35 Years of Marriage–Year 17

This collection of stories is an anniversary gift to my husband of 35 years–one story for each year. Our 17th year was one of significant change. For nearly two decades, we both taught science at the same high school which we loved, and this was the year we changed districts, schools, and subjects.

After closure of Fort Ord, Seaside and Marina became ghost towns, and after years of signing transfer sheets for students who were moving, and years of dwindling course selections offered at our high school, and most importantly, years of declining income while our family expenses climbed, we made a decision. Eighteen years we taught at Seaside High, at a school, faculty and staff we loved, but we needed to move.

1999 was our last year teaching at Seaside. Whenever we mentioned we taught at Seaside, the usual reaction was,

“Oh my god, aren’t you scared of getting shot?”

“Aren’t you afraid of working there?”

“Wow, you’re brave.”

Public impression was we risked our lives to go to work. It was never like that. Students were sweet and respectful, and we figured we’d retire from that district.

Seaside students came from all over the world, sons and daughters of military personnel stationed on the Fort Ord Base. Seaside High (chanted in a deep voice with emphasis on “side,” as in “see-SIDE”) pooled together a fascinating combination of genes–Samoan/African-American, African-American/Asian, etc.  During the 1980s (heck, even now), the government expected teachers to count ethnicities within our classes. Seriously? Seriously. Of course, data recorded on scantrons, determined federal funds the school received, so we took this assignment seriously.

1999 was our first year teaching at Salinas High, John Steinbeck’s alma mater, and different from Seaside in many ways. 2600 kids attended, nearly 1000 more than at Seaside. Salinas lacked the diversity of Seaside; it seemed as if only two groups attended–farmers’ kids or farm-workers’ kids. Think of pre-packaged lettuce to chase the money. The “show-case school” of the district possessed beautiful architecture and strong history in town. Football games were the biggest (usually only) thing on Friday nights; parents and grandparents, mostly alums of Salinas or neighboring Catholic schools filled the stadium. Lots of “intermarriages” between Salinas High and Palma/Notre Dame alums, which made for exciting and packed volleyball, basketball, and football games.

That year, there was no welcome for new staff, rather colleagues demanded to know your stand on school issues, your stand with admin, etc. We left a school we cherished and moved into a scorching hot bed of politics, faculty taking pride in the rapid turn-over of administrators. I walked a thin line that school year–really three years until I had tenure. To say it was difficult to find friends on staff is an understatement, but we “first-year teachers” found solace in each other. And though I had taught 24 years, it felt like my first. I mourned the loss of our other school, eventually “found my way,” and celebrated that I worked at the same school of our oldest. Not just the same school, as a result of shuffling in the master schedule, daughter M. “landed” in my biology class.

Many in her class recognized me as the “science specialist” from their past elementary school.

“Hey, I remember you. You came to our class and we dissected owl pellets.”

Of course, that was then, ungraded and fun, this was now, graded and work. On the other hand, the class embraced the schedule change and me, which made the changes (districts, schools, subjects, and classes) worth it. Except for poor M.

I explained to my second period class. “M. is my daughter. She won’t call me Mrs. Harrison. She can call me Mom. If you call me that too, it’s okay.”

The class laughed and nodded agreement. Made perfect sense, still daughter M. avoided addressing me for that entire year.


35 Years of Marriage–Year 16 (Year of the Sheep)

I began this series as an anniversary gift to my husband, Dale. I didn’t make the postings in time for that anniversary, our 30th, as life interrupted my plans. But, we are still married and Valentine’s Day is approaching, so I continue.

If 1998 was our Year of the Pig, 1999 was our Year of the Sheep. And surgeries, several of them. February, 1999, our 4H girls decided sheep might be easier to raise, so we acquired two sheep–one for Meghan, one for Allie. Farmers and ag-people must be ROFL at this point. Sheep easier? What a bunch of city slickers. Yes, we were/are.

We learned about care, feeding, grooming, shearing, and I used my sewing skills for their skin-tight leotards. Who knew sheep needed a covering? Apparently, that wool keeps them warm at night, and where we lived they needed it. Who knew you use Woolite to wash a sheep? Yes, yes, you do. So many things I learned, and I studied biology in college–albeit not ag bio. There is a huge difference. My experience with organisms were 1) they were mostly dead and preserved or 2) they were of the microscopic variety, and on occasion, we experimented on each other in labs, e.g. human physiology tests on heart rate, etc. Never pigs or sheep.

While the sheep were fattening for the fair, I learned about nursing. Two days before school let out, Allie broke her leg, which required surgery and pinning. Poor thing, she occupied our couch for the first week of June, and literally got a “boot” in time for the next patient, Meghan, who had a scheduled orthognathic surgery, and a wired mouth for six weeks. Finally, Dale’s knee surgery, then he had the couch. Sam and I nursed the family and cared for the sheep (since their “farmers” were incapacitated) all June. By July, I needed a mental health break.

The stress of surgeries was slightly less than the stress of switching school districts, the latter offset by pay increases. I was shy one unit of graduate level physical sciences for my new position, and I found the perfect solution–a family road trip to Yellowstone, where I could take a University of Montana research level class in geysers, mud pots, and hot springs. We looked like a family who’d been in a car accident–Dale and Allie hobbling around, Meghan with her mouth wired shut, but what a trip we had. Visited Uncle Steve in Nevada and Uncle Carl in Idaho, camped in glorious Yellowstone, stayed with Aunt Claudie in Washington. Best part? No shortage of volunteer neighbors (parents and kids) who wanted to care for the sheep while we were out-of-town.



35 Years of Marriage–Year 15

1998 was the Year of the Pig, at least in our family.  In the Chinese calendar, it was the Year of the Tiger, but that summer we raised Rufus, a spring pig in 4H, and Meghan aged 13, Allie 10, Sam 7, and me and Dale middle-aged and feeling it.

After school and for several weekends, Dale and Meghan dug trenches and poured cement for a pig pen–one that a 250+ pound pig could not escape. We were city slickers, suburbanites really, and understood cats and dogs, hamsters and parakeets. With a dismal knowledge of livestock, we relied on 4H leaders to teach us what we needed to know, basically everything. As the saying goes, “When in the rurals, do as the rurals do.” We lived on the edge of suburbia, surrounded by farmland. We could do this.

Rufus arrived straight from his birthplace, a few miles down the road at a respectable 70 pounds. He needed to gain another 160+ pounds before the Monterey County State Fair. So, began our foray into farming, which meant extra work for me and Dale, as we oversaw twice daily feedings, stall cleanings, and pig walks, drove to feed stores for hay and feed, carted water to the trough, and drove kids to weekly 4H meetings.

Pigs are smart; they bark like dogs, chase paper flying in the wind, sprint when a gate swings open. Within minutes of “rooting” in his new pen, Rufus found the waterer, a large PVC pipe with a mammary gland-like metal tube. Knowing where to find water proves pigs’ intelligence, and Rufus was brilliant. He figured out how to shower by leaning his butt against the nozzle and make a sloppy pool of mud to wallow in. Five gallons of water emptied quickly, so Dale and I replenished the supply hourly. Good thing we were on summer break.

I cried during Rufus’s “weigh-in” at the fair, anticipating the loss of my swine companion, while Meghan calculated her potential earnings from his 265 pounds at auction. I think she looked forward to sleeping in past 6 am. Rufus won his weight-class, Meghan and Rufus performed well in showmanship, and I held it together until Sunday night when the fair ended. It took me  a year to recover emotionally.

I’m Back!

No better way to start the new year than starting to write again. I am fighting that terrible, bad, awful flu, that same flu that the flu shot did nothing against, that same flu that makes my every cell ache, my head throb, my throat burn, my eyes run… Yes, that one. But, for the first time in days, I am vertical, so I will celebrate 2018 with a return to my love of writing. I am celebrating surviving this virus, the first “real” flu I’ve experienced.

So, why did I step away from this site for going on 5 years? A lot–too much–to cover in a first day back, but in brief here is my litany of excuses (now you know–I am a cradle Catholic–litanies are in my genes.

Dad got sick, then Mom got dementia.

Daughter became seriously depressed, then suicidal.

Youngest daughter moved away and we became empty-nesters (or parents of a few furry children).

Husband retired and volunteered in earnest.

My work position changed.

Dad fell sick again and parents needed full time care.

Parents moved to a retirement home.

Dad died; I lost my greatest muse.

I retired.

Mom passed; I lost my greatest cheerleader.

Our first grandbaby arrived.

We sold our home of 26 years and moved 700 miles south.

We moved to our new mountain home.






Teddy, The-adorable Cat

Our college graduate returned home with her furniture she could not sell on Craig’s list and her tan-colored, alpha-male cat, a rescue from a local shelter. We welcomed Samantha and Teddy with open arms, but it has not been easy. Our other rescue kitty, Jade, courtesy of another rebound daughter, has resided here longer and has made it clear that Teddy is unwelcome. It is payback time as we experience what my brothers, sister, and I did to our parents. Mom and Dad retained our stray dogs, cats, birds, turtles, rabbits that we collected (mostly illegally) in dorm rooms or apartments because pets, after all, are extended family.

Sam has returned for an extended stay-cation before graduate school to which she intends on carting Teddy in a cat carrier for the nine-hour trek to Boston University. It will not be simple, but worthwhile ventures seldom are. Teddy with his two beds (one is insufficient for the spoiled), blankets, toys, litter boxes moved in; Jade responded with prolonged hisses, bared teeth, bristled fur, and swishing tail; animal language for “Leave now and don’t come back.” Teddy responded with a saunter in her direction, no comment, no teeth bared, no fur up, and no swishing tail; animal language for “I am bigger, I am stronger; therefore, this is my house now.” Totally passive-aggressive behavior, if you ask me.  Moreover, he was supposed to stay inside for at least a week. God help us.

After one complete fur-flying, cat-scratching, howling out-and-out brawl, we consulted the internet about introducing cats. We were doing it all wrong, i.e. putting the two in the same room–at the same time. Now, Teddy resides in the back bedroom until Jade finishes eating and leaves the building. With Jade gone, Teddy visits the rest of the house then devours Jade’s food, and then they switch. After a week of this tacit avoidance, Teddy learned to take a wide berth of Jade. She, too, no longer over-reacts, although remains on high alert, hissing as a reminder, “We are not friends and never will be.” We have this system down. It may take months to get these cats acclimated, but by then, Sammy and Teddy may be flying to Boston.

In Memory of Matilda

I have not written in weeks—no time, no energy, no desire until this morning. My first period entered loudly as they always do, most of them slurping Monster for breakfast, and those who do not suck up Starbucks espresso. I have a cup of coffee to match their energy, but today was a little different. Adrien was gone all of last week at the Salinas County Fair and he returned solemn as though he lost his best friend. I get it. Fifteen-year-old Adrien raised a pig and sold it on Sunday. I asked if he said his goodbyes and he started to tear up and then I started to tear up and then the entire class hushed to hear our stories.

Me: I remember our family’s first pig. The night before we sold Brutus (appropriate as we are studying Julius Caesar), I cried. Our children did not cry until after the auction, when the truck pulled up and the pigs were marked with spray paint to determine their final destination, but I cried the night before. It was just as well, since I had serious consoling to do after the auction.

Adrian: (tears in his eyes, but thankfully, not on his cheeks) She was a great pig. I called her Matilda. She ran around, barked, and barked whenever she saw me. I fed her the last meal, and when I turned to walk away, she barked some more. She never did that before. (Now, the tears were on his cheeks.)

Me: I am sorry. I completely understand. Pigs are amazing creatures—so intelligent, certainly much smarter than sheep (hoping to get a smile).

Adrien: Yeah, she knew me. We had great times together. I tattooed her name on my arm so I will always remember her.

Adrian unveiled the scripted, black inked Matilda on his forearm. Priceless.

Okay, time to get to studies like Julius Caesar. I love this class. I am going to miss them. We bonded in the same way Adrian did with his Matilda (not that I should compare a class of sophomores to a pen of pigs—well, maybe). I am going to miss the way we seamlessly move from a sob story to laughter to somber discussion. This seldom happens, but when it happens, it is as indelible as a tattoo on the mind or heart.

Mom and Dad

I haven’t written a word, except for work, in weeks or so it seems.  I hear words and stories all the time in my head, but my heart and hands are unwilling to type. My parents are fading away like a brilliant sunset that turns silently into the dark night. Together yet apart. One in assisted living, one in nursing care. What tears our family apart is that they cannot be together. I should be writing about my 15th year (of my 31 years of marriage), but I don’t care to. My marriage will never be a strong and vibrant as what my parents have, despite their weakening hearts. Their devotion is not unlike the couple in The Notebook, where the wife has Alzheimer’s and the husband has heart disease.

Dad has his litany of ailments and Mom is a “loon,” most of the time. Ironically, it is during Mom’s lucid moments when she complains, “Take me home, Jack. I want to go home” that Dad suffers the most. He feels her pain, tears well in his eyes. Dad needs assistance, not as much as Mom.  He changes the oxygen tank which he drags wherever he goes; for the most part, he is tethered now to a machine. I see him wearing down, running out of air and time. He dresses himself, pays his bills on time, and walks the long walk up the two flights of stairs to fetch Mom. What he cannot do or struggles with are daily showers and laundry and cooking, so he is on the assisted living side in the same retirement community, which Dad refers to as the “institution.”

Meanwhile, Mom resides in the nursing side of their retirement complex/institution, refuses to walk, prefers to be pushed in the wheelchair, and wants to sit near Dad as she watches Fox News. Dad is as sharp as any SNL comedian; he would rather watch CNN, anything but Fox Network, but he defers to Mom, as he has for years. The rest of us know his true thoughts as he withholds little from us. Mom has no idea of the time or day or year or what she had for breakfast or what happened five minutes ago, and considering how she gets her current news, it is no wonder she is confused all the time. Sometimes our family changes the station to Comedy Central and Mom is happy because Steven Colbert is as “patriotic” as anyone on Fox. What Mom knows is family and that she is not home and that she wants to go home.

I have no doubt that my parents will go home together–probably within hours of each other. They cling to each other exclusively as do swans or turtle doves or wolves or gibbons or loons, other animals that also mate for life.