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

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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.

Columns

Strengthened by Sympathy

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Within hours after my most recent column ran, notes began to trickle into my inbox. The trickle soon became a flood as kind readers wrote to express their sympathy at the loss of our infant grandson, Ian.

Scores of people responded on social media. Dozens sent cards.

The messages echoed: “We are so sorry.” “You and Alex, Brooke and Farrah are in our thoughts.” “We are praying for you.”

Each one felt like a warm embrace.

Of special comfort – the notes that mentioned Ian by name. To see his name written on cards and emails made me feel that however fleeting his tenure was on this Earth, he mattered.

He will always be Alex and Brooke’s firstborn son. He will always be our first grandchild.

Jaded journalist that I am, I still was profoundly moved by a postcard informing me that the Congressional Prayer Caucus was praying for our family.

I’d never heard of the organization. But it’s an official, bicameral caucus of Congress focused on the role that faith and prayer play in our life and history. Each week the members gather in Room 219 of the Capitol and pray for the nation and for specific prayer requests.

The card read, “We just wanted you to know that we prayed for you this evening. You will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Representatives from several states signed the back.

As a person of faith, the knowledge that others are lifting our family up in prayer during this time of sorrow makes the burden of loss seem a bit lighter. It helps to know we aren’t alone in our grief.

My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all who wrote. Your kind thoughts help the healing process, and I sent many of your notes on to Alex and Brooke.

Of course, I’d trade every thought and every prayer to hold Ian in my arms. To watch his eyes flicker open. To hear his cry.

Many who wrote used the words “brave” and “courageous” to describe the column. I didn’t feel brave when I wrote it. I felt broken.

To me, courage describes the parents whose souls are forever seared by grief. The mothers and fathers whose joy and excitement vanishes in the silence of an inexplicably stilled heartbeat.

The members of this tribe are more numerous than I imagined. Many mothers and grandparents wrote, generously sharing their own stories.

Each story mirrored the sadness that my family feels, but also offered words of hope and encouragement.

With her permission, I’m concluding with a note I received from reader Donna Peterson. Her son was stillborn many years ago and her reflections offered great insight and comfort.

She wrote, “I can’t know how you feel, but I have been there, too, with my own child. I am 65 now, so medicine was not as advanced with prenatal issues at the time I lost my son. I had no idea why it happened.

“My daughter, who was 4 at the time said, ‘God took him to heaven and will make him better. Then He will send him back.’

“In 1980 I gave birth to another son. When my daughter looked at him for the first time, she said, ‘See Momma! God sent him back to us!’

“As I read your words I cried again. I grieved a little again – with you – for you and your precious wee one and family.

“Then I remembered my healing moment.

“I had a dream about a poem. I woke up and got my pen to write it down before I forgot the words. For some reason I wanted to share them with you. They are not as eloquent as yours always are, but maybe they might help a tiny bit.”

He would call me Mother

And call his father DAD!

He would be a bright boy …

A handsome, clever lad.

The days passed by so quickly

As joy grew deep within

Then all too soon he left us …

The tiny light grew dim.

Although I’ll always miss him

I will not be sad

For a light will always shine inside

For the son I almost had.

 

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.

Columns, War Bonds

He was too perfect for this world

This was supposed to be the column where I write about the baby shower we had for my son, Alex, and his fiancée, Brooke, and their baby boy, due March 9.

They live in Ohio, and my sister-in-law had the wonderful idea of hosting a trunk shower for them. We invited family and a few close friends, brought unwrapped gifts for the baby and included a few things for his big sister, Farrah, my son’s stepdaughter.

My sister-in-law made me a blue “Nana Cindy” beauty pageant sash and bought me a sparkly new tiara.

While the ladies squealed over tiny baby overalls and sports-themed onesies, my niece videotaped some of the men offering fatherly advice to Alex.

The best advice came from my brother-in-law, who reminded Alex what a great place Spokane is to raise a family. I appreciated his not-so-subtle hint.

My nieces wrapped the gifts in bright blue polka-dot print paper, and we shipped them off to Columbus.

On Feb. 19 the party-in-the-box arrived, and Brooke posted lots of photos on Facebook, so we could see them enjoying their baby shower from Spokane.

This was supposed to be the column where I write about how delightful it was to see my son holding baby bath supplies and tiny socks.

Instead, this is the column where I write about the death of my grandson.

On Thursday morning last week we learned that sometime in the night the baby’s heart had stopped beating.

“Baby Ian passed away,” my son texted.

That text dropped me to my knees.

The sound that came out of my mouth is familiar to grieving mothers and grandmothers of every tribe, every tongue and every nation. It was a wordless wail of loss so shattering I thought my heart had truly broken.

Ian was delivered on Friday morning. He weighed 9 pounds, six ounces and had a full head of dark hair and chubby cheeks, just like his daddy.

He was perfect.

Alex and Brooke were told Ian was a full-term stillbirth, and testing didn’t reveal a cause of death.

Derek and I already had our tickets to visit them next month, but of course, I immediately wanted to fly to Columbus. I wanted to hold my baby while he held his son and said goodbye.

Except my baby is a man, and he needed to focus on the woman he loves.

“Please, just come when you planned,” he asked.

The photos they sent took my breath away. Ian had his daddy’s gorgeous mouth and full lips and his mommy’s pert little nose. I could almost feel his downy head on my chest. I longed to cover those chubby cheeks with kisses.

Instead, I held my phone, while Derek held me, and we wept for the beautiful boy we’d longed to meet.

“We had a baby boy, who was born in heaven. Most beautiful little boy I’ve ever laid eyes on; truly an angel,” Brooke wrote. “He never had to suffer or know the harshness of this world and for that I’m able to stay strong, but my heart will forever be broken.”

When I shared the sad news on social media, someone wrote, “It’s a complicated grief.”

And indeed it is. We grieve as parents for our son’s pain and as grandparents for our loss.

In a few weeks, we’ll fly to Columbus, and instead of doting on our grandson, we’ll spoil Alex, Brooke and Farrah. I’ve no doubt there will be some tears, but I also know that there’ll be laughter. Because these kids are strong and resilient, and so is their love.

“Alex and I believe Ian was sent to us to make us closer, stronger, to love each other more unconditionally,” Brooke said. “To remind us of how precious life is; how lucky we all are to have each other, and to remind us every day to love the ones you have to the fullest. We owe it to him.”

This was supposed to be the column introducing you to my first grandchild.

And so it is.

His name was Ian Lucas Hval, and he was perfect.

Too perfect for this world.

Ian

An image of Ian’s footprints is juxtaposed with father Alex Hval’s hand.

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.


Columns

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

Columns

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.


Columns

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.