Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Partridge in a Pear Tree

The last few hours of the long Thanksgiving weekend were upon us. After an afternoon cleaning frenzy in which we scrubbed the oven (oh my), the bird cage and everything else in sight, the two of us sat down to a fantastic turkey soup. Sometimes our Sunday dinners are a big event with friends or children joining us. Sometimes they’re more like "supper" and this was one of those times. We had the iPad propped up on the table while listening to Pandora radio. We like reading the fascinating writeups on the bands. It reminds me of when I was a child and we all sat there reading the backs of our cereal boxes at breakfast.  An Eagles song came on which made me think of the move to Los Angeles from New York and my first Thanksgiving away from home.

I arrived in Hollywood at the tender age of seventeen. It was early November 1975. My boyfriend, the drummer, had preceded me to LA and become acquainted with Susie Cowsill of the Cowsills band. The same band that had been the inspiration for the television show The Partridge Family. Having the last name Partridge opened me up for considerable teasing in the 70's. Ah well. More character building. Susie lived with her much older, manager boyfriend and they invited Ben's band and all the girlfriends to Thanksgiving at their house in San Fernando Valley. The smell of marijuana was slightly more pervasive than the aroma of turkey, but it was a very nice time amongst many, very high strangers. 

By the following year we'd met some more local musicians and had Thanksgiving in a classic Hollywood bungalow with Bill and Kristine King. Bill played keyboards for the Pointer Sisters and Kris was their wardrobe mistress. They had an adorable son named Jesse. For me, this Thanksgiving was stranger than the stoned one the year before. I couldn't believe what happened. They left the television on during dinner! The guys watched football the whole time and barely paid any attention to the food Kris had spent hours cooking. I'm all for football on Thanksgiving, but during dinner? Blasphemy. 

Eric likes to talk about our strangest Thanksgiving memories. I don't remember this, but I've been  been told that when I was very young I only wanted to eat the olives and nothing else. Now I never eat olives. You would think that the LA dinners would have been be my strangest, but they weren't. Five years ago Eric and I ended up with no children and no plans. My girls had Thanksgiving with their Dad on Catalina Island and Caitlin was in school in Scotland. We decided to have an adventure and made plans to go to Mendocino. We'd have Thanksgiving dinner at the Mendocino Hotel. Never in my life had I had Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant and it will not happen again. So disappointing. 

I thought we'd be in the main dining room which is classy and romantic. They put us in the Garden Room. Fine for brunch, but this was not brunch. It had jangly acoustics and bright lighting. We were seated right by the entrance to the kitchen so it was far from relaxing. Even worse, (if anything CAN be worse than noisy, busy, overly lit non-ambience) was the dinner. They brought a plate of traditional Thanksgiving food and it was smothered with gravy. I don't eat gravy. Ever. I was near tears and Eric was trying to make the best of it for me, but there was nothing doing.

All I kept thinking about was how much nicer it would be at home. With my grandmother's napkins and our beautiful dishes, lovely goblets and candlelight. We had been afraid that it would be too sad with no children - just the two of us. In retrospect, I think we could have coped. It was being in the restaurant that made me sad. Though the rest of the trip was a pleasant getaway, that dinner, far and away, was my strangest Thanksgiving!

This year was blessed and uneventful. We shared meals with all four children at one point or another and were joined by several of the boyfriends. We had Thanksgiving Boxing Day on the 25th which was brilliant. We reset the table, shared leftovers and played games with our good friends from Napa. It's so much easier the next day when everything is already made. 

We've had some unfortunate holiday luck in the past. My step-father's mother came from Michigan for Thanksgiving, ended up in the hospital and never got out. My father visited from New York some years back and came down with pneumonia. I put the turkey in the oven and headed to the hospital to see him. It was a strange experience because my mother (they'd been divorced for forty years) showed up as well as several siblings and nieces and nephews. An odd family reunion in the emergency room. My ex-husband's father died on Christmas morning. Hence, we've got a pretty low bar for the holidays at our house. If everyone survives and the food's decent, it's a huge success.

We conquered Thanksgiving 2011 with no untoward events. It's on to Christmas. I don't know if this is true, but it seems like the worse the economy gets, the earlier and more brightly people seem to decorate for Christmas. It used to bother me when the decorations went up right after Thanksgiving. Now it makes me happy. Out with those pumpkins, in with the silver and gold, red and green. Go big, people. Go big. And if you really want to be over the top, you can order all the items mentioned in the Twelve Days of Christmas for about a hundred grand. However, if you choose to order them online, the price has risen considerably. A Partridge is fairly inexpensive to purchase, but the cost to ship it? Astronomical!

Love my review in the aladdinjaz newsletter:         

"Wendy Crowe, a most fun, clear and kicky writer in San Francisco, CA.

oh what fun to read her consciousness/mind/thought dreams. luv luv the way she writes. the one that started my fascination with her writing:

a lotta unpredictable streams and quirky kicky visions in the many little pieces thereafter,
but more important.... she's got some keen insight into this complex "world-Life-Movie" we run within...

among others take in "walking alone":

Thanks, Tony.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

T-High You Know

One red and one blue balloon fluttered against the chain link fence on a perfect fall afternoon. The local high school, Tamalpais, was hosting a tennis match. One set of a tennis match. The rest of the match, the finals of Division l, North Coast Sectionals, was all tied up. The last singles match had been called due to darkness, at a set a piece, two days earlier. Mia Anderson, playing for Tam, knew what was at stake. A chance to take her team further than they've ever gone. Her mom, Susan, one of my tennis teammates, was all nerves. No kidding. 

The only similar experience I've had as a mother was when Allie was the lead in the Sound of Music in eighth grade. The director kept calling me at home to insist that I keep Allie healthy, pointing out that there was no understudy. As if that didn't make me anxious enough, Allie refused to let me see any of the rehearsals. By opening night I was a wreck and had no idea what to expect. I knew she had a nice voice, but could she pull off Maria? I wasn't so sure. The curtain rose and Allie was amazing. Her voice was gorgeous and she could really act, but I was totally drained. 

The pressure on Mia wasn't lost on anyone. Her teammates, other students and parents chattered nervously during the warm up. When they started a cheer I was overcome with emotion. It's a call and response - the same cheer as when my three girls attended there. Someone says "T High" and the crowd answers, "You know". It repeats, getting louder. Simple, almost tribal, it's a tradition and brought back so many other sports and seasons sitting on cold, metal benches with hope and expectation and just plain happiness. 

If I'd been told long ago that some of the happiest moments of my life would be achieved by watching kids' sporting events, I never would have believed it. The times you think you should have fun, like parties or New Year's or whatever, often don't measure up. Seeing a child play their heart out, the suspense, the thrill of the competition - there is truly nothing like it. Sports can be so bastardized, but when they're done right even a loss can mean something, though we know everyone loves a winner. Get on the bandwagon.   

In 2000 Lucy was a senior at Tam High and Allie was ten years old. The school had an amazing boys' varsity basketball team. Allie loved basketball and I took her to every game, even on school nights. She and I went the night Lucy had her wisdom teeth removed. We left her home with Dad. We just couldn't miss a game. All through that season, with her friend, Scott, Allie cheered her little heart out. The guys never lost. They won MCALS, NCS and went on to the State Championship in Sacramento. Driving up there, we passed other cars decorated with red and blue - heading to the game. In Arco Arena, with a crowd of thousands, our guys played a team from Southern California. Tam won by a single point in a buzzer beating, heart stopping moment - a tip in.

Allie and Scott rode in the victory parade, with the star player, Jair. They read a poem they'd written about the team. Fast forward eleven years. Allie is a senior at UConn and Scott attends University of Oregon. Clearly, those early years were a formative influence on them. Basketball is in their blood. When UConn won NCAA last year, Allie and I "watched" the games together. She was at the campus bar and I was at home in California yelling for every three pointer. We sent each other messages whenever something exciting happened, which was constantly. Basketball is inherently exciting. 

I digress down memory lane. Back to Mia and her day in the sun. She came out strong and played solid tennis. The stands were packed and rowdy, but absolutely silent during the points. Some of the rallies were long and we just held our breath. Mia won the first two games, then lost the third. Soon she was up five one. Victory was so close. Then she lost a game and another. Five one became five four. The other team could taste it, too. Momentum was going their way. Anything can happen in tennis. You don't run out of time. Mia stayed tough and won the game. The team ran to the court and swarmed her in a pile. Hugging, crying, taking pictures, the parents were overwhelmed.

Everyone knew it was a team victory - not just Mia's. They wouldn't have gotten where they were if it weren't for all of their wins, all their talent and gritty determination. We also knew that a loss would feel like hers alone. She was very brave out there. These aren't just great players - they're an outstanding group of girls. Last year when we did a fund-raiser for the local, public courts, the team volunteered their time to model tennis clothes in a fashion show. Now it's on to Sacramento. T-high, you know, T-high, you know, T-high, you know.    

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Walking Alone

News from Pearls and Lemons
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In the past year readers have logged in from 22 countries and 39 states. From Albany, New York to Watsonville, California, we've got it covered. Thank you Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Stoke Poges, England, Pelotas, Brazil, Oslo, Norway, San Francisco and most especially, Connecticut. 

Walking Alone

If we are very lucky we may have a happy place. It might be in our head, especially if we take drugs, but I'm talking about an actual place. A spot that's healing and therapeutic or just relaxing. I'm surrounded by ocean people. The beach is their place to rejuvenate. The ocean is fine, but I find it a bit noisy and jarring. I like to walk in the woods. It's where I can, as Allie used to say "think my thinks." Even as a child I liked to roam around amongst the trees. I had my favorite tree. Mr. Shag. Not every little girl bonds with a tree.

The best woods I've ever wandered through are in Maine. There is nothing like the smell of Maine woods. I haven't been there since I was a child visiting my aunt's cabin, but I remember it being dark and cool and squishy underfoot. Pine needles inches thick. We used to pick moss and ferns and make terrariums to take home. A miniature diorama of the habitat. We kept them moist with a spray bottle, but I doubt they lasted more than two weeks.     

Conveniently, we now live near an impressive mountain. In minutes you can be wandering through the woods. There's something so mystical  about the place I love to walk. The topography is varied. You get sun and shade, steep uphill and slippery downslope. At one point you look over a valley of green trees and it's dazzling. That spot, where you can first hear creek water in spring, is where I want my ashes scattered. Unless, of course, I change my mind and find some other even more extraordinary location in the future.   

For years I would walk and talk with friends about our marriages and families. That particular walk is like taking truth serum. At a certain point on the trail you just bare your soul. We'd grouse about our parents and children. Processing. Processing. It was so cathartic we sometimes said too much. Frequently one friend would call me right after our walk to make sure I didn't repeat what she had talked about. No. What's said on the mountain stays on the mountain. Just like Vegas. Now I'll walk there with my daughters or with Eric and, occasionally, alone.

Walking alone on Mt. Tam has always had an eery component. When I first moved to Mill Valley in 1980 there was a murderer on the loose. David Carpenter, also known as "The Trailside Killer", raped and killed several women on Mt. Tam, including two Mill Valley women. Kind of takes the fun out of the solitary nature walk. During that time I was working at a nightclub in San Francisco and another waitress insisted the artist's rendering of the suspect looked exactly like her next door neighbor. She said it gave her the creeps because he would come in her back gate looking for his little dog while she was sunbathing. We didn't believe her, but it WAS her next door neighbor! One day the police showed up and took him away. He's been on death row in San Quentin for years.      

I had a bit of an adventure when I was walking one day by myself. I came across a deer carcass  with its throat ripped out. The blood was fresh. Afraid the perpetrator was still in the area, I called Hanna the dog and ran back down the hill as fast as my little legs could carry me. When I reported it to the authorities they told me the deer had most likely been killed by a mountain lion. Oh my. Quite nerve-wracking. As time went by I began to hike alone again. Until the suicide. 

Several years ago a young woman was reported missing after a difficult break up. Family and friends spent weeks weeks searching for her. A gun was missing and the signs weren't good. One lovely Sunday morning Eric and I decided to walk my favorite trail on the mountain. There was unusual activity. Search and rescue crews passed us on the way up. Command central was located at the top. Helicopters hovered. Of course, they found her decayed body right on my sacred area of the mountain. It had to be when we were hiking there. Shudder. She was twenty-five years old and had worked as an IRS agent.   

That sad and gruesome scenario took a while to get out of my mind. Now I don't really think about it. The power of time is truly remarkable. There will always be little adventures, but I'm hoping for something a bit more benign. In fact, the last time we walked there was some industrious graffiti on the water tower. Along with the drawings was helpful advice: "Squat to poop." Now that made me laugh out loud.

In photo: Lana and Allie Lindkvist at the spot.