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BY suzy

07/01 Direct Link
My brother and sisterís Summer Solstice party was interrupted by a rare and violent lightning storm. More than 8,000 lightning strikes set fire to the dry forests all over Northern California. My brother, a volunteer firefighter, was one of the first to respond to the fires in his area. In minutes, he went from a party to facing a 60 foot wall of flames with his fellow firemen. The fires came within a quarter mile of their houses, but were saved by a shift in the winds. As I write these hundred words, evacuations continue and the fires still burn.
07/02 Direct Link
My brother fought the fires for 48 hours straight. When he finally went home and got into bed, he immediately lost consciousness, more like a drunken black-out than real sleep. Then it was back to the lines. My sister, who is a paramedic, was at the fire house, making food and washing the menís smoky, sweaty clothes before reporting for her own 12 hour shift.

When my brother completed his 24 hour shift, he found a note in his car saying ďWe love you, fire department!Ē, $50, a bag of cherries, and some chocolate. Exhausted as he was, he smiled.

07/03 Direct Link
The community rallied around its firefighters. Signs appeared all over, saying ďWe love youĒ, ďThank youĒ, ďI have a pondĒ or ďI have so much waterĒ, giving directions to where the water could be found. There is a drought, and we have all been asked to cut our water usage by 20% this summer, so water is a precious commodity. One man showed up with own bulldozer and set to work making firebreaks under the firemenís direction. And the townís only grocery store has collected $2,000 so far for the fire department. Not bad for a town of 400 people.
07/04 Direct Link
This Independence Day, as my beautiful state burns away, I canít help but remember that one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, created the very first volunteer fire department in America. Following a serious fire in Philadelphia in 1736, Franklin put together the Union Fire Brigade with 30 members. More than 270 years later, 78% of American fire departments are volunteer or mostly volunteer, and protect 38% of its citizens. They have all the same training and risks as paid firefighters, but do it for free, with love and care for their communities. Have you thanked your fire department lately?
07/05 Direct Link
The Summer Solstice took itself too seriously this year, arriving with a vicious heat wave, and now it's at it again. I have a little air conditioner, wheezing out pitiful gusts of coolish air, but this David can't beat the heat Goliath.

The problem may be the whole BTU thing. Maybe British Thermal Units are just too polite. "I say, heat, could you please turn it down a wee bit? It's a trifle uncomfortable at the moment." Whereas American Thermal Units might say something like, "Heat, I'm only gonna tell you once. Outta here or your ass is nuked."

07/06 Direct Link
Near drama in the plum tree this morning - huge, pale orange tomcat (very handsome) menacing birds and their nest. Henry the Grey Cat was peeping over the fence, and I was afraid Orange Cat, who is approximately three times Henry's size, would attack him, so I shooed them both away as the birds fluttered anxiously and the plums squashed underfoot.

I hoped Henry would either understand or want the food enough to come back in half an hour or so when the coast was clear, and he did. He complained more than usual, though, and who can blame him?

07/07 Direct Link
Dolly the Church Lady came by as I was in mid-melt, mid-morning to tell me my watering duties arenít over. My neighbor B's at a revival meeting in Florida, expecting her wheelchair-bound husband to walk again. So while we await the miracle on opposite sides of the country, I'm taking care of the plants and those little blue things that grow in the patio cracks.

Apparently the miracle is taking longer than expected, since B called Dolly to tell her to tell me they're staying longer. Hope I don't kill the plants with my heathen lack of gardening skills.

07/08 Direct Link
What I should be doing: returning calls, personal and otherwise; answering emails, ditto; taking the car in for a check-up; picking up library books; buying groceries. What I am doing: thinking about all these things and considering making more coffee, but finding all of it too much of an effort. Was there ever a girl more slothful?

To my credit, I have fed and watered both the indoor and outdoor cats, and made a grocery list, so I can at least say Iím getting organized, even if Iím not (and Iím not) actually organized. Time to get on with it.

07/09 Direct Link
One of the emails I should be writing is to my best friendís father, who had to put his aged, disagreeable dog to sleep. He is a manly man, yet has been weeping helplessly ever since her death. Itís hard to know what to say to someone who is normally so impassive. I had better not point out that he may well have hastened her demise by feeding her so many treats that she could no longer walk up or down stairs, or that he was pretty much the only person who could stand her. The truth would definitely hurt.
07/10 Direct Link
Went to see Stevie Wonder in Concord. Concord is less than twenty miles away, yet it took me nearly two hours to get there since the traffic was so bad. I actually heard the entire baseball game on the radio before I got there. I was late, but so was Stevie. There were 22,000 people, and Iíd swear that most of them knew all the words, swaying and singing along with the legend in the 96 degree heat. It was at an outdoor venue, so and it was magic to hear him sing under the stars in the velvety sky.
07/11 Direct Link
I took my first cab today since moving to Oakland.

I dragged Self from the BART station, only to see the bus I needed - wanted at that point, so lowly have my desires become - pull away from the curb and go merrily on its way. The thought of waiting for the next one could not have been a less appealing prospect, even when provided with water and a library book.

Looking up from the deeply disappointing bus schedule, I noticed a line of happy yellow cabs, sitting across the street, calling my name.

Who was I to resist?

07/12 Direct Link
On the way home, I pondered the following:

Do I get credit for taking the bus to BART, even though I took a cab home? Is a cab bad, or, since it's used by others, sort of serial car pooling, sort of OK?

Why is it always so much better to be driven than to drive oneself? Even the skankiness of popular murder location International Boulevard seems merely colorful from the back seat of a hired vehicle.

Why is it that cabs and hotels, where you know other people have sat and slept (among other things), seem luxurious and delightful?

07/13 Direct Link
There's nothing like discovering a home invasion first thing in the morning. You hardly even need coffee after a surprise like that.

It was foggy inside (my head) and outside (the house) this particular morning, par for the course of a Northern California summer (insert Mark Twain remark here). As I reached for my favorite mug, I noticed that the teeny kitchen counter was teeming with ants.

I had been invaded overnight!

I removed them hastily, shuddering and trying not to scream. How can anything so small be so gross? I wonder if the Oakland hills are actually anthills.

07/14 Direct Link
The Safeway has been remodeled and improved, which means that nothing is where it was and all the customers are wandering around like something out of Night of the Living Dead. I finally located the Calistoga water among the soda, and was putting it my cart when Ray the Safeway Guy held up a bottle of and urged me to try it. "It's a real screamer! Try it once and youíre hooked, just like Pall Malls."

The Temptations came on, and Ray convinced me to do the Temptations Walk with him, so there we were, dancing down the soda aisle.

07/15 Direct Link
Shocked and saddened by my stepmotherís death. She was 81 and had various ailments, but nothing serious, as far as I knew. I had a letter from her the week before she died and she sounded fine, so it must have been mercifully swift. I hope so. I hope thereís an afterlife and she and my father and their dog are all together again. She was a remarkable person, building up her own business in the 1940s and running it until a year or so ago. She was beautiful, smart, funny, generous, and loving, and she will always be missed.
07/16 Direct Link
Losing my stepmother brought up a lot of feelings about my fatherís death. Although she lived in Wimbledon and I live in Oakland, we kept in touch by letter since Dadís death seven years ago, and our shared bond of loving him and missing him was important to me. I didnít realize how much I cared about that until she was gone. And it feels like Iíve lost another link to him. But I know they were the love of each otherís lives, and that she gave him some of the happiest years of his life. Iíll always be grateful.
07/17 Direct Link
It's foggy inside and out, my mind still cluttered with fragments of dreams (one with my father, which I woke up from and then tried to get back to without success - why is it that nightmares take up where they left off, but good dreams never do?). The sink is full of dishes from last nightís culinary exertions, the bed is unmade, and I havenít fed the indoor cats or outdoor cat. I can see Henry waiting anxiously by the porch steps, a first. Usually heís waiting by his bachelor pad under the porch. Iíd better get moving. Yawn, stretch!
07/18 Direct Link
I was making dinner when I heard a popping noise. At first I thought it was the cats, but it kept going, so I went to look. Following it out to the porch, I saw that the (empty) wooden planter next to the porch was on fire! I ran to get the hose, dragged it over, and started spraying water on the blaze. As the water gushed over the smoldering planter, I wondered how on earth the fire could have started. The planter doesnít have a plant in it, I havenít been using the barbecue, no-one smokes. Itís a mystery.
07/19 Direct Link
All evening, I kept checking the planter remains for sparks and smoke, even though I had thoroughly soaked it. I looked at the dry lawn and the weeds in the driveway in a new light, imagining the fire spreading, the house going up in flames. I was glad that I had been making dinner and had the back door open. What if I hadnít heard the noise, hadnít gone to investigate? Later, I watched ďA Letter to Three WivesĒ, one of whose stars, Linda Darnell, perished in a house fire at the age of 41.

I did not sleep well.

07/20 Direct Link
The inexorable approach of August oppresses me. Itís exacerbated by my stepmotherís recent death. The day I dread the most is the anniversary of my fatherís death, August 18. If I could skip that day for the rest of my life, I would. Iíll never forget my sisterís voice when she called me early that summer morning, the shock through my whole body slowly reaching my mind. My life changed forever right then, split in half. There was before, and now thereís after. Sometimes when I think about the landscape of life, it seems like an endless series of goodbyes.
07/21 Direct Link
Met with a money manager this morning in his breathtaking offices. Everything was white and pristine and shiny. There was a white on white ďCallĒ button above the clear Lucite doorknob, which, when pressed, opened the opaque white glass door as if by magic. Once in the lobby, I almost fell into the view, a sweeping panorama of the Bay, from the Bay Bridge to Alcatraz. A huge orange freighter cut through the grey water, ferries zipped by. Even on an overcast day like today, it was, well, breathtaking.

I sat with my back to the window during the meeting.

07/22 Direct Link
Driving through Chinatown is never an easy thing. Itís always congested with people and cars, markets and marketers spilling over into the street. I imagine it to be a microcosm of the original.

Iím sitting in the passenger seat of my own car, a 1966 silver blue Mustang convertible with its white top down (when I had that car, I used to have the top down unless it was flat-out raining). My good friend Paul is driving.

ďJesus,Ē he says, leaning over the wheel. ďI feel like Iím back in ĎNam with all these Asians trying to kill me!Ē

07/23 Direct Link
She sat in the car, facing the lake. She didnít see the lake or wonder what brought her there. She didnít think about how her fiancť had drowned in that lake during their last year of high school, nearly thirty years earlier. She was thinking about her parents, who had adopted her as a baby. She was their only child, their cherished daughter. She knew her mother was dying, and she knew her father refused to believe it. So she spent her days at her motherís bedside, and then went home to her father with a smile on her face.
07/24 Direct Link
ďTake me to see Mother,Ē my grandfather says.

I look around in a panic, but weíre alone. I help him up, and make the long, slow progress to my grandmotherís deep blue coffin. My grandfatherís hands shake, clutching his cane.

Together, we gaze at the beloved face, the still hands. Looking at her hands, unmoving for the first time, I realize sheís gone. Looking at my grandfatherís face, as he looks at the woman he loved for more than half a century, I wonder what he sees. What I see is that his eyes have lost their light forever.

07/25 Direct Link
The house seems silent without her bustling presence. She was always in motion. Even at dinner, sheíd perch on the edge of her chair, ready to fly up and get more food, another glass of water, a forgotten salt shaker. Yet she always had time for a hug, a story, to look through old photos and tell her granddaughter who the people were, caught forever in black and white.

After the funeral, her granddaughter walks through the still house, on a hot and dusty summer afternoon. She stops in front of the fireplace, where her grandmotherís birthday cards still stand.

07/26 Direct Link
My grandfather comes to live with us, but weíre just a stop on his way to rejoin his wife. He lives a half-life of dreams and nightmares, shadowy visions. He thinks it's WWI again and heís AWOL, until my father calms him down. He doesnít recognize my mother, saying his daughter is a little girl. When he does recognize my mother, he tells her to go and ask her mother any question she has asked him. His green eyes are opaque, the sparkle and laughter gone with his adored wife. He joins her without regret just a few months later.
07/27 Direct Link
I think itís too early for these ads for school supplies. Itís cutting short the precious summer with thoughts of looming incarceration. It seems that kids go back to school earlier now. When I was a child, school ended pretty much around the time of the summer solstice. The next day would find us packed into the car and on our way to Maine for the summer. We wouldnít come back until Labor Day, school appropriately starting the next day. We had a long, luxurious summer ahead of us, the freedom of days we could fill any way we wanted.
07/28 Direct Link
Now I realize how lucky we were. We had a house on five acres of land (a gift to a Revolutionary War soldier in lieu of pay for his service to his newly-minted country), two cars, and my mother didnít work. We went to Maine for the summer, where my father worked at a marine biology lab, and often went to England to visit his parents. Now, a generation later, I canít hope for that lifestyle. Itís all I can do to pay the rent on my place in Oakland, and the only travel I can afford is for work.
07/29 Direct Link
Walking home from the store, Iím so busy looking at the vibrant morning glories across the street that I donít notice itís my turn to cross the street. A man leans out of truck window and says kindly, ďMiss, I wonít hit you, I swear,Ē and I come back to reality. I smile and thank him and walk across the intersection. A couple of blocks from my house, a girl zips by on a scooter calling out ďHiiiiiiiiii!Ē as she passes. Iím smiling when I reach home. My neighbor is outside and sniffs, ďIíd never walk home in this neighborhood.Ē
07/30 Direct Link
That summer, my grandmother and I picked all the crabapples we could reach from the tree in her front yard. The scent of the ripe fruit was sweet as we took it from the tree on a summer morning. We spent all day making jelly, and when we were finished, we had jars filled with clear, ruby-red preserves. We gathered them up and brought them to the cellar, where they joined the shelves of other preserves, winking jewel-like in the dim light. She grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression. Something to fall back on, she thought.
07/31 Direct Link
That summer, my grandmother and I cooked together. I learned to make my fatherís favorites. She told me about him as a boy while we separated eggs and whipped cream in the house he grew up in. She taught him how to cook so she knew where he was during WWII, knew he was safe. She told me of growing up in a flat over her fatherís butcher shop in London when Victoria was still Queen. She told me of going to work at Lloydís Bank and meeting my grandfather, who just then walked in and gave her a kiss.