Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Over-the-Hill Ponderings

"I must be getting old."

I can't tell you how often I say that to myself. These days, there are so many signs that I am now on the other side of that proverbial hill, I thought I'd list a few of the less embarrassing ones to see how many we share:

1) Recently, my husband and I attended a movie theater. One of the ELEVEN commercials that played before the previews was by VitaminWater. I'm sharing the youtube link with you, to see if you agree - we must be getting old.{creative}&kw={keyword}#p/u/0/b28ACzLoyGQ&WT.srch=1

After watching this commercial in the movie theater, I asked myself, "Since when is 'playing hookie' so acceptable, it's actually a positive marketing ploy for a vitamin drink?" I looked at my husband and said, "I must be getting old."

2) How many times a day do I ask myself, "What's this world coming to?" I remember a time when only old people asked that question. Oh wait, I forgot. I am old.

3) The last presidential election was the first time we elected a president younger than I. And why do all the "talking head experts" look like they're 25? How much of an expert can a 25-year old be?

4) When I was young(er), I used to snicker at old women drivers who sat so close to the steering wheel and so straight it looked like they had washboards tucked in their shirts. Go ahead and snicker, because I'm one of those old lady drivers now.

5) I carry a little notebook with me everywhere. Whenever I think of something I need to remember, I jot it down. That is, if I can remember what it was long enough to dig the notebook out of my very large purse - another sign of getting old.

6) I can no longer hold something far enough away that I can read it. I'm not sure if this is because my eyesight has gotten so bad, or because my arms are shrinking. Either way, I find myself adding a pair of reading glasses every year I grow older. That way, I can keep one in every room, and I don't have to remember where I put my last pair.

7) In a few years, my children will be the age I was when I first started realizing I might be getting old.

But, not to wallow in my senioritis. There are a few wonderful things about getting older, too:

1) I don't procrastinate (as much,) because unlike when I was 20, or even 30, I understand in my 50's that I will not live forever, and if I want to do something, I'd better do it now.

2) As I get older, patience is an odd dichotomy. On one hand, I have more patience - many things are simply not worth getting upset about. On the other hand, I have less patience with some things, and have taken on the attitude, "I don't have to put up with this sh$@!!" Either way, it's a good thing!

3) Time passes more quickly on this side of the hill, and that has made me realize how precious life is, and that I should appreciate each day. Even if I do have to find where I put my dad-blasted reading glasses to see it!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Itchy Wah-wah

I hate to itch. Maybe that's why I've always remembered a word one of my cousins created when he hated itching. Itchy wah-wah.

I'm not sure what he meant by it. I even thought it was the Japanese word for "itch" when I was a little girl. All I know is when my mother made me wear wool sweaters without an undershirt, that funny little word described my feelings exactly. "I'm itchy and if you don't let me take this sweater off, I'm going to cry!"

Well, these days, if I have to wear a wool sweater, I can choose to wear a shirt under it, so wool is no longer an instigator of itch.

Now, what makes me itchy wah-wah are the creepy-crawly bugs and plants of Arkansas: chiggers, ticks and poison ivy. And, here at the farm, this axis-of-evil thrives three of the four seasons. Not as easy to escape as a wool sweater.

So, I find myself pondering: Which is the MOST evil of the three--chiggers, ticks or poison ivy?

I'll start with the least wicked - poison ivy. Though the blistering, oozing rash it brings is perhaps the itchiest of all, at least you can SEE poison ivy. You have to see something to avoid it. So, when gardening, I avoid anything with three leaves at all costs.

Next least evil? Ticks. Though seed ticks are very small, I can still feel one crawling on me, (sometimes, even when they're not!) and I can pick it off and smash it to smithereens with a sharp-edged rock before it bores its blood-sucking head into my skin. But, I have missed a few, and I have to say, there aren't many things more gross than having to pull a tick off yourself - except maybe having to ask my husband to do it for me.

And last, and MOST loathsome are the chiggers. You can't see them. You can't feel them crawling on you. The first sign you've been attacked by chiggers is the horrible itch, accompanied by a bright red rash, that on me, eventually turns purple. It is these repugnant chiggers that cause me to slather myself with bug spray before I work in the garden. What a choice - cover myself with poison or be chewed up by chiggers.

I'll never complain about a wool sweater again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Memory Sense

Last weekend, while driving to Oklahoma City, I'd had enough of talk radio--admittedly, a rare occurrence. Time for a little music. So, I decided to play the first CD I blindly pulled from the sun visor CD wallet - Deep Blue by Keiko Matsui. When the mournful piano music began to play, I was immediately taken back to the days following the terrorist attack of 9/11, when I'd had to drive to California due to all flights being cancelled. All of the feelings I'd felt back then, listening to the CD over and over along Interstate 40, returned to me.

Pulled back so deeply in time, I began to wonder which of the five senses best takes us back: sight, sound, taste, smell or touch? For me, it's a toss-up between sound and scent.

Any song by the Bee Gees, Chicago or Earth, Wind and Fire will send me straight back to my high school days in the 70's. I still remember listening to Michael Jackson on the school bus in junior high. Further back? Aquarius by the Fifth Dimension and Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond made me wish I'd hurry up and become a cool teenager.

And, music is not the only sound that brings back a memory. If I close my eyes at the sound of a rooster in the morning, I can pretend I'm under one of Grandma's quilts at her farm. The sound of rain trickling down a rain spout takes me back to my bedroom in California, where, as a teen I would lay in bed and think about all the joy and uncertainty of being a teenager.

When it comes to recalling memories, certain scents are a close second to sound, though. Funny that the awful smell of a diesel engine brings back happy memories of high school, when we'd wait to board the buses that would take the Armijo Superband to its next band competition.

The scent of Polo cologne still reminds me of my early dating days, when the boys seemed to slather it on, anxious to impress.

The rich, woody aroma of coffee still reminds me of waking at my grandmother's farm. It was accompanied by the sounds of the adults talking and laughing around the table, a happy start to my day.

Hairspray and cigarettes. Whoosh! I'm taken back to my childhood, when I'd sit next to my mother and watch her get ready to go out with my father. Watch her try to decide what to wear, take a puff of her cigarette, fix her hair just right, then spray it all over, before taking another puff. It all looked so glamorous, and I couldn't wait to grow up.

Why do you suppose the other three senses--sight, taste and touch--aren't as powerful as sound and scent in taking me back? Is it because they are often fleeting, and don't allow me to linger with pleasure in the memory? Is there a scientific reason--perhaps that sound and scent imprints deeper on our brains?

Maybe sound and scent memories are unique to me. What sense takes you back?

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Arkansas Fingerflick

There's a curious little phenomenon I had never seen before moving to Arkansas. I call it the Arkansas Fingerflick.

We live way out in the country - twenty miles into town through the beautiful countryside, and only one stop sign! Sometimes, I may not see a single car, though I'll see plenty of cows, chicken houses, deer, armadillos, skunk, raccoon, once even a mountain lion.

But on those times my car comes upon another approaching from the opposite direction, I can always count on receiving a fingerflick from the driver. One finger flicked up from the steering wheel--the pointer finger. In that swift little movement, that driver tells me any of the following:
"Beautiful day, ain't it?"
"Have a good one."
"All's right with the world."

Sometimes, a slight nod of the head might accompany the fingerflick, then I know that driver is a particularly friendly person.

It took me a little while to get the hang of the fingerflick. When I first moved to Arkansas, I'll admit I was a little embarrassed to reply with my own, awkward flick, so I'd just return a nervous smile.

When at last, I loosened up some, I started waving in reply. Well, that obviously exposed me as an outsider. Finally, I decided I needed to get with the game. When a car approached, I'd shake out the nerves in my hands.

And the driver gave me his fingerflick. "Good morning!"

Then, slowly, slowly, my stiff pointer finger would rise off the steering wheel. "Have a good day!"
I knew I'd finally become a real Arkansan the first time I made the fingerflick first, and was only slightly less-than thrilled when the other driver returned it.

It seems such a silly little thing, until I travel somewhere else and share our Arkansas "hello." Most of the time, I don't get a response. Those are the times I appreciate the simplicity and friendliness of our curious phenomenon, the Arkansas Fingerflick.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In the Shadow of Heart Mountain

Last week, I visited my third Japanese-American internment camp site—Heart Mountain Relocation Center, thirteen miles outside of Cody, Wyoming.

I was nine years old when I visited my first site, Tule Lake Relocation Center in California. I remember watching my mother stare at the desolate site with tears in her eyes. At the time, I felt sad, even helpless, seeing her cry. And, when she explained I, too, would have been sent to the camps--though I am an American, born in the United States and only half-Japanese--I felt a lump in my throat, as I imagined watching the dust that whipped all around us from behind barbed wire fences. It scared me to think of being taken from my home and sent to a camp, even though I’d never been to Japan, and knew very little of the faraway country.

The experience of watching my mother relive her poignant memories, and feeling the fear of the Japanese-Americans of that era, was part of the inspiration behind my book, Broken Dolls.

The second site I visited was in Rohwer, Arkansas. Before I started writing Broken Dolls, I didn’t know Arkansas had had two internment camps—Rohwer and Jerome, both in southeast Arkansas. (For more information on Rohwer, please see the blog I posted after my visit to Rohwer in November, 2009, titled "Rohwer Whispers.)

None of the original buildings remain at Rohwer, only a few grave markers and a monument to the internees. However, at the site of Heart Mountain, part of the hospital and its smoke stack still stand. Also, a monument garden and walking path describes what the relocation center was like in pictures and essays. An Interpretive Learning Center is scheduled to open in August 2011. The building that will house the center is a replica of the barracks that covered what is now farmland in the shadow of Heart Mountain. Those barracks housed over 10,000 residents, and at the time, the relocation center was the third largest populated area in Wyoming.
Today, very little remains at the sites of most of the relocation centers. Sadly, it is symbolic of how little we remember of this era. I’m often amazed at how little people know of the internment of Japanese-Americans, but I’m also pleasantly surprised at how interested they are for more information.

Last week at the Wyoming Writers Conference, following a presentation on Heart Mountain by poet, Lee Ann Roripaugh, I spoke to David Reetz, President and CEO of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.. He described how the foundation was established to memorialize and educate the public about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Development of this memorial and its Interpretive Learning Center is an important mission today, for we must remember our history.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” -- George Santayana

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I Wanna Be a Cowgirl

Have you seen that AARP commercial? The one where several middle-aged people talk about what they want to be when they grow up? You mean it's still okay to fantasize about what I want to be? Even after I've tip-toed into my AARP years?

So, last night at the Cody Nite Rodeo, when the fantasy of wanting to be a cowgirl came to my mind, the scolding thought I'd typically think -- "don't be ridiculous" -- was replaced by, "Hey, why not?"
Once again, I was drawn to the "cowboy way" from the minute I entered the arena: the feeling of patriotism when Miss Rodeo entered the arena carrying a gigantic American Flag. The comfort in knowing it was okay to say a prayer before the competition began. I loved it all. Kamikaze-the-Bull strutting around the arena, daring anyone who might try to ride him. Big cowboys helping little cowboys prepare for their competitions, carefully performing every task necessary to assure their safety. And, of course, there was the thrill of watching the fierce determination of the cowgirls as they sped around the barrels with their well-trained horses.
Maybe I was a cowgirl in a previous life. I wondered why now, at the age of . . . of . . . well, like I said, into my AARP years, I would all of a sudden think about being a cowgirl? Why didn't that thought come to my mind when I was still young enough to do something about it? I know why. I was too busy daydreaming about what I was supposed to daydream about - going to college, finding a career to support myself, marrying and raising children. So, maybe now that all that important stuff I was "supposed" to do has been accomplished, maybe it's okay to think about one day being a cowgirl.

No matter. The important thing is, it's okay to fantasize again, even at my age. It's never too late to do anything. Even if I'll never really be a cowgirl, I can dream about it, and the great thing is, as a writer, all these fantasies add fuel to my inspirational fire, even if it's only to write.

For now, I'll just enjoy this hot dog while I dream about one day being one of the real cowgirls at the rodeo.

So, now that you know it's okay to daydream again, what do you want to be when you grow up?