6

Home Again

Today would have been my mother’s 94th birthday.  As some of you long time readers will remember, she passed away suddenly last December a few days before Christmas.

Her final wish was for her ashes to be returned to California and scattered at sea like my father’s were fifteen years ago.

She and my dad lived in a little 1920s house two blocks up a hill from Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach for about 25 years, the happiest years of their lives.

Mom spent the last fourteen years here in Texas near her family.

Here is a photo my son took from his paddleboard about a half mile out, looking back at the beach at the end of my folks’ street.  He told me it was a calm, beautiful morning when he said a few words in remembrance of Granny (Mom) and then scattered her ashes in the sea, reuniting her with my dad once again.

Happy birthday, Mom.  Welcome home.

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5

What I Did On My Summer Vacation…

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I’m the fourth one back—with the upraised arms and the big mouth.  Grandkids are in front of me and in back.  My son-in-law is bringing up the rear.

I had a wonderful six days in So. California with my son and his family and my daughter and her family from here in Texas.  We did a 12 hour marathon at Disneyland and I could have stayed longer but we had to get up early the next day to be at the airport by 8:30 a.m.  The thought crossed my mind to hide out somewhere in the park and live off of what I could scrounge from the trash receptacles, but unfortunately they keep the place so clean I’d probably starve to death.  I could ride the Indiana Jones ride, Splash Mountain and the Matterhorn bobsleds all day.  Space Mountain makes me nauseous.  And I plugged my ears when we had to walk by It’s a Small World to keep that brain worm of a song from working its devious mojo on me.

For those of you who’re waiting patiently for my book—it should be up on Amazon sometime this week.  Finally got that sucker finalized and submitted.  I’m currently working on the Kindle version, which I know nothing about but am muddling my way through anyway.  Stay tuned…

37

Ashes to Ashes…Dust to Calif.

I picked up my mother’s cremated remains at the funeral home yesterday.  Technically, they’re called “cremains” by the funeral home folks.  An odd sounding word, at least to me.  A euphemistic way of stating the facts.

You’re not exactly saying “cremated,” but you’re not saying “remains” either.

It’s like, if we combine the two by saying them reallyfast, we can fool ourselves into thinking what we have in that little cardboard box is neither one.

The funeral home director brought the box out from another room and placed it on the table in front of me.  The gold ring my mother was wearing when she died was taped to the top of the box.  The director wanted me to be aware of that. When we spoke over the phone earlier, he’d made a point of telling me that they’d retrieved it from her when she arrived.

I guess they want to avoid any possible accusations by the family of their not returning valuables.  We do live in a litigious age, so you can’t fault them for that.

The director and his assistant, an older gentleman, were both very nice and accommodating.  Since my mother had pre-paid for her cremation with The Neptune Society, all I owed was $37 for the copies of her death certificate.

When you hear all the horrific tales about people spending huge sums of money on funeral arrangements, it feels a little weird writing a check for only $37.  No bronze casket with satin lining, gold handles or a waterproof concrete vault.

Just a cardboard box with her name on it and a gold ring taped to the top.

Since my mother wanted to be returned to California, we shipped her off to my son today.  He, along with his two cousins (all surfers or paddleboarders), will oversee the scattering of her ashes in the ocean off the beach at the end of the street where she lived with my Dad for 25 years.

Who needs bronze caskets, satin linings and all the rest of it when you’ve got the whole Pacific Ocean?

Have a good trip home, Mom.

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26

The Mother Who Didn’t Cry “Wolf!”

Sometimes my Mother can be a four-foot-eleven bundle of paradoxes.  Having come of age in the Depression Era, often she views things as either black or white, with very few shades of gray. 

If I had a dollar for every time she told me that “a family should be able to live on just the husband’s salary,” I might have been able to do just that.  But then I would have missed out on the joys of cleaning other people’s teeth for a living. 

Hmm….I’ll get back to you on that one.

Despite all of her firm traditional values, she (and my Dad) could be surprisingly open-minded at times.  For twenty-five years, until my Dad died, they lived in Laguna Beach, California.  (They weren’t wealthy, just lucky to have gotten a home there before it became the place to be for folks with tons of dough.) 

Laguna had always been an artist colony and was increasingly becoming a mecca for the gay community—a San Francisco South, in other words. 

So for people who believed in things being done the way they were supposed to be done, my folks were remarkably accepting of all that. 

In fact, my Mother, a frustrated interior designer wannabe, embraced the male “ho-mo-sex-u-als,” as she called them–rarely using the appellation “gay”–with fervor because they were living her dream.  They had the best homes and gardens; when they bought a fixer-upper, you could be sure it would turn out spectacularly. 

(Not so much the lesbian couple across the street—they were more into motorcycles.  As my Mother often says:  “Whatever.”)

With my Mother, you never know who’s going to turn up–will it be the Lifestyle Critic or the Libertarian?  Live as I say–or live and let live? 

That’s what makes taking her to doctor appointments such an adventure.  I never know if she’s formulating some criticism in her mind which she’s suddenly going to articulate out loud–often in the middle of a crowded waiting room. 

It’s like when my kids were toddlers and they would ask in a loud voice “Mommy, why is that woman so fat?” within earshot of what usually turned out to be a very pregnant lady and a store full of bemused shoppers. 

Only with my Mother, you can’t stick a cookie in her mouth to shut her up.  Well…not very easily or inconspicuously, anyway.

So it was with some trepidation that I sat in the crowded (is there any other kind?) waiting room of the eye doctor with my Mother yesterday. 

She, along with half the population of our town, was waiting for her pupils to dilate so the doctor could finish her exam.  Patients would disappear into the dark recesses of the office and come back out to the waiting room to quietly sit and dilate.  We were there for two hours before the process was completed.    

She’d been doing pretty well, given the wait.  There was no repeat of the time she stuck her tongue out at me at her regular doctor’s office while the nurse was taking her blood pressure. 

That was brought about by the argument we’d had earlier because she’d neglected to take her blood pressure medicine before the visit. 

I knew the reading wouldn’t accurately reflect what her pressure normally is, and I was afraid the doctor would change her medication.  The last thing we needed was her passing out at home because her BP was too low. 

So, of course, her BP reading was higher than normal.  But she made up for any scolding the nurse gave her by telling her we’d just had an argument, so it really wasn’t her fault.  Big smile aimed in my direction. 

Which left me sitting there feeling like I had the words “Elder Abuser” written across my forehead in blinking neon.

But anyway, this visit was going quite well. 

Then a large elderly man in a wheel chair was brought into the room by a young woman who must have been his granddaughter.  They stopped directly across from us and the woman sat down in a chair next to him.

Now, unlike my Mother, I try not to scrutinize people too closely in situations like this.  First of all, I don’t care that much.  Second, it’s none of my business. 

But with this young woman, it was hard not to notice her.  She was kind of plump, with long brown hair.  She was wearing jeans and a stretchy sleeveless tank top, which exposed her arms and shoulders.  When she bent over, there was an abundance of cleavage on display. 

But the most noticeable thing about her was her tattoos.

Tattoos on women have certainly become commonplace nowadays.  It’s not unusual to see them prominently displayed on just about any visible body part. 

This gal was no exception.  I tried not to spend too much time observing her, but I couldn’t help but notice that, among the several tattoos I could see, there was a rather large head of a wolf on her upper left arm near her shoulder. 

I remember thinking to myself “Why would a girl choose that?” 

But then, again, as my Mother says:  “Whatever.”  

The Tattooed Lady spent some time texting on her phone, but every once in awhile she would smile and talk to her grandfather and pat him on the arm in a reassuring way.  He seemed to appreciate her company and would smile warmly back at her.

Finally, we were released from our ophthalmological purgatory and I escorted my Mother out to the parking lot.  After we got into the car, she turned to me and asked “Did you see that girl with all the tattoos?” 

Thinking to myself “Here we go—she’s going to blast away at how the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket,” I replied that, yes, I did notice her but I try not to stare at people.

To my surprise she said “I thought it was wonderful the way she patted that man on his arm.  That was really sweet.  It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover.” 

And sometimes the mother whom you feared would be wolf-like in her criticism, instead turns out to be–a little lamb.

0

S. F. Paintout #2

Here’s my second entry into this month’s Virtual Paintout for February.  I thought I’d better get on the stick because the month is fast disappearing.

This one I call “The Kibitzer” because it looks like the elephant is reading over the woman’s shoulder. 

I found this scene at 704 Bridgeway in Sausalito, across the Bay from San Francisco.  I went to Sausalito in (what seems like a millennia ago now!) the late 70’s with my husband not too long before we were married.  He had grown up in S.F. and I had only visited it briefly, so this was a great introduction to the area.  We took a ferry over to Sausalito and enjoyed walking around the town and peering into the shops.  A very pretty locale.

0

Blast from the Past

I watched the Rose Parade this morning on t.v. in high definition for the first time and was really blown away by the experience.  Amazing detail! 

Even better, the city in So. California where I grew up, Downey, won the Founders Trophy for best float created entirely by community effort. 

Here’s the artist rendering of that float:

When I was a senior in high school, back in the Stone Age of 1965, my friend, Penny, was chosen as a princess for the Miss Downey Court and was lucky enough to ride on the Rose Parade float for that year. 

Lyndon Johnson was President at the time and had amused (and appalled) folks when he used to demonstrate how he pulled the ears of his beagle dogs— lifting their front paws off the ground.  (He said they liked it….hmmm.) 

So the float for ’65 was, naturally, a beagle with a huge cowboy hat.  The dog’s eyes were all googly from having its ears yanked and the title of the float was “Ouch!” 

I found a faded photo of it on the Downey Rose Float Association website:

Downey, by the way,  is well-known for having the oldest McDonald’s restaurant in the country. The 1953 McDonald’s restaurant at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. (at Florence Ave.) was the third franchised McDonald’s built and is the oldest surviving McDonald’s. It was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 1994 list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. It was one of the first restaurants franchised by Dick and Mac McDonald, prior to the involvement of Ray Kroc in the company, and it still has the original “Golden arches” and a 60-foot animated neon “Speedee” sign.

With low sales, damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the lack of a drive-up window and indoor seating, the restaurant was closed. However with both the public and preservationists demanding the restaurant be saved, McDonald’s spent two years restoring the restaurant and reopened it. Customers today can visit the original restaurant and an adjoining gift shop and museum.

I had many a meal from that place when I was a young’un!  The funny thing is, when my husband and I take our grandkids to the McDonald’s here in Texas, there are photos of this one in Downey on the wall next to our favorite booth!  Looking at them always gives me a “Twilight Zone” feeling.  Here I am, in a McDonald’s in central Texas with my grandkids, looking at photos on the wall that just happen to be of the McDonald’s I used to frequent in California in the ’50s and ’60s. 

I think it would make Rod Serling proud…

8

Well, Tan My Hide!

When I was a kid in the 50’s, the predominant suntan lotion was Sea & Ski.  I can still smell it yet.  The olfactory memory it produces is one of days spent on the beach at Balboa Island in California, where my Mother’s friend, Pat, had a beach house.  It belonged to Pat’s parents but she had the great good fortune to be able to occupy it for a glorious couple of months every summer.  My Mother and I were lucky enough to be asked every year to spend a week there with Pat and her two kids. 

The scent of Sea & Ski is forever intermingled with the aroma of wet bathing suits and the slightly fishy smell of the giant jar of sandy peanut butter that produced our lunch each day.

sea and ski

Sunscreen was non-existent in those days.  Yeah sure, there was zinc-oxide, that white goopy stuff only lifeguards and albinos wore to keep from burning to a crisp like a piece of bacon.  The rest of us slathered on the Sea & Ski to get that deep tan that said you’d spent your summer at the beach, not indoors watching cartoons all day.

I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone in that era to be concerned with sun damage.  Tanning was way down the list of things to even consider as dangerous.  I mean, everyone smoked, ate food loaded with real butter, and seat belts weren’t even on the radar yet, so it would be a long wait before people got around to investigating the adverse effects of lying out in the sun. 

It was just a given that every summer you’d manage to get sunburned at some point.  Having peeling epidermal layers, much like a lizard shedding its skin, was normal.  Plus, it gave us something to do during the evening when we came back to the beach house.  There was always a contest to see who could peel the largest patch of skin in one continuous piece off their body.

If Sea & Ski was the “gateway drug” of childhood, then baby oil and cocoa butter were the hard stuff of the teen years.  The beach was always littered with glistening, well-oiled bodies and the chocolaty scent of cocoa butter wafted in the breeze.  Some daring souls mixed iodine in with the baby oil to create an early version of self-tanning.  I never resorted to that, preferring instead the “pure” tan I got from Old Sol.

Much later, after I was married, I used to take my kids to a special beach that had a calm lagoon area where they could paddle around in the water and I didn’t have to worry about huge waves dragging them out to sea.  It was a great place for awhile, until I started noticing one of the “regulars” who always seemed to be there every time we went. 

She was an older woman (no telling what her age was though) and now I know she was anorexic, although I hadn’t heard that term yet.  Her hipbones stuck out like those on an old cow, and I don’t think there was an ounce of fat on her.  She must have thought she was really sexy because she always wore a teeny bikini, but the effect was not a pleasant one.  The real kicker, though, was her tan.  She was so tanned and so skinny, she looked like a skeleton with really bad Naugahyde stretched over it.  It was painful on so many levels to watch her walk down the beach.

Many years later, when I moved to Texas from California, I had to get a new doctor.  On my first visit, when she appraised  my naked body, I thought she’d make some remark about my great tan.  Instead, she tsk-tsked and said “You have a lot of sun damage.”  Swell.  In California I was the norm.  Here, I was a freak.  The ophthalmologist I was working for told me one day “Your skin is getting awfully brown.”  I’d scarcely been out in the sun.  It seems I’m cursed with the ability to tan easily.  Blame it on those Mediterranean ancestors way back on my family tree.

A few years ago I found out I had a very early melanoma on my left arm.  My physician removed the offending spot.  I was referred to a dermatologist, who then took out a big chunk of surrounding tissue.  (My son-in-law said it looked like I’d been attacked with a melon baller.)  I wear sunscreen now (the old “close the barn door after the horses are gone” thing) but I can’t stay out of the sun.  We have a pool, which I love, and it’s pretty hard to swim without exposing some of me to the sun. 

I could always wear a “burquini,” I guess.  That’s one of those wetsuit get-ups for Islamic women who want to swim but have to be covered head to foot, kind of like the girls in the Duggar family.  It’s too late for me, so I guess I could be a cautionary tale for others. 

And, today I actually found a photo of a woman who looks a lot like the one I had to watch stroll the beach years ago. 

My gal didn’t wear a thong, though.  Thank you, Lord.

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