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We are in the midst of a pandemic and race riots, the latter of which remind me of growing up in the 1960’s and watching Los Angeles burn on the television. I am reminded of Angels. My Angels.

The Bible tells us that Angels can come to us disguised in Hebrews 13.2: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

I have met some of those angels and like the angel in The Shack by William P. Young, they have taken surprising form.

1977 I am traveling north from Louisville, Kentucky on the midnight bus. My destination on this leg of my trip is Toronto, Canada. I have no real plan, just my back pack and my heart. I will go through the three C’s of Ohio in the dark: Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland. I am 20 and alone.

A man boards the bus in Cincinnati and sits a few rows ahead of me, in the aisle. He keeps looking back at me and I avoid eye contact. The hairs on the back of my neck are working overtime. Even the hairs on my arms re pricked up. We stop briefly in Columbus, but no one gets off, only more get on. A little African-American woman gets on and sits down behind me somewhere. She doesn’t meet my eyes. She’s just about her business.

In Cleveland, we need to change buses and take a late dinner break. Everyone has to off-board. I am nervous as the man has been checking me out more frequently and he stares hard at the Cleveland bus station. I dilly dally getting off.

A soft dry hand touches my arm. “I seen that man. You follow me straight to the women’s restaurant like you know me.” She leads me off the bus and through the crowded bus station. We say nothing to each other and the man stares on last time as we disappear into the restroom.

There, the woman does her thing and I wait. We leave together, never touching. She scans the bus stop and nods. “You safe now.”

I never got her name, never touched her except for that first brief moment. I never saw the man again. She changed my life and I know it, want desperately to tell her thank you. She is gone.

Many years later, my friend comes to stay with me while her father is dying in a Portland area nursing home. My friend is broken and I am trying to be her strength. I drive her often to the nursing home to visit her father, going in with her every time but often feeling at odds about the experience.

On this day, there is a wizened African American woman in a wheel chair near the door My friend passes her, but she reaches out to me as I step by.

“You Pentecostal.” It’s not a question. It is a statement. She’s read my spirit as I walked past and I cannot deny to her that I am a Christian who has been ‘baptized in the Holy Spirit with the gift of speaking in tongues’ – I am Pentecostal.

She takes my hand and says, “Follow me.” I follow.

We go to her room which is in the basement. She only has a small window to the outside and it is in a well. I can’t tell you what the room looked like or anything else, because the minute we were in that cell of a room, she lifted her hands heavenward and began to call on the Holy Spirit. She spoke in tongues unlike anyone I have heard before or since. She sang. She praised God. Loudly. the entire nursing home could hear her. She was unashamed. She was glowing. She was touching the hem of Jesus and I was but a weak witness to the glory of her prayer and praise.

I did join in. I raised my hands. I felt the glory of God pass through that pitiful room. I knew I was bonding with someone but I couldn’t begin to tell why.

When she stopped, she told me she was the mother of a well-known Pentecostal Black preacher in North Portland. She knew me for who I was in the Spirit as soon as she saw me. She told me I was a prayer warrior. She blessed me as I left her room.

I never saw her again. My friend’s father passed and I had no reason to visit the nursing home. I had small children.

I feel her all the time. I feel her right now. She has her hands on the back of my neck and is speaking in tongues I don’t understand.

My angels. We are the same. These women formed me. They protected me. Sheltered me. Gifted me. And they are not the only ones – they are merely the ones who spring to my mind first. The others are there.

 

I was a child when race riots rampaged through Los Angeles. I remember watching the riots on a black and white television with Walter Cronkite narrating. Little white girl, hiding under the sofa, watching the television, understanding more than the adults gave me credit for.

I never understood judging people by their skin color. My first best friend was Peggy Garfield, a Native American from the “Indian Village” within the city limits of Winnemucca. I wanted her to come to my 6th birthday party but between her and my mother, I was discouraged from even sending an invite. I wanted to spend the night with her or have her spend the night with me, but they both repeated words I didn’t understand. That Peggy – the same age as me – understood those words grieves me to this day. Indians and Whites don’t get along. They don’t mix. That’s why Indians live on Reservations or in segregated parts of town.

We camped with the Hortons, sort of. All the company of the Sage Stompers, a 4-Wheel Drive Club of the late 1960’s in Nevada, camped together. Except the Hortons. They camped off to the side. Mr. Horton was Black. Mrs. Horton was white. Their daughters were friends with all of us kids and we wanted the girls to spend the night with us in our tent.

My mom tried to explain to me why that couldn’t happen. Mr. Horton was Black.

My mother served on a jury in the late 1960’s. The police found seeds in a dresser drawer of a teenager my brother went to school with. Her father, Mr. W., was arrested and put on trial for drug possession. He was Black. The jury found him Not Guilty.

My mother told me later – much later – that it was a clear cut case of racism. She could not vote to have him sentenced under such conditions. Other jurors – all white – felt the same. Mr. W. was only one of a few Black citizens in a remote Nevada town.

I watched the Watts riots unfold on television.

I am not Black. I am not African American, Native American, or any race that is not pure Aryan. I am Nordic, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, British, German. I have no idea what it is to be a person of color.

But – I am the grandmother of children of color. I am the grandmother of boys who will grow up to be men of color. Boys who will have to walk, jog, and do business in the South. Boys whose skin color is clearly not as Aryan as mine. Boys with blue eyes and green eyes, with dimples, and wide smiles. Boys with fire in their hearts that comes from the seeds of their father’s fathers. Fire that comes from my side of the family. Irish and Scots. Boys whose skin is dark.

The murder of George Floyd sears a scar into this nation (and it was murder). Premeditated, cold-blooded murder caught on tape by a minority group that the perpetrator clearly didn’t think had the legal influence to put him in jail for the rest of his life for. Murder that his comrades clearly condoned. Murder that emphasized a knee to the flag during our National Anthem.

But those riots? That vandalism? The destruction of businesses, many of which are owned by African Americans? Those are Outsiders. White Supremacists trying to light the fire of division amongst us. Those are gang bangers with no allegiance to anyone but their own gang affiliation. Those are people not gifted with reason. They are not Martin Luther King Junior.

I am sick tonight, sick at heart. I am fearful for my grandsons and granddaughters, white and black. I am fearful for mixed-race relationships. I am fearful for white parents raising black children (my son is remarried and his second wife is as white as I am). I am fearful for the Blacks I knew growing up who had to deal with that shit in their lifetime and were hoping the next generation would have more sense.

I am angry at the outside inciters, most of whom are White Supremacists and some of whom are the easily persuaded members of a targeted ethnic group.

Did we learn nothing from the Second World War? Did we learn nothing from the Watts riots? Did we learn nothing from the American Civil war and the 620,000+/- soldiers who died over the issue of slavery?

Apparently not. And there I rest my case. I am sad. i m angry.

I refuse to participate in this game of skin color. And noone had better EVER touch my grandsons of color.

I will kill you. No riots necessary. I will kill you. That is not a threat to be taken lightly. You touch my babies and I am coming for you. You better fear me more than you fear law enforcement or any other entity, because I am one bad ass grandmother.

Yesterday was the Opening Day for the county we live in (Stage 1, whatever that means. Restaurants, pubs, and churches with limited seating – I think).

It was also the first warm and dry day following a week of rains: morel hunting time! Morels only come out in the Spring and can be elusive. We have never found a good spot to hunt on the west side of the Cascades, so foraging for these delicious and precious mushrooms is about a ninety minute drive over Mount Hood and the Cascades to Central Oregon. That’s as close as I will get to telling you where we look for them. Morel hunters know the best spots, the right terrains, and the approximate right time of year to look. They also don’t divulge their secrets.

It was a nice day for a drive. The snow that fell at Government Camp earlier in the week was nearly melted off in the bar pits. The lanes were clear and dry. We only saw three near-accidents (all three caused by impatient drivers with no concern for speed limits, passing lanes, double yellow lines, or other drivers).

Don saw a little buck in velvet.

The Forest Service had signs up warning campers and hikers that the forest is “CLOSED” but all gates were open and people had set up camps in their large motorhomes in the open, undesignated camp sites. We heard dirt bikes later in the day and came across three as we left the area (they have designated trails and keep to them). The forest was as open as it has ever been.

I was not really into the mood. My mind was elsewhere, on things I wanted to do at home. But there is something about being out in the forest or the wide open sagebrush spaces that calms the heart and clears the mind. The smells of duff, pine, and fresh air.

We walked. Don wandered. I kept him in my line of sight (most of the time). There was minimal bear sign, a lot of deer sign (or elk), and dozens of different fungus: toadstools, psilocybins, puff balls, and many, many more. Oh, and the wildflowers! Teeny, teensy, tiny wildflowers! I kept getting lost in the flora. Don kept finding morels.

My SmartPhone has the best macro lens. Large leaf sandwort. Moehringia macrophylla. (and a dirty fingernail for comparison)

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I think this is a small-flowered tonella. Tonella tenella. My pinkie finger for comparison.

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Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary. Collinsia parviflora.

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Calypso or Fairy Slipper.Calypso bulbosa. I didn’t have to look this one up. If it is up, the morels are up.

I had to stand and orient myself. Don was nowhere in sight. A widow-maker moaned (a widow-maker is a tree that has fallen, but its descent was stopped by the branches of another tree and so it hangs, leaning against the living tree, moaning when they rub together, and waiting to fall. Many a man has met his death under such a tree, hence the nickname.) Birds called unfamiliar tunes.

Ah, there was Don, about a hundred feet to my left. He saw me and came over to to tell me he’d found about six morels so far. I hadn’t seen a one.

He started away. A flash of brilliant red and yellow crossed my line of sight and a Western Tanager landed on the tree just ahead of me. I called out to Don to show him. There’s nothing quite like a Western Tanager in brilliant coloring and lack of fear around human beings. They are curious and friendly birds. This one dove in chase of a small dragonfly, narrowly missing my legs. It missed the fly as well and returned to a branch just over my head. Don shook his head, “Wow.”

The bird tried a second time and missed again. He stopped on a fence rail and looked at me before flying off.

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(Stock photo – not mine)

We wandered apart again. I got lost in the fungi. I lost Don at least two more times. The trees soughed in the light breeze. Dirt bikes roared somewhere nearby.

We finally headed back to the car. We ranged through the downfall and small sunlit meadows or low-growing wildflowers. Lupins pushed up their leaves, not ready yet to burst into blue flowers. Ravens passed overhead, croaking. Robins flitted.

I wore the wrong socks for my hiking boots and was beginning to regret it. Too thin and the boots slipped on my feet. I’ve had these boots for decades, my favorite pair of Vasque hiking boots purchased at an REI yard sale as “lightly used” not heavily used. They require thin liner socks and thick wool socks for maximum comfort. I was wearing thin wool socks.

I found two morels. Don found over a dozen in the same area.

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Another stock photo (not mine) but we collected about twice this (Don did). All blonde morels. All fresh. The dark ones he found were old and crumbling.

We ended up with about 30 mushrooms, no bugs, and fresh. We always cut them off at the base and leave the stem in the ground to perpetuate the fungus. Never pull them out of the ground, taking the entire stem.

The drive back was faster than the drive out – no slow vehicles to plod behind, waiting for a passing lane or a chance to pass. We stopped at our newest favorite brewery, Bent Shovel Brewing.

They are an outdoor venue, lots of space to separate people and tables. Good beer. Good people.

 

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We sat in the sun and watched storm clouds gather over home.

Honey bees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, bee flies, hover flies, and a butterfly.

And did I mention all the colors?

SOME of my grandchildren have discovered Messenger for Kids and how easy it is to message Grandmothers in confinement.

The granddaughters do most of the messaging and most of that is of a game called “guess what this is”. They create scribbles on their notebooks or phone screens and then forward the “srt” to me.

At first, I was a little shy trying to guess what their rainbow colored scribbles were. I didn’t want to cruch the feelings of budding artists.

I quickly gave up that notion. The artists are 8 years old and they have a wicked sense of humor.

97265364_10222726817540632_2026177648253730816_n     This is not a Tennis racket as I presumed. It is A VOLLEYBALL.

96712709_10222720023010773_2313900737228177408_n  This one stumped me. What do you see? I guessed a rainbow beetle (or a fish on four legs). It’s A TURTLE, of course. It only has four legs, not six.

97116256_10222720026370857_5275125867134058496_n I got this one. I was surprised she didn’t change the answer to “It’s a MUSHROOM, Nana”. I think she does that on some of her drawings. I actually get it, but she decides to mess with my head.

So remember that turtle?

98036341_10222751475997078_3588172874881433600_n My first mistake with this is not knowing the artist was the three year old. Had I known that, I probably would have guessed this one correctly. Instead, I assumed because it has four legs, it’s a quadruped. And those are horns, of course: a cow.

It’s an ANT.

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This came from the other eight year old granddaughter. I guessed it was a Hopscotch game.

It’s a CALENDAR. By now, you have realized that this grandmother is a huge failure in the eyes of her grandchildren. But it’s all right. I think they have begun to think of this game as a way to torture the elderly.

And the Old Lady who gets these messages thinks this is the reason Instant Messaging was invented. Please don’t send me anything else in Messenger. I’m busy trying to guess what that drawing is.

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It’s a Spider by the three year old.

 

Mom

She was my very best friend.

I wonder what she would think of my life now, were she alive. Her death sent me into a tail spin that took years to come out of. Oh, I looked all right, but I was spiraling out of control emotionally.I didn’t know how broken I was until my baby sister died five years later and I had to revisit grief that didn’t make sense.

Mom was all or nothing. She could go from the funniest person alive to something so scary you didn’t want to be on the same planet with her. No, she wasn’t bipolar. She was passionate. It took a lot to make her angry, but if you pushed her over that edge, you long regretted it.

We were part of a club that did sand dune racing in the Nevada deserts. There are a lot of pristine sand dunes in Nevada, dunes that go for miles and miles and remind one of National Geographic photos of the Sahara. Sand dunes with no ocean, no lake, no water. We learned how to “sled” on sand dunes with cardboard boxes. we learned to check our tennis shoes for scorpions before we put them back on. We sunburned and picnicked on sand dunes.

Our parents raced dune buggies and modified Jeeps, Land Rovers, and Broncos. All rigs sported flags on ten foot tall poles so one could see them coming across the dunes. There were designated places to drive. There was always alcohol involved. They even had a school bus converted into a food truck and the wives took turns working in the unshaded bus, doling out cheap treats like hot dogs and cokes. (“Coke” in those days and that place referred to any soda, even the non-cola variety.)

Drivers had to be careful of dunes that suddenly dropped off: looked good and easy from one side, but when you reached the top, the dune curved inward like a wave and you were suddenly in the air at a high speed with nothing below your tires but air and gravity. Roll bars were essential as were seat belts. No one used seat belts off track, but on track: you wore a seat belt, maybe even a harness.

There were tons of kids, too. Free range kids who wandered off into the dunes to explore or who built roads and forts on a designated hillside where no off-roader was allowed. There were consequences.

I remember being down at the bus with my best friend. Mom was working in the bus. One of our mutual family friends had gotten fairly soused and was riding around in a dune buggy with some braggart. They went sideways across the designated kid hill and stalled just above the kids playing. Maybe my little sister was playing there. Maybe the children of the woman in the passenger seat were there. Or the daughters of the woman working with mom. The clear thing was this: the rig could roll sideways down the hill, over the children.

All five-foot-two and ninety-eight pounds of my mother burst out of the bus and raced, arms pumping, in the heat, and up that hill. Little kids split left and right. The drunks were still laughing at their predicament.

They weren’t laughing after my mother met them on that hill and read them the riot act. They slunk away with their tails tucked. Everyone who witnessed, stood up and clapped (okay, I made up that part. We were so in awe of the anger this tiny person could drum up in a single heartbeat when she felt children – hers and others – were being threatened by stupidity.

You didn’t cross my mother.

On the flip side, she was hysterically funny.  She was a punster. An actress. Shout, “Alert!” and she would take a pose. “I’m a Lert!”

Things too high one the grocery shelf? She’d look around to make sure noone was looking and she’d climb the shelves.

She chaperoned one Rainbow Girls convention in Reno. We stopped at a light on the Drag and she shouted, “CHINESE FIRE DRILL!”. When we didn’t move, she looked at us and said, “That means get out of the car and run around it and get back in as quickly as you can. Before the light changes.” We ran like our lives depended on it.

She’s call me about three times a month and I knew by the ring of the phone it was her (no caller ID in those days). I’d likewise call her about as often and she’d always answer, “Hi Jaci.” We just knew.

She wanted to spell my name Jaci. She wrote it that way in all of her early writings before I was three. My father and every other conservative convinced her that wouldn’t fly. She was thrilled when I started using that spelling in 1972.

I miss my mom. I miss calling her up about everything. I miss that kind of friendship. I miss her passion. I miss her laughter. I miss her wicked sense of humor.

But more than that: I am my mother. I taught a group of girls how to do a Chinese Fire Drill. I climb grocery shelves when noone is looking. I sip wine late into the night and try to solve the world’s problems. I worry about “waking up bludgeoned to death”. I strike a pose and shot, “LOOK! A LERT!”

And you really don’t want to make me angry. I try to reserve that for incredibly stupid shit people do. And I try, like my mother, to quickly forgive those idiots.

Happy Mother’s Day.