s “Scream”-like mask, which sent Mara and Gwynnie back down the stairs in a candyless retreat)? What kind of candy will they offer? Will they let her take two pieces? Three?

Two Rapunzels, a lion and a ladybug. Here we are. You know the drill.

Mara, Gwyneth and Coren on somebody's porch. Mara immediately reports every item of candy, how many pulls alotted, and any other data she can think of. The CNN of candy traffic.

Millie was only four months old last Halloween and Angela wore her on her chest. This year, Millie had her own ladybug costume and held her own bag and stood mostly on her own feet and made her own startlingly prehensile grasps into the lowered bowls. She even said “Dant doo” quietly to each bowl-holder. One older lady actually understood this little toot of a spondee and smiled and said “Oh you’re very welcome.” What could be a more beautiful thing to experience on a cold night in autumn silvered by a crescent moon?

Millie wasn't really keen on her ladybug costume, either, but she got into it, literally, when she saw the big kids donning theirs.

It occurred to me last night that while I have in the past ridiculed this annual tradition, it was only because I was seeing it from my curmudgeonly perspective. Adults held hostage to packs of roaming sugar-fiends. But what I saw tonight I saw through Mara’s and Millie’s eyes — for Mara the joy of an adventure with her friends, gathering a bounty hidden behind doors with the added titillation of potential frights, and for Millie an extension of her unspoiled worldview to the wider community. While it may be a new thing for her, it is no strangeness that we’re knocking on the doors of our neighbors. That they open, that they smile and express delight at seeing us, that they bless us with gifts.

It didn't take Emilia long to get the hang of the bowl. She even said thank you.

She doesn't mind if she does.

And why not?

Schooling flatlanders in the mountain ‘hi’

Hi.”

— Traditional Northwest native greeting

I saw two bald eagles circling above Mercer Island as I drove through on the freeway Saturday. While always a welcome sight and a joy, this would not normally be worth writing home about. After all, they live there and I have seen them before. Mercer Island’s original nesting pair of eagles are locally famous, not least because the 300-year-old Douglas fir tree they live in long marked the center, legally among bipeds and unbeknownst to the raptors, of a zone in which no heavy construction might take place (lest their habitat be jeopardized) and also the center of a controversy about the existence of that protected zone, which represented a class A bummer for the people who wished to develop the property the tree stands on.*

Plummeting into the fog wall.

Rattlesnake Lake.

But it happens that these were not the only raptors I saw that day, indeed not even the only eagles I saw that day. The blue skies where I was on Saturday were cut by the graceful arcs and swift vectors of quite a few red-tailed hawks and at least two larger, dark-colored birds that I was told were golden eagles.

That the skies were blue was actually the most noteworthy fact of the day. I and my friend Scott had decided to get one just-us-guys-without-the-kids hike in this year come hell or high water. We were expecting high water that day in the form of more of the clouds and rain that had been dogging the northwest all week. On the way over to Scott’s house in Snoqualmie, in fact, I was not surprised when I entered a fog-bank that seemed to promise that I would not see the sun again that day. Scott and I knew we would not likely get another weekend day this year when both of us could leave our wives and young children to go scampering in the hills, so we decided to take whatever weather we were dealt. But when we pulled into the parking lot at Rattlesnake Lake the last patches of morning fog were drifting away on a slight Octoberish breeze from the south and the sun lit the lake and the flanks of Rattlesnake Mountain, the hike we chose because we are aging and out of shape and weren’t interested in killing ourselves.

In this photo from lake level, the foremost ledge looks higher than the back two but it is actually lower.

Rattlesnake Ledge is an outcropping of rock — one of three, actually — that juts from the eastern end of the mountain of the same name and affords hikers what I have always accounted a bargain vista. For a small investment of time and effort you can look out on a panorama that almost seems like the Pacific Northwest showing off. It’s almost hammy. The jagged peaks of the Cascade Range, often capped with snow, rise directly before you, and in the middle distance is a valley that you never see from any highways with an unbelievably large lake in it, whence comes the drinking water we townies take for granted. This is Chester Morse Lake. Directly below — almost you could toss a buffalo nickel into it, it seems — lies Rattlesnake Lake with its ancient treestumps breaking its surface, stumps so big around you could park a Volkswagen on them. To the right is an expanse of primeval forest stretching away as far as you can see to the south, where lies the old town of Ravensdale.

It has clouded up a little, but ace trailbuster Scott is ready to press on upward. Mt. Si looms behind.

Off to the left, brooding over the towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie, is the imposing mass of Mt. Si, named for Josiah Merritt, a legendary settler often referred to as “Uncle Si”. His cabin long ago sank into decay and was reclaimed by the moss and duff of the forest below his mountain, but I — among relatively few alive — know where it was; at least I did. I haven’t driven that road in many years, and development is so rife out in the Snoqualmie Valley that now I might not recognize the turn in the road, or the patch of woods if it still stands.

When Angela saw this she said it looked like I was Photoshop'd in, like I wasn't really there. I'm here to tell ya, I was really there. Chester Morse Lake is in the high background, Rattlesnake in the low.

When I was younger and hiked a lot I used to drive out to North Bend and scramble up to Rattlesnake Ledge and sit on the rock outcropping there like a desperado, thinking about life, praying sometimes, sometimes writing. There were never many people there, one or two other hikers at most. The trail at that time was not well delineated, but in parts was an organic network of nearly vertical dear tracks, and it was shorter then, too, making a fairly direct ascent to the left and up the ledge’s southern shoulder, which was mostly bare of trees. It only took me about 35 minutes.

Scott and I took our time this day, enjoying the rare freedom of being out and about without our kids (don’t get us wrong, we love being with our families, yadda yadda, & cet.) and involving ourselves in the kind of deep conversation that often happens between old friends on a hike. I have known Scott for more than twenty years. The trail is now longer, having had several of its switchbacks lengthened it seems to me, which makes it also less steep, and it circumvents the ledge’s once-bare shoulder for a gentler last leg (do I confuse body part metaphors? Very well, etc.). Though we were an hour getting to the ledge (joggers and people walking dogs passed us), it seemed like no time at all.

No quiet meditation here today.

The rock outcropping was crowded with people munching the sandwiches they’d brought and tipping back water bottles, fingering almonds out of plastic bags, taking pictures of each other with their phones. I think that years ago, the ledge was relatively far from large populations, and those who lived in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley were people who had always lived and worked there and would not be climbing up Rattlesnake every weekend. But now the upper valley is populated by hundreds or thousands of young families new to the delights of their natural surroundings, and for these people Rattlesnake is an amazing view just a few minutes’ drive from their homes. And with a trail that has been “civilized”, it’s no wonder the rock looked like the checkout line at REI.

A chilly breeze blew off the lake below, and after taking some nourishment we decided to explore the trail that continued up the spine of the mountain, a trail that, surprisingly to myself, I had never before taken. We stopped a few minutes later at a second rock outcropping, from which vantage point I took a photo of the first.

View of the first ledge from the second.

Then we continued further upwards to the third, a veritable aerie atop a sheer cliff, whence I snapped a shot of both the first and second ledges.

View of the first and second ledges from the third.

It was here at the third ledge that we saw the many hawks spiraling far below, yet very high still above the trees, and espied the large dark birds that a fellow hiker identified as golden eagles. I feel blessed when I see large birds like eagles and hawks and ospreys. I am probably a birdwatcher and just don’t know it. We spent about an hour up there, long enough on an autumn day to see the feel of the light change from morning light to afternoon light. The sun had emerged again from the morning clouds while we were at the third ledge and it stayed out for the rest of the day.

On the way down the trail, we passed many many people who were on their way up to the first ledge. Observing the protocol that has been an unwritten rule around here for as long as I can remember, Scott and I said “hi” to every individual hiker we encountered and to at least one person in each group (I usually hit the first and the last if they’re densely clustered, each one if they’re spread out). Less than half of them seemed to be expecting a salutation, and although most returned it, a lot of them seemed a little thrown and some even seemed annoyed, and there were a few who didn’t even look at us but trundled past us without a pause in their intergroup chatter.

This narrow gray bird is nor hawk nor eagle, but it held still long enough for me to photograph it. I have no idea what it is. A jay?

This garred me greet. I have been hiking these hills for decades, and when I was coming up (or going down, badda boom!) you always said hi whenever you encountered another hiker. You didn’t ask yourself whether you wanted to, or whether the approaching forms looked like they might be the kind of people you would want to hang out and play Scrabble with. You just said hi. It was a courtesy, and more than that, it is simple acknowledgement that you are on a mountain, or at least in the woods, and that it is these people who will share water or rope or a jacket with you or haul you out if you get into trouble. It’s a pledge of montane solidarity.

Scott and I took the challenge of educating the steady stream of people by example, greeting every hiker we met, whether they acknowledged us — or even noticed us — or not. We met our match in the guy who passed us talking on his cell phone a few paces ahead of a woman and young boy, whom he seemed to have forgotten about and who trudged solemnly along in silence. I didn’t know whom to feel sorrier for, them or him. In the end, him, because he seemed to be under the delusion that he was communing with the outdoors and with his family, while they at least knew their reality and were able to absorb their surroundings. She looked up and smiled when we said hi.

Another one of my happy place photos. I'll go there in my mind when it's still raining next June.

I thought about the lousy statistics we were reeling in. With so many people passing you the other way on the trail, maybe people didn’t feel the same bond of fellowship as when they only encountered very few souls. Maybe it seemed silly to them to say hi so many times in a row. But I think, too, that I’m just getting older and finding myself increasingly out of step with a culture that values only electronic connections, not spontaneous in-person ones. I would say “their loss”, but it’s mine too, because I have a [n/perhaps romantic] idea that people on trails in my beloved Pacific Northwest are ipso facto cool people, the kind of people I would at the least want to exchange a smile and a word with. I can be ignored on any old sidewalk in downtown Seattle.

I wonder if the amount of time we spend watching faces on screens desensitizes us over time to our innate attraction to real faces that are actually nearby. I wonder if we are in fact beginning to see the entire world, wherever we go, as pixels.

*I don’t know how the story of the Eagle Tree ended because I can find nothing besides an application from 2007 for permission to build a walkway in the wooded area where the eagles have built three nests since 1994, and a website for “Friends of the 300 Year Old Eagle Tree” that has not been updated since 2008 and whose last entry suggests that the “friends” were losing the battle against the developers.

The City Dump will never be the same

Among the adult male voices imprinted on my memory, only that of my father goes back further than this one. Not even my two uncles who lived in Seattle when I grew up, not even the men heading the households in my neighborhood, not even the anchormen I heard every evening on the news, have been more immediately recognizable to me throughout my life by their voices than this man.

It was like trying to see Jesus. Mara is at lower left, indicated by the red arrow. Note all the big red noses.

This morning, watching YouTube videos I had dug up to demonstrate to Mara what fun we were in for today, I felt an instant feeling of well-being as the sound of the voice stroked some paleo-neurons in my brain, receptors formed early in life around the particular resonant and velvety frequencies and the roundness and breadth of enunciation that could only belong to Julius Pierpont Patches, Seattle’s beloved hobo-clown.

As far back as I can remember, and in fact back to 1958, J.P. Patches, the “Mayor of the City Dump”, came on television every morning and again every afternoon to amuse both children and adults — we kids loved his slapstick antics and the cartoons he would introduce by taking off his hat so the camera could zoom into it, and the adults sat behind us busting a gut at J.P.’s double entendre and at other aspects of the show that were above our heads.

For instance, all the other characters besides J.P. were played by one man, Bob Newman, including Gertrude (J.P.’s girlfriend I guess), the Swami of Pastrami, Boris S. Wart (the second meanest man in the world), Ketchikan the Animal Man, Gorst the Friendly Furple, and the voice of Miss Smith of Miss Smith’s Delivery Service, whose front side we never saw but she was ostensibly a white-haired old lady who rode a motorcycle, wore a helmet and leather jacket and growled like a longshoreman. Sometimes J.P. would tease his fellow actor by putting him in the impossible position of having to voice one character while appearing as another, for instance, if Gertrude was present he would say “let’s call up Ketchikan the Animal Man and see what he knows about this”, and while J.P. called Ketchikan on the huge black phone, Newman-as-Gertrude would have to step surreptitiously off-camera and throw his voice so that we kids would believe that Ketchikan was on the other end of the line. The two actors frequently cracked up in fits of laughter, and the crew was notorious for bonking J.P. on the head with the microphone boom or delaying sound effects.

When it comes to Simon Says, J.P. plays dirty, and the audience loves it. Still, this Patches Pal (in the white shirt) withstood the barrage of tricks and prevailed to win the candy.

The show, which ran until 1981, was unrehearsed and improvisational and completely off the wall. J.P. had a doll named Esmerelda whose contribution to the show was a canned child’s laugh track that was played whenever he spoke to her. There was a stuffed dog named Griswald, a grandfather clock whose face became animated when he spoke with J.P., and Tikey Turkey, a headless rubber chicken that “lived” in a metal oven at the back of the room. There was also a bookworm named Sturdley that emerged from a shelf of books occasionally. Often Chris Wedes, who played J.P., and Newman came into the studio not having any idea what they would be doing on the show, but with so many characters and friends, there was never a dull moment. This was early T.V.

Several generations of Seattleites grew up with J.P. and call themselves “Patches Pals” to this day. Many were brought onto the show as part of a scout troop or school class. As a kid I thought these were the boring moments, where twelve kids would shuffle in and J.P. would stand behind each one and ask their name, and if the kid wasn’t paying attention he’d grip their head in his hands and tilt it up to look at him. But for the kids who were on the show, it was a moment they never forgot.

No one ever forgot J.P.’s ICU2-TV set. Say it out loud to get the joke. This was a cardboard box with a T.V.-tube-shaped opening into which J.P. would peer while sitting “Indian style” on the floor. The camera was inside it, and the set’s magical powers allowed him to see that, for instance, little Katy who was turning seven should look in the dryer for her birthday present, or Jamie, who might be turning nine, should look in his sock drawer. Parents would call the studio with these hiding places and J.P. would “discover” them through the ICU2-TV set.

Selecting contestants for the hula hoop contest.

J.P. never talks down to kids, and they could always tell that he enjoyed their own wit and energy. He made them the stars. His games of Simon Says, which he has continued to conduct at the many public events he has appeared at in the decades since the show went off the air, were legendary.

Wedes is 82 years old. I don’t know and have not been able to find out whether Newman is still alive. I found out late this week by the merest happenstance — a newspaper headline glimpsed on the sidewalk — that Wedes would be making his last public appearing as J.P. Patches today at the Fishermen’s Fall Festival at Fishermen’s Terminal. Patches Pals old and young would be able to see the Mayor of the City Dump live just this one more time.

I hadn’t seen J.P. in a live performance since the early ’90s when I wrote an article about him for a local newspaper. I felt a sudden and profound sense of loss, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that my father recently passed away (which makes J.P. the Elder Vox), as did a beloved older member of our church community. There has been entirely too much of old men riding off into the sunset lately for my inner little boy. I had to see J.P., and although I didn’t know if she would appreciate the significance of seeing a clown she’d never heard of, I wanted Mara to be able say someday that she saw J.P. Patches do his thing. This would be her only chance.

We hit the road. Emilia’s nap precluded her and Angela’s attendance.

One of the lucky Pals (and a very young one, all in all) gets her photo taken with J.P. We never even got in this line.

We got to Fishermen’s Terminal in plenty of time, even found the last parking spot, but I had grossly underestimated, or forgotten, the loyalty and dedication — to say nothing of the sheer numbers — of Patches Pals. It was like trying to see Jesus. There were a few score plastic chairs set out in front of the stage, but just beyond the last row of chairs — all of which were occupied — was an impenetrable wall of Patches Pals. Mind you, these are not kids, these are people in their 40s and 50s. There were a dozen or so kids down in front — we could not get there and there was no room anyway — but the seething throng of hundreds of people were adults like me who quite simply adore J.P. Many wore the signature red clown nose of the Patches Pal.

I am too slight and too old and Mara now too big for me to put her on my shoulders, but I hoisted her onto my back in piggyback fashion and she could just barely see over my shoulder, between the arms of the people holding up digital cameras, to the place on the stage where J.P. was. He asked if everyone here were Patches Pals and the place erupted in a single affirmative roar. Similarly a negative when he squinted and wondered if there were any “Boris Buddies” present (Boris Buddies are the minions of the second meanest man in the world). Then he got to the business of the Simon Says contest for kids, the Simon Says contest for adults, and the hula hoop contest. Candy was doled out to winners and losers alike.

I was sad that we couldn’t see him better, but two-thirds of the way through the show a spot opened at the front of the human wall that Mara could get to and she bravely threaded her way among the knees and elbows and got to where she could see a little better.

Mara’s wooden boat becalmed. We floated it at the adjacent marina.

After the show J.P. was escorted by Seattle Police officers to a booth where a line formed for autographs that included literally hundreds of people. Instead of standing in this line, Mara and I went and got fish n’ chips. Checking back after an hour, we found the line to be just as long. Mara really wanted to get an autograph (and was even keener to have the J.P. action figure), but she wisely chose again to give the queue a miss, whereupon we sheered off to join the madness of hundreds of children trying to build wooden boats with their parents standing behind them nipping at their every move. (J.P. was just one attraction at this festival, which included lots of things for kids to do.) Hammers, glue, nails, and building materials were provided, but room to breathe was not. We checked the line one last time and it had not shrunk, or really even moved much. Everyone wanted to sit down with J.P. and get their picture taken, which took time. I wondered how long the old man could do this. It must have been exhausting, all that adoration.

I was feeling bad that I hadn’t been better prepared for viewing the show — and there’s no next time to apply lessons learned about Patches Pal Density Quotient — but we made the right choice, because as we were walking to our car we saw J.P. being driven away, and it had only been a few minutes since we last saw the line snaking away across the grounds. I can’t imaging the disappointment of all those people in the line who never even got to the booth, who were told, in effect, sorry, J.P. is over forever.

The passenger-side window in his car was rolled down as he passed, and I shouted “We love you J.P.!” Another lady said the same thing right after me (copycat).

“Thank you”, J.P. said with a wave. “Goodbye!”


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