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Memory Believes Before Knowing Remembers

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We took a walk down memory lane today, my husband and I. It was a rare Saturday morning when our daughters had commitments. We took the bright, clean day to have a morning date.

With newspaper in tow, we visited a favorite restaurant that B.C. (before children) we could afford. We lingered over our meal, talking and sharing old times without refereeing two teens.  No fights, no fuss. Then we strolled around a pond at  the park near our old house, just like in the “old days.” We drove by our former home recalling with a laugh the time the yard crew we hired tore out my beloved wisteria vines. I was livid! Finally, we drove by the house I grew up in — the place we married.

Sweet.

When we look back on days gone by, it’s easy to remember just the good times and forget the challenges. We could easily tell the kids that everything was perfect, starting every story with “Well, in our day….” and explain what Paradise was like. Truth is we had a creepy neighbor who made me want to sell our “love nest”; we were new at having a blended family and we made mistakes — countless;  we longed for many things then that we only have now, years later. What we have now is no better or worse, all things considered.  We have as many friends as we have gray hairs; we are blessed with health and family we’re crazy about.  I try to ground myself in the knowledge that all times have their share of positive and negative.

So too, with our world. Some tales of  days gone by get edited with a surgical knife, omitting the strife, suffering, pitfalls and pain. Some will hail the ’50s as an ideal age with Eisenhower in the oval office and the Yankees dominating our national pastime. Honestly, those were some nice times (I hear they were as I was but a twinkle), but as a nation we tolerated racial discrimination, segregated public spaces, and looked away from mob violence. We also had McCarthyism, Cold War and the beginnings of the Vietnam War.

Well shoot, we know about the turbulent ’60s, but how about the ’70s? We had Nixon and Ford, those dynamos — wait, there was Watergate, gee. And what else, you say,the Energy Crisis and hostages in Iran.

So I don’t know, the ’80s had some great clothes (not!) and Ronnie. Of course, we’d have to conveniently forget Iran-Contra Affair, rigging of grants in the Department Housing and Urban Affairs, debate gate, Ferdinand Marcos, the Savings & Loan Crisis and Chernobyl. That won’t do for our primo-esimo spotless world. Reminiscing about the 1990s should soon bring up topics like the high-tech bust, the first Iraq war, the first World Trade Center bombing, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the White House.

We each may have a favorite president, political persuasion, era when we personally had it best, but it’s just plain wrong to whitewash the past and denigrate the present without checking with reality. And further, what a useless waste of energy to wish, click our heels and wave the wand to go back in time. Personally, I do fantasize about visiting the past and meeting my ancestors, getting a feel for the the Old West before Nevada was a state, or checking out the ’20s to meet my great-grandma and hear tunes of the Jazz Age. Or, why not do a Forrest Gump and stumble into the March on Washington?

But not forever. Wishing for something that just can’t be does a great disservice to the present, to the people sharing this life with us. I’m not saying we can’t learn from our past, or remember our lives with fondness, but get real, no era has ever been a Utopia and telling our children their time right now is no good is fiction.

I certainly can’t see trading today for the bumps and groans of any other time. I’m where I want to be, ought to be and by gosh, I’m moving forward, not backward, cherishing each day as it comes.

Blog Title: William Faulkner

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Bearing An Untold Story

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To impart realism in idiosyncratic detail, authors Willa Cather and Ernest Hemingway drew on real people for their enduring World War I characters. In her book One of Ours, Cather took letters from a soldier-cousin to impart real-to-life traits on characters Claude and David who fought the Germans in France. Of course, Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is in-part based on his own tour of Italy during that same war and his love of character/nurse Catherine Barkley.

Grandpa Bill on right circa 1917.

So as I read these classics over the summer I thought a lot about my own grandfather, Bill Royle, and my husband’s grandfather, Curtis Williams, who were young volunteer soldiers overseas far from their US homes fighting the Kaiser in France.

Since yesterday was Ancestor Appreciation Day, (I know, there’s a holiday for everything!) they’ve slipped back in my consciousness.

As with the characters in these prize-winning books, Bill and Curtis (who we have no reason to believe ever met, however they joined within two weeks of each other in 1917) came from rural America – Nevada and Minnesota – and like Claude in Cather’s classic, viewed the war as a way to break away from their quiet lives and see other parts of the world. Akin to Hemingway’s Frederic Henry, my grandfather worked on the field of battle in the ambulance corps. While Grandpa Curt, a rough fellow who didn’t garner much love later from his three sons, mirrored Hemingway in that he did actually meet his future wife, Marjorie, in France while she was a Red Cross worker.

It was the first modern war: my mother remembers that her dad’s uniform and gas mask hung in the back closet of her childhood home for years, a silent reminder of his past. Back in the 1970s my gramps gave an oral history about his life and extolled in great detail his times with  family, at various occupations, described friends he had made and lost in his 89 years, but when it came to the war, he outlined just minute facts then summed up, “That’s all I have to say about that.” No amount of asking could make him share his experience. Family lore has it that the dents on his helmet are from bullets and that he had to have killed a couple Germans.  One story he did tell was that he made the effort to see his English relatives, but they turned him away thinking he was there for their food.  Fifty years later, that was still a raw report.

Curtis circa 1921

My grandpa –in-law, on the other hand, had a raucous experience from the time he left Minnesota with his comrades, carousing from ship to shore in Scotland and continuing on to France. His memoir passed through the family details many riotous and unruly times which ultimately had him near-court martialed for leaving his unit that was brought over to clear forests for fighting. He definitely had the Hemingwayesque, brash attitude that he could obliterate the war through binges of alcohol and sex. Somehow the young Curtis seemed to believe in the transformative power of love and viewed Marjorie as his own Catherine, someone who could save him from his past.

Both young men were born after the taming of the American frontier and brought their American restlessness to a frontier far bloodier. They never met Hemingway or Cather and their stories will never be fully told. We don’t know and never will, what they saw, smelled, felt, experienced, only that each man became stoic in his own way and crawled into the bottle a fair amount, perhaps to help themselves forget. The connection between literature and life helps us to know the interior lives of those we love. “Life was so short that it meant nothing at all unless it were continually reinforced by something that endured; unless the shadows of individual existence came and went against a background that held together.”— Willa Cather (One of Ours)

Not All Who Wander Are Lost*

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I bound from book to book, leap frogging my bibliophile life to what strikes my mood or need. Sometimes this has a soothing effect on my psyche – other times more jarring to my mindset.

This week took me to what on the surface may seem dis-similar genres. I finished Jesus A New Vision by Marcus Borg and then immediately picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy, pretty sincerely, meant for his book to be a post-apocalyptic stark study of human beings that makes a case for desolate view of the indifference of the universe to the plight of man, a cosmic condition that he takes to be the “absolute truth of the world.”

Borg’s book is a portrayal of the historical man Jesus – a charismatic healer, sage, cultural leader, who lived in and within the divine Spirit bringing a new philosophy to the Jewish people. Borg states that Jesus did not come to create a new religion, but to re-shape faith.

Is it wise to make comparisons or connect the themes of these two books?

I’m not suggesting a debate between this historical Jesus with the fictional father and son in the Road – or between Borg and McCarthy, for that matter. It’s just that because I read them in such quick succession my mind wanted to build some parallels or bear down to the essential meanings.

For one – Jesus was straddling the old and new worlds, as are the main characters, father and son in The Road. When the father considers attempting to make the old world real to his son by telling stories about what used to be, he realized that the story is too difficult and sad to tell, the whole story is one that ends in loss. Yet he again and again is compassionate toward the boy modeling patient and loving behavior on The Road. While Jesus, in rebuilding the world of Judaism by deconstructing the cultural morays of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, also straddles an old and new world. Jesus seeks to show others that life should not be filled with rigid, authoritarian law, but instead pattern a new road that maintains the love of God while throwing off the man-made encumbrances that restrain the culture from treating one another with mercy.

For another – the business of being human characterizes each book. Father teaches the son not just to survive but what it means to be human. In The Road, the babe was born just after the apocalypse occurs and he has little notion of how to “be.” Throughout their travels, the father assures his son that “We are the Good Guys,” and “This is how the Good Guys do it.” Borg states that this is what Jesus is doing as well in countering the cultural leaps that the various Jewish leaders are taking the faithful down their roads. As the Roman Empire had conquered the land of Israel and Palestine and were intent on either changing the culture or crushing it, the Jewish leaders dictated a dogmatic adherence to Old Testament laws. Jesus showed disciples and followers how to be merciful, humane, compassionate. Each, in their way, have stepped out to tame the savageness of man and create a new world.

Yet there are contrasts: in The Road, the characters are making their journey through unchartered times and the Father must make some decisions that the boy questions, “Are we still the Good Guys?” the child asks after the father kills a gangster and later leaves another to starve.  By contract, Jesus challenges the Roman Empire with his non-violent resistance stance and thus martyrs himself to change the culture. Father and son face danger with a defensive stance in order to stay alive, while Jesus sacrifices his life. In the end the son and the Christian disciples are left – one to carry the fire and the others to follow it.

(Headline of Blog from JRR Tolkein)

Bliss

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In you came, with the summer.

With your Beatles and your books and your clubs. Your romantic poetry, baseball-loving, barbecue-cooking self.

In you came with the Sierra wind, brown-eyed, broad smile, beer goggles at a Neil Young concert.         

Sat on the Shakespearean beach and drank in the moonlight. We sipped the Divine cure for loneliness and heartache and have tended to the seedlings of our dreams.

Kissed our soles and souls then hand-in-hand we’ve made each other laugh, making a life and a marriage, together.

Years of  “I Love Yous,”

In all, 21.

Where the Books Meet the Shelf

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I guess it’s something about the DNA. Our daughters have inherited our love our books — what a joy that they can learn, grow, change, embrace, discover, escape and blossom through books. HOWEVER, we do not have infinite space to collect books. Before this next project our small home boasted 11 bookshelves in all and each are bursting with non-fiction, history, classics, mysteries, fun fiction, mysteries, realistic fiction, fantasy and historical novels.

Both bibliophiles are library junkies who bring home up to 20 books (the very limit you can borrow) each at a time and devour them all. We donate the books that aren’t keepers, but recently Mo’s small bedroom was at the limit for books.

Being our resident style maven, not just any bookcase would do. We searched our local second-hand stores and behold this sweet find at Junkee Clothing and Antique Exchange in Reno, NV:

The finish was one of those hideous faux paint jobs.

The first phase was the real challenge. Although the piece of furniture is made of good, solid wood, not plywood or sheet wood, the previous owner had used a faux finish that resembled plasticized wood. (Gotta question the judgement there; why not just buy a plastic shelf?)  After sanding and sanding and sanding, then scrubbing with plain water for better part of two hours, the finish just oozed off. Sick! But the result was that we had a clean canvas on which to work.

Next a coat of white spray paint on the exterior. We took turns painting, with me teaching the nuances of spray painting and Mo learning so that she can do this with other projects in the future.

Painting outdoors — a must.

Next step, applying the sweet turquoisey-teal color our girl knew would accent the existing small bedroom. Again, we took turns with the paintbrush and roller so that in the end, we were both proud of our part in the product.

Then, to make it one of a kind, she selected ribbon to festoon the outline. A dark pink on light pink scroll patterned ribbon framed the shelving with style.

We used a glue gun and worked quickly together. Definitely a two-person job.

Now ensconced in her room, Mo has arranged each shelf by genre with some of her special memories to set off her beloved books.

The finished product shines.

For me, the best part was doing this together. She learned a lot about seeing a project through from start to finish and I got to spend a glorious day with her and now have the books off the floor.

Great Reno Balloon Race

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Please enjoy beautiful photos from fellow blogger Amazing Azaleas from the 2012 Great Reno Balloon Races currently taking to the skies.

amazingazaleas

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I had so much fun at this hot air balloon fest this morning. We had to get up super early, but it was completely worth it! I hope you enjoyed these.

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Autumn Nevada Style

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A “guest” blog today is a reprint of a column my dad wrote some years ago for the Reno Gazette Journal

Autumn

The lovely Truckee River on a silky autumn day

Another gorgeous and unforgettable Nevada summer is being bumped aside, to be misplaced forever on your personal Island of Vagrant Memory. The gaggle of tanned human hides has at last reluctantly shifted off the cooling beaches of Lahontan and Pyramid and Tahoe and you can see the sand again for the absence of barely covered skin. Debris left by untidy visitors is carted from view. Swimsuits are stashed for another season, lost beach towels are only briefly lamented and the hoisted boats are having their bottoms cleansed. Those who are timid of either the big crowds or the hottest months, or both, now venture forth to uncongested lakeshores, thankful that at last the visiting hordes have sought happiness elsewhere. The dream that this would be an unending summer is put into dry dock.

Now, those who treasure our territory because it yields four distinct seasons can bask in anticipation. We are awash in the signals that Nevada’s autumn cannot be too distant. No sooner are the depleted vats of Sea & Ski lotion locked away than the final crop of alfalfa is flogged and baled. Soon the tired machines will be wheeled in for a long winter’s nap. The haying crews’ appetites will  diminish, but only a little. Hearts of Gold Cantaloupes will grow sweeter in Fallon, or so the legend goes, and that’s close to the truth. The doves are in the air now as they sense the hunters can be injurious to their health.

Summer is almost deader than next season’s unlucky duck and goose. The sun is losing its daytime vigor and isn’t showing itself to us until past 6:30 a.m. The World Series can’t be far away.

Summer had its fling. Labor Day was invented years ago as a legal reason to avoid a day’s work and that holiday has come and gone, followed by the surest autumn sign, the start of school, that lengthy response  to a tired mother’s prayer. Now the tiredness is passed back to teacher for fall, winter and spring. Wary new school bus drivers learn fast that they need more skills than steering. We begin again to abide by school zone limits. Can anything be tastier than the school lunch menu?

Autumn in Nevada’s air: the blitz of wedding stories now beyond the peak and dwindling; the fresh proliferation of flashing motel vacancy signs, still beckoning long after dark; the “Marryin’ Sam,” now pacing more anxiously in their plastic chapels; the small-casino operators tightening the economic screws and the big profit barons doing likewise.

Autumn. Is it my imagination, or is the traffic volume down and aren’t the drivers sweating less and swearing less? Soon the Truckee won’t be a river , and hardly and trickle and, altogether now, let the Indians successfully dance for a rain and snow prayers. Autumn just around the bend. A new nip in the early morning air and the sharper temperature decline after sundown.

Breezes remain gentle, but there is enough zest to tug leaves away from their moorings. Flowers are rearing their beautiful heads a bit more slowly these September mornings.

There it is that early hint of fall color that soon is to go into oranges, yellow , red, violets golds and dabs of purple here and there.

Nature is about to change to a new uniform. The red, red robin, such a regular visitor since May, has been pulling a disappearing act lately. The animals — our feathered friends, grown chubby during summer — are now in shape to survive the lean times. Get ready for the sweet honk of the honkers departing this scene.

Autumn reaffirms that everything changes except discos. Autumn is old experiences come back  to us, fresh again. Down with total water consumption and out with the rakes; the hills all around retreating to brown; the Idlewild and Virginia Lake crowds shifting down to a tolerable few; the desert, ageless, begins resting up for spring. Soon the aspen on the Sierra will glow again; the rattlesnakes will retreat from their rocks; we will cut the lawn less and then, happily, not at all.

As the Holy Author poises to give us again one of His autumn magic shows, the flies and mosquitoes are vanquished by the hints of the new season; we turn the heat up more frequently and lament the cost of fuel with newfound fervor.

The voice of Howard Cosell, part announcer, part huckster, all showman, slugs our ears. Once in a while Frank Gifford inserts a word in edgewise. Autumn and football, inseparable autumn companions, arrive concurrently.

In these parts announcers chant the language of fall above Mackey Stadium; there comes a new season of colliding young men, mauling each other over 100 yards of turf. Hail To Our Sturdy Men, Loyal and True, March, March on Down the Field Oh Silver and Blue.

Autumn. Let’s hear it for the Huskies and the Miners, the Tigers, the Colts, Senators, the Railroaders.

Let’s hear it for the falling leaves, long sleeves and football tailgate party-goers who not only made it home safely, but cheered the winning teams; here’s to the referees, may they call them all correctly this autumn; here’s to the trees getting ready for their late-year nudity act. Here’s to the forthcoming frost on the pumpkin; and to the hot-buttered rums just weeks away; here’s to the summer gamblers who lost and helped keep us green, and here’s to the return scent of autumn in Nevada. Fireplaces kindled anew, fluttering leaves flying amok, families back together after the summer separation.

Here’s to another autumn in Nevada. Maybe the nicest time of the year. And always unforgettable.

 

Written by Rollan Melton. First published in the Reno Gazette-Journal in 1978

 

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