Friday, May 3, 2019

Retracing Life's Steps

Retracing life’s steps is key to writing for a memoirist. One of the joys of this for me goes beyond making sense of the past, but offers the possibility of recreating the present and future. What can be found is something new and wonderful. Such was the case last weekend when my husband and I went to Grayland, WA for two nights of early spring camping.

My father built three small houses on the Grayland beach, and my parents lived in the third for the last few decades of their life together. Dad died in that small house, and my mother refused to leave until dementia made staying impossible. Grayland was the place I visited my parents, later only my mother. In my mind, it was never a vacation destination. Until last weekend.
Tom and I camped in a yurt at the Grayland State Park. We ate loads of wonderful fresh seafood, explored the area by bicycle, and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Last weekend, Grayland became a new place for me.
Next Friday, I’ll be making another trip into the past. This time to Issaquah, the town where I grew up. It’s not a first visit; there have been others. Each has shown new facets of the place and her people, some of whom I’ve known since grade school. I look forward to sharing Mom’s Last Move at the Issaquah Library and to the conversations I’m certain will follow. I hope you can join me!
10 W Sunset Way
Issaquah, WA 98027
Friday, May 10, 2019
5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Going Home – Join Me?

The Issaquah Hobart Road snakes southeast through the fertile valley between Squak and Tiger Mountains in the foothills of the Cascade Range. As a kid, I rode horseback along this two-lane road. The summer after high school, I cycled it to my first job at Clampitt’s Cleaners in downtown Issaquah. If you keep an eye to the left side of the road as you head toward the tiny town of Hobart about six and a half miles from Issaquah, you’ll still see the tall metal arch my dad built over the driveway to the home I grew up in, a house Dad built one red brick at a time. A family project.
In the intervening decades, the area has changed as many of the large farms along the road have been subdivided, but by comparison to areas to the north and west of Issaquah, the town and the valley feel relatively unchanged. The old time buildings lining Front Street have been preserved, and the Issaquah Hobart Road is still only two lanes. And while West Seattle has been my home for over three decades, my roots remain firmly planted in the Issaquah Valley.
 I teach ESL to immigrants and refugees. My first class spring quarter had 25 students from 14 different countries – Bulgaria, China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Laos, Mexico, Russia, Somalia, Syria, Taiwan, Vietnam – students who, unlike me during my years as an ex-pat in Mexico, have no safety net and may never be able to return to their homelands.

An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. 
(Source: https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html)

According to a recent study done at the University of Washington, only about a third of those displaced people will ever be able to return home. 

These numbers humble me.

On the first day of class, we do an introductory activity. World map in hand we circulate learning each other’s names and homelands. I tell them about the Issaquah Valley, about my roots.

In 2008 when TheThirty-Ninth Victim was published, I felt compelled to “go home.” Although the library I once knew, the place I’d often go after school to read or do homework while waiting for Mom or Dad to collect me, no longer exists, I wanted to share my work at the lovely replacement library. The library scheduled an event and it did indeed feel like a homecoming.

Now I have another family memoir in print. Mom’s Last Move continues the story that began in The Thirty-Ninth Victim, and again I feel that homing instinct, that urge to go home, to take my family story home where it began, to the valley that holds my roots. I am grateful to Zlatina Encheva and the Issaquah Library for their warm support.

Please mark your calendars, invite your friends, and join me in Issaquah on Friday, May 10 at 5:00 p.m. for a reading/presentation of Mom’s Last Move, a story of motherhood, memory loss and the writing journey of a 1972 Issaquah High graduate who grew up on Tiger Mountain.

 10 W Sunset Way, Issaquah, WA
Friday, May 10 @ 5:00 p.m.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Daffodil Ride

My old copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary defines adventure as "1. an exciting and dangerous undertaking. 2. an unusual, stirring, often romantic experience. 3. a business venture.”

Our cycling trip in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was definitely an adventure. Exciting and dangerous, unusual and stirring, even romantic? Yup. Business? Nope. Will we do it again? Absolutely.

Day One
Thursday, March 28
When our city bus broke down on the way to the Amtrak station, Tom said it was a bad omen. Fortunately, the omen only affected the first day of the adventure. A replacement bus arrived and we made it to King Street Station with time to spare. But where Seattle Metro buses managed to stick to their schedule, Amtrak failed miserably.
As I mentioned last week, our buy-one-get-one-free ticket applied to only two trains. Our southbound train to Albany, Oregon was scheduled to arrive at 7:38 p.m. I knew it was cutting it close but figured there would still be enough daylight to cycle the few miles to our hotel.

Amtak arrived about 45 minutes late to Albany. It was pitch dark and raining, and I don’t mean a Seattle drizzle. It was dumping. The station was closed and our bikes were leaning against a post in a narrow waiting area on the platform as the train pulled away.

I tried to make sense of my directions and figure out which way to go, but I couldn’t get oriented. There were no street signs in sight, and Tom struggled to read his GPS screen. We both wear glasses so vision was a serious issue. We headed out – in the wrong direction – and got lost. By the time we found our hotel, I’d taken a minor fall, Tom was starving, and we were drenched with frozen fingers and very bad attitudes. When the hotel clerk interrupted our check in to take a phone call and talk another guest through their HBO challenges as we dripped all over the lobby floor, I could feel Tom about to explode. “We need our room, please,” I said. “Now.”

Dinner was fast food across the street. Back in our room, Tom surprised me with a rain-soaked daffodil he’d nabbed on the walk back. Peace offering? After hot showers, we were finally warm, relaxed, and grateful for the flasks we carried.
Total Mileage: 9.4

Day Two
Friday, March 29
When we awoke to sunshine, we danced a happy dance and headed out. The first 10 miles or so were flat, fabulous farmland. A perfect slow cruise with lots of picture taking. 
Then we hit Scravel Hill Road. Not just one hill, but about 7 miles of them. We were definitely ready for lunch when we reached Jefferson. We found a wonderful Mexican restaurant called Guadalajara Grill where they used a traditional tortilladora to press handmade tortillas – something I hadn’t seen since I lived in Mexico City. My only regret was not partaking in the house margaritas, but we had too many miles ahead of us for that. By the time we crossed the narrow bridge over the Willamette River into Independence and found the College Inn of Monmouth, I was glad for our restraint.
Tom’s always told me he’s good for about 20 miles max. Why he agreed to this trip is still beyond me. The last 8 or 9 miles and final climb before reaching the bridge was a chorus of complaints, but we made it without mishap. Unlike the lousy late meal of the prior evening, we celebrated with GF pizza, spinach salad and local cider at the Grain Station Brew Works right across the street from our hotel. A perfect day.
Total Mileage: 38.3

Day Three
Saturday, March 30 (Sunday, March 31)
Dinner had been so tasty at the Grain Station we started our day with a leisurely breakfast there before packing our panniers and poking around Independence. Of course, we had to stop at the local bookstore! We weren’t willing to try to outrace traffic over the bridge, so we again walked our bikes along the narrow sidewalk and headed to Salem.
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More hills. Not mountains, mind you, but also not the idyllic flat trail I imagined. A quiet country road winding through vineyards along the banks of the Willamette River it was not. In fact, we rarely saw the river and only passed one winery on the entire trip. We rode the shoulder most of the way and twice speeding motorists or their passengers cursed and honked at us. Once a guy actually opened the passenger door of a fast moving truck to yell at either me or the car behind him. I prefer to think he was spewing his anger at the other driver, but who knows. Let's just say, we were relieved when we left the road at Minto Brown Island Park just outside of Salem.
Our timing was perfect, or so we thought. We cycled around town before locking up our bikes at the Amtrak station and celebrating with cider and a late lunch at the local Ram. With time to spare, we explored the Willamette University campus and shopped for a picnic dinner on the train home. Then we returned to the station to catch our train back to Seattle. And we waited. Again Amtrak was delayed. Our 5:41 p.m. departure became a 7:09 p.m. departure. 

It was a long ride home. The sight of our son-in-law and his bright red truck just outside the doors of King Street Station waiting for us at 12:33 a.m. was a glorious relief.


And that little daffodil Tom picked for me during the dark deluge Thursday night? It made the entire trip with me and is now safely tucked away inside the flower press Tom made for our daughter Erin in elementary school. A memento of all the glorious and not so glorious adventures on our daffodil ride.