Candle Power

Originally posted on Pamela Foster:


Dylan Thomas advised that we rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Thomas was writing about aging, of course – the slow, and sometimes not so slow, deterioration of our bodies and, let’s be honest, of our minds. But his sentiment is an attitude, a way of approaching life.
With all due respect, I have come to disagree with the poet.
Oh, I rage. I rage loudly and employ inventive curses against everything from my bad back, to Wall Street thieves, to the general stupidity of the world. But, at sixty-five, my rants are quieter, less profane and more a matter of habit than they were in my younger days. And before my sputtering frustration has died, I’m hunting down a match and searching the darkest crevasses for that candle I know I hid at the back of the metaphorical kitchen junk drawer.
Years ago I saw what is…

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Veterans Day, 2015

Originally posted on Pamela Foster:

Vietnam boogie stretcher lem to chopper
I strive to be a positive person, fall asleep each night reciting the many comforts and the people I am happy to have in my life, take an extra minute each morning before crawling out of bed to say a prayer of thanks.
By noon, I’m frazzled – angry, resentful, frustrated. None of these emotions is productive.
Most of you know my husband is a Vietnam combat vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine fifty years ago just outside Danang. Jack died that day. Floated into the warm light. He’s been pissed off at the world ever since the medic jerked him back into this world. Over the years, he and I have embraced his need for adrenaline, his hatred of boredom, his itch to keep moving. We’ve traveled the world.
But, age catches us all.
War just keeps on giving.
Agent Orange gifted Jack with diabetes and, recently…

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Humboldt County Norm

humboldt buhne post

Every community displays subtle social clues that separate newcomers from recent arrivals. Of course, recent is a relative term. In general, the more isolated the community, the longer it takes for a new arrival to be assimilated and accepted into the culture.
Here in Humboldt County, we generally define an old-timer as someone whose family has resided in this, the furthest point west in the continental U.S., for a minimum of a century. So, roughly five generations. Minimum. This parochial exclusion of all things new is another dead giveaway of an old time resident of The Land of Limited Visibility.
And you really can’t blame us. Our ancestors happily harvested ancient trees and, more recently, Humboldt Gold for a hundred and fifty years, hidden from all but the very adventurous. Jack London got in a fist fight with an ancestor of local timber baron Woody Murphy, Brett Harte wrote a scathing condemnation of our slaugher of the Wiyot Indians. Both men then promptly sailed to the more civilized world of San Francisco.
Only the strongest or, possibly, the most desperate of individuals stayed behind the redwood curtain. My great-great-great grandfather Merritt Curtis Foster arrived here from Kansas at around the time that state enacted the Civil War Enrollment Act. I suspect my disgust of killing perfectly fine men over disagreements that could be better served without gunpowder was inherited from ole Merritt.
See how I established my credentials as a Humboldt County native? Yes, I left twenty-five years ago and roamed the world with my Vietnam Vet husband, Jack Jones. Yes, I’ve lived in other states and – gasp! – other countries. But Humboldt County has always been where every spot on every river and every beach and lagoon is layered with memories of picnics and accidents and family gatherings and stories. My breath comes easiest in the fog. Humboldt is home.
So, Jack and I recently returned and bought a home in Eureka. As fate would have it, our new house is located on Buhne St.
With the mention of Buhne, you old-timers now understand where I’ve been going since my opening paragraph’s reference to local norms and subtle methods of separating true locals from new arrivals. For the rest of you, please stick with me a moment more.
When I tell someone my new address, their reaction is a test.
“Jack and I live on Booner.”
“What? Booner? I guess I don’t know where that is.” Ah, newbe.
“Booner, huh? What’s your maiden name?” Local.
So, here in Eureka, why is a B U H N E R pronounced Booner?
When Hans Henry Buhne (1822-1894), a sea captain with roots in Denmark, sailed into Humboldt Bay during the California gold rush, my best guess is the man himself pronounced his name with what sounded like an ‘ah’ at the end. Over time, that nebulous and soft ‘ah’ became an ‘r’.
Great-grandpa would be proud of me. I always insist on giving my new address as ‘Booner’. Though, as a favor to new-comers like the cable guy, electrician, and home health workers, all of whom have gotten lost and had to call for directions to one of the longest and busiest streets in Eureka, I now give these directions:
“We’re on Booner. B U H N E R.”
Even over the phone I can hear the thoughts of the newcomers. What is wrong with these rednecks? They need to learn to speak English.
Which is fine. Their thoughts are drowned out by my own snide internal dialogue. Another freaking transplant.

Posted in buhne, Eureka, Humboldt County, logging, marijuana | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus Wept


Nine people were murdered in Charleston this last week. Slaughtered by a young man filled with racist hate and fear and encouraged by a tiny minority of my country’s people. The community of Charleston is responding to these murders with a grace and power that must be making Jesus weep with joy.
The rest of the country is locked in battle over a piece of cloth – a symbol of pride for some and of hatred for others. There is no flag on earth under which both atrocities and acts of courage have not been committed. Custer, and Jackson, and Calley all fought with the metaphorical winds of public opinion unfurling America’s red, white, and blue over their actions. A thousand brave men fought beside them under the same flag.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41: A state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel, he was married to Jennifer Benjamin and the father of two children, Eliana and Malana.
I live in Arkansas, am married to a man from South Georgia. Hell, I’m from northern California and, back in the day, I could hood slide and yell “Yeehaw!” right along with the Duke boys. Those days are gone. The Confederate flag has been removed, finally, from the grounds of public buildings. As for the removal of the stars and bars from chain stores, Amazon, and gift shops – well, that’s the way the free market works in this country. Retailers stock their shelves with items on which they can make money and which will not offend more people than these items bring into the stores.
Cynthia Hurd, 54: According to the Charleston County Public Library, she was a 31-year employee who managed the John L. Dart Library for 21 years before heading the St. Andrews Regional Library.
I am going to announce right here and now, straight up and out loud, that for me, the Confederate flag dredges up images of black men hanging from trees, burning crosses and grown men hiding their faces under white hoods. When I see that flag, I see hoses turned on peaceful marchers, I hear the venom of Bull Conner and George Wallace, I remember Little Rock Central High School and the University of Alabama. That particular flag is, to me, a symbol of the worst of the land below the Mason-Dixon, a land I love and whose people I adore.
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45: A pastor at Emanuel, she was also a speech therapist and high school girls track and field coach, both positions at Goose Creek High School.
But regardless of my personal reaction, I have dozens of friends for whom that very same flag is a symbol of warm hospitality and fierce pride and incredible bravery. Friends who are not racists. Friends who are warm, sincere, generous people. It is difficult for me to understand their love of this particular southern symbol. But my difficulty in understanding in no way tarnishes their love of that symbol. Besides I have an analogy that helps me understand.
Tywanza Sanders, 26: He was a 2014 graduate in business administration from Allen University in Columbia.
Just over forty years ago I lived in Germany for a few years. There are more swastikas at an American flea markets than in Deutschland. The flag and symbols of the Third Reich are forever identified with the holocaust. The German people know their grandfathers and uncles fought bravely. They know Hitler brought them out of extreme poverty and into the modern world, the trains ran on time, and they didn’t need a wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. The German people also know the extreme dangers of institutionalized bigotry.
Ethel Lance, 70: She had attended Emanuel for most of her life and worked there as a custodian, as well.
Was there anti-Semitism in Germany twenty years after WWII when I was there? Oh, hell, yes. My husband and I rented three different houses during our stay. At each house, the landlord pointed out the portrait of Jesus over the bed or the mantle, asked point blank, “This is okay with you, this picture? It is nice, yes?” or they invited us for lunch, served a tasty pork roast and inquired, “Is pork. Good, yes? The flesh of the pig?”
Susie Jackson, 87: Lance’s cousin, she was a longtime church member.
Is there bigotry and racism within our own country? Well, of course. Do bigots test the waters with racist jokes, comments, and coded questions? Hell, yes. Do some of these bigots fly the Confederate flag? Yes. Is everyone who flies that flag a bigot? Of course not. But, when I see that flag hung on a wall or blowing in the breeze over a jacked-up 4×4, you had better believe my first impression, my first thought is a giant flashing warning. While that is certainly not the reaction of everyone, those who fly that flag know the visceral, gut reaction of many to that particular symbol. Rebels don’t care and that’s their right.
Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49: The mother of four sang in Emanuel’s choir.
My reaction to that flag is based on my own personal experience and is mine with which to deal. In no way does my gut reaction mean that a person shouldn’t be allowed to fly a flag or hang any symbol they desire. I have Buddhist images in my home. I’ve had people visit me who are uncomfortable with these images, who, either through their own honest Christian beliefs or through lack of understanding, are offended by these symbols. I don’t have any more intention of removing these objects from my home than others have of taking down the Confederate flag.
The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74: Simmons survived the initial attack but then died in a hospital operating room. He had previously been a pastor at another church in the Charleston area.
We all have enough common sense to know these rules of our American society. No one is coming for your Confederate flag or for my Mandela. There will always be places where you can buy historic Confederate relics and symbols. But the tide has turned, we all hope and pray that the time for institutionalized racism in this country has come and gone. Removing that particular Confederate symbol from store shelves is about money, about free enterprise. It is not illegal to sell the flag, it is unprofitable to antagonize the majority of the American people in order to meet the needs of the minority.
Myra Thompson, 59: She was the wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston.
I honestly don’t care one wit about who flies what flag. It’s a piece of cloth, all too often waved to justify war by people who have not a clue as to the true cost of battle. Hang whatever you want on your wall or over your truck or front porch. Wrap yourself in whatever bloody flag appeals to you, but make damn sure it’s your blood staining that flag. In the meantime, please, let us remember and say a prayer for the nine people who had their lives cut short in that historic Charleston church.
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Cynthia Hurd
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Tywanza Sanders
Ethel Lance
Susie Jackson
Depayne Middleton
The Rev. Daniel Simmons
Myra Thompson

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The Courage to Live

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Some conversations linger after the person who whispered urgently in your ear, clasped your hand until your fingers hurt, has departed, eyes downcast, their pain hidden once again from the world.
A week or so ago a woman approached me at a crowded event. Like a heat-seeking missile, she parted the crowd and came directly to me.
“I read your book.”
I nodded. No reason to ask which book. My Life with a Wounded Warrior is given to veterans and their spouses at the local VetCenter here in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’d seen that desperate look before.
Her hand gripped at my arm as though she were stranded on a cliff, clutching at a frayed rope. This being, of course, pretty much her exact situation.
I patted her hand, pried her fingers from my arm.
She leaned in, breath hot on my ear. “I can’t do it anymore. His PTSD is ruining my life. I was happy before I met him. Had friends and a good job I enjoyed.”
“I understand.” I slipped my arm through hers and led her to a corner of the room away from the crowd.
“He won’t leave the house.” She turned, glared at the room behind us. “Except if there’s other veterans around. I beg him to go out and he doesn’t listen. But one of those. . .” Her chin swept toward the small clusters of men clumped together in islands throughout the room. “One of them calls and he’s Mr. Johnny on the spot. Rushes out to be there for a buddy.”
Her words tumbled one on top the other.
“Does yours wake up at night screaming? I didn’t know any of this when I married him, you know? I mean, I knew he’d been in that war over there, but I didn’t know. . .I didn’t know it would be like. . .like this.”
I hugged her against me and she relaxed for a split second, then stiffened, pulled away.
“What am I supposed to do? How do you stay with yours?” She nodded toward toward my husband, Jack. “Why do you stay?”
And there it was. What my dad used to call the sixty-four thousand dollar question.
Why do I stay?
Because in fact post-traumatic stress is contagious, living with a combat veteran struggling with the psychological effects of war is exhausting, and yes, there are days and nights when my dreams and plans are consumed by his needs.
At low-points I fear I stay because Jack and I are a near perfect fit of neurosis. His past and mine colliding and binding in a glue of co-dependence. I suspect that, even on our best days, there is some element of that unhealthy click in our relationship. I’ve been working for twenty-five years to peel that adhesive from our marriage, to find a healthier, more productive model.
I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives to teach us what we need to learn. Well, Jack has sure as hell taught me about myself, about scars earned in childhood and ways to work through painful lessons.
But that’s not why I stay.
Vets say, “If you weren’t in country, I can’t explain it, and if you were, there’s no need to explain it.”
The same is true for those of us married to combat veterans. We know what we do often looks like stupidity to others. We admit that our lives sometimes feel like we’re walking inside one of those bouncy castles. Just when we think we’ve got the balance between enabling and support correct, the ground rolls under out feet. In the end we each decide for ourselves whether we can stay or whether we must leave.
So, why do I stay when, in many ways, my life would be simpler, maybe even happier, if I left?
After all the joys and all the pain, Jack still sweeps me off my feet with his courage. I am still in awe of the bravery it takes to get through every single day after having seen what he’s seen, done what he’s done.
The sages tell us that our broken parts make us stronger. There are those who walk among us so shattered that light streams through their souls. If we insist in pouring water into these vessels, we may spend our lives cleaning up messes, falling on slick ground. But if we can see the filigree of pain for what it is and accept that while these vessels may not be great for carrying water, they are astoundingly strong and beautiful sources of light to pierce our own darkness, then we may be able to live joyfully, gratefully with them.
Pretty words maybe, but come on, pragmatically, why I do I stay?
I stay because he is my husband, and while I am sometimes frustrated beyond my ability to cope, I still, after all these years, respect and admire and honor his courage. Not his courage in combat, though, in a faraway jungle he acted in a manner that is deemed brave by those who hand out medals and paper honors. No, the courage that impresses me and keeps me proud to be his wife is that which allows him to live every day with the results of traumatic brain injury and the psychological effects of war.
So, in the end I suppose I must fall back, once again on a truth stolen from Vietnam vets. “If you’re not married to a combat veteran, I cannot explain to you why I stay. If you are, there’s no need to explain it.”

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I Am Not Amused

Today, the Youtube video of woman in Baltimore slapping at her son, doing her best to push him away from a confrontation with police has gone viral. People seem to think it’s funny.
I have three sons. On a cold day they all occasionally wear hoodies. But only the youngest has been stopped by the police when dressed this way, pulled over twice now in the past six months, with his wife beside him and his kids in the backseat, his license checked, his motives questioned.
My youngest has a good job, has supported himself since he was eighteen, busts his butt to be there for his wife and kids. He’s also adopted. Of Cherokee and Choctaw and Spanish and Mexican ancestry. Though I’ve never thought of him as anything but my son, a young man, like his brothers, whom I was blessed to raise and of whom I am extremely proud,
to cops, he is a person of color.
So, when I see that video of that mother berating her child, herding him, pushing him away from confrontation with the police, I am not laughing. I understand her fear, her terror that any encounter with the police is rife with danger for her son.
Oh, I know, some of you are going to say I’m comparing apples and oranges here. The young man in the video is looking for trouble, taunting the police. Any of us, black or white or any color in-between, might be shot doing such a stupid stunt. But I want to remind you that my own son, solely because of the color of his skin, has been subjected to what I can only describe as harassment by the police. A young man in a car less than three years old, no stickers or political statements on the vehicle, no broken tail lights, or expired registration, or exceeding the speed limit — pulled over and questioned and asked for his license and registration.
All I’m saying is that that video is not funny. At least not to me. In a far more immediate and powerful way, the woman in that video lives with the knowledge that every day people with guns on their hips look at her son and see not the young man whose first word was ‘light’, or who, as the smallest child in his kindergarten class insisted on wearing pointy-toed cowboy boots to school to deal with the class bully, or who ate all the frosting off his fifth birthday cake. No, individuals with the backing of our country’s entire legal system see her son as a person of color.
And, in this country, at this time, that perception is dangerous for that young man.
So, no, I am not embedding that video into this post. You’ve all seen it. But what I want you to know is that I do not find those images funny. I find them absolutely terrifying.

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Nursing Home Saga, continued

Two days ago I brought Jack home from the nursing home. He stayed ten nights, ten days, twelve hours and eighteen minutes. Or so he informed me. The decision to admit him to a nursing home after rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder was a difficult one, a choice he and I made together.
Turns out we based that decision on incorrect information. Several of our basic premises were wrong, therefore our conclusion was flawed.
How’s that for hiding the emotional trauma of the decision behind a wall of logic?
The care in the home was not what Jack or I anticipated, but the main trauma, for me and for Jack, was in his being in a place where 90% of the people in residence would, had they been beloved family pets, been gently euthanized. In truth, were it in my power to prevent, I would not leave my worst enemy in a situation like that. To abandon my husband to such a place was simply impossible.
Please notice that the previous sentence contains the clause, “were it in my power to prevent.” As it turns out, escape from a nursing home is a strong motivator for a person to learn to do for themselves, with one trembling hand, that which one wouldn’t believe could be accomplished. Jack learned to care for himself. Slowly. Clumbsily. But he figured it out. If he had not been able and willing to do so, no matter how anguished I felt over him being there, I could not have brought him home.
The decision to place someone we love in the care of strangers can emotionally gut us, leave us broken and wounded. For some, this decision is the only possible solution to the diminishing capacity of spouse or parent. No one makes the decision lightly, and no matter that they know it is impossible to care for this person without endangering both themselves and the loved one – still, there is guilt and a deep feeling of having failed. If you are in this position you have my deepest sympathy and complete understanding.
As for Jack and I, we got lucky. Again.
Life did mess with us just a bit. I brought Jack home on Wednesday afternoon. Within an hour of walking in the house, both of his feet were painfully swollen and he could not lift himself from a chair or bed or walk.
All that self-sufficiency that had been the very basis for me bringing him home, flew right out the freaking window.
He could not move without help, could not take care of his toilet needs.
I admit, I panicked a bit.
Every single friend and relative I have (except my sister who worked for years in assisted living and nursing homes) advised me not to bring Jack home. These folks are fond of Jack. They love me. When I spent two weeks in the hospital a few months ago they lifted me up with their love and support and rescued me from death. And, honestly, caring for Jack (and this was pre-shoulder surgery) is one of the reasons I ended up in the hospital to begin with.
I understand their point.
So, when less than two hours after springing Jack from the nursing home, he could no longer care for himself, it was not a good moment.
But necessity and the stubborn refusal to admit when we’ve made a mistake have carried Jack and I into and through countless adventures in our years together.
We survived the night.
Thursday morning I took him into the VA emergency room.
Gout. He has gout.
They gave him medication and a wheelchair.
This is Saturday and he is walking again. Shuffling slow, but ambulatory and able to get up and down from his chair and bed and to and from the toilet on his own. His pain level has dropped from a ten to a two.
Will I be able to keep him out of a nursing home for the rest of his life? I do not know. But I will do my best to keep him with me for as long as I can. The gout flare-up was a sharp reminder to both of us of just how razor thin and swaying is this bridge we’ve patched together to carry us over the canyon of aging.
For now, we’re together, holding hands, and we’re not looking down.

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