Posts Tagged ‘June’

The tornado story

June 10, 2013

Five tornados touched down in Colorado the other day. This reminds me of two months before we left Boulder, when a tornado was a block from my house.

I was home alone with the kids, who were 2 and 4.

There were siren horns in every neighborhood, and of late they had been testing them, in anticipation of the 100-year flood. In an actual flood, the sirens would sound continuously, alerting us to get as high as we could, (which in Boulder meant different things to different people.)

Suddenly the sky went dark. I was folding laundry in the living room, which had a whole wall of windows and had been awash in natural light. Within a moment I could see only the flickering of The Magic School Bus.

Then the sirens sounded — continuously. I called the newsroom to find out what was going on, and learned a funnel cloud looked about to touch down around 30th and Iris. That’s where my house was.

I was told to get under my house. Fine system they have, I thought, where the same siren either means to get on or under your house.

I called my husband and unfairly begged him to come home. He was in the middle of getting a sixth-grade science class into the hallway in the center of the school.

I sent my kids into the area that was too deep to call a crawlspace and too shallow to call a basement. They took the cordless phone and a flashlight while I scurried to gather supplies. I tried to pretend this was a fun adventure. I showed up in one minute with kid chairs, shoes, books, snacks and the potty.

I read to them by flashlight, but could barely contain my fear. It was so totally dark, and the sirens were so loud.

After a half an hour of books I shone the light around. I had never been under there before. There was a lot of space. We had dining chairs stacked that I had forgotten about, and some old baby furniture.

My son said, “Want to see where Daddy and I fixed the pipes for the bathtub?”

“I do,” I said as I offered him the flashlight.

“I don’t need that.” He walked past me and flipped the light switch.

For Pete’s sake, I should have put him in charge in the first place.


The deer story

January 8, 2013

My son is  getting his driver license. (I learned at work that there’s no apostrophe s in driver license. Who knew?)

An unpredictable driver shook him up a little bit Sunday when he was driving me to Costco, so I told him this story:

When I was 20 I moved from Los Altos Hills, Calif., to Boulder, Colo., to go attend college where my new boyfriend lived. He flew out to my place; we loaded my Camry with all my belongings, and we got on the highway.

It was afternoon when we drove through Lake Tahoe, which was beautiful. Like any 20-year-old in love, I slowed down through that area to give The Boyfriend time to have the idea of an impulsive wedding. I was practically at a crawl leaving that town.

By nighttime we were driving through a whole lot of  nothing. I had never seen places like this, and was astonished to know they existed. With developers running out of room in the Inland Empire, I had the urge to send them a note.

I was driving because The Boyfriend had something he needed to study for regarding his master’s degree.

Suddenly a deer stepped in front of us and stopped.

I must have been going at least 90 mph. I may have been sitting cross-legged and using cruise control. I know that’s how I drove a lot of that trip.

Quickly I tapped the brakes and swerved behind the deer, who galloped off.

Dr. Oz says memories are tied to emotions. This says something about my state at 20. I don’t remember any fear, or even relief at being alive after.

The reason I remember this adventure is The Boyfriend put his hand on mine and complimented my driving.

The Harvard home

October 30, 2012

A couple of summers ago the kids and I went to Cambridge, because my son had decided he wanted to go to Harvard.

My biological father went there. He, my mom and I road tripped to Massachusetts in someone’s Mustang when I was 3 weeks old, and moved into what my mom calls a four-story walkup in the school’s married-student housing. A little more than a year later, my mom packed me up and flew back to California. The marriage was done.

Via the Internet, I made reservations at a bed and breakfast walking distance from the campus. It was called Irving House.

We took the train east and settled into our top-floor room.

The place was heaven. It was a huge old house. The owner bought used books at yard sales to fill the rooms’ bookshelves. Guests were welcome to take a book home, and asked to leave a book if they finished one while there. I spent a whole afternoon scoping the bookshelves of every vacant room (and one I was in only because housekeeping was cleaning the bathroom, and I’m stealth) for books on my wish list.

In early evening our first night I called my mom. It occurred to me that somewhere around the Square was the only place the three of us had ever lived as a family.

She gave me the address. It was on Irving Street! Hey, I was on Irving Street.

The road was named for author Washington Irving, of Sleepy Hollow fame. I figured we were staying in his house. Turns out, no.

The kids were busy with something, so I went alone on up the few short blocks of Irving. I walked the length of it twice. The numbers didn’t go as high as the address Mom gave me. I gave up.

The next day I found it. Because it’s technically part of the campus, it has its own, nonsequential address. It was next door.

I went running over and found the entry in the garden courtyard with the right number on it. The door was old, and mostly glass.

A guy was coming out and I slipped in. I stood at the bottom of the stairway, and stories came rushing back to my memory I’d forgotten my mom had told.

I remembered that she had had to carry the pram up to the apartment, a baby under her arm, and sometimes tottering groceries or laundry. She told me my dad had bought a grand piano and disassembled it to take it up piece by piece in paper bags.

I walked over and put my hand on the rail. It made me cry. This ancient iron stair rail is the one my parents used almost 40 years ago. They gripped it with infant me in the other arm.

I went up the stairs and found the right door.

Now what?

There was music or TV on behind it. Young people were there. I didn’t want anything to do with any young people. I went back to my room.

That night I was looking out the window, and I realized our entire view was the very apartment I had gone looking for — four stories in the air, but straight across.

On the last day of our stay I went over there with my camera. I had fixed my mind to knock on the young people’s door.

Wouldn’t you know? There was no guy leaving the building, and I couldn’t get in.

All I got was a sorry photo through the glass of the bottom of the stair.

click for photos

The time my daughter went missing

September 15, 2012

The story of Jaycee Lee Dugard is tormenting me.

I must watch or listen to every drip of news coverage I can find. My husband seems to be avoiding it.

Once we were in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and a woman went past us in the hall looking frantic and calling a child’s name. My husband took in a steadying breath, went glassy eyed and dropped my hand to join the search.

He was emotional when he came back. He told me he can’t handle seeing a parent looking for a lost kid. He said it puts him right back in the moment when he lost our daughter.

She was 2.

I had gone to a party at Kevin’s house. Kevin had been one of my closest friends before I left the Sink and had a baby. We ran into each other in town after my plans to move back to California were set.

He told me he was having a to-do at his parents’ house. It was a reunion for us, and an unusual kid-free afternoon for me.

I came home before evening. Everything seemed normal.

Later my husband and I were watching TV. He hit the mute button suddenly, and told me he had had to look for the baby while I was gone.

He said he had tried to call me on Jer’s cell phone, which I had taken with me for some reason.

I hadn’t kept close to my purse at Kevin’s. This was before caller ID and cellular voicemail. This is one of two times I had had Jer’s cell.

My husband put the sound back on the TV and the night went on.

When it was time to go upstairs, he turned the set off and put his forehead on my shoulder. “My God, I was so scared,” he said. He started sobbing.

This was uncharacteristic. I became scared.

He told me he had realized the baby wasn’t there, and checked around the house. The yard was empty, so he walked our quiet block calling for her. Ultimately people all over the neighborhood were searching.

She had wandered next door and was trying on another little girl’s roller skates in a garage.

It was the worst suffering my husband has ever known.

The horse riding story

July 2, 2012

My Junior High Best Friend just got back from a family vacation in Mammoth.

Fun fact that isn’t particularly fun: Her boys are the same ages as my kids, and her oldest boy has dealt with tumors in his head, too. This makes me wonder if we were exposed to something together during our teens. The other two girls we hung out with never had children.

I’ve been to Mammoth this time of year. It’s beautiful. My dad rented a condo there for the week after I finished high school. We took My High School Best Friend.

We spent the first couple of days lying by the pool, but I woke up one morning with a chest, and my bathing suit didn’t fit anymore.

So we went horseback riding.

We had never been on horseback, any of us, yet we had the nerve to be disappointed we would be led nose to tail slowly on a narrow path. Now that I’ve actually ridden free, I can see the beauty of our Mammoth ride. Who did we think we were, Hoss and Little Joe?

There we were, meandering painfully slowly through the forested mountains, and all I could hear was my mother behind me anxiously sucking her teeth.


“There are loose rocks on the trail. I’m afraid your horse is going to trip.” This is my mother in a nutshell.

I tried to get someone to trade horses with me. No luck.

Then the gasping started.

“Mo-om! This horse walks this trail everyday. Its whole life is walking this trail. Plus, it’s a horse. It’s not going to trip on a rock. Someone please switch places with me!”

And then my stupid horse tripped on a rock.

His front leg slipped and buckled. I almost fell off.

I think she’s forgotten about this, though I will never know, because to ask would be to remind. I hope she has, because I hate to see her nervousness rewarded.

I’m pretty sure if you ask her what she remembers about our trip to Mammoth, she’ll tell you about my visit from the booby fairy.

My dead pool

June 26, 2012

I run a dead pool. This is a common game in newsrooms. People pay an entry fee and compile a list of famous people.

From New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve, if someone on the list dies, the player who chose him gets 100 points minus the celebrity’s age.

John is already at 180 points. My cousin Christi is close behind with 146 points, and my very first boyfriend is in third with 123 points. All three of them predicted Jane Goody’s death. She was 27.

I remember the year JFK Jr. died. One reporter had made that canny pick, and got 61 points for it. He was the winner that year.

Now my group is having a hot couple of days. Farrah Fawcett was worth 38 points. Seven of my 13 players had her on their lists.

Jacko netted three other players a surprise 50 points. It’s the deaths that aren’t a sure thing that make the game fun.

And the aw shucks factor: three players had Ed McMahon on last year’s list, but not one kept him.

I run the thing, and have never, in all the years I’ve played, earned a single point.

Oh well. I have other skills.

The time my son went missing

June 18, 2012

I just read on about a boy who went missing in 1955. It seems he’s just turned up.

His mother had parked her kids outside a bakery. After she paid for her cinnamon rolls she discovered an empty stroller. Her 2-year-old son and infant daughter were missing.

The baby was found a couple blocks away. I imagine the fruitless search for her son destroyed her. She must have had the worst kind of guilt.

When we see a parent looking for her child, my husband’s eyes well up. He’s been there once with each of ours, and the emotion of it comes right back to him.

I used to work nights at the newspaper in Boulder. One night we put the paper to bed before last call. A gang of us went across the street to Old Chicago.

For some reason I had Uncle Jer’s cell phone. It was one of two times I had it, and he was the only cell-phone owner I knew. By coincidence, the second time will be in the story of when my daughter went missing.

I had barely taken a sip of my Guinness when my husband called. Our 4-year-old wasn’t in his bed, or anywhere else my husband could see.

Then he made a confession. He had gone against my wishes and opened my son’s window to cool the room.

I was uptight about open windows in the kids’ rooms, or anywhere in the house if we were sleeping. JonBenet had just been abducted in December, a couple of Hop stops from our house.

I abandoned my beer and my friends. I could barely get my bike unlocked. My hands started shaking when I realized my husband wouldn’t have called until he had been looking a long time. He would have been sure the child was gone before scaring me.

Ultimately we found him. He had snuggled under the overhang on the foot of his bed, and was curtained in by his bedspread.

Having never slept near an open window before, he wasn’t used to the breeze.

That ended one of the worst hours of my life. I can’t figure how the Damman parents lived with that feeling for 54 years.

An out-of-print book series

May 1, 2012

This would have been my father-in-law’s birthday.

My father-in-law was a collector. He had old toys, Lionel trains and military artifacts. When he sent my daughter teddy bears, they were always limited editon. He sent the boxes separately. That’s how hardcore he was.

At the time of his death, I was reading a historical novel series that was eight thick volumes long. I was on book five. I owned the first six.

I knew that my father-in-law had read and loved this series. I knew he had tried without success to get his son to read it.

What I discovered when I was helping my husband empty the bedroom was that he displayed the entire set, still in its original shrinkwrap.

The painful part of this story is that the series by then was out of print. I had planned to hunt online for used versions of the final two books.

My husband said, “Look honey! What a big stroke of luck.”

“Oh no,” I protested. “Your father went out and got this set after he read a different copy. He knew they went out of print. He meant this set to stay pristine in its packaging. I’m not breaking that seal.”

My husband tattled on me to his mommy. She insisted I take the books.

I left New York without the books.

Back in California UPS brought a box with the clothes and sentimentals my husband had chosen to keep. At the bottom was the set of books.

My mother-in-law had put an end to the discussion. The cellophane was slashed in a big Z.

It bothered me to betray what was obviously my father-in-law’s wish.

I’m trying to even the score by fulfilling a different one. I’m reading the series aloud to his son. We’re on book three, and he’s loving it.

My son’s second surgery

April 28, 2012

Today my husband had surgery to repair a muscle he ripped from a bone. Snowboarding is fun.

This surgery kicked his ass. The surgeon told me he would be in the recovery room an hour. It was three. It would have been longer, but they were closing.

Now my living room is a recovery zone. My aunt is going to lend me her nurse’s cape. It’s hard to give stool softeners without a cape. No one takes you seriously.

Anyway this calls to mind my son’s second surgery, which I had meant to tell you about way back when I told you about his tumors.

He had a terrible experience with the biopsy surgery. There was pain, vomiting and swelling. He hated the ICU. He didn’t think it was funny that I said the ICU was so named because of the gowns they make you wear.

So a year later he gave me a big No Way to a surgery to take the tumors out. He was 7.

I used all the tricks in my mama bag. We planned to go the Santa Monica Pier the day before. We made a list of the things he feared and worked to eliminate them.

The anesthesiologist said he could prevent nausea. The surgeon arranged a private room.

The nurses promised Tigger could go in with him. Being sealed in sterile plastic bags is what Tiggers love best.

No deal.

Then a month before the surgery, while he was at school, a producer from The Discovery Channel called me. She had wanted to film the surgery for a special on the surgeon, but when the surgeon described my son and his case to her, she got the green light to do a whole special on my son.

I interrupted his first-grade class to tell him about it. Sold. A producer bag has better tricks in it.

My son was brave and calm. Everyone made good on promises, and we didn’t have any of the problems he feared. Though he did add catheters and incision drains to his list.

Three months later my family went to the producer’s house for a preview screening. It was mostly interviews, but the middle segment was surgery footage.

It didn’t occur to me to be nervous about watching it.

But then, one side at a time, the surgeon peeled my son’s face back. One glance of this, and I turned toward the back of the room.

Then my husband said, ‘Honey, look!’ The surgeon slid the tumor off his pie server onto a ruler for the camera. It looked like a boneless, skinless chicken breast from the grocery store. The two he removed weighed a pound.

After the screening the producer told us it made her crazy to witness the operation.

The surgeon was  explaining what he was doing during the procedure. He kept looking at her while he was talking, but his hands kept operating. She wanted to shout, ‘Watch what you’re doing!’ She said it was like when her husband is driving and he looks at her instead of the road.

Finally he looked down, just as a bunch of gooey bloody stuff splattered up on his glasses. His assistant eased them off to clean them, and the surgeon kept working.

Now I have a list of my own.

My most embarrassing moment

April 22, 2012

Today I was asking my students my questions, and one of them got, ‘What’s the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you?’

He was rock climbing and his pants came down.

This reminded me of something that happened in college. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this story before.

Throughout my phonetics course I was working on a research project. We each had a date at the end of the semester for a presentation.

I had a rough go of it from start to finish, but finally finished.

The morning my presentation was scheduled, it snowed heavily. My bike ride to school was only about three long blocks downhill and across campus, but snow meant I had to leave early.

I put on a button-down sundress with a wool sweater, knit tights and UGG boots. Boulder has a different standard of style and formality.

When it was time to go, my 5-month-old son was still nursing. He was on the cusp of sleep and still gulping milk.

I waited as long as I could, but finally had to pluck him off, hand him wailing to the babysitter, tug down my sweater and go.

I pedaled hard and arrived in a sweat — half from the workout and half from nerves.

I ran in a little bit late. I assumed my name had been called, because people were looking around the auditorium in question.

Once I got to the front, I took a deep breath and peeled off my sweater. My dress was still unbuttoned and my nursing bra flap was hanging open.

I looked down at my exposed breast to see a swell of milk drip to my shoe.

My professor, a sweet little woman with graying curls, quickly stepped in front of me. With her back to the crowd she smiled and tried to offer comfort. She said, ‘It’s OK, we’ve all been there.’

That being the case, I guess this wasn’t a very interesting story.

The dead squirrel story

April 13, 2012

It’s my mother-in-law’s birthday, so I share this.

We were out visiting her a couple of summers ago to help her move out of the home she raised her family in. My father-in-law had died, and it was too much house for one person.

My husband asked about saying goodbye to the next-door neighbors. He had known them for years, but hadn’t noticed them around during our visit.

“They’re upset with me,” my mother-in-law said.

She explained that shortly back she had found a dead squirrel near their porch. She happened to have a plastic bag in her pocket, and she scooped it up to throw it out, but didn’t get that far.

Something happened that demanded her immediate attention. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember that she hooked the bag on their doorknob meaning to get back to it.

As far as we can surmise, the neighbors came home to discover the dead squirrel and some evidence of who’d left it. They took it badly. You’d have thought she’d left a horse head in their bed.

They gave her some words there was no coming back from.

My husband asked why she didn’t explain.

“I thought about it,” she nodded seriously, “and then I thought, ‘to hell with it.’ “

The gay wedding

April 4, 2012

I’ve been following the news regarding whether a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

I have friends and family members who married that year — in the window of their union’s being sanctioned by the state — and am eager to hear what California will rule on Proposition 8.

That summer my daughter and I attended her choir director’s wedding. There were two grooms.

It was a beautiful ceremony. The church was decorated with white tulle and fresh flowers. One of the choir members — a member of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Opera — sang a song written by the director’s betrothed.

I was nonplussed. My daughter was looking at the emotion on my face and rolling her eyes. She was clearly plussed.

I tried to play it cool, but it struck me during the hymns and sermon that I was attending a gay wedding, recognized by church and state, while a black man ran for president. Wow.

My daughter elbowed me. “Why are you making such a big deal?” she whispered.

“I’ve never been in a world like this before,” I said dramatically. “This is earth moving.”

Just then the grooms, who had been seated in pews on either side of the aisle, rose simultaneosly to take their vows.

As they stood, we had a small earthquake.

Guests exchanged glances and grave nods.

That was what it took. My daughter crossed over into camp nonplussed.

My cousin

March 24, 2012

While I was out on St. Patrick’s Day I apparently made to sell one of the Beatles on my cousin.

Both he and she are recently divorced and seeing other people, but I didn’t let that deter me. They’re both such great catches I had to meddle. They’re single, good-looking, educated, successful and fun.

Here’s my favorite story about my cousin.

A couple of summers ago my brood went to Maine with my mother- and sister-in-law to sprinkle my father-in-law’s ashes.

While we were there, my mother-in-law got and accepted an offer on her New York home. She and my husband hurried back to deal with things.

The kids and I took advantage of the available few days for an impromptu trip to Harvard, where my son intended to apply.

The first day we spent at Harvard.

We set out to spend the second day touring Boston, but nothing went right. Right off the bat we got lost on the subway between the Sam Adams brewery tour and the city.

Our spirits were still high, though. We saw several people on the subway we thought were people we knew from home. We started joking that everybody’s twin was in Boston. It became a game.

By the time we found an ATM in the city, it told me my card was no good. It was early evening before we had cash in hand and had found the tour business.

We managed to get on one of those narrated trams you can get on and off of all day. It was so late we were told we would have time only to get on and stay on.

The last stop before it looped back was Harvard, so that was handy.

The guide/driver was hilarious but clearly rushing. If no one was waiting at a stop, we went right on by, hearing landmarks’ stories but seeing them as a blur.

But in front of the site of the Boston Massacre, some tourists detained us. They had an issue with their tickets the driver tried to resolve. It was the first real stop we made.

My son said, “I see another twin! Doesn’t that look like aunt Vicki? And ohmygoodness! The guy with her looks just like her husband.”

The couple had stopped to do something to their stroller right under our open side of the tram.

The resemblance was amazing. I called out their names.

Here’s how amazing the resemblance was: They called our names back to us.

Click here for photo