Columns

Like the seasons, decorations come and go

It started small.

Several years ago, Mom was downsizing her autumn decorations and gave me a wicker cornucopia and a figurine of a Pilgrim woman carrying a basket of produce on one arm and a pumpkin in the other.

“I don’t know what happened to her Pilgrim husband,” she said. “I’ve been looking everywhere, but I think she’s been widowed.”

My Mom was a serial seasonal decorator. From pilgrims and pumpkins in the fall, to angels, candles and a Christmas village in the winter, followed by roses and greenery in the spring, she marked the change of seasons with change in household decor.

I, on the other hand, confined my home embellishments to decking the halls at Christmas.

That also started out small: a crèche, a nativity calendar, some stockings and of course, a tree.

Those few homey decorations somehow evolved into many large red and green plastic totes filled with wall hangings, wreaths, framed art, pillows, candles and a multitude of heavenly hosts.

Holiday fever spread to my kitchen and dining room with Christmas dishes, stemware, towels and serving pieces.

Then my husband and our youngest son caught the contagion, and now sometime after Thanksgiving, our lawn will be filled with lighted deer, candy canes, a nativity and angels.

I do have some self-restraint. I drew the line at a toilet paper holder that plays Jingle Bells. And even though the Santa bathroom set complete with a chimney on the tank cover tempted, I resisted. I mean, he already knows when I’m sleeping and knows when I’m awake; he doesn’t need to know anything else.

So, I should have known better when I adopted Mom’s harvest decorations. They looked lonely perched atop the piano.

We took the kids to Green Bluff, and I bought a few little pumpkins and corncobs. Then I added a couple vases Sam had made in elementary school. I really liked the autumn look, but the trim still seemed sparse.

Derek suggested we visit Hobby Lobby – a suggestion he has come to regret. For one thing, he didn’t really think I’d go. I have a deep-seated aversion to any type of craft or fabric store.

“They have home decorating stuff,” he said.

What he really meant is they had some cool outdoor decorations for the garden and his shed.

But he was right about the home decor. I browsed the harvest-themed shelves with Thanksgiving in my heart and picked out a few items.

Then I went back later and picked out a few more.

By now my eyes had been opened, and it seemed like every store I visited had some kind of autumn trim. Coasters, candy dishes, tablecloths, lighted garlands. Before I knew it, I’d somehow amassed a bin full of fall decorations, and there was more fall foliage inside our house than outside.

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When I added a welcome mat and a couple outdoor “Welcome Autumn” signs, I felt I’d tied the theme together and vowed not to add anything else.

So far, so good.

Last year Mom moved to a retirement facility, and the transition was difficult. She spent her entire life turning houses into homes as she followed my dad’s Air Force career. Moving from a four-bedroom, two-bath home to an apartment was quite a change. But she rallied, and last week I thought it might be nice to add a few fall touches to her new place.

Of course, this required a quick trip to Hobby Lobby, but I wasn’t distracted in my mission and just picked out a couple of small things for Mom.

She was delighted and asked if I was still using the decorations she’d given me.

“Do you still have the Pilgrim lady?” she asked. “Did you ever find her a husband?”

“No, she’s still unattached,” I replied.

I’m not buying anymore decorations. I really mean it. But don’t you think that poor Pilgrim has been single long enough?

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Columns

Still dating after all these years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We encountered some real tourists in the Perennial Garden.

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

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

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

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

See? Traumatized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columns

Painting over art-shaming scars

My reaction might have been a little over the top.

“I would rather have my eyelashes plucked out one by one while listening to alpine yodeling and drinking beet juice mixed with cod liver oil,” I said.

My friend raised her hands in surrender.

“Wow! OK then. We’ll skip paint night and just go to happy hour someplace.”

Some people might think a suggestion to have a glass of wine and create art with a good friend sounds delightful.

I’m not those people, and I have Mrs. Pendergast to thank for that.

Mrs. Pendergast was my second-grade teacher. While my reading skills soared under her tutelage, my art skills plummeted.

I dreaded art time more than I dreaded dodge ball during PE, and that’s saying something. My undiagnosed nearsightedness meant I never saw that pink rubber ball coming till it smacked me silly.

When Mrs. P. directed us to don our paint shirts, I groaned. Wearing my dad’s old button-down dress shirt was mortifying. It was dirty for heaven’s sake! It was crusty and stained, and it didn’t match my carefully coordinated outfit!

Of course, the reason it was stained was because I could never seem to gauge the right amount of paint. I would think I had just the right quantity of yellow for my sun, only to watch in dismay as golden globs streaked down the paper and smeared into my already-crusty sleeves.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mrs. P. scolded. “Your sun is bleeding all over your paper!”

With that she snatched my art attempt off the easel, crumpling it in disgust, commanding me to start over.

Her bleeding-sun comment inspired me.

I dipped my brush into what I hoped was just the right amount of scarlet, and painted a red sun, dripping droplets of blood from the sky.

“Good grief!” shouted Mrs. P. “That is disgraceful! What is the matter with you!?”

My classmates tittered as once again she ripped my paper from the easel.

When the class went out to recess, I stayed behind, waiting for the paint to dry so I could place my painting at the bottom of the stack, safe from mocking eyes.

So, you can see why my reaction to a friend’s suggestion of paint night was a tad vehement.

But a couple of years passed, and recently my husband came home and announced that we’d been invited to go to Pinot’s Palette with some friends.

Much to his surprise, I agreed.

It was time to silence the shaming voice of Mrs. Pendergast once and for all. My painting might stink, but at least I’d have a glass of wine to ease the sting.

On Jan. 26, I donned a paint-spattered apron, sat at an easel and picked up a brush.

To my joy I discovered we were going to replicate a painting of the northern lights. No sun in sight. And a perfect choice since we’d invited Derek’s sister and her Norwegian husband to join us. They’ve actually seen the northern lights.

I listened carefully to the instructor.

“The first lesson is you must learn the difference between your wine glass and your water glass,” she said.

That was easy. My wine glass was the one without any paintbrushes in it. Yet.

The next lesson covered what to do if we accidentally got paint on our clothes. It seemed like the instructions were tailored just for me.

In the event of a paint emergency, our teacher told us to, “Run to the sink, scream, flail, and use Murphy’s Oil Soap.”

She paused. “But if it’s been more than 15 minutes you have a new outfit.”

With that we were ready to begin.

I panicked a bit. But my husband’s friend said, “Just dip your brush into your wine and drink your water.”

I did the opposite, and soon I was well on my way.

My brother-in-law wandered over to check out my progress.

“Cindy, you are a born artist!” he exclaimed.

He is a bit of a hogwash artist, but his encouragement was appreciated nonetheless.

“By now your canvas is covered with paint,” the instructor said.

And mine was. I’d followed instructions. I’d mixed blue and green and made teal. And I hadn’t dipped my sleeve in my palette. Yet.

Shades of doubt seeped in when I had trouble blending the first swooshes of white into the night sky, but soon we were on to stippling stars and my true talents emerged.

“I am the BEST at stars,” I proclaimed.

Of course, one glass of wine had turned into two at this point, but isn’t that why they call it liquid courage?

At the end of the evening my evergreens were a bit wonky, and I hadn’t mastered blending, but by golly, my stars sparkled.

I sat at the easel and lifted my glass in silent salute.

Good night Mrs. Pendergast, wherever you are.

artist_Hval

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

War Bonds

A love that encompassed 600+ boys

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They met in eighth grade.

Fell in love while attending West Valley High School.

And eventually Betty and Brian O’Donnell’s love would grow to encompass their own children, plus more than 600 boys.

Betty vividly remembers her first encounters with Brian.

“He had so much charm!” she said.

He was also impossible to miss on the football field. He played fullback and sported the No. 1 jersey all through high school.

They graduated from West Valley in 1946, and three months later, Brian went overseas.

“I volunteered to be part of the American occupation of Japan,” he said.

Before he left he gave Betty a ring and a promise.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about me, because I’m coming back,’” Betty recalled.

While they were apart they wrote letters to each other every day.

“I still have all of them,” Betty said, smiling.

Brian enjoyed his time in Japan. While there, he and some friends scaled Mount Fuji. But it was the citizens who captivated him.

“I’ll always remember the people of Japan – they were the nicest people. I almost feel like in another life I was Japanese,” he said.

After 18 months, he returned to Spokane, ready to embark on his life with Betty.

“We were sitting on the davenport in her mother’s house,” he recalled. “Betty said, ‘My mother keeps asking me when we’re going to get married.’ So, I told her to set the date.”

Twenty-four days later, on Jan. 24, 1948, they married at Millwood Presbyterian Church. Betty’s mother made her gown.

The 19-year-olds settled into an apartment in Browne’s Addition. Betty worked at the Paulsen Center, and Brian attended Kinman Business University.

By the time their first child was on the way, Brian was working in the payroll department at Washington Water Power Co.. They moved to Millwood and lived in a trailer in his parent’s backyard, and that’s where they brought son, Kurt, home in September 1949.

Daughter Colleen arrived in 1951, and Brian wanted to attend college. Betty’s father encouraged them to join him in Texas and offered to help. They moved to Beaumont, Texas, and Brian enrolled at Lamar State College.

One year in Texas was enough. The couple found the racial prejudice of the area intolerable, and as soon as Brian finished his first year, they left.

Son, Rory, arrived in 1956, and the young family moved to Seattle, where Brian enrolled at the University of Washington.

“We got faculty housing and paid $85 a quarter because we had three kids and a dog,” he said. “I went to school from 8 to 12, then worked at Boeing from 3 to 11.”

Brian graduated with an education degree, and was quickly offered a job teaching seventh grade in Otis Orchards.

He served as president of the PTA and Betty was the vice president. One evening at a PTA meeting, a counselor spoke about a troubled 14-year-old boy who desperately needed a home.

Betty’s hand shot up.

“I’ll take him,” she said.

They became licensed foster parents and eventually adopted their son, Ray.

After a year at Otis Orchards, Brian transferred to East Valley High School where he taught business classes, and became the school’s first wrestling coach and eventually, its first special education teacher.

“It was love at first sight,” he said of his special ed students. “The kids were so needy. They just needed someone to love them, to help them.”

Meanwhile, Betty was finding more and more troubled boys to love. By the time daughter Heidi arrived in 1965, they regularly had up to four foster boys living with them and knew they needed more space.

They purchased 140 acres at Newman Lake that had once been the Circle KD Ranch, a kids’ summer camp.

“The original owners wanted the property to be used for children,” Brian said.

They had plenty of those. They renamed the property Shamrock Acres Boys Ranch, and it became one of the first group homes in the state.

Betty took charge, doing the cooking, cleaning, shopping and supervising for 10 to 14 teenage boys, as well her own five children.

“It didn’t seem like work,” she said.

Brian grinned. “Betty’s philosophy was everybody will eat breakfast together, and everyone will come down with a smile on their face.”

The diminutive lady didn’t bat an eye when boys twice her size rebelled. If there was a discipline issue, she’d ask the boy, “Do you want to settle this with me? Or do you want to wait till Brian comes home?”

They almost always chose to settle the issue with Betty.

Their property didn’t only house kids. A wide array of animals including llamas, emus, chickens, dogs, cats, goats, rabbits and even a wallaby made the ranch their home.

In 1979, the ranch became Shamrock Educational Alternative, a private boys home, and teenagers from across the country lived with the O’Donnells.

“Some stayed for dinner, some stayed four years,” Brian said. “If you give kids love and a family, they’ll be OK.”

They hired additional counselors and were able to take time off to travel each summer.

When their youngest child graduated from East Valley, Brian retired at age 55, after a 25-year teaching career.

“Then I worked full time for Betty,” he said, chuckling.

In 1987, he built a house across the road from the boys’ home. But his wife had one stipulation.

“I had to put the pool in first because Betty didn’t like swimming in the lake,” Brian said.

They traveled often, taking 12 cruises, including a return visit to Japan for Brian.

“We’ve felt so fortunate in every turn we’ve made,” Betty said.

In 1995, they closed the group home, but they still hear from boys who lived there.

The celebration of their 70th anniversary last month, brought back many memories of the boys who came through their doors, and they expressed gratitude that their love ample enough to include so many.

But now they enjoy the simple pleasure of time together.

“He still has lots of humor. He makes me laugh,” said Betty. “He was and is the one for me.”

When asked how others can achieve such lasting love, Brian answered succinctly.

“One day at a time,” he said, smiling. “One day at a time.”

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Columns

All alone, but not lonely at all

I heard them before I saw them. A small group of kids on the playground, laughing, shouting, jostling as they let off steam in the afternoon chill.

As I walked past the schoolyard, a solitary figure on the swings caught my eye. The boy scuffed at the gravel with his shoes and the swing barely moved.

Slowing my stride, I took in the scene and I wondered at the social dynamics at work. Was the boy on the lower rungs of the grade school popularity ladder? Had he been deemed to have “cooties” by the others? Or was he just grabbing a quiet spot – overwhelmed by the sheer volume a small amount of kids can make during a brief recess?

When I was his age, I could relate to both scenarios.

Because we moved frequently due to my dad’s career, I was always the new kid. The daunting task of finding a spot at the lunch table and navigating new social networks and established hierarchies meant loneliness was a constant companion until we settled in Spokane when I was a teen. I didn’t even have the built-in companionship of siblings because my brothers and sister were much older, and all out of the house by the time I was 12.

That upbringing created a resiliency that has served me well in adulthood. I learned how to adapt, how to forge new connections and how to turn strangers into friends. I also learned self-sufficiency and how to be content with my own company.

There’s a profound difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a state of being, while loneliness describes a pain, a sadness, a feeling that something is missing.

I learned to love being alone and have developed a profound need for solitude. That’s something that’s proven hard to come by when married to an extrovert and raising four sons.

As my writing career grew, solitude became even more imperative. I’ve become adept at creating it, whether by renting an office or borrowing a friend’s house.

The writing I do from my friends’ home while they travel south for the winter is different than the writing I do at my desk in the family room at home.

I hammer out columns and news stories at home while family members come and go, the landline rings, the doorbell peals, the cats clamor to be fed. But in my friend’s empty, silent house, books are born, short stories submitted and my craving for solitude is satiated.

My weekly walks are another way of creating quiet for my mind and soul. I was contemplating this when two days later; I again encountered the solitary child.

It was the same time, same place and same scene. A group of kids shouting, laughing and tossing a basketball back and forth. The boy alone on a swing.

And I wondered if instead of listless and lonely, he was enjoying a moment of respite from the noise and crush of elementary school. As he toed at the gravel, perhaps the slight movement of the swing soothed him and allowed him time to think – to dream. Maybe this child, like me, wasn’t lonesome, he was simply alone and relishing it.

This time I paused at the fence and lifted my hand to wave. Just in case he did feel isolated and invisible, I wanted him to know I’d seen him. I’d noticed his existence.

I waited mid-wave until he looked up and saw me. He slowly lifted his hand in acknowledgment, a small smile tilting at the corners of his mouth.

Then I continued my walk while he sat in the gently swaying swing. Two solitary souls – alone, but maybe not lonely.

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


Columns

A toast to the expandable house

The Great Toaster Debate revealed the reality of our shrinking household.

When our sturdy four-slicer with extra-large slots for bagels began burning bread on a regular basis, we knew it was time to replace it.

“Buy a two-slicer,” Derek said. “I’ve cut back on carbs, and we’ve only got one kid at home.”

Shocked, I sputtered, “But what if Sam and I both want toast for breakfast and you decide to indulge!?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“When is the last time you actually ate breakfast?”

I started to reply, but he held up a hand.

“In the morning.”

I would’ve asked him to define “morning,” but I knew where that would lead, so I moved on to more pressing concerns.

“What if all the boys come home for Christmas and they all want a bagel at the same time?”

At this, he did his patented eye roll-snort combo, and I knew I’d lost the debate. I also knew I was suffering a bout of Empty Nest Denial Syndrome.

The affliction began last spring when Zachary, our third born, prepared to move to Nashville. He’d been scrimping and saving for the move since he’d earned his associate degree. He didn’t want to continue his education in a university setting. He wanted a real-life immersion music education in the Music City.

I managed to put his departure out of my mind. Then one day he packed up his room, with the exception of his G.I. Joe toys, which still stand sentry around his closet molding and window trim.

That night I found myself on the kitchen floor surrounded by pots, pans, mixing bowls and Tupperware.

Now, I haven’t actually purchased any Tupperware for over 25 years, yet every time a kid moves out, I seem to have plenty to spare. Tupperware is the rabbit brood of household items.

This is the third time I’ve raided the linen cupboard, setting aside towels and washcloths, each item liberally sprinkled with tears, as I help feather a fledgling’s new nest.

This letting go thing doesn’t get any easier.

But in April, Zach loaded his Ford Explorer with all his worldly goods and drove across the country to his new home.

I studiously avoided his empty room. The cats claimed Zach’s bed and windowsill, but I didn’t enter the room until last month when he came home for Christmas.

Then I finally cleaned and dusted it, moved in a chair and a lamp, put fresh bedding on his bed (which made the cats happy) and gladly welcomed his return.

It felt wonderful to have two sons under my roof again. Many nights I fell asleep to the sound of brotherly laughter echoing from downstairs.

“I’ve missed this,” I said to Derek one night as we listened to the raucous noise two Hval boys can make.

Zach plans to return to Spokane in April, having given Nashville a year of his life. He’s not sure what’s next, but his room is waiting for him.

“You know he won’t be staying here long,” Derek cautioned. “Don’t get too used to it. Once guys have a taste of independent living, they’re rarely happy in Mom’s basement for long.”

Which is how the Great Empty Room Debate began.

Actually we have two empty rooms, because after Alex moved to Texas, Derek planned to make a home office for me. That was five years ago. Currently, that room houses all the things that had to be evacuated when Derek built a walk-in closet in our bedroom. The closet isn’t finished, and work on the office hasn’t begun.

“I could use Zach’s room for my home office,” Derek mused, as we settled into bed.

Office space is a sore spot, so I brought up a more pressing point. Our first grandchild is due in March, and I really want Alex to bring his family home for Christmas next year.

“Where will our kids and grandkids sleep when they come to visit?” I asked. “We need a guest room.”

Derek agreed and we began talking about futons and sleeper sofas.

“We should probably buy bunk beds, too,” Derek said.

My heart leapt. A house with bunk beds again!

I fell asleep smiling.

Like a beating heart, a home contracts when kids leave, but it also expands to welcome new arrivals.

And I just may buy a four-slice toaster after all.

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

Columns, War Bonds

I Wish You Light

Bitter cold crept through our coats and scarves as my husband and I waited in a line that stretched the length of the building, but the glittering glow in the Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park beckoned.

Each year Spokane Parks employees turn the greenhouse into a winter wonderland, decorating tropical and subtropical plants with 30,000 twinkling lights.

Once inside, a blast of warm humid air quickly dissipated the winter chill. Cactuses clad in Christmas lights, a shining snowman waving from his sparkling foliage perch, and a Christmas tree made from scarlet poinsettias, dazzled our eyes. We soaked in the sights, absorbing the radiance before heading out into the pitch-black evening.

Making our way down the South Hill, we stopped at Cowley Park just below Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. That’s where the team from Spokane Winter Glow Spectacular set up a shimmering display complete with an enchanted forest, a gingerbread house and of course, the North Pole.

Children laughed and shouted around us as we walked through the park, their faces illuminated by a multicolored luster.

We returned home to our own festive outdoor display. Derek and our teenage son had worked hard to arrange the deer, candy canes, angel and trees in our yard.

This year more than ever, I crave the glow of Christmas lights. They are a beautiful way to defy the ever encroaching darkness.

December 21 marks Winter Solstice in Spokane. It’s the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Some refer to it as the longest night. It’s also the darkest day as the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun.

It’s fascinating that this year Hanukkah – the Jewish Festival of Lights – is also observed just when the nights are the longest and darkest.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a group of Jewish warriors defeated the occupying Greek armies. The festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness.

For eight days, Jewish families lit a candle in a menorah, remembering the ancient miracle of a small vial of oil found by the Maccabees meant to last only a day, but instead lasted for eight.

I think many of us long for a celebration of light in the depths of December. Darkness isn’t always simply a physical absence of light.

A scripture passage our pastor read recently resonates.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2.

As I write, the sun sets, though it’s barely 4 p.m. I slip away from my desk to turn on our outdoor display. In the living room, I plug in the Christmas tree’s twinkling lights, and then make my way from candle to candle, switching on 13 tiny, flickering battery-operated votives in their translucent holiday globes. Lastly, I strike a match and breathe in the fragrance of a cinnamon-scented candle.

Tonight my husband and sons won’t need to follow a star to find a miracle. Instead, they’ll return to a home that’s filled with warmth and welcome. Sometimes that’s miraculous enough.

Soon every day will be just a little bit brighter, the sun will rise a tad earlier.

And that’s my holiday wish for you. May your darkness always be dispelled by light.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5.

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.24909782_1617427588295862_1306281224400973122_n[1]

Columns, War Bonds

Their Stories are Now a Part of Mine

As I sat down at my desk to write this week’s column, an email notification popped up on my screen. I opened it to read of Audrey Bixby’s upcoming funeral.

I’d interviewed Audrey and her husband, Dick, several years ago for my Love Story series, and included their story in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”

The timing of the email stunned me. I’d already planned to write about the loss of so many of the people featured in “War Bonds.”

Seventy-two. That’s how many individuals made the final cut of the book.

Twenty-four. That’s how many people died before “War Bonds” made it into print.

Twenty. That’s how many goodbyes I’ve had to say since its 2015 publication.

A colleague shrugged when I bemoaned yet another loss.

“What did you expect when all your subjects are World War ll veterans over 80?” he’d asked.

He has a point.

It’s not that I expected them to live forever; it’s just that I’ve been unprepared for how much each loss affects me.

In the past few months, in addition to Audrey, I’ve said farewell to Jack Rogers, Dick Eastburg, Barbara Anderson and Myrt Powers.

It seems fitting to honor them today on the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Jack Rogers wasn’t at Pearl Harbor, but he enlisted in the Army in 1943, when he was just 19. He had a hard time believing we were at war against Japan.

“I grew up with a bunch of Japanese kids,” he said in “War Bonds.”

Before being shipped out to the Pacific, he traveled to California to see a Japanese friend from high school, only to find his friend and his family had been confined in an internment camp.

I met Jack many years ago when he taught art at Northwest Christian School. He taught all four of my kids, and each one remembers him well.

Eleven years ago, I wrote an article about his art career. Since then, I revisited him in print many times. A story about his 71-year marriage to Fran, a feature about how following a debilitating stroke, he still continued to give back – painting tailgates on Personal Energy Transporters through Inland Northwest PET Project.

And I wrote about one of his final art shows at Spokane Art Supply. That’s where I saw him last. He and Fran sat side by side, as friends, fans and former students perused his paintings, buying a piece of Jack to take home and remember him by.

My own piece of Rogers’ art watches over me as I write. It’s a whimsical print of a terrier that Fran sent as a thank you note, following the funeral.

Next to it is a photo of Louis Anderson and his flight crew taken in 1944, just before they shipped out to Europe.

The last time I saw Louis and Barbara at their retirement center apartment, she insisted I take home a memento – a water glass from Air Force One. She was so proud of her late grandson who served as President Obama’s pilot.

She also kept me grounded in real life. Every time I left their place she’d say, “Do you need to use the restroom? Are you sure?”

Audrey Bixby was strictly down-to-earth as well. When I interviewed her and Dick, he kept me in stitches with jokes and sly puns. While we laughed, Audrey feigned exasperation and then told her own funny stories.

When Dick enumerated her wonderful qualities, he said, “She’s an awfully nice person and she laughs at my jokes!”

Dick died five years ago. I like to think that now they’re laughing together again.

Dale Eastburg passed away last month. He and his wife, Eva, had been married 75 years. When last I spoke to them, they were still going to the gym every week!

They’d been married just a short time before he was sent to China as part of the famed Flying Tigers. The thought of saying goodbye to his bride proved unbearable to Dale, so he didn’t. He slipped out of their apartment while she slept.

I hope this time Dale was able to say goodbye.

And today, I think of darling Myrt Powers. I never thought I’d describe a Marine as darling, but that exactly describes this tiny dynamo.

Though already employed as a teacher, she enlisted in the Marines following the attack on Pearl Harbor, because so many of her students told her they were worried about their fathers who were going off to war.

“I wanted to take care of my students’ dads,” she explained in “War Bonds.”

She met Walt Powers, a sailor stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara. They were married 71 years at the time of her death.

I last saw Myrt two years ago, in Hawaii, of all places.

It was 8:15 in the morning at the Hale Koa Hotel, an Armed Forces Recreation Center resort on Waikiki. My husband and I were preparing to make our first pilgrimage to Pearl Harbor, and stopped for coffee before the tour bus picked us up.

Myrt was grabbing a cup while waiting for Walt to finish his regular swim at the hotel pool.

“Hello, honey,” she said, reaching up to embrace me.

It was the best hug I’ve ever received from a Marine, and sadly it was the last one from Myrt.

Today, while the world remembers the more than 2,000 lives lost at Pearl Harbor, I remember five souls who endured the trauma of a world war. The lives they led in its aftermath, the families they raised, the marriages they cherished, bear witness to the resiliency of the human spirit.

While I’m sad at their passing, I’m so very glad that their stories are now a part of mine.

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

Slinging Books and Shopping Small

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Take a group of authors. Give them name badges. Turn them loose in a bookstore. That’s the recipe for Indies First held each year on Small Business Saturday.

The event brings together authors, readers, and publishers in support of independent bookstores. Authors and local celebrities volunteer at events across the country, and publishers offer special terms on books and exclusives.

I had a blast as usual at Auntie’s Bookstore. Chatting with readers, helping them find great gift ideas and catching up with these great authors is always fun.

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Sam Ligon, Kate Lebo, Cindy Hval, Jack Nisbet

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Stephanie Oakes, Cindy Hval, Sharma Shields

One Spokesman Review reader said she came in just to see Jack Nisbet and me, but she walked out with Shop Small shopping bag filled with books. That’s the danger and delight of hanging out in a bookstore!
Another reader stopped by to make sure I was alright. My Thanksgiving column about sometimes finding it hard to be grateful, prompted her concern.

At the end of my shift I rewarded myself with a copy of the delightful anthology Pie & Whiskey: Writers under the Influence of Butter & Booze. My husband and I are reading it aloud every night before bed. It’s a hoot. Honestly, Sam Ligon’s whiskey cocktail recipes are my favorite part. Some drink recipes call for things like a soul, a pistol, a Bible and a sword, but you can still make the drinks without them.

Indies First offers a great way to get customers into independent bookstores, but it’s even more important to support local businesses and Shop Small all year long.

After all, Santa does!

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War Bonds

Celebrating 70 years of a marriage that is “so much more than friendship”

Barbara and Ray Lewis have a lot of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving – 70 of them, to be exact.

The couple married Nov. 23, 1947, so in addition to the traditional turkey day feast, they’ll be celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.

She was born in Texas, he in Ohio, but they met in Indiana, and 3 1/2 months later, they married.

Barbara was traveling with a group of students who were going door to door inviting people to special church services. It just so happened that the services were being held at the church Ray attended in Fort Wayne.

“He made a point of meeting all the girls,” Barbara, 94, said, smiling.

Ray, 92, was finishing up his engineering degree at Indiana Tech and had indeed met all the girls in the traveling group, with one exception. An exception he rectified as quickly as possible.

“He saw me because I was wearing a big black hat,” she said.

Ray doesn’t recall the hat, but he does remember approaching her and saying, “I believe your name is Barbara.”

He’d done some reconnaissance.

When he discovered Barbara was staying with a couple who’d asked him to photograph their newborn son, Ray an avid amateur photographer, decided now would be the perfect time to take that photo – even though the child was now a year old.

The family asked him to stay for dinner, and he didn’t hesitate. He also invited Barbara on a triple date the next night.

“There wasn’t much to do in Fort Wayne in those days,” recalled Barbara. “We went to the drugstore and had a soda and then walked to the park where they had a lighted fountain. We watched the colors change.”

She still has a postcard featuring the park and the fountain.

The next day, his sister, Mary, came to visit. She was dating Ray’s roommate, Ted. Eventually Mary and Ted would wed as well.

They arranged a double date.

“Ray thought that gave him an excuse to sit by me in church Sunday morning,” Barbara said.

The church meetings concluded, and it was time to say goodbye. Ray went to the station with her.

“Barbara had to be the last one out of town,” Ray said.

That was fine with him.

“I wasn’t ready to turn loose of her just yet,” he admitted.

In fact, he made her promise to write to him. She agreed on the condition that he would write back.

As the train began to pull away, he stood outside her window and used his finger to trace the words “please write!” in the dust.

Back home in Texas, Barbara checked her mailbox every day.

“If there wasn’t a letter, I let him have it,” she said.

But Ray was taking his finals and the pressure of the letter-writing got to him.

“I got tired of that kind of romance,” he said.

So, when Barbara told him that she and her parents were moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, to help establish a church, Ray was delighted. Erie wasn’t far from his Ohio hometown. He quickly hopped on bus to visit her. Well, she did most of the visiting.

“She did all the conversation, just like she does now,” he said, grinning.

They both got jobs at General Electric, and one September evening Ray borrowed her father’s car and took her to see Lake Erie.

“It was a moonlit night, and the waves were breaking over the shore,” Barbara recalled.

It was the perfect place for a proposal. When she said yes, Ray went straight home to borrow money from his mother to buy an engagement ring.

They married on a Sunday night, just after evening service in the middle of a snowstorm.

She wore a dress and headpiece made by her mother and the preacher’s wife, and they caught the last train of the evening to Cleveland for their honeymoon.

While there, a duck nearly derailed their happy future.

They went roller-skating, and the rink was giving away live ducks and turkeys.

“Wouldn’t you know it – my name got called for a duck,” Barbara said.

Now, she happened to love ducks and even had pet ducks while growing up on her Texas farm. They resolved to ship the duck home.

“It was going to be our first possession,” she said.

Alas, there were no shipping crates to be found, and they finally had to sell the duck for a dollar to a guy at the Express Station. He said his family would be having duck for dinner the next day.

“That broke my heart,” Barbara said.

She shot a glance at her husband.

“I’ve never forgiven him!”

But they both chuckled at the memory.

That sense of humor got them through many moves in the next seven decades. Ray was a mechanical engineer for oil refineries, and they lived in 13 states and four Canadian provinces.

“Every place we were sent, I decided that’s where we’d retire,” Ray said. “I’m happy anywhere I am.”

His happiness grew along with their family. Daughter Linna was born in 1950, followed by Kent in 1952, Leslie in 1954, Laurie in 1959 and Lorinda in 1964.

Since they lived in so many snowy places, the family developed a passion for skiing. Great skiing opportunities led their son to move to Spokane, and 11 years ago when Ray finally retired, the couple joined him.

“I retired many different times, but they kept asking me back,” he said.

When it comes to advice for those who wish to achieve their own happily-ever-after, Barbara proved practical, Ray philosophical.

“Always make the bed together as soon as you get out of it,” Barbara said. “Making the bed takes five minutes instead of 10, and it’s very effective in introducing your husband to household chores.”

Ray said, “Don’t think about it (marriage) in terms of 70 years – think of it in terms of one year at a time, and go with the flow.”

Then he grinned.

“I’m still finding problems with her,” he teased.

Barbara smiled, acknowledging that Ray is her friend “most of the time,” but then grew serious.

“Marriage is so much more than friendship,” she said.

She looked at Ray.

“He’s one of the best men who ever lived.”

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