Finding my wings…

Every flight and every hour of my flying time…. this small black book holds it all and is a prized possession. Sadly, I don’t have one photo of me in a plane, next to a plane or preflighting a plane that I flew, nor do I have any King Radio photos while on the job. Different times.

After my first year of college, I decided not to go back but had full intentions of returning at a later date, when I was ready.  At that point in my life, I wasn’t.   I was uninspired, unmotivated, indecisive and without focus.  I changed my major so many many times during that year that my Dad began to refer to it as my “major of the month.”  The only decision that seemed right to me was my decision to not return. 

My parents were on board, especially my dad, which surprised me, as he was a high school guidance counselor and part time community college counselor who promoted higher education, yet at the same time was able to recognize when a student was struggling.  If I wasn’t going to return to college, my parents said I needed to have a plan.  I wasn’t good with plans.  I wanted to see what would come my way without having to put a lot of effort or decision making into it.  The wait and see attitude was realigned when my landlord parents started pushing me to find find a job with a little more permanence than what I had shown them thus far.  I had landed a temporary job as a nanny in Chappaqua, NY  for the summer, but once back home, was in need of something more permanent so answered an ad in the local newspaper for a position as a receptionist at a nearby regional airport/flight school.  It wasn’t at all what I had in mind, but my landlord parents were happy so I said yes and started working at KC Piper.  I didn’t care for the job – answering the phone, booking flight lessons and taking money from pilots who bought fuel, but I told myself that I’d make it work until I could find something more suitable.  I felt disconnected and out of place in the place where I spent most of my day until one of the flight instructors asked me if I had ever been up in a small plane and if I hadn’t, I should definitely take advantage of the $5 introductory ride.   He, and his staggering good looks,  were my point of interest, not the 15 minutes of being airborne, and so I agreed.  It didn’t take long once in the air to realize that I was far more captivated by the act of flying than I was with the handsome pilot and before we even began to taxi back, I decided that although it was far beyond my reach financially, and I had no idea how I was going to make it work, I was going to learn how to fly, and the cute instructor that sat to my right was going to be the one to teach me.  And so that’s how it started.  For the next several months,  I begged, borrowed and stole every left seat hour I could muster, while saving every single penny of my hard-earned low wages.   I had a plan.  It wasn’t exactly what my parents had in mind, but it was a plan.

I was young, barely 20, and idealistic.  My dreams were as big as my check book was small but somehow I knew I could make it work.  Unquestioning optimism at its finest.  I was at the right place, at the right time and in that short 15 minutes of flight time,  there was never a question as to what I wanted to do.  I wanted to become a pilot.

It was hard.  It was exhilarating.  It was inspiring and I loved every minute of it. I was a good  student who became a good pilot and was often complimented on how strong my “seat of the pants” abilities were,  which I would later learn had nothing to do with how my seat looked in pants but rather, was a measure of natural judgement and instinct without the use of instruments.  Did I mention that I was barely 20 years old and terribly naive? I didn’t  even know to be embarrassed by the many faux pas I would stumble over as I truly didn’t know what I didn’t know.  Case in point, my first experience of night flying.  As I was taxiing in after landing, my instructor asked me why I was hugging the far edge of the taxiway and not in the center of it where I should be.  Was I having a hard time seeing it?  

“Oh not at all!  I was trying to avoid the light bulbs as I didn’t want to break them.”

The lights I was referring to were the ones that were embedded into the surface of the taxiway,  but honestly, from where I sat they seemed to protrude from the surface, which was why I was trying hard to avoid them.  I’m guessing he hadn’t encountered this situation before or he would had advised me ahead that I could taxi right over the lights and they wouldn’t break. A few days later, and with the same instructor,  I couldn’t help but notice that he was fixated on something outside of the airplane.  After being in the air for only a few minutes, he turned to me and with a very puzzled look on his face asked me if I had untied the tie down ropes on the plane and if so, how did I do it?  Planes are tied down to the ground with heavy ropes to keep them steady during storms and winds and when untying a plane during the flight pre-check, the ropes are untied from the wings.  Given that it was my first time pre-flighting the plane alone, I did what I thought was the right thing and I untied the ropes from the heavy ground anchors, which left the tie down ropes flapping from the wings of the plane as we flew rather than remaining on the ground where they belonged. 

I answered by telling him that yes I untied the plane and boy were those ropes ever hard to get undone!  He chuckled, kindly, so as not to make me feel embarrassed but no doubt the story had worked its way around the break room by the end of the day.   Obviously,  I hadn’t been paying attention when that section of the pre-flight operation was being explained.  Evidence that sometimes I learn things the hardest way possible.  Again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and honestly think that bit of naivety is what kept me in the game.   My parents worried about the large financial  investment I was making, especially if I didn’t follow through to actually obtaining a license.  They had every right to think that as quitting before finishing was an established pattern for me. But this felt different. There was just something about flying that touched my soul of souls and awakened a part of myself that I had never felt before.  

After what seemed like a very short 6 weeks, my flight instructor told me it was time to take to the skies alone – time for my first solo flight. Student pilots aren’t told this ahead of time simply because of anxiety issues but I knew it was coming.  There were a lot of emotions that day, but I have to say, fear wasn’t one of them.  I was ready.  Although this is a very big deal for student pilots as there is no instructor sitting right seat for security, the initial solo flight is a short one that consists of a few trips around the airport landing pattern doing touch and goes – a touch down landing then immediately taking off again and repeating the process.  It was recorded in my log book as .4 of an hour – 25 minutes of just me and the airplane.  25 minutes of pure joy,  and tremendous pride.  44 years later and I still smile when I think of my young, very naive self in the cockpit of a Piper Cherokee 140, tail number N5606U,  chatting nervously to myself with a constantly nodding of my head up and down in a HOLY COW, YOU’RE DOING THIS!!!, manner. The tradition that follows a student pilot’s first solo flight is to cut the shirt tail off the student’s shirt, which is then labeled and displayed as a “trophy.”.   This tradition originated in the days of tandem trainers when the student would sit in the front seat and the instructor behind.  Because there were rarely radios in the planes, the instructor would pull on the student’s shirttail to get his (or her) attention then yell in his ear.  A successful first solo flight is an indication that the student can fly without the instructor so a shirt tail would no longer  be needed and so the tradition of cutting it off began. I proudly backed myself up to my scissor holding instructor, while wishing I had worn one of my own shirts and not my sisters, who by the way was more angry about her ruined shirt than she was thrilled about my new accomplishment.  It was a navy and white checked, long-sleeved, broken in with love and now damaged shirt that I wish I still had, even though it was never mine, missing tail and all.

6 months after soloing and 7 months after my introductory flight and after passing a grueling written exam, a physical exam and flight exam, I got my private pilot’s license.  The next day, I rented a plane and took my younger brother and sister up flying.  We flew to Topeka, Kansas, a mere 57 miles away, to get a coke because that was the kind of stuff you could do when you were a pilot.  My little brother got sick, but fortunately for me, my sister was wearing a bandana and as the pilot in command, I instructed her to take it off immediately so her brother could throw up in it.  I was learning that passengers bring on a whole other set of responsibilities  and worries when you’re the pilot in command, and that bandanas or maybe air sick bags would be a good thing to have on board.  The following day I flew my parents to Emporia, Kansas, farther than Topeka by 30 miles.  This journey was my debut – to show off my skills, but even more importantly, to show off my  completion of something I had started on a whim and a hope.  A start to finish completion.  Finally.

Two years later that license that I earned was far more relevant than the college degree I hadn’t  earned and I landed a job as a regional sales manager in the avionics industry.  Instead of a company car, I flew the company airplane to various airports to demonstrate, sell and basically show off the King Radio avionics systems that I had in my airplane.  The most challenging part of the job wasn’t the flying, but rather, was earning respect from the dealers who questioned who was making the sales calls every other week.  I was too young (24) and the wrong sex.  More than once I was told by a shop manager that he was just going to wait until the following week when my partner, a man, would be visiting.  There wasn’t much I could do in response but leave politely and make the note in my follow up report that I tried. I knew I was adept at selling the product and offering any customer support that was needed, but getting in the door was often my toughest challenge.  It felt like I was working twice as hard as my male counterparts before my job even began.

Management decided that I needed to adhere to a dress code as all the other sales managers did when out in the field, which I totally expected, but what I didn’t expect was that my dress code was a dress or skirt and  not the more appropriate slacks, which was what I had hoped for.  This made for awkward situations when I’d enter or exit the plane while trying to maintain a modicum  of modesty.  I never knew how I’d be accepted or regarded when calling on the avionics shops at airports for the first time,  but the one thing I could always count on was the handful of men staring with curiosity as I carefully stepped out of the short narrow doorway, onto the wing then onto the tarmac in a dress and I’m guessing, as I can’t recall, most likely in inappropriate shoes because I was 24 and that’s what 24 year-olds did.  I was the first female regional sales manager at King Radio and the management wasn’t exactly  sure what to do with me as I didn’t fit the mold they were used to – i.e. men in suits, hence the dress requirement.  I didn’t have the confidence to question why I had to wear dresses when my counterpart were wearing slacks, but I was one person, and a girl no less, going up against a company of men and I knew I’d lose so dresses it was and comfortable when entering and exiting a plane, it was not.

My daughter asked me recently if I had bigger plans when I set out to get my pilot’s license… you know, to become an airline pilot some day perhaps?  I’ve thought about that a lot even though I gave her the first answer that came to me, which was no. I did have a job in the field of aviation, just not one that held the perceived glamour of passenger carrying jet pilot.  Although I did get a lot of kudos and “atta girls” during my short-lived dip into the field of aviation, there didn’t seem to be room for a female in the all male, good ole boy network that I had become a part of,  leaving me feeling like I was always flying solo without a guide, a mentor or even a map most of the time.   I’ve saved the articles that came out in avionics magazines and newspapers that introduced me as the “first female regional sales manager in avionics” that went on to add that there was “something prettier on the runways to look at these days.”  It’s hard to believe today that those words were even written.  Even though I was still very young and somewhat naive, I was learning a lot and not just about avionics.  I had to wonder,  if King Radio was so happy to take the credit for being the first avionics manufacturer in the country to add a female to their sales force, why weren’t they willing to stand up for that female and mentor her in these new, unchartered waters?   The evening I spent in a topless mermaid bar with a group of “fellow sales managers” somewhere in the southeast, because I was told that was what sales managers do, with nary a warning or an apology to me, was the beginning of my end at King Radio.  I realized that as much as I believed in the product and loved getting to fly in an overly-loaded top of the line airplane,  I was never going to feel totally comfortable in the environment I was in,  regardless of how much I tried. I lasted 2 years then left King Radio for new horizons, packing up my ’74 VW for a move to Phoenix, where my sister with the ruined shirt lived. After a year, I left Arizona for a job in  Alaska after realizing that I really did hate hot weather, but that’s another story.

Before I worked at King Radio, flying was a time of dreaming and complete freedom for me and I cherished the moments during a flight when it was clear skies ahead when nothing needed attention except the unfettered beauty that would surround me at 3,000 to 6,000 feet above the ground.  Those were the moments – almost as if time had stopped for me simply to take it all in.   And I would.  My imagination would  soar like a Piper Cherokee with a tailwind as I scanned what felt like the entire world through the windshield of the small plane.  

It was also the time when I met Leigh, my kindred flying spirit.  She was taking lessons at the same time I was and we immediately bonded over our passion for the new hobby we had both immersed ourselves in.  We’d go to the airport at night, park as close as we could to the runway  and with Judy Collins wafting from the radio, would watch the bellies of planes  as they descended onto the runway while laying on the hood of the car.  It was our entertainment, our inspiration and a connection that remains today.  Neither of us talked about aviation as a career but instead simply embraced it with our eyes to the skies and our souls in the clouds.  We could recite every line of John Gillespie Magee’s “High Flight” poem that began, “Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,”  the line that always gave us pause.  Leigh was in the very small group of people who understood what I was doing and that  we didn’t have to have a reason why or an end goal, because flying was enough. We carried our pilot’s licenses in front of our driver’s licenses in our wallets because it was the piece of paper that held more pride for us than any other and spent far too much time (or not enough?) fantasizing about piloting a hot air balloon across the country in celebration for the bi-centennial that was approaching.    It was the period in my life that I call my aviation experiment and although the last time I flew alone in a small plane was in 1979, I still crane my neck around to get a better look at the instruments when passing by the cockpit when I step onto a plane and am stopped in my tracks when a small plane flies overhead, simply for the pause to capture a memory.

Learning how to pilot a small airplane was less about acquiring a skill that could open doors for me and more about slipping my own surly bonds and seeing what flying on my own wings felt like, with or without an airplane.  I’m often asked if I miss flying and if I’ll ever get current so I can fly again and to that I have to answer yes and I don’t know.  Those wings that were discovered in the small cockpit of a Cherokee 140, are still with me, holding me aloft and giving me strength and a continually changing prospective.  I not only learned how to control the parts of an aircraft to make it fly, but I also learned how to find my own wings with the confidence that my internal compass will always direct me towards clear skies and tailwinds.

3rd grade grammar lessons and why apostrophes still make me smile…

I’m the one in the middle with the Bob Dylan look who is still wondering why ships get apostrophes.

I loved my 3rd grade teacher, more than any other teacher I had in elementary school.  I loved her kind face, her gentle manner and the way her eyes would smile before her mouth would even catch on.  But what I loved the most about Mrs. Faires, was the way she talked.  Her words came out slowly and syrupy almost like she was reluctant to let go of them. I held onto her every word, even the ones I couldn’t understand due to her strong southern accent. She made our unusual circumstances of being housed in a cramped and crowded temporary trailer, more of an adventure than a hinderance, and even though elbows knocked when we did our lessons and I was seated to the sweatiest boy in the 3rd grade, I wouldn’t have changed one thing.  We were the only class in the entire school who learned cursive writing, long division and  the tales of Sacagawea all within the confines of an aluminum box.  Unfortunately, all of the cozy love went out the louvered window when the lesson on apostrophes began.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the concept of ownership and apostrophe placement, it was that, unknowingly, I didn’t understand my Alabama-bred teacher’s accent, ironically, the one thing I loved about her more than anything else.  When she gave the explanation of ownership, what I heard was “on a ship,” which to this Kansas girl, who could count on zero hands how many times she had actually seen a ship, had to wonder if ships were really important  enough to warrant their own grammatical symbol in a sentence.  

After hearing Mrs. Faires’s explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever was ON A SHIP, or showed “ON A SHIP” as was explained, yet what did “shows on a ship” even mean, short of the visual of people on board a large water vessel.  This seemed easy enough until the worksheets were handed out with nary a mention of ships or boats or even water for that matter.

My 8 year-old self, who usually did well in school, was discouraged when worksheet after worksheet was returned to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them.  No one else seemed to be struggling with the placement of the flying commas but me, so I kept my frustrations to myself and kept searching, for the ship in the sentence.  More than once, Mrs. Faires would call me up to her desk and explain, yet again, the “on a ship” concept to me  and I would once again share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences (while unknowingly mimicking her accent.)

I eventually shared my frustrations with my Mom, who knew nothing of the situation as the red-marked papers never made their way home.  Not surprising,   she cracked the code, as moms often do and reported her findings to my teacher.  That accent, the one that had me hanging onto every syllable,  had become the culprit to my biggest 3rd grade frustration.  

Years later, when in Jr. High, I had a Brazilian algebra teacher who spoke with a such a strong accent that most of the time I had no idea what he was talking about, which given that it was Algebra, could have happened without the accent.  I have to wonder if I had had a teacher I could have understood, would I feel more comfortable with the x’s and y’s to this day?  Thankfully, my stumble with apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for writing like my incomprehension of a Brazilian accent did with me for Algebra.    Still, after 56 some years, I have to thank Mrs. Faires for bringing a smile to my face when I confidently place ownership apostrophes on the needed words,  whether or not a ship is present.

20/20 vision on remembering…

 

Now wouldn’t she have been a whole lot cuter with blue framed glasses on?  To maybe detract a little from the hair??

When I was in the 3rd grade, I wanted glasses, desperately, and to fulfill this plan, I did what any scheming 8 year-old would do and told my Mom that I was having a hard time seeing.

Seeing what?  The chalkboard?  Your books?

Yes.  All of it.  It’s all blurry.

And it was that easy.  My Mom took me to the nearest Ophthalmologist, which happened to be a few towns away, making the experience even more notable in my pretend to be weakening eyes.  I did my best to flunk the test, telling the Dr. that the blurriest lenses he tested on me were the clearest and vice versa.  I had no doubt that by the end of the day, I’d have glasses to add to my look, blue rims please.  I know this all teeters between down right strange and a bit pathetic with desperately seeking attention written all over it and I’ll confirm all three.  It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t have found the attention I craved from the corrective shoes I was sentenced to wear for a few rough years of my grade school career, but clunky black shoes trimmed in velvet in an attempt to make them attractive, simply were not cool.  At all.  And when the school dress code for girls was dresses and skirts only, they were also very hard to hide.  I dragged the toes of said shoes several blocks on the rough sidewalks on my way home from school one day, wearing holes in the toes of both of them so big you could see my socks.  It was my not so well thought out plan to get new shoes that were not of the corrective variety.  Instead of the new shoes I had hoped for, I was left with a pair of shoes with holes in the toes to wear until it was shoe buying time again, which was not any time soon.  Light blue cat-eyed framed glasses would have probably helped me get over my dumb shoes,  holes and all.

The Dr. and his machines were far wiser than my scheming 8 year-old self and miraculously I passed the test and even with extra credit as I was far sighted enough that had I needed to, my eyes could have made their way around the classroom come test time for a little help, which of course I never, ever did.  There were no glasses for me, but instead I received the consolation prize of a pair of temporary dark glasses to protect my dilated eyes in the light. They looked more like a big negative strip wrapped around my head than the glasses I had hoped for, but they were better than nothing.  I returned to school that afternoon, still wearing my pretend glasses,  and although the effects of the dilating had long since worn off, I continued to wrap that dark piece of film around my face for the next two days, looking more like Helen Keller than the 20/20 plus visioned 8 year-old that I was.  I insisted to my classmate that the eye Dr. told me I needed to wear goofy looking glasses for a few days because of the tests they had done on me. I don’t know, I might have even told them I had a rare eye disease for that matter.  It seemed to be the path I was on at the time.  I can’t help but think about my teacher looking at the girl in the classroom who with all seriousness was wearing a temporary pair of film glasses that are normally thrown away after a few hours.  She had to be rolling her eyes and shaking her head every time she looked at me, continually adjusting that ill-fitting piece of film around my ears, without even a shred of embarrassment amongst my peers.  No doubt the few kids in the class that legitimately wore glasses knew exactly what it was that I continued to  wrap around my face and tuck behind my ears, but they were kind enough to not say anything.

Last week, some 52 years later and still with good eyes and with my hopes of having to wear glasses long since faded,  I went to the eye Dr. and was told I need surgery.  My eyes are starting to catch up with my age…sigh… and although not necessary immediately, I was told that lens replacement will improve my vision immensely,  my vision that I didn’t realize was compromised.  Although I don’t have cataracts… yet… I will soon enough so the lens replacement surgery would be a proactive move.  I stopped giving the Dr. full attention upon hearing the word “cataract”.    I remember when I turned 50 and the AARP information started filling my mailbox.  AARP?  Seriously?  I felt like I had started getting some other persons mail… some old person, not me.  Cataracts make AARP sound like a subscription to Glamour magazine.

While at my recent eye exam,  my overachieving self stepped in and painstakingly tried to distinguish the letters in just one more row, feeling discouraged that I couldn’t read the bottom row at all.  I couldn’t help but think of the time I tried so hard to flunk the test to get the glasses, blue frames please, that I so desperately wanted.  Although I know this is a very common procedure, I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of someone working on my eyes, making the idea of glasses sound not so bad.

I was offered  the disposable glasses when I was getting ready to leave, in case I  didn’t have “real” sunglasses with me,  and was surprised that they didn’t seem to have changed over the decades.  Thankfully, I had real sunglasses with me so turned them down.   Seriously?  I wore those in public for TWO days?  20/20 vision doesn’t necessarily mean an accurate or clear perspective when you go beyond the eye charts.  Thank goodness for maturity, even if aging eyes is part of the package.

Apostrophes, ships and the 3rd grader who ended up writing stories about it…

Shortly after I shared my last blog entry about revisiting my first home with my parents as guides, my Mom emailed me with this:

“All that beautiful prose from the 3rd grader who didn’t understand apostrophes.”

My first reaction was feeling very honored by her words given that I was retelling her story about my beginnings in Colorado, as I was too young to have my own story.  Secondly, I was touched that she remembered the story about the difficulties I had with grammar in the 3rd grade, specifically with the placement of apostrophies.

For whatever reason, I have more memories from 3rd grade than any other in elementary school.  I loved my teacher.  I loved her shoes. I watched those cool red fringe-toed shoes walk up and down the narrow aisle of the temporary trailer classroom, demonstrating to a captivated audience how Indians would walk without making a sound… toe heel, toe heel, toe heel.  It was crowded in that tiny trailer classroom and maybe because the situations weren’t ideal, she was just a little more patient with us than a teacher in a normal-sized classroom would be.  One of my favorite memories was when the Sacajawea book would be pulled out every afternoon after recess and Mrs. Faires would read to us. I was mesmerized. I held onto every word and for the first time, the notion that school could be fun and interesting took hold.  She made that year of being crowded into the tiny temporary classroom one of my favorites, and even though elbows were bumped as we did out lessons in our pushed together desks and I just happened to be seated next to the boy who sweated more than anyone else in the classroom, I would not have traded those squeezed together conditions for a normal classroom.  It felt special for some reason… like we were special.  All that love went out the small louvered trailer window when the lesson on apostrophes and ownership began.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the the concept of ownership and placement of the apostrophe, it’s that I did not understand my Alabama bred teacher’s accent.  When she gave the explanation of “ownership,” what I heard was “on a ship,” which made little sense to me, especially given that I lived in Kansas and could count on one hand how many times I had actually seen a ship. Were ships really that important that they got their own apostrophe when used in a sentence?

After hearing Mrs. Faires’ explanation on apostrophes and possession, my conclusions were to use an apostrophe when whomever or whatever were “on a ship,” or “showed on a ship” as my teacher explained it.  I wasn’t sure what “showed on a ship” was, short of the visual of people on a ship, which was simple enough… or was it?  This all makes a whole lot more sense when I’m able to voice the words out loud and show that “ownership” sounds like “on a ship” when spoken with a heavy southern drawl.  I usually did pretty well with understanding new assignments in school, especially when they weren’t of the math variety, but my 8 year-old, wanting to please self, was beginning to get discouraged when worksheet after worksheet were handed back to me with an embarrassing amount of red ink on them.  Even the boy who sweated so much, was getting good marks and happy faces on his returned papers.  And then there was the amount of time it took me to complete the worksheets.  While the other kids seemed to breeze right through the sentences, without having to look up in thought or confusion, I would read each sentence over and over again while trying desperately to find the ship, the boat or out of desperation, simply the water in the sentence so that I’d have clearance to add my apostrophe.  It seemed to me to be a futile exercise as few, if any sentences, made reference to a ship or for that matter, any maritime reference at all, but none of the other students were questioning the absurdity, so in trying to fit in with my peers, I kept quiet and kept searching… for the ship in the sentence.

More than once Mrs. Faires brought me up to her desk and would explain the “on a ship” concept to which I would share my frustrations of not understanding what “on a ship” had to do with most of the sentences.  Of course in this now comedy of errors, she heard my words speak Southern to her and would explain, yet again,  that “on a ship” requires an apostrophe, hoping that eventually it would all make sense to me.  After failing exercise after exercise, some how, some way, someone who did not speak with a heavy southern drawl, put it together that what I was hearing was different than what my teacher was actually saying.  My Mom eventually shared the story with my teacher, Mrs. Faires, and I’m sure it gave her pause every year when teaching the concept of “ownership” to a new group of 3rd graders.

The one in the middle sporting the Bob Dylan look and the attitude smirk,  wasn’t about to admit to anyone that she didn’t understand why ships garnered so much importance that they got their own apostrophe… especially in Kansas for Pete’s sake!

I’ve got to wonder how long this would have gone on had someone not stumbled onto the problem, given that I was too embarrassed and too insecure to admit that I didn’t have a clue as to what the teacher was trying to teach me.  This insecurity would resurface again with my 7th grade Algebra teacher, who was from Brazil,  and spoke with a heavy accent.  The difference this time though, was that the rest of the class was hearing Mr. La Torre the same way I did, so would throw their hands up in question before I had to.  I ended up struggling with Algebra through college and have to wonder if I had had a teacher who I could understand and felt comfortable simply asking for help, would seeing the x’s and y’s still throw me into panic mode today?  Or am I simply more of a words person than a numbers person?  I’m grateful that my stumble with the apostrophes in the 3rd grade didn’t ruin me for the act of writing, the way x’s and y’s did for me in math,  as it’s been something I’ve loved and enjoyed for as long as I can remember.

Thank you, Mrs. Faires, for giving me pause and a smile every time I place an apostrophe, whether there’s a ship in the sentence or not.  And thank you, Mom, for not forgetting the story and continually encouraging my putting pen to paper.

 

Returning to my roots with the keepers of the stories at my side…

A few weeks ago, my sister, Robin, and I were given the tremendous gift of getting to step back in time for a few days and with our parents as our guides, revisited the place where we spent our earliest days – Evergreen, Colorado.

Although our time there was relatively short,  one would assume that we had lived there for decades given the many stories Mom and Dad have shared with us throughout our lives.  Because of the many stories and the joy with which they have been shared,  I grew up knowing  how very important this little mountain town was in my parents lives.

They were young, very young, 20 and 25, with a baby on the way (Robin) and were actually on their way to Oregon, simply on a “Why not?  It sounds like a nice place to live…” when they stopped in Denver to see my Mom’s parents.  While there, Dad found out that to teach high school music in Oregon, he needed a master’s degree (something that would come later and in Missouri), so they decided to simply stay in Denver.  Besides, with a baby on the way, it would be nice to have family nearby.  I love thinking about those carefree 20 somethings with a baby on the way pointing their car and trailered belongings west, without really having much of a plan.  Somehow it gives the many wing and a prayer plans I’ve had a bit more weight.

There were no teaching jobs in Denver, but while interviewing, a call came through from the principal in Evergreen with the news that the high school music teacher had not renewed his contract and through the perfect timing of a synchronistic moment, my Dad had a job and their plans to continue their journey west to Oregon were shortened to the short 30 minute drive west from Denver to the scenic mountain town of Evergreen.

Robin and I have both heard the stories, countless times, of our time in Evergreen, but to get to hear them again, with the soil underfoot, was truly a gift.  Hearing about Dad coasting down the mountain from Evergreen to St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver, my Mom in labor with me, made a lot more sense as we recently made our way down from Evergreen to Denver  – an easy coast of a drive that was a necessary choice on that day, almost 60 years go to the date, as the gas tank was near empty (he made it with fumes to spare, I’m told…).

Although Robin and I had tried to find the house we lived in when we were in Colorado  last summer,  our interpretation of Mom and Dad’s directions had us on the wrong end of the town, but with their keen memories and navigational skills a few weeks ago, we drove right to the house.  Both of our initial reactions upon seeing the nice house that sat off the road on 5 acres was… “wait… I thought we were poor” ….  Yes, they reassured us… we were poor.  They said it looked like the house had been added on to and that while it looked nice on the outside, the inside had needed work… work that Dad chipped away at when he had the gift of both time and money.   The furnishings were sparse and although Mom had a wringer washing machine, she didn’t have a dryer, so after washing the clothes, diapers in particular with two under the age of two, she’d hang them out on the line, where they would freeze dry in the arid air.  She’d then bring them in and lay them throughout the house to thaw.  For some reason, I’ve always connected with pioneer women and have sworn that I must have lived during that period of time in a past life.  This explains it.  I did.

As we sat in the drive and looked directly at our past, hearing the stories from the ones that created them, that piece of my past, that I don’t remember, became real and I understood where my love for mountains was born.  Dad told us that when Mom was pregnant with me she told him that she was not going to come home from the hospital until we had a flushing toilet IN the house.  Yes, these adventure seeking parents of mine were using an outhouse, not to mention transporting their water in  50 gallon drums.  Dad worked tirelessly at digging the leeching well near the house in preparation for my arrival, using a pick axe, a shovel and his favorite tool, dynamite.  And lo and behold, Mom had the flush toilet she had requested upon her arrival home from the hospital with me.  Simple times, but not all that simple of a request.  Still, every mom just home from the hospital with a new born and a one year-old to greet her, deserves the luxury of indoor toilet… and one that flushes no less.  It sure beat any “congratulations on your new baby” flower arrangement Dad could have gotten her.

My Evergreen, Colorado roots

Out of the many stories I’ve heard over the years, and my hands down favorite, I heard for the first time last year.  Because we were surrounded by evergreen trees, Dad would simply go to the woods behind the house to select the Christmas tree, then would drag it down to the house.  I believe it was my first Christmas (and if it wasn’t, I’m taking artistic license here) that Mom questioned the tree he brought home, wondering if he could have found a tree that was just a little bit prettier.  So, on his way home from work the following day, the perfect tree came into view with the lights of his car.  He cut it down, put it in the car and as he was pulling away, his car lights gave him a better view of exactly where the tree he had just cut down had come from… the landscaping in the front yard of one of the summer vacation homes in the area.  When I asked him what he did when he discovered what he did,  he told me that he couldn’t exactly put it back, so simply covered the stump with snow and drove home.  Given that it was a summer vacation home,  he had several months before the missing tree would be noticed.  No doubt some of that guilt waned with Mom’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the beautiful specimen of a tree that would grace our small living room that Christmas.

“Now THAT’s what I had in mind!  It’s the PERFECT tree!”

Dad had set the Christmas decor bar high on this one…

I’m not sure how long it was before he came clean on exactly where the tree had come from and am betting that the following Christmas, it was back to the scrappy juniper Christmas trees.  All of our Christmas trees in those early Colorado days were decorated with pine cones that Mom had spray painted gold.  It was only in later years that I understood the significance of Mom insisting on adding what we thought at the time were “the tacky gold spray-painted pine cones” to our then more lavishly decorated trees.  It was a nudge to the memory of where they began as a family, and although times were very tough, they were also very good.

I love hearing their  humble roots stories – two kids with two babies eeking out a living in the mountains of Evergreen, Colorado.  Funds were so tight that when a job offer in northern Missouri came in for far more money and an unlimited high school band budget, Dad had to say yes.  He has told me several times that when they drove out of town for the last time on their way to Missouri, he had hoped for a rainy, cloudy day or at least weather that was over cast enough so that he wouldn’t have to see the mountains in his rearview mirror.  It was sunny that day.   To this day, I think both Mom and Dad would agree that it felt like the mountains were waving goodbye to them as they left them in the rear view mirror.

What a gift it was to return to those Evergreen mountains just as they had left them so many years ago and better yet, to get to return with the keepers of the stories.  Although I was always a part of the stories,  I feel a real sense of their connection to me now.

something I still enjoy.. playing in the dirt…

 

Mom and Dad… who still have a bit of that Colorado spirit in them….

 

Snow days…

 

I got up 3 times last night to check on the snow.  I wanted to make sure it was still coming down… kind of like insuring that the party was still going on.   I’m a little girl when it comes to snow and still feel the rush of excitement at morning’s light to see the ground blanketed in a fresh layer of white powder.  There’s a sense of familiar and nostalgia that is coming into play with this for me, first and foremost is the possibility of a snow day that a few inches of snow might bring.  Here in Summit County, CO, snow days are virtually unheard of, namely because the plows pretty much have the roads cleaned up by first light and well, it is CO and snow is supposed to happen on a regular basis, unlike Kansas, where it still feels like a bit of a surprise.

When I was in school, a pre-dawn telephone call at our house meant we got to roll over in our beds and sleep in knowing that the day ahead was ours and ours alone.  It meant leaving on our PJ’s until lunch time and eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in front of the TV while watching “As the World Turns” with Mom, then piling on layers of clothes and playing in the snow until our yard’s snow was all used up, our mittens were wet and our boots sloshed on the inside with snow.  Once 3:30 rolled around, the magic of a snow day was over and time returned to normal, regardless of the projects we were in the middle of because 3:30 was the end of our school day and at 3:31, we were on real time, once again.  Even with a 3:30 end, snow days were longer than any other day because they were 100% bonus and were ours to spend as we wanted, unlike Saturdays, or even weekdays, that came with the dreaded list of chores or have to’s, such as going to school.   Because my parents subscribed to the philosophy that  if it was too snowy to go to school, it was too snowy to go out (as in outside via a car), we were “stuck” at home all day, which really was a good thing as our creativity was put into play out of boredom. Empty shoe boxes were refashioned into hip homes for Barbie and her girlfriend, Midge, four pieces of furniture in the bedroom I shared with my older sister were arranged and rearranged in an effort to make a small room seem big and magazine pictures were glued onto poster board (or whatever we could find) and tacked onto the wall.  I once made a collage of only eyes, which I thought would be straight up cool.  It wasn’t.  Neither was the one with lips that followed.  Ahhh, snow day crafts.  You worked with what you had, which was always an ingredient short, it seemed.

My Dad was the high school guidance counselor and unlike today, when the school closings scroll across the bottom of the TV before you even go to bed, the phone call from the school superintendent came early in the morning.  I don’t know if that meant that Dad then had a list of people to call in a phone tree fashion, or how it was that the superintendent called him and not someone else, but that’s how it worked and honestly, I didn’t really care.  All I knew was that getting to go back to sleep for another few hours was a gift like no other and could only be appreciated during that brief roll over in a warm bed moment. There have been mornings in my life that I swear I’d empty my bank account to have that option….  a feeling like no other.

When we had a snow day, Dad had one too, which made the day even more special.  His snow day routine always started with making homemade bread, a scent that still makes me feel warm and squishy inside, and takes me right back to the deliciousness of sleeping in while life continued on around us… bread getting made, for one.

There was no early morning phone call from the school superintendent, or the smell of freshly baked bread to wake up to this morning, but I did experience the thrill of throwing open the curtains upon wakening and getting to bask in the beauty outside of my bedroom window of 6 inches of snow blanketing the ground this morning.  Pure joy.