Cheryl Crooks is a professional photographer in Bellingham, Wa. specializing in family photography, senior photos, business portraits and pet photography. A former journalist with TIME Magazine, Cheryl now creates heirloom-quality portraits for her clients. Her blog 'Photo Prose' showcases her personal as well as professional images along with her lively writing about travel, her family, art and whatever strikes her fancy.
Mother-in-Law Day (yes, there is such a thing) doesn’t come until October 25 this year but I’m not waiting until then to tell you about my own mother-in-law. On this Mother’s Day so many are separated from their mothers due to the COVID-19 pandemic or can not be with their children because they are caring for the critically ill in hospitals and nursing homes across the world. My own mother passed away nearly eight years ago (still hard to believe) and my mother-in-law died only within a year of my family moving to Bellingham, nearly 24 years ago. That too is hard to believe some times.
I’ve been thinking about my mother-in-law a lot recently since the COVID-19 crises brought to the forefront the important contribution, and seldom recognized, work and sacrifice, that healthcare professionals, nurses in particular make to our society. I have long had the utmost respect for nurses.
As a journalist who covered medicine for part of my career for TIME and others, nurses were some of my most trusted, reliable and valuable sources when reporting on medical events or issues. I developed a relationship with many to whom I could turn when I needed a recommendation, not only for personal medical care, but for experts to quote, insider info and verifications on stories.
I suspect this was due, in part, to Elaine, my mother-in-law, who was a career nurse. Elaine began her nursing career in the most dramatic way, graduating from nursing school at Kansas State University and enlisting immediately in the Women’s Army Corps as a nurse. Not long after, she was shipped overseas (on the very same ship as my Dad, see my post: Saluting a Veteran…) to serve in a field hospital for the Fifth Army during World War II.
Imagine what it was for a young woman still in her early 20s, fresh out of nursing school and never out of Kansas (as far as I know) to be suddenly thrown into a situation caring for and attending severely wounded and dying soldiers, most of them no older than herself. I suspect that many of the nurses on the front lines in our hospitals today, caring for COVID patients, are facing some of the same challenges, stresses and strains.
We have photographs that Elaine took during her service overseas, but with the exception of one, none were taken of the hospitals or her patients. Instead, she focused on her nursing friends, the local children and the places where she was stationed. These were the visual memories she brought home with her after the War ended. I am sure the mental memories stuck with her until her passing nearly 50 years later. The only time I ever heard her talk about her wartime memories, was on a few occasions when she and my father sat down together. And even then, their conversations were tinted with the happier times of those life-changing years. I think about that because I am sure that all of the nurses tending today’s COVID patients, will carry with them the faces and cases of their patients for long time after the virus subsides and many, I am sure, will suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome.
That’s why, last Wednesday, May 6, National Nurses Day, was such a significant day this year and why, when International Nurses Day comes up this week on May 12, people need to remember these incredibly dedicated people and honor them.
Elaine spent her entire life as a caregiver, returning after the War to a career as a nurse in the Veteran’s Administration hospitals in Phoenix and Prescott, Az., as a single-mother who worked the graveyard shifts so she could be home in the early a.m. to send her only son off to school and see him again after and early evening before heading off for her job, as a daughter who took in and cared for her own mother in her last years, and finally as a grandmother who looked after my own three young sons on days when I worked.
I consider myself fortunate to have had her in my life, regret that she didn’t live longer to see my own sons grow up and to share their triumphs and tribulations along with us. I have no doubt, had she lived long enough (she would have been 100 this year) she would have been right beside all those dedicated nurses laboring daily at great risk to themselves, in the hospitals now, if only in spirit.
COVID-19 claimed another cultural figure this past week when Ronald Lewis of New Orleans died. Lewis was respected locally in the city as a member of the legendary Mardi Gras Indians and for his efforts to preserve and pass on the traditions and history of its culture. The Mardi Gras Indians are by far one of the most colorful ‘krewes’ of Mardi Gras, not only in its costumes but in its heritage.
Their traditions date back to the 1800s when Native American tribes living in the area helped to shield and protect runaway slaves. The Mardi Gras Indians honor the friendship and bonds that were formed during that time in modern day Mardi Gras parades. Today, there are more than 40 Mardi Gras Indian tribes that includes the Wild Magnolias, the Yellow Pocahontas and the Choctaw Hunters of which Lewis was once Council Chief.
I’ve never had the chance to see the Indians parade, as their parades usually occur after my annual visit to New Orleans during the Carnival season. But a couple years ago, I was lucky enough to catch members of one of the tribes perform one afternoon at the little outdoor stage in a section of he French Quarter down by the Mississippi River in what is known as Dutch Alley. The area is filled with tourists who wander in the Artist Co-op, stroll through the Mask Market (see blog post Reveling and Revealing at the Mardi Gras Mask Market, Feb. 2016. ) held here the weekend before the big Mardi Gras parades or visit the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park’s Visitor Center where you hear a jazz session, read about the history of the genre and pick up a recording or two of some of the local musicians. The Visitor Center is a stop that I recommend everyone make when they are in the city.
The tribal members performing the day I saw them wore their beautiful feathered and beaded costumes. I had seen many lustrous prints made by photographer Christopher Porche West of Indian members in their costumes displayed on the walls of the Snug Harbor jazz club. But never had I seen one in person until this one day.
Each tribal member creates and sews their own costume or ‘suit’ as they are known. The beading is intricate and detailed and takes hundreds of painstaking hours to finish. The colors are vibrant and shine in the New Orleans sunlight. The feathers are carefully placed one by one and when worn sweep with the wearer’s motions. On the costumes are ‘design patches’ that are first sketched on a canvas before decorated with beads and sequins. Each patch tells a story and matches the overall design and color of the costume. These costumes truly are artistic creations and can cost thousands of dollars in materials. Sadly, the suits are worn for only one season, then are broken down and reassembled into a new costume for the next year.
Lewis recognized the importance and value of this tradition and the mastery of the skills needed to create each of these suits. He created in his backyard The House of Dance and Feathers to preserve and educate others about the culture surrounding these unique organizations. His collection of masks, suits, figures, and other related artifacts have been on display there since 2003. It has been open to the public by appointment but, as the website notes: “We’re pretty flexible and we’d love to see you down in the Lower Ninth Ward. Just give us a call and we’ll make an arrangement for you to come and visit.”
Whether or not Lewis’ family will continue to maintain The House of Dance and Feathers is not certain. If they do, I plan to pay a visit next time I’m in town. I only wish that I had known about it while Lewis was still living and would be there to share the stories he told. One thing that is certain is Lewis’ contribution and efforts to bring attention to the extraordinary culture of the Mardi Gras Indians will not be forgotten just as the African American descendants of those runaway slaves have not forgotten the role Native Americans played in sheltering their ancestors two hundred years ago.
The music world lost one of the jazz greats this past week when pianist Ellis Marsalis died in New Orleans at 85 as the result of complications from COVID-19. Marsalis was no less than a giant in the jazz world, having taught and mentored thousands of young musicians privately and through the University of New Orleans’ jazz program, a program he founded. He fathered four musician sons, Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason, who are themselves outstanding and well-known jazz players.
Every Friday night for years, Marsalis sat down at the baby grand on stage at Snug Harbor, the legendary jazz club on Frenchman Street in New Orleans to play for the audiences who gathered at 8 and 10 p.m. to hear him. I was lucky enough to be among them a couple of times. Marsalis was not showy at the keyboard. The times I heard him play his styling was more like that of Duke Ellington, classy, elegant and sophisticated. “Mr. Marsalis’s interpretations were impressive in their economy and steadiness,” New York Times critic Stephen Holden wrote. “Sticking mainly to the middle register of the keyboard, the pianist offered richly harmonized arrangements in which fancy keyboard work was kept to a minimum and studious melodic invention, rather than pronounced bass patterns, determined the structures and tempos.”
I count the times I heard him play at Snug among the best concerts that I’ve ever attended. Upon occasion, his celebrated sons would join him for a song or two. Both Branford and Delfeayo sat in with him once when I was in the audience. I caught Jason’s show on another evening at Snug. And once, Wynton and his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra performed at the Mount Baker Theatre here in Bellingham, WA. So I managed to hear all of them, who were named in 2011 named Marsalis and his musician sons Jazz Masters by the National Endowment for the Arts. It is regarded as American jazz music’s highest honor and until then had only been awarded on an individual basis.
Marsalis was dedicated to educating young musicians, a legacy that he passed on to his sons. I witnessed this first hand the year that Wynton came to Bellingham. After the concert, Wynton and a few musicians from his band, walked down the street to jam in the bar of a local Mexican restaurant where another musician, Chuck Israels, who they knew was playing. Naturally, a crowd quickly filled the place. I phoned my high-school age son, Marshall, who, inspired by the concert, had gone home to with his musician friends to jam. “You need to come down here,” I told him that Wynton and group were playing in the restaurant bar.
e boys hustled back downtown but, because they were not of legal age, they had to stand on the sidewalk outside to listen. Someone from the crowd inside, who knew about my son’s band, told Wynton that they were outside. Upon hearing this, Wynton stepped away from the little stage, went outdoors to talk to the boys and invited them to come inside where they were told to stand and listen.
Years later, Marshall, a drummer, was in New Orleans with my husband and I. Together, we made our annual pilgrimage to Snug Harbor, to catch Charmaine Neville who performs her high energy show on Mondays and also Stanton Moore (probably the best drummer in the world, according to my son) who has the Tuesday night spot when he’s in town. Charmaine is considered a ‘grand dame’ of New Orleans jazz world. Like Marsalis, she fosters emerging jazz musicians and invites them to join her onstage for a song if she knows they are in the audience.
I met Charmaine personally the first night Snug re-opened after Hurricane Katrina. There were only about a dozen of us in the audience. I’ve made sure to say ‘Hello’ to her before or after a show ever since. On this particular evening, I mentioned to her that my son, a drummer, had been with us.
“Where is he?” she demanded. I motioned to the street outside saying that he had already gone out the door. Charmaine marched out to where my three sons were standing with my husband and asked, “Which one is the drummer?” I pointed to Marshall.
“Come on back in,” she ordered. “I want you to play with me in the next set. Come on.” My son, who is shy for a drummer, followed her inside because it was clear that Charmaine was not going to take “No” for an answer.
Midway through her second set, she asked Marshall to come and sit in. Her drummer passed over the sticks to my son and, as he settled in, she asked him to tell the audience where he was from, what the name of the band was and what they played. Then they started up. Marshall was clearly nervous at first but began to get into the music as they jammed. Afterwards, Charmaine gave him a hug and told him he could play with her anytime he was in town.
It’s that kind of nuturing spirit that both Marsalis and Charmaine were and are known for: the tradition of handing down from one generation to another the gift of music. With Marsalis’ passing this last week, that responsibility now falls to all of those who he trained and shared his remarkable talent and love for the music.
Wyton reported in a Facebook post, that his father said to his son Wyton just a few days before he died when his son cautioned him about COVID-19: “Man, I don’t determine the time. A lot of people are losing loved ones. Yours will be no more painful or significant than anybody else’s.” While his words are true enough, it can be said that his passing leaves a very empty spot at the piano at Snug Harbor.
We’re not in big hurry for it. But it’s a good panel.
Talking to Michele Westmoreland who’s the blonde on the panel about showing her doc, "Headhunt Revisited" on-line through CASCADIA right now. Would be good if we had the panel discussion that could follow the film. Don’t yet have date for her film. Details need to be worked out.
Others on panel: Moderator: Liz Darrow, editor, Bellingham Tech Director
Director Michele Westmoreland
Director Yassamin Maleknasr (little hat)
Editor Sandy Jeglum (youngest)
Director Virginia Bogert–glasses (?)
Editor Lisa Spicer
Two hours long? I thought it was only an hour.
From: Kate Nichols [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Thursday, April 02, 2020 8:07 AM To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: found the videos you want
The doc editing video needs titles and may need some editing. I’ve had a couple of other projects that I’m trying to finish up as well. It’s almost 2 hours long so it’s gong to take some time. Do you have the list of speakers? I will need to add their names to the titles. The moderator is hard to hear clearly enough to catch the names. Although I do know Lisa Spicer.
Friday sounds good.
On Wednesday, April 1, 2020, 02:36:42 PM PDT, <email@example.com> wrote:
Circling back to see if you’ve made any headway with downloading this to the YouTube.
Will post tomorrow the VR panel that you recorded in 2017. AT least that’s the plan. Just relistened to it. Super good discussion!! I had forgotten how brilliant it was.
Hope you can ‘tune in’ for First Friday too! Would be good to see you, if even virtually.
From: Kate Nichols [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2020 8:56 PM To: email@example.com Subject: Re: found the videos you want
The editing one sounds good at least.
I have lots to do – so much free offerings online! Symphonies, PTFF Offers a couple of movies, herbal classes, Writing discussions. It’s been great. Oh, and I’m finishing a sweater for my granddaughter. Walking.
But I’ll put the panel in the hopper & see what I can do.
On Thursday, March 26, 2020, 4:23 PM, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Okay, well let me know. Would be terrific if you can help us on this. Don’t need immediately but I think these would be of interest to people, especially the editing panel. We could run it followed by a film. Maybe one of those doc filmmakers will let us show their film along with it.
This project is a really exciting thing that’s happening but it’s a lot of work.
At least maybe this will give you something to do while stuck at home???
From: Kate Nichols [mailto:email@example.com] Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2020 8:24 AM To: Cheryl Crooks Subject: found the videos you want
I couldn’t resist checking the videos. I didn’t finish editing them – . I just watched a little of the beginnings. It’s interesting neither host names the panel – they go right to introducing the panelist. The editing panel sounds great, but the one at Western is a bit tinny, but i only listened to DJ’s converted one, so the original might sound better. They are both around an hour so it’s going to take me some time to get all the way through them to make sure they can be posted as is, although they will need titles. Eero might be able to help me with the sound… I know he uses the same editing program that I do.
The recorded symphony rehearsal is still on the site. The password is harmony.
When most people think of Veteran’s Day, they think of those in our military who fought in our armed services. Since becoming a national holiday in 1938, Americans have honored those who served in the military, particularly those who are still living.
I have written previously about my Dad’s service in the U.S. Army during World War II as well as that of my other uncles who also fought in that War. But I’ve barely touched on another who’s service was equally as important and heroic, that of my mother-in-law. I thought this year, I’d salute her.
Elaine signed up after graduating from nursing school in Kansas. She had grown up on a small farm in the western part of the state and as far as I know, hadn’t been that far from home except perhaps for a visit or two to family living in Topeka. But upon finishing her nurse’s training, she joined others in her 36th General Hospital unit and the troops bound for Africa and the War aboard the U.S.S. Harry Lee, a converted banana freighter (thanks to my brother Brad for this detail). Also on that very ship was my own father, was a 22-year-old farm boy from the opposite side of the state. Their oceanic crossing was in the largest convoy ever to cross the Atlantic.
My mother-in-law and my father never met on that journey. In fact, they didn’t discover that they had both served in the 5th Army until after my husband and I were married. The two traded ‘war’ stories one afternoon while sitting at the kitchen table in my mother-in-law’s Arizona home.
As they talked, they were surprised to learn that not only had they shipped out together, but that they virtually followed one another throughout the Italian campaign. Of course, my father’s chemical battalion was at the very front of fighting, laying down mortar shell cover so that the infantry could advance. Elaine, on the other hand, was at the rear, in the field hospital, assisting in surgeries and tending those who had been injured in battle. My father once told me he was certain that some of those from his ‘outfit’, who came down with malaria, had turned up in her hospital.
Like many veterans from World War II, Elaine didn’t talk about her war experiences, at least not when I was around. I regret that I didn’t ask her more about it before she died 22 years ago. I know that she was a Lieutenant in rank. All the women nurses were officers primarily so that the enlisted men couldn’t ‘fraternize’ with them. As such, they had access to the ‘officers’ club and enjoyed other privileges that came with the rank. Those small ‘perks’ were not many and offered little in exchange for the endless and tireless work that they did to try to save the lives of those who arrived daily from the front lines.
Her hospital unit trailed my own father’s route, starting in Africa, then up to Sicily, the southern coast of Italy to the interior until they finally liberated Rome. She, like my Dad, was also in France for a while but never entered Germany as he did. I wish now that I knew more.
I have learned a little from a file in the 36th General Hospital collection at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. “…After first being shipped to Algeria, the 36th was ordered to Caserta, Italy in October of 1943. Established in the rear of the Fifth Army, the hospital had an average daily census of 1,800 patients. In June of 1944 a Texas hospital unit was added to the 36th to make it a 2,000 bed facility. The
hospital followed the allied invasion forces north into France and was located successively at Aix-en-Province, Dijon, and Garches. The unit was deactivated at Baston in November of 1945. During its 3 1/2 years of service the 36th had treated over 45,000 sick and wounded and received two decorations.”
Unfortunately, my husband and I never heard stories from her about the War and I wasn’t quick enough to take notes the day she and my Dad were exchanging memories.
I recall her telling about the time that a pilot whom she knew from Kansas, invited her for a ride in the plane to which he was assigned. He was flying to pick up some supplies and asked Elaine, who had the day off or requested it, if she’d like to go along. It was ‘loud,’ she said about her seat in the bombardier window of the aircraft. The photo of her taken on that day shows her wearing big lace-up boots obviously too large for her feet, a military overcoat and gloves and a tentative smile. Whether this picture was taken before or after the trip I don’t know. Despite what must have been a cold, loud and probably bumpy flight, she said had had a good time. I can imagine that any break from a day of hospital duty would have been welcome.
Her other photos show places where she visited or was stationed. The cathedral at Rheims in France seems to have made a huge impression on this Catholic-raised young woman from the central U.S. as several photos are from her visit there. In southern Italy, she saw the isle of Capri which also enchanted her. Like so many of the soldiers and service personnel at that time, seeing places that one had only read about in books must have seemed like a dream. Sadly, the circumstances under which they found themselves made it much more like a nightmare.
Upon returning to the States, Elaine stayed in nursing working for the hospitals of the Veteran’s Administration in Arizona until finally retiring. I never ‘thanked’ her for her service and am sure that few did. She was an excellent nurse, precise, kind, caring and thorough. She was just the sort of person you’d want tending to your wounds. No doubt those war years left her with many memories that she preferred to forget. She did what she felt she had to do for her country and those fighting for it. Her skills and knowledge were essential at a time when nurses were rarely respected or acknowledged. I am grateful for what she did.
This Veteran’s Day I want to posthumously recognize her, along with all the other nurses who like her served our country, for the sacrifices they made and hardships they endured, to provide medical care to the troops. Without them, far fewer would have returned home to be honored later on Veteran’s Day.
The crisp, clear autumn days of the Pacific Northwest draw you outdoors to garden, hike or just take a walk, as I did one recent Sunday. I borrowed my neighbor’s dog, Tuppie, and together we strolled down the hill and onto the campus of Western Washington University (WWU). WWU is a beautiful setting this time of year for a leisurely walk. It’s a long campus that stretches across 220 acres and backs up against the 620-foot hill of Sehome Arboretum this time of year, the deciduous trees of the arboretum turn a golden yellow and are stunning against the deep color of the towering evergreens.
The campus is full of color too as the trees there, set against the red brick and brown stone buildings, are vibrant reds, oranges and yellows and shed their leaves to carpet the walkways through the commons.
I’m fortunate to live close to campus so that on weekends, when the campus is quiet and crowd free, I can take a relaxing walk through it. The university is home to one of the finest college contemporary outdoor sculpture collections in the United States. Founded in 1960, the collection has grown to include at least 37 public sculptures in large part due to funding from the state’s one percent for art program the National Endowment for the Arts and through the generosity of the Virginia Wright Fund.
Scattered throughout the campus are monumental works by such renown sculptors as Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, Isamu Noguchi, Beverly Pepper, Nancy Holt and Tom Otterness. It’s amazing to be able to amble through at one’s leisure, stopping along the way to study and view these public art pieces. Autumn is an especially wonderful time to admire and photograph them because the rich colors of the season seemed to bring out the weathered patinas of the works.
On this particular autumn day, I decided to photograph some of them even though I had only the camera on phone with which to do it. (Poor planning on my part.) Seeing them against the autumn palette of the campus trees and vegetation painted vivid images. Tuppie, my black and white canine companion on this day, was patient as I squatted, knelt down, backed up and moved in and out searching for the best angle that would convey what I was seeing. Fortunately, she was happy enough to sniff out the surrounding territory as I was angling about.
Red Square is an expansive red brick plaza surrounded on three sides by classroom buildings on three sides and the university’s library on one. Near the center is a big circular pool with a fountain that sprays jets of water high overhead. Noguchi’s big iron block sculpture sits diagonally from the fountain. It’s balanced on three corners with huge holes punched through its three upward-facing sides so that when standing beneath it your gaze is directed skyward. There’s something very hopeful to me about this sculpture because it raises you up, just by unconsciously forcing you to look upward. I love standing inside, watching the clouds above shift and change. And when you’re within the sculpture, it’s as if you’re observing everything outside of it unseen as people pass by.
The newest addition to the collection is a split boulder, polished on its two faces and dotted with subtle pastel dots that remind me of the colors I saw at Arizona’s Grand Canyon. “Split Stone, Northwest,” by Sarah Sze was installed in May, 2019. It sits on the grassy lawn with the university’s Old Main Administration building rising in the background. At one time, another sculpture, Donald Judd‘s “Untitled” stood near here but was removed five years ago to be restored after the welded seams that held together the structure’s steel slabs began to deteriorate. The sculpture has just recently been resited on campus, on the grassy area next to the university’s Flag Plaza at the south end of the campus. I have yet to see it in its new spot as this autumn walk took place before the piece was replaced.
One hour after I had set out with Tuppie for a 30-minute dog walk, I was back home, refreshed by having taken the time to not only stop at some of the sculptures but to capture them in the morning autumn light and color. Even though I have taken that same path many times over, today’s was like a new adventure. It’s the impact that public art, like this university’s incredible collection, can have on a person.
In 1857, there were just 13 log houses in the newly founded town of Fremont, Neb., located along the banks of the Elkhorn and Platt Rivers. The Mormons had made the same place a stopover on their way from Missouri to Salt Lake City. Today, a plaque in Fremont’s Barnard Park commemorates where the Mormon pioneers once made camp.
By 1866, the Union Pacific Railroad had come to Fremont, soon to become a railway hub. Three years later, a small group of people met together to organize a church, the First Baptist Church of Fremont. That church celebrated its 150th anniversary yesterday. Two years ago, my brother Richard became its minister.
He and his wife, Nola, moved to Fremont, a lively town of approximately 27,000. My brother has settled into his new position, learning about the members of his new congregation and community. Since its founding, the church has played an important role in Fremont, such as aiding those who need help whose homes were damaged by the flood waters this spring.
I made a trip earlier this summer to visit my brother and his wife there and to see their new home and church. Their home is situated next door to the red brick church built in 1901. The church is a Romanesque revival style architecture. Its solid exterior exemplifies the kind of church buildings that dot small Midwestern towns. They were the center of activity, where townsfolk gathered for social events as well as to attend services on Sunday. They were places, and still are, where families of like faiths, beliefs and values congregated and came together to help one another through tough times as well as good. They were where lives were celebrated through baptisms, weddings and funerals.
The back door to the church is right around the corner from the front door of the church parsonage. One evening, I joined my sister-in-law when she invited to give me a tour of the church. I followed her through the church’s back door when she went to feed the baby chicks, waiting for her nightly arrival, that were peeping hungrily in their temporary cardboard box coop in the church’s youth classroom. The chicks had been living and growing there since Easter and were soon to be relocated to the farm of one of the church members.
We headed up the back stairs into the church and passed into the sanctuary. The sanctuary was empty, dim and quiet when we entered. Strong, simple dark timber beams supported the steep pitched high ceiling. From these beams hung long lantern-like lamps that beautifully lit the interior with a soft white light when my sister-in-law switched them on. Behind the altar and the the choir pews at the front of the aspe was a large blue stained glass window. The blue glass of the arched window was deep and tranquil. Lining either side of the sanctuary were golden crisscross leaded windows through which the evening light cast a warm glow over the rows of the dark wooden pews. The mood was reverent and peaceful. It indeed felt like this place, at this moment truly offered sanctuary from the troubles of the outside world.
On Sunday, when I attended my brother’s church service, the sanctuary had come alive as people came in to find their seats in the pews in preparation for the 9:30 a.m. traditional service. (A more contemporary and casual worship takes place at 11 a.m. in church’s Family Center located adjacent to the main building.) The church members greeted one another by name and welcomed me as they introduced themselves before the service started. It was a reminder that the church is not the building, as fine a structure as this one is, but the people within. Like those first Fremont residents who had come together 150 years ago to start their church, the current members carry on their work to keep their church alive.
My brother, as its pastor, now leads this group of faithful members to continue its outreach into the community and to serve its greater mission of providing a place where people can come together to freely worship and commune with one another. Besides its regular services, the church provides assistance to the families and staff of Fremont’s Washington Elementary School, where many children from the town’s Hispanic population attend school. It provides birthday cupcakes at the LifeHouse homeless shelter. Two Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet at the church as does a woodworking hobby club. During the downtown’s annual Halloween Hysteria, it served free hot dogs to hungry costumed characters and their parents last year. At the town’s John C. Fremont Days in July, it set up to sell 50-cent hot dogs and soda to celebrants and offered crafts activities to the kids. It also began a ‘Big Truck Day’ a couple years ago and invited local companies and utilities to park some of its over-sized trucks on the church parking lot where delighted youngsters and their parents could get a close-up look at these gigantic vehicles.
But its biggest role and challenge this past year was in orchestrating and providing local disaster relief efforts to the hundreds of people living in and around Fremont whose homes and belongings were damaged or destroyed when the rivers flooded caused the town to be cut off from outside help for several days. When the water began to recede, the church still continued to deliver and distribute much-needed donated basic supplies, such as diapers, mops and cleaning products, food, socks and water to those most impacted by the crises. Together with members from their community, they coordinated efforts to help the flood victims get back in their houses and back on their feet.
It’s a role that my brother sees as an important part of his church’s work and mission. “We can’t do a lot of stuff, ” he told a local newspaper reporter, “but we can help fill in the gaps here and there.
“We want to be known as a church that’s a blessing to its community,” he adds. I’m sure the original founders of his church, 150 years ago, would have agreed.
Anyone who was a kid or older in 1969 is likely to know exactly where they were when astronauts Neil Armstrong,Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made history with the first moon landing. Most of the world was glued to a television set or, in some cases, a radio, to watch and listen that day as Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon’s surface.
Like many Americans, I was fascinated by the “space exploration race.” The astronauts were national heroes who captured the imaginations and dreams of millions. I remember how excited I was to hear astronaut Gordon Cooper, who flew in the last Mercury mission, address the Professional Photographers of America at a convention in Chicago. He was the size of my finger from my balcony seat but his presence filled the vast auditorium.
My brothers and I launched rocket after rocket into space from our Cape Canaveral set. We transformed the shower stall in one of our bathrooms into a space capsule to simulate adventures to the stars. The “astronaut” lay with their back on the shower floor, feet up against the shower wall and communicated via walkie-talkie radio to mission control located just outside the bathroom door. We flew many imaginary missions to and from the outer reaches of our galaxy on those Saturday afternoons.
In junior high school, I was selected, maybe because I was a reporter on the school newspaper, to take part in a special science assembly with a guest speaker. I don’t recall who the presenter was but I was asked to don a spacesuit, crawl into a mock-up Mercury capsule while sitting onstage and clicking a switch every few seconds that turned on and off a red light atop the capsule. The demonstration pointed out how easy and quickly we can lose our sense of time. I didn’t do well as a test subject but I was thrilled at putting on that spacesuit and being an astronaut for the experiment.
So naturally, when I learned that Seattle’s Museum of Flight was presenting the exhibit, Destination Moon in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I was determined to go. The exhibit, which opened in April and will close Sept. 2, is its only West Coast appearance. While relatively small in size, the exhibit displays 20 artifacts from the Smithsonian, many of them from that historic moon landing mission, as well as several other objects from the Seattle museum’s own extensive collection.
My husband and I entered at our assigned time yesterday and wound our way through the items, stopping to read each description. Among the artifacts are a restored console from NASA’s mission control. The buttons and monitors look primitive compared to today’s computer systems. I chuckled overhearing one young man explaining to his young female companion that the rotary dials on the panel weren’t for phoning “your grandmother.”
I was also struck by the various ‘spacesuits’ on view and the smallness of their size. Although the personas of these early space pioneers were gigantic, in reality, they were not large men. Most, if not all, had been fighter pilots, and physically had to fit into the tight, compact cockpits of both the fighter planes and the cramped quarters of the early space capsules. Some of the suits resembled expensive homemade costumes, and, in some ways they were. For instance, ordinary blue rickrack was stitched to finish off the suits’ hose attachment openings. This little touch must have made some of the women who sewed them smile.
Also fascinating are the mangled F-1 engine sections of the Saturn V rocket, the only parts to ever have been recovered. The components were found and lifted from the bottom of the Atlantic a few years ago in a project financed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. After restoration at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, the surviving pieces were sent to Seattle’s museum and the Smithsonian where they will remain on permanent display after the Destination Moon exhibit closes.
Of course the centerpiece of the Seattle exhibit is the conical-shaped Columbia command module from the Apollo 11 mission. Again most striking is its size, so small compared to the enormous space shuttles used today. It’s mind-boggling how three men traveled to the moon and back in this compact capsule. I missed the 3-D interactive tour of the capsule’s interior but just being within arm’s reach of this historic vessel was overpowering.
So too were the gloves and helmet with its gold visor worn by Aldrin and that reflected Armstrong’s image in the now iconic photo of Armstrong standing on the moon. I attempted to preserve the moment with a photo reflecting back my own image. Mine didn’t turn out nearly as well as Aldrin’s. Amazing too is the fact that on that mission, and others, the astronauts used Hasselblad cameras and film as digital cameras were yet to be invented. (More about the equipment used can be found here. )
One of the moon “rocks” returned by the Apollo astronauts can also be seen in the exhibit. Surprising to me was how many people simply passed by without stopping to wonder at how far away this rough, gray, volcanic-looking stone came to end up here on earth. Perhaps this is an indication too at how much we now take for granted travel into space.
At the time of the Apollo missions, space exploration was still an incredible phenomena. According to the exhibit information, NASA’s space program at its height employed 400,000 people. It embodied the vision, ingenuity and skills of people at all levels. It gave Americans a unifying reason to be proud of its country at a time when the VietNam War was tearing them apart. And it gave the world a challenge that remains relevant today–to create a single event that can bring people together for the greater good. It was indeed a small step for man but a giant leap for mankind.
“What’s there to see in Baker City?” a friend asked when told that my husband, Michael, and I had stopped there on a recent (and rare) road trip.
“The town!” Michael declared emphatically,
Indeed, we turned off the highway at Baker City, Ore. for a lunch break and ended up spending an unplanned three hours in the town of 10,000. Most people stop here to visit the town’s excellent National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center located just five miles east of Baker City or the Baker Heritage Museum found just off the highway as you enter the main section of town. Both are good museums and offer a glimpse into pioneer life for those who came through here during the gold rush of he 1860s. For many, Baker City was one of the last stopping points before traversing the Cascade Mountains that separate Eastern and Western Oregon.
Some are now crossing back to settle in Baker City. Like the architect from Portland (and a graduate of Kansas State University) who has retired in Baker City because it’s a ‘real town, with a walk-able downtown and doesn’t live behind walls.” Larry and his wife now own one of the many historic buildings in downtown Baker City and have been restoring it for new tenants.
As Larry pointed out, Baker City is almost an anomaly these days in America in that this town, with a fabulous view of the snow-capped Cascades, is a fully preserved and functioning small town. It’s what people who visit Disneyland’s Main Street expect, except that it’s not fabricated.
The buildings that line Baker City’s Main Street have been there since the late 1800s when Baker City was known as the “Queen City of the Mines.” At the time, the town’s population exceeded that of either Spokane or Boise. Miners, cowboys, ranchers and gamblers were drawn to its dance halls and five saloons. Those who needed a place to stay could pick from any one of the town’s ten hotels.
One of the grandest of these, the Geiser Grand, is still in business and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During our self-guided walking tour of the town, my husband and I wandered in to the lobby of this corner hotel to be greeted with a decor reminiscent of its glorious days past. The hotel was only reopened and restored in 1997 after having been shuttered for nearly 30 years. Today, the front desk clerk says the hotel is a favorite choice of government and business people who come to town. The hotel offers tours of its interior once a day at 2 p.m. but unfortunately one wasn’t available the day we visited.
I learned from the bartender on duty at the hotel that the people of Baker City made a conscious decision ten to 15 years ago, not to permit the big box discount stores to build in town. The nearest one of these you’ll find is an hour’s drive away in either Le Grand or Ontario. As Larry, the architect, explained, Le Grand is Eastern Oregon’s center for the Arts; Ontario is for the shopping and Baker City is all business.
The stores and shops in Baker City’s downtown appear to be thriving and cater to those who live there, not just tourists. There’s a fabric store, a toy store, a stationers, a couple bookstores, a home store, legal and financial offices, a radiator repair shop, a jeweler’s, a women’s clothing boutique, an eye clinic and a movie theatre–the kind of places you’d expect to find in any American small town not that long ago. If you’re hungry, as we were, there are plenty of tempting cafes, bakeries, breweries and restaurants from which to choose for whatever suits your appetite.
Don’t miss the town’s Crossroads Carnegie Art Center housed in what was once it’s public library. In fact, we started our tour of town there. Formerly a Carnegie Library, designed in the classic colonial style typical of so many Carnegie Libraries, the building was constructed entirely of “black speckled stone” quarried from the area, according to a docent I met there. The interior was similar, if not exactly, as the one I remembered from my hometown. The stacks have been removed to create an open gallery for rotating art exhibits, one of which was hanging when we visited. Downstairs, once occupied by the children’s library, is now an art studio and small space for lectures and special presentations. It’s well worth spending some time.
One of Baker City’s biggest events was brought to our attention by Larry, the architect. The Great Salt Lick , an art auction that occurs the third week of September, benefits Parkinson’s Disease research. It’s an event befitting the agricultural and ranching center and goes towards a good cause. Local ranchers and others scour the fields looking for the most creatively licked salt blocks by elk, deer, cows, horses, etc. The blocks are then named, poems are written about them and both are displayed for the auction. There’s even a sculpture downtown now commemorating this truly unique art form.
We stopped for lunch and ended up spending a little more than three enjoyable hours, strolling through downtown, looking at the building, talking with locals and finally finishing with a tasty late lunch at the Lone Pine Cafe on Main. I’d recommend it.
Driving out of town, I spotted what I thought was the official post office, again nearly an exact copy of the same post office in my hometown. But it turned out the building was now private offices; the official post office has moved up the street into a newer, less impressive structure. That was the only disappointment during our brief visit to Baker City. I’d happily drop in again, eat, visit the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center and maybe even spend the night because Baker City’s an authentic step into the past that’s living in the present.
Today is unquestionably the biggest day of the year in Bellingham. An estimated 35,000 people come to watch or participate in the Ski to Sea race. It’s a seven-leg 93-mile relay race that starts at the top of the 10,000 foot Mount Baker and finishes in Bellingham Bay at Marine Park. During the course of it, competitors ski, bike, canoe, run and kayak. It’s likely to be one of most demanding and grueling competitive races in the country.
The race began more than one hundred years ago in 1911 as the Mount Baker Marathon organized by the Mount Baker Club as a way to call attention to the area’s spectacular scenery. But it was suspended when a racer fell into one of the mountain’s crevasses. Then, in 1973, it was resurrected by Bellingham’s Chamber of Commerce with 177 people competing on 50 different teams. This year, there are 414 teams entered in the race of eight people each.
A few years ago, I was one of those. My team, the Angst-Ridden Mamas, made its first appearance in the big race in 2004. I had decided that to be fully considered as a Bellinghamster, I needed to do the race at least once. So I signed up a few of my most active friends, paid our entry fee and started to train. This is a race that attract not only local and amateur athletes but professionals and Olympians who come to be on teams sponsored by local business. Ours wasn’t one of those.
There are several different categories under which a team can enter. We chose to skirt the ultra-competitve professional categories and opted instead to put ourselves into the Whatcom County Women’s Recreational division. Not only did we think this gave us our best shot at not coming in last, we thought it best fit the skill level and activity of our team members, who like myself were all mom’s with school-aged kids.
That didn’t mean, however, that we didn’t taken ourselves seriously as competitors. Each of us were signed up for a leg in the sport that we competed or participated in regularly. As a kayaker who frequently paddled in Bellingham Bay, I took that, the final leg of the race. Mine was a five-mile course that started at Bellingham’s marina and ended at Marine Park across the water in the historic section of town known as Fairhaven. In some ways, I felt I had one of the lighter legs in the race compared to the 8-mile run down Mount Baker or the 18.5 mile canoe paddle on the Nooksack River.
The reality is, that each of the seven legs presents its own set of challenges so that none are a ‘piece of cake’ when it comes down to it.
My paddling partner, Pat, who also entered on another team that same year, and I increased the frequency of our kayaking practices out in the Bay and lengthened the amount of time that we were in the water as the weeks leading up to race day drew closer. We tried to improve our stroke technique and build up the distance we could get on each one. We usually put in our boats early in the a.m. or late in the day when the water conditions are most optimal and the wind less likely to be a major factor.
On race day, however, you don’t have the luxury of choosing your time and the conditions can be considerably treacherous with wind, waves and currents. While the first professional and Olympian-level teams often enter the water about 1 p.m., we were left sitting by our kayaks, waiting for our mountain biker to arrive well into the afternoon. I don’t believe I got the hand-off from Carolyn, my mountain biker that first year, until after 4 p.m.
The water was choppy but thankfully without white caps. I must note here that no one is allowed in the water without wearing a certified life vest. You’re also supposed to verify that you know how to get back on or into your boat should you capsize. I had both qualifications, as did my co-competitor Pat. Even with all the official chase and spectator motor boats along the course, there was a possibility that you’d need to be prepared to be in the water. The first turn around the buoy way out in the bay was especially difficult when the wind, coming from the west this particular year, kept pushing you off-course.
I rounded that buoy giving the other nearby paddler plenty of room. My heart was thumping pretty hard as I did so. Just as I completed my turn, one of the racers ahead of me dumped out. Kayakers are also required to stop and assist if another racer needs help but as one of the observation boats was already headed towards that paddler, I kept on course.
The wind was the biggest factor on the second of the three legs of my course. It seemed to pick up and kept shoving the bow of my boat back and forth . My rudder was almost ineffective at countering the force as my boat bounced up and down over the waves like a bucking bronc trying to toss its rider. One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to wind up in the water. I wasn’t concerned about passing other paddlers, I just wanted to get to that second buoy, safely go around it and start down the final leg which I thought might be calmer water since it was more protected.
I managed to do just that and though the water was still choppy, I no longer was battling the wind as much and could actually start to make some headway towards the final buoy and the stretch to the beach in the park. I could hear voices from the shore cheering on those of us in the water. I even heard someone who recognized my yellow kayak and me call out my name.
With the hardest part of the race behind me now, I felt a surge of adrenaline in my tiring arms and lateral muscles, from where a kayaker really generates their power. I could make it. My team might not place but I we wouldn’t be the last ones in either. I expected that we would end up about in the middle of pack in our division. I had passed one other woman who I knew was also in that division. My friend Pat, was somewhere behind me.
As I neared the last buoy and I could now see and hear the crowd that had collected on the beach to watch the finishing leg. I pushed harder, grabbed the sides of my kayak with my thighs and put everything I had left into the homestretch. I wasn’t likely to make up much time on this last approach but I was determined not to lose any more either.
With a few final strokes, my kayak rammed into the pebbly beach where Boy Scout volunteers were waiting to grab the bow and help stablize the boat so I could get out. My legs wobbled and quivered as I lifted myself outside of my cockpit and scarmbled up the sloping bank to the big brass bell waiting for me at the finish line. I grabbed the cord still swinging from the previous competitor and gave the bell one big clang. I had made it. And I hadn’t capsized or lost my paddle or come in last.
My teammates waiting for me rushed over to give me a group hug. There was Connie who had started us off at 8 a.m. that morning on the cross country ski leg on the mountain, and Kathy, who took over from her for the downhill ski portion. Terri, who’s now on the Board of Directors for the race, had run down the mountain. Valerie gave us a big lead during her road biking leg to put Sue and Joanne in good position when they took off in their canoe. And Carolyn delivered to me the sweaty orange elastic wristband that we were all required to wear when she rolled across the finish line of the mountain biking leg. And our support crew–Marla and Gaye.
I was weary and dehydrated but felt exhilarated by the race, the camraderie of my team and the sense of having accomplished and completed something I wasn’t entirely certain I’d be able to do. Now, came the best part–the party!
I carted my boat back to the community storage shed then went home to quickly shower off the salt water and sweat before going to the party. I put on my yellow competitor’s t-shirt, given to each team member registered in the race, and walked around the corner to Vicki’s house where we were joining two other teams and friends for food, drink and fun The parties are what many regard as the best part of the race!
I had barely stepped in the door when my teammates surprised me with the declaration: “We won third place!!”
“What?” I said in disbelief.
“Yes, we came in third,” one of them explained.
Then someone slipped the bronze-colored medal attached to the blue ribbon over my head. They weren’t kidding. We had managed to medal in our first race ever. None of us were expecting it. We all just wanted to finish. So when the “Angst-Ridden Mamas” was called out by the race officials to come to the podium and receive our medals, only one of our team members was still there to receive them.
In my wildest dreams I hadn’t thought we’d place in a race of 300 teams with 2,400 competitors! I was so surprised, as were my teammates, and proud of what we had done together for fun and so that I could feel a full-fledged Bellinghamster.
Our team competed in the race the following three years. While we didn’t repeat the glory of our inaugural appearance, we had a lot of fun and pride in participating and giving it our best on this one big day. As I watch racers come in today, I’ll be thinking of how it felt, how hard it was and what a great time I and my team had being part of a very memorable Memorial Day weekend!