Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Miracle Year: Copacetic

(To the left: a blurry me, Sandy & her half-sister Jeanie) My cousin Jeanie (one of my Aunt Rhoda’s 5 daughters) and her husband Kim live in a bucolic suburb of Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park. Jeanie had graciously invited us to stay with her and her husband when we came to the reunion; she said she had plenty of room…and, well, we needed a place to stay and she was family.

A week or so after I first talked with Sandy, Jeanie and I had spoken for at a couple of hours. But for the most part, we were strangers. More so than she had thought when she called…

It was in the mid 80’s that I found out the aunt of whom I had no memories lived 15 miles from me. I saw her several times but the visits weren’t successful. I was too immature, I was looking for a mom – and my aunt was looking for, what, I don’t know. Something I didn’t have or couldn’t give.

(To the right: Buster, Riff Raff & Bodhi at Jeanie's front door) So when Jeanie said she had met me at her mom’s once in San Jose when she was visiting, I said, “Really? Wow! How could I not have any memory of that? Are you sure?”

Jeanie countered with, “Do you have black hair?” I said, “No, not ever. Blonde, now turning….”

She said, “Have you ever lived in Iceland?” Now, that one threw me. I’ve dreamt of being in Reykjavík; I’ve got a burning desire to go to Iceland – maybe some Norse past life – but I haven’t made it yet.

And so now, Jeanie doesn’t have any idea who it was she met at her mom’s and who she’s been thinking was me all these years. And may never know… Uff da!

(To the left: Kim, Jeanie's husband) It came as a wonderful surprise to find out how well we all got along. Think about it: three total strangers -- with 3 dogs, no less -- move into your house for three days (and they also have a dog, Riely). But, her husband, Kim a laid-back California guy (and a dead ringer for Chevy Chase), is a talented guitar player (oops! think Pink brother tells me “Smoke on the Water” is an insult...), as are my husband and my brother; they’ve all worked construction, they're all GUYS. Jeanie and I are totally in sync when it comes to lifestyle, politics, interests, the way in which we see the world. We’re even both vegetarians. And we all love the tropics.

So the next installment of this story is sharing house in Belize or maybe the Bay of Islands in Honduras, somewhere with warm water and cold Margaritas. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Miracle Year: Sonja Holy Eagle

(To the left: Sonja Holy Eagle and examples of her work) Leaving Sioux Falls after staying at cousin Sandy’s one last night (after having supper with Melba in Worthington, MN) kind of marked the end of the reunion – but not the end of the trip. Steve, I, and the dogs still had another 1,500 miles to go.

Our next stop (besides doggie breaks) was Rapid City, SD, a 340-mile drive, straight east. I especially wanted to check out Prairie’s Edge -- a showcase for Lakota/Oglala Sioux art -- as well as to speak with Sonja Holy Eagle at the Dakota Drum Co. about painting my drum.

Several years before I'd had the privilege of meeting another remarkable woman, Yolanda Martinez, a striking mixed-blood Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache with some Mexican thrown in. Among Yolanda’s many roles (one of which is singing -- she is a 2004 NAMMY winner for Best Female Artist), is teaching drum making for use in healing ceremonies, meditation, prayer, dancing and singing. Taking one of her classes, I created an 18-in. elk-hide Apache-style drum -- and made a dear friend in the process.

(To the right: Yolanda Martinez leading a drumming session) Since its creation, I’d wanted to have my drum painted. The advertisement I’d seen in a South Dakota art magazine featuring Sonja Holy Eagle made me think she was the one to do it.

I walked into Dakota Drum and introduced myself. Explaining how I came to have my drum, I mentioned Yolanda’s name. Sonja’s eyes lit up. She said, “Oh, Yolanda! I haven’t seen her in a long time! We used to meet at pow wows all the time. Is she still in Las Cruces [NM]?” The answer being "yes," I caught her up on as much as I knew of Yolanda’s recent history.

Later that night, I emailed Yolanda. “Sonja Holy Eagle sends her greetings.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Biggest Rush

(To the right: part of a herd of buffalo in Custer State Park, wading through a "picnic area, day use only" spot) Although our ‘mission’ on the trip was the reunion, we also enjoyed being tourists. I’ve already mentioned visiting Ft. Bridger, Ft. Laramie and several ‘Oregon Trail’ sites.

But our favorite spots all turned out to be in South Dakota – the Black Hills (including Custer State Park), surrealistic Mount Rushmore, lively Deadwood and the [truly bad] Badlands. But among these spots, ‘best in show’ was Rushmore, a visual phenomenon that must be seen in person to really be appreciated.

(To the left: the Badlands under an ominous South Dakota sky) As we approached the Black Hills and the hill town of Custer – gateway to Rushmore -- the summer skies looked ominous. A fierce wind howled through the main street of Custer as we looked for a place to stay for the evening, the temperature in the low 50’s -- a situation very unusual, we learned, for South Dakota in August when it’s normally about 90 with humidity in the same range.

(Above: Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt & Lincoln) Since it was only around 4pm, we decided there was plenty of light left for us to make the trek to Rushmore. On the 16-mile trip, a black sky loosed torrents of rain and wind gusts rocked our white Ford Explorer (known affectionately as ‘Whitey Ford’); we nearly turned around.

Then suddenly we were among the blessed. As we turned into the parking lot, the sky cleared to reveal a brilliant sun, the wind died and we had the awesome experience of being among those from all over the US and, indeed, the world, who make the pilgrimage to worship at what is both a shrine to democracy and a unparalleled work of art.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Miracle Year: Eastenders

(To the left: Uncle Ted, me, Grandpa Husom, Steve & my Eastender Gran) All my life I've identified with “the princess and the pea” -- I have a very low pain threshold, and darn it, I do feel the pea. And, many friends have teased me about having been a Queen in a previous life.

So I find it pretty funny that my Grandma Husom, Doris Grace Butler Husom, born in England, was an Eastender. Her birth certificate says, born in “the District of West Ham, in the Sub-District of South East Ham,” 1904. About this area, Wikipedia says,

“...Eastender territory extended further east due to the 'diaspora' of East Enders who moved to West Ham about 1886 and East Ham about 1894 to service the new docks and industries established there.”

That means I’m a peasant. Or at least ¼ peasant. And I have strong suspicions that many other parts of me may be peasant also. Certainly the Norwegian part. Probably even most of the German part (my Dad’s side) -- but more on that another time.

Anyway, back to Eastenders -- which also refers to a British TV show that ranks as one of the most watched in the United Kingdom. An Anglophile, I’ve always gravitated to the monarchy/upper class, Bronte/Austen type shows on PBS and BBC; I thought Eastenders was a bit vulgar and common.

However, Wikipedia says about the East End matriarchs, central to the programme:

“[They are] strong, brassy, long-suffering women who exhibit diva-like behavior and stoically battle through an array of tragedy and misfortune…. These characters are seen as being loud and interfering but most importantly, responsible for the well-being of the family and usually stressing the importance of family, reflecting on the past.”

So, I guess I’m proud to be part Eastender. And if I could speak for my girl cousins, they probably would be too.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Farm

(To the left: me & Shirley, my mother's namesake) There are many cousins I would like to spend more time getting to know; one of them is Shirley, named after my mother. A strong self-reliant survivor, she’s another one who lost a parent way too soon.

Shirley’s Dad, Dean, was the third oldest child after my mother (the oldest) and her sister Rhoda. A career Army man, he died of pneumonia when he was only 39 years old; Shirley was 15, a terrible time, I think, for a teenager to lose a parent. (I know because my own stepchildren lost their mother when they were 14 and 16.)

Divorcing her husband when she found out what he was abusing a child, Shirley bought a small Minnesota farm near Long Prairie and Swanville and raised her three children there, mostly on her own.

(To the right: Shirley, her husband Ken & several of her 11 grand kids) One day in the late 80’s, she saw a car with Washington plates come up her driveway. An older white-haired man get out of the car and begin looking around. the yard. Curious and a bit apprehensive, Shirley went out to confront him. When he saw her, he asked if he could look around the place as it was the farm he had been raised on. “The rock I played on is still there in the yard,” he said pointing.

Shirley introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Shirley Husom.” The visitor turned deathly pale and she quickly sat him down. Suddenly she said, “ I know who you are, you're Arnold Harnack. I’m Shirley, Dean’s daughter.” Hearing someone introduce themselves by the name of his long-dead wife was quite the shock for him.

Because it turns out that the farm Shirley had purchased was the same farm on which my father had been raised. Uff da!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Miracle Year: Bearhead Cemetary

(To the left: my much loved brother Steve) Bearhead Cemetery is in a small plot of pine trees, surrounded by rich dairy land, between the farm towns of Long Prairie and Swanville, MN.

From the first time that my brother and I talked about going back to Minnesota, a mental picture of visiting our mother’s grave played in my head. I’d been there before butSteve never. I envisioned us alone, sobbing out the years of loss together.

In reality, it was something else altogether, more about us paying our respects and honoring her memory.

(To the right: Sierra, Sandy, Jeanie, Olivia & Vicki) I’m thankful that Jeanie (a daughter from my Aunt Rhoda’s second marriage and a ‘new’ cousin) and her husband Kim, with whom we were staying near Minneapolis, decided to come with us to the cemetery – a half hour away -- after the reunion had concluded. With them came Jeanie’s daughter Vicki and granddaughters Sierra and Olivia.

Even though the graveyard is small, it took a while for us to find the Husom plots. Not only is my mother buried there, but my brother Arthur, my Grandma (Doris) and Grandpa (Clarence) Husom, Uncle Harlan (whose obit helped me find my family) and many others including great grandparents and great great grandparents. There are even relatives on my dad’s side buried on another side of the cemetary, my Aunt Violet (his sister) and her husband Tommy; their old farm was only a half mile away.

(Below: my mother's headstone, Shirley Elizabeth Harnack) The graves hadn’t been tended to in some time so Steve and my husband cleaned away the overgrown grass and weeds as best they could. In the end there were no tears, just acknowledgement. And maybe, just maybe, some amount of closure.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Miracle Year: A Circular World

(Above: Riff Raff, me, Bodhi, Hassan & Buster in Deadwood) On the way to the reunion I laughingly said the high point of the trip for me would be the reunion; for my brother Steve, Deadwood (a raucous and illegal -- it was on Indian land -- frontier town if ever there was one); and for my husband, getting on the plane in Minneapolis to fly home.

In the end, for both Steve and me, the reunion in Swanville, MN, (near Long Prairie) capped all. And my husband bemusedly enjoyed the reunion also; as an only child with 3-4 cousins he’s never met (and at this time has no interest in pursuing), this was his first exposure to relatives mingling, talking and laughing together. It helped that a couple of my girl cousin’s husbands, having married into the family in the past few years, didn’t know anyone either – and they and my husband are all about the same age.

(To the right: Melba, Ruth, Rachel & June) Besides Melba (daughter of my Grandpa Husom’s sister Anna), I met three other first cousins of my mom. Ruth, Rachel and June, daughters of my Grandpa Husom’s brother, Arthur. All three, who are very close, worked in academia and state government and never married; they are still healthy and now happily retired.

It was my fifth cousin David Husom, the photographer I met Googling the name “Husom,” who first told me about them (but wasn’t sure exactly how we were related) and said I should get in touch. Although invited, David couldn’t attend the reunion as he was to be vacationing in Canada that week, traveling through Long Prairie to get there. It’s a circular world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Miracle Year: German Internment

(To the left: Anna, Clarence [my grandfather] and Rena) Surrealistic trip fragments keep permeating my dreams. I look at maps, I wonder where the heck I am, worry about finding food and lodging, are the dogs OK, where’s Steve…

In my waking moments, I’m savoring new family bits and pieces I picked up.

I knew my ‘Great Aunt Rena,’ had given my parents my baby book when I was born and I’d heard a couple of wild tales about her from my dad – that she was an Episcopalian minister and spent some years in a German concentration camp.

What I learned at the reunion was that she was in Europe as a Lutheran ‘Augustana Synod’ missionary when the war broke out. We don’t know her circumstances during the first part of the war but for the last years, she was interned in Liebenau, a woman’s camp for “enemy nationals.” About Liebenau, Wikipedia says:

“A camp in Liebenau, close to Meckenbeuren in Württemberg, on Lake Constance was opened in 1940 and operated until 1945. It was situated in a castle and four adjacent buildings. Originally it had been a mental hospital run by nuns. By orders of Hitler, about 700 of the patients were exterminated with injections, to provide room for internees.

The first internees were about 300 British citizens from Poland. More British were brought in 1941 from Belgium, Greece, Netherlands and other countries. The food rations were augmented with Red Cross packages. The guards were old German soldiers veterans of World War I and treated the internees well, as several of them had been prisoners of war in British camps and had been treated well.”

Conditions were, of course, infinitely better than in the concentration camps whose main purpose was to work to death/exterminate inmates; but still, I’m sure it was no picnic. Food was scarce (but infinitely better, thanks to the Red Cross), the waiting and not knowing interminable.

(To the right: Larvik, Norway) Rena Husom, who never married, passed away peacefully in Larvik, Norway, in 1969. The municipality of Larvik (containing the town of Larvik) stretches from the Brunlanes coast in the south to the border with Lardal in the north, original home of the Husoms.

It makes me feel good that my mother was loved by such a person.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Miracle Year: Marvelous Melba

(To the left: Melba & her son Paul) It’s a late Monday afternoon, the day after the reunion and Steve and I are in Worthington, MN, on our way to Melba’s for supper, looking for her farm in the midst of a myriad of country roads with 4-way intersections.

Finally at the end of a dirt dead-end road, we find a complex of buildings – homes, barns and sheds amidst acres and acres of land. Stopping the car, Steve gets out and tentatively knocks on the door of a house and Melba comes to the door. We’ve found her.

(To the right: Melba & me) Weeks before the reunion, I’d gone through my mother’s photo albums. Familiar as I was with the contents, there were people I’d never been able to identify in several photos - a man, woman and child. Visiting cousin Sandy in Sioux Falls, she, our cousin Shirley and I went through more pics and found the same trio. This time on the back we found written “Melba.” Who’s Melba?” we asked each other.

Midway through the Sunday reunion, I find a lovely smiling petite white-haired women standing in front of me. She has a nametag that says “Melba.” “Melba!" I yell, "Who are you?”

I learn Melba is my mother’s first cousin, her mother was my Grandpa Husom’s sister, Anna. It never occurred to me that my mother had cousins – that’s how little I knew about her family. Melba’s not only my mother’s first cousin, they graduated from high school together.

(To the right: my mother & Melba, high school graduation) She shares a story: during their senior year, she, my mother and another girl rented a room from someone in Long Prairie, from January through March, so they could more easily get to school during the snowiest months. Sharing one double bed, each week they rotated who would get the coveted middle space. That’s the most personal story I’ve ever heard about my mother. Uff da!

What a wonderful gift I've received in meeting Melba!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Miracle Year: Reunion Trip Stats

I'm beginning to recover from adrenalin and sleep deficit, enough at least right now to post some trip stats...

Departure date/time: 9am, August 17, 2009

Arrival home date/time: 4:30pm, August 29, 2009

Miles driven: 4,815

States visited: (6) CA, NV, UT, WY, SD & MN

# of dogs on trip: (3) RiffRaff, Buster & Bodhi

# of times they got a potty/walk break: (?) can't count that high

Cheapest lodging: Winnemucca, NV

Most expensive gas: Winnemucca, NV

# of lbs. lost on trip (Elle): 6

# of days we had 3 meals: 0

Most awesome sight: Mount Rushmore, SD

Highest elevation reached: 8,559 ft (Cody to Yellowstone)

Most interesting person met (outside of reunion): Sonja Holy Eagle, Rapid City, SD

First rude driver/honker: Truckee, CA on the way home

Highest temperature: 107 around Vacaville, CA on way home

Lowest temperature: 44 going into Yellowstone National Park

National parks/historic sites visited: Ft. Laramie, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Devil's Tower, Jewel Cave, Badlands, Mount Rushmore

Favorite historical site (Elle): Oregon Trail remains in Wyoming

Favorite historical site (Steve): Deadwood, SD

Favorite animal observed: one particular buffalo in Yellowstone who definitely walked to the sound of his own drummer, traffic jams be damned

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Miracle Year: Wide Open Spaces

(To the left: wide-open Wyoming skies) After the busy-ness of California and its crowded highways, we're traveling the vast open distances of Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

As we make our way over each stretch of elevation, the view before us is wide open, all the way to the horizon. Climbing, then openness, climbing, then openness; sometimes it feels like we do the same section of highway over and over and over again. What does change are the patterns and density of the clouds. It all makes us think of Gus & Call, in Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," running their herds over prairie and through rivers, under a thousand miles of the same skies, from Texas to Montana. The Dixie Chicks' album, "Wide Open Spaces" is playing.

(To the right: the pack [not seen: the photo-grapher, Steve]) The dogs are patient, ready to be out when we gas up, happily sniffing, everything new. They only need two things: food and for the pack -- the six of us, three dogs and three humans -- to be together. We try to model their behavior: really, what else is important?

Cheyenne skies are black as we coast in, looking for an overnight den. It looks like a good summer thunderstorm could be unleashed any minute. Which we think would be pretty cool.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Family Grows

(To the left: son-in-law,Tom; daughter, Selima; husband, Hassan; son, Jason; me and Jason's then girlfriend, Danae, at Lake Tahoe, Hyatt Regency's floating bar) A couple of days after I’m back from visiting Sandy, my step-daughter Selima calls me and asks me how my trip went. I’m momentarily puzzled: how would she know about the visit? We hadn’t talked about it. Surprise -- I learn she’s been following me on Twitter as well as reading the blog.

As we talk, a kernel of an idea pops into my head. Selima reminds me so much of Sandy. They both have the same wonderful qualities. They should meet.

(To the right: from left, Buster, Riff Raff & Bodhi) Selima, comes from a very small family. Her mom (now deceased) and dad were both only children, as is her husband. She has one brother, Jason, my stepson. The most 'people person' I know, she could use more family! I think I may have the perfectone for her: the one I’m going to be getting to know at the upcoming family reunion.

I think that maybe Spring Break, 2010, would be a great time for a shared visit…

And now we’re off on our 4,000 mile adventure: My husband, Hassan; my brother, Steve; me and our three dogs – Riff Raff, Buster and Bodhi.

To be continued...

My Miracle Year: A Window in Your Heart

(To the left: my dad & mom in a snowy Minnesota) Uff da, again! When it rains, it pours! The day after I got back from Sioux Falls, I got a packet in the mail from my seldom heard from cousin Becky,* who lives in Michigan (and who will be more in touch after reading this :-).

Becky’s mom and dad were seriously into photography (they had their own dark room, very mysterious to me as a child). She had sent me photos of my mom and dad and a couple of my brother and me soon after my mother’s death that I had never seen before.

(To the right: Grandma Schlinsog holding Steve, Becky & me) It was to Becky’s home (her mother was my dad’s youngest sister) in Washington State, that we fled after my mother’s death. My dad’s mother, Grandma Schlinsog, came with to take care of me and the new baby, Steve. Not very happy times. My aunts told me that for months after my mother’s death I kept asking, “Where’s my mommy?” I wonder if anyone ever told me? I think not.

For those who lose parents at a young age, there’s a black hole that never completely heals, is never made entirely whole. Paul Simon, in his song “Graceland” summed it up perfectly:

"And she said losing love

Is like a window in your heart,

Everybody sees you're blown apart,

Everybody sees the wind blow."

Quite a few years ago, I bought a book called "Motherless Daughters: A Legacy of Loss" by Hope Edelman. It sat on a shelf for a long time. I picked it up from time to time, opening it randomly, then I'd put it back on the shelf. Finally, last year I donated it to a library, still unread. Perhaps someone else will get more use of it than did I. Still can't go there...

*Out of my maternal grandmother’s six children, five had girls within eight months of each other; Bonnie (June), me (October), DeVona (November), Becky (January) and Kathy (February). A great example of the American diaspora, we now live in, respectively, Hawaii, California, Minnesota, Michigan and Washington State.

To be continued...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Miracle Year: Roots

(To the left: Borgund stave church, near Laerdal, largely unchanged until the present day. As long ago as 1721 it was described as ”an old and extraordinarily special stave building.”) So here I am, full of fresh information, getting in touch with my Norwegian-ness. I’ve always joked with people that the Norwegian half is the ‘nice’ half, the other half being German. But, truth be told, I’m actually half German, quarter Norwegian and quarter English (whereas Sandy is three-quarters Norwegian and one quarter English).

I’m a relatively new American. My maternal grandmother, a Butler, was born in Bristol, England; and my paternal grandmother, a Dreckman, in Hanover (Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Germany; each entered the US through Ellis Island, New York.

Both my grandfathers’ fathers came from the Old World. I'd learned from David Husum that the Husoms came from the tiny village of Husum, Norway. My paternal great-grandfather, whose family name waaay back was 'von Harnack,' came from the Mecklenburg area of Germany, Prussian to the core. (All family records were destroyed in the massive Allied firebombing of Dresden during WWll.)

(To the right: the Borgund Vindhella road, near Laerdal, part of the old Konge-vegen (the King`s Road) at the crossroad between East and West, completed around 1748.) Some of this is new knowledge for me. For instance, I learned that my mother’s great-grandfather was still alive when she died in childbirth in 1952. Thomas Einer Husum, born in Borgland, Laerdal, Norway in 1863, died in Long Prairie, Minnesota in 1953, the year after my mother passed away (1952); he is buried in the same plot as she. I find this astounding. I’ve never heard of him before. Uff da!

To be continued...

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Miracle Year: Uff Da

After an all too brief visit to Sioux Falls, I’m back in San Jose, head in a whirl of emotion, elation and story. “Uff da!” (A new Norwegian term I learned from Sandy, it translates as: "I’m overwhelmed," especially for those with Scandinavian roots in the Dakotas and Minnesota.) (To the right: little Minnesota Scandinavians -- me & Steve)

I’m most anxious for my brother to be enveloped in the unconditional love and acceptance I’ve found within our ‘new’ family -- something we never experienced from our father’s side of the family. Shunted from aunt to aunt, then foster home to foster home, we learned early what a 'burden' we were, tolerated for whatever income attached itself to our care.

Rooted in a religion both judgmental and intolerant, my father's family practiced a stoic and dogmatic Northern Scandinavian brand of Calvinism where love and acceptance were luxuries, to be doled out sparingly if at all. In hindsight, I give them the benefit of the doubt; they were not bad people. But they were not very kind to motherless children either. And it didn’t help that my father frequently antagonized them as he had our mother's family.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Miracle Year: The Girls Together

(To the right: Shirley, me, Sandy - trying to figure out how the camera works!) Ever since my plane landed the day before, Sandy has been trying to contact another cousin of ours, Shirley (daughter of my Uncle Dean and named after my mother) who lives about an hour and a half away but who has been in Minnesota with our cousin Connie over the weekend, going through more old family photos for the upcoming reunion. Both products of our fractured family, Sandy and Shirley have only met recently themselves.

Finally Sandy connects with Shirley (who I only met briefly at my Grandfather’s funeral some 30 years ago when I also spent, maybe, 15 minutes at her house) -- and she says she can stop by Sandy’s on her way home. When she walks into the house it’s like we’ve known each other forever.

How does this happen, I ask myself in amazement. How can it feel so completely comfortable, familiar, ordinary and unexceptional to be with people I really do not know? Except I do. We do.

In minutes, we are into the pictures; in addition to the ones that Sandy and I have been pouring over -- some I brought, some she has – Shirley has more. We swing between laughter and tears. We all find ourselves correcting long-held erroneous information.

Like I had always thought my Uncles Harlen and Neil were twins; I learn they are not (!!). (Did my dad refer to them as ‘twins’ because they were ‘joined at the hip’? They did marry sisters. And they did keep somewhat apart from the rest of the family.) Other pictures thought to be Sandy are me, and vice versa. Some pictures have long been unidentifiable -- but now at least one of us can identify who’s who.

Some of Sandy’s friends come by as we’re seated around the table. More laughter. More tears. She and they have been there for each other. In some ways cursed, in some ways Sandy is very blessed.

To be continued...

My Miracle Year: How to Be a Mom

A sunny Sunday morning in Sioux Falls (a good song title?), my Saint Sandy gets a rare treat. Because I am in town, she and I get to visit her beautiful young daughter Kathleen, with whom she is estranged, and her beloved 3-year old grandson, Julian (Daddy is at work).

Kathleen is a lovely girl – and obviously a loving caring young mother. Julian, once he gets over his shyness, acts like the 3-year old he is. When his mother leaves the room for a moment, he lifts his leg, spreads his little butt cheeks…and farts, then gives a big laugh.

The visit is bittersweet, but afterwards it feels like at least one brick has been removed from the defensive wall. It’s a long story, a rupture in the family fabric that goes back years. In fact it’s true origin goes back to when Kathleen was five years old and her father left the family on Christmas Day, saying as he slammed the door, “I’m not the problem, all of you are.”

Anger, angst and abandonment; that’s the legacy of Sandy’s ex.

Although she doesn’t recognize it until I point it out, Sandy’s biggest legacy has been on display today. “Who do you think taught Kathleen how to be such a good mom?” I ask Sandy as we leave. "That may be the biggest gift a mother can bestow." Sandy finally smiles.

To be continued...

My Miracle Year: Saint Sandy

(To the right: from left, my dad, me, Grandma Husom [the only pic I've seen with her holding me], Great Grandma Butler, Sandy, Great Grandpa Butler, sometime after my mother died) Saint Sandy. That’s what I’m calling her. The most purely good person I’ve ever met. Sandy has turned a lifetime of one bad experience after another into a heartwarming chicken soup for the soul, one that’s nourishing, satisfying and wholesome in the best Mid-West tradition. Big surprise that she’s a fabulous cook and baker. Sandy’s mission is to nourish.

So, no blogging, just talking for 3 ½ days…talking until we are hoarse and dry as we share with one other, trying to cram in the most important experiences of our past 55 years. As I listen to Sandy’s stories, I don’t think she’s ever done or said the wrong thing. The lone adult in a 'Disneyland for Adults' country of immediate gratification and win/lose, Sandy always has her eye on the long-term goal, not the quick reaction or retort. She’s an adult in the most fulsome sense of the word.

Abandoned by a mother who for whatever reason, chose a new husband over an inconvenient child, then kidnapped at the age of six by a father she had never seen before, Sandy survives. She survives brutal beatings and attempted sexual assaults by a father who’s a respected deacon in the local Lutheran church, family upfront and center every Sunday; loves a new grandmother who she finds out years later encouraged her father to beat her mother when she was pregnant with Sandy – because no one was good enough for her son.

But the heart of Sandy’s stories is her experience of being a mom -- and too soon a single mom -- raising three good children on very little besides unconditional love, undivided attention, a vivid and playful imagination and the Norwegian pioneer spirit. Some stories are heartwarming, others bone chilling; she now has grandchildren she’s allowed to see only rarely. But through it all, she builds a life in which others are the center, never herself.

To be continued…

Friday, August 7, 2009

My Miracle Year: Savoring Every Moment

So here I am, in San Jose (up at 3:45am this morning!), about to board my 6am flight to Sioux Falls, SD. In approximately 5 hours, Sandy and I will meet once again.

When I asked one of my BFF’s “ how are Sandy and I going to recognize each other?” she just laughed and said, “Oh, everyone will know you’re the California girl.”

I already know what kind of reception I’ll be getting.

In my early 20’s, I spent 2 days in Minnesota, attending my grandfather’s funeral. I don’t remember a lot, mostly the unprotected wind-swept cold of a Minnesota November day as he was laid to rest in Bearhead Cemetary (where my mother is also buried) and the blur of many unfamiliar faces – Husom family and friends -- as I tried to come to grips with the fact that my grandfather, whom I hadn’t seen since I was 11, had been killed in a tractor accident two days before my scheduled visit.

Nonetheless, what I do remember is that I was treated as though I had just descended from heaven for a visit. I was overwhelmed…and at the time not appreciative enough. My father had raised very unsentimental children.

This time I will savor every single moment.

To be continued…

My Miracle Year: A Connection

Unlike the hesitancy I’ve experienced, Sandy’s email in early June is exuberant and loving. She says, “It is such an exciting joy to find my family!!!!” She ends with “I would love to talk to you. Love your long lost cousin, Sandy.” I reply the next day, “Wanted you to know I got your email and am thrilled…. We will talk soon.”

(To the left: from the left, my father, Sandy's father, her mother and my mother) Still I stall – partly because I always stall when it comes to picking up the phone for any reason. It’s like I have a ‘beware of phone’ gene wired into my DNA. And my husband and I are getting ready for a well-deserved weekend in Santa Barbara. And then I am preparing to drive to Portland to spend some quality time with my BFF and her daughter, my goddaughter. And then my husband is flying up to Portland and we’re driving to Seattle to see my stepson and his new girlfriend. Busy, busy, busy, eh?

Finally, mid-July, I get off my butt. Another miracle, due to the Internet, is that Sandy foumd out in 2007 that she has 6 half-brothers and –sisters from her mother’s second marriage. This is the week that Sandy and her newly found half-sister, Jeanie, are flying to Montana to visit some of Jeanie’s brother’s and sisters (Sandy’s half-siblings), none of which she has met.

(To the right: baby Sandy and her mother) I begin digging into the family pictures – the ones taken when we were kids, most of which I got when my father passed away in 2000. It’s been probably that long since I looked at any of them. I am amazed. I didn’t even know it but I have a bunch of pictures of Sandy as a baby with her mother. I have many many more of her mom and my mom together. I doubt whether she has or has seen any of them.

So while she is in Montana, I scan and email some pics, like of her parents wedding. I get an email back the day she is back from Montana. Do I know who the wedding attendants are? Yes, I reply. They are my mother and my father. I realize that she has never seen a picture of my mother.

The following day Sandy calls. We talk for 3 hours. A couple of days later, Jeanie calls and we’re on the phone for at least 2 hours. Then Sandy and I talk for another 3 hours. Never a fan of delayed gratification, I decide I can’t possibly wait. I’m flying to Sioux Falls the weekend before the reunion. She and I can’t catch up on 55 years while my husband, brother and 3 dogs are present as they will be on the roadtrip to Minnesota. I purchase my plane ticket.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My Miracle Year: A Long Time Ago

"People come and then they go, and

That's just the way it goes.

Listen to what we know - like water

We shall flow back to the ocean in

The body of the Lord.

Welcome home. Time to reap what

You sow. Time is overwhelming.

I just hope there's time for everything."

Kan'Nal: Dreamwalker, Time

(To the left: back row from the left, me & Sandy, front row, baby? & my brother Steve) The last time I’d seen Sandy was at my brother Steve’s 3rd or 4th birthday when we were living with my paternal grandparents in Minnesota. At the time, Sandy lived with Grandma & Grandpa Husom and they brought her to the birthday celebration. That’s the night Grandma Husom sprained her ankle badly sliding on an icy step. We didn’t know it then but she had very little time left. That might have been the last time I saw her.

A couple of years later, Steve and I moved back to the West Coast after our father’s third marriage. He preferred that we have no ties to my mother’s family. We didn’t know why. And then Sandy’s father kidnapped her; she was never to see her mother again or have any contact with her family. Our grandparents mortgaged their farm trying to get her back. They were unsuccessful.

And now I was looking at Sandy’s email. Through all the moves Steve and I made growing up on the West Coast (I attended 14 schools in 11 years), the one constant was my mother’s picture albums of her family and the few additional pictures of family that had been taken after she died but before we left Minnesota.

One of those pictures was Steve’s birthday. I’d always point and say, “That’s my cousin Sandy. Her mother was my mother’s sister. She is the oldest of the cousins and I’m the second.” And that was pretty much that.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Miracle Year: Sandy & Me

"We're on the verge of something,
Something greater than we know.
Something that will rise above the ashes
Of the old, old where all things change.
Where no one, none of you are ever
Going to be the same."

Kan'Nal: Dreamwalker, All Things Change

(To the left: my Aunt Rhoda on the left, my mother on the right) Two sisters, best friends and confidants, each had a girl, the first of the Husom cousins, Sandy, daughter of my mother’s sister Rhoda, was born first, then me 10 months later. Technically, I guess, we’re really #2 and #3 as my mother gave birth to a baby boy in 1947, two years before I was born. My brother Arthur William, a “blue baby,” only lived 3 days; the technology that allowed blue babies to survive wouldn’t be invented until 1952. My mother’s heart must have been broken.

(To the right: me, Great Grandpa Butler & Sandy) I think it must have been several years before any of the brothers -- several still in high school and one in grade school -- had children. So it was just Sandy and me. Me ‘n Sandy. Doted on by our Husom grandparents, we were also the darlings of our great Grandma and Grandpa Butler who hailed from Bristol, England, birth place of Grandma Husom.

Things kind of went south for both Sandy and me around the same time.

My Aunt Rhoda left Sandy’s abusive father and Sandy ended up living with our Husom grandparents for a while. And my mother died, my father left with a 2 ½ year old and a new baby. Shortly after, my father moved us to Washington where he had sisters, then to Oregon where he also had a sister.

(To the left: back row, from left - my father, Grandpa Husom. front row, from left, my brother Steve, me & Sandy) Dad remarried, a hurried affair to “provide a mother to his children.” Of course, it wouldn’t last. My brother Steve and I ended up back in Minnesota, living with my paternal grandparents.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Miracle Year: A Reunion?

"Welcome to the doorway. What is on the other

side? It's not for you or me to say, because the

blind keep leading the blind until the end.

Now here's where all things change. Where no

one, no one's ever going to stay the same again."

Kan'Nal, Dreamwalker: All Things Change

For several years I’d been telling my brother Steve that we should take a trip to Minnesota. I had been back several times as an adult: when my grandfather died in a plowing accident in the 70’s, a couple of business trips in the 80’s, the wedding of a cousin on my dad’s side in the 90’s. So I’ve had several opportunities to visit my mother’s grave, something my brother Steve – born shortly before our mother died -- had never experienced. I had always thought it might give him some small amount of closure.

Although we talked about it early in the summer for several years in a row, somehow I knew it would be this year. My art shows – where I’d either been accepted or waitlisted -- were spaced in such a manner that it was feasible. We had the will, the time and the means.

(To the left: my mom's family - sister Rhoda and 6 brothers including twins Neil & Harlen the same height. Is my mother the one taking the picture?) So when my cousin Steve emails me and leaves his phone number, I still think a while about calling. I have absolutely no idea what I’m playing with here, no point of reference. Cousin Steve’s a complete stranger, my mother dead several years before he was born. I’ve lived a long time without any communication from ‘the other side’ and it wasn’t necessarily bad. I think, maybe, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, eh?

A couple of weeks later, after a nice glass of California Pinot Noir, I decide to call. No answer. I leave a message. A few evenings later, Steve calls me back. It’s not a chatty ‘girl conversation’ (how quickly we gals can get into those) but not awkward either. Steve tells me about his dad’s last days and that one of the original siblings is still alive -- Neil, his dad’s twin. I share with him that my brother and I have been talking about heading to Minnesota, maybe in July. Winding down, he says he’ll put me in contact with some of the other cousins.

(To the right: My Uncle Don (Connie's dad), my brother Steve and me) A day or two later, I get a short but welcoming email from my cousin Connie. Her dad, my mother's brother Don, had been my favorite uncle when I was little. Tall and handsome, always ready to pick us up and throw us in the air, he made me gasp and giggle.

And then, OMG. I discover Connie's masterminding the first ever Husom family reunion, scheduled for August 23, 2009. Will I be there? I say I think I’d walk if I had to.

The following day or two I get an email from my cousin Sandy. Another OMG.

To be continued...

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Miracle Year: Google Me This...

"I'm on the verge of something, something bigger than I know

Something born of nothing, infinite and whole.

At the place where, where all things change.

Where no one, no one's ever going to stay the same."

Kan'Nal, Dreamwalker: All Things Change

(To the left: my dad holding me and my mother) Sometime this spring, Googling my way around the web – a favorite way to spend waaay too much time -- a totally random thought came to me. I decided to Google my mother’s maiden name, Husom, which is Norwegian and also the actual Norwegian village her father’s family came from (but spelled Husum).

I remember thinking I probably wouldn’t find anything -- but what the hay… Other than a treasure trove of pictures, I don’t really know much about my mother, who died in childbirth when I was 2 ½, or her family. My father, who didn’t get along with many people, didn’t like her family either so I had little contact with them growing up. And then there was the fact that they were mostly in Minnesota, around Long Prairie – a small town right smack in the middle of the state -- and after the age of eight I was raised on the West Coast where most of my father’s family lived.

(To the right: David Husom's picture of Husum, Norway) Googling the name 5 or 6 years ago, I came up with zip, nada. But this time was different. I found a bunch of links. The first one I followed turned out to be the renowned photographer, David Husom. We discovered we are 5th cousins: our great grandfather’s were brothers who came to the US from Norway around 1875.

I continued searching; many links were dead ends. But eventually I found a one with the name Harlen Husom; it was an obituary site that allowed one to leave a message of condolence. I knew that among my mothers 7 siblings, two were twins, Neil and Harlen. So I composed a note of condolence as well as a tentative message identifying myself and my mother. I left the rest to the Universe.

A month later, I received an email from Harlen’s son Steve who identified himself as my first cousin.

To be continued…

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Giant Bamboo Explosion

One day far into the future, archeologists and botanists will pinpoint the epicenter of the giant bamboo explosion that threatened to overrun Northern California as originating from the side of my house.

At my house, we love bamboo. We have about 5 different kinds, all of which are clumping, save one. If you didn’t know there’s a difference, according to Bamboo Garden,

“Clumping bamboos can be planted without fear of them spreading beyond their assigned territory. Their rhizomes, the underground stems, are quite different than than those of our timber and other non-clumping bamboos. Instead of a horizontal spreading rhizome, they are u-shaped making new culms next to the original plant, spreading only a few inches per year, hence the name clumping bamboo.”

Then there’s the other kind. Running bamboo. The kind that’s in a permanent marathon, 365 days a year.

When we bought our ‘runner’ -- to create a privacy wall on one side of our house -- we were told that its aggressive rhizome systems must be contained within a physical barrier, such as a brick or concrete planter or a specialized plastic rhizome barrier.

We went for the specialized barrier. With our black clay soil (hard as brick when dry) this was not a trivial job but we did it. It didn’t work. Our runner did an end run on us. Now we’re making bets on how long it will be before it snakes under street and sidewalk, appearing in our neighbor’s yard across the street.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Partners in Adventure

One of the things my husband and I pledged to each other when we married was to be “partners in adventure.” I think at the time we actually thought that this vow was about adventure – we both loved to travel and had each spent a fair portion of our lives having great adventures around the world. So we planned to be partners in, well, more adventure.

How little we knew that this vow would be one of the more practiced ones in our daily lives.

I’m a great fan of the concept and practice of positive ‘reframing’ and how it can empower one’s life. The central principle behind reframing is that there is no good or bad in life -- there is only our perception of it. So, reframing refers to our ability to take a negative situation, and make it positive in another context.

"The art of reframing is to maintain the conflict in all its richness but to help people look at it in a more open-minded and hopeful way." -- Bernard Mayer, in The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution, p.139

Every marriage, no matter how healthy, has its share of tense moments, impatience and frustration – that’s just modern life. But what my husband and I have found is that we can be in the hairiest of predicaments -- like nearly running out of gas in the middle of the Mohave Desert or having a flat tire on a narrow shouldered highway at the beginning of a 900 mile journey, or unplugging a backed up toilet – and then look at each other and say “Partners in adventure!” And suddenly, we are having an adventure, of our own making.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without One...

The island paradise of Bali – Island of the Gods -- is all it’s cracked up to be and so much more. The country is literally a big piece of art, made up of thousands of little pieces of art. A flower tucked here or there, a tranquil pond of lotuses, elaborated caved and painted double doors into private compounds, a patterned pavement of beautifully composed stones... Even the people move in a way so graceful it makes Westerners look like Clydesdales.

One of the more charming traditions my husband and I discovered as we stepped into our first Balinese car -- this includes airport taxis or the hotel shuttles -- is the custom of placing a fresh ‘offering’ on the dashboard of the vehicle as a prelude to any trip, thereby ensuring the Gods will provide a safe journey.

Bali’s transportation motto could be, “don’t leave home without one.”

The easiest way to get around Bali is to hire a driver – so inexpensive it’s cheaper than hiring a car and more convenient then trying to figure out the dizzying array of narrow unmarked roads. So before any trip, each driver would catch the attention of one of the many women walking the sidewalks and roads with a tray of offerings – small woven bamboo trays with some flowers, greenery, a few grains of rice and a stick or two of incense – and call her over. Chanting softly, she would gracefully sprinkle holy water on the offering after which the driver would carefully place it on the dashboard. Only then could we go.

We got so used to this custom in the month we spent there, that to this day neither of us gets into a vehicle without saying “offering on the dashboard.” Neither of us has been in an accident...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Unexamined Life

Never one to do something the ‘normal’ way – and because, like most kids, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do for a living -- I attended a number of colleges as I moved from one work opportunity to another. But it wasn’t until I was nearly 40 that I had the most rewarding college experience of my life and finally graduated.

What was different? One, I was older and working in high-tech marketing so nearly everything I studied was applicable. Two, my classmates were in the same situation – they were there to learn, not to just get another requirement out of the way. Third and most importantly, we attended the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school that required a tremendous amount of introspection in its coursework, it’s motto being “the unexamined life is not worth living.”*

When you set aside time to examine your life, you

  • choose your destination
  • set your goals
  • determine your path
  • decide how long it will take
  • determine whether you’re on the right path or the wrong path.

In other words, you begin to know your self and to take control of your life. You decide who you want to be and begin to become the person you want to be.

*Socrates said that at his trial for heresy. He was on trial for encouraging his students to challenge the accepted beliefs of the time and think for themselves.

'Behind the Scenes': The C2 Collection

(To the left: Impulse - a faceted, semi-transparent whisky quartz drop (59 cts) on 18K chain) In early 2008, focusing on the more casual laid-back California lifestyle, I introduced the C2 Collection – “C squared” standing for ‘California casual’ or ‘cool’ or ‘chic’ or ‘contemporary’ – take your pick. Although one of the hallmarks of my jewelry is that it can be ‘dressed up’ or ‘dressed down,” C2 is a more slimmed down version of my ‘conversation-starting’ jewelry, emphasizing a single stunning gem pendant or a sprinkling of smaller beads. My favorite look with C2?

“That’s easy. I love wearing a great pair of jeans, a favorite pair of stilettos and a tailored open-throated white shirt. I add a C2 piece, grab a hot handbag and I'm ready to go, California-style.”