All Write

Buried in a Good Book

I’m often asked what I like to read and my answer is always M&M’s– Mysteries and Memoirs.

So, I was delighted to be asked to write a profile about Edgar Award-nominated Tamara Berry. (Spoiler alert: SHE WON!)

Here’s the story I wrote for The Spokesman-Review.


PS: I loved “Buried in a Good Book” and have already received an advance copy of the third book in series “Murder Off the Books.” Can’t wait to read it!

Tamara Berry always wanted to be a writer.

“But it seemed like such a pipe dream,” she said.

Yet, next month the Spokane Valley native and East Valley grad will travel to New York City to attend the 77th Annual Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Berry’s mystery novel “Buried in a Good Book” has been nominated for the Lillian Jackson Braun Memorial Award.

The Edgars honor the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television. Past winners include heavy hitters such as Walter Mosley, Stephen King, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Patricia Cornwell. Spokane novelist Jess Walter won the best novel award for his 2005 book “Citizen Vince.”

The kid who once dreamed about life as an author has published under three pen names in a variety of genres.

Berry graduated from Eastern Washington University with a literature degree and in 2012 released her first e-book, “Love is a Battlefield,” as Tamara Morgan.

“I started writing romance when my kiddo was super young,” Berry said. “The only thing I had the mental capacity for was romances and I read a ton of them.”

Her first two contemporary romances were set in the world of the Highland Games.

“They feature burly, strong guys and romance readers go for that,” she said.

More than a dozen books followed before she retired Tamara Morgan and was reborn as Lucy Gilmore.

In 2018, her agent told her doggie romances were selling well – that is, romance novels featuring dogs.

Soon she’d written a three-book series about service dogs in training and two stand-alone romantic doggie comedies.

“I write mainly comedy,” she said.

When she pitched her next romance idea no one seemed interested except for one editor who asked “Can you put a dead body and a cat in it?”

And the Eleanor Wilde mystery series was born penned under Tamara Berry. Wilde is a pseudo-psychic/medium with a penchant for solving crimes.

“I love con artists,” Berry said. “There’s quite a few of them in my books. I’m drawn to the way they manipulate people. They’re interesting characters with a high level of insight and they tend to be more self-aware.”

While the Eleanor Wilde series sold well, the author had a new story in mind.

“I pitched a lumberjack series where a thriller author and her teenage daughter move to Winthrop, Washington.”

Her agent told her what was really selling was book-themed mysteries.

“Could you put a librarian or a bookmobile in it?”

Berry could and did.

“But I got to keep the lumberjack,” she said.

“Buried in a Good Book,” the first book in the cozy mystery series featuring thriller author Tess Harrow, is up for an Edgar award next month. This is the first year the Lillian Jackson Braun Memorial Award will be granted and it’s the only Edgar award that comes with a cash prize.

Braun, who died in 2011, wrote more than two dozen novels in her “The Cat Who…” mystery series. The award named after her will be awarded for the best full-length, contemporary cozy mystery.

Having read lots of Nancy Drew books as a kid, Berry said crafting cozy mysteries is well within her wheelhouse, but the formula is quite different from romance novels.

“There are no steamy sex scenes, no swearing and no gore,” she said. “The violence is hinted at, but not on the page. And of course, you have to have a murder and solve it.”

For Berry, that’s the fun part.

“I often don’t know who the culprit is going to be,” she said. “I get to be as surprised as the reader.”

Cozy mysteries are generally more gentle than hard-boiled detective fiction or grisly suspense thrillers. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series, or TV’s Jessica Fletcher of “Murder, She Wrote,” as examples of the genre.

Berry said there are two types of writers – plotters and pantsers.

“Plotters sit down and write an outline. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. I’m a pantser.”

The prolific author usually writes in bed or on her couch with her two dogs and two cats cuddled up next to her. She writes seven days a week and has a strict 1,000 words per day, daily word count.

“Once I hit 1,000 words I can free myself to do other things,” Berry said.

That includes promoting her latest Lucy Gilmore book, “The Lonely Hearts Book Club.” Due March 28, the lighthearted novel tells the story of the community created by a book club full of misfits including a young librarian and an old curmudgeon who forge an unlikely friendship.

And of course, she’ll be in New York City for the Edgars.

“I’ve been working at this so long,” she said. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s pretty great. If 16-year-old me could see me now, she’d be freaking out!”

Columns

Father, Faith, and Friendship

I miss him most in March.

His birthday is March 25, 1927, and he died on March 29, 1995.

My siblings and I could write volumes about our dad, Tom Burnett. Born in Mississippi and raised in Arkansas, he traveled the world courtesy of the U.S. Air Force but never lost his slow Southern drawl.

While stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, he met my mom, Shirley Schmidt, who’d grown up in Hayden, Idaho. They both believed it was a “God thing.” He saw her singing in the choir at Glad Tidings Assembly of God and said the Lord told him, “That’s going to be your wife.”

It didn’t take Dad long to convince her.

To know my dad was to love him – and as an unabashed extrovert, he knew a lot of people. Mom and I would leave him on a bench at the mall. By the time we returned he’d say, “Hey girls, I want you to meet my friend …”

Young moms with babies in strollers, teenagers, other dudes waiting for their womenfolk – he’d befriend them all.

When people share their memories of Tom Burnett three things are invariably mentioned: his sense of humor, his devout faith, and his abiding love for my mother.

Recently, I got to see him through someone else’s eyes. While writing a story about a North Central High School reunion I was put in touch with Christine Glenn. Her parents, Chuck and Dorothy Glenn were my parents’ closest friends in the early 1950s.

In fact, if not for my dad, Christine might not even be here.

“My father would often recount his memories of how your father invited him to church and introduced him to the Lord, and also to Dorothy, my mother,” she said.

Mom, Dad, Chuck, and Dorothy

Chuck was from Montana and had enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to Fairchild. He walked into his new quarters and looked for a bunk. The place was empty except for one G.I. relaxing on a bed and reading his Bible. That G.I. was my dad.

“Tom greeted him and said, ‘The top bunk is empty. You can have that one,’ ” Christine recalled her dad saying.

The pair quickly became fast friends though initially, they didn’t seem to have much in common.

“Dad said Tom was always reading his Bible or talking about his Jesus and inviting him to church,” Christine said.

Chuck wasn’t a Christian and always had an excuse to avoid church until one day he didn’t and agreed to attend with Dad.

Two things happened quickly, Chuck became a Christian and he badgered my dad into introducing him to a cute redhead – my mom’s best friend, Dorothy Nicholl.

Mom has a scrapbook filled with photos of the four of them double dating. Picnicking at Manito Park and Tubbs Hill, posing by the falls, dressed up for church, and playing croquet at my grandparent’s Hayden home.

By this time my parents were already engaged and Chuck soon proposed to Dorothy.

“They picked out an engagement ring and Mom loved it,” Christine said.

But then my dad stepped in.

“Tom went with my dad to make a payment on the ring,” she said. “And he said, ‘Oh! I know a place where you can get one a lot cheaper!’ ”

I should mention my father’s Scottish ancestry. Tom Burnett loved a good deal and he always seemed to “know a guy” who could get him deals on everything from autos to asparagus. In this case, he introduced Chuck to the jeweler who’d made my mother’s engagement ring.

“Tom and Dad picked out Mom’s new engagement ring,” Christine said. “She never liked it. She was so disappointed.”

Dorothy died in 2014 and Christine now wears that ring. “Well, I dressed it up a little,” she said.

Another story Chuck liked to tell was how my Dad helped him find his wallet.

The four of them had been on a date at Lincoln Park. After they took the girls home, Chuck realized his wallet was missing.

“He and Tom went back to the park with flashlights and Tom found his wallet,” Christine said.

The two couples were in each other’s weddings but gradually lost touch when my dad made the military his career and was posted everywhere from Kansas to the Philippines.

Dad died in 1995, and Chuck died in July, but he never forgot my dad.

“He always said Tom was his best friend,” Christine said.

I think a lot of people felt that way.

I know I did.

Tom Burnett

Columns

Christmas with chaos, but no jelly

My husband narrowly avoided a “Jelly of the Month Club” situation at work over the holidays.

A couple of weeks before Christmas mail delivery to his Hillyard-area business came to a standstill. A disaster at any time when you depend on getting paid by your customers, so you can pay your employees, but especially concerning over Christmas.

Derek worried that instead of bonuses, he’d have to give his employees memberships to a Jelly of the Month Club just like Clark Griswold received in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Movie fans know that didn’t end up well for Griswold’s boss.

Equally troubling was the absence of our sons’ Christmas gifts. I’m not an online shopper, so Derek buys gifts the kids put on their Amazon wish lists, while I purchase presents at local stores. He always has the packages delivered to his business because his locked mailbox is more secure than our home curbside box. No mail delivery from USPS meant no packages, either.

When a week passed with nary an envelope in his box, Derek sent an employee to the neighborhood post office to find out what the problem was.

After waiting in a long line of unhappy postal customers, he was able to get a stack of mail, but no packages.

“They’ll come tomorrow,” the harried worker told him.

It seems like many area post offices, the Hillyard branch was critically understaffed and completely overwhelmed.

The packages didn’t arrive the next day. Nor did any mail. Another week went by and Derek went to the post office and picked up a huge stack of mail. The packages?

“They’ll be delivered by Christmas Eve,” the employee assured him.

On Dec. 23, our sons’ gifts arrived (but no mail).

I thought Derek would be relieved, instead, he was sad.

“Your gifts didn’t come,” he said.

I hugged him.

“My birthday’s in February. I bet they’ll be here just in time.”

But the meltdown of mail delivery is no laughing matter. I’m glad Derek was able to pay his bills and his employees, but another customer at the post office was missing needed medication. For those who live on slim margins, the lack of a check can mean no money for rent, utilities or groceries.

As USPS still struggles, another catastrophe loomed. Our son was scheduled to return to Texas via Southwest Airlines on Dec. 29.

On Dec. 27, he woke us with the news that Southwest had canceled his flight and said they couldn’t rebook him until Jan. 13!

His was just one of more than 2,500 flights the airline canceled within four hours that morning. Sam has classes to prepare for and was due back in his office on Thursday. He and Derek found a flight on American Airlines that would get him home on Tuesday.

I couldn’t complain about an extra five days with our youngest, but my heart ached for friends stranded far from home.

Stressful situations like these serve as reminders to check our attitudes. Are we being kind to the airline workers and postal service employees who are on the front line of customer frustration? Are we finding things to be thankful for amid the chaos?

And honestly, a one-year subscription to a Jelly of the Month Club isn’t the worst thing in the world – especially if you’ve stocked up on peanut butter.

Columns

Spokane Summertime Fun

I’m an unabashed hometown girl.

I love Spokane (except for the potholes), and in 40-plus years of living here, I’m still finding new things to do.

In July, Derek and I attended two quintessential outdoor Spokane events.

First, we finally made it to a Sunday summer concert at Arbor Crest. Though we’ve visited the winery many times, we’d never made it to an outdoor concert. When we saw one of our favorite local bands was scheduled for July 10, we quickly bought tickets.

The Sara Brown Band plays R&B tunes with a soulful edge that usually gets us out on the dance floor at least for a few songs.

At Arbor Crest, you can bring a picnic or buy a meal there. We opted to picnic and while I packed a cooler with salamis, cheeses, olives and chocolate, Derek fetched our folding camp chairs.

We arrived early to find a good spot. That’s when we discovered Derek had accidentally grabbed our bleacher seats instead of chairs.

No worries. The winery provides plenty of plastic lawn chairs.

With our spot staked, we sampled a wine flight and purchased a couple of bottles of Fume Blanc – one to enjoy with our picnic and one to take home.

The evening proved spectacular. Just enough sun to make us welcome sunset’s arrival, fabulous music and fun chatting with fellow concert goers.

A kiss at Arbor Crest.

The following weekend, we attended the final night of Crave! Northwest a three-night foodie extravaganza showcasing the best of the area’s food and drink. The event offers an opportunity for chefs, breweries, and winemakers to connect with each another while serving fantastic food to the public. It’s also a great way for attendees to discover local chefs and restaurants.

Saturday’s “Fire and Smoke” night at Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace quickly sold out, and no wonder. Billed as a “culinary adventure of smoked and fired foods,” my home-grilling king only stopped smiling long enough to chew and swallow.

Derek and Cindy Hval at Crave!

We sampled smoked ribs with apple chutney from Tracy Rose of the Coeur d’Alene Casino, smoked steelhead, from Peter Froese of Gander and Ryegrass, and beef and pork wood-fired meatballs with charred Pomodoro sauce, from Aaron Fiorini of Market Street Pizza.

Then we tasted pork shoulder, smoked tri-tip, grilled jalapeno poppers, and more!

Of course, there was plenty of swill to wash it all down with. We saw our friends from No-Li Brewhouse and Barrister Winery and grabbed ice-cold bottles of water upon entry.

We needed the hydration, as it was a sizzling evening, but the venue offered some shady spots and a cool misting fan or two.

Two back-to-back, action-packed weekends made us perfectly content to enjoy our own backyard the following week, but we’re so glad we got to partake of some of the best fun our area has to offer.

While I enjoy all four seasons in the Inland Northwest; Spokane truly shines in the summer.

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

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

“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

To all the books I’ve loved before…

In my previous column, I wondered if a love of literacy was hardwired in our family DNA. All four of my sons are book lovers like me. I invited readers to share their bookish memories, and it seems that many of you also caught the reading bug young and have no desire to be cured.

Christy Himmelright of the Tri-Cities wrote “I have all the Little Golden Books that my parents bought and read to me. My very favorite was ‘All Aboard!’ about a train trip from home to see Grandma. The protagonist was a girl, and that was almost impossible to find in any adventure story. Also, it appeared that she was an only child (as I am), so identifying with her happened on a very personal level.”

Like me, Himmelright eagerly anticipated trips to the library.

“The best time was summer vacation when I could go to our little town library and check out the maximum number of books that I could read in two weeks. It seems that I was trudging back there often before the two weeks were up and loading up again with the next selection. I also participated in the summer reading contests, and clearly remember the ‘trail’ that wound through the Reading Forest. It started at the checkout desk and meandered along the top of the walls that showed above the box shelves. To go each time I went into the library and find my marker as it moved along the trail was a thrill that I still feel in my long-ago child’s heart.”

Her lifelong love of the written word endures.

“To this day, I have at least two or three books at my living room chair-side, and one on my nightstand for bedtime relaxation,” she wrote. “I cannot imagine life without books, especially the real ones of paper and binding and covers.”

Patricia Garvin of Spokane recalled the magical moment when words came alive for her.

“In 1948, I was in the first grade. We students had a workbook in which there was a story; we were to remove the pages, which folded on dotted lines, into a small booklet. I vividly recall sitting next to my mother and reading the story to her. I still see the line drawings and remember reading to her, ‘…and down the hill came Wee Woman.’ She was as delighted as I!”

Beverly Gibb of Spokane still has a copy of the first book she remembers her mother reading to her.

“My first reading experience was Mom reading me ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ We both loved Piglet the best,” she wrote. “My favorite books were ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ I’m guessing your boys didn’t read those!”

She guessed correctly. My sons didn’t embrace Anne, but on Christmas morning a couple of years ago, my oldest gave me the complete “Anne of Green Gables” collection. He knows how to delight his mama.

Sometimes literature love leads to book-custody issues. That’s what happened to Bernadette Powers of Helena.

She recalled parents joining the Weekly Readers Book Club, which delivered books directly to their door.

“I was in hog heaven getting books in the mail. I still have most of them including my all-time favorite, ‘Half Magic’ by Edward Eager,” she wrote. “The story is delightful and the illustrations are amazing. It also became a favorite of my son, Gannon. He appropriated it when he went off to college. When I went to visit him I appropriated it back. We’ve been stealing it back and forth ever since. He moved from Seattle to California a few years ago. There’s a small part of me that suspects he made the move so it would be harder for me to steal my book.”

Joan Becker, who grew up in Spokane, wrote of her eagerness to start first grade, so she could learn to read. Her best friend was a year older and would read comics to her as long as they were getting along, but if they disagreed? No more comics for Joan.

When she could decipher words by herself, the material the school provided proved disappointing.

“Dick and Jane stories comprised the love and hate relationship of others selecting my reading agenda,” she wrote. “After Dick and Jane made their debut, their interactions were way too repetitive to be captivating. I couldn’t wait to purchase my own comic books and go to the library.”

All who responded still retain their passion for the written word.

“As my 90th birthday approaches, I remember as a 9- or 10- year- old growing up in Capitol Hill in Seattle, going on the bus by myself downtown to the library. In those days there were no branch libraries, and it also seemed OK for a little girl to go alone on the bus,” wrote Muriel Rubens. “My parents read to me as I was growing up, as did my two older brothers and sister. I learned to read at an early age, and I loved it and haven’t stopped since,”

As I write, my suitcase sits open beside me. I’m packing for a trip to Ohio to see my twin grandsons, aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.”

My husband glanced at the mound of stuff I intend to pack. Board books for the boys and a paperback for their big sister lay scattered among clothes. My own stack of reading material teetered nearby.

“You’re never going to fit all that in your suitcase,” he said.

He may be right.

However, one thing is certain, even if I have to wear the same outfit every day for a week; the books are coming with me.

All Write, Columns

From Pop Art to Bomber Boys

With so many favorite venues shuttered during the pandemic, each reopening is worthy of celebration. That’s why my husband Derek and I were thrilled to stroll through the new exhibits at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

The MAC opened its doors again in August at 25% capacity, but Saturday marked our first visit since the shutdown. Enjoying something so normal is a welcome breath of fresh air, even if those breaths are taken behind masks.

The star attraction features the work of pop art icons like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, as well as contemporary artists including Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

“Pop Power from Warhol to Koons: Masterworks from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” continues through Jan. 24.

If you’ve ever wanted to see one of Warhol’s famous Campbell Soup works in person, here’s your opportunity. This colorful chronology of pop art traces the movement from its genesis to the present day, and unlike some art collections, this one offers fun for the younger set, too.

“Mickey! It’s Mickey!” yelled a girl when she discovered prints of the famous mouse.

Derek and I aren’t big fans of pop art, and some of the contemporary creations left us puzzled, which is part of gallery fun. However, he did find something he’d like to hang at home – “Fiesta Pig” by Andy Warhol.

The screen-print pig with his nose in a bowl of food looks like he’s enjoying the aftermath of a great disco party. Speaking of swine, Derek was also taken with Jeff Koons’ portrait of himself with a pig. The work of art is on a plate.

Thankfully, our budget doesn’t stretch to famous pieces of pop art.

Our budget does include an occasional Spokane Symphony concert. “Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony” opened this weekend and continues through Jan. 10.

The exhibit traces the evolution of the symphony, which is celebrating its 75th year.

The Conductors Wall of Fame follows the organization’s sometimes tumultuous relationships with its conductors. Since we haven’t been able to see them in person this year, it was wonderful to see photos of the current symphony members.

But the exhibit that caused us to linger longest was “Bomber Boys: Portraits from the Front,” which continues through May 23.

Bomber Boys at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture

The exhibit features photographs of the combat, crew and camp life of the 445th Bomb Squadron of the 12th Army Air Corps, which was based in Washington and stationed on Corsica and in Italy. The images, ephemera and a diary were discovered in the hayloft of a horse barn in 1996, by two daughters of the tail gunner who’d stashed them there.

It’s a fascinating walk through the daily life of a 21-year-old soldier who would eventually fly 59 missions over Europe.

Yet the story we found even more compelling was that of an Idaho boy who was shot down over Yugoslavia and spent nine days behind enemy lines. He documented his harrowing adventure and the story is told in his own words.

The exhibit also features a replica of what a typical airman’s bunk area looked like during the war. Be sure to pick up a photo card of a soldier and see if you can discover his name and rank while you tour the exhibit.

If you haven’t ventured out to the museum yet, you can now do so safely. Masks are required and with the venue still at 25% capacity, social distancing is easy to maintain. In addition, the galleries are cleaned several times a day. Also new: You must purchase tickets online in advance.

In light of the pandemic and election-induced turmoil around us, it’s important to support valuable quiet sanctuaries like the MAC.

Enjoying the vibrancy of pop art, celebrating 75 years of the Spokane Symphony, and honoring those who sacrificed much for our nation during World War II all offer timely much-needed reminders about the creativity and resiliency of the human spirit.

For more information or to purchase tickets visit northwestmuseum.org.

All Write, War Bonds

Last ‘War Bonds’-featured couple die 18 days apart

Mitson wedding photo low res

He thought she was a skinny kid, and he didn’t want to be seen with her.

She thought he was “just another boy.”

But first impressions aren’t always lasting. On July 11, Charlie and Mable Mitson would have celebrated their 78th wedding anniversary – and for all we know they did, just not here on this earth.

Mable died on June 3 and Charlie followed 18 days later on June 21. Finally, Mable got to go somewhere new before her husband. After all, she’d followed him through 22 moves, during his many years of military service.

I first met the Mitsons in 2010 when I featured them in my “Love Story” series for The Spokesman Review. I followed up with them a few years later, when I included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

Visiting them in their South Hill home was always a delight. They were both quick with a quip, finishing each other’s stories, and teasing each other when one remembered something differently.

Charlie sometimes deferred to her because he said, “she’s older than me.”

Mable was born in July 1924, Charlie in September.

They met at church in Coeur d’ Alene, and when those first impressions wore off, they quickly became a couple. They married when they were both just 17.

Charlie had landed a $40 per week job at the newly opened Farragut Naval Station and said, “I decided I could afford to get married.”

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, leaving his wife and infant son behind.

Charlie served with the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team. His World War II service included a grueling Italian ground fight, the invasion of Southern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the occupation of Berlin at war’s end.

Mable said, “I remember him telling me, ‘You just had to go over the dead and dying and keep moving.’”

Still, Charlie counted himself lucky. His only injury came from a piece of shrapnel that struck his leg. He shrugged. “I didn’t even know I was hit, ’til someone said, ‘You’re bleeding!’ They put a bandage on it, and I just kept going.”

He mustered out in 1945, but he didn’t stay out long. In 1949, he was accepted into the Air Force Aviation Cadet program and launched a 30-year career as a military fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions as an F-86 pilot during the Korean War, and 100 combat missions over North Vietnam as an F-105 pilot, before retiring as a colonel at 54.

And Mable?

“I followed him everywhere,” she said.

She did more than just follow. She was a consummate hostess, often entertaining military personnel all over the globe. And she was the ever-present centerpiece of their family, which grew to include five children.

Their retirement years were just as busy as their military years, as they deeply invested in their church, their grandchildren and in numerous volunteer activities.

Charlie credited their abiding friendship as the key to their loving marriage.

“Make sure you have a good solid friendship before you get married,” he’d advised.

Mable said having a positive attitude helped her endure their many wartime separations.

“Wherever he was I always knew he was coming home,” she said.

So, I’ve no doubt she was expecting Charlie to arrive at any moment during the 18 days that passed between their deaths.

In “War Bonds” Mable recalled how they were separated for a year and a half during World War ll. She went to meet him at the train station, wondering how the war had changed him, wondering if she’d recognize him.

“Did you spot him among all those soldiers?” I’d asked.

Her face lit up.

“I did. Oh, I did!”

And Charlie never forgot that first glimpse of her after their long separation.

Though the station must have been bustling with travelers, he said, “I saw her standing on the staircase. As I remember it, she was the only one there.”

I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what Charlie experienced on June 21 when once again he was reunited with his bride.

CHARLIE AND MABEL
Mabel and Charlie Mitson Nov. 16, 2010. JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com

Order your copy of War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation here.