What is a Friend?

If you are lucky, your friends come in a variety of shapes, sizes and temperaments. If a person is truly your friend, he or she is honest with you, but never abrasive. To my way of thinking a true friend keeps in touch when they know you are feeling tearful or unsteady. But what makes a friend someone you call or contact when you are at your lowest?

I’ve lost several people who were really important to me during the past couple of months. And because the people I thought I was closest to were suffering their own losses I did not feel free to reach out to them. And one of my friends who suffered a tragic loss during this time hasn’t returned my calls. I have called her to share my concern for her loss, but always get her answering machine. Prior to this I thought we were close friends. I have reached out to her by email, and she has sent short responses to that, but in the last three months I have not actually seen or spoken with her. My emails have been that I was thinking about her, not questions about her loss. I wonder when it is best to quit contacting someone who has suffered a loss and wait for them to get in touch. I am wondering if some people disassociate with their closest friends after suffering a loss because they feel they have to talk about that loss and they don’t want to.

I have other good friends that I have been able to share with. It is not that I am feeling all alone at this time. It is just a time of searching for the real meaning of friendship, and realizing how fragile a friendship can be.

Three Word Wednesday:  abrasive; tearful; unsteady


Sentence Structure, Observation and Detail

The concrete highway was edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog’s coat, and foxtail to tangle in a horse’s fetlocks…..

From the Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck


Lately I find that I analyze what I read in a different way than I used to.  I think that might be because I am doing more writing than I have in the past.  As I read a novel, I find that I am consciously looking for techniques and patterns that will improve my own writings.

A few weeks ago I reread the works of some well-known authors of the past, The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck and The Great Gatsby by Francis Scott Fitzgerald.  Both of these books forced me to think about sentence structure.  The authors both use complex and compound sentences extensively.    Using a combination of complex and compound sentences mixed with shorter simpler sentences gives each of these pieces a sense of rhythm.    This observation has forced me to look at the sentence structure and the rhythm of my own writings.

In both of these novels, compound and complex sentences are an effective means of providing the reader with descriptive detail.  To write this kind of detail, obviously requires the writer to be acutely aware of his environment and experiences.    It requires accurate observation as well as intimate memory of the details.

As I journal daily I am trying to be more aware of the intimate details of what I see, hear, smell and touch, as well as how the daily experiences make me feel.  I hope that by this increased awareness and attempting to write these experiences in better compound and complex sentences I will improve my writing.

A Side Note:  I was surprised to realize that these stories, (not the piece itself, but the basic story line) especially The Grapes of Wrath, could be applicable in todays economic climate.

My quote for today:

               Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.

–John Steinbeck




The Mackinaw

I remember the first day I met him, only because it was my first day in the office and I didn’t know what was expected of me.  The day I met him however, is very different from the day I noticed him. The day I noticed him came later.  He had just come from Hurricane Ridge where he had been preparing the slopes for the weekend skiers.  He wore a red plaid mackinaw wool coat and his prematurely silver hair was still damp from the mountain’s exposure.

He stood at the reception desk just outside my office so it was easy for me to scrutinize him without his knowledge.   He wiped the moisture from his glasses before the receptionist sent him in. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to work up on the mountain all alone isolated from everyone else.

I grew up in a warmer climate and I never learned to ski.  Knowing that he often spent hours up there grooming slopes and maintaining equipment made him seem a bit mysterious to me.  I could tell that he loved the job, even if he never admitted it.  He was so faithful to it.  It wasn’t unusual for him to slip into the office late in the afternoon,  to pick up payroll or payroll reports, just before we locked the door.  I’d quickly instruct him about deadlines for mailing whatever report was due and he would be on his way–at least in the beginning.

I’m not sure when I realized there was something important happening between us.  I should have been aware sooner than I was.  He’s a very observant sort of guy.  One day he came in to the office and I had my hands wrapped around my coffee cup to keep them warm.  That year at Christmas he gave me gloves.  I’m guess I am a little dense, because it wasn’t until many years later that I realized that was really a very personal gift.   Even the first bottle of perfume didn’t send up my sensors.

Had I noticed him?  You bet I had, but he was nice to everyone.   I figured I was just another bookkeeper to him.  And there’s a bit of an age difference so I didn’t expect him to pay any attention to me.

Then one day he took me out to lunch.  Of course he was wearing that red plaid coat.  I, in my isolated little world, thought of it as a business lunch.  And it wasn’t until several lunches later that I realized –oh, this is more than just a business lunch.

I hadn’t planned to ever marry again.  And for a long time, although I was attracted to him, I saw him more as an escort than anything else.  My job included membership in a number of professional organizations.  That meant there were often social functions to attend.  Social functions can feel pretty awkward if you always have to go alone.  At those times he traded the red wool coat for a sports jacket and he became a great escort.  Not only is he interesting and charming, but in the early days, nearly everyone in town either knew him from his work on the ski lifts or from his construction business. He often knew more of the people at the event than I did.   He is such a social person that I never had to wonder if he was having a good time.  He could and still can start a conversation with anyone, anywhere.

I can’t pinpoint when I realized I wanted more than an escort.  But I have to admit there is nothing like new love.  I will always cherish those early days.  Days when he would show up at the office at noon or at closing time with a couple of sandwiches from a deli or fast food restaurant and we would drive out to Ediz Hook and watch the waves bounce off of the rocks or watch the sea gulls fight for crumbs.  During the colder months he always wore that red plaid coat as we walked along the beach and talked.

There was a time when, in the mornings before work, we would meet for coffee at Birney’s.  In the winter it always made me smile when he came in wearing his red plaid coat.  We’d hold hands across the table while we read the newspaper and the time to go to work always came too soon.

For years winter months brought out that red plaid coat.  Our lives together have grown, but when he retired it was as if that coat retired too.  It seldom comes off the hanger now.  Every time I clean out the coat closet, I think, it takes up a lot of room, but it makes me smile.  And I can’t imagine not seeing it there when I open that closet door.

Three word Wednesday:  Faithful, isolate, scrutinize.









Things I’ve Discovered

Three words for three word Wednesday:  Amplify. Criticize. Moan

I haven’t deserted you my friends.  I’ve had a problem with my arm that has limited some of my activities; writing was one of them.  I chose to use my writing energy to work on my novel.  I don’t plan to amplify my story of woe, or moan about the injustice of it all.  And I hope you won’t criticize me for my choice.  Now, my discoveries–

I have learned some interesting things these past three months.  One of them I found most interesting.  There seems to be a belief that a story with a woman protagonist is a story of interest only to women.

My novel has a female protagonist.  She is a forensic accountant.  In other words she investigates events such as embezzlement.  The accused is male.  I have been told that this will attract only female readers.  Personally I have more faith in men than that.  I believe that if it is well written, a story of ethical choices shrouded in a bit of mystery, will entertain men as well as women.

The second thing I have discovered is that women, of a certain age at least, are less likely to share their passions. They will tell you about their children’s and grandchildren’s lives, but not what their personal dreams are.  Why is that?

I have also discovered that if you share your passion with some of these women, they will find some way to scorn your dream as unattainable.  In the past I have let these things stifle my progress.  But for today I vow to ignore all of the naysayers and all of the critics.  Instead I plan to enjoy the writing process wherever it takes me.

A Good Weather Day…

One thing in life that you can usually rely on to surprise you, sometimes even shock you, is the weather.

Last year (2012) summer in the Pacific Northwest was gray and dreary, but our autumn weather was lovely.  I remember it well.  In October I was walking several times a week on the Discovery Trail.   I didn’t need an umbrella and I seldom wore a jacket.  In the middle of October the vine maples were still as colorful as a child’s coloring book.  Large leaves were just beginning to descend from branch to ground.  I photographed wild flowers and roses still in bloom.  By the end of October the mushrooms were just starting to appear in patches at the edge of Bagley Creek.  And occasionally a morning fog chilled the air.

In contrast, this year the summer was lovely.   I try to capture the memory of those days to help sustain me now that I know that summer is gone.  For some unknown reason summer left us in a hurry, hasty to shine its warmth on some other patch of the world.  In the Pacific Northwest this year our autumn weather has been dreadful.  Well maybe dreadful is a bit strong, but there have certainly been a lot of very wet days since the first day of fall.  Several mornings I have awaken to the rhythmic drumming of the rain on our skylight, not a simple pitter-patter but a turbulent composition that said wake up and check the drains and close the windows.  The leaves have been blasted to the ground and the rain and winds have already swept them aside.

It should come as no surprise therefore, that I expected Sunday, October 6, 2013, to be more of the same.  But it was as if the weather had decided to surprise us all.  A wet and threatening fog greeted us in the morning, but as the day progressed the sun cleared the fog away.  Although it wasn’t a warm day it was a comfortable day.  The temperatures have dropped and our mornings are cooler now; but on Sunday Avon got to celebrate his 90th birthday with good friends, family and lots of sunshine.

Written for Soup Night and Three Word Wednesday.

The three words from Thom were:  hasty; sustain and dreadful.

Thom posts three word challenges every Wednesday.  Check out Thom’s site and see what others are writing:   http://www.threewordwednesday.com/


Happy Birthday Avon–

Avon Miller of Port Angeles will celebrate his 90th birthday this month.  He was born in Port Angeles to Charles and Mary Miller in 1923.  He grew up in the Beaver and Sappho Logging Camps in the west end of Clallam County.  Avon attended Beaver Elementary School and graduated from Quilleyute High School (Forks) in 1941. 

Immediately after graduation he enlisted in the Navy where he served aboard various vessels in the Aleutian Islands and the Pacific.  During World War II he was a signalman and part of Admiral Halsey’s Flag Allowance.  He was aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 and watched the signing of the treaty with Japan.

  After leaving the Navy in 1946 he attended classes at Seattle Pacific College; worked as a merchant marine; worked for Middleton Motor Parts; and built a boat and tried his hand at commercial fishing; before joining his brother, Claude Miller, in Fairbanks, Alaska where they both worked for Benson Montaigne.  This is where he met and married  Geraldine Awe.  They moved back to Port Angeles in 1951.They have two children together, Leslie and Scott.  Avon worked for Aiken Oldsmobile (now Ruddell Motors) until 1955 when he started his own business.

Avon ‘s construction company worked on various projects throughout Washington State including water systems and fish hatcheries;  the road to Hurricane Ridge and the tunnels when that road was built; and various projects for the National Park and Indian Health  Services.

In 1965 Avon and Ted Simpson purchased the ski lift equipment at Hurricane Ridge from Larry and Tom Winters.  Originally they serviced the Sunrise, Bunny, Intermediate and Bowl Slopes.  In 1970 Avon aided in the organization of Olympic Ski Lifts, Inc.  This corporation sold shares to finance improvements, including adding the Pomalift.  He assisted Glen Brown, the contractor, with its installation.  For several years Avon continued as the operations manager for Olympic Ski Lifts, Inc.

In addition to skiing he enjoyed years of hiking in the Olympics and fishing in the Straits.  In 1985 he married Mary Ann Davis and added her children, Vincent and Judy Davis, to the family.  After his retirement from the Construction business in 1991 he and Mary Ann made several trips across the United States visiting with family and friends.

Today he spends most of his time having coffee and conversation with friends; working on projects in his woodworking shop; and writing short stories about growing up in the logging camps at the West End during the 1930’s.

Avon claims four children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Happy Birthday my dearest friend.


The Bluebird Project

Despite the damp fall weather, he was sitting on his porch.  A tattered stocking cap covered his bowed head. The sleeves of his red wool coat barely reached the bands on his fingerless gloves. His skin was wrinkled and his fingers distorted but he carved with the concentration of a master.

He scarcely looked up when I delivered his meal.  “Just put it in the refrigerator.  I’ll heat it later.”  He was polite;  but he spoke; it seemed, without seeing me.  But as I came back  out on to the porch he said, “You’re new aren’t you?  Where’s Ann?” Ann normally delivered the meals to the home-bound residents of Angel Port.  “Ann is serving meals at the Senior Building today.  They were short-handed,” I responded.

Ann had been trying to get me involved with the program ever since my husband’s death.  I had always found an excuse. I didn’t know what my purpose in life was now that Don was gone, but I was certain it was not delivery of meals to the aged and infirm. That day she had caught me off guard, so there I was.

Avery was the last delivery on the route, so I stood for a while quietly watching him carve a tiny bird. “Have a seat,” he said pointing to the other weathered, but sturdy, wooden rocker.– I sat.

“My wife used to sit there and watch.  I miss her.”  He spoke without taking his eyes off of his work.  “You’re quiet,” he continued.  “My Liza was quiet too.”

I sat there for thirty minutes, maybe more, watching him finish the bird.  Then he abruptly tossed it into the bucket of shavings.  Startled, I jumped to my feet.  “Why did you do that?”

“What?” he asked, looking up with surprise?

“Throw it away?”  I couldn’t believe he didn’t know what I meant.

He smiled as he picked up another small piece of wood and began to whittle away.  “I just do this because it is something to keep me busy.  If I kept all of them you wouldn’t be able to get into the house.”

“Can I have it?”  I asked as I picked through the shavings to retrieve it.

“You really want it?” he inquired.

“Of course,” I replied.

Then he told me that I could have it on one condition.  I had to help him out to his garage for some sandpaper and come back the next day to get it.

I agreed.

He stood, leaning heavily on his walker, and shuffled to the porch steps.  Then he put his frail arm on mine while we took the two steps to the ground below.  I was grateful it was not icy. I handed him his walker and stayed close by his side until we reached the garage.  He opened the door, entered first and said, “I haven’t been out here since Liza died.  That was two years ago.”

I followed him in.  There was no car but one side of the garage was covered with cabinets, each door tightly closed.  The other side was lined with animal carvings.  There were birds and bears, and wolves and eagles, all covered in dust, but proudly displayed along the shelves.  He had more than enough talent shown here to brag about it, but he didn’t.

“Do you sell them?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “It’s just a hobby.  I’ve given a few away, but I’ve never sold any.”  He struggled with his balance as he opened one of the cabinet doors.

I wasn’t sure if I should offer to help, but then he asked, “Can you reach that package to the right?”

I pulled down a sandpaper bundle.  He sorted through it and removed several piece, rolled them into a tube and slid them into his coat pocket. Then Avery handed me the remaining pieces and I replaced them on the shelf.

“Do you have a key for the garage door?” I asked.

“Yes.  It’s in the kitchen drawer.  Why?”

I didn’t answer. I turned the lock before I followed him back to the porch.  When he was safely reseated I said, “Next time you go to the garage, you will need your key.”  Avery said nothing and barely nodded in response.

The next day I volunteered to make the meal deliveries again just to see if he really would let me have the bird. This time he looked up when I arrived.  “You came back?  I wondered if you would.”  Then he held out his hand, “I’m Avery, but you probably already know that from the delivery list.”

“I’m Beth.”

“Is that short for Elizabeth?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“My Liza was an Elizabeth too.  I miss her.”  For just a moment I knew I had lost him to his memories, but then he asked, “Do you have time to sit awhile?”

“Let me put your meal in the refrigerator and then I will.”

Just as before, I sat quietly watching him carve.  I wondered what had happened to the bird that he had promised me the day before.  I did not ask.   I marveled at the intricate details he achieved despite the gnarled condition of his hands.  Tiny lines defined the bird’s feathers.  Tiny inset sockets outlined slightly rounded eyes.

Suddenly he stopped carving.  He put his hand in his pocket and removed a perfectly formed bird.  “These always remind me of the blue birds I used to see as a child,” he said.  “We don’t see many blue birds here on the coast.”

As he handed me the carving he asked, “Do you think you could paint it to look like a blue bird?”

At first his question startled me.  Before my husband’s death I had sculpted and painted clay flowers for jewelry, but I had never created birds or animals.  After he assured me that my acrylic paints would work just fine, I told him I would try

That evening I went home and checked my art books and bird sites on the internet looking for blue birds.  I analyzed eye detail and color variations.  I compared the feather detail to the carving.  The sculpture was perfect.  Early the next morning I painted the bird. When I made the meal deliveries that afternoon I took the carving with me.  I couldn’t believe that at sixty-five I was still seeking approval, but I was.

That day the wind blew violently and there was a temporary power outage.  It was later than usual when I arrived at Avery’s house.  He wasn’t on the porch.  I knocked and yelled, “Avery, its Beth.”

When he responded, “Come in,” I slowly opened the door, making certain that he wasn’t standing in the way. I entered and found him in the kitchen putting a kettle on the stove for tea.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he asked.  “Liza and I used to have tea together at this time every day.  I miss that.”

I agreed to tea provided that he allow me to prepare it.  He finally agreed, directed me to the teapot was and explained exactly how much tea to put in the strainer.  He shuffled to a chair and sat quietly at the chrome dinette.  This time I could feel him watching me.  I poured the tea and seated myself on the other side of the table.  “Well?” he asked.  I pretended not to know what he was asking.  “Well,” he asked again, “did you paint it?”

I didn’t say a word.  I wondered what if he hates itWhat if he thinks I have destroyed his work of art?    Slowly I opened my purse, all the time regretting that I had agreed to paint the bird.  I pulled out the tissue parcel and removed the wrapping.  I placed the carving on the table and waited.

I watched his face color as he lifted the bird and turned it around and around in his hands.  I was unable to read his face. And then his eyes moistened.   His chin quivered.  In a voice more scratchy and choked than normal he blurted out, “Liza always wanted me to paint one of these damn birds blue.” At first I wasn’t sure if that meant it was okay, but then he said, “If I give you another one, can I have this one back?”

I took the second carving home, painted it blue and placed it on my window sill.  There I could see it first thing in the morning when I opened my drapes.  I called it my blue bird of happiness.  That evening I painted a blue bird on a card and wrote Avery a thank you note.

That was the beginning of our secret blue bird project.  Avery carved birds.  I painted and delivered them.  Soon every shut-in on the meals delivery route had a blue bird of happiness from “someone who cares,” along with a hand painted blue bird card so they could write a “thank you” if they chose.

I shuttled blue birds and thank yous back and forth for weeks without telling a soul where they came from.  By early December we had delivered blue birds to everyone on the meals program, to several sick children and even to a few new mothers.

I saw Avery nearly every day that fall.  As autumn turned to winter he grew more and more frail.  We never talked a lot, but it was obvious how much he missed his dear Liza. On December 31st he gave me two birds.  He seemed extremely calm as he told me that these were the last two birds.  When I asked him “Why?” he responded with a “just because, Beth, just because.” That day as I left, I don’t know why, but I hugged him just before I walked out the door.  That was the last time I saw Avery.  Late that night he went to join his beloved Liza.

I was shocked when the minister at his memorial service talked about Avery’s blue bird project.  It had been our secret.  We had both promised that we would never reveal the source of the blue birds.  Later that week I discovered that Avery had saved all of the thank you notes.  They were tied in a ribbon with a note that read, “My purpose in life, in memory of my beloved Liza.”

The last two carvings have never been painted.  They sit on a shelf in my studio.  I use them as models for the clay blue birds I now sculpt and deliver.  Every time I receive a thank you I place it in a wooden box along with the note I have written that reads, “My purpose in life, in memory of Avery.”

(A short fiction piece for Three word Wednesday:  brag, icy, polite.)