Primary Colors

C R E A T I V E    W R I T I N G

Stone (poem at left)

Primary Colors

Orange Corduroy

One Descending Egg

O 'Riley

Chocolate Chip Cookies

These stories are for you to enjoy. Tales from my past, the blessing of a spiritual teacher,  my personal musings on life, and yes,  my creative brain gone amuck.

I never drank white milk.  Each morning my Mom would set out my breakfast, a glass of milk and the little box of food coloring.  I think it was made by Schilling and it had four small glass bottles of concentrated color; red, blue, yellow and green.  I would get to choose what color I wanted to start my day with. I would shake little drops into my glass and watch it swirl and spread and make cool patterns in the milk.  Then I would stir it up with a spoon and it would become one pastel shade. I learned to mix and blend and I knew first hand that red and blue made violet or lavender or purple, depending. I got to create whatever
I wanted. Food coloring was even more fun on vanilla ice cream because you could pour it on the top scoop and watch it run down like a colored river and settle in a pool at the bottom of the bowl. If you added too many colors though, you got brown.
I remember we had a pear tree in our yard and my Mom canned pears in glass jars. They were stored downstairs in the pantry.  She would send us down to get green pears or red pears or yellow pears to go with what she was serving for dinner. I never thought of it as bad for my health, being a kid and all.  Neither did my Mom, obviously.

Once my parents were going out for the evening and I was asked to make them a quick dinner before they left the house. Sometimes my Dad would make creamed chipped beef on toast.  It sounds disgusting to me now but I guess it was kind of a fifties fast food happy meal.  I made a cream sauce in a saucepan and took out the sliced meat from the white package the grocer had wrapped up. The meat was already cooked so I just had to stir it into the sauce and heat it up.  I decided to be more creative.  I got down the Schilling box and shook a dozen drops of blue liquid into the creamed beef dinner.  I remember looking down as I was stirring the color in and thinking to myself, ‘hmm, this isn’t turning out quite how I thought it would.’ The sleeves on my sweater were pushed up my arms and I had on the watch my Dad had given me for Christmas. The house was dimly lit except for the bright kitchen light directly over my place of work. My parents were upstairs getting dressed and there was an excitement in the air. I stirred the creamed mixture and the color distributed itself evenly. I buttered the slices of toasted Langendorf bread and put them on plates. I took a breath and spooned on the turquoise sauce with the floating purple strands of meat and watched it soak into the white bread. I thought to myself, “I wanted to make them something special since they were so happy. I am going to get in so much trouble.”

Today is grey and cloudy. I have been up forever and have already gone downtown to the flower market, which I love, and to Home Depot to buy supplies for a pond. We have a so-called water feature in our back yard but last week ash from a local fire covered it and I lost my most beautiful blue and white fish. I think he couldn’t breathe. So I have decided to take out the black plastic feng shui water tub my husband put in the ground and build the real thing with a fish-friendly plastic liner, rocks collected from the mother earth herself and a filter and a pump. I never really enjoyed the pond we have, even though the hardy little fish each grew to over five inches long.  Some days they would be swimming in muck and dead leaves in the hot sun. Some days they would look and look for food while their owners were enjoying their vacation. And sometimes the raccoons, I am guessing, messed with the system at night and the pump would get turned off, And, I am sorry to admit, it would stay that way until I was willing to roll up my sleeves and dig around in the slimy water and find the pieces to reassemble it.  This new system we just bought brings hope that things will change and I won’t be bad and irresponsible. Everything will once again be okay in the world of the swimming. No more dead fish.

After such a big morning, I am exhausted.  I unload the shovels and hoes and other pond paraphernalia from the car and I sit out in my studio with the door open staring at my project.  There is no real sun to speak of.  Everything looks kind of dull and oppressive.  My husband has gone flying, making this clearly a project for one. I catch my reflection in the glass panel of the French door and notice my grimace. I’d have to change out of my linen pants and find my garden gloves. I would have to unload the wheelbarrow and put all the discarded ceramic pots in a new storage place. And, of course, I would have to actually start digging. When the morning is fresh and the day is beginning, I am filled with endless energy, brilliant ideas and ingenious plans. After a few hours, I would prefer to sit and listen to the sound of my black and white cat purring on my lap and gaze at my computer. And what’s the hurry anyway?  The seven remaining fish won’t die in a couple of days.  Renewed spirit is good. I think I’ll rest my head back and tuck my legs under me in my chair. Ha, I’m off the hook.

Dead Fish

During winter months the leaves fell from the trees leaving a deserted landscape filled with brown and grey. I had woken up knowing I could not go to work. This grayness had pushed its way into my being and was beginning to make itself at home.
I called to tell them I was ill and wouldn’t be coming in.  That’s the great thing about being an artist. You don’t have to make up a sickness like a fever or a gall stone to be believed. It’s understood that your personal demons share space with your artistic genius and some days the former sinks its claws in you and drags you down.  My co-workers just smile and nod never really questioning my occasional lapse in attendance.

I lay on my bed drinking my third cup of tear drop tea. Out my window above the trees, I can see the morning sky blanketing the earth with its hopeless beauty and sizable scale. Why had he brought me here? Where were my friends? Why didn’t I feel at home? During the day, my office was filled with young girls just back from India, and men, my age, glued to their computers and cell phones. Lunch I took at the ranch with those in service of the Siri Singh Sahib. I had been graciously invited and yet finding a connection among acquaintances proved challenging. In the evenings, I had the honor of cleaning his room, a job a carried over from my days in Los Angeles. One morning I got a call from the Siri Singh Sahib thanking me for my seva. He said his bed sheet had a tear in it and if there was ever one again, I would have to come back another lifetime. Accomplishing this task was fairly easy in LA but New Mexico was quite different. As I dreamed of sewing jewels on the edges of his sheets and embroidering words from the Guru on his towels, his bedding often came to me still wet from being washed or mismatched in either color or style. I was forbidden to touch many items in his room and therefore they could not be cleaned or properly displayed. My requests for change went unanswered.

As my day wore on I decided to take a warm bath in hopes of washing away my sadness. I wanted to bring my pity party to an end and yet I knew personal healing carries its own timeline. After I dressed, I sat at my harmonium and began to play. I played and sung as the sun set behind the shadowy mountains. I chanted and read from my blue velvet Nitnem, remembering that it had been a gift from a friend.  By early evening I began to feel the dark veil lift and slowly fade away from my being.

The following morning I rose and went to work as usual. Our office was informed that the Siri Singh Sahib had summoned us over to the Estate. We were curious about the project he wanted us to design and upon entering his bedroom, we sat in anticipation of his wise words and inspiration. He took a moment to look around the room at each of us sitting in a circle at his feet. He was resting back on two pillows with his cotton covers neatly pulled up to his chest and on his head was an orange house turban, creatively tied. The lights were low in the log room yet there was a tiny reflection on the crystal glass which sat on a tray next to his bed. Kirtan was playing softly in the background. After a few moments, I started to feel the energy transform. His room began to sway and move as the music wove in and among us, as if it were taking form. The air became both cool and rich like nectar. I gazed down at my feet tucked under my kurta. I knew this path had called me to walk upon it: to navigate the double-edge sword of my destiny. I was not here by mistake. There was a perfection in my life that I had not been given the vision to see. And there was grace in this moment shared with a Master. I looked up to see the Siri Singh Sahib smiling. He began to speak. I called you here to offer an apology to my daughter.  Seva, I brought you from your community and your friends in Los Angeles. I brought you here to serve me. I asked you to eat when I eat and to sleep when I sleep. I asked you to clean and take care of my room. I have been sick and could not be with you when I wanted to. Today I am publicly apologizing to you, in front of all who share this room.


It’s Sunday morning at dawn. Baisakhi. I haven’t had much sleep. I shower and dress and pin my gold Adi Shakti on the front
of my turban. I grab the three bags of carnation garlands from the refrigerator and my visa-like parking pass for the L.A. Convention Center, hop in my car and head east on the Ten Freeway as the early morning sun reflects off the top edge of the high rise buildings. I have a few moments alone. In my mind I go over each of the decorations we’ve hung in the giant hall, as one would work a mala. Did we get the color of the backdrops right? Does the light catch its sheen? Are the canopies at their proper height?  Do the ramalas hold the focus?  I will not know the answers to these questions until later when I enter the Gurdwara as a Sangat member and bow. Right now I just want to arrive before the motorcade brings the Siri Guru Granth Sahib so I can hang the flower garlands and check the colored gels on the spotlights. This year the theme is more ethereal than in the past. Some years we have taken inspiration from the powerful double-edged sword and combined bright royal colors to inspire the warrior essence of commitment and bravery. Other years we have created a sense of wonder with designs and patterns of colored lights or peacock images made from hundreds of flower petals. This year we needed to bring heaven to earth. I don’t remember why. Maybe we needed to soothe our differences. Perhaps we just wanted to feel elevated and not worry. We draped sheer organza in pastel colors, the large pieces stretching, twisting and overlapping across the ceiling. The light played with the color and the air from the vents gave the ceiling movement and life. It had a billowy, almost surreal affect. Orange and yellow satin hung as the backdrop to the stage offsetting the lavender silk canopies and matching ramalas. We strung the garlands with short pieces of straws between each of the flower heads to give more interest. Vases of poppies trimmed the center stage and 1000 white 3-D doves flew over the walkway converging in front of the Guru.

Garlands hung.  Lights adjusted. Breakfast of Chai and pakoras dipped in ketchup.  A new shawl from the bazaar.

I remove my shoes and make my way back into the Gurdwara with my donation in hand. I walk under a gold archway and into a transformed Concourse Hall. There in the center is the Guru in all its magnificence, draped in flowers and jewels and glowing from the reflected light. The translucent fabric clouds move and sway with the kirtan and the ten Adi Shakti flags stand tall against the satin backdrops. I exhale feeling a sense of calm devotion. Next to me in line is an Indian family and I overhear them talking. “We saved for three years to come here,” the woman said. “We drove from New York with our three children. We have heard about this Gurdwara and wanted to come and see it.” I look down and see the pink rose petals scattered about my feet. Their young daughter tugs on her Mom’s suit, trying to get her attention. “Mom, look” she says. “God sent birds.”

Decorating the Guru



Decorating the Guru

Table for One

Dead Fish


Gravel caught between my toes

My sandal strap buckle bending

Shake it, turn it, reposition

Chipping at my concentration

Perturbed, disturbed, I skip a bit

Anticipating its departure

Wedged in the gap between my digits

It’s tenacity an imposition

Bit by bit, it redistributes

Changed positions, relocated

Back underfoot, stuck in the tissue

Currently becomes an issue

Pretending not a botheration

Keep my conversation going

Chatter, babble, prattle on

Single-minded meditation

Stones and rocks and bits of glass

Pebbles, nuggets, grains of sand

Jagged, gouging, toothy texture

Wayward brain completely captured

Aggravation, irritation

Troubled, pestered, interrupted

Tiny tidbit, ground and pounded

Fragmentary sediment

Contrary to my state of mind

Demented, tortured, uncontrolled

With grace and charm and eloquence

Excuse myself, take my departure

Bending, twisting, reaching down

Convinced of gobs of blood and stitches

Eradicate the guilty party

Whose stature’s undetectable

Rosalyn got her period first.  Patty and I were both late. At least we thought we were. Mine hadn’t come by the last days of sixth grade so when we parted ways for the summer I hoped to become a full-fledged woman before returning to school in the Fall. I didn’t know much about it except I knew that blood would miraculously come out of my insides and I could get pregnant and have babies.

Well, it was during a hot spell in the Northwest when it happened. I had been swimming all day at Blue Lake and when I got home I noticed the spot of blood. It made me kind of shy and I decided that telling my Mother was out of the question. My parents had company and they were all in the living room talking and carrying on, so I decide to stuff my underwear with Kleenex and keep it a secret. Each morning I hid my pair of Carter’s cotton panties in a brown paper bag and carried it out to the trash. My gym teacher told us to write down the day our period came, so I recorded it in the back of my history book. I didn’t actually know that my period came every month.

Come September, lo and behold, it arrived again and this time packing a little more force. Keeping it to myself was not an option, so I mustered up the courage to tell my Mother. Now you must understand something about my Mother. She cannot keep a secret for the life of her. Her skin is not strong enough to hold in anything that is exciting or juicy or important. It just bubbles up, determined to break free and spill out for all to see.

I called my Mom to my room. “I have something important to tell you,” I said. She looked at me expectantly holding a lit cigarette pinched in her long black cigarette holder. She was wearing one of those striped terry cloth matching short sets and her wavy red hair was styled and stiff with hair spray. She must have been in the middle of applying makeup because her eyes were done but only the right side of her mouth was painted with cherry red lipstick.

“I am bleeding down there.” I told her. She stared into space for a few seconds and I thought maybe she didn’t hear me. Then she squealed, grinned her lopsided grin and grabbed my hand leading me to the bathroom. She dug out a sanitary napkin belt that seemed a little stretched out and an enormous Kotex pad that was supposed to go between my legs. She gave me a demonstration of how to gather the ends of the pad and thread it into the metal prongs on the belt. Then she took a new pad and showed me how to dispose of it, cleverly folding it and wrapping it in toilet paper. She said it was called ‘The Curse’ and I should rest and I couldn’t go swimming. Then she left the room.  I thought ‘The Curse’ was a really creepy name for what was happening to my teenage self and I decided right then that I wouldn’t call it that. I made a knot in the belt so it wouldn’t slide down off my hips and practiced what would become a lifetime of tenderly caring for my feminine body. I was so grown up. I took her advice and went to my room to lie down and read my book.

Shortly I began sensing movement in the house and talk and laughter was making its way under my door and over to my bed. I listened harder and thought I heard a car door slam. Do we have company? Is my secret out? Where’s Dad, does he know? Dread started to move up my body and settle into my cramping tummy. I heard my Mom yell from the other room, “Honey, can you come in here a minute?” I slid off the bed and made my way down the hall, turning the corner into the living room.  There sat a half a dozen ladies grinning around our coffee table. Each had colorful party hats perched on top of their coifed heads and an angel food cake frosted with pink icing sat beside a little stack of dessert plates. Big purple boxes of sanitary napkins were tied up with ribbons and bows and cards with money tucked inside were scattered on the table. I was suddenly hot and unable to move. I wanted to will my body to a distant place, to disappear, to move far away from here to my own little house where no one would ever find me.

I smiled and made my way into the room staring down at our green nappy wall-to-wall carpeting. Everyone cheered and clapped. My Mother cut the cake and told the story of how I was born on her birthday and how we were so much alike. We were both creative and fun and artistic and smart. We both liked pretty things and we could draw.  “It does surprise me though,” she said, “that your period came today. I thought it would come on the same day as mine. Mine came August 2 when I was twelve.”. I took a bite of my light and airy white cake and prided myself in the fact that, yes, we were truly different. I had escaped the endless list of qualities we shared. I had broken free. With one descending egg, I had become my own woman. I ate my dessert and let this feeling bathe my new grown-up self. I felt alive and special. Just then I remembered something and excused myself from my period party. I walked into my bedroom, reached up on the shelf next to my bed and opened my history book. There on the last page was written the date of my first period: August 2. I was twelve. 

One Descending Egg

I won first prize in a dog contest once and I didn’t own a dog. My mother and her best friend Esther had the brilliant idea to enter Esther’s scrappy white poodle, O’Riley, in the local contest at Oak’s Park accompanied by yours truly.  I, with no vote mind you, didn’t even like O’Riley. She was kind of old with spotty fur and a pointed nose. She had an old man’s name and barked when she shouldn’t and Esther would bring her to our house every time she came to visit, which was often.

It was a warm summer day and I was in my room minding my life when the pair of red heads burst in, beers in hand. They had hatched a plan, which included me, and the three of us piled in Esther’s convertible T-bird to shop for stuff at the Good Will.
I wasn’t sure exactly what we were looking for since I had never entered a contest before. They, on the other hand, cruised the isles with a mission, stopping only when one of them held up something they thought was completely hysterical and both doubled over laughing and trying not to pee their pants. We settled on a curly white wig, some silver clip-on earrings, and a pair of little pink plastic high heels with rhinestones glued on the straps, just my size. When we arrived home, my Mom got busy cutting and sewing turquoise taffeta. She spread the fabric out on the floor and drew a dotted outline with a black felt tip marker. She kept calling me in the room so she could measure me and make sure it would fit. Esther was in the kitchen pouring blue powder into a pot of boiling water and stirring it to dissolve the color. When it was all mixed in and the timer had rung, she held O’Riley with one rubber gloved hand and sponged the color on her white fur, dying the little dog a vivid shade of blue. O’Riley looked like the sky on a clear day. Frank Sinatra was blaring from the transistor radio and all the while, they sang and laughed as if this was the funniest thing they’d ever done. When O’Riley was dry, Esther painted her nails with bright red nail polish and fastened on her rhinestone doggie collar. She added a diamond necklace, not real I am guessing, on top of O’Riley’s forehead and fastened it to the collar and satin bows on all four of her legs, both of her ears and on her tail. My Mom finished my empire-waist sleeveless dress that came down to my ankles and added a bright pink sash. She slipped the dress over my slim body and tied the bow in the back and the ends of the ribbons hung all the way down to the floor. They stuffed my blonde hair into the new wig, clipped on my new earrings and went to work on my innocent ten-year-old face. I emerged with big dark eyes with extra eyelashes, cherry red lips and a beauty mark right on my cheek. So me.

We piled in the car. Penny and Esther rode in the front seat wearing matching straw hats that were tied under their chins with filmy white scarves. They each had on a pair of sunglasses and my Mom’s were the stylish ones that pointed up at the ends. I rode in the backseat with O’Riley, holding on to my wig so it wouldn’t blow off in the wind. When we arrived at the park, Esther started honking the horn. It was a bright sunny day and the large oak trees were making shadow patterns on the ground. I could see some of my friends standing on the makeshift stage with their trusted animals. The kids looked so normal in cut-offs and t-shirts, hugging and fussing over their beloved pets.  Some dogs had scarves tied around their necks and some were wearing fishing hats. Other dogs had little t-shirts pulled over their bodies or wore colored vests. But no one, absolutely no one was dressed to match their dog.        

As we drove into the parking lot, the photographers and emcee turned to see what all the ruckus was and before I knew it they were running toward our car snapping pictures and cheering loudly. Behind them a group of parents, kids and dogs was forming. I barely had time to exit the car gracefully, it being my first time in heels, before I was crowned the winner of the Sixth Annual Oak’s Park Neighborhood Dog Contest. I was whisked away, cameras clicking, and interviewed for the Oregonian, our local newspaper. It all happened so fast. A squatty lady shoved a microphone in my face and said, “Congratulations honey, what’s your dog’s name?” She was smiling ear to ear and wore thick round glasses that made her eyes look enormous. I could hear my mother and Esther squealing and clapping behind me. Blue, fluffy O’Riley was squirming in my arms, that being a foreign place for her. I was filled with peril. None of this was my idea. I wanted to say that I didn’t own a dog, and in fact, I didn’t like this ratty dog and that I hated being dressed up like this. That my family is nuts and you should come live in my house if you want to know the truth of it.

I looked up at the photographer posed behind the big black lens. I could see my Mom out of the corner of my eye recapping to an audience. I moved my eyes back to the lady, broke out my smile and said, ‘O’Riley.’



We lived in a one-room cabin on the Mary’s river in Wren, Oregon. It was 1972. We had no electricity or running water and no neighbors as far as we could see. The railroad tracks were a hundred feet from our door and the train passed by our property twice a day. We began to feel the crew members were part of our country family and when we heard the rumble coming over the mountains, we would stop what we were doing and go wave at the train. It became our ritual. One afternoon we were coming home from town and noticed a rolled up newspaper lying among the leaves and branches. In it was a bag of mint candies. Next came cans of beer and bags of peanuts, Playboy magazines, sodas and pretzels. All tossed from the train. One day, I decided to reciprocate their generosity and bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I wrapped the cookies in foil, put them in a plastic bag and tied the bag to a loop I made from a long tree branch. By then the train had started blowing its whistle every time it came around the bend. I went outside as it approached and held up my ingenious contraption for the conductor to put his arm through.

He saw me below but he couldn’t reach it. I stood and watched as the train passed me by. Hey, what was I thinking? It’s a train for God’s sake. It’s one thing to toss a bunch of random stuff out the window to two hippies living in the middle of nowhere and quite another to stretch your arm out a speeding train and grab a plastic bag filled with who knows what. Just then I heard the engine slow down and come to a grinding halt. I couldn’t see the train for it was way past the bend. I thought to myself, it is awfully quiet. I started running. I ran down the tracks in the warm sun with my heart pounding. I ran navigating railroad ties and the long morning shadow patterns. I ran below soaring hawks and over road kill in my embroidered jeans and tie-died sweatshirt. I ran to the smell of pine needles and the far off sound of a chainsaw. The figure of a man appeared in the distance, running in my direction. What have I done? I haven’t even looked in a mirror today. I’m not a very good baker. 18 cookies is not really enough to stop a train. We met in the middle, both out of breath. I smiled and handed over my small package of homemade treasures. He smiled and nodded, turned in his striped overalls and sweaty t-shirt and began to run. 

Sometimes I think I have it figured out and revel in the discovery only to find out later I was mistaken. Like in a dream the characters and situations appear real until I wake up. I saw a movie recently where one such character was thoughtful and courteous with each woman he dated, saying just the right thing to make them feel loved and valued.  And as the movie continued, a crisis changes his life and he starts to tell the truth, unable to hide his true colors. I find deception fascinating.  Once I was at a dinner party with my spiritual teacher and about thirty other people. We were all seated around a long table enjoying a wonderful vegetarian feast. My teacher began to speak of one of his students, telling us a story of how this particular man had taken the cattle farm he had inherited from his parents and sold off the dairy cows and divided the land and made a enormous profit. He complimented him on his wisdom and foresight, his success and his innate sense of timing. I happened to know the man and was pleased that he was recognized and praised in front of all of his peers. Later in the evening, the man in the story arrived and took a seat at the table. The teacher immediately stood up and in a booming voice began to scream at him about the previous incident. “What were you thinking? You are such a fool. You took something that has been in your family for generations and you broke it up and sold it off. And for what ? For money? All for money. You are greedy and selfish. You have no place at this table!” When he finished his tirade, he remained standing, leaning with both hands on the table staring at the man. There was a profound silence. All of us were speechless. I had a bite of polenta in my mouth that didn’t seem to want to go down. It was early evening and the room was dark except for the glow from the candles in the center of the table. I did not turn and look at my friend. I sat and watched the light reflect off the silver serving spoons and the glass vases. Soon my friend stood up and put both hands on the table mimicking the teacher. He said in a calm voice, “I did what I thought was best. I do not live in North Carolina anymore and I have no desire to run a dairy farm. I am the only son and it was left to me. No one in my family wants this responsibility. I sold it at a profit to use the money in a different way. Is that foolish?” Again there was silence. Then the teacher let out a big belly laugh and said. “Very good. Very good. Bring him food. Sit. Eat. Enjoy.” We all laughed.

Things are often not what they seem. And I find this play of life interesting and compelling. I so often want what I hear and what I see to make sense and be truthful. When the shadow pattern appears across my table and I am graced to notice its beauty and its artful form, I want to know that it is the leaves from the tree above me reflecting down, and nothing more. I want to be able to see within the snapshot the entire story before me, so as not to call a flower by the wrong name.


My Mother went through a Japanese phase when I was a kid. Our white Bostonian home perched above the street with its forest green shutters and red leafed plum tree in the front yard became the canvas for her Asian creativity. On the outside the influence was minor. The door was painted orange, the shutters black and the tree was renamed a Japanese Plum. On the inside of the house however, my life was forever changed.

Penny always had a flare for beauty and I was comfortable knowing our home was tastefully decorated and not too far off the norm. I remember coming home from school one day, greeted on the porch by my mother dressed in a Kimono and odd black cotton slippers. She had the phone to her ear with the cord stretched way out the front door. Stuck on the sides of her face was scotch tape pinning her baby blues up at a slant. “Honey, I can’t wait for you to see the house,” she whispered over the receiver.
I smiled, took a breath and stepped inside. Our furniture, which had disappeared a few weeks ago, was now back, transformed and unrecognizable. She had buzz-sawed the legs off of our kitchen table, painted it orange and placed it between our two new turquoise sofas. The sofas were low and sleek, armless and almost backless, and straddled the fireplace like giant canoes. The walnut dining room table was now painted matte black as was it’s matching sideboard and hutch, which both took up residence on the floor. Low was our antique liquor cabinet and our side tables. Legs, gone.

I walked around the house and surveyed the oriental damage. It seemed you had to be very short to get gist of the décor. In the living room corner by the wall, arranged just so, were silky orange pillows, a ukulele and a figurine of old man with a long white beard bent over a cane. Next to still-life-on-green-carpet, she had placed wine decanters filled with orange liquid and hung Japanese prints on the wall. In contrast to the toddler height of most of the furniture, our lamps had ballooned into enormous modern shapes in black and beige, and a sputnik-like chandelier hung from the ceiling.

I made my way to my room depositing my books on my sweet blue and white flowered quilt. There lay an assortment of paint chips, color swatches and a hand drawn sketch of my bedroom. I knew my room, which I shared with my baby sister, was next in line for a facelift. I picked up the square of orange corduroy and ran my hand over its ridges. I’m eleven. I hate orange. I want my own room. Why does my house smell like incense? I went in search of my Mother, walking through the newly painted orange swinging door donned with Japanese characters. I never really knew what the writing meant. It seemed to change depending on whom we had over for company. Sometimes it said ‘Art and Penny’, sometimes ‘get your own beer’ and other times ‘to the moon,’ an Art Carneyism. I suspect it said nothing at all.

My Mom, no longer on the phone, was sitting at the kitchen table drinking from a small bowl. “Don’t you just love the house?” she asked, waving her long black cigarette holder as she spoke. “Here, have one of these. You can eat the wrapper and all.” She shoved an orange glass dish in front of me filled with foreign, soon to learn, crappy tasting candy. I ignored her request and held up the square of fabric. “What’s this?” I asked. She smiled and said it was for my room and not to worry, I would love it. I reminded her that everything in our house is orange and black and that her decorating style is not Early American or Scandinavian like all my friend’s houses, but ‘Early Halloween’. She laughed and patted my arm. “No worries, little one,” she said.

Sure enough, within a month, Japan had invaded my bedroom. Our twin beds, now lone mattresses on the floor were smothered in bright orange corduroy. On the windows hung massive amounts of matching corduroy, draping down and pooling on the bare hard wood. And if that wasn’t enough of one color, filmy orange sheers gathered full, burst out from under the drapes. The walls were tatami beige and between our beds sat a miniature bonsai tree on a squatty bamboo table. The afternoon sun was shining in and my room lit up like a giant pumpkin.

 I couldn’t find myself in any part of the room. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in it, studying in it or being myself in it. I told my Mom the color was too bright and I was sure it was staining my skin. I took to wearing sunglasses. I informed her that orange liquid was really and truly seeping out of my tear ducts and residing in the snot in my nose. I refused to eat any orange food – no carrots, yams or orange sherbet. No salmon, no orange Kool-Aid and no cheese sauces of any kind.  My Mom seemed a little hurt by my constant refusals, but frankly, what I figured was one eccentric deserves another.

Orange Corduroy

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Table for One

I am sitting outside ordering my lunch.  It’s an early lunch but I felt like coming to this restaurant and remembering what happened.  Last time I was here I was with my sister and we were celebrating Mother’s Day.  She’s not a mother, yet she generously shared the day with me since my daughter was gone as well as my husband and my stepson. It was the last time she and I spoke.

I am sitting at the same little metal table under the awning right here on a busy street in Beverly Hills.  It’s warm for October yet there is a breeze.  I have ordered soup and it comes with a thick slice of homemade bread, which I love. It is at this same table that I made my big blunders. My intention wasn’t to hurt her. I don’t even remember making fun of her and chuckling at her past. I don’t remember pointing out her shortcomings in a cavalier way. And I don’t remember laying my medical beliefs on her in hopes of convincing her of something she didn’t want to do. But I did and I am paying for it. I wish I could take it back. I would take back all the pain I caused other people and the unconscious comments I’ve made without thinking. I would take back blabbing and my motor mouth and my positive, trying-to-be-funny demeanor. I would take back my efforts to make them smile at their own expense. I guess I get swept up in the moment and forget to think. This is not an unfamiliar. If I was cute and funny as a kid, everyone became happier. I got the attention I longed for and could control my environment through my positive, funny antics.  Alcohol and laughter go hand in hand, you know.  When we laughed we neglected to feel.

Here I am by myself on a Thursday waiting for my food.  I see the waitress walk toward my table with a round tray in her hand. She sets my order in front of me and asks if I need anything else. I look up at her innocent face with the sun shining through her dark brown hair and see a hint of a smile. Her white cotton blouse is starched and clean as is her napkin-like apron synched around her waist. I can smell my cream soup and fresh warm bread. I look down I see the delicate hand-painted dishes in blue and yellow.  She hesitates longer than normal as if waiting for me to tell her what is going on in my head.  I return her smile and tell her thank you, I am fine.

My sister sent the letter about two months later.  It had a blow-by-blow description of our conversation.  Over salad I had said this. During dessert I had laughingly made this comment. As we got up to leave and were noticing our similar reflections in the store window, I had landed another one on her. And she wasn’t alone in noticing my indiscretions.  She had shared them with our folks who were all on to me now.  “I don’t know where in your head you live Seva. Yes, I do. We all do. Knock it off. “

I hear they have a delicious peach cobbler here. I ask the busboy if he will send my waitress over so I can place my order.  The restaurant is packed now with friends and baby strollers and couples sharing lunch. I can hear laughter and a group in the corner by the door singing to their girlfriend on her birthday. The remains of my lunch are spread about the table in front of me. I pour the last of my tea from the little ceramic pot into my teacup and continue to wait. 

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My Father

His last two weeks

My father had gone to Seattle to get a heart valve transplant. It is a surgery that would potentially provide him more comfort and quality of life plus help him breathe and have more freedom of movement. It is a fairly common and uncomplicated procedure and the first few days afterward the surgery, he felt great and happy to be alive.  I arrived on Saturday and my Dad was sitting up in a chair in his hospital room, doing Suduko and listening to sports on the tv. It had been three days and his stitches were healing nicely and he was eating well. We spent the next couple of days enjoying each others company, planning how to transport him home and meeting with the social worker to place him in a facility that teaches him how to get dressed and manage by himself.

Then on Monday things started to change. He needed thyroid because his thyroid gland wasn’t functioning up to par. His breaths per minute were low so we added oxygen. The next day his kidneys weren’t flushing the fluid through him and we had to give him high doses of a diuretic every few hours to jump-start them. We put in a pick line, a tube that goes up his arm directly into his heart so he can receive his medicines. We okayed a pacemaker that would help regulate his heartbeats. By Wednesday morning he had gained 35 pounds in water weight and his blood sugar had shot up needing insulin twice a day. Through all this he remained calm and cooperative and we discussed with the Doctors what the next steps were to take. They were optimistic. His release date was pushed back to Friday.  Around three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, he said to me, “Seva, go shut the door, we need to talk.”  I was tired from trying to manage his care and making decisions greater than my experience, but I did as he asked. He said, “I am dying and I want to tell you about my life.” He was sitting up in his chair, his face bright and clear and he was holding the heart pillow that had been given to him in the hospital. “Let’s start with my money,” he said. He told me where it was and what to do with it. He took a long time, going over every detail to be sure I understood. I had heard it many times before and I knew the information, but I listened quietly. Then he started talking about his life. He said he had had a good and full life, had lived long and done so many things. He talked about being a kid and playing ice hockey. He talked about how his Dad was a hired hand and their family would go from farm to farm so his Dad could work. He like living on the different farms. He said his Mom’s family owned a cheese factory and they would go there and get big bags of curd that they would carry around and eat. He talked about what it was like to be the oldest kid in his family and his brother and sisters. He talked about going to teachers college in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and how he walked there everyday and explained the route he took from home. There was a soda shop on the way and he would stop and hang out with his friends. He talked about meeting Mom and what she was like and how he loved her carefree style and her laugh.  He talked about us kids and how he was proud of each of us and who we had become. He talked and talked. Nurses came by and he said to them in a strong voice, “please leave us. You can come back later but you may not enter now.” His energy had changed the room. No one was allowed in and by some magic, everyone complied. He continued to talk. He talked about the mistakes he had made and how they had shaped him in his life.  He talked about his regrets and what he wished he could have done better. He was clueless on some things, he said, mostly women. He talked about his favorite song, his favorite movie and about being in the Army. I sat and listened. When he mentioned the service, I asked about the war. He had told me a few stories throughout his life about Okinawa and the Philippines, but he said he could not talk of it now.  “War is difficult and painful to remember,” he said. Throughout all of this he was both happy and sad. When he was done, he said he was tired and wanted to get back into bed and for me to call someone to help him.

Dad lived another ten days. During that time he went in and out of reality. He saw buffalo running outside the hospital window. He saw his uncle and he saw old friends who had already passed away. He asked where his father was and why he was not here in the room. He saw things we could not see. One day when he was struggling, I asked what I could do and he said he was waiting and waiting to go to heaven. He was both afraid and courageous. Once he looked at me and said, oh, you are Seva aren’t you?  I said yes. He said I thought you were Pen (Mom) and I wanted to know if you loved me. The days were filled with people he loved and cared for all coming and going and only he could see them.  On the day before he died, my brother Rocky had arrived and we were waiting for my sister to fly in. When Zonnie came into the room, he asked her to kiss him on the cheek. Then he asked for Rocky to kiss him on the cheek. Then me. He said, “I will either go in two minutes, two hours or two days. I love you all.” He died that night. 

I have so much admiration for my father, how he lived his life and how he died. Throughout the entire journey, he never complained. Each day was filled with nurses and their assistants taking blood and administering medicines, cleaning and changing his clothes and bedding, monitoring his oxygen and giving him different breath exercises. Every day there were kidney doctors and thyroid doctors, blood sugar specialist and cardiologists coming in and asking questions, nutritional experts and occupational therapists, surgeons and the nurse practitioner, people who come in just to turn you, physical therapists who come to get you up to walk, counselors in case you wanted to talk, social workers and people bringing juice and fiber packets and pills. It was a constant barrage and through it all he was continually courteous and kind. He lived his life as a shining example of grace, humility and consciousness. I am honored to be his daughter.

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My Father - his last two weeks