Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

"You never leave someone behind, you take a part of them with you and leave a part of yourself behind." ~Anonymous

     August arrived with a hot breath and cloudless skies. Morning temperatures hovered at sixty two degrees by six a.m. and 87-98 degrees Fahrenheit by noon--day after relentlessly baking day.
89 degrees on  top of Steptoe Butte
   Occasionally an evening of cloud cover resulted in dry lightening and a bare sprinkle of rain that lasted for a minute--no more --with none of the cool, clean effects of a real rain storm. Mother Nature was a tease.
     Living for thirty two years in Alaska--where darkness holds sway for much of the year--I didn't realize one could grow tired of sunshine until I moved to Eastern Washington State. I personally feel that temperatures over seventy two degrees are redundant and unnecessary. Les feels hemmed in by the heat--trapped and unable to leave the house. We both want to go home to England where I look forward to the possibility of wearing a sweater in the summer!
     Due to the prolonged spring rains which drowned the region from March through the first week in June, the Palouse is still awash in wildflowers and greenery as the wheat fades from green to amber. The Palouse put on its best summer dress this season for Dear Sir.
     If that weren't enough, the local wildlife is keen to catch site of the exotic new species in town: the elusive English boatman--English Navis Ver. I've lived in Pullman for eleven years and Dear Sir has seen more wildlife in three months than I've seen my entire tenure here!
Dear Sir on the back deck
     Coyotes pass through the wheat near the back deck, eyeing him keenly and gather in the tall wheat grass at night to howl; a horned owl resting atop the house surprised Les one afternoon, swooping silently just overhead--it's five foot wingspan casting a shadow over my husband that made him cringe in amazement. Landing just across the fence in the wheat field, it proceeded to eat its lunch while Les watched.
     Deer cluster in the fields to take a gander at the shy British water gypsy driving our car. Once spotted, he slows down to watch them--and they leap across the road in front of us.
     A Martin (cousin of the mink, Ermine, Weasel, badger and wolverine) worked its way out of the adjacent field one afternoon and plopped into the seasonal watercourse behind our deck, taking no notice whatsoever of Dear Sir.
     The red roses Les gave me weeks ago stood in the sitting room window attracting hummingbirds. They whizzed up and hovered just outside attempting to figure out how to get to those gorgeous flowers.
     My yard has always been a haven for dragonflies--nine spotted skimmers, electric blue damselflies, red darters--they hatch out of the seasonal stream just the other side of my deck and patrol the yard for insects, gracing us with their aerial acrobatics, landing on anything that sits still for ten seconds including me.
   Lady bugs by the thousands peep through the leaves all over the yard, seeking out aphids. Praying Mantis' hang on the screen door awaiting an unsuspecting meal.
     After the garden has been watered, we sit under the Lilac tree in Adirondack chairs watching American Robins (fat thugs in size compared to their delicate English cousins) pull earthworms from the soil like fat strands of spaghetti.
     Dusk falls after the most spectacular sunsets and moon rises. The wild geese fly low and slow over the back deck, ruffling my hair with their wing beats, "Fwhoop-Fwhoop-Fwhoop."
     Darkness unveils an arm of the Milky Way strung with stars twinkling like holiday lights across the Northern skies. Les and I stand shoulder to shoulder, leaning on the back deck railing listening to the geese settle into the nearby lagoon for the night, muttering at each other in low quacks and nasal tones. We are taken by the peace and quiet of the darkness.
     Packing and clearing out commenced with the house growing emptier as each week passed. I am up to 22 boxes of "stuff" which was sent over to England via Mayflower Movers! Where we will put it all Goddess only knows. 
     We had several offers for my house and each one fell through. The housing market in America is flat. Sadly I am walking away from my equity and turning it back to the sisters who held the note for me. They will do with it as they choose. 
     It was a lovely home for me to live in while battling cancer and regaining my health; it was a wonderful home for entertaining friends and family; it was a great place to begin my life in earnest as a writer. 
     My favorite oldest daughter came home one last time for breakfast at the family table with her husband Ben, and the three boys--Michael, Matthew, and baby Connor. We tucked into a ham and leek frittata, toast with blackberry jam, orange juice, tea, and yogurt with cantaloupe and fresh blueberries.
     My funny, wonderful husband took the tinfoil (aluminium) from a dish, turned it into a hat and put it on his head, laughing with the boys. Michael said sweetly under his breath, "He's one of the good grandpas," and turned his blue eyes to look at me, full of smiles and wonder.
     We loaded up the cooler with homemade friend chicken, potato salad, melon chunks, radishes, crispy strips of red, yellow and green bell peppers, raw cauliflower and broccoli florets, peeled rounds of cucumber, Ranch dip, soda pop, juice packs, bags of beef jerky and headed out to Laird Park for a day of swimming at the park.
     The Civilian Conservation Corps dammed the Palouse River in 1933 to create a small lagoon amongst the giant pines of the Clearwater National Forest. 
     The boys brought their Aquablasters we gave them for their birthdays and we waded into the mountain cold water of the river. A sandy beach spread out between our toes while baby fish darted in the shallows.
     Michael caught brown trout fingerlings in his cupped hands and Les had at least as much fun with the Aquablasters as my grandsons!
     We splashed, swam, and dried out in the hot sun. Chairs set up in the shade of a nearby trees allowed us to lounge as we grazed from the cooler throughout the day, keeping an eye on the boys as they came up to towel off, warm up, and refuel before answering the siren call of the water once more.
     A hike over the dam took us into the cool, green quiet of the forest over a mile and a half of trail, across the river and back around to the swimming hole, passing many medicinal herbs in full bloom late in the season.
     We finally loaded up our rigs and headed home in the slanted rays of early evening sun. While I showered the sand off, the men loaded my sectional sofa--the comfy, overstuffed couch that eats your ass--into the back of the flatbed truck. Tucked alongside was my dining room table and chairs, and other bits Jesse decided she needed. Ben and the boys went though my DVD collection and took what they wanted.
     While Ben, Jesse, and Les tied down the load I fed the boys home made bread with butter. Michael held his baby brother in his arms. Connor bannahner as we call him, is a very serious little fella.
     His gaze catches my eye briefly before he looks away beyond my shoulder or off in the distance at something else. He smiles but seldom ever bursts out into laughter--even when someone is chewing on his feet like miniature corn on the cob. Connor will wriggle and giggle, but never burst into belly laughter; he will babble occasonally but he seldom ever smiles at me although he is enchanted by Dear Sir, and will grin over anything Les does.
     I asked Mikey Boy to give Connor a bit of the soft part of his bread with a wee bit of butter on it. Connor tentatively chewed as he looked beyond us, out the window at the fields. Swallowing, Connor turned his head, looked me squarely and intently in the eyes and said, "I like that."
     Michael's eyes grew wide. He gaped at me and I stared back in amazement. "Did you hear that Mim?? Connor said, 'I like that!!'"
      "I Heard it! Plain as day,"'I like that.'" Wow! Of course no one else was around to witness the moment and when we excitedly reported what Connor said, everyone poo-poohed us. Still, Mikey Boy and I know what we heard and we know Connor can speak in small sentences at eight months old--when he wants to!
The chairs under the Lilac tree
     Soon my beloveds gathered into their rig and headed for Fairfield. Les and I sat in the chairs under the Lilac tree holding hands and waving goodbye. Tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and splashed down my cheeks as my chest heaved with sobs.
      I thought I would grow old and die alone in Cloudhouse; I thought my grandsons would always come to stay with me here and we would bake round, brown loaves of bread together, and pans of macaroni and cheese; visit the Moscow Farmer's Market, walk down and see the neighbor's cows and goats, lay in the dark on my down comforter spread across the grassy yard watching for meteors and satellites; I thought we would make snow ice cream, watch movies, eat poached eggs on toast and drink cups of tea, and feed the ducks at Sunnyside Park while their childhoods passed.
     As I watched their truck kick up dust on the lane I realized it was the end of a life I thought I would lead in favor of another life somewhere else--with someone else.   

Sunday, August 21, 2011


“May you never steal, lie or cheat. But if you have to steal, then steal away my sorrows. If you have to lie, then lie with me all the nights of our life. If you have to cheat, then cheat death because I don’t want to live a day without you”. ~ wedding toast

     Thursday afternoon just after lunch I checked my email and read:
Your UK visa has been issued.
We encourage you to give feedback on the UK visa application process at:

Delivery times:
Within the USA: Next business day
Outside the USA: 2-5 days

Your passport will be dispatched from the New York office and will be delivered by UPS 1Z5W21R62491856007

This is an automated reply - please do not respond

     I jumped out of my office chair shrieking. One of my colleagues came in and said, "I bet I know what this is about. Your visa came through didn't it?" He put his arms around me and clutched me to his chest as I sobbed.
     I couldn't believe it! Less than twenty four hours after receiving the visa binders, my visa was issued and scheduled to arrive the next morning via UPS airmail!! All those long months of worrying, preparing, and stressing were over.
     Word traveled quickly through Van Doren Hall. Folks hugged me tightly and congratulated me. Cheri Curtis and I held each other on the stairwell and cried together. My relief was was utter and overwhelming.
     Cheri (aka Little Bear, or 'Bear') took me to lunch at Swill's to celebrate. I tried calling Les at home but there was no answer. Of all the days to be out toodling around town!!
      Les came at 4 p.m. to pick me up, sauntering into my office with a grin, bussing me lightly on the lips.
     "Hi handsome--guess what--my visa was approved!!!" Pulling me close and tight, Les kissed me until I felt the floor sway beneath my feet.
     "See--I told you it would come. I just had this feeling Jaq--I knew it would come through this week. I mean if you are an agent who looks at a dozen of these files a week and one arrives on your desk organized with tabbed binders like yours, and everyone else has stuffed documents into an envelope, which one are you going to look at first? You are going to sort out the organized one right away because most of the work has already been done."
     We drove home in the hot July afternoon with the air-con crisping the interior of the car into a bearable coolness, holding hands over the console, grinning like crazies. After changing out of my work clothes Dear Sir and I spent the evening cooking a lovely meal and celebrating quietly--just the two of us. 
     We began the second round of wedding celebrations with a drive to Spokane for dinner with the Rise Up Women, as the Wednesday Women also call themselves, in honor of how we met. Due to the date change from July 9th to July 23rd for our reception, none of my sisters could make the party--so they decided to host a dinner for us.
     It was a stifling hot afternoon; the late rays of sun turned to amber spilling through holes in the white clouds--harbingers of possible dry lightening later in the evening.
     As I pulled up in front of Kialynn's house I thought--for just a moment--I saw a man disappear into her door! Knowing the Wednesday Women and their strict rules against male attendance, I figured I was hallucinating under heat stress.
     Dear Sir and I strolled hand in hand up the walk and rang the bell. Rhea Giffin threw open the door backed up by the other Wednesday Women--and their men!
     We stepped inside fielding kisses, hugs, and handshakes from all directions as drinks were placed in our hands. Dear Sir settled onto the raised hearth in the living room to chat while I loaded our web sites onto Kialynn's twenty seven inch IMAC computer so we could share wedding pictures and videos of NB Valerie. The men soon fell under Les' spell as he answered questions about living on board a narrow boat.
     I gathered the women in the kitchen and showed them my new tattoo. The air filled with one of my favorite sounds: women's voices, rising and falling on a tide of laughter. Joy crackled in the air as we sipped wine and viewed wedding photos, pics of England and NB Valerie; Les fielded questions about the canals.
     Kialynn announced dinner was ready and we took our seats at an exquisitely set table--candles flickered softly, silverware glinted in the evening light, the tablecloth and napkins shined brightly. Platters of Copper River Salmon baked on a bed of onions, tossed salad, fresh baked warm bread, corn on the cob, and broccoli made their way around the assembled diners.
     Much chatting ensued as we talked about our recent experiences. Dear Sir and I were toasted and wished much love and happiness. My heart sang as I looked around the table at each woman--my soul sisters with their partners in attendance.
     These men were special because they chose to love real, smart, funny, opinionated, talented women; active in heart, mind and community spirit. The Wednesday Women are larger than life--and the men who love them lead interesting lives blessed with love. For Les and me they wove an evening of acceptance, good cheer, warmth, respect, and camaraderie.
     Gifts and cards appeared with coffee and dessert. I finally had a treasured piece of Rhea's papier mache
     "It's two birds on the word 'AND,' because I think it's one of the most important words in a relationship. The word 'and' includes both people in a situation. I made it small and light with many layers of Shellac so it will fit on your boat and you can hang it on the wall."
     A lovely card enclosed several hundred dollars for tickets to a London theatrical production of our choice. Les has never been to a live play so we will be planning our London season later this fall when we head south for the colder weather. (I want to visit Bosworth field--but not before Les and I can see a production of Richard III.)

The note inside said:
Blessings to you Jaq and Les--
May your hull never chink,
May your rudder never blink,
And your spirits never sink.

May the sun rise before you
And the moon be your steady companion
As you travel the canals
On your journey together.

Glimpse a bit of the Rise Up Women
When the moonlight strikes the water
And twinkles a reflection
...we'll be thinking of you!
Love, the Rise Up Women

     Did you know a poem written to honor a bride and groom on their wedding day in celebration of their marriage is called an epithalamium? Using an acrostic device, Lisa Conger wrote one for me and Les:
Beautiful, she is.                                            Good and loving,
Radiant and                                                   Rich in hope, and
In bloom with love.                                         Optimistic on this special
Devoted, and incandescent, she steps to the      Occasion--determined to
Edge of heaven in her bliss.                              Make meaningful music
                                                                       with this marriage.
     We drove home under a sunset streaked canopy studded with stars. We were filled with love, laughter, good food and most importantly--the joy of true friendship. Our lives overflowed with goodwill. Everyone wanted to spend time with me and Les because of the genuineness of our love and joy in each other, as well as our notable love story.
     We visited friends Larry and Lael Turnbow on their family ranch where Larry crafts beautiful handmade custom cabinets and wood furniture in his shop and Lael telecommutes to WSU to work on University projects. Their home reflects the love of family over three generations. The ranch consists of 240 acres of beautiful Idaho country--fields, springs, pasture, creeks and deep pine forest inherited from Larry's grandfather. 
     We joined them for breakfast one Saturday morning, feasting on fresh fruits, berries, and Lael's legendary homemade rolls. The day passed too quickly as we toured the ranch, heard stories about family, and shared Waterways World magazines. Les regaled Larry and Lael with canal and boat stories as we sipped Russian Coffee and enjoyed their company.
Banyon's at the Ridge, © L. Biggs
     We were wined and dined by Jerry and Cheri Curtis who treated us to a fine dinner at the golf course with its unparalleled views of Moscow Mountain. We  followed  dinner with a lovely early evening walk through the moonlit University of Idaho Arboretum--two couples strolling hand in had in the gathering dusk--romantic indeed.
     Saturday, July 23rd dawned beautiful and bright--a cloudless morning glory blue sky stretched as far as the eye could see. After a favorite breakfast of poached eggs on my husband's freshly baked bread, fried potatoes, ham, and coffee we drove into town and picked up the reception wine--a half case of The Chook, Sparkling Shiraz--and a half case of Le Perlina Moscato d'Asti sparkling white wine. 
     A quick stop by Dissmores yielded our wedding reception cake--which Dear Sir knew nothing about. Two stacked rounds of freshly baked carrot cake frosted with Cream Cheese icing--Les' favorite--were topped by the small wooden narrow boat he gave me when he came to visit the very first time. 
     "I found a way to get a narrow boat past customs," said Dear Sir as he pulled the lovely replica from his bag and handed it shyly to me last October. He had no idea where it would lead! 
     Brad the Baker went above and beyond, making our cake from scratch instead of using a mix. He grated fresh carrots from the store's produce section and the baking staff had a great time decorating it. My instructions were simple: blue beading to match the narrow boat topper and no flowers, but otherwise, have fun and enjoy yourselves. 
     Our cake was the talk of the store for days and Les was touched by the narrow boat floating on a canal of blue icing flowing across the top.
     Soon enough my favorite oldest daughter appeared with husband and sons in tow and we headed out for Chrisi and Keith Kincaid's farm for our party. 
     The yard looked gorgeous and Chrisi, Keith, Jerry, and Cheri were all working to get things set up. The round tables sat waiting with an air of expectancy, their crisp white cloths glowing in the early evening shade. 
Keith Kincaid at the oven
     The outdoor pizza oven was red hot and Keith was getting it set to begin cooking pizzas; his wife Chrisi had lovingly made dough from scratch that morning--for forty five guests! Cheri and Jerry filled galvanized buckets with ice and chopped pizza toppings.
     Soon folks arrived dipping into buckets of iced beer and soda to quench their thirst. The buffet table groaned with delicious foods brought by our guests. Music filled the air--and laughter; happy greetings and party chat hummed all around us as our friends dished plates and settled down on chairs around the tables, across the lawn and around the yard. 
     We set up Les' computer with videos of NB Valerie and his canal travels. People gathered in knots around the computer to watch. Excited talk about travel to Europe followed. 
     Children did cartwheels in the grass and walked along the stone garden walls as Jerry and Little Bear made the rounds repeatedly, wooden peels in hand, offering up slices of heavenly pizzas fresh from the oven. 
     I introduced Dear Sir to new friends while welcoming those he already knew. Soon enough two hours had passed and it was time to open the wine--which my husband deftly managed, cork after popping cork. Chrisi and I cut the wedding cake into tall chunks and me and Les passed out pieces of the moist, frosted confection to every guest, stopping to visit.
     I felt like a honey drunk bee, visiting blossom after delicious nectar-filled blossom only we were sipping the nectar of friendship in the garden of our friends. Les and I were touched by the grace and depth of their affection for us. 
     We had so much to celebrate--our love for one another, our marriage, my visa--the sheer simple, amazing story of how Dear Sir and I found each other from across an ocean. 
     Toasts were made as Ella Fitzgerald's voice filled the air. Les and I danced in one another's arms while all around us friends stood and watched; love's delight stole across face after face...
    "At last, my love has come along; my lonely days are over, and life is like a song..." There is nothing quite like being held in the bosom of family and friendship, surrounded by the ones we love at such a moment. 
     Eventually the sun cast long shadows across the grass. Folks hugged the two of us close, wished us well, and walked off hand in hand to their cars for the ride home. 
     As dusk settled down to keep us company, a core group huddled around one table: me and Les, Chrisi and Keith Kincaid, Cheri and Jerry Curtis, Christina Vala and her sweetheart Cliff Haight, and Gloria and David Tong. We poured more wine and we toasted, told tales, and laughed into the late evening. A damn good time was had by all and we will wrap cherished memories of our wedding reception close 'round our hearts and bring them home with us to England. 
Cliff & Christina
     The next morning me and Les met Christina and Cliff at the Old European for a late breakfast. Cliff regaled us with his method for manufacturing his own diesel gasoline from leftover restaurant oil and we laughed with glee at Christina's descriptions of Cliff in his mad scientist mode--his lovely, sweet, innocent blue eyes twinkling in reply. Cliff actually is a chemist by trade with a small boy's delight in making his own concoctions in their back yard!
     Christina is my heart's sister too. We attended graduate classes at WSU in Marxist Theory and shared good meals and movies over the years as she worked on her Master's degree. 
     Christina did me the immense kindness of looking after my house and keeping company with Sianna--Peeking Puss le Fuzzy Butt--whenever I had to travel for work. The two of them had a deep bond and Puss would actually begin purring whenever I mentioned Christina, her tail up like a pleasure flag for whatever adventures in lap cuddling and movie time might be in the works.
      It made it easier for me to travel for work knowing that two of my best beloved were hanging together, making tea and poached eggs, keeping the home fires burning until I returned.
     After sending our friends off with hugs and good-byes, Les and I returned home to veg out. Relaxed, happy, and tired from the night before, we napped in the late afternoon heat. Sunlight filled our bedroom, making the Phlox blue walls shine. The white sheets were crisp and cool as we lay together, our summer tanned skin a contrast of tumbled limbs and love. 
     "Chrisi and I had a brief chat about you last night." Dear Sir's English accent caressed my ears. His brown-green eyes sparkled as they swept over me. 
     "Mmm?" I was too drowsy to speak.
     "I told Chrisi I know now why you have very fine friends--every one of them. It is because of who you are."
     Leaning on one elbow and looking deep into my husband's sun and laughter creased face, I drawled, "What do you mean, 'who I am?'" I am just myself--it is the only person I can be." I looked at Les quizzically.
     "Exactly. Jaq you are a lovely person; a warm, beautiful woman. Chrisi and I agree you attract all those fine people to you because of who you are. You are such a good person. You're loving and generous. Your heart is filled with laughter. Being with you is pure joy. It really is." Les bent his head and kissed me long and slow.
    "Well darlin', Chrisi and I had a chat about you too!" It was Dear Sir's turn to lean in on one elbow, as I laid back on my pillow, smiling wickedly. "She said you are 'a good, good, kind, sweet man and exactly the love I deserve.'" 
     Dessert followed: a sumptuous counterpart to our nap, we feasted on slow, sweet kisses and afternoon delight.