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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Kissing Bobby Corcoran

Since I still live right here in my home town, it was no trouble at all to show up at the Corvallis High Class of '69 Fiftieth class reunion, and the high point for me, hands down, was reconnecting with my fourth grade boyfriend, Bob Corcoran.  Like me, he has a solid marriage, kids and grandkids.  He's still cute, fit, and the same sweetheart of a guy I remembered. In high school he was all district half-back on the football team and I had leads in the plays. This made for an uncrossable line in the social hierarchy of the times, and we never talked about anything, much less our grade school romance. So, that Saturday night at the Country Club, I was tickled to learn that he remembered meeting to kiss, all those years ago, in the vacant lot on the far side of my block.

 

I told him I'd written about him in the flashback chapter of my memoir, Wedding in Yangshuo, where I explain what a ridiculously romantic little girl I'd been:

 

When I fell in love with Bobby Corcoran, the coolest, cutest boy in the fourth grade—ask  anyone who went to Garfield Elementary—I  clearly remember thinking, "At long last….love!"  Because I honestly felt I had been waiting for this my entire life.  All ten years.

 

Ah, the wonderful month of May, 1961.  Bobby even gave me a ring—silver and black, with Chinese characters on it.  I was pretty sure they must have meant ALL MY LOVE FOREVER, but as far as Bobby was concerned, love ended that year with the start of baseball season.

 

I nursed my broken heart for two whole years.  Yes, the very years when, as the perfect soundtrack for this torch-carrying episode, the song "Bobby's Girl" topped the charts.  As in, that's what I wanna be, that's the most important thing to me etc.

 

I still loved Bobby Corcoran when, in sixth grade, he gave that new girl—Shirley Something—a rhinestone heart necklace.  That killed me. I wonder what happened to her.  I wonder if she still has that necklace like I still have the ring with the Chinese characters.

 

Good thing I saved it since now I have a son who translates Chinese for a living and can tell me what the characters mean. They mean GOOD LUCK, Miles tells me.  Perfectionist that he is on the smallest of translation jobs, even such personal ones for his mother, he feels compelled to point out that this is good luck using characters as it would be spoken in Cantonese, not Mandarin. 

 

GOOD LUCK.

 

Well, I can go with that.

 

Thanks, Bobby.  As it turns out, I have been lucky. 

 

So lucky.

 

And now Bobby tells me he remembers the ring, remembers buying it in San Francisco's Chinatown with his family the previous year.  When I told him how my heart had been broken over that necklace he gave Shirley, the new girl, he was shocked.  "I never gave her any necklace," he insisted, "I gave YOU the ring."

 

Wow.  So much heartbreak for nothing.  Since I never lied, I never thought anyone else did either.  Maybe she just made that story up because she wished the necklace she was wearing had been a gift from him.

 

In comparing all the details we remembered, I find I'm struck not by the fact that at ten, we were out in the grass of the vacant lot, experimenting with kissing, but that we had the freedom, in those days, to ride our bikes around the neighborhood at will, as long as we showed up at our suburban tract homes in time for dinner.

 

Bob remembered the special advanced assignment our 4th grade teacher, Ruth Jones, gave the two of us: to measure every room in our houses and draw floor plans.  I so wish I could tell her this, but Ruth died recently.  About a year ago a group of us gathered to dedicate a "Buddy Bench" to her on the playground of the last school where she taught--Adams Elementary. If you haven't heard, Buddy Benches are for kids to park themselves if they need a playmate, in hopes of being joined by some other solitary—sort of a pre-internet playdate site.  I have no idea if they work.  I'll ask my grandson Nolan about it.  He just started kindergarten at Adams.

 

If you stay in your hometown, the connections never end, and you can find yourself driving by the site of every memory on a daily basis.  Sometimes when I'd get a pedicure at the salon that occupies the site of what used to be our vacant lot trysting place, I'd think about kissing Bobby Corcoran and the wonderful taste it gave me of all the joy life might hold.

 

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BRIDES OF EDEN: a True Story Imagined

Finally....a reprint edition of Brides of Eden, which was originally published by HarperCollins in 2001. The new edition, in paperback and ebook, contains all the original historic photos of the original.

So much has been written over the years about the scandal that erupted in sleepy little Corvallis when charismatic Franz Edmund Creffield came to Corvallis, dubbed himself Joshua, and gathered around him the wives and daughters of several prominent families.

When my book came out, I ended up meeting some of the descendants of these folks. One older man was still terribly upset about the whole affair, although why he traveled a hundred miles to confront me in a bookstore to say he wished people would stop writing about this and embarrassing him in public I cannot say.

Other descendants of a younger generation seemed to understand that, unlike everything else written about this episode, I was telling the story from the point of view of the young women involved. I had sympathy for them as the victims they were.

One man called me and said he had only just learned that he was descended from the followers of Creffield. He had been advised not to read about it, but was told that if he did, he should read the one called Brides of Eden, because that's the only one that explained how it really happened. I took this as the best compliment, especially as my book is the only one written as a novel.

The story of a powerful man bending women to his will just keeps playing out, doesn't it? Check out the link to my newly posted book trailer to see how it happened in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1903.  Read More 
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After the Eclipse

Life moved on quickly after the eclipse last week. People got in their cars and drove back north or south on I-5, south on 97, joining what proved to be the only real traffic jams caused by the celestial event. In the Willamette Valley, we turned our attention to the thick smoke of forest fires blanketing us, and tuned into the reports of devastation out of Texas thanks to Harvey. All the reports of devastation from Houston made the dire warnings of the effects of too many eclipse visitors to Oregon seem almost laughable.

Afterwards, authorities said they’d just picked that number—a million visitors—out of the air, and probably the fact that it wasn’t so bad is due to the fact that not nearly that many showed up. The predictions of traffic gridlock were so scary, we warned our out-of-town guests we wouldn’t blame them if they backed out.

Now we’re so glad they didn’t! Because seeing the eclipse in totality turned out to be amazing for everyone, and none of the bad things predicted came to pass. That afternoon, when it was over, I took my niece Mallory from Vancouver, B.C., downtown, and I had never seen so many people walking our streets. Happy people. The mood was totally celebratory. They came, they saw, they shopped for souvenirs.
A lovely woman from Davis, California, wrote a letter of thanks to our local paper, the Gazette-Times, for the hospitality she found in Corvallis. No, thank YOU, Stephanie. You and everybody else who showed up and played nice. Apparently nobody picked fights or started forest fires (Mother Nature handles that on her own), people didn't overwhelm the hospitals with fried eyeballs, and authorities in Central Oregon were reporting a surprising lack of residual trash.

Whether the viewing party was formally arranged as was ours, or ended up being an impromptu gathering of neighbors, it seems everyone felt blessed to be able to go outside and for a few minutes, share this amazing phenomenon with others.

Our farm is two miles from town, but just like my memory of the eclipse of 19790, at the moment of totality, we could hear the cheering.  Read More 
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Countdown in the Zone of Eclipse Totality

Yep, my own hometown of Corvallis, Oregon, is sitting square in the path of totality for next Monday’s eclipse, and every day the news warns us that a million people are headed our way and surely all hell is going to break loose.

How come this didn’t happen with the eclipse of 1979? No internet? My husband and I don’t even know anyone else who even saw it. We, however, did.

It was February, so there was no way going to be a shot at seeing it from the rainy Willamette Valley. We decided to go to Eastern Oregon, looping up around the Columbia Gorge and then south. We booked a motel room in Cascade Locks a couple of weeks ahead, no issues, nobody even talking about it. Then, on the day before, we headed north from Corvallis on a scenic route through Silverton and the Cascade foothills.

Our troubles began when we hit Highway 26 at Sandy. We took a left and I was all for waiting until the helpful green highway signs, in which I have great faith, said something recognizable like “Troutdale” as a hint for when to turn right for the Gorge. But Herb felt that surely one of these other right turns must lead to the Gorge as well. Neither of us understood the geographical fact that the Sandy River was between us and the Gorge.

My husband took an impulsive right and soon we were lost. Or at least not making progress towards our goal. And here’s the thing: I was four months pregnant, and soon desperately bladder challenged. Herb was 29 and naturally had, as a young man, no inclination to stop and asked for directions, either to the Gorge or a restroom.

I do not remember how all that was resolved, only that eventually we got back on Highway 26, took the proper turn for Troutdale and eventually checked into the Cascade Locks motel.

It poured rain that night and we were fighting. I could not understand how I was having a baby by a guy who seemed incapable of saying he was sorry for being flat out wrong and making me suffer.

In the morning, still hardly speaking, we got up and drove east until we emerged from the rain to the dry side of the Cascades, then headed south. When we figured we were in the zone, we pulled off to the side of the road and climbed a small knoll.
As predicted, the moon’s shadow began to cross the face of the sun, and here’s what I remember: When the shadow totally eclipsed the sun, a great cheer rose from the neighboring hills, startling me. I hadn’t even been aware other people were standing out there until that moment.

Our spat was suddenly so yesterday. We were going to have a baby. Our first. And in spite of everything, we had managed to get ourselves to this spot at the right time to see this amazing spectacle. Together. We drove home happy.

So now, thirty-eight years later, we are ground zero right here at Wake Robin Farm and hosting family from Victoria, B. C. and San Francisco for the big event. Kids closer to home are still on the fence about whether to brave the predicted highway gridlock to come share this together. I cannot advise them.

We are stocking up on food, as suggested, and I am cleaning my house. It needs it anyway. I have complete confidence in the scientists that the sun will be totally eclipsed next Monday morning. I have no idea how the drama of a million people coming to Oregon will play out.

But I can be confident that whatever happens on Monday, on Tuesday, my front step bricks will be clean!  Read More 
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Brides of Eden: a True Story Imagined Now Available as an ebook.

Brides of Eden was first published in 2001, before ebooks were a thing. I've finally now been able to make it available in an ebook edition that contains all the lovely historic photos of the original.

Check Goodreads for a lot of great ratings and reviews.








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PORTLANDIA

I am a huge fan of the TV show Portlandia. I only wish it were longer! I could sit here laughing my head off all night. I guess it’s the recognition factor for me. I’m thinking Yeah, people talk like that. And then…Wait. You mean they don’t talk that way everywhere? You mean that’s just a Portland thing? A Western Oregon thing? I feel like Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have been spying on us and showing us sides of our laid-back selves we hadn’t even noticed.

After the first few episodes, I couldn’t help starting to collect what seemed to me like Portlandia bits here in Corvallis, eighty miles to the south. My favorite is having our eggs delivered by Dan Crall in his pedicab. Along with his backyard chicken coop project, Dan also ferries people around town in his bicycle powered cab, a business for which he was recently nominated local entrepreneur of the year.

What a privilege to eat these fresh, orange-yoked eggs laid by super happy chickens. Dan has a wonderfully mellow voice, powerfully charming enough that it used to grace the airwaves of Oregon Public Broadcasting. I’m sure his hens must enjoy being called to dinner by him!

Of course we reuse the egg cartons. Sometimes Dan writes slogans or reviews on them. Today’s says, “Eggs so good you’ll say, ‘These are good.’”





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