May 01, 2010

Destination: Skagway, Alaska


My “half-my-age” son, Blake, insisted I apply for a summer job in Skagway, AK, as a tour guide at Jewell Gardens. He was up there last summer and is up there again this summer driving tour buses. He got it into his head that I’d love it, do well, and probably make some pretty good money in tips. "For someone your age," he tells me, "you look hot." Do I feel insulted? or not? More importantly, he felt it would do my two-year unemployment stretch of depression a world of good. Get my head out of the impossibilities and into something fun. So I applied. Long story short, I’m headed for Alaska this Thursday morning.

Here’s the truth. I’m scared to death. I have to pay my own transportation and it ain’t cheap. Too, there is no housing. Apparently people just land and “stuff” works out.

“You  remember I’m pushing sixty, right? I can’t do the camping thing. I can’t do cats and dogs if someone does take me in.” 

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he says.

Here’s the kicker. There is no doctor, no pharmacy in town. I have to take up five months worth of medications.

He arranged for free housing with the preacher, at least for May. Okay, a compromise. A place to lay my head for a couple of weeks. So I’ll go and see if “stuff” happens. If not? I’ll just come back and consider the adventure one thing I can scratch off my Bucket List. I’ve always wanted to get up there.

My job is to take tourists through the gardens, a glass-blowing factory housed in the gardens, and help serve my specific group at the tea house, also housed in the gardens. All of which I can handily do, and which I will enjoy.

A forty-hour week, I'll have time to explore, hike, maybe take a train out to some gold-rush sight, and probably write. Write lot. Bill Jensen tells me he can't sell my Narcissa story until the whole thing is written. Geez, I knew I was a has-been. But not ancient! I mean, really?


Friends have suggested I blog about heading for the wilderness as someone "pushing sixty” and probably a little crazy. Like maybe post pictures of the moose that tripped and landed on my car. Or the bear that mauled my Toyota Scion I call Lunchbox while trying to get the oranges packed in the back. Actually, this did happen once upon a time, no joke, when I was a child and we were traveling through Yellowstone, hauling a trailer. But, hey, that’s another story.

To get there, I’ll be driving the AlCan highway. Here’s the route of about 2,000 miles.


Up the Fraser Canyon of British Columbia to my sister’s in Quesnel. Through some mountains to my cousin Carolyn’s house in Hudson’s Hope. Then a long haul through wilderness where I’ve been told the wildlife is unbelievable to Liard Hot Springs on the B.C./Yukon border. For $19 I can soak in the hot springs and pitch my tent with the bears. Last leg to Skagway takes me to Whitehorse where my son tells me I need to stock up on food. I’ll arrive Sunday night at the preacher’s home/hostel. My other son Phil is lending me his rather fancy digital camera, so I can take pictures along the way.

I am now officially jazzed.

So, see ya in Skagway!

March 01, 2010

The Olympic Flame Is Out...

...and so last night my friend and I went up to join the thousands in downtown Vancouver to be "in the moment." 

What a moment! The torch flame out, only one bridge into the city left open (too many people!), we somehow found free parking, and stepped into a slice of history where my countrymen were not only buzzed from their record-breaking Olympic gold medals but intoxicated in the aftermath of a hard-won hockey Gold, the heart-stopping, lose-your-pulse greatest game ever! Canada’s Sidney Crosby making the winning goal in an overtime shutout with the US! 

“Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!” chanted the surging crowd.

Madness! Euphoric madness! People dressed in flags, faces painted, fists in the air, horns going, the energy of pride, camaraderie, bursting into the air like the America’s “rockets’ red glare.” The Canadian flag very much there.

Oddly, Kay Dee, a displaced Texan, was more “in the groove” than me, letting out a shriek and a holler and a “Go Canada!” to passing strangers, fist-bumping people wearing flags like Super Man’s cape, high-fiving old and young. "Oh, Canada! Our home and native land! True, patriot love, to all our sons command..." she sang. Me, a misplaced Canadian living eight miles south of the border, I trudged alongside her with typical Canadian reserve but still managing to enjoy myself.

“Hey!” I grabbed Kay Dee’s elbow. “Take that girl’s picture!” Kay Dee trotted after Miss High Hair, me in pursuit. Epitome of grace, the lovely girl struck a pose. Cameras spontaneously flashed.

“Ca-na-da!
“Ca-na-da!
“Ca-na-da!"

All around me Vancouver’s majesty and beauty towered. Lights shimmered off the inlet. Flowers twinkled in the streetlight. I saw it all through the filter of time, as a child coming into the city to visit the dentist, running errands (like the day we bought a copper milk jug somewhere in the loop off Oak Street Bridge and Marine Drive), long days at Stanley Park, visits to grandparents, playtime with cousins. A whole history here of pleasure, a garden of adventure, a haven of allure. My city. My country. My countrymen. I suddenly missed my home and yearned for all the days when life was simple and predictably peaceful--but ripe.

“I have to have a flag,” I said. Everyone had flags.

We almost tripped over a pair selling them. Big ones, four bucks. Little ones, two. “Do you have a twony?” I asked. Kay Dee shuffled through my backpack where we’d put her Canadian change.

A flag now mine, I secured it to my backpack. Yup, I was getting in the groove.

Not in My House, Not on my Land.”  We came across two posters we didn’t understand, held aloft by stationary strangers, a fixed point in a sea of humanity. We stood in the surge, trying to figure it out. A tall man, blond, blue-eyed, dressed in red, and leaning against a lamppost, shouted down from  his lofty height, “That’s our goalie! Roberto Luongo!”

“Not a protester?” shouted up Kay Dee.

No! Our goalie!” He turned to sport his LUONGO #1 jersey. "Our goalie! He’s saying, ‘You can’t have the gold! Not in my house, not on my land!’”

“Oh!” shouted up Kay Dee and I, both thrilled to understand. I reached and offered my first fist. “Ca-na-da!” Touch. A fist-bump, a connection to humanity, a reminder that it’s people, not government, who live in this world. We belong in it together. To quote the Americans out of context, “We, the people…” When had I forgotten this? Yeah, go Canada!  Go world!

I turned around. Kay Dee? Kay Dee? One minute I was staring down into the public ice rink, ten second later… Kay Dee? Seymour and Pender, this was where we parked. This was our agreement; go back to the car, start over. But she had the map.

“I lost my friend,” I told the stranger next to me. “Can you tell me where Seymour and Pender is?”

“Two blocks up, three blocks over. Good luck!” Another fist bump.Touch.

It took awhile to push my way through the curb-to-curb. Finally! But, wait, the entrance doesn't look right. I head down the slope into the garage. Nope. I'm turned around. Coming in the out. Typical. I start back up the exit. At the top do I turn left? right? 

Miraculously—I do believe in God, I do believe in God—there she was, walking past the exit. “KAY DEE!” I bellowed. She whirled, saw me. Her face lit up, her arms went up. I chugged uphill, my own arms up, and just like all the slow-mo movies of lovers running through flower fields and blue sky, Kay Dee and I ran through concrete corridor and artificial light and happily threw ourselves at each other.

Headed back into the madding crowd, we tucked arms. “I don’t care if we look like lesbians,” she shouted, “we can’t lose each other again!”

I agreed.

We agreed too, to stop in at the Olympic Store, temporarily held in the Hudson’s Bay Company. I have to say, the Bay is my favorite store. In the olden days, this is where we'd stop in to use the bathroom—a huge, high-ceilinged affair, designed with black and white mosaic tiling, regal and majestic with tall mirrors, green fixtures, and golden taps. If my sisters and I were lucky, or if we were with an old auntie, hands washed and feeling better, we’d head for the basement where the food was. At the deli, Mum, or an auntie, would buy us “pigs in a blanket,” sausage rolls wrapped in flakey pastry—to be dipped, of course, in mustard. None of this exists anymore. 

What exists was a long line just to get in. Kay Dee and I inched forward, peering in through the windows where Olympic jerseys and jackets littered the floor and looked too much like Ross’s Dress For Less to suit me. A madhouse once in and a push and shove through the throngs in search of an Olympic baseball cap, for Kay Dee’s husband, that wasn’t white. 

“Hey, what’s this?” I squealed with delight. Maybe I’m in love with the Hudson’s Bay Company because I’m in love with their blankets. I grew up with the traditional white one, with its yellow, green, and red stripe, keeping me warm at night. Today I have two red blankets, with black stripes, a six-point and four-point. Meaning, once upon a time they cost six and four beaver pelts respectively. But here, on display and lined up in a row, mannequins sported a variety of coats and jackets created from the blankets. A contest, apparently. Only one was chosen for manufacture, a mere $695. Ouch. The fox, a lovely four-point coat, was not in the running. Too bad. Lose the fox, and I was in.

The bathroom is now in the basement, and is--no surprise here--now sterile and generic and very Ronald MacDonald in its sheer ordinariness. But surprise, surprise, coming back up the escalator, we found ourselves fenced off. What, what? We can’t get out? Help!

Finally! Whew! Back outside, the crowd was getting thicker, younger. A singular vulgarity suddenly interrupted world peace. “Fuck the USA. A whole new way!’ Okay, enough. We popped into Tim Horton’s to rest our aching feet, have some soup, a sandwich, decaf coffee. A security foursome was hunched over fries behind Kay Dee. Two officials with ear sets relaxed behind me. A trio of flag-decked kids tromped in. “Can I take your picture?” Kay Dee asks. We’re right back to goodwill, courtesy, and Canadian character.

The city could not have been prettier driving out, crossing back over the Burrard Street Bridge, cutting left onto Broadway, up Granville, cutting another left to Oak, up Oak, and then over the Oak Street Bridge—somewhere down beneath us a cluttered shop that sold my mum our pretty copper milk jug. An hour later I was in bed in the States. Outside my back window were the lonely but lovely lights of Cypress Mountain in the distance, twinkling in an inky sky, serene testament to two-plus weeks of peaceful world competition. Hearts  were broken, records were made, all testimonial proof to ourselves that, despite the isolated jerk free to chant vulgarity in our faces, we can, we’re capable, it is possible, to achieve connection to humanity; we can override governments and barriers, reach across divides and shake hands, and fist bump the world that is us. Touch, feel, be. The flame might be out but, “Yeah, go us.”  

February 12, 2010

The 2010 Games: Where Is Everyone?

I live just south of the Canadian/American border, a woman with dual citizenship, and with family who live and work on both sides of the Peace Arch. Today, driving home from the gym where I work out at the senior center in Blaine, WA, I drove through the strangely deserted border town, puzzled by the lack of traffic that's been predicted for the Games. Which everyone knows is to be held in Vancouver--a city very few know I was born in. But considering the fact that the games begin today, I am wondering, "Where in the world are all these people who are to be storming this border?"

In Blaine and the surrounding area, we've gone through quite the uproar, getting ready for these hordes of people. The border has been expanded, more lanes put in, security beefed up, extra guards hired, the community disrupted, invasion of privacy accelerated. Heat-sensitive cameras look right into the houses that line the 49th parallel, and a student of mine at the community college said her father's complaints about having to pee and brush his teeth for an audience being a gross violation of his privacy were summarily dismissed for the "greater good." So what's this all about? This no show on the day the entire world chants "Let the games begin"? Is my student's father taking a pee in public for no good reason?

Puzzled, I drove out on the Drayton Harbor spit to see if any cars were lined up to go through into Vancouver. Amazing. There were cars piled up going into the States, but all lanes going into Canada? All green, a first in my personal history. I've been through this border a thousand times and have never seen all lanes lit to "go," with guards on duty and ready to pass people into the land of my birth. More astonishing, half of the lanes were empty--no lineup of any kind. Believe me, I can count on one hand and have fingers left over, and still give you an accurate count of how many times I've actually driven up and had my chat at the gate without have to wait my turn idling in line. Where in the world is everyone?

I'm going to assume traffic will pick up. A shame to be the prettiest city in the world and have no one show. And in case anyone's interested, the map below and to your left is the map of my family's connection to 2010's Olympic Games--and by working my way down the page you can see that I'm probably in pretty good position to tell you something of an insider's view. I can give you some background that I doubt NBC, ABC, or even CTV can share. Leave all the important stuff to them--like who wins the gold--and the trivia no one cares about to me. I begin at the map's top: Whistler and Squamish.

First, Squamish is headquarters to one of the four First Nations groups being represented at the Olympics. It's also temporary home for my youngest son Blake. He is finishing his MA in Theology at Regent College in Vancouver but will be putting a small dent in his student loans by driving a bus for the Olympic athletes. He writes from Squamish, where he and his buddies are housed in the old Love Boat and are being fed like paying customers: "My job is to go to the athlete's village in Whistler every morning and pick up athletes going to the slide center. That means I drive skeletoners, lugers, and bobsledders. Cool, huh?"

If that isn't enough fun, he writes: "Last night the Olympic torch came through Squamish so we went to the festival. They had the torch, music, a logging show, and lots of free coke (liquid type). I even got to hold the torch! So things are fun, I'm getting to know the other drivers from our company, and I'm practicing my French with all the French speakers on the ship."

Moving to the south end of the map... My daughter and her family live in Ferndale (near me in Birch Bay), but Heather actually works in Langley just over the border. She writes: "I cheered the torch on as it went by my office today- I'm excited!"

In between the bottom end of the map and the top you'll find Vancouver. I was born here, and went to the dentist here, but I grew up in Pt. Coquitlam, 18 miles up the Fraser River. The "Bay House" (two blocks from the border) is where I was taken right out of the hospital, just three days old, the summer my father built my grandfather a cottage on the bay. I consider this home, for after leaving Pt. Coquitlam when I was nine I became a vagabond, criss-crossing the continent on both sides of the border. The Bay House, torn down and rebuilt by my Aunt Thelma, remains the only consistent spot on the map of my life.

Currently, my immediate family (less one sister) lives near me south of the border (though two of my three children go to school or work north of the line). All of my extended family and big sister, however, live throughout the greater Vancouver area--and my lucky McMillin cousins also have a condo at Whistler. It has seemed very strange to me that people from all around the world will be converging on my turf, when I have spent a life time living everywhere but.

And yet, today, February 12, 2010,  official start of the games, I see no one going "home."  Really, where are they all?

January 26, 2010

Forget Forgiveness. whatever the heck it is, or isn't

This last Sunday my youngest son was to preach at my middle son's church, and so I got a phone call from Evelyn, my middle son's three-year-old. Was I coming down to her house?

"Yes, do you want to play?" I asked.

"Yes, and we can sit next to each other. And hold hands."

You gotta love little girls. They're so relational.

And so I went down and spent the weekend with Phil and his family, held hands with Evelyn, and heard Blake preach.

The sermon was on forgiveness--a topic Blake and I go around and around on all the time. Just what the heck does forgiveness mean anyway? That it's important is without question, but what the heck does it look like?

I grew up with the definition that forgiveness is all about forgetting. And so I strove to forget every wrong ever done and all that got me was more of the same. Just try forgetting that cars come whizzing down the road. Forget, you're going to get creamed. Remembering, it turns out, is critical for survival. So scratch that definition.

Another definition was one that prescribes toleration. Let a man hurt his wife seven times seventy and seven times seventy the wife must tolerate. A long time ago I scratched that one out of sheer exhaustion.

Once I was told you can only forgive once you've moved on, but how do you move on without forgiveness? A conundrum. So scratch that one too.

The one definition that Blake and I both agree upon is Anne Lamont's when she says that forgiveness is letting go of the wish for a different past. Which is more or less what happened with my molestation the year I was seventeen, when I realized that to expunge that victimization would be to mar the beauty of life and love I'd also known that year. Which was significant. I actually got myself into a bit of an emotional panic when I realized what I was doing; and very hastily I embraced that old darkness as part and parcel of the light I still have. I said as much to Blake on our way out of church.

"And so now of the three biggies in my life," I told him, "it's one down and two to go." We both knew what I was talking about.

In regard to his dad, a man I most certainly wish I'd never married, my preacher-boy son said, "Well, whenever you wish you'd never married Dad, just take a look at Evelyn."

Ahh! And so as of last Sunday my new philosophy is this. Forget forgiveness. Forget whatever the heck it is, or isn't. Instead focus on the life and love that is, miraculously growing out of all that old darkness.

And experience the redemption.