Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ferlin Husky's Birthday

A year or so back, one of Laura's students was distraught because her father was in the hospital. She had to pick him up and take him to the Country Music Awards show. We thought that was pretty extreme -- he was in the hospital after all, and couldn't even walk. It was a very complicated deal to take him out to a big show like that. "Who is your father," Laura asked. Turns out her father was Ferlin Husky, and the reason he had to go to the CMA show was that he was being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, an honor that was long overdue.

Laura let her student know we were fans from way back and she passed the news along. Ferlin Husky, in turn, sent us several CDs and sent Laura an autographed CMA calendar, with best wishes on her birthday -- which also turned out to be the same as his. December 3. That calendar is up on the kitchen wall now, with his big scrawled autograph across the date: Happy Birthday, Laura! Ferlin Husky. This is poignant, because Ferlin passed away not long after he sent it to her and was not around to celebrate his shared birthday this year.

Laura's birthday has a bad history. For years, awful things have happened. Her former partner died unexpectedly on it 20 years ago. Her own mother died on it 3 years ago. One wag suggested it was the ultimate irony of a Jewish mother to die on her daughter's birthday so she would never forget her mother's Yahrzeit. Laura's favorite pets have chosen that day to leave this life. Not a good record. If ever there was a date that needed redeeming, this was it.

So, this year, on Ferlin Husky's birthday and Laura's mother's Yahrzeit, we made a good memory to forever change the history of that date. We got dressed up, our son Josh drove us to our synagogue, and we got married.

Here we are, circling one another under the chuppah as the ceremony begins, sort of like marking out our territory. The chuppah is open on all sides to include the community, and at the top as well. On the easel is our beautiful marriage contract. Behind us is the Ark which holds the sacred Torah scrolls, nestled in heavy velvet wrappings. The Hebrew lettering on the chuppah reads  "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li." The star of David on our Ketubah is made up of the same Hebrew words. The translation is, "My beloved is mine and I am my beloved's." 

Our beautiful Ketubah (marriage contract).

It was a beautiful ceremony, celebrated in the midst of our beloved community and family. People came from all over to be there for our simcha. We had a good celebration afterward, too. Our friend Judy Baer made the    wedding cake, which tasted as good as it looked. 

And so, after 12 years together, we are married. Not in the eyes of the government, but by the laws of Moses and in the eyes of our Reform Jewish faith and our synagogue community. We have a binding contract, signed by the rabbi and by each of us and by two friends who served as witnesses. It  will be framed and displayed in a prominent place in our home. To have our relationship honored and accepted so completely is precious beyond words. The little terrified girl in me who knew she was different and could be arrested just for existing back in the 1950s has been healed and made whole. Our relationship has been strengthened and made more tender in some wonderful and unexpected way. 

Happy birthday, Ferlin, wherever you are. May your memory be for a blessing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Our Big Gay Jewish Wedding

A couple of years ago we were up on the bimah at our synagogue in honor of our tenth anniversary. Our rabbi identified us as two of her favorite people and congratulated us, then added, "and one of these days, they'll get married." or words to that effect. She announced to the entire congregation that these two old gals who persist in loving each other year in and year out should do something Jewishly official about it.  

I think we were both stunned and delighted. In a society in which religious folk often denigrate our very existence, to have one's clergy person say such a thing is a revelation. We thought about it. A lot. Finally, nearly two years later, we told her that we did, indeed, want a wedding. And so, on December 3, 2011, we are going to stand on the bimah again, this time under a chuppah, and she will marry us. We will circle each other, and make vows in Hebrew and English and exchange rings (the ones we have always worn) and she will wrap us together in our talitot while our friends watch and celebrate with us. 

We live in a state where that is not allowed civilly, and to be able marry in our religion is a wonderful paradox. Many arguments I have heard against "gay" marriage is that it would impose itself on religions that oppose itl. Well, guys, how about the idea that the state is also imposing something on our religion by denying us the right to legal marriage?  Toss that one around for a bit, if you will.

We will not have a marriage license, but we will have a marriage contract. The picture at the top of this blog is our Ketubah. The star is formed from the Hebrew words "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li" which means "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." The contract itself appears in the top right niche of the star and also in the bottom left one, one in Hebrew and the other in English. It will be signed by the rabbi, by us and by the two friends we have asked to be our witnesses, but I think we may also ask anyone who would like to sign it to do so in the wide space provided at the bottom. Judaism considers it a mitzvah to celebrate with the bride and groom, and that extends also, in Reform Judaism, to the bride and bride as well. 

We have our wedding clothes, we have our reception (oneg) figured out and arranged for, we have our Ketubah and our rings and the glasses we will break, and the silver Kiddush cups we will drink the two toasts from during the ceremony all polished and ready. We have answered the extensive questions the rabbi asked us in preparation. We have invited our friends and family to join us. We are ready.

I don't think it will change a thing in our lives. We are committed to each other for life and have been since day one. We know each other well and have already worked out most of the kinks and conflicts. We even have a reset button we invoke when things start careening out of whack. We have navigated with each other through stormy waters and calms, in sickness and in health. We are aging well together and accepting of each others' foibles and follies.  What our wedding does is make a statement to our community that we are in this for the long haul and we are in this as a Jewish household, we with them, and they with us, as part of the tribe. It means exactly the same thing to us as it would to a heterosexual couple. That's just the point. 

It's not a gay marriage, it's just plain marriage. Same old institution, just a little broader and more welcoming. Mazel tov!

Image credit: MP Artworks Ketubah Studio

Sunday, July 17, 2011


                                                     Cartoon: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune

Every person who pays the family bills knows that you can't cut off your revenue stream and go on a spending spree at the same time, even if you have built up a good savings account. And yet, that is exactly what George W. Bush did when he took office.  He cut taxes on those who were contributing the most and went into overdrive on a spending binge, handing over billions to private armies like Blackwater and vendors like his vice president's company, Halliburton, and starting an endless war in the Middle East. The money was flowing out like water over Niagara Falls but the source upstream was dry as a desert.  He blew the big surplus that Bill Clinton had left him, and created a bottomless pit of debt.

Now we're ready to default on our country's debts -- a thing that has never happened in our nations's history. It is unthinkable that we could do this. The Republicans would rather the country go bankrupt than to see President Obama have any kind of success in negotiating us out of this crisis.  They would rather see the country's good name go down in flames than to give an inch on party ideology.

Who didn't see that coming?

Screaming warnings against "socialist" redistribution of wealth, the Republicans cling to the Bush tax cuts which really have redistributed the wealth.,  It's apparently a bad thing if the wealth gets spread out among all the people, but just fine if it gets funneled exclusively to the rich, which is exactly what has happened.  The gap between the rich and the middle class is greater than at any time in our history. Two percent of the population holds 98% of the wealth. The middle class, which made this country so great, is an endangered species. The Republicans complain that removing the Bush tax cuts will hurt job creation, but.the truth is that the big corporations and the mega-rich are not creating jobs.  They are sitting on their money and not spreading it around. Jobs are not being created. Wealth is being created through speculation.  Actual production, which creates jobs, is not happening. The speculators long since figured they could make more money on paper alone and not have  to bother with hiring and firing and plants and contracts.  They are cutting, not creating, jobs. The jobs they do create are offshore where they can avoid labor laws and unions and paying a living wage. Profits are in the multi-billions, at an all-time high. The jobless rate continues to climb.

Ah, but here's the rub: in cutting jobs, they have also cut into their consumer base and it is beginning to tell.  Unlike the Bush administration's philosophy, if ordinary people are not getting paid, they are not spending. They are not using credit, either, because the financial collapse has caused the banks to drastically lower credit limits and raise interest.  There is little credit out there to use. So, no income, savings used up, no credit left = no customers.  The trickle-down effect never worked, but the trickle up effect is beginning to work all too well.  The middle class, which produced most of their wealth, is no longer able to do so.

Now we are in a budget crisis.  The Republicans refuse to eliminate the Bush tax cuts, a thing that must be done by anyone's rational reckoning to prevent even further fiscal erosion. Instead, they insist the social safety net be cut.  The party that campaigned against health care reforms by raising the imaginary spectre of "Death Panels" has created real death panels by proposing cuts in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. Let the poor and the elderly and children fix the debt so the mega-rich can hang on to their wealth unscathed by the responsibility of contributing to the well-being of the nation.  As a result of these cuts, hospitals are already facing the danger of closing, which will negatively impact the rich as well as the poor. Poorly nourished, ill-educated children will not contribute much to the future of the country.  Long-sightedness does not seem to be a Republican attribute.  

The Tea Party seems to be driving Republican politics these days.  I'm not sure what they're putting in their tea, but it must be moonshine. I wish they would sober up and see the reality of their partisan folly.  Instead, they are partying like it's 476 C.E.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Going Buggy


 Things out in our yard are downright buggy.  The trees and the air and everything else are alive with Swarm XIX, the thirteen-year cicadas.  The decibel level is around 85, just below the noise level of heavy downtown traffic.  I personally think it's louder.  I tried sitting on the porch the other day and the sheer volume of their metallic, castinette-like rattling drove me indoors in a hurry. They are even loud indoors with all the windows and doors shut. The cats are fascinated.  The dogs eat them.

I braved going out in the cloud of them flying around the yard this afternoon to check on my green beans, parsley and basil. The beans are doing OK, the basil is struggling and the parsley seems pale and poorly in spite of all the soil amendment I shoveled into that bed last month.  Next to the weakly parsley I saw a small depression about the size of half a large orange.  Something was struggling in the bottom of it, something shiny, with legs.  A biggish something.  Not a cicada -- a really big beetle!  A beetle surely designed by a 5-year-old girl, with metallic hot pink shoulders and metallic green wings and big red eyes, a squarish, sturdy beetle, but with definite style.  The beetle was doing a serious imitation of Sisyphus without a rock.  Or maybe doing a serious impression of Sisyphus' rock itself, climbing up to the lip of the crater and rolling back to the bottom, shaking off the dirt and trying again.  Climbing up, rolling down. Up, down, endless effort with no reward.  Exhausting to watch.  Sort of like housework. 

I went in and got Laura to come out to take a look at him. "June bug," she pronounced.  "June bug?" I asked?  "June bug."  It was settled.  "Will it eat my garden?" I asked  "Yes."  "Then I won't help it."  She went back inside to eat her lunch, which I had interrupted with my demand.  I stayed out and watched the little guy struggling up and rolling back for a minute or two.

I would have helped him if he wasn't going to do in my measly parsley and struggling basil. Of course, he might prefer the really lush and over-growing mass of oregano over to the right.  There's plenty of that to go around.

Beetles are the dominant form of life on earth.  Twenty percent of all living things are beetles.  God must like beetles a lot to have made so many of them.  The number and variety of beetles alone would have sunk the ark. 

I'm kind of hoping that shiny fellow makes it out of the hole.  Determined little guy...

photo credit: cicada: EduPic Graphic Resource

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Mother's Ducks

When I was a little kid, there was a war going on.  Today we have wars that never touch us, but that one came right into our living rooms.  Japanese submarines frequently turned up in Monterey Bay and the blackout sirens would wail, warning everyone to turn out all the lights so we wouldn't be a visible target.  Our floor lamp was actually designed for this -- the base of the lamp had a very low wattage bulb under a faux-marble diffuser which would just throw enough light on the floor so we could see where to step.  We had blackout shades that cut off all light to the outside.  We could hear the big guns from Fort Ord, across the bay. Sometimes we could see tracer bullets. Those were scary times.

Some of those memories are funny now, like the time my Aunt Lucy came over during a blackout and stepped into my big pile of rubber squeaky toys -- about a bushel basketful.  I thought that was hilarious.  I was about three years old at the time.  Not long afterward, the whole mess of my rubber toys went to "the war effort."  I felt very patriotic, going with my mother to turn in my toys to make tires for the soldiers.

Today, furious at a tornado warning that came in the middle of my bread-making, I remembered another vignette from the war. My father had been duck hunting and brought home a fine bunch of Mallard ducks.  My beautiful mother had taken great care preparing them, stuffing them with pieces of oranges, onions and celery to season them. She was just ready to put the big roaster full of ducks into the oven when the blackout sirens went off again.  This time was even worse; the neighborhood air raid wardens came to the door and told us we had to evacuate to the hills.  That really set my mother off.  She was furious!

I can still hear her hissing through clenched teeth, frowning so hard her eyes were squinched shut, "Those goddam Japs are not going to get my ducks!"  And to prove she meant it, she pulled a kitchen chair up in front of the oven and sat down on it with a shotgun across her lap.  She was not about to budge.  My Aunt took my Grandmother and me up into the coastal hills, but my mother refused to go.  When we got back, she was still sitting there with the shotgun across her lap.  Her ducks were safely defended from the enemy, the submarine was long gone and all was well with the world.

Today when that tornado siren went off , I could really relate to my mother and her ducks.  That goddam tornado was not going to get my bread!  It was at a critical point -- time to punch it down, rest it and form it into loaves.  If I didn't do it at that moment, the bread would be an over-raised, ruined mess.  That was not happening!  I worked quickly but without leaving out any necessary steps to get the bread formed and into the pans to raise for the final time.   After the pans were neatly lined up and covered with a cloth, I joined Laura in our safe place in the hall with one of the dogs and a cat. Not long afterward, they cancelled the tornado warning.

The other dog, Suzy, has moved permanently into her safe place -- the bathtub.

photo credits: Laura Hoffman, Suzy; MaryAnn Jackman, bread.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Requiem for a Redbud

I knew last spring that our redbud would not bloom again.  Two thirds of it were already gone.  These beautiful trees are not long lived -- twenty-five years is about the lifespan.  I have loved that tree as long as I have lived in this house.  Every April, she burst into amazing purple-red blossom.

Redbud blossoms are subtle.  Not big and showy like the dogwood, or heavily borne like the Bradford pear, a redbud in full bloom looks more like purple smoke in the distance.  A hint of color -- brilliant and wild, but painted with a light hand.  The bud-like flowers are tiny.  Redbuds along the Tennessee roads in April are magical. 

They are wild trees and, often, propagate in disturbed soil -- opportunists who move in when something else has been forcibly moved out.  Our redbud has tried very hard to reproduce herself in the most inappropriate places in the yard.  Last year we had one good sprout in a probably good spot and, knowing we were losing its parent, we hoped to cultivate it but the dogs got it.  They usually leave plants alone but for some reason, they got this one.

Last April, a third of her burst into glorious bloom.  The rest was gone from heart rot or some other old age disease of trees.  The year before, she had bloomed twice, putting out one limb of blossoms in the fall.  I knew that was a harbinger of the end.  Trees make one last try at posterity before they go.  Last April's bloom hardly produced any seed pods, another sign she was not going to pull through.

The new gardener was very worried she would break and do harm in a windstorm, and we have had a lot of heavy wind lately.  When the big storms were about to come through today, he rented a chainsaw and headed over to take her down. 

I look out where she once stood and see only the lawn and a few small twigs.  We will plant another tree there in her honor.  Maybe not a redbud. May her memory be for a blessing.

"Blessed are You, HaShem,
Sovereign of the Universe,
that your world is not lacking anything,
and you created in it
good creations and good trees
for the pleasure of mankind."

It is said that blessing a blossoming fruit tree will redeem souls. 

photo credit: UT Ag.  This is not a photo of our redbud.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear Nightmare

The earthquakes, tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor explosions and fires in Japan remind us how very fragile our situation is on planet earth and the ways, with all the best intentions, we consistently up the ante on disaster, like building nuclear power plants in an area at high risk for earthquakes.  That would be anywhere at all in Japan...

I am watching things unraveling and people scrambling to put a good face on it. Gaman is the Japanese word for it (accent on the first syllable, according to George Takei) -- a sort of steadfast and stolid soldiering on.  Responsibility.  Self-control.  Perseverance. The Japanese are showing extreme Gaman in the face ot tens of thousands of deaths from natural disasters, and potentially more from the total inadequacy of the nuclear reactors to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and the power loss which prevented the fuel rods from being properly cooled.  I wonder why there were not backup generators?  They had only battery backup, and those batteries had a short life. 

Why would they not have generators?  When I lived on the Oregon coast, we regularly had storms with 100 mph winds which would knock out power for days in the country.  Most everybody had a generator as a general piece of equipment to cover that exigency because they knew it was very likely to happen. If your water system depends on an electric pump, you are really out of luck in a power failure.  Those Japanese reactors had water systems that depended on electric power.  Japan regularly gets earthquakes which cut off power.  Where were their generators?  Maybe next time.

The fear of nuclear disaster reminds me of the Cuban Missile crisis 1962.  Russia and the US were in a standoff off the coast of Cuba over a boatload of nuclear missiles intended to be set up facing the US mainland.  We were all terrified this would set off a nuclear warI.  The threat of nuclear war has diminished so much since then that it is hard to imagine how terrifying that was, or how close it actually came to happening. 

I had two small children and I was terrified for them.  Judd was a toddler and Josh was barely a year old.  What could I do?  It seemed unlikely that anyone would bomb our small California coastal town, but the fallout would surely get us and we feared people fleeing the city, desperate for food and shelter.  I went to the little Seabright Market across the street and bought lots of canned goods and staples and stashed them in a closet.  I put in extra blankets, drinking water, cans of juice, a first aid kit.  How this would be safe from contamination or help us in any way in case of a nuclear attack, I am not sure, but in my state of panic, it was what I could do.  I had to be able to feed those babies and keep them warm. 

Looking back, it seems a pathetic effort in the face of an impossible situation.  We were 73 miles south of San Francisco, which would surely be a target. We probably would not have survived.  We lived through several days of abject terror, and then, as quickly as it began, the crisis was resolved.  I used up the stash of canned goods over time.  I felt profound relief that we did not have to survive a nuclear nightmare.

The people of Japan are just beginning their nuclear nightmare,. but thanks to the tsunami, there are no little neighborhood stores left for buying up canned goods.  They will not be rescued by the diplomatic resolution of a temporary crisis.  They are facing a serious and certain threat that can't be negotiated away by compromise.  And unlike us, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they already know what a nuclear nightmare really looks like. 

I cannot imagine what Japanese mothers are enduring at this moment, having lost their homes and family members and now faced with a nuclear disaster.  It breaks my heart.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back in the saddle

I have let Wondercrone lie fallow for a long time. I was so discouraged by the midterm elections and the fascist direction I see this country taking that I had a hard time writing the blog for a long time.  If anything, I  choked on an overabundance of material. Today, an old blog entry from last October got reposted and shared around by others and I remembered why I started writing the blog in the first place. 

When someone else picks up or links to one of my blog entries, it is very encouraging.  Candy Crowley linked the one I wrote about CNN (National Enquirer of the Air) to her blog and that made me feel very good.  (Not so good: the Indonesians who have hijacked searches for my blog to open in their own website.)    The one that got picked up today was Come Out, Come Out, Whoever You Are, about the power and importance of coming out.  It showed up on the Facebook page of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. 

To me, coming out is a matter of personal integrity.  Yes, who I am is my personal business, but only exposing part of who I am is a lie which dishonors my friends and family and society in general.  Look at the damage done by people not coming out!  Our detractors are able to maker up horrific myths about us and scare people about who we may be and what might happen if we are allowed to be treated like human beings or actually given full citizenship.  That those lies and ugly mythologies keep proliferating is our own fault. 

Back in the late 1990s, I attended a concert by the Portland OR Gay Chorus.  The singers each called out something about who they were -- teacher, sister, doctor, grandmother, salesman, singer... the audience, not a gay audience, was in tears by the time they finished.  There was a recognition that we are family in the widest sense.  No one in that room -- the meeting hall of a Catholic parish -- left there the same as they were when they entered.  As the tears streamed down my cheeks, an old priest leaned forward and whispered in my ear, "I know exactly how you feel."  He, too, was hiding his identity.  That experience, among other things, including a vivid dream, enabled my own coming out at age 60. 

I first realized I was gay when I was in Junior High.  I was so horrified that I buried it as deeply as I could.  It was 1952!  Being queer was not only classed as a mental illness, it was illegal and punishable by prison, and I was a child.  There was no one to talk to about it. One didn't dare.  It kept coming back, though.  Who you are at the core of your being has a way of doing that. The shame I was made to feel then burned itself so deeply into my soul that it took nearly a lifetime for me to look at myself in the mirror and say "I am a lesbian" with pride.  The other thing I said to myself that day was "I love you." 

The thing is, thanks to ignorance and the religious right, many kids are still feeling the same burning shame I felt, even though it has been years since being gay was still classified as a mental illness, and those scary sodomy laws are no longer on the books.   We owe it to them to be that Gay Chorus and stand up and shout out who we are: grandmother, teacher, musician, nurse... the real us, not the mythical monsters we have been made out to be.

No one will ever leave the room the same as they came in. 

***The cat?  That's Growler.  Her look says it all. 

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman