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Sir Walter Scott’s Work Life

Sir Walter Scott, 15 months, takes his responsibilities seriously.

When you’re the junior feline in the family and in charge of entertainment, mischief and cuddles, it’s a full-time job and then some.

Knowing that Thor, the senior tabby in the clan, keeps a scornful eye on him, Walter adheres to a strict daily schedule.

His first job of the day is to assist Thor in obtaining breakfast. Around 7:30 a.m., they take their positions outside my bedroom door and commence polite requests for food. If none is forthcoming, Thor ratchets up the volume and intensity, while Walter sticks his paws under the door and grabs at the carpet. If that doesn’t work, they take turns scratching and banging on the door.

When I emerge, they both enter manic mode, careening through the house and dashing around the kitchen table. Then comes the wrestling.

I have to feed them in separate rooms, because Thor will wolf down his breakfast and finish Walter’s, too, and Walter will just sit and sadly watch his food disappear. Though he passively lets Thor take charge of food once it’s served, before it appears is another matter. As I dish up their kibble, Walter pounces on Thor, attempting epic takedowns.

Thor is a lover, not a fighter, so it’s a good thing he’s bigger and has a longer reach. While Walter sizes up the best way to pin him, Thor bats him away. Undaunted, Walter stretches up into full Godzilla mode and tackles. Thor hisses, which scares both of us.

I’m not sure why Walter decided this was his job, but Thor is not thrilled to find himself headlining these twice-daily bouts.

Walter’s next self-appointed chore of the day is sweeter – morning cuddles with me.

I return to bed after feeding them, because I mean, it’s 7:30 (or 8, but still). By this time, Derek is getting ready for work, so Walter has me all to himself. He jumps up on the bed, lays his head next to mine on my pillow and curls up in my arms. He purrs contentedly, while kneading his sharp little claws under my chin. Usually, he falls asleep and sometimes so do I.

Morning cuddles with Mom

We take turns deciding when it’s time to get out of bed. If I don’t have a deadline or an appointment, I doze until Walter brings me a toy and pats my face to let me know it’s playtime. If I get up first, I bring my coffee and my phone back to bed and check emails and messages. Walter fetches a toy because playtime is next on his agenda.

He usually brings a small white mouse with a rattle and bats it around until I throw it down the hall. Then he tears off and brings it back. Walter is a fetch champion until he gets bored.

After I’m ready to face the day, Walter follows me to work in my downstairs office. His favorite thing is stalking the printer and waiting for it to whir to life. He doesn’t grab the paper, he just likes the hunt.

He takes his editorial responsibilities seriously and prefers to plant himself in front of my screen or on my keyboard.

Obviously, this is not an ideal working situation, at least not for me. I repeatedly scoop him up and put him on the floor until he gets the hint and wanders off to nap.

Walter, the editor

I’m usually out in the afternoon, so Walter takes advantage of my absence to forage for carbs. I’ve previously written about his carb addiction, and I’m sad to report he’s had a relapse. We’ve taken to storing our bread in the microwave and securing any open chips, rolls or baked goods in a cupboard he can’t open. All was well until one afternoon when I went to the pantry for dinner ingredients and found a bag of barbecue potato chips scattered on the floor.

It seems Sam had left the shopping bags on the floor instead of putting the items on the shelves, and Walter got the munchies. He tore open the bag, sampled a few chips, but evidently didn’t care for their tang.

Bedtime brings a nightly dilemma.

My husband likes to sleep with me. So does Walter. I’m usually in bed first, so Walter saunters in and makes himself comfortable. Then Derek arrives.

“Okay, buddy, time to go,” he says.

Walter rolls over on his back and looks at Derek. Upside-down kitty is universally irresistible, but Derek is made of sterner stuff.

Upside down kitty fails to impress Dad

“Night, night, Walter, out you go,” he says.

Walter stretches, then curls up next to me.

Finally, Derek scoops him up and takes him to the living room.

Just as we turn off the light, we hear a faint scratching at the door and the saddest, most forlorn meows.

“Go to sleep, Walter,” Derek says.

And eventually he does. After all, he knows he has a full slate of responsibilities awaiting him in the morning.

All Write, Columns

From Pop Art to Bomber Boys

With so many favorite venues shuttered during the pandemic, each reopening is worthy of celebration. That’s why my husband Derek and I were thrilled to stroll through the new exhibits at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

The MAC opened its doors again in August at 25% capacity, but Saturday marked our first visit since the shutdown. Enjoying something so normal is a welcome breath of fresh air, even if those breaths are taken behind masks.

The star attraction features the work of pop art icons like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, as well as contemporary artists including Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

“Pop Power from Warhol to Koons: Masterworks from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” continues through Jan. 24.

If you’ve ever wanted to see one of Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup works in person, here’s your opportunity. This colorful chronology of pop art traces the movement from its genesis to the present day, and unlike some art collections, this one offers fun for the younger set, too.

“Mickey! It’s Mickey!” yelled a girl when she discovered prints of the famous mouse.

Derek and I aren’t big fans of pop art, and some of the contemporary creations left us puzzled, which is part of gallery fun. However, he did find something he’d like to hang at home – “Fiesta Pig” by Andy Warhol.

The screen-print pig with his nose in a bowl of food looks like he’s enjoying the aftermath of a great disco party. Speaking of swine, Derek was also taken with Jeff Koons’ portrait of himself with a pig. The work of art is on a plate.

Thankfully, our budget doesn’t stretch to famous pieces of pop art.

Our budget does include an occasional Spokane Symphony concert. “Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony” opened this weekend and continues through Jan. 10.

The exhibit traces the evolution of the symphony, which is celebrating its 75th year.

The Conductors Wall of Fame follows the organization’s sometimes tumultuous relationships with its conductors. Since we haven’t been able to see them in person this year, it was wonderful to see photos of the current symphony members.

But the exhibit that caused us to linger longest was “Bomber Boys: Portraits from the Front,” which continues through May 23.

Bomber Boys at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

The exhibit features photographs of the combat, crew and camp life of the 445th Bomb Squadron of the 12th Army Air Corps, which was based in Washington and stationed on Corsica and in Italy. The images, ephemera and a diary were discovered in the hayloft of a horse barn in 1996, by two daughters of the tail gunner who’d stashed them there.

It’s a fascinating walk through the daily life of a 21-year-old soldier who would eventually fly 59 missions over Europe.

Yet the story we found even more compelling was that of an Idaho boy who was shot down over Yugoslavia and spent nine days behind enemy lines. He documented his harrowing adventure and the story is told in his own words.

The exhibit also features a replica of what a typical airman’s bunk area looked like during the war. Be sure to pick up a photo card of a soldier and see if you can discover his name and rank while you tour the exhibit.

If you haven’t ventured out to the museum yet, you can now do so safely. Masks are required and with the venue still at 25% capacity, social distancing is easy to maintain. In addition, the galleries are cleaned several times a day. Also new: You must purchase tickets online in advance.

In light of the pandemic and election-induced turmoil around us, it’s important to support valuable quiet sanctuaries like the MAC.

Enjoying the vibrancy of pop art, celebrating 75 years of the Spokane Symphony, and honoring those who sacrificed much for our nation during World War II all offer timely much-needed reminders about the creativity and resiliency of the human spirit.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit northwestmuseum.org.

Columns

Bleak bad times can reveal sparkling gems of goodness

I wish whoever keeps asking “what next?” about 2020 would stop it.

Last week the “what next” was thick, choking, hazardous smoke. Each morning, I checked the Spokane air quality before getting out of bed. As the smoke cleared ever so slowly, I’d grimly brush the dusting of ash from my car before heading out.

How bad was it? Well, I actually had to work out at the gym for the first time since it re-opened post-shutdown. Hazardous air is not conducive to long strolls through the neighborhood.

But Saturday morning I woke up to find my husband had opened our living room and kitchen windows. Rain and cooler temperatures cleared the sooty skies. I’ve never before been so giddy about being “moderate,” and cheered as the air quality neared “good.”

Standing on the deck I gulped in the fresh air with my morning coffee and wondered why it so often takes the bad to make us appreciate the good.

This year has certainly given us plenty of opportunities.

During the long weeks of shutdown when just about every place that makes life enjoyable was shuttered, we had to discover new ways to find joy.

Instead of the warm fellowship of Sunday morning church, we cuddled on the couch in our pajamas and streamed the service on Facebook.

In lieu of romantic dinners at upscale bistros, date night morphed into driving to our favorite spot together to pick up food to go.

Weekly meals with our adult sons became regular Sunday Suppers complete with dessert, as we drew our family closer during this worrisome time.

As things slowly opened up, the Sunday Supper tradition became a fixture, and I love having a designated day to spend with my sons.

We haven’t attended in-person church yet, because seating is limited, and we are well aware that for many older folks, Sunday service is as crucial to their emotional and mental health as it is to their spiritual life. We’ll join them when we can all attend.

Date night is on again, though we usually pick a spot that offers outdoor dining. We enjoy eating al fresco in the summer anyway, and it feels amazing to be eating at a venue, instead of taking home Styrofoam boxes.

Yes, sometimes it takes the bad to help us appreciate the good.

That thought sits with me today as we celebrate our youngest son’s 21st birthday. There’s nothing bad about Sam, but his entrance to the world proved incredibly frightening.

On a golden Sept. 24, our grand finale arrived weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders, and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Having given birth to his three older brothers without complication, I assumed we’d be taking our new arrival home the next day. Instead, it was three long weeks.

Within hours of his birth we were told Sam had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. A hole in his diaphragm hadn’t closed early in gestation. As a result, his internal organs pushed into his chest cavity, squashing his developing lungs. Our newborn was given a 50% chance of survival.

He was airlifted from Holy Family to Sacred Heart and placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to his bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

When he was 3 days old, he underwent surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm. And then we watched and we waited, struggling to care for our sons at home, dealing with the unbearable ache of leaving Sam in the hospital night after night.

But at 21 days, he finally came home, healthy and whole in every way, with a pretty impressive scar on his midsection.

Twenty-one years later, he’s our last fledgling in the nest, and having already earned his undergraduate degree, this week he started the quest for his master’s.

He’s filled our home with so much joy; it’s hard to comprehend how close we came to losing him. Those horrible days when his life hung in the balance have made me forever grateful for his presence in our family, and maybe a bit more prone to appreciate the sparkling gems of goodness the bleakness of bad times can reveal.

Sam and Cindy Hval, 2019

Columns

Seeing Mom

If I’d known I wouldn’t see her again for six months, I’d have given her an extra hug.

When I left my mom’s assisted living apartment on Feb. 29, I assumed I’d see her when I returned from visiting my grandsons. COVID-19 proved that assumption wrong.

Phone calls took the place of weekly visits, and instead of loving celebrations on her birthday and Mother’s Day, we stood in the parking lot below her second-floor window and held up signs that her failing eyes could barely see.

Mom has Alzheimer’s, so phone calls are often challenging. She still knows all of us, but her memories of the distant past are much sharper than say, remembering what she had for lunch. Or remembering why no one has come to visit her.

“My mom used to send me to my room when I was bad. Have I been bad?” she asked.

So, I remind her of the pandemic and how her facility is trying to keep everyone healthy, and she says, “Oh, yes. I saw that on the news.”

The next time I called she said, “I tried to go to the dining room for lunch today, but I got caught at the elevator and sent back to my room. I finally made some friends here, and I’m worried they’ve all forgotten me.”

She doesn’t have much of an appetite, and eating all her meals alone in her room, hasn’t improved it. Recently, I was on the phone with her when her dinner was delivered, so I asked her to tell me what room service had provided. She obligingly took the lid off her plate.

“0h, for the love of Pete, not again! It’s macaroni and cheese with what looks like birthday sprinkles on it!”

I tried to convince her it was some kind of vegetable garnish, but she wouldn’t buy it.

“It’s birthday sprinkles,” she insisted.

Some days she’s in better spirits than others. One morning she told me she was up and dressed, had breakfast, made her bed and even curled her hair.

“Of course, I have two curlers in the front which I’ll probably forget to take out like I usually do,” she said. “Also, I’m all out of hard candy. I can’t figure out who keeps eating it all!”

I didn’t feel the need to remind her she hasn’t had any visitors since the first of March.

Finally, on Aug. 26, I got to have an outdoor socially distant visit with her. She scooted her walker out the facility’s front door, and even though her face mask was in place, I could tell she was smiling.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

So we got the crying out of the way first thing.

Mom, August 2020.

She reached out for a hug, and I had to back away.

“We can’t hug yet,” I told her.

What a thing to tell a mother, especially my mother.

Mom is a hugger and a kisser. She grew up longing for physical affection that she didn’t receive from her mother, so when she had children and grandchildren, she lavished them with all the affection she’d craved.

Still, I’m so thankful to be able to sit across from her and visit. Being out of her room and in the fresh summer air is so good for her, but hugs are healing, too.

Countless studies have shown the importance of physical touch. It reduces stress, boosts the immune system, and calms the heart rate and blood pressure.

For now, I’m focused on making our outdoor visits as enjoyable as possible. Last week, I wore a mask that matched my navy and white polka dot blouse. I knew Mom would get a kick out of it. She was quite the fashion plate in her day.

When I snapped a photo of her, she insisted I take a selfie of my matching ensemble.

“I taught her that,” she told everyone who passed by.

Matchy, matchy made Mom happy!

In-person visits do both our hearts good. The results of social isolation and touch deprivation can be devastating, especially for elderly parents. And honestly? It’s not great for their kids, either.

This pandemic has taught me not to take anything for granted – the professional handshake at the outset of business meetings, the quick hugs from friends, a mother’s warm embrace. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to comply with mandated health protocols.

I really want to hug my mom again.

Columns

Finding truth in movies about boys

A little boy in World War II-ravaged Germany whose invisible friend is Adolph Hitler.

A young man with Down syndrome yearns to become a professional wrestler like his idol, the Salt Water Redneck.

And a boy’s battle with addiction baffles his doting father.

Recently, we watched three movies in one week. An unexpected COVID-19 gift is ample time to catch up on films we’d intended to see in the theater.

I had no idea that “Jojo Rabbit,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and “Beautiful Boy” would share a common theme. Each film features boys surviving the best way they can in an often cruel and unforgiving world.

When our youngest son raved about “Jojo Rabbit,” I was skeptical.

“It’s really funny,” Sam insisted.

I didn’t think Hitler as an invisible friend would offer much comedic gold. I was wrong.

The movie is equal parts hilarious and heart-rending, because no matter how many laughs you can mine from a wacky Adolph (“I gotta go, we’re having unicorn for dinner at my place tonight!”) the reality is Jojo and his mother are struggling to survive.

The 10-year-old is enamored with Nazi ideals, and pledges his life to the cause. Then he finds out his mother is hiding Elsa, a Jewish girl, in their attic. It’s a terrible secret to keep, but Jojo discovers as Elsa says, “We’re (Jews) like you, but human.”

He’s just a child, so when his mother tells him that love is more powerful than warped ideologies and is the strongest thing in the world, he replies, “I think you’ll find that metal is the strongest thing on Earth, followed by dynamite and then muscles.”

Slowly, Jojo’s belief in Nazism crumbles as the cause disintegrates in the rubble of bombed-out cities.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” refers to the name the main character chooses to call himself as he makes his way to a North Carolina wrestling school run by his favorite professional wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck.

The actor Zack Gottsagen and the character (Zak) he plays have Down syndrome. Zak has been placed in a nursing home after the death of his mother, even though he says, “I am young. And I am not old.”

He makes his escape, determined to meet his wrestling hero, and encounters a grieving crab fisherman along the way, striking up an unlikely friendship.

“Maybe we could be friends and buddies … bro dogs … and chill. Have a good time!” Zak says.

When his caregiver from the retirement home catches up to him, she has some decisions to make about the nature of family, and what really makes life worth living.

Far more sobering (literally) “Beautiful Boy” traces the havoc addiction creates in family. Based on the memoirs “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction,” by David Sheff, and “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines,” by Nic Sheff, it’s a brutally honest look at how a kid who seemingly had everything loses it all to addiction.

“I need to find a way to fill this black hole in me,” Nic says.

His divorced parents send him to treatment program after treatment program, but sobriety is fleeting.

“There are moments that I look at him, this kid that I raised, who I thought I knew inside and out, and I wonder who he is,” says the grieving father, played by Steve Carell.

He holds on to the memory of the beautiful boy his broken son used to be.

“If you could take all the words in the language, it still wouldn’t describe how much I love you. And if you could gather all those words together, it still wouldn’t describe what I feel for you. What I feel for you is everything. I love you more than everything,” he tells Nic.

As the mother of four sons, movies about boyhood tug at my tender heart.

This world is often hard on little boys and raising them into men isn’t a task for the weak-willed. So many bumps along the way, so many times my husband and I looked at each other and wondered what the heck are we doing?

Let’s just say there are myriad parenting issues that aren’t covered in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

A boy survives the cruelty and carnage of the Nazi regime and discovers a well of compassion and empathy for the “other” among us.

A young man meets his wrestling idol and creates a new family along the way.

And a broken boy survives years of addiction, while he and his father learn to make peace with their journeys.

Only one of these stories is true.

But the themes of resilience, compassion and courage mirror my own experience in raising sons.

Beautiful boys, every single one.

                                                                  Hval Boys circa 2008
Columns

Back-to-school one way or another

Stacks of notebook paper, piles of pencils, boxes of crayons jumbled with packages of highlighters and erasers spilling out across our bed; it used to feel like Christmas in September.

With four kids, shopping for school supplies was no small undertaking. We lived on one income until our youngest entered kindergarten, and our budget was chronically tight. But I loved school, and I wanted our boys to love it, too, so when it came to back-to-school shopping I splurged.

Then the day before school started, I’d invite the boys, one at a time, to come into my bedroom and fill their new backpacks. We’d go over the grade-level list of supplies provided by the school, and carefully organize each backpack. That was usually the last time my kids’ school stuff was well-organized, so I liked to make the most of it.

We’d chat about classes, teachers and friends. I got to hear what they were nervous about and what they were most excited about.

Of course, by the time they reached middle school, I’d just toss pencils and notebooks in their bedrooms and prayed they’d remember to take them. Power Ranger and Super Mario backpacks had given way to serviceable black or gray items from Costco, and no one needed a Spider-Man lunchbox.

I’ve been thinking a lot about our back-to-school traditions, because for many families it’s still unclear what school will look like this year. In my neighborhood one thing is certain; the big yellow school bus won’t be rumbling down our street and squealing to a stop to pick up waiting students.

The schoolyard I pass on my daily walk will most likely retain its summertime vacancy. No shouting kids playing tag, no friendly faces rushing up to the fence to wave, and empty listless swings.

I’m worried.

I’m a mother – it’s what I do. If I’m not concerned about my kids, then I’m worried about someone else’s.

When schools shut down this spring, our street filled with kids, riding bikes, skateboarding and bouncing basketballs.

“Aren’t they supposed to be doing distance learning, or something?” I asked my husband.

He shrugged.

As someone who once regularly battled her kids about too much screen time, it seems so surreal that screen time is now school time.

I’m sure many families will handle virtual learning well, but I’m worried about the ones who won’t.

Honestly? I’m not sure I would have been able to swing it with my pack of wild boys.

When our youngest son had a rough day at school, he’d say, “Why can’t I be home-schooled?”

“Because you weren’t blessed with a saint for a mother,” I’d reply.

This year, he finally got his wish. Sam will have all online classes. Of course, he’s a 20-year-old graduate student at EWU, but hey, he’s finally home-schooled.

In Ohio where my son and his family live, the district decided to do 100% remote learning. His 7-year-old stepdaughter is devastated. She’s a sociable kid, and was so excited to go back and see her friends, but her mom is glad she won’t have to wear a mask all day or bring home germs to her twin brothers.

Many of my teacher friends are eager to get back into their classrooms, while others are fearful of worsening the pandemic by opening schools too early.

There are no easy answers, just adults working together, trying to make the wisest decisions for our children.

This I know: Kids are resilient. Learning doesn’t happen on exact calendar days. Most younger students absorb new routines quickly and soak up knowledge in myriad ways.

I wonder what stories they’ll recount to their children and grandchildren about The Year We All Stayed Home.

Only time will tell what was lost and what was gained.

For now, when I pass that empty schoolyard I pray for the children who used to swarm the playground. I pray they are safe, healthy and learning, and that someday soon the echoes of their happy shouts will be replaced by the real thing.

Columns

Silver linings in cloudy COVID-19 world

My doorknobs and light switches have never been cleaner.

The banister absolutely gleams.

Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m working hard at counting my blessings, and having much-touched areas of our home that rarely got a wipe-down, sparkling is one of them.

With no end in sight to restrictions and shutdowns, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by daily helpings of bad news.

I still haven’t been able to visit my mother. If I’d known when I saw her in February how many months would pass before I could see her again, I would have moved her spring and summer clothes to the front of her closet, so she could easily find them.

“Getting dressed every day is hard when I can’t go anywhere,” she said. “But I’m not staying in my bathrobe.”

And I’d looked forward to a quick break out of town when Derek had to go to the Tri-Cities on business. Last summer, I lounged by the pool when he worked, and we visited wineries and enjoyed a river cruise when he was done.

When I called the hotel to make the reservation, I was told the hotel pool and all its restaurants were closed.

I stayed home while Derek traveled to COVID Central and back.

Such small complaints when compared to those who’ve been sick, or lost jobs, or loved ones because of the virus.

So, I’m committed to counting my blessings, even though a recent grocery store visit vexed me.

How the heck do you open those darn plastic produce bags without licking your finger first? I spent most of my shopping trip trying to open them. I even rubbed them between my hands, but all I got was wrinkly bags.

When I posted my lament on social media, a friend suggested swiping my finger across damp lettuce or celery.

I tried it on my next shopping trip. Success! It worked like a charm, but I’m sure the produce clerks wondered why I was fondling the lettuces without buying any. Also, this is why you should always, always, wash your produce at home.

On the same outing my irreverent sense of humor caused me some embarrassment when a woman across the aisle from me sneezed. At home, I’ve taken to saying “Corona” instead of “Bless you,” when someone sneezes. Luckily, my mask muffled my response, and hopefully her mask muffled her sneeze.

Also, I learned the hard way that folks can get somewhat panicky when you say you’re not going somewhere because you feel a bit “corona-y.”

One of the biggest complaints about COVID-19 restrictions is folks feeling stuck or trapped at home. This is where introverts like me have it made. I love being at home – especially when I have it all to myself. Our son has been back at work for the past month, and Derek’s business is essential, so now at least a couple of days a week I have stretches of solitude.

When I’m done with work, I take my daily walk, and then relax in our backyard gazebo. Then I harvest zucchini, radishes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries from our garden. Soon there’ll be tomatoes, green beans, beets and carrots.

Our garden goodies fill our plates every Sunday when our three sons join us for supper – and since corona we’ve revived our family game night tradition.

Another coronavirus blessing is library curbside pick up.

I’ve always selected my books online and then picked them up at the library, but now I don’t even have to leave my car! It’s like a literary drive-thru.

While I am doing more in-person interviews for work, I still do a lot more phone interviews than before. The time saved on driving is a boon.

In fact, I actually picked up a new hobby – the daily crossword. My mom always did the newspaper puzzles and had books of crosswords, but I never felt like I had the time.

Now, I take the puzzle page with me out to the gazebo every afternoon. No New York Times in ink for me – just the Daily Commuter. It’s easy enough to finish quickly, which makes me feel accomplished and smart.

The daily puzzle reawakened my love for pencils. I hadn’t used a pencil since I was in college, and it’s such a delight to rediscover the joy of good old No. 2’s. Even better, the Chic and Shab shop on North Monroe has a whole line of pencils with edgy sayings etched on them.

The beautiful thing about pencils is that anything can be erased – mistakes, misspelled words, incorrect answers.

It’s really too bad 2020 wasn’t written in pencil.

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All Write, War Bonds

Last ‘War Bonds’-featured couple die 18 days apart

Mitson wedding photo low res

He thought she was a skinny kid, and he didn’t want to be seen with her.

She thought he was “just another boy.”

But first impressions aren’t always lasting. On July 11, Charlie and Mable Mitson would have celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary – and for all we know they did, just not here on this earth.

Mable died on June 3 and Charlie followed 18 days later on June 21. Finally, Mable got to go somewhere new before her husband. After all, she’d followed him through 22 moves, during his many years of military service.

I first met the Mitsons in 2010 when I featured them in my “Love Story” series for The Spokesman Review. I followed up with them a few years later, when I included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

Visiting them in their South Hill home was always a delight. They were both quick with a quip, finishing each other’s stories, and teasing each other when one remembered something differently.

Charlie sometimes deferred to her because he said, “she’s older than me.”

Mable was born in July 1924, Charlie in September.

They met at church in Coeur d’ Alene, and when those first impressions wore off, they quickly became a couple. They married when they were both just 17.

Charlie had landed a $40 per week job at the newly opened Farragut Naval Station and said, “I decided I could afford to get married.”

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, leaving his wife and infant son behind.

Charlie served with the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team. His World War II service included a grueling Italian ground fight, the invasion of Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the occupation of Berlin at war’s end.

Mable said, “I remember him telling me, ‘You just had to go over the dead and dying and keep moving.’”

Still, Charlie counted himself lucky. His only injury came from a piece of shrapnel that struck his leg. He shrugged. “I didn’t even know I was hit, ’til someone said, ‘You’re bleeding!’ They put a bandage on it, and I just kept going.”

He mustered out in 1945, but he didn’t stay out long. In 1949, he was accepted into the Air Force Aviation Cadet program and launched a 30-year career as a military fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions as an F-86 pilot during the Korean War, and 100 combat missions over North Vietnam as an F-105 pilot, before retiring as a colonel at 54.

And Mable?

“I followed him everywhere,” she said.

She did more than just follow. She was a consummate hostess, often entertaining military personnel all over the globe. And she was the ever-present centerpiece of their family, which grew to include five children.

Their retirement years were just as busy as their military years, as they deeply invested in their church, their grandchildren and in numerous volunteer activities.

Charlie credited their abiding friendship as the key to their loving marriage.

“Make sure you have a good solid friendship before you get married,” he’d advised.

Mable said having a positive attitude helped her endure their many wartime separations.

“Wherever he was I always knew he was coming home,” she said.

So, I’ve no doubt she was expecting Charlie to arrive at any moment during the 18 days that passed between their deaths.

In “War Bonds” Mable recalled how they were separated for a year and a half during World War ll. She went to meet him at the train station, wondering how the war had changed him, wondering if she’d recognize him.

“Did you spot him among all those soldiers?” I’d asked.

Her face lit up.

“I did. Oh, I did!”

And Charlie never forgot that first glimpse of her after their long separation.

Though the station must have been bustling with travelers, he said, “I saw her standing on the staircase. As I remember it, she was the only one there.”

I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what Charlie experienced on June 21 when once again he was reunited with his bride.

CHARLIE AND MABEL
Mabel and Charlie Mitson Nov. 16, 2010. JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com

Order your copy of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation here. 

 

 

 

Columns

Twin grandsons make heart grow two sizes

2,142 miles. That’s the driving distance between Spokane and Columbus, Ohio. Even if you fly, that’s a heck of a long way, especially now.

But our recent pre-pandemic-planned trip was worth every mile and occasional discomfort, to celebrate our youngest son’s graduation, and to see our twin grandsons.

Sam recently earned his BA in English with a focus on Literary Studies from Eastern Washington University. He’s 20, graduated cum laude, debt-free, and is already enrolled in the Masters program at the university.

We wanted to celebrate his amazing accomplishment in a meaningful way – and for him nothing could be more meaningful than seeing his brother, Alex, and meeting his identical twin nephews.

Sam hasn’t seen Alex in five years, and Derek’s 76-year-old mom has been longing to meet her first great-grandchildren. So even when the airline changed our flights to include a five-hour layover at SeaTac on the way over and a four-hour layover on the way back, we were just relieved our flights weren’t canceled.

Apparently, air travel is picking up. SeaTac seemed busier than ever and everyone – and I do mean everyone – wore masks and endeavored to maintain social distancing. Even better, Alaska Airlines is continuing to limit seating. Every middle seat was empty on our flights to and from Columbus.

We arrived in Ohio, with just enough light to find our Airbnb house a few blocks away from our son’s place. However, it was dark by the time Derek and I finished our grocery store run, and we got hopelessly lost on our way back. Our GPS was no help. Thankfully, Alex and Brooke are night owls and were able to talk us in by phone.

And then? Four blissful, baby-filled days with The World’s Most Beautiful Boys. At just shy of seven-months, Adam and Nick had already changed so much since our last visit.

Of course, great-grandma Nita and Uncle Sam promptly fell in love with the perpetually grinning, good-natured boys.

“You know, I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids,” Sam said. “But I love those babies. I want some of my own.”

Sam and twins

Sam meets Nick and Adam

That right there was worth the price of the trip, though I did ask him to wait a few years, and maybe not move any place as far away as Ohio.

He and Alex spent hours together, making up for lost time, making new memories, making every minute together count.

They went to the Book Loft in the German Village in Columbus, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. It’s so big; they lost Grandma Nita in the two- story maze of book-filled nooks and crannies.

And then while the guys lunched at the Thurman Cafe, featured on the television shows “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and “Man vs. Food,” we girls bonded over babies.

And oh, those babies! I was filming great-grandma tickling Adam’s bare feet, when he turned and saw me. Recognition, excitement and love beamed from his face as he reached for me.

I thought when I became a mother I couldn’t love anything more fiercely than my sons. And then my grandsons arrived, and my heart grew at least two sizes that day.

Sam, Adam, Nana, Nick

Spending Father’s Day watching my son dote on his sons, filled me with indescribable joy. I never doubted Alex would be a wonderful dad; after all, he had the best role model.

Speaking of Derek, true to tradition, every time a twin nodded off in his arms, Papa fell asleep, too.

“I can’t help it,” he said. “Babies make me sleepy.”

But when Adam or Nick fell asleep in my arms, I didn’t want to miss a thing.

In fact, if I could freeze one moment in time it would be this: the feel of my grandson’s head heavy on my shoulder, the rise and fall of his chest against mine.

If I could bottle one scent it would be this: the sweet smell of his head tucked beneath my chin.

If I could capture one sound to listen to repeatedly it would be this: his sleepy sighs, soft against my ear.

After 2,142 miles, and more time at SeaTac than anyone would ever want to spend, we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Twins

Adam and Nick

Columns

Cat’s in doghouse after hot, sleepless night

It’s a good thing he’s so cute.

It’s also a good thing I have the Facebook Memories app to remind me of how utterly sweet and tiny Sir Walter Scott was when we first met him last year in June.Baby Walter Love at First Sight

Love at first sight. June 11, 2019

I needed those reminders, because recently Walter (no longer tiny) was the cause of a very long sleepless night.

To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. On May 29, the temperature soared, reaching 90 degrees for the first time this year. Derek and I weren’t prepared for the sudden warmth. We don’t have central air and since we were both out all day, we didn’t turn on our dining room air conditioner until we got home. Our bedroom window unit was still out in the shed. Even with fans running, our house was hot and stuffy.

“We’re going to have to sleep with the bedroom door open,” I said.

My husband eyed Thor and Walter.

“Great,” he said. “You know we’ll have company.”

I wasn’t too worried. After our older cat Milo died, we let Thor sleep with us whenever he wanted. He’s a placid fellow, and just drapes himself at our feet and snores. Derek can outsnore both man and beast, so Thor’s nasally rumblings didn’t bother me.

Walter is a different cat – he’s all about the action. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that kittens sleep 16 to 20 hours a day, because from the time we brought him home at 8 weeks, it was clear he could catnap, but long stretches of sleep were not in his wheelhouse.

It also became clear that Walter is a fervent Mama’s boy. My son paraphrased a Bible verse to describe his devotion thusly: “Where Mama is, there Walter will be also.”

And he’s a cuddly cat. While he’s not allowed to spend the night in our room, he does curl up in bed with me every morning after breakfast. We both catch a brief bit of shuteye before embracing the day in earnest.

He also knows the nighttime drill. Each evening I get into bed to read before Derek joins me. Well, joins us, because as I mentioned, Walter is rather attached to me. He likes Derek, too, but not at bedtime. Derek’s arrival means Walter’s exit.

Our furry feline tries to circumvent his ouster by feigning death or hiding under the bed.

“Walter, it’s night-night time,” Derek would say to the prone cat.

No response.

Walter squeezes his eyes shut and won’t budge when Derek pokes him. If he doesn’t make a sudden dash under the bed, my husband picks up the tabby’s inert body, carries him from the room and deposits him on the sofa. Then it’s a sprint to see which of them will make it back to the bedroom first. Personally, I think the exercise is good for both of them.

On the hot night in question, after cranking up the fans, we let sleeping cats lie. Thor slumbered on when we turned off the light. Walter trilled questioningly.

“Go back to sleep,” I said.

So, he sunk his head into my pillow and snuggled up next to me. A few minutes later, he patted my face.

I ignored him.

He licked my eyelids.

ignored him.

He laid his whiskery chin on my nose.

I couldn’t breathe, so I nudged him off.

A slight thud and the tinkling of his bell, notified me he’d left the room.

I’d just nodded off, when I felt a soft body land at my side. Then a wet, slobbery piece of felt hit my cheek. Having taken his required catnap, Walter decided it was playtime and brought his beloved gray mouse to bed. The mouse is attached to a string, and usually I wave it around while he chases it and pounces on it.

“One a.m. is not playtime Walter,” I whispered, tossing the toy toward the door as hard as I could.

Big mistake.

Walter loves a good game of fetch. He had the mouse back in bed before I could close my eyes. I refused to throw it again, so Walter found someone else to annoy. He discovered Thor, sound asleep on Derek’s feet and launched himself toward the unsuspecting senior tabby.

Hissing, growling and mayhem ensued as Thor fled from his tormentor.

“One cat down, one to go,” Derek mumbled.

His mumble alerted Walter to his next victim. He sprang from Derek’s feet, landing with a thunk on Derek’s stomach.

“Oof! Get him off of me!” Derek roared.

And so went the rest of the long night. Sometime around 5 a.m. I noticed the house had cooled considerably, but my head was sweating due to Walter’s proximity to my pillow.

I scooped him up, put him in the hallway and shut the door.

Piteous, heartbreaking, tiny meows poured from the hallway.

I put my cat-warmed pillow over my head.

“You’re in the doghouse, Walter,” I said.

A few hours later I opened the door, and Walter came running. Weaving in and around my ankles, stretching up his paws, eager to be in my embrace.

Like I said, it’s a good thing he’s so cute. It’s also a good thing Derek has our window air conditioner ready to go. Who knows? We may see 90 degrees again someday, and this time we’ll be ready. No more cats on hot, sleeping Hvals.

Walter Scott Not a Bit Sorry

Walter the morning after. Not one bit sorry.