If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention

As a mother, I want my children to be in a safe place.

As a preservationist, I honor a sense of place.

As an American, I am having trouble finding my place.

 

IMG_6513An early summer visit with my son and future daughter-in-love was a lovefest, consisting mostly of sips and savors of sunshine, local spirits and spending a little West Coast money in an East Coast city. Though the temperatures soared, I saw my first fireflies, watched a lightning storm flash and roll through the distant sky and experienced many cultures at the City Market, the popular farmer’s market held downtown.

 

This city has been my son’s home for about 13 years and my husband and I are content that he and his beloved are in a good place that offers them stability, growth, entertainment and security.

 

One of the places I always like to visit is the downtown mall. It’s rich in history (the East Coast has really embraced adaptive reuse) and small businesses thrive. There’s an amazing artist collective that I always patronize and I marvel at the variety of interests that coexist in the space.

 

The kids and I were walking off a delicious lunch from Rapture on the mall when we turned down a brick street covered in chalk, tributes scrawled to a young woman who died during one of the blackest days in recent history. My heart stopped, frozen in grief. The sense of place struck me. This was where, a year ago, things went horribly wrong.

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My son lives in Charlottesville.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning shot of the moment of impact by Ryan M. Kelly for the Daily Progress (via Reuters). From the Pulitzer Foundation Site
Photographer Ryan Kelly was watching the crowd that was peacefully singing, chanting and slowly marching, when he felt a car approaching at high speed and instinctively raised his camera and started taking pictures, capturing this horrific moment. When driver James Alex Fields Jr. threw the Dodge Challenger in reverse and sped away, he left Heather Heyer dead and several others seriously injured.

That short block is where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was struck and killed by a Dodge Challenger driven into the crowd by neo-Nazi James Alex Field, Jr. during a day of terror brought by white supremacists who – exercising their First Amendment right of assembly – marched into Charlottesville and spewed hateful messages of racism and intolerance. Heather was there to try and stop the vicious message of hate. Her last Facebook post is the title of this blog – “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

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Also killed that day were Virginia State Troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, whose helicopter crashed as they were surveilling the conflict growing downtown. All three deaths were directly caused by invaders from out of town, bent on attacking Charlottesville’s heart of kindness and compassion. This disturbing trend of outsiders fomenting unrest is something spreading nefariously across the country, seeping into city council meetings and otherwise peaceful settings.

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The news media has descended upon Charlottesville for the anniversary and I’m sure some of the images I am sharing will be the backdrop for many standups you’ll see this weekend. The brick walls are filled with messages of hope and love, sentiments felt by the overwhelming majority of the area’s residents. Visitors to the walls are invited to continue to contribute their own comments, invited by a box of chalk placed near the point of impact.

IMG_6516Those of you who have not been to the downtown mall may not know that it is also the site of what Charlottesville officials dedicated as a First Amendment Wall – a 50-foot long two-sided wall with a chalkboard surface and a steady supply of chalk for people to use to express themselves. The walls are cleaned weekly, so the messages are ever-changing. Some artists have created images, writers have posted inspirational prose, lovers emblazon the wall with hearts and flowers and others simply write their favorite quotes or salutations. Near the wall is a small platform where speakers can share their messages verbally. This area is very near Charlottesville’s City Hall complex, embracing the city’s dedication to freedom of expression.

 

Heather’s walls are a few hundred feet from that symbolic area.

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I was too overwhelmed with feelings to walk those hundred feet to see the First Amendment wall during my visit. The tears filled my eyes at not just Heather’s loss of life, but also the loss of innocence and safety I hold dear for my children. How could anyone have so much hate to come into another’s neighborhood and be so cruel, hateful and un-American?

 

So much hate vs. so much love. So much hurt, breaking the collective nation’s heart.

 

What holds true is that, on that day, the streets of Charlottesville were filled with passion – some misguided, some true. The racist marchers were met by peaceful counter-protestors, filling the streets to tell the interlopers that they were not welcome in their community, that there was no place for their hate. Without criticizing any response from authorities, the situation exploded out of control quickly and innocence suffered the most severe injuries. All the hindsight in the world cannot change what happened, but we do have control over how it plays out in the future.

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Charlottesville city, Albemarle County and Virginia State officials have banded together, closing many of the popular gathering spots (including that delightful City Market) for the weekend. Merchants at the downtown mall are banding together, many of them vowing to stay open as long as it remains safe. A ridiculously long list of prohibited items has been established to keep “implements of riot” away from the downtown area. Conspicuously absent from that list are two deadly weapons: guns and cars. The governor has declared a State of Emergency, allowing federal authorities to assist should the situation get out of hand. The National Guard is on standby.

 

As an American, and as a journalist, I am committed to defending the First Amendment; to preserve and protect the people’s right to free speech, assembly, religion, press and petitioning the government. Whether the cause falls into my beliefs or not, the rights are critical to our country, but I will not defend violence or hate of any kind at any time.

 

The peaceful, friendly, safe place where my children live is on lockdown for the weekend because the passion of hate threatens to burn brighter than the flame of hope. We must make sure that Heather and Troopers Cullen and Bates did not die in vain.

IMG_7166Friends in my neighborhood may have noticed the turquoise sticker on my car and wondered “What’s C’ville?”  It’s a place we love. We will continue to visit and embrace Charlottesville as our own, because so many people we love live there. We refuse to accept that hate is stronger than love.

 

 

For an unbiased, thorough, excellent accounting of the events of August 2017 in Charlottesville, I highly recommend “Summer of Hate” by Hawes Spencer, a journalist who has reported for the New York Times, the Daily Beast and NPR who has also taught journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

Make. The. Time.

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 4.47.51 PMA few years ago, I made a resolution to reconnect. Reconnect with people who molded and influenced me, made me laugh, saved me from jail, lent an ear to my drama queen moments, or were bumpers in my pinball journey through life.

I promised myself I would be selective – that I would reach out to the people that I really missed and wondering where their adventures had taken them. So not everybody.

No offense, Susan Watts, but you stole my Popsicle money in elementary school and I’m still pissed. We will not be visiting.

Everyone has a handful of people whose orbits have veered away from ours, whose fates intrigue us, making them hover on our map of stars, just a short distance away. We might exchange Christmas cards, or even text messages, which always end with “let’s get together soon!”

Show of hands: how many people have actually follow through?

It’s hard. We’ve all got schedules, work, kids, families, and obligations that pull us in different directions. Sometimes it seems impossible to make time for another lunch or an impromptu road trip.

Nothing is impossible.

I’m here to tell you to make the time. Make. The. Time.

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 4.50.01 PMI will soon celebrate what I’m referring to as my Beatles birthday – 64 – and what I’m about to say usually applies to those of us with a shorter balance on our dance card.

Make the time. When someone says, “let’s do lunch” or “gee, it would be great to see you,” be the person who answers “OK, when? Let’s make a date. Now.”

Because nobody knows who is going to be around if you put it off and regret is sometimes more painful than loss.

When I first made that resolution, I had two main targets for immediate reconnects – my best friends from school; Vicki, who became my ride-or-die in second grade and Margaret, who I was partnered with when she joined our sixth grade class as a recent emigrant from Canada. We were assigned to be buddies; my job was to show her around and help her get comfortable in her new home. Little did those teachers know that our relationship would get stronger and we would be joined at the hip as we moved through junior high and high school.

We were even christened “Kochaltoosh” – a mashup of our last names, long preceding Brangelina, by one of our civics teachers because when there was one in the room, the other was not far away.

Both Vicki and Margaret lived in Central California, and I love road trips. It had been at least 28 years since our family of five visited Vicki and her husband, Preston, and the last time I saw Margaret, it was at a baby shower my family threw for me in the Bay Area. Her appearance was a surprise and I was even more surprised that she was pregnant too. Our daughters were born one day apart – 37 years ago.

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of course, there were more serious pictures, but why not show us in our natural setting?

In the spring of 2016, I drove up to Tracy to visit Vicki. Her brilliant smile hadn’t dimmed and her firecracker spirit was undaunted, despite some health challenges. From the first hug at the curb, I was awash with gratitude that we were able to pick up from where we’d left off. The next two days were spent talking, learning about each other’s subsequent lives, laughing and catching up. I did feel the mantle of responsibility she shouldered, as her husband had recently gone to an assisted living facility because of his dementia, but she soldiered on because … well, life. Gotta keep going.

It was timely that we discovered that our yin and yang, discovered so many years before, was stronger than ever.

The next day, we both headed for Manteca to visit with Margaret and her husband, Roland. They lived in a beautiful little house that was the perfect setting for their happy existence and occasional party-throwing (something Margie excelled at, I learned). Seeing her, I physically felt my past come back, remembering the years we spent growing and learning about life together. She looked the same, albeit a tiny bit grayer, but still excited that we were together. We looked at yearbooks, wedding pictures, talked about friends past; she whipped up a delicious lunch and the three of us spent the afternoon doing a lot more laughing. When we finally had to part, the connections had been strengthened; the determination to stay a little closer cemented and all of our hearts happy. I drove the next leg of my trip, up to Sacramento to pick up my daughter (the one that’s one day younger than Margaret’s) and we headed back to Southern California to surprise her sister.

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The original Kochaltoosh. Or since the Toosh is on the left…..oh never mind.

A few months later, I got a text from Margaret, telling me she was being treated for myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood cancer. She was optimistic and said that so far, the chemo was not too bad. She was scheduled to receive a bone marrow transplant in June, and when I checked in on her, she said the transplant went well, sending a picture of her and Roland enjoying missles (frozen treats), proudly displaying her “chrome dome.” Doctors were pleased with her progress and I started thinking about bringing up a stack of LPs she would enjoy.

In the meantime, Vicki’s husband was moved to another facility. She came down to visit and we went to LACMA and a few wineries near my daughter’s house, so she could see the countryside and meet my granddaughter. I cooked dinner every night and we were happy and content to just enjoy each other’s company. When she returned home, we started texting more. I sent texts to Margaret, but didn’t hear back, but I figured she must just be busy.

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Then, as we celebrated my granddaughter’s birthday, I got a panicked phone call from Vicki. Preston had died. I dropped everything and drove up to her new home (she now lives with her daughter on a farm) for the funeral. I put the LPs in the car, intending to make a quick trip up to see Margaret and drop them off before I headed home. I texted her that I was in Northern California, but still no answer. I left the stack with Vicki.

A month later, I saw a posting on Facebook that she had died – on the day I had arrived in Tracy for Preston’s funeral.

Vicki and Margaret weren’t the only friends from my past that I had reconnected with. About 10 years ago, I found Olivia, a friend who showed me the ropes of Southern California when I was a newbie and working for LAPD, on Facebook and we started corresponding. She visited a couple of times when she came home to Santa Paula to check on family and we spent a lot of time on Memory Lane, remembering parties, dates and escapades that went back more than 40 years. She had moved across the country and we had both changed careers, but we could still talk for hours about everything.

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We loved our friendship and Mexican food almost equally

Last week, she went in for surgery to take care of a small growth in her abdomen. She goofy-posted while she was coming out of anesthesia (if you’d ever met Olivia, you wouldn’t try to take her phone away for any reason), then made us all feel better when she was coherent and grammatical the next day. Everything had gone well … until 24 hours later, when she threw a blood clot and suddenly died.

I love social media, except for when I get news flashes like these. The posts seem unreal and we hurriedly scroll through and jump from page to page looking for verification and feeling our hearts sink when we find it. While we hate the messenger temporarily, we seem to draw comfort from the worldwide community of our friends in common – one of them even likened it to “an online funeral” because people from all over could share their memories and sorrow and start our collective healing.

I didn’t write this post to start a flood of “sorry for your loss” messages, although I deeply appreciate those I received when Preston and Margaret and Olivia shuffled off this mortal coil. Vicki is fine and I am considering protecting her with bubble wrap so we can celebrate our 100th birthdays together (she will be free from harm and have something to do at the same time. Good thing both of us are easily entertained).

While my heart hurts for their passing, I am eternally grateful for having taken the time, making the drive, sending and answering texts and being present.

We blow off too many people because of time, politics, and inflexibility. If someone means or meant something to you, take a moment. Gas up the car. Make the reservations. Hit the road.

Trust me, the feeling is better than you can ever imagine.

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Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

Time to stop the violence of convenience

Many of you know I used to be a newspaper columnist in Northern Los Angeles County. I wrote about random things and issues that affected my community. Sometimes I polled my colleagues in the newsroom for materials, like for this one that contrasted our attitudes with a current news story …….

 

“Damn it! If that kid leaves the garage door open one more time, I’m taking away his keys.”

“There was a girl crouched beneath a desk in the library and the guy came over and said ‘Peek a boo’ and shot her.”

“That drama teacher is so hard on them. She kept them late again.”

As students took a math test, the door opened and a teacher staggered in, covered in blood. He was shot right in front of them.

“Why can’t you be more responsible? Pick up your room. Do I look like your maid?”

“He was shot twice. In the back. My brother jumped over him to get out.”

“I’m not going to make my child wear a uniform. That stifles their creative expression.”

“You should be safe at school. This should be a safe place.”

“No, I’m not getting up to give you a ride to school. You should have set your alarm.”

“We were just sitting in the room, praying. Some people were crying. We were thinking, ‘We’re in here, come rescue us.’ I heard a boy cry, ‘Please, don’t shoot me,” then another voice and a gunshot.”

“I’m too busy to come to your game. Can you get a ride home with somebody on the team?”

“Our teacher was so awesome. She helped us so much, she kept such a cool head, even though she was going through the same thing. Her husband was a teacher in the next room and she couldn’t get to him.”

“I just don’t understand your friends. They dress so weird.”

“He put a gun in my face and said ‘I’m doing this because people made fun of me last year.’”

“Don’t bother me now. I’m watching my show.”

“Her name is not on any list. They don’t know where she is.”

“Where do you think the money is going to come from? Get a job!”

A sign held up in a window read: Help. I’m bleeding to death.

“I’ve told you time and time again, the dishes are your responsibility. I’m sick of having to play cop.”

“My sister. He went back to get my sister.”

“If you were where you were supposed to be and doing what you were supposed to, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“I thought it was a prank for morning announcements. But when I saw how big the gun was, then I knew. I know it had to be real.”

“How many times have I told you, my messages are important. And is that phone permanently attached to your ear?”

“Somebody yelled, ‘Everybody in the room leave now.’ We thought it was a fire.”

“I’ve been through more bomb drills than fire drills. We’ve all been taught to get down and stay down, because it there’s bombs, there might be guns.”

“They were just like ‘We’ve waited to do this our whole lives.’ And every time they’d shoot someone, they’d holler, like it was exciting.”

“We have 2,500 students here at this school. Counselors can’t spend very much time with each one.”

“I wrote goodbye notes to my parents, my sister and my little brother, because I left before he got up… ‘I hope I haven’t taken your love for granted … I’m glad I was the one to go through this and not you … I love you. I hope every time you hear this, it grows in meaning.’”

“We hardly ever see each other anymore, with our crazy schedules. It’s a big deal for us to sit down to dinner together.”

“It still hasn’t sunk in. We hear Columbine High School and I think, “Whoo, hey, I go here.’ I remember thinking, ‘I’m so glad I’m safe here.’”

Bye, honey, I love you. Have a good day at school.

 

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Anguished parents reunite with their students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida after a gunman killed 17 on campus. Image: CNN

When I wrote the column above, which was published in The Signal newspaper in April 1999, my message was one of perspective. Did we appreciate our kids? Did we ever consider what our last words to them might be? Could we even wrap our heads around the concept of school shootings? Columbine, in all its horror, introduced a reality that we swore we’d never accept.

 

Oh, how wrong we were.

 

Yesterday, 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Teachers. Coaches. Students who will never grow up and achieve greatness because a disgruntled 19-year-old student was able to walk into a gun store and purchase an AR-15 assault rifle, then revisit his former campus and fulfill a prophecy he promoted on social media.

 

Florida law does not allow 19-year-olds to buy beer. They can, however, purchase murder weapons with no problem.

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This is the AR-15 weapon used by the suspect in the Parkland, FL school shooting. It was purchased with the same ease as one would buy a soda and candy bar. Image: Time.com

There were warning signs with the suspect. We preach “See something, say something,” but when are we going to take it further than lip service? We know that shootings – not just in schools, but churches, movie theaters and concert venues – are a problem, but what are we doing about it? Now, there are 17 shattered families planning funerals because there is a large group of people who value the right to own firearms more than the rights of human beings to live. (To learn more about the victims of the Parkland shootings, visit http://amp.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/broward/article200220844.html)

 

My hope is that this blog gets at least 24 hours of airtime before there is another incident like this one.

 

Eighteen years ago, I was trying to make us think twice about how we treat each other. Today, I have the same motive, but the ennui makes me sick to my stomach. That column should have been a standalone, an unusual situation that happened once in a blue moon, but yesterday’s shooting was the 18th in 2018 alone. Today’s journalists are writing those stories and columns again. School shootings have become so routine that there is practically a template for them.

 

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Image: WBBJ-TV

There is something we can do, without removing the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Require responsible gun ownership. Require safety classes and security measures that keep guns away from easy access. We can restrict access to firearms to those with mental illnesses or prior convictions. We can require background checks at EVERY juncture of a firearm purchase, and the same for ammunition. We can eliminate the availability of assault weapons and those that carry more than six bullets. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for civilians to have these kinds of weapons, period.

 

The change must also happen with our elected officials. Instead of hand-wringing, use those hands to call, write, email, contact your elected officials (find them here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and ask them to force the discussion of the nation’s safety across all party lines. Your state legislators can make changes too. Tell them to make assault rifles harder to get than a license to drive a car. Tell them that 17 dead is 17 too many for us to accept. Fight the resignation that “there’s nothing we can do.” If your officials are in the pockets of the National Rifle Association (and by association, gun manufacturers), vote them out of office in favor of candidates who will take a stand and protect our citizens. If you want to get involved in gun control political action, check out https://everytown.org, an umbrella group that works to promote positive gun safety.

 

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This formation used to mean “Conga!” – but now it is burned into every student’s brain to mean “my hands are up, I have no weapon, please let me get out of here safely.” Image: USA Today

It’s time. It’s time to have the discussions NOW. It’s past time to stop the violence of convenience – where murder weapons are as easy to get as a Slurpee.

 

Because we all deserve to tell our kids “Bye. I love you. Have a good day at school.”

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange or Blue? It’s a family thing

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See? I have a cool Dodgers hat. And I’m at Dodger Stadium. Life IS Good!

Go Dodgers! World Champs 2017! Whoo-hoo!

There. I got that off my chest.

I take a lot of grief from my friends and family for being a diehard San Francisco Giants fan. I proudly wear the orange and black, know the name of the mascot (Lou Seal) and the history of home plate moving from one park to another, but I can’t spew names or stats. That doesn’t stop the swell of pride when my Boys from the Bay are doing well.

 

 

 

Three World Series Championships in five years that start with a 20. Just sayin’. The stats I do know? The Giants have won more National League pennants than any other team (23), followed by the Dodgers with 21. And they’ve been World Series Champions 8 times, while the Dodgers have been on top 6 times. Let’s hope that number goes up to 7.

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Despite many “friends” painting me as the evil enemy, I am thrilled that tonight, the Los Angeles Dodgers will play in the first game of the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros. I think it would be an awesome Halloween trick if the Series becomes their treat next week and we get to have a victory parade in early November.

 

And I will buy a shirt. Because blue looks good on me too.

 

 

Unlike my husband, I love baseball. Not enough to park myself in front of a TV for every game or listen to every play-by-play (I am, however, guilty of logging on to MLB.com and “watching” a critical game or two that wasn’t televised), but enough to know most of the rules, enjoy the opportunity to see a game live and agree that it is, despite my track-and-field coach husband, America’s Pastime. (Side note: when my sweetie was cast as the coach in a production of “Damn Yankees,” I thought it was hysterically ironic. There was some really good acting there).

I even played baseball when I was an adolescent, a proud member of the “Coronado Creeps” of the Cabrillo Park Asphalt League. We played in the street with home plate in front of my best friend’s driveway and first base right around the Kennedy’s mailbox. Lucky for us we never broke a window or a windshield. I continued to play for kicks and giggles after college and can still pick up a bat and make a reasonable hit, but at my age, a pinch runner is a given.

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The infamous Giants fan and daughter enjoying Jackie Robinson Day at Dodger Stadium. It happened to be my birthday too!

As a Southern California resident for longer than I lived in the Bay Area (43 years here, 20 years there), I feel the pressure – nay, the requirement – that I must be a Dodgers fan. I do enjoy the occasional game and am happy when they win (except when they play my guys) and I possess not one but two Dodger caps for wearing when the Giants aren’t playing. I really wanted the Dodgers to take the Series last year for Vin Scully, a man I truly admire (although my childhood hero was Giants broadcaster Russ Hodges). And I have a standing tradition with a good friend to catch at least one North-South rivalry game every season.

 

My “Free Gift with Purchase” son (i.e., my Son In Love’s brother) and his uncle try to bug me about players and their records. Goes over my head. Not into stats or RBIs or injuries. I just like the Giants. I’ve always liked the color orange. My bedroom at home was painted orange, my first new car was an orange VW, and I thought I won the lottery when my high school colors reflected those of my baseball team. But there’s more to it than that.

 

Even when the A’s settled in nearby Oakland, I stayed true to the Giants. I went to school with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley who pitched to Dodger Kirk Gibson on that fateful night in 1988.  Dennis, who graduated the year after me, was disappointed that he wasn’t drafted by the Giants in 1972 and I shared his adoration of Willie Mays, who we both saw playing at Candlestick Park in our youth.

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And by my side at those Candlestick outings was a woman who lived and breathed Giants baseball – my mom. She was determined to give me an appreciation for the sport and for the players. I can probably name more players from 50 years ago than those on the team today – Mays, Willie McCovey, Jim Davenport, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, the Alou brothers, Matty, Felipe and Jesus, were my chosen celebrities. I wanted to have a black satin jacket like hers with the Giants logo embroidered on the back and front. I remember going to the grocery store before a game to load up on peanuts (because ballpark prices seemed high in those days too). She would talk me through the plays and show me how to watch the bases and predict who was going to try and steal or who could catch pretty much anything that was airborne.

 

Somewhere in her MomWisdom, she must have known I was never going to be an athlete, that I’d probably do something else like act or write. At least, she figured, she could teach me to be a good spectator and fan.

 

Then there was my dad. He thought Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were the greatest players in baseball and damned if they didn’t play for the Dodgers. So on game days when those two teams were going head to head, the excitement was electric. Sitting between them at the park, it was fun to watch their faces as they reacted to the plays on the field. They were some of the best days – and nights – of my life.

 

Speaking of days and nights, if you went to a double-header at Candlestick, you were guaranteed to cook and sweat during the first game and freeze all your extremities during the second one, with the wind whipping off the bay and right into the cheap seats. With the team’s move to AT&T Park, I doubt the weather dips nearly as deeply off McCovey Cove to require a complete change in clothes between games.

 

I was at a Dodger game this spring and a few rows in front of us, there was a little girl and her dad who were yelling and cheering really loud. She was dressed in Dodger blue from top to toe and dad was wearing his favorite jersey. They enjoyed a repast of Dodger dogs, ice cream, nachos, peanuts, soda and beer – the basic Chavez Ravine food pyramid – and they were having the time of their lives. It was a capsule of Americana, a date that I hoped wasn’t a first or last, but a tradition that she would remember and they would both cherish. I could see myself in that little girl and it restored my faith in a good old game of baseball.

 

That, I told my friend, that is why I’m a Giants fan. Not because I hate any other team (in fact, I don’t allow myself to use that word), not because I want to be a rival, not because I miss the Bay Area (I don’t), but because my memories are wrapped in that black satin jacket and those store-bought peanuts. And they hit a home run every time they come up to bat.

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All three of my girls celebrating at Dodger Stadium this September. The Dodgers didn’t win this one, but we had some great family time and that’s what it’s all about, no?

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A weekend in NiceToMeetYaLand

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The Portland Familia – Ana, Susan and yours truly. Just before we said goodbye.

So, the question of the week has been “How did it go?”

 

And the answer is “We had a great time.”

 

While it was a wonderful adventure meeting my new-found sister-in-law Susan and niece Ana (my only surviving biological relative – that I know about), it was a tiny bit strange for both of us. Not bad strange, but OK strange. Like being on a blind date with a cheat sheet, trying to get more details as the night progressed and laughing as we walked to the car, giving each other a final hug.

 

It was also a bit amazing. And heart-warming. And weird. And mind-blowing.

 

And good. Definitely good.

 

I’m not sure what anyone’s expectations were for this face-to-face meet. Did I want a warm embrace? Got several. Did I expect more questions? Of course. Did I hope for a spilling of the emotions, a “we’ve been looking for you forever, etc.” kind of response? Not really. I already got my treat with Susan’s enthusiastic “I knew it!” when I initially contacted her.

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Susan and I on the waterfront in Lake Oswego. We were not drunk, I just hold a camera funny. Trying to be artsy.

What I wanted to prevent more than anything else was ‘the click’ that every adoptee fears. The “OK, we’ve seen enough of you, now go away again. Forever.”

 

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. There were lots of hugs and smiles. Lots of looking into each others’ eyes – for what, the answers known only to the looker – and comparing or pondering each other’s unique features.

 

Like my eyes. They’re big and really, really green. My mom had hazel eyes and according to what she told the state of California, my dad’s were blue. Nobody in the family that came before me had green eyes, but I definitely handed that gene down to my girls.

 

My niece and my daughters look slightly similar, except for their noses. My son looks the most like my mom. My niece has her father’s nose, slightly larger than my kids’, but the smile – that big face-brightening smile, and even the knowing smirk – is definitely something she and I share.

 

And the big, bright eyes. Even though hers are brown.

 

If there was one word to describe the events of the last month or so, it would be “overwhelming” and my weekend in the Pacific Northwest would have been impossible without the love and support of my extended family members from the theater, my in-laws and everyone Rock-related who fed, housed and entertained me while my head swam with new information and emotions. To them, I offer immense thanks for making sure I made this journey safely, both emotionally and physically.

 

Just when you think you have everything figured out in life, somebody pitches a wrench at you causing a change in your direction and angle and quite possibly making you pull a muscle. I was content with my little family of kids in three cities, my granddaughter becoming a fierce little heart-tugger, my sweetheart and I planning on things to do now that it’s just the two of us (well, plus our furbabies). I cook a lot, bake some, walk regularly, drink a lot of coffee, enjoy social media, play fantasy football, dabble in theater, advocate for the arts and am fighting my damned procrastination gene by seriously trying to write the books within me.

 

Then that yearbook picture surfaced.

 

And the whirlwind investigation began. And the finding … oh, the finding!

 

No clicks on the first round of calls. And an encouraging response to my proposed visit, which became an immediate priority. The Grim Reaper had already taken away my mother and brother and I wasn’t willing to let the rest of them slip away.

 

When I pushed open the door to Manzana Grill on the waterfront Friday night, I recognized Susan right away. We hugged a couple of times and settled on a table outside. There was some sizing up, and some heavy sighs, but I think at our ages (I’m 63, she’s a few years younger), we’re already comfortable with each other – new-found friends who happen to be not-so-distantly related.

 

We quickly launched into more questions about my brother; what was he like, did she see a resemblance, how was their marriage, was he a good father … you know, the normal grilling. I learned more about his reality, his strengths and shortcomings, his interests and his faults, causing me to pause and wonder how someone would describe me if the situations were reversed.

 

She told me that Amber would not be coming down from Seattle, that Amber was her impulsive one, contrasting Ana’s fondness for planning. I was a bit sad that she wasn’t there, but decided that it just meant a trip to Seattle might be in my future. And there’s always email and social media. I chose to focus on the positive.

 

We talked about our children, their growing up experiences and how grandparents (mostly my mom) played into the picture. We talked about work and the military and where we lived and traveled. I told her about my adoptive parents, how they were wonderful people and always supportive of my search. Talking to her, I probably unconsciously slipped into reporter mode, probing for details, trying to coax out enough to flesh out the two-dimensional people in my special adoption notebook that holds 8×10 prints of every photo and documents in plastic sleeves. It’s all I’ve got of them.

 

Even though Amber offered to contact my mother’s husband for me when we spoke last month, Susan encouraged me to make that call. She opined that he might welcome contact from a part of the wife he loved for so long, even if I might have been She Who Will Not Be Mentioned.

 

A potential click. Why the hell not? We’d talk about it later, Saturday afternoon, when she thought that Frank and I flying out for a meet and greet might be better. Our bank account has something to say about that. A phone call will have to do.

 

After a few hours, we ran out of words. We talked about where to meet the next day and where to park. Ana was joining us and it would be the first time I got to see her. I was excited all over again.

 

Then we got in our cars and drove away. Nobody was expecting me home and the sun was still up in a twilight kind of way. Both Starbucks I stopped at were closed and Siri was no help at all in finding a play or a movie nearby. I drove past a funky looking bar and restaurant and thought I’d stop in for some fish and chips. I posted a message on Facebook for my Oregon friends, telling them where I was in case they were wandering and wanted to join me.

 

I ate alone, then went back to my nephew’s house. His wife was home and we had a chance to chat. She was eager to hear how my night had gone, but I was still in the processing mode, so we talked about lots of other family stories, about their daughter and roommates and coworkers and the house and life.

 

The best this wordsmith could muster up in assessing the evening was “Good. It was very, very good.” And it was sincere.

 

KellsPlaque
You know me. If I can patronize a historic building, I’m there!

 

The next morning, I arrived at Kell’s Irish Pub a good 15 minutes before the agreed-upon time and while I was sitting out front, heard laughter and turned to see Ana and Susan walking toward me. And it wasn’t weird, it was more like a normal Saturday where three women met to go to Saturday Market in Portland. Those kinds of events are always more fun with a group, so you can ooh and ahh over things or snicker when it’s appropriate. It’s also a good way to learn about each other’s likes and dislikes. I learned that Susan loves candles (would you believe that we only found ONE candle vendor in the whole market?) and that Ana loves her cat (both Susan and I bought toys for the kitty).

 

Susan wanted to either get a henna tattoo or a caricature, but I hesitated, because a friend once had an allergic reaction to the henna and ended up with a permanent scar and I’m not too keen on the work of caricaturists. Visually, she dresses more like the free spirit, while I’m a little more reserved – the Grace to her Frankie. We briefly considered getting our faces on garden gnomes, but quickly kiboshed that idea. I bought a couple of toys for Sadie, some hot sauce (Ana loves hot sauce and the vendor got excited when I told him my son grew his own hot peppers) and we walked past booth after booth of eclipse t-shirts and jewelry (one vendor got very upset when Susan and I thought her eclipse earrings were sunflowers, show us that she had her husband make partial eclipse pairs with the black circle off-center). At the end of the market, we decided to go back to Kell’s and enjoy a good Irish repast and a cold beer, as the Southern California heat I thought I’d left behind had made its way north.

 

In the booth, we talked about Disneyland, Portland, grandma and grandpa, work, school (Ana’s upcoming doctoral studies and me finally graduating with my bachelor’s at age 60), my kids and when Susan and Ana could come down to Southern California to be tourists. I tried to explain where places they’d heard of were in relation to our house and promised to take them wherever they wanted to go. I learned more about Ana’s work on a clinical study and how she is on call even when she’s off work because of her subjects. I shared some of my career highs and lows, we talked a little politics and Susan and I talked about how much we loved being grandmothers.

VoodooBox

EclipeDonut
Eclipse – chocolate, vanilla and orange filling

VoodooLayerOneAfter buying sweatshirts to commemorate our visit, the three of us headed out to a Portland landmark, Voodoo Donuts. I hadn’t eaten a donut for months (I allow myself two every January) and now they were taking me to the mecca of glazed creativity (there is one x-rated donut that is never listed on the menu board outside).

VoodooLine

 

During our 45-minute wait (which I heard was short), I discovered a few things: they should sell sunscreen to the people waiting in line; L.A. does not have a lock on bad singers, as the Voodoo Elvis karaoke singer proved and they really are dedicated to Keeping Portland Weird. It says so on the building across the street.

 

The walk back to the car was short and we were tired from the heat. We knew the visit was almost over and they lingered at the car to look at my collected pictures and documents, posing for some quick selfies (Susan shot a couple of Ana and me, then I turned the camera on all three of us) before they walked away. I put my book away, stashed the donuts and hot sauce and toys and carefully tucked away the memory of our moments together.

AnaandMe
Niece Ana and Crazy Aunt Me

 

My niece, in whom I saw my history. My sister-in-law – hell, my SISTER – who met me 11 years after losing her husband. Those who knew about me before they knew of me.

 

My family.

 

I’m still mulling over the memories and the joy in getting to know them. I hope they are feeling the same. I hope they know there is much warmth in my heart because of them.

 

And I hope we see each other again soon. After all, we’ve got a lot of time to make up for.

 

 

Catherine
Liquid refreshment, the new PDX carpet and a great read. Highly recommend this author!

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!

Finding familia in the Pacific Northwest

So where were we? Oh yeah. Mom. Can you imagine being 63 years old and not knowing what your mother looked like?

 

That reminder smacked me upside the head last month when I got a message from a genealogist friend, asking me if I had found my mom yet. I told her I hadn’t really been looking lately and she popped back with “I found her yearbook picture.”

 

Holy crap. It wasn’t like I never thought this would happen, it just was unexpected THEN. It’s kind of like winning the lottery. Suddenly you have all these riches you always dreamed of, but you’re just not sure how to feel about it. You want to tell the world, but you know you need to tell your kids first. After all, this is their grandmother. Not Grandma Closeby or Grandma Faraway (as my husband’s and my adoptive mothers were referred to), but Mom’s mom.

 

It didn’t occur to me until then that they might have been searching for more people who looked like them too.

 

I asked her if I could see it and she sent it right over. It was Rusty, all right. And what resemblance I couldn’t see, my husband spotted right away. And my kids. And my Facebook family, when I posted side-by-side graduation pics.

There she was.

Rusty copy
Elizabeth “Rusty” Kilgore, aspiring journalist, Class of ’49 Miami Jackson High School.
carolsr
Carol Kochalka, Class of’71, Washington High School, Fremont, CA

Her listing in the yearbook came with a quote from Shakespeare, “Be great in act as you have been in thought.” She was in GAA in grades 10 and 11, in the Glee Club in 10th grade, in the Dean’s Association in grades 11 and 12, was in the Future Homemakers in her junior and senior years and was on the Globe staff in her junior year.

 

Yep. She was an aspiring journalist. Check.

And a singer. Check.

And got good grades. Check.

And could whip up a frock and some killer cinnamon toast. Check.

I have no idea how it happened, but obviously the athletic gene mutated when it got to me.

 

Nature or nurture?

 

The initial message came in around 8 pm and the flurry of texts and posts between family and friends took up a good portion of the next few hours. It was 11 pm when another message came in from Liz, asking if I was awake. I confirmed that I was and she wrote “I found some more info. She passed away in 2015. I’ll send you the obit. I’m so sorry.”

I wasn’t sure how to feel. Three hours before, I was excited about the possibility of meeting and thanking the woman who gave me life and now those chances were dashed. She was my mother and I had suffered a loss, but it wasn’t hitting me straight on. To me, my mother died in an Oregon hospital in 1994 as I held her hand, waiting for the machines to stop and let her pass in peace. I remember feeling then that I really was an orphan, the parents who raised me were gone and the ones who made me were missing in action. Now, I was learning that for 21 years, she had been living in Florida, unaware of my existence in Southern California.

 

I think.

 

When you discover – or “find” – it’s not a simple thing. There is a boatload of questionable baggage that comes with it. Your facts are quickly overshadowed by the new questions you have, the unknowns that have been hiding behind the basics in your mind. Having birthed three children myself, I know I will always mark their birthdays, remember how they grew, what their little womb-tics were. Did I have any? Did she ever think of me? Was April 7 a special day for her? Did she observe it with secrecy? Or joy? Did she ever talk with my father, whose name is absent from every document? Was I just erased from her life – until another family member raised a question or two?

 

Liz felt bad that she hadn’t searched more. I met her online when a mutual friend, my detective buddy who was also an adoptee, passed my information on to her with my blessing. That happened in 2009. Liz did some looking early on, but we hadn’t touched base in a while. She told me that she regretted not looking more frequently (she found the yearbook when she added “Rusty” to the name she was submitting) because she might have found her before she passed. I told her that I never had expected to find my mom and if I had, all I wanted to do was thank her for doing what she did and that I hoped my life would have made her proud. And that I loved her because I knew she loved me.

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 11.23.00 PM
Elizabeth “Rusty” Kilgore Wright Howard. Photo from US Navy service in ’50s-’60s that ran with her obituary in 2015

She forwarded her obituary to me and it was like opening a treasure box. There were names and relations and occupations and all sorts of new leads for me to follow. Liz and I started anew on the searching, using Ancestry and other search engines. Mom had remarried (they were together 54 years, he is still alive and living in Florida) and I had a half-brother, and a sister in law, two nieces and a great-niece. Sadly, my brother died in 2006.

 

I’ve always said that Facebook is one of my best friends and was one of my most important reporter tools – those instincts kicked into high gear and I started some serious stalking. I found my nieces’ pages and sent them messages and friend requests – hoping beyond hope that they might take a chance and look at my page, accept the request and read the message, but two days later, I still had no answer. I tried LinkedIn, which frustrated me in the past, but on this day helped me find a gold mine. Using information that Liz and I had been able to procure from Ancestry, I was able to track back my sister-in-law’s residences and service records, finding her on that site. I leveled up so I could send a personal message and wrote an abbreviated plea to connect and asked her if we could talk.

 

That night, as my husband and I were dining with friends, my phone blew up with her response.

 

“I knew it! I knew it!” my sister-in-law wrote. “I knew he had a sister!”

 

I couldn’t write back fast enough to tell her I’d be home in an hour and that we could talk on the phone. It seemed like the longest hour of my life, but that night, I got to hear Susan’s voice and we talked about her husband, her mother-in-law, her daughters and granddaughter. Over the next two days, I got to talk with both my biological niece and my “step”niece who my brother raised as his own (she has a wife and an adorable daughter, whose birthday is the same as my granddaughter’s – cue spooky coincidence music here).

 

Susan’s suspicions began when she saw a telltale line on my brother’s birth certificate that asked “How many other children are now living?” followed by the number 1. She told me she asked my mother about it and she was evasive and defensive. It proved to be a sore subject, but as time wore on, mom revealed bits and pieces of information that simultaneously matched and conflicted with facts found on other documents, such as…..

 

Mom was not a Catholic, my father was (so I’m not sure who was Protestant) and his family insisted that they wanted nothing to do with me, which could explain why my adoption was so quick and smooth (my Catholic father was an usher at our local parish and the cheek-pinching priest was the one who arranged it). Because of that, sis said she had a lifelong disdain for the Catholic church. Ironically, part of the adoption “deal” was that I would be baptized and raised as a Catholic. When my dad died, I let that one lapse.

 

Jed1
My brother, Jed Albert Howard

 

The health history on mom’s side was not as clean as California was told; heart disease and high blood pressure was evident in her parents and she and my brother both had blood pressure and heart issues. It was a brain aneurism that took him at the age of 42; her cause of death is unclear and currently, the state of Florida is telling me that I am not entitled to a certificate listing her cause of death (I’ve taken up this heated discussion with the Surgeon General of Florida). Later in life, mom had breast cancer and skin cancer issues and mobility problems; information that I immediately shared with my kids. And my doctor.

 

In talking with my new family members, I also discovered that, much like my adoptive family, some relations are better than the others; at times they were strained, but as we all agreed, “they did the best they could with the situation they had.”  In other words, both my nature and nurture environments were dysfunctionally normal. Funny thing, that’s exactly why one of my nieces is pursuing her master’s degree in genetics and neuroscience, to try and figure out why people are the way they are.

 

Although mom’s husband is still living and I have contact information for him, I have chosen not to disturb him personally. One of my nieces who is in contact with him regularly is going to assess the situation and see if he would be receptive to meeting or talking with me. I’m not sure if or how much he knows about me and I surely don’t want to shock him with that information. On the other hand, there might have been more communication than I know about and he might appreciate a connection to his late wife. Time will tell. I’m giving my niece as much time as she needs for this one. She did warn me that he and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

 

Speaking of science, I did do the DNA “spit test” with Ancestry and I kind of feel like the lederhosen/kilt guy on the commercial. On mom’s side, her mother was from Scotland (the Dewars of Clan Buchanan) and her father was full Irish (Kilgore, a sept of Clan Douglas). She told the state my father was “possibly English or Scotch” – but Ancestry says I’m 28% Western European, 25% Scandinavian, 19% Irish, 11 % British and 10% Iberian Peninsula, with genetic communities of Germans in the Midwest, Scots and settlers of Colonial New England. I’m thinking dad – with those blue eyes, medium skin and dark brown hair – might actually be German/Scandinavian. The worst part, though, is that I found no genetic matches. I was holding out a tiny hope that I might find my father with that test.

ClanBuchanan
Tartan of the Clan Buchanan, which claimed the Dewars

 

ClanDouglas
Tartan of the Clan Douglas, which claimed the Kilgores. Thanks to OffKilterKilts for research and findings!

So with the magic comes residual mystery. I have been sent pictures of my mom and brother and nieces, and I think my bio niece really does look like me a little. There are dimples and this full-on ear-to-ear grin that I am claiming. Susan said after our conversation that my personality over the phone reminded her of her husband, so there’s some nature there. But that little black cloud of “Where’s Papa?” remains.

 

RustyandJed
My mother and Jed on a long-ago birthday.

 

This has been an overwhelming time, I like structure and planning in my life and this has totally been a wrecking ball to that. I have responded with a lot of thoughtful pondering, sometimes scaring my husband who fears that I’m depressed because I’m so quiet. No worries there, just a little befuddled. It is a LOT to wrap my head around and sometimes the words to explain how I feel just don’t make themselves available. But there is absolutely nothing bad coming from this – I know that because I am of the age and attitude of “What’s the worst that can happen?” – coupled with the confidence that whatever happens, it can only enhance my life experience.

 

There is enough love to share with my new family and I am excited to embrace them. I hope they are ready to embrace me (again, that “click” possibility). I love having crowds in my life, evidenced by our annual spaghetti gatherings and being the “party house” for birthdays and showers and reunions and goodbye parties and celebrating togetherhood. I earned the nickname MamaRock from my theater kids and my news colleagues. I like to take care of people and point the spotlight at them. I’m used to being the storyteller, not the story. This has been weird, to say the least. But bring it on.

 

Part of the cosmic magic that brought this information into my life is that my new family members are conveniently located in the Pacific Northwest, so Thursday morning, I am boarding a plane for Portland (I know. The weekend of the eclipse. Have I mentioned that good timing is not always my strong suit?) and Friday night, I get to meet Susan and niece Ana. I’m hoping the rest of the girls will come down from Seattle so we can have a family day on Saturday. Lucky for me, most of my hubby’s family lives in the Portland area, so I get to see them too. Should be a very interesting weekend.

 

Wish me luck.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

Your comments are welcome and always appreciated. Please share this on social media!