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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE BIG ENDIVE BY THE BAY:

 

Well, with the reality show that was the SOTU, the tragic comedy of the Senate Republican’s acquittal of He Who is Not My President and the unending melodrama of the Iowa caucus behind me, I decided I had enough entertainment overload for a while and set off to the Big Endive by the Bay and the peace of my immunotherapy infusion.

We traveled by train and arrived at Peter and Barrie’s home in the late afternoon. We spent a delightful evening together. Barrie cooked her usual wonderful meal after which we spent hours telling stories. Most of the stories that evening were about travel — Peter and Barrie’s time in India and my experiences in Israel. I told about the wonders of the old city of Jerusalem, of my friendship with the Bethlehem Muslim antiquities dealer who had purchased the original Dead Sea Scrolls from the Arab tribesmen that discovered them. I also spoke about the mysteries of Masada, Qumran, and the Negev. We also swapped tales of Paris (We’ll always have Paris) with a side trip to Bordeaux, and Rome ( The Eternal City) and its environs.

The next day Peter drove Naida and me to UCSF for my immunotherapy infusion. After the appointment, we went to the Mission Rock Cafe for lunch. Mission Rock, located on the shore of the Bay a few blocks from the hospital at Mission Bay, was a favorite dive during Counter Culture times. It has now been converted to a somewhat upscale restaurant. After a reasonably good meal, we left and returned by train to the Enchanted Forest.

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Naida at Mission Rock Resort Pondering the Menu.

 

 

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Pookie by the Salesforce Tower.

 

 

 

B. BACK IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

 
The next day, I drove the Mitsubishi into the Golden Hills to pick up HRM from school and to fetched this month’s medicines from the pharmacy. The sun was shining and the weather pleasant, in the upper-sixties. Hayden and I had lunch at Subway’s and he once again impressed me with how rapidly he is becoming an adult.

I am distressed at the state of my memory. Throughout the day, my mind is bubbling with ideas about what I would like to write here in T&T, but when I sit at my computer to actually write, nada, nothing. We did watch “The Irishman” on Netflix last night — vintage Scorsese. It was a story about two bygone eras. The first described the power and decline of the Italian Mafia. The second seemed to me to celebrate the end of the Actor’s Studio’s influence on movies and theater as DeNiro, Pacino, Scorsese, Keitel, and Pesci (Pesci was not Actors Studio trained, but may as well have been) flaunting their ancient acting chops across the big screen. We will not see their like again.
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Today, Saturday, we attended the Saturday Morning Coffee once again. We met a woman who taught photography in Sacramento and Florence, Italy. Earlier in her life, she attended a two-week photographic safari in Montana. She volunteered to cook because the existing cook’s cooking was despised by the campers who had paid good money for the trip. She worked for the company for many years. Later, in Italy, she opened a bread bakery of some sort in Spoleto. We spoke about photography for a while. I gave her my view of aesthetics and art, “You do the best with whatever you got unless you have got to make a living out of it. Then you do whatever sells.”

Later I took H, Jake, and Ethan out for lunch at the Relish House in the Golden Hills. We ate hamburgers with complex toppings and talked about things of interest to teenagers, cars mostly.

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Ethan, Hayden, and Jake

 
Still later, back in the Enchanted Forest, Naida collected some camellias. Some were placed in a shallow bowl to float on the water. Others were used for adornment.
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Naida of the Camellias.

 

 

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On Tuesday, we were visited by Lillian Valee a friend of Naida’s, a fellow author, a poet, and a renowned translator of things Polish. She had been the student assistant to Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish writer, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for literature (poetry). She had assisted Milosz in translating his book Bells of Winter and other writings into English. Her book, Rivers of Birds, Forests of Tule is a marvelous collection of her columns written for the local museum publication describing the history of the flora and fauna of the Central Valley around the Mukouleme River and Modesto.

We walked the few steps from the Enchanted Forest to the banks of the American River. There we sat on a log for a while and watched evening drift down upon us. Naida and Lillian spoke of things literary while I threw stones into the water and petted Boo-boo the Barking Dog who lay dozing at my feet dreaming dog things.

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The American River at Winter’s End.

 

img_7905Naida West(http://www.bridgehousebooks.com/) and Lillian Vallee sitting on the banks of the American River discussing things literary while Boo-boo the Barking Dog enjoys the late afternoon sun.

 

 

IMG_7892 - Version 2Lillian and Naida. 

 
The next day we had a pleasant breakfast and discussed, Modesto, Eugene O’Neal, cooking, family, things Polish, Naida’s early life, native Americans, and a lot more. I eventually left Naida and Lillian to their chitchat at the breakfast table and with Boo-boo the Barking Dog in tow retreated to the study where I wrote this while Boo-boo napped. For some reason, I felt ill, chilled. I put myself to bed and slept for a few hours. When I had awakened, Lillian had already left to return to her home in Modesto.

Tomorrow, people will be coming to put in new flooring for the house. While moving some things around in preparation, Naida opened and old chest. In it was some of the clothing her great-great-grandmother had worn when she arrived in America in the 1840s almost 180 years ago. She decided to do dress up.

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Naida as the well-dressed Scottish immigrant of the 1840s.

 

 

IMG_7921A more formal version.

 

 
After watching a silly movie featuring a classical pianist, a singer and an all harmonica band, we went to bed. Not a bad day at all. I have had far worse.

Today the workers arrived at 8AM and immediately began tearing up the floors in the house in order to put in new floors and carpet. The racket and confusion of activity drove the three of us from the house like refugees from war — homeless and looking for refuge. We ended at Naida’s daughter’s house, sat on the back porch, drank some tea and talked, and talked. The dogs, (Sarah’s two and our one) played frenetically throughout the yard and upon the tool shed. Eventually, we all left except for Sarah’s two dogs, Sarah back to work and Naida, Boo-boo the Barking dog and I, returned home, navigated the noise, mess and apologies and ran upstairs to change for this afternoon’s Happy Hour with the members of the Saturday Mornings Coffee Group at someplace called Clubhouse 56 because it happens to be located on 56th Street in Sacramento. We drank a few Margarita’s. I ate a Hot Dog. We talked with a lot of people but I remember nothing about what we may have talked about. I did talk with Winnie. We compared maladies as we usually do when we meet. Her’s seemed much more distressing than mine.

We returned home after the workers left, made our way through the detritus and materials left behind pending the workers’ return tomorrow and up to the bedroom on the second floor. The floor installers had not yet attacked that floor. We crawled into bed.

Oh, I remember one other thing about the day. The Good/Bad David called from South Dakota to tell me that the temperature there reached one degree Fahrenheit today. I mentioned it was about 70 here in the Enchanted Forest. I invited him down to enjoy some California weather. He said he would think about it as soon as he finishes doing something or other with the cows or something like that.

It is Valentine’s Day. The house is in shambles as various teams of workmen continue tearing up the floor and hammering down new flooring. Naida and I have fled to the studio room to escape the noise of the tools and the Serbian, Chinese, and Mexican shouts of the workers as they lay down the floor. Happy Valentine’s Day to you too.

On Saturday the clattering of the workmen as they put down the carpets upstairs continued. Naida sentenced me to the big recliner in the living room while she cleaned out the studio before they began working in there. In rejecting my assistance, Naida said that there were a lot of personal papers and things lying around she wanted to go through. So Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I happily dozed in the recliner while everyone else worked.

Sunday, I drove into the Golden Hills to pick up HRM and Jake and bring them to The Enchanted Forest to help me move some furniture around the house. After completing that chore we went for lunch at a small family-owned Arabic restaurant. The food was surprisingly good.

After a few days of which I remember very little, Naida and I took Boo-boo the Barking Dog to the dog park. While there, some dog pissed on my cane.

It is now Wednesday evening, Naida and I are watching the Democratic Presidential Nomination debate on MSNBC. We sit here talking to the TV set like we were watching a football game. I hate the moderators. They seem more interested in pushing their personal agenda and gotcha games than in encouraging a debate. How about a question like “how do you propose to defeat Trump?” Or, “how is your position on ______ different from that of the present administration?” Nevertheless, there is a lot of shouting, self-justification, and a few apologies. Overall it is enjoyable, like watching a street fight.

It is now Friday evening, things have happened in the past two days have disappeared through the holes in my memory. Tomorrow is another day.

Another Saturday morning at the coffee in the Nepenthe Club House. Winnie’s husband Paul and I have a long talk together. He had been an accomplished architect in Los Angeles until he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. Wanting to spend the last few years in an idyllic setting, he along with Winnie moved to Salmon Idaho. Their house, designed by Paul, sat in a pretty little valley a few miles north of the town. A portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail crossed their property. Close by the Middle Fork of the Salmon River rushes by their home. It is the location of the book Murder On The North Fork written by Naida’s uncle who used to be the Methodist minister in the town. Naida had helped her uncle to write the book, edited and published it. The book told the true story of a murder that occurred in the area about 100 years ago.

Sunday was a day of rest and rest we did.
Tomorrow I leave for the Big Endive by the Bay for my immunotherapy treatment. Today, during our walk around the Enchanted Forest, I noticed the ornamental fruit trees were in bloom — the Japanese cherry trees a brazen pink and the whites and reds of the others bursting out here and there along with the camellias adding the blush of color to the lingering shades of winter. I expect, by the time I return from the Big Endive, our back yard will be a riot of spring colors.

Until then, take care of yourselves.

“Crivens”

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The white man dropped from the sun bright sky,

For he envied the blackfellow’s land,

With greed and revenge in his restless eye,

And disease and death in his hand.

And he grasped the forest, and he seized the strand,

And claimed the blue mountains high;

And he scours the bush with a ruthless band,

’Till its denizens trembling fly —

And his pigs and his cattle pollute the land

’Till it stinks, and the blackfellows die.

          — Anonymous (source language unnamed), “Untitled,” Bendigo Advertiser (Victoria), September 26, 1855, page 4.

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A. CHRISTMAS:

 

Christmas morning arrived dark and dank in the Enchanted Forest. Last evening, under a crystal clear sky, we attended a Christmas party at Naida’s daughter’s home in Land Park. It was fun. We sang Christmas carols, ate Chinese food, and opened presents. For a present, I got a throw blanket to remind me how old I am while keeping me warm in the evenings watching old movies on TCM and sipping egg-nog laced with brandy. I also received a book by Donald Hall entitled A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety also to remind me how old I am becoming. The book contains a series of short essays by the author, who also used to be the nation’s Poet Laureate, about how it feels to be ninety and still alive, the famous and not so famous people he has met, and his sometimes trenchant thoughts on various unconnected things. To quote the author on the nature and tenor of his opinions, “Why should the nonagenarian hold anything back?” I loved the book.

Today we drove into the golden hills to give HRM and Dick (or as we refer to him Uncle Mask) their Christmas presents. When we arrived, we learned they were both down with the flu. Hayden was nestled in bed in his teen cave. I went downstairs and gave him his Christmas presents, eight 5 by 7 wood-backed photographs of him and me over the years, also a pocket all-purpose tool, all separately wrapped. He unwrapped them one and a time and thanked me profusely after exposing each one.

Leaving him to ponder the meaning and significance of my presents and wrestle with the physical and psychological miseries of being sick on Christmas Day, I returned upstairs to find Naida and Uncle Mask in the kitchen making coffee laced with Kailua. For the next 3 or 4 hours, we sat around the table and discussed ancient Native-American society, the origin of bees, turkeys and grapes in California, petroleum development, coastal regulation, Willie Brown and related subjects. About halfway through our round-table discussion, Hayden, having resolved whatever quandaries I had left with him and suddenly cured of his maladies, emerged from his sickbed and told us he was off to the skatepark. The skatepark I concluded must be a miracle remedy that can cure certain adolescents of whatever psychological, physical, or existential issues they may have to wrestle with during that brief and certainly not beloved few years of raging hormones before recognition sets in as to how bad life can really get.

Eventually, Naida and I returned to the Enchanted Forest and watched a thoroughly silly movie starring William Powell and a far too young Debbie Reynolds. I wrapped myself warmly in my throw. It was warm. I was happy.

 

B. BOXING DAY:

 

(“In Britain, it was a custom for tradesmen to collect ‘Christmas boxes’ of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year… This custom is linked to an older British tradition where the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families since they would have to serve their masters on Christmas Day. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food.” [WIKIPEDIA])

 

Boxing Day (or if you will St. Stephen Protomartyr Day or the first day of Kwanzaa) broke, as our mornings usually do, with Boo-boo the Barking Dog, our reliable alarm clock, barking. Every morning at 9AM he begins at the upstairs window then running as though his fur was on fire down the stairs, high pitched almost hysterical barking following, to the living room window for a few moments then to the sliding glass doors by the garden and finally back again to the upstairs window where he then sits quietly and, it seems to me, smugly waiting to see if one of us responds and lets him out for his morning pee and breakfast. If not, he leaps onto the bed pawing at Naida’s arm until she gets up and staggers down the stairs to do his bidding.

Thus, unless we wake up at 7:30 or 8:00 this leaves little time for shagging. For those who wonder about shagging over 80 be advised while perhaps the more athletic positions are a dim memory, we decrepits remain quite able, at times, to enjoy all the pleasures of that activity with little of the self-consciousness of youth.

This morning, for my viewing pleasure, Naida provided me with a brief fashion show of the tennis outfits she had received as Christmas presents from her daughters. After this, she presented me with a nice cup of cocoa.

Later we went shopping for pants for me — a belated Christmas present. All this excitement so exhausted us we went to bed at 8PM. St. Stephen Protomartyr would be proud.

 

C. SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST DAY OR FOR THOSE NOT OF A RELIGIOUS BENT YOU MAY CHOOSE TO CELEBRATE ONE DAY OF THE FEAST OF THE WINTER VEIL OR LIFE DAY (THE WOOKIE CELEBRATION OF LIFE) OR NOTHING AT ALL AND JUST CHILL OUT.

 

What was different this morning than all other mornings? This morning Boo-boo the barking dog did not bark. I woke up alone in bed. Naida and the dog had slipped out of the room without a sound and were enjoying an early breakfast together in the downstairs studio.

The only thing that happened today that may be of interest to Johnny the Saint or Chewbacca the Wookie is that I learned that today’s adolescents are experts in the gastronomical merits of various fast food joints.

 

D. HOLY INNOCENTS DAY:

 

(“On this day it is custom to give the youngest child in the household the power to rule the day. From what to eat, where to go and what to do, the youngest is in charge. In Mexico, it is a day for children to play practical jokes and pranks on their elders.” National Day Calendar.)

 

Today also happens to be National Download Day. I do not know what that means. It is also Saturday, the day of the Saturday Morning Coffee at the Nepenthe Club House here in the Enchanted Forest. Alas, we missed it. Naida was having a long, long conversation on the phone with someone, so I decided to make my breakfast and write this.

I did nothing the rest of the day — not anything notable, nothing, not even a nap. Nothing is hard to do. Try it sometime. We did walk the dog this evening, however.

 

E. TODAY, DECEMBER 29, I HAVE LEARNED IS: BARBIE DOLL’S BIRTHDAY, SECRETS DAY, SENDING SHORT MESSAGES TO UNKNOWN NUMBERS DAY, INTERNATIONAL NUTCASE DAY, AND, SPARKLER DAY.

 

(Note: I can find no reference on the internet for any of these days. I did find a site that indicated that this was, Still Need To Do Day. [I thought that was every day.] If one were really interested, one could check the Catholic Saints Calendar and find about 50 saints whose celebrations are listed for this day including Albert of Gambron, Trophimus of Arles and Ebrulf of Ouche [Ouch?] Ouche is a river in the Cote-d’Or in France.)

 

At about 11 AM today I set off for Peter and Barrie’s home in The Big Endive By The Bay to spend the night before my appointment at UCSF for my treatment. Naida stayed home to work on Volume II of her memoir and attend to the needs of the dog.

That evening Jason, Hiromi, and Amanda joined Peter, Barrie and I for dinner. Barrie prepared a delicious shrimp and Polenta dish for dinner. Unfortunately, she added jalapeño peppers making it too hot and spicy for me to eat, so I contented myself with a banana, a pear, a Japanese yam and a slice of coconut pie. I was happy and sept well.

 

F. DECEMBER 30, NATIONAL BACON DAY:

 

(It is also National Bicarbonate of Soda Day, Falling Needles Family Fest Day and the last day of Hanukkah. Or, if you would prefer you can celebrate the feast day of Saint Raynerius of Aquila Bishop of Forconium (modern Aquila), Abruzzi region, Italy who was noted for his excellent administrative skills, but little else. Does this make him the patron saint of bureaucrats?)

In the morning, I drove to Mission Bay for some CT scans, meetings with the doctor and my infusion. As I walked through the newly built areas of Mission Bay, I could not help feeling like I was participating in a movie about a dystopian world of the future. I strolled through long narrow public spaces with monolithic facades rising on each side. The view of the new development along the shoreline with their bulges and sharp edges looked like cartoon renderings of the city of the future. Unlike most cities, there were fewer people drifting along with you as you walk down the streets and sidewalks. Instead, they seemed to pop in and out of various doors of the buildings as you walk by. There was a small market at the edge of the bay where shaggy Dead Heads sold their wares, mostly dope paraphernalia. Strange tents filled a few spaces that appeared to have been intended to be parks. One seemed to require playing a round of miniature golf before shopping in the tents for something to eat. Odd I see.

My meeting with the doctor went well — no evidence of the cancer spreading.

After my infusion, I met my grandson Anthony. We walked to The Ramp one of the two old hippy hang-outs that still cling to the edge of the Bay. Today they are filled with somewhat less colorful patrons. We sat outdoors and enjoyed the view of the bay, boats and the old shipyard that included a large tanker under repair.
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I then set off for the Enchanted Forest and ran into a traffic jam as soon as I crossed the Bay Bridge in Emeryville. I heard on the car radio the entire freeway had been closed in Vallejo for a “police action” and drivers were advised to find alternative routes. I took 680 and eventually arrived home three hours later. There were no news reports that evening about what the “police action” was all about.

 

G. HOGMANAY AND NEW YEAR’S EVE.

 

On New Year’s Eve, we attended a party at the Nepenthe Club House. It was scheduled to end at nine PM when the ball was dropped on Times Square in New York. It was planned like this so that we decrepits could get home at a decent hour. Even so, most of the people had left long before the Times Square ball did its thing. We stayed to the bitter end, however. At some point, we danced. A relatively young woman insisted I dance with her. Later at home, Naida told me that the woman was trying to seduce me. I had not noticed. I thought she was just tipsy. Anyway, I was pleased to learn that.

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H. NEW YEAR’S DAY, AND ST. ZYGMUNT GORAZDOWSKI DAY.

 

I did nothing at all today. I took a long nap in the afternoon. Watched a bit of television. Perhaps I was resting up from 2019 and getting ready to tackle 2010 — then again perhaps not.

 

I. NATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION DAY, NATIONAL PERSONAL TRAINER AWARENESS DAY, ST. BASIL THE GREAT DAY, ST. BLIDULF DAY AND ST. CASPAR DEL BUFALO DAY.

 

This morning broke sunny and relatively warm for this time of year. The arrival of the garbage trucks and the leaf blowers drove Boo-boo the Barking Dog into paroxysms of hysterical barking and sent him running like crazy throughout the house.

Determined to approach the new year with greater vigor and determination than I evidenced yesterday, and to escape the unholy racket both inside the house as well as my realization that we were out of my beloved English Muffins, I left the house and strode vigorously and purposefully through the Enchanted Forest to where I had parked the car. I drove to the nearest shopping center where I stopped at Starbucks for breakfast after which I went to Safeway to buy the English Muffins, a few other necessities (e.g., frozen ravioli and several bars of dark chocolate with sea salt) and a bouquet of flowers for Naida. I then returned home with a sense of accomplishment that I was convinced equipped me to successfully face whatever the current year throws my way.

I put the groceries away and went upstairs for a nap. I had enough vigor and determination for the day.

 

J. TODAY JANUARY 3 IS 10TH OF THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. IT IS ALSO THE FEAST OF THE HOLY NAME OF JESUS AS WELL AS OF KURIAKOSE ELIAS CHAVARA IN THE SYRO-MALABAR CATHOLIC CHURCH.

 

On the 10th day of Christmas, I picked up Hayden, Kaleb, and their snowboards and drove them to Northstar near Lake Tahoe for a day of caroming down the snow-covered slopes. It was a sunny and surprisingly warm day, about 50 degrees. After we arrived, the boys set off for the slopes and I set about seeking amusement in the pseudo-alpine village at their base.

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Ready to hit the slopes.

 

I was hungry so before beginning my exploration I searched for someplace to eat. I found a modest place where I ate a breakfast of pancakes that cost as though they were made of gold and tasted like it also. I then wandered about and ran into Jake and his family. They were leaving because Jake’s friend from Arizona, Kaden, had fractured his arm snowboarding yesterday. Jake’s mom said the emergency room when she visited yesterday looked more like the results of a terrorist strike than a room full of holiday vacationers. Skiing seems to be a hazardous duty for recreation seekers.

I then found a Starbucks where surprisingly I was given a free cup of coffee. I took my free coffee over to a seat by a window and watched the crowds strolling by while slowly sipping my drink. This was not my first cup of coffee that morning. I had consumed enough coffee that morning that I amused myself by contemplating the possibility of dying here of caffeine poisoning.

After a while, I left and strolled through the faux village and inspected the wares in a few shops. Tiring of this, I sat on an upholstered bench by a fire pit near the skating rink. I watched the skaters, some gliding by and others whose by was something less than gliding. I also listened to a female twosome singing western tunes on the stage next to the rink.

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Just as I was about to drift off into a mindless reverie, HRM called to say that they had finished snowboarding and were waiting for me nearby. I found them and we were soon heading off for home.

K. TODAY WE CELEBRATE THE DAY OF THE FALLEN AGAINST THE COLONIAL REPRESSION (ANGOLA), DAY OF THE MARTYRS (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO), HWINUKAN MUKEE (OKINAWA ISLANDS, JAPAN), OGONI DAY (MOVEMENT FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE OGONI PEOPLE), AND WORLD BRAILLE DAY.

 

 

It is Saturday today and Naida and I attended the Saturday Morning Coffee at the Nepenthe Clubhouse. It went as usual and I paid little attention, drifting off into a semi-dream state while the others talked. Winnie sat down beside me. We discussed the state or our health. She observed that I needed a haircut and recommended the stylist she uses. She then invited me to join her and a few of the girls for a drink after the meeting.  I declined. Naida and I returned home and vegetated for the rest of the day. We did not celebrate those who had fallen opposing colonial oppression in Angola. But I did think about them. I, however, did not think very much about the martyrs or the Ogoni I am afraid.

 

L. TODAY IS THE TWELFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS AND THE TWELFTH NIGHT OF CHRISTMAS, NATIONAL BIRD DAY, AND HARBIN INTERNATIONAL ICE AND SNOW SCULPTURE FESTIVAL (HARBIN, CHINA).

 

The Twelfth Day of Christmas arrived in the Enchanted Forest as bright as springtime. After breakfast, I felt the need — an itch — to do something, anything, even to just take a walk. And so I did. I hooked up Boo-boo to his leash and set off. It wasn’t much of a walk but it will do for me.

It is now a day after writing the preceding paragraph. I tried to recall what else I did yesterday. Failing, I turned again to Naida and asked, “Do you recall what we did yesterday?”

“Not much” she replied, “and I enjoyed it.” After a moment of reflection, she added, “We did see a marvelous movie with wonderful music.”

“Do you remember its name” I inquired.

More reflection. “Fiddler on the Roof,” she eventually declared.

There you have it. Pookie’s Twelve Days of Christmas, such as it was.
You have fun too and remember to always keep on trucking.

th-1

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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN MENDOCINO:

 

With a weather report for a week of rain and a steady drizzle slicking the streets and turning the landscape gray, Naida, Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I set off for Mendocino. I have done this trip so many times I no longer either notice or remember much of the drive other than where Naida and I switch driving duties and walk the dog.

I do recall stopping at Williams for lunch at a tourist restaurant that was not too bad, whose name I no longer remember but whose food was not so good that I would spend the time to look up the name on the internet in order to post here. After lunch, at the deli attached to the restaurant, I bought a panettone (Italian holiday bread) and a large jar of beautiful Sicilian olives for the party my sister was having on Sunday. Alas, when we arrived at my sister’s house and I was removing the jar of olives from the paper bag, I dropped the jar on the counter and it broke. I was so upset that I stalked off into a corner and sulked while Naida struggled to save what was left of the olives.

The first evening or perhaps the second, both Naida and George were suffering migraines and went to bed early, so my sister Maryann and I set off for dinner and caroling at the North Coast Brewery Pub and Jazz Club in Fort Bragg. The Club is usually a jazz venue but that evening the jazz had been set aside for a night of caroling. I ordered a delicious plate of sausage and peppers with polenta and washed it down with a glass of the brewery’s stout followed by a special seasonal berry-flavored light beer. Everything was delicious.

The meal was followed by entertainment. A local guitarist played and sang a few Christmas tunes. He was Followed by the main event, the carolers, a local group dressed in faux 19th Century costumes that spent the rest of the evening singing many of the familiar carols of the season, enthusiastically and slightly off-tune

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The next day the sun played hide and seek with the clouds. Naida, Boo-boo the Barking Dog and I went Christmas shopping in Mendocino and Fort Bragg, after which we had an excellent lunch at Maya Fusion in Fort Bragg. She had a mushroom soup to die for and I a sampler that included Arancini.

Arancini, one of my favorite things, originated in 10th Century Sicily when it was under control by the Arabs. It is a deep-fried rice ball usually filled with ragù (meat or mince, slow-cooked at low temperature with tomato sauce and spices), mozzarella and/or caciocavallo cheese, and often peas, and al burro or ô bburru, filled with ham and mozzarella or besciamella. It is a traditional Italian street food ranking right up there with pizza.

Later, at the wonderful Mendocino shop where our friend Maryjane works, Naida purchased a marvelous scarf. It was woven in India out of wool and silk by women who had been sex workers and were now attempting to break away from that life. Maryjane, who usually has a joke for us, when I asked for it said that she did not have one. It must be the season. Christmas season was no laughing matter in the Petrillo family I grew up in.

That evening, after Naida went to bed, Maryann, George and I watched episode two of the television version of Phillip Pullman’s novels in The Golden Compass series. In one of those strange coincidences that have you believing that you may be living in Pullman’s world, at the moment my sister suggested watching the show, I was in the midst of reading the second novel in Pullman’s second series on the same theme.

Another evening, we all piled into Maryann’s car and drove to the Festival of Lights at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens a Christmas event that I always enjoy. The gardens are lit up with thousands of lights arranged in strange and astonishing tableaus that surprise you at every turn along the dark paths.

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Here, I managed to erase about a week’s entries. Given the current state of my memory, erasing what I have written means most of it is lost. This makes me sad — not because anything I had written was either important or memorable but because for me once gone it is gone forever. Worse, I have the vague recollection that what I had written I enjoyed. Anyway, here below is my best recollection of that week.

On Sunday Maryann and George held a Christmas party for a few friends and the staff of WEST Company, the non-profit she runs. The food was delightful, varied and copious. The special egg-nog prepared by Maryann was unusual and delicious. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

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B. OFF TO LAKEPORT AND BEYOND:

 
Monday we set off for Lakeport where Naida’s brother lives with his son Bob. From Fort Bragg to Willits, the shortest route from that area of the Coast over that portion of the Coastal Range is Route 20, a wickedly curvy road that passes over the Mendocino Ridge portion of the Coast Range on its way to Route 101. This road is a main route from that part of the coast to Ukiah the Mendocino County seat and relatively heavily traveled. As we turned from Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway), Naida told me that at the prior evening’s Christmas party one of the guests who drives that road daily told her that she and other similarly situated drivers actually counted the curves on that 35-mile road and numbered them so that as the drive them they could report to each other the nature and location of any problems along the route.

Another thing, perhaps several more things, that I learned while I drove that road was prompted by the fact that I usually drive as fast as I safely could (at least in my opinion). I believed it would get me to where I was going faster, and of course, confirm my manliness by proving that I was the most testosterone poisoned person on that road that day. Naida, however, protested. Actually, it was more than a protest. She screamed and insisted that she drive rather than me.

It seems, she had been in a number of automobile accidents in her life, including, she told me, once while riding in a car filled with her high school cheerleader teammates, it skidded on a curve, spun as it flew through the air and smashed into the ground tires up. These experiences so affected her that she would become ill when sitting in a car going too fast especially on a curvy road. So, I slowed down a lot and discovered not only was the drive time not appreciably longer, it actually appeared shorter to me. It also allowed me to enjoy the drive more — the dark redwood groves, the glimpses of the valleys between the trunks of the trees, the pretty little bottomlands, lakes, and marshes.

In Lakeport, we met with Roger Smith, Naida’s older brother and his son Bob who seems to suffer from Asperger’s syndrome a condition that appears common in the Smith side of her family. Roger is an accomplished artist, set designer, and singer. Now, because he suffers from macular degeneration, he can no longer paint. Nevertheless, he showed me a number of paintings that he had previously done. They ranged from photorealism to modern impressionism. Of the latter, he favored Cezanne like muted hues with a strong dash of red or another vibrant color.

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At the bottom of the page, I have posted Roger’s homage to Governor Jerry Brown. He would like to bring it to Jerry’s attention. If anyone has any idea how he can do this, please let me know.

His set design pieces were quite dramatic and fascinating.

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A backdrop for the opera Aida.

 

 

Naida, Roger and I then went for lunch at Park Place restaurant by the lake. I had gnocchi stuffed with mushrooms. It was as good a meal as I have had in months.

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Naida and Roger

 
After lunch, we drove back home to the Enchanted Forest.

 

 

C. A NIGHT OF PROTEST:

 
The next day, we attended the Indivisible’s Impeach Trump Rally in Sacramento. It was held at the Capital. I had not been to a protest rally in over twenty years. There were between 3 and 5 thousand people there. There was the usual coterie of long-haired, bearded, shabbily dressed men and colorfully attired women carrying signs. We listened to impassioned, inspiring and at times incomprehensible speeches, sang a few songs, and generally had a good time.

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A protesting dog attended and some children also.

 

 

D. ALAS:

 
Unfortunately, especially at this season, Mark’s mother died a few days ago. Mark is the husband of Naida’s daughter Sarah. She had been suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease for several years now. We attended the memorial. It was a family affair. I suspect I may have been the only non-family member there. Josephine, Naida’s granddaughter sang a splendid version of Ave Maria. Anna’s children each gave a brief eulogy and remembrance of their mother. After a few more recollections and reminisces, a prayer and a joint singing of a Christmas carol, the memorial ended. Most of those who attend left for a reception at Sarah and Mark’s home. For some reason, I felt exhausted and depressed by the ceremony so I had Naida drop me off at home before she went on to the reception.

I dropped exhaustedly onto the bed and slept until the barking of the dog made such a horrible racket it woke me up. Between barks, I could make out the sound of the doorbell. I rushed downstairs and threw open the door and saw a slightly frazzled Naida standing there. She had returned from the reception but had misplaced her keys to the house.

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This is a continuation of the story of my trip with Naida through the Pacific Northwest in what may be her final opportunity to experience the place of her birth and childhood and to visit her relatives who still lived there.

 
Into the Big Hole
We left Julie Miller and Alder Montana and drove along the path of Lewis and Clark on their voyage of discovery and the later migration of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce nation as they fled their ancestral homes to seek freedom in Canada and avoid annihilation at the hands of the American Army.

On our way to the Big Hole Valley the Land of 10,000 haystacks, we passed through Wisdom Montana. The town takes its name from the Lewis and Clark’s expedition’s naming or the nearby river the Wisdom River (now the Big Hole River). It is considered one of the coldest places in the continental US and home to 98 people.

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Beautiful downtown Wisdom Montana

 
A few miles later we passed the spot where the Lewis and Clark expedition almost gave up and turned back but was saved by Sacagawea who recognized the solitary mesa (Beaverhead Rock) near which her people would camp during that time of the year. She directed the expedition towards it and discovered nearby her brother leading a party of Shoshone rounding up horses.

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Beaverhead Rock

 

We then passed onto the ridge overlooking the Big Hole Valley.

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The Big Hole Valley

 

Sometime during the Nineteenth, Century the ranchers in the valley developed a mechanism for bailing hay. Here is one preserved at a historical site overlooking the valley.

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A little further on we passed some Nineteenth-Century log cabins and barns of the original European settlers.

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Further on we came to the Big Hole battlefield site. Here the 750 Nez Perce including about 200 warriors (basically the young men of the tribe) set up camp to rest for a few days before continuing on their trek to join Sitting Bull’s people in Canada and escape the genocide threatened by troops of the American government. They did not believe they were at risk because they thought the American army was far behind. Unknown by them, a second army had been dispatched to deal with them. In the night, that army arrived and hid in the trees and bushes by the Nez Perce encampment. As was the usual strategy of the American Army in the Indian Wars, they waited for morning and for the women and children to leave the teepees in order to begin preparing the morning meal. They poured gunfire into the camp in hope that the slaughter of their women and children would so dismay the warriors they would give up. Contrary to the army’s expectation, the Nez Perce warriors rallied launched a counter-attack, destroyed the army’s cannon, drove the army off with significant casualties and allowed the remainder of the tribe time to withdraw in relatively good order.
IMG_E7326The Big Hole Battlefield Site. The Nez Perce were camped in the field a little right of the center of the photograph. The soldiers were hidden in the trees and bushes that appear slightly reddish. The cannon was placed on the large hill just below the tree line on the left.

 
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The sun shone brightly on the morning we set out for south-western Montana to visit Naida’s cousin Julie Miller.  To our left, on the green broad flat floor of the Yellowstone River Valley, a heard of pronghorn antelope bouncing along matched the speed of the car.

We drove through Livingston a picturesque old western town. This area of Montana is dotted with towns like this and peopled today mostly with aging ranchers, successful artists, and wealthy bourgeoisie seeking a bucolic refuge from the urban conurbations they helped destroy.

Eventually, we arrived at Alder, a town with little there except “Chicks Bar.” Although there are very few roads in the town and surrounding area and we tried to follow the directions Naida had been given, we nevertheless promptly got lost. We called Julie Miller, Naida’s cousin, at the number we had received when we called Chick’s Bar before leaving Gardiner. Julie answered but she could not hear us so we hung up or so we thought.  Because of the oddities of the local phone system, Julie could still hear us while we engaged in a lengthy and emotional argument about what it is we should do now.

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Chick’s Bar, Alder Montana

 

Eventually, we managed to get through to Julie on the phone. She suggested we go first to Sheridan, a town about 10 miles away, to visit Julie’s mom who was living in a senior home there. Julie’s mom, Patty Miller, had often taken care of Naida during her childhood while she and her brother were passed around from relative to relative. Naida loved Patty ver much and wanted to visit her one last time before either of them died. After a bit of difficulty, we found the center and Naida and Patty had an emotional and tender reunion. Naida left patty with a copy of her Memoir.
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Naida and Patty (Three months after this photograph was taken Patty Miller Died)

 
We then drove back to Alder. Getting lost again we called Julie and she agreed to meet us and lead us back to the ranch. She arrived in an odd vehicle that looked much like a military golf cart. At the ranch, we met her husband who had had a hip replacement operation and had been laid up for a couple of months.
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The golf cart Humvee.

 
We then strolled around the property, visited the horses and met one of the largest dogs I had ever seen, a breed she told us called a Turkish Boz shepherd dog. (Later after we returned home I read up on them. They are used to accompany the sheep and drive off predators and are also used by the Turkish military as attack dogs)
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Julie and Naida

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Naida and the Turkish Boz

 

Then we piled into the military golf cart for a tour of the ranch. Julie and her husband used to raise horses here but they are retired now and spend half of the year at their home in Mexico. The ranch mostly grows hay which is bailed up and sold to other ranches in the area as fodder for their herds in winter. Julie pointed out to us the small stream that crossed the ranch. It is called the Ruby River, I believe. She said it is the headwaters of the Missouri River.
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The Headwaters of the Mighty Missouri River.

 
Then, after a brief break, we piled into the military golf cart again and drove through the backroads to Julie’s brother Johnny Miller’s home, a house he mostly built by himself.
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Johnny, Naida, and Julie.

 
While the cousin’s caught up on family news, I went for a brief walk around the property at the center of the ranch, examined the old sod and timber shacks their parents or grandparents built when they first came to homestead the land and leaned on the ancient wooden fence and stared across the ranch to the mountains in the distance.
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The Miller ranch near Alder Montana.

 
Then we left drove through Wisdom and other old western Montana towns and into the Big Hole Valley on our way to Salmon Idaho.
(to be continued)

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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, teacher, public speaker, and writer, one of the first African American women to be published in the United States.

Born free in Baltimore, Maryland, she had a long and prolific career, publishing her first book of poetry at the age of 20. At 67, she published her novel Iola Leroy (1892), which was widely praised.

As a young woman in 1850, she taught sewing at Union Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, a school affiliated with the AME Church.[1] In 1851, alongside William Still, chairman of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, she helped refugee slaves make their way along the Underground Railroad on their way to Canada. In 1853 she began her career as a public speaker and political activist after joining the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Her collection Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854) became her biggest commercial success. Her short story “Two Offers” was published in the Anglo-African in 1859, making literary history as the first short story published by a black woman.

Harper founded, supported, and held high office in several national progressive organizations. In 1883 she became superintendent of the Colored Section of the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Women’s Christian Temperance Union. In 1894 she helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president. Harper died aged 85 on February 22, 1911, nine years before women gained the right to vote. (Wikipedia)

 

The Slave Mother
BY FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS HARPER
Heard you that shriek? It rose
So wildly on the air,
It seem’d as if a burden’d heart
Was breaking in despair.

Saw you those hands so sadly clasped—
The bowed and feeble head—
The shuddering of that fragile form—
That look of grief and dread?

Saw you the sad, imploring eye?
Its every glance was pain,
As if a storm of agony
Were sweeping through the brain.

She is a mother pale with fear,
Her boy clings to her side,
And in her kyrtle vainly tries
His trembling form to hide.

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother’s pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!

He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.

His love has been a joyous light
That o’er her pathway smiled,
A fountain gushing ever new,
Amid life’s desert wild.

His lightest word has been a tone
Of music round her heart,
Their lives a streamlet blent in one—
Oh, Father! must they part?

They tear him from her circling arms,
Her last and fond embrace.
Oh! never more may her sad eyes
Gaze on his mournful face.

No marvel, then, these bitter shrieks
Disturb the listening air:
She is a mother, and her heart
Is breaking in despair.

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The following is a beautifully written obituary written by Pete Zander upon the death of his beloved brother Corky.

 

In Memoriam: William Paul (“Corky”) Xander
b. 4/10/1943
d. 2/19/2020

As many of you who were former students of my oldest brother Bill Xander — but who was always known to me as “Corky” — have learned, he passed away a little before midnight on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. He would have been 77 on April 10th of this year.

I was up in Twin Peaks, CA, up near Lake Arrowhead, for the week helping my daughter Kristen, who had fallen and ripped ligaments in her right ankle. She has two young sons, ages 5 and 2¼, and she desperately needed help around the house and with the boys, especially since her son Alexander had turned 5 on Feb. 12 (we Xanders pick great birthdays!) and had his birthday party last Saturday at an indoor pool at a resort where around 50 adults and kids partied. And little Evan Xander Flores is feisty enough to keep several adults busy and occupied.

During the night early on Friday morning the 14th, Kristen received a message on her phone from Corky’s wife Maj, who said he was ill and she needed Kristen to get in touch with me. When she told me the message early Friday morning, we figured it was something worse than pneumonia or the flu. A battery of tests and a biopsy confirmed that he had an advanced case of pancreatic cancer, and we feared he only had weeks, maybe even days left.

You’ll have to forgive my referring to him as “Corky” and not “Bill” or “Mr. X.” He never WAS “Bill” to me, and since that was our dad’s name as well, an abusive, alcoholic, 24-karat SOB and proud of it, I have an understandable reluctance to call my brother Bill. So, Corky it is.

Ironically, he felt as if he was in the best shape of his life, quite a statement when you consider he was a letterman in four sports in high school: Football, basketball, baseball, and track. He could’ve had a fifth letter as a swimmer, but on a qualifying swim, though he’d been the fastest of anyone on the team weeks earlier, he was extremely ill from pneumonia and damned near drowned. So I’ll call it four sports but put an asterisk next to it.

It is indicative of the profit-driven health care system in our country that his cancer wasn’t discovered sooner, not that it would’ve mattered in the long run — pancreatic cancer is tough to detect, tougher to fight (fewer than 5% of patients survive it for very long), and in Corky’s case, it hit hard and fast. Like I said, he felt he was in great shape, walking 3 miles a day, working out in the gym on weekends, and doing well.

In mid-December, he felt extremely ill and knew he needed help. So the procedure was to take some blood samples, wait two weeks; do an x-ray, wait two weeks; do an MRI, wait two weeks; do an ultrasound. He had been hospitalized twice for 3-4 days at a time and two emergency 911 calls, certainly enough time ONCE to do all of those diagnostic tests, but there’s no PROFIT to be made that way, of course. It is emblematic of our fucked-up profits-driven system that his first appointment with an oncologist — a cancer specialist — wasn’t even scheduled until yesterday, literally “a day late” and hundreds of dollars short.

I will never think it was a blessing that he was only sick for two months. Having an aggressive form of cancer is NEVER a blessing, but it is somewhat comforting to me that he only suffered for those two months. When an ultrasound revealed some shadowing on the pancreas, a biopsy confirmed that he had pancreatic cancer and that it was already at Stage 4.

When I talked to him on Friday last week, when he was still in the hospital, his first words to me were, “Well, this is really fucked up, isn’t it?” Despite the clearly bad diagnosis and outlook, we had a lighthearted talk, and I told him we’d get down as soon as possible to see him, With Alex’s birthday over with the next day, my son-in-law Ivan Flores drove Kristen and me down to Bonita last Sunday to see him.

He opened his eyes and said, “Hey — it’s my ‘baby brother!’” Yeah, as the third and last boy in the family, I was ALWAYS going to be the “baby brother.” To my mom, who preceded Corky in death by 5 years, I was always her ”baby boy.” But I can live with that . . . especially since it means living.

According to his brother-in-law Albert, he had not been able to have conversations with anyone for more than a minute or so without nodding off for five minutes. So it was remarkable that last Sunday he was able to talk with us nonstop for an hour and a half. He only got sleepy after he’d been given medication that made him drowsy, and of course it was important to keep him on the medication schedule.

I do feel especially blessed that we were able to talk for as long as we did, and our conversation was a rollicking one, covering talking about fishing trips we’d done. I know all of you former students of his will be pleased to know that we even got into Faulkner and Hemingway. Well, MAYBE you’d be pleased to know that! But certainly, he had a love of literature and especially that of his two favorite authors. Me, I’ve always been more of a Steinbeck person; but then again, I was a marine biologist. At least Hemingway was a trout fisherman!

I’ll get into some fishing stories because I truly believe that if he hadn’t been an English teacher and he hadn’t had the satisfaction of sharing his love of literature with all of you, I believe he might have become a fishing guide. I mean, can you imagine it — getting PAID to go fishing??? As the Russian-born comedian, Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “America — what a country!”

Corky was 11¼ years older than me, with our brother Terry born 4 years and 10 days after Corky and 7 years before me. He and I looked a lot alike, and people often commented on it to us. Once, I replied to someone, “Yeah, but I’m the better-looking one!” After that, it became a contest to see who could snap off the one-liner before the other did. Our voices were so similar that his first wife Cat once called, expecting to speak to him. I had answered the phone, and she began talking, under the assumption that it was him to whom she was speaking. After a couple of minutes, when the conversation began turning to a direction I didn’t believe I should be hearing, I interrupted her and said, “Um, Cat — you DO realize that this is Pete you’re talking to and not Bill?”

I know this might shock some of you, but my brother was NOT perfect. Oh, sure — we did the usual brotherly stuff, like the aforementioned “I’m the better-looking one” line. But his imperfection stems from our Thanksgiving Dinner in 1974. We were having the dinner at his home in Mira Mesa, and I was already contributing to the effort. I began baking what everybody calls a “German Chocolate Cake,” but the truth is that the cake has nothing to do with Germany in the least. The sweet chocolate used in the recipe was made by a company called German’s, which was bought out by a company called Baker’s, so the cake is called “Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake.” If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourselves on the supermarket aisle where chocolate for baking, coconut, and nuts are sold.

Anyway, that year, I did a friend from back East a favor. He knew a girl who was going to school in Pomona, east of L. A., at Pomona Pitzer College. She was going to be stuck in southern California while everyone else at the school went home to their families. She was going to spend the entire four-day weekend all by herself on a deserted campus and dorm, and that was just too awful to think about, so I told my friend Chip that I’d be happy to bring her to San Diego and have her spend Thanksgiving with us.

In order to make all of that work, I had to get up at 4:00 in the morning, slap my face around a little . . . or a LOT, and bake the German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake before I drove to Pomona. It was no big deal — I could do that cake in my sleep, and I pretty much did. But cooks always talk about how, for instance, a bread dough has a proper “feel.” It sounds esoteric but is well-founded in fact. For example, KitchenAid mixers do an AWFUL job of making the dough we use for making our famous Thanksgiving Dinner rolls.

As I made the cake batter, it just didn’t look right to me. I couldn’t identify what the problem could have been, and I merely shrugged it off as being really tired and sleepy. But when I put the three cake pans into the oven, it became apparent quite rapidly that there was something seriously wrong with the batter. In the oven, the batter began burping and bubbling like some God-awful witches brew, and in fact, the goddamned stuff was BOILING. I had no idea what was wrong, but I was committed to seeing this through, so I gamely marched on, baking the layers longer in what eventually was a futile effort to salvage all of those expensive ingredients.

After I removed the layers from the oven, they sagged ominously in the middle. I made the coconut-pecan frosting and tried to frost the thing, but it sagged in the middle like a disgusting soggy doughnut. It clearly was a disaster of immense proportions, and I was mortified.

Of course, the family was giving me a ration of shit over the cake, but I had no idea what had gone wrong. Finally, Corky asked where I got the flour to make the cake. “I got it from the flour canister on the counter,” I said, pointing to the largest of four wooden containers. He began laughing demonically and said, “Pete — there was BISQUIK in that canister!” Bisquik, of course, is an instant mix for making breads, rolls, muffins, pancakes, and the like. It contains flour and the usual leavening agents, but it also includes shortening, so my precious German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake, my pride and joy, got a double dose of fat!

I was livid. “Well, how the FUCK was I supposed to know THAT?” I yelled. “What, did you also put salt in the goddamned sugar shaker too?” I screamed, but all everyone could do was laugh at my predicament. The cake was an absolute disaster, and one of our favorite desserts was MIA that Thanksgiving. Totally mortified, I drove up to Pomona, retrieved my friend’s chum, and returned to San Diego for our dinner. That evening, in what was perfectly in keeping with the disaster that my poor cake had become, we went to the premiere showing of a disaster flick, “Earthquake,” starring Charlton Heston and a host of aging, washed-up film superstars, about a high-rise hotel that becomes a death trap when a massive earthquake strikes L. A. I don’t know if Chip’s friend was comforted by that thought at all, but she survived the evening, as did I. But I was STILL really pissed off about the cake!

Corky helped raise me and also acted to protect me from the worse actions of our dad. One Saturday morning, though, when I was about 7 or 8 and just a scrawny little kid, our dad had beaten me pretty severely with his leather belt. As any of you know painfully well who have had the unfortunate experiences of dealing with an abusive parent, oftentimes there isn’t any reason or anything you might have done that triggered such a response, and as a quiet kid, I certainly can’t imagine what I could possibly have said or done.

He beat me so savagely with his leather belt that the welts on the backs of my legs were swollen nearly ½” high, and the edges of the belt had even cut into my legs and were bleeding. It was a little after 10:00 a.m., and our mom was grocery shopping when this happened. When she walked in the door, carrying bags of groceries, she entered into a surreal situation: Corky and Terry were in the kitchen, wrestling and fighting over a butcher knife.

Our mom set the bags down, ran into the kitchen, and began pulling on Corky. Terry had the knife in his hand, and she was yelling at them to stop it as she pulled on Corky to stop him from doing whatever the hell HE was doing. Finally, he yelled out to her, ”God DAMN it, Mom, STOP IT. Terry’s trying to kill Dad!”

Once all that commotion settled down, she found out why that skirmish had taken place. She came into my bedroom — the one I had to share with our dad — and I was lying on the mattress, face down and crying into my pillow. By this time the welts had turned a horrific red and purple, and the bloody edges of the welts had quit bleeding and were beginning to coagulate.

She stormed into the kitchen, grabbed the kitchen knife, and plunged it against our dad’s belly. “You son of a bitch!” she yelled. “If you EVER touch that kid again, i’ll stab you with the goddamned knife!” Just another typical Saturday morning in lower-middle-class gang war zone National City back in the 1960s.

But Corky just didn’t help raise me or try to protect me from the worst predations of our dad. He introduced me to classical music, still a great love of mine. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was a good enough trombone player (which I’d taught myself how to play after 7th grade, so I could be in the junior high’s jazz ensemble) that I received an offer to become an apprentice trombonist with the Chicago Symphony, at that time easily one of the three or four greatest symphonies in the world, and I would have had the opportunity to study conducting under Sir Georg Solti, the 20th Century’s finest interpreter of Beethoven.

I had also applied for acceptance in a summer-long oceanography program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. If I hadn’t been one of the 41 kids from all across North America chosen from among the nearly 2,000 applicants, I would’ve accepted that fabulous offer and been, at the very worst, a very well-paid trombone player in Chicago. As Fate would have it, though, not only was I accepted in the oceanography program, but the National Science Foundation awarded me a grant to cover the entire cost of the program, and I became a biologist.

Corky and Terry also introduced me to rock ’n’ roll, which of course EVERY kid back then loved. I distinctly remember horrifying Sister Mary Daniel, my first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s in National City when she asked if anyone had anything they’d like to share with the class. Little brown-noser that I was, I raised my hand. “Yes, Peter?” she asked, and I walked up to the front of the class. “My brothers taught me how to do The Twist!” and I began gyrating before the class and the stunned Sister Mary Daniel. Well, what the hell — SHE asked! Guess it was yet another mortal sin I’d racked up . . . .

But let’s go fishing. Or, at least, let’s go trudging through some of the semi-legendary stories of our fishing adventures.

When I was still in high school, Corky and I would go fishing in tiny Santa Ysabel Creek, a little stream that in the winter and early spring months was occasionally stocked with hatchery trout. Remind me to tell the story about the bull at Santa Ysabel Creek, okay? Not verbal bull or even bull trout — a BULL, a real, snorting, no-kidding, charging bull.

Oh hell . . . . Well, screw it. Why wait? I mean, if my brother’s recent illness and passing is to be used as a learning experience, it is that anything could happen to any of us at any time, and that life has to be LIVED. There’s no waiting around for Life — you’ve got to grab it by the horns if you will. Yeah, that is a pretty cheesy introduction to the story, but what the hell!

So, about The Bull. To former students of my brother, who was a great fan of Hemingway and Faulkner, it sounds like a Hemingway short story doesn’t it?? “The Bull of Santa Ysabel,” right?

Corky and I had been fishing in Santa Ysabel Creek, which is just about a mile north of Dudley’s Bakery in northern San Diego County, an amazingly popular bakery that draws people from everywhere (their Dutch Apple Bread is awesome . . . their cinnamon bread is pure heaven; and — well, they ALL are).

Anyway, there is a large pasture or grassy meadow there, right up against State Highway 79. You have to go under a barbed wire fence and cross the meadow to get to the fishable upper portion of the creek in the hills to the east (interestingly — at least to me — the DFG had stocked Santa Ysabel Creek back in the 1930s with 15,000 Paiute cutthroat trout, an incredibly rare trout and native to just a couple of headwater creeks above waterfalls in Alpine County, tributary to the East Fork of the Carson River). We had been fishing for a couple of hours, it was getting late in the day, and we were at the meadow.

We’d never seen any cattle there before, but on this fateful day, there was a very large longhorn bull at the far side of the meadow. We were minding our own business, and so was the bull. Unfortunately, at that very moment, the bull’s business was US.

As we walked, so did the bull. As we walked faster and faster, the bull did the same thing, matching our pace. With about 30 yards to go, the goddamned bull began charging to cut us off, and we both began running for our lives. The bull had the angle, and the only way we would get out safely was if we ran down to the fence at full speed and slid under the barbed wire fence, a dangerous move even if executed successfully. Of course, Corky didn’t have to outrun the bull — he just had to outrun ME. But back then, I was a really fast runner, and we were neck and neck, hauling ass to get to the fence and to safety.

I yelled to my brother, “We have to slide underneath the barbed wire on the run!” and he yelled back, “Yeah — I KNOW!!” We got to the fence just about the time the bull did, and we both slid on the gravel under the fence like Jackie Robinson stealing home. Only then, safely on the other side of the barbed wire fence, complete with skinned and bloodied elbows, could we laugh our asses off at the craziness of challenging half a ton of pissed-off pot-roast-on-the-hoof trying to gore us. I mean, FUCK Pamplona, right?? But we survived.

In 1974, a geography professor, at San Diego State, Gene Coleman, who also taught at Southwestern Junior College in Chula Vista and who became a good friend and a trusted personal and political advisor, told me about Pauma Creek — really, the classic version of the “secret fishin’ hole” of fishing lore. He only told maybe one student a year about this little piece of heaven on Earth, and he knew that I was the kind of person with the right ethic who would appreciate the stream and respect its solitude and relatively unknown existence.

Pauma Creek is a rugged little wilderness stream, flowing from Palomar Mountain State Park, formed from the confluence of Doane and French Creeks, and draining the southwestern slope of Palomar Mountain in northern San Diego County. It is a sometimes tributary to the San Luis Rey River (now blocked to would-be spawning steelhead by a concrete bridge abutment).

From Gene’s description, Pauma Creek sounded like a much better stream — a rugged wilderness stream that involved a lot of rock-hopping and crawling, but more importantly, the trout were not stupid hatchery fish but real native trout, remnants of the original rainbow trout/steelhead that arose in streams in San Diego County before the most recent Ice Age, the ancestors of all rainbow trout throughout their range from northern Baja California to Alaska and to the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. These were not mass-produced production-line factory trout — they were the real thing.

The only non-native fish in the stream were brown trout that had been stocked in the 1930s — and WHY??? — and I had caught the only one we’d ever seen there, and green sunfish washed downstream from Doane Pond. We’d only ever caught two, and we killed both since they are voracious competitors with the trout for food and would eat baby trout. Since I’ve had green sunfish as pets, I know how aggressive and voracious they are, so we did our own habitat enhancements to benefit the trout. The trout were native, not stocked; the green sunfish are found east of the Rockies but have been planted everywhere, so it was “Vaya con Díos, piscas verdes del Sol!” or however “green sunfish” translates into Spanish. Sorry about that. So much for being forced to study German in high school, a REALLY helpful language if you were going to become a biologist in San Diego! Yes, even the college and university system is a screwed-up educational mess. But to students of my brother, that won’t come as any damn great surprise.

The fishing in Pauma Creek was superb and tested our skills at reading water, even in miniature, and required stealthy approaches to avoid spooking the skittish wild fish. We could always tell when another fisherman had accessed the creek ahead of us by sliding down a steep primitive trail from a road about halfway down. We used ultralight gear, 2# test line, 1/32 oz. Dardevle Skeeter lures with barbless hooks and released all of the trout we caught.

Within a couple of years, I’d named some pools, something that occurs on famous salmon and steelhead rivers, not creeks you can jump across. At the first waterfall, as one goes down from Palomar Mountain State Park, there is a very large deep pool with a waterfall plunging over the granite boulders to climb down and over. My knees were hurting, and Corky wanted to fish that deep pool for the monster trout that surely was there (one that he finally caught, years later, and had break off before he could land, photograph, and release it). I found a split boulder above the pool that was a perfectly comfortable granite chair, so, resting my knees, I named the waterfall pool “Orthopedic Rock.”

There were others with similarly offbeat names; but after all, look at who the crazy bastard was who was naming them!

“‘Freight Train’ Pool,” about 3 miles down, where an enormous trout would come charging out but was never hooked solidly. In order to get the fish to come out, we got one cast only: The lure had to be cast sidearm underneath overhanging tree branches so that it bounced and ricocheted off two boulders in order to get the lure back where the trout had its lair (note to a beloved former girlfriend of mine: Try doing that when you’re fly-fishing, Beckie!). Sometimes the little barbless treble hook would tangle with the line, making it impossible to hook the fish and spooking that pool; at other times, the fish was charging too hard to get a tight enough line to set the hooks; and

“‘Nettle Nuts’ Pool,” where the only way to get downstream was to do the splits and bend way down under a fallen tree, where stinging nettles growing up toward the tree made the effort, um, a very very cautious one. Well, you get the drift.

My brother and I had made a number of trips down to Baja, going all the way down to the very tip of the peninsula at Cabo. In fact, the town at the end of the Transpeninsular Highway was named San Jose del Cabo, NOT Cabo San Lucas. But all of the norteamericanos — well, all of them but for us sticklers for proper use of the language! — called it Cabo San Lucas. Mexico eventually gave up and called the whole damned area Los Cabos, though there’s only the one cape. Whatever.

Hell, I can’t even get away with using adverbs after the verb or not ending a sentence without a preposition without ignorant people bitching at me. If you knew Corky, then maybe you have an inkling as to what my attitude is like — I refuse to give in to ignorant assholes, and God knows we’ve got more than our fair share of those in our society. Even had some as President of the United States. Er, had/have. At least Corky dedicated his life to helping thousands of kids over the decades wade through the mess that is the English language, without resorting to the typical bullshit like forcing students to diagram sentences.

In talking to my sister-in-law Maj, Corky’s wife, Thursday morning, she shared a story with me. Before he passed away, she had a video monitor on him so that she or the attending nurses or the family members helping out could know if he needed assistance. On Tuesday, he became restless and tried to get out of bed. Then, she said, he was doing something odd in his sleep, even for a Xander: He was raising his right arm in the air, waving it around slowly (see? Adverb after the verb!). Then a little while later, he did the same thing but with his left arm. She didn’t understand what was going on with him until it dawned on her later: They had been planning a trip to Scotland so that he could go fishing for Atlantic salmon in some of the world-famous rivers there. She thinks that his subconscious, in one of the last actions of his life, was having him practicing his fly-fishing casting in preparation for that trip.

I once read a short story about a trout fisherman who’d died (and ladies, I’m sorry our misogynist society and language makes anything but a male version of the language seem clumsy and awkward). He didn’t know whether he had gone to Heaven or Hell, but there he was in the afterlife, standing in his chest-high waders and fly-fishing in a beautiful river. There was a hatch of insects on, and there were trout rising everywhere. He was giddy with anticipation — so, he was in Heaven! He flicked out some line, began false casting, and stripping out more line, and there, near the opposite bank of the river, was a truly spectacular huge trout.

He laid out a perfect cast and began stripping in line in short twitches. The huge trout turned and began to pursue his fly, but a plump 14-inch trout grabbed it instead. That fish jumped everywhere, and the guy was thrilled! He played the trout for a minute, enjoying every second of the experience, then brought the fish in, used pliers to remove the fly from the trout’s lower jaw, and gently released it.

He began false casting again to dry the fly, and sure enough, the monster he’d eyed earlier had resumed feeding. He again laid out a beautiful and perfect cast, right in the goliath’s feeding lane, but again, a smaller trout grabbed the fly. This time the man brought the fish in rather unceremoniously, released it, and resumed trying to catch the monster.

But try as he might, every time he thought the huge trout was going to take his fly, a smaller trout always beat the big fish to it. It was then that the ugly realization dawned on the guy: He wasn’t in Heaven after all — he was in Hell!

It is a sad but inevitable reality that we all die someday. I personally want to believe I’m immortal, and I will continue to think that way until and unless, of course, I find out otherwise the hard way, as I suppose all of you mortals will discover yourselves. But if one has to die, as my beloved brother did a few days ago, what better way to end your days than to pass away with your mind getting ready for the wonderful fishing trip that he, unfortunately, did not get to take.

Very few of us get the opportunity of choosing how we leave this plane of existence. But what we leave behind — the people we met, the lives we changed, the improvements we made to our society, to our nation, and to our world — will be the testaments to who we were, what we did, and how we made a difference.

All of you whose lives he touched, affected, and hopefully made better, are the testimonials to his lifetime of service to education. I hope you have wonderful memories of my brother and will continue to live the lives he hoped you all would, that will you pass on to your loved ones the lessons learned under his tutelage, and be the men and women he hoped you all would become. Thank you, each and every one of you, for being a part of his life and for giving his life the meaningfulness and sense of reward he felt.

— Pete Xander

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1. From Boise to Idaho Falls:

 

The next morning after breakfast we left for the long drive across southern Idaho. Upon leaving the city precincts, we crossed the bleak high desert covering eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho. During the hours and miles, Naida kept up a running narrative about the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail along the same route and their hardships, technology, and social relationships. She told about the Native Americans who lived in the area prior to the arrival of the pioneers, how they lived, their horse breeding prowess, and their initial reactions to the arrival of the white immigrants. Eventually, as we approached the Snake River patches of green cultivated land, some of which were on the bottomland of the river and others on lands watered from the massive irrigation projects of the New Deal.

We eventually arrived at Shoshone Falls, about halfway between Boise and Idaho Falls. Until the installation of the nearby hydroelectric project diminished them, the falls were reputed to be higher than Niagara. Directly downstream from the falls the Snake passes through the steep canyon where in 1972 the entertainer Evel Knievel attempted unsuccessfully to jump across the canyon on a rocket-powered cycle. Although I had watched the failed attempt on television way back then, I had no idea how wide a canyon it actually was.
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Shoshone Falls

 

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Knievel attempted to jump this canyon.

 

Following the brief diversion to the falls, we continued on. About halfway to Idaho Falls, we came upon a poorly signed detour on the Interstate. We became confused and took the wrong road and found ourselves traveling along a ten-mile detour, five miles out and five miles back. There appeared to be no place to turn around. After about two miles, I noticed an automobile parked at the edge of the road. As we approached, I realized it was a police car and mentioned it to Naida who was driving at the time. She tried to move into the left lane but couldn’t because a truck was passing us. Just as we approached the police car, its backlights began blinking. We passed it. I then watched in the mirror as the cop pulled out, caught up to us, and motioned for us to pull over. This annoyed me since I suspected this was just a speed trap, especially since the rental car had California plates. We pulled over to the verge with the police car directly behind us. He walked over to the car, motioned to me to roll down the window and announced that we had failed to move over one lane when passing an emergency vehicle parked at the side of a road. After my failed protest, he gave us a ticket and returned to his vehicle.

Our rental vehicle was a new RAV4. It came without an owner’s manual. As a result, we could not figure out many of the intricacies of its operation. So, as Naida started up the car and while trying to determine how to put it into drive, it began rolling back and panic ensued. We crashed into the police car. Naida was mortified. I found it the amusing high point of the whole trip so far. The cop was non-plussed and since there was no serious damage simply told us to drive on carefully.

A few miles after returning to the Interstate we arrived a Rupert Idaho, a small town where Naida spent part of her childhood. Almost every storefront, many of which were empty, had a plaque affixed to the facade declaring it a historical landmark and telling a bit about its history. What fascinated me most was a massive fabric shop catering primarily to the quilting crowd.

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Naida at the Rupert town square.

 

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Pookie in the fabric shop.

 

We returned to the interstate and arrived in Idaho Falls at dusk and drove directly to Naida’s half-sister Christy’s home. After a few minutes of relaxation, Christy got into her camper and we followed her in the Toyota for about 45 minutes until we arrived in the mountains to the east of the city at an area called the Palisades. There, we turned into a box canyon that terminated at the foot of Sheep Mountain and after a brief climb on the curving, unlighted dirt roads that snaked up the side of the canyon we arrived at Christy’s small but comfortable A-frame cabin where we would spend the next few days.

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Sheep Mountain.

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The cabin.

 

 

2. Christy and the Cabin at Sheep Creek.

 

Christy a hard-living, hard-drinking, dope-smoking, gun-toting, Mormon hating, radical woman of the Continental Divide spent her life hunting, marrying, selling real estate, boating up and down the Snake River, raising children and cooking the greatest pancakes I had ever tasted. That first evening as we got settled, Cristy mentioned that moose, grizzly bears, and other large mammals visit the cabin now and then. I told her about my pathological fear of bears especially those of the grizzly kind. She responded, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” and immediately strapped on her pistol which she kept on her hip the entire time I was there. How can you not bond with someone like that?

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Christy, her pistol and I.

 

We spent the next few days eating pancakes in the morning, sitting on lawn chairs by the cabin staring at the palisades across the valley, smoking, drinking and telling stories. Christy spoke mostly about her third husband. She loved him very much. He shared her lifestyle, carousing, boating, racing their ski-mobiles through the forests in winter and the like. She was devastated when he died in an unfortunate accident.

One morning Christy drove us in her van around the valley. We stopped at the base of Sheep Mountain. Naida told me that the canyon and Sheep Mountain had been leased by her grandfather from BLM when he was raising sheep on a ranch somewhere near Idaho Falls.

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Naida and I at the head of the Sheep Creek Trail.

 

During the summer, he would drive his sheep into the canyon where they would graze along the creek on the way to the slopes of the mountain where they would spend the season. He would spend most of the summer there with his sons and ranch hands and his sheepcamp.
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A Sheepcamp.

 
We also walked along the trails and dirt roads. Naida would try to identify the flora that we passed by.

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At one point she mentioned that she thought the mountains thereabout were part of the Grand Teton mountain chain. If they were they were not particularly imposing. I decided to call them the Puny Teton Mountains.

On our last day there, Naida and I met with some more of her relatives who we met in the nearby town of Swan Valley.

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Naida and Brian Miller and his family.

 

and then, after saying a sad goodbye to Christy, we left the Puny Tetons and headed to the Grand Tetons and the second half of our trip.

 

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The Palisades and Christy’s Boat.

(To be continued)

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th-1

“O sanctissima” (O most holy) is a Roman Catholic hymn in Latin, seeking the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and often sung in various languages on her feast days. The earliest known publication was from London in 1792, presenting it as a traditional song from Sicily; but no original source or date has been confirmed for the simple melody or the poetic text. The tune is often called “Sicilian Mariners Hymn” or similar titles, referring to the seafarers’ nightly invocation of Mary as their maternal protector. (Wikipedia)

“Travellers all agree in their account of the effects of the simple air called ‘The Virgin’s Hymn,’ sung in unison by the whole crew of the Sicilian seamen on board their ships when the sun sets, or when it is the twenty-fourth hour of Italy.”
William Seward 1792.

Imagine if you will, a calm evening on the black waters of the Mediterranean. A group of small fishing boats bobbing gently in the swells, a few lights twinkling like the stars above. Then from the boats the rough voices of the fishermen rising in uniform with the solemn strains of the hymn.

Also, note the interesting rhyming pattern in the Latin version.

O sanctissima, o piissima,
dulcis Virgo Maria!
Mater amata, intemerata,
ora, ora pro nobis.

Tu solatium et refugium,
Virgo Mater Maria.
Quidquid optamus, per te speramus;
ora, ora pro nobis.

Ecce debiles, perquam flebiles;
salva nos, o Maria!
Tolle languores, sana dolores;
ora, ora pro nobis.

Virgo, respice, Mater, aspice;
audi nos, o Maria!
Tu medicinam portas divinam;
ora, ora pro nobis.
O most holy, o most loving,
sweet Virgin Mary!
Beloved Mother, undefiled,
pray, pray for us.

You are solace and refuge,
Virgin, Mother Mary.
Whatever we wish, we hope it through you;
pray, pray for us.

Look, we are weak and deeply deplorable;
save us, o Mary!
Take away our lassitude, heal our pains;
pray, pray for us.

Virgin, look at us, Mother, care for us;
hear us, o Mary!
You bring divine medicine;
pray, pray for us.

 

Many, many years ago, I was a mere callow lad and altar boy in the Italian-American Parish Assumption Church in Tuckahoe New York. The parish and church existed mainly because at the time Italians were discouraged from attending the much larger so-called American Church nearby. At morning mass most of the worshippers were black-clothed vecchiadelli (Old Women). I would often listen to them singing this hymn in that strange reedy nasal voice that characterizes Sicilian singing. It has remained a fond memory of mine, even until now 70 years later.

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