One of the things I look forward to each autumn is Halloween. The holiday brings back many fond memories for me. From trick or treating around my neighbor as a kid, to coming up with solutions to sewing costumes for my young sons; to hosting costume parties where everyone actually wore costumes; to taking photos of the kids in their outfits at the school’s Harvest Festival; to parading across my hometown’s Municipal Building stage in my own Halloween get-up then posing in the studio with it for my Dad; to tromping endlessly through pumpkin patches to find the perfect one; to carving masterpiece jack-o-lanterns on the kitchen table; to performing the “Thriller” dance for the thousands who gathered to watch it at the park; to taking in the clever costumes of the local college students as they promenade downtown.
This year, with the pandemic still raging and scary enough, Halloween is likely to look a lot different.
I debated whether to bother decorating as I usually do. Without trick or treaters or others coming to the door that night, would be worth the effort to set up my front yard cemetery or hang the bloody ‘Welcome’ sign by the door? I’ve decided it is. I am erecting tombstones, laying out skeleton bones and putting up warning signs leading to my front door. I don’t expect, nor am I encouraging, youngsters to ring my bell. Instead, I’ll set out my big black witches caldron at the end of my walk, fill it with candy and invite everyone, all day long, to help themselves to a Halloween treat.
The truth is our block rarely gets trick or treaters even without COVID. My block is dark, houses are spread apart and it takes longer for the kids to cover the ground. They tend to flock instead just down the hill where houses are huddled closer together and the little witches, goblins and ghouls can quickly fill their bags or buckets with lots of tasty goodies.
That wasn’t always the case. During the years when my three sons were growing up and going out on their own to haunt the neighborhood, the pack always ended up at our house where I had brownies and cider or something similar for them to snack on while they counted and traded the evening’s loot.
The middle school and high school years were especially creative ones. Costumes became more elaborate, clever and silly. My middle son, for whom Halloween was the highlight of his year, alternated his costume to either his hockey or band uniform when he reached high school just so he could continue to trick or treat. My older son often went for the political statement, one year dressing up as one of the scariest costumes ever, an IRS agent complete with fedora and briefcase. My youngest son somehow always managed to come up with the most challenging of costumes to execute going one year as a pumpkin. We stuffed it with balloons to give him the plumped up pumpkin look.
Once the girls started to join in we began to see red riding Hoods, and Dorothys, gypsies and fortune tellers show up for the evening party. But one of the most memorable years was the the year that two of my son’s friends from his hockey team arrived together as a street lamp and a fire hydrant.
While the pandemic may keep most trick or treaters off the streets and out of the neighborhoods this year there may be new ways to celebrate, from virtual costume parties to pumpkin carving at home. I’ll be haunted by the memories of Halloween past. Maybe next year we can all start making new ones to add to the collection.
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.
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!
I hadn’t planned to write about Mother’s Day for this posting, after all, what more can be said about it? But then my sister-in-law asked if I would trimming drawings– some in colored-pencil, some with markers–done by the children and teens of her church to give their Mom’s. As I slid the blade of the paper cutter up and down, along the lines of each child’s message to Mom, a flood of memories came back to me.
I remembered the homemade cards my own sons had done for me, mostly made in their classroom at school, of construction paper and cut-out flowers glued to the fronts with their simple, hand-lettered messages scrawled inside: “I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.” Construction paper doesn’t hold up as well over time as other paper mediums, it crumbles into flakes so I no longer have many, if any, of those lovely greeting cards. But I can see them in my mind’s eye just as if they had given them to me yesterday.
More lasting were some of the handcrafted gifts that they created at school for the special day. In particular, are the little square boxes made of wooden popsicle sticks stacked like a Lincoln log house and glued together in the corners. Each was painted and had a top individually decorated with various shaped pasta pieces. One is a delicate pink with pieces of shell-shaped macaroni pasted to it. Another is plain wood with rainbow colored twisted pasta pieces, rotelli and macaroni. The third is golden, again with the rotelli, bow-tie and twisted pasta attached to the top. There’s also a small block of wood on this one, a handle by which the lid can be lifted. I keep them in a drawer and use them to store my costume jewelry where I see or touch them almost daily.
On another Mother’s Day, I received baked clay figurines. One of my son’s sculpted what appears to be a steagosaurus, the length of my forefinger and painted blue and green and nicely finished with a shiny glaze. I keep it on a little shelf near by kitchen along with some other collectible figurines that aren’t nearly as precious to me.
As they grew older, the gifts changed or stopped entirely. One year, however, I asked for and received from my youngest son, who was writing poetry, if he would write a poem for me. He did. It was about dusk falling over New York City, where he now lives. I placed it in clear glass and it hung, for a time, in his old bedroom at home. Now I have it among my keepsakes.
My oldest son, also a fine writer but different, made a card with a photo of a lighthouse, of which he knows I’m fond, that he found on-line and printed a simple, but heartfelt message inside. This stands on my bookshelf in my studio where it’s easily in view.
Sure, over the years I was given some lovely Mother’s Day presents, a lot of flowers and treated to brunches or dinners out. But truly, the ones that I treasure are those simple, handmade, hand-crafted or handwritten gifts or cards. Who knows where the pictures I trimmed this morning will end up? In some shoe box saved along with other, similar drawings? In a little frame that sits at work on a desk? Or slipped into a scrapbook with the grade cards and photos from school? One thing I do know, the will certainly bring a smile, maybe even a tear to each Mom who receives them and maybe, like my own, become an enduring memory of the little one who created it and gave it with love.
This year for Christmas, I made a photo book for each of my brothers titled: “Food, Family and Fun Times.” I was prompted to do so when my younger brother, Brad, asked if I had any of the recipes from my mom and my aunts. He was looking for one in particular, the red-hot salad that was on our table at nearly every Christmas dinner. Maybe you know the one I mean: cherry or strawberry jello combined with applesauce and those pill-sized red-hot candies that are melted before you stir them into the mixture. You chill it to congeal. It’s tasty but full of sugar. That’s probably one reason I too liked it so much as a kid.
Everyone has their own traditions when it comes to Christmas dinners, if your family is fortunate enough to be together for the holiday and can afford this one big feast. As I assembled the photo book, I searched through my parents’ old photo albums, many of which I have, as well as my own to find photos that I could include in the book. Originally, I was looking for snapshots taken of my parents and my aunts in their kitchens, preparing some of the foods for which I had the recipe cards. But I discovered that I had very few of these photos and the ones I had were mostly of my Dad taken just a few years before he died making his favorite picalilli relish or green tomato pie.
Instead, what I had were several snapshots taken at the family dinner tables before the meal commenced. Many were taken on holidays or special occasions, such as birthdays. As I sorted through the years of photos, I studied the dishes placed on the table. Some I could easily recognize, like the fluffy lime green jello salad with pineapple and whipped cream (usually the artificial Cool Whip product) folded in. Sometimes there was turkey, often ham as the main course. Mashed potatoes, especially for the Thanksgiving dinner, but at Christmas it often was scalloped potatoes that I recall my Aunt Marie prepared.
There were dinners at the table in the make-shift dining room at my parents’ house at the motel my parents co-owned with my aunt and uncle and where grew up.
It was a pretty tight squeeze to get everyone seated around my mother’s Duncan Phyfe table, even with the leaves put in. My mother’s nice china was set out with the centerpiece a little handcrafted tiered Christmas tree made from red netting material. Some years my Aunt Oleta and Uncle Joe who had moved from my hometown to another small town 45 minutes away joined us; sometimes it was just my Aunt Marie and Uncle Dale.
Two of my favorite Christmas dinner photos were taken years apart of the family together in the basement of my Aunt Marie and Uncle Dale’s home where we gathered for big celebrations. The first was made when I was eight-years-old (I can tell by the dress I’m wearing). This photo special because one of my aunt and uncles from California, along with my cousin, is there as well as my aunt and cousin who lived in Hutchinson, Kansas,three hours away in Kansas. My cousins, Kevin, Leland and Debbie–just a baby–are there too with their parents, my Uncle Jiggs and Aunt Bernice. It’s quite a photo because so seldom was this many of the Crooks clan together at Christmas. Even though we’re not sitting at the table, I know that the table is set just on the other side of the camera with dinner no doubt waiting for us all.
The other recalls the another big Christmas gathering the first year I was in college. (Know that from my hairstyle.) We’re all there again, minus the California and Hutchinson families and plus my youngest brother who is standing beside my uncle and just peeking over the back of one of the heavy, tall, carved oak chairs at the table’s end. And again, the cousins who lived in town, are there, with my aunt and uncle. This time, however, the photo is in color, the color film technology having long since become readily available.
I carry on the Christmas dinner tradition with my own family. My parents, aunts and uncles with whom we ate have passed on but there’s a new generation who gather round the table that includes my sons and when possible the grown children and now grandchildren of those aunts and uncles. I still insist on taking a photo of everyone once we’ve all sat down for the holiday dinner so we can relive these priceless moments in the future through the photographic memory. The foods, the fun and the family time together are the real recipes for what makes the season bright.
Americans think of Veteran’s Day as occurring on November 11 but tribal members of Lummi Nation honored the service, bravery and commitment of their veterans this past weekend during the tribe’s 72nd annual Stommish celebration. It’s a three-day event that takes place on Lummi Nation’s Stommish Grounds located just a 30-minute drive north of Bellingham. The waterfront festival is open to everyone and draws people from throughout the region.
Stommish means ‘warrior’ in the Halkomelem language, the language of the Lummi and Cowichan tribal people. It began in 1946 when tribal members Edith and Victor Jones planned a community celebration to honor and welcome home their two sons, Bill and Stanley Solomon, from World War II. Of the 720 Lummi members in 1946, 104 served in the armed forces and 101 of them returned safely home to return to their Lummi way of life. Today, the event has become an annual festival that not only recognizes those veterans, but also one that traditional dancing, games, food and canoe races. Stommish starts, however, with an opening ceremony during which the veterans who are introduced to the assembled crowd.
Afterwards, celebrants line the beach along the stretch of Hale’s Passage to watch as teams of canoers compete. The sleek, cedar canoes are paddled by teams of twos and sixes, with some racers as young a 10-years-old, down one length of the course and back again while those onshore cheer them on. The boats are beautiful on the blue water and bright summer sun. The paddlers are strong and at the race’s end dripping with sweat from the effort.
In another section of the grounds people participate and watch the traditional Sal Hal Bone Game. Sal Hal is an old Native American Pacific Coast guessing and gambling game. It involves teams of players who face each and must correctly guess which hand holds the unmarked bone. Correct guesses or losses are tallied with a set of sticks. The team or person with the most sticks at the end of the game wins and collects the money that has been wagered. The game is accompanied by traditional song and instruments performed by the team hiding the bones in their hands. It all makes for good-spirited fun and, for the winning teams, a pocketful of cash.
No celebration is complete without dancing. Lummi tribal members wearing traditional costumes performed a number of dances for those who gathered around an artificial grass carpet. Dancers of all ages entertained while those of us on the sidelines watched or, during one number, joined in as participants.
Throughout the day, people feast on a variety of food sold by the different vendors set up on the Stommish Grounds. The most popular of all, however, was the delicious $10 salmon filet plate served with side dishes and the large, fresh cooked crab so tasty, juicy and caught right from the bay beyond the festival grounds. People, like me, enjoyed the seafood while viewing the canoe races taking place.
Under the canopies of booths set up around the grounds, people demonstrated and sold Native American arts, handicrafts and souvenirs. Handcrafted woven reed hats, made in the traditional way and skirted style, was one of the many items for sale. Bold, geometric Native designs decorated the t-shirts and hooded sweatshirts that could also be purchased. Cruising through the various tents provided an opportunity for a little holiday or birthday gift shopping. I did both!
The day’s activities also included an old-fashioned Princess and Warrior crowning, a cute baby contest, oldest Veteran recognition and a small carnival with rides for kids. It’s a festival full of family oriented fun that, judging by those attending this past weekend, was enjoyed by everyone.
Stommish starts at noon and lasts well late into the long summer day. Campers, both in tents and recreational vehicles, are packed tightly into the designated overnight area on the grounds. Parking can be challenging so car-pooling is a good idea. The event was a great way to spend a summer weekend day with the friends and families of this Native Nation, to become familiar with this proud tribe’s traditions and to join tribal members in saluting and thanking those who served in the United States military and returned. Hy’ shqe! (Thank you!)
You can view more of my Stommish day images in my blog portfolio.
On this weekend in the U.S., people are honoring the memories of the country’s military who died in action. But another memorial is on my mind today prompted by an article that appeared the other day in the local newspaper. That is the beautiful totem pole memorial that stood along the trail of Whatcom Creek on the edgeof Whatcom Falls Park in our city.
Sadly, the totem was recently removed, I read in the Bellingham Herald after someone vandalized and ‘tagged’ the pole with graffiti. Not long ago, a friend of mine had told me that the box that sat atop the pole, was missing and wondered why. Now the entire pole and the two carved wooden benches that sat beside it are gone after city workers removed them and placed them in protective storage until they can be restored.
While the city’s action is commendable, that of the vandals was disrespectful and, frankly, inexcusable. I am giving those individuals the benefit of the doubt that they apparently are unaware of that they not only did they deface a significant Native artwork, but in so doing they insulted the artist, the Lummi Nation and the families of those killed in the 1999 Bellingham pipeline explosion for whom the pole was intended to memorialize.
The 15-foot cedar log pole was created by the Lummi House of Tears carvers under the direction of Lummi Nation’s master carver Jewell James. Its bright, bold and beautiful paint was applied under the supervision of head painter Ramona James. The pole took months to carve and paint before finally being erected and dedicated during an Earth Day ceremony in 2007. “The pole is to restore the stream and its habitat and to remember the three boys who lost their lives,” carver James told American Profile reporter Heather Larson.
James referred to the three boys–Liam Wood, 18, Wade King and Stephen Tsiovras, both 10, who were killed when the Olympic pipeline (now owned by British Petroleum) carrying gasoline exploded dumping an estimated 277,000 gallons into the creek that runs through Whatcom Falls Park, located in the middle of Bellingham. Liam was fishing after having just graduated from high school; Wade and Stephen were playing, as they often did together, further down creek. It was a day that darkened the sky over Bellingham as the black cloud billowed above the park. The explosion literally stopped life in town as everyone, myself included, wondered what had happened and emergency first responders rushed to the site.
The explosion made national news, changed national pipeline regulation (although the families of those who died will tell you not enough) and some believe awoke Bellingham to the dangers that unregulated and aging pipelines pose for not only our city, but others like it throughout the country.
I was present, along with a few others, on the day of Lummi Nation gave and dedicated the totem and benches to the city. The ceremony was emotional and moving with other Pacific Northwest Native Nations witnessing the event in order to pass the story along to the next generation. Those gathered listened solemnly as carver James spoke eloquently about the need to promote healing for all those impacted by the explosions, wildlife as well as human life, and about the importance of being good stewards of the environment. Members of the Lummi Nation, also delivered a heartfelt messages for the family members attending. Lummi drummers and flutists played. Blankets were draped around the shoulders of the deceased boys’ young friends, now high school students, participating in the unveiling during the ceremony.
Then, James asked the family members of the victims to bring forward the items that they had brought to be placed into the memorial box positioned atop the totem. One by one the personal belongings of Stephen and Wade were handed up the tall ladder to the tribal member who carefully laid them inside. A teddy bear, a baseball card and cap were among the things. The lid was fitted tightly and sealed. Tears streamed down the faces of not only the family members but others who were that day.
And, as the ceremony was ending, two solitary eagles soared and glided over head, just as James had told Wade’s mother, Mary, earlier that day that they would.
It was a day I’ll never forget. When I read about the vandalism of the totem and its removal, my heart ached. The city is apparently intent on repairing and restoring the totems and benches but in the meantime, there is a huge emptiness where they stood in the opening by the creek. The runners, walkers and visitors who pass by it will miss it. The totem served as a somber, dignified reminder, as well as a memorial, to those who tragically died on that early June day in Bellingham. That’s what’s on my mind this Memorial Day.
I didn’t make or send any Mother’s Day cards this year. Making cards and sending them to my Mom and my aunts was something I always enjoyed and had done for many years after leaving home and living on my own. Sadly, I my Mother passed away six years ago, (simply hard to believe still) and the last of my many aunts died only a month ago leaving me now with only two uncles whom I love and keep in close touch.
It’s an odd feeling to go from having such a large, extended family to such a compact one although I have many cousins who now make up the family network. I was fond of all my aunts and feel fortunate to have had them throughout the greater part of my life. And now that I don’t, it’s disconcerting.
My mother had six sisters and two brothers. She was the third in line. They all had names that you don’t run across everyday, even for the time that they were growing up: Oleta, Hulda Victoria (whom we called Hazel), Ollie Nadine (my mom), Jesse Imogene, Lavetta and lastly, Phyllis.
My aunt Phyllis, the baby in the family, passed away two years ago leaving only my aunt Lavetta, who died last month. I hadn’t seen Lavetta in several years although we kept in touch through Christmas cards and correspondence. But during the past two years, dementia took its toll and it became difficult to connect with her although she still responded and remembered her brother Norman (my uncle) who played his harmonica for her whenever he phoned.
As a kid, she was pretty mischievous and was often sucked into trouble by her older and younger brothers. Once, so the story goes, her younger brother talked her into laying her finger down onto a tree stump whereupon he then sliced off a chunk of it with his little hatchet. Whether it was an accident or intentional, her brother was severely punished. My grandmother managed to save Lavetta’s finger without a doctor’s assistance, although I don’t recall exactly how.
One of her jobs on the Missouri farm where my Mother’s family then lived, was to bring the cow up from the pasture to the barn. Lavetta often did so by riding the cow instead of herding it in. She could never retell or listen to the story without breaking into laughter, I suppose from recalling what must have been a very bumpy ride.
I always thought Lavetta was quite beautiful with her big dark eyes, short, always stylish dark hair and bright smile. She was also very athletic her entire life, who, like my Mom enjoyed playing softball when growing up. She also was skilled on the tennis court, or at playing badminton or in the swimming pool. Later she took up bowling in which she regularly competed until back problems caused her to curtail those games. I too have been athletic my entire life which may be one reason I always admired ‘Love’ as the family called her, and welcomed the chance to play a game of tennis with her whenever she visited.
Lavetta began a career as a flight attendant, back in the days when they were referred as ‘stewardesses.’ She left that behind when she married my uncle Gene and started a family. My family often travelled up to the Chicago area where they lived to visit them. Together we’d go to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, Marshall-Field’s big department store in downtown or once, made the trek together up to the scenic Wisconsin Dells. I have fond memories of those visits.
She later remarried after her first husband died suddenly of a heart problem. With her second husband, Lavetta attended the family reunions in Missouri’s Ozarks where they took part in the skits that my aunt Hazel had written, sometimes dressing up in hillbilly or sailor costumes as the part she played may have called for. Her new husband, Del, was a vocal teacher who had a beautiful baritone voice and together they’d sing old songs to entertain those gathered for the reunion and dance to tunes that my mother’s generation loved. Del even made a CD collection of those songs for us recording a personal introduction to each track.
Simply said, Love loved life and loved to laugh. While she had her serious moments, it was her big laugh, along with that acquired Chicago-area accent that I recall best. Now that laugh is silenced forever and I have only my memories, my photographs, the CD collection and a fabulous Mouton coat that once belonged to her to keep her close. She and my other aunts are no doubt having a wonderful time together again in their afterlives.
I miss all of them dearly, especially on days like this one when I would have popped five or six Mother’s Day cards into the mail. Our time together now seems relatively short-lived but full and rich. Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom and my dear aunts. You still live in my memory.
I switched on the television this morning and there it was, the 129th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, already well underway. This parade with its profusion of elaborately expensive flower-decked floats that glide down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, Ca. while millions of spectators watch from both curbside and in the comfort of their homes via electronic broadcast, has become as much a New Year’s tradition in many American households as has pop[ing a bottle of champagne the night before.
Watching the Rose Parade on television was a New Year’s Day tradition in my parents’ home when I was growing up in middle of the country. Seeing tall palm trees on TV on January first was an exotic sight compared to the gray, bare-branched oaks, elms and maples shivering in the cold outside my hometown window. Pasadena’s bright blue and sunny skies (it’s only rained 10 times on the parade and only twice in my lifetime), were a Chamber of Commerce advertising postcard that teased those of us stuck in frigid temperatures with winter’s white snow and ice often coating the ground.
That’s exactly why the Tournament of Roses was originated in 1890 by the city’s Valley Hunt Club. The men of this civic organization envisioned the tournament and established a parade of flower decorated horse-drawn carriages as a way to promote their little Southern California city. Today, the event has developed into one of the biggest New Year’s Day celebrations in the country. Millions of flowers, buds, seeds and grasses are used to create the floats and make the Rose Parade one of the most beautiful holiday events in the world.
When I moved to Los Angeles I wanted to experience the Rose Parade in person. I never dreamed, as a kid back in Kansas, that one day I would actually huddle alongside all those other people to watch the big floats pass by within yards of where I stood. I went three times to the parade while living in Southern California. Veteran Rose Parade-goers will tell you tricks to preparing and staking out the best viewing positions. For some that means setting up tents the day before and spending the night on the sidewalk along with thousands of other dedicated and determined folks. The night takes on a festive atmosphere as people bring in the New Year together at their city campsites.
We never camped out choosing instead to arise well before dawn, load up the car with coats, camp stools, ladder, cameras, kids and provisions for the day then drive the 25 miles from our house in the San Fernando Valley to our friends’ home in South Pasadena. We parked our car in their driveway (a primo place) and hiked towards our desired parade spot. Experienced parade watchers have their favorite places from which to watch the two-hour moving spectacle. The first year, we staked out a spot near the start of the parade on California Boulevard and set up a ladder so that we could see over the heads of those lining the street in front of us. Even from our higher elevation, the floats towered above us as they passed by.
For the 1989 Rose Parade Centennial, we were treated to grandstand seats by my uncles and aunts from Phoenix and California who reserved overnight spots for their motor homes in a parking lot right off the parade route. My parents, who I’m sure never imagined that they would see the Rose Parade firsthand, my brother, Richard, and his young family flew out for the special celebration. We assembled early at the motor homes for a quick breakfast before the parade began then strolled together to our seats in the grandstand. We bundled up as it was colder than usual that year and kept ourselves warm by drinking steaming hot cocoa poured from a thermos. Everyone enjoyed the show except for my two-year-old son who cuddled in my husband’s arms and slept through the entire thing. Afterwards, we retreated to the motor home where we feasted on sandwiches while everyone else streamed out of the stands towards their cars and homes.
Following lunch, we headed over to where the floats were parked for post-parade viewing open to the public for a close-up look at the intricate floral work. Every inch on the floats must be concealed by the flowers or seeds. The colors are even more brilliant and breathtaking when you see each bloom that was painstakingly glued or stuck into place for the day’s parade by the countless volunteers who work through the night before to complete the decorating. The floats remain in the post-parade viewing area for a few days before being pulled out and towed unceremoniously by tractor to the many warehouses where they are dissembled.
I went for one final Rose Parade with my three sons, then ages five, seven and nine-years-old, in 1995. My husband chose to stay home. The rest of us arose pre-dawn, packed up the car, drove to Pasadena, parked and walked together up the street to our grandstand seats. The parade rolled by as we watched live one final time.
Float after float went by interspersed by the marching bands that had come from all over the country to take part. A little more than midway through the parade, one band in particular caught my eye. It was the Golden Eagle Marching Band from Ferndale, WA. Excitedly I pointed out to my sons that this band was from the little town we had visited near Bellingham, where we had vacationed the previous summer. It had to be serendipitous that the band made its one and only appearance in that Rose Parade. Only two years later, we would be watching the parade on television from our new home in Bellingham and recalling the New Year’s Days that we had gone to Pasadena to see the Rose Parade.
I’ve been thinking a lot about all my family and friends in Southern California where some of the worst wildfires in the state’s history continue to burn out of control. (Hopefully by the time you read this firefighters will have gained the upper hand.) Fortunately, the flames have missed most of my family and friends, but last week, two of my dearest friends had to flee their home in the middle of the night.
At the time, theirs was a voluntary evacuation, although the threat has crept ever closer until the fire line is now only a little more than a mile from their home. They tried to return to their house yesterday to gather a few more belongings but their attempts were thwarted when the main freeway was closed between where they are now staying and their home.
They grabbed what they could last week as they quickly abandoned their house. Among the things that went with them, were their priceless family photo albums and the external hard drives on which they had stored their digital images.
This was on my mind because I’m obviously very concerned and worried for my friends but also because I had heard a television news item earlier last week about the “5 Ps” to take in case you have to evacuate. Photographs was on the list, along with pets, personal papers, prescriptions and your personal computer. In a year when this country has seen devastating fires, hurricanes and floods, too many Americans (including those in Puerto Rico where they are still struggling), have had to decide what to take when suddenly told to leave their home.
I have had only one instance in my life when this happened to me. That was the year the 6.7 Northridge earthquake rocked our neighborhood. When the shaking stopped, we gathered our sons, carried them out to our front lawn and told them not to move while my husband and I went back into the house to collect some items. Plumes of smoke were rising into the air from a nearby fire. We decided to prepare for the worse, not knowing whether another quake would follow or whether the fire would move to our house, pushed by the Santa Ana winds predicted for that day, the same winds driving the terrible fires in Southern California now.
Among the things I considered essential, were my family’s photo albums and the portraits hanging on my walls. I carried out armful after armful, nearly filling the family van. One reason I could do this was because I kept the albums in one spot and stored the boxes of photos not yet in albums in one place. This is something I still practice although I now have many more albums, along with the boxes and the photos still to be sorted from my parents’ home. Some of the photos I couldn’t stand to lose are those from Christmases when I was a kid.
I first wrote about this after the devastating tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma in 2013. What I said then still goes: nearly everything else, with the exception of family heirlooms, can be covered by insurance or replaced when destroyed by disaster. But a family’s photographs are truly priceless and often irreplaceable. I offered then some tips for keeping your photos safe and encourage you to go back for a reminder by clicking here.
Digital photography has made it easier in many ways to archive your precious images by uploading them to a ‘cloud’ storage service, or burning them to CD or storing them on external hard drives, hopefully you do at least two of these. In addition, make prints of the images that mean the most to you because as wonderful and convenient as ‘cloud’ and digital storage is, there’s still no guarantee that these systems are fail proof. And keep your prints somewhere where you can easily grab them in the event you are ordered to evacuate.
My friends are safe, for now, hoping and waiting for the winds to die down, for fire fighters to gain ground and for the fiery monster approaching their home to be stopped. There is much they will lose if the flames aren’t extinguished, but along with the family pet, their prescriptions, their personal computer they have their family photos. I hope others who also have had to head for higher ground in rising water, hunker down against a hurricane or run from engulfing fires this year also had the chance to grab their own family’s photos.
None of this matters, of course, if lives are at stake. There are ways to reconstruct your photographic history if it comes to that, even prior to digital technology. You may lose some of your most meaningful visual memories, but nothing surmounts the loss of life.