Someone’s In The Kitchen

About a year has passed since I last was able to write this blog. As you know, Bob, my husband, Dale, died of probably-pneumonia on January 3, 2018. Suddenly, while he was sleeping. I went to wake him up, but he wouldn’t get up. I thought he was playing games, but he really wasn’t breathing. Turns out he’d been gone for about an hour before I found him.

For a year I thought I would make a blog post about that night, but though I just now sat down to do it, I realize I can’t. Maybe someday I’ll write it all down, but not today. Instead I’m going to fast-forward to today and talk about my kitchen renovation.

Why, yes, that certainly is a subject everyone has done. Everybody on Facebook has written about their new kitchen. It’s a safe subject, not likely to make anyone cry, and just the word “renovate” is cheerful. Like “resurrect.” Or “rehabilitate.” “Renew.” There’s a joy in a new kitchen, especially when one has hated one’s kitchen for as long as I have.

Oh, yeah. Nearly thirty years ago we bought this place for a “starter” home. I didn’t want a ranch style, didn’t like the awkward landscaping, and especially hated the kitchen/dining room with white-ish linoleum and cheap gray carpet that shed pile constantly. Hated the knotty pine cabinets already yellowed with thirty-one years of age, dining room paneling likewise yellowed, postage stamp counter space, and a sink with one of those little, bitty vegetable sinks that just make no sense.

When Dale died so suddenly, we were less than a year from paying off the house. The plan then was to make repairs on it with the money we would no longer be spending on a mortgage. Suddenly I was faced with probably having to sell the house, but then my children stepped up to relieve me of all debt. I have a bumper magnet on my car like the honor student ones you see everywhere, that says “My child is a sober, responsible, tax-paying ADULT.” If I’ve done nothing else worthwhile in my life, I’ve at least got kids who are fine, successful, well-adjusted people. In short, I’m still living in the house I bought with Dale.

But I hate the kitchen. Over the years we’ve installed new flooring in it twice, In 2007 swapping out the linoleum and carpet for wood veneer, then when that was flooded in 2010 we installed dark bamboo. It also was ruined by assorted liquids (you don’t want to know), and several months ago began to buckle badly enough to trip people up. My daughter decided we needed a new floor, and while we were at it we should paint, and install new cabinet hardware, counter top, sink, curtains, and backsplash. She would pay for the materials, and her brother and I are doing the labor.

I’m over sixty. My balance is bad. An hour on a ladder cleaning and painting wipes me out for the rest of the day. This job wasn’t ever going to get done in a week.

So, some weeks ago Travis pulled up the old flooring, revealing once again the linoleum that had been there when we bought the place. I bought some mineral spirits and spent about a week cleaning grease off the cabinets. They’re now nearly sixty years old, and even more gross-looking than they were when we bought this place. The hammered-copper hardware was cemented into place by decades of grease and whatnot, and left green stains on the cabinet doors. The mineral spirits could only accomplish so much, and I searched down our hand sander to take off the really impossible crud.

First coat.

Doing all this while the flooring is gone enables me to paint with impunity. No dropcloth needed, I don’t have to worry about drips. I’ve primered and got one coat of paint on the cabinet doors, which are laid out across the empty dining room. Travis moved the refrigerator for me, and I cleaned and primered the wall and cabinet behind. That’s where I am today, getting that bit of wall completed so we can put the refrigerator back in its slot and move on. The walls, molding, and backsplash will be an eggshell white, and the cabinets will be a darkish blue that will work with my metallic blue KitchenAid mixer. (Yes, I am decorating around the mixer. It’s either that or risk having it fight with the décor until I die.)

Happily, I’m finding this project somewhat therapeutic. For nearly thirty years I tolerated a kitchen I hated because I wasn’t the only one living in the house. Though I hate that Dale is gone and will never be okay with it, I’m learning to figure out what I want and am sticking up for it. This house is mine, mine, mine, all mine, and every room is for me to use as I please, until I sell it or bequeath it. I move onward.

Last Christmas

Ever since the kids became responsible, tax-paying adults, the holidays have been a nightmare of scheduling. During his senior year in college, Travis went to work for a chain pharmacy which is known for being open 24/7/365. Nikki in her retail years sometimes was free on Christmas, but then she married a firefighter and all bets were off. When the kids were little we used to have a big dinner party on Christmas Eve, then open presents the next morning and relax the rest of the day. I miss that.

With Dale’s job, the one day of the year he was guaranteed to be home was Christmas Day. The touring industry is pretty seasonal, so it was usually easy enough for him to have downtime on that day. Particularly in the years when he was home from Thanksgiving till nearly Easter. Some years not so much, though. Our first Christmas, in 1981, he flew in off of AC/DC at midnight on Christmas Eve morning. That day we went scrounging for a tree, and found one for $12. It was short, spindly, and had an enormous hole on one side, but it was by-God real and it was our first.

Even the year (2001) he worked for the Trans Siberian Orchestra, whose entire schtick is Christmas music, he managed to make it home. The tour just happened to have a show in Nashville on December 26. Dale cruised in with his passengers on Christmas Eve day, and because nobody on the tour was permitted to fly home for the holiday, Dale brought nine guests with him for dinner that night: the tour manager and eight of the musicians. The viola player made homemade eggnog for us, and we demolished the biggest turkey I’ve ever seen, let alone cooked.

For the past dozen years or so, though, with the kids grown and having their own lives, we’ve had to give up the dinner parties and get together at the time when a majority of us were available. Dale was always there, and a few years ago his mother moved into the area, but sometimes Nikki had to eat and run, and there were years when Travis had to close the store Christmas Eve and open on Christmas Day. The grandsons arrived, but then when the divorce happened the boys’ presence was dictated by the court and nobody took that well.

Last Christmas, for one bright, shining moment, it all changed.

That time, it all came together, like magic. The boys and their mother live here now, and it was our turn to have them on Christmas Day. Travis last summer was promoted to general manager of his own store, guaranteeing him Christmas Day off. And Dale worked to mid-December, taking an extra week with the Grateful Dead (these days Dead and Company), and came home in plenty of time to enjoy a break.

Both the kids (they’re in their mid-thirties now) took me Christmas tree shopping. There’s a tree lot that for a number of years has set up on a vacant lot that used to be a funeral home. (Yeah, I’m one of those people who give directions like, “Turn left at where the old WalMart used to be.”) We’ve gotten into the habit of buying our trees there, and that’s what you call tradition. It was a special treat for me that Travis and Nikki were there, because they know I like tree-shopping as a family.

This year, it was no Charlie Brown tree. The kids bought us a huge, flocked one. I’d never had a flocked tree before in my life. My mother used to sneer at them, so I had never been interested, but when Nikki asked me if I wanted our chosen tree flocked, a mood came over me. Yes, this flocking was pretty. And when I felt of it, I could tell it would stay on the tree and make the branches sturdier. I accepted the flocking with much pleasure.

This year we weren’t particularly flush, but we had enough. When I asked Dale what he wanted for Christmas, he couldn’t think of anything. So he mentioned that his watch needed repair.

That’s not much of a present. I’d bought him that watch for Christmas several years before. But he couldn’t think of anything else, so I took it to where I’d bought it to see if they could fix it. They told me all it needed was a new battery. Sixteen bucks. I had them fix it, then texted Dale. “Watch only needed new battery. Suggestions? Off to browse Best Buy for ideas. I’ll return the watch when I get home.”

He replied, “Ok. I don’t know something fun maybe whatever is comfortable to budget lov you.”

“Fun it is. I know exactly what.” First time ever, I knew what to get him. I went looking for a VR headset.

Christmas Eve the boys got to toast marshmallows in the fireplace, a tradition that for me goes back to about 1960 when my brother and I were preschoolers. They said goodbye to Buddy, their Elf on a Shelf, and hung their stockings by the chimney with care.

Christmas Day was like old times, but without the stress. Jack-O-Lantern pies made from Halloween decorations. Turkey–a cheap one shot with broth, which are never dry and always taste fabulous. Dressing with gravy, and I make the BEST gravy. My grandmother’s recipe for sweet potato casserole. Nobody poised to eat and run. Nobody arriving at the last minute. Nobody annoyed, and Dale even seemed to like his VR headset.

It was one of the best Christmases ever. God blessed us that we had no idea that last Christmas would be Dale’s last Christmas.

I’m Granny

Let me brag about my grandsons. If you don’t want to hear this, then run away. Save yourself. I’m about to be insufferable, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. It’s in the DNA to brag about our descendants, so we just must listen to new grandparents every once in a while, sort of like having to eat rubber chicken at conventions or white knuckle teaching teenagers to drive.

When my daughter first told me she was expecting, she informed me that I could start making a baby quilt. So I gestured for her to follow me to the quilting storage boxes to show her the stash of fabrics I’d already bought for it. I was quite ready to be a grandmother. I began sewing immediately, and rushed to finish the quilt before the due date. By the time it was done, Michael was ten days old. The thing was a simple appliqué block covered with embroidered flowers, in bright batiks and a rainbow of floss. Seven months of needlework, and I rushed the last bit of embroidery.

Michael is, as of this writing, Six years old, and he’s my first grandchild. His brother, CT, just turned four. They are, of course, adorable. According to the law of infants, Michael was a Gandhi and CT a Churchill. Now that Michael is losing his front teeth, he occasionally looks like Alfred E. Newman, but in an adorable way. CT is one of the most photogenic little boys I’ve ever seen. He’s got eyes the color of a blue-eyed dog’s, and everyone who sees them goes, “Ooh, those eyes!”

I think it’s rather odd to have descendants once removed like this. I’m daycare every other week, so I get flashbacks of the days when my own children were that size. Old reflexes kick in, and I surprise myself that I remember how to do any of it.

But then when they are with their father, I find myself occasionally looking around and going, “Where are the kids?” Oh, yeah. Odd to have such a life-changing thing and be such a small part of the larger picture. But that’s part of maturing, I guess, and at my age I should be a lot more mature than I really am.

I’m lucky in that in the afternoons they sometimes let me take a nap. I try to make sure at least one of them is also asleep, otherwise I would wake up to a fully trashed house. Or else one of them (usually CT) outside and wandering around in the front yard where neither is supposed to be.

Sometimes I read to them. I have saved all the best children’s books my own kids enjoyed, and have recently acquired a full set of Winnie the Pooh books. I also have all the old Disney Classics on DVD, which they sometimes like but more often they want to see Thomas the Train or something involving LEGOs. They are skilled with the remotes and can watch whatever they like on the Kids’ account, so long as it doesn’t have a dollar sign on it.

They call me “Granny.” Like in the Beverly Hillbillies? I don’t think so. More like the dowager countess in Downton Abbey. Picture the oldest daughter saying “Grannehhhh…”

In Other News

I heard from the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? people yesterday. They said, essentially, Thanks but no thanks. Better, I think, to have a definitive rejection than to wait until gradually you are forced to realize you’ve been rejected. They also warned me that there was a limit to the number of times I can attempt this. After five rejections they say I should take a hint. Apparently they get a lot of people throwing themselves at this wall.

Um…I think I’m good. I’m certain that whatever it was that made them reject me isn’t going to change any time soon. I’ll just sit in this corner over here and pretend I didn’t really want to be a millionaire. What? Comfort and health care in my old age? Not for me.

Final Visit

I’d thought I was going for a final visit. My father had been sick for a long time, and had been living on borrowed time since his heart attack in 2005. I pictured myself spending a couple of weeks hanging out with my dad, looking at old family photos, saying things that needed to be said, answering questions and settling misunderstandings.

My flight reservation was for 4:28 p.m. on May 2. That morning I got a phone call, and the caller ID said it was Dad. Half asleep, I picked up and when I heard a man’s voice say my name I groggily thought it was him. Surely calling to say he was feeling better, and he’d see me later.

But it was my stepbrother, telling me my father had passed away half an hour before. Suddenly my visit became a trip to a funeral.

I used to like flying. Before 9/11 it felt like a Grand Adventure to climb on a plane and head off to places I’d never been before. Scotland, New York, Montreal, Frankfurt…then the TSA entered the picture and it’s never been the same since. But today there were no hassles. The world had turned…soft. Dreamlike. As if everyone knew I was not really here anymore, and that no matter what happened in transit, it would still be better than the morning I’d had.

I landed in Spokane shortly before the car rental counter was due to close down at midnight, with an hour and a half drive still between me and Colville. One of the handles on my suitcase had been broken off, but I had more pressing things to deal with.

I turned on my phone to call my husband to tell him the plane hadn’t crashed, but the thing went into a beeping fit and turned itself off. Huh. Turned it on again, and it beeped some more before blinking off. It appeared I would need to plug it in once I got into the car.

The nice car rental fellow gave me a key and sent me to slot J4 where I was supposed to find a cheap, wind-up-toy sort of car. Economy was all I could afford.

No car in J4. I peered at the key fob to see what it said, but my reading glasses weren’t anywhere near my face and all I could see was a big J4 scrawled on the fob in black sharpie. And even I could see there was no car in J4.

I pushed the door unlock button on the fob, and the car in J5 blinked a “hereIam.” I blinked back. It was a 2017 silver and black Camaro. Convertible. I was tired enough to go, “Oh, dear.” I knew for sure the car rental guy was going to come scurrying out of the terminal any second, and take away the fob he’d mistakenly given me. He couldn’t possibly have meant for me to have this car. But I was too tired to do anything but say “screwit” and make a note to argue with them later.

The trunk was absurdly tiny, but my bag made it in. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and couldn’t see over the dashboard. It was dark, and I was afraid to feel around for random buttons lest I accidentally put the top down and couldn’t get it back up. So I tried to see what I was doing in the dark. (See above: no reading glasses.)

I got the car started somehow, though there was no actual key on the fob. Also a first for me. Good thing the dashboard gave me an error message telling me to put my foot on the brake, or I’d still be there, pushing that button. I found the cigarette lighter plug and plugged in my phone. Tried to turn it on, but it only beeped and pooped out again. I started to become frustrated.

The car was one of those newfangled, quasi-manual shift cars with no clutch. I like a standard transmission, but I don’t think they make those anymore. I had never, ever seen one of these with no clutch. I had not the faintest idea how to shift this thing.

I had a GPS with me, and felt around, hoping to find a second cigarette lighter plug. No luck. I had to unplug the phone to plug in the GPS. I didn’t much like being unable to call my husband right away, but I had no clue which way to go to get to the road north.

With the GPS booted, I went to enter my destination, which was my dad’s house. I realized I did not know the house number. Which was on my phone. Which I couldn’t turn on.

I unplugged the GPS, plugged in my phone, then sat for a moment, beyond frustrated and holding back panic.

I noticed an OnStar button, and pushed it in desperation though I figured I would get a robot voice asking for a credit card number. But instead I got a live person, to whom I spilled my guts about my situation. She happily sent me the directions to Colville via the onboard GPS.

So I backed out of the space, nearly an hour after my plane had landed, and made my way out of the parking lot.

That was when I realized the shifting procedure wasn’t going to make itself apparent. The shifter did nothing once it was in drive, and there was no obvious control for changing gears. I could hear the engine winding up, and had to pull over to think about this. I was having nightmare visions of driving all the way to Colville in first gear and arriving sometime near dawn.

As I poked around the dashboard, looking for the bloody shift control, my phone rang. It was my husband. I picked it up, certain the thing would turn off as soon as I touched it. When I heard his voice, I burst into tears I was so relieved.

He talked me in off the ledge, explained to me how to shift the car (paddles on the steering wheel…who knew?), and then tried to help me figure out which way to pick up the road to Colville. Because he’s spent the past forty-five years driving everywhere in North America and some places south of the border, he knew where I should go. However, he couldn’t know exactly where I was because I could see no signs. I had to hang up, plug the GPS back in, and see if I could shift the car well enough to get out of Spokane. Then I looked up dad’s house number on my phone, entered it into my familiar GPS, and proceeded on my way.

An hour and a half later I pulled up at my father’s house, where my father no longer was.

My stepmother and two of my stepbrothers were there. Over the next few days we all picked carefully through the minefield of memories, photographs, and paperwork. We pulled together the details of Dad’s life, and I helped write his obituary. It was  a surreal experience.

He was all about airplanes. He learned to fly before he learned to drive. After high school he studied aeronautical engineering and began military flight training in the Naval Reserve. He declined an appointment to Annapolis so he could continue his flight training, then was called up for active duty in the Korean War. He finished his training in Pensacola. His flight gear and log book are on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum there.Alan Bedford Sr.

During his eight years of active duty, he flew fighter jets off the U.S.S. Boxer and U.S.S. Hornet, earning seven citations and service medals. After the war, he flew as a test pilot and was assigned to the U.S. Naval Air Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, California. I was born on that base.

After his discharge from active duty, he went to work at Lockheed Missiles and Space Corp. Still with the airplanes. In his forties he took a hiatus from there, finished out college, picked up an MBA, and worked as a flight instructor, instructor trainer, and aerial photographer. He tried to teach me to fly, but I couldn’t get past the unshakable conviction that the instant I took control of the plane it would plummet from the sky. I still have the logbook that shows half an hour of flight time.

Julianne, age threeOne of my favorite pictures of myself was taken by my dad when I was about three years old, as I was running across the yard to hug him. When I was four, he came home from somewhere with a copy of Black Beauty for me. I looked inside and said, “I can’t read this; there aren’t any pictures.” He said, “Then learn to read.”

And I did.

In 2002 when my second novel was released, I was visiting my dad for a family reunion. We went into Barnes & Noble and found seven copies of Outlaw Sword on the shelf. I said, “Cool. Let’s see if they want me to sign them.” He laughed, thinking I was joking. But he stopped laughing when I took the copies to the service desk and the manager was happy to have me sign them. As I did, my dad stood there looking like he was going to pop from pride.

Honor GuardOn May 18 he was buried in a veteran’s cemetery outside of Spokane, with full military honors. Jet airplanes taking off from nearby Spokane airport added an oddly appropriate soundtrack as we mourned a former fighter pilot. In the distance the United States flag flew at half mast. Three riflemen fired three volleys. Strangers in uniform saluted him, with all military precision and respect

I knew him for sixty years, and now I can’t imagine the world without him in it.

Brief Hiatus

On Tuesday, May 2, my father died. This week I’m helping my stepmother make arrangements and decisions, so I won’t have a post until next Saturday. Meanwhile, I leave you with these thoughts from Joseph Kennedy III:

Joseph Kennedy III writes:

“It is among the most basic human truths: Every one of us, some day, will be brought to our knees by a diagnosis we didn’t expect, a phone call we can’t imagine, or a loss we cannot endure.

That common humanity inspires our mercy. It fortifies our compassion. It drives us to look out for the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the most vulnerable among us.

Yesterday’s bill — yesterday’s devastating bill — does the opposite.

The bill is more than premiums and tax cuts. It is a cold and calculated world view: It scapegoats the struggling, and sees fault in suffering. It is deadset on dividing us based on who we love, where we come from, the direction of our faith, and the size of our fortunes.

We see this worldview in their tax plan, their budget cuts, their immigration policy, their civil rights assaults — and yesterday, in their cruel health care plan.

We must reject it.

We must decide, instead, to take care of each other — because, but for the grace of God, we will all one day wake up in need of a little mercy.

This nation’s character has never been defined by the power we give the already strong — but by the strength we give the weak.”

Pensacola Trip Report

A number of years ago the U.S. Navy built an aviation museum on their air base at Pensacola, FL. Being the Navy, and all, they had an array of old planes and jets from various conflicts over the past century.

One of those planes was a fighter jet called a “Panther,” which was one of the ones my father flew off the aircraft carrier Boxer in 1953, during the Korean War. When they went looking for flight gear belonging to pilots of that plane, they found my dad, the packrat. He still had pretty much every piece of uniform and equipment he’d ever worn in six years of active duty and more than a decade of service in the reserves. The curators were excited to find a complete set of flight gear associated with their display plane, and asked to have it. Of course he was happy to send it, and they put it on display.

Since then, I’ve been meaning to make a trip to Pensacola to see the display. I had no news of what they did with the items, and so I didn’t know whether they were on permanent display, or what. For years I kept telling myself, “I should go see it.”

Time passed, my dad got older. And then much older. As his health has declined, I began to imagine not making it to Pensacola until after he’d passed, and that image didn’t appeal to me. Continue reading Pensacola Trip Report