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When What You Say Is Not What You Mean

So here’s a fun surprise. My story “The Trouble with Words,” featured in the latest collection from Chicken Soup for the Soul Too Funny! is featured on today’s Chicken Soup podcast.

The title of the podcast is When What You Say Is Not What You Mean. Amy Newmark shares a retelling of my mortifying Netflix and Chill debacle around the 4:40 mark.

You can listen to it on the link below or you find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

https://playlist.megaphone.fm?e=ADL3607376699

All Write

Northwest Passages Book Club Event

Please join author Mark Cronk Farrell and me, Wednesday, April 13, for a discussion of her latest book, “Close-Up on War.” It’s the amazing story of Catherine Leroy, who documented the war in Vietnam through compelling photos.

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What Better Way to Say I Love You?

My publisher tweeted this sweet blurb.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Be inspired by the romantic love stories of America’s greatest generation in ‘War Bonds’ by @CindyHval.

🛒Order -> https://t.co/CKQZunJl8N
#ww2#historyhttps://t.co/C04PN4TnTM

All Write, Columns

The Final Reunion

Military spouses are experts at saying goodbye. Separation is a fact of life, and no one knew this better than the men and women featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

During World War II, these couples’ farewells were fraught with fear. There would be no emails. No texts. No FaceTime with the family. Letters and scant phone calls or occasional telegrams had to suffice.

But, oh, the reunions! Most of the 36 couples profiled in “War Bonds,” vividly remembered and described the moment they saw their spouses when they finally came home.

In the past six weeks, three of those brides experienced their final reunions with their husbands. This time they won’t have to say goodbye again.

Melba Jeanne Barton died Nov. 30. She and Don were married 67 years before he died in 2013. That eight-year separation marks the longest time they’d spent apart.

She’d met Don at a Grange dance two months after he’d returned from flying B-29s in the Pacific theater. He’d endured a horrific loss when the plane he piloted was hit in battle, and his young navigator was killed. Decades after the experience his eyes still filled with tears when he spoke of it.

“He was a nice kid – a real nice kid,” he’d said.

You might think Melba Jeanne would be immediately smitten by the dashing pilot. After all, he shared her Christian faith, and he was a great dancer. But Don was a farmer, and Melba Jeanne swore she’d never marry a farmer.

“Feeding chickens and milking cows – none of that stuff appealed to me,” she said.

But Don’s patient persistence and promises that she’d never have to do farm chores won her hand and her heart.

They raised three daughters on their family farm. And Melba Jeanne discovered the best benefit to being a farmer’s wife.

“On the farm, your husband is never far away. We’ve always done everything together,” she’d said.

Bonnie Shaw died on Dec. 5. She met her husband, Harvey at Central Valley High School when he was home on leave and visiting his siblings.

Despite his uniform, Harvey was just a boy himself. “I got stupid and quit school right in the middle of my sophomore year,” he recalled. “I just didn’t think. A few months later, I was in the Navy.”

He said goodbye to his family and set sail on the USS Kwajalein, but Bonnie didn’t forget about him. He returned home in 1946, and when Bonnie and her boyfriend broke up, Harvey wasted no time.

“When we finally got together, we just really fell in love,” she recalled.

And just like sailing the Pacific, their courtship wasn’t without bumps. Bonnie was a devout Catholic and Harvey was not. Unbeknownst to her, he began taking instruction at St. John Vianney, and they wed there in August 1950.

They spent 64 years together. Harvey died in 2014, not long before “War Bonds” was published.

When I’d called Bonnie shortly before his death she said. “He’s not doing very well, but he asks me to read him your column, and every time I do, he smiles.”

We both cried a bit then.

Bonnie gave Harvey nightly back rubs and the last words they whispered before falling asleep were “I love you.”

“Harvey is my heart,” she said.

Bonnie and Harvey Shaw, 2014

Lastly, Betty Ratzman died Dec. 26.

To know Betty was to love her. A prolific writer and avid letter-writer, Betty’s fierce intelligence and sharp wit delighted all who knew her. I treasure the letters I received from her.

Bett Ratzman with Cindy Hval at a taping of “Spokane Talks,” 2016.

In fact, she won her husband’s heart through the mail.

They’d met on a blind date in 1943, and when Dean Ratzman shipped out with the Navy, she told him not to get his hopes up.

He ignored her warning and treasured both her photo and the letters she wrote to him while he was at sea.

“You can find so much more about someone in letters,” he’d said.

They married in 1946 and spent 73 years together until Dean died in 2019.

Fit and active, the couple attended many “War Bonds” events, gladly meeting folks who marveled at their lasting love.

The last time I spoke with Betty shortly after Dean’s death, she wanted to know all about my sons and my cats. Then her quavery voice broke a bit.

“Oh, I miss Dean. I miss him so much,” she said.

Betty Ratzman, Cindy Hval, Dean Ratzman at a “War Bonds” event, 2015.

I miss Betty, and Bonnie and Melba Jeanne.

The “War Bonds” brides are at the heart of what made our country great. They endured separations and rationing. They tackled nontraditional jobs and learned new skills, to keep our country going during the war. They gave their husbands something to fight for and a reason to come home.

While I celebrate each couple’s heavenly reunion, I can’t help but think our world is diminished by their absence. I know my little corner of it is.

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Turning Tables

It’s always a bit surreal to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer, but I had fun chatting with Hara Allison on her podcast “See Beneath Your Beautiful.”

See Beneath Your Beautiful podcast is raw and intimate, sometimes funny and always entertaining. With new episodes every Saturday, Hara explores our loves, fears and hopes with a delicious combination of depth and lightness.

We chatteed about writing, parenting, grandparenting and lots of stuff in between.

You can click here https://bit.ly/3okAtTe to listen to the episode, or find it on any podcast streaming service.

*Disclaimer* I utter the 3 forbidden “p” words!

All Write, Columns, War Bonds

Diminished by their loss, bolstered by their legacy

On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.

Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.

The author at James Loer’s funeral, November 2020.

Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”

Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.

He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.

During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.

At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.

And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.

Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.

Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.

In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.

“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”

David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.

The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.

Zelma Garinger with the author, 2015

After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.

Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.

Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.

We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”

Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.

The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.

I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.

“Life’s work well done.”

All Write, Columns

Framing your story

Meme makers had lots of fun with 2020.

To be clear, there is nothing funny about a global pandemic, murder hornets and horrific wildfires, but honestly, it seemed the year was one disaster after another. The great thing about humans is our ability to use humor to diffuse our angst.

Take this meme for example: “2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and five years in April.”

Or this one: “If 2020 was a math problem: If you’re going down a river at two m.p.h. and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?”

Everyone is hoping 2021 will be better (I refuse to ask how it could be worse), and signs are promising. The vaccine is rolling out. The election is over. And most of us never saw a single murder hornet.

Someday, we’ll be on the other side of COVID-19, and I wonder what stories we will tell our children and grandchildren about our experience.

Maybe something like this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks. Stores ran out of toilet paper and flour. Schools closed, and most of us learned to work from home.”

It’s a grim narrative, fit for a grim disease, but it’s not the whole story. In 2020, babies were born, businesses launched, books written, bread baked and outdoor treks enjoyed.

For me, one of the best things about the year has been writing the Pandemic Project series for this newspaper.

The idea started simply. A reader wrote, sending pictures of a quilt she’d finally had time to refurbish and she asked, “I wonder what projects others are tackling during this time?”

My editor forwarded me the note.

“Do you think this could be a series?” she asked.

So, I wrote a call out for stories, and the responses flooded my inbox. People eagerly shared how they’ve been using their unexpected down time.

From small needlework projects, to elegant patios and decks. From quilts, to chicken coops. From flower gardens, to greenhouses, to cookbooks, people proved that staying home didn’t stifle creativity. In fact, it unleashed it.

I think the reason these stories struck such a chord is that they stand in stark contrast against the daily roster of things we can’t do.

We can’t go to concerts.

We can’t go to movies.

We can’t visit our parents in retirement homes.

The ever-changing rules and information often results in fear, an unexpected side effect of the virus. Fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s hardwired into humans and warns us of impending danger. It can keep us safe, but it can also cripple us.

I’ve seen fear-induced rants turn to rage on social media. For example: anger at those who balk at the mask mandate, and anger at those who comply with it. The flip side of the same coin.

It reminds me of what I told my sons about anger when they were small.

“It’s OK to feel mad. Everyone gets mad sometimes. It’s what you do with your angry feelings that matters.”

The same thing applies to fear.

That’s why I enjoy writing the Pandemic Project series so much. Every week I get to talk with people who’ve channeled their worry, their fear, their sadness, into creating something new, or trying something they didn’t have time to pursue until a pandemic slowed their pace.

Perhaps one day I’ll tell my grandchildren this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks.

But every week we had family dinner, and I fed your uncles the meals they loved when they were little. We watched movies, played cards and made memories.

I couldn’t visit great-grandma Shirley, but we waved at each other from windows while we talked on the phone.

Papa went to work every day, so people could buy the tools they needed to build and fix things, and I wrote stories about the wonderful things people did with their time at home.

It was scary, but in the quiet and slowness of a careful world, we finally had time to appreciate the small things – things that in the busy, noisy times, seemed to slip through our fingers.”

So much of a story is in how it’s framed. Beautiful things shine all the brighter against the darkest backgrounds. Every breath offers an opportunity to add to our story. What will you add to yours?

All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

All Write, Columns

Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Footlocker Found

Oh, the stories it could tell.

The battered standard-issue World War II footlocker was covered in dust, but a flash of bright red paint caught Rhonda Earley’s eye. She brushed off the grime and read, “Lt. Col. Nick Gaynos, U.S. Air Force. If lost notify the Air Anj. General.”

A few weeks ago, Earley had been helping a friend clean out her deceased parents’ home and garage in Santa Rosa, California. They’d unearthed the battered footlocker in the garage. It was empty, but the word “ivory” had been scrawled in a corner.

“My friend had no idea where the chest had come from,” Earley said. “I took photos to help her sell some of the stuff.”

And there was a lot of stuff, but the footlocker nagged at Earley.

“I decided to do some research to see what I could find out,” she said.

It was Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day.

Soon a message from Earley appeared in my inbox from my website contact form.

“I have a chest that I believe may belong to Lt. Nick Gaynos whom you wrote about in your book. I’d love to find a family member.”

Then my phone pinged with a Facebook message.

“This is a far reach, but I have a chest that may belong to Nick Gaynos who you wrote about.”

Earley’s Google search had led her to my book, “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation,” as well as to newspaper articles I’d written about Gaynos.

“I got chills,” she said. “It was Veteran’s Day, and it just touched my heart. I knew there was a story behind this.”

It’s a story we may never fully know. I was able to connect Earley and her friend with Gaynos’ daughter, Nikki Arana.

She confirmed the footlocker had definitely belonged to Gaynos, who’d lived in Northern California for many years, before retiring to Post Falls to be near Nikki and her children. But Arana had no idea how, or why, the footlocker had been left behind.

“I’d never seen it before,” she said. “I can’t imagine what series of events led to this.”

Arana passed on reclaiming the footlocker, and said like many WWII veterans, her father refused to discuss his battlefield memories for most of his life.

By the time I first interviewed him in 2010, he was ready to talk about what happened to him on Dec. 7, 1941.

“I’d been up until 4 a.m. at my radio station,” Gaynos had told me.

As a young private, he was in charge of air-ground communications at Hickam Air Field.

He was asleep in his bunk when the earsplitting scream of airplane engines and the rat-a-tat sound of bullets strafing the barracks woke him. Grabbing his pants and his helmet, he scrambled out the door.

As he ran down the beach toward his duty station, a Japanese Zero spattered the sand around him. Gaynos hit the ground and covered his head. He said he felt a hot breeze and heard a whistling sound inches from his ears. He looked up and saw the face of the pilot as he flew alongside him. The pilot grinned.

When Gaynos got up he discovered a large piece of shrapnel next to him. “I grabbed it,” he said. “It was still hot from the explosion.”

Nick Gaynos, 1945

One month before his death, Gaynos attended a reading of “War Bonds,” at the Coeur d’Alene Public library.

He brought that shrapnel with him.

But there was so much he didn’t say, like what it was like to gather the mutilated body of a dying friend in his arms. Perhaps there aren’t any words for something like that.

After Pearl Harbor, Gaynos attended Officer Candidate School. He made the military his career, quickly rising through the ranks, before retiring as a colonel.

As per his wishes, in 2015, Gaynos was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his beautiful bride, Tex.

“I’m going to be buried with my buddies,” he told his daughter.

It’s likely that footlocker had traveled the world with him from Japan, to Newfoundland, and points in between.

How it ended up in a dusty garage in Santa Rosa is a mystery.

If only footlockers could talk.

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.