Heating Oil and Monkey

I can smell Dad now: he smells of heating oil and monkey. Having consigned his adult self to fixing refrigerators and oil heaters for a living, it was all Dad could muster, given the abuse he suffered as a child and his subsequent breakdown at the age of seventeen. Repair work — Dirty, grimy work, helpful work that made others’ lives better — was tedious work of which his beautiful mind grew bored. So, every evening in order to decompress he carried a newspaper pouch heaped with leftovers across Second Street to his pet monkey, Squeako. The beast’s Sacred Feeding Time was sacred to them both. Mom refused to go. She had had enough of the monkey business — all the injuries Dad’s various monkeys had inflicted on her and Dad through the years. Often he allowed me to go with him to feed Squeako.  This was where the mere memory of Squeako and Dad combined to make that sharp blend of monkey and heating oil. It permeated his skin and clothing. I both hated and loved its pungency; it invades the nose of my mind right now.

He — Dad, not the monkey — could have been an architect. As with any creative, not all of his ideas were home runs. But, judging from his many brilliantly conceived ideas such as the the Luggage Buckle, and the Tricycle Go Cart (fastest in the hood), and the Duct Tape Butterfly Bandage On the Six Inch Chainsaw Wound (self inflicted), the Taj Mahal For Primates turned out to be one of his best. He designed and  built an elaborate network of rooms and runs: a heated feeding room, an exercise room, sleeping space and the piece de resistance (in Port Angeles we called it the piece of resistance): the Sun Tower. Ah the Sun Tower, but I digress. Another time, perhaps, you and I will pick fleas together in the Sun Tower. Right now, I want to talk about Dad’s music.

As a professional musician myself, I can say with confidence that Dad’s musical talent was of the highest caliber; he possessed an excellent ear and a fine-tuned, silken voice of phenomenal range. His rhythm was on point, his interpretations were marked with great insight and tenderness. This was a man of great creative potential, potential of pure essence stripped of him at an early age by his own father who quite thoroughly abused him. At the age of seventeen Dad, before he was Dad to me, snapped under the strain of abuse. To say he never recovered his essence would be a gross understatement, though it helps to believe he did the best he could.

So, it’s a thing worth thinking about. Abuse often triggers the onset of mental illness. Here’s a link: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/15/how-child-abuse-primes-the-brain-for-future-mental-illness/

Abuse, a prolific breeder, begets a many things. It begins with verbal abuse which, in turn, spawns emotional abuse. You can’t document verbal or emotional abuse. Can’t take a picture of it. Hard to get a witness. It’s insidious that way. Makes you think you are the crazy one. Then, abuse breeds more abuse: physical, sexual and where does it stop? So a person copes by shutting down all but the most basic survival system. That’s what happens to so many abuse victims. They, in turn, abuse because abuse and subsequent shut down have stamped their imprints onto their psyches. Such was the case with Dad when he was a boy, and it all started with words. Not only is this worth thinking about but it’s worth changing ourselves for.

Abuse –our rampant societal ill — from parent to playground to President — smells to the mind a whole lot like an uncleaned monkey run. Abuse starts with our words. Escalates from there. Like a slow buildup of discarded banana peels, buckwheat pancakes, oatmeal slime and sodden newspapers, the stench builds as the breakdown of waste continues to pollute that which was once clean and new, until that place becomes unreachable.

Such wasted space robs us all.

Mental illness is a huge problem. And where does much of it begin? Perhaps it begins with the quieter thing to which we have grown accustomed: verbal abuse. We do not have to scream at or beat another person in order to abuse. Perhaps we as a race have grown so accustomed to a verbal abuse so subtle that we do not realize we ourselves are abusing others with our words, with our put downs and our withholding. Abuse spawns more abuse,  so why not prevent what we are able to prevent? Why not nip it in the bud and stop our cruel words, our unkind actions? Or let’s stop withholding and actually dare a conversation about the effects of withholding? This is where it begins.

Dad failed to reach a potential that matched his gifts. He didn’t need to be famous or spectacular to be successful. Most of us don’t. He did need to live the way he was designed, in accordance with his gifts. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and subsequent mental illness stole real life from him. Adult he, in turn, abused his family, withheld from us. And, when life got to be too much for him he went to that dark fortress he had erected in his mind, one not unlike the Taj Mahal For Primates. Instead of giftedness, he smelled of heating oil and monkey.

Perhaps I am being unfair. On church days he added Old Spice to the mix.

Caged

That’s the thing about having a parent afflicted with mental illness: you feel caged. I can only imagine how my dad felt. Speaking of cages let me tell you about my dad’s monkey’s cage. Talk about the Taj Mahal For Primates, an edifice Dad took great care designing and building. The finished product boasted a warming room, a tunnel leading to a sunlit monkey run about twenty feet long, and a sun tower that jutted far above the tar papered roof of the adjacent building. It really would have been impressive except for the fact that the Taj Mahal For Primates was warmer than my bedroom at home. Dad saw to it. Why my dad afforded the monkey every comfort and failed to build warm fires for me, his flesh and blood, was something I spent a lifetime trying to figure out. Plus, the monkey had fur. Not fair.

About my dad’s monkey (there were six total). Think Rhesus. Think Mean. Fangs. Cage rattler. You would be those things, too, if you were caged most of the time. This monkey’s name was Squeako and I am here to tell you I am not making this up; Squeako was born the exact morning as I. Not kidding. The day my mom came home from the hospital with infant me in her arms she found a surprise awaiting her: a monkey in the oven. Baby monkey. In a shoe box. Sadly, while I was busy nearly dying from my own birth, Squeako lost his monkey mother in his. Thankfully I lived so I could tell you — work with me here — everyone has got to have a purpose — this completely ridiculous yet true story.  From what I understand of the situation, my near death experience couldn’t hold a candle to Dad’s concern over his monkey in the oven. An incubator, Dad said, since the mother was dead, and could we please use the baby girl’s diapers for Squeako? I had a name for Pete’s sake.

Squeako lived forty years. Just like my dad’s mental illness, Squeako watched, chased, terrified me, terrifies me still, in dreams. Growing up I simply could not get away from him, especially when Dad got bored and “accidentally” left the door to the Taj Mahal open. He laughed and laughed a scary high pitched giggle when he was pleased with himself, especially after he had done something stupidly dangerous, followed by, “See, kids, it’s funny, isn’t it?” Not funny, Not at all. I was terrified of the monkey. None of my needs registered with Dad. So I stayed cold and afraid and there was no comfort. Until I learned the power of pen on paper, the power of witness. Then I learned to express myself through music. At last, when I finally learned there was no shame in talking about mental illness I shared my truth and got some great tools to help me cope with the strain of a mentally ill father.

I was glad when that monkey died forty years later. My whole life I pitied Squeako, yet feared he would get ahold of me eventually. He seemed a perfect picture of my dad’s sickness, of our family’s torment, something I couldn’t understand, something that chased, caged us all, for a very long time.

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Squeeko looked like this Rhesus, fatter due to excessive consumption of Dads buckwheat pancakes.

The Power Of Witness

Many of us with mentally ill parents shouldn’t have “made it” this far. But we did and I’d be willing to bet it’s because the power of witness was present in our young lives. When I was littlest I was unaware of anything “wrong” with Dad. I walked with him downtown to the Post Office, letters to his Congressman in his hand. (He was convinced the government was controlling the weather and his letters demanded the government come clean.) I figured him a good dad protecting me from a government who wanted to create drought, take us all out by preventing rain from falling. However, as I developed into a teenager and my emotions grew more complex, the slow dawn of embarrassment revealed my truth, something I kept pushing away: Dad was very sick. Every day he slipped further away. I experienced his abandonment of his own self and his abandonment of me; tricky to understand because his physical self was still there. Yet his mind wasn’t. None of us knew what to do. There was little help for someone like him, not then.

When I hitched rides home from church youth group outings I dreaded all the questions people asked about why did my dad keep so many derelict cars in the yard. Why so many cats, and why the blue tarp over the roof? And the worst question of all…why did Dad insist on keeping a monkey? My own questions I could not answer. Then I remember asking my friend’s parents to start dropping me off a few houses away from mine, in order to avoid embarrassment.

We were required to keep Dad’s illness secret too. So, instead of talking to someone about it I had to pretend everything was fine. Not talking turned me into a silent observer. As a result, I found there were many good people in this world. I watched the good ones and tried to imitate their healthy behaviors. I made decisions for my future self. Even as a teen I vowed I would get help if I ever felt like I was catching whatever Dad had, and I was plenty worried I might. I could have caught it but it passed me by.  Though I could could not get help, I didn’t have nothing with which to cope. Three important things made the difference.

The most powerful thing in my young life in the face of so much secrecy turned out to be the power of witness. Kids whose parents suffer with mental illness need a witness. Otherwise they feel  completely alone, floundering in a sea of neglect and abuse. Even if the witness can only stand with a kid but cannot do anything to help their circumstance, if a kid knows someone sees them, they don’t feel quite so invisible. This is very important. Back then there was no support. Now there is an organization, NAMI, to help with advocacy, education and support. Here’s a link: https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI

Witness can take a few forms, that of a fellow human being the most critical. The second can be the witness of pen on paper.  My years as silent observer spilled out onto the page. I found the written word to be powerful and satisfying in a world where there was precious little satisfaction. Writing story or composing poetry provides a safe place for the sufferer to go and speak silently. Strangely enough, the act of putting pen to paper provides a way for the sufferer to be heard, if only for himself. It provides a record and proves the suffering exists. Third is the power of music or art. Those who suffer tend to run deep. The artistic outlet can be priceless and enriching for the sufferer as well as for those lucky enough to witness their work, because it helps transform frustration and grief into something beautiful and tangible, worthy of visual and aural consideration.

I was blessed to have a few good people who cared for me, people I considered gifts, ones I observed and tried to emulate: Grandma Coriander up on Third Street who made chicken and dumplings every Sunday, a Sunday School teacher who took our class for hamburgers every Saturday, a school teacher who encouraged my creativity — writing, music and art — but one very dear friend stood with me through it all, though she could do nothing to actually change my situation. I believe my witnesses, along with the witness of my writing and music, were the reasons I survived.

Strawberries For Slugs

Out back near the Gravenstein apple tree in the back yard Dad tended a garden where he focused his efforts on growing taters, peas, and strawberries.  I loved using a small shovel to dig up little taters with him — like digging for gold nuggets. The nice thing about taters was, they stayed fresh in earthen mounds for a long time. The peas I had to sneak about and pick when Dad wasn’t looking because by the time he said the peas were “ready” they had overdeveloped into hardened green pouches filled with marbles. He got quite protective of his peas. Difficult to understand why a dad would grow peas but not let his kid eat them when they were edible. That was the nature of his mental illness. Logic meant absolutely nothing to him. Therefore, in order to survive my dad’s version of crazy I had to do the only logical thing I knew: I had to throw logic out the window.

But his strawberries remained the biggest mystery to me. “No,  no,  no,” he would say, as I reached for a strawberry warmed by summer, “don’t you pick strawberries yet.” In the Northwest the slug population was and still is huge because it rains a lot there. Since slugs thrive in wet weather it “slugs” a lot too. I swear all the slugs in town migrated to our backyard when they heard the strawberries were ripening. Once word got out, by means of slug shortwave radio or megaphone or whatever, slugs from all over the neighborhood dragged slimy trails down misty sidewalks, across damp streets and into our very moist backyard for their annual Strawberry and Slug Festival. Dad grinned from ear to ear (you should have seen the crazy look in his eye) he was so proud to host such an event. Again, ditch the logic and for heaven’s sake, don’t ask questions and don’t even try to eat a strawberry. Every single one eaten by a slug. Drove me crazy it was so unreasonable.

That’s the thing about being a kid. You can look at a situation like that and say, “It’ll be weird like this for a long time but — note to self — when I grow up I will never grow strawberries for slugs. My grown-up garden will be for my own kids.”

Refrigerator Box Stories

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Big Bad Wolf, last seen wearing Granny’s nightcap, sails a derelict boat named Harley and reportedly escapes to Canada.

The inspiration for Little Red Riding Pants came from my father who suffered from mental illness. I realized even when I was a child he went in and out of a catatonic states and was becoming unreachable. I also knew if we walked together the soothing rhythm and sway of walking would open him up and he would begin to talk to me. Many nights he spent time walking with me downtown to the big zigzags that ran like hairpins up the face of the hill overlooking First Street. We raced up and down those zigzags; he, clumping along in his lace up work boots, pretending to lose the race to my two dollar Mary Janes. We didn’t care. We had fun.

I remember being thirsty for his words. He told me love was the most powerful emotion in the whole wide world. I remember wishing he would tell me more.

While I was still little, before his mind slipped away forever, he spent a lot of time reading me bedtime stories. With a wildly creative mind like his he couldn’t help but make many of them up as well. All the neighborhood kids loved him for his pranks, stories and, of course, Squeeko his (real)pet monkey. Kids didn’t know how much he suffered. Nor did it matter to them. There was no stigma. All they knew was he spent time with them. With him they were completely safe.

We lived across the alley from General Electric. Every week they put out tall refrigerator boxes in the alley for the trash men to take away. I assisted the trash men and hauled many of those boxes across the way to my back yard where we built super-deluxe refrigerator box forts. When the neighborhood kids caught word, they brought sleeping bags and flashlights. Then we waited, our faces all lit up, whispering until Dad appeared. Not that we saw him at first. We knew he had arrived when we heard the scratching — soot-blackened fingernails on the sides of the fort and a low “Mwoohahahahaha…” of his voice. Of course we squealed, pretended we were freaked out. He hunched into the shape of a “C” just inside the box opening and told stories and sang us songs.

In the Sixties and Seventies there was precious little help for those who suffered from mental illness, mainly primitively administered shock therapy, something that scared him to death. He told me so when I was just a girl. My audio book, Little Red Riding Pants’ Narrow Escape is a tribute to Real Dad, the Dad who sometimes held me close and spoke of love and stories, before his wonderful mind disappeared, irretrievable from an illness that robbed us all.

Here’s a link to Little Red Riding Pants’ Narrow Escape: https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/evastanfield

Swain’s General Store, Part Two

 

Perhaps, I spent my most memorable moment at Swain’s when I turned ten, long before I became an employee. Every year we Stanfields made homemade root beer with Old Fashioned Root Beer Soda Mix (gotten at Swain’s, of course-at least in the sixties). We kids picked discarded beer bottles out of garbage cans, and bought new bottle caps because, of course, Birdie Stanfield the Self Sufficient One owned a bottle capper.

While we mixed the root beer, that fragrance of warm, fruity brown liquid filled the house and reminded me of gentle ice cream pillows in an icy mug piled deep with sweet, latte-colored root beer foam. All I wanted to do was jump into a root beer float and do the backstroke.

Mom said we had to let the root beer ripen for a few weeks which, to a little kid felt like a few years. With great reluctance, we capped the beautiful, drinkable nectar into bottles and set them in a dark pantry on the back porch beneath the watchful eye of a dim light bulb for a very long time.

We had plans for that root beer.

When it finally reached its full bloom of flavor, we each grabbed a bottle, snapped off the bottle caps, and set out for Swain’s. And bragging rights.

Oh, the looks we received. We were too cool, parading through the scenic hills and valleys, the aisles of Swain’s, taking deep swigs of root beer from umber beer bottles, checking out rows of Can’t Bust ‘Em jeans, steel-toed boots, and Welch Leather Loop suspenders. Concerned shoppers stopped to stare, looked away, walked again, stopped and turned back with incredulous eyes pulled to the irresistible magnetism of a double take.

We took the evaluation process we could see taking places in their eyes as our cue to leave, so we bought popcorn from a cashier too busy to notice our bottles, and finally burst out of that store with our now empty beer bottles. My brothers and I inhaled deep breaths of pristine air, laughed our heads off. I felt older, smarter; the fine edges of my newfound cockiness blurred ever so slightly by the ittiest aftereffect of guilt.

Ah, Swain’s, as much a part of a Peninsula childhood as log booms, mountain lakes, fishing, and a River called Elwha the color of cat’s eyes rushing to an icy Salish Sea.

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Swain’s General Store, since 1957

Have you been to Swain’s? You can see Sasquatch paraphernalia on an end cap, a great selection of camping gear, and some seriously tough clothing built for such a place as this glorious and sometimes punishing Peninsula. Oh, and you might want to try the popcorn, which you will find situated at the front, close to the cash registers.

Swain’s General Store

It’s not that the Olympic Peninsula doesn’t have much to offer a visitor. It does, but I am compelled to ask, have you ever visited the real Port Angeles? Have you experienced the intricacies and possibilities of an iconic place of business with its own internal landscape as vast and varied as the space it inhabits: have you been to a place called Swain’s?

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Swain’s General Store “has everything.”

Sure, on the Olympic Peninsula, pristine lakes drop exclamation points beneath tips of craggy crevasses and lap at ragged edges of evergreen bowls in colors too exquisite to name;  just one of their colors impossible to label, all colors unthinkable.  It’s true, rivers the color of cats’ eyes furtively search their banks for silt to shoplift from beneath arthritic roots of black evergreens and umber feet of Madrona trunks clawing and scraping glacial melt that rushes  by from snow-capped peaks, strutting joy down, down turbulent avenues to the depths of the Salish Sea. This piece of land, this Peninsula, nearly an island hanging by threads of ragged inlets like the sleeve ripped from the body of an entire continent, promises astonishment, joy, and unsurpassed beauty, yes. But have you gone to Swain’s and checked out the jutting fishing pole trees and acres of outdoor clothing? Have you seen all the mountainous flavors of Idaho SPUD candy bars, Aplets and Cotlets, and Almond Roca there, or observed rivers of nuts and bolts, galvanized thirty gallon trash can-invaluable for monkey capture-rushing down the main aisle to cash registers, flowing into pickups waiting like handsome steeds in a rain-soaked parking lot?

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Olympic Mountains

When I was a kid, I grew up in Port Angeles, the largest city on the Olympic Peninsula, set like a gemstone amid the stunning backdrop of the Olympic Mountains . We lived in a Victorian, five bedroom house right across the alley from Swain’s General Store, on Second Street. We frequented Swain’s every time we had a need, especially when we planned to hold one of our famous yard sales beneath the maple tree, not that we kids were much competition for Swain’s. My brother, Jack, perhaps the most successful businessman of us four kids, paid Little Susie a penny for every paying customer she could find in the neighborhood and bring to the sale. We ran to Swain’s for tag board and markers so we could advertise effectively. Swain’s had everything, after all, from tag board to shoes. Don’t forget the popcorn-ten cents then, twenty-five cents now.

With paper route money I bought my first horse bridle and gleaming saddle in the equestrian aisle, across from sporting goods, where I also bought fishing tackle and a license too, right before I went fishing at Peabody Creek. I even got screws for Dad when he sent me to Swain’s on an errand to the hardware department, deodorant for myself when I began the perspiration of adolescence (Chapter Three of my book Second Street), and slippers for Mom at Christmas. Swain’s existed as our sole go-to place outside of the Tradewell Grocery Store and the garden in the back yard.

It was from Swain’s I stole my first and last package of headbands the colors of a rainbow. I always was a sucker for color; I admit, the beauty of those headbands proved irresistible.  Across the alley I, thief, sprinted, and I hid them in the branches of the pear tree in our side yard, where Mom wouldn’t find them and I could return to get them later. But my experience with Swain’s was about to teach me crime did not pay.

I was wrong about Mom. As a perfectly balanced counterpoint to Swain’s motto, “Swain’s has everything”, it could safely be surmised that “Mom saw everything.” I swear she had eyes in the back of her head, because she saw me hide the headbands. Big mistake on my part, an underestimation the size of a gaping hole in the black earth of my thieving sole. After the bitter sting of a pear switch across my back side, she marched me across the alley to apologize to the lady behind the counter at Swain’s. Mom made me give the headbands back.

When we grew old enough to work, three of us four kids got jobs at Swain’s. I began at the age of fourteen as a Christmas bagger, graduating into a cashier position when I grew old enough. I worked for a total of seven years at Swain’s during Christmas and summer breaks and learned a lot of important lessons like:

  1. The customer is always right
  2. Be polite, no matter how bad you feel.
  3. Start work on time.
  4. Hardware is everyone’s friend.

Swain’s was, still is, a great place to work. Thanks goodness they forgave the headband incident of childhood and gave me a job.

To be continued….

 

Squeeko

The Rhesus monkey, Macaca Mulatta, inhabits India, northern China and Southeast Asia, as well as parts of Florida (since its introduction there in the early Twentieth Century). It also migrated to parts north, along the west coast of the United States. Recent history reveals the rosebud-faced primate was reportedly seen roaming as far north as Second Street Corridor in the city of Port Angeles, Washington in the Sixties and Seventies. Details of this adaptive creature have been documented in a yet-to-be-published work entitled SECOND STREET. The book is about Second Street, a place near First Street.

In addition to lots of interesting  and questionable facts, the author of SECOND STREET claims the existence of four additional monkeys, supposedly descended from the same familial line and raised on Second Street.

Since Second Street is near First Street, and in the vicinity of Swain’s General Store, it is worth considering whether or not the monkeys shopped at Swain’s General Store. Local wisdom says they may not have actually shopped there, though there was much speculation about where the package of headbands and five Idaho Spud Bars came from.  In addition and furthermore, it doubtful the monkeys were seen at Swain’s at all. The store’s motto, “Swain’s Has Everything” proved untrue for primates: they had no bananas.

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Unfortunately, Squeeko was fatter than the Rhesus shown above, due to his excessive buckwheat pancake consumption..

. The book SECOND STREET contains mostly factual information.

It should also be noted the monkey’s diet includes insects, fruit, vegetables, mice, rats and, when seasonally available, very young children.

 

 

Still Dancing Contra

So Saturday Night there was another contra dance at the Black Diamond Hall. Once again, I found myself travelling up the dark, mountain road in the rain, but this time I was not nervous. By the time I got the only leftover parking and got out of the car, I could hear fiddle music weaving through the rain, beckoning me inside. Sure enough, after I walked in and paid my eight bucks, I saw Joanne had, indeed, talked Bob into coming and there they were, over on the other side, the sheep farmer and the workman, dancing away.

Immediately, a man came through the crowd and asked me to be his partner. We danced, he the far more experienced one. He seemed very nice, although as the next half hour progressed I noticed his eyes became a little too fixated on me, and I felt myself becoming more interesting than I thought I was, under the intensity of his gaze. We danced a couple dances and, breathless, I excused myself,  told him I would be back but that I needed a drink. Hey, this dancing is exhausting! I was sweating! But you know, I sensed he was immediately impatient with my need, because he followed me into the kitchen and grabbed the sleeve of my shirt and said “Come on, hurry! The music started.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have this personal space thing and he got into mine before I could say “pushy.” I said to him, “Not until I finish.” He pasted a smile on his face and pretended he enjoyed learning patience for the first time. It was a look I had seen before and did not like. It made me feel stressed, hurried, and believe it or not, rude. But I was not the rude one here, he was. When guilt issues forth from the unwarranted expectations of another, I want to pay attention to the source.

Finally quenched, I went back out to the dance floor with him. I do not know this guy for more than a half hour and he’s already revealing his pushiness?  I thought, then thought again, How considerate. In my book, Buttwheat, you get one free pass but you don’t get two.” So I mentally issued a free pass and we danced again and chatted about this and that until I asked him what line of work he was in. He said, “I was a potter for seventeen years.” Klunk. He plopped that one right out on the dance floor without flushing. I had questions I did not ask. Why did he stop pottering? How long ago did he stop? Was he not serious? Perhaps he dabbled more than worked, I could not know. So I said,”Oh, wow, that sounds interesting,” and tried to think what he might possibly do now for work. Where might a potter go from a position of pottering? “So, what do you do now?” I asked.

“Oh, for the past several years I have studied railroad law. Did you know Congress doesn’t know much about Railroad laws?” He asked, not knowing this was shaping up to be something about which to blog.

“You don’t say.” I said, trying to think on my feet how the heck I’d be able to come up with a  thoughtful question that would sound more intrigued than I actually was. I wanted to be polite after all. So I said, “I believe it’s true that Congress doesn’t know a lot about several things.” It was a joke. He looked at me blankly. I felt pressure to fill the newest lapse in the conversation with something both clever and kind. Hurry..hurry…dig deep now… OK, I had one! “Well, now, how railroad law intersects with Congress certainly is a niche occupation, isn’t it?” I asked and continued, “I imagine studying railroad law must take up so awfully much of your time. How very tiresome it must make you. Hmm, not doing so well in the kind thoughts segment for the evening…

He said, “You seem very interested in this topic. Most people are not, when I talk to them about railroad law. You are interested, right?” He asked.

“Actually no, I am not interested in it at all. It bores me to death, I am sorry to say,” I said and was glad when he laughed at my frankness. At least he was a good sport.

“Say, why don’t you come with me to the Valentine’s Day Dance down at the Sequim Prairie Grange this weekend?” There it was. The asking of the date I had known was coming. “Come be my date. It’ll be fun!” There it was again.

“I don’t know, but hey, will we get to talk about the cool and interesting railroad laws if I go with you?” I did not ask him. Instead I thought about how much I cherished my brother, David, and his excellent wife, Kathy in that very moment, in that very place, up on Black Diamond Road. “Oh, unfortunately, it will be impossible for me to go because my brother and his wife are coming over that weekend.” I put on my best frowny face in the hopes that he would be completely deterred. Instead, he said, “Your brother and wife can come too. Do you think they would want to dance with hillbillies?”

Wait. I’m a hillbilly now? Uh, OK, Fine with that. Don’t care. “The plans are not firmed up yet. All I know is that they are coming,” I said in a sure tone.

After that, we danced one more set. Then he said he was going to get himself another dance partner. I didn’t blame him. I don’t do pushy. Not anymore.

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Learning to Dance

Things We Learn At Dance Lessons

Roving

The Tuesday evening West Coast Swing dance was over. We successfully completed number 4 out of 5 beginner classes. A new friend, Joanne, spoke as we put on hats and coats.”There is another Contra Dance this Saturday night up Black Diamond Road. You goin’? Asked Joanne.

“I am going. I had so much fun at the last one,” I replied. “You going?”

“Yes I am! Want to meet up at the old Fairview school house and we can carpool to black Diamond?” Asked Joanne, as we walked off the dance floor at the end of the lesson.

“Sure!” I said. “What about Bob?”

She answered as we both turned to look at him, standing a short distance away. “I’m trying to convince him but he’s not sure. There may be some others who want to go too.” She continued, “Contra is so much easier than Swing. I’ve been doing Contra for thirty years and I know both genders, so it’s easy to me. With Contra, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake or not. It’s just a lot of fun.” I agreed with her, and took a mental note of her easy manner. I looked at Bob again. He seemed calm and shy and sweet and her relaxed vibe might just succeed convince him to go to Contra and live a little on the wild side, I thought.

She said, “I’ll work on Bob for Saturday’s Contra.” She gave me her card and I agreed to call her to confirm our plans. I glanced down and immediately liked the card. I knew Joanne owned a pet pig and that she ran a home-based business but I had no idea she was so diversified. The card read: Hole-in-the-Fence Farm. Grass Fed Lamb and Mutton, Pastured Chickens & Eggs, Icelandic & Wensleydale Fleece, Roving & Yarn. Antibiotic, Hormone & Drug Free.

Wait. I understood all of it except one thing. Roving? As in, “I’ll go a-roving no more”? As in the really old capstan sea chanty about the sailor and the Amsterdam maid whose eyes and perhaps other parts did plenty a-roving of her own? Or did it have something to do with a-roving migration patterns of Icelandic and Wensleydale sheep? Wait. Sheep don’t go a-migratin’. Right. Or, does yarn go a-roving? I was a-gettin’ close. Hmm, I resolved to look it up when I got home. When I drove out of the dark, misty parking lot, I turned on the windshield wipers so I could see better, and noticed Joanne and Bob, who stood, a-chatting in the fog. No doubt she was working on him to come to the Contra Dance Saturday night. I craned my neck and looked upward through the swipes on my windshield and saw a full moon, whose silver circle was frizzy with moisture as it began it’s roving from one blue edge of night to the other. I was at peace.

When I got home, I looked up “roving” in the dictionary. It is wool run through a carding machine, kind of like messy hair being brushed for the first time. After the carding process, the fibers mostly go the same direction, but a few go contrary to the general flow of the yarn, which produces a fuzzy and soft texture. I realized life is like that kind of yarn sometimes, and I hoped the end result would be something interesting, soft, and durable. Oh, the things I learn at dance lessons.