Sunday, January 31, 2010

gifts my father gave me

Every few years or so I travel to Montana, the Mecca for my dad’s side of the family. Montana is crazy beautiful, I never tire of visiting.

A few years ago, my parents picked me up in Oregon and we drove together on the usual route, through eastern Washington, down through Idaho and into Montana for our family reunion. After the trip, they asked me to join them on a drive through the Canadian Rockies in Alberta (also crazy beautiful) for several days.

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up- several days with just my parents and I, all on our own again. My dad told me all of the stories of his childhood in Montana; from hopping freight trains to building a dam to the many interesting people he’s met on his journey so far. Luckily, I had my journal.

“After WWII, the Japanese took beer cans that were thrown away by American GIs and made them into toy cars and sold them here. They were perfectly formed.”

“At one time, Japan had a town named USA, Japan, so they could stamp items “made in the USA.” I think that’s stopped now.”

“The railroad was allowed to come into each state across the country by Congress. In Bitterroot, people built permanent homes on land owned by the railroads. Then Northern came in and said their deeds were no good, and the railroad was coming through.”

“In the early 70’s when you filled up with gas in Montana you were given a free glass of beer. I remember I drank the beer and gave the glass back to the guy working. And then got in my car and drove away.”

“In 1952, I worked on the Hungry Horse dam between Libby and Troy. We worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. On Saturdays, some of the men would drive to Troy. Troy was full of cathouses. It took them two hours to drive there and two hours to drive back. They would come in Sunday morning just in time to go to work. I remember my foreman was married to my kindergarten teacher from Big Fork! I went to see her and they were living in a tent. Made good money though.”

My dad would hop freight trains after he was transplanted to Minnesota. It was the only way he could afford to go home to Montana to see auntie gin. Sometimes he would get hassled by the po-lice while he was riding the rails. One time the cops caught him, hauled him “downtown,” and asked him why he was hitching a ride. He explained his financial restraints and they told him never again. It’s illegal. It’s dangerous.

Then they took him to the edge of town and dropped him off by the railroad tracks. It was the only way he could leave town.

And I have a memory of picnicking along the river in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho with my mom and dad and my father pointed to the high train tracks curling around the mountain as he told me he remembered swinging his legs from the side of the car, looking over the town.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

the birthday girl

Many of my high school memories have faded into the background. Forever, I hope. But there are other memories that, like a beautiful dream, remain as clear and as vivid as if they happened last week.

I remember swinging from a rope into the gravel pit. The splash of water, muffled by the pounding music. Turning to face the shore, I saw her, swaying back and forth and singing. To Heart, of course. Her favorite band back then was manned only by women, but given her independent spirit, that was hardly a surprise.

I remember when she came over dinner and my father told us, ponderously, that he didn’t mind if we got into his booze but “for the love of God, please stop watering it down.” No problem, I replied coolly as she slowly drizzled in embarrassment underneath the table.

But she understands dysfunction. So no apologies necessary.

And I remember walking. For hours and hours, we walked and we talked, full of things to say to each other, even though we’d driven to school together (for she faithfully picked me up every morning) and driven home together, and I believe I’d even stopped in for a visit after school. We talked about the boys we loved, the friends we knew and the people we’d become.

We never, ever ran out of things to talk about.

In college, things didn’t really change. We went to different schools, moved with different friends and yet still, we managed to see each other all the time.

One fateful night, after yet another wild party where we’d socialized with others but always came back together to giggle at someone’s sloppy drunkenness, to ask if “he” was looking over at us and just generally to check in, I popped that inevitable, eternal summertime teenager’s question:

“So, do you want to go swimming?”

The fountain and the oversized pond beckoned and shucking clothes aside, we waded in at a little after 2 in the morning. The resulting dogs barking, lights turning on and general mayhem (“Lisa, let’s go! Now!” “I can’t find my glasses!” “Leave them!” “I can’t drive without them!”) inevitably resulted in a fast drive home… with most of our clothing left behind.

And on my last official day of college, after I finished up my final exam (Statistics), instead of hanging around for my graduation ceremony, we hopped a plane for San Francisco. A few days in a beautiful old building in Pacific Heights, and we hit the road in my brother’s Miata. By Napa Valley we had been on top of each other for days:

“I want to go back to wine country.”

“Everywhere we go is the whine country, Angela.”

We got our sense of humor back by Eureka, with an entertaining stay at the Vista View motel, the ugliest motel in America. And the drive up 101 to Oregon was breathtaking…it’s still one of my favorite drives today.

That’s what memories are made of; that’s how friendships are born. Through heartfelt associations and instant connections that sometimes, we’re lucky enough to make with new people. “I recognize you,” I thought when I met her.

And I was right; I knew her all along.

I believe that connections are important; we should acknowledge them and accept them as natural part of living and loving. I’m thankful for the friends that I have. I’m lucky to continue to make new connections and new friends as I continue to grow up and grow older.

But there’s something special about high school friends. They capture a place in our heart and characterize a place in time that no else can ever reach. That no one else can ever touch.

Happy Birthday, Ang.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

hope to hear from you soon

“Hope to hear from you soon. Ciao, bella.”

Ah… The third unreturned call.

He’s been a great friend. He’s a wonderful person. And by all accounts, he possesses all of those, um, attributes so favorably looked upon by most women.

I first met him when we lived in the same old neighborhood in Cincinnati. I was the crazy twentysomething climbing up the scaffolding outside my apartment building at 2 in the morning when I realized I didn’t have my house key. He was the mature, charming veep of an international company who always laughed at my (many) mishaps.

A slight age difference didn’t prevent us from having great fun when we met for the occasional drink and we started hanging together a couple of times a month. He was from Washington, and we often ruminated together about the places and people we missed out west.

He moved back west several years ago. I’ve seen him a few times when visiting Seattle. We spent some memorable afternoons together. Enjoying leisurely, alcohol-laden sushi lunches on the Sound. Drinking buckets of beer and eating lobsters in the San Juan Islands.

He moved to Washington to start a new company, and then left the company to care for his ailing ex-business partner. Never tending to himself, and somehow never finding anyone, though with the scarcity of good men in Seattle he’s a real “catch.” And still we talked. We made a pact to speak on the phone once a month. And we’ve stuck to that promise over the years.

A few months ago, in a fit of vulnerability and a true gesture of warmth, I decided we both needed a break from hospitals and families. So I asked him to meet me in Seattle for an upcoming weekend.

And now we’re on unreturned call number three.

So, what’s the problem? Nothing. I mean, he’s absolutely perfect.

Oh yeah. I guess that’s the problem.

Everything that I’m trying to avoid, everything that I don’t want… that’s what he represents. Suburbia. Tennis clubs. Upscale cocktail parties. And if I was with him, that would be me, too. There’s nothing dirty about him. Nothing less than perfect. He’s shiny and clean, with beautiful manners. And he always knows exactly the right thing to say: He’s the first to notice my streaky hair. A pair of sexy new heels. Five stubborn pounds lost.

And for some reason, I just can’t return that call. As usual, I have to over think everything and turn it into much more than a phone call. It’s not a fear of the unknown; it’s a fear that I’ll be swallowed up by the other country club wives and end up hanging around the pool, plastered on pills and regretting too many things. The little wifey. Having affairs with stable boys and spouting off in front of the other wives at weekly barbecues. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Damn. What’s wrong with me, anyway?

Monday, January 25, 2010


Everything happens for a reason. I believe this with my whole heart.

I tried explaining this to Helga, the woman who cuts my hair. She wasn’t buying it. “We spent all of this money so our son could be an engineer. And what does he do? He married a stripper! After we went into debt so he could become an engineer!”

When I relayed THAT conversation to my friend Bob, he had a slightly different take: “Well, that’s why we become engineers, Lisa. So we can one day marry strippers.” Ah, yes. A “higher degree” of love. Cause and effect.

I don’t take new situations lightly. If something happens and it’s unexpected, I wonder about it for days. And a potentially random conversation often has a deeper meaning for me, a fact that never ceases to amaze my friends. It drives them crazy. Hours after hearing an inconsequential remark, I’ll still be asking questions.

Why did you say it? What did you mean by that? Do you really think that’s true?

And I have other questions, too. Why at this time in my life did I have to learn this? Find that person? What’s the reason for everything that’s happening to me?

And just what am I supposed to do with all of this newfound knowledge? Sit on my ass and do absolutely nothing? Or take some as yet undiscovered action to change my life’s direction? Or is something happening not for my benefit, but to help shape someone else’s destiny?

Am I their reason?

Recently I wrote about a near-miss car accident. And I’ve had a number of near-misses in my life. I thought my cards would be played a long time ago. But I’m still here. And I know there’s a reason why.

I understand and acknowledge when things are going wrong for me. I’m the first one to admit when I’m unhappy, and ready for a change. But I often have to wonder why things have to end up the way they do. Why things can’t just be easy.

Uncomplicated. Why other people seem to accept their fates willingly and without argument. They all seem happy. Content. Are things really ever that easy? Or are they as fraught with apprehension as I always seem to be? Are they just better at hiding their feelings? Living a lie?

If you broke into their homes, what would you find? Financial debts? Emotional debts? A life left unpaid?

And what do you do inside of a home, anyway?

I’ve always felt things strongly. Been sensitive to what’s happening to people around me. And like I always tell my friends, my emotions are right on top of my skin. If things happen for a reason, what is that reason? And when am I going to finally see the light? Make smart decisions? Make wrong decisions that turn out right?

Maybe I’ll never know if I’m doing the right thing. In the long run, it’s just about being happy, and doing what’s right for me. Trying to be healthy. Practical. And smart.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. I have to.

Friday, January 15, 2010

hello, I must be going

For whatever reason, the Shell gas station in Lake Oswego’s 1st Addition is often closed at odd times. Well, odd compared to when a reasonable person might expect them to be open. Thankfully, there’s another gas station on the way to West Linn, near *Curry in a Hurry.

I stopped by the other day on the way to the coast for a fill-up. It was quiet, so I started chatting with the attendant, a very nice looking man with a charming personality.

I explained how I’d recently been pulled over and received a lecture instead of a citation (“No really,” I told the flabbergasted officer, “I’ll take the ticket.”). He joined the chorus of Every Man I Have Ever Known in detailing his disgust at the fact that women “never” get speeding tickets. He also cautioned me about driving carefully over the pass and insisted that I drive over the coastal range during daylight hours only.

Everything was going swell until I asked him about his studies:

“So you’re student? Where do you go?”

He mumbled something that didn’t sound like Portland State, OHSU or any of the other universities that I’m familiar with. My confusion must have been evident, because he quickly explained:

“It’s the high school. Right up the road here.”

“Can I get my change?”

*Cheryl: “Curry in a Hurry is really very slow. So if you want Curry in a Hurry, go somewhere else.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

things you should never say on a blog

We celebrated the third anniversary of the rose city journal blog last month, which is something of a milestone. The elusive Panther, also known as Vin, also known to Blogger users as the Lord King God of all Blogger Help issues, told me once that he liked the “organic” nature of this blog. Because it wasn’t started to make money. It was started to reveal more about the area of the country where I was living. To talk tourism, and to share information about music, festivals and other events. However.

A couple of what another blogger termed “highly personal” blogs and a raft of comments, and I found my niche: a mix of local happenings, yeah, but also some “other” stuff mixed in. Because apparently, I just don’t have the discipline to talk only of things related to the region. It’s cool. I’m happy with the blog as a whole and rather surprised that I have so many posts now.

Over the years, I have sometimes met people who read the blog, which always makes me stop and wonder: What exactly have you read on the blog? Are you, right now, remembering something that I wrote? Something really embarrassing? Or just slightly quirky?

And I’ve learned a few things over the past three years. Like some things that you should never say in a blog:

“I like giving gifts.”

“I still have your t-shirt.”

“I fall in love a lot.”

I’ve had some interesting input from the readers, too. This, as it turns out, is really the best part of the blog- hearing from you.

Most surprising comment from a reader: “I read posts from your blog to my seminary students.” We can only assume that they filter for content.

Funniest comment from a reader: “I hate it when people start blogs and then just write about whatever they want.” Move along, son; there’s nothing for you here.

Most “ouch, ya got me” comment from a (long-time) reader. “I don’t know if I would have posted that about your ex-friend. Maybe you should just talk to her, instead.” - A comment that actually resulted in my deleting a blog post, something I’ve only done three times in three years. Each time, I worried that something I wrote might offend someone (the wrong someone), so I removed the post in question. Otherwise, no regrets.

Moving into a New Year, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your readership. You keep me on the straight and narrow.

Well, you keep me on the narrow.

Best Wishes for the New Year, dear readers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

the self-rule

It's always been really important for me to maintain my independence. Even when (especially when), I am in a relationship. That means a lot of different things but I can sort of sum it up by explaining, no big jewelry for gifts, vacations are fine as long as I pay my own airfare (or otherwise kick in for the tab) and of course, keeping a separate residence.

I always worried, if I didn’t stick to all of these strongholds of independence, these self-imposed rules, that I would lose something. That I might somehow forget myself. I also know that giving up my independence will ultimately result in some sort of letdown. Nothing lasts forever.

And if I give you everything I have, where will I be when you’re gone?

I have never needed someone to prop me up. Never dated just for the sake of dating. In fact, I resent that whole idea and have always eschewed it in favor of being alone. Sometimes I am in a relationship. Sometimes I am not. Either way, I’m happy.

I’ve always been fine on my own.

But sometimes, I think that idea, of maintaining my independence, might be to my detriment. I could have compromised more. Taken more chances on love. Maybe I should have set my pride aside and allowed myself to just accept being part of a couple. Maybe then, things might have worked out differently.