Columns

Still afloat on the pond of English 101

I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.

Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.

Sam’s first day of teaching English 101/First day of kindergarten.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.

He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.

That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.

At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.

Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.

Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.

Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”

When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”

And here we are.

Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.

Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

Columns

Losing Lance

As I write this, there have been 778 deaths due to COVID-19 in Spokane County residents. By the time you read this, there likely are more.

On Sept. 6, those numbers became deeply personal when a longtime family friend died of the coronavirus.

Lance Lehman and I were born the same year. We met him and his wife Jodi at church in 1992, and soon Lance joined my husband’s men’s group. Every Friday morning a small group of guys met for Bible study and prayer. Before long, those friendships grew to include their wives – most of us at-home moms with young children.

The friends you make when your children are young often become like extended family. Baby showers, birthdays, girls’ nights, guys’ outings, all that time shared weaves cords of connection.

When Lance and Jodi and their four kids moved to Colville in 2005, those connections loosened but didn’t break.

What broke were our hearts at the devastating news of his death. He was 55. He and Jodi looked forward to celebrating their 30th anniversary in November. His three grandchildren adored their “G-Pa.” The adoration was mutual.

Lance often said, “If I’d known being a G-Pa was so much fun, I would have done that first!”

Lance and Jodi Lehman, December 2019

Here’s what I remember about Lance Lehman.

I remember his years working at Costco (18) and how brave he was when he decided to go back to school and pursue a career in dental hygiene.

Playing trivia-type games with him and Jodi was hilarious because he was six years older than she, and got our ‘80s music/movies themes while poor Jodi was still grooving to the ‘90s vibe.

He ALWAYS wore shorts. Even in winter. Even though his legs were as white as snow!

I remember the camping trips, game nights, Fourth of July celebrations and countless potlucks our families shared.

Lance adored his two girls and did his best to figure out the whole hair situation.

He delighted in his two sons.

I remember his unwavering faithfulness to Derek’s men’s group and how he never missed a meeting. How after they moved to Colville he pondered coming to Spokane, just for their Friday morning gathering.

Lance loved to golf and planned and organized many outings for the guys. He was complicit in an epic prank at one of those. I was pregnant with Sam, and one of Derek’s friends pretended to get a call from his wife, saying I was trying to reach him because I was in labor. I wasn’t. But the guys enjoyed watching Derek panic, and throw his golf bag over his shoulder while scrambling to the parking lot.

I remember the very distinct, Lance-way he said my name.

can still see the beaming glow on his face when he walked his daughter, Lexi, down the aisle at her wedding.

On Friday morning amid funeral preparations, Jodi shared more memories with me.

“He loved to sing,” she said. “If he didn’t know the words, he made them up. Lance enjoyed going into the kid’s rooms in the morning to wake them up by singing ‘I Saw the Light.’ He thought it was hilarious. They did not.”

Lance loved camping, especially at Haag Cove Campground on the Columbia River near Kettle Falls. They’d recently purchased a new trailer and in July they took it up to the Cove. They had so many plans for that trailer.

They had so many plans.

His favorite food was Bonzai Burgers at Red Robin. Every time they came to Spokane, he had to have one.

His faith was vital to him, and he wanted to share it whenever he could.

“Lance’s heart was to reach the lost for Jesus,” said Jodi. “He’d offer to put his clients on his prayer list. His work became his ministry.”

She grieves for their three grandchildren, the oldest is only 4.

“I miss him on behalf of my grandbabies,” she said through tears. “They won’t remember him.”

She drew a shaking breath.

“Someday it will all make sense.”

While we wait for that day, I ask you to remember that those listed on the COVID-19 death tallies are more than sobering statistics. Each number represents an individual who left behind a grieving spouse, children, parents, siblings or friends.

To someone that number was a person like Lance, who meant everything to those who loved him.

Columns

Procrastination: it’s keeping me waiting

I would tell you how many times I started this column, but somewhere along the way, I lost count.

What no one warns you about working from home is that if you’re prone to procrastination, your house will give you ample opportunities for postponing pesky deadlines.

In more than 15 years in journalism, I’ve never missed a deadline, nor even been significantly late, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t cut it close to the wire.

Not long ago I wrote a column about anticipation, referencing the Carly Simon classic hit song “Anticipation.”

Guess what? That tune works fine if you substitute procrastination for anticipation. (You know you just tried it.)

I hummed that tune as I started a load of laundry after typing the header on this column. Since the washer is next to the freezer, I thought I might as well grab the roast I was planning to cook for dinner.

I set the frozen slab on my desk and typed my byline. Then I checked Facebook and time melted as I scrolled through a friend’s vacation photos. The roast also started melting, so I hustled it upstairs to the kitchen.

Opening a cupboard, I searched for the seasonings I’d need for the roast. Searched, because tall bottles of cooking wine, vinegars and oils had hidden the basil and oregano.

Then I eyed the cupboard with baking supplies. We’re in the middle of zucchini season, and every week I’m churning out breads, cookies and muffins. Why was the baking powder on a shelf so high I had to climb on a chair to reach it?

Obviously, the cabinets desperately needed organizing. I pulled everything out of each cupboard and wiped down the shelves, racks and lazy Susans.

Hysterical meowing broke my cleaning reverie as my cats, Thor and Walter, notified me lunchtime was past due. I filled their bowls and heard the timer on the dryer ringing. When you don’t iron, you can’t afford to let your clothes sit in the dryer.

My blinking monitor reminded me I’d barely started this column, so I sat down and wrote the first sentence. That’s when I noticed my email flag waving. After answering and categorizing a multitude of messages, I realized I’d left everything out on the kitchen counters.

Organizing puts me in an absolute Zen state of mind. The beauty of a well-stocked kitchen delights me. By the time I was done, all of the baking and cooking spices were within easy reach, and I’d rearranged the canned and box goods, too.

It was picture-perfect, so of course, I grabbed my phone and took some photos. I posted the pictures on Instagram and congratulated myself on work well done. Then I remembered my paying job. I’d only written about 50 words. Back to the basement I trudged.

As I finish this, it’s almost time to start dinner. Which has me thinking about my pots and pans. Why are the baking sheets so hard to reach? Wouldn’t the colanders and mixing bowls work better in a larger cupboard?

That’s when I started humming. Feel free to sing along.

Procrastination,

Procrastination

Is making me late

Is keeping me waiting

Columns

Hear this rebel yell

Two years.

That’s how long it’s been since we’ve enjoyed live music.

We couldn’t have known that the Aug. 24, 2019, Sammy Hagar concert at Northern Quest would mark the beginning of our live-performance desert, as a global pandemic wiped clean our event calendars.

Thursday night the first drop of musical rain fell for us as Billy Idol wowed a sold-out crowd at Northern Quest.

Sporting more leather jackets than a motorcycle club, Idol and his amazing band brought back my high school memories with a vengeance and reminded me just how much I’ve missed the joy of live music.

Black leather isn’t really my thing, but if I could rock it when I’m 65, the way Idol does, I might reconsider.

After glancing around the dancing crowd, Derek nixed that idea.

“I’m pretty sure Billy’s the only one who can squeeze his 60+ body into his ‘80s clothes and look OK.”

Cindy and Derek Hval at Billy Idol, August 2021

Actually, when Idol first broke into the music scene with Generation X, I was still in middle school wearing culottes with matching vests, handmade by my mother. So, yeah, I was definitely more One Hundred Dorks than “One Hundred Punks.”

By the time he launched his solo career, I was more than ready to give a “Rebel Yell.” Uh, as long as I kept the volume down, so my mom didn’t know I was listening to the “devil’s music.”

One afternoon I thought I was home alone and blasted “White Wedding” on MTV. Let’s just say Mom didn’t believe me when I told her the song was about every girl’s dream wedding.

“Why is he wearing more makeup than the bride?” she asked. “And why isn’t he wearing a shirt?”

Speaking of, evidently, Idol hasn’t added many shirts to his wardrobe since the 1980s. That delighted the Thursday night crowd when he showed off his still youthful abs and flexed his biceps to the accompaniment of the screams of his enthusiastic fans. Out of deference to my husband, I clapped politely and did my screaming on the inside.

His music probably doesn’t make sense to everyone. After all the lyrics to his version of Tommy James’ “Mony Mony” are still pretty incomprehensible.

“Cause you make me feel (like a pony)

So good (like a pony)

So good (like a pony)

So good (Mony Mony)”

Even so, it’s impossible not to dance a bit when that song plays on the oldies station. Yes, I’ve made peace with the fact my high school soundtrack has been relegated to the oldie channels, or worse played in supermarkets and on elevators.

By the way, Idol is a grandparent now, just like many of us who came of age during his prime.

That’s not to say his work is dated. At the concert, he sang his recently released “Bitter Taste.” Recorded during the pandemic, the song reflects on his near-fatal 1990 motorcycle accident.

“Hello, goodbye

There’s a million ways to die

Should’ve left me way back

Should’ve left me way back

By the roadside.”

The contemplative song gave way to more upbeat tunes like “Rebel Yell,” and he ended the show with “White Wedding.”

All in all, Idol’s concert was a fun return to all the things we’ve missed during the pandemic, and it sounded a hopeful note that better days are still to come.

Columns

Happiness Times Two

Absolute joy.

There’s just no other way to describe what it’s like to hold your grandsons in your arms. Though it’s only been three and a half months since our last visit, toddlers grow and change with lightning speed.

When Derek, our youngest son, Sam, and I arrived at the twins’ new home in Newark, Ohio, earlier this month, we wondered if the boys would remember us.

We didn’t wonder long. Sam captured their reactions in a photo. Nick reached for me and buried his head on my shoulder, and Adam gleefully bounded into Derek’s arms. It was so thoughtful of Alex and Brooke to have twins, so each of us gets a boy to hold. And at 20 months, they’re definitely more boys than babies.

Nick has hugs for Nana, while Adam plays with Papa.

In fact, it seems I took more videos than pictures of them this trip because they’re always on the move. One afternoon, as we explored their new town, we decided to let them stroll around the courthouse square. But, just like their father at this age, these guys prefer running to walking.

After all that exertion, we needed to cool down, so we stopped for ice cream. Holding a toddler with an ice cream cone is every bit as messy and as fun as I remembered.

The twins enjoyed exploring the Airbnb home we rented and the wooden blocks we bought were a huge hit. They spent lots of time building block towers and had fun dumping the blocks out of the bucket and putting them back in again.

Speaking of cleaning up, Nick has a passion for sweeping. Every day, he grabbed the broom and made a circuit. Then he went back for the Swiffer. And then the mop. Those wood floors gleamed by the time he was done!

In the evenings we returned to our son’s home for dinner. The house sits on almost an acre and features an in-ground pool. Plenty of room for boys to roam when they get older, but on this visit, the grown-ups cooled off in the big pool while the little ones splashed in their kiddie pool on the gated deck under their mom’s watchful eye.

The days flew by, filled with play, Popsicles and naps, followed by evenings with barbecues and lots of laughter.

I was so delighted that though the twins are busy, active boys, they both enjoy cuddling. They also adored their Uncle Sam. It seems every time he sat down, a twin would run over and climb up on his lap.

Best of all, that snuggling made for perfect story times. As I mentioned in my previous column, I took a stack of board books for the boys with me. Derek gamely packed them in his bag, so I didn’t have to wear the same outfit the entire trip.

Story time with Nana and Adam

We plan one more visit this year before winter and before the twins’ second birthday. I’m already counting down the days – and picking out the books.

Columns

To all the books I’ve loved before…

In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.

Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”

Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.

“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”

Her lifelong love of the written word endures.

“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”

Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.

“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”

Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.

“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”

She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.

Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.

She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.

“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”

Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.

When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.

“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”

All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.

“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”

As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”

My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.

“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.

He may be right.

However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.

Columns

Raising Readers

Hval boys

The photo tells the story.

“Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss opens across Alex’s lap. He beams because he’s the designated reader. Ethan clutches 6-week-old Sam. Ethan smiles because he’s the chosen baby-holder. With neither baby nor book to hold, Zach sits glumly chin in hand, pondering his new role as middle child.

As far as I can tell, it’s the earliest picture with all four of our sons together – and of course, someone is holding a book.

Lest you worry about Zach, another snapshot shows he’s finally achieved story-reader status. A toddler Sam leans against him as Zach reads, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Sam and Zach

Bookish moms tend to have bookish kids, which led to unforeseen consequences. More on that later.

Perhaps a love of reading is genetic, imprinted in our DNA. All I know is my parents were readers and my siblings are readers. As soon as we could print our names we all got library cards.

I still remember the thrilling moment when I realized I could read. I huddled in the children’s area of the South Hill Library with a picture book in my lap. Suddenly, the letters became words. I was reading! I was reading “Fun with Dick and Jane!” I haven’t been without a book nearby since.

Few things are as magical as picking up a good book and finding yourself transported to another world, another time, another life.

From the moment I knew I was expecting, I read to my unborn children. I wasn’t hoping for a baby Einstein, I just wanted them to learn the rhythm and flow of language.

Cloth books and board books filled our nursery – as indispensable as the stacks of diapers and wipes on the changing table.

Bedtime rituals always included stories, songs and prayers – each offering a different experience of the wonder of words.

As the boys grew, storytime at the Shadle and later Indian Trail libraries became a weekly outing we all eagerly anticipated. Soon my sons could sound out words, choose books by themselves, and discover favorite authors and series independently.

Even as the three oldest approached adolescence and outgrew the bedtime ritual, I’d frequently read aloud to them after dinner. When Sam discovered Patricia Polacco books and brought home “Pink and Say” from the school library, I read it to the family. The book is based on a true story of two teenage boys, one Black and one white, who fought during the Civil War. Every single one of us cried at the ending – even the teenagers.

That’s the power of reading aloud – it offers a shared experience that television and movies cannot replicate.

Often the boys would read to me, especially Ethan and Sam. In fact, Sam 21, and I recently read “A Monster Calls” aloud together as he prepared a lesson plan on the book for a college class. He loves literature so much; he’s halfway through earning a master’s degree in English at EWU.

All of our adult sons are readers, which resulted in the aforementioned consequences – they tell me about books they’ve enjoyed and loan them to me. Now, a stack of their recommendations teeters next to my pile of library books.

When I mentioned I wanted to read “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell, Ethan said, “I have it. You can borrow it.”

Zach read a book about modern media he thought I’d enjoy and brought it over. Derek started reading it before I got to it.

Sam buys books like the printed page might grow obsolete. My son-stack grew when he added another book by Patrick Ness, the author of “A Monster Calls,” and a book of short stories by Ted Chiang.

With twin toddler sons, Alex doesn’t have much time to read, but he loved Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” so I’m currently 100 pages into the 849-page volume.

I couldn’t have imagined all those Dr. Seuss books ago, that my grown-up sons would aid and abet my reading addiction, but at this rate my to-read stack won’t shrink any time soon. And that’s a consequence I’m happily enjoying.

Columns

Love in bloom

I don’t like dirt. Not one little bit.

When friends speak of the delight they feel when plunging their hands into rich, dark soil, I shudder.

But I love flowers – their blooming beauty feeds my soul. I also adore fresh berries, juicy tomatoes, tender green beans, and tasty zucchini, things that aren’t possible to grow without getting your hands dirty.

“You can wear gloves, you know,” a friend advised.

That’s certainly an option, but I took another route–I married well.

Once our four sons were mostly grown, Derek eyed our backyard and decided to raise something other than boys.

While I can’t even keep a houseplant alive, my husband’s green thumb, along with his strong back, keen mind and building skills, have created a backyard oasis. Each year, he tweaks his creation and finds new ways to add beauty.

The result?

Pansies, petunias, geraniums, impatiens, in red, yellow, purple and pink, bloom in boxes around our great gazebo. They spill from window boxes along the delightful deck that Derek built.

Bleeding hearts, daisies and star flowers blossom in well-tended bark beds.

Derek spent a couple of summers building a lovely brick retaining wall and walkway around his garden shed. He tossed a packet or two of wildflower seeds along one side, and this year tall blue and white flowers line the path.

Wildflowers

Behind the shed, purple and lavender clematis creeps up the twin trellises he installed on the fence he built, and begonias burgeon in planters throughout the yard.

Crowds of pansies cluster in giant oak barrels. The barrels are new this year, anchoring a sun shade that sails from the great gazebo and is affixed to two towering redwood posts. Derek filled the bottom of the barrels with concrete to ensure the posts would stand firm in our windy weather, and keep our sun shade from soaring off into the neighbor’s yard. Then he topped the barrels with soil and planted the flowers that thrive in their cozy containers.

Also new – redwood boxes for our berry bushes. Our blueberries and strawberries have done well in their containers, but our raspberries have grown wild along the fence line, as long as we’ve lived here. When my sister-in-law gave us a blackberry bush, Derek decided it was time to corral our fruit.

He built three 2-feet by 6-feet boxes along the fence, one for each type of berry. If there’s room, he may transfer the strawberries, too.

Despite its late start due to these other projects, Derek’s raised bed vegetable garden is growing well. We’ve already spotted a couple green tomatoes, the green beans are ready to climb, and our first zucchini is peeking out from beneath its leafy lair.

Each year I shop for annuals with him, and place the flowers where I’d like them, but he does the planting. I weigh in on what veggies I’d like, and once again Derek gets his hands dirty.

When things bloom and ripen, I don gloves and do the deadheading and harvesting, but mostly I just enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Each day after work, I start dinner, and then head to the gazebo. I let the sun warm my legs, I listen to birdsong. I watch butterflies and bumblebees flit among the flowers. My husband has created place where I can let the cares of the day fade, and feast my eyes on loveliness.

FTD coined the motto “Say it with flowers,” but I’m so thankful I don’t have to wait for a floral delivery service to show up at my door to hear what Derek has to say.

Every spring and all through the summer, I’m surrounded by countless beautiful blooms, and each one seems to whisper I love you.

Columns

Wedding Gown Memories

I felt like a princess on my wedding day.

My white, satin gown billowed around me. Its high collar and scoop neckline trimmed in lace, with a dozen satin-covered buttons down the back, and more along the sleeves. Yards of tulle swirled from the Juliet cap that anchored my veil.

It was perfect for a late March wedding, and even better I found the Jessica McClintock gown at Frederick & Nelson where I worked, so I got to use my employee discount.

If there’s one day in every woman’s life where she feels absolutely beautiful – it’s her wedding day. Alas, like Cinderella, midnight comes for all of us, and our beautiful gowns become memories.

Some women carefully pack away their dresses to save for future generations, some donate them to programs like Angel Gowns, and the more practical among us, sell them.

After I had my third son, I simply couldn’t imagine why that gown was still in my closet. We were always strapped for cash, so I took it to a consignment store and brought home $75 when it sold. The veil I kept. I reasoned that perhaps veils weren’t as trendy as dresses, and maybe I’d have a daughter-in-law who’d want to wear it.

In my previous column, I invited readers to share their wedding gown stories, and share they did.

“I still have my wedding dress from 1990,” said Lyn Mills. “I’m saving it in hopes that my daughter or one of my relatives will want to wear it as is or remake it for their wedding some day.”

Donna Scripture’s two daughters, Joan and Mary, wore the gown she purchased at the Bon Marche in 1956.

“Mary is short, but she wanted to wear it, so my neighbor, Pat, took the whole gown apart, made the alterations and put it back together,” Scripture said.

Beth Viren wrote, “I hand-sewed my wedding dress back in 1974. I was a senior at Whitworth College and was living in a dorm. The pattern was a very complicated Vogue pattern with full skirt and a train, made of crepe backed ivory satin, and had 36 tucks in the front and back of the bodice with fabric covered buttons, sheer fluffy sleeves with satin cuffs.”

When she made a mistake, her grandmother came to the rescue from Seattle and helped her finish the gown.

Viren and her husband recently downsized, and she came across her gown. She called Marcella Davis, owner of Marcella’s Bridal.

“She said that she actually takes old wedding dresses and hangs on to them,” Viren wrote. “She says that whenever she has a customer who comes in looking for their own special dress, and she knows ‘they may need a little extra attention,’ she goes to her stash of dresses. I loved that idea, and she assured me she would find the perfect person to be able to wear my dress again.”

Tamara Dees has a special plan for her gown.

“My wedding gown will be used to line my mother’s coffin. My mother is pleased, and I am honored,” she wrote.

Sandra Zikiye-Jones wore a lace dress that had been made in England.

“It had an attached train of ruffles, and the sleeves were long and pointed over my hands.”

When Eileen Mabee married in 1972, she wore the gown her mother wore in 1937.

“The dress was made by a friend, Julia Tobias, who was just beginning to design clothes in Omaha, Nebraska,” Mabee wrote. “Julia went on to become a sought-after couture designer in Denver and had her own boutique. Her dresses are in Denver fashion museums. I still have the dress, and I’m sure it will stay in the family.”

Barbara Stimers also had an original design.

In 1970, she went bridal shopping with her parents in Toronto.

“All the dresses were so fancy, and my dad thought they were too expensive,” she recalled.

Seeing she couldn’t find what she wanted, the two ladies who owned the shop stepped in. They ask her what she liked and quickly sketched up a design.

The result? An empire waist gown of white and off-white linen with knotted fabric buttons on the back and the sleeve cuffs.

“I borrowed my sister’s long veil and wore daisies in my hair,” Stimers said. “I still have my dress.”

Isabelle Green’s original wedding gown was lost before she could wear it.

“The Spokesman-Review reported a fire at Arthur’s Bridal Store in downtown Spokane in early 1956. I read the headline at my dorm in Pullman on the WSU campus,” she wrote.

Her wedding dress was in the shop and was lost in the fire.

“They allowed me to choose any gown I wanted to replace it, and since my wedding was not until July of 1956, I had plenty of time to recover. To my knowledge not one customer was without a gown on their special day. The store flew in gowns from all over and made sure every wedding went on without delay,” Green said.

Whether we’ve kept them, sold them, or donated them, memories of our wedding gowns don’t dull or fade like the fabric they were made of.

Instead, they remind us of that magical day when we felt like royalty, and happily ever after seemed guaranteed.

More photos at https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/jun/10/front-porch-wedding-gown-memories/

Angel Gown update

Peggy Mangiaracina and RoxAnn Walker are still accepting dresses for the Angel Gown program. They take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

If you’d like to donate your gown please email spokaneangelgowns@yahoo.com

Columns

Grace and the Angel Gowns

For someone who never opened her eyes or drew a breath, Grace Susie Bain, continues to make a difference in the world she didn’t get to explore.

On June 1, 2003, my friend, Sarah Bain, gave birth to Grace, knowing the baby had died in her womb on May 29.

Two years ago, I wrote a column about how Sarah marked what would have been Grace’s 16th birthday, by having her wedding dress made into “angel gowns.”

The Angel Gown program has chapters and affiliates across the U.S. Volunteer seamstresses take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

In Spokane, retired registered nurse and health care executive Peggy Mangiaracina, has been making tiny gowns, tuxedos and cocoons since 2017. Sarah asked me to be present when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina, and shared Grace’s story.

That column prompted an amazing response. Since its publication on May 16, 2019, Mangiaracina has received 56 donated dresses, and turned them into 1,600 angel gowns.

“Sixty percent of those donating the dresses have lost a child,” Mangiaracina said. “And most had never heard about angel gowns until your column came out.”

She said Sarah’s story has resonated with many.

“They told me, ‘Sarah’s story allowed me to feel and share my own.’ ”

Mangiaracina told of a man in Puyallup, who came across the column. His wife died, and he decided to donate her wedding dress.

“They’d lost a daughter long ago, and he could relate to Sarah’s experience of all the birthdays and special events they didn’t get to share with their child,” said Mangiaracina.

Hospitals in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene welcome the gowns, but Mangiaracina is also supplying them to hospitals in California, Texas, Oregon, Minnesota, Montana and Colorado.

“I get as much out of doing this as the parents who choose the gowns, or the people who donate their dresses,” she said. “I’ve found my niche.”

And soon she’ll have more help in this labor of love.

RoxAnn Walker, of Spokane, started making angel gowns in 2019. She made the first one for her granddaughter, Madelina.

“My daughter had a baby with a terminal birth defect and had to end her pregnancy at 20 weeks,” said Walker. “Madelina was too small for any outfit, so I went online and stumbled onto Angel Gowns.”

Walker bought a wedding dress at a thrift store and made a gown for her granddaughter. Her daughter lives in Texas, so Walker asked the hospital there if they’d like to receive angel gowns. They welcomed her gift, and she’s made 80 gowns, so far.

She has wanted to make gowns for Spokane area hospitals, too, but didn’t know whom to contact. I put her in touch with Mangiaracina, and the women plan to pool their talents and expertise.

“I like making something that’s helping make the worst situation in the world better,” Walker said. “The gowns say ‘You’re a little person. You’re here and you’re important.’”

So many lives had been touched by Sarah’s willingness to share Grace’s story. But Grace’s legacy is more than angel gowns

“When Grace was born we were told we couldn’t file a birth certificate because she hadn’t been born breathing. However, we were required by the state to file a death certificate,” Sarah recalled. “The first words out of my mouth and the mouths of so many other mothers who give birth to a stillborn baby were: How can you require me to file a death certificate for my daughter yet you won’t allow her to have a birth certificate? How is this even possible?’ ”

For grieving families, it often feels like one more cruel blow.

In 2005, Sarah, along with many others, embarked on a journey to ensure stillborn children receive birth certificates in Washington state. Finally, after seemingly endless hurdles and delays, on April 6, the state Senate passed HB 1031 allowing the issuance of a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth. The governor signed it into law on April 16.

Because of the pandemic and resulting backlog, the certificates won’t be available for families to request until October 2022. They will be retroactive, so families can request one for a child that died in years past.

Sarah said the psychological implications of this are huge.

“Before, the state of Washington basically said: We won’t give you a birth certificate because your baby wasn’t born living. but since your baby was born dead, you must file a death certificate. Now they say. ’We see you, we acknowledge you, we honor your child,’ ” said Sarah. “After 18 years with a death certificate tucked away in a drawer for my daughter, I can soon request her birth certificate. Grace matters.”