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Moments of Pain, Pride, Terror, Bliss

Age 4 & 5.  Crossing the lobby, I feel myself admired and know it is because I am small and cute and Mother dresses me like Shirley Temple. I consider these ridiculous reasons to admire anyone and suspect that the adults I know are rather stupid.

            Sometimes my father encourages me to sing and dance – I am taking tap lessons. This seems to me a much better reason for the lobby guests to like me.


Age 12.  Our family moves from a city that lacks playgrounds to a suburban house near a park. As it is winter, I and my two sisters, Joan and Nancy, gaze longingly through the wire fence at the empty Comstock Pooll.  We imagine it full of water and long for summer.


Age 14.  As a teenager, I read, love, and memorize the poetry of Longfellow. When my history teacher begins quoting “This is the forest primeval…”, I mouth the words to the first stanzas with him. I don’t get great grades in High School. But I read a huge variety of books and always feel like a smart person. Indeed, several of my teachers assure me that I am.


Age 14.  I was playing Malaguena for Laura Luke’s annual piano recital, and I hadn’t practiced. I found myself playing it nearly twice and feel blissfully relieved when I manage to create a musical ending. My teacher looks relieved as well.


Age 16.  I have a teenage crush on Homer Haggerty, another Ridpath Hotel desk clerk who is an older man. I manage one blissful kiss with Homer in the hotel elevator.


Age 19.  World War II is finally over, and former military men are returning to the U of Idaho. Evenings, I drink Moscow Mules with Roger, a handsome former Navy pilot and we begin making out in his ancient Model T with a missing door. By November, we had quit school and, following the fashion of the day, hastily married.


Age 22.  Watching from my Dill Apartment bathroom window, I can see the Ridpath Hotel, five story and brick, burning. I don’t know at the time that my father, the hotel manager, is risking his life running all the important business papers out of his office before the entry caves in.

            The hotel was my beloved home until I was eight. It was where I had worked as desk clerk after school, weekends, and on all my vacations from age 15 to 19. It was where I grew up and part of my being.


Age 23.  I manage to get pregnant by carefully taking my temperature each morning for two months and timing intercourse.

            A few years later my ovaries are removed when I am operated on for endometriosis disease. I feel incredibly lucky to already have two healthy children.


Age 24.  Leslie, my first child, falls down the stairs when I am hurrying to hang more clean wet diapers on the basement clothesline and forget to shut the door behind me. Her little forehead is swollen for weeks. I worry myself sick that my carelessness might have damaged her forever. Luckily, the fall didn’t.


Age 27.  After a year and a half in Alaska and two years in Seattle, AT&T moves us to Chatham, New Jersey where I finally have the operation and go through the change of life quite abruptly.  I remember sitting at a dark window in middle of the night when everyone is sleeping and reminding myself that I have much to celebrate and to live for, Roger, Leslie and Colin, and my beloved sister Joan, who is visiting.

            I am also fortunate to be near the riches of Manhattan which includes great museums, both the Met and MOMA, as well as Carnegie Hall. Roger and I go to all the Broadway entertainments that we can afford, including Teahouse of the August Moon, Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Oliver, Candide.

            Best of all the entertainments are the incomparable Balanchine Ballets.           

            Years later, my granddaughter Elicia who was trained at the American School of Ballet gives a private concert for family and friends. Her dancing reminds me of Patricia McBride’s. Like McBride’s, Elicia’s alluring dancing reaches across the footlights to grab and warm your heart.


Age 31:  Within a week of refusing to kiss my husband’s boss at an elegant Horse Country dinner party, our family is banished to Spokane, Washington. I cry all the way. As the journey West is before airplanes had jet engines, our journey is torturously long. I had never liked my hometown, Spokane, and was truly sorry to be back. Had I known the penalty, I would have certainly kissed Harry.


Age 35.  I am awarded a BS degree in psychology from the U of WA. Although I have A grades, I am informed that the important psychological discoveries are usually made by people in their twenties and that I am too old for graduate school.  Looking for direction, I take courses in other departments. Within a year I find Anthropology, which includes science, writing, and living people, all of which I adore. Some of my enthusiasm is likely due to my visiting instructor, the fabulous Melford Spiro.


Age 35.  When Colin is eight, his grade school classmates insist he fight to be accepted as one of the boys.  Colin hates fighting and he hates school. I consequently sent him to another school, a prep school where he wears a jacket. There, the teachers treat him with respect. He begins the classes that are critical to correcting a reading problem that never kept him from reading. Colin loves Lakeside.


Age 37.  The World’s Fair in Seattle is a very special year. All my family and friends visit, even my father’s buddy, Claude Owen. I haven’t seen him since I was seven and subject to fits of temper, like my father. Gentle Claude had repeatedly tried to change me by example. I am so glad that, during the Fair, he got to see for himself that he had. I have always adored and admired Claude, a stunt pilot and one of America’s World War I pilots.          

            In those days the NY City Ballet seldom traveled.  But they danced “Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” in Seattle during the Fair.

             Being busy with school, I serve all my visitors the same simple Seattle menu on our backyard picnic table, crab salad, Ivar’s clam chowder, and a bought dessert.


Age 38.  Rog and I sign up for marital counseling. But after one meeting I bow out and admit I want a divorce so I can remain in one place long enough to do something useful with my life and be accepted for an advanced degree. I feel some guilt about this still. My husband wouldn’t talk to me or respond to my questions, and I think he may have suffered from his four years during World War II in the Navy Air Corps.  Psychological treatment might have helped him.


Age 38.  I lose the Laurelhurst house with spectacular views of Lake Washington, the sky, clouds, the surrounding hills, and blossoming magnolias.  I know it is the most beautiful house I will ever have and spend my last half hour in situ trying to memorize all the details. AT&T sends us to Portland Oregon, likely so Roger won’t have to split his money half and half with me during our divorce. Oregon laws are different. 


Age 39.  Leslie, Colin, and I fly to Manhattan for ten days so Leslie can try out for The American School of Ballet. She is accepted, but she decides she doesn’t want to remain in New York by herself. She also says the other students seem more obsessed with ballet than she is. I know she is bound to have regrets and she does.

            She begins staying out all night on school nights and won’t tell us where she’s been. I arrange for her to have her own personal psychologist.


Age 41.  I find an apartment available across the street from the U of WA. Colin comes with me; Leslie stays with Roger in Portland. But she returns to our UW apartment for holidays and summer vacations.

            Colin helps me create a home. I know this when he brings the excellent Tony Misch home on his first day of High School. Then he brings several other fine young men who fill our apartment with joy, laughter, hippie music, and anti-Vietnam fervor.


Age 42.  I am in graduate school and happily studying Roma. Roger arrives unexpectedly and, nonplused -- he still doesn’t talk – I escape by answering the phone and agreeing to meet Ted, a Gypsy, at O’Banion’s Tavern.

            Ted entertains me with stories, jokes, songs. He is such a pleasure to be with that we begin meeting every night and necking for hours. I get to know him physically and mentally.


Age 42.  The days of wine and roses. Ted and I drive to San Francisco during the notorious Summer of Love. When I return, I find I have forgotten to leave Colin enough money for food during the nine days I am away. As a result, Colin insists Roger split the alimony money between us. This leaves us both short of basic living funds.


Age. 42.  Despite my wary reluctance, my Rom lover insists I come to dinner at his house and meet his wife and seven children. When we are all seated at the table, I am totally stunned when he begins singing a love song to me, full voice. As he finishes, his wife Rose starts throwing things. We race down the stairs o the car. The barbeque that had been sitting on their porch narrowly misses Todoro (Ted) who is driving.


Age 42.  Ted says he must stop seeing me. Heartbroken, I get drunk and spend an evening in oblivion. The next morning, returning home, I find him at the door of my apartment covered with the traditional Roma wounds of grieving. He says, “We will never say goodbye. Goodbye is our bad luck.” And we never did.


Age 43. In 1958, informed by Ted’s lessons regarding ritual cleansing and marime’ (sacred pollution) and their function in keeping Roma separate from Outsiders, I earn an MA in Anthropology. But, despite having accumulated most of the credits, I never manage a PhD. Instead, I get Hepatitis B from a blood transfusion during s cancer operation at the UW, and my mind seems to go on hold.

            As I was running out of money, I taught anthropology briefly at six community colleges. I loved teaching and think I was a good teacher. But, desperate to understand the Roma culture, I follow the five Seattle Machvaia families when they returned to California.


Age 45.  The night before I left, Lola said to come over with a pen and paper. Then she gave me a list of all the Machvaia she could remember, eight clans in all, a tribe of several thousands.

            Lola’s Uncle Zhurka was the Machvaia pioneer, the first to arrive in the 1800s. He returned to Machva, Serbia to sell his properties and told his family and friends there that America was full of gold and good for living.

             In California, I carried Lola’s precious kinship list to every get- together. Without it I wouldn’t have known who I was talking to or who we were talking about.


Age 47.  Zoni, Lola’s youngest daughter, leaves husband and half of her family in New York and moves to San Francisco. She makes plans for an American life and sends her two youngest boys to a fine private school. We become great friends and hope to live together in the future. But her second year in the West, she dies of a malignant brain tumor.


Age 48.  My beloved Lola dies. I begin to practice writing, hoping to write a book about Lola.


Age 48.  I and my American friend Sherrie become totally depressed, she because she goes to Montana to get married and the groom has changed his mind, me because Ted is warned never to see  me again or no Machvaia will be permitted to marry his now adult children.  

            After several weeks in bed, occasionally talking on the phone, Sherrrie and I plan a picnic on a sunny day.  I fall partway through a defective San Francisco pier and cut my leg. Sherrie drives me to a nearby hospital and I faint in the waiting room. But because we have no money, we are sent to SF General Hospital for a six-hour wait with bleeding, dying, crazy, and angry patients. Finally, a doctor sews up my leg.

            Whenever Sherrie or I remember that bloody afternoon, we get hysterical giggles.


Age 50-52 I am technical advisor, scriptwriter, and occasional actress for the British documentary Face Values and the Hollywood movie Alex and the Gypsy with Jack Lemmon and Genevieve Bujold.


Age 57. I go to Manhattan with my 17-year-old granddaughter, Elicia, who has won a free scholarship year at Balanchine’s American School of Ballet. Elicia is wonderful company and we become great friends.  I get to see the most amazing dances at a discount, meet Danilova and the fabulous Suzanne Farrell, and (in passing) Baryshnikov.


Age 60. As my Social Security kicks in and the people I am studying confess they are going American, I begin a vacation decade in Mill Valley, a town of aging hippies. I feel profoundly nurtured by the abundant growing-in-circles redwoods, the vast Pacific Ocean, the innumerable shore and seabirds, and the perfect weather.


Age 70. What I have been writing about has become history. I know this for sure when, in 1997, I go to the Machvaia’s first ever Halloween party in the Bay Area and find several of the party-goers are dressed like ghosts, Dead Ones, and ancestors.

            Once their dead were the secret power that kept the people fearfully obedient to Roma law. When I first knew them, the people were terrified of offending the Dead Ones who held the secret to their lives, their living, and their luck. But no more.


Age 70.  Frank, Leslie’s husband dies, and I move to Seattle to keep Leslie company. For income, we work to get the rental houses Frank left her ready to sell. As Leslie doesn’t charge me rent, I have fun spending the money on my first ever gold jewelry.


Age 73.  Our adored mother Mimi dies at 95. Afterwards, my sister Nancy and I wrap her in ice and sit with her for nearly three days, talking to her, trying to create an ambiance of love and cherishing. My beloved sister is an Adi Da devotee and I like to follow Roma custom.


Age 75.  My sister Joan has a stroke and dies, leaving her three living sisters all her money and property. She leaves me a Wallingford condominium. After painting it a mellow yellow and installing bamboo floors, I move in.


Age 83-84. After practicing writing for decades and writing for at least five hours every day, seven days a week, my work is finally published by Gemma Media. The first book is Lola’s Luck (2010), written because I wanted my darling Lola to never be forgotten, and the second, Church of Cheese (2011), is more academic. To create the Bibliography, I have fun spending hours doing research in the nearby UW Suzallo Library.

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