A Tribute to my Mother

Happy 80th Birthday – Candy Lou!!

I get to be the first person to wish you Happy 80th Birthday, as I’m the first of your children to welcome this historic day because the sun rises on this side of the world before it does over there. On this day, all those years ago, at the tail end of the Great Depression and just before the dawn of the worst war in the history of the world, a little, very harry, black haired girl was born to two people who got married after dating only 6 weeks. What could go wrong with that?! A LOT it turns out!!  But that’s a story for another time. Even with humble beginnings, something went right on that morning and it was YOU.

At that moment, you didn’t know it yet but you’d be poor while growing up. You’d only have 2 dresses total in your wardrobe, and the kids would throw rocks at you on the playground for being poor, at one of the countless elementary schools you would attend – one for only two weeks. Your parents would lose their farm and times would be very tough. But it would teach you compassion that you’d need later on.

As your daughter, I can honestly say you’ve made some whopper mistakes throughout your life that would require too many fingers and toes to count. And I don’t have that kind of time. But that’s to be expected over the course of 80 years. And it’s meant that you are chock full of, yup, 8 decades, or 4160 weeks or 29,200 days of wisdom .

You’re a terrible typist and your handwriting is atrocious. And your spelling? Oof! Its crazy bad, but these days I think it might be auto-correct in WhatApp, or you can blame not wearing your glasses (that’s my excuse now). And don’t get me started with you calling actor Robert Redford ‘Robert Redfern’ my entire life. Like nails on a chalk board.

But luckily, you did a whole ton of good things too. So I thought I’d take a moment to call out just a few.

Mom, you’re a ‘Make Lemonade out of Lemons’ kind of person. And some of those lemons have been sour, a little past their pull date, and tough to choke down. But you never give up. That’s probably the biggest thing that defines you – You are like if the energizer bunny and that inflatable Toy clown with the sand in the bottom we had in the back yard in 1970, had a baby. You just keep going and bouncing back.

Slowly but Surely

I found this plate in my favorite antique store in Valencia recently and it made me think of you. It says ‘Sin Priza Pero Sin Pausa’. Literally, ‘No Hurray But No Stopping’ or ‘Slowly but Surely’. I had to buy it.

Your dream was to go to college and teach Home Economic after graduating high school in Los Angeles at barely 17. But your Dad said girls didn’t need college and should get married, so you did that. But that didn’t stop you from pursuing the things you loved in your ever day life. When I was a kid, you made cupcakes, cookies, or full on cakes for every school holiday frosted with each child’s name in the class, so they wouldn’t feel left out. If there was something to sign us up for, you filled out the form and drove us at 5am. Or picked us up after midnight, if need be. You never missed a school event.

You sewed all my clothes every year until I was in High School when I suddenly ‘needed’ IZOD alligators on my shirts and factory installed ice cream cone logos on the pockets of my jeans. But my taffeta Prom dresses were the envy of every one I knew. And they were custom made ‘Candy Originals’.

You took classes to learn how to do things you were interested in. Painting, calligraphy, cake decorating. Thank God on the cake decorating front, as you made the cakes for every table at our wedding and they were each a different flavor, perfectly delicious and gorgeous. Everyone commented on those masterpieces. And you were determined that Peggy and I would go to college – because you didn’t get to.

When you bought the store when I was 12, I hated that place. It was in a bad area across town in Portland and frankly, there were times it scared me to death to go down there and stock shelves or work the slushy machine. I’m not sure you much liked it either getting up at 4:30 every morning. The place was full of hookers, drug dealers and ex-cons. And a lot of future cons-in-training. There were gang fights and drug addicts living in public housing across the street. But this is where you shone.

You went to work there every day for more than 3 decades and you made a good living doing it. But that’s not what I remember the most about you then. I remember that even though the area was the worst in 3 counties, you got up every day and put on nice clothes (including pantyhose under your elastic waist jeans – Yes, it’s still a fashion No-No) and your Keds tennis shoes, and you went to work amongst people that the rest of the world had already thrown away. Humanity’s refuse bin. Yet you treated them all the same – with respect, no matter what.

When someone got sent to prison you wrote them letters of encouragement for years. When addict’s kids came in the store barefoot in the snow, you’d make sure to get their shoe sizes and bought them shoes and coats. People didn’t go hungry if they were a little short one week, because you just wrote down what they owed on the back of cigarette cartons and kept it behind the counter with their name on it. And they would pay at pay day – maybe. I remember being little and big scary guys covered in gang tattoos from the carnival would come in and you treated them like they were wearing business suits. Calling them by name. And as a result they did the same. When the store got robbed they would find out who did it and come in and tell you – because they liked you.

You always saw past the dark veil that the people down by the store showed to the world. You looked into their hearts and saw what they could be – even if they never saw it themselves or reached their potential. Sometimes I think it broke your heart more than theirs.

I remember that one summer the war between those two rival Criminal families happened and they wanted to have a battle in the parking lot. They all showed up with knives, baseball bats, chains and guns; like Westside story, only there were no ticket sales and it wasn’t a Broadway show. You went out and shouted ‘Hey! No Way! Not in my parking lot!’ and shooed them away. And they just left. Candy – in her red Keds and flowered sweater – had told them they couldn’t fight in front of the store. So they just didn’t. They respected you. And ‘No! Weapons Stay Outside!’ if they tried to come in with anything more than a pocket knife. That’s when I knew you were crazy fierce. I used to call you ‘Betty Crocker with a Butcher Knife’ to my friends, but it was no joke.

You hired ex-addicts to give them a shot at turning their lives around. And you helped their kids learn to read. You went to countless graduations, weddings, funerals and baby showers for the neighborhood. You’d take at-risk kids out to lunch to talk to them about the potential you saw in them – sometimes enlisting me along to help with the pep talk or to be a human visual aide. And if teenagers got pregnant you made them baby quilts and helped them know what programs they qualified for. You were THE neighborhood social worker without the Masters degree or the pay. I’m amazed that you still see so many of these people after all these years. Some of them even have grand children now and they send you pictures and artwork that you hang on the fridge.

I’m not sure I would have become a foster parent if I hadn’t had you as an example. Believing that no matter how tragic a child’s beginnings are, they have the potential to do great things. And you made me believe I could help make that happen.

We haven’t always seen eye to eye, you and I. I guess we both can say we’ve had good reasons for this over the years. My siblings and I have put every grey hair on your head (Dad helped his fair share too). But at my lowest ebb, during dark and scary times, I knew you would be there, and you still are. And I’ve learned many things from you. Here are just a few:

  • Never give up – fall down 1000 times but get up 1001
  • There is always something more to learn
  • Forgive but look for the lesson
  • Re-invention should be practiced daily
  • You’re as good as the boys, just don’t let them know you know that – good advice in the 80’s
  • You can accomplish anything you set out to
  • A little lipstick never hurt anyone
  • Spend good money on good shoes – you’re playing my song
  • Carry tic tacs, butterscotch lifesavers and those little tissues in your purse – There’s always a runny nosed kid with low blood sugar at any school event, airport, on a train
  • Wear sunscreen starting when you’re young
  • Treat the person who empties the trash with the same respect as the CEO
  • Save cottage cheese cartons, they’re as good as Tupperware when you’re poor
  • Re-use foil
  • Laugh at yourself and talk to people in line
  • Be a good neighbor
  • Old friends are the best kind of friends
  • Hand write Thank You notes – it really does matter
  • Marry someone kind – You’d agree, I finally got that right
  • And the biggest one ‘This too shall pass’I’ve needed that more times than I could count

They say in life, you should strive to leave the world better than you found it and you’ve done that, Mom. There are 100’s of people whose lives you’ve made better, if for no other reason than you showed them you cared and respected them as people. And there are others whose lives you’ve transformed just because you showed up. So here’s to you, Candy Field. To the rich life you’ve lived so far. Your energy is contagious. Happy 80th Birthday. Or as they say over here, Feliz Compleanos – I Love you very much and I’m lucky I get to call you my Mom.

Its About That Time

When I lived in San Francisco in the 90’s, there were earthquakes. A lot of earth quakes. Some larger. Some smaller. You took them in your stride. But you started to be able to understand the difference between the various kinds. ‘Rolling’ was better than the ‘Jerk and Snap’. That did more damage to people and property.

But I remember one that happened on a Sunday Morning when I had moved out of the city down to San Mateo on the Pennisula. It was a rolling quake and I could hear the roar – kind of like a lion – coming towards me and it was getting rapidly louder. It came in a wave, shook the house during the loudest bit, and then roared away. When I saw the first Harry Potter and Voldemort’s spirit goes through Harry holding the sorcerers stone – that’s what it was like. I later learned that the sound waves of a quake often precede the shaking.

That’s where I’ve been since last Summer. I’ll be 53 this July, so as a woman I’m at that age when it all begins – or ends, depending on your perspective. The symptoms started like that distant roar from the earthquake. I heard little warnings – but nothing big. Then, starting last Fall the roar has gotten louder and some of the symptoms more worrisome. So much so that I couldn’t ignore it anymore and last week decided to get some medical advice.

Yes, I have a doctor that speaks Ingles, but she referred me to another specialist whose ability to communicate with me is less than what I need right now. And her nurse just points and grunts – not even in Spanish or English. I mean, my ability to speak Spanish under medical stress isn’t where I want it to be, but normally I understand a lot. If they speak more slowly than normal. Otherwise, I’m forced to use my powers of observation. And that’s ripe for misinterpretation.

So I took myself to the specialist appointment yesterday and they were right on time. I must say, the offices are like a nice Spa and there are no complaints with how they do the business of medicine and patient privacy. I was taken back and then told to disrobe. This is where the trouble started.

I’ve encountered it before when getting massages here. In the US we take off our clothes to get a massage – all of them. Here they don’t do that. So the nurse at the Dr. office was taken aback that I disrobed completely – even with the robe for modesty. It’s a freaking doctor! Whatever. I wasn’t the mood for it.

Then as they’re checking my various lady bits, they start making faces to each other and speaking in rapid fire Spanish. The nurse looks at me nervously and then the Dr. says something to her. Now I’m freaked out.

‘Is everything OK?’ I ask the doctor – looking at the nurse’s face.

No one answers me but they keep talking to each other so fast I can’t understand, and still the faces looking at me. Grimaces and wide eyes. Like cartoon characters. There was no mistaking it. ‘Oh that’s not good’ isn’t said out loud in English but their faces are yelling it at me.

‘Seriously? Is everything OK?’ I ask again. Nothing.

Finally I try ‘Hola! Por favor.’

This seems to break their exchange and they realize I’m a human over whose body they are discussing things with faces that look like I’m not long for it. The nurse nervously leaves the room and the doctor smiles at me a weak smile.

‘It’s fine. We are going to order some tests. It will be fine.’ But her face is the one I gave Emilie after a serious bike accident that required hospitalization. I wanted her to remain calm, while inside I was freaking out!

I try to ask more questions but she clearly doesn’t understand me enough to answer in a way that is helpful – for either of us. And then I realized, with everything I’ve overcome moving here – navigating travel/transit, ordering food, driving, getting our visas renewed, etc. – when I need to understand the most important things about my time of life health, I’m lost. And with all the other stuff I’m experiencing, I’m more emotional than normal. So I teared up. This makes her more uncomfortable and she clearly wants me to get out of there as soon as possible.

She tells me to go out to reception to get the information on the scheduled tests right away and then tells me.

‘Next time I see you, you will know more Spanish.’

I asked her when I would be seeing her and she told me right after the tests on Wednesday. I’m not sure if she thinks I’m some sort of language savant or if there is some magic they put in the water they gave me, but she’s in for a sad disappointment.

I’m not going to say I ever loved my doctors in the US, any more than this specialist. It always felt like the Burger King drive thru when you went to your appointment back home. They barely looked at you. But the one thing they could do, when it really mattered, was speak to me in my own language and answer my questions. Because God knows, no one wants me Googling this stuff. Least of all Jeff. He’s made me promise.

I do understand that I’m just at the beginning of this journey. It will get worse before it gets better. And no one knows how long it will take. There are people who tell horror stories (Yes, I mean you Mom) and others who tell me it’s really not a big deal. But no one I know have ever gone through it in Spain, in a language not their own. I guess either way, I can hear the lion and the roar it getting louder. But I can take comfort that it will eventually, after the really strong shaking, roar away.

Taking a Break

We’ve had a lot of family stuff going on lately and it’s consumed most of my energy. I’ll be heading back to the US soon to be in the mix. But before that, we headed out to take a little break. It may seem strange since we live on the Med, but stepping back is important during times of stress, and since life varies at different points on the Mediterranean (even in Spain) – thinking north and east – we decided some time away was in order.

Luckily, we didn’t need to go far, since everything in Europe is so close. Mostly, I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. But this trip included some of my favorite things.

  • A Place I LOVE!
  • Ancient history
  • Lots of ruins
  • A favorite beach
  • Introducing Jeff to a place he’s never been

Tarragona is just south of Barcelona, right on the Med. It’s easily accessible by train so no stressful flight delays. This time, catching the train, we did the very Spanish thing and arrived right as boarding began. This means 20 minutes before it leaves (that’s when they assign the track). Highly unusual for us, since we’re always early to everything. (As though a train or plane will come sooner than expected). I was in a ‘I just don’t care, even if we miss the train we’ll catch the next one’ mode.

The other wonderful part of it is that where we stayed had ZERO wifi and the city has terrible cell service. I’m not sure why getting a signal was so touch and go, but it meant we were out of communication for days.

If you’re thinking of visiting – I would recommend visiting the Amphitheater first. There you can purchase an all-inclusive ticket for the main sites in the city. These include the Amphitheater, Forum, Murallas, Circus, Tower (Necropolis) and the Archaeological museum (although it’s under renovation and closed now – luckily I have been before). There are palaces within the walled city and other sites not requiring a ticket. I would highly suggest walking the entire perimeter of the walls around the old city.

The history of ‘Tarroco’ goes back thousands of years. It was a key city in the Roman Empire. Rich, well positioned, easily defensible. The city was a classic Roman city, and since then changed hands many times. Visigoths, Moors, French – it was so important it became a military target where empires invested in expensive sieges, and the very costly occupation of unwilling populations. As we know today in most of our current military conflicts around the world – it will not end well. Winning a war is one thing. Winning the peace is quite another.

No matter how many times I visit a place I always learn something new. Perhaps we filter information differently at different times. Changing our focus. But as an enthusiastic student of history, I’m always looking for new insights. This time when visiting the remains of the Roman circus, there were new plaques. They explained how the chariot races were were staged. How rich Romans paid for the races – gave away tickets for free – and their social standing was based on how many of the poor peasants showed up. Basically, just like today with social media and harvesting ‘Likes’. We are all still the same people we were more than 2,000 years ago. Our reptilian brains haven’t evolved that much. The Kardashians immediately came to mind. No matter how rich, they still need to be loved by the masses.

Another thing we learned about is that the social system in The Roman Empire was all about continually leveling the playing field. Rise too high – become too rich, too influential – and eventually, the state would seize all your possessions. They feared any consolidation of power through money and influence. But social breakdowns started keeping this from happening and the fall of Rome was inevitable as the peasantry rose up.

Jeff has usually, very reluctantly, embraced my historical forays, but as we walked through this history, he was struck by the parallels to what’s going on in the US today. Much like the Romans, we seem to be imploding; hoisting ourselves on our own petard. And walking through Tarragona, you are literally walking ON history. You can’t miss the buildings built precariously on the past. I’m not sure what their building codes have historically been, but some of these more modern structures appear to be perched – ripe for an earthquake to take them out. But so far, so good.

Anyway, it was a relaxing time away. Much needed. Who knows what the future holds. But whenever things get too crazy today, a little visit to the past is what my heart needs.