The Reluctant Spartan – Part II

spartan5It was a cool gray morning at Giants Stadium by the Bay. I shivered not from the cold, but from utter terror as I watched Spartan participants run up to the very top deck of seats. I’m terrified of heights to the point where I start to hyperventilate. I could not do this. What was I doing here?

My brain ping-ponged for a solution. I stood behind my teammates, hiding my anxiety. Yvette had the logo “Bald Hill Cattle Company” printed on the back of her shirt. I did something I rarely do—asked for help. She agreed to stay directly in front of me while we traversed the stairs. I would focus on that logo, not on the vast distance between the elevation, the playing field, and the endless stretch of water beyond.

In that moment, I surrendered. I accepted that it was okay to be the laggard of the pack. Others could take the lead. I was content to follow.

spartan2It was time for Team Mendo to queue up. Bethany (who had finished her competitive race in under 40 minutes) announced she would run the course again with us. She had been the key force behind getting us to this place. She was going to see us through to the end. We walked around a corner to encounter our first obstacle—a four-foot fence to scale before we got in line.

I chuckled. Here we go.

Participants were released every minute or so in sets of 20. As each set waited, an emcee got the group jacked up by yelling, “WHO ARE YOU?” to which the group responded, “WE ARE SPARTANS!” My mind whispered, “I’m a scared little wieny.”

We were off and running down the lower deck of stadium stairs, into the basement to the Giants’ locker room where we were to perform 20 pushups. Halfway through my set I noticed the room smelled like years of embedded sweat. I found it funny that this place belonging to a major league baseball team smelled like any high school boys’ locker room.

The obstacles blur in my memory, but a few stand out. The first wall we encountered was eight feet tall. As I contemplated failure, Bethany rushed up and hunkered down with her fingers laced. “Put your foot in here,” she commanded. She boosted me up and I lurched over. Some obstacles later, we repeated the same move. Near the end was a six-foot wall. I turned to Bethany, like a child to her mother, and said, “Help me.” She said, “You can do it.” And by God I did—with a running leap I was up and over.

It was thrilling to accomplish obstacles I didn’t think I could do—like pick up a 50-pound concrete cylinder, carry it 20 feet, put it down, do five burpees, pick it up, carry it back, and do five more burpees. A shot of adrenaline propelled me onward where I got another shot and another until I was halfway through the race, shouting, “This is fun!” and meaning it.

My fear of heights was put to the test early. I kept my focus on Yvette’s “Bald Hill Cattle Company” logo and used a hand as a blinder to block out the scenery far below. Up to the top deck of seats and over, down and over, up and over again, I refused to let my gaze waiver, concentrating only on taking the next step. I nearly cried with relief when it was over.

spartanraceAbout ten obstacles later, we were told to pick up a 20-pound beanbag and go out to the stands. I’ll be damned if on the other side of the stadium—the side I hadn’t seen earlier—we didn’t have to repeat a mirror trek to the upper deck. By then I was a full on adrenaline junkie. I’d done it before, I could do it again. This time I didn’t have to rely on “Bald Hill Cattle Company.” Instead, it was “Hell yeah, bitch—I got this!”

Spartan rules dictate that when you fail an obstacle you must do 30 burpees. I only missed two—the rope climb and the spear throw. I didn’t even attempt the rope climb—in training for it, I’d hurt my back. I missed the spear throw by an inch.

The last obstacle was the monkey bars. I’d tried it a couple of times in training, barely able to hold myself stationary for more than a few seconds before feeling my arms were going to rip from my shoulder sockets. I headed toward the burpee area when Yvette said, “I’ll help you.” I jumped up and grabbed the first bar. She clutched my legs and literally carried me across. Between her and Bethany, our other two team mates also got across.

spartan8When it was Yvette’s turn, Bethany tried to assist. A Spartan monitor appeared, yelling, “You can’t help her.” Bethany said we were a team and we’d been helping each other all the way. He barked, “You can’t help her on this one.” Bethany countered, “We just helped three of our teammates with this one.” He stood firm.

In retrospect, we should have jumped him and beat the crap out of him. Instead, we watched as poor Yvette struggled halfway through before dropping. Disappointed, she prepared to do her burpees. The team told her to stand aside—we’d each do eight for her.

spartan7I rose from my final burpee and looked into the stands to find my son Harrison, daughter Laine, and her boyfriend Jeff smiling at me. (My husband Gary and daughter-in-law Kasi couldn’t be there.) I raised my arms and jumped up and down. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Our team ran through a series of punching bags to the finish line. We linked arms and crossed together. On the other side, our necks were draped with a ribbon holding the heaviest medal we’d ever received. We laughed and hugged and posed for pictures.

We are now part of that crazy cult called Spartans.spartan3

Brittney Tuomala Harris

brittney4The first time I walked into A Sweet Affair, I clutched my chest and swooned. It’s like entering an art gallery, each pastry crafted by a master. You hesitate to destroy the creation, but after the first bite, you learn that the visual is only part of the divine feast. Hopefully, you’re sitting down because as you eat you will drift into semi-conscious nirvana.

***

In fourth grade at Dana Gray Elementary, Brittney’s research for a report on the human heart influenced her decision to become a cardiovascular surgeon. By fifth grade, she developed a chronic childhood illness that caused her to spend nearly a decade in and out of hospitals. “The thought of working in one for the rest of my life sickened me.”

By high school, she struggled with where to go to college. “I had a hard time justifying going to a standard four year school. What was I supposed to major in?”

Her decision to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, was prompted by years spent in the kitchen baking with her mother. “As kids, my sister and I had a business called ‘The Sisters Cookie Company’ where we would sit outside our house and sell homemade cookies.”

brittney8By December 2010, she had an Associate’s Degree in Baking and Pastry and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management. Her future husband Beau also attended the school, but majored in Culinary. They met while working at the same restaurant.

Beau graduated in 2009 and took a chef’s job in New York City. On weekends, Brittney commuted from Hyde Park to work as a server at Brasserie 8 1/2. “In a few short months, I moved to the back of the house as a pastry cook. Immediately, the executive chef went on vacation. She left me in charge during New York Restaurant Week. I worked over 160 hours during the two weeks she was gone.”

brittney6In June, Brittney discovered she was pregnant. Her executive chef quit in July, and she ran the kitchen until two weeks before son Avery was born in January 2012. She left on maternity leave and never went back.

Life in New York City was exciting, but expensive. Beau worked long hours to support the family. Brittney longed to return to California where she’s a fifth generation Fort Bragg native. In the spring of 2012, Beau was hired by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello to work at Bottega in Yountville.

“I worked for Thomas Keller at Bouchon Bakery as a pastry commis [a fancy French term for cook].” But the prestige of the job was in name only. “I was like a robot, making the same stuff every day. When chefs work in a restaurant, they want to learn new techniques. I learned nothing there.”

Nine months later, they moved to San Francisco to help Chiarello open Coqueta. They were building remarkable resumes, but their lives were consumed by work. Each morning, Brittney took public transportation from Alameda to start her 7:00 shift. In the afternoon, Beau put Avery in the car and drove into the city for his evening shift. At 3:00, he’d get out of the car and Brittney would get in to drive home. “The restaurant is only a couple of blocks from the Bay Bridge but during Giants baseball season, it could take two hours to travel that distance.”

For eight months, they struggled through this schedule and the high cost of living in the Bay Area before deciding to move to Fort Bragg where they could be near her family. Beau was hired by the Heritage House in Little River and Brittney started a home business where—in between keeping up with a toddler—she baked and sold cakes, pastries, and handmade chocolates.

brittney7In July 2014, she opened A Sweet Affair. “I love being my own boss, making whatever my heart desires, and creating specialty orders.” By August, she was pregnant. In April 2015, she gave birth to another son, Addison.

Brittney works insane hours to balance family with running a business. She possesses the face of a Renaissance beauty, a surface serenity that belies her underlying stress.

Time is a precious commodity and Brittney has little to spare. The morning of our interview, she answered questions while putting together a batch of French macarons. I marveled at the confident way she folded Oreo crumbs with buttercream, scooped it into a pastry bag, squeezed a dollop onto several dozen cookie halves, and topped each with a matching half.

Her shop is open 10:00-4:00 Thursday through Sunday, but she spends the early morning hours—often starting at 4:00—either baking or doing paperwork. Monday is her only day off. Her husband has Tuesday and Wednesday off, which allows her to work from early morning until noon to stock the bakery. Those afternoons are spent together as a family. During holiday seasons, she works seven days a week, often 14 hours a day.

brittney5Her grandparents watch her boys two days a week. Mother Ronda staffs the counter at the bakery on the weekends and helps at charity functions. Brittney’s macarons are a favorite among food stations at Winesong, Mendocino Film Festival, Art in the Gardens, and other venues. She estimates she donates about $4,000 a year to these events.

Brittney is passionate about her craft. “I love making beautiful, edible art—to make people happy with dessert. A cake can be the center of someone’s celebration—birthday, wedding, or baby shower. Desserts can create a great memory. I want to be a part of that memory. When I see someone’s face light up at the sight or taste of something I made, it makes all my hard work, sleepless nights, blood, sweat and tears worth it.”

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Brittney created these cakes to help Chriss Zaida celebrate her store’s anniversary and relocation.

Brittney is encouraged by the network of small business owners who support one another. She hopes this support system will inspire others to open businesses. “There are a lot of empty storefronts downtown. This can discourage tourists from coming back. Understandably, a lot of locals can’t afford the high quality items we sell. We depend upon tourists to survive.”

Like many before her, Brittney couldn’t wait to graduate and get far away from this small town. She ventured into the world, gathered what it had to offer, and brought back the gems to a place the years away had taught her to love.

A Brittney creation made this guy happy to turn 30.

A Brittney creation made this guy happy to turn 30.

Katie Turner Carr

katie2I sit next to Katie and pepper her with questions, marveling at how the shy girl I met 23 years ago has blossomed into a self-assured wife, mother and businesswoman. When she left Fort Bragg in 1998 to attend UC Santa Cruz, she never imagined she’d return eight years later to become a sock maven.

It was probably inevitable that Katie became an entrepreneur. During her early years, her father Dave Turner owned a waterbed business in the Bay Area. When these beds waned in popularity and the internet became more consumer-friendly, he began selling waterbed accessories online. He also designed and began to manufacture a layered latex mattress system called a FloBed. Both enterprises allowed him to work anywhere. He fondly remembered growing up in Fort Bragg and wanted to give his four children the same opportunity. In 1992, he moved the family to the area.

Katie’s dream was to be an artist. After graduating from college in 2002, she stayed in Santa Cruz, sold her paintings through local crafts fairs, and made rent money by working at the Sock and Shoe Company. In 2004, her then boyfriend Marshall Carr got a job with Enterprise Rental Car. They moved to Morgan Hill. She worked briefly as a merchandizer for Lowes. “I was miserable. It’s the only job I ever quit.”

She was hired as a manager for Socks Galore in Gilroy. A few months later, the Sock and Shoe Company wooed her back and trained her as a buyer.

Katie3

Katie in her original tiny shop.

By 2006, Katie and Marshall decided their future was limited by the high cost of living in the Santa Cruz area. They hatched a brilliant idea—move to Fort Bragg and open a sock shop. She consulted her dad, who wasn’t convinced it could be successful. He asked her to write a detailed business plan that included statistics on the number of tourists visiting the area and how much merchandise she’d have to sell in order to make a living. After reviewing the plan, he rented her a 200 square-foot space at the front of his FloBeds store on Redwood Avenue.

Katie brainstormed names—Sockadeedoda, Sockadelic—before choosing to honor a favorite childhood storybook character—Pippi Longstockings. The tiny shop was off the beaten tourist path, but located across the street from the dance studio. While mothers waited for their children, they’d wander in to buy socks. “It was my busiest time of the day and helped me develop a local following.”

Katie also garnered attention among street people who were enamored with her tiny shop. She fondly remembers a man named Chris who’d stop by frequently, always beginning his visits with “Hey Pippi!” She hasn’t seen him in years, but this nickname is still used by some of her customers.

Katie6When a storefront on Laurel Street became available in June 2008, Katie moved Pippi’s, quadrupling her space and expanding her customer base. She was able to hire employees, which eased her workload and allowed her and now husband Marshall (a high school teacher) to start a family. They have two daughters—Rowan (seven) and Zoey (four).

“I’m so happy to be able to give my kids what I had—the freedom of a childhood in a small town. I want them to be able to play in the woods, on the beach or walk around downtown like I was able to, instead of hanging out in a mall.”

katie7

Sweet Rachel & her great boss.

Katie has two employees. This author is especially fond of Rachel who is kind and patient. Whenever I’m in the shop babbling about something, she’ll smile and say in a soothing tone, “I understand.” She would make a great hostage negotiator or crazy person whisperer.

One of Katie’s favorite things about owning her business is the tourists who get excited to find a sock shop. “They literally squeal with delight.” Returning customers often show her the “Pippi’s socks” they’re wearing and ask to see the socks she has on.

Katie is grateful to live in a small town that has a big community feeling.  “I’m lucky to be a part of a place where one person can make a difference, where the opportunity to participate is just about everywhere. I love knowing my barista, the person who makes my lunch, and the people I support when I shop downtown. I also love that my customers know my family.”

When her dad Dave (the mayor) was the subject of a nasty recall effort last year, Katie wrote a heartfelt blog post defending him which sparked a movement in support of him.

Shortly after the demise of the recall, she joined forces with others to organize Go Fort Bragg, which encourages progressive involvement in the community. “Before this, I didn’t pay much attention to how the city was run. I voted for council members who shared my views and let them do their jobs. I’ve learned that these people aren’t mind readers. They need to hear the opinions of their constituents. I avoid anger and express my thoughts in positive ways. This gives them and others a chance to hear a point of view they may not have considered.”

Katie & her wonderful family.

Katie & her wonderful family.

Katie acknowledges that Fort Bragg has changed since her youth. There was the music store, the old recreation center pool where she was a lifeguard, a tree at Bainbridge Park that was fun to climb. The tree is gone and many businesses have closed. “I can still hang out at Headlands Coffee House, but don’t sit on the sidewalk as much anymore.” She says this with a wink. “The mill is gone, tourism is a more integral part of our economy, but we still have the beach, the woods, and a great community that watches out for one another. We have the CV Starr Center, the coastal trails, and the Noyo Center. A lot of positive changes have enriched our lives.”

Another positive change is Katie’s return. She’s brightened our town with her optimistic attitude and charming sock shop.Katie5

Hilary White

understuff3Hilary White is one of a handful of thirty-somethings who have returned to their hometown of Fort Bragg to run small businesses. Over the next few months, I hope to interview each of them and find out what motivated their return.

I met Hilary years ago when my daughter Laine was in high school and frequented her clothing consignment store, If the Shoe Fits. I was impressed by her gentle kindness and aura of professionalism. A few weeks ago, we sat down for a chat.

Hilary believes people deserve to feel good and surrounded by beauty. “These things bring value to our lives.” This belief lured her back to her hometown and keeps her here. It is also the basis of her business and the goal of her community advocacy. She and three other downtown business owners started the group Go Fort Bragg, which promotes progressive involvement in our town. “When people participate in their communities, it adds value to their lives.”

Go Fort Bragg encourages people with diverse opinions to attend city council meetings. Hilary claims that large audiences give council members opportunities to listen to citizens. She believes one of the values of democracy is that it allows people to express themselves and to hear differing opinions.

When asked to confirm or deny the rumor that she will run for Fort Bragg City Council in the next election, Hilary answered “No.”

“You won’t confirm or deny?”

“No, definitely not.”

“So you’re leaving it open to speculation.”

She laughed. “I will not run for city council in the next election.”

***

After graduating from Colorado College in 2002, Hilary came home to work for a few months at Out of This World in Mendocino. Her plan was to move to New York (where she would rent a room from friends and figure out what to do with her life).

understuff5As fate would have it, she developed the hots for coworker Martin Nakatani. A romance blossomed and she abandoned her New York plans. They eventually married and settled in Fort Bragg.

Like many people along the Mendocino Coast, Hilary had to hold two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. In 2004, she began working at If the Shoe Fits. A mere three years later, she bought the business.

understuff1In 2012, she bought Understuff, an intimate apparel boutique. I wondered what prompted her to make a career in under garments. (Her answer wasn’t nearly as titillating as I’d hoped.) The owner of the store wanted to retire and encouraged Hilary to buy it. Hilary knew it was a viable business and didn’t want to see it close. After a few months, she sold If the Shoe Fits to Fort Bragg native Kerry Hagan and bought Understuff.

Over the years, Hilary has experimented with her inventory to include a variety of clothing—coats, jackets, pants, swim suits and practical pajamas. After the shop moved to Main Street, it gained more tourist traffic. “That’s been fun because it allows me to stock things that might not be affordable for the local market, but are beautiful for everyone to see.”

understuff2

Hilary and her equally discreet employee Nicole.

I tried to get Hilary to share funny stories about her customers, but she declined. Because of the nature of intimate apparel, she must be discreet. I find this reassuring. My brassiere preferences are stored in her computer. I hesitate to think of the stir this would cause should that information be leaked to the public.

Hilary is grateful that owning a business allows her to live in a place she loves. She appreciates being part of a community of downtown business owners who support each other. For example, when she relocated her store, Chriss Zaida of Toto Zaida was part of her moving crew. As Chriss prepares to move her store to Main Street later this month, Hilary and Martin have pitched in to help.

understuff4

Downtown crew helps Toto Zaida prepare to move to its new digs.

As a small business owner, Hilary has learned to adapt to changing conditions and trends. She feels the same holds true for the entire Fort Bragg community. “We don’t have to despair over what we once were [a thriving logging and fishing town] but we can make new things happen, like coastal trails and marine science centers. We can evolve while continuing to respect our heritage.”

Hilary is every bit as great as everyone says. On the surface, she exhibits a grace from a gentler era, dresses with panache, and has excellent posture. I’m happy to let you know that she’s also warm, vibrant, and generous with her laughter. Our town has benefited by her return.

The Spirit of Giving

A few weeks ago, my friend—let’s call her Nell—said she felt guilty about throwing away donation plea letters that arrived in December. Throughout the year, she was generous to charities, but during the Christmas season her money was spent on gifts for family and friends. Still, she wished she could answer all the pleas.

She remembered a quote attributed to Jon Carroll. He allegedly said that if you want to give away money, go to the bank, take out as much cash as you can afford, and distribute it to people on the street.

5This appealed to Nell. Nearly every day, she saw homeless people and others in need. But she never paid much attention as she whizzed by in her car or, when walking, crossed the street to avoid them. She thought about her “Fiver Envelope.” Whenever she receives a five-dollar bill as change in a transaction, she saves it. After gathering a bunch, she uses them to treat herself to a massage or some other luxury. She decided to take the $100 she’d accumulated and give it away.

The prospect of approaching complete strangers scared her. She formulated a couple of rules: she would only interact with solitary people, no one in a group; and she would not interfere with those who looked mentally unbalanced.

PostOfficeShe found her first person one early cold morning at the post office. A dented maroon car stuffed with clothing pulled into a parking space, the back bumper tied with a rope on top. A weary woman with thick black curly hair struggled to get from the vehicle and up the post office steps.

Nell pulled a five from her wallet and folded it in half. When the woman entered the building, Nell asked, “May I give you something?”

The woman looked wary.

Nell held out the money.

The woman looked confused and asked, “Why?”

“Because it’s Christmas.”

The woman took the money. “That’s it? For no other reason?”

Nell said, “Yes,” and wished her a Merry Christmas.

“Thank you so much.”

Nell felt happy, very happy.

The second was a young wispy woman wrapped in layers of clothing to stave off the cold rain. She was walking with a black pit bull that wore a padded doggie jacket. Nell pulled to the curb and got out of her car. “May I give you something?”

Again a wary look.

Nell held out a five.

The woman grinned, yet looked close to tears. “I’m so glad I turned around and started walking this way. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have met you.” She gave Nell a hug.

DSC02402The next day, Nell was walking to her car in the Purity parking lot. She noticed a heavy-set woman putting her baby in a car seat in the front of a yellow dented pickup.

As Nell held out her offering, the woman backed slightly away and adjusted her glasses. “I shouldn’t take it.”

Nell reached her hand out further. “Please, I want to give it to you.”

“Thank you. I really do need gas money.” She invited Nell to the live nativity scene produced by one of the local churches on Christmas Eve. She said her baby would play the role of Jesus. She blessed Nell as she walked away.

DSC02477A few days later, Nell saw a middle-aged blonde woman fishing through a public trash can. When she gave her five dollars, the woman beamed. “Thank you. It’s my birthday.”

Nell’s heart soared. “Happy birthday, my dear!”

Every time Nell gave away money, she felt immense joy. She was as grateful for the offering as the recipients were to receive. Most interactions were less than a minute, but during that time she was able to look a person in the eyes, touch his or her hand and, in a few instances, receive a hug. In those moments, she felt something she had never allowed herself to internalize—these are human beings just like her. They have feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams. Yet their daily lives are immeasurably more difficult than hers.

She felt compassion.

DSC02540Her last five was given to someone she sees frequently—a tall, lean man who sports a camo jacket and walks a dog with a matching bridle coat. He’s a loner, who appears to avoid others. It was shortly after the New Year and raining. She spotted him on the sidewalk. He was walking so fast that she pulled over a block ahead. She got out of the car with trepidation. He’d always seemed stoic and she wasn’t sure how he’d react to her approach.

“Hi,” she said.

He returned the greeting with a slight twinkle in his eyes.

“May I give you something?” She held out the folded bill.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Yes, please, I want to give it to you.”

He grinned. “Thank you.”

She had never been close to him. She looked at his face—really looked at it—and saw a kind man in his forties with well-sculpted features and dark brown eyes who somewhere along the line learned to keep to himself. She reached down and petted his dog, grateful that he had a companion.

“Happy New Year.” As the words left her mouth, she regretted them. They sounded hollow and trite.

“Happy New Year to you,” he said, leaving her with the gift of his smile.

 

DSC02521

Cash Flow

In the summer of 2008, after numerous citizen complaints, the Fort Bragg city council passed an ordinance against panhandling. I was relieved.

PanhandlingFlyerIn lieu of giving strangers money, I prefer to donate to organizations that help the homeless and those in need. But as the town’s panhandling situation escalated, I felt pressured. It got to the point where I couldn’t go grocery shopping or walk downtown without being asked for spare change. When I finally mustered the nerve to deny one guy, he told me to “Have a nice day, bitch!” Well there he went, ruining it for everybody. With few exceptions, spare change has stayed in my wallet from that moment on.

Some years ago, I drove around Spokane, Washington, with our son Harrison collecting what he needed to move into a dorm at Gonzaga University. On our one hundredth trip to the Valley Mall, I pulled onto the freeway off ramp and stopped at a light. A short, stout woman with hair the consistency of a bird’s nest stood in the dry weeds next to the street holding a sign that stated, “I need money to get out of here.” Perhaps it was her extreme twitchiness that prompted me to roll down my window and ask, “Where are you going?”

“Idaho.”

She was only twelve miles from the Washington-Idaho border. Her chances of success were quite high.

“And then I’m going to the state after that and then the state after that and the state after that….”

I reached into my wallet and pulled out the first bill I touched. It was a five.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” She shouted as she took the money.

The light turned green and I proceeded to the mall.

“You know she’s going to buy drugs with that money, don’t you?” Harrison said.

“I suppose.” I didn’t tell him I had experienced times in my life when I wanted to make a run for the border and keep going to the state after that and the state after that.

mycarThis past spring, about a month before a van tried to run me over in The Purity parking lot, I found a dollar on the sidewalk. I put it in a cup holder in my car. I would give it to the first street person who asked for money, preferably someone encountered in the parking lot at The Purity.

I was surprised how long it took to pass along that dollar. Seven months after finding it, I was downtown on Laurel, walking along the north side of the street. As I approached Pippi’s Longstockings, a young man and woman crossed the street from the alley.

Both were tall and lean, the kind of lean that borders on emaciated. Despite the warm weather, they wore sweatshirts, the hoods pulled over their heads and down to their eyebrows. His was gray, hers a faded red. There was a dark desperation about them, the kind of look I get when I’m denied my mid-morning sugar fix. I gave them a nod of acknowledgement, a smile of understanding. I’ve been caught without cookies in the house when I dearly need them.

As if I’d tossed a lasso and pulled her in, the woman approached. “Do you have a dollar?” she asked.

I do.” It’s difficult to describe the joy that came over me. Someone had finally answered my call and I was able to relinquish the responsibility of being a good steward of found cash.

The original Purity dollar was in my car, but I had a substitute in my wallet. I pulled it out and handed it to her along with a big smile. She snatched it from my hand. “Thank God,” she said, with a deep sigh of relief. It was the same relief I feel when, hopeless, I remember a stash of mini-muffins in the freezer.

Her man friend had continued north through the alley. She quickened her stride to catch up.

Perhaps she’d use that dollar to feed her addiction. Maybe it would help her buy some food. Possibly it would help get her to the next state, and the state after that, and the state after that.

Tattoo You

One of my greatest talents is avoiding self-reflection. I’m content with believing that I’m hip and easy going. Unfortunately, I have kids who call me on my crap. Unlike fair-weather friends who can be kicked to the curb when they criticize me, I take to heart the observations of my children.

For example, I like tattoos. I really do. I own a couple myself and admire the courage of those who have murals painted on their arms, chests or backs.

I recently discovered that as much of a fan I am of tattoos, I like them on others more than on my own children.

Our son Harrison has no tattoos. Our daughter Laine got her first one in December of her eighteenth year, when she was home for Christmas break from college. As a veteran of one tattoo at that point, I was excited for her.

Lainetat3When she was at the tattoo parlor, I wandered in to take a look. I nearly fainted. The artist was painting a very large antique key across her left shoulder blade. “It sure is big,” I said. (Okay, I probably said it more like, “IT SURE IS BIG!!!”)

Later Laine said she didn’t know it was going to be so large and asked if I was okay with it. I apologized for my initial reaction and told her she could have whatever she wants painted on her body.

Lainetat1A few years later, she got a single lens reflex camera tattooed on her right ankle. It was small and dainty. I liked it.

Lainetat4A few years after that, she and a couple of her girlfriends decided to get red button tattoos behind their right earlobes. I thought this sounded sweet and fun. I envisioned a petite shirt button. She came home with a coat button. “It sure is big,” I said. (Okay, I probably said it more like, “IT SURE IS BIG!!!”) Noting her disappointment, I added, “But I like it.” She was twenty-three, it was her body, and she could tattoo whatever she wanted on it.

Flash forward a few years to Harrison’s wedding. Months before the event, Laine—who is now twenty-six—chose a strapless bridesmaid gown. I encouraged her to wear a shrug to cover her back, thinking some people in the audience might be offended by the large key on her back. (Yes, I did and yes, I am now ashamed to admit it.)

A couple of hours before the bridesmaids were scheduled for photos, Laine asked if she could speak with me privately. I panicked. What could she possibly have to speak to me privately about? I feared I would be reprimanded for some inappropriate behavior. I had no idea what I might have done.

She spoke softly as she took me on a retrospective of her three tattoos and my reactions to each. She said she would not wear a shrug to the wedding ceremony because she is who she is—a woman with a large, beautiful tattoo on her back.

I was ashamed that I had asked her to compromise who she is in order not to offend others. I apologized. (Mostly, I was relieved that she didn’t point out times when I might have acted like a fool during the wedding weekend.)

Then she said, “A few months ago I got another tattoo. It’s on my arm. And it’s big.”

I braced myself, took a deep breath and said, “That’s fine honey. It’s your body and you can do what you want.”

Lainetat2

Lyric from the Bright Eyes song, “June on the West Coast.” Also a description of Laine’s hometown, Fort Bragg, California.

She pulled up the sleeve of her robe to reveal a quotation in beautiful calligraphy on her left tricep. I won’t lie—IT IS BIG and caused me a moment of shock. I hugged her and apologized for making her think I disapproved of her previous tattoos. She is a successful, kind, productive citizen of this world. She can tattoo whatever she wants onto her body.

In the days that followed, the need to reflect on what happened between my daughter and me poked me in the ribs. Why could I accept and admire body art on others, yet have such a difficult time accepting it on her?

When I gave birth to her, I created a perfect masterpiece with delicate, soft skin that I lovingly bathed and caressed, protected with sunscreen, and bandaged when wounded. I now realize the sense of ownership I still harbor toward that skin. Deep in my heart, I can’t help being offended that she so casually lets people scribble on it.

On others, I consider tattoos art; on her, it’s graffiti.

tattooyou

Virginia Loperena

I met Virginia Loperena in typical small town fashion. Norma Watkins belongs to the Writers of the Mendocino Coast. Norma and I belong to the same writers group where we often talk of the quirkiness of Fort Bragg. Norma suggests I contact Virginia about a poem she wrote about our town and presented to the writers club.

In a roundabout way, I already know Virginia. She is linked to Jasper Henderson, a young man who went to school with my daughter. My daughter is friends with Virginia on Facebook.

I contact Virginia through Facebook and she is delighted to share her poem. I meet with her the day before she is scheduled to leave Fort Bragg for an adventure that will start by returning to her hometown of Coney Island, New York.

Virginia went to Harvard where, among other things, she met Jasper. After graduation, they ventured to Anchor Bay where his father lives. A few months later, they decided that area was too isolated and moved to Fort Bragg. In her two years here, she worked as the Marketing and Development Director of the Noyo Food Forest and as an Administrative Assistant and Data Base Manager for the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County.

It took time for her to adjust to life on the Mendocino Coast. “I was surprised that so many people know one another. When I was out with Jasper, he’d always run into someone he knew. At first, I’d stand aside, feeling like a Martian envoy. But it didn’t take long before I became known. I like going to places like Headlands and running into people I know.”

Virginia loves the natural beauty of the area and the preponderance of what she calls “Hippy Stuff”—organic food, Fair Trade, non-GMO food. She recognizes that we’re a passionate community. People rally for protection of the ocean and the whales, and rail against devastating forestry practices. “People having a pet cause makes for an engaged community.”

Virginia also found things that she doesn’t like about living on the Mendocino Coast. It’s very isolated—at least three hours from the bustling urban city of San Francisco. She is also disheartened by the recent rise of a small vocal group of negative people. “They can sap the energy and joy out of living here. In a large city, these voices are like white noise. Here they’re hard to drown out. The rumor mill can quickly get out of hand. It’s not based on fact and becomes a scary thing for those who are targets of rumors.”

I wish Virginia well in her future endeavors and thank her for her contributions to our community and, of course, my blog.

Ode to Fort Bragg in Autumn
By Virginia Loperena
It’s six-thirty and the world has ended.
No, really. The sky has darkened to
Black, like ink, or strong coffee.
Speaking of coffee, at the coffeeshop
(We’re taking Headlands)
They play live music nightly.
The waiting list is a moon’s turn.
The moon is not risen
But will be a waxing gibbous
Tonight. The artist is a local man
Who plays jazz while I drink
Local! Port! Wine!
O, Fort Bragg, land of Laurel Street,
Of Locavores,
Of loquacious signage!
Tonight, the musician will begin his set at seven.
The sun begun its set
Over an hour ago.
We patrons are all tired and reading books.
Talking local politics,
A character we call Karl Marx discusses
A local County Supervisor
“He’s a phony. A phony!
Gladhanding around town,
Calling himself an Avatar.”
The coffeeshop, at this hour,
In this month
(November, just past Daylight
Savings, when the cold begins to set in,
But the leaves and rain remain
Indifferent to the season’s turn),
Is dead.
The night is so black.
Who would take their coffee
Or their reasonably priced port
At this dark hour?
There are no tourists left
To marvel at this quaint coastal town,
And gawk at the glassy beaches,
And kick back trendy microbrew.
Even the locals evaporate
Burnt out like afternoon fog.
My lover, a poet, says,
“They’ve all gone home
To put their animals away.”
O, Fort Bragg!
This lunacy, this love affair
Is delicious. O Karl Marx!
The universe is, indeed, “full of things.”
I do believe in gravity, in energy fields,
In the consciousness of Redwoods.
I believe,
In syncing my menstrual cycle with the moon-mother!
I believe,
In Mercury, in retrograde,
In November,
In the magick of this early falling night.

Mother of the Groom

wedding2I sat in the front row, Mother of the Groom, and watched our son’s face as his bride Kasi walked down the aisle. I had never seen him so happy. He radiated pure joy. Through tears, I marveled at how we arrived at this place.

If you’re a mother, you know how it is—you give birth to a kid who transforms your life by infusing it with an intensity of love you never thought possible. After a couple of years, he starts bossing you around and this pretty much continues for the next 16 years until you happen upon a socially acceptable way to kick him out of the house—borrow a million dollars and send him to a faraway college. Through it all, you continue to love him, but secretly admit there are times you really don’t like him.

In his mid-twenties, you witness what has been scientifically proven—his brain fully forms. He makes statements such as, “I can see why you freaked out the night my friends and I snuck out of the hotel in San Jose and you searched for us until two in the morning. We were only 15.” You suspect aliens have turned him into a pod person (ala the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).

HarrKasi2When Harrison proposed to Kasi, his dad and I couldn’t have been happier. We christened her the girl of “our” dreams. If we could have arranged a marriage, it would be to this girl. She is loving, charming and energetic, and has encouraged the growth of kindness and generosity in our son.

Once the wedding date was set, I searched online for etiquette on how to behave as Mother of the Groom. Basically, I was advised to buy a nice dress and keep my mouth shut. The mouth would be a challenge, but the dress should be easy. I typed Mother of the Groom Dresses into my search engine.

MOG1MOG9

 

 

 

 

 

I was surprised by the number of dresses that bordered on skanky and shook my head in judgement at the type of mother would wear such a thing to her son’s wedding.

I chose a simple frock topped with lace.

As the wedding day approached, Kasi said she’d hired professional aestheticians and asked if I’d like to have my hair and makeup done. I was thrilled. It would be like Project Runway when Tim Gunn says, “Send your models down to hair and makeup.” I relished being painted into a thing of beauty. Then I remembered the day I turned 50 and went to a makeup artist. I hoped she could show me some tricks to look younger. An hour later, I emerged from the salon looking like a 50-year old hooker. I cried all the way home where I immediately washed it off.

I wear my hair so short that my own hairdresser can’t style it. I feared what a 20-something aesthetician would attempt to do. I called Kasi and declined the invitation.

Me&LaineThe day of the wedding, our daughter went to the hair and makeup studio and emerged a stunning bridesmaid. I helped my husband Gary put on his handsome tuxedo jacket.

I carefully applied makeup. Did you know there’s this thing called primer, like paint primer, that allows the top coat to go on more smoothly? After watching a YouTube video on how to put makeup on “mature women,” I bought some. I guess it works—I don’t know. I ran a man comb through my hair, sprayed down stray wisps, and put on my non-skanky dress and heels.

KateGaryWe were blessed to be surrounded by loved ones—our older son and daughter, son-in-law, granddaughters, sisters, a niece, brother-in-law, and my mother—family who had not been all together in years.

After the guests were seated, Gary and I walked down the aisle and took our places in the front row. Harrison stood about five feet in front of us.

BB4Here was the baby I had held close and twirled in my arms as we danced to “More than a Feeling;” the kindergartner who exited his classroom on the first day and exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”; the child who interpreted “No” as the start of the negotiation process; the eighth grader who wouldn’t allow me to chaperone a school dance until I paid him twenty bucks; the teenager who loved to cook and would make four-course dinners for his friends; the sports enthusiast who enticed us to share his passion; the boy who made us proud over and over again.

I looked at our little boy, all grown up, and felt the same intensity of love as the day he was born, a feeling so powerful no other existed. I watched his smile, his beaming face, and knew that this was how he felt towards his beautiful bride.

All the years we’d traveled together had led us to this perfect time, this perfect place.

HarrKasi