Oregon Trail

Location: Oregon, United States

Monday, September 10, 2012



Last year, we had a wasp adventure.  We had planned to have one of our regular game/theme dinner days with The Pokemon Bunch.  The group arrived, and we set about getting all the last minute food prep completed.  I went outside to fire up the grill when Stephen came to me with a worried expression on his face (he wins the prize for best worried expression - he may have been a Sharpei in a previous incarnation).  He says, "Mom, the wasps are coming in through the wall in the dining room".  I downplay his panic, as he tends to worry, and we had just talked about the wasps this morning (they have been living between the walls and we could hear them moving around in there) and came up with a plan to get rid of them.  "No, it's okay, your dad just left the door open and a few got in". (With intensity):  "No, mom, they are coming in.  They ate a hole through the wall.". "Dude, you're panicking.  They didn't eat a hole.  It's going to be okay.". (With more intensity):  "No, mom, it isn't.  You have to come and see".  So I relent.

We go into the dining room and he points to where the ceiling meets the wall.  There is a small black spot there about the size of an eraser on top of a pencil.  And there are wasps coming out of the hole.  Okay, fine, so he was right.  I tell him so, and assure him that I can take care of this.  I think to myself, "Self, this is not a problem.  We have caulk, and a small dab of it will fill the hole until we can really deal with it.". I get the caulk, trim the end, ensure it is working, and get up on a chair to do the deed.

Side note:  It is 95 and sunny outside, and we are fully acclimated Oregonians, so we are sure we are going to die from the heat.  I have adapted by wearing a loose, light dress.  It seemed like a good idea at the time...

I put the caulk gun up to the hole, and get ready to plug the hole.  But when I touch the tip of the tube to the hole, ever so lightly, I punch through it as though the entire area were tissue paper and I suddenly have a two inch hole and a swarm of angry, threatened wasps.  I jump off the chair, yelling and tossing the caulk gun on the table.  I run for the door.  I hear Kyle yell, "Hannah!  Get to the basement NOW!". I remember she is allergic to bees.  I have a wasp stuck to my left hand that I try to shake off.  He won't move.  Maybe my muscle has contracted and it's stuck.  I run, then stop but there are wasps after me so I run some more, flailing my arms and trying not to scream.  I am stung on my neck.  I swish at the stung area and run some more.  I try to get the wasp off my hand.  He is still stuck.  I realize I'm being stung on my stomach.  I assume the wasp is under my dress and frantically lift it over my belly to scoop any wasps out.  I realize my underwear is sea foam green, which doesn't complement my chambray dress.  I don't care.  (You know how the cheesy horror movies always have girls screaming and running around in their underwear?  This suddenly made a whole lot of sense...)  The wasp is still on my hand and I'm still being pursued so I run further around the house (with my dress back down). I'm not running far, just fast and in spurts, so now I'm in the front of my house.  I have lost the chasing wasps and stop to think about how to get the one out of my hand.  It is struggling.  I don't want to pull it out with my fingers, because that doesn't seem like a great idea. In hindsight, I'm thinking 'why?, he already stung the heck out of you and probably has no venom left.  If he's been on that long, his stinger is well embedded, so it's not like you'll be any better off.  And admit it, part of you wants to kill it.'.  But at the time, the best thing I could come up with was to scrape it off with a brick and run.  So I grabbed a brick, scraped it off, and ran back into the house.

Here, people are standing around figuring out what to do.  Paul and Travis are working together to figure out how to block the hole and there are several observer/commentators.  The wasps are busy moving their young out of the nest, flying away with the pupae in their grasp.  One falls on the dining room table.  Normally, I would think this is cool, but right now, I am disgusted.  It is a large maggot as far as I'm concerned.  And it is on my table.  And we're supposed to be having a pot luck.  Paul and Travis have decided to stick a wad of cloth in the hole and tape it there to stem the flow of wasps.  Paul holds the cloth in place.  At the last minute, he decides to take the cloth away and just put the tape there.  This was a huge mistake, as he punched the hole out again in the process and now it is at least four inches wide.  Instead off 150 wasps, we now have 500.  Paul runs out the door and everyone else runs to the basement or outside.  When Paul gets back, he has been stung in at least five places, one on his forehead.  Ironically, he is now as mad as a hornet and wants to KILL THEM ALL.  Charles, meanwhile, has gotten a cup out of the kitchen and is quietly trapping and removing the wasps.  Charlie is looking up information on the internet and reports to us periodically with helpful hints.  Hannah recommends incense, which we light.  Thomas shows up and goes to the closet, donning a hat, ski goggles, gloves, and a coat.  I say, "Thomas, what are you doing?"  "Being awesome!", he says with pride.  Then he assists Charles with trapping and removing wasps.   William and Stephen are nowhere to be seen.

Paul randomly decides it would be a good idea to go to Lowe's and buy foam wasp killer and spray them.  Right now.  We disagree.  It is the middle of the day, which it says on the label to avoid, and we are INSIDE trying to stay alive.  I get Thomas to look up a phone number for an exterminator on the computer so the guy can back me up.  I call but get no answer.  Which means Paul wins.  He goes to the store with the welt on his forehead leading the way to get the spray.

We hunker down in the basement and wait.  Paul comes back, and we prepare for the onslaught by shoving towels under the doors and in the vents.  We sit and wait in the basement like there's going to be a tornado.  After what feels like too long, we start to pace and wonder what is happening with Paul.  We don't hear screaming, and he hasn't run out of the house yet.  I go out the back door and peek in the dining room to see what he's up to.  There is foamy goo sliding down the dining room wall.  It is not filling up the hole to the nest, and wasps are falling out regularly.  At least they are not flying around.  Paul is standing there, watching them drop, armed with the can and periodically shooting more goo in the nest, prompting another cascade of falling wasps.

Finally, they stop dropping out.  We decide to place a strong plastic barrier over the hole, so I go in the garage and cut up the lid to a plastic bin.  I place it over the hole and fasten it with packaging tape, duct tape, and more packaging tape.  It doesn't stick very well due to the oily goo, but there's nothing moving in there any more anyway.

It's supposed to be over, but Paul and I are injured and full of adrenaline.  Hannah and I haven't even started cooking yet.  I look at the clock and an hour has passed.  We are shaken but victorious, and I have a terrible headache.  We regroup and proceed with the evening, determined not to let the wasps win, periodically reliving moments, laughing at our stupidity, coming up with Code Names for one another (Paul is the Terminator, Charles is the Wasp Whisperer) and giving kudos where due while we play our various games.

The exterminator calls and tells us we did everything right.  Paul gloats in spite of his swollen forehead.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

on being unique

We were sitting at the dinner table the other day with two of Thomas' friends, which is a relatively common occurrence. We had two containers of Ranch dressing on the table, one nearly empty and the other brand new. Stephen reached for something and knocked over the nearly empty container. I looked at him, stared him down, and knocked over the full one. Game on. Stephen cocked his head at me, raised an eyebrow, stared me down, and grabbed his dressing container. I grabbed mine and we began a duel. This seemed unwise at the dinner table, so we moved to the living room, jabbing, slicing, and disarming one another. After three rounds of raucous parrying, we ended our duel, sat down and continued with dinner.

One of Thomas' friends looked at the other one and said, "This never happens anywhere else in the whole entire world." The other one casually agreed, saying, "Nope, and that's what makes this place so cool."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Curmudgeon in My Midst

I have started biking to work a couple of days a week when I don't need the car. This has proven to be both invigorating and interesting on a number of levels. And I have a feeling this is only the beginning...

One day last week while looking for alternative routes, I rode by a house that had a driveway full of really nice cedar planter boxes. I was pushing it for time, so I decided to stop by another day to check them out, since I have been thinking about getting one for the deck (the only really sunny spot) to grow vegetables.

Tuesday night after work, I stopped by. Upon ringing the doorbell, a small black poodle began jumping up and down in front of the door like it was on a pogo stick and barking. A woman wearing a house coat and scooting herself around in a wheelchair with her feet finally noticed and yelled, "Jim! There's someone at the door!" then turned to me and said, "He's comin' out through the garage!" I step over to the garage and out comes a tall, elderly man wearing a plaid shirt and overalls, with bright blue eyes and a sparse, wispy white crew cut. He says, "What can I do for you?" "Well, I was riding by on my bike the other day and noticed your planters and I thought I'd come check them out." "Best darn planters in the state of Oregon!" he declares. "Well, that's why I stopped by, because they look pretty nice. How much do you want for that one, there?" "That one? Well, that one's $40. Course, it's not done yet, it still needs the cap and the trim on it." "What if I wanted one twice that size, could you make a custom one for me?" "Well, now why would you want to do that?!!! Then I'd have to charge you more for the custom work and you could just by two of those for $80!" "Good point." Silence. Then he growls, "I woulda had those ready by now but the goddamn weather has been so bad that I can't get any work done on 'em." But his eyes are sparkling and he's not really that angry or frustrated. (Remember, his entire driveway is full of planter boxes.) So I say, "Well, it looks like you've been plenty busy even with the weather." He brightens. "Let me show you what else I've got." And he showed me his work. More planter boxes with places to mount a bench. Wishing wells. Birdhouses. He has indeed been busy despite the uncooperative weather, which he continues to bemoan as we peruse his wares. I tell him he should advertise and he jerks his head back, tilts it to one side and looks at me through narrowed eyes, still smiling, and says "What are you tryin to do, kill me?! I got enough work to do around here without advertising!" "Good point," I say again. Can't argue with that.

So I commit to purchase two of the planters for $80 and he says he'll have them ready the next day if the weather cooperates. We exchange cards and phone numbers and he notices the letters after my name. "What's that all mean?" "I'm a social worker." "And you work at a clinic?" "Yes." He sizes me up. "A healer, then." And I smile because I have been called a healer before and I love it. And I reply, "Yes." "What kind of healer, then? You do acupuncture or something?" And I laugh and say, "No, mental health." "MENTAL health! Well! I need some of that!" "I think we all do from time to time". And he's cool with that, which I didn't expect, and we proceeded with our transaction. As I was leaving, we shook hands and he said, "What's your name again?" "Lydia. And you're Jim, right?" "Right. You want a good tip?" "Sure." "You like a good cup of Folgers?" "Yes." He leans in close to my ear and says, "then put some bullshit in it." I laughed out loud. "You remind me of a bunch of my relatives. My dad says things like that." "Good man. Good man." And we smiled and shook hands again and I left, my day strangely brightened by this grumpy old man with a sparkle in his eye.

Today, I went to pick up the finished boxes but first I called Paul and told him what I was up to, saying I'd be home in about a half hour or so. This time, the dog was not there to announce my arrival and the woman in the wheelchair apparently could not hear the doorbell. She finally noticed my movement out of the corner of her eye and says that Jim is out back with the dog. Apparently, I'm supposed to go out back and find him. So I do, and we miss each other and I can hear her yelling that he's got a visitor and he comes out through the garage again. "Hi, Lydia!" he says when he sees me. "Hi, Jim! It looks like the weather cooperated with you." "Yeah, it's been all right. Tired today." "Well, you've been working, it looks like," and I gesture to all of the finished boxes. He smiles at the acknowledgement of his hard work and says, "And that's not all! See there? I've been spreading the compost, too." "I see that." "Well! Let me get those boxes loaded up for you." "Hang on, let me throw on a different shirt so I can help you." "You don't have to do that!" "Don't worry, I've got it right here and I'll just throw it on over this." "Oh! I thought you were going to strip right there." "Not a chance." (Next time I will try to be more clear the first time so he doesn't have heart failure.) We load the boxes and I write him a check. "Is a check okay?" I ask. "I'm not worried about your check bouncing," he says in his crotchety old man voice. Then he brightens. "If it does, I've got your address and I'll just come and take my boxes back." "Well, if you wait until late August, there might be some ripe vegetables for you, too." We smile at one another because we are both in on the joke. "Good idea. Come on over here and sit down for a minute," he says, gesturing to two chairs in the shade under a tree in his front yard. I was glad I'd told Paul it would be a bit.

We sat in the shade and talked about sexual perverts (a neighbor girl that had been molested by her father had walked by, prompting this discussion), fishing, religion, his millionaire siblings, coffee ("Have you ever had that Dunkin Donuts coffee? Now that's good. Can't stand that Starbucks stuff.) and Minnesota. It ends up he and his twin brother were born in northern Minnesota on a reservation in a tar paper shack, lived with between 7 and 9 people there, and raised dairy cattle. After a bit, we wrapped it up. We stood up, and he said, "You're welcome to come by anytime and share a cup of coffee and some bullshit with your old friend Jim." I looked at him and smiled. "I'd genuinely like that." I need a curmudgeon in my midst.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I Did on My Spring Break

This is Spring Break for my kids, so I decided to take time off, too. We haven't done anything spectacular, but we've been having a good time being together. We planned a Board Game Day for today, but realized that the whole world is not on break and it wasn't going to happen, so we rescheduled for Sunday. I took William to get his infusion and puttered on my computer for a couple of hours. Thomas and I went to Powell's Books and an Art Supply store. Stephen and I plan to eat lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. Good, solid relaxing time.

But Tuesday was my highlight, because we went to the mountain. The ski conditions aren't FANTASTIC, but still GREAT, so I decided this was the day I would learn to snowboard. Stephen agreed to try it with me.

Stephen is hilarious when he's looking forward to doing something. Suddenly he goes all micro-manager on all of us, making sure that we've packed appropriately and badgering us to leave earlier than is sane. He wanted to leave around 6:30 a.m. It is a two hour drive and the rental shop and lifts don't even open until 9:00, so this is really harsh. Especially since we automatically slipped into vacation mode by staying up until 1:30 a.m. But we said we'd try. We did try, but we didn't leave until 7:30. In hindsight, it would have been better to actually leave closer to 6:30 if we wanted to get on the mountain before 10 a.m.

Still, we made pretty good time until we saw the notice that chains were required to get up the last stretch of mountain to the lodge. The last time we had to put on chains, the guy directing traffic had to help us just to get us out of the way. So we haven't really learned this skill yet. But we gamely got out of the car, and spread out the instructions, hoping that this would signal do-gooders that we are complete noobs, and started in. Surprisingly, we got them on with relative ease independently, boosting our self esteem and survival skill points significantly, and we were on our way again.

Finally, we were on the mountain, tricked out with our gear. I was totally stoked because I found out that, due to the fact that my natural stance is with my right foot forward, I am considered "Goofy" foot and not "Regular". Goofy sounds tres cool to me. Stephen and I weren't able to make the first lesson, so we decided to putter around on our own after a few tips from Thomas' friend, Daniel. This proved to be an utterly frustrating experience for Stephen, who repeatedly asked permission to use expletives to describe his current state of being and the worthless nature of learning this new skill. We decided it would be best to see if he could switch out his gear and get skis. They kindly switched him out with no extra charge. Sweet.

But I decided to stick to the plan. I really wanted to give it a try. So after lunch, off I went to my class. I was clearly the oldest, and strangely, the only white person in my class until another young woman arrived late. We learned how to get around with one foot strapped in, which did some major tugging on my weaker knee and started to worry me a bit. Maybe if I switched to Regular? Give up the coolness of being Goofy? Something to think about.

Then we made our way to a small half pipe to practice, and eventually made it onto the bunny hill to try our skills there. First, backwards, digging in our toe side (do not curl your toes, this doesn't help at all, not to mention the charlie horse). Then forward, digging in our heel side. Then curves from each position. Then combining the two to zigzag down the slope. This was utterly exhausting and took a lot of practice just to get the skill down enough before moving on to the next one.

So here's where I brag just a bit: I was the fastest learner in the class and went from level I to level III during this lesson. Thank you! Thank you very much! At first I thought it was because I've skied for so long but later I wondered if it was easier for me because I used to water ski - similar in that, when slaloming, your feet are both strapped in to one ski and you need to be aware of your edges. Hmm. Either way, that was an ego boost.

That said, the harsh reality is that I was sweating buckets after the second skill we learned on the half pipe and shaking from exhaustion by the end of the lesson, making it difficult to get on the chair lift without wrecking. I'd fallen more times than I could count, reaching back to catch myself with my hands, which I quickly figured out must be how many people break their wrists, because they ached immediately. That, and my tailbone, which was clearly compromised after a few contacts with the packed snow.

But I would totally do it again! This is one super-fun way to spend a day! Skiing always does this to me. I get on the slope and I immediately start devising ways to get back on the slope again. Maybe if I taught lessons. Maybe if we got a cabin. Maybe if I took every Wednesday off during the winter. Maybe if I called it therapy and brought my people out with me...

For now, I'm off to yoga to work out some of the residual kinks. And tomorrow I've got a massage scheduled to get the rest of the kinks out of my neck, which is clearly attached to the tailbone and not at all happy with the spills. But this will not stop me. I'll be back...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Classic Lydia Stories: Talley and the Tree

At our first house on Hansen Road (we moved three houses down the street when I was a teenager), there was an Ash tree next to the driveway. I loved that tree, and it was perfect for climbing by the time I was old enough to want to. I used to climb up in the tree, perch myself on a particular branch, then lean out, let go, grab a lower branch, swing, arc, and jump off. Better than jumping off a swing. Even MORE fun if you closed your eyes during the swing and the arc.

Talley, my younger sister, used to climb the tree with me. One day as we were swinging out of the tree, I told her, "It's even MORE fun if you close your eyes!" So on the next turn, Talley gets to the particular branch, closed her eyes, leaned out, completely missed the other branch, came hurtling out of the tree screaming bloody murder (I think her eyes were still closed at this point), and suddenly landed on the ground with a crash. Now think about this. She was screaming all the way down up to the point of impact. That means her mouth was wide open and her tongue was partially extended. Imagine what the force of the sudden impact would have on her jaw. And where her tongue was in relation to her teeth. Yep, you got it, her mouth slammed shut and she bit her tongue. Big time.

I came out of the tree, saw her bleeding from the mouth, and ran in the house to get Nanny, our grandmother, who was staying with us during the summer while my mom worked. (My mom was the only one on the block that worked at all.) "Nanny! Come quick!" "What happened?" she said. "We were jumping out of the tree with our eyes closed and Talley missed the branch!" On hindsight, this does not sound like the smartest thing to be doing on a summer afternoon. Nanny came out, saw the mess Talley had made of her tongue, and got my dad, who was in his office downstairs, to bring Talley to the doctor's office.

When they got in to see the doctor, he took a look and said, "Huh! Look at that! It's cut clear through. Do you mind if I have Dr. So and So come and take a look at it?" And my sister, whose tongue is swollen and sticking partway out of her mouth, shakes her head and says, "Doe, dat's otay." Dr. So and So comes in and also wonders at the amazing cut. Then a series of nurses enter and they take a look. No one has seen anything like it. We're not sure if they were all looking because of the curiosity of it all, or in order to consult together as to how best patch it up.

They eventually decided to give Talley stitches and return her home. We had dinner that night, and Talley sat across from me with her tongue still swollen, numbed from novocaine, her baseball cap on her head with the bill toward the back but skewed so it rested behind her ear. Her fine blond hair stuck to her forehead from the humidity and her cheeks were rosy from the heat and excitement of the day. She sipped on a milkshake while the rest of us attempted to eat our dinner with this pitiful reality in front of us. I'm sure she was even more pitiful than necessary in order to increase my guilt but it did not faze me. I knew I was not at fault. Anyone else would have known enough to wait until they had a hold of the branch before they closed their eyes. Not Talley, though. She jumped straight out of the tree with her eyes closed and her mouth wide open.

When it was clear that she wasn't pitiful enough to induce an adequate level of guilt, Talley attempted to speak, botching the attempt and sounding like she belonged in an institution for the developmentally delayed. Apparently, my mother couldn't take the aura of guilt that was permeating the room any more, burst into tears, and fled the table. I said, "Why is she crying?" because I was impervious to the guilt factor and could not figure out why this was so upsetting. My dad and grandmother looked at me, boring into my soul with the combined guilt power of two adults and Talley, and said, "She's just happy it isn't permanent". Then they looked at each other with a "mission accomplished" expression on their faces, and proceeded to finish eating their dinner while Talley sipped happily at her milkshake and I felt the first pang of doubt. Maybe it was my fault...

Disclaimer: I honestly don't remember if Talley was ever mad at me for telling her to close her eyes. I don't remember her making me feel guilty about it and I don't really believe my parents blamed me either. It was an accident. We were fortunate it wasn't worse. But that doesn't stop the what ifs. What if I had explained the procedure better? What if she had ended up with broken bones or knocked her head? What if it really was my fault? I'm just happy it wasn't permanent.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

On Being a Carrier and Letting Go

I have been on a journey over the last year or so. Much of this learning began through experience at work as we delve into how best to serve individuals with history of trauma. At least 95% of all the people I serve have had long term, chronic trauma in their lives. As a result, we as practitioners need to be aware of how our buildings, forms, actions, and words may affect a person with this kind of history. I also taught DBT, which incorporates mindful awareness into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was clearly punting.

Just over a year ago, one of my traumatized clients had to move out of the facility where he lived. I watched as he unraveled due to our lack of awareness of how this move was carried out would affect him. During this time, I had a deck of "Wisdom Cards" that I would choose from every few days for inspiration. I chose "I am Willing to Let Go" over five times in a row. I gave the deck to others to hold, I closed my eyes, I shuffled the deck. I drew the same card. I was not willing to let go, as I was horrified by how this move was being carried out and the effect it had on this individual. While the move has been positive overall, he is still recovering from it. I think we both are...

I began to look into mindfulness and meditation as ways to treat trauma, as this has been proven to reduce symptoms. I went to a workshop and followed up with a study group with coworkers designed to implement these practices into our work and lives. These practices are not only beneficial to trauma survivors, but to anyone experiencing life's stressors. Practitioners who work with people who have been traumatized tend to pick up on the trauma and carry it themselves. I began to work more in my own life on the concepts of radical acceptance, non-attachment to outcomes, and sitting quietly as I observed my thoughts and sought to non-judgmentally calm them.

I had the opportunity to attend two seminars on trauma as well. At these, I learned more about how the brain reacts to traumatic events. Fascinating! Our linguistic center shuts down when we experience trauma but our body retains the memory as a physical experience. Effective treatment is often linked to body movement through theatre, dance, yoga, or guided movement therapy that serves to integrate the traumatic memory in a way that can be managed by the individual.

Work was stressful. I began to hunger for a better way of relieving this stress in addition to desiring to be a more effective teacher and clinician and decided to look into yoga. There is a studio near my office that offers yoga, yoga therapy, and mindfulness based stress reduction classes. The more I read their website, the more I was convinced that these were my kind of people.

Today was Day 2 of yoga. The first day we spent practicing melting into the floor nearly the whole time, which sounds really weird, but was amazing and surprisingly difficult. I developed really sore muscles in my upper back and I was thinking "Really? From melting? Wow, am I ever out of shape!" But in the following few days, I would catch myself as I walked, realign my shoulders, and feel the positive difference as I walked along.

Today's lesson was more of the same, but with a focus on the shoulder and neck area. At one point, we laid on our back on the floor and had a partner press down on our shoulders. At one point when it was my turn, I felt myself quit fighting the resistance and allow my partner to just press my shoulders down to the floor. She exclaimed (quietly, because it's yoga), "You let go!" And I said, "Yeah, I did," and thought "Wow, that was weird..." And we stayed there and breathed a few times, then let up. But something had snapped in my brain.

As we moved from this into the "Dead Man" pose, which is where you melt into the floor and breathe and observe your thoughts, I was struck about how profound it felt to let go. And suddenly, tears were streaming down my face (screwing up my breathing) and I was thinking about how much I carry and have carried, since junior high or high school even, and being in awe of the power of letting go as a physical act. I later thought of how, in a literal sense, we carry things with our arms, and our shoulder muscles feel the strain, and how symbolic it is that I carry secrets and bear responsibilities and who knows what else I have as my load, and how ironic that my shoulders are bearing the strain. I thought about all I've been learning as head knowledge about how important movement is to recovery and thought, "So this is what they mean." And I laid there (not doing the dead man very well at all because I had to keep wiping away tears and attempting to breathe with some regularity) and trying to force myself to let go of the fact that I was currently sucking at yoga. Which is okay. I am by nature a carrier and have been since early on. My habit is to hold on, cling to, bear. I have not let go. But today, I found a new pathway in my brain. I can still carry. But now I can also let go.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Classic Lydia Stories: The Fish that Got Away. Thank God.

I haven't been inspired to write much about the day to day lately. Partially because I can't really talk about work, so that's out, and partially because I'm toast by the end of the day, so writing in general is out. But I miss it, and it's good self care, and I keep thinking that maybe if I write enough it will all start to make sense. Then Thomas showed me "Hyperbole and a Half", a blog that is HILARIOUS, with hand drawn pictures, written by a young woman with a great sense of humor who talks about things in the present and in her childhood. http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/ And I got inspired again. But I'm not attempting the pictures.

So, which story first? It has to be the one about:

The Fish that Got Away. Thank God.

When I was little, we used to go to Florida each year to visit my grandmother, Nanny, at her place on the beach near Daytona. My aunts and uncles and cousins from my dad's side of the family would all be there and we would play in the pool, then the ocean, then the beach ALL day long the whole time we were there. Except for a few breaks to walk down the street to 7-11 to get a slushie. Or go into town and play Skee-Ball and pinball at the arcade. But the thing I loved the best besides the beach was to go fishing with my Dad and Nanny. She was the best fisherman of us all even though she was also the kind of grandma that wore shiny gold flip flops and all sorts of diamonds.

One time when I was about 10 or 12, we went for our annual trip to the Indian River to fish. This river empties into the ocean nearby, so when the tide comes in the water mixes with saltwater so you can catch ocean fish without having to go deep see fishing. This was totally cool because the fish were so amazing compared to the ones in Minnesota. The shanty where we usually rented a boat and got our bait had crushed shells that made the pavement crunch under the tires of the car and smelled like fish, heat, and water. We got our boat - a regular fishing boat with an outboard motor - and some shrimp for bait and took off down the narrow river with the mangroves hanging in on either side.

I never knew how dad navigated that river. We were in the Delta, so it fanned out, but there were so many places where the river split that I lost track. Everywhere there were the mangroves on either side, creating an open-air tunnel for us to travel through. We had to watch for manatees so that they wouldn't accidentally come up under our boat and tip us over or get injured by the motor. When we did see them, they were often already scarred by run-ins with other boats and propellers.

We arrived at a spot and fished to our hearts content. At one point, I lost half my shrimp to a smart fish, but decided it was enough to keep using as bait. I lowered the line again and pretty soon after that, I felt a strong, slow pull on the line. This was not cool because it felt like I'd gotten stuck on a log and that is SO EMBARRASSING when your trying to be as cool as the adults in the boat. So I kept quiet about it and tried to work it loose. I reeled it in and it slowly came up. I pulled it in some more and it still came up. I reeled it in again and started working it up. By this time, Nanny noticed something was up and said, "What have you got, a WHALE?" and I said, "Well, I thought I was stuck on the bottom but it keeps on coming up". Which is when my dad noticed.

When someone has a large fish on the line, my dad goes into hyper-over-drive. "Reel in your line, Mother! Hand me that net! Put this over there! Lydia, keep the tip of your pole up! Now bring it around here! Not that way! This way!" It's like he figures we all forgot how to fish and need to follow his orders. So we do, just to keep the peace, because now is NOT the time to be arguing when you have a lunker on the line.

So I kept on reeling it in, and bringing it over to the side of the boat Dad wanted it on, and he was ready with the net and Nanny was out of the way when all of the sudden we saw what I had on the end of the line. And if we were in a Wild West movie in the middle of the desert there would have been that sound track that is like a buzzard seeing it's next meal when the good guy is about to die. But we were in the middle of a Florida river and there wasn't a sound to be heard because there at the end of my line was a SHARK about half as long as the boat we were in. And we all looked at each other with eyes as big as saucers and my dad said real quietly to Nanny, "Hand me that gaff" which she did without a word.

Now in Minnesota, no one carries a gaff around on their boat. It would be like toting a shotgun around in the middle of the suburbs. It just doesn't make sense. But in Florida there is always a gaff on the boat. A gaff is a long metal stick with a large hook on the end that is used to grab or gut a large fish. We had never used one before, but if we had, I would have had a crying hissy fit because it was "so mean". This time I didn't need to ask if there was another option. Even though I clearly had a lunker, it wasn't exactly a keeper and there was no way we were going to use the hemostat to get the hook out of the shark's mouth.

He directed me to bring the shark up to the side of the boat. Strangely, the shark was not thrashing or fighting at all - like I said, I thought I had a log on the end of the line. So I slowly and quietly brought it up to the side. And then I watched as my dad raised the gaff to gut the shark, his lips pressed together in a thin line, hating that this was the only option. But then, with my dad's arm partially raised while we all watched as if it were slow motion, the shark moved ever so slightly like it was coming around, angled it's head and looked my dad in the eye. It was as though he knew all along what we were up to, like he'd played this boring game with us and was oh, so, done, like he was wise and old and teaching us a lesson. He looked at my dad right in the eye, shook a bit... jerked his head.... jumped off the hook... and swam away. And just like that, it was over. My dad stood there in the boat with the gaff in his hand, my grandmother said something like, "Well, I'll be damned..." and I sat dumbstruck, holding on to my rod with the bit of shrimp dangling at the end of my line over the side of the boat thanking God that this fish had gotten away.