Thank You, Hero!

Prior to Veterans Day every year,  third grade students at my grandchildren’s school write a letter to a special Veteran in their lives, thanking them for their service to our great Nation.  This year, my 8-year granddaughter Layla wrote a letter to my dad.

To my great surprise and delight, Layla drafted the letter based on family stories – she loves family stories – then interviewed me for accuracy.

In honor of our Veterans and with Layla’s permission, I offer her letter, in her words.

************

Thank You, Hero!

By Layla P. Sallee

November 1, 2017

Dear Veterans, Every Single One of You,

Joe Rivas, also known as Jumpin’ Joe Rivas, was my Great Grandfather. A happy man climbing up in coconut trees, picking some, making ice cream, tasting, and saying, “It’s larrapin good!”

Wanting to fight in World War Two, signing up to fight, instead being transferred to Hawaii.

Trying to keep returning servicemen enjoying their life, telling jokes, making ice cream, and being available to listen to their life situations.

Helping to take their minds off sadness of World War Two by exercising with them, boxing, lifting weights, running on the beach, and any other thing he could do to keep them happy.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why is this job is so important?”  Well everyone has different needs. You have different needs than your friend, right? Same with Navy sailors and soldiers. He was going through fog trying to meet all their needs.

All I’m trying to say is, “Thank you for keeping our fighters of freedom happy.”

After Joe Rivas, my grandfather was in the Army.

Thank you, Joe Rivas, for all you do.

Sincerely,

Layla

************

Layla writes like she talks.  Her emotion and flair for emphasis are what makes her words so lovely.  She has certainly made my heart happy.

Daddy never placed importance on his work while in Hawaii, scoffing at the suggestion of being a hero.  I know his desire was to have done more.  He enlisted for the duration of the war, but thankfully it ended before he saw combat.

So, I echo Layla’s thank you to my Dad.  Heroes come in many forms.  Dad may not have fought on the front lines, but, in his way, he helped fight the emotional battles of returning servicemen.

I give thanks to the almost 200 men who were members of the United States Navy 1st Platoon, San Diego, CA.

I offer my special appreciation to the three “B” Town Boys – Arlie F. Combs, Lamel Johns, and Bob Sumner –  who traveled with Dad from Bakersfield, CA and trained with him in San Diego.

I thank Layla for remembering and honoring her great-grandfather.

And, as Layla would say, I thank all Veterans, Every Single One of You!

************

Dad USN 1st Platoon
Joe Rivas – Center, three rows up from Commander

 

USN Main Gate Hawaii
Main Gate, Staging Center, 14th Naval District, Separation and Civil Readjustment
Dad Ford Island Oahu0004
Hunting for Coconuts
Dad USN Main Gate
Joe Rivas, center, with two unidentified “B” Town Boys

 

Dad 1st Platoon USN

Dad USN Woody Wagon
Going Places . . .

 

 

Advertisements

The Final Tailgate: RIP, Jack Beaton

Tears fall and our hearts ache. Almost 48 hours have elapsed since the horrific mass shooting—the worst in U.S. history—at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

I cannot get past one tragic fact. Jack is gone—one of the fifty-nine precious souls that were taken in an act of unspeakable evil.

Jack Beaton was a regular guy. Married to Laurie, with two college-age kids, Delaney and Jake.   I came to know Jack because he lived next door to Jeff, Joni, Hudson, and Layla; my son and his family. Their world has been rocked by the death of a man they all adored.

I didn’t know Jack well. I knew he was a hardworking roofer by trade. His hot tar trailer was often seen billowing smoke into the neat and tidy Rosedale-area neighborhood. If the smell of tar wafted through your windows, you knew Jack was getting ready for another workday.

He enjoyed camping, often in Pismo Beach with friends and family joining up and forming a modern-day circling of the wagons. Really though, anyone was welcome to join the inner circle.

Jack liked country music, while else spend three days at a music festival?

He loved his family, his two mixed-breed dogs Dixie and Poncho, and his friends.

Jack was kind and giving and fun-loving and he just liked being with people. His was a simple life with great rewards.

Got a beer? He would stop what he was doing, pull down the tailgate of his truck and enjoy a beer with a friend, many evenings with my son after work. Jeff will miss these times with his buddy.

Most often laughing and lighthearted, Jack could wax philosophically with the best of them. He gave simple advice where advice was welcome and kept his wisdom to himself when it wasn’t.

These nuggets of time weren’t about the beer, though Jack did love a cold brew and a shot of Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky.  No, these moments were about time. About camaraderie. About life. Days move quickly and Jack was all about living out each day; in sharing his time with those he cared about.

I got to know Jack best one weekend when Jeff and his family were out-of-town. Jeff left their beloved family dog Kacey in the care of Jack. Kacey was old and ill, but hanging in there, until she couldn’t any longer.

Jack called Jeff on Sunday to say that Kacey had died. I was the only family member not traveling, so Jeff called me.

I went to sit with Kacey until Jeff or my husband Mike could get home. I couldn’t stand the thought of our sweet Kacey lying there alone. Just a dog some might say; just a body at that point. But that dog was special. Jack understood that.

As soon as I arrived at Jeff’s, Jack appeared from nowhere. He held me as I cried, leading me to Kacey’s body. He had thoughtfully sprinkled scented oil on the body to mask the inevitable aroma of death, and then covered her with a sheet.

Jack sat with me on the concrete as I wept over Kacey’s body and told stories of her mischievous puppyhood. He laughed with me and then he cried with me.

He could be tough talking, but inside he was soft. Real men do cry, and Jack was a real man.

He didn’t leave me until Mike arrived. Jack’s compassion that day was a reflection of just what kind of guy he was. Anything for a friend.

After that day I saw Jack only when I visited my son. He almost always could be found outside puttering around the house, putting away tools after work, playing with his dogs, having a beer and guffawing with Jeff.

At every mention of the shooting, I’m reminded of Jack’s smile. It seemed to always grace his face making his eyes crinkle and his apple cheeks dimple. It was this smile you most often saw.

And that gravelly voice . . . I hear it now, as I did whenever he greeted me. “Hi, Momma.” I wonder now if Jack even knew my given name. He never used it.

Last week Jack put together some roofing materials for a project Mike was completing in our backyard. He left them in the bed of his truck and instructed Jeff to make sure Mike got them.

On Saturday, from Las Vegas, Jack called Mike. He wanted to make sure he had everything he needed to complete the project. It was the last time any of my family would talk with Jack.

That call took just a few minutes. But Jack took those minutes because people mattered to him. Jeff mattered. Mike mattered. And now those precious minutes matter to us all.

Jack’s thoughtfulness came naturally. But he was a whole lot more than loving, compassionate, giving, and thoughtful. A person could never thank Jack for being a good friend, for doing for others. If we tried, he cut us short saying, “Well, that’s just what you do,” like, doesn’t everyone?

It was the sum of all these traits that caused him to throw himself on top of Laurie, shielding her from gunfire that horrific Sunday night. Jack’s last act of a devoted husband was to take a bullet for his wife.

Of course his love for Laurie was paramount in his thoughts and actions. But if she hadn’t been there, I feel certain Jack would have done the same thing for anyone in that crowd of 22,000 people. He was the kind of person that put others and their needs above himself. The instinct to protect was written in Jack’s DNA.

Some might ask how I can feel such profound grief at the loss of a guy I knew only casually. I asked myself that same question.

Here’s the answer. Jack was genuine, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. No pretense. No hiding his personality. You got the whole Jack and nothing but Jack. Take him or leave him. My family took him and we are grateful for the experience.

My encounters with Jack might have been minimal, but they were the real deal.   I saw how he loved my son and his family. I benefitted firsthand from his compassion. I witnessed his joie de vivre, his love of life. We all experienced his generosity of self.

It doesn’t take long to care deeply for a person who gives back that affection with no strings attached.

This is why, with swollen eyes and a broken heart, I mourn this regular guy, who wasn’t regular at all.

Jack was a hero not just to Laurie, but to everyone he knew. We look up to him in memory, we respect him as the finest sort of human being, and we miss him.

The hellish evil that rained down from the 32nd floor will never weaken Jack’s light; will never diminish the love we hold in our hearts for the gravelly-voiced, apple-cheeked hero from Bakersfield, California.

The tailgate is down, the beer is cold, and the shot of Maker’s Mark has been poured.

May you rest in peace, Jack Beaton.

Thanks A Lot, Herb Benham

Mom died seven years ago today. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this milestone hadn’t crossed my mind until just now. I’m glad it didn’t.

This morning we celebrated my youngest granddaughter’s 8th birthday, a few days before the actual date. We enjoyed brunch, we laughed, she politely listened and laughed at the appropriate passages of the annual birthday poem I had written for her. She opened presents and we sang Happy Birthday. We were happy.

Afterwards at home, I sat down to read The Bakersfield Californian’s Sunday paper. And wham! Columnist Herb Benham made me cry. And there went my happy day.

Herb wrote an article about his sister Pam’s 65th birthday. In celebration of her day, Pam went hiking with friends when she heard “a constant soothing hum,” a “wind song,” coming from the mountains. A hiking companion said this was “the Grandfathers speaking.”  Pam equated the soothing rumble of wind through the mountains to be the pitch-perfect voice of her father speaking to her. His death seemed to be still fresh on her heart.

Herb recounted their conversation in his Sunday morning column, writing that he and Pam both fell apart as she shared her story with him by phone. Now I’m falling apart. Now I’m the one crying.

When I was a little girl, my dad would sing as he groomed his thick, black, Brill-cremed hair; as he shaved; as he scooped his nightly dish of ice cream. I always got teary-eyed when Dad sang. Don’t ask me why, but to hear Daddy sing made my childish heart both happy and somber. He seemed to reach down to my soul, cradling me in the warm blanket of his voice.

Dad was taken without warning on October 7, 2007. He underwent emergency surgery that didn’t go well and died soon after. I was mad. I argued with God. I stomped my foot and pounded the wall. I screamed. I cried. I wailed.

The wound of losing our stalwart family leader has never quite healed. It’s like the dull, constant pain of a bad tooth gone unattended.

I still miss Dad. He was fun, loved to tease, and used his baritone voice to sing through his everyday life. He used to call me on the phone, greeting me with his deep voice, asking, “Is this my middle daughter?” This was his calling card.

So why do I think of my dad so much on the anniversary of my mom’s death? Well, because they would have celebrated their own anniversary that day had they both still been living.

Mom died seven years ago today on what would have been their 61st wedding anniversary. She lingered for over a week, seemingly waiting for just the right day to join Dad so they could jitterbug together in celebration of their marriage.

I miss Mom too. But hers was a long, sad death resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t want Mom to die, but I didn’t want her voided memories to haunt her any longer. God took her when He saw fit. I mourned, but did not argue.

And isn’t this a healthier way for adult children to absorb the death of their parents? Mourn, yes. Accept, yes. Keep hiking life’s trails, heck yes, and listen for the gift of our Grandfathers to speak.

So thanks a lot, Herb Benham. For making me cry. For reaching out and grabbing my heart. For helping me to remember some of the best of what was—hearing Dad’s baritone voice call me middle daughter again.

Thanks Herb, for encouraging me to listen; to hear Dad call to Mom, “Hey, Betts.” And her exasperated voice to ring out, “Joe Rivas . . . “ as he teased her.

Now, without a sobbing hiccup to hinder me, I wish my beloved mom and dad the happiest of anniversaries—for all eternity.

 

 

 

 

Mom & Dad Wed 8 6 49Joe and Betty Rivas, August 6, 1949

Beach Berries

Last month my husband and I visited Pismo Beach for a few days on a return trip home to Bakersfield from Big Sur.

There is nothing unusual about visiting Pismo. We once lived there for a short time, but have been vacationing there most of our lives. Half the San Joaquin Valley vacations there.

Full of valley folks and familiar faces, this beach trip was no different than many others. That is, until we met a friendly, down-to-earth local lady.

As we strolled to the beach along a familiar route down Addie Street, we noticed a small, delightful, unexpected change. The banks of the bordering Pismo Creek had been transformed.

Where weeds, trash, and dog poo had once claimed the algae-covered Creek’s bank, it was now tidy and neat, hoed and raked.

In the sandy soil now stood small vines tenderly tied to stakes, nursery tags flapping in the ocean’s salty breeze. Small pale pink blossoms were giving way to green and red-tinged young blackberries. Ground cover had been planted in the rock-strewn bank and was just starting to spread its green, spiky arms.

The garden looked to have been tended to recently. I looked to the weathered, tan cottage across the narrow, one lane street, thinking the large, multigenerational family in the front yard might have planted the garden.  They were busy barbequing, laughing, having fun and paid us no mind.

We looked about and noticed a woman standing near a white, 1990s-era truck, hands on hips, straw hat on head, gloves stuffed in her back pockets, surveying what was clearly her handiwork.

I approached and asked if the garden was hers. It was.

She took us on an impromptu tour of what was evidently a source of great pride and accomplishment. We learned that she owns the north side of the creek up the embankment to the sidewalk. Pismo Coast Village RV Park owns the other half on the south side.

IMG_1431The woman told us how she had cleared the embankment, tired of the unkempt look of the property. She told us how she researched, looking for the most suitable ground cover, finding a drought tolerant species native to India that thrives in a climate similar to that of Pismo Beach. The roots expand sideways from the plant, near the ground’s surface, allowing nursery shoots to support and nurture new growth that will eventually choke out weeds.

img_1432.jpg

We moved on to the blackberry vines. A dozen or so were planted in short rows of 1-2 plants. Our hostess specifically planted thornless berries to make plucking the succulent fruit a treat, rather than a hazard.

IMG_1422

At the end of the row stood a white-bearded gnome, installed to greet passersby. Next to him stood a sign informing folks he could be found at Addie Vacation Beach Townhomes when not in the berry patch.  IMG_1434

We learned from our new acquaintance that she hoped her vines would produce an abundance of berries, enough for everyone to enjoy as they venture to the pier, the beach, the town. Her enthusiasm and high hopes were evidenced by the energy in her voice, the spark of excitement in her eyes.

We were enchanted, taken with the woman’s efforts, encouraged by her desire to share.

We savored the thing of beauty that had been gifted for everyone to enjoy as they made their way down Addie Street. Whether they were surfers or city workers, campers or condo dwellers, this woman wanted people to experience a visual and flavorful treat.

At this point we belatedly introduced ourselves and received a strong, welcoming handshake from our hostess, Effie McDermott.

We urged Effie to tell us a little about herself. She is modest, but not shy, and responded to our prodding questions.

Effie is a realtor and property owner. She owns and manages beach rentals—including the Addie Street townhomes—in Shell Beach and Pismo Beach. But she is much more than that.

Effie has lived on California’s Central Coast for most of her life. She has learned and lived a lot in her lifetime and puts this knowledge to great use. She is a writer who dishes up fascinating historical images and facts about the area’s history. In 2013 Effie’s work The History of Pismo Beach appeared in the pages of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series.

Since meeting Effie that day, I’ve learned that she is a community protector and history preservationist. She is well-known in the area and so respected for her community efforts that she was honored as the 2015 Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.

Effie is giver—of words, of time, of knowledge. She reminds us that people do still care about others and the places we inhabit, whether as visitors or permanent residents. Effie cares enough to share her vision of beautifying the world, one blackberry bush at a time.

We took photos that day. We exchanged email information. I promised to write about the berry patch.

I started this story with the intent of encouraging Pismo Beach visitors to stop, check-out the garden and resident gnome, and pick a berry or two, courtesy of Effie. And it is that. But this story is as much about the berry grower as it is about the berries.

We met Effie by chance. And aren’t we the fortunate ones. Good conversation. A new friend. A lesson learned in the simple art of giving. And, of course, the promise of sweet, sun-warmed blackberries.

Thanks Effie McDermott. Berry much.

 

 

 

Z is for Catching Some ZZZZZs . . . A Short Rhyme

The last letter of the Alphabet,

I must choose just what I want to say.

Zeal, Zebra, Zany or Zig Zag,

This is my calling for today.

 

Inspiration is somewhat lacking,

For the WOK Blog Challenge letter of the day.

So I’ll keep this short and sweet,

To get the letter Z out of my way.

 

I must put this challenge in its place.

I must put it now to bed.

I must finish with this contest.

Must clear this letter from my head.

 

I must stop obsessing about my blog.

I really thought it would be a breeze.

Though the blogging has been fun,

Its now time to catch some ZZZZZs!

 

 

Y is for Yellow . . . A Flowery Rhyme

Yellow Daffodils,

And Pale Peonies.

Buttery Irises,

And Yellow Daisies.

 

Yellow Roses,

With scent so sweet.

Hardy Sunflowers,

With seeds to eat.

 

Yellow Black-Eyed Susan,

Climbing the vine.

Pale Yellow Freesia,

With smell divine.

 

Pretty Yellow Prickly Pear,

With thorns that stick.

Yellow Gladiolus,

That I really must pick.

 

Lilies and Coneflowers,

Wild Mustard and Yarrow too.

Hibiscus and Marigolds,

All of Yellowish hue.

 

I will fill a large vase,

With a sweet-smelling bouquet.

I’ll bring them indoors,

To brighten the start of my day.

 

 

 

X is for The Big Red X . . . A Rhyme

 

The ugly big red X,
Is seared upon my brain.
Its etched upon my heart,
Like dark, indelible stain.

It sucked the air from my lungs,
And brought tears to my eyes.
I wanted to yell at the workers,
All those unemotional guys.

I could not talk or think,
Could not decide what to do next.
The City was on its way,
That’s why my house had been Xed.

My childhood home and my neighbors’,
Would be torn down very soon.
The new freeway was coming,
There was no time to swoon.

I turned my car toward the street,
Where I heard the bulldozers’ sound.
Where I saw the old Roberts’ house,
As it was knocked right to the ground.

The yellow-hard-hatted foreman,
Seemed to be a very nice guy.
He said he’d salvage pieces of my home,
If only I would not cry.

I later sent my husband on the errand,
To retrieve as much as he safely could.
He brought the two front yard gates,
But left the Rose-of-Sharon rooted where it stood.

The bulldozers rumbled,
They were hungry for more.
Their teeth would soon grind up,
Our homes built in 1954.

I was heartsick and broken.
For months I couldn’t drive by.
My stomach would lurch,
And my eyes begin to cry.

Now many months later,
I took the bull by the horn.
I drove through the neighborhood,
Where my memories were borne.

Most homes in the path,
Of the incoming freeway were gone.
With just debris-strewn dirt lots,
All I could do was look on.

No more rose bushes on trellises.
No more shady Mulberry trees.
No more handprints in concrete.
No more kids with skinned knees.

No more fences for moms to visit over.
No more yards for kids to play tag.
Great times flashed through my mind,
But then I had to wave a white flag.

It wasn’t so bad,
I realized after all.
My heart is still full,
So I’ve lifted the pall.

The birds still sing songs,
And the sun continues to rise.
My family still loves me,
My heart no longer cries.

I can look back on the days,
When the neighborhood thrived.
When neighbors knew neighbors,
And good friends were prized.

I can finally move forward,
And stop being so mad.
Progress still marches,
But it can’t make my life bad.

My friends who stand by me,
And my children and hubby,
My five lovely grandkids,
Are what make my life bubbly.

Looking back at my history,
Is all very well.
But living right now,
Helps build new stories to tell.

Life’s not just a house with four walls,
That lock up memories to keep.
It’s about the life that we live,
That makes the happy we reap.

W is for The Witch’s House . . . A 100-Word Memoir

One drizzly winter day in 1960 my seven-year-old self had more sense than to knock on a stranger’s door, but curiosity trumped sensibility.

Playmates claimed a witch inhabited the dark, rundown house one street over. I doubted. “Go see,” they dared.

A stooped, grey-haired lady answered my knock. I blurted, “Are you a witch?” Her wrinkled face smiled. Denying the allegation, she offered warm cookies and cold milk.

Appetite and curiosity satisfied, we planned another visit.

Mom later scolded my boldness, quashing future plans, but fond memories endure of visiting the kind old lady who lived in the Witch’s House.

 

V is for Volkswagen . . . A Rhyme

A Black ‘56 Volkswagen Bug,

Was the first car I ever had.

First it was Cousin Sophie’s,

Who then sold it to my dad.

 

I drove that Bug through High School,

Hauling cohorts to and fro.

Shakey’s Pizza after football games,

Then cruising Chester Avenue we would go.

 

Once we filled her to the brim,

With thirteen friends squished tight!

We raced off in search of fun,

To ease our boredom one summery night.

 

Whenever I would babysit,

Four little boys whose Mom I knew,

They fought to claim the back-back,

Which was just big enough for two.

 

Dad bought me a new V-Dub,

When I left high school in 1971.

Doug Hoff had it sitting on his used car lot,

All shiny blue and white pinstriped fun.

 

I drove blue V-Dub for just a few short months,

‘Cause off to South America I flew,

Traveling with my cousin’s family,

In the countries of Colombia and Peru.

 

Returning home I bought my own V-Dub,

Its rear-engine had a little whine.

My green machine was somewhat shabby,

But paid for from savings that were all mine.

 

I drove that car to work and back,

And to Porterville to see a friend.

This is where I met my hubby,

We married, and stayed there in the end.

 

He drove a ’55 yellow Chevy Pickup.

I drove my ’60s-something V-Dub painted green,

Until landlord Gore and hubby horse-traded,

For a three-speed Rambler smoking machine.

 

The Rambler belched blue smoke,

Choking other drivers following too close behind.

The beige family wagon polluted our clean air,

I was lucky for this I never did get fined.

 

A few years later another V-Dub was bought,

From friend Chuck, this time it was a faded grey.

Souped up, that little car could fly,

Best to just move out of my way!

 

Old Grey was my last Volkswagen,

Sold to make room for one more child.

My days of V-Dub fun are gone.

It’s okay, ‘cause now I’m not so wild.

 

I drive sensible family cars now,

With five grandchildren in the back.

They call out, “Giddy up, Butter-cup,”

As we leave school to buy a snack.

 

Alas, I wish I had my Black V-Dub,

So full of fun and tons of sentiment.

I wonder who owns her now and if,

She still has the same front right fender dent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U is for Unsavory Lesson

I bought some honey the other day at a Farmer’s Market. I paid $12 for 9 ounces of anticipated yumminess.

There were several us standing at the booth asking questions about the honey. We wanted to know where it was harvested, what plants or trees it derived its flavor from, what the health benefits were. We wanted to be informed buyers, smart consumers.

Money in hand, I asked the vendor if I might have a sample taste. Nope. They don’t do samples. “Well, okay,” I thought. The vendor seemed to be a regular. That must mean a good product was being offered. And if the crowd were any indication, the honey would be great. After all, the vendor couldn’t take customers’ money fast enough.

I handed the vendor my $12 bucks and rushed home to taste my treat.

Remember Vitameatavegamin of Lucy Ricardo fame? In a 1952 episode of the comedy show I Love Lucy, Lucy was hired to promote the so-called “Taste Treat to Good Health” on live television. Her recoiled face of disgust at the first spoonful of the gooey tonic is exactly the reaction I had upon my first taste of the pricey new honey I had just purchased.

The dark amber, syrupy liquid did not taste like any honey I’ve ever eaten. It lacked any hint of sweetness. What honeybees produced this stuff anyway?

Bitter and medicine-like, I had to wash the honey down with a big glass of cold water. Then eat a piece of cheese. Then a tortilla chip. Then a bowl of fruit. The honey stuck to my taste buds like gum to a shoe. It took a lot to dislodge the taste from my mouth.

But, I always say there is a positive to every negative. The positive here is that had I sampled the honey in public, the look on my face might have made small children cry. Sampling of this product was better done in the privacy of my own kitchen.

When shopping for honey, I won’t repeat my mistake of buying without tasting first. Taste is subjective. I won’t subject mine to the same repugnant flavor ever again.

Twelve dollars was cheap for this unsavory lesson that sticks in more ways than one.