Rocky Mountain High

It is the 50th anniversary of the release of “Rocky Mountain High.” I love the Rocky Mountains.

I met John Deutschendorf Jr. (John Denver) in Huntsville, Texas in the early 1970’s. I was a college student at Sam Houston State University, and he hired my neighbor Claudia to make a shirt for him.

Go look at some of John Denver’s old album covers. You will see the shirts I am talking about.

Claudia had moved into the house next to mine with a husband and two little kids. I would see the kids outside playing all the time but never saw any grown-ups. The kids were friendly, and I so was I, so we talked whenever I was coming or going to and from class or work. I wondered where the parents were.

Claudia was watching all this from the bedroom. She was confined to bed because she had broken her back in a car accident. She’d been watching and listening to all the conversations I was having with her kids. She knew I was good hearted. We became good friends.

When she recovered and was well enough to work, she got a job in the fabric section of the local five and dime. It was at this store that she met John Denver and he hired her to create a special shirt for him.

He liked the shirt so much he ordered several more. When she needed to deliver them to him, she asked me to drive her out to the remote ranch where he was staying. That is when I met him. We spent the day out at the ranch with him. We rode horses, had lunch, he played some music. Good times. He was very kind to both of us. He was the first star I ever met. Little did I know that I would meet many more.

After I graduated from college, I ended up moving to Nederland Colorado and working at Caribou Ranch Recording Studio. I worked there on and off beginning in 1977. You can look up Caribou Ranch and see all the stars that recorded there. John Denver is on the list. (So is John Lennon and Elton John but I did not meet these two Johns.) 150 artists recorded there.

Caribou Ranch was an amazing place to work. 45 top ten albums, 18 Grammy awards and 20 number one Billboard hits were recorded there at the beautiful beyond words recording studio.

While I was working there, I was asked to drive Willie Nelson around.

Willie had been up at the Ranch to hang out with Kris Kristofferson. Kris was there to record an album. At his request, I made TexMex Chicken Enchiladas for him. My aunt had gone to school with Kris in Brownsville, Texas. He asked if I could make TexMex and so I did. He was pleased.

Willie and Kris played at Rock Rocks in a concert while Willie was there. I got to drive Willie to Red Rocks.

The concert was one of many I got to drive stars to. If you have a chance, go to a concert at Red Rocks.

It truly is a Rocky Mountain High.

Plant Something

My daughter called me early this morning. She had just gotten sad news. Her friend’s little child had died. There is probably nothing harder in life than the death of your child. There are no words for this kind of loss.

I listened to my daughter and asked how I could help her. I offered to cook dinner tonight to take that responsibility off of her plate. I suggested that she buy some teas and some fruit and just leave a gift basket with a card on the front porch of her friend’s home.

I had to try and do something myself to process the grief. I knew this little human too. She was precious.

We all have people in our lives that die. We all have to process all the emotions that flood us when we encounter loss.

The way I dealt with it this morning was to plant some bulbs. They will bloom in the Spring. They will remind me of the beauty that the little child who died today brought to each one of us who had the fortune to get to know her.

When you don’t know what else to do, just plant something.

Hung up

I ‘d  been stalling. I made up one excuse after another. Finally, my hand was forced after eight years. An appraiser was coming to the house. I had to deal with this.

My friend Eric had hung himself in the bedroom of my apartment over the garage. My brother found him for me; after I begged, explaining that Eric was very uncharacteristically not answering my phone calls. (Eric and I were very close.)

My brother was really mad at me over having to find Eric’s dead body and he stayed mad for years until Robin Williams (my brother’s all-time favorite ) hung himself.

My brother finally peaced-out.

Together, just last week, we climbed up the stairs and went into the room. The coroner had done the initial dirty work but I needed to empty out the room and get rid of all of Eric’s old things. We loved to cook together and he had some of my old cookbooks mixed in with his.

Going through his things was like visiting with him. I saw his hand-writing on a piece of paper and for a terrifying nanosecond wondered if it was a note for me. It wasn’t.

But this was painful in a way that I cannot explain. It hurt in a place that I didn’t know could ache. Now, finally, after eight long years, I have finally said goodbye.

I am no longer hung up.

NOTE: I originally posted this in 2014. I dreamt about Eric last night. My heart still aches. This tragedy was in Sept of 2006. It felt like visiting with him while I read this again. I guess I am still trying to say goodbye. Maybe I am still hung up.

Bread Pudding

I just walked to the store with Mary. She wanted to buy raisins to make bread pudding. Her granddaughter had made her something to eat with rice and mushrooms (risotto). She wanted to return the container with a treat inside.

Mary fell in love with Bread Pudding while she was boarding during her school years. The family she lived with also housed some of the employees of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The lady of the house was a great cook. Prior to cooking at her home for the boarders, she had cooked for the Railroad. The man of the house worked for the railroad too. He was an engineer.

Every Sunday, there was something for dessert. Mary enjoyed eating the bread pudding but what she really loved was the way it smelled when it was cooking.

Her own mother was a good baker and made great pies, but she did not make Bread Pudding. Bread Pudding makes sense as a Sunday dessert. It’s the end of the week and there’s probably stale bread.

The Railroad workers were always hungry. It was labor intensive, hard work. Bread pudding is filling.

The history highlight of our conversation had to do with royalty. In 1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada. This was the first time the monarchs had come to Canada. They traveled by train from Quebec City 2,236 miles cross the county to Vancouver.

She told me that her friend did not cook for the King and Queen. None of the railroad employees cooked for the King and Queen. They traveled with their own chefs.

They went to Vancouver to try to catch a glimpse of King and Queen. She said the streets along the railways were packed with curious, excited onlookers. She still has the little flag that she waved as they train passed by.

She also fell in love with Railroads. She has ridden trains, including steam driven trains all over Canada and the US. I told her I had been on a few of them in Colorado, the Durango to Silverton run and the Cumbres and Toltec run, which is the longest narrow-gauge steam railroad in the United States. 

She has ridden on both of these routes.

She said the Amtrak run from Portland to Vancouver has just opened back up.

I regularly travel by Amtrak to Seattle. I will take it up to Vancouver as soon as I can.

I think I can smell Bread Pudding.

Peaches

Peaches

For those who are following my blog, I have been writing about my 93 year old neighbor Mary. I saw her walking to the store this morning. She was going to get some peaches. Here in the Pacific North West, its prime peach season.

When I was in college, in Huntsville Texas, I had an elderly neighbor too. His name was Mr. Neighbor. Really, that was his name. He was in his 80’s. His wife had died recently. This was his second wife. His first wife and all their children had been tragically killed in a fire.  I checked in on him periodically and quickly, we became friends. He made great iced tea.

He was lonely. He always asked me about my classes. I was getting my degree in Agriculture. (I really wanted a degree in Horticulture but had to settle on that as a minor.)  When I told him that I was taking a summer class on canning, he told me his wife had left him a freezer full of peaches. He asked if I could make him some peach jam. With the confidence of youth, I smiled at him and said sure.

I went to the local Piggly Wiggly and bought all the jars and lids and supplies that I would need. (For those who do not know, this is a grocery store chain with this silly name.) I heard that it is still there.

I methodically sterilized everything the way I had been taught in my class. It was my first attempt outside of the lab. I was a bit nervous. I did not want to make the big mistake and give him botulism.

Mr. Neighbor gave me the bags of frozen peaches. I carefully thawed them out.

It wasn’t long before I realized they were not peaches. They were chicken livers and gizzards.

I was way too familiar with chicken livers and gizzards because I worked the dinner shift at Tinsley’s Southern Fried Chicken and that was the most popular item on the dinner menu.

You could get a box of them with a large yeast roll and a jalapeño for one dollar. Yes, $1.oo. It was our best seller.

So I fried up all the chicken parts and had a bunch of friends over. (We were all poor and hungry students.)

I went back to the Piggly Wiggly and bought peaches and made Mr. Neighbor some peach jam.

Just now, I cut up some of the peaches Mary bought and shared with me. I am going to freeze some to use later when there will not be fresh peaches to eat with my daily granola and yogurt.

I will be sure to label the bags: Peaches.

Potato Chips and Ice Cream

Ice Cream and Potato Chips

Yesterday I shared some of my 93 year old neighbor’s story. Here is a tiny bit more.

She was born in 1927. Her parents were from Ukraine. They came over to the Northwest Territories to be farmers. They were wheat farmers. She gave me some of the backstory of where she was raised in Saskatchewan.

In Canada, from 1914 to 1920 (WWI and for two years after) “enemy aliens” were confined to internment camps.  About 8,000 Ukrainian people; men, women, and children, those of Ukrainian citizenship as well as naturalized Canadians of Ukrainian descent were kept in twenty-four internment camps and related work sites. An additional 80,000 people, were not imprisoned but were registered as “enemy aliens” and obliged to regularly report to the police and were required to carry identifying documents at all times or incur punitive consequences. She told me that some people never got over this treatment.

They became bitter. Then she paused and she very quietly added that she did not get along with her mother. I did not question this statement. I nodded my head. She went on.

She grew up in a log cabin on the farm. Her mother grew a very large garden and canned everything, including meat. There was no electricity. Winters could be bitterly cold and long. She attended school but during the school year, she boarded with a family that lived closer to the school. They treated her kindly.

There were no luxuries. She was fed a balanced diet.

Now she likes to have a cup of coffee and piece of toast in the morning, a real meal at noon and for dinner, she really likes to just eat potato chips and ice cream.

Since she has survived two bouts of cancer, numerous natural disasters, and heart surgery, at 93 she only wants to eat what she wants now.

I just walked to the store and bought her some potato chips and ice cream.

How Many Todays or Tomorrows ?

I just visited with my 93 year old neighbor, Mary. She was wiping off her hands when she answered the door. I asked if I was interrupting. “No” she replied, as she was cleaning paint off her trembling hands.

She showed me what she was working on. It was a scene from a cherished place in Alaska. She said she had always wanted to return to Alaska, but she felt that her traveling days were now officially over. (She had heart surgery last month.) Painting made her almost feel like she was back in those places again.

Alaska was one of her favorites. She and her husband lived there for 14 years. Her husband was a second-generation Alaskan. She said that her husband’s father had gone north to Alaska during the Gold Rush. Her husband was born when his father was 65.

She told me that summers are very nice but that the rest of the year was sometimes tough. She had a photograph of the thermometer at the bank showing -74 degrees. She said that it was often -40 but the kids still went outside and life went on.

They were there during the Earthquake. She said it was right around her birthday and her anniversary.

 I looked it up. The Good Friday Earthquake happened at 5:36 pm on March 27, 1964.

She was cooking dinner. When the rumbling first started her husband hollered up to their two young kids, “What are you two doing up there to make such a ruckus.” In seconds, they knew it was more than kids roughhousing.

The magnitude 9.2 megathrust earthquake was the most powerful earthquake recorded in North America.

She said there were large ships thrown miles inland. There were two types of tsunamis produced by this subduction zone earthquake. The tectonic tsunami and smaller, local tsunamis. The largest tsunami wave was in Shoup Bay with a height of 220 feet. That could toss a ship for sure!

Some areas were permanently raised up 30 feet and some places dropped 8 feet.

Her favorite town of Valdez in the Prince William Sound, was basically destroyed. Valdez moved to another location after its waterfront was wiped out from the massive underwater landslide.

She was painting what she fondly remembered from the pre-earthquake waterfront.

She advised me to go to Alaska as soon as I could.

You just never know how many todays or tomorrows you have.

Sabbatical

I meet a nun.  On a Sunday. She is at the Amtrak Station. Headed North to get off at an earlier stop than mine. I think she said Kelso / Longview.  (I am getting off at King Street Station in Seattle.) My introduction to nuns came when I went to First Grade at Our Lady of Fatima. The nun that I had for my teacher was so cruel that a girl in my class threw up every single day when she crossed the threshold into the classroom. The nun (Sister Wicked) hit the girl every single day on her hand with a ruler. Bad memories.

Hurricane Carla took me out of that school on September 11, 1961. I probably only had to endure Sister Wicked for a few weeks but it sure seemed to my miserable six-year-old self like a whole lifetime. I was absolutely certain she would hit me at some point during my First-Grade year. I forgot to wear my head covering every single day and she had to pin a tissue on my head when we went to mass. I was already one of the misfits.

Four years later, I saw Sound of Music when it came out and my wicked nun memory was modified by the lovely Julie Andrews and the other nuns in the movie. And then when The Flying Nun came out with fun loving Sally Fields, nuns were fully absolved of their sins.

This nun, at the age of 75 was going on a Road Scholar kayak trip on the Columbia River. (I am crossing the Columbia River as I type this.)  I have just left Oregon and entered Washington.

The conversation with this nun started at the Portland Amtrak Station. It is called Union Station; probably because the Union Pacific was the main railroad in the West. (I sat on the plane next to a man who works for the Railroad. That’s another story.)

I ride this train regularly. It’s been almost 10 years that I have done this route. I know where to sit at the station; where there are padded chairs and there is a plug to recharge a device. The main seating at both Union Station and King Street Station are simple wooden benches.

A woman walks over, plops her backpack down and says, “I am going to leave this here while I go to the restroom.” She is dressed very casually. There is not one shred of nun clothing evidence on her.  She has on a hat that looks like she is about to go on a water- based adventure, a t-shirt with a map of an island chain on it. She has on pants that look like athletic, water-resistant pants. She has on sneakers with colorful socks. I always notice the socks. (She did not look like a terrorist leaving unattended bags. She did not look like a nun.)

 I just nodded. She returned and then went off again and retrieved more bags. At this point, I asked, “Where are you headed?”

She told me about her trip. She told me she was a nun on Sabbatical. I don’t remember Julie Andrews or Sally Fields going on Sabbatical. (Maybe the assignment to the Von Trap Family was like a Sabbatical. No, that was more like penance.) After she told me she became a nun at 18, I heard a short version of her life story. For one nano second, I wondered if this was Sister Wicked but no, she was an Ohio nun.

I think I just like typing that word Sabbatical. I want to take one myself.

So, who wants to go kayak on the Columbia River and stay at the Skamokawa Resort? Let me know.

We all need a Sabbatical.

Missing

44 years ago, a 26 year old man that I had once loved enough to be engaged to, was tragically killed in what the newspaper reports of the day called a Holocaust. On 12/29/77, 6 more bodies were discovered. They had previously been listed as “Missing.”

I posted a FB post yesterday that mentioned the list of the dead. I only said “…not forgotten by me. Love Always…”

So as I write this, I am playing the album we always listened to together; Desperado by the Eagles.

I broke up with him before we got married, but after we had our wedding invitations, and I had purchased my super simple muslin wedding dress. I was young, way too young.

I was scared of something that I couldn’t put a name to. I had dreams of a very sad ending with this lovely young man. I called it off.

The break-up crushed him. But the grain elevator explosion literally crushed him. I cannot imagine the way it felt to literally have your life ended that way. I try to lead a life that would make him proud.

Every year on the day of his death, I allow myself to spend time dedicated to remembering what a lovely human being he was. He was truly lovely.

To the 15 FB friends who tried to FB comfort me, I say thank you. Many of you have no idea of the missing parts of my story. We all have stories. We all have missing parts. Part of me will always be missing.