Columns

Quilts and the ties that bind

 

56567321_2269960953042519_8252634021217959936_n[1].jpg

Newly retired, Dad waited by the front door to take my mom grocery shopping.

“Tom, you can’t wear that,” Mom exclaimed.

“Why? Don’t I match?” he asked.

A fair question, since Dad was notoriously color-challenged.

But that wasn’t the problem. He’d donned a sport coat and a snazzy red tie with multicolored stripes.

“Sweetheart, you’re retired. You don’t have to wear a tie every day anymore, especially not to the grocery store,” Mom explained.

Disappointed, he removed the tie, but kept the jacket.

Dad loved his neckties.

He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas. As he labored in the sweltering heat, he dreamed of a different life – one that involved a desk job and wearing suits and ties.

His career in the United States Air Force, followed by a career with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, allowed him to achieve his dreams.

When he died in 1995, he’d amassed an amazing collection of neckties. My husband kept a couple, and most of them were donated to a local thrift shop. But I couldn’t part with all of them. I set aside a few dozen and gave them to some dear friends who incorporated them in a beautiful quilt. That quilt hung in my Mom’s bedroom until two years ago when she moved to a retirement facility.

Now, it’s draped over our living room sofa where I can see it every day and think about how blessed I was to have a dad like mine.

It’s also a daily reminder of the friends who took the time to create such a sweet remembrance.

I love quilts, like my dad loved ties. The beauty, artistry and stories behind the patterns fascinate me. Sadly, when it comes to sewing, I’m all thumbs and totally lacking in skill or patience.

Thankfully, I have friends who work magic with fabric, needle and thread.

The necktie quilt isn’t my only memory-filled patchwork. Eleven years ago, our oldest son was struggling through adolescence. His actions and attitudes grieved me. I worried. I fretted. I prayed.

A friend made a lap quilt for me to curl up in when I felt overwhelmed. Because I’d often referred to our firstborn as our “golden child,” she incorporated big golden hearts throughout the design. The border features the worlds of one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

That quilt kept me mindful of my son’s true nature. Every time I wrapped myself in it, I felt cocooned in the comfort of my friend’s love and prayers, evident in each tiny stitch.

My husband has his own special quilt. A diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both hips a few years ago rocked him. A strong, active man, he struggled with the reality of a degenerative disease at a relatively young age.

Bonnie, my sister-in-law, knows that pain all too well. So, she went into her sewing room and crafted a cat-covered quilt for Derek. Using masculine colors for the backing and border, the counterpane delighted both of us – especially when we spotted the cat curled up in a basket that looks just like our Thor.

And recently, a new quilt arrived in the mail, made by an extremely talented, prolific quilter.

Its vibrant colors brighten our bedroom, adding homespun cheer, and the accompanying note warmed my heart.

“Thank you, dear friend, for all your glorious words which help so many,” she wrote.

You can spend hundreds of dollars on beautifully pieced quilts, but the quilts in my home are priceless. Each one is threaded with memories, and has been stitched with prayer and bound with love.

Columns

Childhood Pleasures vs. Adult Perks

She breezed by me, her skinny legs pumping hard, her hair, untethered by a helmet, flew straight behind her like Superman’s cape.

As she leaned into a turn, I caught the flash of her grin before she became a blip on my horizon.

Just a girl on a bike on a sunny spring day, but she took my breath away.

I remember riding my bike just like that. Tearing off after school, standing to pump my legs faster, and flinging my bike down in a friend’s front yard for an afternoon of play.

The girl reminded me of a question my friend Sarah had posted on Facebook: What do you miss most about your childhood? What do you love about adulthood?

Sarah, who grew up in Southern California, misses the ocean.

I replied that what I miss most about childhood is having time to read. Actually, what I really miss is having time – that delicious feeling of hours stretching before you, waiting to be filled with books. Or bikes.

It’s funny how as teenagers we chafe under parental restrictions and pine for the freedom of adulthood. It seems to me there’s a lot of freedom in childhood. At least there was in mine.

Oh, I had to go to school. There was homework and some chores. But mostly there was time to play. Growing up in the ’70s we didn’t have organized play dates. Mom was an at-home mother who didn’t drive, so my friends mostly lived in my neighborhood. After school – and a quick snack– I’d hop on my bike. No cellphone. No helmet. Just the unbreakable rule to be home by 5 p.m. because that’s when Dad got home.

Of course, there were rules I hated. A ridiculously early bedtime, limited television viewing, my mother being in charge of my wardrobe, and worst of all no reading in bed after 9. That’s why flashlights were invented and probably why I have terrible vision today.

One of the best things about being an adult is being able to read in bed as long as I want. The irony is now I often find myself nodding off before midnight.

Which brings me to the second part of Sarah’s question: What do you love most about adulthood?

My answer? I enjoy having meaningful work and the lifelong love of a truly good man – both things I dreamed of as a child.

Motherhood has been my most meaningful work by far. For many years, nurturing four baby boys to adulthood consumed my heart and my hours.

My sons still consume my heart, but the remaining two under my roof no longer require much nurturing. They do require feeding, and seem to enjoy an occasional hug, and sometimes conversations about goals, hopes and dreams. But they’re independent souls who get themselves to work and to school without assistance.

I’m so thankful that my work that earns a paycheck is also meaningful. Local news matters now more than ever. It’s a privilege to share community stories whether about lasting marriages, new businesses, successful students, or great nonprofits.

And despite a deadline-driven work life, my husband and I have more time together. After years of heavy-duty parenting, it’s wonderful to discover how much we still enjoy each other’s company. Weekend getaways, weekly date nights or just hanging out at home, have helped us anticipate, instead of dread, the empty nest.

It’s not quite the same feeling as riding your bike through the neighborhood without a care in the world, but it’s nice just the same.

I think sometimes we find ourselves so bent under the weight of adult responsibilities that we lose our capacity for joy, for wonder, for play.

Childhood pleasures versus adult perks? Perhaps we can have both.

I haven’t owned a bike since childhood. Maybe it’s time to ride again.

Your turn.
What do you miss most about childhood? What do you love most about being an adult?

Columns

A trip to the past with the kids

Crescent_window_t1860[1]

They didn’t exactly press their noses against the glass, and they didn’t squeal like the tiny girl who danced in front of them when she spotted the sugar plum fairies, but our two younger sons pronounced the animatronic Christmas displays at the Davenport Grand Hotel “pretty cool.”

When the Downtown Spokane Partnership pulled together volunteers to restore some of the displays that once adorned the windows of The Crescent department store, I knew I wanted to see them again. Taking Sam, 19, and Zach, 24, with me was just a bonus.

It’s not often you get to revisit your childhood with your kids. To my delight, the displays haven’t lost any of their magic. My favorite elf roasting a marshmallow at the North Pole was back, as were the busy beaver family chopping wood.

While I fondly remember The Crescent Christmas windows of my childhood, I also have more recent Crescent memories.

I worked at the downtown department store and later the NorthTown store from 1986-89. I started as a waitress in the Grill restaurant downtown. Located on the sixth floor, adjacent to the larger tea room, the restaurant was once called the Men’s Grill. Its wood-paneled walls and black leather chairs harkened back to an era when business was conducted over gin martinis at noon, and the only women present were serving the drinks.

Five days a week, I’d park at what was then the Coliseum (for free!) and hop on a shuttle that dropped me off at The Crescent’s front doors. I think it cost me 30 cents each way.

My uniform was a form-fitting, zip-up black dress that hit several inches above the knee, topped by a short white apron. Kind of like a French maid outfit, but classier.

Derek and I were engaged at the time, and he still fondly recalls that uniform.

Though the men-only designation was dropped years before I worked there, the Grill was still a regular luncheon spot for city movers and shakers. In fact, the only time I was stiffed out of tips while working there was when I waited on the mayor and a table of city employees. That’s no way to get re-elected, folks.

My “regulars” included a trio of sharply-dressed older gentlemen, whose weekly liquid lunches were legendary.

I was 20, and had never even tasted a cocktail, but now I wonder how much work they got done later, after a lunch of two double martinis a piece – usually sparsely accompanied by bowls of chicken and rice soup, and plate of Lavosh (a type of flatbread or cracker).

They were kind men and great tippers. When they learned that after my wedding, I’d be transferring to retail sales and working at NorthTown, they were sad. They each left a $20 tip and notes wishing me well.

Speaking of my wedding, my employee discount came in handy. I purchased a designer gown on clearance and found the perfect veil, all for about $200.

IMG_20181220_082233835

Years ago, I sold the dress when it became apparent that I wouldn’t have any daughters to hand it down to. But I kept the veil. Who knows? Maybe someday, I’ll have a daughter-in-law who wants to wear it.

Around the time I transferred to NorthTown, The Crescent became Frederick & Nelson. I ended up in the shoe department with a couple of old-timers who’d worked downtown in The Crescent’s heyday. I loved hearing their stories, and I put what they taught me about customer service into practice.

I must have learned well, because my commission that first year paid for Derek and me to go to Disneyland.

The final week of my department store career came the week before Christmas. Our first child was due New Year’s Eve. I could no longer see my own feet, let alone help elderly ladies try on shoes.

Almost 30 years later, standing outside the Davenport Grand with my sons, the past came to life again, along with the glittering Crescent Christmas window displays.

Magic and memories.

“Pretty cool,” indeed.

All Write, TV

Remnants of boy-life linger

IMG_20180806_171716Here’s a link to my most recent Front Porch television segment, in which my husband discovers the remains of a previous civilization while constructing a retaining wall in our backyard.

The spots air at the end of the Spokane Talks show, each Sunday night at 6 PM on Fox28 Spokane.

You find previous Front Porch segments here.

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.

28954662_1730225217016098_7987378535082610729_o

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

Columns

Moving Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom had a laborious cost back in the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Columns

Decorations hold decades of memories

She’s still radiant at 65. Her blue satin dress shimmers, matching the glint of her round cerulean eyes. Silvery wings arch above a crown that has a distinct tinfoil gleam. A slim silver belt circles her waist and a glittering star adorns her collar. Her prim red lips are pursed in permanent pucker.

moms-angel

My parents bought the angel at a downtown drugstore for their first Christmas in 1951. They purchased a tree at a nearby lot, and Dad hefted it over his shoulder and they walked the few blocks to their first apartment on Pine Street.

Several weeks ago our youngest son, Sam, helped Mom unearth her decorations. She stopped putting up a tree when Dad died, but she still displays the angel every Christmas. Sam hung lights around her front window while she regaled him with the angel anecdote and tales of Christmas past.

I’ve been thinking about those stories while preparing to pack away my own decorations. What goes up must come down, including Christmas trees – especially fresh trees. The needles are starting to fall and it’s time to take the tree to the curb. But I linger over the ornaments – it seems each one tells a story.

A laminated blue star features a kindergarten-era, gap-toothed smiling Sam. Next to it dangles a silvery orb with a photo of 6th grade Sam – his childhood documented in decorations.

Zachary’s snowflakes are suspended next to a bejeweled ball, each gem affixed with copious amounts of glue. Zach’s always been an if a little bit is good, a lot is better kind of guy.

Alexander and Ethan angels hang with a multitude of heavenly hosts near the top of the tree, and speaking of angels, our tree is topped by one in a gold-trimmed burgundy gown.

Unlike Mom, I no longer have our original angel. One year when the boys were small, our tree topper threw herself from the tree to the stairs below, cracking her head beyond repair. The boys insist they saw her fly, it was just the landing she failed to nail.

Her aborted flight came a few days before Christmas, and we needed an angel ASAP. In haste, my husband and sons decamped to the Dollar Store and returned with a replacement. This golden gal was lovely to behold, but when Derek plopped her atop the tree, our oldest son burst into laughter and pointed out with glee, “She has two left hands!”

Indeed, she did.

Her awkward appendages distracted me, so during the post-holiday sales, I bought our current, more anatomically accurate, angel. However, I wrapped her afflicted sister in tissue, and the next time all the boys are home for Christmas I plan to give her another shining moment at the top.

Many of our ornaments reflect our interests, like my stack of antique books suspended from a blue satin ribbon. And one that always gets front-of-the-tree honor – a string of gingerbread hearts that reads NOEL. It’s the only craft I actually completed during the many years I was a member of a Moms of Preschoolers group. I’m craft-impaired and glue gun-challenged, so this was a major accomplishment.

Derek’s cross-country skier and a ball featuring the Norwegian flag honor his heritage and his love of the slopes. For some reason he always forgets to hang his 2007 ornament that proudly proclaims “Real men like cats.”

I hang it for him in a prominent spot, preferably where the light can catch it. I’m thoughtful like that.

Mindful of these memories, I’ve been taking lots of photos of decorations cradled in piney boughs before I pack them away for another year.

More than dated ornaments dangling from a tree, it’s the reminders of Christmases past they represent that add joy to the present and brings hope for Christmas future.

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

 

 

War Bonds

Making Pearl Harbor Personal

12744683_1047458598626100_4087895596289870672_n[1]

I knew I was in trouble when I read the sign for Ford Island and starting crying.After many years of interviewing and writing about Pearl Harbor Survivors I was for the first time,  walking where they walked.

My husband and I were celebrating our 30th anniversary on Oahu and Pearl Harbor was one of our first stops.

Chapter 11 of War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation tells the story of Warren and Betty Schott who lived on Ford Island and both survived the horrific attack.

I pictured Warren’s desperate drive to get his wife to safety. They’d spoken of shrapnel falling from the skies– of the road shredded by machine gun fire– of the terror and the noise.

We watched a short film featuring actual footage of the attack. A scene of sailors and soldiers pulling the wounded and dead from the Harbor made me gasp. That’s what Warren had done in the aftermath– it was the one thing he didn’t want to discuss with me over the course of many interviews. It was the only thing he refused to speak of with his wife and best friend of 76 years.

1913753_1047614618610498_5611130893995793483_n[1]

 

As we boarded the boat that took us to the USS Arizona, I thought of Pearl Harbor Survivor Ray Daves, who died in 2011. His friend George Maybee perished aboard the Arizona. His remains are entombed in the waters below the memorial. The throng of tourists quieted. The only sound was the snapping of the flag in the wind as I found Maybee’s name among the more than 1,000 names engraved. I wished I could tell Ray.

All of the stories, all of the interviews over the years in no way prepared me for the magnitude, the solemness of this sacred place.

Remember Pearl Harbor. Indeed, I will never forget this place, these people, their sacrifice.

Here are links some of the stories I’ve written about those who survived the Day That Will Live in Infamy.

World War ll Vets Remember

World War ll Vets Educate Students

A Sailor Remembers

Fond Memories of Ray Daves Endure

Survivors of 1941 Attack Bring History to Life

Grateful for Vet’s Story

Pearl Harbor Survivors Mark 73rd Anniversary in Spokane

The World has Lost Yet Another WWll Hero

Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Story Comes to an End

Pearl Harbor Witness: ‘It was so scary!’

 

 

War Bonds

Capturing Stories

 

12803047_1034459979925962_2464215764931817271_n[1]I recently returned from the beautiful Skagit Valley in Washington State. The tulips weren’t in bloom yet, but the daffodils offered gleaming fields of gold!

I was there to teach a  writing workshop called “Capturing the Stories of the Greatest Generation.”

The workshop was for a regional meeting of Life Enrichment Directors from a large senior housing corporation. The purpose was to better equip the staff to preserve the precious stories of their residents.

These folks are so aware that they are in a unique position to capture the stories of the men and women who served both at home and abroad during WWll.

We covered basic interview how-to’s and discussed different formats for sharing the stories.Then we moved on to specific tools and prompts that make members of this generation feel more comfortable sharing as well as allow them easier access to their memories.

I hope to offer this workshop in many senior housing or retirement facilities soon, as well as open it to the public at some point.

Prior to the class I gave a War Bonds reading for the residents. Afterward, I spent time chatting with many of them and getting a glimpse of their stories.

12066008_1033495003355793_8104136979752755340_n[2]

A lovely lady purchased a copy of the book for herself and her husband, Bill. Bill has Alzheimer’s, but enjoyed the reading. While he was unsure of the date or where he lived, he certainly knew his bride. “This is my sweet Eloise,” he said, beaming. Then he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it.

“Sweet Eloise” was a popular song 66 years ago, when they wed. Bill has lost a lot of his memories, but that song and his wife’s smile still shine through the fog of Alzheimer’s.

I hope it always will.