Columns

Thankful for Every Milestone

Two weeks ago we sat in a classroom at Eastern Washington University, my husband’s alma mater.

“These chairs are way more comfortable than the ones we used to have,” Derek whispered.

I shushed him as the lecturer stepped to the front of the room and introduced himself.

Even though we know him quite well, we sat forward in our seats so as not to miss a word. The speaker was our youngest son, Sam, and we were there to watch him defend his master’s thesis.

Sam Hval defends his master’s thesis at EWU.

It was the final step to earning his master’s degree in English with an emphasis on literature and writing. Did I mention that Sam is just 22?

He started at EWU as a 16-year-old Running Start student. In six years, he graduated from high school, earned his bachelor’s degree, and now his master’s–and he didn’t incur a penny of debt.

The only help Derek and I gave him was housing him, feeding him and paying for his gas and car insurance. And maybe I threw in a few extra hugs and a listening ear when he decided to switch from education major to English.

As Sam introduced his thesis, “Navigating the Labyrinth of ‘House of Leaves’ Through a Postmodern Archetypal Theory,” I was stunned by his poise. In front of a panel of three professors and a handful of fellow grad students, he eloquently explained a new theory of literary criticism that he’s developed.

This from the kid who in first grade was sent to the reading resource room because his teacher felt he was lagging in reading skills.

This surprised me. Sam’s three older brothers and I had read to him since his birth and he was reading independently by kindergarten.

It turned out Sam found the first-grade reading material “boring.” When he understood the faster he progressed through “The Cat Sat on the Mat,” the sooner he could read chapter books, he suddenly didn’t need additional tutoring.

Our fourth son has been surprising us since birth.

He arrived on a golden September morning within an hour of our arrival at Holy Family Hospital. Weighing in at a hearty Norwegian 9 pounds, 9 ounces, Sam had his father’s broad shoulders and the trace of a dimple in his chin.

Soon after his birth we were told his time with us might be brief. Sam was airlifted to Sacred Heart Medical Center where he was diagnosed with 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 his right lung was fully formed. Our newborn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.

Twenty-two years later, the grief and terror I felt when I saw him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit hasn’t abated. It’s still as sharp as the moment I was told he was so fragile, I could only touch his toe with my finger, and even my whispered “Mama’s here,” elevated his blood pressure to dangerous levels.

Obviously, this story has a happy ending. Sam survived. He grew. He thrived.

And he’d prepared us for the outcome of his thesis defense.

“I’ll either fail, pass with revisions, or pass,” he’d said.

After his presentation, attendees were invited to pose questions or offer comments. I may or may not have shared that after Sam had his wisdom teeth pulled, he’d asserted that the anesthesia had a minimum effect on him.

“It’s because I have a really big brain,” he’d slurred.

Honestly, when you invite your mother to this sort of thing, these kinds of comments are inevitable. As Sam’s older brother said, “Mom’s gotta mom, whether we like it or not.”

I may have been a teensy bit anxious as we waited in the hallway while the panel debated Sam’s fate. I needn’t have worried. He passed with no revisions.

After attending college for six years, Sam isn’t interested in pursuing a doctorate right now. Ideally, he’d like to teach at a community college or private university.

Who knows what the next year will bring?

But this I do know–the students who attend Mr. Hval’s classes will be blessed by a passionate instructor whose love of literature and language stems from both his intellect and his heart.

His time in our nest is drawing to a close. Over the years, I’ve battled the urge to smother, hover and over-mother, but I’ve not taken a moment of his childhood, nor his early adulthood for granted.

Each milestone is a gift I was never sure I’d be granted.

Derek, Cindy and Sam Hval

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon.

Columns

Base Life: Military BRATS reflect

He walked in the door after work and dropped his Air Force cap on my head.

I don’t remember the moment, but my Mom snapped a photo. Toddler me gazes up at the camera, sassy-like, because how can you not feel sassy when you’re wearing Daddy’s cap and shoes with bells on them?

CIndy at two.

It was 1967, and we were living at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. My memories of island life are few.

A spill off a swing that resulted in impacted sand in my eye and a trip to the E.R.

My oldest brother holding me over his head so I could put my feet on the ceiling and “walk like a gecko.”

The smashing, crashing sounds of tropical storms that battered our lanai and tossed our metal garbage cans into the street.

Our next duty station was Vandenberg AFB (now Vandenberg Space Force Base) in Santa Barbara County, California.

Again, my memories are fleeting.

Our first family dog – a mutt we named Riley.

Getting mad at my mom and hopping on my red tricycle. “I’m going back to Guam!” I yelled. Then I got to the end of the block and had to turn around. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street without a grown-up.

My first visit to Disneyland. The Tea Cup ride made me barf. It also made Dad queasy.

My early childhood was steeped in military life and ritual and in my last column about time spent at Fairchild AFB; I invited readers to share their memories of life on a military base.

Steven Stuart (retired Army) had an interesting experience in Berlin. He was stationed there from 1979-81.

“At the time we could go over to East Berlin through Check Point Charlie and the Soviets could come over to West Berlin,” he recalled. “They would come to our PX plaza, park and just sit in their cars. There were usually four of them in small cars, smoking foul-smelling cigarettes, and watching. I always wanted to go talk to one but was informed it was a no-no. It seemed odd that the folks we were sent to protect Berlin from were in our commissary parking lot.”

Frank Schoonover grew up on military bases as an Army BRAT. He explained where we got that term.

“ ‘BRAT’ is a common reference to the children of military members. It’s a term of endearment referring to a group who often endure hardships, frequent moves, school changes, long deployments of a parent and often inadequate government housing,” he wrote.

Like many of our military traditions, the term had its genesis with the British Army.

“It’s an abbreviation for British Regiment Attached Traveler and denotes those family members who could travel with their military sponsor,” he said. “Those of us who are military brats revere the epithet as a prized acronym.”

His memories include living in Fort Meade, Maryland, where his family shared a former garage with another family – the two dwellings separated by blankets strung on a clothesline. They also shared a single bathroom.

At Fort Bliss, Texas, they lived in what once had been a stable and still had raised blocks in the bedrooms that had been used for shoeing horses. But better digs were in store.

“Our ultimate castle was also at Fort Bliss,” he recalled. “We moved into a former WAAC barracks. The bathroom had 15 sinks, showers and commodes. My mother immediately limited use to three. Woe to anyone who used a fourth!”

Paddy Inman has fond memories of Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, California. He spent his eighth-grade year there in 1959-60.

“It was the most idyllic year of my life,” he said. “Hamilton was the Air Force Command Headquarters on the West Coast, and it was demonstrated by the amenities afforded to all the base residents.”

Every building on the base from schools to the gym to clubs was built in the Spanish style – white stucco, red tile roofs, large wood doors with brass knockers, black wrought-iron railings, expansive lawns, smooth asphalt roads with curbing and lined with palm trees.

“It exuded the aura of a posh resort more than a military installation,” Inman wrote.

One of his first jobs was pin setting in the base bowling alley.

“We sat on a raised platform in the ball pit at the end of the alley and frequently had to dodge flying pins,” he recalled. “We were paid 10 cents per line and often worked as many as six hours in the pit. If we were fast and accurate, the bowlers would sometimes leave a tip for us at the front desk.”

One of his best friends and frequent companion was the son of the base commander, who had a powerful go-kart he rode on the base roads until the MPs picked him up and delivered him home.

“His most famous escapade was roaring down a long hill toward the base headquarters in his go-kart with another of our friends standing on the back saluting during the Retreat ceremony at 5:00 and being pursued by the military police,” recalled Inman. “His dad finally decided the go-kart had to go.”

Deborah Winter’s dad was a pilot in the USAF from 1954 to 1978.

She remembers living on base at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, in the early ‘60s, where she’d lie awake at night comforted by the sound of jet engines.

“Mom would take me and my two brothers to the flight line to welcome my dad home from several weeks of ‘alert,’ ” she recalled. “As they taxied the B-47s, they would pop the cockpit canopy and wave at us.”

She learned to drive on an unused runway at Lajes Field, Azores.

Winter said the bases all had things in common: a close-knit community, other kids ready and willing to make friends quickly, meals at the Officer’s Club, and support for the wives and families when husbands were away.

That lifestyle made a lasting impression.

“Later on I would earn my own wings as a Naval Flight Officer and serve as a navigator in my squadron,” she said.

As Father’s Day approaches, my 27th without my dad, I scroll through black-and-white photos of him in uniform. My memories of his time of service may be fleeting, but the feelings the photos evoke linger–pride, gratitude and so much love.

Columns

Ritual Rekindles Memories of Life on Base

The echoing roar stopped us in our tracks.

Like everyone else in the parking lot of Fairchild Air Force Base Commissary, we craned our necks and watched the Thunderbirds practicing for SkyFest. It was the Friday before the air show and we were thrilled to get a sneak peek at the six F-16C Fighting Falcons soaring through the blue skies and darting in and out of fluffy white clouds.

I’ve spent a lot of time at Fairchild, beginning at birth. My dad served 24 years in the Air Force. My oldest brother and I were born at the base hospital. My second brother was born at a base in Montana and my sister in the Philippines.

After several moves, we returned to Washington when I was 5, and we always did our grocery shopping at Fairchild. Even after Dad retired and we lived in Ritzville and then Moses Lake, we drove to the base to stock our pantry.

I remember the old commissary that seemed more like a dimly-lit warehouse than a grocery store. Mom bought “GI bread” in its plain wrapper and Circus Peanut Butter that came in tall plastic jars.

I lived in terror that my friends would discover my sandwiches weren’t made from Jif and Wonder Bread. Still, that would’ve been better than them seeing the bologna in our refrigerator that came in a huge hunk. My dad hacked off crooked slices and when I’d decline a sandwich, he’d fry it up in a pan for breakfast.

Oh, to have a thinly sliced Oscar Meyer, Bologna, with pre-sliced American cheese sandwich in my Barbie lunchbox!

We didn’t just grocery shop at Fairchild. There were doctor visits, dental checkups and trailer rentals.

Yep, Fairchild has an Outdoor Recreation Center where active duty and retired military personnel can rent tents, trailers and everything you need for a family camping trip.

That is everything except a dad who can put up a tent and back a trailer into a campsite. Dad was not an outdoorsy kind of guy, so while mom “helped” (mainly by laughing hysterically) my siblings and I usually just pretended we were with another family.

Of course, I married a military man. Derek served 23 years in the Washington National Guard which turned out to be providential. Without our monthly trips to the commissary, our budget would have buckled under the strain of feeding four growing boys.

Nowadays, with just one kid at home, our trips to Fairchild are far less frequent, but our recent visit complete with thundering jets overhead was something special. We finished our shopping at 5 p.m. If you’re familiar with military life you know what that means.

As we were loading our groceries into the car “Retreat” began to play through loudspeakers across the base. The tune signals the end of the official duty day and is followed by the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the lowering of the flag.

The piping bugle call echoed and everyone, whether in uniform or not, stopped what they were doing and faced the nearest flag. All vehicles stopped. Those in uniform stood at parade rest, and the rest of us put our hands over our hearts.

It’s a beautiful thing to see a bustling military base come to a standstill. To watch older retired folks, young civilian grocery baggers, and men and women in uniform, united for a few moments of respect and reflection.

May is military appreciation month and we’re heading into Memorial Day weekend. Today, I’ve got “Retreat” set to play on my phone. At 5 p.m. I plan to stand and let my workday worries go. I’ll be thinking about the men and women in uniform across the world who are doing the same thing.

And I don’t have to be on a military base to feel profoundly thankful for their service.

Sam Hval places a pinwheel on his grandfather’s grave at Washington State Veteran’s Cemetery.
Columns

Taking the unexpected gifts of COVID-19 into post-pandemic life

On Jan. 17, 2019, Derek and I whooped, hollered, and danced at Northern Quest Resort & Casino as REO Speedwagon made us feel like teenagers again – albeit teenagers whose ears rang for hours after the high-decibel show.

We had no idea a global pandemic meant it would be three years before we’d return to the casino for an indoor concert.

On April 24, we eased our way back into the live music scene to see Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Clad in his trademark polka-dot shirt, he promptly tore into a number and busted a string on his guitar.

The enthusiastic crowd roared.

Guy, 85, delivered a lesson on the blues, tracing the history of the music and downplaying his part in its evolution.

Then he grinned

“I’m gonna play you a song so funky, you can smell it,” he said.

And he did.

Last week, we upped our funk level when we saw “Hamilton” at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. The promise of seeing this award-winning show is what prompted our purchase of Best of Broadway season tickets, oh so long ago.

While we’ve enjoyed the season, this is the show we’d most anticipated. Some things are worth waiting for and “Hamilton” is one of them. Who could have imagined a Broadway show about the architect of the American financial system would be such a phenomenon?

The stellar cast captivated the crowd with the musical’s mix of hip-hop, R&B and big Broadway sound and we were thrilled to see downtown Spokane bustling again.

I’m happy our calendar is again filled with all the activities we missed during the pandemic, but despite the fear, isolation and loss COVID-19 ushered in, the shutdowns also offered some unexpected gifts.

Recently, my friend Jill reminded me of our pandemic walks along the Centennial Trail. For years, we’ve stayed connected via lunches, coffee dates and countless happy hours. Suddenly, none of those things was possible.

So we took our conversation outdoors. Every week, we met at a trailhead and walked and talked – relishing in movement, in the beauty around us, in seeing another human face-to-face.

Spokane River seen from The Centennial Trail

Those outings were a bright spot in a dark, scary time.

It’s great to share a meal again, but I think we’ll lace up our walking shoes and hit the trail before our next happy hour.

Speaking of meals, weekly family dinners, including our two sons who don’t live at home, became sacrosanct during the shutdowns. Cooking is how I show love, so feeding these young men fed my heart.

Our little “bubble” of five savored the connection of familiar faces around the table, and we even brought back family game night. It gave us all something reliable to look forward to during an uncertain time.

Now that our activities have expanded, we’re considering making family dinner a monthly event instead of weekly. But I miss my grown-up boys, so you can be sure this mom will still regularly gather them around my table.

I got the hospitality gene from my mother. Not being allowed to see her for six months, even though she lives less than a mile away, was one of the worst things I experienced during COIVID-19.

When I finally received notice from her care facility that outdoor, masked visits were allowed as long as there was no physical contact, I immediately scheduled a visit.

We met under the portico.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

I laughed through my tears.

“Yeah, these masks make us all look good.”

Thankfully, now I can visit her room as often as I want, and though masks are still required, hugging is allowed.

While I’m delighted by the return of live entertainment and dining out, and all it means to our local economy, I hope I never lose the pandemic-sparked appreciation for things I used to take for granted.

The healing balm of a walk outdoors with a friend.

The boisterous conversation of a shared family meal.

The joy of a warm hug from my mom.

Perhaps I needed a pointed reminder that the things I value most don’t cost a dime.

Columns

Feeling Deflated, Ruby Sue Got New Shoes

Pride goes before a fall, or in my case before a pothole.

I should have known better than to extol the virtues of my Ford Escape, Ruby Sue. The day after my column ran, Ruby Sue and I had an inescapable encounter with one of Spokane’s meanest potholes.

The small strip of Lincoln Road that runs between Crestline and Market streets is notorious for potholes and I usually avoid it. But that Friday I was leaving later than I planned and thought I could just drive down the center of the street avoiding the worst of the potholes. But traffic turned out to be heavy that morning and with a sickening jolt, I hit a crater that’s likely visible from the moon.

Immediately, my tire pressure light flashed. I called my husband and asked his advice. He thought I could probably continue to my destination and check for damage when I arrived. While on the phone with him, Ruby Sue started pulling to the right. I was just minutes away from Derek’s office, so I drove straight there.

Good thing I did. Ruby Sue’s right front tire was flatter than the Seahawks’ hope for the playoffs next fall. Derek hauled out our spare. Guess what? It was flat, too!

Car ownership can be a pain, but in response to my previous column readers shared the joys of a sweet ride.

Mike Storms didn’t learn to drive until he was 22.

“When I was in Vietnam the Army couldn’t believe an American my age didn’t know how to drive, so they had me take a test in a deuce and a half,” he wrote. “Pretty big truck, but it had an automatic transmission.”

Turns out his bike-riding skills didn’t transfer to a big rig. He ran into a Vietnamese garbage truck in front of the motor pool.

Back in the states, he took a AAA course while in college and earned his license. His first car was a $25 1950 Chevy. He’s driven a long way in a lot of vehicles since then.

“My most recent car is a 2014 Honda Insight hybrid. I’ve had it almost a year and love it,” he said.

Lynda Gorman Parry’s 1967 GTO got her in trouble at intersections.

“How many times have I been unable to resist the urge to show some teenage guy that this ’67 GTO could still move?” she wrote.

She and her husband purchased the car right off the showroom floor in 1966 when they were fresh out of college.

But 14 years later, when she was a 35-year-old mother of three, she realized the car no longer fit her image.

Gorman said she knew it was time to get a new ride when she got tired of explaining to her daughter’s classmates on field trips that, “Yes, this GTO can reach 80 in a few seconds, but no, I’m not going to prove it on the way to the museum!

“We’ve since purchased several more practical cars, but none as memorable.”

Mary Hunter’s first car was her favorite – A 1971 Volkswagen 411. She bought it from her mom and named it Heinrich.

Heinrich took her on her first road trip, from Caspar, Wyoming, to Laramie, Wyoming.

“A beautiful sunny summer day, I will never forget that first real taste of freedom,” she recalled. “I now drive a VW Passat, which I also love, but that little 411 is still in my heart.”

Reader Jim Perez came of age in the 1950s and ’60s and developed a lifelong love of hot rods. He had a very specific car in mind for his first purchase.

“The gleam in my eye always seemed to have a reflection of a Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige, two-door hardtop 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, complete with a 283 cubic inch V-8 engine and, hopefully, a four-speed, manual transmission,” he wrote.

His plans changed when he spotted a 1956 Chevy for sale.

“For some reason, it captivated me and I wound up buying it, forgetting all about the ’57 Bel Air,” Perez said.

He and his brothers worked on the Chevy, replacing the upholstery, installing a bigger, faster engine, and some shiny chrome wheels.

“It became my pride and joy,” he said.

Perez sold the beauty for $700 when he joined the military, even though his dad had offered to store it for him, telling him he’d regret parting with it.

“It was much later in life that I came to realize that the older I got, the smarter my dad was,” Perez said.

He pined after that car for decades.

“Amongst other things, I’ve learned not to give up on dreams,” he said. “About the time I retired, I found the exact same model of ’56 Chevy as the one I had in high school.”

Perez lovingly restored it to close to its original glory.

“I still get that carefree feeling when I drive it,” he said.

I love happy endings, so I’m glad to say that Ruby Sue’s tale has one, too – an expensive ending, albeit a happy one. Thankfully, the pothole incident didn’t damage the wheel or the front end and Ruby Sue ended up getting new shoes–four of them.

Derek shrugged.

“She was going to need new tires this fall, anyway,” he said.

My ride has been restored. Now, I just need to work on my evasive driving skills until pothole season gives way to street repair season on Spokane’s mean streets.

Columns

Car Ride Down Memory Lane

Frustrated, I sorted through the jumble of keys looking for a fob.

“How am I supposed to unlock the door?” I muttered.

Ruby Sue (my Ford Escape) had to spend the night at the dealer for a part recall issue and I was driving my youngest son’s car (formerly mine). That’s when I discovered how thoroughly I’d been spoiled.

We didn’t have an electronic key fob for the 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. I had to unlock the door with the actual key.

I’d forgotten how low the Intrigue sits, and instead of smoothly sliding into the driver’s seat, I sat down hard and looked for the push-button ignition. Nope. Once upon a time, you had to insert a key to start a car.

The gray cloth interior has held up well, but our frigid weather had me longing for Ruby Sue’s seat warmers.

Times have changed since my dad bought me my first car, a 1970s model two-door Toyota Corolla. He bought it from a guy at Fairchild AFB and paid $900 for the rather battered navy blue car.

“I gotcha a car,” he announced. “Here’s the keys, let’s take her for a spin.”

We went out to the driveway and I slid behind the wheel.

“What’s this other pedal for?” I asked.

Dad raised his brows.

“That’s the clutch. Forgot to tell you, it’s a manual transmission.”

I’d never driven a stick shift, but Dad said it was super easy. He gave me a quick rundown on how to shift, and we lurched out of the driveway and immediately stalled mid-street. After an agonizingly jolting trip around the neighborhood, my father pronounced my skills “good enough.”

The Corolla didn’t last long enough to get a name. A few months later, I drove through an unmarked intersection on my way home from work at Pioneer Pies and was T-boned by a kid driving a big pickup.

I got a trip to the hospital from the EMTs I’d just served pie to and the totaled Toyota got a trip to the junkyard.

No more stick shifts for this girl. Instead, Dad gave me his white Chevy Nova. Fun fact, those Novas looked just like Spokane police cars at the time. On the rare occasion I ventured somewhere I probably shouldn’t have, the gatherings broke up quickly as teenagers fled muttering “cops.”

That Nova earned me another trip to the ER when a driver crashed into me after speeding through a light.

Dad decided for safety’s sake I needed to drive a tank, but tanks weren’t street legal. He settled for a 1978 Pontiac LeMans.

He thumped the hood.

“I think this beast is made of solid steel,” he said. “But I still want you to wear a helmet when you drive.”

Me and Loretta circa 1984 in downtown Davenport, Washington

Loretta was my only red car until the advent of Ruby Sue. Her white vinyl interior was cracking, but she drove like a dream. She took my best friend and me on our first road trip, to Davenport, Washington. Loretta took Derek and me on our honeymoon. A couple of years later we drove her all the way to Disneyland for our final BC (Before Children) fling.

Sure, she didn’t have air conditioning and we roasted on our way through Oregon. Yes, we found out what vapor lock is on the side of a California freeway, but by golly, that car body didn’t ding, dent or crumple.

When we started our family, Loretta made way for a boring Ford Taurus, followed by a succession of necessary minivans. As our nest began to empty, we adopted Golda MyDear (the Oldsmobile) before Derek bought sparkling red Ruby Sue.

It’s impossible to count the hours I’ve spent on the road hauling kids to school, sports practices or jobs, and journalists spend a lot of time in their cars. That’s why I’m so thankful my minivan mama days are in the rearview mirror and I finally have a car that I can boss around. I can pull up maps, adjust the temperature, make calls and change radio stations all by voice command.

When I picked up Ruby Sue after our 24-hour separation, I sat for a moment reveling in the warmth of the heated leather seat, and then I planted a big kiss on the steering wheel.

“I’ve missed you, girl,” I said.

And I like to think she missed me, too.

Columns

Worn, but wearable

Every morning, I shrug myself into its welcoming contours. The once-fluffy pink nap has worn smooth. The cuffs, graying after repeated washings. I knot the belt, grab my coffee and shuffle downstairs to my desk and begin my day.

Recently, it dawned on me that my pink bathrobe is the oldest piece of clothing I own that I still wear.

Twenty-two years ago, I’d gone shopping for a new one. Heavily pregnant with our unplanned but oh, so welcomed fourth child, I decided to make sure I had a photo-worthy bathrobe for the post-birth photos.

No other color but pink would do, because I was positive that after having three sons, this last child would be a girl.

I mean, what are the odds that our unexpected blessing is a boy? I thought to myself.

I’d already jettisoned all our boy baby clothes when I’d thought our family complete. And since obviously math and understanding odds are not in my wheelhouse, I restocked our nursery with all things pink.

We all know how that turned out. Our Samantha turned out to be a Samuel. Back to the store went the pink, lacy things–except for the bathrobe.

I’m not a sentimental saver of things I can’t wear or don’t use. Sure, I have the fancy dress I wore at high school graduation and the sleek velvet dress I bought at the Goodwill when I finally lost all the weight I’d gained after having our grand finale – but those are the exceptions. I know I’ll never wear that lilac and white lace grad gown, but if I get consumption or another wasting disease, the velvet Christmas dress is still within my reach.

I wondered what clothing others held onto and still wore, so I posted the question on Facebook.

Miriam Robbins replied that she has a coat, bought at Value Village more than 25 years ago.

“It became my yard work coat to wear in the spring and fall when it’s too cold to go without one and not cold enough to wear my heavy winter coat,” she said.

Sue Lani Madsen has her father’s pea coat from his first tour of duty with the U.S. Coast Guard in the early 1950s.

“I wore the pea coat all during high school and imagined I was Ali McGraw in ‘Love Story,’ she said. “Still wear it occasionally–nothing better when it’s cold and wet.”

A black sweater still suits Jackie Wells.

“It’s probably at least 25 years old. It’s stretched out, but oh so comfy – the perfect thing to put on in a cold winter, movie, popcorn sort of night,” she said.

Scooter Mahoney found boots that last.

“I still wear my waffle stompers that I got in 1971. They’ve never needed any repair work done. LOVE them!” she said.

Last week I organized my mom’s closet for her. My brother and his wife had given her a new robe for Christmas. It’s gorgeous! Soft teal chenille, with a cozy faux fur collar. I didn’t know they made bathrobes with fur collars.

It’s probably time to retire my worn, but still serviceable robe. Yet I’m reluctant. I remember the day I bought it and the absolute optimism I felt at the impending birth of my long-awaited daughter.

I didn’t know that in a few weeks another blue bundle of boy would be placed in my arms, but 22 years later, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not even the robe.

What’s the oldest piece of clothing you own that you still wear?

All Write, Columns

The Final Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We both cried a bit then.

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

“Harvey is my heart,” she said.

Bonnie and Harvey Shaw, 2014

Lastly, Betty Ratzman died Dec. 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss Betty, and Bonnie and Melba Jeanne.

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

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

Columns

“CIN” Relives Racing Glory Days

My glory days aren’t exactly the ones Bruce Springsteen refers to in his iconic song.

I wasn’t a high school softball champ or a beauty queen, but once upon a time I consistently placed in the top three on the Pole Position arcade game in the SUB (Student Union Building) at Spokane Falls Community College.

For those unfamiliar with 1980s arcade games, Pole Position is a racing simulation video game that was released by Namco in 1982 and licensed to Atari, Inc. Wikipedia refers to it as “one of the most important titles from the golden age of arcade video games.”

So. That’s how old I am – ancient enough to have been there for the “golden age.”

I’d play between classes, using my tip money from my waitressing job at Pioneer Pies.

The game features a steering wheel, a gear shift for all two gears, and a gas pedal. No braking needed – kind of the way my dad said I drove in real life.

For most of 1984, “CIN” (my video game moniker) consistently placed high in the winner’s circle. I also loved pinball. The bling! The bang! The gaudy, glitter glory of Flash Gordon and Medusa!

When Derek and I married in 1986, I was waitressing at the Grill (formerly The Men’s Grill) next door to the Apple Tree restaurant at Frederick and Nelson’s downtown. As newlyweds and college students, we couldn’t afford fancy dates. Every couple of weeks, we’d take my tip money to a North Side arcade or the old Lilac Lanes Bowling Alley on Division and play.

Obviously, we were early adapters to home video game systems.

My brother bought our boys a Nintendo 64 to keep them entertained at Grandma’s house. Guess who would go over to play it after the kids were in bed? Guess who beat Super Mario 64 first?

I was less enamored with the Game Cube; however, the Nintendo Wii stole a lot more hours than I’d like to admit. They were supposed to be workout hours with the Wii Fit, but, well, Super Mario Galaxy had to be conquered.

Imagine my delight when my sons told me I could relive my glory days at an arcade without hauling a bagful of quarters?

When the Jedi Alliance finally opened at their new location on Broadway in March, my boys checked it out and then encouraged us to go.

After one visit, Derek and I added it to our list of favorite date night destinations.

For a $12 ($15 on Friday and Saturday) contribution, guests can play 120 arcade and pinball games as many times as they’d like.

Contribution, because the Jedi Alliance is a registered church, and owner Tyler Arnold is an ordained minister through the Universal Life.

“As far as I know, we’re the only physical Jedi church in the world,” owner Arnold said.

“Church is a community – a place for people to belong.”

That’s just what he’s created. While the gaming is great, there’s more to experience. Arnold has housed his eclectic pop-culture collection in the 7,400-square-foot building.

A shrine to one of his favorite bands, The Ramones, has a home on the second floor along with dozens of one-of-a-kind movie props. A collection of life-size scary clowns mingled with Star Wars characters. vintage games, movies and collectibles are available for purchase.

On a recent visit, kids from 6 to 60-plus reveled in the old-fashioned fun of games without handheld controllers or headsets.

“I teach kids how to play pinball all the time,” Arnold said.

As to his own favorite game?

“My favorite is the newest one I got.”he 1980 Black Knight pinball, held his attention at the time of this interview, but he planned to have a QBert game up and running in December.

Meanwhile, Derek found he hadn’t lost his Ms. Pac-Man chops and I reconnected with Phoenix, a fixed shooter arcade game.

Of course, there was Donkey Kong, GoldenEye pinball, and so much more, including a couple of cool Terminator games that wore out our trigger fingers.

And of course, the pinnacle of my glory days – Pole Position. Alas, my arcade driving skills have grown rusty with disuse and CIN didn’t place anywhere near the top.

“Maybe you should try the cockpit version – it has a brake,” my husband advised.

As if.

At any rate, our visits provided me with a New Year’s resolution I hope to achieve. It may take a lot of visits to Jedi Alliance, but someday I hope to make it into the top 10 in Pole Position again.

And I don’t even need to save my quarters.

Columns

Pet Tales: Readers Share Pet Stories

Recently, I wrote about Sir Walter Scott’s terrible 2s. No, not the Scottish novelist and poet, but rather our rescue tabby, with the lofty literary name.

Our Walter is anything but lofty and having reached his second year, shows no signs of settling down to a sedate feline life. Why should he when there are plastic bags filled with noodles, chips, or marshmallows to plunder? And obviously, Walter feels that I’m the one in need of constant supervision. (He’s precariously perched on the back of my desk chair as I type.)

I invited readers to share stories about their quirky pets. Below you’ll meet canine pals who need their blankets adjusted properly and take their recycling responsibilities seriously. And there are cats who lounge in cupboards, stand up to big dogs, and switch on lights and radios if breakfast isn’t served promptly.

Readers’ pets

Theodora Sallee adopted Jack. an 18-pound ginger cat at Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service about five years ago. She said he was the calmest cat she’d ever seen, so she felt comfortable taking him out on her deck. She spotted a new neighbor and walked over to introduce herself.

The neighbor’s large dog barked and ran toward Sallee.

“Suddenly there was this shrieking and growling yellow streak that ran past me directly towards the dog,” said Sallee. “It was Jack! My neighbor and I were both surprised and the dog so scared he retreated about 10 feet.”

They were both thankful for the fence that separated them, and Sallee has since learned that Jack tolerates well-behaved dogs, but if they bark or act aggressively he will put them in their place.

Speaking of dogs, Beverly Gibb’s whippet is also named Jack.

“He requires a ‘Jack-nap’ every day around 1 p.m.,” she wrote. “After an hour or so, he lifts a bit to indicate he’s ready to rotate. At that point I am expected to hold up his blanket, so he can rotate around to his other side. If I don’t hold up the blanket, he’ll get all tangled up and drag the blanket around.”

Debbie Walker’s 10-month-old gray tabby likes to have an early breakfast. Really early.

“About 4:30 every morning he starts walking around on top of me to wake me up,” Walker wrote. “If I don’t get up within a few minutes, he turns on the light and if that doesn’t work he turns on the radio. Both the radio and the lamp have buttons on top that he pushes with his paw to turn them on. The first time was probably just an accident but as soon as he figured out it got me up he began deliberately waking me that way. Always the light first, then the radio. By then I’m fully awake, and breakfast is served.”

She’s then allowed to go back to sleep.

“I love him anyway,” Walker said.

*

My Walter is in good company when it comes to his plastic bag obsession. Denise Hanson’s rescue kitty JerryBoy also adores plastic bags.

“JerryBoy loves playing with big paper grocery bags, too,” Hanson said. “He will crawl in and want me to take him for a walk around the house while he’s in the bag (which, of course, I do).”

Sarah Sledge’s cat Chippie likes to curl up in the cupboard atop her clean dishes. He’s also partial to reclining on her washing machine and the alcove above the television.

“I’ve got to watch him every minute, just like a toddler,” she said.

Virginia Utley’s dog cattle dog Gem may be retired from obedience competition, but he still likes to help out around the house.

“Gem recycles my Amazon boxes,” wrote Utley. “I hold up the box and say ‘recycle!’ Gem grabs the box, puts his foot on it, and rips it up in a frenzy of canine destruction. It’s our way of going green.”

They may be exasperating, adorable, comical, or sweet, but for many of us, the pandemic brought into focus just how much our furry friends add to our lives.

As Utley said, “Our fuzzy companions give us just what we need during the dark times.”

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