All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Scaredy Dog

Who knew there were that many things in the world to be afraid of, if you’re a dog?

We have a dog that’s still fairly new to us, and his previous owners let us know that he’s scared of everything except snakes. They lived on a canal, and the dog realized while he was still just a puppy that those long slithery things made great toys. Luckily, we don’t live where snakes in the water are generally poisonous. But there are plenty of rattlesnakes around, so I don’t like it that he’s not scared of the one thing in his world that could actually, possibly harm him.

He lived as an outside dog and now is getting used to being inside a house for some part of every day. Inside there are terrifying things. Things like the Kirby vacuum cleaner. What a horrible monster that is! It roars and is big and moves with a scary gliding sort of motion. Never mind that it’s handled by me; he thinks I’ve turned traitor when I have it around me. One day he caught sight of it as I was getting his food out of the same closet. He couldn’t believe his eyes! His food, next to the Monster! He refused to eat that day. He wouldn’t come inside the house at all. I’m sure he thought the Monster had probably contaminated his food. Fortunately, hunger took over about twelve hours later and it’s no longer a problem, as long as the Monster stays quietly shut in that closet.

But then there’s that one part of the laminate floor by the back door where he first entered our house a few months ago. He wasn’t used to laminate flooring, only carpet, and his feet slid out from under him. He hasn’t gotten over that trauma. It was definitely the fault of that one bit of flooring, over in that corner. He’ll walk all over the rest of the room, never minding the same laminate flooring. But that one section . . . well, it’s just not to be trusted.

The stairs down to the basement. Wow, those are scary things. He won’t even come close to them, no matter how many doggie biscuits and treats I lay on the floor over there. Nope. Those monsters swallow up people every day, practically, and even if we call out in encouraging voices from halfway down, he’s sure we’re in real trouble and he’s not about to follow our dangerous examples into Who Knows What.

The laundry racks, wow. Those are scary things. Every week or two they come out and sit on the patio in the sun, with damp rugs or sheets or something draped over them. They have to be carefully avoided lest they Do Something Dangerous while an innocent dog is walking past.

Hiding in bushes on the terrace
The people will persist in bringing out that other monster machine every week and running it noisily all over the grass. Why do they do such a crazy thing? All one can do when this happens is run and hide in the bushes on the terrace where it can’t go.




The dog loves going for walks, but there are many, many scary things out there. Garbage cans being moved by people. Kids on bikes. Kids on scooters. Kids period, unless he knew them Before. Women pushing kids in strollers. All other adults, if they don’t have a dog with them (for some reason he’s fine if they have a dog. He loves other dogs). Garbage trucks. Street sweepers. Other big trucks. Vans. Cars pulling things behind them. The dog goes flat on the pavement when any big vehicles go past. Pieces of paper blowing down the street. A stray box. The drains in the gutters. Manhole covers.

Be careful out there. It’s a hugely scary world.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Small Object of Toys

My son has an assignment for an English class to write about objects he remembers from his childhood that still have meaning for him today. In helping him research what objects he might want to include, I started remembering things from my own childhood.

When I was young, stuffed animals were very important to me. I had a teddy bear that I got for Christmas when I was two years old that I still have in a box upstairs. My younger sister got one at the same time, but on one of our family’s long car trips she stuffed it out the window along the highway somewhere in Central California. That night she cried herself to sleep, so my parents had to buy her a stuffed animal replacement. She chose a tiger. That’s my sister: fierce.

My bear went for a very long time without a name. When the bear was around ten years old I finally named him Edward. I don’t know where that name came from. He had a floppy head by that time because the sawdust compacted in his head and body and seemed to leave his neck empty. When I was around eight, my brother Larry and I for some odd reason decided to be surgeons and perform a neck operation on the bear. We tried to put more stuffing in, and I can’t remember what we used since sawdust wasn’t available to us. Rags I think. Larry was the one who got to use the scissors, but I got to use the needle and thread and sew the bear back together with Mom’s heavy white embroidery thread. After that I usually tied a little scarf around Edward’s neck to hide the scar and the clumsy stitches.

I had a lot of stuffed toys over the years. When Walt Disney’s original 101 Dalmatians came out, I was given a stuffed Dalmatian puppy for my birthday. His name was Lucky. He wasn’t as easy to play with as I had hoped because he was lying down, and it was hard to pretend he was running and jumping about when his paws were permanently tucked under him.

When I was still quite young, but just old enough to know better, I stole a toy dog from a store when we were on a vacation with my aunt. I had asked my mother if I could have it, but she had not given me much of an answer. I knew if she had said “No” I must not ask again, but she hadn’t said the word “No.” It was a black French poodle, beautifully made, and I felt I couldn’t live without her. I took her in my hand and held her against my side as I followed my mother and my aunt out of the store. Then as we walked up the street, I pretended to find that I was still holding the dog. I held it out to my mother, silently pleading to keep it. My aunt interceded for me and for once my mother gave in, to my complete surprise. I had been expecting to get into huge trouble. But she gave me the dollar and change that it cost and I ran back into the store and paid for it. My relatives helped me come up with a suitable French name for the dog. She became Giselle, and I rarely wanted to play with her, lest she get dirty. I wanted her to stay as perfect as I felt she was when I first saw her. She was really beautiful. I was so overwhelmed with my amazing and undeserved victory in acquiring her that I never stole anything again.

I had a few dolls, but I didn’t play very much with dolls. I had a bride doll with black hair and blue eyes. She was very beautiful, and her dress was exquisite, but at the time I got her I didn’t appreciate the fine quality of this gift. I also got a Barbie doll, one with a black ponytail hairdo wearing a black-and-white zebra-striped strapless bathing suit. She had little rings in her ears and red painted toenails and fingernails. My mother and my best friend’s mother made a lot of clothes for that Barbie, and my best friend and I did play Barbies a lot for at least two or three summers. I got another Barbie a few years later, one with a blonde-bubble hairdo who wore a red bathing suit and had pearl earrings. There was a picture on her box of the evening gown of my friend’s and my dreams. It was black, strapless, extremely fitted down past the knee, and then it had a flared section to the floor, made of net and tulle or something like that. Barbie wore it with elbow-length black gloves, and from one hand dangled a dark pink scarf or large handkerchief or something. She stood behind a microphone attached to a floor stand, and we fantasized about becoming radio announcers and wearing a dress like that. We had no idea of the singular inappropriateness of that dress for the work we envisioned. I don’t know why we didn’t think of Barbie as an entertainer in a nightclub, where her outfit would have fit in.

I had a baby doll, but my friends and I didn’t play much with the baby dolls we all got one year. They were interesting for a few months, but not very long that I remember. One problem for me with playing with dolls was the propensity of my older brothers to take my dolls and subject them to imaginary tortures, which went too far in one instance. My brothers and one of their friends stole some of the fathers’ razor blades and built themselves a small working guillotine. They used it to behead their plastic army men and their model dinosaurs and whatever else occurred to them. They stole our dolls and used them as victims. When they took our Barbie dolls and beheaded them, they got into an awful lot of trouble. But we somehow felt that we didn’t want to play with any dolls so much after that.

I had a little porcelain girl in a gown that I thought was very beautiful. I had some interest in pretty clothes, but since in real life my clothes were almost all hand-me-downs or awkward homemade things, I didn’t develop an interest in good clothes until later in life. This has turned into an economy, allowing me to use my money for travel instead.

I began to prefer my horses to any other toys soon after the guillotine episode. I had always been a tomboy and actually wished I were a horse. My friends and I played horses all the time. When we were in grammar school and a new school was built that we could walk to instead of having to take the bus, we pretended to ride our imaginary horses to school and home. At school we pretended our horses spent their time on the playground and were waiting for us to come out to recess or for the lunch break. Each of us had about five or six horses that we “owned.”

My best friend’s older sister, who could draw really well, had us write out descriptions of each of our horses, and she made us each a booklet with drawings and the vital statistics of each horse we had. (She did this for her sister, for me, for my sister, and for the other two sisters who were our other best friends. What a kind girl! I never realized until I was much older what an extraordinary person she must have been.)

We had been acquiring those Breyer plastic horses that were very popular in the 1960s. We each had a family of Arabians in different colors. Mine were appaloosas, my sister’s were white, and I think my best friend’s were palominos. Somebody had the bays, and somebody else had chestnuts. Later I got a set of running dapple greys. They were the most beautiful models I could imagine. My first horse, the appaloosa foal, soon broke a leg, and then another, and then its tail broke off. We played hard with these toys. My dad wrapped the legs with black electrician’s tape that blended in well enough with my horse’s markings. But the tail was soon lost.

By that time my cousins had acquired a real Arabian horse, a bay with a lovely black mane and tail, and they cut some horse hair to make a tail for my foal. Then one of the broken legs got lost. We took a twig from one of the walnut trees and made a wooden leg, wrapped with the black electrician’s tape. That foal was really a battered looking little thing, and somebody gave me a new one to replace it. But somehow I couldn’t replace it, really. It went into a drawer, wrapped in an old shirt, and when I gave away the rest of the model horses, it stayed wrapped in that shirt in the drawer. I still have it.

Models were replaced by encounters with real horses. I soon found out that I had an unfortunately timid nature around horses that they could sense. As a pre-teen I could ride only extremely gentle horses, and even the gentle ones sometimes tried tricks on me.

My sister eventually acquired her own horse, and when I came home from college I met him. He had been neglected and could be quite bad tempered. My sister worked hard with him to retrain him and gentle him down. He wasn’t bad, he just had been on his own for about five years, doing nothing but eating and playing by himself.

Barn in the background down the hill
He was intent on killing my cat, who teased him unmercifully by walking into his corral and waiting until he came charging over with death in his eyes, ears flat, teeth bared, hooves flying, when the cat would get up and stroll back under the fence and then sit licking her paw, knowing she was just out of reach of the furious horse. The dogs were always careful around this horse. I was home for the Christmas vacation when I went down a couple times to feed him for my sister who was busy with something, I had to get over my timid nature quickly. I went into the little room where the feed was and didn’t think to shut the door. The horse came in after me just as I got the lid off the huge metal can (a garbage can) full of molasses grain mash. He laid his ears back, bared his teeth and was intent on bullying me into letting him have full access to that open can. I had the garbage can lid in my hand, held like a shield, and whammed him in the side of the head with it. He backed out of the room and went bucking across the corral. He was mad but didn’t come back until I rattled his grain bucket and set it down next to his flake of hay. I got out of the corral before he came back across it to the feed.

Later on Christmas day when my sister saddled and bridled him and let me ride him first, he behaved well. Then my brother Larry rode him, and finally my sister took her turn. By that time he’d had enough of behaving, and he bucked and bucked. He couldn’t unseat my sister, but he did manage to hit her in the face with his head as he flung it around, and she had a huge bruise on half of her face. She was mad at him then! She yelled at him, and he settled down. He didn’t like her to yell at him.

Eventually my sister had him trained well enough that she sold him to a nine-year-old girl who wanted him for her 4-H Club project. We saw him later on, and he was the best-trained horse you ever saw. He was like a very large dog, willing to do anything that little girl asked.

I don’t know what to say about all these things by way of conclusion.

I suppose I anthropomorphized some of my toys to the point that I couldn’t get rid of them even when I was moving a lot and had little storage space in which to save things. I still have the bear, the broken foal, and the little girl in the pretty gown.

I would still have the Barbie dolls (the ones that didn’t get beheaded), but after I got married, the Barbie collection disappeared under slightly mysterious circumstances involving my teenage step daughter and one of our interminable arguments over her allowance. Ah well. I love my step daughter a lot more than I ever loved those Barbies. (The Barbie dolls never spoke to me the way the bear and the foal and the green-gowned girl did . . .) Also, my step daughter is priceless.

I suppose my childhood objects all helped me to properly value the things of adulthood, especially the permanent relationships. I hope I know now how very valuable my permanent relationships are, and always will be.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dottie’s Loss

This is based on a true story about people who may still be living, so I have changed the names and used my imagination. I mean no disrespect. I am chilled and so very sorry.

In the second week of February the weather had warmed a bit, and it was nearly 44ᐤ F. when Dorothy Sanders walked out of the big brick junior high school that afternoon and started home. She took the path through the woods so that she could stop at her older sister’s apartment. Her mother liked her to visit Kellie after all the trouble, which seemed to be clearing up, but you never knew.

Kellie had been a photographer’s model when she was at university and had had some claim to glamour and attention by the ripe old age of nineteen. But then at twenty she had surprised everyone by marrying a very plain man with a very plain job, and, perhaps inspired by Kellie’s air of glamour, her new husband had taken her to Europe for an extended honeymoon.

They had returned home and gotten jobs again to pay off the expenses of the honeymoon. They were very happy, and life seemed golden for the couple in those first years. Then Kellie had become pregnant, and she had to quit working before their debts were paid off. The pregnancy was not easy. She had severe morning sickness, sometimes fainting from dehydration. After the birth of their first child, a black cloud settled over her.

Postpartum depression had been recognized within the medical community for some decades, but out in society it wasn’t discussed at all. Kellie didn’t know what was wrong with her, but she couldn’t sleep, couldn’t seem to eat, and was afraid to be left alone with the baby. Eventually she figured out how to cope with her anxiety and guilt, and then she had another baby.

It was a lot worse this time around. Two months after his birth, she scared her husband and family so much with her wild talk of killing herself and the boys that her husband took her to the psychiatric unit of the hospital. She was subjected to electroshock therapy, a horrible experience in which she was made to have seizure after seizure, supposed to cure the neurosis in her brain. All it seemed to do was to produce episodes of amnesia and incredibly horrible nightmares afterwards. She became somewhat catatonic toward the close of the third week of treatment and remained docile for the next five weeks of her residence there. She was released the week before Christmas.

The family seemed relieved. While Kellie was in the hospital, Kellie’s husband had moved himself and the children to an apartment close to her parents’ house, and Kellie’s mother and sisters took care of the children while he was gone to his job in the big city on the river to the south. He came home every weekend. Now that Kellie was home again, the family expected her to take over her duties once again. Kellie managed to come out of her unmotivated state and take care of the children, the apartment, her husband, and her own life to some degree. But her mother was uneasy.

Dorothy, who was called Dottie, had never heard Kellie speak about what had happened to her, nor did their mother discuss the situation with Dottie. Mother had simply told Dottie after the Christmas break, when school started again, that it would be helpful if she would stop at Kellie’s on her way home every day. Dottie wasn’t surprised.

It had been a very strange Christmas. Everybody had tried to be merry, especially for little Sammy’s sake. He was just old enough at almost-three to understand that Santa Claus was coming with presents for him, and he was very excited about it. He had been strangely unexcited to have his mother come home, enough so that everybody noticed. Nobody said anything though. Sammy was thrilled with Christmas morning. He and his parents and baby brother had spent the night at his grandparents’ house, and he was up early to see what had happened in the night. Dottie got up with him and let him have his stocking, full of nuts and fruit and candy and tiny toys. When the family got up and breakfasted, Sammy was thrilled again to be given more gifts from under the Christmas tree. He had gotten his heart’s desire, a big metal dump truck, and he had raced it all around the house, banging it into the furniture and incurring a reprimand from his grandfather, overheard by his mother who had yelled at him until he cried.

The girls were expected to help get the big, ceremonial Christmas dinner, but Dottie had been let off to watch Sammy, and Kellie lay on the sofa and said and did nothing further. There were two other sisters between Dottie and Kellie. Harriet, nicknamed Harrie, was in her second year of college and had come home for the Christmas break. Lottie, whose name was Charlotte, was a senior in high school and full of self-importance for her role as the school newspaper senior student editor. (Kellie’s full name was Kathleen. Somehow everybody’s nickname had to end with “ie” and they had made a joke about the grammar rule being unbroken in their family.)

The dinner was strained. Conversation that entire week with Kellie there was stilted, and never more so than their first big dinner together. What did one talk about when it was obviously the rule that one could not mention the elephant in the room?

When the first day back to school had arrived, Dottie was secretly relieved. But she found out immediately that she was expected to take on the brunt of the work of supporting Kellie in her apartment every afternoon until they brought the children over to their grandparents’ for the night. With her husband away at work, Kellie had been encouraged and had settled into the habit of sleeping over at her parents’ home with the children until Friday, when her husband came home on the train, arriving late in the evening. Dottie began to resent the situation fiercely.

She resented Harrie for getting out of everything by going off to college. She fumed about Lottie not sharing the childcare duties, but Lottie was full of her editorial responsibilities and keeping her grades up. Lottie was determined to be rewarded with a full scholarship to the college of her choice, and nothing, certainly not her sisters’ situations, could be allowed to get in the way of her ambitions. Dottie was certain her own future was soon going to be filled with failing grades. She never had time to get her homework done the way she wished. She usually ended up having to rise at 5 a.m. and do it before everyone else got up. She was getting more and more exhausted.

By the second week of February, Dottie sometimes felt like a sleepwalker. Her brain felt fuzzy, and she kept falling asleep in classes. Her test scores were terrible. She walked along through the woods, kicking viciously at chunks of ice and snow still in the hollows on the north sides of the trees. If it weren’t for Sammy, she wouldn’t go to Kellie’s at all, she thought. She wished for an instant that there were no Sammy making her go to Kellie’s. But Sammy loved her and was always wild with happiness to see her come. He even seemed somehow relieved, and she felt guiltily that she couldn’t skip her duty, no matter how much she wanted to.

She came out of the woods and onto the street where the apartment building was. Tiredly she climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. No answer. Well, Kellie didn’t always answer the door; she was too lazy, thought Dottie angrily. She shifted her schoolbooks and put her hand to the knob. Unlocked, as usual. She went in. Something was horribly wrong. Kellie? The baby? Sammy! Dottie could hear herself screaming and screaming. She couldn’t seem to stop. People came running. Then there were police, and her mother, and then Lottie with a shocked, white face and no competing responsibilities, and finally, her father, more white and shocked than Lottie.

Dottie drifted through a period of months that turned into years, unable to focus, unable to sleep much, unable to eat, with the horrible nightmares of that day recurring. So much blood, and the knife in her dead sister’s hand multiplying and coming at Dottie as a dozen knives, evilly slashing. A few months after the deaths of Kellie and the children, a movie hit the theaters that started everybody talking about multiple personalities. Dottie, like the woman in the movie, increasingly unable to function as herself, became two different girls by the time she turned 15.

Through Dottie’s increasing disintegration, her parents tried to manage her and deal with the horror themselves. Two and half years passed, and Dottie, sent to call her father to the dinner table, found him dead on his bed. He apparently had had a heart attack, though he was only 52. But the sight of him lying there shocked Dottie into reliving the sight of her sister on the bathroom floor and the baby in his crib and her beloved little Sammy face down on the bed, all of their throats cut by her sister and that horrible knife she’d held. The shock spurred Dottie’s personality split.

Dottie tried to manage things. She tried to go to school, study hard, get good grades, and obey her mother. She cried a lot. She had nightmares and headaches that left her not knowing what had happened for hours at a time. Her sisters were both gone to college. She thought there might have been another sister, but she wasn’t sure any more. She didn’t want to think about it.

Dorothy was quiet and shy. She didn’t like talking to people. She wanted to be left alone. She ran away often. She had no sisters, no father, just her mother.

DeeDee appeared a year later, when Dottie turned 16. DeeDee liked boys. She was funny and smart, sly and sexy. She wanted to be known as the wild, fun girl of the high school, the direct opposite of silly, staid Dorothy, about whom she knew everything. But Dorothy did not know DeeDee, and DeeDee did not know Dottie. Within six months DeeDee had become promiscuous. She did everything she could to get boys to have sex with her.

Dottie disappeared as the other two gained dominance.

There were a number of extremely awkward scenes for Dorothy, when a boy would try to talk to her and said amazingly inappropriate things. She didn’t like boys. She became rude to them. Well, that was not unusual. Dorothy was rude to everybody, and at home she was especially angry when those older girls came from their colleges and pretended to be her sisters. She had no sisters.

Then a third personality appeared, named just Dot. Dot knew Dorothy and DeeDee, but neither of them knew her. Dot managed the awkward scenes and helped to protect Dorothy from DeeDee. She managed school. She remembered Dottie, who seemed like a distant cousin or something, and she knew somehow that Lottie and Harrie were related to her. She managed things at home and tried not to allow the other two to wreck their life. Dot managed to get the others to graduate from high school, but it was no longer the public school.

Mother had arranged for private tutoring and there were long hospital stays in various psychiatric wards where doctors kept trying to integrate the three young women. They did not seem to have the success that had been depicted in the films and television shows about multiple personalities.

DeeDee became a prostitute and was proud of it. Dorothy wanted to be a librarian, but somehow she kept being thwarted and was extremely angry and frustrated about it. Dot continued to try to manage things. She allowed Mother to call her “Dottie” and she remembered her sisters, Harrie and Lottie. She didn’t remember Kellie and Mother didn’t talk about her.

Mother always locked all the doors and windows around the house at night after Dottie went to bed, using a different key for each door and another for all the window locks. More than once DeeDee had awakened and tried to get out, screaming at Mother in frustration when she couldn’t. Mother took to giving Dottie a strong sedative at night in her milk, and she locked Dottie’s bedroom door. DeeDee trashed the bedroom several times and broke the window, but she couldn’t climb out because there was nothing outside that window to hang onto and the drop was too far.

Whenever DeeDee seemed to become the dominant person, Mother sent her away to the hospital again for another round of treatment. The exhausting round of management continued for most of a decade.

Then Dottie began to reappear, the real Dottie, the old one who knew everything. She came for longer and longer periods of time, and finally she seemed to be back. She became a librarian in her little town, where the library was in an old house, three floors of books in every room. She was responsible and competent in her job. She went to church with her mother, and there one day she met a nice man who began calling on her at home with greater frequency. She found she could be witty and funny with him, and she could control it so that it never became improper. They had great times together.

He asked her to marry him one afternoon at the park, where she stood with her back to the woods and her head bowed, looking down at her lover with happiness as he knelt with her hand in his, looking up for her answer. She didn’t know her mother had taken him aside and told him about everything, warning him that if his intentions were serious, he must know what he was getting into. He had replied with confidence that he would take care of her. The young who are in love are always supremely confident that love conquers all.

Their wedding was the occasion of a gathering of all the family, including cousins, aunts, and uncles on both sides, as well as their siblings, in-laws, and nieces and nephews. Dottie’s two sisters had both married well and were happy and stable women with three children each.

But when Dottie’s second child was born, she didn’t know what hit her. The world turned black, she had terrible headaches and nightmares and amnesia . . . and Harrie came and took her two children home with her. Her husband sent her away to a hospital, and then another, and another. The years passed and the personalities kept changing. Harrie raised the children with her own. They stopped coming to see her. Her husband divorced her, seeing no hope left for a normal life. Mother took her back home and locked her in.

It didn’t matter anymore. The world outside was gone, and she wanted no part of it.
Interstate 80, January 2016

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Channel Crossings

Everybody has heard horror stories of how bad it can be crossing the English Channel in the winter or during a storm. I have two sources of winter crossings that are interesting, one for its historic perspective, and the second for its amusing culture clash.

The first set of crossings belong to my great-uncle Roger and his wife Flavia. Uncle Roger was a business executive who was sent from New York to London, then to Paris, to Germany, to Russia, and to Italy to open two European offices and to establish ties to subcontractors—in the winter and spring of 1930. He took Flavia with him on the 1930 trip, and the next year they returned to live in Europe for a few years with their young children. Here is a piece of Flavia’s letter after their crossing from London to Paris.

“Hotel Roblin
“Paris,
“February 9, 1930

“Dear Folks:

“And here we are in Paris - a beautiful city! We flew over from London Wednesday, making what might have been a long twelve hour trip in just two hours and ten minutes. And less expensive than by boat! The plane, a ‘Silver Wing’ was a huge tri-motored one, with a very comfortable cabin, seating eighteen people in addition to two pilots and a steward. Luncheon was served to us in the air - sandwiches and hot coffee. It seemed so strange to eat high above everything. The air seemed very smooth, visibility tho’ was poor. When crossing the channel we were in or above the clouds most of the time. It was a very beautiful sight - great soft billows of white and grey tinged with gold from the sun. Occasionally we caught a glimpse of white-capped waters below us, and were glad to be going by air instead of by boat. We crossed at the narrowest place and flew for many miles over northwestern France. It was wonderfully interesting - quaint villages - farms with their white walls - a few beautiful chateau[x] with towers and terraces and gardens and lakes. We flew low most of the time - about 1500 feet - except over the Channel where we went up to 2500. And traveled at about 90 miles an hour most of the time.”

This an excerpt from Roger’s letter when they returned to London, February 24, 1930:

“When we went to Paris we flew over in an English plane - ‘Imperial Airways’. So when we came back here today we decided to come on a French line, the ‘Air Union’. It certainly is worth while flying between Paris and London. The cost is the same as by train and boat, and in addition the time from hotel to hotel is less than half. And no rough channel crossings, and no seasickness, and no changing from train to boat and boat to train.

“We left Paris at half-past one this afternoon in a very dense fog. Five hundred feet off the ground, we were completely lost in fog, and in a minute or two we were in such dense clouds we were simply enveloped in an impenetrable blanket of white. But within ten minutes we had climbed above and were in the beautiful sunlight with billowy oceans of white clouds below us. After half an hour or so the clouds disappeared and we had clear vision. Over the Channel - 32 miles of water - it was very hazy again, but that cleared when England’s cliffs came into view and we landed at London Airdrome in a driving sleet rain just two hours and ten minutes after leaving the ground at Paris. And a nice luncheon served on board while we were speeding at over 100 miles an hour 3000 feet above the earth.”

Then on March 12, 1930, Roger wrote again about their crossing from London to Dusseldorf, Germany.

“I think Flavia wrote you of our flying from London to Dusseldorf. It was not a very pleasant trip as it was very foggy and also a very rough trip. We flew nearly all the way not over 600 feet from the ground, and over the Channel, which it took 25 minutes to cross. We were at times not over 100 feet above the waves, and at no time more than 400 feet. Both Flavia and I were airsick - an uncomfortable experience.”

In 1930 air passenger travel was in its early years. The first airplane crossing the English Channel was in July 1909. (An air crossing by balloon was successful in 1785.) Imperial Airways had formed in London in 1924 and that same spring began its service between London and Paris, its English base being at Croydon Airport, south of London. Flying that low to the ground was supposed to be one of the charms of early air travel. Since mostly only those with some wealth could fly, sightseeing was emphasized to draw in passengers. Still, I think my relatives were either brave or inveterate thrill seekers. I can’t imagine flying that low over the Channel, especially that March crossing to Dusseldorf when it was stormy and they had to fly so close to the waves.

But that brings me to my own memories. Like Roger and Flavia, most of my flights to Europe have been relatively smooth, but a couple of times we have had to fly through storms, once quite dramatically.

One Christmas my mother and I flew to Spain to pick up my sister, who was in the United States military stationed near Madrid, and we drove to Calais, France, where we crossed the channel on New Year’s Eve, enroute to visit an aunt and uncle in England. During our trans-Atlantic crossing from New York to Madrid, we ran into a turbulent storm while the cabin staff were serving dinner.

Just as the captain announced that there might be turbulence and that the staff were to return to their seats, our plane hit a pocket and dropped about 50 feet. Trays and food and everything loose hit the ceiling of the plane, people screamed at the tops of their lungs, and all the staff had hit the floor immediately, spread-eagled and grasping the bolted legs of the seats nearest them. My mother and I stayed outwardly calm, but I’m sure our faces were several shades paler than normal. Thankfully, that was the only bad part. It was bumpy after that, but not bad. The captain came on the intercom again and explained the air pressure and the physics of the incident, in a bit of an effort to help people regain confidence in how the airplane handled such things (and in his own competence).

That week a storm hit the English Channel, just a couple months after an incredibly powerful storm created damage across the entire south coast of the country. When we arrived the next week in Calais, we were told that gale force 9 conditions had meant terrible crossing conditions in the Channel (force 12 is hurricane force). People were understandably nervous.

But when we arrived in Calais the evening of December 31st, conditions were quiet. Not just quiet, the sea was glassy smooth, reflecting perfectly the nearly-full moon’s orb and its long track across the sea to the base of our ferry boat. We drove my sister’s car on board and parked it on the parking deck, then moved upstairs to the passenger deck. There were few passengers, and indoors a mother and a small group of children sat around a small television set that was showing American cartoons. The three of us strolled about the deck outside, but there was little to see except the moon and its track on the sea, so we went back inside and sat on some chairs a distance away from the group around the television.

My sister and I noticed that the cartoons were some of our childhood favorites; Looney Tunes’ Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote were up to their old tricks. We giggled at the expected outcome of one of the Coyote’s elaborate, ludicrous invention-based plans to capture the Roadrunner. Invariably the Coyote met with a violent end, but no matter how violent the end, he popped up ready to keep chasing his dinner in the next scene. This is a staple of American humor, the disconnect between the realistic expectation and the cartoon outcome using extreme slapstick-style comedy. I think nobody but Americans really “gets” this type of humor, and the people on that ferry certainly didn’t. The mothers were frankly horrified at us callously chuckling at this terrible show that was supposed to be for children.
We tried to stifle ourselves, realizing that we were the only ones finding the cartoon funny. But we simply couldn’t. We kept giggling, trying to be silent. Stifling our giggling got to be its own humor, making us teary-eyed with our efforts to be quiet. We had to get up and go outside to the deck rail where we could laugh—and watch the lights of Dover drawing close as we glided into port.

So the only rough sea crossing I’ve experienced is that of cultural misunderstanding—and I just had to laugh. Having flown in small planes a few times, once with a roommate who was practicing for a test to renew her pilot’s license, I learned how precarious it could be to stay in the air under certain conditions. My friend was practicing mid-air stalls, and we flew down to the lake near our home so as to practice over the water. I asked her what would happen to us if we crashed. She said it might be bad, but she said, “If we were over land, it might be worse. We could be over a school, or a busy intersection. I’d rather be over something empty than risk more than just our two lives. But of course nothing bad is going to happen.”

And it didn’t, but her words resonated with me. She talked me through the kinds of problems an aircraft could develop where landing could be very difficult if the pilot couldn’t keep the craft in the air. It was enlightening and I realized that so as not to develop real fear of flying I had to adopt a certain level of calm fatalism—if this must be my time to go, so be it. That sort of thing helped with that Christmas flight over the Atlantic, but I don’t know if I could have been as calm flying close to the waves in a small aircraft through a storm.


Next time I cross the English Channel, I want to try the Chunnel. I don’t have any sense of claustrophobia, so a train all the way from London to Paris sounds like my best plan for an easy crossing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Your Dog Did What During the Eclipse?

I saw a number of ridiculous posts on Facebook over the past week leading up to the solar eclipse across the United States about how people needed to prepare their pets and animals for the great event. What if the animals didn’t have eye protection and went blind by looking into the sun at the wrong time? Horrors!

I couldn’t help but laugh. Who has a pet that looks into the sun at any time? Does the cat check out the sun going behind a cloud? Nope. Does your dog watch the sunset? I didn’t think so. Are there mass numbers of farm animals and wild animals all over the country running around blind because they stared at the sun? Not hardly. Animals know better than to look at the sun. Duh! They have good instincts! We don’t (much)!

Yet in those horror scenarios the writers had the audacity to “quote” veterinarians who suggested keeping the animals indoors. No way was any reputable vet quoted saying anything of the kind. If any vets out there tell me they suggested such a thing, I’m going to call their licensing boards. Are you kidding me? You must be kidding me.

Our dog didn’t like the eclipse. Where I live, we got about 91% of the eclipse, so it did not get dark, but the light was dimmer than usual. The temperatures dropped significantly. It was a hot morning and the afternoon was beastly hot.

Anyway, during the eclipse, not having obtained eclipse glasses, we were all out on the patio, mostly under our awning. We did try to see the shadow in the holes of the kitchen colander, but apparently we’re all too dumb to make that work. We forgot completely to look at the shadows cast by the tree leaves. Our neighbors did that and their photographs are beautiful. So I just had my son stand in the sunlight and “be” the eclipse for my camera. We had a laptop on the table out there to watch the online experience of folks in Madras, Oregon (where some of my cousins live) and Idaho Falls, Idaho (where one of my brothers lives).
Forty-five minutes until maximum eclipse.
You can see the reflection at the top shows the progress.
Yeah, okay, we had the colander out but were too dumb to work it right
Ten minutes to go
The full eclipse that we were able to get!
This is 91% of the sun eclipsed. With its awesome power, you
can barely tell anything is different. But the light was dimmer
and the temperature dropped. (See the reflection near the bottom.)
So we watched the total eclipse online. Not the same thing!

Meanwhile the dog did not like what was going on. He went into his house and looked at us with reproachful eyes. “What are you doing to make things so weird?” he seemed to be asking. He got back up, ran out onto the lawn and retrieved his favorite toy and took it to the safety of his house. He shut his eyes and waited for it all to be over with.
What are you doing to make things so weird?
I’m just going to wait until this is all over . . .

He did not once look up at the sky.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eagle Lake Summer

Eagle Lake (photo credit: USGS)
The summer I was 10 we spent a long vacation at Eagle Lake in northern California. We were there with two other families, the Rices, whose four boys were the same ages as my siblings and me, and the Bonderants, who were an older childless couple. Tents were pitched for the kids to sleep in, and the adult couples each had a trailer or camper to sleep in. Our camp sites, of course, were all together in a line along the south shore of the lake.

To get to the lake itself from our camp, we crossed an area of hard dirt that gave way to a marsh. Several long, narrow boards set end-to-end on pylons a foot above the water bridged the marsh. Beyond the marsh was the lake with its muddy and rocky bottom sloping down from the marsh area. We tied up our little boat there, and the Rices and the Bonderants also had their boats there.

Our boat had a small 5-horsepower motor. That year or maybe the next my dad bought a larger boat and a 35-horsepower motor, just enough power to pull a skinny teenage boy up on water skis if only one spotter rode in the boat with the driver. Our friends had more powerful boats and did most of the driving for the water skiers and the “aquaplane” riders. The aquaplane was a board with a rope handle at one end and small sides against which the rider could brace his or her feet--you stood on it holding the rope handle, and the boat pulled you up out of the water just like on water skis, but not quite so difficult to balance.

At the age of 10, all I could handle was the aquaplane, not water skis yet. I had terrible balance as a kid. I couldn’t ride a bicycle until I was nearly twelve years old because of my poor balance. I always had wanted to walk our fences like my brothers did, but I couldn’t. I’d practice and practice on a two-by-four board on the ground, and I just couldn’t stay on it. Anyway, I was so proud of myself the day I got up on the aquaplane and was towed around a large circle by that shore of Eagle Lake where we were camped.

Then disaster struck. I was walking that narrow board plank over the marsh when I lost my balance and had to jump down into the marsh so I didn’t fall over. It wasn’t all that deep, so I just walked alongside the board, heading toward the dry ground. But there was a bottle hidden in the marsh, and I stepped on it, and it broke into my foot. It sliced an arc right across the arch of my foot, cutting pretty deeply. I screamed and sat down on the bridge, holding my foot high, blood streaming out of it in a seeming waterfall.

One of my brothers was near and scooped me up in his arms and ran for the camp. The adults were all looking to see what was going on, and my relations dismissively said I’d probably stepped on a thorn or something and not to pay too much attention to my dramatic bid for attention. But the blood streaming out told a different story.

I was plunked into a chair, and Mrs. Bonderant, a nurse, knelt beside me to examine my foot. She told me to try to stop crying.

“Crying makes your blood run faster,” she said, which very effectively shut me up, except for the hiccups. It wasn’t hurting me. It was just that it was very scary to me to see all that blood coming out of my foot. I was in shock.

My mother sent one of my brothers to get one of my toys. I had a toy worm, which sounds the antithesis of a comforting thing, but it was actually a piece of sheepskin cut in a narrow oval about a foot long, dyed green, with black-and-white button eyes and a tiny pink tongue. If you put it on a piece of fabric-covered furniture and stroked its length, it appeared to undulate and was rather cute. I found a picture of a pink one on the internet at etsy. I couldn’t find one in the bright grass green color I remember mine was.

My foot was tightly bound in towels and my parents bundled me into the back of the station wagon with the seats all set down so I could lie flat with my mother beside me. My dad rode shotgun and Mr. Rice drove the winding 17-mile road to Susanville where the nearest hospital was. I think I chattered all the way, nervous but somehow excited too, to be the focus of all the adults’ attention for once, legitimately.

In the emergency room my mother told me to hold still and definitely not to wave my Wormy around, as it was a dirty, germy thing, she said. I waved it defiantly, but only once. I was shocked by the sight of the great big needle the doctor was going to stick into my foot. He told me to be very brave about it, so I screwed up my eyes and did not make another sound.

It seemed like he sewed and sewed and sewed forever, closing up the great gash. But after all he put in only eight stitches with elegant, thick, black silk. He did say that I had been very lucky, as one eighth of an inch deeper, I would never have walked on that foot again. I was too young to understand tendons.

There followed an extremely dreary week of not being allowed to walk anywhere. I spent it reading my parents’ paperback novels. I was introduced to Mickey Spillane and Erle Stanley Gardner that week by necessity; they hadn’t brought too much reading material. I liked Perry Mason; not so much Mike Hammer. There seemed to be a lot of sex in those novels, most of which I didn’t understand at all but felt vaguely was supposed to be naughty.

I wasn’t allowed to sleep in the tent with the other kids. I had to sleep in the trailer with my parents. Horrible. I thought I was being treated too much like a baby, but I was powerless to change anything. The worst thing was having to be packed around on one or another brother’s back when I had to use the outhouse. Very embarrassing, and most of my brothers didn’t like it either. My favorite brother sympathized and was nice about it though. He’d sit and play his harmonica for me and whistle his favorite song, which that summer was Mel Carter’s big hit, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.”

My mother took me back into Susanville one morning to see the doctor at his office. I remember his office looked like a large old house on a residential street. He pronounced that the wound was healing just as it should, and that he could remove the stitches. I wanted to know if I could keep the stitches, and he grinned back at me, dropping them one by one into my cupped hand as he snipped them and pulled them out. He gave me a little pill bottle to keep them in so that I could show all my friends when I got back home.

I don’t remember anything more about Eagle Lake that summer, except a regret that I had not been able to go on the aquaplane again, nor try water skiiing.

But there would be another summer at the lake, and other lakes, and more opportunities.