Archive for May 2012

A Close Encounter with the Law by Shirley Palmer

May 17, 2012

This is a story that we can laugh about now; however, as it unfolded I was “shaking in my boots” as the saying goes.  It was October 1984, a warm day in Southern California.  My mother-in-law had passed away on September 10, 1984, in Cave Junction, Oregon.  Her instructions were that she was to be cremated, and she wanted half of her ashes to go down the same river where my father-in-law’s ashes had been strewn in 1978 when he passed away.  His ashes went down a river which was his favorite fishing hole.  So half of her ashes were to go down the same river in Oregon, and she wanted the other half divided: half on her mother’s grave and half on her father’s grave, both buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, CA.  The instructions were explicit, and all of her family understood, so after the memorial service at her church the family men set off for the fishing hole and dumped a portion of the ashes into the river.  We women of the family chose to stay home and fix dinner, since there were a lot of rattlesnakes in the area of the fishing hole, and we didn’t choose to encounter them!

Now we were back in Southern California on this hot October day. My brother-in-law and Bud’s sister Carole had driven up from San Diego, and the four of us were to drive to Forest Lawn with the bag of ashes in hand and put half on Grandma’s grave and half on Grandpa’s grave. The only detail was that in California you just can’t put ashes anywhere, and sprinkling them on the top of a grave is not allowed.  Friday night we sat down and planned our strategy: we needed a “master plan” to accomplish this illegal caper!  We decided that we would get up in the morning, have breakfast, then go over to Von’s Market and buy some flowers.  We’d go to Forest Lawn, take the vase out, put some ashes under the vase, then fill it with flowers and go on to the next grave and do the same thing. As easy as that, Bud’s mother’s wishes would have been fulfilled.

Saturday was a very warm day so I decided to wear a sundress.  My sister-in-law had long pants and a blouse on; this is an important detail of the story.  We drove up to Forest Lawn and after about 10 minutes of searching we finally found Grandma’s grave.  Well, we couldn’t find the vase to start with, but Bud with his trusty pocket knife dug around the grass, and we finally located the vase. We cut all the grass away from it, however try as we might the vase would not come out of the ground.  We pulled and tugged and twisted – all to no avail.  There was a lady putting flowers on a grave about 25 yards up from us and I noticed she got her water from the faucet, but she was watching us.  She arranged her flowers but still had an “eagle eye” on us.  I told my family that we were being watched.  About then Bud went to my car, looking for something to pry the vase loose. Here he came up with the jumper cables, which was all I had in my trunk. He thought he might be able to grab on to the handle of the vase with the grips on the cables and pull it free.  Once the jumper cables came out, the “spy” lady got in her car and left.  I told my co-horts that I was nervous, but they were too busy trying to free the vase. They didn’t pay any attention to me.  It wasn’t five minutes before here came the Forest Lawn Police car pulling up and parking right behind my car.

Here we were, the four of us, standing over a grave with a bag of ashes, a bouquet of flowers, and jumper cables – it didn’t look good.  My sister-in-law handed me the bag of ashes and said, “Shirley, sit down quick on the ashes – you have a dress on and it will cover them up!”  So down I plopped, sitting on the bag and holding the bouquet in my lap.  The Forest Lawn policeman came up and asked if we were having a problem.  Bud explained that we couldn’t seem to get the vase out of Grandma’s grave.  So the nice policeman offered to help us.  He went to his car and got something like a crowbar; he came back and BAM – he broke the vase.  So we took it out in pieces, and he told us not to worry – he’d go get us another one!  Off he went in search of a new vase.  Bud put the damn jumper cables away – I know that’s what brought the cop in the first place – and my sister-in-law Carole, who had become the matriarch of the family, told me to stay seated.  The grass was a little damp, but I did what I was told.

Back came the cop with a new vase. It didn’t fit, so off he went again.  I wanted to pour some ashes in the empty hole while he was gone, but I was voted down as he might see them and become suspicious. Maybe we’d go to jail.  Yikes! Was I a part of a criminal offense, just trying to oblige my mother-in-law’s wishes?  So there I sat for a never-ending time it seemed to me.  Finally the vase arrived and nothing would do but the cop had to go fill it with water.  We thanked him profusely, and he just stood around chit-chatting with the guys – he’d served in Vietnam, etc., etc.  Meanwhile I was still stuck on the ground concealing “the evidence.”  Then he did tell us that the lady that I had suspected of spying had reported us as having jumper cables at the grave.  Bud responded, “Honestly, officer, I wasn’t trying to jump-start my Grandma!”  He laughed and finally left, and I didn’t move until his car was out of sight.

By this time I had sat on the ground so long I could barely get up.  We quickly went about our chore and said, “Praise the Lord!” We had complied with Mom’s wishes – almost!  We still had to do Grandpa.  His grave was across the street from Grandma’s, and when we got there, we found the exact same situation that we had encountered before.  Grass had grown over the vase.  I spoke up and said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not going through that experience again – no way!”  They all agreed, but what to do?   So my sister-in-law and I took off our shoes, dumped the ashes onto the grass on the top of the grave, and worked them into the grass with our bare feet – illegal, but accomplished.  We did a very good job; nobody would have noticed.

And so goes the story of our near brush with the law.  The four of us laughed all the way home until the tears were rolling down our cheeks.  We knew Bud’s mother was up in heaven looking down on us and having one of her big belly laughs.  She had one of the heartiest laughs ever.  It was a story never to be forgotten.  Our sister-in-law and brother-in-law have since passed on, but to this day I’ll always remember that weekend.

All of our careful planning – it was such a good plan.  If only my husband hadn’t gotten out those damn jumper cables – but then there wouldn’t have been this story to tell.

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A Story with a Twist by Juliane McAdam

May 17, 2012

I don’t actually remember very much from my early childhood. Most of my memories start with kindergarten and school years. There are stories I was told about my early years. For example, my mother took me to a playground once when I was around two and let me play in the sandbox. Suddenly she looked up, and I was playing with a large kitchen fork; I had apparently uncovered it in the sand. It was a good quality fork. She took it home and kept it in her kitchen, and it is still in my kitchen today. She told me that once a boy I was playing with hauled off and hit me in the nose with a rock. She always said that was the reason the bridge of my nose is wide—he altered it. But I don’t really remember these events myself.

There is one other story from my very early years that I don’t remember either, but it’s a story that was repeated every so often at family gatherings, so I heard it several times. And it’s a story that came back to me many, many years later.

My mother was one of four children. Her older sister Lorraine was born in 1914; Bill followed in 1916. My mother Marjorie was born in 1920, and her baby brother Dick was born in 1926. Lorraine married at the age of 18 and had her first child, Marjorie, named for my mother, one year later in 1933. Soon after, Lorraine had a second child, Mike. Margie and Mike were the pre-war cousins.

Bill, as it turns out, was the same age as my father; in high school they were good friends. In fact, the story goes that Bill repeatedly warned his friend John against dating, then marrying, his sister. The advice went unheeded. My parents got married in September 1941; Bill and his wife Elinor married three months later, in December. My aunt Elinor was exactly six months older than my mother. When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my father enlisted in the Navy and Bill in the Army. Elinor, who was a nurse, wanted to join the Army also. At first, she was turned down; the Army did not want married women. But when casualties started mounting and they needed trained medical people to treat the returning wounded, she was accepted. She continued to serve until Bill returned to the States after V-J Day. My father, too, returned to California after the Japanese surrender. In June of 1946, Bill and Elinor had their first child, a daughter named Janice. Three months later, in August, I was born. Family legend has it that Janice was born three months before I was because her father returned from the war three months earlier than my father. There is probably some truth in that. Anyway, Janice and I were the first post-war cousins. Our cousin Margie was thirteen years older, already a young woman and almost a generation older.

The family story is that when I was about eighteen months old, starting potty-training but not there yet, my parents went with me to visit Lorraine and her family. One evening, there was lots of excitement. Margie was rushing around getting ready to go out with friends, and I was probably feeling a little neglected. Who knows what goes on in the mind of a toddler? Anyway, Margie went to put on her shoes and found that I had left something in them: I had pooped in her shoe. Margie was, understandably, horrified. She shrieked. My mother and Lorraine, both in possession of a really good but weird sense of humor, were sympathetic but probably trying hard not to laugh. I don’t really know. I was too young to grasp any nuances in adult behavior.

And then the story, mercifully, languished. Every so often someone would bring it up, as people do with bizarre family stories, but for the most part it was forgotten, or at least submerged.

But then we come to the part of the story that isn’t about my early childhood, the part where the story comes back.

My cousin Margie, like her mother, married young—she wasn’t yet eighteen—and began having children right away. Over the years, she and her husband, my cousin Jim, had four boys and then, finally, a girl. Margie was a giving, caring, cheerful, musically talented and wonderfully thoughtful person. She had many, many friends. In early 2007, we learned that she was very ill. The reports came fitfully: first she had some unknown problem, then it was a form of cancer, then it was cancer throughout her body. Over the course of about three weeks, her prognosis became grim.

My aunt Elinor, my cousin Janice, who many years ago had changed her name to Erica, and I decided we needed to visit Margie while she was still around. So on a lovely March day, we drove out to Riverside. As soon as I saw Margie, I knew that she didn’t have much longer to live. I had been with my father in his final hours, and the signs were the same. Two of her sons were there with their wives. A call had gone out to other family members to come to see her. I don’t know if they realized how near to death she was. Erica and I encouraged them to enlist the services of Hospice.

While family members talked and reminisced, Margie, on her hospital bed in the living room, was withdrawing into herself. She was beyond chatting or responding. Then the time came for Erica, Elinor, and I to leave. Elinor and Erica hugged Margie and told her they loved her and then walked outside to join the rest of the family. I walked up to Margie.

I leaned over and told Margie how much I loved her, how many people loved her. Suddenly, she looked directly at me and in a very clear voice said, “You pooped in my shoe!” For a second or two, I was speechless. Then I told her she was right but that I didn’t mean it; I didn’t know what I was doing. I gave her a kiss and left.

When I got outside, I related to the family what she had said. Her husband Jim roared with laughter, and everyone shared in the humor. Erica, Elinor, and I drove home. We had a phone call later that same evening telling us that Margie had died.

Later, when I thought about it, and even now, I am astounded. The human brain is a wondrous thing. Margie, in saying that, told me that even though she was dying, she knew exactly who I was; in a way, she was telling me I was special. She provided a bit of levity to a very sad gathering. And I am still mystified that her brain could pull up that story at that time.

What’s In a Number? by Shirley Palmer

May 17, 2012

I’ve noticed through the years that different things have entirely different meanings to all different people.  That’s just life.  Whether it’s food, colors, weather, numbers – anything – we all have a different opinion about certain things.  Personally I don’t function well or enjoy the heat.  That’s one reason we leftSouthern Californiaand moved to Los Osos.  I couldn’t stand the heat and my husband hated air-conditioning, so we decided after retirement if we were to keep our marriage a happy one, we’d have to find a place where I was happy and could survive without air-conditioning!  Los Osos was the perfect solution.   I enjoy my steaks rare, my mother wanted hers so well done that we’d order hers as “cremated.”  My favorite color is blue;  if I tallied all my friends and family, I’d find many other preferences than blue.

Now we get to the number subject.  It amazes me how many people win huge amounts on the lottery drawings by using birth dates of their kids, grandkids – whomever – all birth dates.  I used to buy a ticket a week when we lived down South, as there was a store very close by our home and I’d pop in and buy a ticket.  After a couple years I gave up on all the birthdays in our family – we must have been born on unlucky days.  The most I ever won was $5.00.  So then I went to buying a “Quick Pick” – let the machine pick my numbers for me.  A couple of years of that and I hadn’t even won $5.00.  So ended my gambling career.

Now apply the number game to age.  We’ve all seen and heard kids: I’m almost 16 or 18.  Then I’m 21 and really proud.  From there it goes to approaching 30, I’m almost 40, and when the big 50 hits, it usually hurts most people.  I remember when I turned 50, my son asked me how it felt to be “over the hill.”  I told him I really didn’t feel I was “over the hill heading down!”  His reply: “How many people do you know that live to be 100???”  That almost ruined my day.

However, what I’ve found in my life is your age is just a number.  I’m doing almost as much as I did when I was in my 50s and 60s.  I have a few handicaps – my broken ankle being one of them.  I can’t walk like I used to, but I’m busy every day.  My development of Spasmodic Torticollis in my 50s set me back quite a bit.  I cook and clean, I do volunteer work for my church, which is a BIG job.  I keep writing my stories (good or bad) – but writing seems to be therapy for me.  I still attend my book club and manage to have a lunch out with a friend and/or my husband at least once a week.  So what is the BIG DEAL?  I’m going to be, or should I say “turning” 80 this week.  My daughter and her husband are coming from Montana to have an open house, so everybody can celebrate me getting old.  I don’t know how many grandkids will show up, but whoever shows, that will be fine with me.  I personally thought this birthday might just be another day.  But I guess the big 80 is special, and my daughter informed me she wanted to celebrate happiness and life. So that’s what we’ll be doing, I guess.

I remember when my Mother turned 80, she was living with us.  She had no friends, as when she came from Seattle to move in with us, she left all her sisters (only 2 were living) and friends back in Seattle.  I tried to get her to go to our Senior Center for lunch and cards, as she loved to play cards.  They had a little van that would pick people up and bring them home.  But she would have no part of being with those “old people.”  Consequently, the only friends she had were our friends, who always treated her royally.  The night of her birthday I was to go down to L.A.and listen to John Wooden (former basketball coach of UCLA) give a speech on motivation.  It was a requirement of my job.  So the Saturday before her 80th I called all our friends and told them I was making a big pot of chili and we’d have cake to celebrate my Mom’s birthday.  We had about 10 people show up – everybody liked my chili and they were so kind to come and extend birthday wishes to Gracie.  Then on her actual birthday she didn’t even notice that I didn’t come home for dinner but was away at this important meeting for my job.

You couldn’t pull that trick on me. I know my birthday is March 29th, and I know it’s a Thursday, but my open house is going to be on a Saturday, the 31st.  I don’t think that I’m any smarter than my Mother was – not at all.  I just think times have changed so much since she turned 80 in 1978 and for me in 2012.  The main difference is I know I’m old, but I’m not ready to sit in a rocking chair all day and watch TV.  My Mom would have been so much better off if she had joined those “old people” at the Senior Center and had lunch and played cards.  It would have been something to do.  I don’t lack for things to do and plan to keep it that way for as long as I’m able.

And so for my “What is a Number” title – to me it’s almost meaningless.  Obviously our birthday numbers never brought me great wealth.  So my turning 80 – it’s just another birthday.  I hope to live to see at least 10 more, the good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise!!!  Maybe in Los Osos I should say “the good Lord willing and the surf remains calm!”