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 every 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.

The Pants in the Family

Now that Jeff is back from his travels and envious of my Spring cleaning tactics, he’s gone through his closets and tried on all the shorts, etc. to get ready for the season. Jeff has lost some weight recently and much of his old stuff is too big now. And he’s discovered some old favorites including his kilts.

When we vacationed in Scotland with our kids a decade ago, Jeff got his Scottish on and acquired a kilt. Then, when we got home, he decided a few more might be in the cards. Seeing a guy in a kilt and Doc Maartens in Seattle isn’t that unusual. And since it’s the hiking capital of the US, every outfitter in the Washington (including homegrown REI) carries hiking kilts for guys. Jeff’s embraced it.

So today, from the bedroom I hear laughing. He was in there alone – Hmmm. Eventually he emerges and makes his way into the living room wearing his Mountain Hardware hiking kilt and is typing into his phone smiling.

‘Who are you talking to?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Curt. He said the house next to he and Butch’s on Mykonos is for sale. He thinks we should buy it. You remember – the crazy lady with the cats?’

I think about this for 30 seconds. Yes, Curt and Jeff are friends, but he was mine first.
He’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. They spend from March to November on Mykonos every year. Curt was my maid of honor at our wedding. The photos were a little interesting since Jeff is very tall, and Curt is taller still. I looked like a Munchkin from Munchkinland. Curt hosted our wedding at one of his houses on a lake in Washington. He had his rose garden redone for the occasion, and so many people told me afterwards it was one of the loveliest weddings they had ever been to. And that’s down to Curt. He’s family. To our kids he’s ‘Uncle Curt’ and while I think they like visiting us well enough, I’m very sure they’d prefer to go to Mykonos to hang out with him.

‘Why is he texting you about it?’

Jeff looks up from his phone ‘Clearly he knows who wears the pants in this family.’

What?! I’m still a little raw from the contract ‘Ask your husband thing.’ So I point to his kilt.

‘You’re literally standing there in a skirt.’

Then I look down at my painters overall that are huge. I’m in pants with enough fabric to cover us both!

Jeff shrugs and goes back to texting Curt and giving me the lowdown on the woman’s unconventional sales tactics. Not posting it for sale with a realtor or on a website. She just put a piece of paper on the gate and Curt saw it. He said it’s blown away now so the competition for the property shouldn’t be stiff and we could get it for a song. Except we live in Spain. ‘When you buy it’ they promised to keep an eye on it for us – big kiss emojis.

So now we’re looking at perhaps spending some time on Mykonos in the next little while. I wonder if I should reach out to Curt to make the arrangements – as I would normally do. Or if I should let Jeff handle the travel arrangements with his new best friend. Either way, I feel sure one of his kilts is coming with us. Eye roll. Oh well, as usual I’ll have to be the one to do the heavy lifting and wear the actual pants in the family.

The Travel Bug

I was bitten by the travel bug even before I ever traveled on my first train ride. It started by receiving gifts from my Uncle living in Japan for my birthdays. And from my Grandmother who was a ballsy lady who traveled the world on her own in retirement. Neither seemed to be afraid of anything.

Then, when I studied German in high school I had a pen pal who sent me photos and described her life in the city where she lived. I wanted to go there so bad and vowed one day I would. It would have never occurred to me not to take my own children with me on adventures. I wanted them learn to love seeing other places, cultures and people as much as I did. I wanted them to have a passport filled with stamps and a heart filled with memories.

Fast forward, my niece Melody started expressing an interest in seeing the world. So when she traveled to Europe I knew we would meet up. And I just got home from spending a few days with her in Barcelona. We’re similar enough – of course she’s 18 and I’m an ancient 52 – but from the moment I collected her at Terminal 1 at BCN, we never stopped talking. It was like no time had gone by since I had last seen her. And did we have fun!

We walked Barcelona from one side to the other. Indian food, Moroccan food, wine, cheese, ice cream, we ate it all. She declared Spanish coffee and croissants the finest in all the world (Shhh, Emilie thinks so too but don’t tell the French).

We went to Sagrada Familia and saw Gaudi’s epic imagination still being realized over 90 years after his death.

We hiked up to the Teleferic de Monjuic (the funicular that takes you up above Barcelona to the Montjuic Castle).

We enjoyed street music and toured La Boqueria Mercat with the food stalls and colorful creations.

We went to Placa de Espana and admired the views from the Cascadia water falls.

We wandered the old part of the city and hit the Zoo. Yes, we did all this in about 48 hours. And through it all we talked and walked and talked some more. And barely slept. It was like a slumber party for 2.

And we shopped a little. She couldn’t take much more home after packing her suitcase with souvenirs and gifts for those back home. But we did pick up her graduation dress and shoes. And all the stuff she’ll need for Prom next week. Like Emilie, no one will be wearing the same thing at prom this year.

Then Melody expressed an interest in getting a tattoo. To mark her first trip the Europe, but also as an expression of her independence. She’s 18 now – for a whole 2 months. And she’ll be graduating high school in 2 more. She chose a parlour, based on the reviews online, and we went down there. She had already identified the art she wanted. A sprig of lavender – symbolizing peace. She said she remembered how much my Mom would plant it in the garden at her house, so she settled on that.

She was scared to do it but also excited. I was just there for moral support. It was her show. But it looks great and she’ll always remember she got her first tattoo with me on her first visit to Spain. That made me smile.

I dropped Melody off early this morning at the airport – she’s still en route and has definitely caught the family travel bug. My work is done! Then I hopped on a train to Valencia. Jeff met me near the station for lunch. So great to see him after a few weeks. It had taken him 37 hours to get home. His flight from Malaga to Valencia had been cancelled so they put him on a bus for 7 hours, and then promptly lost his luggage. He was smiling big when I saw him standing there, so no worse for wear.

We both had adventures and got to connect with family – Jeff was so happy to see his Mom and Ryan – the best kind of trip. But it’s nice to be home in Benimachlet where we belong. Travel is great, but Dorothy is right clicking her ruby slippers. There really is no place like home. And for me, that will always be where ever Jeff is.

Love is the Little Things

Jeff popped home to Valencia from Germany, for an overnight (about 7 hours total) before heading to the US. We’ve spent so much time together over the last year – more than any other time in our marriage – it felt a bit strange to have him away. But in the past it was usually me traveling for my work. Now I find it’s easier to be the person traveling than the one left at home. I’ve never really experienced that before. Hmm. But like most things, there’s always a silver lining.

Jeff spent last weekend in London with a friend who had never been to Europe. Some of the best trips are when you get to travel with those who haven’t seen what you’ve seen. Its a special kind of joy watching their reaction and wonder. Like experiencing it yourself for the first time. It’s what I always felt when traveling with our kids. Their excitement was contagious. Perhaps that’s why we traveled with them so much. The smiles, until they were teenagers. Oof!

I went with him to the airport this morning on the Metro. He had already packed his next suitcase before he left for London, so it was just a shower and then off to hop on another plane. He goes armed with a list of to-do’s. Since it’s tax season he has some things to get to our accountant and so much other administrative stuff. And he’ll get to see his Mom and Ryan. But one thing that is different than before is the shopping list. Perhaps I’m evolving.

Before we moved here we stocked up on all the things we thought we needed. Things we were worried we wouldn’t have been able to get here. Slowly but surely we have swapped out US stuff for Spanish stuff. Moisturizer, mascara, medicine. Our medicine cabinets look very different this year, so I had to wrack my brain to come up with things he would need to bring back in his suitcase. I guess we’re like snakes, shedding our skins for new ones.

It doesn’t mean Jeff hasn’t gone prepared. He is staying with my good friend Courtney and he’s been shipping stuff to her house for months. A new wet suit for paddling made for someone who is extra tall. You can’t get that here at the local Decathalon. And a host of other things for someone who is more Norway (giant) than Spain (not). But I was pretty proud of myself that what I asked for could fit into the pocket of a backpack.

I’m getting in a lot of writing time, and painting. So that’s my silver lining. Hopefully I can keep that up when he gets home.

But there is also the downside of him being away. Every morning Jeff makes me my coffee. Often I wake up to the smell of it brewing. It’s a new thing since we moved here. But he makes it just the way I like it. With cardamon in the brew and then a little sprinkle on top. It took him a few months to perfect it and now it’s the only coffee I like to drink. But I don’t know how to make it like he does so my days don’t start quite so perfectly without him.

My attempt at Cafe con Leche ala El Jefe

When I was on the Camino and in Spain for two months in 2017, Jeff missed my foot. Apparently he subconsciously checks in with me at night and taps his foot to mine in his sleep. When he couldn’t find it he would wake himself up. Hopefully he can sleep on this next bit of his trip.

Oh well – it’s a finite time frame, we will both survive. And it proves the old adage ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’. And I’m here to tell you that it truly does.

My Daughter’s Mother

Part of what is hard about living in Spain, so far away from family, is that when they are sick or injured you can do nothing to comfort them or ease their pain. I haven’t felt this helpless since we moved here.

Yesterday, I woke up to pictures on my phone of Emilie’s ankle, and a wall of messages telling me about how she injured it in her basketball game the night before. It looks terrible. It’s huge, purple and angry and she’s on the other side of the world wanting comfort. She’s a star athlete so she’s frustrated that it’s clearly a season ending injury. Tennis and the long jump (yes, she does two sports at a time in the spring season) are now out of the question. She will be in a boot for a couple of months, I’m very sure.

So I spent my day on messenger talking her through it all and speaking to her on the phone intermittently. She’s a tough cookie – she always has been. And she’ll be fine. But it’s one of those Mom Moments that makes me wish I was there, and it wasn’t someone from the school shepherding her to the hospital.

But then she told me that they had taken her back to the school without having determined if her ankle is broken and given her a treatment plan. What?! I had never heard of this and we’ve been to an ER with all the kids for one sports injury or another. Xrays, MRI’s, CT scans, emergency surgery. We’ve been through it all. So I called the school and spoke to them.

Emilie’s school is in the deep, deep South of the US. They ‘Tawk reeal sloow’. Not because they’re stupid but that’s just their cultural linguistic heritage. But it also means that when I call them it takes them forever to get down to the point and my cell phone bills are enormous. Bottom line, they said that this is ‘normal’ for the local ER they take kids to. And they would just wait for the results to be called to them – maybe by Monday. That seemed outrageous to me to release a patient with a clear sign of serious injury without a diagnosis or a treatment plan.

‘Well, we have her laying down and we’re giving her the ‘Mama treatment’. They assured me. I was not assured.

When I got off the phone Jeff looked at my face and said ‘Uh Oh’.

I told him what they had said. ‘Mama Treatment?’

‘I don’t know what kind of mama’s these people had, but mine would never have stood for leaving an ER with no answers. And this mama isn’t going to stand for it either.’

So I looked on Google maps and found the closest ER to the school and I called them up, explaining the situation. I’m 5000 miles away and my poor daughter was seen there with a clearly seriously injured ankle. Yada Yada.

Well, the first two people I spoke to, after 10 minutes of failing to get to the point, finally told me they couldn’t help me ‘Due to all those laws about patient privacy and such’. The upside of these long conversations is that I did get a kickass peach cobbler recipe and we’re now invited to a 4th of July bbq with ‘the best sweet tea in the South’. And I was able to calibrate my speech cadence and local nomenclature. It would come in handy.

So I called again. This time I asked for radiology. They were the ones who ran the tests in the first place. I had learned from my other two conversations not to go at it head on. You sort of sneak up on it, so as not to scare your prey. I told my same story but in a more round about, subtle way. I threw in some local colloquialisms like ‘Til the cows come home’ , ‘A hill of beans’ and ‘If I had my druthers.’ I was gonna try to work in ‘That dog don’t hunt’ but that takes some Olympic-level southern tawk, and I’m an amateur. I told them I was in Spain and couldn’t sign that crazy form to get information about my own child’s health in a crisis such as this. I said ‘One parent to another, I’m sure y’all can understand.’ It was a shot in the dark but Scarlet O’Hara had nothing on me. In the end, the person said they really wanted to. Really, really wanted to but they couldn’t help me or they’d lose their job.

When I hung up Jeff was smiling. ‘What?’ I asked him.

‘That’s quite the accent you’re sportin” He laughed.

‘Well you know how I get when I talk to someone from there. I lose all the ‘g’s’ at the end of all those words. And one syllable becomes 4.’

‘Oh, I know. I figured if you came to bed in a hoop skirt, the transformation would have been complete.’

I was frustrated. ‘Well clearly it didn’t work. I almost had it too. They wanted to tell me but I didn’t get it across the finish line.’

Just then, my phone rang. It was the area code for that town. I picked up and a frantic person told me – with no Southern hemming and hawing – that they were in the parking lot on their personal cell phone. They understood my plight as a mother and they gave me the information I needed – including the results and the treatment plan.

‘You don’t know me and we never spoke’ they said.

‘I couldn’t pick you out of a crowd in the Walmart parking lot’. I promised. Then they hung up.

I called the school. Because I’m her parent and the medical results hadn’t reached the school via pony express yet, I get to dictate what they do for her. So I read out the instruction I had been given by deep throat in the ER parking lot and told them to follow them to the letter. They agreed of course. No body wants to get sued.

The final gem was my phone ringing at 2:30 this morning. The health coordinator at the school had finally gotten the results – hours after my covert medical records operation had born fruit. She related everything I already knew and told me they were going to do exactly as I dictated to them hours earlier.

So after little sleep, I’m happy Emilie is getting the care and treatment she needs. But I still wish I was there to take care of her. I’d make her up some peach cobbler from that new recipe and maybe a little sweet tea. That’d fix her up but good.

Ugh. Now I need to go out and speak to some Spanish people so I can’t stop tawkin’ like this.