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.
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.