Murals, Ghosts and History

Dear Liza,

The other day Auntie Bridget and I passed the completed murals at Belmont and 33rd. We had seen them worked on all summer and fall. There are ten panels. This is what my favorite one looked like, months ago:

As we looked, we realized they were all images specific to our neighborhood of Sunnyside. There is the trolley car that brought residents here from downtown in the 1890s. There is the community garden…. and is that ThePiedCow?

Let me explain. The Pied Cow is a quirky coffeehouse located in a distinctive old house on Belmont Avenue. There is always this black Cadillac parked out front. It has a Haunted Mansion feel….spooky, but in a friendly, benevolently ghosty sort of way.

And that house is in the mural, with a lady ghost hovering above it. Hmmmmmm. The mural also shows another old house just around the corner, an equally distinctive structure, with bats coming out of it. Hmmmm again.

We walked and stared and took pictures. Then we went home and researched. There are indeed stories of the J.C. Havely House, which now houses the Pied Cow, being haunted by a benevolent ghost called Aunt Lydia. We can’t nail down WHOSE Aunt Lydia was, though. Mr. Havely, the railroad tycoon who built the house in 1893? A more recent resident? The answers are vague.

We spent a good deal of time reading and learning, then went and did stuff that needed doing. Auntie Bridgett did some collages and I continued organizing my office.

When dinnertime came, we knew we would go to the Pied Cow and see what we could learn. As we were walking around the block, we passed a young lady walking an extremely old dog. While we were sitting at our table in the yard, Bridgett looked up and saw this same young lady on the balcony on the restaurant, watering potted plants.

“Is that dog the one in the window, in the mural?” She asked. Phone, photo, check. Yes! It is! So the mural not only shows the house’s history, but its present! I am impressed. Intrigued. And I want to know more.

Why is the other house, a Queen Anne style built in the same year by Thaddeus Fisher, included in the mural? Is it also haunted? It is shown with bats coming out… did someone have bats in their belfry? Hmmmmm again.

The Belmont Murals, painted by Mado Hues in cooperation with the Portland Street Art Association, show a remarkable visual language. They answer questions you didn’t know you were asking and make you want to know more. That, in my opinion, is what art is supposed to do.

I love Portland!


Grandma Judy

Neighborhood Quirkiness

Dear Liza,

My first day back home started with a long lazy morning of reading and writing, and then Auntie Bridgett and I went out for a walk. We took some books we need to get rid of, so we could deposit them in one of the tiny libraries in the area.

We walked through Laurelhurst Park, which is even more beautiful than I remember. The sun filtering through the trees and the smell of the earth and the blossoms reminds me why I fell in love with this part of town.

We continued our walk, turning where we felt like, noticing gardens. We kept finding things that were quirky, things you just don’t see everywhere.

A metal garden sculpture in the shape of the giant flower Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors”. A sign with a man’s face and address, but no name, condemning him as a Peeping Tom. A sticker on a crossing button that says “You are way more important than your realize.”

We ended up at 33rd and Yamhill, where the Portland Street Art Association has just finished re-painting a giant flower in what is called the Sunnyside Piazza, a nicely decorated intersection. How nice that people get together to make the city more beautiful, and pull all the neighbors in to help! And, even nicer, the beauty is allowed to remain.

Just up the street is the now-completed Belmont Street mural, which I will tell you more about tomorrow. I want to learn more about it first!

We were tired after our long walk and came home to do some organizing. My office is still a bit cluttered and I need to find space to spread my timelines out. I will tell you more about that as it comes together.


Grandma Judy


Dear Liza,

Yesterday started out with you in Salinas. I got my bags packed, including eight bottles of wonderful wine, wrapped in jeans, tee shirts and stuffties. I looked around at your house, which has been my house, for almost five months, and I know I will miss being with you. Watching He-Man and She-Ra before school, building new LEGO sets and going on adventures has been so wonderful.

But all the time I was having fun with you, I was missing my people. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett are the music in my life. When I am with them, my heart dances.

I needed to come home.

Grandpa Nelson had booked me into first class (my first time!) and Marcella the hostess took good care of me. She brought me wine, pita bread and humus, and a hot towel to feel all refreshed. I took pictures out the window because this will be my last flight in a while. I love looking at the landscape…it is a quilt that keeps changing, a breathing mosaic.

Then I landed in Portland! The day was bright, sunny and warm, and the whole city was smiling. Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett were waiting and we wrapped up in a big moving hug. I felt pieces of my heart wake up. I was home.

At our new house were flowers and a present, tea, and Mouse the cat. I was overcome with joy and physically exhausted. I napped for a while, made bean burritos for dinner, and then we rode our bikes to a very special birthday party.

Auntie Katie’s store, Books with Pictures, is two years old! She had a party catered by Mitch, the owner of the Nerd Out, and her dear friend Chelsea. There were free comics, huge paper and pens for the kids to draw with, and even a comic drawing battle. Auntie Bridgett’s team did very well, and the whole thing ended up in a tie.

It was fun reading stories and being silly with Cousins Jasper and Kestrel, and meeting new people, but we had an uphill bike ride to get home, so we headed off around eight o’clock. This far north, the sun is staying up much later. At nine, it was just sunset and still warm. We sat on the balcony and read, then watched the Giants win their baseball game.

It was time to sleep in my own bed. Blissful.


Grandma Jude

Retirement Festivities, Part 4

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This is my last letter to you until I get back to Portland! I am so excited about coming home, but sad to be leaving friends and family here in Salinas.

Coincidence? I don’t think so!

This week was a crazy combination of things that absolutely had to be done and things that were just filling time. There were lots of kids finishing their stories, me reading them, coloring, and just visiting with friends they won’t see over the summer. There were also games, which some of the kids got to lead. It was fun watching them take charge.

Running a game of Cats


The Staff Meeting started with a Retirement cake for me and everyone telling Judy stories. They said such nice things! Mrs. Burgess, who I have known since your Momma Katie was 6, still teaches at University Park. We had a good time.

Then, all of a sudden, it was Friday! My last day of teaching! I still haven’t completely realized it, but there it was. I wanted to take a minute to reflect and get nostalgic, but again, there wasn’t time. As I was handing out report cards, Moms came to get their children “early”. It was five minutes early, but they just had to go right now. Announcements came over the system. Younger siblings invaded.

Shredding…Thanks, Heather!

Once the children were dismissed, everything in the room had to be signed off and accounted for…computers, ipads, keys, emergency backpacks, remote controls, curriculum. Paperwork had to be shredded. Oy.

But finally it was done. My Pod buddies Heather, Leslie and Emma and I got a chance to sit in Leslie’s lovely backyard, having some really good cheese and beer and wine. We told stories and vented and just enjoyed being together. Then it was time for dinner at Taste of Thai with Auntie Olga, Uncle David, and Liza. Such good food in a pretty place.

Crazy Pod Sisters

Then home to bed and dream about flying north.



Auntie Olga celebrating her last day for the year





Grandma Judy


Another Goodbye

Dear Liza,

In 1990, when my teaching partner, Laurel Sherry-Armstrong and I moved from Hartnell College’s Child Development Center to University Park Elementary, we were happy to become part of an elementary school community. But we were sad to lose the lovely playhouse at the Center.

IMG_6084 2.jpg
Best Playhouse ever, 1990

We mentioned this over dinner one night with my parents, who were visiting from Lompoc. My dad (your great grandpa Lowell) said that he could design a playhouse, and would even build it, if  the District would allow us to put it into our new classroom. Weeks of drawing and discussion, proposing plans and changing them, became months of waiting for the District to get back to us.

Uncle David helping out

Finally, there was good news! They approved the planned two story playhouse, with stairs and a railing, to be built in room 13. Dad took the plans, built the house in pieces (walls, floor, railings, stairs), and drove it up to Salinas.

Painting the pieces

He and Great Grandma Billie, Grandpa Nelson and I, Uncle David and your Momma Katie (who were 10 and 8 at the time), Laurel and her husband George, and our friend Rick, all worked to paint the pieces. Then we put it together, laid carpet on the top floor, and even installed a bookcase and pile of pillows for reading on.

The kindergarten kids loved the playhouse. It was part kitchen, part pirate ship, part reading loft, and part cave. It was good for quiet times and silly conversations. It has been climbed on by, I guess, more than 700 kids over these 28 years.

And now, the kindergarten classes are moving, and the District hasn’t said that it will approve the playhouse for the new space or move it there. The teachers have no guarantee that it will even be on campus when they return for the next school year. Technically it belongs to me, but I only have two days left in Salinas and no way to pull it apart and move it anywhere.

This makes me very sad. There are so many things right with the playhouse, things that are missing in education these days. Imagination, thoughtful quiet time, and changes in perspective.

Fourth Generation

My only remedy was to get up extra early this morning, get you dressed, and take you up to play on the playhouse before it (maybe) goes away. You had so much fun! I looked at every inch of it, from the plaque Laurel put on after Great Grandpa Lowell died to the railing on the stairs, rubbed by hundreds of tiny hands.

When it was time for us to go, I cried a bit and said goodbye to yet another old friend.

     Lowell G. Evans Memorial Playhouse      Built Labor Day 1990                              5-7-21 to 12-7-98


Grandma Judy

Old Friends

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

I only have 5 more days here in Salinas! I can’t believe I will be home soon. But before I really leave my home of the past 36 years, I had a few more people to say goodbye to.

The Hughes family has been in my life since 1983, when my family started attending Temple Beth El Synagogue here in town. I was not born Jewish, but the religion appealed to me. Once I got to know the people, I wanted to learn the language. Hebrew, with its delicate, strange writing and its integral part in biblical history, intrigued me.

Peonies in the garden

At the time, the synagogue didn’t have a full time Rabbi. When I asked who would be able to teach me, I was referred to Rick Hughes. He wasn’t Jewish either, but was well read and extremely good at languages. He had majored in French at University and studied Gaelic, Japanese, Klingon, and a few others on his own. He had studied Hebrew under the old Rabbi, Abraham Haselkorn.

After a little negotiation, Rick agreed to teach some friends and I. Eventually, the group whittled down to just me, and we stuck with it for a few years. I got through translating a big chunk of Genesis from Hebrew into English and had a great time.

My oldest friend in Salinas

My family joined the Temple, I converted to Judaism, my kids went through Sunday and Hebrew school, and my husband Nelson was even President of the Temple for more than a few years. It was a big part of our lives. We celebrated holidays with Rick and his family, who were good sports about Passover Seders that lasted for hours and sukkot being built in the back yard. His mother and brothers became friends, too.

In more recent years, Rick has been my French teacher, as well. After I studied with Shawn Quiane at Hartnell College, I wanted more, so Rick helped out. Teachers become friends and friends become teachers. It’s nice the way life works.

Rick was active in the synagogue for years, and then he pulled away. I’m sure I knew why at the time, but the reason has slipped my mind. And now, he has returned. In our visit today he told me he is tutoring a young man for his bar mitzvah and helping with all sorts of Temple chores, like the Kosher Luncheon (the biggest fundraiser) and Sunday School. He seems so happy to be involved and needed again!

Brother Kevin in the yard

Judaism doesn’t believe in living alone. A person needs to be part of a community to be a whole person. I can see the wisdom in this in the life of my dear friend.

See you all soon.


Grandma Judy




The Last Adventure (for now)

Dear Jasper and Kestrel,

This past Sunday was my last in Salinas for a long time, because I will be flying back up to Portland this coming Saturday. I have already written about how much I miss my people, my new city, and my new home. I have also written about how odd it will be to live THERE and not HERE.

Meeting an Old Friend

But now I will tell you about today. We couldn’t let this last Sunday slide without an adventure, so Cousin Liza and I packed snacks and extra coats (just in case) and headed off. As she ran down the front walk Liza sang, “Hello, World!” My thoughts exactly.

Swimmer’s Tent City

We walked to Hartnell College to visit the Panther, and saw tents set up. There was a swim meet, with kids from as far away as Marin County competing. The tents give the swimmers and their families a quiet place to rest and change between races.

We took a different route today, crossing the Hartnell campus to Central Avenue to visit Central Park. Some of the play equipment is very old, dating from the 1960s, and some has been updated. There used to be an old locomotive that kids could climb on. It was declared unsafe at some point, and the local Railroad History Museum adopted it. They moved it over by the Amtrak Station and First Mayor’s House, and it is now part of the educational center there.

Enjoying the Old Stuff

We walked down Central Avenue and talked about the old houses there and what Salinas was like back in the 1890s… dirt streets, fewer people, more horses. Liza remembered that Mr. Steinbeck had a pony he and his sister kept at the local stable and rode in the hills.

And then, there we were, at the National Steinbeck Center again. Liza loves it. The nice lady checking us in decided that we had been in so many times that we had paid for a membership by now, and let us in for free!


Every time we visit, Liza says hello to the paintings of children in the “Grapes of Wrath” exhibit. The paintings depict migrant farm worker children in their shabby hut, and she feels badly for them. In previous visits, she has invited them to pretend birthday parties in the “pipe house” from Sweet Thursday. Today she decided they should go live in the nice camper, called Rocinante, that Mr. Steinbeck drove around the country while writing “Travels with Charley”. It seemed the perfect solution to a problem that has bothered her for months.

We ate the last of our snacks, said good-bye to Mr. Steinbeck’s museum, and headed for his library! We were both getting tired, but we needed to return books that were due. When the time came to head home, we missed the bus, watching it sail past just across the street. We called Uncle David and he came to fetch us. Naptime!


Grandma Judy