July 24, 2015 § 1 Comment
“Why do you have a beard? You are a girl.”
I looked down at the small red head staring up at me from the steps of the Harbor Mercantile. Her little brother turned his attention towards me, as did her grandmother sitting on the bench between them.
Grandma beat me to the punch. “Your grandmother would have quite the beard if she didn’t have tweezers.”
She continued to stare at me as she reached up and stroked her throat, “I have one little hair right here…” Her grandma nodded, “It might be telling of things to come.” The woman had a slight smile on her face as her twinkling eyes went from her little granddaughter up to me.
I grinned. “Your grandmother is right, a lot of ladies can grow it, but they choose not to. I just like mine, and I think it looks kind of cool.” She thought about that as I paused.
“What do you think of it?”, I asked.
“Well, I think it’s kind of weird. But I kind of like it, too.” I smiled and nodded as I went inside the store.
The usual raucous crowd was inside. I love the haphazard social scene at the Harbor Mercantile. The morning coffee pot was still on, and the banter was flowing. I started to walk out the door with my purchase…
She was still standing there in the doorway, looking at me. “That’s all you’re getting? Potatoes?” I held up the two bags of baby Yukon golds. “Yep. I am making potato salad, and I have everything I need. Except for potatoes.” She pursed her lips knowingly and nodded. I wished her a good day and hoped that she was up to something fun with her grandmother…
She waved at me as I walked to my car, “Good luck with your potato salad!”
I live on an island.
I love where I live…
Good Luck Potato Salad
About a pound and a half of baby Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped into generous pieces. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat and go to work for four hours.
Bust out a sparkling clean house at an unreasonable pace, all the while sweating about your guests coming in the afternoon.
Rush home, still in your work clothes, and put potatoes in a strainer to drain. Run out to sweep off the deck, and make sure the slip & slide is in good condition. Put out paper plates, check on the sun tea you made yesterday, clean off the one serving spoon still at the bottom of the sink.
Chop up three medium-sized kosher dill pickles, and toss on top of the potatoes in a large bowl. Dice a fistful of parsley, and throw that in with about a quarter cup of mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons of cumin.
Frantically try to grind white pepper in the pepper grinder that has never really worked very well, call it good enough. Toss and put a lid on it to keep the flies out.
Feeds one employee on her birthday, her husband who goes back for three helpings, a teenage boy that eats as much as his dad, and a young girl who would rather have popcorn.
Oh, and one house cleaner who forgot to have breakfast…
July 23, 2015 § 1 Comment
It was another hot day. Not completely unbearable as it had been last weekend of the Strawberry Festival, but enough that shade was preferable.
I was on my way to my next house cleaning client, with a little spare time on my hands. I decided to stop by that old warehouse that’s been for sale for years. They are still keeping the grounds, and the small parking lot is often graced with shade. There is also a beautiful plum tree, a decadent treat if caught at the right time.
As I pulled into the roundabout, I noticed a woman tucked under one of the big fir trees. I slowed down and waved, and commented that she had a nice spot. She smiled…
About 30 feet further, there was the plum tree. It’s form has gone wild through the years, and the branches were bent deep with fruit. Most of the lower branches were picked clean, but up top were clusters of what looked to be perfect ripeness. I got out of the car and surveyed my best reach.
They were quite small. The lack of rain had left this beauty bearing fruit not much larger than a grape. I gathered my first handful, and took a bite – they were warm, and perfect. I jumped to drag the tips of the branches, grabbing the clusters within reach. I had well over a dozen when I paused to walk over to the fir tree where she was tucked in. “Do you know about these?” I asked, as I extended a handful to her.
She hesitated for a moment before she extended her hand and I dropped three perfect specimens into her palm. I nodded my head at her as she examined them, and then she took a bite. Her eyes got big…
She jumped up and joined me. I would pull down the branch, and she would gather. As we worked, she began to tell me that she was having a really hard day.
It took me a minute to recognize the voice, but as she spoke I remembered who this woman was. She used to own a secondhand clothing store downtown that I would occasionally poke my nose into. Always a quick smile, and happy to tease or run a funny commentary in her rough, gravelly voice that carried an unmistakeable beauty.
She was so thin, I had not recognized her at all.
I didn’t know her husband had died.
I remembered him well – I was so blown away at the way he loved her. A barrel-chested man and rather intimidating looking, he would stand on the roadside holding a sign for her business. I even saw him inside the store, carefully hanging lacy dresses on the hangers with his big, rough hands. Once, I caught them walking down the street together…
As she spoke, her sentences became truncated. The grief was still caught in her throat and she was unable to speak clearly of how he had died. There was a tidbit about neglectful paramedics, that his phone had gotten stolen because they suspected he was a heroin dealer. That he had died in her arms in the back of the ambulance while she was screaming for help.
I swept her up in my arms, and could feel the tears seeping into my entire right shoulder. She kept on with her story, and I encouraged her as I held her. At one point, she paused and thanked me for breathing for her. I was, in fact, taking deep breaths and moving it down through my body and into the ground.
I doubled my efforts. She would occasionally protest, saying she was usually the one who held others. I kept whispering to her, “I got you, keep going…”
Her body racked against me as the story sputtered unintelligibly out of her. I held her tightly until I could feel the stiffness start to leave.
Her breathing began to return to normal, and she was thanking me. I laughed, and thanked her for letting me… I told her I was going to finish squeezing it out of her like a tube of toothpaste. This made her giggle as I gave her one last big hold. I took a step back and put my hand on her belly. I braced her as I shook her form and chased it down her thighs, her feet, and into the ground.
She was beautiful when I looked up: her eyes streaming against the blue sky, and a huge grin on her face.
I took her back to the plum tree, and we both laughed uproariously as we filled our greedy hands and stuffed our faces. I said prayers of gratitude to the tree as we plucked the last few.
I looked at her when we were done. I told her that a darkness was gone from her body, and now there was an open hole. I told her to eat the plums and to fill it back up with sweetness. Her tears started again…
This morning, there is a handful of plums still left on the dash of my car. I will go to the water with a few of these and a Dahlia to make an offering of gratitude.
I live on an island…
July 19, 2015 § 3 Comments
I wasn’t going to go into town. In fact, I was going to do everything I could to avoid it. The annual Strawberry Festival was happening, which draws a lot of off island folks and a lot of bad behavior.
But still, the lure of potentially acquiring deep fried cheese curds and overly sweet lemonade teased me from my little cabin in the woods.
I was so glad I went. I saw a few familiar faces, and little pockets of locals having a great time together in the streets. No cheese curds, but I found good friends and a plateful of overpriced street fair that was decent enough.
We hunkered down to catch a few songs on the public stage. I could feel the heat of the day retreating on the heels of a mercifully cool breeze. The folks around me were settling into the grass with relief.
A young man came pouncing up to me and plopped down in the grass. He was so excited to get to sit next to me and perhaps chat a little bit – he had seen me around town and apparently was quite enamored with my facial hair. It was fun to draw him out a little, learned that he had lived in Alaska and was here on the island working for the kids camp. We exchanged “good luck” tugs on each other’s beards, and he ran off to be with his friends.
Shortly after, my friend and I decided it was time for us to head home. I got into my car and prepared to navigate the roadblock and the folks meandering in the streets.
And then I saw him.
Perched on the edge of town, a wavering arm held up to oncoming traffic trying to flag a ride. In my rearview mirror, I could see the dopey look of alcohol had consumed his face. Stains of food and sweat ran down the front of his clothes.
A Hemlock with a rotting rootball wavering in the breeze…
There is something I am learning about living on this island. It’s a village. There’s folks we don’t like, there’s folks we love. There’s folks that are trying to make this world a better place, and there are folks that are just existing. There are the wealthy, the poor, the elderly and the young, the old hippies and the techies and the homeless and the famous… all on this 4 by 12 mile long rock floating in Puget Sound.
I drove two blocks before I pulled over to consider if I really wanted to engage. He was a big man, but his state would probably render him fairly harmless. The hard part would be if he was too drunk to remember where home was…
I flipped a U-turn.
I parked 30 feet away from him and got out of the car. At this point, he had found a vehicle to lean against. The late afternoon sun was beating down on him, increasing the effect of the alcohol on his system. His bloodhound eyes wavered to meet mine.
He told me he was waiting for the bus. I asked him if he really thought the bus was coming through downtown today… he answered no.
I asked him if he knew where home was, and he rattled off an address. He couldn’t even make the 30 foot walk to my car, so I pulled up. He did actually manage to get into my car on his own. I got the seatbelt on him, but he wouldn’t take water. We started off to the north end of the island.
As I drove, I could feel his eyes on me. He said he had some questions for me, but he wanted to wait until the car had come to a stop. I teased him for being a smart man and making sure he got home before he asked me any awkward questions.
Of course, he wanted to know about the beard. I kept it simple and didn’t waste my breath – he was drunk enough that he was repeating himself. What surprised me was his weak but passionate attempt at a kiss in the driveway.
He was begging me to meet him the next day at the festival as I drew his arm over my shoulders to get him into the doorway. An elderly man met us as I got him up the final steps. When asked if he had been drinking, he shook his head in denial and turned to me for affirmation that he was sober… I turned to his relative to express my sympathy, it was clear this was a frequent issue.
Here is the village. Here was a man who had grown up on this island. Here was a man that reminded me of so many I had known growing up in Montana. “Lost in the liquid”, I heard once. I could only imagine what grieving or dysfunction had caused him to pursue such a state.
I was grateful for my friend who had walked me back to my car, who had seen me turn around. I was grateful for my friend who told me to stop by on my way home to hear my story. I was grateful for my friend who had seen all too much of this addiction, and let me make jokes on myself about being an enabler.
Living on an island is interesting. I have deep sympathy for those who have lived their entire lives here. The influx of folks who have a romanticization of moving to this rock have profoundly changed the landscape.
I often have a little personal rant in my head about the Strawberry Festival. I wish they would change it to the Blackberry Festival. We are, after all, an invasive species…
July 18, 2015 § 1 Comment
At the time of my youth, MTV had just come into its own. I didn’t get to see that first broadcast, “Video Killed The Radio Star”, but I certainly devoured the rest.
Starved for something “other”, growing up in the beautiful landscape of Montana but not with a culture that supported a young queer creative type…
I had to sneak in my viewing times – my father frequently patrolled what we watched on television, and frequently MTV was on the “no” list.
One time, I had turned on the television and was watching a series of videos. I had the oddest thing occur – I could feel myself growing fatter and less desirable with each video. It was about that time I decided I was no longer going to watch much television, and in fact have never owned one.
Growing up as the fat kid that everybody beat up on didn’t help me much. Fighting to squeeze myself into a standard of beauty that I would never fit, I did my damnedest with make up, dress, etc.
It just wasn’t working.
At 23, I entered my first serious lesbian relationship. Rachel was so beautifully androgynous – and she was an exotic amongst the flowers there. I fell head over heels.
She sported a lovely mustache, with a few chin hairs that she refused to shave. She was quite belligerent with all of it, and carried a stiff shoulder of defensiveness.
She firmly cajoled me at my shaving habit. I had quite the little bit of chin hair growing, nothing like what I sport now. I decided to give in to her advice, and between the two of us we had a magnificent goatee. I joined her in her belligerence – and carried that defensiveness like a bulldozer. I kind of had to, considering the culture I was in.
I grew it out for her. And, I grew it out for me – I had this strange thought… Of course, I had grown up hating myself. I was quite convinced that I was one of the most ugliest things on the planet. A part of me knew that this needed to be rectified, but my attempts to embrace the standardizations of beauty had failed.
Somehow, I thought if I did something that would make me even more ugly, and increased my battle to see myself as beautiful, I might find my way through it.
I found myself exploring a whole new level of presenting myself. Somehow, that defensiveness brought up the thought that I was worth defending.
That was new.
I sported my little chin hairs all the way through college. When my family opened up a large antique mall and I agreed to take on management for it, it became clear it was time for me to take off the beard. It was creating too much distress for our clients and my folks with a new business. I needed to roll differently for a while and go underground…
Several years of managing the mall, and another few years serving as a curatorial assistant at the local modern art museum finally brought me to a point. It was time to leave Montana.
I hated leaving my home ground. For as culturally starved as I was, I deeply loved the landscape and my family.
So, finally, I hauled myself out to live in Portland, Oregon. Encouraged and embraced by several close friends who had been holding a safety net for me, I made the leap. This was extremely challenging for me – I had waited until I was 34 to make this move. And, I also had a deeply irrational fear of traveling…
It was amazing. And, so incredibly challenging. To move to a place that offered so much cultural diversity when I had been making do for so many years… It was honestly quite overwhelming.
During my time there, one of my closest friends was a male to female transgender. She had just begun taking hormones, and was struggling a lot to find her place with it all.
I had this thought that perhaps I should grow my beard back out again, to stand in support of my friend. Away went the razor, and… back came the defensiveness.
It took me a while to realize that people were actually smiling at me. Here was a population that, for the most part, embraced it’s gender queer folk. One day, I was standing at the counter of the secondhand store as a young man was checking me out. He ran the last item, took a long pointed gaze at my chin, and took 50% off my entire purchase. I can tell you there wasn’t a sale running that day.
I suddenly realized that perhaps I didn’t need to be surrounded with such deep armor.
This was a huge shedding. The amount of energy being spent ready for a fight takes it’s toll. Here I found myself with the opportunity to walk around just being myself. Here I found myself with the opportunity to explore one of the other main reasons that I grew my beard out: if someone can see me walking down the street and realize that, if there is room for me on the planet there is room for them…
I don’t think I’m some kind of special little unicorn because I can grow my beard out. I can tell you there are plenty of other women who are fully capable of doing it.
And, I fully believe that every single person has something incredibly unique about them. I just happen to grow part of mine out front and center. I think this is really important: I look at our society, and I see that people are getting cramped tighter and tighter into little boxes that leaves no room for that unique expansion. I see human beings that are eating the poison of the media and starving to death. It seems that there is an attempt at monocropping human souls…
I won’t have it. I won’t participate. And, I will hold my hand out for ones that might want to escape those boxes.
I don’t think I have all the answers to this, but I do know that I can’t buy into it. If I had done so, I would’ve been dead a long time ago.
In fact, at the time when I moved to Portland, the way I overcame my fear of traveling was this: I had reached a point where it was either take the leap or kill myself.
It’s fascinating what can happen when one is taken to a place of “nothing to lose”…
I lasted about 3 1/2 years in Portland. I just couldn’t take the size of the city anymore. It was at this point that I decided to move to a small island just outside of Seattle, Washington.
I had a friend who lived there, one who gracefully gave me the safety net to make the leap again. It was incredibly appealing – Vashon reminded me so much of some of the small towns in Montana, and it had a huge moat.
Fear of being able to find employment and a place to live sent me to shaving again. Eventually, I found my way. I started cleaning houses, there was quite a demand and I had a developed skill set in renovating homes. I plodded along…
In 2011 I was presented with a particular challenge. I was asked to participate in an event that really drew me to show up as my authentic self again. I bit in…
I carefully watched my client’s faces as the hair started to sprout from my chin and grow long. I carefully watched my favorite barista’s face as I approached the coffee stand. I carefully watched the face of the clerk behind the grocery checkout stand…
Hardly anybody batted an eye.
So now, I live someplace where I get to hand out my card – one that says “Bearded Lady Cleaning Services”. I forget that people might have a reaction to me. In fact, it takes me a minute to remember when I am confronted with someone struggling with my appearance…
Once a year, I shave off my beard. I go home to Montana every year for Christmas. I deeply miss my family, and I know the quality time that I desire with them is only achievable by altering my appearance. Sometimes this is really hard, sometimes it is totally worth choosing my battles…
July 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
What if I could come in your door, all smoke and bells, and move these poisons that take over your heart.
What if I could move this magic wand into the air and make all the right motions that every ancestor standing behind you would come down into the room and fill you with love and encouragement.
What if I could make you believe that I had such authority. That my petitions could move the mountains that you cannot.
Here’s a little trade secret – I don’t.
You have everything you need.
All I am going to do is sit and listen to you – you are the one that points out the wings trying to escape from the scapula in your back. You are the one who has all the magic in the world, and all the capacity to wield it.
Of course, I am thrilled to be here for you. I get to witness what I only hope for myself: that magic is real, and I am not alone.
July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
I never really called you Daddy. Bob, Pops, Big Bird…
These words run off my tongue, laced with the smell of gas from the motorcycle, the wood stain on your hands.
These words hit the air with your big belly laugh. Leaning out the car window, waving at strangers. Your big noise born from a big heart that really just wanted everybody to have a great time.
Your best tricks: being able to wiggle your ears, flex that mysterious softball somehow embedded in your upper arm, and shoot the hose water from the gap in your teeth in the most amazing arc…
Mom always says you have Gods ear, and she has a list. It’s true. “Teflon Bob”, nothing would stick to you. Somehow, you got to parade through life doing just about anything you wanted.
Walking through the tool isle at the hardware store yesterday, the smell of metal and oil took me back to your shop. Every time I smell a fine wood finish, I think of all the things that you made beautiful.
The old Chevy truck. The one with the cracked windshield and the peeling blue paint. The horn that made the cows come running across the pasture.
Every time I see an old dirt bike, I think of the Yamaha. The one that you would drive through the irrigation ditch, trying to “catch air”. The time you had Tim sitting in front and he came back with two black eyes…
The antique mall. Having the fearlessness to renovate a huge downtown warehouse on a shoestring, and move in 80 antique dealers under one roof. And then you wanted to build a badminton court on the top…
You gave me what your father gave you – just wanting people to get together to have a ridiculously good time. You will forever be just a big kid.
I think I inherited that, too.
I never gave you grandchildren, and to know what that’s like to pass these things on… Lately, I’ve had so many kids in my life and I’m doing my best – to share a little bit of what you gave me, to share that sense of adventure.
The bloodline may have stopped, but what you gave me I do my best to share. I know I have touched a lot of peoples lives, and I am grateful for the chance to do so.
We have certainly had our moments of not understanding one another, I know I have carried on in such a strange way for you. But I just want you to know that in my own little way I still carry you with me.
I’m grateful that you are who you are. You did the best you could with a very strange child, and you gave me a lot. You still do.