The Steinway: Fur Elise

I woke this morning to the dulcet tones of “Fur Elise.” If you also got very far in those childhood piano lessons you also might have made it to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” I found her in the soft easy chair, watching the sun rise taking coffee from her new Mr. Rogers mug. “I’m centering myself” she announced. I remembered when I could play “Fur Elise.” It was centering. It was a way to be satisfied with having my fingers could travel the friendly keys and create melody and those quiet meditative sounds from our 100 year old Steinway. Now it sits, another piece of furniture.

Metastasis made me get off my precious road bike that so often took me 60 miles round trip from the dry Inland area to the mouth of the Santa Ana River, to the Pacific ocean also took the dexterity in my right hand. I can no longer play “Fur Elise” except on the stereo.

Wife got this stack of CD’s from NPR, they came this week. The old war horses Rhona once called them. She’s gone now. So are the two elderly sisters whom my wife befriended in Washington D.C. They sold her the Steinway. Their father had once been “the Secretary of Agriculture” they proudly said.

Adeny moved the piano to Loma Linda. That’s where we met. I was intimidated by that piano…by her. I rarely played such an instrument. I was intimidated by her having attended the national conservatory in Buenos Aires.

In time I got the courage to sit down at that piano and discover it. And thankfully, I finally got the courage to discover her. We moved the piano to our new home in Loma Linda, and finally here to LaSierra. Here we raised five kids in a big old house where they all had their own bedrooms. One day we’ll part with that piano.

She brought us two sons. One of them used a toy hammer on the piano keys. Chipped the ivory a little bit. Memories. He’s married now to a beautiful lady. They live in New Mexico. He has continued his interest in keyboard. Their sweet Emma is five months old. She may learn to play “Fur Elise” on this piano. And send centering sounds across the Sandia mountains.

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Showering past 70:

The problem with showers, they’re in bathrooms. And bathrooms have mirrors. Yuck. Past 70 we don’t look that good in mirrors.

I go into the shower, you really need to get naked, but it’s no party looking down at an emaciated body. There’s nearly 100 lbs difference between when I was too fat and now when I’m too skinny. Leg bones stay the same. But as meat grows less and less legs are just skeletons.

A year or so ago one of my sons installed grab bars in the shower/tub. He did a good job, solid and even. Now I need them. And I need the little aluminum and plastic stool that I take in and out of the shower.

And I sometimes make it on my own. But it is nice when my significant other helps me dry off.

Showering past 70. It ain’t for sissy’s.

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From a reasonable idea of God?
“…and if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to bring your tithe….because the place is too far from you…then you shall turn it into money…and spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves…and rejoice, you and your household.” -Deuteronomy 14:2
…..What does that mean, “If the way is too long?” Perhaps the way is too long because the “Priests” have become so strange, corrupt, so self centered, that you cannot bring yourself to their kneejerk support. Use your God given mind to simply do the right thing.

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What jobs did you do that no one would suspect?

For a few years I wrote freelance for LaSierra Today, and in house for The Loma Linda Observer. I also co-edited a monumental work for the California Dental Association.

But that body of work was not enough to get a job as grant Resources writer, for which the director wanted to hire me. The LLU Academic Vice President stopped the hire saying simply, “We don’t want to hire a divorced person for that job.” Clue. I later was instrumental in bringing to LaSierra University what was then their largest Federal grant…..and married the LSU Academic Vice President. Karma.

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From the memory hole. If a “B”level celeb like Billy Bush can “egg on” Trump….then what kind of pervert is he. Now he has the gall to defend “judge “Moore and tweeting against Al Franken….. let’s now review the long held rules about living in glass houses and throwing rocks, et.al……been in lots of adolescent locker rooms, adult locker rooms, never heard such crudities. Glass houses…. Franken has ASKED FOR an investigation, he has apologized. His is so far only one incident. She’s wearing battle armor…his hand appear to hover. Get real here. So Donald, when do YOU admit it and when do YOU ask for a thorough investigation. You’re a failure and boorish pig. You don’t have enough integrity to EVER do the right thing.

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Kenneth Field The main problem here is that our current president can only be held accountable for impeachable offenses. Otherwise, Cheney would be rotting in an Iraqi prison right now. Franken and Moore can be held accountable by the Senate Ethics Committee, but they’re all hoping he won’t win Alabama’s election, and they won’t have to do anything while expounding on all the things they “would have done if he’d been elected.” They’re liars, and they don’t care that we know it. Franken, however, is a decent human being caught by his own misbehavior. He has done everything such a man could be expected to do. He will probably suffer politically, whether the whole thing was a setup or not. Which is entirely what the plan was. I can’t help but think the GOP was involved in that somewhere, but it doesn’t matter. Franken made a big mistake, and it was caught on film, and someone accused him of it openly. He’s got to deal with it. I’m sure he will. Of all the senators in D.C., he is actually one that will try to do the right thing.

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WHAT WORK DID YOU DO THAT FEW WOULD SUSPECT YOU OF?

The junior year of high school I worked as the electricians helper. We wired a new chapel, rewired the girls’ dorm, and installed a telecomm to every girls room. I went everywhere, did a lot of the work independently. In the attic once the electrician wonder if some wires were “live” so he touched the with his fingers. Wow.

An Old Man’s Rumination

I want to walk in the Redwoods. One more time. Down that trail, behind the locked gate to the valley little known and little visted with those stout tall trees. The valley the rangers told us about. So green, so alive.
I want to see again the rocky southern coast of Oregon, the creatures that make life in the tidal zone.
I want to see that beach in Bandon Oregon where an old man and his volunteers rake an elaborate labyrinthe in the sand, washed out with the tide, then raked in again the next day.


I want to hike in the Yoemite Valley, up the trails to falls.


I want to walk the flowered meadows of Mt Rainier and the meadow North of Mt. Baker.


I want to ride the funicular up to Murren, hike the meadows above Lautenbrunner Switzerland and hear the cowbells again. See the Jungfrau across the valley. Visit the waterfalls I missed then.


I want again to glide on a ferry through the placid water of Alaska’s inland passage past trees with sentinal bald eagles and waters alive with humpback whales.


I want to look again at the now 100 year old rural schoolhouse that was across the road from us all those years of growing up. In front of it this kid sold strawberries to passing travelers each sunday in season.


I want again to visit Chartres cathedral with its windows of light.
I want to be in the top of the Eiffel tower and see again the City of Lights.
I want again to look out from that tiny hotel room across the Seine to the extravagance of Notre Dame then to the right to that humble chapel Eglise St. Julien the Pauvre.


I want to see again the happy people of Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle enjoying ice cream in the summer sun.
I want to see again the Coast of Norway with its fjords and islands and wonder which were homes to my ancestors.


I want to see my grandchildren grow up, build their lives and families as their parents have done.
I want the love of my life to go on, this blessed woman, her heart, her determined kindness and wisdom. This house, it’s memories, it’s views.

And this, from the poet,

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the day.”

—————Dylan Thomas

DACA and Me

Me and Dad

DACA and Me:
 
I may seem like a white bread Yankee American white man….but am I really? No matter where you stand on the issues of immigration, we all came sometime from somewhere.
 
I got to remembering a few nights ago those now gone but real people that I know now live in me, my children and grandchildren.
 
The year was 1634. A flotilla of ships appeared in a New England harbor and on board one was an excited boy of thirteen, John Viall. The son of a rural English clergyman, John’s passage was paid by a more wealthy family. As an indentured servant he would spend the next eight years working in their custody until age 21 when he could register with the colony as a “Freedman.” He soon married and started his own family. John Viall was my first American ancestor.
 
In 1860 Annie Anderson traveled unaccompanied from rural Sweden landing in New York and making her way to a colony of fellow Swedes in Minnesota. She became my Great great grandmother. One might speculate about an eighteen year old girl making such a journey alone, but probably some incident “you don’t talk about.”
Alas, as the politician has  said, “They don’t send us their best, they send rapists and murders.”  Or as my people, they bring tumble weeds. Here’s the story.
In Nineteenth century Russia there arose a new queen, Katherine the Great, Czarina. She was a German powerhouse and among one of her initiatives was improvement of Russian farmers. She enticed German farmers to settle and many Amishmen started farms in the Ukraine.
As the years went by there arose a new Czar who was recruiting young men for his armies. The Amish found a way out so in 1874 over a thousand left the Vilhainaya region for the United States and Canada. My great grandfather settled  his family near Yankton South Dakota.
These Amishmen brought their precious seed grain and therein were the hidden seeds of Russian thistles, tumbleweeds. Tumbleweeds were not native to the Americas, and though they had previously been seen in the colonies they did not take hold like they did in the vast open prairies of the West. You might say my people were among those that brought tumleweeds to the American West.
The bible has a Jesus parable about weeds and tares, and of enemies causing mischief by sowing seeds of weeds. The farmers found this new weed in their fields and were sure that these Amishmen were intionally sowing mischief. Remember, Immigrants “Don’t send their best.”
Other, now my great grandparents were teenagers in a new world, Christian Albrecht and Annie Sutter, part of that Amish migration, who married and began their family, My Grandfather was their third child, the first boy, born in 1887. Sometime after the fourth child, Jack, Annie died.
Christian married again, Annie’s niece, whose name was also Annie Sutter. They went on to have six more kids. As a sidenote, my granfather reappears in 1900 as Albright, and later adopted Sutter. To his dying day he carried grudges against his family that he wouldn’t talk about. Tumbleweeds, thistles, the troublesome weeds that are easily rooted out if you have the will and catch them before they get too big.
Around the turn of the century my great grandfather Knute Nelson was brought as a teenager from Norway. His family settled in Minnesota and when he married a descendant of Anna Anderson, of Sweden they produced my grand father LeRoy Nelson.
We can follow the Viall family through the Revolutionary war, the civil war and finally the marriage of young Katie Viall, my grandmother to LeRoy Nelson. And they made mom.
I am a mixture. One grandma I haven’t spoken of traces to Swiss Amish stock, The Sutters and Albrechts to the Ukraine. The Andersons and Nelsons to Sweden and Norway, the Vialls from England and most certainly to France.
We’re here. The people I’ve talked of all came as minors, brought by their parents. Who know what these kids wanted. It was not their choice.
And there’s one more, I’m married to an immigrant. My wife Adeny was brought here from Aregentina by her parents at age 17. She has told me she really didn’t want to come here and she tells me stories about going to a new school, feeling out of it, not understanding the public speaker in the hallways making announcements. And though she returned to Argentina for one more year she came back to the US for college and a masters. And finally, in 1982, for me. She went on to become college professor, finish her PhD and a career that included College Dean and Academic Vice President.
We all come from somewhere. I’ve shared with you some of the kids that make up ancestors. Kids who at this moment in history would be subject to the very strict rules for DACA, Deferred Action on Child Arrivals.
In DACA Ameria has a sound and reasonable, even compassionate program to take care of kids.  And they are proving to be the Best of the Best. We are a big country, let us have a big heart and do the right thing for 800,000 kids who have had no say in where they were taken, settled.  Yet they are building a life.  They are contributing paying taxes yet they cannot collect benefits. They are the best. We need them.
 .

Trails

I early learned in Cascade glaciers and snowy mountains to use the “Rest Step”. Climbing included a slight pause with each step. One always needs to have enough oxygen. But also the grip, how a foot is planted, the body steadied. Then ready for the next.
 
These sunbaked lower mountains and hills that surround us here in Southern California don’t have snow. But the trails are not always friendly. There are erosion ruts and cross slopes that can make walking more a chore even than the ascending or descending itself.
 
And there are the pebbles. Our hills are decomposed granite with granite boulders poking out here and there. The decomposed granite, unlike trails elsewhere with layers of organics which cusion the sole, these trails are all mineral and the tiny pebbles act as ball bearings on the slopes.
 
And so that “Rest Step’ which in other conditions allows breathing, here it is steadying and traction.
 
I was raised in a tiny church community where I had the privilege at a critical time of a young pastor who loved the mountains. His parish of our two churches included many of us baby boomer teenagers and he clearly cared for us arranging hikes and climbs that took us into our Cascade mountains.
 
Sometimes as we hiked through tall trees or fragrant meadows Tom would break into song:
 
“I’m pressing on the homeward way,
New heights I’m gaining everyday
Still praying as I onward bound
Lord plant my feet on higher ground
Lord lift me up and I shall stand
On heaven’s table land
A higher plane than I have found
Lord plant my feet on higher ground.”
 
He did it so often it was his anthem for hiking and the happiness of life. To this day, the rhythm of hiking will send that song into my mind.
 
It’s a good sentiment. Religion, having a religion, isn’t worth much unless it makes me better. Aspiration, a “higher plane” is my goal.
 
And once again it came to me on the hill behind my house. Find your anthem, collect and treasure them as the soundtrack you can draw on for inspiration and comfort. Make these anthems the music of your life. Let them carry you through journeys of mind and memory. Be happy.

Gulden Spicy Brown Mustard

I was the chicken whisperer in our house. My job? To routinely go into the coop and gather eggs. I wasn’t very big when I started this role and full grown hens are rather proective of their nests, and their eggs.

I learned to pull my hand inside my sleeves to cushion the attacks and persist. I got personally acqainted with these hens.

So when it was time to reap, I became their angel of death. My scythe was a long cedar bean pole with a wire hook, just right to reach out and grab them by the leg. Then carrying a flapping hen by the leg we made our way to the chopping block. There my Dad carried out the sentence.

We usually took three or four at a time. One for fresh and freeze the rest. It was messy business but farm kids learn you have to kill what you want to eat; deer, cattle, goats, fish and chickens. That’s how it is.

I am glad for you if you live the vegan life even to the point of defending poor animals. That’s a good ethic. Increasingly the world needs your spirit to keep feeding the world. Animal products won’t do it. Even open ocean fishing is starting to fail. Here in California which suffered a horrible drought the animal business with feedlots, chicken farms and animal food production all sucks water that thirsty people will demand. Worldwide water wars are on the horizon.

My dietitician in helping me negotiate kidney insufficiency, next step is dialysis, continually cautions against red meat and beans …BEANS!…  She concluded that I’ve not been getting enough protein.  Many protein products include sodium and potassium which bring their own problems.

Her direction is fish and chicken white meat. Although I grew up with lots of fish, years of vegetarian diets have destroyed any appetite for fish. That leaves me…. And I really do turn my stomach at the ways the chicken industry abuses animals…. with chicken.

I sit here next to a cold chicken sandwich, allegedly “organic,” open pasture, from Sprouts. But you can see how enthusiastic I am given I’m twaddling on my computer and not getting down to sandwich.

Even if it does have Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard to enhance or distract from the taste. We’ll see.

Soap is Slippery

I didn’t drop the soap this morning.

That might seem trivial to you, but it’s a big deal for me. Soap bars are slippery. For a few years I’ve found independence in using a sponge and squeezing out a little liquid soap. Easier to hold onto.

It wasn’t that long ago my unsteadiness meant I needed help in the shower. She stayed by to sometimes watch me from falling, soap my back, dry it. Such loss of independence is demoralizing. Everyday actions that were automatic for years become compromised. This is aging. This is chronic disease.

Now I feel confident and safe even with her not around. I’ve learned the work-around; use the sponge.

For a long time after the metastasis landed in my cerebellum, radiated and leaving only scar tissues, I couldn’t manage something so simple as a bar of soap. Having it slip out, however, did make me bend down to pick it up and that too is progress. The liquid soap on a sponge became the standard.

Last August we traveled; stayed in a variety of places. At Mt Rainier, The Paradise Inn Lodge, the room had a modular one piece fiberglass shower. It’s uniform white color combined with rounded corners gave no sense of depth. Just standing required extra care.

Later at my nephews house the shower had a tile grid pattern that was reassuringly orienting. The things you don’t think of.

So this morning I reached for the ordinary bar soap. Got the job done. And didn’t drop it. I’ll still use the sponge, it is soft, and it has a comforting confident feel. Still it’s nice to celebrate; I didn’t drop the soap.

The Lego Possibility

After Supper we stopped into Barnes & Noble. She wanted some special note/appointment book. I browsed for a magazine. Intrigued by the current Atlantic I took it over to Raj at the checkout.

Ahead of me were an older woman and man, a teen age girl and boy. He was a big guy, taller than me, and he clutched two large lego kits. We’ve had many many legos in our house but when the boys were that big, the legos didn’t get much attention.

As I joined the line the young man clutching the Legos turned to me and said, “It’s my birthday. I’m 15.” Immediately it all came together.

“Congratulations,” I said, “I just had birthday and I’m 70.”

“That’s a lot.” He said.

By now he needed to make the transaction, “Tell the man you want to buy these Legos.” The woman told him.

He thrust out a fistful of money and said, “I want to buy these Legos.”

Then she turned to the girl and told her, “Tell the man you want to buy the book.”

The girl held out the book and some money saying, “I want to buy this book.”

The woman turned to me and said, “It’s their learning experience.”

Having my Atlantic I went out to sit down in the car near the front door. The four of them were waiting before heading into the lot, then they were off.

I sat briefly then had an impulse. I went into the lot hoping to reach them. I wanted to speak again with the birthday boy, congratulate him again, offer him a $20 and suggest he go back to the store and treat his family to cookies. Soft chocolate chip would be a good choice.

I was honored that he spoke to me and I hoped his celebration could be extended. But they were gone. And just as gone was that impulse, lost.

I suppose it’s just as well. Some people don’t need more complication or intrusion in their life. People with the task of caring for others this way have their hands full. And people with limits aren’t always quick to understand odd changes in social situations; rightly suspicious of strangers.

It is enough that this young man, this time, at this moment, was happy. And he shared his happiness with me. Have fun with those Legos.

Were We Poor?

At the age of 66, Mom went in the hospital at the end of January, 1992, expecting a rather routine gall bladder surgery.  It turned out to be cancerous. She had treatment but was gone by August the following year. After she passed, Dad gave this back to me. I share it now to simply say, there is never enough time.

 

February 1, 1992

Dear Mom and Dad,

Some time ago I heard you talk about the years when I was growing up, saying how we were poor, how it was hard to make ends meet. Well this kid didn’t see it that way.

Sure I spent hours in October, November and December memorizing the Sears Christmas Catalog. There were lots of things to want. I wanted an electric train, the Lionel at the top of the page, with switches and a tunnel.

When I did get a train for Christmas it was the Marx version a at the bottom of the page. I thought it was great! I admit to disappointment when a curious toddler sister switched it on and burned out the controller the next day. But someone quickly ordered a better controller from Sears. And my train was running again.

I didn’t know any other kid so rich as I was with a train set and a room all to it. I made my own tunnel through a mountain. I had a jigsaw right outside my bedroom door at the top of the stairs. And all the scraps of plywood I needed to cut and glue and hammer anytime I chose.

I didn’t understand what it meant for you to have this kid traipsing through your bedroom to go through the door to the stairs next to your closet. As for me, I was well off. I had a big room all to myself with big windows that looked North to cedars and cottonwoods and green velvet mountain forests across the river valley.

School was right across our quiet country road. It’s now a little old country school house. Then it was a BIG old country school house filled with who all lived even farther up in the hills.

I’d go home for lunch where you had Campbells chicken noodle or tomato soup. Maybe it was Franco American spaghetti or leftovers. No matter, it was warm and it was home.

I had one of the largest libraries a kid could want. Every two weeks the Snohomish County Bookmobile parked by the school. I didn’t know where this thing came from but I checked out as many books as I could carry and sometimes, on sunny days, I stopped on the lawn to read.

I had a year ’round stream to play in, building dams and fishing, watching ice row at the edges r frogs eggs in slack water, or water striders or little trout barely legal.

Parts of the stream were a jungle. I explored mysteries under the Devils Club, Elderberry and vine maple. At the end of the pasture I had my own cabin and a place for campfires and marshmallows and a white dog named Sam.

I saw kittens and puppies, calves and kid goats being born. I felt those kids kicking in NancyGoats insides. I learned to milk a goat, and a cow. We had horse to ride in the high Cascades or along the logging roads near home. I didn’t know other kids so rich as to ride horses.

I learned to run a chainsaw, how to fall a tree, to split wood, to drive a tractor and plow a straight furrow.

We had strawberries. Boy did we have strawberries. I may have gotten tired of them when picking. I shuffled down the row smashing berries into knee pads as I went. I may have earned 60 cents an hour but I had strawberries…..and raspberries, and blackberries. I climbed to the top of that old cherry tree to find any the birds missed. But I never broke my arm. Never broke my leg. I might have deserved it though when I jumped off the chicken house to see if umbrellas worked like they do in the cartoons. That chicken coop, the pen and te yellow transparent apple tree had to make way for the house Dad built.

The holly had no berries but a hummingbird hid there each season and that was bright enough. I ddn’t climb the holly tree but I did climb the mountain ash. There I built my tree house fort from which I could launch the hard berries at my bothersome little sisters. We had swings and a bar for chinning or just twirling around.

There was a hay mow for jumping, and for the cows.

Our garden always produced green beans, carrots, radishes, little green onions and wonderful sweet corn. To this day, if there is sweet corn on the table, everything else must wait. The plate must be christened with sweet corn butter and salt.

So you see all the time I was growing up I thought myself better off than most kids. I lived better than my friend Freddy up the road, or the Lyle girls farther up, or the Giebel boys on the road to town. I had my own room bigger and even though old, my house was better than Rod and Vonda had.

After 4th grade when I rode the bus into town I knew the Doctor’s kids were well taken care of, and Graham, whose Dad was the pharmacist, Williams that had a sawmill. But I still knew kids like Billy who asked one fall day if I was going to eat all that big Bartlett pear. I’m ashamed to this day that I ate it all, even the core and offered hi the stem. In the fall our back porch always had pears, and peaches and apples. I can still see the simple envy in the face of a guy who surely didn’t get many pears.

I always had warm well fitting clothes. There were other kids whose clothes smelled of cigarette smoke or wood smoke or both. Or they smelled of clothes not often laundered. I’m pretty sure I never smelled like that. Bathing was an adventure, the water plummeting out of that overhead shower into the metal washtub. Dumping the water was always an exercise of not creating a tidal wave to the bathroom floor.

I was taken care of loved and admired. When I had a part in the Christmas play at school you made an authentic workshop apron from Dad’s Merchant Marine dufflebag. It still has his name stenciled on.

Life is too short for regrets. But just about right for thanks and praise. There are many things in my life if some magic took me back. But of that, there’s not much I’d change about growing up at Trafton.

To me it was a great, green, wonderful world. Where could I live now with deer in the creek, or a bear lumbering across our yard? Tall evergreen trees and a school across the road, strawberries, the full freezer, the back porch shelves bulging with mason jars for the winter; it goes on and on. I can’t give my kids such rich gifts.

Now that I have older children I know what it is to have my children bring honor to my name. They’re better know in this community than me. I hope I bring honor to your name.

I know I was moody, pouty, sarcastic, a smart aleck. Sometime I get set back a few notches. But you did well. Thanks for the memories. Of creek and trees, and camping trips and fishing, roast beef and potatoes, fresh fruit and frozen fruit and canned fruit, and apple cider and carrots and corn and that old square grand piano, of goats and dogs and horses and cows, of sledding behind the tractor, of brush burning and marshmallow toasting, of carving pumpkins and carving turkeys, of prune whip and divinity fudge, of sour cream chocolate cake with butter cream frosting and Christmas trees with tinsil; we lacked nothing. We were rich.

I love you,

Ken