Monday, November 14, 2016

Falling Far from the Tree

I do fall far from the tree.
My dad was just about as conservative as they come. His work for the state government made him subject to the Hatch Act, ineligible to display political signs on our property. He wasn't allowed to write letters to the editor, but that didn’t stop him from speaking his mind to anyone who would listen. Dad was a staunch, dyed in the wool, true to the core conservative. The Hatch Act didn’t stop him from pounding signs for his favorite candidates into other willing voters’ yards. He also wrote letters to senators and congressmen. We used to tease him that he was Orrin Hatch’s pen pal. He would proudly show us Orrin Hatch’s personal replies. 

Dad was horrified when he found out my maternal grandmother was going to vote for George McGovern. I heard him try to respectfully “teach” her why she was so, so wrong. I could tell he was just about to blow, but shut his mouth and stopped so he wouldn't offend Grandma. (In this way, I am just like my father.) I too, have to shut up or stop posting  or speaking before I go too far. I heard him say to my mother, “What is she possibly thinking? She said McGovern is handsome. How is that a good reason to vote for someone?” I’m pretty sure my Grandma just told my dad that to mess with him, she was after all, an intelligent woman. 

I grew up hearing the term liberal pinko thrown around in everyday conversations. I knew Dad abhorred “kooky environmentalists," and as far as he was concerned, Robert Redford was the worst of the bunch, along with Jane Fonda. But he was offended when a neighbor brought John Birch Society material for him to read. For those who don’t know John Birch Society is an extreme right-wing organization. I remember him wondering how the guy could think he was “one of those extremists.” He didn’t like extremism in any shape or form. Dad pined for a day when Ronald Reagan would be elected president. That would have been a momentous day for him and I wish he'd seen it happen. He died two years before, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my dad influenced the outcome from the other side. At the time, I voted for Reagan, even though in retrospect that wasn’t a good idea. Under Reagan's presidency, because of retroactive government cutbacks, my husband lost a good job that was in his field. 

I really had no intention of becoming the person I am today.  I was a slow convert to liberal ideas. I had once believed that being Republican was akin to being a good Mormon, practically a requirement for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom. I knew that admitting to a family member that I had started leaning Democrat would cause as much concern as if I had told them I was forming an alliance with Satan. I have to admit that the first time I checked a box for a Democrat, I felt my heart race a bit—pondering what my dad would think—and if I was indeed committing a sin. At first it was only in local elections  that I dared vote for Democrats. Even though by then, my core beliefs put me solidly on the blue team. Even still, Al Gore was the first Democrat I voted for in a presidential election. When I admitted to voting for Al Gore at what had been a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner, the stuffing hit the fan so to speak. A close family member said some pretty unkind things, including that my deceased father would be livid. I had to admit, Dad would not have been happy. Though I hope that after he passed he wouldn’t have cared one wit about something as inconsequential as a person’s political leanings. 

Through some tears and bites of turkey, I pointed out to the argumentative family member, that my dad had voted for  Democratic candidate Yukus Inouye. I knew it for a fact because I was with Dad when  he pounded wooden stakes of political signs into lawns in Utah county. When I had asked Dad why he was voting for a Democrat, he’d said, because he’s a really great guy, my friend, and the better candidate. To write this I looked up Yukus and found out that he had won in 1972 as Utah County Commissioner in a heavily Republican county. Yukus Inouye lived to be 91 and died in 2007.  

Well, at the dinner I sobbed uncontrollably, even though several of the younger generation tried to comfort me. Eventually that family member and I could speak to each other again. We both had to learn to bridge our differences with a little civility. We also learned never to ask who the other was voting for. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. 

I’m almost certain that my dad would not have voted for Donald Trump, because my dad could spot a fraud. Once in high school, I came home so excited about the stories an LDS general authority Paul H. Dunn told in a huge seminary morning devotional. My dad was sitting in his home office, leaning back slightly in his solid wood swivel chair. When I got done telling Dad the fantastic war stories, he got a smirk on his face and said that they weren’t true. I couldn’t believe my dad, a bishop at the time, would call a GA of our church a liar. I’d said, how can you say that? He'd said, I’m just saying I was in the war and those things couldn’t have happened, and Paul H. Dunn is a great storyteller who stretches the truth for effect. Well, I was hurt and thought my dad was wrong to say what he did. My dad had been gone for a few years when the truth that many of Paul Dunn’s famous faith-promoting stories were nothing more than good fiction. Too bad he’d felt the need to claim they were true. 

There was another popular WW2 Veteran on a speaking circuit, telling amazing tales of his POW experiences and heroism. My dad only had to hear him once to declare that the man was a fraud. Years later he also was discredited. In this case, the man may have actually believed his own stories. 

My dad would have been appalled at the choices in this election. I have no illusion that he would have voted for Hillary. She is far too liberal for my dad. But he also would not have voted for Donald Trump. I’m quite certain he would have seen him as the con artist he is. Dad had strong opinions. He thought everyone should think like him, and he argued with those who didn't. But he also taught us to be politically active and to stick up for our principles. Though he might be turning in his grave to see me as the “liberal pinko” he would disapprove of, I hope he’d respect that I will speak out for beliefs, even when I’m in the minority, even when it’s hard, and even when it hurts so badly you feel like you can’t breathe. Because after all, he taught me to do that. Maybe I don’t fall as far from the tree after all. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Tender Mercies: Sundays with Judi

This may be my only photo. Several years ago, she came to hear me speak about the book "Just Shy of Paradise."
Dear Judi, 
When I got word that you had “graduated” from this life, I was walking in Brooklyn to brunch with my daughter Ginger, daughter-in-law Joanna, and our new friend Lauren. We knew that I could receive the dreaded message at anytime, since I’d heard the evening before that your time was near. So when I felt the buzz in my pocket, I immediately glanced at my phone. When I saw that the inevitable had happened, my loved ones hugged me as I let the tears flow. I agonized that I hadn’t made it home in time. We had rescheduled our flight in hopes that it would make a difference. I had so wanted to sit with you one last time, even if you wouldn’t have been aware. I needed my Judi Berry time.
As we began down the street again, Joanna nudged me and pointed to the name of the street sign a block away, “Berry.” Was that you? Did you let me know that you knew I needed you? Did you prompt Becky to send the text at that moment? Since the beginning of our friendship, the tender mercies have so often been there. Your character and how you’ve handled your often very difficult challenges has taught me so much.

Berry Street in Brooklyn

So often during my NYC week, I thought about seeing you on Sunday as had become my habit over the last couple of years. I had hoped to tell you all about the trip because I knew you would genuinely be interested in what I experienced. In April, we had taken a trip to Mesa Verde just because you had told me so much about it. When I said, I was going you brought out all your pamphlets and said that we could take them as long as we took good care of them. The stop at Hovenweep was my favorite and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. You’d said, on your trips you couldn’t sleep the night before you’d be so excited. Every step through Long House, even when we were crawling through a tunnel from one part of the house to the other, I thought about you doing the same thing at a healthier time. Your enthusiasm and your passions were contagious.
Those rock trips, and Native American ruins trips happened before I really knew you. Before we became friends. Now instead of excitement, what kept you awake at night was pain and burning acid that didn’t even allow you to lie down. Remember that one Sunday? I looked through the window and saw you asleep at the kitchen table sitting upright in the chair. I hesitated to wake you, but gently knocked. You told me you had been awake all night except when you had fallen asleep standing at the kitchen counter. You cried when I came and said that you had been praying for someone to come to help. I told you that I would have come anyway, even without the prayer. You reminded me that I don’t come every single Sunday, that I miss a few. And then I told you that perhaps the answer to your prayer was that I’d brought my husband with me, which hardly ever happened. He shoveled all the walks while I helped with some things inside. I was glad that he got to experience what I had so often, to see you reflect on tiny miracles and tender mercies.
Another tender mercy was that the day you were diagnosed with Scleroderma, I happened to be walking through the Budge Clinic picking up my contacts. I heard my name and turned to see you alone in a waiting room. You’d said, “How many auto-immune disorders does one person have to have?” You were holding the pamphlet the doctor had given you, so that you could learn about what awful stuff was in store for you. We hugged. We cried. You courageously went on, handling the best you could what was a very rotten deal. You lost your husband when you were still young. Your body took a beating as one bad thing after another knocked you down, and yet, in spite of that you always found something, a reason to keep getting up. Something to look forward to: a phone call from a son, a new colt frolicking in the field out your window, a visit from a friend, a new book to read ahead of everyone else since your friends at North Logan Library put you at the top of the waiting list, or Shawn, the Bookmobile librarian would bring your books out to your car when you honked, or especially for a day when you felt “good.” Which we both knew meant you didn’t feel quite as rotten as usual. One of the best things to happen in this last part of your life is seeing you come alive again with all the quilting you’ve done. I knew you had made quilts before, mostly humanitarian but you’d had to put that away for a while. So when things got just a little better for you and you got out your sewing machine, you sparkled with renewed passion. I loved seeing the quilts, first in colorful shapes and pieces on your kitchen table, then as patterned squares, then as a top, and finally finished. Your biggest concern had become living long enough to finish the quilts for your grandchildren, your son and his wife, and especially for your last big masterpiece for Justin. But you did it! And you still managed to make a whole bunch of quilts for people who were terminally ill. You had laughed when I told you that I never wanted one of those quilts—not if I had to die to get one. Your sense of humor was so cute. I noticed how you could laugh and tell jokes about yourself, especially to caregivers, doctors and nurses. You always said thank you when people did even the smallest thing for you. You finally learned that you had to give up a little of your independence so you could stay in your house in your beloved town of Paradise. You never took that help for granted, not one little bit.
Some of your friends and your family have thanked me for “being so good to you.” I said, I did things for you because I loved you, but it was so much more for me than it was for you. The truth is that it was me that needed you. Someone else could easily have done the few things I did. But the sanctuary, the refuge, that you provided for me was so much more for my benefit than it ever was for you. Remember how many times, I knocked on the door, waited for the, “come in” and then slumped into your recliner, the chair that had become “Carole’s chair.” Even your sister Linda would vacate the chair for me unless I insisted otherwise. I spent many a tearful Sunday talking about my doubts, my challenges, and my angst, mixed with my joys and triumphs. Even though we both knew that your challenges were so much greater than mine, you still empathized in ways few others could, And I knew without having to say anything that my concerns would be kept between us. You respected privacy better than most of us. I felt such safety, such acceptance and no judgement toward me—just empathy, understanding and genuine love.
Sundays will be hard for me. My church often was sitting with you and sharing stories, concerns and insights—sacred time. I got to witness a remarkable friendship between you and your son Justin as he would inevitably call while I was there. Your banter and discussion with him was so ordinary yet endearing. One of the last conversations I remember was when you were telling him how excited you were to find potato chips without corn oil. You had told me that Justin had found you ice cream without corn syrup. Corn and many other items did terrible things to you, so instead of dwelling on that, you became enthused when you found things you could eat. Dwelling on the positives in life was something you were so good at. I used to tease you that you would get yourself admitted to Logan Regional Hospital just because they fixed the best Salmon in town. I should know since I ate more than half of yours that one time.
Thank you Judi. Thanks for your courage, your heart, your gracious and generous life. Everyone needs someone like you, a Judi Berry in their life. I’m so blessed I had you in mine. You were my tender mercy.
your friend,

Monday, January 11, 2016

Whiling the while with Words!

I remember when I was four or five and I discovered the magic of copying letters onto a paper to form what appeared to be words. I still didn’t understand the sounds, but understood the symbols. I was at the family cabin in Silver Gate, Montana in the upstairs loft. I carefully scrawled letters in varying word lengths and would run down the stairs to show them to my mother. She would try to read the nonsensical words and sometimes they actually were close to something. But not understanding the power of vowels, she’d inform me that some of them were nothing. Still, it was the beginnings of writing and reading. 

In 1st grade with book mark in hand, small groups of students and the teacher in a circle in the back of the room, I could read Dick and Jane books like nobody’s business. I longed to be in those books, to play with Spot, Dick, Jane and Tim. Their lives were so simple. They jumped, played ball, ran, skipped, looked—oh how they looked. Look Dick look. See Jane run. 

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my neighbor Sharon, with her naturally blond hair the color of Marilyn Monroe’s, stood on the other side of the hedge that was between our yards. Sharon was about three years older than me, so was sophisticated in the ways of the world. When I told her I was going to the library, she said, “Be sure to get some Dr. Suess books.”  When I found the Dr. Suess books on the bottom shelf of the fabulous basement Orem library—then in an old house across from the Scera theater, I was hooked by the magic of nonsensical words, some very much like the words I had first strung together years earlier, the beauty of alliteration, rhymes, and drawings that covered every inch of the page. I still believe Theordor Suess Geisel to be nothing short of genius. His capturing of deep philosophies and allegories in exquisite drawings and words has not been equaled. His powerful messages could indeed, not just captivate us, they transformed us. The world Suess created was infinitely more interesting that Dick and Jane’s world. Horton hearing who’s. And cats in hats, sneetches and green eggs! What  words could be more wonderful? 

Words: We used to shout at each other on the playground: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” But that was a lie. I had a teacher tell us it was a lie. I remember being confused and then relieved. Confused because it had always been taught. Confused because physical hurt was definable. But emotional pain was something we buried and denied. I was relieved because I felt bad whenever someone called me a name, and now I knew that was ok.

Words: I used to hate some of the words I heard at home hurled at me by my siblings: Stupid, retarded, baby, faker, or more like faker, faker, faker—a sing-song taunt. School was a safe haven because at school, teachers made me feel smart. I loved school, but I loved staying home  on sick days too—without my brothers. Home alone with only my mother who never hurled insults. Home to I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island and Romper Room all day sipping hot jello drinks. Home to a stack of picture books—a good Suess book and a cuddly cat curled next to me. Even though as soon as the brothers came home I would be the faker, faker, faker—the hours of peace were worth it. I remember being home sick when I was in kindergarten or 1st grade and Miss Julie on Romper Room held up her magic mirror and declared, “And I see Carole who is home sick today.” My mom didn’t believe she was really talking to me, but I knew she was. She saw me. If she saw me, I wasn’t faking. I couldn’t be faking. Did that mean I also wasn’t stupid? Sticks and Stones. I used to shout it out to deflect the power of words. Words, they can inspire, affirm, debase, or hurt. I wish my armor could be made of all the beautiful words in the world, so the negative stuff couldn’t penetrate. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Permission to Bully in 1961 and Beyond

The school year was 1961-62. A five-old-girl sat on a classroom chair with the rest of the kindergarten class surrounding her. The teacher wore a dark skirt and a plain white blouse. She had medium-length brown hair and a pleasant face. The teacher told the class that because Marva* had been naughty again, the she must be punished. The kindergarten students were told to each take a strand of the Marva’s hair and on the count of three—PULL. 

This scene played out numerous times throughout my first year at Sharon Elementary School. I don’t remember anyone else ever receiving the punishment except for Marva. I’m sure there were others, but it’s her face I remember. Boys were usually the first to surround her—smiling, a bit excited. I always held back, as did others, too far away to grasp a lock of hair. 

I don’t remember what Marva did that was so naughty. And while I’m glad I never participated in the punishment handed down by the teacher, I never reached out to be kind to Marva either. Why would I? She was a naughty girl. Did I somehow suspect that if I played with her, that I would be tainted by her? I don’t blame myself—after all I was only five. I also don’t blame the boys who gleefully surrounded Marva and pulled as hard as they could—after all, they were only five. But I do blame the teacher. 

Over the years, my memory of the events have faded, so much that I almost wondered if they had happened at all, but recently I was talking with another friend who had, had the same teacher in the alternate hours kindergarten the same year and she said, “Mrs. Wendell—the teacher that made us pull hair. My children don’t believe me when I tell them.” Then the memory flooded back. So it was true. It was true that my kindergarten teacher commanded five-year-olds to bully and to physically and emotionally harm another child. It was true that the teacher had set up a policy to create a class system based on fear, to set up children who would automatically become the OTHER, the ones we had permission to abuse and belittle and to cast aside from our friendship. 

I don’t know what happened to Marva. I can pick her face out in the class picture. I hope that somehow, she escaped the stigma stamped upon her by a teacher who must have thought she was doing the right thing to control her class. How often do we do harm to others when we believe that we are doing the right thing because like those five-year-olds someone in authority told them it was the right thing? Sometimes doing the right thing takes a tremendous amount of courage. Sometimes doing the right thing is the exact opposite of what we are told. Sometimes doing the right thing is listening to the little voice in our head, and that instinct that socks us in the gut. *not real name.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


It's Thanksgiving time. Like many of my Facebook friends, I've been posting stuff each day that I'm thankful for. But I find there isn't room to write everything. So I'm dedicating this post to my gratitude. Over 36 years ago, I was in a truck riding south of Logan with my then fiance, Mick. He had a green Chevrolet pickup truck. We made our way down the highway through Nibley, past Hyrum and on into Paradise. We rounded the bend toward Avon. On the road to Porcupine Dam, I was overcome with beauty that was all around us, and the wonder of being with someone I loved, someone I would soon marry. Our future was before us. I was finishing school and Mick had just graduated. We had nothing, but we had everything. I remember saying, "I want to live here someday."

When we first got married we lived in Amalga in Cache Valley, but for only a few months before moving to Garland for Mick's first teaching job. Then on to Tremonton, Springville, Highland, and then Grouse Creek. Finally when we moved from Grouse Creek I wanted to live in Cache Valley again, come hail or high water. (Or is that hell or high water?) So we looked for houses and found one in the quaint and lovely town of Paradise. Our kids were nearly 8 and 12 when we moved. It wasn't Avon, but it was close. Then nine years ago, my friend Sherry told me about some land for sale. It was only about a mile from the place where I was overcome with the desire to live
someday. So that someday came. I have studio to do my pottery in and Mick has some land for his horses and a barn for his hay. It just doesn't get much better than that. And I still am over come with love for this place, and this man, and this family, and this life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

I Love Small Town Charm

The main event that I look forward to all year is the trout dinner in our small town. It’s actually the only event, but not only is it the  best trout I’ve ever had, it’s the whole idea that I love. The trout is raised by the White family—that’s their name. They’ve lived in this town since the very beginning back when Barnard White and one of his buddies, Joe Crapo thought the lush valley was worth checking out—that was back in 1860 when the valley was also loved and lived in by a peace loving band of Shoshone. The white guys, including Barnard White thought the Shoshone wouldn’t mind sharing their lush valley, but they were wrong about that. There were skirmishes here and there, a few horses stolen and one white settler was shot with an arrow, but just like everywhere else in the US, the natives were eventually pushed out and so that’s why I get to live in the lovely little town and stand once a year in a line that runs the length of a football field, chatting with total strangers who come from all over the state to stand in line too. Sure they could go out to a restaurant and for the close to the same price, get pretty much the same thing, but that’s nothing like paying twelve bucks and sitting on a metal picnic table next to people you’ll never see again. 

The local DUP women (that’s daughters of the Utah Pioneers) are at the beginning of the line with a beautiful pieced and handmade quilt. I confidently crumple my tickets I’ve bought—convinced that this trick will aid me—clearly it’s my year to win. I’ve entered for the last eight years and it’s only been the last two years that I’ve even wanted the quilt, and this one is perfect for me. I’m sure that the Universe will recognize my worthiness and reward me. Years ago raffles came under fire as a form of gambling, and hence illegal in the state of Utah, so most places still hold raffles, but sell a piece of taffy for the price of a ticket to get around the law. That’s another thing I like about this whole day—there’s no pretense. Even though these women, look like very respectable law-abiding women—church goers even, they don’t look for any loopholes, they just sell the tickets illegally. I admire that. 
DUP museum in Paradise

I hand my money to a few other women—old friends for the most part. Now there’s hope when I’m handed a sturdy paper plate with my plastic utensils. Then, a string of about eight men manning the massive grills lined with butterfly trout fillets frying in pools of butter. The first man at the grill is Jon White himself, son Barney White, the man who began the trout farm, and grandson of Barnard White, or is there one more Barnard White in that line? Not sure. Next to him, is his brother. In rural Mormon Utah, it’s nearly always women who cook, plan, organize and then clean up nearly all major church and community events so, it’s especially nice that for this event—it’s all men cooking. Here there’s only one woman serving food and all she’s doing is handing out pats of butter.
I don't know any of these people
Not Jon (he's at the opposite end)

Back to Jon White. I’ve known Jon a long time. We used to be on the Paradise Planning and Zoning together. Jon is a big guy, a very big guy and his voice and personality are commanding. When he walks into a room, he pretty much stops whatever else is going on. He’s a walking encyclopedia for the town of Paradise. He knows the history, the layout, where all the seams of clay and gravel are. He knows who owns chickens, and whose dog is keeping folks awake at night. He has strong opinions, but loves the town possibly more than anyone else. In the meetings, he could do it all, as smart as he is, but he liked us all to contribute what we thought about septic tanks, lot sizes, commercial zoning, fence lines, and dog kennels. 

I was the only woman on the board and though I have strong opinions too, I was no match for Jon. But he always asked what I thought. Once in a very serious meeting, he said, “What do you think Carole, Gene? Amazing, this man really does know everything even my middle name. “How in the world did you know my name is Carole Jeanne (Jean)?” I asked. 

“I didn’t,” he said grinning. But I do know your name is Carole and his name,” nodding to the man on my right, “is Gene.”

Since then every single time he sees me, which isn’t often, he shouts. “Jeanne, how are you doing?”
So as I hold my plate in front of him waiting for the trout that bears his name, he says, “Jeanne, it’s been a long time. How are you?” And I just nod. “Great, I’ve been great.” 

And even though I wait well into the night for the phone call congratulating me on winning the quilt raffle to no avail, I still love this town.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Trout and Berry Days in Paradise

Tomorrow, I'll be hauling my pottery down to the center of Paradise for a bit of old fashioned fun. Oh, there will be the usual stuff, pony rides for the kids, trains, rides, cotton candy--all that stuff. But unlike other town celebrations, our's features the famous trout scramble. If you don't know what this is, think of a pool of water, a slew of fish, and humans trying to catch the fish with their hands. They do it in age groups ending with adult women. Why adult women and no adult men, you might ask? Uh, I wouldn't even dare to suggest that this is really a wet t-shirt contest--no of course not--not in Paradise in the 21st century, so I guess you'll have to ask those in charge. You'll have to come judge for yourself. 
But it's for fun and prizes and plus you keep the fish. They kill it and clean it for you--so don't think you have to build a pond at your house. 

I also enjoy the small town parade with horses, bicycles, and maybe a float or two. Usually the hand-outs are a bit better than most. It seems like for the last few years FAT BOYS were handed out--the ice-cream bars--not you know actual fat boys. Anyway that's worth coming out for right??? Then there's also an auction--proceeds benefitting our local emergency response team and or fire station. I've always donated a nice piece of pottery to this. The culmination of the evening is our very famous and also excellent trout dinner featuring White's trout and Weeks's berry desserts. I've heard that even people who don't like trout, like the trout, but I can't judge that because I LOVE trout. Besides, I look forward to this meal all year. Really, I do. 

Besides the dinner, my other favorite part of the day is just visiting with friends all day. I hope everyone I know and love comes. I know that isn't possible, but if it is come to Paradise. It's worth the drive.