580708 The Land of Shakespeare

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The Land of Shakespeare

Age 12

The dockworker’s strike finally ended and at long last dad got the call that he could pick up our car.  My father, my brother, and I took the Tube and then walked the last few blocks to the place where dad had, long distance, bought the vehicle.  As always I had to almost run to keep up with dad as he strode with those long legs of his.  Oregon already felt like it was a very long way away.  The man that we met so that dad could sign the papers was bald, professional, but nice.  As throughout the trip, everyone was impressed by a man such as my father that would dare to take a family of eight for a year long trip all over Europe and Africa.  The vehicle merchant seemed to me to be a very precise person, but a man that could still laugh and be friendly.  I was eager to see our new car, but I was not to be allowed until all paperwork was finished.

Finally the two-tone green Volkswagen microbus was pulled around to the side of the sales facility.  There were none of these cars in America yet.  I had no idea what to expect.  My dad had told me that Volkswagen meant ‘adults car’.  I was surprised to see that it contained three rows of seats.  The front row seat was split in the middle, precluding a third person to sit in front.  But one could walk from the front seat to the second row through the space between the two front seats.  The second seat was not the full width of the car.  The right side seat of the bench could be folded down, aiding anyone getting into the full width back seat.  In the very back of the car was a luggage area with a flat floor that was above the four-cylinder engine compartment.

My brother got to sit in the front seat (always my favorite seat because you could see everything so well) with my father driving as we drove back to the hotel.  That relegated me to the rest of the van.  This was before the institution of seat belts.

I spent the drive back to the hotel playing in the rear luggage compartment.  I could see through all of the side windows and through the front windows.  It also put me as far away from the front of the car where dad was working hard at driving on the wrong side of the road.  Decades of reflexes and driving habits invariably makes a driver that is used to driving on the right look the wrong direction at intersections, especially under the unexpected situations that always occur when in unfamiliar foreign countries.

The side door to the van was a slider on rails, and slid backwards, something I had never seen before.  After being a bit uncertain, I was pleased to find that I was strong enough to work the weight of it.

Six kids of course had to find some way to decide where to sit.  Where we sat was an ideal opportunity to have a catfight between siblings, which I of course was more than willing to start.  And then there was our long suffering mother that quickly realized that a lot of conflict would be avoided if dad always drove and she always sat in the right rear seat.  And that is the way it was for the next year and two months.  My mother never complained about sitting in “the least of the seats”.  My parents quickly instituted the discipline that all of us kids would rotate through the seating positions.  The front passenger seat was position one.  My oldest sister got to sit there on the first day of travel in the new van.  Then on the next day, the person sitting there would move to the left position of the second row seat.  The next day they would move to the center of the second row seat, and then the following day to the right, next to the sliding door and be responsible for opening and closing the door for everyone else.  Even my youngest sister at the age of about five learned to open and close that big old door.

The back seat was the largest and allowed the three people sitting in it to have more freedom of movement.

My father found a roof top luggage rack built from metal tubes and painted a rust colored red, quite a clash with the green of the van’s roof.  On that wrack was loaded everything we had brought along for the trip.  Not knowing what we would find as time wore on, my parents had decided to bring all the clothing we would need for the whole trip.  Needless to say, the luggage wrack was packed full.  My father and brother then covered the huge wrack with a green canvas tarp that was tied down to the metal tube struts of the wrack.

Soon after we left London, we visited Stratford-on-Avon, made famous by William Shakespeare.  We visited the house that claims to be the birth house of the famous bard (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/52795 ).  That night we went to a Shakespeare play in the Royal Shakespeare Theater (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/52796 ).  We sat way up in the balcony.  We could hear what was said, and I could see some ants moving on a stage that seemed to be a quarter mile from me.  I enjoyed the play however.  All of the seats were plush red velour; great for bouncing up and down in when I got bored.  I envied the two women to my right that had elegant little opera glasses they held in their white gloved hands as they watched the actors on the distant stage.

From Stratford on Avon we headed north.  I found it amazing how many old castles, forts, and palaces there were in England.  It seemed like every few miles we would stop and tour one.  They all seemed to be loaded up with maces and armor and spears and swords.  I was never allowed to even touch one of them.  What a travesty!  I had vivid fantasies of putting on the armor and having a great sword fight with the oddly dressed museum guards.

I think my parents were getting tired of us kids expanding restlessness; we were raised on a country farm where we were used to having free rein to play and do was we wished with our free time.  It was not too long after Stratford that they stopped at an incredible English Country Estate for the night.  Our family was the only people there, other than the owners and staff; I pity those poor people.  We had been cooped up in a car, or a ship, or a hotel, or scurrying between museums for a month and a half by then.

At this elegant, butter-coloured, mini-palace of a Country Estate we could run and scream and climb trees and splash in the stream and play hide and seek, throw rocks, or fight to our hearts content.  And we took full advantage of the respite from constant travel.

The British take High Tea about 4 to 5 PM each evening.  High Tea of course includes tea, but is in reality the evening meal.  Luckily by that time I had expended enough energy to fuel an atomic bomb and was ready to actually sit down and be somewhat civilized for a few brief moments.  After Tea, I again headed out and played to my heart’s content until dark, then slept the sleep of the dead.

We arrived in Glasgow Scotland late in the afternoon a few days later.  We stayed at the newest house in Glasgow.  It had a lovely garden that was fragrant and had long paths that meandered throughout the truly a well kempt English Garden.  During conversation between the owners of the house and my father I gleaned that this was definitely the newest house in the Scottish City of Glasgow, which, as it turns out, was still older than any house in the United States of America.  The house at that time was 350 years old, so it would be well over 400 years old at the time of this writing.

From Glasgow we headed east to Edinburgh and there were loaded on a ship heading east across the North Sea to Bergen, Norway (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/25984723 ).

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580116 Suddenly We Were the Foreigners

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Suddenly We Were the Foreigners

Age 12

We arrived in London England expecting to be able to pick up our car, a Volkswagen microbus.  It was not to be.  The dockworkers were on strike, and even though our car was sitting aboard a freighter portside, it simply could not be unloaded until the strike was over.

We were in London for almost a month before the strike finally ended.

Let me tell you, a month is not long enough to see London.  The longer you are there, the more you realize there is to see.  We visited and enjoyed the British Museum, learned to ride “The Tube” (the London subway), and saw a small percentage of the million other things there are to see and do in London.

We stayed at a tall thin boarding house that us kids thought of as the “Can’t Get The Grip” place.  As in all the rest of Europe, the stairways at the first floor are covered in marble.  At the first turn in the stair, the marble covering to the stairs stops and a carpet runner is substituted.  Another flight up the stair treads and landings are wood.  As you go farther and farther up, the stairways get narrower and narrower.  Us younger kids were on the fourth floor, the attic for all intents and purposes.

There was a woman that I believe was partially the maid and partially the manager of the establishment.  One day shortly after we arrived in London she kept walking by our room muttering to herself.  For the longest time she would go to the closet at the end of the hallway, try to unlock it, get frustrated and sulk back down the hallway muttering “I can’t get the grip.  I just can’t get the grip.”  To my knowledge, she never did get it opened while we were staying there.

Our parents were on the second floor.  Technically, the hotel was a “Bed and Breakfast” hotel.  The breakfast part invariably included greasy eggs and peas.

If you want to eat that breakfast, you have to be in the dining room on time.  The British are prompt and timely.  We quickly learned to be timely too, or our bellies would grumble until lunch. It was fascinating to watch the stiff upper lip British patriots eat the greasy peas by lining them up on the blade of their knife, then carefully bringing the knife to their lips.  What a riot to watch!  I still do not know how they managed to get those peas into their mouth without spilling them.  Maybe that is what the grease was for, as a glue to keep those silly peas from rolling around too badly?

The Tube was pretty exciting.  Trains came and left in a hurry, accompanied by great rushes of wind, and as always in Britain, timely.  All of us quickly learned that we needed to be right there, alert, ready to press through the just opened door of the subway car and not dawdle, or the rest of the family would be whisked off toward their destination while the straggler was left standing at the station.

We were all coming home late one night.  Someone ahead of us took too much time to get out at our station. The rest of the family surged forward and were able to get out of the door before it closed.  I was not so lucky.  The door closed as I started to jump out.  I ran into the door.  It knocked me back onto my keister.  Meanwhile the train had started moving, gaining speed with me held captive in the train….

Yep, time for the still small voice to coach me again.  It patiently explained to me that all I had to do was get off at the next tube station and catch a train back the other way.  So I did.  I got off of the tube train car and walked thru the arch that led to the track that ran the opposite direction.  I stood there for what felt like hours.  Not one rain came by.

I stood there, my eyes glued to the opening to the tunnel from which the train would soon emerge.  I hoped.  Still no trains came by.  The platform lights turned off, leaving only minimal, murky lighting.

Finally, ten or twelve scary years later, a watchman came by swinging his keys.  He looked at me as he walked past.  When he came back the other way, he looked at me again.

“Ye waitin’ on a lift then?” he asked me.

I nodded and explained what had happened.  He cocked his head and watched my lips carefully in the darkness, probably trying to decipher my American accent.

He squinted at his watch and then looked at me.  “There are no further scheduled tonight, laddie,” he said.  The way he rolled his ‘r’s was comforting to me.

I stood there looking at him with as sorrowfully begging set of eyes as I could muster.  I started glancing around, trying to figure out where in the Tube station I was going to sleep until the trains started running the next morning.  The white tile walls and concrete platform looked anything but comfortable.

“Wait here, laddie,” he said, turned on his heel, then strode down the long dark platform to a light at the far end.

He was gone for an eternity.  When he came back he had arranged for a train headed back to its parking station to stop, pick me up, and take me back to my proper stop.  The watchman with the rolling ‘r’s stood beside me while I waited for the train.  He didn’t say much, but I was really glad he stood there with me.

Going back the other way I got to ride in the engineer’s cabin.  Pretty exciting!  By now my adrenalin had almost worked its way out of my body.  All that was left was a bad case of the shakes.

My father was standing there on the station platform watching for me in the subway train.  Apparently he had been contacted and knew what had been arranged.

God bless that watchman!  God bless daddy for waiting for me.

Back at the bed and breakfast I could barely climb those four stories of stairs up to my room.  I slept well; so well in fact that I missed breakfast that next morning.

By lunch I was famished; I was a growing boy, after all.

That was the day I experienced my first Indian curry.  Dad asked all of us if we wanted to go and eat Indian food and no one wanted to except me.

When I started to eat, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Just the right amount of spices to warm the palette but not burn the tongue.  And fresh fruit and brown rice and veggies and chicken cooked in a brown sauce.  I never eat curry these days without thinking of that little shop, just around the corner from the hotel, sitting there eating the food of the gods with my father in a tiny little three table Indian Cuisine restaurant.

580629 Leaving All My Friends

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Leaving All My Friends

Age 12

I very much enjoyed my 6th grade year.  I had a very good teacher, Mrs. McCormick.  I had learned that I could indeed draw pretty well; airplanes and missiles were my favorite subjects to draw.  I had even found some colored pencils that added a great deal of realism to my drawings.  I had felt quite limited when drawing in black and white, or with crayons.

My twin sister had teased me a few months before about her knowing something that I didn’t.  She was merciless about not telling me what it was for the longest time! … At least three minutes.

It seemed that we were going to a place called Europe and Africa.  The whole family was going.  For a year and three months, no less.  We were going to leave the day after we got out of school for the summer, and we would not going to be back until just before we started 8th grade.

Years later my father told me that he and my mother had never had a proper honeymoon when they got married.  Therefore they had decided to take a right proper one and take all 6 of us kids along with them.  It was always difficult to know when my father was being funny.  But almost always there was a great deal of truth in what he said, even in his subtle practical jokes.

I had a general idea of where Europe was.  And I was very clear where Africa was.  In the fourth grade my teacher, Mrs. Beckwith, had pointed out that Africa and South America were very similarly shaped.  She went further to point out that South America looked like it had once been a part of the continent of Africa, but it was not so, and we were not to be mislead by such appearances.

My mind (that still small voice again) immediately countered (silently, thank goodness, I didn’t blurt out my “superior knowledge”) that my teacher was very wrong, and that Africa and South America had at one time been attached.  This was before mankind had discovered tectonic plates and seismology.  I felt very smug about knowing better than my teacher.  There was not a doubt in my mind that I was right and she was wrong.

As my 6th grade year wound down, I started trying to imagine what traveling for a WHOLE YEAR was going to be like.  At that age, I was unable to truly imagine such a grandiose thing.

I did know with certainty that I would miss all my friends.  I truly treasured my friends.

We were, as usual, released from school for the summer at noon on Friday.  And the next day we all packed our stuff into our 1950 Buick.  With 8 people in a passenger sedan, we headed east.  My youngest sister, Rosalee, was 5, my oldest sister, Elaine, had just graduated from high school.

We headed toward Mitchell, packed in like sardines.  I was excited about what might happen.  I was also scared about what might happen to us.

We all tried to settle in for the duration.

About twenty miles out of Prineville someone had to pee.

With that stop taken care of, I looked at my mother, sitting in the back seat as she would for the whole trip.  I told her I had found this brown spot under my arm.  I showed it to her.  She looked at it and chuckled.  “It is a mole, Donnie; I had begun to wonder if you were ever going to get any.”

We crossed from Prineville to Iowa in two very long days.  We stopped in Iowa to see my mother’s family.  I stayed with my cousin who was a year or so younger than me.  His name was Howdy.  I thought that was a pretty cool name.  Like me, he wore glasses.  While we showered that night, his father cleaned our glasses.  I think it was the first time in four years that my glasses had been cleaned.

WHAT a DIFFERENCE!  I could actually SEE … clearly!

Two days later we were in Montreal, Canada.  The next day we all clambered up the gangplank to board the regal “Empress of England” and found our staterooms.  I was fascinated by the ship with its thousands of doors and long halls and huge rooms where all the passengers could eat together.  It was my first time to see people drinking alcohol.  I was a little shocked by what people did when they drank.

As had been the unwritten rule for our whole lives, we kids were free to go anywhere we wanted to.  We soon learned that meant anywhere except “First Class” and the crew areas.

It was a rather shocking concept, that I was “Second Class” and had no means of experiencing “First Class”.  So I set about finding a friend that was “First Class” that I could buddy up with.  What a disappointment it was when I was walking through “First Class”!  To me, it was just like “Second Class” except people were snooty and a lot of them talked funny.

I never went back to First Class after that first walk through.  Instead, my buddy would come join me in Second Class and we would play, or go see a movie, or whatever we felt like fun that day.  He told me that he liked Second Class better because we could talk and laugh and make huge splashes in the pool without everybody looking down their noses at him like they did in First Class.

Growing up, our family rarely went to movies in a theater.  Sometimes when we went to Portland Oregon, my father and mother would take us to see a Cinerama movie, which were incredible with the extremely wide screen and higher definition than the regular movie houses.

But on the Empress of England, they had two or three movies a day, one morning showing, a matinee, and one in the evening.  They were free to all passengers.  One movie in particular was extremely emotional for me.  I cried (a first for me) at the end the first time I saw it.  I felt humiliated that I had been so emotional and decided to go back to the second showing, determined to prove to myself that I could watch it without getting all choked up.

I cried the second time I watched it as well!  I was bitterly disappointed in myself, intensely humiliated by my maudlin, childish display of emotions.

I went back for the evening showing and again could not stop myself from getting all choked up!

I just wish I could remember the name of the silly movie!

Including the time it took the ship to sail down the St Lawrence River, it took us a little over six days to reach England.  We landed in Liverpool, then shortly boarded a train to reach London.

570822 The Hike

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The Hike

Age 11

Dad took us kids and, as usual, some of our friends with him on a nature hike one Sunday afternoon.  We kids were joking and joshing our way through the pine forests east of town in the Ochoco Mountains.  It was late summer, somewhat hot, but not baking oven hot.

Being boys my friend and I were throwing rocks.  Being boys we were not thinking about potential detrimental results to our actions.

Dad finally warned us as we were going along a switchback dirt trail up a fairly steep hillside, “Boys, you shouldn’t throw rocks, you could hit somebody down below us.”

My mind pictured the rocks I was throwing as they arced far past the bottom of the hillside.  “UnUUUNH!” I replied arrogantly as I let yet another rock sail off my fingertips.  The rocks were about the size of a fifty-cent piece.

Sure enough!  The very next throw something didn’t go right as I launched my rock.  In fact that something went horribly wrong.  My dad was only about eight feet behind me, and for some unfathomable reason, the rock I had just thrown struck him squarely in the left lens of his glasses!

Glasses in those days were truly made of glass; there were no plastic lenses for glasses yet.

As if in slow motion, right before my horrified eyes, his left lens shattered into a spider web of cracked, pie shaped pieces of glass.

Thank GOD that the glass did not shatter into discreet pieces!  Somehow his lens stayed in its metal frame!

I stared in heart stopping horror at the inescapable results of my young, foolish arrogance.

Dad’s face seemed to tighten then freeze in place.  His eyes were staring straight at me.

But dad didn’t say a single word.  He did not even utter a grunt.

He never once complained about my arrogant stupidity or brought it up again, at least not to me.

I cannot begin to describe how careful I was with rocks thereafter; rocks, or bullets, or even spit.

521225 The Year I Learned the Awful Truth about Santa

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The Year I Learned the Awful Truth about Santa

Age 6

I was seven, well, almost seven, and it was Christmas Eve.  As you know, at that age on Christmas Eve every second takes an hour or two to pass.  My devoted dad always liked to have his whole brood together on Christmas Eve.

Over the years our family had evolved two traditions.

The first was that we would listen to “Why the Chimes Rang”.  It is a story set sometime in the Middle Ages about a particular sacred Eve of Christmas.  In the story, recorded on a scratchy 78 RPM record, Little Pedro is traipsing through deep snow of a bitterly cold winter toward the King’s Sacred Cathedral.  The Cathedral has a bell tower that is so tall that its top is never visible to anyone, even on a bright summer day.  For over a century no one has heard the chimes in the bell tower.  No one that is living has ever heard them ring.  Only the fables bear record that the tower holds chimes. In the distant past the fables tell that the bells had chimed on every Eve of Christmas celebration.

Little Pedro is bringing his humble, hard earned gift to lay upon the magnificent Cathedral’s richly adorned altar as his own tiny heartfelt offering to the sacred Christ Child.  He has saved all year to gather his tiny gift of love.

On Christmas Eve, on his journey to the Cathedral, he comes upon an old woman that is nearly frozen in the cold snow.  He stops to aid her, freely giving her loving comfort.  He even gives her his only food that was to last to get him through the several days journey back home.  He even takes the time to help her get to warmth and safety, knowing he will miss the sacred Eve of Christmas service in the great Cathedral that he has traveled so far to see.

Meanwhile, at the Cathedral, the rich and famous, the mighty and the proud, the most powerful and richest people of the realm heap their valuable gifts for the Christ Child onto the Cathedral’s Altar.  Each personage walks down the aisle and offers a greater, richer, more fabulous gift than the one before and places it on the Altar.  Each time as they place their showy gift on the Altar they listen intently to see if their gift was rich enough, wonderful enough, to cause the ancient chimes to ring.  But each time the moan of the cold wind is the only thing heard coming from the lofty bell tower.

Little Pedro arrives just as the King of the Realm removes his very crown and lays it on the altar, again listening to see if even such a bejeweled and richly adorned royal gift is enough for the chimes to ring.  To everyone’s disappointment the fabled chimes still do not ring.  Everyone, deeply disappointed, agree with each other that if even the King’s bejeweled crown was not enough to cause the chimes to ring, then surely there is nothing in the world that would cause the fabled Sacred Occurrence to transpire.

Poor cold, shivering, hungry little Pedro, dressed in his meager dirty rags, creeps to the front of the Cathedral, feeling terribly out of place, scared, for he is very poor, and surely unworthy of even being in the same room with these incredibly rich and famous noblemen and knights, not to mention the mighty King himself!  No one even notices the ragamuffin as he creeps forward.  Timidly he lays his mite at the foot of the altar, not even daring to stand to place his tiny, nearly worthless mite on the Altar itself.

Everyone is leaving the Royal Cathedral as suddenly they hear the mythical chimes begin to ring so sweet and crystalline pure in the cold wintry night that the ethereal sound brings tears to the eyes of everyone that hears them, their soft sibilant magnificence more incredible than any fable had ever described.

Shocked, everyone is puzzled, then flabbergasted when they look at the Altar and see only a small raggedy boy kneeling, head bowed, apparently praying fervently to Baby Jesus.

Our second Christmas tradition involved our father reading to us from a book of his choice.  That Christmas Eve was “Moby Dick”.  Something about a white whale causing havoc to the ship of some whalers that greatly feared the huge whale, and apparently for good reason.  At that age I was too innocent to make the correlation in color and shape between sperm whales and sperm.

Most years, the reading made us kids sleepy, especially a huge thick book written a hundred years before by an author that seemed to have no pity on kids.  Usually the droning of the reading worked.  Not that year, at least not for me.  I was still wide-awake when it was time to go to bed.

We all hung up our special Christmas stockings and prepared to retire.  I asked if I could sleep in my twin sister’s bed.  To this day I have no idea why I wanted to do that.  Of course we all had to look at the packages under the tree.  The ones that were most important were the ones from mom and dad.  Mine were there!  And they were just the right shape and size to be exactly what I had asked for.  My mom was a miracle worker regarding such things.  She had six kids she was caring for, shuttling about, and making sure we did our chores.  I later struggled with just two offspring, but she had six and did the job incredibly well!  A one time my miracle worker mother had 5 kids that were 5 and under!  I do not know how she did it!

I remember lying there for an eternity staring into the hallway that led from my parent’s bedroom to the living room.  I heard them conversing in their bedroom for quite some time.  I lay there frustrated by not being able to go to sleep so that time would go instantly and I would wake up to Christmas Morning.  I was afraid that if Santa caught me awake, he would not leave me my present.  I remember being quite worried about that.  All of a sudden my parents were walking down the hallway toward the living room, their arms carrying brightly wrapped packages.  Two trips each and they went to bed.  I heard their bedroom door shut, the reflected light in the hallway gone.  I must have gone to sleep shortly after that.

As do all normal kids, we awoke and were prowling around the Christmas tree before our parents were up.

I recognized the packages my parents had carried down the hallway the night before.  They were all labeled as being from Santa.

And so the myth of Santa Clause, the reindeer, and red nosed Rudolph, and the elves was instantly gone, ka-POOF!

One of us that could read names was always assigned to hand out the presents in order of age.  The assigned hander-outer would first hand out the present bought by Santa to each person, starting with the oldest person there, sometimes my father, but fairly often a grandparent or great uncle.  My oldest sister took her time opening hers.  Then my brother, then my next older sister, and then finally mine.  My little pattern-recognition mind instantly noticed my father’s handwriting.  It was the ultimate confirmation, the death knell to the story that jolly old St Nick did not exist.

Well, I still opened the present, and I still loved what I got.  It was exactly what I had asked for!  Thanks to my mother, I realized.  My twin then opened hers and got exactly what she wanted as well.  What a mom!  I was still processing the ‘There is no Santa Claus’ revelation as I started to play with my gift.  No Santa?  My world had just changed.

The next present that would be handed out would be from one of our parents, sometimes our mom’s and sometimes our dad’s.  So when those were all handed out and opened person by person, three rounds of everyone opening their presents had been completed.  There was wrapping paper all over the living room floor.  About then someone was always designated the person that would burn the crumpled paper in the fireplace.  My older brother was very good at that sort of thing, and seemed to enjoy doing it, and was therefore often made the one responsible to accomplish that fire conscious detail.

After those first three rounds of opening gifts, the presents were always picked without regard to who had given it, but of course we were still given to the intended recipient in the same age dependent order.

When it came to my turn, there were none for me left under the tree.  It took a few minutes for it to dawn on me that none of my siblings had given me anything.  At first I rationalized that it was a joke.  But the look on my sister’s face as she searched in vain soon made it clear that this was not a joke.

I remember my face becoming flaming hot.  I could barely breathe.  I had to do something.  I couldn’t just sit there and not be included in the gift opening.  It would be too humiliating.

I did the only thing I could think of.  I picked up my present from “Santa” and took it behind the couch where no one could see me, and acted like I was playing with it.  I looked straight down so no one could see my tears of mortification.

My twin sister soon noticed I was gone.  She searched; she found me.  Her words were, “Why are you behind the couch?”  About that time it dawned on her.

I will never forget the look on her face as she suddenly looked so sorry for me, pitying me.  “You can share my presents,” she offered, meaning it sincerely, an offer made from the bottom of her heart.

I was close to sobbing my heart out, so I just vigorously shook my head and kept aimlessly running my truck back and forth on the living room floor, my shame hidden from the rest of the family.  She looked at me for a few more seconds, then returned to the festivities.  I was able to hold my sobs until she had gone.

510715 That Still Small Voice Within

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That Still Small Voice Within

Age 5

Our family was taking a vacation!  Dad had had to work later than he thought on the day we were to leave, and we didn’t get away until evening.  For that first night we only drove to Tumalo Falls, about an hour’s drive, and stopped for the night.  I remember my parents talking to each other, agreeing “Let’s get started and just get out of town tonight!”

The next morning we drove south to Belknap Hot Springs.  They had a large warm swimming pool there that attracted us kids like flies to a dead rodent on a hot day.  That afternoon my mother decided it was time for me and my twin to learn to swim.  She showed us how to hang on to the side of the pool and kick our feet.

I didn’t get it.  Besides, it was boring!  Instead I spent my time jumping in the pool making huge splashes and doing all of the other boy-type things that those of us with short attention spans liked to do.

The next day we headed for the Oregon Coast.  A little past noon, on Highway 101 south of Port Orford, we drove past the entry to the Humbug Mountain State Park and my parents decided to stay there overnight.  My parents were good about traveling only about half a day, allowing us 5 kids to get out of the tedium of the car and play.  The day was nice and warm, but being near the coast it was not stiflingly hot.

What a wonderful place!  The camp was in the middle of a magnificent coastal forest with huge shade trees and lots of room to run around.  And the best part was the dammed up creek that was right next to our campsite!  The weather was perfect, high seventies and no wind.  We all donned bathing suits and played in the creek.

I became fascinated with the small wooden dam that was apparently used for irrigation in past years.  The dam caused a pool to form above the dam, but had also caused the water to gouge out a pool below the dam during winter and spring high water.  The dam leaked, and where the water trickled down the wood sides of the dam moss had formed.

When everyone had played in the water long enough to get cooled off, everyone but me returned to camp.

I spied a really big fish swimming about down there in that lower pool below the dam.  It was a REALLY BIG fish!  I HAD to see it up close.  I slowly shimmied down the dam and then, squatted down and using my hands for additional stability, frog walked along the top rail of the short, water filled spillway.  The whole top rail was covered in slick green wet slimy moss.

Suddenly I lost all traction, my feet went out from under me, and I catapulted into the cold, deep, dark pool.  My feet found no bottom and I was under water, floundering, unsure what to do.

When I somehow surfaced, I was facing directly toward our camp.  The campsite was about fifteen feet above the surface of the water.  Through the water sheeting off my head all I saw was people looking toward the splash I had made.  Then I saw my father running toward camp, not toward me.

In that instant I knew I would have to save myself.  I remember it as a marvelous moment of clarity.  Inside me, coming from my gut, was a still small voice explaining to me that all I had to do was move my hands like I had seen my dog Skipper do when he was swimming.

I did, and by the time anyone arrived to help me, I was standing on the gravel shore coughing out the water I had swallowed.

That was the first of many times in my life I heard that still small voice within me, helping me be rational at times of terror or confusion.  My father had been running to get his camera.  And truth be told there was no way I would have drowned, there were too many people in a short distance to pull me out.

But one does not think of those things when young, terrified, and alone.

480704 Watermelon

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Watermelon

Age ~ 2

We were at our family friends, the Martins.  It was a watermelon day.  My father almost always carried a camera.  He loved to take 16 mm movies.  Today he was having trouble with the movie camera.  He had given me a piece of watermelon to eat, intending to take a movie of me eating it.

I continued to eat the watermelon while he fiddled with the obstinate camera.

By the time he had the camera working, I had finished eating the watermelon.  I held the rind up to show him that I was done.

He told me, “Keep eating it while I take movies.”

I did.  The rind was very bitter.

I have not been able to enjoy watermelon since.

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