Trying To See Orting Through The Eyes Of Elias

[Elias and Erin nap. Erin has a cold.]

Behind my back, twenty-three miles east south-east, sits Mount Rainier. The second day we were here, the sun set into the Pacific Ocean and bathed Rainier in the most spectacular alpen-glow I’ve seen in years. We had a few days of clear weather. Today, it is rainy and cloudy. Kind of the usual for this time of year.

This is the view that my grandson, Elias has grown up with.

[Mariam, Erin and Elias.]

Yesterday, Mariam, Erin, Elias and I made the walk to the Kindergarten, where Elias is taught by Mrs. Misner helped by Miss Jo.

I walk behind the three of them…Elian, his grandma and his mom. I feel old, achy. Like a grandfather. We walk slowly back to home.

[Clam Guns. I never knew such things existed]

I ask to stop and visit the local sporting goods store. I needed shoelaces.

I always follow behind on the walk back home.

[Elias escapes the car seat after a shopping visit with his dad, Bob.}

[And of course, Rainier}

 

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Dear Grandpa

George Hotchko

Dear Grandpa,

I thought I’d write to you today.  It’s been such a long time since we had a chance to sit and talk about things.  I have so many memories of you, I don’t know where to begin.  It was so long ago.

Remember when I was a little boy?  You lived with Grandma in a big white house beside a lake in Pennsylvania.  In all the time I was growing up, you never had to go off to work in a factory or a coal mine.  You did all those things before I was born.  You spent your time tending a little garden behind the big house.  Once you showed me how to graft two different apple trees together.  I was amazed when, a year later, I could go out to the tree and have a choice of different apples on one tree!  Your garden had several fruit trees and I remember at the far end of your rows of plants was a steep bank that led up to an old railroad bed.  There was a short path up the hill.  In the far corner of your garden, you had a little white shed.  I think it was once an outhouse, but I was never sure.  There were so many hoes and shovels and rakes, sacks of seeds and old bottles, that I could never see whether there was a potty hole or not.

When my family would drive down to visit you from our house in Owego, NY, we’d almost always find you on an old chair beside your shed, sitting in the shade.  Or, under the big apple tree in the yard…always sitting in the shade.  Every time we saw you, there was a pipe either in your mouth or in your vest pocket.  I remember that you had a strange pipe lighter, not like a Zippo or Bic.  It was silver and round.  It was the size of my thumb.  And, you’d push it together somehow and there’d be a flame to light your pipe.

I would always run up to you and hug you and say: “Hi, Grandpa!”  When I was a little boy.

You’d always say: “Well, if it isn’t little Paddy.  You’re so big now.”

Once my brother and I found you on the front porch…in the old rocking chair.  We begged you to tell us a ghost story.  But you said you didn’t want to scare us.  You said that sometimes when you think about those things you couldn’t sleep.  You gave in one time and told us how you were walking home from a day in the mines and you saw a friend sitting on the stonewall of a cemetery.

“Hey, George,” the guy said to you.  “How about a plug?”

You reached in your back pocket and broke off a plug of chewing tobacco and gave it to him.  You talked with him for a few minutes and then you walked on down the street.  A few blocks away, you stopped in your tracks.  You remembered that the guy had died three months earlier.  You said you’re not supposed to look back over your shoulder when you see a ghost so you ran the rest of the way home.

That story did scare me.  When I was a little boy.

I remember that you always planted potatoes in your garden.  My brothers and I giggled when you told us that for good luck, whoever planted the potatoes, had to pee on the first mound.  And, you always did, but it was never when we were around.  I wondered for years how you managed to pee on the correct potato mound in the dark of night.  Did you hold your flashlight under your arm?

Whenever one of us tried to talk to you, you always leaned over and said to talk louder into one of your ears, saying you were hard of hearing.  But, sometimes you heard us just fine.  My father thought you were “deaf” only when my grandma was trying to tell you to do something.  I still wonder about that.

Well, Grandpa, have I got news for you!  I have a grandson now!  That makes me a grandpa, just like you.  When I was a little boy.

His name is Elias and he is your Great, Great, Grandson!  He’s very adorable. (Did you think I was adorable when I was little?)

Well, I better say good-bye for now.  I’ll be seeing you sometime…someday.  We’ll have so much to talk about.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, you can tell me more ghost stories.  I don’t think I’ll be afraid to hear them when we talk again.

We’ll sit under a tree and I’ll watch you light your pipe again.  I’ll make sure we’ll be in the shade.

I think I’ll go and poke through some boxes for those old 8mm home movies my dad took of you.  I saw them a few years ago.  You didn’t seem to change much over the years.  But, I have.  A few weeks ago, I was visiting my grandson and someone took a short video.  Someday, maybe Elias will look at it and see himself as a child.  And, next to him will be an old gray-haired man.

In the old jerky, flickering films, you were holding me…when I was just a baby.  There is another one when you and I are walking, hand in hand, down the old railroad bed.

I was just a little boy.

Good-bye for now.  See you soon, Grandpa!

Love,   Paddy

P.S. Here’s a picture of your Great, Great, Grandson, Elias:

Elias Tractor February 2015

[Photo: Bob Goldstein]

P.S.S. Here’s a picture of your Great Grandson, Brian:

brianboy

The Pink Flamingos of the Pacific Northwest

Flamingos

I asked my daughter, Erin, about her opinion of pink flamingos.

“They have their place,” she answered, without taking more than five seconds to think it over.

That place was in a front yard, several blocks from her home in Orting, WA.

My wife and I were walking back from a brief shopping trip to Safeway.  I was carrying a whole pineapple in the plastic grocery bag, it’s spiky leaves poking holes through the word “Safeway”.  The pineapple had me in a reflective mood about the tropics.  I thought of Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree on a  Caribbean island several years ago.  He was a grandfather.  I’m a grandfather and I was thinking what it would take to climb a pineapple tree.  I wasn’t even sure they grew on trees.  Maybe they grew like really large odd grapes on a rather large vine.  (I’d have to look that up later.)

We were here to visit Elias, my adorably cute grandson, my daughter and her husband, Bob.  My grandson had just turned two a month before.  I’m not going to post a picture of him because he’s so gosh darn cute, I would lose my readers who would just go straight to the photo and then make comments about him.  I didn’t want to use his unbelievable cuteness to simply grab your attention and beg you to follow me on WordPress.  I’ve been accused of similar tactics using a photo of Fluffy the lamb. But a child? Never!

When I mentioned pink flamingos to Erin, she knew exactly what property I saw them standing on.

“Oh, he’s the local “neighborhood watch guy”…”a sort of vigilante”.

I thought of Clint Eastwood.

Then I fully realized the implications of vigilantism and its consequences.  I was thankful I didn’t step off the sidewalk and onto his yard.  I may have been blasted by a pump-action 12-guage shotgun.  I know enough about guns to realize that even an indirect hit would do some spectacular damage to my appendix.

That’s alright.  I never had mine removed as a child like my brother, Dan, who had his appendix operation sometime in 1956.  Everybody in my family doted on him.  They lavished tons of attention on him.  I was left alone, sitting behind the sofa, staying out of the way…me and my intact appendix.  I was the youngest of four boys so nobody really paid much attention to me anyway.  When I was a young boy, my father was too tired to teach me to play catch.  I often stood in the backyard with my mitt and ball…me and my healthy damn appendix.

But I digress.

I stood looking at the pink flamingos.  There were two of them, as tradition dictates.  But both heads of the birds are bent to the lawn as if mucking about in the muck of a shallow swamp.  I thought about what I was seeing, in this yard, in this little town in the Pacific Northwest.  I began to remember all that I had learned about flamingos in school.

There are only four species of these beautiful pink birds that are native to the Americas.  I assumed I was looking at a pair of Phoenicopterus ruber.  I mean, when you think about it, it was an obvious choice.

I leaned closer to the pair and noticed that each one had a black stick supporting its body.  They were perfectly still.  I wondered.  Were these two pink flamingos really alive?  Perhaps the black sticks were meant to create the illusion of life.  I’ve heard of unsavory pet shop owners who have done this very thing.  I recalled the incident of one owner who nailed a dead parrot to the perch and insisted it was just sleeping.

Then again, maybe these flamingos were alive?  The owner (remember, he’s a vigilante) may have doped them and kept them from completing their annual migration.  But, migrating from where? And, more to the point, to where?

At this point I remembered taking my sixth grade science class to the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey on a field trip.  We were all in the IMAX theater watching a film about…I know it had to do with science and there were beautiful scenes of the Grand Canyon, an Ultralight flying into a sunset and herds of elephants (filmed from the same Ultralight) creating clouds of dust on the Serengeti Plains of Africa.  Just before I fell asleep, I remember a scene at a lake somewhere in Kenya where tens of thousands of flamingos were taking flight.  (Most of them were pink, by the way.)  It was very impressive.  Not as good as the opening moments of Miami Vice, but still pretty colorful.

Just before commercial breaks at the Master’s in Myrtle Beach, there were pink flamingos there also.  But, here in the Pacific Northwest?

I began to question my very own sanity.

It all began to add up.  Real live flamingos were Tropical birds and Orting, WA was in the Temperate Zone.  Granted, the temperature on this day was in the mid-40’s F with a near consistent rain.  My eyes narrowed into furrows that depicted suspicion.

I picked a crumb from a Granola bar that had fallen apart in my coat pocket.  I tossed it to the bird that looked like it was foraging.  Nothing.

I’ve been to college so I knew a thing or two about deductive reasoning and junk like that.  I came to the conclusion that this pair of flamingos were made of plastic.

The black sticks were holding them up because otherwise they would fall over.

It all came back to me in a rush as I thought about one of my favorite movies, Pink Flamingos by John Waters.  Seeing the movie drove me on a quest to catalog lawn kitsch.  I knew that the classic design I was looking at was first designed by a Don Featherstone in 1957 when he was working for Union Products.  I was ten years old.  Another company bought the molds and copyright in 2007 and continue to manufacture them.  BUT, you can tell if you have an “official” pair…Featherstone had his signature put on the rear underside of the birds.

I was not going to step on this guy’s lawn and look at the rear underside of his pink flamingos.

There are certain things even I won’t do.

My wife and I continued our walk back to my daughter’s house.  Elias would be up from his nap by now and, if I was lucky, he’d be asking: “where’s grandpa?”  I wanted to be there.

So, when we come back for our next visit, maybe in about a year, I’m going to take a walk with Elias to look at the pink flamingos.  He’s a smart child and will surely know that they are not native to the Pacific Northwest.

But we’ll walk hand in hand…a big grandpa hand holding a tiny 3-year-old boy hand.  If he asks me about my opinion about pink flamingos in the Pacific Northwest, I will answer truthfully: “They have their place.”

“OK, grandpa,” he’ll say.

Then he’ll point into the distance over his parent’s house at a large snow-covered peak.  Or, perhaps, the peak will be covered, like a bashful maiden, in clouds.

But he will know where to point.

“Mount Rainier is over there!”

“Yes,” I’ll say. “It has its place too”

EliasDrums

[Did you really think I wasn’t going to put a photo of Elias in this post?]

RainerLenticularClouds

[Lenticular clouds over Mount Rainier. Photo: Bob Goldstein (Son-in-Law)]

 

Travels 27: Falling In Love Again [The Final Installment]

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.

Take what you have gathered from coincidence.

The empty-handed painter from your streets,

Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.

The sky, too, is folding under you

And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

     –Bob Dylan “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

Carpe R-Pod.

     –Patrick Egan

Well, it’s over.  Our journey to the west coast and back is completed.  Now it is not a day-to-day reality, but a seedling memory, destined to grow and spread like Kudzu along a Virginia roadway.

All this may sound ponderous, but it isn’t over to me or to my wife, Mariam.  This trip was the longest I’ve made in decades.  It filled in many blanks in my mind’s geography.  I’ve seen places I have been dreaming about since I was a child.  I’ve met people in out-of-the-way places that won’t be easily forgotten.  For me, some stops were repeats from trips made as early as 1964.  For my wife, many of our destinations were new to her.  We’ve shared a great deal.

There are a million different ways I could have gotten from Rainbow Lake, NY to Orting, WA, but I chose one.  It was a ribbon of asphalt, sand, gravel and metal that led me to a certain door, of a particular house, on an average street where my grandson lived.

Don’t look for a PowerPoint “My Vacation” slide show, or a list of places I took pictures.  You’ve read my humble posts.  You got the general view of what happened along the way. ( I want to thank all the people who took time to read my goofy musings and please know that I appreciate your comments more than I can truly say.  I hope you found these blogs amusing, informative and thought-provoking.  Thank you for allowing me to play the role of tour guide in ways I hope were creative and worthwhile.)

So, how did this whole thing, this budget-busting, underestimated and exhausting trip change me?  What have I learned?  How am I different from I was on the morning of September 18, 2013?

The answer is that I fell in love again…in love again with emotions I feared were beginning to die inside me.  I’m invigorated and in love again.

In love with my wife, for being with me every mile of the way.  We argued routes, menus and which CD’s to play.  But we were hardly ever out of each others sight…something I want to keep happening.  The success of the trip was because of her genius and patience.  All I did was keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road (with only a side glance at the girls on the split-rail fences).  Remember,  I can multitask.

I experienced a renewal of the love I have for my daughter, Erin, as I watched her cuddle with Elias as I did with her forty years ago.  My love grew for Bob, her husband, for making my little girl happy.  And, Elias.  I am in love with my grandson.  Within days of our arrival, he began to crawl with serious intent.  This is no small issue; dealing with a ten-month old wanderer.  I will never forget the sight of Elias kicking with joy as he saw his daddy pull up in front of the house at the end of a work day.  If all children were loved like that…

I fell in love once again with my son, Brian, who encouraged me to continue the postings.  “It’ll be strange when they end,” he emailed me.

This country.  This amazing country is a place that can be loved in countless ways.  America has the beauty, geography, history and people who could keep one on the road forever.

Every person, eye, rock, tree, sand dune, mountain, lake, diner, hand, gas station or store has its own unique tale–but most will never be told.  Every face I saw is a doorway to ten thousand moments of joy, sorrow and all other emotions you can name.

I wish I could live a hundred more years just to open one or two of those doors.

And the land itself is a giant face…the face of “our land”, everyone’s land, regardless of any differences.  The “big picture” is joyfully heartbreaking to gaze upon.

It is polite to stare.  How else can you really absorb it all?

If you think it’s goodbye, it’s not.  There are more blogs in my head now than ever before.  I’ll be back…

So, happy trails to you, until we meet again.  Now, excuse me while I scrounge through our trip stuff to find that refrigerator magnet…the one that says Route 66 on it.

Awake, awake, the world is young,

For all its weary years of thought.

The starkest fights must still be fought,

The most surprising songs be sung.

     –J. E. Flecker

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Travels 12: A Rest Farewell

And though the line is cut,

It ain’t quite the end,

I’ll just bid farewell till we meet again.

—Bob Dylan “A Restless Farewell”

I’m sitting at Erin’s breakfast table composing the final post of our visit to Orting.  In an hour or so we will be on our way homeward.  The route back is going to be much different.  We’re heading down the Oregon coast for a few days, then into Northern California, Death Valley, Monument Valley (remember the John Ford westerns with John Wayne?).

On the way to Orting, each hour was just that many fewer miles between the R-Pod and Elias.  Now, each hour takes me farther away.

Thanks to the reasonable heads that reopened the Federal Government (and National Parks) late last night.  As far as I’m concerned, the Tea Party can go back to their districts and spin their loss any way they would like.  They failed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act in a way that made the USA the laughing-stock of the educated and informed world.  I’m glad to put this disaster behind me.  Our only real remaining obstacle now is to get through Tioga Pass and over the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the highway is closed.  But these challenges are in front of us.  What’s behind us?  What will I remember about our visit?

The answer is far too long to answer in this short space.  We had a wonderful time here.  Elias has made progress even in the time we were here.  He is pulling himself up to a standing position with no effort at all.  I watched as he enjoyed story time at the local library.  I carved a scary pumpkin for him.  And, I’ve seen him meet new people with my wife’s special friend, Maureen and her husband who live in Seattle.

But all was not glory.  We made a drive to see the Olympic Peninsula but I wasn’t feeling that great so we returned after one night by a road that took us over the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge (where a previous bridge collapsed due to wind shear back in the 1940’s).  We never made it to Forks where the “Twilight” books are set.  But there were plenty of signs of the occult and esoteric in places like Port Townsend.

I must say that I did enjoy riding my bike for a few minutes along the Foothills Bike Path, until my front tire blew out.  It’s a good thing that I was wearing my helmet because when I fell my head came within two inches of an un-mowed patch of grass!

I also regret having a real coffee from one of those cute little cafes that serve one’s lattes from a drive-thru window.  These shacks seem to be particular to the Northwest.  I actually did stop at a few of these…but not the ones where the female baristas where bikinis.  Personally, I am offended by such a practice.  It is so not politically correct.  The male baristas should be made to wear bikinis as well…just sayin’.

So, now I’m off on the final leg of the journey.  Adventure calls.  Strange things will be seen.  I’ll even be driving part of the old Route 66, where I hope to get my kicks.

Friends and readers, more posts will be coming your way soon.  So, sit back and enjoy.

This time I’ll be following the rising sun.

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Pacific Northwest Interlude: It’s Almost That Time Again

I’ll be waiting when you’re ready to love me…

I’ll put my hands up.

—Adele from I’ll Be Waiting.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table of my daughter Erin’s house.  I just made a Scrabble move against her.  She’s sitting at the breakfast counter making Scrabble moves against me.  It’s not that we don’t talk, we’re just squeezing moves in between other internet duties.  Besides, there’s no room for the board game on the table because I’ve taken it over with maps, books and other things pertaining to our journey.  It’s now Tuesday afternoon, October 15.  We’re planning on heading back home on Thursday.

I look over at the picture window.  Elias has learned to pull himself up to a standing position and he is now looking out of the window.

Then something very strange happens.  But then, it’s the Pacific Northwest, and a great deal of strange things happen here.  Where else would the Seattle police hand out bags of Doritos during a “Hemp Fest” with a few friendly warnings printed on the bag, such as “Don’t give weed to minors to smoke”.  And, it’s okay to listen to the Dark Side of the Moon, but only at a moderate volume.  Is there another part of the country where I can read an article in the newspaper about a woman named “Dancer Flowergrowing”?

As I said something strange happened.  I began to hear Elias’ thoughts:

“Let’s see, I just had a snack of Mum-Mums.  I shook the rattle for a few minutes.  I held onto the dog’s tail until he walked away.  I crawled around the kitchen for a while.  I pulled myself on my mom’s pant leg.  I didn’t cry this time because I know I have only a little way to fall onto my bottom.  I’ll be having a bath soon.  There’s Grandpa on his laptop.  The Boston Red Sox game just ended.  I’m confused here; dad is a Red Sox fan, so is mommy, but she likes the Yankees too.  My grandpa is a Yankee fan like my step-grandmother.  The Seahawks are a football team here in Seattle and my dad likes them, but my Grandpa is a New York Giant fan…so is my step-grandmother.  There’s also a baseball team here called the Mariners, but nobody talks about them very much.”

“Sometimes I get confused.”

“But one thing I’m not confused about is that daddy is going to be getting home soon…any minute now.  When I see his car pull in, I jump and jerk around in my mom’s arms.  Daddy means I’ll have someone new to play with me.  And give me a bath and it may be daddy’s turn to tuck me in my little crib.”

“Then I’ll dream about what tomorrow will bring.”

Wow, that was interesting to hear his thoughts.  I don’t remember being that age.  But that’s just me.

I’m sure that all my friends remember being nine months old…like it was yesterday.

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Pacific Northwest Interlude: The Legendary Pumpkins of Washington State

We’re sitting beside Commencement Bay in lower Puget Sound, enjoying a brunch with friends.  This is not a “brunch” in the way that the word is thrown around so often these days.  We’re provided with Mimosa’s that just keep coming like the tide and enough oysters and shrimp to drive a Maine shell fisherman turn green with envy.  No, this is a real Washington State brunch.

On our way home we drive through the lovely countryside that follows the Puyallup River.  This would be the river that would turn into massive mud slides once Mt. Rainier erupts.  But no one on the road today is thinking about that.  We’re just driving and gazing in awe at the sublime majesty of the mountain itself.  Rainier is a shy and bashful mountain, hiding its beauty behind clouds much of the time…but not today.  No, not today.  It sits in the distance, begging to be climbed, hiked around and admired up close.  The only problem is that it’s a National Park…and we know about National Parks these days, don’t we.

We stop at a Pumpkin Farm.  Halloween is about two weeks away.  My grandson is having his first touching experience with those strange orange globes that fill the field.

I am very fond of this holiday.  I recall Trick or Treating as a child in my hometown of Owego, NY.  Years later, I took my own children to these same houses.  I love dressing up as something I’m not.

And I consider pumpkin carving nothing short of a work of pure art.  I carve pumpkins like a professional ghost storyteller spins yarns of ghouls and witches.  But my pumpkins are not silly ones with grins and oversized teeth.  No, my pumpkins are carved like they belong in burial grounds of places like Sleepy Hollow and Cemetery Hill.  They are spooky, scary and malevolent.

I looked over the boxes of the $1.33/lb. variety.  The blank faces stared back at me.  Take me.  Carve me.  Make me horrid, they would say to me.

I felt like Michelangelo.  I saw a lump of orange and the demon inside would form in my mine.  I was the artist whose job it was to release this spirit from within.

I selected one that said the right thing to me.  I made plans.  I drafted designs.  And then I looked across the patch and saw my grandson.  How could I carve something that would frighten this pure innocent soul?  I was stuck in a dilemma.  Be true to my dark side or make my grandson giggle?

I bought the chosen orb and then rode home trying to discover a laughable and cute demon.

They have to be out there, somewhere.  After all, isn’t that what “graveyard humor” is all about?

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