A spider died in my shower this morning. His name was Floki, and I apparently triggered one of the traps he set last night for George, the Jumping spider that lives in the bathroom skylight. Whatever trap was hit, Floki ran at me across the ceiling but the steam from the shower proved to be too much and he fell into the water. I got him to the ledge of the tub but he didn’t make it. George made an appearance about an hour ago, so he has survived the attempted invasion of his territory.
I know that all sounds ridiculous, but it’s all real. Floki was one of three cellar spiders in our house, and we’ve been able to track them since we moved in December 2020. Floki wasn’t the biggest – that’s Ragnar – but he would hang with his front legs outstretched in a way that made him look much bigger. He traveled the most of the three, frequently moving upstairs and down for his kills. When he showed up in my bathroom last night, I knew it was to hunt George, and I joked with Rich and Alex that we’d have to do a spider funeral soon. I was pretty sure that George was not long for the world with Floki on his heels. The little jumpy spider that is now bigger than a dime doesn’t know how lucky he got because of my shower.
Some of you are probably laughing at me right now. Some might think I’m making this all up. Who names their house spiders? Truth be told, this is a huge deal for me. I’m fucking terrified of spiders. The fear level absolutely requires the use of the “F” word. I have multiple stories of me and spiders, and none are good. But these three – Ragnar, Floki, and Halfdan – have been given full access to my house because they seem to fucking hate other fucking spiders as much as I do.
Ragnar was the first of the cellar spiders to make himself known. He’s massive for something with such a tiny body, and he is fierce. It was his gruesome kill-space littered with dead spiders that allowed me to be convinced by Rich’s argument that he was going to be helpful. I didn’t even know we’d had that many spiders alive at some point down there! Ragnar makes sure I never have to know.
Back in September we thought Ragnar died. He was tangled up in a web with a much bigger spider at the bottom of the stairs, and neither seemed to be alive. For more than a day we thought they’d succeeded at killing each other. Then Ragnar popped up above the dead guy after another day or so, and showed us how lethal he is. Floki also showed up shortly after we moved in. He was stalking Vlad, the elusive black widow on the stairs, but Rich killed Vlad first and Floki vanished for a few weeks after. I got the sense he wasn’t impressed with us interfering with his mission. For the last year he’s been easy to identify with his unique way of perching in his webs – front legs out straight, almost shaping himself like an arrowhead. Wish I’d thought to take a picture of how different his pose was from Ragnar and Halfdan.
Halfdan is the newest of the three, and he joined Floki in the guest room over the winter. He’s the smallest and most likely youngest, but he currently has an impressive graveyard in his perch corner downstairs. I know Ragnar probably won’t be around much longer; the cellar spider has an average lifespan of 2-3 years. Halfdan will have a lot of shoes to fill now that Floki is gone. We can’t let the bad spiders take the house.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
One year ago today we made our first visit to our new house in the Pacific Northwest. This Madrona is still one of my favorite things.
One year and six days ago I walked into Rich’s office in the middle of the afternoon and changed our world. We were hip-deep in 2020 and it had taken it’s toll. Rich had been working from home since March. I quit working at the end of July to focus on my writing and my health. But on that day – Friday, October 23, 2020 – I interupted Rich’s work day for a quick conversation I know he wasn’t expecting. It went like this:
ME: “I’m not trying to run away but I really need to move somewhere else.”
RICH: “Okay, find us a house and we’ll move.”
ME: “That’s it? If I find us a house we can move?”
Rich: “Yep, find us a house and we’ll move.”
ME: “Alright, I’ll find us a house.”
Rich: “Make it happen cap’n.”
With nothing more than that, I headed back to my spot in the basement and started searching in Washington State. We’d talked for a few years about “What if…” ideas of moving away, but talked ourselves out of it every time. Maybe we’d just do a vacation house somewhere that we could rent out and visit, but where we wanted to be was too far away from where we were in Salt Lake for it to make sense. We knew we wanted to be in the Pacific Northwest, and the Puget Sound area specifically, and that wasn’t going to work as a weekend getaway spot from where we were.
Now, as adults with adult children and flexible careers, the idea of jumping ship and moving away seemed possible. And with everything brought to light through 2020, it seemed foolish to keep putting off what we knew would make us truly happy. So, I started the search that Friday and by this date a year ago – October 29, 2020 – we’d made the list, hired a real estate agent, and were waiting for word on the offer we’d made on a house we thought would be a good fit for us. The acceptance came through in the afternoon and set a whirlwind into motion.
Salt Lake was the only home I’d ever known. I was born there, and Rich moved from Texas at 12 years old. We met years later after we’d had kids and tried to make a go of it with other people. We came together in 2004 and built a life that was good. Our marriage was solid, our kids were figuring out their own situations, and Rich’s work made it possible to dream about moving to a place we really wanted to be. For the longest time though, I couldn’t make the jump. I wasn’t sure I could be the type of person who moved away from home. But something about last year made me decide I needed to try.
The news was a shock to most people who knew us. To be honest, it was a little bit of a shock for us as well! Telling people we decided to move to a different state, found a house, hired an agent, got approved for our loan, and had our offer accepted on a house we’d never been in makes the whole thing sound crazy. When we add the fact that the house we’re in was under contract when we first put it on our list, and that the first buyers walked away the same morning we made our offer because they decided it wasn’t a starter home, it almost feels like fate. If you believe in that kind of thing… That we did it all in six days was hilarious to the two of us. We still laugh about it sometimes.
Although our offer was accepted on this date, we didn’t close and move in until the first week of December. But the past ten months in our new home have been everything we hoped for. The house’s 1990’s design isn’t perfect but it will be when we’re done. Living away from my family has not been easy; I miss them all and I miss being able to get together without using vacation days. But distance doesn’t lessen love, and there’s something to be said about living in the place that makes you happiest. Still, I never imagined I’d move away from home to find where home was meant to be.
I should be writing right now but Astrid and I were having too much fun in the leaves. This dog takes such glamour shots!
My Grandma Buster, Janice Malstrom Dumas, passed away today. It wasn’t unexpected. I don’t think many of us expected her to stay long after my grandpa passed away fifteen days ago. They’d been married for 65 years and 8 months and raised five kids together in their little home on Amber Lane, in a house that holds many of my childhood memories.
Growing up, my brother and I had Grandma and Grandpa Bear and Grandma and Grandpa Buster. The identifiers were the names of the dogs that lived at each house. My grandmothers were very different people. Grandma Buster was an observer who would spoil you quietly. Grandma Bear was the more spontaneous one. Sleepovers at my Grandma Bear’s house usually included lots of kids sleeping on floors. We’d have the run of the house, the yard, and the fridge if you could find anything in it.
Sleepovers at my grandma Buster’s house were less frequent and less chaotic.Sleeping over at my grandma Buster’s house in my memories was usually just me. I can remember mini pancakes for breakfast and following her around the house while she did her cleaning with her fancy canister vacuum trailing behind her. There were toys that had belonged to my aunts and uncle. Plastic Disney figures that still stick out for me included a blue plastic Tinkerbell with pointy wings that I loved.
We read books like Harold and the Purple Crayon, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Henny Penny. She’d paint her nails with one of the variations of neutral she kept in the fridge, and we’d drink Lipton iced tea on the back porch swing and watch the whirligigs flutter from the maple tree. I’m not sure who thought of it, but one day she helped me turn the whirligigs and some popsicle sticks into fairies.
One day in 2019 I found a random maple whirligig in my car, and it brought back the memories of making those little fairies in the backyard. I wrote a note and mailed the pod to my grandma, who by that time was not doing well. Between the day I sent it and the day she received it she suffered a fall that changed everything. She was fragile and frail and the dementia was stronger than ever.
In early November 2019 I visited with my grandma at her care center when she was still healing from her fall. I sat down at the table, and she asked if I worked there. She was relieved when I said no. I visited for a bit, but she never did remember who I was. The only time a connection was made was when something was said about my son, Alexandre. “He had some troubles a while back, you know?” she said. I told her I did know and that he was doing well now. “Good. I hope he learned some good life lessons from that.”
I asked my grandpa about the letter I’d sent, and he told me it was received but she’d never seen it. But Janice wanted to know what we were talking about, so I told her about the maple pod and the fairies from long ago. “I’m sorry but I don’t remember,” she told me. I told her that was okay because I remembered enough for both of us, and she laughed. It was the genuine, familiar laugh from my childhood. Quiet, trailing a little, then done.
The loss of her health was hard to watch but the loss of her memories, the loss of what made her herself, was unbearably cruel. There was so much about my grandma that I will continue to remember for the both of us. Her mini perfume bottle collection that I never got told I couldn’t touch. Shoe shopping for each new school year. Our Ashton Drake doll obsession in the 80s. How much she enjoyed taking Alexandre “downtown” in Sandy. Chicken noodle soup, green Jell-O, Angel Food Cake, and the absolute perfection that was her smashed potatoes and gravy. And numerous evenings laying in her lap in the living room while she listened to her family talk around her. All of those happy moments where there was never any doubt that she loved us.
Every March 2nd we celebrate Read Across America Day, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss Day. Theodor Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904 and went on to become one of the most beloved children’s authors of our time. His stories are known for their quirkiness and whimsy, and the distint cartoonish style in which he brought his characters to life.
His professional career, under the pen-name of Dr. Seuss, took off in 1927. Originally, he worked as an illustrator, and political cartoonist, before publishing his first children’s book. That first title, published in 1937, was And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The book’s Seuss-ian rythm was inspired by the rocking of a cruise ship during a trip to Europe with his first wife, Helen. Though it was eventually picked up by Vanguard Press, with help from a connection with an old Dartmouth classmate, Dr. Seuss suffered the typical rejection that most authors face. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was initially rejected by over 20 publishers!
You might not have realized it but Dr. Seuss created the idea of “Beginner Readers” books. In 1954, Life Magazine reported that children were not learning to read in school. Some believed it was because there wasn’t anything out there kids wanted to read. School books were boring. A publisher of children’s text books challenged Dr. Seuss to write something kids wouldn’t want to put down. They gave him a list of 250 words they thought were most important for first graders to learn and told him to use only words from that list. The Cat in the Hat was the result of that challenge! Dr. Seuss used 238 of the 250 required words. Next came Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and a whole new world of children’s literature was created.
One book that didn’t make it to that stack initially was a manuscript Dr. Seuss completed and submitted with special instructions. Although he’d done the illustrations for his other books, he didn’t think his art could stand up to this one. He set out on a quest to find an artist who could make what he called “the first book ever to be based on beautiful illustrations and sensational color.” He wanted to find an illustrator who wouldn’t be dominated by him, and whose art would carry the story. Dr. Seuss didn’t find the artist he was looking for and the story stayed in the dark for more than twenty years.
After his death in 1991, Audrey Geisel picked up the quest for finding the right artist for the story her husband hid away. She found a husband and wife team and she knew instantly these two were the artists her husband had been looking for. Under he skills of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher the long-hidden manuscript was brought to life. In August 1996 it was published as My Many Colored Days. The prose and rythm in My Many Colored Days is unlike anything else written by Dr. Seuss. It’s a story of emotions, assigning each feeling to colors, creatures, and sounds.
The book combines these colors and creatures in what is argubly one of the most beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated children’s books published. From the happy, jumping Pink Days, to the lonely Puprle Days, the book moves through each emotion in a way a child can recognize as part of themselves. “Then come my black days. Mad. And Loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud.” shares the page with a howling black wolf. Red is equated with energy, and green days are slow days. There are yellow days and blue days, and at the end of the book there is a mixed-up day with all the emotions scrambled together in confusion. The moreal of the sotry is loud and clear on the last pages.
This book, with the stunning art from Johnson and Fancher, is a beautiful tool for teaching young children about feelings and the normalcy of having different emotions. Just as he was challenged in 1954, Dr. Seuss wrote another book that kids can’t put down to teach them something important. I think he would have been thrilled with the strength of the artists who eventually found their way to the story. Celebrate today by checking out My Many Colored Days, and say a little thank you to Dr. Seuss.
I wrote this last year as a blog post for a crisis center I used to volunteer for. You can find the original, unedited version at www.imalive.com, and a good resource for mental health crisis as well. For this little blog, I cleaned it up slightly to celebrate that tomorrow, February 26th, is National Fairy Tale Day. I love me a good fairy tale. Stella and her Djinn are characters I want to play with more, but for now I encourage you all to write a little fairy tale of your own and celebrate tomorrow. (Apologies for the formatting. The preview does not look like the published version no matter what I do!)
Happiness for Stella
By Natalie Dumas-Heidt
The frosty drizzle coming from the grey blanket above me was fitting for the day I was having. Once upon a time life had been good but that life had been ruined. Today started with a broken shoelace and that was followed by spilling my much-needed, extra large latte. Yesterday my cat watched a mouse run across our counter and then went back to his own breakfast like it wasn’t his job to be concerned. Tuesday was the kicker though. Chris left on Tuesday. Packed up and moved out with barely a goodbye, and now he’s in the Bahama’s sitting on the beach with his chiropractor’s receptionist.
A cold wind pushed my umbrella inside out and the drizzle turned to penetrating rain. I ducked into the first shop on my right, my broken umbrella dripping on the tile floor. I stared at it and the growing puddle, lost.
“Trade ya?” A young man with kohl black hair smiled at me, holding out a clear vinyl umbrella with a shiny pink handle. My hesitation made him chuckle. “Free of charge. You look like you need it more than I do.”
“Um…thanks,” I stammered. I took in the look of the young man in front of me. He was tall, probably over six feet. Definitely taller than Chris. His dark hair was long enough to hang in his eyes, and his grin was punctuated by two dimples. I would guess he was in his twenties, but his purple silk paisley shirt screamed ‘I rocked this in the seventies.’ I swapped him for the new umbrella and followed him to a cashier’s counter where he ceremoniously dropped my old one into a trash can too small to adequately hold it.
“Take a look around.” He brushed his dark hair off his forehead. “We might have something else that strikes your fancy.” He smiled and I was drawn into the warmth of it. His eyes flashed in the most enchanting shade of green I’d ever seen. “The umbrella is still on the house though.”
Knick-knacks, vintage clothes, and boxes of vinyl records were stacked throughout the small shop without much order. It was exactly the kind of shop that Chris would have hated. ‘Other people’s garbage’ he would have called it. I loved it. Each gob of rhinestones with a pin back, every porcelain cat, had a story. I ran my fingers across baubles stacked amongst teacups as I walked, stopping when my hand landed on a bejeweled teapot sitting on a collection of old VHS tapes. A surge of electricity jumped through my fingertips. At the same moment the shopkeeper was at my side.
“I thought it might be you.” He grinned and his green eyes lit up again.
“Me? What might be me?”
“My lamp tends to call people in on occasion. They always find it when they need it.”
I laughed nervously, unsure if this was his attempt at a pick-up line. Who tries to woo a girl with a lamp covered in plastic gems? “I thought it was my broken umbrella that brought me in?”
“Nope. It was the lamp. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories – three wishes, no more than three, and your wishes can’t be wishes for more wishes.”
“Don’t I have to rub it first and wait for the Genie to pop out?”
“I’m already out. Haven’t lived in there in a long time. Found myself a bigger place with rent control.”
“You? You’re a Genie?” I couldn’t help but match his grin. His playfulness was catching.
“Ah, well…Genie, Djinn, tomato, potato. It’s all close enough. The rules are the same. You found the lamp, you touched the lamp, now I get to give you three wishes.”
Thoughts raced through my mind like wild butterflies and the prospects of this being real. Was he flirting or could he really grant me wishes? At a minimum could playing along get newly single me at least a coffee date? With that smile, those eyes, I’d take a coffee date. “Alright, I’ll play. I only have one wish.”
“Just one?” He cocked an eyebrow, disbelieving.
“Yep. I want to be happy. Always. No sadness, no depression, just happy.”
“All rainbows and dragonflies, huh? That’s the best you’ve got? C’mon! I can make you famous. I can make you rich. I can make chocolate a health food. Let’s hear it.”
“Happy. That’s what I want. I’m tired of broken hearts. I’m tired of being sad. I just want to be happy. All happy, all the time.”
His electric green eyes swept over my face. I felt like he was looking into the core of my being. Uncomfortable with the concern, I shifted out from under his gaze. “How will you know?” he asked finally.
“How will I know?”
“It’s a simple question.”
“Right now I’m sad. Yesterday, I was sad. I don’t need sad; I just want to be happy.”
“But what does that mean; to be happy?”
I laughed at the ridiculousness of his question, and his eyes crinkled in the corners as he smiled back at me. “Happy is the opposite of what I am right now. Happy is not being dumped by the boyfriend who promised to take you to Paris this summer. Happy is not looking at the prospect of going to your best friend’s wedding in two weeks without the Plus One you RSPV’d for.”
“Alright, but how would you know? If you’ve never been anything else how will you know happy? And what level of happy do you want to be set at? Perfect coffee happy? Ecstatically happy? Room full of puppies happy? Great sex happy? There are flowers and rainbows because there are dark skies and rainstorms. The world would be flat and grey otherwise.”
“I thought you were a Genie…”
“Djinn,” he corrected.
“Potato,” I returned. “It’s my wishes, right?”
“Just think about it first, is all I’m asking.” He was so sincere, his green eyes almost pleading, that I stopped. I took in all that he’d said and let it tumble around in my brain. Was I asking for the right thing? Was he right? Would I lose knowing the difference between good coffee and holding a Goldendoodle? Would it be worth the risk if it meant not knowing heartache?
“You can make chocolate healthy, huh?”
Many of my childhood days were spent at a little green house on a dead end street called Mecham Lane. It took me a while to figure out the little green house on Mecham Lane belonged to the Mechams. I’d always known them as Grandma and Grandpa Grape. And since my other grandparents were Grandma and Grandpa Dumas and Grandma and Grandpa Evans, then certainly Grape would have been their last name. But it wasn’t and they weren’t the Grapes. They were Thelma and Rulon Mecham, and they were my great grandparents. The little green house of Thelma and Rulon Mecham was a place of magic when I was a child. There was the pea patch, and the strawberry patch, and the raspberry bushes. We’d eat peas from the pod in big bowls, and Grandma Grape was the best at “making” strawberries, which was just muddling them a little with a generous sprinkling of sugar. There was the Gold Machine – a contraption with conveyor belts and windshield wipers to sift gold from dirt. There were easter egg hunts and family gatherings, horseshoe games, the canal, and there was music. Almost every time we were there there was music. My great-grandpa Rulon was a musician. He wrote songs and would entertain us for full evenings with his guitar on his knee. He had love songs and spiritual songs, but my favorite were always his funny, tongue-twister songs. Hearing stories of him playing his songs in bars for an audience sounded the same as being famous in my little-kid days.
Thelma & Rulon watching me open Christmas gifts, early 1980’s.
Those days of listening to my grandpa play are long gone. Thelma passed away when I was 14. Rulon remarried and lived a long life, despite his heart’s attempts to say otherwise. Rulon passed away several years later in 2004, when I was 28. As one of the multiple great-grandkids I cherished what I had of those days; an old cassett recorded by my grandpa Grape, December 24, 1985.
He gave all his kids and grandkids copies, and somehow I’d ended up with my mom’s long ago. Ten years ago I was able to put it on CD and redistribute it to the family. On it is my grandpa and what he chose as the most important of his songs, and one little line from my Grandma Grape; “Oh, Rulon, I didn’t know you cared so much,” you can hear her say.
Those days in their tiny living room, with smoke swirling at the top of the ceiling and my grandpa’s twangy, country style voice filling the rest of the open space, have stayed with me. I’ve had a love of music in small venues my whole life, and for live music in general. I shared that love of live music with my son, although he never got to listen to grandpa play, he does know the joy of listening to a guy with a guitar, singing to a crowd in a small room.
The love of music is continuing to spread from one generation to the next, and the love started at the feet of Rulon Mecham. As little kids singing along with his original, Little Piney, or the one we all sang, You Are My Sunshine, the love of music blossomed. We’d giggle and try to sing along with The Thing, convinced we were clever and knew what that little critter really was. The song Christmas Day became funnier as I got older.
My memories of those days were rekindled this week with the discovery of Grape’s guitar and this blog post by its new owner. He’d found the 1956 Gibson online after it had been pawned a few years back by a cousin. I’m sure the decision to pawn it was a desperate situation. My initial reaction was the same as the rest of the family at learning he’d sold it to a pawn shop; why hadn’t he called us first? But as it turns out, the journey through the pawn shop was the right one.
Current photo from blog post by new owner, posted on Jazz Guitar Online.
This beautiful guitar has found it’s way back to a loving home with a man who plays. With a man who appreciates not only the beauty of the instrument and what can be done with it, but also the story that he knew had to be attached to it. On his own he’d done research on my Grandpa Grape after discovering his name etched on a plate on the guitar. He found Rulon’s obituary and put what he’d discovered about his new guitar in words.
The new owner of my grandpa’s Gibson took note of everything about the guitar that showed it had meant a lot to someone. The wear marks from his knee, the divit created by what he assumed was his wedding ring. He’s decyphered how my grandpa played by the ghost-like pattern left on the neck of the guitar from his hand. He wondered about heat damage on the case which we guess came from resting too closely to the 3’x3′ metal heat grate in the living room floor, and not from the rescue of a different Rulon Mecham from an apartment fire in 1976.
What he couldn’t know when writing his post was how much it would mean to our family to see it. To see this guitar, responsible for so many happy days and nights in that little green house, brought up a flood of emotions for us all. The Gibson spent several decades making music with my grandpa Grape. He would be pleased to know it had traveled far to make it to another loving home, after all these years, to be played again.
Five generations in front of the little green house. Rulon Mecham, his daughter, Ilene, her daughter, Barbara, her daughter, me, my son, Alexandre. Spring 1997.