Lucy – A Year in Review

I originally posted this on our one-year anniversary with Lucy. That was before we knew of her extensive orthopedic problems, before her two complicated knee surgeries, before she’d learned to sail over fences to discover places a lot more interesting than our yard, before we spent many, many dollars to repair her body and erect taller fencing.

Today, Lucy turns five. We celebrate a life we didn’t anticipate sharing, a life we’ve become grateful to share.

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When our adult children came to town Labor Day weekend 2013—two weeks after our fifteen-year-old dog Wilson died—they despaired at our empty nest and gifted us with what they felt was the perfect “filling”—a puppy. My husband Gary was elated. I wanted to curl up into a ball and be taken to an asylum.

When Lucy was brought into the house, all I could think of—as I pasted a smile on my face and screamed with what I hoped sounded like excitement—was how much work she was going to create.

destructionOver the course of thirty-five years, we’ve raised four puppies. Gary might have forgotten, but I knew the drill. Even with obedience training and supervision, Lucy would learn about life mainly through the destruction of property—sofa pillows, socks, underwear, plants, holes dug so deeply in the yard that a visitor asked if we’d had trees removed. Given Gary’s disabilities, the majority of transforming her into a “good” dog would fall on me.

My obsession with wanting to skip the puppy stage of her development caused me two weeks of insomnia and vertigo.

559798_10152017172491844_2118415971_nThank God I found Puppy Kindergarten where every Saturday morning for ten weeks, Lucy had the chance to play with other puppies and sweet Elaine Miksak gave me direction on how to calm the hell down and enjoy my baby girl. For the first month, both Lucy and I returned home after class to take naps. After an hour, I’d awake to find my open mouth drooling on the pillow.

By January, Lucy had grown too large for the class (forty-five pounds), and we found Julie Apostolu, who convinced me Lucy was ready for AKC Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) training. I had no idea what that was, but hoped the eight-week course would help me continue to learn patience and understanding.

The CGC class was held in a clearing in the woods next to the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The first day, Lucy kept tugging on the leash and gagging. She thought she was at a new Puppy Kindergarten and wanted to be free to play with other dogs. When that didn’t happen, she discovered the pine needles covering the ground hid buried cat poop that could be rooted out while pretending she was deaf to the command, “Leave it!” (She waited to come home to vomit on the carpet.)

The first few weeks of class were brutal. Lucy would not listen, jerked at her leash, and when she got tired, rolled onto her back and refused to move. Julie offered encouragement and direction, but I felt inept and humiliated.

dirt

After a particularly rigorous digging session in the yard.

One afternoon, as Lucy headed off for the fiftieth time in one direction while I tried to coax her into another, Julie’s assistant, DeeDee, came to my rescue and took the leash. Her expert handling and swift corrections got Lucy’s attention. I watched in awe as my dog looked at her and obeyed commands. Tears filling my eyes, I wanted to get into my car and drive away.

Eight weeks after we started CGC training—Lucy was nine months old—came the test. The dogs had to do things like heel (yeah, right), sit and stay (maybe), down (Lucy liked to lie down because it put her closer to the cat poop), and remain calm when left with a stranger (this would be easy—she loves everyone). All of this had to happen without benefit of treat reinforcement.

We were doomed.

My anxiety grew as I watched others go through the course while Lucy jerked on her leash and gagged. While we were on deck, she calmed down to watch the dog being tested. I looked at her sitting with such dignity and my heart surged with love. I crouched and hugged her, petting her neck and chest, and whispered, “I don’t care if we pass. I love you and am so proud of you. Let’s have fun with this.”

Lucy rose to the occasion, messing up on only a couple of things. At the end of the course, I had to hide behind a crop of redwoods while she stayed with a stranger for a couple of minutes. When I was called back, Julie held out her hand—“Congratulations, she passed.”

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

Shortly after the photo was snapped, she tried to eat her ribbons.

“What? Really?” I grabbed Julie in a hug and howled with laughter.

I looked at Lucy who sat wearing her calm snowy fur like a halo. “Good girl! Good, good girl!”

I wish I could say from that moment on, Lucy sprang from puppyhood to maturity, but no. She’s a work in progress, a spirit we enjoy despite or maybe because of her quirks (pretending she’s deaf to commands, the ability to destroy any toy in less than twenty-four hours, and a need to prune fuchsia bushes).

Since CGC, we’ve taken at least 30 weeks of other classes (Rally Obedience, Jumps and Tunnels, Nose Work) where we learn, have fun, and meet wonderful people and dogs.

I’m happy that our empty nest has been filled with fresh, rambunctious life and grateful to our children who filled a need we didn’t know we had.

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interpreted the command "Sit!"

Rally O class picture. After hundreds of dollars spent on enrichment classes, this is how Lucy interprets the command “Sit!”

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Jason Fruth

JasonFheadshotSometimes the inspiration to move back to the place you love arrives in the most random of ways. An email sent by your wife, added to the hundreds you received that day, nearly lost until a couple weeks later when you find it and ask why she sent you a link to a house for sale in Fort Bragg. She knows how your long work days often spill into late nights and take a toll on your personal life. Since leaving the Mendocino Coast over 20 years ago, you’ve always said you’d move back. Maybe now is the time.

Thus began the journey of Jason Fruth and his wife Cate who uprooted their lives in the Silicon Valley to create a new, fulfilling one here.

***

JasonF&momJason was born in Houston, Texas and moved to Elk with his mom Laurie Graham when he was seven years old. “My mom’s whole life was her children, but she was always willing to open her home to a friend in need. She loved nothing more than spending time with family and friends.”

He loved growing up in the tiny coastal enclave. “Through the fifth grade, I went to the Elk School which only had about 20 kids. My friends and I had the freedom to hike the bluffs, roam the beach and camp by the river. I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. It shaped who I am. I didn’t realize how special it was until I went to college and met kids who went to school with 2,000 or more students.”

He graduated from the Mendocino Community High School in 1995. “I grew up in a working class family. I wasn’t college oriented, but my paternal grandparents in Texas insisted I go. I applied to San Francisco State, San Jose State and Cal Poly Pomona.” He was accepted by all, did some research, found Cal Poly Pomona was the most highly rated, and decided to go there. His grandparents and father paid for tuition and housing.

When asked to declare a major, he asked, “What’s a major?” He laughed at the memory. “I had no idea. I was fascinated by airplanes and watched the NASA channel a lot so decided on Aerospace Engineering.

“I’d never heard of Pomona. I’d been to Disneyland once when I was a kid. I packed my two huge stereo speakers into my old Mazda 626LX and stuffed the rest of my meager belongings around them. A friend from high school made the trip with me. When I dropped her off at the airport a week later, I broke down crying.”

JasonFcollegeThose were the days before cell phones, when a homesick kid had to pay for long distance calls if he wanted to talk to his mom. Jason didn’t have this luxury. He got an on-campus job as the audio visual tech manager at the student union. He eventually became the building manager.

In 1999, friends who were riding the dot-com wave encouraged him to join them in the Silicon Valley. He moved into an apartment in Palo Alto with Joseph Huckaby, a friend from Elk. “I got a job in tech support with Connectix. When I looked at my first paycheck, I thought, ‘Are you serious?’ I’d never made this much money at one time in my life.” After a year, he was promoted to quality assurance engineering. In 2000, the dot-com bust began and Jason survived numerous rounds of layoffs. The company was bought by Microsoft which laid off 90 percent of the employees. Jason remained.

At Microsoft, he spent two years as a quality assurance engineer. “We tested code for the Mac Business Unit—the unit that creates Word, Excel and PowerPoint.” He was promoted to lab manager where he remained for eight years before becoming a regional information technology (IT) manager—a job that required long hours. “I’d work all day and go home to spend hours answering emails. I was part of a global team and often on conference calls in the middle of the night.”

JasonFCateHe bought a condo near San Jose State and rented out a bedroom, usually to a college student. “In 2009, a friend told me her friend Cate—who lived in Willits—was planning to go to San Jose City College and needed a place to stay. I rented her the room.” They began spending time together and slowly became a couple. They married in 2013.

Cate earned a degree in Anthropology from San Francisco State. She worked for a number of companies before becoming a business manager at Stryker, a medical technology company.

“My fourteen years with Microsoft was a good experience, but intense. It was a great company to work for in my twenties and thirties, but it kept me away from home.” Over time, he and Cate grew more stressed and less happy with living the city corporate life.

They hadn’t talked about moving until Cate emailed him that link to a house for sale in Fort Bragg. It turned out to be the catalyst that put in motion his desire to one day return to the coast.

Jason contacted a friend since middle school—Sage Statham—who had recently become the manager of Mendocino Community Network (MCN). There were no openings at MCN, but this didn’t deter Jason and Cate’s decision to move. “I called my sister and asked if we could live with her and her husband until we got settled. She was thrilled.

“We moved in late 2016. A month later, Sage called to say a guy at MCN had decided to retire. He encouraged me to apply for the job of field technician and I got it.”

The house Cate found on the internet was still on the market. They made an offer, but the deal fell through. They looked at many others, but none appealed to them. Three months later, they made the same offer on the original house and it was accepted.

“Cate and I kept going back to this house because it was newer, well-constructed, in town, with city utilities. It had a serendipitous feeling given that it popped up so randomly in our lives. It was meant to be.”

As he settles in to his new life, Jason contemplates how he might become involved with his community. Growing up, he attended Camp Rubber Soul, which brought groups of able-bodied and disabled kids together for a week at a time in an effort to foster understanding between the two. “It gave me an appreciation for not judging people.” By age 11, he became a camp counselor. “I used all my vacation time to return each summer until I was 28 when the camp shut down due to lack of funding. I’d love to see something like that again.”

Jason enjoys his job at MCN, which is far different from what he did before. “There’s a nice mix of being out in the field to fix problems and doing office work. At the end of the day, I leave it behind and go home to spend time with my wife and play fetch with our dog Cassie. It’s a pretty good gig.”

Welcome home, Jason.

JasonFFamily

Dewey Turner

deweyheadDewey Turner considers himself a positive person. If you’re fortunate to spend time with him you’ll agree with that assessment. There’s a twinkle to his eyes that gives away his friendliness, a quickness to his wit that gets you laughing. He possesses a tender heart and a deep love of family.

Nineteen years after graduating from Fort Bragg High School, Dewey is living the life he always dreamed. He’s married with two daughters (ages three and thirteen), living in a house he bought a few blocks from his alma mater. He’s the operations manager of FloBeds, a custom mattress business started by his father 47 years ago. For the first time ever he feels balanced, content and happy.

***

Dewey arrived with his family from the Bay Area to start sixth grade at Fort Bragg Middle School in 1993. According to him, “I adjusted quickly and made new friends. It helped that I played basketball, which gave me an instant identity.” In high school, he became a star player and his outgoing nature made him the life of the party. He reveled in being a big fish in a small pond.

“I loved growing up here. The teachers and community were supportive and caring. Life was good.”

After graduating in 1999, he went to Sonoma State where he planned to major in kinesiology. He didn’t like the courses and changed his major to communications and radio broadcasting.

“I was blown away by living away from home. I felt free to do anything I wanted. I made a lot of friends. If you lived on campus, you knew Dewey Turner. If you asked the professors about a student named Dewey Turner, they never heard of him.” He laughed. “After a year in the dorms, my partying lifestyle made me ineligible to live in student housing. During my first year off campus, I got into some trouble and had a wakeup call.”

This caused him to realize his purpose for being in college was to get an education, not to party. He began to focus on school and made the Dean’s List.

He also tried out for the basketball team. He hadn’t played for nearly two years—since his high school season ended. “I made the cut from 40 guys to 30 to 20. In the end, 15 got on the team. I was number 16.” He was asked to redshirt, meaning he’d spend the season on the bench.  “After that, I quit. I didn’t want to play at all.”

With the loss of his basketball identity, he returned to his carousing and mediocre student ways. However, he did become the sports editor for the college newspaper and started a radio show—“Hip Hop & Jock Radio.”

Like many people I’ve interviewed, Dewey returned to Fort Bragg after college to figure out his next move. “In 2003 I started work in the manufacturing and shipping departments at FloBeds. I was also the host of the Giants’ games for KMFB.

“I was coasting through life spending too much time partying. After a couple years my dad had a serious sit down with me. He asked me to think about what I wanted and where I was going. I made a complete 180 and dedicated myself to the family business.”

He continued to search for an identity. “I was white-knuckling it, trying to use the tool belt I’d gathered from my experiences to help me make good decisions, yet I was floundering. In an effort to find something to feed my need to be competitive, I played city rec league basketball, but that only got me through the winters. In 2007, I finally found what I was looking for in golf.

deweygolf“I was horrible at it, but figured if I practiced enough I’d get good.” He played five nights a week until dark and most weekends. He joined a golf tour and entered tournaments around Northern California. In 2012, he qualified for the national championship tournament at TPC Sawgrass in Florida and came in eighth among 150 entrants. That same year, he earned the title of Sacramento Player of the Year. In 2013 and again in 2017, he won the Little River Inn Golf Club Championship.

Dewey became the Operations Manager of FloBeds in 2009. Work and golf kept him busy, but his life felt unbalanced. “I always wanted a family and in September 2012 I met a wonderful woman—Jamie Fales. We fell in love and moved in together. She and her daughter Ali changed me. I realized I needed to be needed. The pieces of my life came together. I finally had what I’d wanted for so long.”

deweyjamieDewey and Jamie’s first date included Ali. They went to Mackerricher State Park beach and Jenny’s Giant Burger. “I knew I wanted them in my life forever. Ali and I have a special relationship. She’s truly my first daughter.”

Dewey’s life became more complete with the birth of his and Jamie’s daughter Mackenzie on Thanksgiving Day 2014. “That moment changed my life,” he said with a hand to his heart. “I have two daughters. I’m a dad now and that’s all that matters.”

After the birth of Mackenzie, he slowed down on golf. “I’m a weekend warrior now, also playing a couple times a week during the spring and summer. Jamie and I are a team and allow each other the ability to pursue activities we’re passionate about.

“The Christmas after Mackenzie was born, Jamie got a Fitbit. This encouraged her to start working out. She eventually attended Bethany Brewer’s morning boot camps. Before long she was competing in triathlons and Spartan races. She placed third in the recent 70.4-mile Long Beach Bayshore Triathlon.”

In the meantime, Dewey became the assistant Fort Bragg High School boys’ varsity basketball coach. “I’ve also continued to play rec league basketball alongside my mentor Tim Anderson. Our team, sponsored by FloBeds, has won the last three men’s league titles.”

deweydaveDewey loves Fort Bragg and the life he’s built since his return. “It seems our town needs to find its identity over and over again. So much of our future depends on how the mill site is developed. We need to keep opening our minds to change.”

He appreciates learning the business from his dad. “We’re always trying to innovate in order to maintain our success. Our slogan is ‘Every body’s built differently, their mattress should be too.’ Most of our business is done online and it’s a challenge to constantly figure out how to grow that presence.”

Dewey defines himself as a family man first. He is raising his girls to reach their full potential. Second is his work with FloBeds. “My family and our employees’ families depend on this, and I aim to carry on my father’s legacy. I’m proud to be his right hand, taking over his life’s work.” Then he lists basketball coaching and last being a golfer/basketball player—two things which a short time ago held higher priority on this list.

Thank you Dewey for returning home and adding to the rich texture of our coastal community.

deweyfamily

 

Mindy Slaughter

MindyWhen I first heard Mindy Slaughter on the radio as the voice of Sport Dodge a few months ago, her upbeat tone and energy impressed me. She must have had this effect on others, too, as random people encouraged me to contact her for an interview. Her warmth, intelligence, and easy laughter made me glad I did.

It’s been nearly 14 years since Mindy graduated from Mendocino High and went away to college. That entire time, she felt compelled to return home. “Even though I was born in Ukiah and lived most of my childhood there,” Mindy said, “I say I’m from the Mendocino Coast.”

MindyDadIn January 2000, her dad Mike and business partners bought Jack Smith Dodge in Fort Bragg. She was in the ninth grade, her brother Matt in the seventh. “I was excited about moving to the coast, but stayed in Ukiah with my mom to finish the school year. That summer, Dad introduced me to the high school basketball coaches for Fort Bragg and Mendocino. I got to practice with both teams.”

Mindy felt a kinship with the Mendocino team and decided to attend their high school. “It was the best decision. There were 72 in my graduating class. We were like a big extended family.”

In 2004, during her senior year, Mindy was accepted to Saint Mary’s College. Her mom Mary fell gravely ill with a fifth bout of breast cancer—a disease she’d been battling for 10 years.

MindyMom“On prom night I got dressed in her hospital room. The nurses decorated it with our prom theme—Mardi Gras—and helped us celebrate.” A month later, Mary was deemed too frail to attend the graduation ceremony. “Her nurse Kathy Lang and Kathy’s policeman husband Joe sprang her from the hospital and took her anyway.” Mindy smiled at the memory.

Mindy deferred her admission to Saint Mary’s and enrolled in Mendocino College in Ukiah. “This allowed me to come home on the weekends to be with my mom in the hospital.” The love and tenderness with which this was said broke my heart.

In October 2004, Mary passed away.

“I stayed at Mendocino College and got my AA degree in Business Administration. By that time my brother had graduated from high school. He was headed to Sacramento State and I went with him.

“My plan was to finish college and come back to Fort Bragg.” A click of a computer button derailed that plan for over a decade.

“In 2007, Jeep was sponsoring a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert at Arco Arena in Sacramento. My dad got sponsor tickets and gave them to me. I went on the Arco website to check the seat locations and saw an announcement for a marketing internship with the Sacramento Kings. I applied and got a call that the positon had been filled, but there were other unpaid internships available in Sales and Service.

“I was hired and the part time internship quickly grew to 30-40 hours a week. I did this for about seven months while also going to school fulltime. I finally told my boss I needed a paying job. A couple weeks later, I was hired as his assistant.

MindyKings“In June 2008, the Services Coordinator position for the Sacramento Kings became available. I applied and started a week after I graduated.”

During her years with the Kings, she was able to learn many aspects of running an NBA team—marketing, event operations, fan experiences, sales, membership services, and public relations. Although the work was challenging and required long hours, she loved it.

In the fall of 2011, she got a call from a former mentor who was working for the University of Oregon Ducks. “He encouraged me to apply for the athletic department’s Event Manager job at the new Matthew Knight Arena. I love doing events. At the time, there was talk of the Kings moving to Los Angeles or Seattle. Employees were leaving and not being replaced.

MindyDucks“I got the job and moved to Eugene in November 2011. I was 25—eager to do the work and learn. Professionally, I was fulfilled—I got to help with the Olympic trials and an appearance by the Dali Lama. I had the opportunity to learn and do more than most who spend years in this type of role. But personally something was lacking. It was hard living in a town where people are either college students, young marrieds with children, or retired. My heart was in California. I missed home.”

In June 2013, Mindy’s former Kings boss called to say the team had sold and was staying in Sacramento. He offered her the job of Manager of Membership Development and Sales (a department she’d helped start). She jumped at the chance to return to California and be closer to her family.

Her return coincided with the building of Golden 1 Center—the new Kings arena in downtown Sacramento—which was slated to open for the 2016-17 season. “We had to move 12,000 season ticket holders to seats in an arena which wasn’t laid out like the old one. We were prepping for the upcoming season at Golden 1 Center while closing out the last season at Arco Arena. There was so much adrenaline, it was so much fun. There were times I spent the night in my office. Looking back, someone should have stopped me.” She laughed.

With the new arena open, season ticket holders happily seated, and her eighth basketball season under her belt, Mindy began talking with her dad about wanting to apply the knowledge she’d gained to something new and challenging. “I always said I’d move back to the coast and work alongside my dad at the dealership. He suggested this might be the time to do that.”

When Mindy gave her notice, her boss asked what she needed in order to stay. “I told him this wasn’t about money or my job title. It was time for a change. I wanted to go home.”

In September 2017, Mindy became General Manager of Sport Dodge. “I feel like a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I feel grounded. It makes me happy when people come into the dealership to meet me after hearing my voice on the radio.”

MindyRotary

With step-mom Clara and dad Mike.

One of her favorite aspects of small town living is how people have a vested interest in the well being of others. “You can make a true hands-on difference here. Dad has been a Rotarian for years. In January, I had the privilege of being inducted into the club. It was such a proud moment. It’s important for us to give back to this wonderful community.”

Mindy is delighted to find that the concept of shopping local is more widely accepted than it was years ago. However, she’s concerned that we’re not an active youth community. “I’m in favor of youth leaving for education and experience. There’s so much to learn and observe in the world. I’d like to see more of them return to share their knowledge. We have such great potential to become a thriving economy while maintaining our small town feel.”

She’s proud that the dealership employs 21 people, most of whom were born here or have been members of this community for a long time. She looks forward to helping the business continue to expand and grow.

“After my mom passed, I steered away from having a personal life. I put all my time into school and work. It’s all I really wanted to do.” Returning to her beautiful hometown is helping Mindy find a balance between the two.

MindySport

With the Sport Dodge crew.

 

The Hoarder House

Some years ago I began watching and got mildly addicted to the show “Hoarders.” Months later, I cleaned out my garage and discovered dozens of cans of paint. I rationalized that I needed at least some of them in case walls or woodwork required touching up. Some as in maybe 10 cans. I’d always intended to donate the excess to local theater groups for set designs.

Obviously that never happened.

The excess cans were delivered to the next Waste Management toxic waste disposal collection day (or whatever it’s called).

This humbling experience caused me to garner empathy towards hoarders and stop watching that show, but did not diminish my curiosity about the disorder. Deep down I think I’m frightened I could easily develop similar patterns of behavior. (You should see my “collection” of fabric scraps—sometime in the future I’m certain I’ll find a use for that one-inch square of red polka dots.)

hoarding1On one of my walks with my dog Lucy a few years ago, I discovered a house three blocks west and one block south that had all the hoarding signs—disintegrating drapes that were perpetually closed in downstairs windows, paraphernalia piled against upstairs windows, a backyard that looked like a combination of junkyard and garbage dump. My fascination with it caused Lucy and me to walk by on a regular basis.

Last year, the place was condemned by the City. Over the next few months, a great deal was removed from the backyard. After a certain point, though, progress came to a halt.

fireIn the late morning of January 20, a friend called to say “my house” was on fire. I rushed to the scene to see firefighters battle toxic smoke spewing from the asbestos-singled structure. It was riveting to watch a firefighter stand high in the air on a truck ladder and spray hundreds of gallons of water on the house. When the smoke dissipated, the spray stopped. Within moments, the smoke started up again. All that water—and still there remained a deep burning that refused to surrender.

After an hour, I pulled myself away. I went home to fill a trash bag with clothes and shoes I never wear (notice I didn’t mention fabric) and put it in the garage with the intention of donating it to the Paul Bunyan Thrift Store. It sits next to the Christmas decorations where it’s likely to be forgotten until December.

fire2 (2)The next day and the day after that and the day after that, I drove by. The house is in shambles—an astounding collection of possessions destroyed and caved into a monstrous heap. I was surprised to discover that underneath the shingles is a wooden gingerbread design. A lifelong coastal friend told me that in the fifties and sixties a number of people covered old houses in this way to make them appear more modern.

rubbleAccording to The Fort Bragg Advocate-News, the elderly owner is in a nursing home. In an interview with his daughter, she explained that she and her brother suffer from disabilities and could make little headway on clearing after it was deemed uninhabitable.

The Advocate-News gave an identity to this mysterious place—it was someone’s family home. Children had grown up there. It may have been an anchor in their lives until their father was forced to leave. It was built generations ago with old growth redwood, a decorative design crafted into the siding, originally a sweet showplace on Pine Street easily viewed from Main across from the Presbyterian Church (until the church burned down in 1978).

Everything on that property—at one time needed, desired and perhaps revered—has been reduced to charred rubble. It will eventually go the way of the Presbyterian Church. The lot will be cleared and made empty. A place that was once a family home will exist only in the memories of people who were once, like me, fascinated by it.

outside

gingerbread

finalcurtain

A Charlie Brown Christmas

a-charlie-brown-christmas-16A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired 52 years ago when I was eleven. It was a special evening for my younger sister and me. We had been invited to watch at the Biklen’s house (they had a color television).

68aee84bcc9bd0c7469a97d97b2d22f6The Biklen’s were our next-door neighbors on South Mount Vernon in Spokane, Washington.  Geography caused the street to slope upwards, which perched their Swiss chalet on a hill above our house. Our properties were separated by a stone fence. Trees and shrubbery planted behind the wall shielded their house from view. A long red brick driveway curved into their property and stopped at a small garage nestled beneath the house.

L, K, M, & Tommy Earsley 1959

One spontaneous visit where we dragged along a couple of neighborhood kids.

When we were barely more than toddlers, my sister and I wandered into their property on a warm summer day and made Mrs. Biklen our friend. We stood outside her paned kitchen window, open to the fresh air, and hollered our hellos.

She said her name was Ellamae. I asked how old she was and she said, “Forty-five.” Outside of our grandmother, she was the oldest woman I’d ever met. Her voice carried the soft lilt of contentment, but her eyes held a tinge of sadness at the edges. She had graying chestnut hair and wore a flowered shirt-waist dress.

Mrs. Bilken & dogShe escorted us home that day, but on those rare occasions when our mother lost sight of us while we were playing in the yard, we’d wander to the Biklen kitchen window and call, “Ellamaid, Ellamaid.” (This was before we were fully indoctrinated to address adults by Mr. or Mrs.—never by first names.)

It was the late 1950’s and the two Biklen daughters were in high school. Mr. Biklen worked as the accountant/treasurer at the Spokesman-Review. Mrs. Biklen was a housewife.

My family consisted of a father who was a teacher, a stay-at-home mom, and three children. Within a few years, we’d balloon to five kids, crammed into a small three bedroom, one bath house. By comparison, the Biklens were aristocrats.

Years later—when I was eight—I was in our front yard playing with neighborhood friends when Mrs. Biklen drove her Nash Metropolitan past. I paused to wave and when she waved back, I again noticed her sad eyes. The next day, I told my sister that Mrs. Biklen was lonely and we should visit her. (I was too shy to go alone.)

L & K 1965She didn’t let us in, but invited us to return the following day after school. Thus began a series of weekly visits where we sat in her kitchen, practiced good manners, and told only those stories that shed us in a good light.

Mrs. Biklen served iced Cokes in leaded crystal glasses and store-bought cookies on china plates. She treated us with respect, listened to our stories and offered gentle advice. No one had ever paid such attention to me. Our hearts intertwined to create a bond that lasted more than forty years.

The night of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” my sister and I dressed in our good clothes—skirts and blouses, tights and Mary Janes. We donned winter coats. It had snowed the day before, but a slight rise in temperature had turned it to slush. We navigated puddles, careful not to get our shoes wet on our way to the Biklen’s.

The specialness of the program’s premiere allowed us to go to the front door (we usually entered through the back). We climbed the steps to the wide veranda and rang the bell. Mrs. Biklen opened the door wearing a dark green shirtwaist dress and black heels. Mr. Biklen stood from his smoking chair to greet us—another treat for the evening. We rarely spent time with him, always leaving our visits with Mrs. Biklen before he arrived home from work.

My sister and I sat on the antique Empire sofa upholstered in gray silk and nestled into a shallow alcove. A Christmas tree covered in colored lights and tinsel stood in a corner. The massive fireplace held a crackling fire. We crossed our feet at the ankles and straightened our spines. An assortment of cookies on a Christmas plate and paper napkins printed with poinsettias sat on the coffee table.

Mr. Biklen turned us into quite the Manhattan Coke lushes.  (Here celebrating my birthday.)

Mr. Biklen turned us into quite the Manhattan Coke lushes. (Celebrating my birthday.)

Mr. Biklen, in his highly spirited way, offered to make us Manhattans—his favorite drink. He left the room and returned with two elegantly-stemmed glasses filled with Coke and a sunken maraschino cherry. He proposed a toast to the Christmas season. I felt like a sophisticate.

The television—inside a dark wood console—was on, all warmed up so we wouldn’t miss a moment of the program. The opening chords of the soundtrack gave me the shivers. For the very first time, one of my favorite comic strips had come to life. I marveled how the voices perfectly fit the characters—Charlie Brown’s forlorn tone, Lucy’s crabby edginess, and Linus’s thick-tongued toddler sweetness.

My sister and I left that night high on Manhattan Cokes and sugar cookies—infused with the Yuletide spirit of Charlie Brown and the gang. Every year since then, come Christmastime, I’m carried back to the Biklen’s sofa where I’m surrounded by warmth and elegance, and reminded how the loving attention of adults stays with a child forever.

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Emily Head, L.Ac. MAOM

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I rushed across the parking lot behind Taka’s Grill on Main Street, through the brisk autumn chill, into Pacific Healing Acupuncture. The warm, softly lit interior wrapped me in a cocoon of serenity so intoxicating that I was nearly too relaxed to get out of my chair after my 90-minute chat with owner Emily Head.

***

As a teenager, Emily had few aspirations outside of staying and working in Fort Bragg. Her parents, Marie and Lewey, had other ideas. They’d moved here from the Bay Area in 1977 and felt it important for their daughter to experience life outside this small community.

After graduating from high school in 1998, Emily agreed to go to Sonoma State but moved home after a year to figure out what path she wanted to take in life. For the next few years, she worked as a waitress and took classes at College of the Redwoods. She also got her esthetician and massage licenses. She worked briefly as a massage therapist, but found she didn’t enjoy it. “I was having wrist problems, and didn’t want to make that worse.”

A few years later, Emily realized she didn’t want to be a career waitress. She applied to her dream school—UC Santa Cruz—and got accepted in 2000.  She majored in sociology with a minor in psychology. “I thought I’d become a child counselor.”

emily bunnyAfter graduating in 2002, she entered an 11-month AmeriCorps program. “I wanted to start paying off my loans, and AmeriCorps offered money towards that. I also thought it would be a fun break from life—which it was. It gave me time to decide what I really wanted to do.” She became part of a team of ten people in Denver. “We traveled to a number of states where we did jobs like state park trail maintenance and renovating a playroom for a summer program that offered homeless children a place to learn, play and socialize.”

During her AmeriCorps experience, her mother suggested she chose a career in the healing arts, perhaps as an acupuncturist. “I’ve always been intrigued by natural healthcare and figured it was a great career for me to pursue. Growing up in a household that didn’t depend on doctors taught me what was available that didn’t include synthetic cures. I always looked to Mother Nature for healthcare and acupuncture seemed the follow that concept of staying healthy.

“I came back to Fort Bragg and took anatomy and other science classes at College of the Redwoods and Mendocino College, which helped get me into the Masters Program at Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland.” She entered the school in 2006 where she attended daylong classes and practicum sessions five days a week. She loved living in Portland and studying traditional acupuncture. During the last two years, she also worked as an intern in various clinics.

She graduated in September 2009 with a Masters in Oriental Medicine and stayed for a couple of months to take three exams to earn her national acupuncture practitioner certificate before moving back to Fort Bragg. “I always knew I wanted to live and raise my future family here. My parents are here and I love the area.”

emilystudioShe once again worked as a waitress while studying for her California boards, which she passed in March 2010. Shortly afterward, she opened her business in the office complex behind Taka’s Grill. For the first few years, she supplemented her income by working three to four days a week at Lee’s Chinese. “Word of mouth has been a big factor in my growth. When I started accepting health insurance and Medi-Cal, my clientele also grew tremendously. I still work one day a week at Piaci’s. I love my profession, but like getting out and socializing. Waitressing does that for me.”

In addition to private sessions, Emily provides reduced priced drop in sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 4:00-6:00 pm. Her fees for all sessions are based on a sliding scale given a patient’s ability to pay. Most treatments are covered by insurance. “Stress is a major component of illness,” she said. “I don’t want people to stress out over the cost of trying to get well.”

Emily is glad her parents encouraged her to leave her hometown and get a different perspective on life. “I learned I don’t want to live in a big city. I’m not a commuter. I don’t even like to drive to Mendocino.” She laughed.

emilygarrettShe lives on the same property as her parents and shares a home with her partner Garrett Barker and his two children. “Garrett was born in Southern California, but lived in Fort Bragg off and on while he was growing up. He came back in his twenties and has been here ever since. He’s an amazing artist and also works for a machine shop in Comptche.”

“I grew up on the land where we still have a large garden. We raise rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. I raise a pig each year. I don’t do the killing of the larger animals, but I can butcher the meat. We also have beehives.”

Emily finds great satisfaction in helping people. “It sometimes amazes me that I can stick needles in people and it makes them better,” she said. “The body wants to heal and by using acupuncture, one can balance out the blockages caused by everyday life, including stress, injury, emotional upsets and illness.”

emilyhensShe’s sad that Fort Bragg doesn’t offer the same sense of community as when she was growing up. “I don’t see a lot kids riding bikes. I no longer know nearly everyone. I used to know the names of our homeless people. I don’t anymore. It’s especially hard for single people to live here—there aren’t many places to mingle.” However, she does admit that the Golden West Saloon—purchased a few years ago by a couple in her age group—has helped provide a social outlet for the younger crowd.

Emily laments the loss of the traditional workers who were once employed by the logging and fishing industries. “We’re more of a tourist community now.” She hopes more people who have left our community will return. “Many in my age group have already come back. It’s fun to hang out with people I went to high school with.”

Emily is pleased with the growth of Pacific Healing Acupuncture. Her ultimate goal is to establish a wellness center which would include a Naturopath, midwife, body workers and anyone devoted to alternative healthcare who is willing to help people regardless of their income.

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