Sunday, November 22, 2009


One of the worst things I do in this blog is generalize. My cousin Jimmy (always Jimmy, never Jim and certainly not James) said the broad strokes were basically right. My caveat is always that I am not a writer but a liar, and so keep myself off the inevitable hook of accurate historians (not Jimmy, he was great about reading my account of his family's history and mine.) Anne Lamott says she is careful what she writes about the living. As people pass, they fall under the pen, which we all know, is mightier than the pencil.

I am in Arcata tonight, attending the funeral of my aunt tomorrow, spending the days and the evenings with cousins I haven't seen since the last funeral. I look at thier children, some named for those gone before, everyone looking more than a little bit alike. I am the only one from my shrinking clan who is present this evening. Allegedly, my brother will be here tomorrow. I hope so. We say things like: We've got to stop meeting like this. But this is how we meet, we 50 somethings. This is the social calendar of an aging family. And I wonder if the younger among us understand what a family we were, what spectacular people preceded us in death, how blessed those of us left behind are to have been a part of this whole.

I talk alot about the differences between my side and their side of the family, but what I usually forget to mention is that it never mattered. For instance, when my cousin Gary showed up and I told him I had moved to Portand and he said, "That bastion of liberalism." I just said, "Yeah, buddy!" and we both laughed. What is true is that I have no idea the politics beyond those who make it my business.

On a different note, Duffy is learning to poop while leashed. He isn't very happy about ithe indignity of it all, but as I was about to give in and let him off-leash, four fat raccoons slipped under the fence and stood drooling, still as stone, awaiting a single moment of inattention and a late night snack. Duffy, a ratter by trade, was thrilled to see them, and wanted to attack. I'd always heard that terriers are big dogs in a little dog's body, but didn't realize what that level of fearlessness would look like in action. He does not seem to think taking on four adult size raccoons is imbalanced.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

east meets westie

The therapy llama is Smokey. Duffy was impressed.
Raising a puppy on a dementia unit (a "memory care community" for the faint of heart) has its plusses and minuses. My spelling may be called into question in that last bit. Anyway, Duffy can hardly be to blame for all of the, shall we say, leavings, here and there. Today, for instance, somebody pooped in the tea room and somebody peed in one of the trash cans. We didn't know about the latter until Duffy had rooted around in it and came out smelling like some old bum's jockey shorts. Bums may not wear jockey shorts but I'm sure you get my drift. So I grabbed Duffy, stuck him in the sink and washed him with quarternary disinfectant. Nah, not really, but I did use good soap. Not baby soap. Not for THAT smell.

So being a puppy is relatively easy. You can blame the little round wet spots on Nate and nobody is the wiser.

The dogs are blissfully asleep, Duffy has learned to sit and that fact alone gives me hope for the future. He can learn.

My aunt died and I'll be making a pilgrimage to Arcata soon, me and the pup, back to one of the places of my youth, rich with time-twisted memories, to the place where my father died. I'm not sure if I've told the story or not, but I'll go ahead and spill it here.

My aunt was married to a logger. His name was Earl and he used to throw us up in the air, scaring the crap out of my mother. He drove to work on the old Oregon Mountain Road to and from Arcata through the Smith River Canyon during the days when they were logging the redwoods. Bad. I know. Anyway, one June morning before the crack of dawn, he drove off the skinny little road and plummeted to his death, leaving behind my aunt and seven children.

My father was between jobs at that time, so he and my mother and us five children moved to Arcata so my father could run his business (the Shadow Lodge in Trinidad). This was in the days before welfare and that's what families did. We were a close family, spent summers camping together, all that. So, we got Earl buried and my dad began working at the lodge. Mid July, my father laid down to read the newspaper and never woke up, leaving my mother and her five, and my aunt and her seven children to fend for themselves.

Twelve children and no welfare. I don't know how they got through the next months, but they did. Eventually, it was clear that there were too many people in one space and we moved back to Portland, I think, to be with my grandmother while my mother grieved my father. I think what really happened was that my aunt moved on, went to school, sold the business, made good financial decisions; my mother cried until she found whiskey some five years later, then her problems took a backseat to alcoholism.

The house in Arcata was an old, Spanish style stucco castle, with inlaid tiles, near Humboldt State, a block from downtown Arcata, heart of the Emerald Triangle. I spent a summer there when I was thirteen, I think. My aunt was an intellectual. A republican intellectual, which must be harder, don't you think? She travelled far and wide to follow genealogical threads of the Morris and Forster clans. And now she is gone, the last of the Forster children, at 91.

People who want to live forever haven't taken the time, I think, to talk to very many 91-year- olds. I have never met one that wanted it to go on indefinitely.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Duffy is nearly four months old now, and I am able to employ my hands in things other than taking him out to pee, cleaning up pee, picking up poop, or monitoring dog-dog combat. They are getting along fine, the pup and the pit, for those of you who worry. Duffy is alpha and Sid is basically gay, so it works.

I don't know if I wrote about it or not, but vacation a couple of years ago brought us through Arcata on our way south to Mendicino. My favorite aunt lives there, lived there, and when we visited it was clear that dementia had done its handiwork on a once-fine mind. She was a brilliant woman, a genealogist with an attitude, racist about phone voices "Can I get someone who speaks English, please?", and politically just to the right of Atilla the Hun. This last according to her right wing children. My family swung far left, artists and alkies all.

So, my aunt was placed in a dementia unit, much like mine, I suppose, and her house recently sold. Her children, much more organized than my clan, cleared out her house and brought me some photographs and documents they thought I'd like to have, and because I am currently the most responsible person in my family still living (I know, scary) they thought I'd be a good steward for the family treasures.

I exaggerate. There was no treasure. But there were letters, which are treasures to me. Letters from my mother to her sister.

I know I've characterized my mother as a madwoman in these pages. I know. And to be fair, she was. But she was my mom, so I get to say that stuff, just like my son is the only one who can say it about me. And he's welcome to say what he will.

The letters are precious, and reveal a hopeful if not an optimistic woman, badgered by poverty she could never see her way out of, even when the opportunity presented itself. They tell of job after job, hovel after hovel, where she scratched out a life lived without money for stamps or long distance or gas money or dental care. Of a belief in the goodness of her children even when anyone could see we were pure shit.

Once about twenty years ago I did a sort of life review, a sort of therapeutic retrospective, and found that by the time I was 33 I had moved 48 times that I could remember.

Let's just say I know how to pack.

So reading my mother's letters was like watching a movie of my late childhood, and the years after I left home, too early, where the comments about me are scarce but hopeful.

Time to take Duffy out.