Sunday, July 24, 2016

Me and Al Go Fishing


Me and Al Go Fishing

By Fred Owens
I was thinking of my childhood friend Al Versino. When we were kids he lived on Elmwood Avenue, two blocks away from us. Al had two younger brothers, Ken and Larry, and a smothering mom who kept him home a lot.
But Al's dad was cool. Mr. Versino owned the Bike Shop on Green Bay Road. It was a sporting goods store with baseball mitts and hockey sticks and fishing lures, but mainly it was for bikes and the back half of the store was the repair shop. All the kids went to the bike shop.
Al himself got to have the best of all kinds of sporting equipment, like a new baseball glove whenever he wanted one, or super hockey skates.
In the spring me and Al went smelt fishing at the pier in Lake Michigan, which was only a mile from our house. Our folks let us go out in the evening to catch smelt, even if it was a school night. Al had a Coleman lantern -- from his dad's store of course -- and a smelt net, which was a small-mesh gill net that entangled the smelt as they came into shore to spawn on evenings in the spring time.
We could catch a bucket of smelt and bring them home. It was huge fun.
In high school Al began dating Nancy. She was the first girl in his life, and then the only girl, because they stayed together and got married after college. But Al and me weren't hanging out together during those years.
The last time I saw him, more than twenty years ago, he had taken over the bike shop from his dad, but Nancy had left him and his two kids. Al used to have such a bright happy smile, but when I saw him that time he was unhappy and lonely and I didn't have much to tell him.
Like I said, that was more than twenty years ago. Maybe he's happy now. Maybe he has that smile again. I ought to look him up. The high school we went to -- they would have his contact information, or he might even still own the bike shop.
It's All His Fault. The Washington Post editors published a detailed indictment of Republican nominee Donald Trump. I agree point by point with their assessment of his character and the danger he presents to our good country.
But they left out a few things in condemning Trump. It wasn't just Trump that did this. It was us. It was me. And it was you guys at the Washington Post.
I find abundant fault among the Democrats and their leaders, and I will be getting to that. But they will be gathering in Philadelphia in two days, so first we let can them speak. Let them present their alternative to the Trump nightmare. I hope they don't blame it all on the Republicans. I hope a good Catholic boy like Tim Kaine remembers that old prayer -- mea culpa, mea culpa....
I hope the Democrats do not present a parade of victims and grievances. Trump has given success and winning a bad name, but let's take that back from him. Dear Hillary, tell us how we will win and succeed with you as President.
Vote Your Conscience.  My best takeaway from Cleveland was Ted Cruz's ringing cry to vote your conscience. I hope that every living soul in this good country votes their conscience. Hillary Clinton is too strategic for her own good. She will plan this republic into a swamp. She cannot be outsmarted, but she might outsmart herself.

New York Times Headline. "Gunman in Munich Who Killed 9 Had No Terror Ties."
They searched his wallet. They didn't find the ISIS membership card. It's kind of like the AAA card many of us carry, with a membership ID number and expiration date. Only this card is for Islamic terror. But the gunman didn't have the card, so he is not linked to ISIS.
Why do they still say gunman, shouldn't they be saying gunperson?
Prestigious Schools. Senator Tim Kaine went to Harvard Law School. As did his wife, as did Barack Obama and half the Supreme Court. Bill and Hillary Clinton went to Yale Law School. John Kerry went to Yale. Michelle Obama went to Princeton.
The Democratic party is top heavy with the Ivy League. Do they even know this is a problem?
Schools like Harvard and Yale teach power, privilege and prestige. Graduates of these schools believe in their own exceptional talent and in their right to prevail, because they know better, They're not just folks. The amazing thing is that Trump, with his billions, can come across like just folks -- because he's from Queens and he went to a school nobody heard of.
Frog Hospital Boiler Plate. The Frog Hospital email newsletter goes to 370 readers. The mailing list has never been shared with anybody. The content of the newsletter may be forwarded to friends and colleagues, but re-publication, including posting on social media, requires my permission.
Thank you, enjoy your day,

--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital



Wednesday, July 20, 2016

No Way José



No Way José

By Fred Owens
Who are these guys?

No Way José...
For Pete's Sake...
Luke Warm...
Smart Alec...
Yes Sirree Bob...
Peeping Tom...
Even Steven...
Nick of Time...
Jim Dandy...
Who are these gals?
Heavens to Betsy...
Nervous Nellie...
Ruth Less
Did I miss anybody?
Melania Trump. I like Melania Trump. She's very pretty. I don't like her husband  -- he walks on stage next to her and shatters the fantasy.

The first East European bombshell was Zsa Zsa Gabor and her less famous sister Eva Gabor -- both from Hungary, with that sexy accent, dripping in diamonds and furs, tossing rich husbands aside one after another.
Democrats hate Melania because she has no independent career. She is a stay at home mom with a rich husband. She takes care of her son -- with help, of course -- and does her nails. I am not aware that she has done harm to anybody.
What I am Reading. My daughter Eva suggested that I read contemporary fiction, so I have read Plainsong by Kent Haruf, published in 1999, a story of small town life in the plains of Eastern Colorado.
Then I read Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, published in 1976, a lighthearted tale about a British teenage girl named Marigold.
Now I am reading Henry Duchemin And His Shadows, written by Emmanuel Bove in 1920 or there about, but newly translated from the French and published in 2015. This slim volume is a collection of short stories of surprising intensity.
What I Have Stopped Reading. Baruch Spinoza, the Jewish-Dutch philosopher, published the Theologico-Political Treatise in 1670. That is such an unfortunate title. The work is actually very easy to read. Basically Spinoza declares and proves that the Bible ought not to be taken literally, that Moses did not actually part the Red Sea because that would be contrary to the laws of nature. The laws of nature and the laws of God are one and the same. There are no miracles -- only events that we cannot yet explain.
Spinoza explained all this and he was considered to be a wild heretic. He argued for scientific inquiry freed from Biblical tyranny. Thomas Jefferson read this book and it inspired his secular vision.
But no one wants to talk about it. Spinoza? Never heard of him.  For this reason I put this book aside and I am reading contemporary fiction -- because these are good stories, and because people I know have read these books and we can discuss it further.
Back to the World. I wrote these mini-book reviews to remind you that the world has not gone crazy, just the Republicans.
Meanwhile We're Stuck With Hillary.  Here are the basics. She is strongly supported by older woman, Latinos and African-Americans. Among these groups are people I know who genuinely admire Hillary Clinton. This is her base. And it's almost enough to form a majority in the November election.
But she still needs people like me and there are millions of voters out there who think the same way I do. I call us Luke Warm for Hillary. We don't want Trump, so we're stuck with Hillary. We're the key group, the swing votes, the independents. As a Luke Warmer I will vote for Hillary, and that will be the margin of victory.
WSJ. I sometimes I buy the print edition of the Wall Street Journal for $3 because it is so calm and un-disturbing. The regular news is about war and death, crime and assault, murder and mayhem. Awful things happen. Awful photos and gruesome videos come at us from social media. But not at the Wall Street Journal because it's all about money. Some people make money. Some people lose money. Who cares?
Somebody gets shot -- that's suffering. Somebody loses money in the stock market. Who cares?
Today WSJ reported that Netflix shares are down 13% because growth has not been as robust as expected. In London, the hedge funds bet short on the pound sterling -- expecting it to go down after Brexit, and it did go down and the hedge funds earned some billions. Chinese investors are buying Hollywood studios. Wells Fargo is up. J.P, Morgan is down. The money goes round and round.
Stay  calm with financial news from the Wall Street Journal -- but the editorial page can be combative and conservative and might increase your blood pressure. I skip that part of the paper.
Health Care for Older Folks. My daughter Eva Owens is working for a healthcare startup in Seattle and wishes to conduct a survey of needs.  She says, "Right now we're looking for elderly clients that are on publicly funded (Medicaid) in Washington state and utilize home health care aides."
She is looking to conduct hour long phone interviews about your experience and will provide a $20 gift card for your time. Do you know someone that might be interested in being interviewed? Contact her at evadee@gmail.com.
The Frog Hospital Mission. Our mission at Frog Hospital is to cover the presidential campaign and other catastrophes, but to do so in a grounded fashion. It is never good to panic, especially when things are going badly. So we will bring you news of breakfast, books, barbeques and baseball  -- it helps us all to keep steady and be useful.
Signing off for today with these immortal words:
I don't wanna work, I just wanna bang on the drum all day.....

--

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital



Sunday, July 17, 2016

It Begins with Breakfast



By Fred Owens

There was Brexit -- June 23 -- but it seems a century ago and we gazed over the ocean to Britain to consider that very important event. Then the black man was shot in Baton Rouge and shot again in Minneapolis. Terrible. President Obama flew to Dallas to eulogize five slain white police officers. You had to remember who was who.
Back across the ocean again, the truck driver struck the crowd in Nice killing 84 people. It was terribly random. The next day, only two days ago, Turkish President Erdogan survived a military coup attempt.
Today, three cops are killed in Baton Rouge.

This seems like a lot, but I am far from overwhelmed.  And why?  Because I avoid raw footage on social media and the flash mob hysteria of Facebook. Because I read books and do not jump to conclusions. Because I trust my heart and my mind when they are working together. Because I read history and I know that most of this has happened before.

And because I start the day with a good breakfast. Slow down for a minute and follow my routine. On most evenings I get in bed about 10:30 and read a few pages of some novel. I start to get very sleepy. I put down the book and fall asleep in no time.
Some nights I have dreams. I never understand them, but they seem harmless and necessary. I usually wake up about 5 a.m. for a bathroom visit and then I doze until 6:30.
I enjoy getting up in the morning because I look forward to having a nice hot cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. The paper is out  there on the driveway. Santa Barbara is a first-rate community with a second-rate newspaper. Just take my word for it. But I can read the sports and Dear Abby and the funnies and some useful items about local events while I'm watching Good Morning America with George Stephanopoulis.

I eat a bowl of Heritage Flakes cereal from Trader Joe's. I cover it with cold milk and add a little honey.

I do this every day. Ritual is very common in morning times because there is a delicate transition from sleeping to waking. Like a emerging from a shell we emerge from the deep unconsciousness of sleep into wakefulness and a mild disturbance can throw us off our game.
I read the morning news with my coffee and cereal to find out what happens in Nice and Istanbul and Dallas and Baton Rouge.
The news is always bad. That's why I want to know. We can give a brief moment of attention to a distant calamity. That is a good thing. But I can also hear the birds singing and the crows talking right outside our window. And I am not telling you about the one who shares my breakfast, but she is good news from start to finish.

Clinton and Trump. The terrorist attack in Nice and the attempted military coup in Turkey reminds me that Mrs. Clinton is the more solid figure. Trump is nothing but mouth, but Hillary will fight if necessary so I am with her.
It's the three a.m. phone call. That was a good ad Hillary made in 2008 -- that she could deal with a crisis in the middle of the night. But you know -- most of us can. Most of us can suspend our routine because of an emergency and still make rational decisions. God forbid a three a.m. phone call comes to you or to me, but we could handle it if we had to.
But Mr. Trump? I don't trust him in broad daylight much less after midnight.
Raise the minimum wage. Raise the minimum wage. Forgive student loan debt. Shutdown the payday loan business. Abolish all  private prisons because justice is a public responsibility ........ Legalize marijuana and retroactively pardon prisoners convicted for sale and possession of that plant...... that's probably enough ...... I also maintain a lot of cranky, reactionary views so it doesn't add up to a consistent political program. The Democrats don't have much use for me because I don't stay on message.
Breakfast. What is your morning routine? When do you get up? Do you read the news? Do you converse? Do you start the day off with exercise? Do you like eggs? Scrambled or fried?

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

No New Jokes


By Fred Owens
This young man I know is working out as a stand-up comic and making the rounds of comedy clubs in Los Angeles trying to get a laugh. He said, I don't know if I can ever make something of this, but I just want to be authentic.
I snorted in reply. Authentic? Nobody cares. What matters is are you funny? People come to the club to get some laughs, so give them some laughs. There are no new jokes, only jokes they haven't heard before. Forget authentic. Forget about being yourself. Forget original. All that matters -- is it funny, and you don't decide what is funny, the audience decides that. If they think it's funny, it's funny. Otherwise, it's not funny. If you believe in your material and they don't, you're dead.
My advice? Steal. Steal from the best. Steal from the old comics because they were masters, and because the young kids haven't heard that stuff. Steal from Jack Benny. Imitate his timing and his dead-pan look. Wear the same coat and tie. You're going to end up being yourself anyway.  But if you can get them to laugh  -- then you're a blessing for humanity. Get the laughs, forget about yourself.
Leading Ladies.  We will soon have three leading ladies  -- a surplus of competence and practical planning -- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Theresa May, Prime Minister of England, and our own Hillary Clinton, President of the United States.

Angela, Theresa and Hillary  -- not majestic like Indira Ghandi, nor regal, nor queenly like Margaret Thatcher -- but competent, measured, careful....... unremarkable in appearance... not like Golda Meir, whose face told the story of a thousand years..... no, our new leading ladies are the plain truth -- what you see is what you get -- no maternal warmth, no beauty, no creative imagination.... only the plans, and the meetings -- the long, long meetings -- and the policy papers, single-spaced and endless. They are all three too much the same and for that reason they might hate each other, as if looking in a mirror and you don't like what you see.
Angela, Theresa, Hillary -- they will be celebrated for putting things in order  -- no daring, no heroics, no drama.... we will be bored beyond relief, but it seems necessary and we might even be grateful that they were willing to take on this job.

Angela Merkel Is Not So Smart. She is admired for her stubborn intelligence, but Merkel loaned billions of euros to the Greeks and believed they would pay her back. We could almost fall down laughing -- you loaned money to the Greeks? And you thought they would pay you back?
Then Merkel welcomed a million refugees from the Middle East and she thought her neighbors would not mind. They did mind.

Quick Decision. A scant three weeks after the surprising Brexit vote, the English people have selected a new Prime Minister  -- Theresa May. Various pretenders launched campaigns, tested the waters, found support lacking, then gave way,  offering resignations with remarkable dispatch. In America we admire this brusque efficiency. Our elections last forever We wish that some of our politicians would resign -- by the dozens.

For news of England, I go to the Economist and the Guardian.  The Economist is free trade and conservative. The Guardian is leftish. Both publications favor remaining in the European Union.
Clinton and Trump. Meanwhile Clinton and Trump slog it out through the humid summer months. I cannot stand it.
"Are We on the Path to National Ruin?"  No, not in the least. But that was today's headline in the New York Times, copied verbatim from David Brooks' column. You can get scared and stressed out by reading the news. You need to pause and look out the window. The sky is not falling. The nation is whole, and it's you and me that make it whole, not these idiots who give speeches and write columns in important newspapers. I am not on the path to ruin, are you?
Four Cops Murdered in Cold Blood. This happened in a suburb of Seattle in November of 2009. But there were no smart phones recording the video. So it didn't really happen. President Obama did not come and lay a wreath.  The four cops were white and the killer was black, but there was no video.

It only matters if we get the video. Social media, live streaming on Facebook, is praised for immediate access to murderous events. There is some good to that, but it can stir passions beyond control, and it offends the dead.
Death is private. That has been our custom for ages. We do not watch people die, unless we are family, unless we are invited. It was an offense against the men who got killed in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge to broadcast videos of their dying moments. Regardless of the crime, if it was a crime, as it seems to be  -- but we are not privileged to watch this. More recent re-broadcasts of the video show the victim's image pixilated, as if a shroud had been passed over him, which is the decent thing. But beware of Facebook and smart phones -- they are powerful tools which can lend witness but also cause great harm.
 A Young Man I Know.  A young man I know seems to be breaking up with his girlfriend of several years. This can be hard going. I don't think the young man did anything wrong -- just my instinct here -- and I only said one thing, "Don't do anything stupid." God, that was brilliant. Don't do anything stupid. I wish somebody had told me that when I was young.
Frog Hospital is waking up and picking up the pace. There is work to be done.



Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital



Saturday, July 09, 2016

Bilgewater



By Fred Owens

My daughter Eva said I ought to be reading contemporary fiction, so I am doing just that. She suggested Plainsong by Kent Haruf, written in 1999, about some folks in a small town on the Eastern Plains of Colorado. It was 301 pages and fun to read.
So I went back to the bookstore to get another current novel but I could not reach Eva on the phone -- I was compelled to make my own selection. A shelf marked Staff Picks was a little help, so I chose Bilgewater for the title alone, written by Jane Gardam in 1976. I will take it to the beach later today.
That year of 1976 is on the far edge of contemporary, but good enough. I did pass up Nabakov and works by VS Naipaul  -- they are past tense for my purposes.
I did not ask my daughter why I ought to be reading contemporary fiction. Did you notice that?  It was only that she suggested doing that and so I did.
This is part of my moral code which I clarified in Torah study. Why do it? That is not the most important question. Is it a good thing? That is the first question. If my daughter says to do something and it is a good thing -- that is all I need to know.
Why is in the discovery. I read contemporary fiction because people I know are reading the same book and we can discuss it.  Lots of people have read Middlemarch -- when they were in college. And you can almost see the dust on the pages of their memory.
I read the Brothers Karamazov in 1996, in a paperback edition. I bought a bus ticket from Boston to Seattle and read the Brothers all across the vast plains on America. I visited some old friends  on the West Coast and then got back on the very same bus and rode it all the way back to Boston.
The Brothers were the perfect companions for that journey  -- 800 pages of sustained intensity. Those Russians are incredible. They have the world's worst government, but their writers are the best in the world.
But past tense. We're reading current works in 2016. What are you reading? Can you suggest a book for me to read?
Brexit is Fun... the British political turmoil is loads of fun to read about. England may be a mess, but England is Trump free. They have a queen, and they play cricket which is completely silly, and they have wit...... Americans can be funny, but we lack wit. This is going to sound simple but let me say it -- they speak English better than we do. They own  the language and they can play with it and that is the soul of wit.
Now Brexit..... well, I was opposed to it, but it's not my call. It was a clean vote and they decided to leave the EU.  I have to say good for you and I hope it works out well. England wishes to enhance its distinction. The old folk and the rural folk wanted to leave --- with luck we can get them to calm down and go back to sleep, but they were aroused and voted for themselves, as people often do. Comes from living on an island.
Losing One Cop is Bad Enough. Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton used to work in LaConner, but he made it to the big time in Seattle  and then he got killed......this happened in November of 2009 near Barbara Cram's house. I was at Barbara's house when it happened so I came by the site of the shooting afterwards and kept vigil for an hour at the site of the shooting....   There were no protests going on at the time. There was no national media attention, but people in LaConner knew Brenton well and he just wanted to be a cop.

J.G. Taylor Spink.Spink was the publisher of the Sporting News and a legend among baseball writers. He was a complete tyrant. He worked his people hard and they did not love him. But he was a decent fellow at heart. My Dad worked for him for twenty years and Spink fired him almost every year and then hired him back.
I am thinking of Spink because he was an honest businessman, not like this fraud we call Trump.

--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital



Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Luke Warm for Hillary




Luke Warm for Hillary is a new political action group. Here is what our members are saying....
"Well, I guess she's okay. She probably won't screw it up too badly. We could do worse."
Luke Warm for Hillary is an anti-viral campaign committee. We pause, We consider. We have no intention to "catch on like wildfire." And passionate? Hardly.
We Luke Warmers are quick with a shrug of the shoulders. "It's gonna be four long years of Clinton, so get used to it."
Speaking of Resignation. The British have this wonderful habit of resigning. First David Cameron. Then Boris Johnson. Now this fellow, Nigel Farage, who is leader of the UK Independence Party. It is so touching, We should do that here in America. Resign! Quit while you're ahead! The nation will thank you.
The Owens Principle. It concerns immigration, and it goes like this --- "The rate of immigration is what matters. A surge in immigration produces a reaction. It doesn't matter what country the newcomers come from. It doesn't matter what their religion is or what language they speak, or whether they are educated or not. It doesn't matter how many come. The only thing that matters is the rate --- When there is an even flow, we adjust and the newcomers assimilate. When there is a surge, we react less positively."
If government was flexible -- a pipe dream if there ever was one -- it would moderate the flow, tighten up when the surge is strong, and loosen up when the movement is calm.
It can work well. We gain from newcomers. But we pick and choose. Take salsa -- everybody likes salsa...... But then consider menudo -- menudo is not likely to become an American staple.
In the old days the Irish came over and the Yankee kids beat the crap out of the Irish kids. But they got used to each other after a while. Then the Italians and the Jews came over and the Yankee and Irish kids beat the crap out of the Italian and Jewish kids. And you should have heard the language. They all called each other very nasty names.
Keep that history in mind. We have always welcomed immigrants, but we were never very nice about it.
Eat globally. I am a global foodist. Farmers in Ohio, farmers in Pakistan, farmers right down the street from where I live -- all good to me. I am grateful to the people who do this kind of work, wherever they live.
Eat globally. Small farms are good. Big farms are good. Family-owned farms are good. Corporate farms are good. Ancient time-honored traditions are good. The latest in modern technology is good.
Eat globally. Visit farms all over the the earth. Visit the coffee farms in Ethiopia and the banana plantations in Costa Rica.
Locally-owned organic farms that sell at the farmers market are good. Large corporations that grow crops in Third World countries under contract for Wal-Mart are good.
Farmers give us food and we thank them.
Be a farmer's friend, wherever they may live and however they may work.
Eat globally. Eat with your family, Eat with your friends. Buy the food that you like to eat and enjoy yourself.
Brexit. The town of Wigan voted for Brexit. Here is why. George Orwell wrote a book -- The Road to Wigan Pier -- about the hardship of working class life during the Depression. So Wigan got a bit famous for its suffering.....It's not much better now. Wigan was supposed to embrace the European Union, but apparently they did not. They voted to leave.
--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital



Sunday, July 03, 2016

Too Many Mornings -- or, The 21 Places I have Lived

Too Many Mornings

By Fred Owens


Too many mornings -- I woke up in --


Lindsburg, Kansas
Evanston, Illinois
Long Beach, Mississippi
Venice California
Marblemount,Washington
LaConner, Washington, Centre St
LaConner, Washington, Maple St
Austin, Texas
Anahuac, Texas
Mount Vernon, Washington
Cambridge, Mass
Newton, Mass
Acton, Mass
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Pull and Be Damned Rd, LaConner
Caledonia St, LaConner
couch surfing -- 18 months
Floresville, Texas
Fir Island, near LaConner
5th Street in LaConner
Ventura, California
 -- where I am now

I'm good at moving and not so good at staying. I just don’t have this furniture thing.

I don't have a lot of stuff. I brought my car full of stuff down here from LaConner. I left 12 boxes -- my archives -- in storage in a barn on Beaver Marsh Road. That's everything I own.
The trouble with traveling for your life is that you never get to go on a vacation. But I would like to stay here in Ventura, and then go to France next summer -- not to move there, for God's sake -- but just for a vacation, like a real tourist.
Leaving Oklahoma

We left Oklahoma in the summer of 1976, heading north. The truck broke down in Lindsburg Kansas, just north of Wichita. So we camped out by the river at the edge of town -- and found jobs at a factory making aluminum windows, and then rented an apartment behind the Swedish bakery....... This was summer in Kansas, got over 100 degrees day after day -- hot in the factory -- but cool enough in the town swimming pool after work. We should have stayed there. It was a decent town and we could have found better work if we had been more patient.

We left Kansas after a few months. My wife was pregnant and she didn't like the local doctors. She wanted to go to this commune in Tennessee and have natural childbirth -- a bad idea, I thought..... I said we could get a midwife, yes, but near enough to a hospital just in case. So, for some reason, that entailed moving to Evanston, Illinois, where I myself was born and grew up.....I found a job as a shipping clerk at a large printing company.....We found an apartment on Clyde Street near the Howard Street boundary with Chicago.... I picked out that apartment because there were a lot of old ladies living in it. Chicago, as you know, gets bitterly cold in the winter, so I figured these old ladies lived in a building with really good steam heat.....That was a smart move....we stayed all warm winter, the baby was born in the spring.

The child was born in April 1977 in Evanston, Illinois. We left in September. We took the river road -- Highway 61 Revisited -- and camped out, heading down the river -- Dubuque, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, Memphis, and then Vicksburg, in Mississippi. We stopped there and I got a job at a sawmill way out in the woods. Talk about rednecks! Geez, they closed the sawmill on the opening day of squirrel hunting season......I took wood scraps home from the sawmill to the house we rented and built some simple yard furniture, which we sold....Otherwise Vicksburg wasn't such a good place to live.
So we left Vicksburg and drove down to the Gulf Coast, renting a trailer in Pass Christian with a view of the Gulf. This was 60 miles east of New Orleans and a little bit west of Biloxi, but still in Mississippi.....I got a job on a construction project. By now it was December and cold working outside.... plus mosquitoes, alligators, rednecks, preachers, and lots of fat people ... I got into an argument with Pappy Crain, ,,our landlord, and he told us to leave -- that was a good idea -- I don't know why we lived there in the first place, probably just to be stubborn.

Suzie Wiley Racanello so fred.... how do you remember this in such detail??????

Carolyn Rios probably just to be stubborn, what YOU Fred?

If we proved a point by living in Mississippi, it was to make the whole country inhabitable. From Atlantic to Pacific, all the land needs love..........But enough was enough........ They said Pappy Crain was connected to the New Orleans mafia, and then he and I had this argument and he told me to clear out of his trailer court. So we did the sensible thing and left....... We had to sell the old Buick because it wouldn't run anymore and then get on the Greyhound, me and Susan and the baby, bound for the West Coast ...... the Promised Land, the Golden State, California..... and not just anyplace, but Venice Beach itself.

In Venice in 1978, the old beatniks were still around. They didn't just listen to Billy Holiday, they knew her -- it was a small world for hipsters in the 1950s and Venice was one of their locales -- still with a trace of it in 1978 -- the old beatniks were people I listened to and talked with. They found me to be amusing, sincere....and clueless.....But we arrived from Mississippi and we lived in a tricked out school bus in my sister's back yard....I took the city bus every day to my job in Culver City as a shipping clerk at a silk screen shop, where they made giant banners that said "Sale!" and "Grand Opening." ...... I liked taking the bus to work, it went past the Hare Krishna Temple and the old MGM studios with giant sound stages. I could sense the ghosts of old dramas -- images of Judy Garland, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy .... it was almost tangible....

We got to Venice in January and left in June. I think we should have stayed. This is what happened -- I had finally saved enough for us to move out of the school bus and get into a decent apartment -- with first and last month's rent and a deposit. I found this nice place, a tiny one-bedroom bungalow. I had the money in hand but the landlord wouldn't rent to families with children, and by this time we were expecting another one -- what a bummer......As I said, we should have stuck it out in Venice and just gone looking for a better landlord ..... but I guess that baby wanted to be born in the Skagit Valley, because we went back up there -- in late June. We made a summer camp at Illabot Creek up by Marblemount -- a way back in the woods..... It was a pretty place, but we had no money and I had no work.

We camped for the summer on the creek, then found a cedar-shake cabin on the road and nearer to town -- town being a grocery store, gas station and post office. The cabin had electricity but no running water -- just a hand pump out the back door, plus an outhouse. We had a wood stove for heat, and wood cook stove in the kitchen......It was decent and the rent was $40 per month .... Lots of fresh air and beautiful scenery in the wild Cascade Mountains up the Skagit River, but not much work. I borrowed money from my folks and we got food stamps. I chopped wood and carried water. Susan was expecting our second child -- she liked it there living out in the woods...... but I found it somewhat isolating and my mood was sometimes sour -- time passed too slowly and it rained all winter.

Suzie Wiley Racanello fred.. you never answered my question.. how do you remember all this?????

I thought everyone remembered all this stuff about where they have been.....so I don't know how to remember anything, I just do.

Suzie Wiley Racanello but you recount it in such detail!

I could write this much, much longer, with much greater detail -- but I'm keeping it very short to fit on to Facebook.

Our daughter was born March 4, 1979 at the hospital, we brought her home to the cabin in Marblemount. She was beautiful..... I planted a garden that spring and I built a studio and did art and calligraphy. But I had very little paying work -- a few days at a shake mill, a couple of weeks at a local farm -- just scraping by ..... And by now we had two children in diapers -- but only a hand pump in back of the cabin for keeping clean ...... we stuck it out until November, but another raining winter with little work seemed like a bad idea...... I drove down to LaConner to check it out -- a bigger town -- more than 600 people! -- better housing, more work, and a bookstore and a good coffee shop for hanging out -- a good tavern too...... We moved down there and rented a house on Centre Street (British spelling for some reason) -- good plumbing, gas heat, no wood to split and water to haul -- it was easy street, and I soon found work making a few dollars at Tillinghast Nursery.

Cindy Nelson Fred, you really should write a book about your life! It would be amazing!

Living my life has been the hard part, writing about it is easy.

What prompted me to write this story was getting a letter from Paul Schulte, my college classmate, who has lived in the same address in Cinncinati since 1976, whereas I have kept moving all these years

We rented the house on Centre Street in LaConner. It was big and carpeted -- so nice after living in the cabin with a wood stove, a pump in the backyard and an outhouse... But now we had good plumbing, gas heat and all you gotta do is twist that dial on the thermostat and get as warm as you want. Twist the dial and pay the gas bill -- that was great. And a washer and dryer for the two babies. Clean and warm...... We lived there for a year and more, until the owner, a commercial fishermen, had some bad luck and sold the house at a loss and in a big hurry. Kirby Johnson, the realtor, came over to tell us the bad news – we had to moved out....I was concerned that my spouse would get too upset about this, so we went out and bought the first house we looked at and did not dicker over the price. It was a double-wide trailer on Maple Street in LaConner on a 100 by 100 foot lot..... Then we just moved over there and figured not to have trouble with landlords anymore.

We lived in the double-wide on Maple Street for five years. The kids -- toddlers by now -- had a sand box and a swing. We had a vegetable garden and several apple trees. I had a shop in the back where I collected and repaired used fishing tackle. Susan used a corner of our bedroom to make puppets and other craft items .... .... I took my kayak out on the river and spent a lot of time fishing .... We often trudged across the field to visit Keith Brown when he lived in Fishtown ..... I worked at several weekly newspapers as a reporter. I also worked part-time for my parents fishing magazine ... When my parents retired in 1984 and sold the magazine, I took my share of the proceeds and started a fishing newspaper that served the Pacific Northwest --- it was, editorially, an excellent publication. It was a complete expression of what I believed was the best possible description of the northwest fishing community..... Even today, so many years later, I can tell you how good it was .... but there was hardly twelve people who bothered to read it or subscribe to it or take out ads .... A disaster, a complete business failure, it really hurt.

I need to pick up the pace and get this story moving again.... We lived in the double wide for five years -- a perfectly nice home if you like living in a tin can. I never liked it very much. That was my mistake -- buying a house that my kids liked and my wife liked -- but I didn't like it or love it . You should hold on to your home with all your might, but you have to love it first, and I never loved it...... Then the fishing publication failed, and I had this immature urge to flee. And compound that with my wife's constant complaint about "life in LaConner." She thought it was a snobby, snotty, in-grown, cliquish little town -- too many stuck up people .....She wanted to go back home to Oklahoma, which I could not abide .... So we made what I think was a very bad decision -- to move to Austin, Texas, where Susan could feel more at home, and where an old hippie like me could feel welcome.

We should have never left LaConner. It was January, 1986. I got a menial job at a software company. We rented a nice apartment. The kids enrolled in a new school. We made friends. I began playing the piano again.....Austin was easy living......I got tired of the software company, so I got a job as a reporter at a weekly newspaper -- a really good paper too, but they decided not to keep me -- it's a long story -- basically they were just using me until their son finished journalism school -- I wish I has known that .... Anyway, I quickly got another job at another newspaper -- but it was in East Texas -- in the swamp! Back to redneck city -- alligators, mosquitoes, Cajuns, rice fields, water moccasins, high heat and even higher humidity, in a little town called Anahuac, just across the bay from Houston.

We moved again, from Austin to Anahuac. My wife -- it's hard for me to write this story without dragging her into it -- a woman I still respect and cherish even though we have been divorced for many years -- but I thought she would be the anchor in this partnership. I mean, most women, then and now, are good at keeping things -- they like furniture and curtains and other home-stuff. But not my wife, she would be happier living in a tent. If I ever said let's go, she would say, Okay, I can be packed in an hour --- we'll just grab the kids and get in the car..... So there was no one working the brakes....We just kept moving....That's what we were good at.

This story is getting repetitious. I just kept moving and changing jobs. We're only on town Number Nine and we have twelve more towns to get to. Are you all getting bored with this?..... There's a lot of bad parts that I'm leaving out -- a cycle of depression and anger that I kept going through. And all the marital conflict.....Let me summarize. I was not an angry man when I got married on February 14, at the City Hall in Chicago in the year 1976, but by ten years later when I was leaving in this mosquito-ridden swamp called Anahuac in east Texas --- by this time, in 1986, I wasn't just angry, I was almost nothing but angry, except when I was depressed.... There's no one to blame, except myself, and I just kept moving.

It was October of 1986. We were living in Anahuac, and I was driving ten miles every day to my job as a reporter at the Libertyville Vindicator, a weekly newspaper. The editor, Ernie Zieschang, cared about high school football and the Rotary Club. I don't know why he hired me -- we didn't get along, and after a short while, for the only time in my entire working career -- I was fired! Ernie just gave me two weeks pays and told me to clear out..... living in east Texas and being employed is a condition that can be endured -- but being unemployed in that miserable country? Not acceptable by any means.

We left. We decided to go back to the Skagit Valley. Susan refused to return to LaConner. I said would Mount Vernon be okay, and she said yes (Mount Vernon being a larger town some ten miles from LaConner). I went ahead, driving across country in our old Buick. Susan and the kids took the train to my sister's house in Los Angeles. She took the kids to Disneyland, and then they headed up north to the Skagit on another train -- to Cold Comfort Farm where we spent the next few miserable years. Talk about a dump .....


Carolyn Rios  I liked Cold Comfort, but then I didn't LIVE there
Katherine Owens Isn't this where mom and me and Rosie and Liza came to see you once. I have a very cute picture of Liza and Rosie holding a cat that I think we took at the farm house.
The trumpeter swans flew over our old farmhouse every evening about twilight. Honk-honk they talked, and they flew so low you could hear the wind going through their wing feathers. They would spend the day out in the Skagit flats, and then come home to their roosts on Barney Lake, just down the hill from our little farm .................. I would often be outside in the dimming light, chopping wood or fixing the fences, and then I would hear the swans calling --- the call of the Nookachamps -- for we lived in the watershed of that tributary. The Nookachamps River flowed out of the Cascade foothills and joined the mighty Skagit ......................................................................That was our home -- 3325 Martin Road on forty acres of brush and second growth timber, with a barn that once held a dozen dairy cows, back when you could run a dairy with a dozen cows, and some ten acres of badly overgrown pasture................................ There was a tender cedar grove out in the field, right where the old well used to be. A tender grove of young trees -- because the old behemoths -- the ancient cedars -- had been cut down by our fathers and grandfathers -- cut down to build the barns and the houses we lived in. So the new tender cedars were growing again...............................................New growth will become old growth, I said, and it only takes a thousand years or so if you just leave it be .............................. I used to walk down to that grove and it smelled so very, very good, all young and green................................. Yeah, there were some good parts about that farm ...................................................


"21 places I have lived" or "Too Many Mornings" -- your choice of titles. You can find the whole story on my blog, but we're at ten years now and half way through.
It's 1986. The Red Sox lost the World Series to the New York Mets that year, and I turned 40. Thus began the Decade of Drudgery and Disappointment.

We moved on to the farm outside of Mount Vernon..... There was no electricity and no running water -- no rent to pay either. The owner just wanted occupation. Our first winter we had kerosene lamps. We cut a Christmas in the back yard and illuminated it with tiny candles -- it was a miraculous glow to see that warm light in our living room ..... But otherwise it was hard times. It wasn't rustic living to me anymore, it was just poverty, and I didn't care ......................... The fact is, our marriage was over ... we still had two years to go before a separation .... but I didn't care anymore ... She didn't want to live in LaConner, so I just found this dump of an old farmhouse and there we sat -- hoping without hope ........................... I worked here and there and made a little money .... We put in a waterline -- that involved me digging a ditch 250 feet from the house to the road, and then digging a much bigger, wider ditch in the back yard to serves as a septic system for the toilet ..... and for a few hundred dollars we got an electrician to scab together some wiring ..... but the place just looked run-down no matter what I did --- or maybe because of how I felt -- hoping without hope .... We had a nice dog, a black puppy named Sparky, and he was the happiest critter on the farm. He was a wonderful little dog and he just ran around all day -- 250 feet from the road, we never tied him up.
Suzie Wiley Racanello happy up fred!!!!!!!!!!!
How can I make this happy? It was a tough year on the farm -- 1988. That summer I moved out of the house, and that ended a 12 year argument...... a "friendly divorce" .... which is slightly less of a disaster .... After a bit of shifting around, I moved back into the farmhouse and she moved out ..... I became a single father, which, of all the ways devised by mankind, is the worst possible way to raise children ..... It reminded me of a story in the newspaper about the one-legged man who climbed Mt. Rainier... Sure, he made it to the top, but it would have been so much easier with two legs.....  I struggled on. I grew a very big garden the next summer and my triumph was a huge and wonderful patch of sweet corn  -- more than I could possible eat or give away ... I bought a new car  ... Mainly I did not like being un-married at all... What are you supposed to do? .... And people thought it was just fine -- or else they didn't know what to say, or else they didn't want to interfere ..... I guess it was up to me to work it out -- my behavior wasn't especially weird or self-destructive, so people let me work it out ..... However, there was a bit of concern when I decided to move to Boston .....
Boston?
I'm skipping a lot of things from 1988. -- In January I played a central role in the Fishtown Woods Massacre.... In February, my mother-in-law died and we flew back to Oklahoma for the funeral. It was the first and only time I communed with my wife's deeply conservative Southern cousins....... In July I joined the Quaker Peace March and we walked, 12 miles a day from Portland to Vancouver -- all the way across the state -- for the cause of nuclear disarmement. A year later, 1989, the Iron Curtain fell, thanks in part to our effort....
I came back from the Peace March after six weeks and we started fighting again and I couldn't stand it anymore.... That's when I moved out .... The last straw was when we had an argument at dinner -- nothing new about that, we patched it up, and later we went to bed.... Okay, but for the first and last time, we started another argument in bed .... That was it ... I moved out of the house the next day.
I was lost..... That was a big reason why I wanted to take care of the kids -- because I knew how to do that and it was honest work.... I took good care of those children -- I never asked anyone's advice and no one interfered.
I'm gonna stop for today -- but I need to finish this part. In the autumn of 1988 I went to my 20th college reunion. I ran into my old girl friend and she lived in Boston. So I took my son out of school, packed up the car, and drove across the country with him in the middle of winter -- to Boston...... Why didn't someone stop me? ... Boston -- and we lived there for six years, and at least we were out of the Cold Comfort Farm – We might a had to move 3,000 miles just to shake off that demon.
I think you folks may have gotten comfortable hearing about my four-year stint at Cold Comfort Farm -- just settling in that pile of old boards in a blackberry bramble but we’re going to the East Coast now.
The title of this story should remind you that we're going to keep moving on -- we left the farm right after Christmas in 1990, heading for Boston. I brought my 13-year-old son with me, and he blames me to this day for yanking him out of school and taking him to New England.....But I reasoned it this way, that he was doing poorly in junior high-school both academically and socially and I thought a spin around the country might doing him well..... Anyway, we loaded up the car and never looked back at that damn farm....Susan and my daughter Eva were left behind -- this was the only time we ever separated as a family, but they came to join us on the East Coast some months later, so it wasn't really a hard ship ............ But I have to address the readers again -- the whole movement in America is westward bound. Every town in Washington and Oregon is full of refugees from the Midwest. California is full of immigrants from New Jersey and Pennsylvania ......... This is what everybody is used to -- like in the Grapes of Wrath -- they head out to the West Coast after the farm goes bust in Oklahoma -- or Jack Kerouac "On the Road" -- going west on Highway 66.

But there's a smaller trend of young men from the rural West going East to learn in the halls of higher education and join the citadels of power. Think of William O. Douglas, who grew up in Yakima, Washington, and headed east to become a Wall Street Lawyer and then a Supreme Court Justice....... That's what I did. And you may have heard about the Liberal Establishment -- yes it is there -- I found it there in Boston .... We rented an apartment in Cambridge, not six blocks from Harvard University, within touching distance of some Very Important People ..... I never saw so much importance in all my life, the old buildings seemed encrusted with prestige like barnacles on a pier piling.
Love in New England
Helen lived in Newton, a Boston suburb. I've changed her name. She was the romantic interest. Believe me, you should never go back to an old girl friend. Never.....And why didn't someone tell me that? ... We resumed a relationship after a 25-year-absence. It started out well , but it ended in the same train wreck ...... I'm going to blame her for most of this, strictly as a literary device -- you and God and everybody else can form your own judgment ..... We were lovers when we were 18, but I was a cad back then -- I wanted to fool around, and I left her in tears ...... But she kept a piece of my heart, that small piece I had given her -- and she kept that small piece for 25 years -- had a husband, several children, a home and a good suburban life -- but kept that small piece of my heart all this time, and I could never wholly love another woman -- couldn't be whole because of that missing piece.... She never let go of it .... and I came back to her.

What about the Bush? So, I could drive up to Newton to see Helen and play the Steinway piano in her living room -- it was such a vivid contrast to farm work and crude dinners back in the Skagit Valley. But first, I must talk about the Pyrocanthus.
I rented the apartment at 42 Blakeslee Street -- three bedrooms furnished, in the best part of Cambridge. I even had off-street parking for me car. Except I had to duck around the fiery prycanthus every time I got out of my car. It was big and beautiful, but it was thorny and it was in my way. So I cut it down ........... Down to the ground ... You know, it wasn't my bush..... Mr. Magestrelli was my landlord -- a perfectly nice man. When he came by a few weeks later and saw that the pyrocanthus was gone, he was very upset ..... And me, a supposedly mature man of 44 years, took a smart aleck attitude toward this kind senior citizen, like I had done him a favor by cutting down the bush ..... "And it will grow back again," I said, as a feeble defense ...... I was not a good tenant. I was careless with his property. I abused the furniture and the curtains .... Well, for an excuse, I had been living too rough.

Living too rough, so I sought refinement and took a course in good manners. To wit, I read four of Jane Austen's novels -- that was my first winter in Cambridge. I think it was "Emma" that was the first one I read ..... Somehow, I recalled my mother's urgings at the dinner table -- to sit straight and take small bites and ask to be excused ..... I wasn't raised to be a farm hand --- but it was like a war inside of me .... because I had rebelled against the sterile suburban lawns of my youth .... I had found the soil as a young man, had slept on the ground and dug gardens and made trails in the woods and the soil was everything.

But that first winter in Cambridge, Helen found two tickets to the Boston Symphony -- orchestra seats, front row and center. We went together and heard Yo-Yo Ma play the Bach Cello Suites. He was magnificent and yet so humble, a great artist. I squirmed in my seat like an unkempt canine, and yet I was so happy and Helen was beaming with pleasure, that she had done this for me ..... I was still lost, but now it didn't feel so bad ....

Lois Wauson
We used to have a pyracantha bush in the 50's at our first home on Trudell Dr. in San Antonio. I loved that bush. I cut branches off with the red berries to make a centerpiece for Christmas every year. I know how your landlord felt. I would have been heartbroken if someone cut it down. And my husband did that many years later up in N. Texas, when he cut down my favorite honeysuckle bushes. saying 'they will grow back'"(they didn't). I was devastated and mad for weeks.

At home with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the sage of Concord...... Helen and I had our season. I was heart broken when it ended .... We left Cambridge and moved to Newton for two years. Newton is a suburb of Boston and largely Jewish. It is also where the Fig Newton was invented -- true! ..... Then we moved to Concord, close to Walden Pond.
I came to Boston with literary ambitions, which were soon dashed. I did get an interview at the Boston Globe, but my strength as a writer was a kind of quirky humor -- which is simply not done at the Boston Globe ..... In fact, Boston is the least funny town in America. Jokes die in that city, and my pen ran dry, except for a few short stories, all about Helen and our sad romance..... So it was back to the land and the soil .....
I started a landscaping business and found plenty of work. Boston and environs is heavily forested. Many residential streets are fully shaded by glorious elms, oaks, ashes, and maples ..... And all the leaves fall down in October -- and someone gets paid to rake all those leaves ..... That would be me .... Raking Leaves for Liberals -- they were too good and too snotty to rake their own leaves, but they would hire me. I loved the work, but I resented their superiority .... "we'll do the thinking and you can do the chores." ....... I dated Irish women and joined the Yeats Society -- we read poetry aloud and drank wine by the Charles River .... I assumed a rugged pose, being of the earth, with cracked and callused hands ....
I'm skipping the Jewish episode in Newton -- that is a book-length story, seriously .... I spent two years full absorbed in that culture, and studied with great devotion at the shul and earned some respect as a Jewish scholar, of all things -- I don't know how to summarize what I learned. I'll try to say one thing -- the Jews are very strong people, although they may not seem so. They are stronger than anyone I have ever met.
We moved to Concord in 1995. Eugene finished high school and went to an art college in San Francisco. Eva took home-schooling because, as she said, most accurately, "high school is stupid." How could I argue with that? I taught her at home and she thrived .... I tended the gardens at beautiful New England mansions, old homes with slate roofs, copper gutters, and granite walkways. I trimmed ancient wisterias, big around the trunk as a man .... I learned about stones .... New England has more stone than soil and I spent hundreds of hours on my hands and knees uprooting weeds and pulling stones from the earth. I re-built the old walls .... Some days I did volunteer work gardening at the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson.... On hot summer times, I would knock off early and go to Walden Pond, the best swimming hole in New England .... I began working for a highly-respected landscape designer who paid me very well... Then I had some bad luck ....
Bad Luck
1995 was a good year. I worked in Concord, amid the hallowed stonewalls of history. I was hired by Neil Jorgensen, the best landscape designer in New England. Neil was in such demand as a designer that you had to book him months in advance, if he was even willing to do your garden. We worked on $100,000 projects and did award-winning work -- and Neil was such a great guy to work for...... It was unbelievable -- having fun, making lots of fun, and being real proud of the work too ..... I thought I had it made .. We worked every day, clear into November, when the ground started to freeze and our last day it was snowing -- but what a season we had.
I took a temporary job that winter driving a Buick regal -- driving executives to and from the airport. I was often stuck in Boston's horrible traffic, but I was getting paid by the hour, so what did I care -- the Buick was a nice ride.
When spring came, that's when my bad luck came with the melting snow. Neil's marriage broke up, and he became terribly depressed. He stopped working. Customers kept calling him and begging him to get started on their gardens, but Neil stayed in seclusion. He went up to his cabin in Maine, where there was no telephone .... Like a real Scandinavian he brooded and sulked and drank ..... Worse for me, I was out of work .. I begged him, when I finally got him on the phone..... Neil, don't just think of yourself, you're putting me out of work .... It was awful -- after getting so close to a really good deal, and it was the first time in my working life that ever happened -- working with the very best people and the best plants and the best equipment, making and building the most beautiful garden -- and then nothing.
I call that bad luck, which has been rare in my life. Most of my problems have been self-inflicted, but this one time it was bad luck -- fate, and the gods went against me ..... Later that spring, I got a call from Chicago that my mother was dying.
Smiling babies make everyone happy. Mom dying of cancer back in Chicago is quite a bit different -- but it's not really sad. The sad parts of "Too Many Mornings" are the defeats and failures -- that's where the pain lies -- but Mother leaving us -- that was just awesome.
We all came home that summer, Tom and Carolyn came in from Los Angeles, Katy came in from Denver. We took turns looking after Mom. She bore it well , but she didn't like being sick -- I don't mean that lightly. Mom was a strong-willed woman who never got sick because she did not like being sick and would not waste her time lying in bed...... And she did not like being looked after by her kids or by anyone else. She was not going to become some sweet old lady who needed help to get into the car ...... She was scared of dying, but not that scared -- she just didn't care to linger and draw it out.
Toward the end, she went back to the hospital and she sent me away. She only wanted my sisters with her at that point -- because of her hair. She could not get her hair fixed and combed right in the hospital, and she did not care for her sons to see her disheveled.... That's not silly, that was important to her.
It was as gift. She was our mother and we were everything to her. She died in September after only three months of illness. I remember this awesome feeling. I told myself, "This only happens once in your life, so do it right and give it all your attention." ...... I never felt so special and so blessed. Mom had arranged everything to make it easy for us. Katy and I went to the funeral home to pick out a cheap casket -- what Mom wanted. Instead we spent money on white flowers -- but not lillies...... It was like the whole world stopped for our benefit .... Neighbors brought food over. Relatives sat in the living room..... It was like floating on a cloud.
Frank Munaretto was over at the house and in close contact with my brother Tom. Frank was Mom’s accountant.  Mom always said there’s no such thing as security but she sure watched her money carefully.
And dying was a problem for Mom, because, seriously, what was the point of going to heaven if you can’t take it with you?
I know she would have preferred to keep her money herself, but her second choice was to give it to us kids, and Frank was all ready and prepared to divide everything into four equal piles. Kids will fight over $5 and a bread basket, so the amount doesn’t matter, what matters is the process and the passing on of goods  -- done rightly, it is a blessing. That was Mom’s gift, she kept us together as a family after she was gone, because that’s what she wanted.
Now, to catch up with the story. It was the autumn of 1996, the year my mother passed away back in Chicago -- but this is the short version of the story and I am leaving a lot of stuff out.
I have been leaving stuff out -- like the bus trip I took that summer. I took the Greyhound Bus from Boston to Seattle and back -- three days and three nights each way. I brought a paperback edition of the Brothers Karamazov, which was the perfect novel to bring on such a grinding journey --- some 800 pages of incredible psychological depth and unrelenting intensity .... If I had not taken the cross country bus ride, I would never have read the book......Otherwise the Greyhound is a depressing accumulation of desperate people -- a homeless shelter on wheels -- it's probably gotten worse in recent years.
Nevertheless --- I have written 7,000 words into this story without using such a fancy word as "nevertheless" -- but nevertheless, I needed to take that bus ride in order to see the land. If you drive, you have to watch the rode, which was not my purpose...................................... This may sound grandiose or sentimental, but America is my home and I claim it -- every single acre. I am the co-owner along with some 300 million other people. Being co-owner, I need to take a look around from time to time -- to see the farms and the trees, and the big cities and small towns................................ So while I was reading Dostoyevsky, I was looking out the window...... I am a wise traveler -- long bus rides across wheated plains blend perfectly with long Russian novels.
I need to have patience. I wish to write freelance farming stories for the local newspaper, but I think they will not respond to my email. I have the urge to throw a rock through their window -- "What do you mean, you don't like my stuff?" .... Instead I will continue the story.
We laid mother to rest in a cemetery out by Des Plaines, a long drive from the house. My folks had a plot in the parish cemetery right down the street, but when my oldest sister died in an accident in 1974 that space was used, so mother was taken out to Des Plaines .... In our family we never cared about graves and tombstones very much -- not much for visiting the dear departed ones and the old bones. Our old folks did not teach us reverence for the past ... It was more about the future .... When they came to America they left their old lives behind and rarely looked back ...... My mother herself had no sense of nostalgia - she more enjoyed setting us up for the adventures of life.
And that newer life began after the funeral. I did feel a little scared and unprotected -- like being an orphan. It was mother and father who stood between me and death -- but now the cold breath was on my shoulder ..... Carolyn and Tom flew back to Los Angeles. Katy and I stayed in the house that autumn. I got a job as clerk at the Crate and Barrel. I took karate lessons and piano lessons..... It was very pleasant at our old home......In my mind, I could not separate mother from the home in which we were reared. And it was if she was still there.
But I made one significant change to the landscape. My folks bought the house on Forest Avenue in 1946, the year I was born. They planted a double row of yews -- the low spreading yews by the driveway, and the taller, arching yews next to the house ...... It was a wise decision to plant the yews, for they are the strongest protectors of a good house. A dark green in foliage and sometimes with little red berries, the yews were always there, my whole life. But they had gone decades without being trimmed and they were far over grown, starting to block the driveway and crowd the house. They looked very old. ---- a good pruning might have been in order, but this was too significant ..... We were going to sell the house and whatever family moved into deserved a fresh start ..... I used my chain saw and cut all the yews flush to the ground -- I planted a new double of yews, young and vital, for the future, for the new people who are to come....Mom would have liked that.
I flew to Cape Town, South Africa in early February, 1997. It was a fateful year, Princess Diana died. She was beloved all over Africa. You see her photo on the wall in simple homes, next an image of Bob Marley.
This story is very condensed. The Facebook format forces this writer to get right to the point. Why did I go to Africa? So many have people have asked me that -- but no, upon reflection, I have to say that's kind of a dumb question. A lot of times you learn more just by listening -- so listen to my tale..........Going back to Africa wasn't the beginning of time, it was before that, when there was no time..... in the dream time .....
I flew from Chicago to Miami on Delta. Then got on the big 747 --South African Airways -- such a big plane and only a few passengers, we flew all night over the ocean, nothing but stars and glimmering water far below, going south, south, south across the water .... I had never been so far away in my life.
From the Cape Town airport to a B & B in Kalk Bay. I could see the ocean from my room. They were an Indian couple who ran it, Mia and Fatima Laher..... Michael Pam was the old poet of Kalk Bay --- we drank tea together at the Cafe Matisse. The Coloured woman who served us was beautiful, but Michael gave me a warning glance -- I wasn't aware of distinctions he had lived with all his life.
I swam in the surf. I walked the hills. I drank beer. I met members of Parliament at the State House. I saw Nelson Mandela in a parade....I called my daughter long distance. I told her of my reverie, she said, "Dad, when are you going into Africa? You can't just hang around like it was a resort." ...... I wish I had not acted on her advice, but I soon took off for the country.
But you would rather hear about the kittens. As you wish. It's 7:30 a.m. They have just gotten up, eyes wide open. The one who likes me came over and scratched my pant leg to say Good Morning.
Writing Stories for Jesus
I heard the voice of Jesus last night, talking to me. He sounded a lot like Denzel Washington .....
But it was Jesus himself. You see what happened that day is I wrote a story on my laptop -- about growing strawberries and the farmworkers who pick berries in Ventura County. I worked with a single-minded focus for 2 hours and whipped up a really nice 750 word column for my Farm News newsletter -- Good work, Fred, I thought.
Then I reached for the Save button, but I hit the wrong key and erased the whole story -- gone, vanished into cyberspace .... There was a stunning and very hurt silence. I took four or five deep breathes and slowly backed away from the laptop ..... I decided to take a drive -- went up to Ojai and past Ojai in to the Los Padres Forest, a way up high, by a waterfall.
I walked a little trail, I wasn't mad or anything -- but I wrote such a good story and nobody read it .... That's when I heard the voice.....
"I read it." What, who's there? "I read it. It was a good story."
It sounded like Denzel Washington, but it had to be Jesus. I just knew it. I poured out my heart to him. I said I hate it when I write a story and nobody wants to read it, it gets too frustrating. He said, "I read everything you write." You do? "Sure. Everything. It's pretty good too." That just blew me away. I was writing stories for Jesus all this time, but I didn't know it.
Why are You Walking Alone?
I should have stayed in Kalk Bay. I could have written a book of poetry and romanced the waitress at the Cafe Matisse -- gone swimming in the warm salt water, but no ......
Fatima Laher was my hostess at Chartfield House. I mentioned an interest in seeing Africa. "Then you must go to Nyanga," she said.
But why? What is so special about Nyanga? "You must go there," she said. I guess she was trying to tell me something. So, a thousand miles and two weeks later, with an interesting diversion to the Karoo, where the Bushmen dwell, I arrived in Nyanga......Nyanga is in the eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. The name means "moon" or "witch doctor" in the Shona language. Being at high elevation, Nyanga has pine forests, apple orchards, and rushing mountain streams. Small farm plots yield abundantly because there is ample rain....... I took many solitary walks around the countryside. I visited homes..... One day a young woman, really a girl, about 12, said, "Why are you walking alone?" ...... Such a good question, and I had no answer.
Who cooks for you?
I left Nyanga, walking alone, and traveled to Matopos, where the most ancient granite stones form fantastic shapes. The African woman emerged from the very earth -- or maybe it was that I met her at the Palace Hotel in nearby Bulawayo over a beer -- but I like the version where she emerges from the earth better.
We talked about her life and her family. I told her I was single -- divorced. She asked, not innocently, "Who cooks for you?" What little resistance I had disappeared.............I began courting her. I rented a car to take her to fountains and night clubs. She brought Her Aunt Janet and her Aunt Winnie on these dates. The aunties rode in the back seat.... I bought them plenty of beer and chicken and won their approval ....... We were properly and legally married some months later -- renting a house in suburban Bulawayo.
It was a good home, very strong and solid. The cement walls and tile roof kept us cool even on the hottest days. The front yard had an enormous pepper tree blessing us with shade. I built an herb garden in the back yard. I worked as a volunteer at a nearby nature preserve..
My wife's relatives constantly besieged us. They would sit for hours in our living room, waiting for food, leaving when they were fed and given bus fare home .... I learned the African word for "son-in-law" is Umkunyani, meaning "he who pays for everything.”
Mr. and Mr. Jones were coloured people who lived next door and fairly prosperous. They said we must move away or the relatives would consume everything..... And I was getting too homesick, so I asked Zodwa, my wife, "Do you want to go to America?" -- I had never mentioned this possibility before, but I think all the time her answer would have been yes.