Now that you are almost seven, you can read real words all by yourself. Yesterday I wrote you some stories that are based on our time together…. cooking, building a playhouse, and going on an adventure with the stone Panther at Hartnell College. I hope you like them.
In my bigger story, the story I have been working on for more than two years now, I have been frustrated. I was having doubts. It felt like it had gotten too big, too complicated, that I had tried to show too much about Portland in 1903.
I set it aside and started a lighter version, one that leaves out the broader context of the city, its history, and its people. It was just about a little girl. But I don’t like it. So I am walking it back.
Do all writers go through this? Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, but never done anything with, because when I get to this point, I give up and put the story in a box. It’s too hard. It feels pointless. I should do something else with my time. The self-doubt and backtracking are exhausting.
For support, I went back and read Anne Lamott’s essays on the difficulty of writing, of pulling her novel apart and laying it on the floor, bit by bit, and re-organizing it to make it better. Yes, this is something writers DO. Maybe this is what writing IS, after all.
I am feeling better! Yesterday evening I walked around the block, did laundry, and even took the trash out. I will live!
Feeling so good, I will spend today making soup for Auntie Bridgett (who isn’t well yet), walking to do some errands and working on the story. But this morning, I was wondering what I was doing two years ago today. Do you remember?
I was packing up to come down to Salinas, to live with you for my last few months of teaching. That was the strangest thing…. leaving my home here in Portland to live in your home there, going back to a job I’d done for almost thirty years… Getting to see you every afternoon but having to work every day… such an odd combination of new and old, normal and weird.
And now I am retired, not getting up at six o’clock to teach until three and work until four; snacking when I want, reading what I want, walking where I want. I feel very spoiled.
And, except for missing my adventures with you, I’m okay with that.
Once I was back home in Portland, I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do. I was here for good and wanted to get to know every inch of the city.
In June we went across the river to the place where the high class dead people end up, the Riverview Cemetery. Yes, one of our founding fathers’ was Henry Failing. But he made it look good.
In July, Grandpa Nelson and I rode our bicycles eight miles around Portland in the Sunday Parkways event. Streets closed to traffic, signs to keep us from getting lost and wonderful sunshine made it a glorious day.
In August, I came back down to Salinas to visit you for your Daddy’s birthday. We had a nice dinner and I gave you a pretty head wreath from the Belmont Street Fair.
September brought Auntie Bridgett’s Birthday, with brunch at The Cricket Cafe, shopping downtown, and dinner at Kenny and Zuke’s. Here she is with the critters by the Pioneer Courthouse.
In October we said goodbye to Barbara Kadden, celebrated Halloween, and did some thinking about life and death.
November saw me in San Diego to visit family, then back up in Portland to go on adventures with Jasper and Kestrel.
December is just coming to a close, and I am still figuring out what comes next. But I’m not worried. With my lovely people to love, possibilities to ponder and trees to walk under, life is sweet.
While we were living in Salinas, I got to be friends with a wonderful lady named Ruth Andresen. Ruth is the mother of Pete, one of the most involved parents University Park ever had, and grandmother of four of our students. Ruth was born in 1921, so she is exactly the age your great grandma Billie would be.
I met Ruth because we were both active at The First Mayor’s House, also called The Harvey Baker House, the oldest building in Salinas. Ruth has lived in Salinas since the 1940’s and actually knew some of the people who lived in this historic house, Florence Baker and her sister Helen. They were little old ladies when she was a young wife and mother in the 1950s, and she used to go visit them. They would tell her stories of their childhood in 1890s Salinas. She heard history, as they say, from the horse’s mouth!
When I was learning about Salinas history to write stories and curriculum for the House, I started visiting Ruth. We talked about history, but she also told me about her life. She was a geology student at Stanford University when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, which started the western end of World War II. As a graduate, she worked in Washington to help create maps that helped with the Normandy Invasion! “It was such an exciting time to be a young woman in the world”, she said. “There was important work to be done and we got to do it.”
Ruth is still helping people learn about history. She does spinning demonstrations to show people how pioneers turned wool into yarn, and gives lectures about the “Old Days”.
She also helped organize the very first Founder’s Day Celebration in Salinas. The first one was so small, even the newspaper didn’t say much about it, but by the second in 2017, there were hundreds of people! In 2018, thousands of people came to visit the Harvey House, attend lectures, play carnival games, listen to music, and have pony rides. It took dozens of people to make it happen, including my dear friend and former Principal, Mary Randall, but at the center of it was Ruth. In my carelessness, I do not have a photo this wonderful woman! (I was probably enjoying our conversations so much I hated to interrupt for a photo.) Silly Grandma Judy.
Anyway, for the second Founder’s Day, there was going to be a quilting booth, showing folks how to quilt and displaying old and new quilts. I was going to make a small one during the day as a demonstration. But so many other groups wanted booths, the quilting booth didn’t happen.
And now, with the extra time that comes from not preparing lessons and teaching every day, I have gotten it out and am almost done. It will be wrapped up and returning to Salinas very soon. Thanks for all the stories, Ruth!
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.
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 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!
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.
This afternoon was the next party celebrating retirement. This one was given by my teacher’s Union, the Salinas Elementary Teachers’ Council (SETC). I’ve been a member of the Union for my 30 years teaching, and was even on the Board for a while. For teachers, the union is a big deal.
We met at the Grower’s Pub, an old-time Salinas establishment. It is downtown on Monterey Street. The decor is very Rodeo themed, with ranch brands burned into the walls (with notes of which ranch used this brand) and photographs of old rodeo riders. There was even a Salinas Rodeo advertisement from 1937!
There was yummy food, buy-your-own beer (or whatever) and some dear friends. I saw Kim Crook, whose son Michael I taught my third year of teaching, and Chris Mollenhoff, who was a new kid about the same time I was. Linda Serrano, one of my oldest teaching friends, (but who I’ve never taught with) helped organize the party. The room was full of loud, fun conversations.
Jane Parrish, a dear friend who left University Park a few years ago, showed up and we had a nice chat. She is helping pull together the third leg of this retirement relay, which will happen next Friday. We even got presents! Our staffs had signed cards (which I get all teary when I read) and there was lovely local chocolate from Lula’s and a Starbuck’s card.
When I had enough of everything and had hugged everyone, Uncle David came and fetched me home. I’m worn out and ready to crash, and Cousin Liza isn’t even home from shopping at the mall yet! She is getting nice new summer clothes for her big vacation this summer.