Columns

Boys and Backyard Buried Treasure

Lightning McQueen has definitely seen better days.

His front wheels are missing, as are both headlights. His rear tires are packed with dirt and his big eyes on the windshield peer through a layer of dust. His red paint job has faded into orange, and his plastic body is cracked in places. Years of exposure to sun and snow will do that to a car.

My husband is building a retaining wall at the back edge of our property, and his shovel had unearthed the abandoned toy.

“Look what I found,” Derek said, cradling the car in his hands.

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Like an archeologist on a dig, he’s discovered the remains of a previous civilization. He’s been working hard to eradicate the evidence that small boys once roamed wild in our backyard, but this is something he’d missed.

When we moved into our home in 1993, both the front and back yards were a mess of weeds and clover.

Derek focused his attention on the front first, so our boys took possession of the back. That summer, my dad bought them a swing set, and we installed the first of many plastic wading pools.

Very little swinging happened on that swing set. Instead, the slide was used as a launching point for cars, toys and boys. The tandem swing made it easier for them to scale to the top of the set, the better to terrify their mother.

The boys grew. The grass came back. The swing set fell apart. And a series of bigger pools kept them occupied during the summer.

Squirt guns, bicycles, skateboards and toys littered the yard making navigation perilous for parents.

When our four boys grew bored with toys and things with wheels, they took up digging in the barren patch of ground where the previous owner had attempted to garden. Bordered by railroad ties, the spot offered ample space for industrious boys to play in the dirt.

I worried about the holes they dug with plastic shovels getting too deep, the tunnels getting too long, but Derek just said, “Boys gotta dig.”

However, even he was surprised to find they’d used a few of his two-by-fours to shore up a gaping gash in the ground.

The boys grew. They mowed the grass. They stopped playing in the dirt. And Derek built a beautiful cedar shed where the swing set once stood.

Our two oldest sons moved out and their dad built a beautiful deck, and we added a gazebo, and raised bed gardens. The retaining wall is just another step in the beautification of our kids’ former playground, and it seems Derek had stumbled upon a toy graveyard while constructing it.

“I’ve been finding a lot of green army men,” he said. “I rebury them with full honors.”

But it didn’t seem right to leave Lightning in an unmarked grave, especially since it looks like he’d been the victim of violent crime. Someone had used permanent marker to print “Help Me…” on his hood, leading us to conclude the toy had been carjacked and possibly held for ransom.

The printing looks exactly like our second son’s writing, and our youngest son, Sam, was a huge fan of the movie “Cars.” He was 6 when the first movie was released, and he went “Cars” crazy.

He had a Radiator Springs play set and the full fleet of cars from the film. But Lightning was always his favorite. In fact, if I venture into his teenage lair, I know I’ll still find at least two versions of Lightning McQueen that he’s not ready to part with.

Derek went back to work on the wall, leaving the dirt-encrusted car on the deck railing. Weeks later, it’s still there, parked facing our outdoor dining area, where Lightning can watch the boy who loved him come and go.

Last night, I swear I saw his eyes shining through their dusty coating when Sam sat down to dinner.

And then old Lightning smiled.

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Columns

Still dating after all these years

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Glancing at the clock, I fastened my earrings and scanned the room for my gold sandals. My date was on the way to pick me up, and I didn’t want to keep him waiting.

Honestly, he wouldn’t complain too much if I did. He’s kind of used to it. We’ve been dating for 33 years.

Yep. My husband and I still date, and with our nest gradually emptying, we’ve resumed dates that actually involve leaving the house and going someplace other than Home Depot or Albertsons. Dates that require advance planning which translates into eager anticipation.

When our boys were little, date night meant putting them all to bed by 8, enjoying a candlelit dinner at our dining room table and renting a movie from Hastings. It also only happened once a month, due to sheer busyness and exhaustion.

This year, with more freedom in time and budget, we’ve instituted weekly dates. Dinner and a movie are nice, but we’ve upped the ante on our adventures. As a result, we’ve been exploring and enjoying our hometown.

For example, late this spring when the Spokane River was at its peak, we dined on the patio at Clinkerdagger’s, shopped in the Flour Mill, spied on the marmots scampering on nearby rocks and snapped a selfie with the river behind us.

But dates don’t need to be spendy. One hot sunny Saturday, we played tourist and explored Manito Park in all its glory.

We encountered some real tourists in the Perennial Garden.

“Spokane is just like a mini-Seattle!” one of them exclaimed.

Them there is fightin’ words to this hometown girl, but Derek distracted me by pointing out a large butterfly perched nearby.

We skipped the Duck Pond because many years ago, our son, Alex, took an unplanned dip in the pond’s murky waters during a family picnic. We’re still traumatized by the memory of trying to clean duck poop off the kid in a park bathroom.

“I told him not to run on those rocks. They’re slippery, I said,” Derek muttered as we skirted the pond.

See? Traumatized.

Our weekly dates have also included local attractions that we’ve always meant to get to, but never had the time – the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, for one.

When we read the museum was hosting a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Mail Call,” we took a Friday afternoon off from work and checked it out.

The exhibit tells the history of the military mail system and featured personal stories of service and family bonds, told through documents, photos, audio recordings and handwritten letters.

We were charmed by the unique museum and its friendly staff.

Last Saturday, we enjoyed a lingering summer date in the West Central neighborhood.

We started the evening with appetizers at The Wandering Table in Kendall Yards, and then wandered across the street to the Maryhill Winery tasting room.

The Maryhill patio, liberally dotted with umbrella’d tables, is quickly becoming our favorite spot to unwind, enjoy a glass of wine and soak in the spectacular views of the river, downtown and the Centennial Trail.

From Kendall Yards, we drove west to a Spokane landmark – Doyle’s Ice Cream Parlor. Though he’s lived in Spokane more than 40 years, Derek had never been to the iconic seasonal shop.

We sat in the red Adirondack chairs out front, enjoying huge scoops of licorice ice cream and watching the steady stream of people ebb and flow from the busy shop.

As we savored each bite, we had our usual marital discussions of what the work week ahead looked like, the status of our August vacation plans, and where we’d like to go on future dates.

We’d saved the newspaper’s guide to area parks and plan to start working our way through a list of parks we want to explore. Sunday’s story on city staircases gave us some new destinations to contemplate.

Sure, sometimes dates are simply Netflix, pizza and jammies at home, but going out on the town adds intentional enjoyment. Especially, when you have the day circled in red on your calendar.

Anticipation. That’s what makes dating so much fun.

All Write, Columns

Apology Accepted?

The crash happened in a split second. One minute my husband was driving down North Monroe Street, and in a flash a sedan darted out in front of him from a side street.

By the time he hit the brakes, he had hit the car, which spun 180 degrees, ending up with its back end in the southbound lane and its front end in the northbound.

Stunned and shaken, he pulled over in a nearby church parking lot. An off-duty fireman stopped to see if he was OK while others checked on the teenage girl and her passenger.

Derek drives an F-150 truck, and it hit the rear passenger door of the small sedan. All of the car’s airbags deployed. Amazingly, no one was injured.

“What were you thinking?” Derek asked the driver.

She said she had seen him signal to change lanes on the busy four-lane section of Monroe and thought he was turning. She thought she had time to make it across the intersection.

She thought wrong on all counts, and her mistake could have had a much higher price than just the inconvenience of damaged vehicles and time spent on insurance paperwork.

In the following days, Derek wavered between anger and relief. Several weeks later when the dust and the insurance had settled and his truck repaired, he received a letter from the girl.

“I’m sincerely sorry for the accident I caused. I’m very grateful you’re OK. This accident made me realize how very short life is – your life could be taken in any minute.”

The note seemed genuine and heartfelt, and whether her mother made her write it or not, the effect on Derek was liberating. He had already moved past anger, but her words allowed him to think more kindly of her.

A sincere apology will do that.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if that happened more often?

Instead, sorry/not sorry has become a hashtag on Twitter, a popular Demi Lovato song, and a featured phrase in everyday conversation. Sorry/not sorry is what you say when you acknowledge your words or actions may have upset someone, but you really don’t care.

Huckleberries columnist Dave Oliveria refers to insincere mea-culpas as “ap-hollow-gies.”

It’s like when my boys were fighting and someone’s feelings, body, or toy had been hurt, and I’d admonish the offender to tell his brother he was sorry.

“Sorry,” the culprit would mumble.

The word was right, but often the body-language – arms folded, eyes-rolling, shoulders shrugging – revealed the kid was less than repentant.

That kind of apology usually resulted in further consequences. Even so, an “I’m sorry” rendered because a kid doesn’t want his video game privileges revoked, doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.

And speaking of hearts, there are times when even the most genuine mea culpa cannot mend or alleviate the pain of damage done.

Think of the courtroom apologies proffered by people who have killed or maimed someone while driving drunk. Or the relationships broken by betrayal. Or the workplace gossip that results in job loss.

While saying sorry may be the right thing to do, it doesn’t automatically translate into forgiveness.

And sometimes we can be haunted by the apology we never received.

Many years ago, someone close to Derek treated him very badly. Harsh words and untruths were spoken. He waited for an apology or even an acknowledgement of wrongs done.

It never came.

Eventually, Derek chose to forgive this person. It had little to do with the offender and everything to do with my husband’s peace of mind.

Forgiveness is a choice, and so is asking for it.

The letter from the young driver demonstrates what it means to acknowledge harm done and accept responsibility for it.

“I know I’m young and learning. I know that this was my fault, and I take full blame,” she wrote. “This has helped me look at life from a different perspective. I appreciate every moment for what it is. Once again I apologize.”

Apology accepted.

All Write, Columns

Rock on! And I don’t mean in a chair

18882142_1433976726640950_512120073299930773_n[1]Derek and I had a peaceful easy feeling in May when we joined several thousand of our closest friends to hear the Eagles in concert at the Spokane Arena.

From the moment the opening a cappella strains of “Seven Bridges Road” soared through the venue, till the final sweet notes of “Desperado” echoed, we were enthralled and entertained.

The Eagles are a band even my parents would have approved of … except for the somewhat controversial “Hotel California.”

When I was growing up parental approval did not extend to the “devil’s music,” so I started rocking later than most of my peers.

Our home was filled with the music of the Gaither Vocal Band and Dottie Rambo, and of course, Elvis – gospel and hymn recordings only.

In the ’80s backward masking was on the nightly news. We teens were told the subliminal messages contained in albums by certain bands would turn us into devil worshippers.

We attended seminars at the Spokane Convention Center where speakers warned us that subliminal messages weren’t limited to records. Even eating crackers could send one spiraling into sin due to the word “SEX” being spelled out in the dots of a Ritz cracker.

That explains why I still prefer Wheat Thins, and why my first concert was Ronnie Milsap. I’d never heard of him, but my best friend really wanted to go. My parents thought country music wasn’t as dangerous as rock ’n’ roll.

Of course, I listened to the American Top 40 on the radio so I could keep current with the sinful state of the world. That radio rebellion must have corrupted me. How else to explain the first album I purchased was Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health.”

But metal never moved me much, especially once I discovered Bon Jovi. Their music was the soundtrack of my teen and young adult years.

My husband was an avid concertgoer in his teens, and when we met he was astonished by my rock ’n’ roll ignorance.

“Just think if you hadn’t married me you would know nothing about Van Halen. Nothing!” he often says.

During our early married years, the cost of raising four kids put concert attendance out of our reach.

We did splurge on Jim Brickman tickets when he came to the INB Performing Arts Center around the time of our anniversary one year. My parents would also approve of Jim; our children, however, were mortified.

“My gosh! If John Denver was still alive, you’d probably pay money to see him, too!” our teenager groaned.

“Well, duh!” I replied, and launched into a spirited rendition of “Grandma’s Feather Bed.”

As our kids grew older, our wallets grew less lean, but I was still shocked when five years ago Derek surprised me with tickets to Bon Jovi.

He’d already taken the boys to see Van Halen when they were in Tacoma the previous year, and he wanted me to be able to hear my favorite band in concert, too.

But the biggest surprise was how much Derek, a Bon Jovi-scoffer, loved the show.

“That was absolutely amazing! Best concert I’ve ever attended!” he said afterward.

Since then we’ve seen a slew of bands and performers. Our son treated us to Bob Dylan in Seattle. And we got our ’80s groove on with Foreigner, Styx, Loverboy, Joan Jett (twice), Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge when they’ve performed at Northern Quest.

But it was seeing Blondie in 2015 that reminded Derek of the passage of time.

“Debbie Harry is still so hot!” he enthused.

I grinned.

“Not bad for 70, huh?”

Stricken, Derek gasped, “She’s almost as old as my mother!”

Time has not been good for all bands, however.

Derek was delighted when the newspaper asked me to review Def Leppard when they came to town last summer with Tesla and Poison.

The show was fine, and Leppard fans were pleased, but there was a lot of sweat and a lot of screaming – both on stage and in the audience. For the first time, we both had to wear ear plugs.

The difference between metal bands and more mellow bands becomes apparent as the members age.

“You can actually understand the lyrics when the Eagles and Bon Jovi sing,” he said. “Van Halen and Def Leppard just play louder to compensate for their fading vocals.”

There you have it. We’ve reached the age where the words matter just as much as the music.

Some folks do their rocking in chairs, but we’re going to keep doing ours at concert venues – at least while we can still hear the lyrics.

Columns

Sometimes the Simplest Prayers Mean Most

We eagerly scanned the swarms of blue-robed students filing into the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday evening. The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” swelled, and then we spotted our baby boy – not much of a baby anymore.

As Sam received his diploma and was recognized as an honors student who’s already earned 87 credits through the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University, another chapter in our parenting lives closed.

Our fourth and final son graduated from high school.

It was an occasion I couldn’t even imagine 18 years ago when he struggled for every breath in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at now-Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

On a golden September day, Sam, our grand finale, had entered the world weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds, 9 ounces. He had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

He also had a hole in his diaphragm.

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

Milestones like a commencement ceremony remind us of how close we came to losing this child.

Late Friday night following the celebration, while the rest of the household slept, Derek and I quietly recalled Sam’s desperate first days.

He’d been flown by helicopter from Holy Family Hospital to Sacred Heart Medical Center an hour after his birth. Having just given birth I was forced to stay behind while Derek drove downtown.

“When I walked into the NICU, they had Sam restrained on a table,” he recalled. “His back was arched, his face red. He was screaming his head off. They told me he was a fighter, but that I needed to leave the room for a minute. They said they were going to sedate him, that his blood pressure was dangerously high. When they let me back in, Sam was silent and still. So very still.”

And 18 years later, the tears fell as he remembered his helplessness in the face of his son’s need.

My own memories of that day still haunt.

Twelve hours after his birth, I stood next to Sam’s bed. Tubes and wires protruded from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. The ominous whooshing of the ventilator and the beeping and whirring of machines filled the room. He was so fragile that the sound of a voice raised above a whisper sent his blood pressure skyrocketing.

I believe in the power of prayer. I always have. But that morning I could find no words. So I reached two fingers under the maze of wires, rested them on his laboring chest and whispered, please. When he exhaled I whispered thank you.

In the weeks that followed those words became a ritual.

Even as he grew healthy and strong, with no lingering complications, each breath simply seemed miraculous to me. Life is a gift, but how casually we treat it, until we’re forced to confront its fragility.

More nights than I can count, I’d slip into Sam’s room, lay my hand on his chest and whisper please and thank you as he breathed. Over the years that prayer grew to encompass much more than his physical health.

Like his dad, Sam’s going to continue his education at EWU. He plans to become a high school English teacher and will live at home for a while, so our nest won’t be empty anytime soon.

Following the commencement ceremony, we posed for photos. Sam now towers above me, and when I wrap my arms around him, my head rests near his heart.

Once again I found myself whispering please when he inhaled, thank you when he exhaled.

It’s a prayer that’s served me well.

Sam's graduation

Columns

Low-Tech Cindy Meets High-Tech Ruby Sue

The newest member of our family arrived just in time for Mother’s Day. Her name is Ruby Sue, and I’m absolutely in love.

I’m worried my friends will tire of hearing me extol her virtues, but she just has so darn many! She’s helpful, easygoing, and so far has been remarkably patient with me as we get to know each other.

What’s odd is I’ve never found black leather and tinted shades particularly attractive. Until now.

Ruby Sue is a 2015 Ford Escape Titanium.

Our youngest has been driving the 1995 Dodge Caravan that his three older brothers drove. The slider door doesn’t open. The passenger door opens from the inside only. There’s no radio. No air-conditioning. It’s been wrecked at least once by each driver, but the Green Monster seems impossible to kill.

Still my husband said the beast won’t live forever, and it was time to pass Golda MyDear, my 2011 Oldsmobile Intrigue, down to Sam.

“It isn’t manly,” Sam protested.

Who knew aging minivans with peeling paint were manly?

Anyway, Derek diligently searched the internet and found the Ford Escape at a local Subaru dealership.

He showed me the photo and the specs.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Shall we take her for a drive?”

I smiled, already enthralled by her sparkly red paint job and sporty trim.

Ruby Sue drove like a dream, but the back-up camera proved disconcerting. Both Derek and I swiveled our heads and peered at the side mirrors while ignoring the screen in front of us.

The salesman left us to discuss the purchase. Taking a car for a test drive is like going to a shelter to “look” at cats or dogs. You’d better be prepared to shell out some cash and take one home because chances are you will fall in love.

Our discussion was brief thanks to the research Derek had already done. All he needed to know was would low-tech Cindy be happy driving high-tech Ruby Sue.

I nodded.

“I’ll read the manual,” I said.

After a sheaf of paperwork completed the adoption, Derek asked if I wanted to drive her home while he drove Golda back to work.

“Of course!” I said, as I kissed him goodbye and approached my new red ride.

The salesman had already explained the keyless ignition meant I just had to be within a few feet of the door and when I touched the handle it would unlock, which it did. What he failed to demonstrate was how to start the car.

Sliding behind the wheel, I adjusted the mirrors and the lumbar support on the smooth leather seat. Then I pushed the start button. Nothing happened. I fiddled with some things and tried again. The radio came on. I pushed more things on the touch screen. The air conditioner came on.

Finally, I read the screen. “Push brake to start car.”

“Thank you, Ruby Sue,” I said.

It’s been two weeks since I drove her home, and I must admit the learning curve is a bit steeper than I anticipated. I did scan the manual, but I’ve always been a learn-by-doing person.

This rig comes not so much with bells and whistles, but with beeps and bleeps, that I’m still deciphering.

For example, when I pulled into a parking space, Ruby Sue started beeping. I slammed the brake and looked around. No lights were flashing. Auto self-destruct mode hadn’t been activated. It took a few more trips for me to realize the car was just alerting me to the proximity of the curb.

Ruby Sue is quite chatty. Bluetooth technology enabled her to sync with my phone automatically. No more ear pieces or headsets to lose! I can receive and send calls and texts using the buttons on the steering wheel. In fact, everything in the Escape Titanium operates through voice command – the radio, the climate control, even the built-in navigation system.

So far, Ruby and I haven’t had any arguments about the best way to get somewhere.

But we’re still working out a few glitches – mine, not her’s. The trunk is supposed to open and close when I swipe my foot under the tailgate – no more juggling grocery bags and fiddling with keys. Alas, only Derek has figured out how to activate the sensor with one swipe of his foot.

And frankly, the self-parking option freaks us both out. Last night we decided to try it for the first time in the safety of our neighborhood.

We pushed the parking assist button and watched, stunned, as Ruby Sue ably parallel parked herself between our son’s car and our garbage cans.

It’s a surreal experience to sit in the driver’s seat and watch the steering wheel spin as your car parks itself, but I have to say this could be a game-changer and a solution for my frequent downtown parking dilemmas.

My least favorite part of my job used to be all the driving. But now, I take the long way everywhere just to spend more time with Ruby Sue.

It’s safe to say I’ve left Intrigue behind, and now that I’ve Escaped there’s no turning back.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Auditing my childhood wish list

Nothing brings life into focus like finding a list of things you wanted when you were a kid, and measuring it against the reality of your adult life.

That happened to me recently while going through a box of “Cindy” things my Mom has kept since my childhood.

But first can we talk about those locks of hair? I mean, why?

What am I supposed to do with the locks of honey gold hair in the Ziploc sandwich bag? My mother has saved these for 50 years. They’ve traveled across the ocean and back, not even attached to my head.

The artsy-craftsy among you might suggest making some kind of shadow box, so that my once-golden hair will be forever preserved behind glass. I guess I could stick my baby teeth in there, too. Yes. Mom also saved my teeth.

I have to admit that I saved my oldest child’s first tooth as well, and I can’t seem to toss it. I saved another son’s first tooth, but didn’t label it, so now it’s in a sandwich bag in my jewelry box.

And no, I don’t know why it seemed important to save those teeth. I blame my mother.

But back to my hair.

Facebook friends suggested the hair and teeth can be used for DNA purposes. I hope they meant tracing my genetic heritage, and they’re not referring to making a positive ID of my corpse, or using the DNA to tie me to a crime scene.

That’s almost as creepy as the friend who suggested I use it to make a voodoo doll.

The fishermen of my acquaintance suggested my golden locks might be used to make fishing lures. Also creepy.

Others suggested making a keychain or using it to make a clone of myself. And one fashion-retro friend said I could weave it in my hair to make a mini rat tail.

For now, it’s in my jewelry box with my kid’s unlabeled tooth.

While the hair and the teeth were a bit disturbing, Mom also saved quite a bit of my early writing – including a list titled “Things I Want.”

I suspect the list was written during a church service. My parents took us to church every Wednesday night and twice on Sunday, so I had ample time to hone my “sit still, be quiet” skills, and Mom kept a sheaf of scratch paper in her purse to keep me occupied.

I drew a lot of pictures and did even more writing. The writing took. The art, not so much.

The list reads as follows (remember I was 8, I spell much better now.)

A puple bike with training wheels

A 1000 dollars

A Maroon body shirt whith an Aqua skirk. And white go-go boots.

Some corel lipstik. And some peach lipclos. And some pink blosh. And some ponds lemon cold cream,

And some toys.

And a laveder dress with pink and lavender flowers.

But most of all I want God to come! Yas!

Obviously, I was 8 going on 18. Or I wanted to be my mother. Probably both.

Also apparent, I must have been hedging my bets on my wish list by making the good Lord’s return my most heartfelt desire.

So here’s the round-up.

I did NOT get a purple bike with training wheels. I got a blue bike with a red, white and blue striped banana seat. I tried to be grateful, but I was positive the patriotic color scheme meant it was a boys’ bike.

I did get $1,000, at some point in my life, but it was not gifted to me in any magical way. I had to work for it.

I did get a maroon body shirt. For those not familiar with ’70s fashion, body shirts were tight-fitting knit shirts with snap crotches. I suppose the idea was that your shirt would stay nicely tucked in, but let me tell you those snaps were awful, if you drank too much fruit punch at a birthday party and had to wait in line for the bathroom. That’s all I’m saying about that.

I don’t think I had an aqua skirt, but Mom had white plastic go-go boots that ended up in our dress-up box. I loved those boots. In fact, I just might find a pair online, so I’ll be prepared when they come back into fashion.

As for the makeup, I did wear coral lipstick topped with peach lip gloss in middle school, and I still wear pink blush. The Pond’s cold cream? Never used it, but Mom still does.

I don’t remember a lavender dress with pink flowers, but I did have some toys.

All in all, most of the things I longed for as an 8-year-old have come my way, so I can’t complain.

I folded the list and tucked in with the lock of hair and my baby teeth.

Someday my sons can figure out what to do with them. Cloning may be an option by then, and I’m sure having their mother cloned is every son’s dream.

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Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at www.spokesman.com/staff/ cindy-hval/ Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

 

 

 

 

 

Columns

Finding the true meaning of Dyngus

Sightseeing is thirsty business. After exploring the Christmas Story House and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland last month, we stopped for refreshment at the Tremont Tap House.

Our friendly server asked where we were from and when I said Washington, she asked, “The one by Canada?”

Once we were clear on geography and had our beverages, she asked if we’d be in Cleveland for Dyngus Day.

Now, when I was a kid “dingus” was synonymous with dingbat, dumbbell, doofus, and other not so nice words. Who knew there was a special day set aside to celebrate the dim bulbs among us?

Our waitress quickly disabused me of that notion.

“Dyngus Day is also called Wet Monday,” she explained. “It’s the day after Easter. There’s a parade and polkas and pierogis.”

She grabbed a guidebook off the counter.

“You can read all about it,” she said. “It’s a hoot. We throw water on each other and hit people with pussy willow branches.”

I love a good polka as much as anyone, but having water thrown on me, and being smacked by shrubbery isn’t what I consider a “hoot.”

Alas, I didn’t have opportunity to experience the delight of Dyngus because we flew home just before the holiday.

My curiosity was piqued, though, so this weekend I sat down and perused the booklet describing Cleveland’s biggest polka party. And then I delved deeper into the Dyngus.

First of all we were wrong to use the word as a childhood slur because loosely translated it actually means worthy, proper or suitable.

Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the observance of Lent and the joy of Easter. It dates back to the baptism of Prince Mieszko I on Easter Monday in 966 A.D. The water symbolized purification, hence “Wet Monday.”

Cleveland is just one of many cities throughout the U.S. that hosts parties and parades in honor of Easter Monday. The largest celebration is in Buffalo, New York, where a local paper once proclaimed, “Everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day!”

Traditions abound, including wearing red and white, the colors of the Polish flag. But perhaps the most well-known Dyngus Day tradition is that in which single boys try to splash water on single girls as an expression of interest. Rooting from the baptism of the prince, the water represents cleansing, purification and fertility.

Men and women can also flirt with pussy willows, which are among the first plants to bud in the spring. The young men may lightly hit women on their legs to show they are interested.

That’s why my Cleveland guide lists the following as Dyngus Day essential items; pussy willows, squirt guns and polka pants.

Apparently, squirt gun fights and pussy willow whacks add up to a really good time.

Not everyone has been a fan of the celebration. The Bishop of Pozan’ tried to derail Dyngus Day in 1410. He forbade it, instructing residents not to “pester or plague others in what is universally called Dingus.”

Obviously, the prohibition didn’t stick. Probably because other activities include sampling Polish foods like pierogis, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage and drinking pints of piwo (beer).

Polka music is the heart and soul of the party, which means roving accordion bands and plenty of room for dancing.

In Cleveland the celebration culminates with the crowning of Miss Dyngus Day, followed by a parade featuring the “Frankie Yankovic accordion head float.”

I cannot believe we missed an ACCORDION HEAD FLOAT.

Which leaves me to wonder if Spokane has a large enough Polish community to pull of our own party and parade?

In any case, I’ve already planned our next trip to Ohio. I’m practicing my polka because we’ll be back on April 29, 2019 – Dyngus Day.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

A Trip to Remember

I’m not going to lie. I cried when I hugged him. And then I laughed when he grabbed his father and hoisted him off the ground in a bear hug.

Derek is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. No one picks him up – except his second-born son who is an inch shorter and considerably lighter.

Recently, we spent a week in Columbus, Ohio, with our son Alex, his fiancee Brooke and her 4-year-old daughter, Farrah.

We’d planned the trip months ago, hoping to arrive when our grandson was a few weeks old. Sadly, Ian was stillborn on Feb. 23.

I’d wanted to fly out immediately, but now I’m so glad we waited. Alex and Brooke needed that time alone to grieve, to rest and to begin to process the devastating loss.

Our first day together happened to be the one-month anniversary of Ian’s death. We spent time looking at some photos of the baby that we hadn’t seen. Holding the tiny hat he’d worn. Shedding tears over the impossibly light container that held his remains.

“Will we have another Baby Ian?” Farrah asked. “With chubby, red cheeks?”

“Maybe,” Alex answered. “Maybe.”

I was relieved to find how naturally Ian’s name was mentioned – that Alex and Brooke are able to talk about him. While their broken hearts will never be fully mended, talking about their son and his death shows they’re grieving in a healthy way and that will help the healing.

Of course, our visit wasn’t all sad. Derek got to meet Farrah for the first time.

After a few minutes of observation and conversation, she announced, “I love you, Papa Derek.”

The feeling was definitely mutual.

As planned, one of the first things I did was bake an apple pie for my son. It’s been four years since he moved from Spokane – way too long for a boy to go without his favorite treat.

While Brooke rested, and Alex and Derek caught up, Farrah helped me in the kitchen.

She giggled as I sifted flour into the mixing bowl.

“It’s snowing in the kitchen!” she squealed.

And when I rolled out the crust, she eagerly helped “squish” it.

The next day we treated Alex and Brooke to a date night, featuring dinner, a movie, and a long nap, and Derek and I earned our grandparenting gold stars by taking Farrah to Chuck E. Cheese.

When she was pizza’d and soda’d up, we took her back to our hotel for a swim.

Let’s just say Miss Farrah, Nana Cindy and Papa Derek all slept extremely well that night.

Then we hit the road with Alex for a day trip to Cleveland.

Our first stop was the “Christmas Story House,” the actual house where our family’s favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story,” was filmed.

The home has been restored to its movie splendor, complete with the leg lamp, shining in the window. Visitors can pick up Ralphie’s official Daisy Red Ryder BB gun that’s tucked behind the Christmas tree, and climb into Randy’s hiding spot under the kitchen sink.

Alex, 25, handled the BB gun without shooting his eye out, and squeezed into Randy’s cupboard. However, he declined to taste the Lifebuoy soap that rested in the bathroom soap dish.

Having experienced his own soap-in-the-mouth experience as a child (Irish Spring), he didn’t feel inclined to risk soap poisoning again.

From there we drove to the iconic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located on the shores of Lake Erie. We wandered through several floors of exhibits highlighting the history of rock ’n’ roll and celebrating the artists who influenced its development.

My most pressing question (besides why Bon Jovi doesn’t have its own wing) remained unanswered until I returned home to Google it. Why is there a giant hot dog suspended in the middle of the museum?

Turns out the 15-foot flying frankfurter was used as a prop by the band Phish.

It must have wielded a strong influence over Derek. How else to explain why the following day he ordered the Big Dawg at the famed Thurman Cafe in Columbus? The 1-pound footlong Coney Island features the cafe’s Coney sauce – a secret family recipe that’s been homemade since 1942.

Yes, he ate the whole thing, and didn’t even have heartburn later.

On our last night in Columbus, I made Alex’s most requested birthday dinner – white chicken chili. The fragrance of garlic, onion and cumin filled the townhouse.

“When Nana Cindy’s cooking in the kitchen I am starving!” Farrah said.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

We had laughed. We had cried. We’d made memories.

I can’t think of a better way to honor Ian.

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Alex on top of the “E” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Columns

Name that car!

My friend Sarah loves her car. Seriously loves it. So when a rogue deer did significant damage to it one dark February night, she was heartsick.

When she finally got it back from the body shop, she posted a photo of it on Instagram, rejoicing that her Honda Accord’s sleek midnight blue body had been restored.

A friend commented that she loved her car too, and asked Sarah if her car had a name.

Regular readers of this column won’t be surprised by her answer.

Some months ago I wrote about Sarah’s cat – a boy named Rose, with no middle name to give his feline status some dignity.

I suggested Rose Henry. Sarah’s husband balked.

“His name is Rose. Just Rose,” he insisted.

So, of course her beautiful blue car is currently nameless.

Our family vehicles have always had names. After all, sometimes I feel like I spend more time with my car than with my family. I can’t have that kind of intimate relationship with some nameless hunk of metal.

Currently, I drive a gold Oldsmobile Intrigue. Her name is Golda MyDear.

She wasn’t my idea.

When I was finally ready to downsize from the minivan mama life, I imagined my next car would be a ’65 cherry red Mustang convertible. Or a sporty SUV.

But my sister-in-law’s mother could no longer drive, and they wanted to get rid of her car, so as not to tempt her. It was in great condition, with very few miles, and it ended up in our driveway.

A four-door sedan formerly owned by a granny wasn’t what I’d planned, but after a few days behind the wheel, I began to appreciate her tight turn radius and easy ride.

Golda and I hit the road when my book, “War Bonds,” came out. She faithfully took me to bookstores across the state.

I thought everyone named their cars, and judging from the response to my social media post about Sarah’s nameless Honda, lots of people do christen their rides.

My friend, Annie, drives a Pilot named Pontius.

“When it was brand new, I became irritated with how concerned I was with it and to humble myself I named it Pontius,” she wrote.”I realize it’s not a Pilate, but Amelia Earhart seemed too long.”

Betsy has a Subaru named Ruby Sue.

Just reading that makes me happy.

The Curless rigs have more prosaic monikers. “Our truck is the Big Nasty, and the SUV is Grocery Getter,” wrote Gail.

Candy said her first car was a Ford Pinto named Bean.

Some folks give a nod to pop culture. Fans of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films will recognize the origin of Rob Brewer’s Sequoia. Its name is Groot.

His wife calls their Acadia, Katie.

Go ahead. Say it out loud.

My friend Denise said she calls her car Honey, because when it tries to go up a hill without slowing down, she just has to say, “Oh, honey. …”

Susie says her car is “Andretti, because I’m Mario!”

Steven drives “Vandola,” a cross between a van and a gondola, and Kris has Flo the Ford Flex, and Sven the Volvo V70.

Our family fleet included the Red Dragon, my ’75 Pontiac LeMans that one hot summer in our glorious BC (before children) years, took Derek and me all the way to Disneyland with frequent stops due to vapor lock.

The first minivan I drove was christened The Miracle.

With a third child’s birth imminent, we desperately needed a bigger, more reliable vehicle than my aging Ford Tempo.

We couldn’t afford a car payment, so each night during bedtime prayers, our oldest sons prayed for God to send us a minivan.

A few weeks before Zachary’s birth, Derek’s brother and sister surprised us with a used Dodge Caravan.

“We just felt God wanted you to have this car,” his sister said.

“It’s our miracle!” our firstborn said.

Miraculous or not, our cars get us where we need to go. They help us provide for our families. If that’s not deserving of a name, I don’t know what is.

Alas, Sarah’s beloved Honda is still nameless.

My husband suggested she call it The Deer Slayer, but I haven’t had the heart to mention that to her. She’s dealing with far more important issues at the moment.

“Seriously,” she said. “I’ve been too busy trying to think of a middle name for our cats.”

Well. You have to respect her priorities.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at http://www.spokesman.com/staff/cindy-hval/. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.