My father remembered that night well. In the darkness of our tent, one by one he heard sniffles from the surrounding sleeping bags. Marion Voxland was the parish worker for Hope Lutheran, my father’s church. She took care of our pets while we were in Iowa. We had a Pekinese dog, Lady, and a cat, Princess, who recently had kittens. Abner was my kitten.
These were our first pets because my parents, having grown up on Iowa farms, viewed cats and dogs as animals that belonged outside. Veterinary expenses for a pet were an unnecessary expense. Spaying and neutering wasn’t a thing yet, so canines and felines (like Princess) were constantly over-populating. My parents weren’t cruel to cats or dogs. They just didn’t consider them people.
My sisters and I felt differently, and still do. Our pets are part of the family. Science might say different, but I attribute human thoughts and feelings to them. Jealousy, joy, disdain, outrage. I see these emotions and more in my pets.
Over the years, my mother became a co-conspirator with my sisters and my efforts to welcome more animals into the house. Occasionally, she’d even drive us to the pound so we could visit them. My father couldn’t help getting attached to our pets, once he got to know them – which meant we all cried when one of them crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
It’s weird to read an entry like this when photographs of the same day tell a different story. Several explanations spring to mind.
I’m a born curmudgeon and complainer.
I suffered a hormonal imbalance.
It takes me a while to acclimate to new places.
I lost at bridge, which always puts me in a terrible mood.
No matter where I find myself, I want to be somewhere else.
All of the above.
In 1989, the answer was “all of the above.” In the ensuing decades, I’d like to think I’ve matured to the extent that I no longer yearn to be someplace else. On the contrary, I’m grateful to be exactly where I am right now.
Why did it take me so long to realize the benefits of living here and now, something most people don’t need to “learn” at all? I believe I was born this way. If you know anything about the enneagram, I identify as a #4 – people prone to melancholy nostalgia over a lost, idealized past. Not exactly the life of any party (that might be a #7).
You can’t get over being a #4 (or any other number) – we are all who we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t be a better version of ourselves.
In this case, believe the pictures – not my words.
My father founded the parish in Elgin. We lived in the parsonage, flanked by a huge asparagus field, within easy walking distance of the church. My sister Joyce was born there.
Sometimes, my father tape recorded our dinner conversations, to mine them for potential sermon illustrations. Some of those reel-to-reel tapes survived half a century. On one, I insist I want a dog because the boy next door, PF, has a dog. My dad asks me what color of dog I want. “Blue” I reply because I’m 4 years old. Janet requested a pink dog, but she was only two.
On the tapes, Janet, my dad, and I erupt in applause every time my mother lays food on the table. My father wanted to show appreciation – and teach us to do the same – for even mundane tasks like food preparation. Looking back, it was more about appreciating my mother, something he showed in so many ways, it leaves me breathless. Suffice to say, although I believe my husband and children love me, I’ve never received a standing ovation for dinner.
Children of parents deeply in love all their lives are lucky indeed. My parents treated each other with respect and kindness, no matter the circumstances. Their love wasn’t wild and dramatic, like what I saw in the movies. It was deeper and more profound. It was real. It went the distance. My sisters and I were blessed enough to bear witness.
Many people mistakenly believe they had the best dad or mom in the world. I’m one of three girls who did. My father was tall, dark, and handsome, charismatic, kind, and wise. My mother was gentle and beautiful, understanding, and insightful. They found each other and held on for 66 years of marriage. I’m sad but not surprised my mother died within a year of my father. They belong together, forever.
It’s not easy to reach Miles Copeland’s castle in France, where the Rocaberti Writer’s Retreat is held. First, you have to fly to Paris. Upon landing, you race to the train station, and catch the one that stops at the Angouleme Station.
There, you board a private coach that winds up narrow mountain roads to an isolated 14th century castle. On a journey like this, fluent French is a plus. I speak English and pigeon-Swedish. Every mile of the way, I worried. What if the website pictures lied, and all that awaited me was s a cheesy tourist trap? The photos did not lie.
When we rounded the corner and the castle came into view, it took my breath away.
From there, it only got better. Every step I took, every inch of every alcove or hallway, was a feast for the eyes and soul. I could almost inhale history. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that I can’t wait to repeat.
The brilliant Claire Elizabeth Terry and Gillian Pollock combined their talents to bring this dream to life. In addition to managing logistics, Gillian gave a hilarious pitch for her own script. Claire previewed an early cut of her soon-to-be-award winning short film “Thirty Minutes.” Claire’s intuition paired me with Martin Olson (Phineas and Ferb) for a mentor. He was passionate, insightful, inspiring, and hilarious. (Make him tell you his Metallica story).
Rocaberti is an intimate, elegant dinner party as opposed to an extravagant banquet. Only 18 – 20 writers attend a retreat. Everybody who’ s there gets to know all the mentors. Diane Drake and Jen Grisanti wore great clothes (casual/classy) and exuded cool sophistication, They were both of those things, but authentic and warm as well. By the time dessert was served, I felt like we were lifelong friends. How often does that happen? Never – to me, anyway – not until Rocaberti.
It wasn’t perfect. The internet sucked, a relatively small price to pay to forge lifelong friendships and resurrect my love of writing. I returned for another retreat in October, this time with my sisters. It was every bit as wonderful.
I expected to be back at Roberti right now, this time to serve as a floating mentor. Sadly, Covid upended those plans. I look forward to rescheduling; I can’t wait to see it on my calendar again.
My sisters and I loved these bi-annual trips to Iowa to see our relatives – we loved everything about it, except the. heat, humidity and mosquitos. We spent most of our time in the coolest part of everyone’s house – always, the basement. Even there, you could break a sweat lying still and reading in bed. In the sixties, everybody had fans but nobody had air-conditioning.
My grandfather wasn’t a man to disagree with. My sister Joyce didn’t like candy corn. On one of our Iowa visits, I noticed her eating it. “I thought you didn’t like candy corn,” I said. “If Grandpa says you like candy corn, you like candy corn,” she replied.
Grandpa said we’d like fishing, so there we were – not liking it, which he didn’t like. He didn’t like our queasiness about worms or how we squealed at the sight of a hooked fish flopping around the bottom of the boat. We might have been born Midwesterners, but by 1966 all three of us were California city girls, through and through.
That was a lie, of course, at least as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t possibly co-exist with four other people (three of whom I didn’t live with) and not have one of them get on my nerves – but it’s entirely possible the problem is mine (too prickly, petty, over-sensitive to personal slights, etc.)
I opted to spend several days alone in the condo while the other four explored the island – partly because I had a writing assignment due, partly because I craved solitude. Some people can’t stand to be alone; I can’t stand to be with people for extended periods. Unless I get a requisite amount of solitude, I turn testy and obnoxious – given that I get on my own nerves, it’s safe to assume I get on everyone else’s nerves too.
That said, this was one of our last “young, unencumbered” vacations. J had just turned thirty and we had one child, not three; the three of them were single but wouldn’t stay that way for long. If they did, indeed, get on my nerves, I don’t remember why; only that we had a great time.
My family camped a lot – a lot – on our bi-annual drives from California to Iowa and back. My sisters and I were jubilant on the rare occasions we stayed at a motel, especially when they had a swimming pool – at the time, an almost unimaginable luxury.
We had the ritual down. Daddy and Momie pitched the tent and organized the campsite. Janet, Joyce and I ran wild through the campsite, usually role-playing games like Lewis and Clark or Annie Oakley.
Of the myriad national parks we camped in, Craters of the Moon is most vivid in my memory which begs the question – does it take a disaster (okay, maybe not a disaster – but serious pain for my previously unscarred 13-year-old self) to make something memorable?
This was the only occasion on which we broke camp before we slipped into our sleeping bags and raced back in the direction from whence we came. Twenty-two dollars seemed like an enormous sum. I can still remember the dusk light. I still have a scar on my left knee.
For a long time, my Canadian TWIST AND SHOUT LP was my favorite album – I still have it, vinyl of course. Reading this entry again, it’s telling that as quickly as I acquired this treasure, I feared its loss – “I just hope it doesn’t get broken or stolen on the way home.”
Surely, I’m not the only person for whom the joy of acquisition coexists with fear of forfeiture. Looking back, many – if not most – of my relationships traced a similar trajectory. No sooner did I fall for someone than I obsessed about our inevitable break-up. Who would lower the axe? When? Nothing lasts forever.
I maintain my sense of impending doom originated with the birth of my beloved sister Janet, who usurped my place as center of my parents’ universe. It proved that when I least expected it, the people I loved and trusted most, might – for no apparent reason – replace me with a newer model. (For further evidence of this theory, see photo galleries Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby and And then there were three.)
In those days, John was such a workaholic that on the rare occasions we did go somewhere for a vacation, his first order of business was to get sick – what I refer to here as the Maui Syndrome. On this particular trip, there was an alternate explanation. On his thirtieth birthday – which occurred a few days prior – John resolved to quit smoking. He did so successfully, cold turkey, with the aid of copious quantities of alcohol. (Giving that up would come three and a half years later.)
I’m embarrassed to confess I continued to smoke for a few more years, which surely must have been torture for John – especially when enclosed in a car. Mea culpa. I should’ve signed up for Smokenders sooner. In 1982, you could still smoke without being a complete pariah but that would change shortly
This was one of our final young-and-free vacations. The friends we travelled with were all unattached as was Mitch. Malcolm and Maya were married but no children yet. J and I left our five-year-old in San Diego with his grandparents (which he loved).
The summer after this I’d give birth to our daughter and the summer after that we’d have our second son. Our single friends, almost en masse, would marry and have children of their own. A new cycle of family-oriented (read child-oriented) vacations would commence. I don’t mean to sound critical – those family vacations hold some of the sweetest memories of my life.
It would be years – eighteen or twenty, really, around the time the kids are all off to college – before we’d vacation with adult friends but now it’s got an entirely different quality than those young-and-free days in 1982. We don’t run up and down mountains anymore (truth be told, I never did) and concessions must be made to health. Bathroom stop are more frequent (almost like traveling with a toddler!) and we no longer talk, smoke and drink until 4 AM about our lives because we all tire more easily. What will the next phase be like? All of these eras have their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all.
When I was young and dumb, I did more than my share of dangerous things but this experience was the only time I feared for my life. In retrospect, maybe John was just a lonely guy who posed no threat but I’d never found myself powerless in the passenger seat with a stranger before. Luckily, my threat about a “hand in my knife” did the trick. I still don’t know if I would’ve used it.
At nineteen, I thought I’d live forever. Sure, the newspapers were full of dreadful things happening to people my age but I didn’t know them personally and the possibility of death – or tragedy – touching me or my friends seemed remote.
I no longer believe in my own immortality – quite the contrary. Having lost my parents as well as some close friends, I am well aware of the fragility of life and the brevity of our time on this planet. While Doomsday doesn’t lurk around every corner, I no longer take it for granted that I and the people I love have all the time in the world.
This knowledge ought to motivate me not to waste another minute – to stop procrastinating and focus on what’s truly important but I’m a slow learner. While I no longer take foolish chances like I once did, I still waste time like I’ve got an unlimited supply – and that needs to change.