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Planned Serendipity?

 

This post is dedicated to the memory of my wonderful father, Joseph Culotta, who passed away on August 1, 2016.

Blog Post #43

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ser·en·dip·i·ty

ˌserənˈdipədē/

noun

 1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

 My First Blog Post EVER!

There are certain serendipitous scenarios that you just can’t set up in advance, no matter how much scheming you do, nor how badly you want things to turn out exactly as you imagine them. In fact, to “set up,” scheme, or plan anything is the antithesis of serendipity, because serendipity, by definition, involves chance.

 

Album 02-009 Joe Culotta

My father, Joseph Culotta, Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class, United States Naval Air,           1942-1946

My father, the late Joseph Culotta, served as a naval photographer in World War II. He attended the Naval Training School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida where he labored to memorize all that was required for his area of expertise.  He developed a strong habit of memorization starting at an early age. (See blog post #2 “The True Measure of a Man.”) While stationed at the Naval Air Station in Bermuda, he spent much of his free time in the library memorizing poetry.

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After the war ended, my father (“Daddy”) went on a road trip with friends. Evening approached, and one of the other passengers—looking for an opportunity to show-off—pointed out the setting sun off in the western sky and asked if any of the other fellows in the car (including my father) knew what “refraction” was. At first, Daddy acted as if he didn’t know anything about it (his photography training eagerly churning in the back of his mind). Just as the other guy opened his mouth to enlighten everyone about refraction as it related to the setting sun, word-for-word Daddy interjected the following. “Oh.…you mean ‘the deflection of a ray of light upon entering a transparent medium at an oblique angle, or bending of light when passing from one medium to another of different density?’” He recited this (as he later did countless times throughout his lifetime) with the same uninterrupted, rote speed and tonal quality characteristic of something entirely ingrained in one’s memory.

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Daddy’s notes on Refraction from his photo school journal .

The man was so surprised by Daddy’s impromptu recitation he begged to know how my father did that! When Daddy explained he had memorized that definition while in Naval Photography School, the man decided he wanted to choose the definition of a word to memorize so he could pull that on someone else. The man chose “viscosity” as his word. My father told us later that he thought the circumstances were too unusual for a similar opportunity to arise like that again. He felt that his traveling companion would be disappointed in his scheme, because you couldn’t hope to plan for that kind of serendipitous stunt. Happily, for my father the stars had aligned and he had taken advantage of that unique set of circumstances.

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Daddy in his convertible after the war

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It is this unique set of circumstances to which I refer when I said that you cannot set-up in advance certain scenarios—no matter how much scheming you do. I believe there’s truth in the phrase, “The best laid plans … often go awry!” (Robert Burns)

Many years ago, my family of seven (my husband, Brad, our five children, and I) were on a road trip together with my sister, Karen, and her six children.  We drove two vehicles, one of which was a truck pulling a fifth wheel trailer, and the other, a large van with three rows of benches and two front seats. The eleven children took turns riding in the cab of the truck with Brad, but mostly the two eldest children (my daughter, Thalia, and my sister’s daughter, Bridey) claimed that privilege. The rest of us were crammed in Karen’s big blue van, appropriately named “Big Uggs.”

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A small portion of the family piling into “Big Uggs”

One of the stops on our trip was the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. My sister had been there before, and had a vivid memory of rounding a bend and seeing those magnificent mountains suddenly appear before her eyes. Completely moved by that experience, she wanted to recreate the same inspirational effect for the children (and for me). To add to the effect, we chose to play music that would build and climax at the precise moment when the mountains appeared like a vision before our eyes. (Just the way it always happens in the movies.) The main theme in the soundtrack to the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was our music of choice. (I should probably add that this was during the days prior to compact discs, MP3 players, or Bluetooth connections. Cassette tapes had to be re-wound or fast-forwarded—like a video tape—to find the desired location. Unless you had a counter on your machine, you had no idea where to stop the tape to find the song you wanted.)

 

There we were, driving along, following a map, (no GPS in those days, either), and as we approached a bend in the road at the approximate location we thought the mountain range would appear, we’d call out to the children to “Look!” Quickly we rewound the tape,—the  violins building in crescendo to a fever pitch, the French horns ready to signal,—and as we rounded the bend…..nothing. No mountains. Just more road and more of the same scenery on both sides of the road. “Quick! Stop the tape!” one of us would call out. We rewound again, preparing for the next bend in the road —the correct bend.

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This is what we expected to see around the bend: The Snake River with the Grand Tetons in the background.

And another bend soon came! Again, we called to the children, the tape went on—violins building toward the magnificent view. And….nothing. We repeated this scenario perhaps a half-dozen times or more. We heard those violins brace themselves for the climax over and over again (we became quite intuitive as to when to stop rewinding the tape at the perfect place).

Finally, after rounding every bend, the Tetons appeared way off in the distance, like piles of small, jagged rocks, gradually growing larger as we bridged the miles that spanned the distance between us. It was as opposite an experience from that imagined as possible. We let the rest of the tape play out. After the second or third “Look!” the children had tuned us out anyway.

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Although I can’t remember now, this is probably more like what we saw (which, granted, is still absolutely MAGNIFICENT!)

At last, Karen concluded that her initial introduction to the Tetons must have come from a different direction or perhaps from a different road (possibly because she had flown into the area and had arrived in a shuttle). We had to resign ourselves to having made a valiant attempt on behalf of our children—all of whom sat obliviously happy in the back seats (drawing, laughing, talking, singing, and playing together) totally unaware of our desire for them  to regard, with breathless anticipation, the experience we had attempted to orchestrate…that never happened.

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What we envisioned seeing (even though it was long before sunset).

 

Countless are the times I’ve tried to rehearse exactly the right thing to say or do only to have it completely backfire on me. I might lay the blame on my inability to predict the reactions of others, my ignorance of human nature, or my failure to be poised for action at the moment when the stars align.  As I ponder this enigma, I think it all boils down to the idea that you simply can’t plan for unique events that appear like bursts of serendipity sent down from above.

However, I do believe it is completely possible for one to plan and create moments that are special—that are beautiful, touching, emotionally charged (in a good way), and that may be remembered for a lifetime. It takes thought, planning, effort, presence, and a smattering of joy to create an enchanting moment, be it a dinner with friends, a wedding or birthday celebration, a community event, or even more beautiful–a special moment with a child.

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Still, I think you cannot re-create, or manufacture, unique moments that first occur as serendipitous, once-in-a-lifetime occasions. When the stars align, when the heavens open, and when your life preparation unites with the moment, that’s the time to be grateful you were at the right place at the right time.

One more thought….which may shoot down the entire premise of this post.  As I think about that little scheme we set-up during our trip to the Tetons, it was, in its own way, a serendipitous event. We didn’t achieve the desired result, but our bumbling attempt to create a stirring, unforgettable moment was, in many respects, achieved.  The outcome was, in its own right, something we’ve remembered and laughed about for years on end. And isn’t that, in itself a unique little bit of serendipity?

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This photo shows a few members of our family rafting on the Snake River together. The others are in the part of the raft you can’t see.  (That’s me in the back on the left.) You can see the Tetons in the background. 

I’ll leave you to sort this all out. Obviously, I haven’t succeeded.

I sincerely hope you are able to find serendipitous joy when your schemes to create or recreate some wonderful event turn out differently than you had, at first, hoped. If you were chasing rainbows, and found one that was upside down …. well, what could be more serendipitous than discovering a giant smile in the sky?

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An upside-down rainbow (circumzenithal arc)

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© September 6, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

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Cracks in the Sidewalk

View of home

Blog Post #40

My husband, Brad, and I moved back home eight years ago to help care for my 93-year-old father. He lives in the house our family moved into in 1962, when I was eight. My father is the last original homeowner on the street. Even before our family moved into this house so many years ago, we visited it on a regular basis. Each weekend we’d drive out and look at the stepped lots of dirt, where little flags identified each leveled-off lot. We knew which lot was ours in that vast, arid sea of flattened earth.

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Orange groves once covered the parcel of land where our house now stands

I admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy those trips to the house that wasn’t there yet. It was about as exciting as asphalt – a giant wasteland. Then, on one visit, a slab of cement appeared. My siblings and I explored the foundation until that grew old—let’s see, that took about two minutes. Later, the Palos Verdes stone (complete with real, built-in fossils) that would become the fireplace appeared on the slab, then a wooden framework, walls, roof, and so on. Finally—FINALLY,—the house was finished! We sat on the floor of an empty bedroom and ate bologna sandwiches while waiting for the moving van to arrive. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in that big, empty house! Something good was happening to our family—I could feel it in my bones.

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The new house two years after we moved in

We moved in on the tenth of November, mid-semester. It’s no surprise that our mother registered us for school right away–almost before she tucked us in that first night. 

Claremont view from living room window Craig bike 1964

Riding bikes in the neighborhood

The first or second weekend, my sister Karen and I got on our bikes to explore. Our explorations took us repeatedly by the model home around the corner. Eager realtors stood by card tables laden with floor plans in the open garage of one model. We knew they had small tokens for the children of prospective buyers, so each time we “happened by” on our bikes, we picked up another novelty eraser for our swiftly growing collection.

B&W Eraser

These were the kind of erasers with generic pictures (the Smurfs weren’t introduced for another two decades) 

Everything was new, then. New, meaning undeveloped. Tumbleweeds and mini-whirlwinds blew through the dusty neighborhood, while lizards scampered about the flattened dirt that was our backyard. My sister Karen and I pretended we were orphans of the Shirley Temple movies variety, lost and alone in a veritable desert. When playtime was over, we carpeting our mother’s pristine floors  with dirt accumulated on our filthy little “orphan” bodies.

The neighbors were also new. We got to know all the families on our block by name. Mrs. Chung across the street had an older daughter who was an opera singer. Her vocal scales blew into our house each morning with amazing clarity —and punctuality. (They moved away not many years later.) The family next door had three children, and would have two more before moving away. The oldest was my age, a son, which automatically disqualified him as a playmate. (I don’t think he sought my particular association either.) Besides being overcome with bashfulness around most boys, I was getting older, and what I really needed, and wanted, was a girl to play with—someone my age to be my best friend.

Cynthy in front of house on Maryhurst 1964

I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of our house. The Chung’s house is in the background. (1964)

Up the street, a family moved in shortly after we did. They had kids, too—four of them at the time, and one who would follow later. The oldest was a girl. I knew she was my age because she was in my grade at school, but not in my class. I watched her curiously as we walked to school—keeping just enough distance between us to avoid having to talk to her. I kept the same unfriendly I-wonder-if-you-have-cooties distance while playing outside. I wanted to make friends, but shyness created an insurmountable obstacle. The Great Wall of China could not have been more effective. I watched the girl ride her bike up and down our street. She made a point to ride in front of my house over and over again. Finally, one day, after a week or two of watching her with the scrutinizing eagle eye of a private detective, that toe-headed girl with the pixie cut pulled up on her bike and stopped at the curb in front of our house. Looking at me with not so veiled disapproval, she bluntly asked something like, “Well, are you ever going to talk to me?” Shy or not, I wasn’t going to miss this chance of making friends. Fortunately, Sheryl turned a blind eye to my backward nature, becoming my best friend – for life. Some fifty-odd years later, she is still my best friend. (If it had been left to me, I suppose I’d probably still be watching her from behind a bush.)

Sheryl Koncsol in front of house at 1034 Maryhurst in 1964

Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

The neighborhood was full of kids back then, and we owned it. We rode bikes, but mostly we walked—everywhere. We knew every crack in the sidewalk between our houses and school. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine” we’d repeat as we carefully navigated the cracks and lines wherever we went, while simultaneously stomping on every dry leaf we encountered just to hear it crunch like a potato chip.

Claremont sidewalk crack

Sometimes, we’d take the back path through the undeveloped field behind our tract of homes to and from school. One day, along the path, we met a handsome fellow—a large *desert tortoise. Wanting to take the heavy tortoise home, we weighed our schoolbooks and the tortoise in the balance. Attesting to our strong responsible natures, and our not so strong arms, we opted to, first, run our books home, then return for the tortoise. Responsible? Yes. Practical? No. Not toward our purpose. (This was during the pre-backpack era when girls juggled loose school books in–or mostly out of–their arms.) If we had thought it through more carefully, we might have concluded that, had we left them, no one would have wanted our school books, but the tortoise was another story. At any rate, when we returned, the tortoise was gone, and we bemoaned our loss.

(*This predated the time when laws were enacted prohibiting desert tortoises as pets. As I think of it, that tortoise probably was an escaped pet, which may have been retrieved by its owner.)

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Desert Tortoise like the one we found on the path home from  school. Isn’t he (she?) cute?

There was a nice little flower shop a couple blocks from home. They had a large greeting card display in the shape of a Snoopy doghouse from the Peanuts comic strip. I was a huge Peanuts fan and wanted that doghouse in the worst way. I asked Mrs. Mayer (in those days we even knew the names of the business owners in our neighborhood) if I could have the doghouse when she was done with it. I wrote my name and phone number down on a scrap of paper, and waited for her call. When I’d almost given up hope, my mother informed me that Mrs. Mayer had indeed phoned! If I would pick it up, the doghouse was mine! I called Sheryl, and off we went—on foot, of course. (Ours was a one-car family until my later teens. My father made a long commute to L.A. each day, or I’m sure my mother would have been glad to drive me to the flower shop and help me haul that doghouse home. What mother wouldn’t be thrilled and anxious to have such a monstrosity in her house?) I developed a very valuable motto about that time: “I’ll make it in one trip.”  (This motto is still in effect today. Be it a giant stack of text books (the densest, heaviest books in existence), bags of groceries, camping gear, or the kitchen sink, I can pretty much figure out how to haul everything in one trip at great inconvenience and possible harm to myself.)

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Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

The Snoopy doghouse, when assembled was a good five or six feet tall, counting the cardboard Snoopy sitting atop the roof. Made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, the doghouse had several levels of narrow display shelves that formed the roof on both sides. (These had once served to display Peanuts greeting cards, books, and stationery.) The base of the house was about the shape and size of a big, empty washing machine box. Had I cut the door out, I could have curled up and slept inside. (Snoopy didn’t sleep inside his house, and neither did I.)

 

Cynthy Doghouse

Yours truly (and our dog, whose name was not Snoopy) in front of the doghouse. (1970)

Sheryl was such a good sport. Somehow, and with a great deal of difficulty, we carried that doghouse (which was disassembled into large awkward pieces) home. One might think cardboard would be lightweight, but it was actually pretty heavy for two young girls of about ten years of age. After struggling to get it home, we worked out the puzzle of how to put it together with the intensity of Einstein working out Relativity. It took up the former location of a large four-story homemade dollhouse–a conglomeration of boxes, carpet scraps, and homemade décor. Out with the old, and in with the new! I couldn’t have been prouder of my new acquisition. I used the narrow shelves to display framed pictures, artwork, books, greeting cards I’d received, knickknacks and other odds and ends. It was my pride and joy. (Included in the display, was a framed letter written on official Peanuts letterhead to me from Charles M. Schulz himself, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which he sent in response to a letter I had written him.)

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The letter I received from Charles Schulz was on stationery just like this. (Currently in storage)

In those days, when the homes in the area were still fairly new, if company came to dinner, there was always the grand tour of the house that followed the meal. Not surprisingly, people did a double-take when they saw the giant doghouse in my room—a room which otherwise stockpiled a hodgepodge of hand-me-down, non-matching, outcast furniture. One guest, with stunned admiration (or was it incredulity?) remarked, “Now, this room has character!” At the time, I was certain I had been paid a great compliment, but on hindsight, I suspect that either I was “the great character,” or that it was a polite way of commenting on the odd conglomeration that was my room.

So attached to that doghouse was I, that it followed me into matrimony, providing the duel purpose of a playhouse and a shelf for our children. Once our children were old enough to enjoy the playhouse aspect of it, I finally succumbed to cutting the door out so they could crawl inside. At last, we faced a move in which we would have to store most of our household until we could settle in our own place, which would possibly take months. My husband thought it might be time to rid ourselves of the giant doghouse, which was beginning to show some wear and tear and the effects of age. I protested at first, however after much reasoning, was convinced that the doghouse would have to go (but not with us). Nostalgically brokenhearted, I gave it to a family with young children in our neighborhood, and girl and dog (house) parted forever. It was the last formidable vestige of my childhood still holding a visible presence in our home, and I felt its absence keenly.

Lard

A bucket of lard

Occasionally, Sheryl and I resorted to baking for entertainment (with a bonus–a sweet treat). Absurd as it was, one time we chose to make lard lemon cookies. Why these tempted us, I’m not sure. Just the mention of lard is disgusting to me, but paired with cookies it’s over-the-top revolting. Maybe that day we were missing an ingredient for other, more enticing cookies–namely chocolate. Or maybe ignorance played a part. I don’t think I really knew what lard was until Sheryl pulled out the carton that held it. The interesting thing about this recipe was it required said bakers to mix the lard with their hands! Pulling up our shirtsleeves, we dove in, grimacing and exclaiming “eew!” and “yuck!” It was a nasty business, but we persevered, giggling as we smooshed about in the greasy mixture. I can’t remember if the cookies tasted good, of if they provided the anticipated boon to our efforts. I can’t even remember if I ate any. Did anyone eat them? Needless to say, we only made them once, sticking strictly to Toll House cookies, Five-Minute Fudge, or  molasses cookies (Sheryl’s mother’s amazingly declicious recipe) after that.  

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Lard lemon cookies similar to those Sheryl and I made

Speaking of Sheryl’s mother, it might be of interest to note that she was an immaculate housekeeper, and her children learned at a young age how to keep a tidy house. When I had a sleepover at Sheryl’s, I followed her around in the morning while she vacuumed, dusted, and completed various other chores before we could eat our breakfast of Wheaties. Looking back, a better friend would have offered to help with the chores, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t recall doing.

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One day, Sheryl was at our house, playing with me in my room. There was a large black scuffmark on the wall that only someone with Sheryl’s keen eyes for cleanliness would notice (mine were blind to dirt in those days). She suggested we clean the scuff off the wall, and, it went without saying that in doing so, we would please my mother immensely. I produced cleanser and sponges from the bathroom and we proceeded to do a number on the wall removing the scuffmark in its entirety—as well as the paint. When my mother came in and saw what we had done…well, let’s just say, she wasn’t exactly “tickled pink.” She turned more a shade of red.

Sheryl and I were inseparable during most of our growing up years. People knew our names, but often didn’t know which of us was which, even though Sheryl had straight, light blonde hair and blue eyes, and I had curly, (okay, frizzy) dark hair, and dark eyes. To the untrained eye, we attached at the hip.

Sheryl owned two beautiful, silky Japanese kimono-looking pantsuits. Our mothers had given permission for us to go, by ourselves, to the Alpha Beta shopping center (within walking distance of home) to eat an early dinner at a quaint little restaurant located there. Sheryl was going to wear her Japanese outfit. I was envious, and she knew it. I didn’t have anything that even came close to those uncommonly pretty clothes, so Sheryl, being the generous and thoughtful friend she was, offered to let me wear her other Japanese outfit. Off we went, bedecked in those delicately flowered outfits, to Little Pigs of America (I kid you not, that was the name of the restaurant). I felt positively exotic as we walked into Little Pigs to eat. In we pranced wearing our silky pajamas (in retrospect, I wonder if that’s what they really were, glorified PJs), and feeling very glamorous in an outlandish sort of way. I’m sure we turned heads, (and drew snickers) a toe-head and a dark Italian in Japanese costume. We must have been a sight!

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The Girl Scout Cabin “La Casita”

Sheryl and I joined Brownies, advancing into Girl Scouts together, and shared all the joys (ice skating lessons, hikes, campouts, and camaraderie) and trials of scouting (selling calendars and cookies door to door. Let me add, it was a different time. No one ever set up camp in front of a grocery store in those days. Parents never took cookies to work to sell. It was door-to-door or bust). When we went to the local Girl Scout cabin “La Casita” in the foothills near home, pairs of girls were assigned (or chose) various chores that had to be done before the day’s regular activities began. I’m not sure why, but we opted (yes, we chose) to clean the outhouse! (Were we nuts? Maybe. Or maybe it was Sheryl’s propensity towards cleanliness, and the repulsive stench of the outhouse that spurred us on to such undervalued benevolence. At any rate, we took it on and magnified our job description.)  We not only swept it out, we scrubbed it as best we could, and gathered pine boughs and flowers to try to sweeten the air (without succeeding). We felt we had done our duty and a good turn, however I’m not sure it was noticed, let alone appreciated, by anyone but ourselves.

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The outhouse was down the hill to the left in those days. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they use regular bathrooms now.)

After the campfire at night, Sheryl and I spread out our sleeping gear next to each other on the wooden cabin floor. My family never went camping. I didn’t have a clue what an air mattress was. Many of the other girls not only knew, but were privileged to have one. I looked at their soft, billowing sleeping arrangements with a sigh. Surrounded by luxury, I knew I’d be roughing it. I had received a Girl Scout sleeping bag for Christmas. It was like sleeping on a chilled paper towel, having no padding or insulation to speak of, yet having considerable bulk when trying to roll it up tightly again. (After rolling my bag, it always looked as if I had, first, wadded it up, then tried desperately to tie up an explosion that had occurred somewhere in its depths.) I looked on enviously as other girls nonchalantly stuffed their bags into nice little tote sacks. I lied awake in a state of misery most of the night. I was freezing, sore, and needed to use the bathroom in the worst way, but couldn’t bear the idea of traipsing down the hill to the outhouse by myself in the dark (even with the anticipation of the fresh scent of pine needles to greet me). I held it in ‘till morning, then, shivering, made a mad dash for the latrine when the first scouts began to stir at daylight.

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Breakfast was its own trial since I was a picky eater. My mother never made oatmeal. I’m not sure why, but, when growing up, we never had hot cereal or casseroles (both typical Girl Scout fare). I was crestfallen when I heard breakfast was oatmeal, not pancakes. I sat there staring at the lumpy white goop while hungry scouts all around me gobbled theirs up. The rule was you had to eat two big Girl Scout bites before you could leave the table. After tasting just a tiny bit of the bland and sticky stuff, I was pretty sure a 21st Century Girl Scout would find me dead on the bench decades later. Sheryl encouraged me along, as did the other girls around me, urging me to put sugar and milk on it—promising it would help. I loaded the sugar on and choked down my two big Girl Scout nibbles, then got out of there as fast as possible.

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I’ve acquired a taste for oatmeal since those long ago days. I especially love it with cinnamon apples, nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. Yum.

When we were about twelve, the big day arrived when our mothers consented to let us ride the bus alone to an outdoor mall about five miles away. We put on our best dresses and boarded the bus. (In those days, going to the mall was an event worthy of dressing up. I think it’s rather a shame that practice of dressing up for special outings has been mostly lost.) We were sure we had reached a certain level of maturity when Sheryl’s mother decided to send money to treat us to lunch in a department store restaurant. Before lunch, we shopped, or more appropriately, window-shopped, as we had very little of our own money to spend. We looked at items on the main floor of the department store, checking price tags with cloaked dismay. We made our way to a less expensive part of the store, perhaps located in the basement, thinking we might find something in our price range while still giving the appearance of being two very independent, and if not well-to-do, at least refined young ladies. While I looked with interest at one clothing rack, knowing full well I couldn’t even afford to buy one of the wire hangers the clothing hung on, Sheryl was making her way around another circular clothing rack across the room. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to me in a rather loud voice, “This isn’t the budget department!” I’m not sure if I disappeared into the clothes on the rack in front of me, or if I just pretended I didn’t hear her. At any rate, the ruse was up!  We were what we were, and there was no hiding the fact.

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We rode the little bus shown in the picture (above) up and down the mall on our grown-up excursion

Honestly, this is one of the many things I have always loved about Sheryl—she is as genuine as they come. No pretense. Honest as the day is long, she calls it as she sees it, so you always know exactly where you stand. A true treasure.

We were a twosome. If Sheryl had a dentist appointment, we walked downtown to the dentist office together, then to the library, and to the bakery for a cookie afterward. We created clubs, played the piano, and vied to see who could take the most notes during class. We walked to and from school together, made identical Halloween costumes, and roasted hot dogs in the fireplace when she spent the night. When I wanted to join drill team in high school, Sheryl was right there trying out with me. We shared all the monumental events girls go through. Our families shared holidays and outings. Our mothers were best friends. Our brothers were best friends. And my sister Karen was welcomed into the circle of our friendship, as well. We laughed and cried together. And we even had our spats, but they never lasted long.

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Halloween: Sheryl and I were majorettes. I’m the one in the tall hat with the curly dark hair, and Sheryl, is my blonde twin. My sister Karen is Peter Pan.(I’m guessing 1965)

Then the dreadful day came when Sheryl’s parents announced they were moving—and not just across town, but all the way to Ohio! I was devastated. We did our share of bawling, and making promises to be true to the end. Before Sheryl’s departure after our sophomore year of high school, my sister and I hosted a going away party for her. It was a bittersweet event. We pledged to write letters (the old-fashioned kind), and we kept our pledge faithfully for a long, long time.

Sheryl's going away party 1970 Linda Guay, Cynthy and Sheryl

At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

We didn’t have cell phones, and with expensive long distance rates, calling was not an option except on rare occasions, such as a birthday, and soon fell out of practice. When high school graduation time rolled around, Sheryl flew out to celebrate with me. That was our last hurrah together.

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Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

We didn’t see each other in person again for close to thirty years, and that was only for an hour at the airport when I was passing through.

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A quick visit at the airport

Letters became sporadic throughout those years. Life was busy with work, family, moves, and other normal occurrences that drive people apart, but we never gave up on our friendship. As we approached our fiftieth birthdays, we determined it had just been too long, so Sheryl flew back to Southern California from her home in Texas, and I returned from Colorado at the same time. We both stayed with my father at my childhood home (the same home I live in at this time), tracing our steps from the past. We walked three houses up the street to Sheryl’s house and knocked on the door. The current owners were gracious, inviting us inside, and giving us a tour of the house as it then stood. They even magically pulled from a brown paper bag the original kitchen cabinet and drawer hardware that looked like bunches of grapes, sending the bag of metal treasures from the past home with Sheryl.

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Sheryl in front of her former home

As is the case with faithful souls, we picked up exactly where we left off years earlier, laughing and having a great time. Time sped by and we soon regretted how little time we had allowed for this visit together. (Sheryl confessed she didn’t know how it would be, and didn’t want to be [stuck] with me for more than a weekend if “things” didn’t go well. She didn’t use the word “stuck,” but she would have been had she stayed longer and things hadn’t gone well. Fortunately, we parted wishing for more time, instead of holding to the sentiment my mother-in-law used to profess: “Company is like fish; after three days it stinketh.” It was time to bid each other farewell again and just as when we were children, it was hard to do.

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Sheryl and me, the last time we were together

This farewell was so like our sixth grade graduation from elementary school. On the last day of school each spring, the 6th graders filed through the younger grades, all of whom were lined up by the bike racks, singing “Aloha Oe” ( in English, “Farewell to Thee”). We knew that when our time came, we’d face this emotional event. Even when singing among the younger grades each year, we felt the weight of this melancholy, and life-changing rite of passage. Usually, we walked to school, but on our last day of sixth grade, we rode our bikes. We walked numbly and with a lump in our throats through the singing students, boarded our bikes, and bawled all the way home.  We knew an important era of our lives had come to a close.

“Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow’rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.”

(“Aloha Oe,” as we sang it to the 6th graders)

Bike racks

This is a recent picture of the school bike racks. When I was a kid, the bike rack area was smaller, and either there was no fence, or it was chain link. The 6th graders processed down the center  through the opening, and the younger grades sang the mournful tune on either side.

At fifty, we bade each other farewell again. Time and circumstance have kept us apart to this day, but fortunately, although we couldn’t foresee it then, we lived to the ripe old age of cell phones and Skype (which we’ve yet to use). We communicate more frequently now, calling at least on birthdays, but at other times, too, and we write emails as well as the old-fashioned, hand-written, snail mail letters.

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Our house in the 1970s.

Now, in my sixties and back at home, I walk on almost a daily basis the same places Sheryl and I walked as children, but most of the time, I walk for my health and diversion instead of to get where I need to go. The neighborhood has aged, but many things remain the same. Instead of tender young shoots, the trees are giants, providing shade and beauty. The homes still stand, some having undergone face-lifts, others falling into various stages of age or transformation. Yards no longer sport dichondra, and even grass is becoming scarce, as a long-term drought takes its toll and people move toward drought-resistant landscaping. The sidewalks are uneven and weathered.  The cracks are still there, and greet me like old, worn-out and worn-in friends. Those cracks in the sidewalk prompted this post. I walk past Sheryl’s house every time I’m out, and remember…remember….

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My younger brother Craig in front of our house.  (About 1970)

I believe memory is a gift from God. All time is present before God. We can experience a little of that miracle through memory. The past is present before my face; time is naught, and I can relive so many of those special moments so dear to my heart as often as I like, and “be with” friends gone from my sight, living far away, whom I treasure–like Sheryl.

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“It is one of the blessings of old friends

that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilairee Belloc

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“No distance of place, or lapse of time can lessen the friendship

of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”

~ Robert Southey

 

“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,

all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

~ Shakespeare

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“Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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© May 28, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


2 Comments

“Dwell in Possibility”

 (It has been months since I’ve posted, and I find I must write—something…anything! So here goes…)

Blog Post #35

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I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

pos·si·bil·i·ty

ˌpäsəˈbilədē/

noun

  1. a thing that may happen or be the case.
  • ” the state or fact of being likely or possible; likelihood.
  • “a thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I have always associated Possibility with positive things—with the hope for better things waiting just around the corner. However, it occurs to me that Possibility also has a negative or dark side to it. A prophet of old once said, *“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” It makes sense, then, that Possibility, like “The Force,” has both a good side and a dark side.

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Darth Possibility sometimes sneaks up from behind, or lies hidden around a corner, waiting to startle or take you by surprise (e.g. a loved one discovers he or she has cancer). Sometimes, Darth Possibility lurks in the shadows of time, and surreptitiously tosses a banana peel in your path causing you to slip and fall (e.g. an unexpected job loss). Sometimes, Darth Possibility stealthily eases through the backstage door, and waits in the wings. Then, disregarding any cues, descends on center stage, villain-like, upstaging all other bewildered actors, playing a loudly dramatic role, then swiftly exits, flourishing its black cape for effect (e.g. the untimely death of a loved one). Darth Possibility likes to throw around its weight, employing other often ill-mannered cohorts from The Dark Side: Probability, Risk, and Consequence, to deal their hands into the game called Life.

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When things seem their blackest, Darth Possibility’s kin, Possibility Skywalker, appears and opens a portal to hope. I have noticed that Possibility Skywalker is so powerful that even the tiniest pinprick of the light he carries within him can obliterate the fear of the Dark Side. But one must carry the light saber of faith to ward off Darth Possibility’s depressing influence. Possibility Skywalker is like a bright shoulder angel reminding you that you can get through whatever comes. He whispers that there are always opportunities for learning and growth buried within each trial, and urges you on a quest to seek out the beauty and joy amidst the difficult. He fans the flame of courage in the face of affliction, and shows you that you may rise up and conquer fear and despair. He spreads a feast on your table, encouraging you to taste a variety of flavors, rather than remain in a rut of mediocrity and melancholy.

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When you step out your door and encounter the unknown faces of Possibility, pay attention—you may be surprised to hear birds singing,  to see white puffy clouds floating by, and flowers blooming abundantly around you—as if the whole world is oblivious to the hard things that are happening in your world. How many battles have taken place on a meadow where birds sang, and the sun shone brightly–where men fought, lost in a mindset of war, while carefree birds dipped and soared around the melee?

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When death is at the door, both Darth Possibility and Possibility Skywalker rest comfortably on a porch swing nearby, waiting. Good can come from even the very throes of death itself. In a very real sense, that which we embrace–the dark side or the light side of Possibility–depends very largely on our own choices, and what we decide to do when that moment of reckoning comes.

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Recently, my father was staying in a rehab center after breaking his femur, and I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by Darth Possibility. I walked out of the door to head home for lunch, and was stunned at the brightness and beauty of that winter day! Surely, those twittering birds didn’t understand that my father was feeling despondent about his situation inside that building I had just exited. Those happy children and adults laughing and playing at the park nearby, whose voices wafted to me on the winds of hope, had to be unaware of my mental, physical, and emotional fatigue, or else they wouldn’t have had the nerve to engage in such activity! Or were they really the many faces of Possibility Skywalker coming to save the day? The looming question was: Would I allow myself to be rescued, or would I choose to wallow in the oppressive grip of Darth Possibility? The tall Palms lining the drive of the nursing home stood stately and firm; their rustling fronds professed that nothing had changed. Not really. “Life goes on. Joy continues all around. Stand firm, and wait on the Lord,” they whispered. “In His time, all will be resolved. Look up and be of good cheer.” I could choose to partake of that joy, no matter what other turmoil may be churning within or around me, or I could choose to ignore that joy—relegating it to a shelf marked “someday” or “never.” That the joy was always there, I have no doubt. That I had but to embrace it, and allow it to soothe my aching heart was entirely up to me.

I chose Joy.

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I have discovered that Possibility Skywalker may at any moment rush in and save the day. Just when you may think all is lost, new and transcendent light obliterates the darkness and wonderful new Possibilities appear, if we’ll let them! We always have the freedom to choose which side we will indulge, or with whom we will ally ourselves.

We all “dwell in Possibility.” Which side do you choose ?

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Note – During November and December 2015, our family experienced all of the previously mentioned events: my beloved sister discovered she had cancer which took her life in a mere two weeks from the diagnosis, my son-in-law lost his job, and my 92-year-old father fell and broke his femur. Through divine inspiration, I was told to find joy during these difficulties, and I took that counsel to heart. It has made all the difference. I’m happy to report that joy is everywhere, and “everywhen.” Whenever something hard and heartbreaking happens, joy and hope are as probable and possible as depression and despair, if we will choose them. Worry and fear never accomplish anything–they are disabling. Joy and faith, however, are enabling. Since these events took place, we still mourn the loss of my wonderful sister, Karen—we miss her greatly—but we move forward in faith and hope in the atonement of Jesus Christ and in the knowledge that we will be together again. My son-in-law started a new job that promises a fresh start for their whole family, and my father has completed rehab and is home again. He is improving a little each day, and we are finding new manifestations of joy along the way as we walk in the Light of Possibility.

*2 Nephi 2:11

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Copyright February 9, 2016 

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


4 Comments

Duet

Blog Post # 27 

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I just returned from practicing a piano duet with a wonderful friend who loves the sweet cadences and depth of feeling that pour from heart to fingers to keys to ears as much as I do. What an absolute joy to share one piano keyboard to make beautiful music together!

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Hands: my mother’s and my       niece’s.      Duet.

When my sister, Karen, and I were young, we often “jammed” at the piano, later adding other instruments to the mix. It was at the piano that we learned to sync our hands and hearts. From Chopsticks, and Heart and Soul, we graduated to our own rendition of a tune from the now defunct Disney attraction, Country Bear Jamboree, banging out the song with knee-slapping, joyful abandon. We felt the other’s timing and touch so well, we could duplicate the unison parts with perfect accuracy. This translated to other parts of life: finishing each other’s sentences, and reading each other’s thoughts from across the room.

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My mother during her college days

It was my mother’s love of music, combined with her proclivity toward the piano in particular, that bred a long line of piano players among her posterity. Duets were a natural outcropping from the bedrock of piano-loving family members, and remind me of a time when my mother was still alive. She was a fine pianist and loved to play hours at a time. I recall falling asleep to piano sonatas and waking on a Sunday morning to sacred hymns. I would come home from school to find my mother and one or the other of her two piano-playing friends at my mother’s baby grand, their hands executing complicated dance moves as they flew across the ivories revealing a classical masterpiece arranged for four hands. I knew the expectation—I was to wait until they stopped before interrupting them for anything, with the exception of an emergency. Some of those pieces lasted ten or fifteen minutes—a long time to wait for an anxious young mind. After waiting what seemed an eternity, I finally interrupted—Sheryl had been hanging on the phone wondering if I could come over to play! If that wasn’t an emergency, I don’t know what was!

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My beautiful mother, perhaps playing Liebestraum or the Harp Etude so many years ago…

When I grew older, my mother invited me to join her playing piano duets. She had high standards of excellence, and insisted I fix any technical errors at the very moment they were discovered—repeatedly playing a bar or two until I had mastered the phrase. I was never technically adept, but I made up for it with unsurpassed expressivo (feeling), for I certainly felt the beauty and emotion of the music, even if I couldn’t always play the notes correctly. Still, she wanted me by her side, and over time, I improved.

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After I had a family of my own, my mother and I performed at a church function an involved arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever (the famous, easily recognizable march by John Phillip Sousa). It was a marvelous experience! I think the rehearsing was as much or more fun than the performance. A unique kind of bond forms when playing piano duets. There’s something about triumphing over difficult passages, hearing rough sight-reading sessions resolve into a harmonious whole, and feeling the emotional drama unfold with dynamic expression. I think the most satisfying part is when you feel an emotional connection to the music, and you know that an entirely different person sitting next to you is also feeling the music in exactly the same way you are, because you can anticipate and respond to what they’re feeling with perfect harmonious unity. (This doesn’t necessarily mean every note is perfectly executed, or that there is flawless technique. It means that two individuals are, for the moment, one in spirit.)

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Amanda playing duets with her grandmother.                                               So special.

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Amanda with my mother.

When grandchildren came along, besides building puzzles together, and intensely competitive games of Scrabble, my mother invited them to play duets with her. While several enjoyed this privilege, one grandchild in particular latched onto this opportunity. Amanda excelled in playing the classical cadences and disciplined execution of the pieces my mother most enjoyed, which was satisfying to my mother. They made a good team, sometimes performing at church, and frequently for the family. I will venture to guess that Amanda formed a uniquely intimate bond with her grandmother through these duets.

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My son and his wife playing piano together.

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They really get into it!

When my own children were comfortable enough with the piano, I did my best to wrangle them into playing duets with me, however most preferred going solo. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter Caity grew adept enough to participate that I found a duet partner among my children. Even during trying and difficult teenage times, we found common ground and a laughing place sitting at the piano together. Our repertoire ranged from Mozart to Joplin—all played with equally blatant disregard for correct technique and execution. What we lost in technical expertise we made up for in expression. We loved the dynamics of the theme from Mozart’s Symphony No.40, and Burgmüller’s Arabesque. They were our wide-awake pieces. We blew threw them at Nascar speed, and with a roar to equal the revving engines! Who can resist every piano student’s favorite, Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? We couldn’t. We dashed through it with unparalleled velocity and vigor, laughing all the way. We didn’t limit ourselves to lively pieces, however. Once, when playing an arrangement of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopèdie (which is serenity itself) we became so sleepy, we literally dozed on the bench. A much as we liked the piece, we haven’t played it since.

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Two of my grandchildren. When they visit, one or the other, or both are always at the piano. I LOVE IT!

I found a much simpler arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever that usually brought up the rear flank of our duets each time we played. Racing to beat each other to the end of the unison octaves forming the introduction, we immediately stalled into a belly-scraping crawl—plodding through the bars forming the first strain. The oom-pah-pahs in the secondo part (the bottom hands) were just too much for Caity to play full-speed, yet she insisted upon playing the lower part. I can attest to the fact that it really is difficult to play anything while laughing uncontrollably. We created more guffaws than music. Stars and Stripes became the backbone of hilarity for our duet sessions, and bridged difficult moments with laughter. How grateful I am for the time we spent at the piano together—we made more than music. We engraved musical notes into a stone monument of love. From time to time, when she is in town, we pull out the duet books and laugh it up all over again.

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My mother with my sister, brother and me singing Christmas carols. Another great tradition at the                     piano.

There are many forms of the duet other than those played on the piano. Singing together creates a similar experience and bond, as well as playing other instruments together. But duets don’t have to be limited to music. Four hands, or two souls, when combined in a mutually appreciated and unified effort have the same effect. Duets can build structures, repair cars, prepare meals, dance, climb mountains, and serve others, to name a few.

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Caity and Brad

I’ve watched as my husband Brad with one of our sons or daughters repaired a car, or saddled the horses for a ride. There’s something special in that. There’s a shared feeling of accomplishment and triumph when they both roll out from under the car with greasy hands, unitedly having solved a problem. Other kinds of problems may be solved, or circumvented in the process, as hands and minds repair, restore, or tune-up a thing of greater value—a relationship. There’s a connection when two set off alone on a moonlight ride. They return with a bit of moon inside of them—a bit of that light that warms and unites two hearts against the darkness.

The same may be true when four hands cook or bake side-by-side together, creating a culinary masterpiece or a simple peanut butter sandwich. It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s in the doing together that the bond is created.

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My father with our granddaughter–his great-         granddaughter–where else, but at the piano.

There are other valuable duets: mentor and apprentice, hero and sidekick, teacher and student, peer and peer, friend and friend, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparent and grandchild, husband and wife.

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 One of the most rewarding duets outside of family relationships is when two work together to serve another. Four hands lifting and assisting someone in need, or lifting and serving each other. I have witnessed the power of this duet. It is strong, powerful, and life changing. When two combine their personal gifts and strengths to help another, they develop an unspoken bond. It’s difficult to pinpoint or explain, but I have experienced this, and can tell you that you feel one in purpose and one in heart when you lay aside other plans, and together with another like-minded person, give your time and energy to serve someone in need. You don’t even have to know the person with whom you serve prior to the moment of service. When you are finished, you see them through a familiar lens of understanding and compassion. You are like them and they like you—linked together in a uniquely special way. Four hands, two hearts, one mind.

It is not my purpose to lessen the value of trios, quartets, or other numerical combinations of people gathered for a unified experience. Not at all. Having participated in trios, quartets, double-quartets, and choirs composed of hundreds of souls, I can attest to the fact that there is a shared and harmonious unity in those experiences—even an unparalleled thrill to be part of such a group effort.

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Me at the piano as a teenager–many eons ago.

Playing solo also has its place and benefits. It can provide lessons of courage and accomplishment, and boost self-confidence. Spending hours alone at the piano, alone with one’s thoughts, and the beautiful and inspiring music created is therapeutic.  Pounding out frustration and thinking things through are endeavors worked out on piano keys or through music throughout the ages. All of these are productive, purposeful, and enjoyable.

Amanda and Grandma playing the piano together, 1997?

Some of the family enjoying a duet.

But when there’s only one, there’s no one else to share the thrill and joy of the experience. When alone, one’s focus tends to center on self—one’s vision narrows. One—a single entity—benefits from another who can provide balance and communion. With two, the focus shifts to the other. What is the other feeling? Will I be able to tune myself to his or her mind and heart? Will we be able to connect and create a thing harmonious and beautiful?

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When we du-et, (do it) it’s magical!

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From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

© May 6, 2015