Columns

Together again, time with Mom a priceless gift

When my brother told me our mom could have a designated emotional support person, all I could picture was a fluffy service dog wearing a bright orange vest.

At the end of February, the governor allowed for one individual to be able to visit their loved ones in assisted living facilities. While my brother takes care of Mom’s finances and doctor’s appointments, I attend to her personal needs. In other words, I’m her toilet paper, toothpaste, soap and lotion gal.

Since Mom could only have one ESP, it made sense for that person to be me. Plus, I look better in orange.

Actually, I was relieved to learn I wouldn’t have to wear the vest or remain on a leash. All that was required was the completion of a fair amount of paperwork, and an introduction to the automated sign-in process. At every visit I fill out a health questionnaire and take my temperature. Surgical masks are required at all times, even though Mom is fully vaccinated.

Small price to pay to be able to see my mother again.

On Feb. 24, I walked through the doors of my mother’s apartment for the first time in a year.

“Surprise!” I said. “Do you recognize me with this surgical mask?”

She laughed and reached for me.

“Of course, I do!” she said. “You’re my baby girl!”

And then we cried because that’s what we do when we’re happy.

“I’m your ESP,” I explained.

She shook her head.

“Now, honey, you know we don’t believe in things like that.”

I grinned.

“Well, believe it or not I’m going to come see you every week,” I said.

Then I got busy checking her cupboards to see what she needed. Alzheimer’s has decimated Mom’s short term memory. As she likes to put it, “My short term memory is – very short!”

This made it difficult to discern what personal supplies she needed via phone calls. For a while she would try to go through her cupboards while I was on the phone with her, but that worsened her anxiety.

For months I’ve had to guess how much toilet paper she had, or if she was out of deodorant. That caused me anxiety. However, I was relieved to find I’d done a pretty good job guesstimating.

I was wrong about her candy stash, though. Every week she’d tell me she was out, but I assumed she’d forgotten some still in the cupboard. Nope. Mom’s sweet tooth is impressive.

As I sorted, tidied and organized, I paused in front of her wall calendar. It was still on March 2020. The world stopped for a lot of us that month, but not as completely as it did for our elders in assisted-living facilities.

Gratefully, I hung her new calendar.

I wanted to take a picture of us, so I fetched Mom’s hairbrush.

“My goodness!” I said. “Your brush is missing a lot of bristles.”

She nodded.

“Yeah, it’s losing teeth as fast as I am.”

I brushed her hair, and told her I’d bring her a new one. Then I dabbed a touch of lipstick on her and snapped a few photos.

Cindy Hval with her mom. February 2021

“How come you’re taller than me now?” she asked. “I was always taller than you.”

I assured her the only growth spurt I’d had was COVID-19 pounds.

She shrugged.

“Must be gravity.”

The next week I showed up with the biggest size bag of her favorite Wintergreen Life Savers I could find.

“Oh, my goodness! I’m going to have fresh breath until I die!” Mom said.

I pointed out I bought her the party-size bag, and she said, “Honey, if they find out we’re partying they aren’t going to let you come see me anymore!”

But they will, and now that we’re in Phase 3 she can have additional visitors, not just her designated emotional support person.

I unwrapped her new hairbrush and slid it through her silver hair while she reminisced about babysitting my boys when they were little.

She caught my hand and held it to her cheek.

“I’m glad you didn’t forget me,” she said.

It doesn’t take ESP to understand how precious these visits are for both of us.

Columns

Take Your Husband to Work Day

I’m not one to complain, but the pandemic put a real crimp in my dating life – even though I’ve been dating the same guy since 1985.

Get dressed up and attend the symphony? Not this year.

Groove to the Doobie Brothers? Postponed.

Enjoy the smash Broadway hit, “Hamilton”? Not going to happen for a while.

Even dinner in a restaurant followed by a movie at a theater wasn’t possible until recently.

Derek and I had already perfected date night at home long before that was our only option. Mainly because for many years as parents of four, living on one income, it WAS our only option.

We’d put the boys to bed at 8 p.m. He’d grill steaks, while I set the table, lit the candles, and popped a Michael Buble CD in the stereo. Then we’d watch whatever movie we’d picked up at Blockbuster.

Yes. This was back in the olden times before music streamed to your phone and movies to your television. Back in the days when you had to plan ahead if you didn’t want to get stuck renting “The Aristocats” because the latest “Terminator” movie was long gone by 5 on a Friday night.

With one kid left at home, we’d been enjoying stretching our wings, until COVID-19 clipped them, but good.

We’re profoundly grateful that neither of our jobs were impacted by the shutdowns. In fact, we’ve both been busier than ever, which makes having fun together an even bigger priority.

That’s why earlier this month I announced it was “Take Your Husband to Work Day.”

Derek owns his business, so he has some flexibility. When I told him I was driving out to Cheney for an assignment about urban chickens, he sighed.

“I’ve always wanted chickens,” he said.

“There’s some kind of chicken tractor involved, too,” I said. “Why don’t you take the afternoon off and come with me?”

The chicken tractor sealed the deal, and the game was afoot.

“I have an interview across from Northern Quest after the chicken interview,” I told him. “How ‘bout I drop you off at the casino, and then meet you for dinner when I’m done?”

He grinned.

“It’s a date!”

Derek enjoyed talking chicks with the flock owners, and as an avid gardener he loved learning about the permaculture environment the father-daughter duo was creating in their backyard.

I had just enough time to drop him off at Northern Quest before my next interview. Knowing he rarely carries cash, I gave him $40 and told him I’d text him to get us a table at Epic when I was on the way. I figured he’d be fine for the hour my assignment would take.

Which is what I told the photographer, as he worked to shoot the photos of the couple I was interviewing.

“I dunno, Cindy,” he said shaking his head. “I think this assignment is going to cost you more than you’ll make on it.”

Ha ha! Photojournalists are such kidders.

The interview ended up taking a bit longer, so I wasn’t surprised when I texted Derek, and he said he was already seated. When I joined him, he confessed that he’d gone through the $40 in 45 minutes.

“I felt so bad, I got you $20 out of the cash machine,” he said, sliding the bill across the table.

We enjoyed our meal, and then I took his $20 into the casino, where I quickly won my $40 back, plus $8.47.

Stunned, by my speedy recoup, Derek just shook his head. So, I gave him the $8.47. It only took him 5 minutes to lose $8.

Still, a good time was had by all. I came home with the $40 I left with, and Derek has a voucher for 47 cents in his wallet.

I’m also relieved that we’re moving into Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan this week. Creative dating probably isn’t sustainable on a freelance journalist’s income.

One thing is certain: The next time it’s Take Your Husband to Work Day, I think we’ll avoid casinos.

A date at an Eastern Washington University Football game. Hope to be able to do that again, soon!
All Write, Columns, War Bonds

Diminished by their loss, bolstered by their legacy

On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.

Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.

The author at James Loer’s funeral, November 2020.

Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”

Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.

He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.

During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.

At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.

And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.

Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.

Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.

In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.

“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”

David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.

The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.

Zelma Garinger with the author, 2015

After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.

Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.

Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.

We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”

Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.

The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.

I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.

“Life’s work well done.”

All Write, Columns

Framing your story

Meme makers had lots of fun with 2020.

To be clear, there is nothing funny about a global pandemic, murder hornets and horrific wildfires, but honestly, it seemed the year was one disaster after another. The great thing about humans is our ability to use humor to diffuse our angst.

Take this meme for example: “2020 is a unique Leap Year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and five years in April.”

Or this one: “If 2020 was a math problem: If you’re going down a river at two m.p.h. and your canoe loses a wheel, how much pancake mix would you need to re-shingle your roof?”

Everyone is hoping 2021 will be better (I refuse to ask how it could be worse), and signs are promising. The vaccine is rolling out. The election is over. And most of us never saw a single murder hornet.

Someday, we’ll be on the other side of COVID-19, and I wonder what stories we will tell our children and grandchildren about our experience.

Maybe something like this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks. Stores ran out of toilet paper and flour. Schools closed, and most of us learned to work from home.”

It’s a grim narrative, fit for a grim disease, but it’s not the whole story. In 2020, babies were born, businesses launched, books written, bread baked and outdoor treks enjoyed.

For me, one of the best things about the year has been writing the Pandemic Project series for this newspaper.

The idea started simply. A reader wrote, sending pictures of a quilt she’d finally had time to refurbish and she asked, “I wonder what projects others are tackling during this time?”

My editor forwarded me the note.

“Do you think this could be a series?” she asked.

So, I wrote a call out for stories, and the responses flooded my inbox. People eagerly shared how they’ve been using their unexpected down time.

From small needlework projects, to elegant patios and decks. From quilts, to chicken coops. From flower gardens, to greenhouses, to cookbooks, people proved that staying home didn’t stifle creativity. In fact, it unleashed it.

I think the reason these stories struck such a chord is that they stand in stark contrast against the daily roster of things we can’t do.

We can’t go to concerts.

We can’t go to movies.

We can’t visit our parents in retirement homes.

The ever-changing rules and information often results in fear, an unexpected side effect of the virus. Fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s hardwired into humans and warns us of impending danger. It can keep us safe, but it can also cripple us.

I’ve seen fear-induced rants turn to rage on social media. For example: anger at those who balk at the mask mandate, and anger at those who comply with it. The flip side of the same coin.

It reminds me of what I told my sons about anger when they were small.

“It’s OK to feel mad. Everyone gets mad sometimes. It’s what you do with your angry feelings that matters.”

The same thing applies to fear.

That’s why I enjoy writing the Pandemic Project series so much. Every week I get to talk with people who’ve channeled their worry, their fear, their sadness, into creating something new, or trying something they didn’t have time to pursue until a pandemic slowed their pace.

Perhaps one day I’ll tell my grandchildren this:

“Once upon a time, in 2020, a horrible plague swept over the world. Many people died. Many more got sick. We couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t hug people, and everyone wore masks.

But every week we had family dinner, and I fed your uncles the meals they loved when they were little. We watched movies, played cards and made memories.

I couldn’t visit great-grandma Shirley, but we waved at each other from windows while we talked on the phone.

Papa went to work every day, so people could buy the tools they needed to build and fix things, and I wrote stories about the wonderful things people did with their time at home.

It was scary, but in the quiet and slowness of a careful world, we finally had time to appreciate the small things – things that in the busy, noisy times, seemed to slip through our fingers.”

So much of a story is in how it’s framed. Beautiful things shine all the brighter against the darkest backgrounds. Every breath offers an opportunity to add to our story. What will you add to yours?

Columns

Sometimes you just need Christmas to linger awhile longer

Perplexed, he peers into our dining room from his perch on the deck, a red Christmas ornament dangling from his ear.

Rudy the Reindeer rarely sees this far into January.

That’s because I’m a by-the-book kind of holiday decorator.

In my home, Christmas music, movies, and décor are forbidden until the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the autumn wreaths go down, and the Christmas greens go up. Our everyday boring, white stoneware dishes are packed away, and my fleet of Pfaltzgraff Winterberry is deployed.

All the artwork on my living room walls is replaced by Santas, skis and holiday prints. I pack away the garland of harvest leaves from atop the piano and unearth evergreen garlands dotted with twinkling white lights.

Out come the Nativities, the Norwegian Christmas candelabra, and of course, the leg lamp replica from our favorite holiday film, “A Christmas Story.”

I’ve finally embraced the artificial – our tree goes up when our sons join us for post-Thanksgiving Turkey Noodle Soup. We appreciate having all hands on deck to trim the tree, not to mention hefting heavy holiday bins from the basement.

The hanging of the greens occurs outdoors as well, with lighted garlands and small wreaths draped along our stair railing and around the front door, a small lighted tree replacing my cat figurine on the front steps, and a wreath with a burgundy bow bedecking the door.

After hanging the snowflake garland above the backdoor slider, Derek affixes Rudy the reindeer to his watchful post on the deck.

But what goes up must come down. Preferably on Jan. 2, and certainly no later than the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6 this year for those keeping track at home).

Like I said, I’m a stickler for rules and am counted among those who groan when my neighbors leave limp holiday inflatables in their yards well past the New Year.

However, as 2020, blessedly drew to a close, I surveyed the glimmering green and red warmth of our home. Our sons had untrimmed the tree before the New Year chimed, but I was left to dismantle the rest of Christmas alone, and frankly, for the first time I can remember, I wasn’t done with Christmas.

I wasn’t ready to dim the evergreen lights and quench the candelabra. I love our ski-themed wall, with the cross-country Santa figurine, swooshing on the table below.

And to my surprise, the leg lamp has grown on me, and I enjoy switching it on as darkness falls, knowing Derek will see “the soft glow of electric sex” welcoming him home when he pulls into the driveway.

Since our oldest son’s birthday is Jan. 8, I always keep the Winterberry dishes out until after his cake has been cut. That way he can eat birthday cake from a plate that says, “Joy” or “Cheer” or “Wish.”

But this year, Ethan enjoyed his birthday dinner among all the other Christmas decorations I hadn’t begun removing.

After his celebration, I slowly filled the green and red bins. Walter, our junior tabby, inspected each bin from within, as I carefully wrapped candles, glassware and greenery.

Derek was even slower to remove the outdoor décor, not that there was much to take down. Our youngest son, his usual holiday helper, was busy with work and school this year, so no lighted candy canes, reindeer or trees dotted our front yard. Even so, he was reluctant to remove the garlands and wreaths.

We didn’t talk about it much.

He didn’t complain about the bins stacked in the dining room, even though he knows I’m a creature of order, not clutter.

I didn’t mention the outdoor lighting that lingered until this past week.

Honestly? I think this year with the world so filled with discord, disharmony and despair, had left us drained. But the beauty that is Christmas, reflected in simple lights and cheery decorations, offered a much-needed lift to sagging spirits.

As I write, the holiday bins are neatly stacked in the basement, the greenery gone from the front door. But Rudy still peeks at us from the deck each evening as we sit down to dinner, and I smile when I close the blinds.

To heck with rules.

Rudy can stay as long as he wants.

All Write, Columns

Readers make writer’s job enjoyable

While tidying up end-of-the-year paperwork, I dislodged an overflowing folder from the top of the filing cabinet.

It was my reader feedback folder, filled with printed emails, cards and letters I’ve received from newspaper readers this year.

Sifting through them, I’m amazed anew at how columns pounded out from my windowless, basement home office, find their way to readers across the region and prompt response.

Before COVID-19, I did a fair number of writing workshops and speaking events, and at almost every one I’m asked, “Where do you get the ideas for your column?”

After all these years, I still haven’t found a pithy answer, because writing a personal column is well, pretty personal. That’s why it’s such a joy to find something I’ve written resonates with others.

Thumbing through the notes, I found a response to a column I’d written when I discovered what the phrase “Netflix and Chill” means in contemporary culture.

The note was from Dean, 73, who said, “You rascal, you!”

I’ve never been called a rascal before. It was epic!

An email from Stan, a fellow author, and former teacher, said, “You really know your vowels and consonants.”

I immediately forwarded that one to my editor, whom I’m sure has wondered at times.

A column about anticipation drew this response from Gina, who said, “I do have the feeling of your words in my soul today.”

No writer could wish for more.

Publishing a segment of my quarantine diary prompted a comparison to Erma Bombeck that absolutely thrilled me.

When I bemoaned in print that the shutdown order had limited my wardrobe to gray yoga pants or gray sweatpants, Bob wrote, “I look forward to Thursday’s for your articles. Please don’t ever stop. Stay healthy and wear whatever you want at home.”

I’m confident, Bob would approve of today’s usual deadline attire – a fluffy pink bathrobe and matching bunny slippers.

Sometimes reader mail offers important validation on critical issues. When I wrote of my horror at discovering my husband had used MY MONDAY MUG, Marcia wrote, “By the way, the mug thing made sense to me.”

I forwarded that one to Derek.

He didn’t reply, but he hasn’t used my Monday mug since.

Cards and letters sent to me at the newsroom are now forwarded to me at home.

When I wrote about a benefit of pandemic life was discovering the joy of the newspaper crosswords, a thoughtful reader enclosed a pencil with her card.

An elegant typewritten note on gold-trimmed stationery proved delightful, especially since it was written in response to a column about my cats.

Arlene wrote, “When there is so much sadness in these difficult times, you brightened my day on October 22 with your cleverly written article about Thor and Walter Scott.”

I don’t know if the column was clever, but I do know that my cats are.

Jan sent an email that made me smile.

“Thanks for your column – one of the few items I can BELIEVE IN THE SPOKESMAN!! (caps courtesy of the writer). Hang in there.”

I’m hanging in there, and I hope Jan is, too.

Bombeck once wrote, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”

It’s a line I’m privileged to walk twice a month.

In fact, the column that generated the most feedback this year blurred those lines a bit.

I wrote about my first masked, socially distant outdoor visit with my 89-year-old mom. She lives in a retirement facility just blocks from my home, but six months had passed since I’d been able to see her in person.

Readers shared their own stories of being separated from family members during the pandemic.

Bill wrote he’d been apart from his bride of 53 years for 22 weeks.

“If some of my friends read your article, they may now have a better understanding of what I’m experiencing,” he said.

Humans weren’t made to live in isolation. This year more than ever, I value the feedback of faithful newspaper readers.

Thank you for reminding me that even in the midst of a global pandemic, our stories can still connect us.

Here’s to a brighter, better, and healthier New Year.

Columns

You smell! Making sense of scents.

My hairdresser greeted me at the door of her shop.

“You smell good!” she said.

“Thanks,” I replied. “I showered.”

If there’s anything this pandemic has taught me, it’s to be thankful for small blessings like showering and leaving your house. And since one of the symptoms of COVID-19 is loss of sense of smell, I’m adding enjoying fragrant aromas to my gratitude list.

“Seriously,” my hairdresser said. “You smell so good. What is it?”

“Tangerine-raspberry body wash, I guess,” I said, shrugging.

When I ran out of that body wash, I continued the fruity theme. Now, I smell like blueberries. I showered with blueberry-scented body wash, then slathered blueberry lotion on my winter-worn skin, and had a bowl of blueberries for breakfast. I’m starting to worry I’ll turn blue like Violet in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Which got me thinking: Who decided that we should smell like something we had for breakfast?

On the weekends my husband makes me bacon and eggs. I’m sure he and the cats would like it if I smelled like bacon all day, but I’ll pass on the pork-scented soap.

Scented soaps, lotions and candles are bestselling gifts this time of year, but the evolution of fragrance puzzles me.

Perhaps our ancient forebears used their sense of smell to identify food that was safe to eat. Ripened apples, plums and berries smell good, week-old rotting saber-tooth, not so much. But if raw meat smells so good, why aren’t we adding that to our lotions?

If indeed fragrance appeal is based on our ancestors that probably explain men’s bath products. The store where I buy my scented soaps features a men’s line with one-word names. Forest and Ocean, I understand. But Steel and Marble? They also sell Bourbon Body Wash, but I’m afraid my husband might not use it as instructed.

Smell, like taste, is highly subjective. While some folks swoon at a bite of caviar or oyster, others gag, and since the freshness of both is supposed smell like an ocean breeze, what does that mean for our beach breeze-scented candles? I’m quite certain no one wants to walk into an oyster-scented living room, but maybe I’m wrong.

I just don’t get how the fragrance business works. For example, the cheery red candle that flickers in my entryway is called “After Sledding.” As someone who has unwrapped and unlayered four sons, post-sledding, I can assure you, that scent is more sweat than cinnamon.

Likewise, the blue candle in our bedroom is supposed to smell like “Cabana Bay Linen.” I can’t argue with that. I’ve never been to a place called Cabana Bay, nor smelled its linen.

Speaking of fabric, why do many detergents advertise that they smell like mountain air? I may not be a climber, but I have ridden lifts to the tip tops of large mountains, and the air didn’t smell that much different than it did at lower elevations. Of course, I was in tram with teenage boys doused in AXE body spray, so my nostrils may have been compromised.

Apparently, laundry detergent smells so good you can make your whole house smell like it with Gain-scented room spray. Imagine the olfactory confusion that would occur if you washed your clothes in Tide, dried them with Downy Amber Blossom dryer sheets, and spritzed Gain spray around the house?

And I’m all for seasonal themes, but I draw the line when my favorite “smell good” store wants me to smell like a pumpkin spice latte. I will gladly drink one, and enjoy a fresh slice of homemade apple pie with it, but I don’t want to bathe in those fragrances.

I guess the purists among us gravitate to all things unscented, but honestly, who wants their clothes to smell like fabric, their bodies to smell like humans, or their homes to smell like the people who live in them?

Not me.

In fact, I’m going to go hang out in my bathroom for a while.

Currently, it smells like Aloha Hawaii air freshener, which is about as close as I’m going to get to the tropics this year.

All Write, Columns

Pearl Harbor Survivor’s Footlocker Found

Oh, the stories it could tell.

The battered standard-issue World War II footlocker was covered in dust, but a flash of bright red paint caught Rhonda Earley’s eye. She brushed off the grime and read, “Lt. Col. Nick Gaynos, U.S. Air Force. If lost notify the Air Anj. General.”

A few weeks ago, Earley had been helping a friend clean out her deceased parents’ home and garage in Santa Rosa, California. They’d unearthed the battered footlocker in the garage. It was empty, but the word “ivory” had been scrawled in a corner.

“My friend had no idea where the chest had come from,” Earley said. “I took photos to help her sell some of the stuff.”

And there was a lot of stuff, but the footlocker nagged at Earley.

“I decided to do some research to see what I could find out,” she said.

It was Nov. 11, Veteran’s Day.

Soon a message from Earley appeared in my inbox from my website contact form.

“I have a chest that I believe may belong to Lt. Nick Gaynos whom you wrote about in your book. I’d love to find a family member.”

Then my phone pinged with a Facebook message.

“This is a far reach, but I have a chest that may belong to Nick Gaynos who you wrote about.”

Earley’s Google search had led her to my book, “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation,” as well as to newspaper articles I’d written about Gaynos.

“I got chills,” she said. “It was Veteran’s Day, and it just touched my heart. I knew there was a story behind this.”

It’s a story we may never fully know. I was able to connect Earley and her friend with Gaynos’ daughter, Nikki Arana.

She confirmed the footlocker had definitely belonged to Gaynos, who’d lived in Northern California for many years, before retiring to Post Falls to be near Nikki and her children. But Arana had no idea how, or why, the footlocker had been left behind.

“I’d never seen it before,” she said. “I can’t imagine what series of events led to this.”

Arana passed on reclaiming the footlocker, and said like many WWII veterans, her father refused to discuss his battlefield memories for most of his life.

By the time I first interviewed him in 2010, he was ready to talk about what happened to him on Dec. 7, 1941.

“I’d been up until 4 a.m. at my radio station,” Gaynos had told me.

As a young private, he was in charge of air-ground communications at Hickam Air Field.

He was asleep in his bunk when the earsplitting scream of airplane engines and the rat-a-tat sound of bullets strafing the barracks woke him. Grabbing his pants and his helmet, he scrambled out the door.

As he ran down the beach toward his duty station, a Japanese Zero spattered the sand around him. Gaynos hit the ground and covered his head. He said he felt a hot breeze and heard a whistling sound inches from his ears. He looked up and saw the face of the pilot as he flew alongside him. The pilot grinned.

When Gaynos got up he discovered a large piece of shrapnel next to him. “I grabbed it,” he said. “It was still hot from the explosion.”

Nick Gaynos, 1945

One month before his death, Gaynos attended a reading of “War Bonds,” at the Coeur d’Alene Public library.

He brought that shrapnel with him.

But there was so much he didn’t say, like what it was like to gather the mutilated body of a dying friend in his arms. Perhaps there aren’t any words for something like that.

After Pearl Harbor, Gaynos attended Officer Candidate School. He made the military his career, quickly rising through the ranks, before retiring as a colonel.

As per his wishes, in 2015, Gaynos was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, alongside his beautiful bride, Tex.

“I’m going to be buried with my buddies,” he told his daughter.

It’s likely that footlocker had traveled the world with him from Japan, to Newfoundland, and points in between.

How it ended up in a dusty garage in Santa Rosa is a mystery.

If only footlockers could talk.

Columns

Goodnight garden, goodnight gazebo…

Like a child resisting bedtime, I balked when my husband mentioned getting our yard and garden ready for winter.

He brought the furniture covers out of the shed. I ignored them.

He took down the deck umbrellas, and rolled up the sun shade in the Great Gazebo.

I edged my chair out from under the gazebo’s shelter and stretched my legs in the waning autumn sun.

As Derek cut back the zucchini, bean and tomato plants last month, he said, “You might want to finish picking the carrots before we leave for Ohio. You never know, it could snow while we’re gone.”

I scoffed, but I needed carrots for the stew I was making, so I went ahead and harvested the rest, pausing to reach over the fence to give some to our neighbor.

Then I plucked the last few tender leaves of basil and a lone green pepper and added them to the pot.

The following week when Derek cut back the ornamental grasses, I grudgingly hauled my flower pots from the front porch, and brought out our fall welcome mat and Happy Harvest outdoor signs.

But I was not happy, not one bit, as the days grew shorter, the air cooler, the sunshine scarcer.

Fall used to be my favorite season. Never a fan of hot weather, I eagerly welcomed blustery, gray days. The fact that September signaled the start of school for my four boys might have had something to do with my avid enjoyment of autumn’s arrival.

Yet, lately I’ve noticed each year I begrudge the battening down of home and yard a bit more. I delay packing away my gardening basket, gloves and shears. When the rain comes, I scoot the gazebo furniture toward the center of the shelter, and cover my plump pillows with a blanket.

I know fighting fall’s arrival is foolish, so on a crisp, sunny October day I gathered garden and gazebo décor, packing them away for the season.

My favorite sign went into the bin last.

“This is my happy place,” it reads. And this year more than ever our back yard provided a soul-satisfying refuge from a pandemic-plagued world.

October sunlight.

For us there were no concerts, no movies, no nights at the theater, or trips to the beach, but every week we enjoyed evening Happy Hours in the Great Gazebo, and delicious family meals on the Delightful Deck.

With galleries and museums closed, we enjoyed nature’s art via window boxes and pots filled with petunias, daisies and geraniums. Derek scattered wildflower seeds around the back fence and erected trellises, coaxing clematis plants upward.

As we prepared for our trip to Ohio, I begged him to leave the deck window boxes up until our return.

“It will be so nice to come home to a spot of cheery color,” I said.

Of course, it snowed while we were gone and we came home to frozen flowers.

This week, as we entered a new round of stay-home orders, I’m missing my outdoor sanctuary even more. On Sunday as my social media accounts filled with photos of pandemic-panic buying shoppers snaking in long lines outside grocery stores, I struggled to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

After a chilly walk through the neighborhood, I stood on our deck as wind-whipped leaves skittered, scattered and caught in my hair. Gazing at our fence line, I suddenly remembered how Derek had planted dozens and dozens of tulip bulbs along its length before the first hard freeze. I pictured those bulbs patiently resting beneath the frost, the rain, the snow, ready to burst into riotous color in the spring.

All living things need rest; soil, seeds and certainly people.

And so with a nod to Margaret Wise Brown:

Goodnight Glorious Garden once verdant and green.

Goodnight Great Gazebo and summer’s sweet scene.

Goodnight Delightful Deck and al fresco dining,

Goodnight brilliant blossoms, I’ll try to stop whining.

Because beauty awaits us just out of sight.

And all will awaken beneath spring’s golden light.

Columns

Memories made worth travel trauma

As last suppers go, it was pretty pathetic.

Diet Pepsi, a bag of mixed nuts, one package of Trump-orange crackers and cheese, evenly divided, and a Fig Newton a piece.

It’s amazing what you’ll endure when your only grandchildren live thousands of miles away.

When the gate agent had announced our flight home from Ohio was delayed due to fueling difficulties, I went into survival mode.

We were supposed to depart at 5:30 p.m. It was already 6. The small gift shop at the airport had closed and restaurants in this terminal hadn’t reopened since the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Gimme your cash,” I said to Derek, and headed to the vending machines.

Our lovely lunch at a bistro in downtown Grove City had been hours ago, and the only food you get aboard Alaska Airlines these days is a cookie or a tiny bag of snack mix.

Turns out my vending machine raid likely saved us from starvation. We were due to arrive in Spokane at 10:30 p.m. Oct. 26. Instead, we arrived at 10:30 the next morning.

I think we spent more time in planes on the ground than we did on planes in the air.

But before that series of unfortunate events we’d enjoyed a blissful five days with our 11-month-old twin grandsons, Adam and Nick.

We’d debated flying out for their first birthday on Nov. 23, but Derek wisely reminded me the weather would be better in October. It seemed fitting to celebrate these healthy boys early; after all, they’d showed up seven weeks before their due date.

Derek was right about the weather. On the day Spokane was being buried in snow, we were loading the boys into their double stroller and enjoying a long walk in a picture-perfect 77-degree day in Grove City. Thankfully, I’d optimistically packed my flip-flops.

The twins have changed so much since we last saw them in June. Now, The World’s Most Beautiful Boys are sporting teeth and have mastered locomotion. They are crawling, cruising, perpetual motion machines just like their daddy was at this age.

Nick discovers Adam in lockup!

Nicholas will be taking his first solo steps any day now, and Adam is close on his heels.

Our son dropped them off at our Airbnb each day, and then he and Brooke joined us for dinner in the evenings. Alex is still working from home, which can be difficult with active boys underfoot. Brooke’s daughter Farrah was on a getaway with her other grandparents, and we really missed her, but daily respites allowed Brooke to catch up on the million and one things mothers usually have to try get done while their kids are sleeping.

Our delightful days with the boys were spent reading books, playing ball and patty cake, and taking walks.

Adam adored the outdoors, soaking in the sights and sounds from his perch in the stroller. Nick enjoyed the walks, too, but after a few minutes of sunshine and fresh air, he’d quickly nod off.

Nick and Adam find a Minion while on a walk with Nana and Papa in Grove City, Ohio. October 2020.

That wasn’t a bad thing, because they never really got the hang of napping in their travel cots. As usual, Nick snoozed next to Derek, while Adam preferred the comfort of Nana’s arms. Of course, we were happy to snuggle them as much as possible. Our arms already ache for them, and we won’t see them again until spring. By that time our travel trauma will have faded.

You see, the first leg of our return flight wasn’t the only problem we encountered. That fueling problem prompted a detour to Denver, where we sat on the tarmac and watched the window of time to make our connecting flight in Seattle close.

We arrived at SeaTac at midnight. The folks at Alaska Air had already secured hotel and meal vouchers for us, and booked us on an early morning flight to Spokane.

Unfortunately, that meant we only got a four-hour nap at the Marriott before hustling back to the airport where we were greeted with the news that our 7:30 a.m. had been delayed due to mechanical difficulties.

I mean, what are the odds?

All I know is I now understand why people returning to America from foreign lands kiss the ground when they get off the plane.

During our long delays, we’d scrolled through the copious photos and videos we’d taken during our visit. They filled our hearts if not our bellies.

And honestly, a vending machine food dinner is a small price to pay for the privilege of making memories with The World’s Most Beautiful Boys.