Smiling Anyway

Me and Momma, having fun at Coyote Creek

Dear Liza,

My first reaction to “shelter in place to slow the spread of the corona virus” was mature and calm. NONONONONO! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!

Grandpa Lowell, Phil Conway and Stella

But then, in my mind, I saw my Momma smiling at me. This woman was the dictionary definition of adaptable. She camped out, every weekend, with three children, in sun and rain and wind, and often, no toilets or running water.

My Dad, Lowell, was the outdoorsy type. With a 9 by 12 canvas tent, a camping box packed with cast iron pans and melamine plates, and a Coleman stove, he led us to make a new home every weekend in the forests and deserts of California.

Baby me, Grandpa Lowell and Grandma Billie
Dinner’s here!

We were a working class family, with not much money for vacations. Besides, Dad said, camping built character. It was good for kids to get out of town and run, hike, and fish. It was good to ‘figure things out’ when things went wrong.

And he was right. My brothers and I grew in ways that are hard to measure. We figured out how to create a shower stall from Tupperware and canvas, or make a beer cooler in the river.

Full disclosure: There were some snafus. I jumped into a bunch of nettles, barefoot, and had to be carried home. Brother Tim caught his ear with a fish hook while learning to fly fish. Brother Jim rebelled and stayed in the tent for a whole long weekend, reading MAD magazine. But it all worked out eventually.

Her first fish ever, caught on her honeymoon. Smiling anyway.

Momma was not originally in favor of this situation, but long before I was born, the subject had been settled. She negotiated with Dad that, since she did all the cooking at home, HE should be the ‘chef du foret’. This gave her time off from the chore, which is much harder outdoors, and let her feel more positively about the adventures. She was able to make it work.

So, when we were told, this week, the opposite of Dad’s mandate, NOT to go outdoors, NOT to be adventurous, it stumped me for a minute. But Momma’s willingness to make the best of a situation, to be flexible and smile anyway, will carry me through.

I will study French, write my story, play Scrabble, pet cats, make cookies, and smile anyway.

Happy Sheltering in Place!


Grandma Judy

Remembering Momma

Dear Liza,

Hazel, a friend, and Willie Vee, taking a break from picking cotton

As I have written in several other posts, your Great Grandma Billie was a very special lady. She was born and given the name Willie Vee Deal in Canute, Oklahoma, in 1921. She died 7 years ago today at the age of 92.

She was a typical woman of her generation, I suppose. She grew up on a small farm in Southwestern Oklahoma, picking cotton with her sisters and learning to drive a tractor at twelve.

She and her sister Hazel once daringly skipped Sunday School to watch a Nelson Eddie and Janet McDonald movie, but nearly died of fright when she caught sight of an uncle, and feared he would tell on them. “Silly,” Hazel said. “How would he explain that HE wasn’t in church?”

The two left Canute in 1943 so Hazel could be close to her fiancé, Raymond, who was stationed in San Diego. They built airplanes for Douglass Aircraft and lived the life of newly-independent young women.

Douglass was where her named changed from Willie Vee to Billie. “We’ve already got three Oakies on the floor named Willie”, said her foreman. “You’re Bill.” So she became Billie. She and Hazel joined the bowling league, used their ration books to buy sugar, and always went on double dates because so few fellows had cars.

Willie Vee (Billie) and Hazel, being like Rosie the Riveter

Momma met Dad because they worked in the same factory, but they didn’t meet at work. Momma wrote the company newsletter which was sent to ‘the boys’ who had been drafted or enlisted, to keep them up on who was dating whom and what the latest jokes were. Dad was one of the recipients of this monthly newsletter.

Dad in the Pacific (top left)

When he came to California on leave, he went home to Delano and found that his wife (who is now known as his first wife) had been using his paychecks to set up housekeeping with another fellow. He was heartbroken, his future down the drain. He did what any American boy would do, he said. He got drunk.

He somehow got on the bus and back to Manhattan Beach, the only other address he knew in California… Momma’s return address from the newsletter. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Wedding day giggles

Momma took a chance on this divorced, card playing man, against her Methodist family’s wishes, and it worked out fine. They were giddily, happily married for 50 years.

Momma was a farm girl, a riveter, a mother, a librarian, a Little League baseball hot dog maker, a camper, a seamstress, and a role model for joy and loving-kindness. She is with me everyday, making sure I do my best for those around me.

Me and Momma in Sedona, 2000

I hope you and your family are taking care of each other during this odd time of Sheltering in Place.


Grandma Judy

Snowmen in Laurelhurst Park

Dear Liza,

Snowboys of all ages!

I don’t think these even need words! Saturday, March 14, 2020, this is what was happening in Laurelhurst Park.

Grandpa Nelson and friend
Not quite Olaf, but a pretty happy snowman, anyway

It was a wonderful day. Folks are self-isolating because of the state of emergency declared for the Coronavirus. Being at the park is public, but not too close. The snowmen were all at least a meter away from each other.


Grandma Judy

And then, Snow!

Dear Liza,

Saturday morning, we woke up to snow. It was just a dusting, and we went back to sleep. A few hours later, it was STILL snowing, and Grandpa Nelson decided it was time for a proper snow adventure, so we bundled up and headed off.

Grandpa Nelson, out and about

First, we saw our walkway, decorated with snow. The gnomes were wondering who put out the lights, apparently.

Gnomes, just chillin’

Then we noticed some tulips that had not seen the snow coming. I hope they can spring back!

Very surprised tulips

Laurelhurst Park itself is lovely in any weather, but is a Narnia sort of beautiful in the snow. The Ravine always looks like Mr. Tumnis is going to show up any moment.

The edge of Narnia

As we walked around, we saw dozens of families enjoying the snow. There were snowmen, snowball fights, dogs dashing around. It was a winter wonderland… in March. I will show you the snowmen tomorrow.

Firwood Lake and snowy Boomarang Island

The lake was very pretty through the trees, as the snow came down and sat on the surface for just a minute before melting.

After our walk, we came in and hung our wet clothes up in front of the fire, and spent the rest of the day alternately watching TV and snow!


Grandma Judy

Socially Distanced

Dear Liza,

This man misses you sooooo much!

I am writing to you when I would rather be getting ready for your visit. You and Your Momma Olga and Daddy David were going to come up and spend a whole week here with us.

And now, you are staying in Salinas. This makes me very sad. But I think, in the long run, it was the right decision.


The corona virus is spreading, and people traveling can make it spread faster. Auntie Katie and Auntie Bridgett both work in shops and galleries where things get handled, they can get the virus and pass it along. With you and all the cousins being in school until this past Friday, you can catch it and pass it, too, even without feeling sick.

All the cousins

Doctors have asked us all to stay put for a while to slow the spread of the virus so lots of people won’t need hospital beds all at once. I am willing to do my part, even when it makes me sad, to keep all the people healthy.

Who I am missing…

I promise we will get together as soon as we can. I love you very much, every day.


Grandma Judy

Sunny Sunset at Lone Fir

Dear Liza,

Sunny late afternoon

We had so many sunny days last week! And after the time change, it was light enough after dinner to go for walks. Auntie Bridgett and I visited the dead people at Lone Fir Cemetery.

This is my favorite cemetery in town. It has been used since the 1840s and has fewer rules about what sort of marker people can put up. It has the best of old, new, immortal, fleeting, tragic and silly.

Classic, lovely headstone

On this walk we found a new marker. Burton Stein passed away a year ago this January, and his headstone has just been installed. Folks had already come around and placed stones on it. This is a Jewish gesture of respect. Flowers are fleeting, we believe. Stones live forever. I’m not sure what the dented candle stick is for, but I applaud the gesture.

Goodbye, Burton Stein

We walked around and enjoyed watching the sun disappear over the west hills. The boxy looking object in the photo is the very top of the tallest building in Portland, the Wells Fargo Building.

Heading off into the sunset

When my Momma, your Great Grandma Billie, was getting ready to die, one of the last things she said was, “I’m gonna put my boat on the porch, and head west.” And the next day, she did. Heading into the sunset isn’t such a bad way to go.


Grandma Judy

Flying Cat Coffee And Coronavirus

Dear Liza,

flying Cat Coffee in the sunshine

Our weather is still chilly but clear here in Portland. Coats have been put away, but a sweater and a little something around your neck is still a good idea. It is good walking weather, and yesterday Grandpa Nelson and I walked the mile south to Division Street’s Flying Cat Coffee.

This is just a block west of Salt and Straw Ice Cream and the St. Honore Boulangerie. It feels ‘old’ Portland, where they feel very ‘new’. The building is small, and the seating is a mixture of all the living rooms of my childhood… avocado green sofas and orange striped overstuffed rocking chairs.

Lonely barista

But it is pleasant. Their coffee is strong and good, and they have a nice selection of teas and some pastries.

Quirky, friendly art

But we were there the day the coronovirus became very real in Portland, so we literally had the place to ourselves. And it was probably our last sit down in a coffee shop for a while.

The mayor has declared a state of emergency (city of emergency?) and said all K-12 schools will close starting Monday. Governor Kate Brown has declared that any group bigger than 250 people is illegal. So concerts, plays, movie theaters, indoor malls, our zoo, museums, comic conventions, all the places we want to go when the spring comes, are all closed. Poop.

And even a mobile coffee bike!

Auntie Katie is working with her staff to find ways to keep Books with Pictures open while keeping everyone safe. Auntie Bridgett is doing the same at SideStreet Arts Gallery. It isn’t easy being a public place these days.

Here is where I heave a big sigh and find the silver lining. We are all well. The sunlight is pretty and the Park is not contagious. Kittens are good company. I am continuing to improve my story.

And I get to see you in less than a month!


Grandma Judy