Crossing VanBuren


We crossed VanBuren Street the other day. We were momentarily in the town I lived in as a small child, just passing thru. On our way to more important events, more salubrious climes. When I was a little kid VanBuren was the busy street a block away from the back water of 13th street, where we lived. 13th was an odd street. It went halfway through town, but only in fits and starts. No stretch of 13th was more than 5 blocks long. It dead-ended a lot, but it would always start up again a block or two past whatever obstruction it encountered. Growing up on 13th taught you the value of perseverance.

Our stretch of 13th was 3 blocks long. We lived on the corner of 13th and some ‘L’ shaped street that didn’t go anywhere and never resurfaced in other parts of town like 13th did. I no longer remember its name. Its function was to cut up the space between VanBuren, our house and Dixie Creek into a square that more houses could be built on. The houses were already there when I was growing up. Van Buren Street defined one edge of my world as a kid. It was a “busy” street, a wide pristine boulevard with white, uncracked, level sidewalks, and we weren’t allowed to cross it. Or even walk along it without the protective presence of a grown-up in tow. The other edge of the world was another “busy” street, but it was not as busy. I walked along it to get to school, carefully staying on my side of it until I reached the sanctity of the crossing guards who provided safe passage to the school on the other side. That street held no mystery for me, although I did see the occasional dinosaur on it while walking to school in the fog.

VanBuren however, was the gateway to the world. The grocery store we shopped at was several blocks down VanBuren. Comic books and candy bars (for a DIME) could be purchased there, which we did anytime we had collected enough pop and beer bottles to pay for them. We were a major force for clean roadsides. Sometimes on Saturday mornings my father would take one of us kids with him and go there to purchase ‘butterhorns’, a giant danish like pastry with a butter-cream center that still makes my mouth water. Apparently it is the only place that ever made those, as I have never had one since. It was walking back from there, pulling a red wagon full of groceries, that my Mother stopped one day and sang me the song about the “one-eyed, one horned flying purple people eater”, in an effort to explain the name of the city bus line (purple buses with “People Eater” in bright yellow letters on the side) to me. Next to that was a drug store that sold eczema cream and where I purchased my first ‘dippity-do”.

We drove down VanBuren when we went “down town”. There you could go to the 5 and dime, the green stamp redemption store, monkey wards (where I got my first bra, a red letter day indeed) and Bob’s 19 cent hamburgers, the height of haute cuisine and only patronized on birthdays and other special occasions. As far as us kids knew there was no inside seating. The movie theater we went to sometimes in the summer (after carefully saving enough bread wrappers or soda caps or whatever was required to comply with the promotion) was down there as was the newspaper office where my mother sometimes purchased the “end rolls” of unused newsprint for us to color on. If you went far enough you came to Averey Park, where there were deer to feed, a retired locomotive to climb on and a small, sad zoo with monkeys that smelled, a mina bird that talked and a kinkajoo, which appeared to be some sort of South American raccoon, but had a very exotic name. VanBuren Street led to all things good and interesting.

Went I reached junior high school I was deemed old enough to cross VanBuren alone. Walking to my new school was going to require it. I was given strict instructions about my route and told which corners I was allowed to cross at, (the ones with lights and cross walks) and turned loose. I felt terribly important and grown up. I passed the grocery store and the drug store every day and was sometimes given money for a small errand. It was on one of these that the dippity-do was acquired. I began to make new friends, some of whom lived quite far from 13th street. Crossing VanBuren had opened the wider world to me.

We moved away at the end of that year and I never really thought about VanBuren again until the other day, when we drove across it in such a cavalier fashion. I wanted to say, “Stop! Go back!” and spend some time hunting up our old house, our old neighborhood, but I was afraid I would no longer be able to find it. Or worse, that I would find it and it would look small and shabby and VanBuren would have become ever so slightly seedy. Or even worse, that it had all been torn down and replaced with something modern and cold in shiny glass and polished concrete. So I said nothing and VanBuren receded into the distance, becoming tiny and vanishing in the rearview mirror relegating itself to some backwater of nostalgia where it can remain untarnished forever in my mind. I have moved on from there, gone many places, accomplished much, become perhaps, an entirely different person, but I will always remember that the start of the journey was, crossing VanBuren.



Santa Lives In Arkansas

Once upon a time in Arkansas……It was just after my first divorce. The kids were little. Under five. I was down to one job, my second job having let me go because they no longer needed the help. We had no money. I could barely manage to keep us in bacon and beans. They’d cut the water off a couple of days before. Christmas not only looked bleak, it looked nonexistent. I’d made the kids a paper tree out of some notebook paper and a paper chain, the tree’s star was cut from more notebook paper, all colored with their crayons. Christmas dinner would be cornbread and white beans, flavored with the last of the bacon. I had 3 eggs and thought maybe I could make a cake. No frosting though. We didn’t have any powdered sugar.

Before I went to work on Christmas Eve, I let them hang up their stockings. A couple of my old knee high socks. I figured I could buy a few candy canes out of my tips that night on my way home. My hope was, since they were so young, they wouldn’t realize that there should be more. I dropped them off at the sitter’s, thanking her again for the imposition of caring for them on this holiday eve. Promising, again, to come back for them as soon as I could. I got back in the car. You had to slide over from the passenger side because the drivers side door had been bashed in in a wreck and wouldn’t open. It was that way when I got it. But hey, it had been a free car, given to us by a friend of my ex’s. I ran my stockings on the slide over….sigh.

Work was surprisingly busy. I was a cocktail waitress. You’d think people would go home rather than be there on Christmas eve. Fortunately for me the holiday spirit made them slightly more generous than usual. Tips were pretty good. I was going to be able to buy the kids each a cheap toy maybe, plus candy canes, and still get new stockings! At last it was time to go home. I cleaned the floors and we locked the door. In a fit of generosity my boss told me I didn’t have to come in the next day. I was grateful–the sitter was going to charge me extra for working on Christmas–but nervous about missing a day’s money.

I stopped at a convenience store (in those days that was all that was open at midnight on christmas eve) and bought the kids each a cheap plastic toy and a candy cane. I even got them each a candy bar. What the heck, new stockings could wait. It was christmas. Besides, I thought I had another pair at home that had one good leg left. I could cut a leg off each pair and make do. I hid the kids stuff under the seat of the car and went to get them. The sitter was pleased to hear that we would both get to spend the next day with our families.

I spent the ride home recalculating my finances to take the loss of tomorrows pay into account. It was going to be tight. I shouldn’t have spent that money in the convenience store. A few tears sneaked out. It was SOOO hard. My poor kids. Maybe I couldn’t do this. What was going to become of us? Perhaps I should take them to the Children’s Home and just give up. They certainly deserved better than I was able to provide. Despair sat beside me on the seat and held my hand. Discouragement winked at me from every set of flashing christmas lights that we passed.

When we arrived home I carried sleeping children into the house and laid them on my bed so I could arrange their “christmas” before they woke up. I left their coats on them. It was cold in my room. We only had 2 gas heaters and neither of them was in my room. As I headed outside to get the bag of hidden loot it dawned on me that the living room was not as dark as it should’ve been. I looked down the room and THERE, on the table where our poor paper tree had stood was a 3 foot christmas tree. It had lights! And decorations! There were stockings! Red fuzzy ones. And they were full of stuff! Candy and oranges and peppermint sticks!

I turned on a light and investigated. Not only was that stuff real, there was more! Scarves and mittens and hats for everyone. A coat for the youngest. Secondhand, but nice and warm looking. She’d about outgrown hers. There was a nice toy for each child and in bags, a frozen turkey and all the trimmings for a real christmas dinner to be made. When the kids got up they found me crying over an envelope that had been sitting in the branches of the tree. It had my name on it. Inside was $25 and a receipt where someone had paid my overdue water bill. The water was on. I had checked. We had a wonderful Christmas.

I never did find out who did this. No one ever admitted to it. Therefore, Santa MUST live in Arkansas.

What’s Your Elephant’s Name?

This afternoon, while watching tv with my father, the subject of elephants came up. He was watching a nature show of some sort and saw something about an elephant harness. “That’s what we need,” he said, “an elephant harness!” “Then we would just need an elephant.” I replied. “Not necessarily…” was his responce. Immeadiately the conversation turned to what a person could do with an elephant harness. Stand outside shopping malls holding the elephant harness and tell people you had lost your elephant, we thought. See if you could get anyone to help you look for your elephant. Drag the elephant harness to the office of the local newspaper and try to get them to include an ad for your missing pet. My dad began reciting a description of the elephant (grey, about ‘so’ high, big ears, etc), suddenly I chimed in with, “Answers to the name name Packy. If I had an elephant I would name him ‘Packy, or maybe ‘Ethyl’.” We laughed and the conversation died down, but I began to wonder what it says about you if you know instantly what you would name an elephant if you suddenly aquired one.

A lot of my conversations with my father are like this any more. Eliptical and strange, tangental flights of fancy. He watches considerable television and we talk about that, sometimes rather normally, about old movies and the names of various actors or our favorite John Wayne western. Other times however, we stray into things like, what color the dinasauers were, or why advanced alien species would mess around helping us build pyramids, or how the collapse of the sasquatch hunting industry might effect the economy if they ever find him, and of course, what you would name your elephant. My mother mostly stays out of these philosophical dicussions, only rarely succumbing to the impulse to tell us that she cannot see what possible difference it makes. Sometimes she does leave the room though. Usually to go grumble in the kitchen. She thinks we are quite mad I know, but oddly enough, somehow these conversations of conjecture have caused me to know my father much better than I ever have before. These sorts of speculations would never have happened when we were younger. In some fashion, by playing, “let’s pretend” it is possible to slip behind the mask and get to know the man on the other side. And I find that there is a mind much like my own, belonging to a person who, after a couple of minutes, also knows exactly what he would name his elephant. It’s entirely possible I may end up liking the old boy yet.

Oh, and by the way, Dad says he would name his elephant, “Fella”.



We had the first of the fall fogs today. It is early, being barely a week into August, but it has been hot (90ish) for days and today is reputed to be going to stay in the 70s so we have ground fog, hanging low in the creek bottom. It’s a thin fog, barely there, creeping up the hill and dissipating even as I watch in the early, almost-six-thirty-ish, morning, but it is fog all the same. Fog is a harbinger of autumn here, isolating and secluding, cutting my hilltop off from the world, concealing me from the eyes of humankind. However, the light of the sunrise is still the golden light of summer. I can see it on the land out there past the long hulking shadow of my hill. Crowing roosters seem to be chasing the misty, trailing remnants away excepting a thin scree over the strawberry field and a stubborn patch lingering in the roadbed of the side road that takes off from the very secondary road upon which I live.

My somewhat dark mood does not appear to be as easily dispelled. Being snatched from sleep by a ringing phone might have that effect all by itself, but in this case the information imparted was also rather dire. The doctors say my daughter’s ex-sister-in-law is going to lose her fight with breast cancer after an eight year battle which we all thought she’d won at one point. My daughter is very upset and not looking forward to telling her daughter. It is never pleasant to spread the pain around. In most instances an ex-sister-in-law might not engender such consternation, but in this case my daughter divorced the man while retaining the rest of the family. My granddaughter is very close to her “Aunt Debs”(pronounced like ‘dibs’, by a claimant) I am left to consider my mortality and that of all of us ensconced on this hunk of space rock. It is one thing to know that “no one gets out of here alive” and quite another when one is brought up short by the passage of one of their own.

If the doctors are correct Debbie will die in October, ironically national breast cancer month. I may yet accuse her of planning that, but not today. I charge every woman reading this to go and get their screening done this year. I would like to believe (as we all would at times like this) that some higher purpose will be served by her passage. So if you won’t do it for yourself or your family, please, do it for Aunt Debs.



What Do You Do All Day?

I get up, tea in hand

and go check on life

in my parents house.

Is it progressing?


or just stagnating in a recliner?

I go back out

surfeited on Gunsmoke and old movies

and weed-eat or clean the porch

then go back

to my little nest

in a travel trailer

not worthy of living in the house

and make more tea

and try to write

and then go back in

for a dose of news

mixed with Andy Griffith

my mother complains of my father

my father complains about the water bill

my brother flits about

raving and raging

his mental illness so long ago accepted

his behavior seems normal to them

someone competent must live here

but there are days

I regret

having volunteered


Hello, Bill!

I had one more errand to run and then I was on my way home. It had been an exhausting week at work and now here I was doing errands for them on my own time. Traffic in New Orleans was normal, snarled up like a string bag. Just as I pull away from the pharmacy window, armed with the requested medicines, my cell rang. Exasperated I snatched it up and barked,”I just got it and I’ll be there in a minute!”. “I hope so,” replied the voice of my neighbor, “You need to talk to this sheriff,” he added, without pausing for breath. “WHHHHAAAT?” I gasped, nosing my car into a parking space in the drug store lot. Then the deputy was on the phone, asking if I knew Susan _____. I told him she was my roommate. “What on earth has she done?” I inquired, shocked to my shoes. Susan was not the sort of roommate one expected to have dealings with the police. She was quiet, recently widowed, diabetic and rarely left the house for anything but a Dr’s appointment. He told me that Holder Homes was about to hook up the trailer I lived in and haul it off! The sweat that sprang out all over my body had only a minimal connection to the breathless heat and the fact that my a\c was broken. After conversing with the deputy, a nice lady representative from Surity Bank, my neighbor and then the deputy again I felt I had a grasp on the situation. Seems that Susan had not been paying her house note. What’s more, she had prevailed on the neighbor to take her to the bus station a day or two before, saying she was going to care for an ailing elderly aunt. I assumed she would not be returning. Convincing the assemblage to leave my house where it was for the 3&1/2 hours it would take me to drive home I zipped through traffic back to work, kind of flung the bag of medicines at my relief, babbled some incoherent nonsense and jumped back in the car to head for home. I’m sure that trip was my fastest ever. My car was probably mistaken for a low flying jet by casual observers.

The lady from the bank was nice, but definite. Susan had not paid a note for many months. Since her husband’s death, it seemed. The fact that her sister-in-law’s husband worked for the bank is the only reason a repossession had not been done months before. She was sorry, but there was no more time. She was willing to sell it to me, unfortunately the price was about twice what it was worth. I declined with as much regret as I could muster. It was a very small amount. What if I agree to clear the place out, I said. It was the right choice. Susan or her husband, or somebody had been something of a horder and except for the rooms I used regularly, the rest, and the shed outside, were pack floor to ceiling with furniture, old magazines and heaven knows what. The bank lady jumped at my offer, negotiating a time span of 3 weeks, which gave me two useful weeks, as I would have to work one of them. I waved the lady out to her car, picked up the phone and began rounding up help. My daughter was a given, my friends were good souls and the neighbor loaned my a pick up truck. We began making trips to the dump the next morning. In any spare moments I looked for a place to move to.

Finally a new house was found, the junk was nearly gone and I was beginning to pack up what I was going to move with me. Early one morning, before anyone had showed up to help, I began packing up things on a bookcase I planned on taking. The bookcase had been Susan’s, but most of the things were mine. One of the exceptions was a small, black square-ish box at the back of the very top shelf. I had always assumed it was a speaker for the surround sound system that she had forgotten about when she’d sold the system a few months back. As I wiggled it off the high (for me) shelf with my finger tips I thought it felt awfully heavy for a speaker and rather too much like plastic. Getting it within my grasp at last, I hauled it down where I could look at it. On the top of the box was a tag, “remains of William H. _______”. It was Susan’s dead husband!

I put the thing down rather abruptly on the coffee table as I collapsed onto the sofa. Staring fixedly at the box I said the first thing that came to mind, “Well, Hello Bill!”. My mind was spinning its wheels, slipping gears, as I wondered what on earth I was going to do with Bill. About that time my daughter walked through the door, “What’cha doing?” she said, strolling across the room, dropping her keys on the table as I pointed at the box, apparently stricken dumb by astonishment. She picked up the box for a better look. It plopped back to the table rather suddenly as she joined me on the sofa, staring at the box. It occurred to me, having seen pictures of Bill in the past, that it had probably been many years since he had been the recipient of so much concentrated feminine attention. “Naomi, meet Bill,” I said, “Bill, Naomi”. She laughed a bit raggedly and said, “What are you going to DO with him?” An excellent question I thought. “I could give him to you,” I told her. “Nope” was her instant response. Sighing I got up and together we moved the coffee table, with Bill on it, to one side of the room and commenced packing.

Bill sat there for the rest of the move, the subject of nearly all of the conversations in that house. Conversations with everyone who came to help and some who came just to look. There are those who feel compelled to check the veracity of every story. Many ideas for his disposition were presented. Putting him in the river, or on his garden behind the house. Scattering him on theTrace, or into the wind off the river bridge. Mailing him to a random person in an old address book we found in Susan’s bedroom. Taking him to the movies or a ball game and just leaving him in the seat. Even the dumpster or a good flushing. None of these seemed right. Some of them were disrespectful, others probably illegal, and as for the rest, well, I’d never known him while he was alive, so I just didn’t feel qualified to choose his final resting place. Besides, I was sure I’d heard Susan speak of his children by a previous marriage. They might want him. I was positive they would want him more than I did. I was beginning to have unsettling dreams in which I had to lug Bill around with me for the rest of my life due to my inability to decide where to put him. The solution, when it finally came to me, was, like all perfect solutions, elegantly simple. When everything was moved out and the place was “broom swept and wiped down,” my last act, after placing the key on the kitchen counter as I’d been instructed, was to place Bill next to it with a note attached to him directing the recipient to deliver him to his brother-in-law at the bank. I wished poor Bill well as I walked out the door and sincerely hope he ended up someplace nice.


Going To the Ocean

I went to see the ocean the other day. Most people would say that they went to the beach, and I did that, but I had come to see the great ocean-sea. I have been to other oceans, other seas, and found them beautiful, sometimes seductive, always fascinating, but none of them are the ocean of my heart. Only the wild Pacific, the great ocean-sea, the stuff of legends and dreams, whales and whalers, surfers and Eskimos chasing dinner in their kayaks.The ocean of my childhood. I sat on the sand in a lawn chair (in deference to my knees) and stared at the water. Not being a sun worshiper (sun worshiping Oregonians have to go elsewhere for their fixes) I wear jeans and a sweat shirt. There is a jacket in the car, after all, this is the Oregon coast in early May. Since my mother had melanoma I wear a big straw hat too. You have to tie it on unless you want to spend the day chasing it. Watching the waves roll in gives me such peace that it becomes almost palatable, radiating off of me in some giant aura. I sit there and smell the comfortable, salty, dead fish and rotten seaweed smell that belongs to the ocean and watch the surf, and the seagulls as they soar and squabble. It would be nice to claim deep thoughts, but if I think about anything it is usually the japanese current which runs the pacific ocean. The water before me has come recently from Japan, by way of the frozen north. It is on its way to Hawaii and South America, Australia and Borneo. It has touched the shore of Africa. I wish to learn its secrets, but it is unlikely to tell me, the inscrutable sea. Sometimes I think about all the things that live within it, their lives, their feelings and their journeys. What it must be like to have the freedom of the entire ocean. A whale, with no alarm clock, that travels from pole to pole, wherever the mood and the krill take it. An Orca, hunting seals, an octopus with their odd locomotion skittering across the sandy reefs, tangling myself in my many arms, even a fat bull walrus, bossing the girl walruses and crashing my body against the other males for dominance of my walrus tribe. occasionally I wonder what it would be like to be a sailor, living my life on a rolling deck in the middle of that vast trackless wilderness that is the face of the ocean, knowing her in all her moods, the excitement of a new port on the horizon. Then I think about all the times I have been to the ocean, going clear back to when I was a child, chasing waves with my brother and sisters. Clam digging and crab pots, shrimp guns, boat rides in the bays, fishing for flounder, that time we caught a baby octopus in a tide pool, the harbor seal that almost came up in the boat, the red worm-like critter my sister was so proud of finding right up until it stung her, funny stories and serious coming of age. We grew up here as much as anywhere and it weaves itself into your soul. I have seen it in sun and in shadow, even in raging storms, its power calls me and calms me. It is one of the places my heart lives. Mostly though, I think of nothing at all. I just am alive, happy and free. It is more than enough.


My Mother’s Faces

Such a lovely woman



watching her daughters

going out into the world

facing challenges

overcoming obstacles

in pursuit of goals

she never imagined.

Such an angry woman



watching her daughters

going about in the world

unconstrained by her conventions

freed from her social mores

in pursuit of goals

she never dared dream.



I am a gardener. It is a fairly recent avocation in my life, yet apparently something I have always been. My memories tend to be tied up with plants. My memories of my paternal grandmother are mixed up with money plant, african violets, christmas cactus and begonia, the “french” lilac in the front yard and the regular ones that lined the drive. They were full of bees, but I used to go sit under them anyway, and just breathe. There were peonies over there, always full of ants, and several varieties of apple trees, the names of which I still recall. In front of the house there was a line of tall, brilliantly red poppies. “Opium poppy” Grandma used to call it, in a wide-eyed, slightly breathless way that betrayed some excitement at the┬áscandelousness of that admission.

When I reminess with my father about friends they used to see, he will tell some story about them and I will, in all probability say, “Oh yeah. I remember them. They had a such and so plant by the front door.” He tends to look blank and say something non-committal, “I suppose they could have.” being one of his favorite remarks. During one such recent conversation my mother mentioned a woman, now dead for many years, whom they used to visit when I was quite a small child. I actually remembered visiting her house quite vividly and nattered on for some time about a small, ferny ground cover (Leptinella squalida, I now know) that was prickly to lay on, but very pretty. I finally ran down, realizing that they were both staring at me in mild surprise. Later, while talking about a neighbor or years past, when my memory of her turned out to be of the fuchsias she grew in her greenhouse, rather than of her amazing cakes or even of the milk we bought from her. neither of them batted an eye. My obsession is by now so obvious it no longer inspires surprise.

Oddly, my obsession went largely unnoticed for the first 45 years of my life, despite the fact that I could pick the variety of “Snowball Bush” (Viburnum macrocephalum) that grew next to the chimney of the house we lived in when I was in grade school, out of a line up of similar plants. Even I did not realize the depth of my fascination with vegetation until I moved into the house with the naked yard. Not one tree, flower or bush marred the patchy expanse of grass. Nothing. Some pots were purchased and soon a few flowers graced the landscape. Then came tomatoes in five gallon buckets. A small flower bed spanning the front of the house was next. Abruptly, nearly ten years had passed and there were five largish flower beds, a fair-sized vegetable and herb garden and a deep flower border that wrapped three sides of the house. Random small trees and bushes dotted the lawn. Cultivation of a “native plant garden” had commenced in the patch of woods adjacent to the house. Besotted plant obsession appeared to hold full sway.

Then circumstances intervened and I moved away and left it. I miss it like you would miss a friend, or maybe a beloved pet. And yet, it is spring. I find I have new plans. I have found a patch of land that has been ignored. It is near a pond that is pining for renovation. I find myself rifling through my ancient seed collection. Flats of things are busy germinating. I am old, and hurt and achingly bereft of my garden. But it is spring and I can feel the rhythm of the earth rising through my soles, raising my soul.


Another game of solitaire

lights up the computer

win or lose

as if it had importance

filling the endless waiting

waiting for lunch

waiting for supper

waiting to be called

the television roars to life

nattering on endlessly

spewing drivel

and old movies

filling the endless waiting

waiting for visitors

waiting for the mail

waiting to be needed

and I write

aimlessly, with no purpose

often crying

and searching for insight

filling the endless waiting

waiting for something

waiting for someone

waiting to die


« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: