Painting over art-shaming scars

My reaction might have been a little over the top.

“I would rather have my eyelashes plucked out one by one while listening to alpine yodeling and drinking beet juice mixed with cod liver oil,” I said.

My friend raised her hands in surrender.

“Wow! OK then. We’ll skip paint night and just go to happy hour someplace.”

Some people might think a suggestion to have a glass of wine and create art with a good friend sounds delightful.

I’m not those people, and I have Mrs. Pendergast to thank for that.

Mrs. Pendergast was my second-grade teacher. While my reading skills soared under her tutelage, my art skills plummeted.

I dreaded art time more than I dreaded dodge ball during PE, and that’s saying something. My undiagnosed nearsightedness meant I never saw that pink rubber ball coming till it smacked me silly.

When Mrs. P. directed us to don our paint shirts, I groaned. Wearing my dad’s old button-down dress shirt was mortifying. It was dirty for heaven’s sake! It was crusty and stained, and it didn’t match my carefully coordinated outfit!

Of course, the reason it was stained was because I could never seem to gauge the right amount of paint. I would think I had just the right quantity of yellow for my sun, only to watch in dismay as golden globs streaked down the paper and smeared into my already-crusty sleeves.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mrs. P. scolded. “Your sun is bleeding all over your paper!”

With that she snatched my art attempt off the easel, crumpling it in disgust, commanding me to start over.

Her bleeding-sun comment inspired me.

I dipped my brush into what I hoped was just the right amount of scarlet, and painted a red sun, dripping droplets of blood from the sky.

“Good grief!” shouted Mrs. P. “That is disgraceful! What is the matter with you!?”

My classmates tittered as once again she ripped my paper from the easel.

When the class went out to recess, I stayed behind, waiting for the paint to dry so I could place my painting at the bottom of the stack, safe from mocking eyes.

So, you can see why my reaction to a friend’s suggestion of paint night was a tad vehement.

But a couple of years passed, and recently my husband came home and announced that we’d been invited to go to Pinot’s Palette with some friends.

Much to his surprise, I agreed.

It was time to silence the shaming voice of Mrs. Pendergast once and for all. My painting might stink, but at least I’d have a glass of wine to ease the sting.

On Jan. 26, I donned a paint-spattered apron, sat at an easel and picked up a brush.

To my joy I discovered we were going to replicate a painting of the northern lights. No sun in sight. And a perfect choice since we’d invited Derek’s sister and her Norwegian husband to join us. They’ve actually seen the northern lights.

I listened carefully to the instructor.

“The first lesson is you must learn the difference between your wine glass and your water glass,” she said.

That was easy. My wine glass was the one without any paintbrushes in it. Yet.

The next lesson covered what to do if we accidentally got paint on our clothes. It seemed like the instructions were tailored just for me.

In the event of a paint emergency, our teacher told us to, “Run to the sink, scream, flail, and use Murphy’s Oil Soap.”

She paused. “But if it’s been more than 15 minutes you have a new outfit.”

With that we were ready to begin.

I panicked a bit. But my husband’s friend said, “Just dip your brush into your wine and drink your water.”

I did the opposite, and soon I was well on my way.

My brother-in-law wandered over to check out my progress.

“Cindy, you are a born artist!” he exclaimed.

He is a bit of a hogwash artist, but his encouragement was appreciated nonetheless.

“By now your canvas is covered with paint,” the instructor said.

And mine was. I’d followed instructions. I’d mixed blue and green and made teal. And I hadn’t dipped my sleeve in my palette. Yet.

Shades of doubt seeped in when I had trouble blending the first swooshes of white into the night sky, but soon we were on to stippling stars and my true talents emerged.

“I am the BEST at stars,” I proclaimed.

Of course, one glass of wine had turned into two at this point, but isn’t that why they call it liquid courage?

At the end of the evening my evergreens were a bit wonky, and I hadn’t mastered blending, but by golly, my stars sparkled.

I sat at the easel and lifted my glass in silent salute.

Good night Mrs. Pendergast, wherever you are.

artist_Hval

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Advertisements

All alone, but not lonely at all

I heard them before I saw them. A small group of kids on the playground, laughing, shouting, jostling as they let off steam in the afternoon chill.

As I walked past the schoolyard, a solitary figure on the swings caught my eye. The boy scuffed at the gravel with his shoes and the swing barely moved.

Slowing my stride, I took in the scene and I wondered at the social dynamics at work. Was the boy on the lower rungs of the grade school popularity ladder? Had he been deemed to have “cooties” by the others? Or was he just grabbing a quiet spot – overwhelmed by the sheer volume a small amount of kids can make during a brief recess?

When I was his age, I could relate to both scenarios.

Because we moved frequently due to my dad’s career, I was always the new kid. The daunting task of finding a spot at the lunch table and navigating new social networks and established hierarchies meant loneliness was a constant companion until we settled in Spokane when I was a teen. I didn’t even have the built-in companionship of siblings because my brothers and sister were much older, and all out of the house by the time I was 12.

That upbringing created a resiliency that has served me well in adulthood. I learned how to adapt, how to forge new connections and how to turn strangers into friends. I also learned self-sufficiency and how to be content with my own company.

There’s a profound difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a state of being, while loneliness describes a pain, a sadness, a feeling that something is missing.

I learned to love being alone and have developed a profound need for solitude. That’s something that’s proven hard to come by when married to an extrovert and raising four sons.

As my writing career grew, solitude became even more imperative. I’ve become adept at creating it, whether by renting an office or borrowing a friend’s house.

The writing I do from my friends’ home while they travel south for the winter is different than the writing I do at my desk in the family room at home.

I hammer out columns and news stories at home while family members come and go, the landline rings, the doorbell peals, the cats clamor to be fed. But in my friend’s empty, silent house, books are born, short stories submitted and my craving for solitude is satiated.

My weekly walks are another way of creating quiet for my mind and soul. I was contemplating this when two days later; I again encountered the solitary child.

It was the same time, same place and same scene. A group of kids shouting, laughing and tossing a basketball back and forth. The boy alone on a swing.

And I wondered if instead of listless and lonely, he was enjoying a moment of respite from the noise and crush of elementary school. As he toed at the gravel, perhaps the slight movement of the swing soothed him and allowed him time to think – to dream. Maybe this child, like me, wasn’t lonesome, he was simply alone and relishing it.

This time I paused at the fence and lifted my hand to wave. Just in case he did feel isolated and invisible, I wanted him to know I’d seen him. I’d noticed his existence.

I waited mid-wave until he looked up and saw me. He slowly lifted his hand in acknowledgment, a small smile tilting at the corners of his mouth.

Then I continued my walk while he sat in the gently swaying swing. Two solitary souls – alone, but maybe not lonely.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.


A toast to the expandable house

The Great Toaster Debate revealed the reality of our shrinking household.

When our sturdy four-slicer with extra-large slots for bagels began burning bread on a regular basis, we knew it was time to replace it.

“Buy a two-slicer,” Derek said. “I’ve cut back on carbs, and we’ve only got one kid at home.”

Shocked, I sputtered, “But what if Sam and I both want toast for breakfast and you decide to indulge!?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“When is the last time you actually ate breakfast?”

I started to reply, but he held up a hand.

“In the morning.”

I would’ve asked him to define “morning,” but I knew where that would lead, so I moved on to more pressing concerns.

“What if all the boys come home for Christmas and they all want a bagel at the same time?”

At this, he did his patented eye roll-snort combo, and I knew I’d lost the debate. I also knew I was suffering a bout of Empty Nest Denial Syndrome.

The affliction began last spring when Zachary, our third born, prepared to move to Nashville. He’d been scrimping and saving for the move since he’d earned his associate degree. He didn’t want to continue his education in a university setting. He wanted a real-life immersion music education in the Music City.

I managed to put his departure out of my mind. Then one day he packed up his room, with the exception of his G.I. Joe toys, which still stand sentry around his closet molding and window trim.

That night I found myself on the kitchen floor surrounded by pots, pans, mixing bowls and Tupperware.

Now, I haven’t actually purchased any Tupperware for over 25 years, yet every time a kid moves out, I seem to have plenty to spare. Tupperware is the rabbit brood of household items.

This is the third time I’ve raided the linen cupboard, setting aside towels and washcloths, each item liberally sprinkled with tears, as I help feather a fledgling’s new nest.

This letting go thing doesn’t get any easier.

But in April, Zach loaded his Ford Explorer with all his worldly goods and drove across the country to his new home.

I studiously avoided his empty room. The cats claimed Zach’s bed and windowsill, but I didn’t enter the room until last month when he came home for Christmas.

Then I finally cleaned and dusted it, moved in a chair and a lamp, put fresh bedding on his bed (which made the cats happy) and gladly welcomed his return.

It felt wonderful to have two sons under my roof again. Many nights I fell asleep to the sound of brotherly laughter echoing from downstairs.

“I’ve missed this,” I said to Derek one night as we listened to the raucous noise two Hval boys can make.

Zach plans to return to Spokane in April, having given Nashville a year of his life. He’s not sure what’s next, but his room is waiting for him.

“You know he won’t be staying here long,” Derek cautioned. “Don’t get too used to it. Once guys have a taste of independent living, they’re rarely happy in Mom’s basement for long.”

Which is how the Great Empty Room Debate began.

Actually we have two empty rooms, because after Alex moved to Texas, Derek planned to make a home office for me. That was five years ago. Currently, that room houses all the things that had to be evacuated when Derek built a walk-in closet in our bedroom. The closet isn’t finished, and work on the office hasn’t begun.

“I could use Zach’s room for my home office,” Derek mused, as we settled into bed.

Office space is a sore spot, so I brought up a more pressing point. Our first grandchild is due in March, and I really want Alex to bring his family home for Christmas next year.

“Where will our kids and grandkids sleep when they come to visit?” I asked. “We need a guest room.”

Derek agreed and we began talking about futons and sleeper sofas.

“We should probably buy bunk beds, too,” Derek said.

My heart leapt. A house with bunk beds again!

I fell asleep smiling.

Like a beating heart, a home contracts when kids leave, but it also expands to welcome new arrivals.

And I just may buy a four-slice toaster after all.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

In which I WIN the resolution thing. Kind of.

The thing about New Year’s resolutions is they are so boring. Everyone tends to have the same ones – lose weight, exercise more, work less, play more.

More exotic resolutions tend to leave me scratching my head – learn another language, make a new friend, take a dance class.

Listen, I have enough problems wrestling with the English language every week. I don’t see the friends I do have often enough, and I’m not about to start dancing at 52. My plié is played out, the only tapping I do is my fingers on my desk while waiting for a file to download, and I’d much rather eat salsa than dance it.

I haven’t always been so jaded about resolutions. Indeed, in my teens I’d regularly fill a journal with my goals for the New Year.

You might have noticed that I didn’t marry Andy Gibb.

Or join the Bay City Rollers on tour.

Or entertain Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” with my witty banter and collection of amusing anecdotes that I dutifully jotted in the aforementioned journals.

Resolutions just never worked out for me. Either they were too lofty or too banal. Even the more creative ways to inspire change or achievement proved unsuccessful.

For example, for several years my high school youth group leader had us write letters to ourselves on New Year’s Eve. We’d then receive these missives in the mail the week after Christmas the following year.

None of those letters remain, but I do vividly remember one that began, “Dear Cindy, Please ALWAYS remember you are AWESOME, no matter what that jerk Donny says.”

Actually, I feel much better just reading that sentence. Perhaps, I’ll tape that above my desk.

Recalling resolutions made me wonder just how this tradition began, so I did a little research. (OK, I Googled it, but research sounds better.)

Apparently, the ancient Babylonians started the ball rolling some 4,000 years ago. During a massive 12-day festival they crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed.

Alas, we can’t hold a presidential election every Jan. 1, though one does wonder why the Founding Fathers didn’t consider this concept. However, it is a good idea to start the year by paying off your library overdue fines, and by returning your mother-in-law’s serving spoon that you’ve had since Thanksgiving 2007. Not that I’d know anything about that.

I told my husband I’d gotten a good start on some manageable goals and wanted to add more.

“Maybe I should get a new hairstyle for the New Year,” I mused.

Derek was dismayed.

“Oh no!” he said. “I love your hair. It’s all Farrah Fawcett-y!”

Obviously, “new hair” is staying on the resolution list.

Scanning an online list of popular resolutions, I considered adding “quit smoking” to mine. Of course, I’d actually have to start smoking and then quit, which seems like way too much work just to chalk something up in the successful resolution column.

I found a list of unusual resolutions that intrigued until I got to “make the usual unusual.” What does that even mean? I usually brush my teeth every morning – should I skip it? I usually look both ways before I cross the street, should I throw caution to the wind?

Also perplexing was the suggestion to “fall in love with life in 2018.” I mean, I like life just fine. You might even say I’m committed to it, but how on earth does one measure the success of falling in love with it?

Speaking of success, further reading revealed just 16 percent of people over 50 achieve their resolutions each year, while 37 percent of people in their twenties do.

It seems resolutions are a younger person’s game.

For me I’m going to stick with the basics. Today, I resolved to get out of bed, get dressed and get this column done.

Hey, two out of three isn’t bad.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

I Wish You Light

Bitter cold crept through our coats and scarves as my husband and I waited in a line that stretched the length of the building, but the glittering glow in the Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park beckoned.

Each year Spokane Parks employees turn the greenhouse into a winter wonderland, decorating tropical and subtropical plants with 30,000 twinkling lights.

Once inside, a blast of warm humid air quickly dissipated the winter chill. Cactuses clad in Christmas lights, a shining snowman waving from his sparkling foliage perch, and a Christmas tree made from scarlet poinsettias, dazzled our eyes. We soaked in the sights, absorbing the radiance before heading out into the pitch-black evening.

Making our way down the South Hill, we stopped at Cowley Park just below Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. That’s where the team from Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular set up a shimmering display complete with an enchanted forest, a gingerbread house and of course, the North Pole.

Children laughed and shouted around us as we walked through the park, their faces illuminated by a multicolored luster.

We returned home to our own festive outdoor display. Derek and our teenage son had worked hard to arrange the deer, candy canes, angel and trees in our yard.

This year more than ever, I crave the glow of Christmas lights. They are a beautiful way to defy the ever encroaching darkness.

December 21 marks Winter Solstice in Spokane. It’s the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Some refer to it as the longest night. It’s also the darkest day as the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun.

It’s fascinating that this year Hanukkah – the Jewish Festival of Lights – is also observed just when the nights are the longest and darkest.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a group of Jewish warriors defeated the occupying Greek armies. The festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.

For eight days, Jewish families lit a candle in a menorah, remembering the ancient miracle of a small vial of oil found by the Maccabees meant to last only a day, but instead lasted for eight.

I think many of us long for a celebration of light in the depths of December. Darkness isn’t always simply a physical absence of light.

A scripture passage our pastor read recently resonates.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2.

As I write, the sun sets, though it’s barely 4 p.m. I slip away from my desk to turn on our outdoor display. In the living room, I plug in the Christmas tree’s twinkling lights, and then make my way from candle to candle, switching on 13 tiny, flickering battery-operated votives in their translucent holiday globes. Lastly, I strike a match and breathe in the fragrance of a cinnamon-scented candle.

Tonight my husband and sons won’t need to follow a star to find a miracle. Instead, they’ll return to a home that’s filled with warmth and welcome. Sometimes that’s miraculous enough.

Soon every day will be just a little bit brighter, the sun will rise a tad earlier.

And that’s my holiday wish for you. May your darkness always be dispelled by light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.24909782_1617427588295862_1306281224400973122_n[1]

Their Stories are Now a Part of Mine

As I sat down at my desk to write this week’s column, an email notification popped up on my screen. I opened it to read of Audrey Bixby’s upcoming funeral.

I’d interviewed Audrey and her husband, Dick, several years ago for my Love Story series, and included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

The timing of the email stunned me. I’d already planned to write about the loss of so many of the people featured in “War Bonds.”

Seventy-two. That’s how many individuals made the final cut of the book.

Twenty-four. That’s how many people died before “War Bonds” made it into print.

Twenty. That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since its 2015 publication.

A colleague shrugged when I bemoaned yet another loss.

“What did you expect when all your subjects are World War ll veterans over 80?” he’d asked.

He has a point.

It’s not that I expected them to live forever; it’s just that I’ve been unprepared for how much each loss affects me.

In the past few months, in addition to Audrey, I’ve said farewell to Jack Rogers, Dick Eastburg, Barbara Anderson and Myrt Powers.

It seems fitting to honor them today on the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Jack Rogers wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but he enlisted in the Army in 1943, when he was just 19. He had a hard time believing we were at war against Japan.

“I grew up with a bunch of Japanese kids,” he said in “War Bonds.”

Before being shipped out to the Pacific, he traveled to California to see a Japanese friend from high school, only to find his friend and his family had been confined in an internment camp.

I met Jack many years ago when he taught art at Northwest Christian School. He taught all four of my kids, and each one remembers him well.

Eleven years ago, I wrote an article about his art career. Since then, I revisited him in print many times. A story about his 71-year marriage to Fran, a feature about how following a debilitating stroke, he still continued to give back – painting tailgates on Personal Energy Transporters through Inland Northwest PET Project.

And I wrote about one of his final art shows at Spokane Art Supply. That’s where I saw him last. He and Fran sat side by side, as friends, fans and former students perused his paintings, buying a piece of Jack to take home and remember him by.

My own piece of Rogers’ art watches over me as I write. It’s a whimsical print of a terrier that Fran sent as a thank you note, following the funeral.

Next to it is a photo of Louis Anderson and his flight crew taken in 1944, just before they shipped out to Europe.

The last time I saw Louis and Barbara at their retirement center apartment, she insisted I take home a memento – a water glass from Air Force One. She was so proud of her late grandson who served as President Obama’s pilot.

She also kept me grounded in real life. Every time I left their place she’d say, “Do you need to use the restroom? Are you sure?”

Audrey Bixby was strictly down-to-earth as well. When I interviewed her and Dick, he kept me in stitches with jokes and sly puns. While we laughed, Audrey feigned exasperation and then told her own funny stories.

When Dick enumerated her wonderful qualities, he said, “She’s an awfully nice person and she laughs at my jokes!”

Dick died five years ago. I like to think that now they’re laughing together again.

Dale Eastburg passed away last month. He and his wife, Eva, had been married 75 years. When last I spoke to them, they were still going to the gym every week!

They’d been married just a short time before he was sent to China as part of the famed Flying Tigers. The thought of saying goodbye to his bride proved unbearable to Dale, so he didn’t. He slipped out of their apartment while she slept.

I hope this time Dale was able to say goodbye.

And today, I think of darling Myrt Powers. I never thought I’d describe a Marine as darling, but that exactly describes this tiny dynamo.

Though already employed as a teacher, she enlisted in the Marines following the attack on Pearl Harbor, because so many of her students told her they were worried about their fathers who were going off to war.

“I wanted to take care of my students’ dads,” she explained in “War Bonds.”

She met Walt Powers, a sailor stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. They were married 71 years at the time of her death.

I last saw Myrt two years ago, in Hawaii, of all places.

It was 8:15 in the morning at the Hale Koa Hotel, an Armed Forces Recreation Center resort on Waikiki. My husband and I were preparing to make our first pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, and stopped for coffee before the tour bus picked us up.

Myrt was grabbing a cup while waiting for Walt to finish his regular swim at the hotel pool.

“Hello, honey,” she said, reaching up to embrace me.

It was the best hug I’ve ever received from a Marine, and sadly it was the last one from Myrt.

Today, while the world remembers the more than 2,000 lives lost at Pearl Harbor, I remember five souls who endured the trauma of a world war. The lives they led in its aftermath, the families they raised, the marriages they cherished, bear witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.

While I’m sad at their passing, I’m so very glad that their stories are now a part of mine.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

When It’s Hard to be Thankful

I stared at my writing calendar in disbelief.

How is it possible? I wondered. The Thanksgiving column, AGAIN!?

In 10-plus years of writing this twice-monthly column, I’m almost positive the Thanksgiving writing duty has mostly fallen in my lap.

Oh, I know colleague Stefanie Pettit has tackled it a time or two – but still, that’s a lot of gratitude, and frankly, I’ve been feeling less than grateful lately.

There’s no rule or commandment that says a column published on Thanksgiving Day must invoke that topic, yet I feel a certain obligation to at least acknowledge the holiday. Imagine having a column run on Christmas Day and writing about cats.

Never mind. I’ve probably done that.

Sighing, I pulled up my files and scanned my list of previous turkey day topics.

Thankful after windstorm? Check.

Eating at the kids’ table? Check.

Black Friday? Check.

Thankful for appliances? Check.

Empty chairs around the table? Check.

I poured another cup of coffee and pondered the problem. A slippery slope, because rumination opened a floodgate of negativity as I recalled the difficult past few weeks.

I’d rather write about the things I’m NOT thankful for, I thought.

And the column took shape in my mind.

I’m not thankful for a deeply personal betrayal and the resulting loss and grief.

I’m not thankful for a health scare that knocked me for a loop and made me miserable.

I’m not thankful for a change in finances that put upcoming travel plans in jeopardy.

I’m not thankful for another trip to the emergency room with my ailing mother.

I’m not thankful that the above issues resulted in me putting my Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer work on hold.

Typing this list made me feel worse.

Abandoning the column-in-progress, I did what I so often do when stymied by a project. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door into a dank, gray November drizzle that perfectly reflected my mood.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist or a pessimist; I’m solidly in the realist camp. What is is, and feelings don’t change facts.

Yet as I shuffled through soggy leaves, I kept finding bits of gold and copper that gleamed against the asphalt, despite the dreary day. The juxtaposition sparked a glint of joy.

My mood lifted, my thoughts cleared and I mentally reviewed and reframed my list of woes.

That hurtful betrayal opened a door to healing in other, far more important relationships.

Dealing with a miserable illness made me realize just how blessed I’ve been with good health, and how easily I take that for granted.

The financial changes allowed Derek and me to reconsider our long-range plans, and we decided to pay off our mortgage. It felt amazing to walk out of the bank debt-free.

This ER visit with Mom had a profound difference. Not only did she check out fine, but instead of returning to an empty house, she returned to a safe community filled with kind people who watch over her.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities for a while has freed me to focus on family, and on friendships that are essential to surviving hard times.

I trudged on. The clouds didn’t magically part. The rain didn’t lessen. Yet I was overcome with gratitude.

Like finding bits of gold in soggy November leaves, discovering joy in the midst of sadness changes perception and opens your heart to new possibilities.

And I have never been more thankful for the privilege of writing another Thanksgiving column.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Moving Mom

The For Sale sign swung wildly in the blustery October wind, and though I’d known it was coming, the sign startled me.

I pulled over in front of what used to be my house and let the memories wash over me.

Growing up in a military family, I moved a lot. Nine houses in 16 years, until we finally returned to Spokane to stay.

This house represented permanence to my parents, who’d grown weary of years of moving. It welcomed my best friends and high school sweethearts. My first day of college photo was taken on its front steps.

On my wedding day, I woke in my twin bed, in my blue bedroom with the switch plate that reads “Cindy’s Room.” The switch plate is still there, though it hasn’t been my room for 31 years.

A few years later, a photo taken in the entryway shows my dad proudly holding my firstborn son – his namesake, Ethan Thomas. It was Ethan’s first visit to what was now known as Grandma’s house.

Dad is wearing a sportcoat and tie, so he must be home for lunch. After he retired from the Air Force, he went to work for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his office was within walking distance – a huge selling point when they bought the house.

By the time our sons Alex and Zach were born, Dad had retired, and my husband and I had bought a home nearby. Dad delighted in dropping in to “check on the babies.” I always thought he meant my sons, but chances are he meant me, too.

When he died 22 years ago, my mom remained in their home – happy to know I was close. And when after several years of widowhood, our last son arrived, she was especially glad she’d stayed in the neighborhood.

Grandma’s house became a rite of passage. When boys anxious for independence wanted to venture from my nest, unsupervised – it was to her house they went. Sometime after the magic age of 10, I’d let them walk the six blocks to her house. This was long before every kid had a cellphone, so the kid had to first call Grandma to let her know he was on the way, then immediately call me when he arrived, and then call me again when he left.

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

As Mom aged, the split-level design of the house proved daunting, and one spring she took a tumble down the stairs, breaking her ankle.

Still she wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t hear of it. This was her home – the place she and Dad ceased their wanderings, and besides, I lived just a few blocks away.

We worried that when the time finally came for her to move, she wouldn’t be able to help us choose her new home. And that’s just what happened.

This summer her mental and physical health failed at an alarming rate. Suddenly, my siblings and I had to make major decisions with no input from Mom.

Thankfully, my brother David and his wife, Becky, had retired to Spokane several years ago. They were able to find Mom a nice apartment in an assisted living facility, arrange for movers and an estate sale, and last week they sold the house.

Mom is 86, and doing better than she was this summer, but she’s still confused about what happened to her home, to her things.

Her new residence is just two blocks from her old one, so the landscape of her neighborhood is familiar. Her grandsons visit more frequently, now that she doesn’t have to come down any stairs to open the door. And when they visit they talk about the happiness and love they always found at Grandma’s house. The location may have changed, but the love hasn’t.

I pull away from the house, and I don’t think I’ll drive by again for a while.

It’s someone else’s turn to make memories on Standard Street. My own are locked safely in my heart, and there isn’t a house anywhere big enough to contain them.


Who Needs Prince Charming?

I didn’t really think he’d show up on a white horse. I’ve never been a great rider and city streets aren’t welcoming to skittish steeds.

Instead, my Prince Charming borrowed his father’s Ford Tempo for our first date. “I’m in the middle of restoring a ’67 Mustang,” he explained.

Thirty-one years later, he’s still in the middle of restoring that same ’67 Mustang. I no longer sing “Someday My Prince Will Come;” instead I mutter, “Someday my prince will be done – with something. Anything!”

After three decades of marriage I’ve had ample time to rethink my original dreams of Prince Charming.

My prince has never waltzed me around glittering ballrooms, and I’m not in the habit of losing any shoes. But sometimes he sneaks into the kitchen while I’m cooking, takes my hand, and spins me into a slow dance across the dining room floor.

“There they go again,” one of our sons will say, groaning with embarrassment.

As if dining room dancing wasn’t enough, several years ago, Derek decided to add guitar-playing to his romantic resume.

“I’m going to learn to play ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ for your birthday,” he announced.

My birthday came and went. As did Valentine’s Day, our anniversary and Christmas.

Finally, I schlepped the two guitars and the amp he’d purchased downstairs, and shoved them in a closet. His musical ardor may have dimmed, but his passion for me has yet to wane.

I know this, because several times a month he’ll text me: Date night?

He makes reservations at one of our favorite restaurants. And we don’t stare at our phones over dinner – we talk about anything and everything. We’ve yet to run out of words.

It turns out my prince didn’t have a castle to offer me, but that’s OK . I’ve heard the upkeep on palaces is brutal. And I’ve never been a damsel in distress in need of rescue.

In fact, the demur, soft-spoken girl in white satin he married, grew up into a confident woman with opinions that often differ from his, and a newspaper column in which to express them.

Instead of being threatened, Derek applauded and encouraged my evolution. Willingly, he picked up the slack at home when my work took me out of town – or more often inside my head.

Writers are rarely easy to live with, especially when a new project swallows every waking thought and even haunts our dreams. But he is uncomplaining, knowing that my glazed eyes will eventually light on him, recognition will dawn, and I will invariably smile.

He hasn’t ruled a kingdom. His birthright is more plastic spork than silver spoon, but for over 20 years he’s run a successful small business. His reputation for integrity remains sterling, even in tough economic times.

When our children grew, and rebellion brewed with teens eager to topple the home regime, he handled those painful transitions with grace, dignity and infinite patience. Watching him parent our sons made me fall in love with him all over again.

Time has changed us. My prince has lost some hair, gained some weight, lost that weight and gained some wrinkles. And I’ve done the same, except my hair has grayed instead of thinned.

His unfinished projects still drive me crazy. The Mustang rusts in our driveway; the guitars gather dust in the closet, and the long-promised home office remains elusive. I never know what he’ll start next, but I’m confident it probably won’t be completed.

And just when my frustration reaches its zenith, I catch his eye across a crowded room (all of our rooms are crowded, now) and my heart skips a beat.

He holds out his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me into an embrace that still takes my breath away.

We sway together, and he hums in my ear. “Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.”

I don’t need Prince Charming. Or a ballroom. I don’t really even need the tiara he bought me.

I just need this man.

And I’m profoundly grateful that our marriage is still an unfinished project.

23131848_1580341082004513_2624145754997905891_n[2]

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Keep the Orange in Halloween!

Sometimes you just have to take a stand – a produce stand.

After two back-to-back zucchini columns, I really thought I was done writing about squash.

I thought wrong.

You see, autumn is my favorite time of year. There’s nothing better than taking a stroll around the neighborhood under a crisp blue sky. Leaves crunch underfoot and trees show their best colors; a riot of russet, red and gold.

Halloween and fall decor comes out with bats, witches, spider webs and jack-o’-lanterns appearing on porches and lawns.

But the past few years I’ve noticed a rather alarming trend – ghostly white pumpkins. At first I thought folks were painting them, but then I saw the pale imitations popping up in grocery stores.

Turns out farmers are growing varieties of albino squash with names like Lumina, Cotton Candy, Full Moon, Polar Bear and miniature Baby Boos. They’re planting them mostly to keep up with decorating demands.

That’s right. Pinterest is ruining pumpkins!

An article on a travel website about the new crops, stated, “Orange is so yesterday.”

Have they even noticed who’s in the White House?

Speaking of, I don’t mean to be divisive, but unlike the Lorax, I didn’t speak for the trees, the Christmas trees, that is, and look what happened.

White flocked trees meant to simulate a dusting of snow, quickly devolved into madness when the new generation of artificial trees arrived. You can now purchase Christmas trees in most any hue; silver, pink, blue and even rainbow.

Taking the green out of holiday trees is an abomination. We might as well jettison Santa’s red velvet suit and put him a tux. While we’re at it, we could color his snowy white hair, trim that fluffy beard and give him a man bun and a soul patch.

Obviously, I’m a holiday purist.

Pumpkins have been orange since the Garden of Eden and I see no reason to adulterate them. Honestly, I find the albino variety ugly. Our landscape is soon going to be buried in white; can’t we enjoy a bright splash of tangerine before winter dulls our vistas?

As expected, when posting a potentially controversial opinion on social media, the haters came out in force. I was called “squashist,” “gourdist” and even “orange supremacist.”

I accept the charge of pumpkin profiling and am not ashamed.

This slope has already proved treacherously slippery. One Facebook friend admitted to owning a pink pumpkin. PINK! For the love of gourd!

My sister told me she’s even seen a teal squash. That’s something you can’t unsee.

It’s enough to put me off my Chocolate Chip Pumpkin bread and my Spicy Pumpkin muffins. Well, almost.

Another friend posted a meme of a field of albino squash captioned, “White pumpkins drained of their spice by illegal poachers. Please demand ethically sourced Pumpkin Spice lattes.”

Someone else replied, “#allpumpkinsmatter.”

I admit that gave me pause, and I briefly considered aborting my “Keep the Orange in Pumpkin” campaign, but I’d already gone to the trouble of creating a #pumpkinpurist hashtag, and feel it could be trending soon. It would be a shame to lose momentum.

When a friend wrote, “I judge a pumpkin by the content of its character,” I had to admire the sentiment. To be fair, if you slice into an albino pumpkin, you’ll find orange flesh, and supposedly these pale imitations have thinner skins, making them easier to carve.

Nevertheless I must persist.

And while I’m at it, pumpkins are fruit, so don’t go saying you got your vegetable servings in for the day, after three slices of pie.

As I wrapped up my research, I read this headline, “There’s no rule that pumpkins have to be orange.”

To that I can only say, well, there should be.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval