Category Archives: Memoir

Part 3 It’s a Miracle

Mary Jane Stevens concludes Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror during the Atlas Firestorm.

…continued from March 27th—

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After hours waiting with a huge knot in my stomach, I heard from Bob.  Away from the fire, off the hill and heading towards town he was relieved to be a survivor, not a victim.  He said he was exhausted, coming down after a night fueled by adrenaline.  Never have I been happier or more relieved to hear his voice. I felt as if I’d been holding my breath for hours.  Finally I could breathe.

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I told him to drive over to Carolyn’s house where, assuming a positive outcome, she had waited up for him.  He could stay as long as he needed.  He headed west, dodging burning debris and skirting around roadblocks. As he drove he told me what he had just lived through.   I wished I could be there to hug him and tell him how glad I was that he was alive, unhurt.

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After talking to Bob, Casey was the first person I called, happy to tell him his dad was okay.  He was ecstatic to hear the news.  He was not so thrilled, to hear that it was almost a certainty that our house would not make it through the fire.  My next call was to Carolyn to let her know Bob was safe and on his way.  I left a message for Kelly.

When Kelly turned on her phone Monday morning, she was bombarded with voicemails and texts containing grisly details about the fire and concern for her family, including some from me.  Horrified and in tears, she called me immediately.  She hadn’t listened to the message I left with the good news about the man she calls “Her cute little Daddy.”  When I told her Bob had escaped, unscathed from the fire and was okay she cried tears of joy.  After a moment she said “Oh no, does this mean your house is going to burn again?  I can’t believe it.  I’m so sorry for you guys.”

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Later when I spoke to Casey I asked if he envisioned Bob’s body burned in the vineyard as I had.  Just as I thought, he told me that was exactly what he had imagined. As a firefighter Casey’s seen the horror of being trapped by fire.  Although he hasn’t spoken to me about how those things have affected him, I know he has hardened his heart so he can live with what he sees on the job.  When he thought his dad might die in the fire his heart was anything but hard.  I know neither of us has ever been afraid for a loved one as we were for Bob the night of the fire.  We both teared up, relieved that Bob had been saved as the fire raged on.

Once the L.A. Fires were contained a strike force was formed to help with the Napa fire.  Casey volunteered to be part of it but was not allowed to join. He was terribly disappointed.  Determined to help us, he was able to contact a Captain friend, part of the strike force, on his way to Napa.  He gave him our address and asked him to try to be assigned to fight the fire still burning there.  Ultimately, he and his contingency from L.A. worked for several days, never taking a break, defending our home and our neighbors’.

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climatechangenews.com

I heard from a neighbor that one day, fourteen fire engines, one for every still intact home, several bulldozers and helicopters were trying to control the stubborn blaze.  Boeing seven-forty-sevens were dumping water and retardant on the fire. Hot shots were digging fire lines as was a corps of bulldozers.  I heard that Battalion Chief Garrett said, “They were going to put the nail in the coffin of the fire in Soda Canyon that day.” I prayed they would.

We got little specific information applying to Soda Canyon. I tried to manage my expectations by telling myself our home must have burned, surviving the inferno seemed impossible, but not knowing was driving me crazy.  When I couldn’t stand it anymore began calling people who might have news.  I phoned a neighbor who was in Reno.  She picked up saying “Your home is still standing Mary Jane! My son didn’t evacuate and is staying at our house. He got word to me earlier today and our homes are okay.”

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You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that.  I burst into tears, delighted.  The following day I received a photo of our unscathed home sent by a firefighter who’d been camping nightly in our driveway putting out stray embers.  Seeing with my own eyes my home safe and sound was unmistakable proof.

***

We later heard that, initially, the command center wasn’t planning to send resources up Soda Canyon until Casey’s friend asked to be assigned to that specific location.  It seems they were stretched so thin they only wanted to send firefighters to areas they were sure could be saved and ours was not on that list. Under those circumstances, why they allowed those men to work the fire by our home remains a mystery.

For many days the Atlas fire and others spawned by that blaze wreaked havoc across Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties.  Thousands of homes have been destroyed, people died and many lives are shattered.

Not one of the homes in Foss Valley at the top of Soda Canyon Road, including ours, was lost, thanks to the heroic efforts of firefighters, hotshots from around the country, fire-retardant and water dropping  seven-forty-sevens and helicopters.  I will be forever grateful to everyone who had a part in saving my husband and my home. I owe them so much. I’m blessed for such a positive outcome when so many are still suffering from terrible losses.

Many people assumed our home burned, and when I tell them it’s still standing they are as incredulous as I am.  How did we ever get so lucky?

One explanation: it’s a miracle.

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Charcoal

Nathaniel “Bob” Winters continues his impression of the October firestorm in the Napa Valley and Santa Rosa. ~A.M.

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Charcoal           By Nathaniel R. Winters  

10/25/17      My wife Colleen and I came back home from my Parkinson’s disease doctor appointment at the S.F. VA Hospital by going north to Santa Rosa, trying to avoid the worst of rush hour traffic. From Santa Rosa we drove over the ridge to the Napa Valley. Our GPS assured us the road was open after the fire. What we did not know there was a 6pm curfew to keep looters away and to save any local victims from dangers after dark. We arrived at 6:15 and begged the National Guardsmen to save us an extra two hour trip. They relented and we scooted over the pass, driving through neighborhoods of total destruction. What we saw was something out of a war zone, just charcoal and fireplaces. We had seen pictures in the paper and video on TV, but encountering these gates of hell in person was overwhelming. So many left homeless, and so much lost.

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We were the only car on the curvy mountain-pass road borerding the hit and miss decimation. One ridge was burned while the trees of another stood with leaves or needles of green; a house here, charcoal there.

 

As we swichbacked down to the little damaged upper Napa Valley, I gave another silent thank you to the firefighters.

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 SFGate: Carlos Avila Gonzalez (The Chronicle)

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Nathaniel Robert  Winters

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Thicker Than Smoke

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westernfarmpress.com

Thicker than Smoke

by Nathaniel Robert Winters

This morning as Rue and I walked the mile-long trail through vineyards from the library to the bone dry Napa River, I realized just how lucky we were. Smokey haze had been replaced with clean air for the first time since the Sunday night our fiery ordeal started. Overnight, light, moist ocean breezes blew the evil air out of the valley.  Puffy cumulus clouds dotted the blue, sunshiny sky. Up north over Mount St. Helena, darker stratus clouds promised rain. Our little town of St. Helena appears to have been spared.

 

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visitcalifornia.com

In the midst of all the devastation, I want to share two happy stories. Last Tuesday my wife Colleen, our friend Mary, Rue and I evacuated to San Francisco. We stopped for lunch on Clement Street, still weighing our options as to which family or friends to impose ourselves upon. After eating, while Colleen and Mary still conversed, I took Rue outside and came upon a couple smooching.

images-7I asked, “Excuse me, do you two know each other?”

The lady laughingly said, “Yeah… I think so.”

That started a conversation where I explained that we had come down from the fire. They left wishing me luck. A few minutes later the woman came back and gave me her number and invited us to stay at their unoccupied apartment in Berkeley. While I told her we had other options, I was taken aback by their generosity. “Thank you so much,” was all I could say.

Last night we went out for dinner at Market in downtown St. Helena. In the back a large group of tables was filled with a group of firefighters from San Diego the restaurant had been feeding all week. This was their last night after ten days of twelve-hour shifts. As they stood to leave, after taking pictures, the patrons and staff gave the first responders a standing ovation. They and the other firefighters had saved our town.

On our way out, I noticed a sign on the window that said,  “The love is thicker than the smoke.”

Indeed.

 

10/22/17     Nathaniel Robert Winters

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EARTH, WIND AND FIRE

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE, 2017

by Dina Corcoran

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napavalleyregister.com

The anxious Earth, dry and wrinkled, yearns for November rain to slake its terrible October thirst. Toasted brown grasses lay flat in surrender to months of hot summer sun.  I cannot see a single creature scurrying among them.  How can they live here?

At least the fire did not ravage our Calistoga land as it did in the Hanly fire of 1964.  It spared us this time, but how were we to know?

 

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astrobob.areavoices.com

The night before it started, we slept poorly as the wind threw a nightlong tantrum, throwing furniture around on the deck and carrying off a barbeque cover with the umbrella.  The shadowy arms of trees threatened the house as the angry wind bossed them around.  At four A.M. a phone call from my daughter Kimberly in Santa Rosa, roused us.

Her dog, Tucker, had forced her awake, and as she checked her cell phone she learned of the Tubb’s Fire.  Cell towers near her home had burned, so she couldn’t call out.  Desperate to reach us, she drove across town to the parking lot at Costco’s where she was able to complete the call.

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“Get out of there now, Mom.  There’s a fire near Tubb’s Lane, just below your place!”

She knew our house sat in the middle of fire fuel: twenty-two acres of dried grass-covered hills—with only one way out.

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We had no idea we were in danger; we couldn’t see or smell anything.   Reluctantly we tossed a few possessions and our little dog into the car and drove into the night, leaving home behind.  As we neared the main road, we saw fires devouring the land—in many different directions.

We had made the right decision.

The plan to join Kimberly in Santa Rosa had to be scrapped when we learned from the police station that both roads to Santa Rosa were impassable because they were burning.  We simply headed south.  Perhaps we’d take shelter in a motel near Vallejo.

As we traveled down valley, the eastern sky glowed ominously from another fire, the Atlas fire.  And to the west a third fire painted the night sky.  It seemed like fire wanted the whole Earth.

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wired.com

Reaching Vallejo, we were put off by the traffic and congestion and decided to move on.  After crossing the Richmond Bridge we cut over to Novato and stopped at a Starbucks for coffee and a muffin. We joined the overflow of quiet customers sitting at the outside tables.  A blanket of smoke hung over the area.  Eavesdropping conversations at tables nearby, we soon realized we were among fellow evacuees, and many of us began to trade stories about how we’d come to be there, sitting in the smoke at dawn.   Many of us had no real destination, and the mood was one of hushed disbelief at our situation.

“Let’s head to the coast and look for a place in Bodega Bay,” I suggested to Alan.  A brilliant idea, I thought.  We’d be closer to home and the ocean air would be nice to breathe.  So we headed toward the coast and then backtracked, to the north again.  The innkeepers at the coast laughed at us.

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“All the places here are reserved; people have called ahead.  We have nothing for you.”

A feeling of homelessness came over us –- until we realized we could reach Santa Rosa from the coast.  We could get to Kimberly’s.

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By a stroke of good fortune, my daughter’s Santa Rosa home had had a mold infestation, and two days before the fire, her rental agency had put her up in an Air B&B while they made repairs.  She and her sixteen-year-old twin sons had moved into a place larger than their home.  There was an extra bedroom for us and a backyard for all the dogs, including our hero, Tucker, who had awakened Kimberly at 4:00 A.M.

We reached this sanctuary after six hours of roaming.  Not only was it a place to lay our heads and make a cup of tea, but an opportunity to huddle with family during the days-long fire attack.

The house, a charming, hundred-year-old thing, sat downtown far from the burned out neighborhoods. It had power, and the air was not as smoky as it was in the rest of Santa Rosa.  We would be there for twelve days.

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But the city had shut down.  The only places open for business were a coffee/bagel shop and Target.  We breakfasted with Kim and the boys at the bagel shop and traded stories with other displaced people.  Kimberly shared a tale of her friend’s husband who turned out to be a hero as they fled their rural home; he’d thought to carry a chainsaw in the car.  And sure enough, a fallen tree blocked the narrow road leading out of their little neighborhood; he was able to remove the tree so they could all get out.

After our community breakfast, we found Target to be a treasure house of useful things. We bought groceries, dog food, and a toilet brush for the B and B.

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Orville, our next-door neighbor, made several enormous pots of Italian wedding soup to give to displaced people.  He brought some over for us, and it was the best soup I’d ever tasted.   My grandsons helped to serve food at a local church to those who had no way to get a meal.  Small acts of kindness were happening all across the city.  “Love in the Air is Thicker Than the Smoke” became the slogan proclaimed by handwritten signs around town.

Our computer kept us informed of the changing fire scene. Kim’s old neighborhood of Rincon Valley was under mandatory evacuation.  Lucky we weren’t there.  A friend called from Calistoga to report that she could only see smoke when she looked towards our house.  We felt sure it was burning.  And, when the whole town of Calistoga was evacuated, we sensed doom.  There were moments we believed we had no home to return to and others where we hoped we’d be spared.

Tired of the fear and uncertainty, we began to accept the prospect of starting over fresh.  It might be nice, we thought, to find a place in town and furnish it with all new things.  Once we accepted the possibility of this outcome, Alan and I relaxed and were ready to face whatever might happen.

The five of us settled into a familial routine: Kim and I cooking and doing dishes together while the boys took turns vacuuming.  Each of us worked on the jigsaw puzzle of a dog park scene set up on the end of the dining table where we ate dinner together every night. We took walks to town and read books to get away from the constant stream of grim news on the T.V.

After twelve days of refugee status, we learned that our house was saved.  One road to Calistoga opened to traffic, and we returned home.  In the back seat of the car sat two teenage boys, each with a cat carrier on his lap, while our dog perched between them.  We would hang out together while their mother flew to Santa Monica to attend a long-planned high school reunion.

images-18.jpegOne side of the road had no fire damage, and the other was either burned or a fluorescent green from fire-retardant.  Fire fighters had kept the fire from crossing the road.  All four of us fell silent, hypnotized, as we traveled along this eerie route.

We knew for sure that our home had survived as we drove through the gate with the big red outline of a heart still decorating it.  Love was in the air.

The whims of the wind provided a happy ending for us, if not for Santa Rosa.  It blew fiercely from the northeast and stayed steady. Called a Diablo wind, it carried the fire that brought devilish destruction to so many people’s homes.  If the wind had ever gone back to its normal habit of blowing from the west, where the fire started, we would have burned.

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Wide swaths of bulldozed earth the size of country roads now mark up the land around my home. Cal-Fire had made firebreaks that are now a reminder of all the drama.   The rains in November will cover them with new green grass, and the Earth will sigh with relief.

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Blessings in Ashes

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“Fire Season” takes on new meaning in Sonoma and Napa Counties, California. Now a month after the night fires raged through our mountains and valleys, cities and vinyards, homesteads and housing complexes, people are telling their stories. 

Memoirist Lynn Hakes’ Napa neighborhood wasn’t evacuated or burned. They were some of the lucky ones, but the disaster didn’t leave anyone untouched. Here is her story. 

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Photograph Cathy Carsell October 9, 2017 Napa Valley

Blessings in Ashes

Lynne Hakes

Waking up to a red glow in the bedroom, I wondered what was happening. Was it the end of the world? Then I smelled it – smoke. Out of bed in a flash, I peeked outside and saw nothing. The radio! Maybe there’s something on the radio. The dreaded words shot through me like a bullet: “…fire in the Napa Valley.”

“Quick, grab your bathrobe.” I muttered to myself out loud. Flying down the stairs, tripping on the last step, turning on the TV, there it was. Crackling fire; embers flying everywhere. Announcer in a blue jacket standing in front of blazing pine trees. This was a big deal.

My husband followed, and we settled down to watch, he in his recliner and I on the couch. We were rapt, struggling to understand what we were seeing and hearing. No thoughts of coffee; no thoughts of breakfast, we sat there wide-eyed for the rest of the morning. Will it come to Napa? Should we be prepared to run?

Well, we should probably get ready. Grab the birth certificates and the passports. A few family pictures off the wall; the albums are too heavy. Address book, purse, phones, medications. Clothes? What do you wear to an evacuation? Is there gas in the vehicles?

Phone calls came from family and friends out of state. “We’re OK. We’ll call you if that changes.”

I don’t remember getting dressed or eating that morning. Longing to help in some way, we tore ourselves away from the TV and made the rounds of the shelters, offering to volunteer or bring food or water. We were too late; there were already enough people with offers of help. They turned us away.

Back at home we sat glued to the TV the rest of the day and into the evening. Again, the next day. And the next. We were safe. A few miles east, a few miles west, people lost everything. Why were we spared?

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As the days went by, gratitude replaced fear and anxiety. Gratitude for our safety; gratitude for the firefighters, the medics, the brave souls who worked together to warn, to help evacuate, to organize the shelters, to feed people. And compassion for those who lost homes, businesses and loved ones. Struggling to imagine their losses and their feelings, I knew I couldn’t come close.

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Hearing more and more stories of loss, my feelings of guilt crept in. Survivors’ guilt, they call it. What do I do with that? Are there lessons to be learned?  Be a little more tuned into people, their stories, their fears, their feelings from now on? Could more caring and compassion replace guilt?

Is it possible to find blessings in the ashes?

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In Memory, With Love

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People do not die for us immediately but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.  Marcel Proust

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I’m waiting for Mike, but he’s not coming back. He left us last month as the dreary rains dried up and the Napa Valley rioted into leaf and bloom. I was sure he would emerge from his Beemer in the swirl of white petals billowing from the trees shading the Upper Valley Campus parking lot. The prodigal student returning, his hat jaunty over his crisp pink button-down and white duck trousers a manuscript tucked into his portfolio and a twinkle in his eye.

You might say Michael was this teacher’s pet. But in the four years Michael Weaver Layne and I shared stories and literary criticism, we became more than teacher and pet. We became friends.

Mike trusted me with his words and I saw in his writing the potential for acclaim. His mind was wildly creative and he wrote with abandon and humor. It was a joy to read his stories and a joy to know him. Jonathan Franzen says on death: “The fundamental fact about all of us is that we’re alive for a while but will die before long. This fact is the real root cause of all our anger and pain and despair. And you can either run from this fact or, by way of love, you can embrace it.”  Mike Layne loved life, embraced it, and brought lightness to my world.

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“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”    Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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Mike Layne’s legacy remains with us in his beautiful architecture, infinity pools, irreverent short stories and an unpublished novel, Mammoth, written in the style of a Clive Cussler thriller. It was Mike’s dearest wish to co-publish Mammoth with Clive. At his death, Mike was negotiating with Clive’s editor for a leg up. He was going to make it.

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Mike was also compiling a book of short stories to be titled Blah Blat and Blather. The following is one of the stories slated for the collection and one of the last pieces we worked on in class.

In an email to our group:

Dear incredible writers,
  After class, at home perched on my porch with another full glass of Pinot, I ruminated over the class critique. The original ending, something I fashioned from memories of Bambi came out as planned  (I admit to being a Disney fan, Frozen giving me warm toasty moments).images-1
    But Daphne’s observation jarred me into re-crafting the ending, cleansing it of much Walt’s fantasy.  So—–with meekness, I’ll stand it on.
Mike

 

 

Lord is my Shepherd

by

Michael Weaver Layne

No moment’s timing could have been better than when Lord entered my life. Vicky had left me, slamming the door in my face, ending what I thought was a near perfect relationship.

“What could be wrong with wanting sex three times a day?” She screamed as she stomped down the steps to the gravel drive.

“I suppose nothing, except the demand it imposes on durability,” I shouted. I felt durable enough, after all, I run marathons. But even runners need occasional breaks.

I watched as she throttled her Subaru down my long drive to the Silverado Trail.

Okay, it’s over. I sighed.

I poured a Pinot into my glass, filling it to the rim and settled into the teak chair on my porch and began dissecting my thoughts. No more evenings with Vicky on the porch, watching the cars go by. No more evenings in bed with Vicky feeling my manhood sucked away ––– sitting solo on the porch –––– not nearly as bad as I had feared. I missed Vicky the nympho but welcomed the respite from her lusty demands.

I filled my glass once more and gazed across my vineyard and down the vacant drive to the Silverado Trail. A pickup swerved into my drive, sliding to a stop, its driver kicking something out of the truck’s rear bed.

“Oh no! Good lord not again.” I cursed. From my porch, I could see a little gray ball of fur yelping desperately at the truck as it sped away.

“Damn,” I growled, “Another abandoned orphan.”

It occurred all too often. An unwanted pet dropped into the midst of paradise to fend for itself, or if lucky, find adoption.

I set my glass on the table and loped down the drive. “Hey boy, come on it’s okay,” I shouted.

Rather than dart off into traffic to be run over, as these outcasts often did, the little fur bundle, yipping happily, dashed in my direction zigging down the drive. I knelt to my knees and it sailed into my arms, swabbing my face with its tongue.

“Good lord stop that,” I shouted with a laugh, holding the pup at arm’s length and just beyond the reach of its tongue. Lordy Lordy, you’re an affectionate little dog.

We bonded instantly.

“Lord.” I announced, let’s name you Lord.”

From that instant, Lord became his name and we became inseparable, best buddies, constant companions, and like the nights with Vicky, Lord and I shared the bed –– the difference, cuddling and sleep our only goal.

He loved television, particularly the Simpsons. He would lay motionless for episodes, his chin on crossed paws, one ear up and one down, his one blue eye and one brown, following Marge’s blue hairdo as if it were another candidate in need of herding.

Lords intelligence amazed me. I figured out ways for us to entertain each other. I taught his tongue to read braille. I made up plastic cards with raised dots for the words, roll over, sit, or shake. Lord would lick them, then for a treat, perform the command.

Other things too. The fire hydrant I brought home from a flea market and placed in the yard. Lord understood immediately and from that day on, it stood as his private urinal.

Lord grew into a fine sheep dog, eager to chase a Frisbee. He loved my pool and the mallard that would drop in on misty mornings. In fact, Lord loved everything. His insatiable fondness for life, his tragic flaw.

His first affair was with the skunk who lived along the Napa River, his amorous advance meeting with a blast of spray. Repeated baths of tomato soup did little to clean Lord or mask the skunk’s odor.

Next, he sought romance with a porcupine. Our vet spent half a day plucking quills from Lord’s muzzle.

In spite of these miss-adventures, he loved every animal on the ranch. The raccoons that he treed at night with gleeful barks, the squirrels whose walnuts he would dig up and chew like a bone.

Lord become a canine gigolo, lavishing love on all the ranch’s creatures.

Born to herd, he constantly dashed along the river or between the vines, organizing the progress of any creature he could spot. Quail scattered at his approach, gophers ducked back into their burrows, butterflies drifted higher as he bounded into the air to move them this way or that.

Herding was Lords passion and the bigger the thing, the better the challenge.

One morning as the lingering fog lifted, a UPS truck sped down the drive, a challenge that Lord could not ignore. Barking with delight and nipping at the tires he tried to swerve the truck to the side of the driveway.

Lord dashed in too close tripping under the truck’s front bumper. The driver unable to avoid hitting Lord rolled over him with a sickening thump.

Twisted and broken, Lord lay on the drive his tongue still lapping the air, his eyes bewildered, his hind leg twitching, then turning still.

I scooped him up and hugged him to my chest wishing desperately for one more swish of his tongue, one more wag of his butt.

I felt his last shudder. It was over.

He slumped, limp in my arms, his legs dangling in weird directions from his crushed pelvis.

“I’ll miss you, Lord,” I whispered in his ear, tears rolling down my cheeks and dripping from my chin.

I buried Lord under an ancient oak tree and within sight of my perch on the porch. I filled my glass with pinot to the rim, with eyes still pooling tears I stared at the mound of freshly piled soil.

A blue Jay scolded from an over-hanging branch, a haunting requiem bidding Lord farewell.

I looked at the two dog biscuits, Lord’s favorites that I placed next to his Frisbee on top of the mound. Two squirrels scurried down from the tree and scooped the soft dirt, reverently burying the biscuits.

Their heads popped up at a sound from the river. I followed their gaze. From beneath the trunk of a fallen tree, hidden in shadows, I spotted the outline of the skunk. The squirrels twitched their tails, alerted by scraping from the gravel drive. The porcupine shuffled past casting the burial mound a passing glance then disappeared into the mustard growing beneath the vines in the vineyard.

I looked back at the still squawking jay and caught a glimpse of the raccoon peering from behind a branch.

I re-filled my glass and walked over to the grave. I could feel eyes watching me. Lord’s friends mourning from afar, hidden yet present. I stood over the Lord’s grave alone.

A butterfly floated by.

My fingers twitched as I took Lord’s epithet scribbled on the back of a box of his favorite kibble and nailed it to the tree.

Lord my best buddy, I’ll miss you, dear friend

When we first met, I never thought it would end.

Now you are gone, and impossible to replace

Life without you, I’m not sure I can face

Your blunt little butt and eyes mismatched

All that is left, this note I have scratched

Lord you were my Shepherd

A friend so true

Never a day— that I won’t miss you.

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Mike, if I may steal your words— you were a friend and “never a day—that I won’t miss you.”

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He was a man, take him for all in all.
I shall not look upon his like again.

Shakespeare         Hamlet

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Tell It Like It Was

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@memoirmusic

Why write it? Why illuminate your innermost self and risk potential pain of ridicule or criticism? You ask yourself this, over and over, even as you name your secret places, confess your transgressions, light up your dark desires.

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Thanks Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens

Perhaps you reveal your wild and strange garden because of that gnawing, burrowing inner gopher. You know the one—nibbling the tendrils of your memories and digging through your synapses in his blind foraging. You know the dark feeding will stop in the light of your pen.

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ramweb.org

 At first you write to expose the bully, the crazy parent, the mean sister, the pain-giver. That may be your catalyst, but will revealing trespasses against you trap the hungry rodents like a hunting cat, pouncing on those unseeing beasts, dragging them from the dark and laying them at your feet?

In the end the revelation is you.

images-5        Writing your memoirs? Creating a family legacy?

                      Looking to publish your story?

Join the Rianda House memoir writers:A forum for craft, critique and positive encouragement.

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This group welcomes beginning memoir writers as well as more experienced writers who wish to explore their lives through the written word, both creative non-fiction (memoir, personal narrative, essay, autobiography) and poetry. Writing craft is discussed in the group and writing topics are suggested. All participants are encouraged to share their work in class.

Mondays 3:00-5:00 at Rianda House 1475 Main St. St. Helena Free

#70755 (Pre-registration at Rianda House) Feb 6-May 22 (no class 4/10)

 

Resources:

http://namw.org

http://www.judithbarrington.com

http://shewritespress.com/

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Filed under Autobiographical Writing, Classes, Memoir, revision

Saturday Morning Heroes

I love TV. I always have. Since the early 1950s when Dad wanted to sleep-in on Saturday morning and I learned to turn on our very modern black and white set topped with rabbit ears, I’ve been following favorite shows. Now we have On-Demand and Netflix so we can sleep-in too, but back in the 50s millions of us spent Saturday morning glued to the tube.
     This week join guest blogger, Nathaniel Robert Winters, in a flash memoir of his Saturday morning Westerns. Look for his latest book Not Quite Koshernot quite a memoir but a unique blend of non-fictional prose, poetry and even fiction that parallels reality. Nathaniel is the author of 10 books and can be found on Amazon.com.
 

Saturday Morning Heroes

When I was an eight-year-old, my heroes appeared like clockwork every Saturday morning on the black and white, rabbit eared way-back machine. My grandfather and I occupied ourselves for three hours of Western justice:  lessons as important as any at school, church or temple.
    
Grandpa Abe, a refugee of Eastern injustice, found sanctuary in the old West. We started with the Cisco Kid—yes there was a Mexican hero on 50’s TV, but no black heroes. My elementary age mind did not deal in gray-area moral issues yet. Good and evil was black and white. The hero always won, the bad guy was captured or shot without bleeding and the girl was always saved, all in a half hour show complete with Tony the Tiger Frosted Flakes commercials.
    
Next came the Lone Ranger with his good Indian partner Tonto. Even Indians could be good guys on Saturday mornings. Long before the Beatles, my favorite tune was The William Tell Overture that ended with “High ho Silver, away.”
    
Rin Tin Tin followed the Lone Ranger and marked the start of my love affair with dogs. Before I ever had a dog, the TV German Shepard, who was a member of the Western U.S. Army, saved the day and showed me the value of having a canine best friend.
    
We moved into the twentieth century with Roy Rogers, who could drive a jeep as well as ride his horse while singing with his wife Dale Evans. He could play a guitar and a six shooter.
    
The morning ended with a modern day western pilot, Sky King, with his lovely, often imperiled, niece Penny. No worries, she would get into trouble but never was she really in jeopardy. Remember, on Saturday morning in the late 50’s all the girls were saved, all the bad guys went to jail and all my heroes would ride off into the Western sunset.
    
I so enjoyed those idyllic  black and white  shows while eating Frosted Flakes with my dad’s Ellis Island immigrant father. His reality would come soon enough, taking my genuine hero grandfather to his final sunset.
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Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

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English Teachers

Dear readers,

This is a guest post by my talented student, Dina Corcoran. She’s a memoirist, poet and essayist. This is her personal essay on English teachers. Okay, so there’s a bit of shameless self promotion going on! Please enjoy Dina Corcoran’s,

ENGLISH TEACHERS

Since I first looked my mother in the eye and said “Ma-ma,” many different sorts of English teachers have helped me learn to express myself.

First, of course, I had to learn to read. I remember the excitement of cracking the code during our first grade work with See Spot Run, but even so, its message seemed a little boring. Nevertheless, the whole idea of thoughts being on paper opened a world of possibilities.

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So many words. . . and each had to be spelled. “Beautiful,” for instance, was very tricky, because of all the vowels that had to be in the right order. I remember seeing it on the blackboard all week with the other five words we needed to learn. I noticed the teacher used little lines to break the words into small bits. Each time I walked by, I broke “beautiful” down my own way, into be-a-u ti-ful, making a little chant out of it. And “piece” I thought of as a piece of pie. If I could remember how to spell pie, I could do “piece.”

Soon I became aware of longer, more colorful words like “indisposed.” Mother used that one when she wrote notes to the school explaining my absences:

“Please excuse Dina’s absence yesterday. She was indisposed.”

I had to ask her what that meant. Then, handing the note to the teacher, I felt important being described with such a big word.

A wealthy family acquaintance treated my brother and me, when we were quite young, to a live play in the First Theater in Monterey, an official historic site, since it was the first theater in California. The building was old with a rickety wooden floor, and I marveled at the thought of people, a hundred years before me, filling the place just to watch actors walk and talk on a stage lit with whale-oil lamps. But I could see that this was a new way to use words: making a story that could be acted out for others.

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Somewhere along the way in grade school — maybe Mrs. Jordan’s seventh- grade class—I learned the wonderful logic of sentence diagramming. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, all had their positions in a sentence. I loved that. All good sentences could be mapped out. Now things were beginning to fall into place.

And then:

           “Let me not to the marriage of true minds

              Admit impediments. Love is not love

             Which alters when it alteration finds,

              Or bends with the remover to remove:

              O no, it is an ever-fixed mark. . . .”

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William Shakespeare. Oh my goodness. Everybody in my Sophomore English Class must memorize and recite this verse. I guess Miss Jackson values the idea of keeping someone else’s ruminations in your brain forever. What is he talking about? I feel inexperienced in these matters. With each recitation, she gets a far-away look in her eye; obviously this means something to her, but not to me. (For the rest of my life I cringe whenever this sonnet comes to mind, because I recall the difficulty of memorizing this unfamiliar arrangement of words and the boredom of hearing it over and over again.) Why does she think this is so important? Maybe she was disappointed in love. As I study her wrinkled face and older-woman mannerisms, I try to imagine her having a love life.

Later in high school, Mr. Zapelli teaches us to seek perfection in our writing. Every day he wears a striped suit and matching tie, and I’m sure he imagines himself to be a handsome guy with his hair greased straight back, Mafia style. He sits bent over at his desk, his meaty hands holding my paper as if it is a very important document, and earnestly pores over my work.

His method of helping us is unique among English teachers. Most days we write essays in class. He guides our progress by having us bring our work up to his desk where he examines every detail. (No more than three of us at a time may wait in line.) Starting with a red pen, he marks the places that need work, and we talk about the why and how of the needed correction. Then we take it back to our seat and work on it until we are ready to face him again. We hope for only blue or green marks this time. Blue ones indicate improvement, but the goal is to get the final green marks that show we’ve got it the way he wants it. This may take several visits to his desk, but once our paper has green marks at every problem spot, we can take it home for the re-write. (Mr.Zapelli was always on me for my run-on sentences; I enjoyed rambling thoughts. But today, his cautionary attitude still guides me as I write.) Each and every student is busy. Time flies; the bell sounds too soon. And when we turn in our final version, we feel pride in our work.

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By the time I am in college, my days with Mr. Zapelli bear fruit, enabling me to do well. But this teacher, young, enthusiastic, and sporting a crew cut, has new things to show me. The world of ibid and sic is before me, and somehow I master it while discovering the excitement of research in the library’s “stacks” where all sorts of old writings are kept. Usually I write about the plight of the American Indian, because I have been passionate about that ever since my childhood friendship with Red Eagle. Unearthing government documents, I learn how evil the Bureau of Indian Affairs has actually been. My passion helps me write well. At the end of the course, Mr. Carson announces with some ceremony that only one student in the whole class will receive an “A.” My face turns red in embarrassment and pride when he says I am the one.

Speaking aloud in front of people proved to be a different story. To qualify for a teaching credential it was necessary to take public speaking. I flunked it twice, because I avoided my obligation too many times. Fear got in my way. My stepfather, Jack, helped me out of that one. He suggested bringing my six-speed racing bicycle into class and “teaching” my classmates about it. He said their eyes would be on the bike, not on me, so I could relax. It worked. Not too many people knew about racing bikes at that time, and they were interested to hear how the gear shift and hand brakes operated, and why my saddle was not soft and cushy. Having lived through that speech, I was able to go on to finish the class and pass it—on the third try!

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Years later, my principal asked me to take on an English class in addition to the science classes I was teaching in the middle school. But English did not offer the excitement of Bunsen burners and chemical reactions. And besides, I liked working with Alan Rogers, the head of the Science Department. The students suspected, but never knew for sure, that Mr. Rogers and Mrs. Corcoran were an item.

The head of the English department proved to be a stickler for detail, a fussy fellow. He kept his own, private, classroom set of dictionaries locked in a closet. On the first day of the semester, he took me in there and reluctantly handed over one copy for my use. I really didn’t enjoy those two years of teaching English, but I finished with a sincere respect for the job.

Currently I am happily enrolled in Ana Manwaring’s writing class at the Napa Valley College. She oversees the fine-tuning of our work, and encourages us to use our own “voice.” We students help each other with our critiquing. The two Guys in class have helped me: Guy K., with his constant reminders to eliminate the “is” and “was” words, (real verbs sound more interesting), and Guy “Noir” who urges me to avoid the insipid stuff like my dreadful essay on Pink Geraniums.

My mother is gone now, so I cannot look her in the eye, but I still talk to her. She always loved a well-told story. I feel her curiosity as she reads over my shoulder while I try to write those, with the help of my many English teachers.

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PARIS

by Elizabeth Stokkebye

 

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Seventeen and in Paris on my own. My first encounter with the city of love and fortunate to stay with an aunt and uncle. Both being workaholics left me with oceans of time to explore. What I had in mind to see was the architecture; the art museums; the places that tourists went.

The air was springlike, mild and sunny, although I was spending my Christmas holiday away from my home in Denmark. This is the one time in my life I experienced pure freedom. I remember how my breathing felt different: effortless and silent but steady and consistent. It was a breathing devoid of depression and anxiety. I breathed without past or future and let the air be present.

Walking along grand boulevards beneath a blue sky sporting white clouds I felt a loving heart circulate blood through my veins. On my way past the many cafés lining the wide sidewalk my sway caught the attention of a street performer playing his violin. As I danced by him he let go of his instrument and started to sing Ne me quitte pas. I stopped, turned around, and listened to his chanson. Was he performing especially for me?images-3

My disposition was romantic and I was attracted to the situation. At the same time, I could hear my mother’s voice: “I’m so proud to have brought up a good girl!” I didn’t move. When he was done with the song, he waved me over. I was embarrassed and blushed but followed his hand. He grabbed mine and kissed it. I felt the touch of his soft lips. My skin everywhere reacted by turning prickly and my breathing became choppy.

“Ma Cherie,” he whispered.

All of a sudden my body felt heavy and I pulled away. Caught between wanting to leave and wanting to stay, I sat down on a bistro chair.

“Please, I need a minute,” I uttered.

“Bien sûr!”

He held his violin once again and with closed eyes he played the sweetest melody that could melt any tough disposition.

Paralyzed, I tried to think. Should I leave or should I stay? My sense of freedom had slowly vanished which made the decision so much harder. The guy was cute, romantic and talented.

A waiter came over asking me what I would like and I ordered a café au lait. As more people gathered around to listen to the pretty music, I started to relax. He didn’t sing again which made me feel special.

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With his violin case full of money and the crowd thinning out, he declared:

“La dernière chanson!”

From his slender body came Que je t’aime and I didn’t know where to look. My gaze fell on a young woman advancing hurriedly towards us and embodying a sense of pure joy. She stepped right up to my singer and kissed him on the mouth.

 

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