Personal Memoir From My Mom #3

(My mom is continuing with her wonderful memoir writing, providing a gift of her memories in writing to the rest of the family. With this one, her third, about a train trip she took by herself when she was 10, we don’t have relevant photos. I’ve decided to include a couple from roughly that time period as I think the writing is enhanced with pictures. If you want to encourage her, offer some positive feedback in the comments section below. Find the first two memoirs via these quick links: Memoir #1 || Memoir #2 –Andy)

My Big Train Trip

by Carib Smallman

Each summer my parents and I drove to my father’s parents’ (Gom and Pop) home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mother and Dad would stay for a few days, before they left for Nebraska where Dad worked each summer. When they returned we would drive back to Washington. The summer after my father’s serious surgery, he was unable to work, but my parents decided I should spend the summer with my grandparents as usual. I was excited remembering all the fun I always had at the cottage.

How to get me there was a problem. To arrive in Grand Rapids from Washington D.C. by train takes a change of trains. I would turn 11 years old in July, a bit young to handle changing trains by myself. After conferring with Gom and Pop, the decision was made that I could ride the train to the Jackson, Michigan, station. Gom and Pop would drive to Jackson and be at the station to meet me. I was a bit hesitant at first: I would be all by myself. Mother and Dad assured me I could do it. They gave me the confidence to trust myself.

Carib’s paternal grandparents – Gom & Pop.
Soon after school dismissed for the summer, Mother and I packed a suitcase with my clothes. A carry-on had food, pajamas and books. Mother explained I would board the train after lunch and arrive in Michigan after breakfast. Gom and Pop would be there to meet me. My memory is of excitement . . . not worry or fear.

Friends drove Mother and me to the station, and Mother walked me to the Pullman car. “Take good care of her,” I heard Mother say to the Porter as she handed him a tip and walked toward the station’s exit. It makes my heart hurt when I think how she must have felt as she watched me disappear into the train. I felt the same way the first time each of our sons left on his own.

I learned a lot about trains on that trip. Passengers with upper berths, as I had, sat facing the end of the train watching where we had been. The upper berth pulled down from above the seats. The two seats made up the lower berth. For privacy there were curtains for each berth that snapped closed. The Porter prepared the beds while passengers were at dinner. I remember travelling with Al when we rode the train from Salt Lake City to Denver. It made me smile as I discovered all was the same as I had first experienced it years before.

Many of the passengers in my train car were travelling because of the war. A U.S. Army Major sat down across from me. (I felt proud to know he was a major because my friend, a Lieutenant Colonel, had taught me that a silver maple leaf insignia was a Lt. Colonel and a golden maple leaf was a major.) The Major was very nice to me. I am sure that we talked, but the exciting happening was that he took me to the dining car for dinner. We had to walk through several cars to reach the dinning car. I learned that as you walk between cars you are ‘outside’. You can see the coupling holding the car to the rest of the train. I have no idea what I ate but I was impressed that the waiters wore white shirts and black bow ties. After dinner the Major walked me back to our car. The beds were ready. The Major suggested I take my toothbrush to the bathroom at the end of the car and get ready for bed. The Porter told me if I needed anything to call him. Then he put a ladder up to my berth and up I went. It was like a hidey hole, snug and comfy. I changed into my pjs, got out my book and read until I fell asleep.

Carib & her parents, Christmas time.
Morning came and I quickly dressed and ate some of the snacks that Mother had packed for me. The Porter came and showed me where to sit while he put the seats and upper berth back together. Shortly after returning to my seat he was telling me that next time the train stopped we would be at my destination. The train slowed to a stop. The porter had my things ready by the exit. How happy I was to see Gom and Pop waiting as I got off the train! I felt very proud of myself and pleased that I had acted very grown up and able to be alone.

It was a different world in wartime America. I recall the musketeer attitude: “All for one and one for all.” As I look back I realize how much I benefitted from the kindness of strangers. Today I wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing a 10 year old, especially a girl, to travel alone anywhere, much less on an overnight train trip.

Personal Memoir From My Mom #2

(As I mentioned last month, my mom is taking a memoir writing class at her retirement community. I continue to encourage her to allow me to publish what she’s been writing so others have easy access to these lovely remembrances. Here’s the second one she’s agreed to release. And as I said last time, if you want to encourage her, offer some positive feedback in the comments section below. –Andy)

New House

by Carib Smallman

Our first family home in Omaha on 69th St – Al holding Steve. Scott in front, holding my hand. I’m pregnant with Andy.
Having outgrown our three-bedroom home on 69th Street in Omaha, we purchased a four-bedroom house in Ralston, on the edge of Omaha. The outside was a vivid yellow, as were almost all the rooms inside. We were told the former owner worked for Sears. He must have scored a terrific sale on yellow paint!

Yellow is not my favorite color. Nothing I could do about the outside but I could paint the inside. As usual Al was busy on the road, so I spent all spring hopping into my car as soon as the boys left for school, painting until time to return to greet their home- coming. Each son had chosen the color for his bedroom walls, as well as the carpeting. Scott, our oldest, picked the long narrow room and asked for the short walls to be black and the long walls to be white. He selected bright red carpet. Steve, our avid reader and night owl, chose the room with the ‘hidey place’ in the closet over the stairs. Walls and carpet for him were his favorite green. Andy, excited to have a room of his own, took the remaining bedroom, and opted for blue for his carpet and walls.

Covering up all that yellow was difficult. The horrific yellow color bled through blue, green and white but, surprise, not black. It meant three coats of paint instead of two. I was exhausted but pleased to finally finish; permitting the installation of the carpeting. This enabled us to move in as soon as the boys finished the school year. I never wanted to see another yellow room!

I was sad to leave our neighborhood friends who had become like family; Elders, Drakes, Frolios, Brooks and we had become close as we had similar experiences with our first house and kids of similar ages. Three of us were stay-at-home moms. We had celebrated many great events together over the ten years we lived on 69th Street. I told myself we weren’t moving so far away that we could never see them.

We lived on Lakeview Drive in Omaha for so short of a time that there aren’t many photos of the house. Here we are with Al’s mother. Note the yellow of the house.
How wonderful it felt to have more room. We settled into the house, met our new neighbors and found nearby shopping areas. September arrived and the boys were pleased with their new schools. Scott especially appreciated being in ninth grade in High School; he still would have been in Junior High in Omaha. Steve talked us into adopting a puppy. Gretel, a purebred, miniature longhair dachshund, with papers, became a part of our family. She was a bit too large to be a show dog so we were able to purchase her for a reasonable price.

Halloween was a week away when Al arrived home with exciting news. He was receiving a pay raise! But. . .we had to move. Move! Now? We hadn’t had time to feel at home in our newly painted house! And that meant we would really be leaving all our friends.

“We have a choice,” Al said. “Which do you think, Oklahoma City or Seattle?” To me it wasn’t a choice. Having grown up on the East Coast (Washington D. C.) and lived in the Central United States (Michigan, Colorado and Nebraska), I was ready for the West Coast. Seattle it was!

In January, Al took off to start working the Pacific Northwest territory. While in the Seattle area he checked out different neighborhoods and looked at a number of houses. By February he had discovered several areas and houses that seemed promising, so I flew out to Seattle to look at what he had found. He would be traveling a great deal and thought it would be helpful to be near the airport. His territory included Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Our house in Bellevue on SE 17th St. This photo was taken within a few years of us moving in.
Al’s first choice was a nice house near Angle Lake and SeaTac airport. Upon investigating the local school systems we found Bellevue appeared to be the best fit for our boys. Returning to the Bellevue houses we had toured, the first one on 17th Street was sold, but the other that had been finished in the fall and was sitting empty was still available. We revisited another house a few miles away. It had possibilities. Back to 17th Street which dead ended into Phantom Lake. Each house on the north side of the street had special access to the lake. The boys would love that, and everything inside was new and clean. We bought it. I took pictures, inside and out, to show the boys.

We sold our house in Ralston more quickly than expected. Wonderful! We could join Al in Washington State as soon as possible.

When the boys saw the pictures of their new ‘home-to-be’, the first thing they said was; “Mom, you said you never would live in another yellow house!” Yes, the aluminum siding on the new house was yellow AND the kitchen appliances were all yellow! Never say never!

France 2013 (From the Archives)

So as I mentioned in previous posts, toward the end of our sabbatical year, back in the early summer of 2011, Melinda and I began dreaming of the idea of returning to France, and specifically to Nantes, for the better part of a month each summer. We worked out the details at PSCS to make this happen and in 2012 we returned with Chloe and Ella, as summarized in my previous post.

In 2013, Melinda and I returned to Nantes without the girls. At age 20 and 16, they kinda liked the idea of having time by themselves in our Seattle house.

How odd…

While not having the girls with us provided a lot more flexibility, I’d hate to suggest that we didn’t miss them. To be honest, some nine years later, I don’t really remember missing them. I do remember posting on the blog little tests for them, cryptic photos of places in Nantes that I invited them to identify. So clearly, I was thinking about them…

The point that really felt different without the girls is when Melinda and I spent extended time in Paris, just the two of us. That was, indeed, a glorious time.

To gain easy access to all the posts from our 2013 trip, use the France 2013 tag or, even easier, click here.

Return to Nantes 2012 (From the Archives)

In my last post, I talked about how Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I spent 13 months in France beginning in July of 2010. These 13 months got dubbed the “French Sabbatical” as Melinda and I were granted paid time off from our jobs during that time.

From our “bonus” night in Iceland after missing our connecting flight to Paris.
Not surprisingly, while we there we grew quite fond of living in France, especially living in the city of Nantes. I’m not quite sure how to describe this, but living as we did in Nantes, as well as traveling to various destinations in France and once to Italy, felt completely ours. It was different than anything done by other members of our family and carved out a super-special context in our lives that the four of us will forever share.

Melinda and I would go on regular walks while the girls were at school and it was on one of these walks that we talked about taking a month off from work each summer to return to Nantes.

We spent our first week in Pornichet where it was unfortunately quite rainy and cool.
We starting seeing this as a focal point for the next phase in our lives, one that would ultimately settle with us living in Nantes and Seattle for maybe 6 months each year. At first, though, because of work and other responsibilities, this would need to be a single month in the summer when school wasn’t in session.

So in 2012 we put the plan into action. Our good friends in Nantes, the Boudeaus (who were responsible for us choosing Nantes in the first place) and the Bertails (who lived around the corner from us during the sabbatical and had become among our closest friends), were only too pleased to help us. And it was Christine Bertail who found a place for the four of us to live for the month of July, 2012. A colleague of hers and his family would be in Spain that month so it worked out for us to rent his house.

This is more like it. Summer in Nantes!
As I had done during the sabbatical year, I decided I would post to my blog on a daily basis while we were there. Truth be told, I had kept doing this once we had returned to Seattle in August, 2011. All of these posts can be found here by using the “Monthly Archive” pull-down menu below and selecting one of the months. Still, the idea of returning to France in 2012 and not posting daily seemed sacrilegious in some way.

So here was are in 2022, nearly ten years after our “Return to Nantes.” It’s hard to believe that much time has flown by. Because of the pandemic and other reasons, it’s been five years since we’ve been back but we do have plans to go this summer! And, yes, we did return in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. I’ll be focusing on each of those trips in future “From the Archives” posts.

For now, I invite you to explore our trip in 2012 using the “France 2012” tag.

French Sabbatical (From the Archives)

From our first visit to Paris in October, 2010.
One of the highlights of my life, of Melinda’s and my marriage, and in our role as parents of Chloe & Ella was the 13 months we spent in France from July 2010 through July 2011. We were granted a sabbatical from our jobs at Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), both as a tribute to the work we had done to get the school going and keep it running since its humble beginnings in 1994 AND to provide the school community an opportunity to know it could exist without its founders being present (ie: the infamous “Pie Truck Scenario” – perhaps I’ll explain that in a future post).

The concept of the sabbatical being a real thing began while Melinda and I were on spring break in 2008. The concept of living in France with our children began as a pipe dream we’d tell each other before we even had children. That this could become a reality is a tribute to a lot of people, most significantly the PSCS board and staff at the time. I can vividly recall the months leading up to our departure like they were last month, not twelve years ago.

Our first family photo taken on July 6, 2010 in our adopted hometown of Nantes.
Officially, the sabbatical began with the school’s 2010-11 fiscal year, meaning on July 1, 2010. But we didn’t leave for France until July 4th so we had a few days in Seattle on our own. Because we were renting our house (note, this link takes you a site we created in 2012 to promote the idea of swapping houses with someone for a month that summer) to another family for the year and they moved in on July 1, we were staying at a friend’s. The day of the 1st, Chloe was out with some friends on one of her many goodbye tours and Melinda & Ella were doing some last-minute shopping. I was alone in an unfamiliar house with my laptop for company.

I had recently been reading how a person had documented his life for a full year by posting a daily photograph and some quick comments on a website. The idea appealed to me so that afternoon, alone in the house, I investigated how to do something like it. I knew a tiny bit about WordPress since one of the PSCS teaching staff members had taught the rest of us how to use it to post our class offerings to the students. On a whim, I created a WordPress blog, calling it “frenchsabbatical.”

Outside the Castle of Nantes (Château des ducs de Bretagne)
I had promised myself and told others that I wasn’t going to over-commit myself to projects while on sabbatical. I wanted some practice of living more spontaneously, freed from the daily requirements of being a school director. Indeed, Melinda and I would have parenting obligations but beyond that, I wanted a sense of freedom. That the PSCS board had agreed to supply Melinda and me with a monthly stipend helped tremendously with this.

Little did I know that the whim of starting my “frenchsabbatical” blog would propel not just me but many others on a daily adventure, one I never regretted for a minute. Beginning on the 1st of July from the home of our friends, I posted every day until our return (truth be told, I kept posting every day after that for another year or so, all of which you can find here). Conversations emerged, first just among Melinda, Chloe, Ella & me – “You could put that on the blog.” And, “Don’t you dare write about that.” To, “I get to approve any photos you use of me.”

The blog features a lot of silly posts, like my fascination with the sexiness of French fire hydrants.
As the months went by, our French friends got in the act. My dear friend Laurent made sure I had a way to post when his family took ours to their cabin in the French Alps that didn’t have an Internet connection. I also learned that part of his morning ritual while we were there was to read what I posted the night before.

Around the corner from our house in Nantes we met the Bertail family, people who have become among our closest friends in the world. There are so many stories to tell about them, from Christine, the mom, twice stopping by to introduce herself to us only find Chloe and Ella at home, to how they helped me celebrate my 48th birthday in style.

Then, of course, there were our friends and family members back in Seattle who used the blog to keep in touch with us. As a writer, I often would picture a member of our family as the audience to what I was writing. Michele, my mother-in-law, my brothers, or one of our nieces were common “targets.” Certainly, my mother was always in mind (she’d regularly send me edits – catching my typos with her usual flair).

To this day, I pay WordPress a fee each year to keep ads from the site and to maintain its unique domain name, meaning you can find it in its entirety at https://frenchsabbatical.com. Two years ago as a holiday present, one of the best I’ve ever received, Chloe & Ella had the blog posts made into a two-volume hardback book set that will forever hold a place of prominence in Melinda’s and my home.

I took up running while in France. Here I am crossing the turf track at the Nantes racetrack to get to the inner trotter track where I regularly ran after dropping off Ella at school.
Last week, in order to have all of my personal blog posts in one spot, I copied the content to this site, my ongoing personal blog. So if you’re interested in seeing what we were doing on a given day, you can do so right here. In fact, in the footer you’ll see a pull-down menu on the left for a monthly archive. Choose a month from the sabbatical year, July 2010 – July 2011, and enjoy some reading.

You can also use the “French Sabbatical” tag (you’ll see the posts in reverse order) or simply start with the first post I wrote on July 1, 2010 and go to the next and then the next…

Some nights when I’m feeling especially nostalgic, I’ll pick a month and do some reading, remembering what an amazing year we had.

Heartman Comics (From the Archives)

HeartmanHeartman was a character I first created when Melinda and I began dating in 1990. Heartman was my alter ego, the superhero part of myself that would go on with his day while my real self, “a small man,” missed Melinda.

When Chloe was a kindergartner in 1998/99, I brought Heartman back. Each morning I quickly drew on a sticky note a comic involving Heartman and put it in Chloe’s sack lunch. Each image had something to do with what I had recently done, often with Chloe, and with Heartman waving to her and saying, “Hi, Chloe!” Some of these images made it home each night and I stashed them away.

Some time ago, I found a sandwich bag filled with the drawings and created a scrapbook of them. Then, in the summer of 2013, while seeing a Keith Haring art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, I was inspired to scan these drawings and present them online as a way to preserve and share them.

I posted them in order of their creation, one at a time, with a little commentary tossed in for good measure. To start with the first, go here. Note, the drawings got better as I went along so for a really good one, check out this one, noting the chocolate pudding spilled on it.

To access all of them, go here.

Vacation Guy – Part III (From the Archives)

(This completes the three part remembrance of Vacation Guy from the archives. The original of Part III is from March 11, 2012. In terms of a Vacation Guy update today, 10 years after the posting below, he happily lives with Ella in her Seattle apartment. –Andy)

I’ll finish my Vacation Guy trilogy with today’s post, including a photo I just took of the esteemed stuffed toy, taken nearly 15 years after he entered Ella’s life. As you can tell, he has been fully loved by her, so much so that in true Velveteen Rabbit terms, he is undoubtedly real (and has been for years).

Ella would gently rub his face while falling off to sleep each night, the loving he received there being obvious. Several years ago, my mother sewed on “gloves,” replacing the originals that had been worn through. I remember how nervous Ella was when Vacation Guy went in for glove surgery, and how excited she was when he emerged looking so good.

A similar experience was had each time Vacation Guy went for a bath (the washing machine). That form of bath was a little too hard on him so next he got the Woolite treatment in the sink. Ultimately, though, the concern of hurting him was too great and the baths ceased.

Vacation Guy no longer sleeps with Ella but is kept on her nightstand, right next to her bed.

Today’s Prompt: Describe your favorite toy.

Vacation Guy – Part II (From the Archives)

(Here’s today’s post from the archives about Ella’s most important toy, Vacation Guy. Yesterday, I posted Part I and tomorrow I’ll post Part III. The original of Part II is from March 10, 2012. –Andy)

So I gave Ella this advice when she was little, thinking she might be dumb like I was when I got to be 12 or 13. You see, I had an important soft toy when I was little. In fact, I had several of them. Bunny, Pooh Bear, Kanga, Eeyore and others. And when I got to be a certain age, 12 or 13, when these important toys had all been packed away into a box and put in the garage, I thought I was too big for them. Truth be told, I was kind of embarrassed by them.

I’m sad to say, I gave them away.

So the I gave advice I gave Ella was … “When you think you’ve outgrown Vacation Guy, when you get to the point that you think you really don’t need him anymore, when you go crazy ’cause you’re a teenager … Just give Vacation Guy to me for safe keeping.”

“When you come to your senses, I’ll give him back to you.”

That’s what I told Ella.

Today’s Prompt: What’s something *crazy* you did as a teen?

Vacation Guy – Part I (From the Archives)

(I’m digging into the archival history of the 10+ years of postings I’ve made here and found three consecutive stories about Vacation Guy, Ella’s most important childhood toy. I’m reposting them over the next three days, starting with today. The original is from March 9, 2012. –Andy)

In Ella’s hands here is Vacation Guy, so named because she got him in 1997 while we were on a vacation. The four of us were in Sun River, Oregon and we found a little toy store in town. There on the shelves was the cute, soft, cuddly doll, perfect for 8 month old Ella. It became THE soft toy, the one that stayed with her wherever she went, including to bed in her arms each night. I believe in psychology they call such a thing the “transitional object.”

Over the years, Vacation Guy’s family grew. I found his “female” (pink) compatriot on, of all things, eBay and “won” her for Ella. This doll became Vacation Girl. Then there was Vacation Kid and Vacation Joey. Each of these had their own song, part of Ella’s bedtime ritual.

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow when I tell about some sound advice I gave to Ella about Vacation Guy.

Today’s Prompt: Share a story about your most important soft toy, pillow or blanket.

Baby Chloe Fan Club

The date on this photo is May, 1994 which means two specific things. One, it means Chloe, my daughter, wasn’t really a baby. She was 15 months old. And two, given the jackets and such, it must have been chilly in Seattle.

Anyway, the charter members of this exclusive club were Tammy and Stephanie (two of Chloe’s cousins, pushing the stroller), as well as Granny (Chloe’s paternal grandmother — my mom, hey!). The club held its first meeting in March of 1993 at the home of my parents, specifically on their living room floor where Melinda had placed a two-week old Chloe in front of her cousins and doting grandmother.

I’m not sure when the fan club last met. But if I can be so bold and include myself as a member of the club, I’m pleased to report to the members that Chloe is doing quite well in life. Engaged to be married this summer, gainfully employed as a school counselor, proud puppy mama to Tino, she’s made this parent proud.

Oh, one more thing… It’s her birthday today.

Charter members of the Baby Chloe Fan Cub at an early meeting.