Baker City Booming with Life

“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.

Welcome to Baker City! The sign denoting the town’s historic center.

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 Baker City trolley runs through downtown.

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.

The Geiser Grand is open for guests and on the National Historic Register.

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.

In the 1890s the Geiser Grand was a grand place to stay.

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.

One of several restaurants and cafes in downtown Baker City is Charley’s Deli.

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.

The 110-year-old Carnegie Library now serves as the town’s art center.

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.

The Baker bull sculptre stands on Main Street outside one of the local art galleries.

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.

The old post office was a near duplicate of that in m own hometown.

 

Race Day Brings Excitement, People, Surprises

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.

Team member Terri early on the morning of the race about to head up with other team members to the mountain where the race begins.

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.

Connie, on her cross country skis, got us started at 8 a.m. on Mount Baker.

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.

Waiting to go out on race day is one of the hardest parts of the race

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.

Valerie, our team’s road cycler, after finishing up her 40-mile ride.

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.

Our team’s canoers Sue and Joanne bring their boat up to the finish line of the canoe leg with a little help from Carolyn, our mountain biker who took over from there.

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.

In my kayak, giving it my all to push through the water on race day.

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!!”

Much to our surprise, the Angst Ridden Mamas took third place in our division in the Ski to Sea race in 2004.

“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.

The third-place medals taken by our team in a surprise ending to our first race.

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!

 

 

Fremont Church Answers Flood Victims’ Prayers

The carillon of the First Baptist Church in Fremont, Neb. plays every hour on the hour during the day.  Chimed music gently floats over the neighboring area and reminds one of a time gone by, when people dressed in their Sunday best strolled down the brick streets lined with big, two-story American Craftsman and Victorian-styled homes nearby, on their way to morning services.

My brother, Richard, and wife Nola, at the church where he is pastor in Fremont, Neb.

The 150-year-old church sits on the corner of C and Fifth Streets and within sight of the Episcopalian, Lutheran and the former Catholic churches.   These churches likely were built about the same time. First Baptist’s founders met and started their church in 1869, just two years after Nebraska became a state, in a private residence down the street that still stands and is the second oldest structure in Fremont today.  Their current red brick Romanesque Revival style church building is their third and was dedicated in 1923.

The sanctuary reflects the simplicity of a time when it was built in 1923.

Inside, the sanctuary is dignified but simple with massive dark wood beams arching up to the ceiling above the two sections of wooden, upholstered pews divided by a center aisle leading up to the altar area. The minister’s pulpit and choir director’s podium stand on either side of the stepped-up altar area with the choir pews directly behind the massive wooden altar with a large blue stained glass window rising behind in the background. The church still has its pipe organ too with the banks of pipes hidden behind arched screens on either side of the altar area.   Crisscrossed leaded stained glass windows on either side of the sanctuary flood the interior with golden light when the sun shines through.

Golden light illuminates the church’s stained glass windows.

But the heart and soul of this small town church isn’t its brick and mortar building, it’s the people.  During the past two months, have been one of the most generous and helpful to those in Fremont and the even smaller, surrounding towns that are still trying to recover from the massive flooding in mid-March.  This happened when the two rivers in the area, the Platte and the Elkhorn, overflowed after sudden warm weather melted piles of a recent snowstorm and rainstorm after rainstorm dropped more water than the land or rivers could absorb.  The area was literally turned into islands, cut off from one another and outside aid by washed out highways and interstates that are just now re-opening.

From the air you can se the flood water that still stands over much of the area.

Led by its minister, my brother, Richard, his church has provided assistance to 30 outlying communities and “scores and scores of people.”  The church’s family center was turned into a major distribution center and filled with supplies once they could be delivered.  Financial aid, to purchase essentials and food or to replace damaged hot water heaters or propane tanks that had been washed away, was given to those who needed it.  On a recent visit, I went with Richard to give gift cards for these items to three flood victims who were grateful to tears.

Recovered propane tanks that were washed away by the flood waters stamd abandoned and await disposal.

 

We also spent part of an afternoon handing out bottles of energy drinks, packages of athletic socks, cans of vegetables and soups, 5 pound bags of rice and boxes of nutrition bars to those who lived in one of the hardest hit areas of Fremont.  These were largely low income Hispanic families whose mobile homes were livable but badly damaged. Five families took refuge in a local Hispanic church, staying in the basement until they were reassured that it was okay to return to their home.

Maricella emerged to lead the relief effort with the Hispanic community.

One from their community, Maricella, began the relief effort for these people by giving out donations from a truck at a corner Mexican food market in town.  When Richard and his church discovered this, they stepped in and offered to contribute supplies and people to help.

Buckets were filled by church funds and distributed to flood victims/

With help from her organizational skills, they put together a plan and a place for people to safely come to get what they needed. “We don’t ask where they come from or if they are citizens, or church members or what political party they belong to. If they need help, we help them,” says Richard.

During my brief visit, Richard drove me around the areas so I could see the impact the flood had made.  In the tiny town of Winslow, where 81 people once lived,now only three households are there.  They still have no running water and electricity, if they have it, is created by portable generators.  One couple is living in their garage. A giant mountain of ruined possessions, including appliances and furniture is piled along one of dirt streets awaiting someone to come pick it up.  As we were surveying it, one of the remaining residents walked up and tossed something else onto the pile. Richard stopped to talk with him.

The man, probably in his late 30s, told him that his house had been deemed ‘livable’ by diaster authorities but that he had four inches of mud in his basement. Insurance would cover some of the damage but not all. He was lucky, in some cases,  insurance companies are refusing claims because the water came into the house through the basements, not the ground floors, my brother explained.  Richard wrote a name and number on his business card and handed it to the man telling him to contact them for assistance.  The man’s eyes teared up as he thanked us and we said good-bye.

Richard offers some words of comfort and suggestions for help to a flood victim.

These are the kind of interactions that have occurred over and over as Richard and his church have encountered flood victims. People needing help, not knowing where to find it in many cases or denied aid for various reasons from outside government and disaster relief agencies, grateful to learn that this little Fremont church is offering to come to their aid however they can.

Richard carries out boxes of supplies from the church to deliver to the flood victims.

Donations have come from the church’s national association and through many outside individuals in addition to the church members themselves. The last of the relief funds was used for the three gift cards.  There’s still a Donate button that takes you to PayPal on the church website.  If more donations come in, they will provide whatever aid remains to done, not asking for proof of insurance, or citizenship or political affiliation or church membership.

The Sunday I was in town, my brother delivered a message to his congregation that included the story of Jesus feeding the multitude 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes.  I’m sure that he chose to relate that particular story because it illustrated so well what his little church itself has done recently to respond to the flood victims.  They have made a difference in the lives most in need and have made their funds and supplies go further than anyone would have thought.

Richard retells the Biblical story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 people to his Sunday congregation.

 

 

Mother’s Day Memories Are Homemade

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.

Handmade cards by children of the church will be given to their Mom’s.

 

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.

Among my most treasured items are the homemade boxes by sons made and gave to me on Mother’s Day years ago.

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.

Made for me by one of my sons, this tiny steagosaurus has a place on a shelf in my home.

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.

 

 

Food, Family and Fun Times around the Christmas Table

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.

One of the photos I found while assembling my photo gift book was this one of my Dad slicing green tomatoes for his pie.

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.

One of my Dad’s favorite recipes was this one for the piccalilli relish.

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.

The dining room wasn’t large at my parents’ home at the motel where I grew up but the Christmas dinners always took place.

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 family gathers for a Christmas dinner.

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.

Taken years later from the first gathering, the family comes together for another Christmas dinner in my aunt and uncle’s basement.

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.

An Illustrating Lunch in a Little Museum

“Can meet for quick lunch at 1:30.  You need to pick place.”  The text from my son, Tim, came in at 11:30 a.m.  I had just enough time to change clothes, walk to the subway and travel from where I was staying in Brooklyn to 63rd and Park in Manhattan where my son was working for the day.

Fortunately I had a little extra time because I accidentally round myself on the wrong train. Luckily, I soon discovered my mistake and was able to get off and switch to another train that delivered me within blocks of my destination.

I walked from the station up Lexington Avenue looking for a restaurant where my son and I might meet to eat.  At 62nd I turned to head over to Park Avenue and then up towards 63rd Avenue.  I saw the building where my son was working but no restaurants or cafes.  So I started back towards Lexington.  I hadn’t quite gotten to Lexington when a sign on a wall caught my eye.  “Maurice Sendak Exhibition and Sale,” it read. The poster featured an illustration I recognized from the Sendak’s classic children’s book, “In the Night Kitchen.”

The main gallery for the Museum of Illustrators is open to the public and free of charge.

Curious, I opened the red door, stepped inside 128 E. 63rd and found myself at the Museum of Illustration.  The museum, founded in 1981, is the home of the Society of Illustrators, established in 1901 to promote the art of illustration.  Its membership has included such illustrious artists as N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, among others.  The five-story townhouse was purchased in 1939 by the society for its headquarters and over several years was renovated to create offices for the society, two galleries and a bookstore on its lower floors for special exhibitions and programs and on the third floor a lounge and library for its membership. In the 1960s, that space was converted into a handsome bar and a cozy but airy dining room that, I discovered, is open to the public from noon to 3 p.m. for lunch.

Among the works on display at the museum were illustrations from Sendak’s “The Night Kitchen.”

It was an ideal spot for my lunch with my son and sent him a message to join me there. In the meantime, I walked into the main gallery where the works of illustrator Maurice Sendak were on display.  Sendak is regarded by many as “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century,” according to the New York Times. “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Night  Kitchen” were two of the best read books on my sons shelf when they were growing up so it was a treat to see Sendak’s original sketches, watercolors and ink drawings in this special exhibition. More than one hundred pieces hung on the walls representing some of Sendaks’ rarest work from his books, theatre designs and commercial assignments.  Incredibly, all of them were for sale but at prices beyond my pocketbook.

I hadn’t quite finished viewing the entire exhibit when my son came in. Given his limited 30-minute time for lunch, we went directly upstairs to the bistro, took a table and quickly ordered.  I chose the Cobb salad which was fresh and delicious and reasonable.  Halfway through my meal, Tim received an alert on his phone from a friend.

The bistro serves food for lunchers with illustrators’ works on the walls.

“Where’s your meeting?” he asked referring to my appointment that afternoon.  I told him. “You’re not going there,” he said firmly.  The area, he explained, had been placed on ‘lock down’ when pipe bombs, delivered to various locations throughout the city, had been discovered.

Some of Sendak’s rarest works, such as this sketch, were displayed in the museum’s special exhibit.

With my meeting postponed, I suddenly had two free hours. I decided since I was already there, and somewhere safe, to spend the afternoon at the museum and its relaxing bistro. I went back to the Sendak exhibit and finished looking at the Sendak exhibit.  Then I worked my way up the artwork hanging on the stairway wall to the narrow halls of the second floor where illustrations by the members and now in the society’s permanent collection of 2,500 were

The bold, black and white art from comics such as The Vault of Horror was displayed on the museum’s bistro walls. There’s a bit of humor, along with horror in this illustration of a detached arm hanging onto a subway holder.

displayed.   Magazine illustrations, comic books drawings and cartoons was included.

I returned to the third floor bistro so I could have a closer look at the Norman Rockwell mural that permanently hangs over the bar in the lounge and the illustrations from Mad Magazine and E.C. Comics in the Tales from the Crypt special exhibit. A number of the bold, strongly stylized black and white comic book illustrations came from horror titles, appropriate since Halloween was just around the corner.  Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt were among the comic book titles represented.  The illustrations were detailed, gory and violent in some.  Their graphic-ness disturbed some when they first appeared but their creators were also pointing out hypocrisy, prejudice and inhumanity.  More than 70 pen and ink drawings from the 1950s by some of the genres most celebrated comic artists were on view. I took my time examining each and reading the extensive commentary written by the curator Rob Pistella.

The red canopy of the museum welcomes visitors to the home of the Society of Illustrators.

The afternoon went by quickly.  Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave for my appointment rescheduled from earlier that day.  My plans had taken a sudden turn and given me the unexpected time to spend in this little unassuming New York museum.  In future trips, I’ll check the museum’s calendar and gladly return to the bistro for another lunch.

 

Popping In on Pink at FIT

One of the things I love about travel is the surprises it often brings, even when the trip is tightly scheduled, as it was for me on a recent visit to New York City.  In town for both business and personal reasons, I managed to work in some unexpected stops at a couple of places in the city I’d not been previously.

The first came on Tuesday. My day was full of meetings with me running back and forth from Greenwich Village to  the lower West Side on the subway. It started with a lovely lunch meeting at Mary’s Fish Camp in the Village; then I hopped the Number 1 train to my next appointment on 29th and 7th Ave after which I returned to the Village to drop in on a filmmaker at her office in the West Village.

The sign at the top of the stairs leading to the exhibition clearly says it all.

With my day over, I had a couple of hours free before I was to have dinner with my son.  I had learned about an exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology called quite simply: “Pink.” In all the years that I’ve been to New York, I had never gone to this little museum, located  on 7th Avenue and at 27th street on the college’s block long campus. FIT is part of the State University of New York‘s system and focuses on those disciplines related to the fashion industry.

The Ralph Lauren gown worn by actress Gwyneth Paltrow to the 1999 Academy Awards was intended to recall Grace Kelly. It is one of the items displayed in the Pink exhibit at FIT.

The special exhibit, “Pink: The History of a Pretty, Punk, Powerful Color,” explores the changing significance of the color pink in fashion over the past three centuries.  It’s eye-popping displays of mannequins dressed in clothing from the 18th to the mid-20th century are elegant, colorful, curious and brilliant.  Represented in the 80 ensembles is everything from glamorous gowns to hip-hop influenced threads.  Children’s clothing from the past are presented as are contemporary men’s and women’s suits, dresses, pants and lingerie.  From high fashion to the everyday, it’s all included in this special exhibit.

You’ll see designs by such contemporary fashion industry giants as Valentino, Gucci, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. And there are styles by the more avant-garde such as the Japanese designer,  Rei Kawakubo.  It’s quite a treat to see some of these styles up close and so beautifully shown.

Pink was a fashionable color for men in the 18th century as well as for women.

Hot pink, pastel pink, pale pink, bright pink. Every imaginable shade of the color can be found in the exhibit.  “Pink” curator Valerie Steele also places into perspective the color culturally and explores how it came to be so strongly gender associated with women. That was not always the case. In fact, you learn in the exhibit that pink had neither a feminine nor masculine connotation in the 18th century but rather was associated with “elegance, novelty and aristocratic splendor.”  Perhaps one explanation for this is because the dye used to produce the brighter shades of the color popular at the time was newly discovered and came from Brazil, undoubtedly making it an expensive and limited to only those who could afford it.

The idea that pink was for girls didn’t taken hold until the early 1900s and was further reinforced with the highly publicized purchase in the 1920s by railroad tycoon Henry Huntington of artist Thomas Gainsborough‘s renowned paintings, “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence.  In the 1950s, according to the curator’s commentary, that the stereotype solidified.  But the exhibit also explores how other non-Western cultures have embraced and continue to use the color in dressing both sexes.

Not only is outerwear on display but historic pink undergarments, such as this corset, is included.

I spent nearly two hours browsing through and photographing the exhibit. Pink is, after all, one of my favorite colors (as long as it’s a warmer toned pink).  I have had and still have a lot of pink in my wardrobe. When I was a teenager, my bedroom walls were painted a hot pink.  So the FIT show was  an appropriate stop for me to make.

The clothing in FIT’s exhibit is handsomely and tastefully lit against black backgrounds that make the clothing and the color stand out.  If you find yourself headed to New York between now and Jan. 5,  plan to visit the FIT exhibit and museum.  Admission is free, it’s fairly easy to get to by public transit and it’s certainly not an exhibit that you’re likely to find elsewhere.

As for my other ‘surprises’ from this trip, you’ll need to wait for an upcoming blog.

A luxurious pink bodice from one of the gowns displayed embellished with a bouquet of silk flowers.

Crab Fishing Outing Ends Summer Season

With the arrival of autumn, I’m taking this opportunity to look back at the summer which seems to have gone by all too quickly.

One of the summer pleasures of living in the coastal region of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. is crab season.  The waters of the Salish Sea are typically abundant with delectable Dungeness crab, yours for the taking with a crab pot, some bait, and a valid crab license from Washington Fish and Wildlife Department. It also helps to have friends with a boat to carry you out to the deeper waters where these shellfish tend to congregate.

When looking for a good spot for your crab pots it helps to have a map with the water depths.

I am lucky to have such friends and was invited (okay I ‘fished’ for the invitation). to go along with them one summer Sunday ‘crabbing’ in the bay.  The thought of coming home with a bucket of Dungeness for dinner set me in action. I hopped out of bed early to meet them at the boat launch by 7 a.m. I grabbed my plastic bucket, my camera, a thermal bag with packed snacks and a bottle of water and headed out the door. Low tide had just passed; the water was flat and smooth.  It would have perfect for kayaking if the skies hadn’t been so smoke-filled from the fires burning in British Columbia to the north. The sun was a ball of red, as seen through the smokey cover.

We had the bay to ourselves as we headed out towards nearby Portage Island where my friend Roger’s brother reported catching his limit of crab the day before.  Each license holder in Washington is entitled to five crabs. They must be males and measure more than six and three-quarters inches across the back of their shell from point to point. Roger pointed the bow of the boat towards the West and we sped off.

With chicken used as bait and placed in a red plastic bag, friends Tina and Roger lower the crab pot over the side of the boat.

Portage Island is a small, uninhabited island located just off the Lummi Peninsula, north of Bellingham, WA.  and is part of the Lummi Nation‘s Tribal Lands. During very low tides, it is possible to walk from the island to the peninsula, which is how. it is said, the cattle that roam free on the island arrived.  People too are welcome on the island for day trips to explore its 1,400 square miles and observe the bird and wildlife that live there.

As we approached the southeastern point of Portage, Roger slowed the boat and switched on the radar. We were looking for a spot that was ideally 65 feet for the crab pots.  We bobbed around for a while until we found a spot closer to Hale’s Passage that was deep enough. Roger cut the engine and lifted one of the two rectangular metal cage pots onto the side of the boat. Tina, his wife and my friend, opened the bag of chicken parts that had been soaked in sardine liquid to make the bait more attractive to the crabs.

After a couple of hours, Roger pulls up a crab pot to check the take.

The pot was tossed overboard, along with the buoys attached to them so that we could find then later.  Roger steered the boat out further looking for another possible location. After cruising around a bit, we settled on a spot that was about 70 feet deep and threw the second crab pot, loaded with the chicken bait into the water.  Now we had only to relax and wait an hour before we would haul up the pots and pull out our fresh shellfish.

Tina turned on some rock music on the player as we kicked back, munched on our snacks and enjoyed the cooler temperatures brought by the smoke-covered skies. Part of the ritual of crabbing is this waiting time filled with talking, laughing and eating. Before we knew it, an hour had passed.  Roger started the boat and we motored back to our first crab pot.

Only crabs that measure to the legal size and are male may be kept. All others must be returned to the sea.

Roger attached the handle to the pulley and began to crank in the metal wire pot. All three of us were anxious to see just how many of the shelled creatures we’d caught.  Water streamed from the pot as it lifted out of the water. About half a dozen crabs sat in the bottom. With the pot balanced on the side of the boat, Roger lifted them out of the pot one by one, their large claws pinching as he did. Carefully, he rotated each one so that Tina could measure each one.  Disappointed, we tossed one after another back as they weren’t large enough to keep. By the end, we had one keeper.

But we weren’t discouraged, we still had another pot to check. We moved the boat over to that buoy and repeated the process. Unfortunately, none of the crabs in that pot measured up.

When the water is boiling, it’s time to lower the day’s catch into the pot.

Not dissuaded, Tina loaded the pots with more chicken and we pitched them overboard once again to give it a second chance.  And again we waited patiently another hour with our hopes still high that we’d haul in a mess of the tasty crustaceans. When the hour had passed, we pulled up the pots once again.

Our luck was slightly better this second time but not overwhelmingly so.  Although there were several crabs in each of the two pots, only three were large enough for us to take home.  By now, we had invested nearly four hours of the day to this adventure and though we had started out early, it was already nearly noon.  We still had to get back to shore, hose off and clean the boat, take the crab back to Tina and Roger’s house where we’d cook them in a pot of boiling water (the worst part of the process for me) so that they’d be ready to eat later that day.

That evening, we sat down to our separate dinners to savor our catch of the day. To say that there’s nothing like a mouthful of that sweet, white and flaky crab meat taken fresh from the water that very day is an understatement. I’ve now lived in the Pacific Northwest for a little more than 20 years and I still am grateful and excited whenever I have a meal made of food caught, grown and cooked right from the waters and farm fields of my surrounding area. There truly is nothing that compares to the taste.

For me, catching and eating fresh crab is now part of my summer. I can not imagine a summer without it.  Crab season lingers into the fall as the leaves begin to turn color but the activity is mostly something I  now associate with summer. And although autumn is clearly here,  and gives me something to look forward to for next summer.

 

Culinary Matriarch Commanded Legendary NOLA Restaurant

Ella Brennan was a  giant among restaurateurs in New Orleans as was her reputation for establishing and running one of this country’s most renowned culinary institutions, Commander’s PalaceShe died this past week at age 92 leaving her daughter, Ti, and niece, Lally, to carry on the reputation of operating  the prestigious restaurant located on the corner of Washington and Coliseum in the  Garden District of New Orleans.

Whether you arrive by carriage or car, Commander’s Palace is ready to serve you.

Indeed, Commander’s has become part of my own tradition since my husband and I  started going to New Orleans 17 years ago.  We originally went to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  We’ve returned year after year for a winter-break.  Usually, we only stay a week, but it’s been enough time for us to become very familiar with the city and its outlying area, to make some very good friends and to sample lots of good food all over the city in its too many to mention restaurants.

The mosaic seal in the lobby at Commander’s Palace notes the year it was established.

Every year, however, Commander’s is at the top of our list as the way we start our visit.  It has become our personal tradition to make the Garden District restaurant our first stop for Sunday jazz brunch.  Without brunch at Commander’s I honestly don’t know how to begin our trip.  There have been a couple of years when I failed to phone early enough (a month in advance is advised) to book our table and no reservation was available.  Fortunately, Jimmy, the reservation agent who I’ve come to know over the years, told me to call back a few days before our given Sunday because often there will be an opening.  When I did, as I had to do this year, we’ve managed to get in.  I have been so thankful for this accommodation on these times that I now take a little box of chocolates for Jimmy in gratitude.

Ti Martin, one of the restaurant owners, right, in a photo with me during one of my visits.

What makes Commander’s so special is not only the delicious Creole-style food served on its menu (recently updated by current executive chef Tory McPhail who hails from nearby Ferndale, WA.), but its impeccable service, lovely surroundings, fun, relaxing atmosphere, the jazz music played while you eat and Southern hospitality shown by its owners, Ella, her sister Dottie, and the aforementioned Ti and Lally.  Whenever Ti and Lally are in-house, they tend to alternate shifts, they make it a point to walk through their dining rooms to greet and check on their customers, whether or not they know them.

Birthdays celebrants at Commander’s are presented with a chef’s hat along with your dessert, like this bread pudding soufflé.

I’ve had wonderful conversations with them both over the years, had the chance to introduce them to friends who’ve joined us for the meal and to tell them time and again how much I love their restaurant.  I have celebrated anniversaries, birthdays and Carnival with friends and family there, just as many New Orleanians do.  I’ve seen parties of grandmothers, mothers and daughters who’ve come in after church, all wearing a single strand of pearls, to celebrate a special occasion.  I’ve enjoyed overhearing excited chats by tables of tourists experiencing Commanders for the first time.  And I’ve had the immense pleasure of taking my own friends and family their for their first meal.

Ella Brennan’s restaurant is more than just a place to eat fine food, it’s a place where these sort of traditions are established and carried on by generations of patrons, for whom, like myself, life or a visit in New Orleans is unheard of without Commander’s.

Reopening after Hurricane Katrina, Commander’s hung out its ‘Now Hiring’ sign. My friend, Mary Lou and I were among the first diners that year.

After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, leaving considerable damage to Commander’s as well as the rest of the Garden District, largely due to the high force winds, people wondered if Commander’s would re-open.  For the Brennan ladies in charge, there apparently was no question.  They took the disaster as an opportunity to rebuild and renovate. It took them more than a year.

I walked by the winter after the storm to find it all boarded up.  But then I returned the following year when it was back in business, listened to Lally as she described to me the full extent of the restoration and relished in the fact that it, like New Orleans, was resilient and determined to get back on its feet, despite a lack of support from some in government.  That was the year that I talked with the group of women sitting at the table next to me, heard their ‘storm stories’ and learned that their Episcopal church had been the recipient of recovery funds from the Episcopalian diocese in Washington state.  Their gratitude was touching.

Typically, I ask for a table in the dining area overlooking Commander’s tree-covered courtyard because I feel more like a ‘local’ there and enjoy sitting at eye-level with the big, gnarly branches of the Southern oak that stretches over it.  The chairs are cushioned and tables are arranged with plenty of room between for the jazz trios that play during brunch (one usually cruises downstairs while a second plays upstairs) to maneuver their instruments, including a stand-up bass, between to play requests. Every now and then, diners are coaxed into a joining a ‘second line’to wave their napkins as they wind through the dining room.

Brunch guests join the restaurant’s jazz trio in an impromptu second line parade through the dining room.

The menu is extensive and all of it tasty.  I tend to order the breakfast entrees, rather than the luncheon selections, whenever we go but had the pecan-crusted gulf fish this year instead of my favorite Cochon de Lait Eggs Benedict.  Of course you must order a ‘starter’ to begin–the turtle soup is always popular as is the gumbo but I usually opt for a seasonal salad, quite often topped with fresh, local strawberries.  I always save room for dessert because Commander’s creole bread pudding soufflé with whiskey cream sauce is not to be missed!  It’s a once a year splurge that I’m not willing to pass up.  And to drink, a Bloody Mary or Mimosa followed by chicory coffee for those, unlike me, who consume coffee.

Commander’s courtyard and the trumpet on break during a Sunday brunch.

While the food is wonderful, it’s the little touches that make the meal even more memorable–fresh, crusty French bread laid on the table in a wrapped white linen napkin nearly as soon as you sit down; bus boys and girls who refill your water the instant the level drops much below two-thirds of a glass; the simultaneous serving of each course by the black and white attired wait staff; the cheery, welcome by the maitre d’ the minute you step in the door and of course the personal table visits by the owners.

After eating, I enjoy strolling through the rest of the restaurant, including a stop in the spacious and sparkling clean kitchen (the swinging doors leading into it are labeled “Yes” and “No”) where you can watch the amazing cook staff in action.  There is even a table in the kitchen where diners can sit and watch the show if you reserve it.

Diners are welcome and can even eat in the kitchen where you can watch the cook staff in action.

If it’s Carnival season, as it was this year when I was in town, you’re invited to go watch the parades moving along St. Charles Street just a few blocks away and welcome to return to Commander’s for the toilet should the need arise.  Or, if not, we wander through the historic neighborhood, admiring the elegant, old homes there, which include Miss Brennan’s herself located right next door to the restaurant.  If someone is with us who has never visited the city before, we walk through the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, across the street, the oldest city-operated cemetery where the tombs are above-ground and the statuary and inscriptions represent New Orleans’ rich history.

The elegant dining room on the main floor of Commander’s Palace as viewed through the glass window in the restaurant’s lobby.

For me, Commander’s is the consummate culinary experience with outstanding food, unsurpassed service and Southern hospitality at its finest. These are the qualities that Ella Brennan insisted be carried out in her beloved restaurant. They are standards to which other eating establishments throughout the U.S. have aspired to achieve as a result. Whether or not you’ve ever been to Commander’s it’s possible that you’ve eaten somewhere that has been influenced by her example.

If you’ve not yet been to the New Orleans restaurant, I hope you’ll consider making it part of your visit when you go.  But be forewarned, it still maintains a dress code that is enforced although it’s been relaxed some in recent years.  I guarantee it will be a culinary experience you’ll not forget and it might become, as it has for us, a new tradition.

 

 

Totem Memorializes Local Tragedy

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.

The healing totem was especially beautiful in the spring when the trees surrounding it flowered.

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 vibrant, bold colors of the totem can be seen in this detail of a salmon.

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.

Lummi Nation master carver Jewell James speaks at the dedication ceremony.

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.

Lummi Nation tribal members as well as family and Bellingham community members gathered on April 20, 2007 to dedicate the healing totem.

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.

The parents of Wade King, Frank and Mary, watch as their son’s personal belongings are placed into the memorial box on the totem.

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.

As if on cue, two majestic eagles appeared, silhouetted in the sky, as the totem’s dedication ceremony concluded.

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.