January 4, I left Los Angeles on the first leg of an 11-day trans-Panama Canal cruise aboard Crystal Symphony. After spending the night in Ft. Lauderdale, I boarded the ship about 2:00 p.m. Following the mandatory lifeboat drill at 8:00 p.m., I made my way to the sun deck to watch the ship back from the pier into the channel, turn, and head out to sea.
Tansitting the Panama Canal has been at the top of my “must do” list for some time and the cruise promised to be an extraordinary experience. I chose this particular cruise because the Crysal ships, accommodating about 940 passengers, are smaller and the cruise experience is more refined and less frenzied. A series of guest lecturers provide opportunities to learn more not only about the history and constructon of the canal, but also the biology and ecology of the area. I attended a lecture entitled “How Europe Discovered the Caribbean” given by Prof. Anthony Aveni, Colgate University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies. Later, I met Prof. Aveni on the Promende Deck to catch a glimpse of San Salvador Island—(now Watling Island)—in the Bahamas chain that was Columbus’s first land fall in 1492 barely visible above the horizon about 10 miles west of the ship.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Stanley Heckadon-Moreno, Director of Comunications and Public Programs, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who gave several lectures on the ecology and natural history of Panama. Sonia Martinelli Tono, Dr. Heckadon-Moreno’s wife, spoke about her work with Panama’s indigenous populations in the areas of childbirth and infant wellness.
On Saturday, January 14, Crystal Symphony entered the Panama Canal as I finished reading David McCullough’s Path Between the Seas. I spent the day on deck observing every minute of the 12-hour transit from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Two days later I was back in Ridgecrest for the beginning of the semester at Cerro Coso College scarcely able to believe the experience I’d had.
Robbie, my best friend and loyal companion, turned two on March 8. Unlike the lavish birthday celebration I hosted for his first birthday, Robbie and I marked the occasion with a quiet evening at home. He’s everso handsome and is the perfect dog for me. In his first year we worked with a trainer to learn proper “doggie” behavior and etiquette. The work has paid off. Robbie does an excellent job of minding our routine and of keeping me in line. He’s passionate about fetching and loves times in the park chasing a soccer ball or frisbee which he’ll do until he’s ready to drop. He also loves going for walks and most days we manage 3-5 miles… good for both of us!
I met my extended family in Santa Barbara for a week-end of celebration. My nephew, Eric (Mike and Joni’s son), did his family proud as a member of the first four-year student cohort at CSU Channel Islands, graduating with a B.A. in history.
The graduation ceremony uses symbols taken from Chumash Indian culture and legend. The welcome address, by the president of the CSUCI Academic Senate, was given in Spanish and English. A highlight of the ceremony was the graduation speaker, David McCullough, who offered advice to the graduates: “be involved citizens; if you watch television, watch less; and, always tip the hotel maid.” He suggested three books for summer reading: Lives of a Cell, by Lewis Thomas; Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis; and Night Flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Returning home from Santa Barbara, I stopped in Bakersfield to visit Mom. At that point, still recognizing me and able to carry on a bit of conversation, I told her about Eric’s graduation.
“Eric graduated from college?” she said. “Well, I hope he’s really happy!”
“He lives in Santa Barbara,” I added. “He has a great job and everybody really likes him.”
“What’s not to like!” she exclaimed with every bit of emphasis she was able to put on it. I have to agree.
My friend, Uwe, came from Germany. We spent two weeks touring the Eastern Sierras, the California Central Coast, and Los Angeles. From Ridgecrest, we made day trips to the White Mountains, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, and Whitney Portal. We spent three nights in Morro Bay, toured Hearst Castle, Cambria, and Pismo Beach. Then, we went south to Los Angeles where we hit some of the major tourist attractions including Hollywood, Olvera St., China Town, and a Dodgers game (his first American baseball game).
Like many Germans I’ve met, Uwe was besotted with the idea of seeing Def Wow-lee (Death Valley). Despite my admonition that summer is not the time for touring Death Valley, he insisted. He rented a car and spent a day seeing as much of the Valley as possible. Later I learned that, for Uwe, Death Valley was a goal on his “Things To Do Before I Die” list. Having been to Nepal to see the highest point on earth, Mt. Everest, he could now say he had been to California to see one of the lowest .
I drove to Sonoma County to visit Jeannette & Butch Anglin in Penngrove. Jeannette and I have known each other since Santa Rosa Junior High School days. Butch and I met in the Navy aboard the USS Constellation (CVA-64). We joined Jeannette’s mom, Lee Tipon, and other members of the Tipon family for dinner at Bodega Bay to celebrate the anniversary of Jeannette’s brother and sister-in-law.
Saturday morning, we drove to Sonoma where we met Mike and Joni’s friends, Bob and Caroline, for an art festival in the plaza. We all found something we liked an came away from the festival with purchases. After lunch at a restaurant adjacent to the plaza, we took a leisurely stroll through some of the shops in the area. Things have certainly changed in Sonoma since I began my career there in 1972!
Mom died, October 28, following a precipitous decline. Always active, happy, and, above all, in control, the ravages of senile dementia robbed her of the life she loved. Whatever lies beyond death, I feel confident she is in a better place, free of the suffering that consumed the last year of her life.
In 1991, Mom and several of her friends enrolled in an autobiography writing course offered at the Rohnert Park Senior Citizens’ Center through Santa Rosa Junior College. She worte a delightful memoir of her childhood she called “Hi! This Is Dru.” She had it photocopied and bound and gave it to family members for Christmas that year. What a treasure it is. I am so happy to have it. Eventually, I will make it available here along with photographs from those early days.
In the last couple of years of her life when she moved to assisted living, Mom would often give copies of her “book” to the caregivers who were so helpful to her. Several times I was told by a caregiver familiar with Mom that she had read her book and that it was wonderful.
Mike, Joni, and I hosted a surprise birthday celebration in honor of Gaynl Ann’s 60th birthday (her birthday is December 16) for about 70 people—family, friends, and co-workers—at their home in Petaluma. I set the tone with a dignified and loving tribute to our sister, offering our best wishes on behalf of all gathered for the celebration. Mike, resisting the customary role of the “little brother” to stir the pot, followed with a polite roast. Besides the fun of giving the party, we actually managed to pull off the surprise! How great is that!
I spent the first week-end of December with old and dear friends Harriet & Don Hughes, Dori Marler & Ted McCaskey, and new friend Debbie DiGiovanni (and old and dear friend of Dori) at a wonderful seaside house in Cambria. Dori is amazing. She loves everything and everybody. And everybody loves Dori! She paints, writes poetry, and, lately, has taken up writing short prose pieces.
Dori, an excellent and exceedingly patient teacher, helped Harriet with some beginning watercolor techniques to launch “Grandma Hughes’s” painting career, the first fruits of which Dori displayed on the easel (above), itself a work of art and a gift to Harriet from her son and daughter-in-law.
Don read poetry and, later on, Don and I created a scene with a raucous reprise of our favorite Cole Porter duet, “Let’s Misbehave”. It was truly “w’ot larx.”
Five years ago, I didn’t know I was starting a tradition when I did “Christmas Story Time” for the Cerro College College Office of Instruction with a reading of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. Christmas Story Time has become a part of the annual staff holiday party.
The fall semester ended December 15 giving me barely enough time to finish Christmas shopping and to get prepared for Christmas. I spent Christmas with my family at Mary and Dick’s home in Bakersfield and a quiet New Year’s Eve with Robbie at home in Ridgecrest.