Maybe you heard about the snowstorm we experienced two days ago. Down in Portland, precipitation fell as ice, up to a full inch! Fortunately for southwest Washington, we received more than six inches of snow and no ice as temperatures remained below freezing.
That much snow is rare in the Pacific Northwest valleys tucked in between the Cascades and the Coast Range. When any frozen precipitation occurs, the whole area virtually shuts down. That’s because Oregon and Washington have few snowplows and a fraction of the salt elsewhere in the country. Portland would rather use de-icer, accounting for stranded vehicles attempting to traverse hilly areas and increasingly vocal complaints from East Coasters.
So our snow was the most reported in over nine years. Tonight, the weather forecast suggests as temperatures begin to fall, we may get some ice, but nowhere what Portland received. In the week ahead, temperatures should rise and stay in the mid-40s with rain, allowing streets to fully recover in short order. Nevertheless, I felt obliged to shovel a path from my townhouse’s garage to access a navigable street a few feet away.
As I was midway in clearing a paved area where I could freely back out, a little girl, whom I will identify as Penelope, with resplendent red hair and an ear-to-ear smile asked if she could help. I noted she did not ask if I NEEDED help, she asked if she COULD.
I directed Penelope’s efforts, and 20 minutes later told her we were finished, she prepared to run off, yelling “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
No snow melted then, but my heart did. I gave her a five-spot, and told Penelope to share it with her brother.
This was my first Valentine’s Day without Alice supervising me, but I know she would be proud.
I think you will, too. From the Rose City (Portland) where my wife and I first moved, then discovering a modest Washington town 60 miles away where residents happily grow up with small-town values, Happy Valentine’s Day!
Five and a
half years ago, I, Mason Loika (climate-change refugee from Miami), and life
partner Alice McCormick (a true Philly girl) moved “Westward Ho.” We
left a historic Pennsylvania town — Doylestown – to wind up in Longview,
Washington, 50 interstate miles north of Portland, Oregon. Longview has quite a history, but currently the
sleepy town remains below the radar.
between Mt. St. Helens and Washington’s spectacular Pacific Coast, the
self-contained industrial-residential town runs alongside the Columbia River,
and was founded by timber-baron R.A. Long. Next to downtown is a magnificent, Japanese-styled,127-acre
Lake Sacajawea, where residents wear their casual best to stroll – or show off
their dogs’ pedigree – around a 3½ mile maintained gravel trail. (Lake
Sacajawea is named after a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark west.) Longview’s
population and that of sister town, Kelso, totaled 50,000 in 2017.
In September of
that year, Alice and I bought a roomy two-bedroom condominium in Longview next
to a manicured golf course, leaving three years of price-predatory apartment developments
and unforgiving traffic in Portland, Oregon.
The Portland metro
area incorporates Vancouver, Washington (not Canada), and has obscenely grown –
over 2.4 million residents. Once, pedestrians
felt safe crossing city streets, but today population centers all over the West
are bursting at the seams. Everywhere, people are increasingly crowded together. Much of what ruined Miami when I grew up is
happening today in Portland, and an unexplained number of Florida license
plates can be observed.
five years, I kept the financial wolves at bay by driving for Uber and Lyft in
Portland. Nowadays, Alice and I live a
better life in Longview, although I continue “ride-share” work in
Oregon. We have good neighbors in our newfound socially interactive community, and,
after closing my garage at night, a neighbor offers me a solid toke from a
well-stacked pipe containing some of the finest locally grown agricultural
here, y’all! So we don’t have to lead
double lives to protect our right to partake.
Surrounded by the greenery on a nearly 1,000-foot-high, properly populated
hill north of our development, this could be our forever neighborhood, limited to
whatever Creator decides to gift us.
And mercy of
all mercies, musicians get work here.
I’ve already touted Teri’s Restaurant, which keeps getting better. Teri now reserves Friday nights for local
bands to perform in her two-story saloon-style roadhouse, just perfect vibes
for performing musicians to jam together. And on the coast recently — Long
Beach, Washington – a recent weekend event celebrated “Oysters and
Jazz.” Mmmmm. Sustenance for the
body and soul.
continues to manage me, occasionally making progress with her stroke-affected speech.
Each year our closest buds in The Aphasia Network host two weekends at a Methodist
church camp on the tip of a scenic peninsula on Oregon’s pristine coast. We
attend regularly, and – especially – treat each other like family. (During
breakout sessions, caregivers discuss relationship concerns with their group
apart from their respective stroke survivors who simultaneously participate in
activities designed to simulate everyday chores and challenges.)
around at the Aphasia Network staff – nurses, professors, occupational
therapists, speech therapists, students, and executives (who don’t act that
way), – we delight at how one musically astute professor appears to be attached
by the hip to a guitar, with which he schedules bonding hootenannies with invited
amateur musicians. This is, simply put, glorious territory for an elder inhabitant
of Planet Earth to traipse about.
There is still much to share with readers. While Alice and I cocoon to avoid the coronavirus, Creator has decreed this time of fear and worry as a prospective blessing. Or as Jim Morrison once sang in “Light My Fire,” there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.”
After beginning childcare duties on May 15th with the YMCA of Southwest Washington in Longview, Alice McCormick received the following email from the facility’s executive director on June 7th:
The Y’s Rainbow Corner “has some concerns about your communication skills with kids and parents [emphasis added]. Because you are still in the 90-day probationary period, she [the Rainbow Corner’s director] is letting you go because she does not feel like this is a good fit for our members.”
Alice never returned an invitation to speak further to the Y about its decision, so I pressed Alice to forward me the terse communiqué. Once she did so (after two months), I wrote directly to the Y’s executive director who in turn refused comment to me, her life partner, or to anyone other than Alice.
My wife, Alice, can hold a conversation, but lacks the verbal pathways to do so eloquently, which self-explains her recalcitrance to hold a formal conversation with Longview’s YMCA about such an important matter without my participation. Therefore, no further communication is anticipated between us and, accordingly, I spoke with Alice to relate her impressions, and here are some of them.
Inside Longview’s Y
The childcare room in Longview’s YMCA was touted as a “Rainbow Corner,” but painted only with a stark white color. No accompanying artwork, such as that appearing in Doylestown, PA.’s YMCA (where Alice once worked), is part of the color scheme. Half of the children’s toys were, in some way, in a state of disrepair.
The Rainbow Corner’s director expected Alice to continually consort with a mentally challenged co-worker, whom the Y was proactive enough to hire. However, the assignment convinced Alice that her speech aphasia was considered by her superiors as another form of mental incompetence. Not one person volunteered to be Alice’s trainer or a confidante.
I could go on, but Alice and I have no plans to be mean-spirited. But something happened here, and we won’t be silent about it.
Alice excelled in the field of special education and served as a substitute teacher for four years in the Philadelphia School District, no mean feat. She is an elder, an experienced parent who nurtured five children and one grandchild through childhood, teenage angst and later development. These skills remain intact.
Alice’s speech suffered significantly after her stroke in March 2015, and she found out what anyone here who does not speak American English fluently innately knows: She has become a second-class citizen. As I once quoted Hungarian film star Paul Javor in my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Story, “The less English you know, the more likely it is that people will spit on you.”
Alice deserved better than what the Y’s mission here exudes. Working with infants and toddlers provided Alice an opportunity to offer attentive caring, a safe atmosphere and love. This mission doesn’t require her to speak much. When wide-eyed children look up at her (because Alice is considerably taller than her peers), they feel love.
The Aphasia Network is our advocate
People with aphasia are not mentally deranged or incompetent. This is plain wrong. The pathways through her brain were interrupted by a stroke and must be rebuilt through years of therapy and practice so she can feel confident to communicate as well as the rest of us. Alice manages me, and I’m not easy.
Two weeks ago, I broke this sad news to over 100 stroke survivors, care partners, occupational and speech therapy students and instructors at our Aphasia Adventure Weekend on the Coast. Now I share it with the readers of this blog.
Today, Alice freelances by occasionally cleaning people’s apartments. She only works for those who treat her (and me) the same way. Unfortunately, Longview’s YMCA does not meet Alice’s standards. The neighbors in our condo association do.
We remain hopeful that an aphasia awareness campaign will open new doors for people who suffer the debilitating effects of a stroke. For survivors and their care partners, more education and interaction with the outside world needs to be done.
As much as I expressed love for Alice when entering our civil ceremony seven years ago, I love her in a deeper way now. All her struggles inspire me to match her courage. Every little thing she does for me behind the scenes gives me an air of organization. Alice’s dedication to my wellbeing is akin to the Portland (Oregon)-based Aphasia Network’s ever-expanding programs.
Yes, we are exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude is only matched by the unmitigated embrace of support offered by our delightful extended family.
Thanksgiving is a time when one is supposed to feel grateful. This year, though, I believe my gratitude is far more abundant than at any other time in my life.
One particular cause of such supreme gratitude is our condominium unit and the community we now live in. Alice and I thank my cousins, Margaret Johnston and Carolyn & Jeff Levin, for investing in our vision, transforming us into stewards of a beautiful property overlooking the mountains of Washington. If it were not for them, our place would not be as spectacular as the view.
24-unit condo community with a view
Take a peek outside my second-floor writer’s office window. That’s one of several mountain ridges in the distance where a few developments punctuate the landscape. Frequent rain events during the fall/winter obscure their top-of-the-mountain view more than ours, which encourages a certain personal, snobbish feeling of superiority. And during an occasional burst of heat during the summer, a smaller ridge to the southwest shades our valley community an hour before dusk.
Inside the Loika/McCormick home
Our living room has become an audiophile’s wet dream. The television is mounted on the wall and the audio connected to my Bose surround-sound system. Before we moved in, Reid Rasmusson, a local Longview painter and stalwart resident who has knowledge of our building’s architectural history, applied several coats of paint to the entire apartment. What stands out is how Alice directed Reid to reinvent a cranberry-red wall into a more-aesthetically pleasing olive-brown accentuation to an artistically constructed fireplace. An added attraction, thanks to Bose: the acoustics are outstanding.
Therefore, one wouldn’t blame Alice for reclining on our six-month-old sofa toward the entertainment center. But that’s not her usual position. Alice lies in the opposite direction, sharing my outside view, but the downstairs window position aligns her 6-foot frame next to a riot of greenery. Already, Alice is adding her creative touch to the outside backyard.
(Our cat, Millie, complains loudly every day of wanting to go outside and explore. But we hear that bobcats, cougars and coyotes prowl about, so we admonish Millie for expressing reckless desires and keep her inside.)
After Reid finished painting, the carpet people showed up to execute our carpet and flooring plan. Every old piece of carpet was discarded in favor of a tan-colored replacement, with a luxurious feel and look we enjoy today. The carpet installers were finishing up barely moments before our movers were scheduled to arrive. The movers? That’s a different story, and a future post will detail the story of that near-disaster.
One particular view of the upstairs railing reveals light shining through the upstairs bathroom. (We have 1½ bathrooms, by the way.) That’s sunglare coming through the bathroom skylight. That’s cool, isn’t it? A skylight for the bathroom? Oh yeah, try to get that in a condo in Portland!
A feeling of community
Our digs are so splendoriferous that I hesitate to include the generosity of spirit from our neighbors. Nevertheless, I’m dutybound to report our next-door neighbors meet two criteria: quality and congeniality. Terry and Carole Sumrall introduced us to a restaurant they favor: Fiesta Bonita Mexican Grill and Cantina. Of course, our journey turned out to be a late afternoon on Halloween, so the tradition in town conjured up a wannabe for the Village People instead of a waitperson.
Other neighbors are equally generous with their time and talents. Already, Longview is full of revelations, and the history of this town is worthy of more national attention than it gets. This is a true community, and my future writing here may reveal what I call “living in a Gentile kibbutz.” I only wish I didn’t have to drive to Portland to buy whitefish salad, a proper bagel and latkes. Or cheese blintzes! A full story about Longview, Washington will appear in a future post, or perhaps be contained in the book I committed to when moving West.
Teri’s Restaurant is what’s happening
The photo at the top of this post was taken by one of the employees at Teri’s Restaurant in our newly adopted hometown. Besides a continuous dedication to provide restaurant fare a cut above the standard, Teri’s is a hubbub for local musicians and their groupies. (No age requirement to become a groupie.) We met a dean from Lower Columbia College (in Longview, naturally) who got on one knee in front of us to encourage Alice to return to work for child care. How is that for a welcome?
A quick apology
Please excuse the delay in getting this post written. There were plenty of chores for me to take care of, not to mention the time I wasted while being hooked on DishTV during this college football season. Yes, I am still functioning, sometimes badly, on the aftermath and life after a bladder removal surgery.
But I am far more than just alive, and I’m married to an Amazon woman who sets a pretty high standard for how she looks after me. That’s why every time she allows herself a genuine smile, my heart continues to go pitter-patter.
Dr. Seuss said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep, because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
On her birthday in March of this year, Alice told me, “This year, don’t buy me anything. Instead, please, please get me a house.”
Alice realized the bloom had fallen off the Portland Rose City. We started looking around and found a two-story townhouse for sale in Longview, Washington, next to a public golf course. The photo above shows the crown jewel of Longview: Lake Sacajawea, a former channel of the Cowlitz River turned into a picturesque manmade lake, surrounded by 67 manicured parkland acres. Live music fills the air on six consecutive Thursday night concerts.
Alice and I were in a difficult spot, because we didn’t have money for a down payment. We were caught up in Portland’s rent crisis, and each year an increasing amount of money was being squeezed from us to rent a tiny 900-square-foot apartment next to a major freeway.
Mason Was a Navy Reservist
Thinking about my Uncle Eddie McCormick, though, led to an overdue realization. During the early 1960s, Eddie convinced me into joining the Naval Air Reserve. As far as the Armed Services were concerned, I was not a “man’s man.” This was especially true after I took the Navy’s aptitude test and set a new record for LOWEST score in mechanical ability. Eddie suggested I join the Naval Air Reserve’s six-month active duty group known as “Weekend Warriors.”
During that era, I was subject to the draft. So I enlisted as a preventive move and served six months of active duty – from October 6, 1960 until April 5, 1961, followed by 5½ years of active reserve duty spending one weekend a month at Jacksonville (Fla.) Naval Air Station and serving two weeks active duty during the summer. Most of those two-week tours took me to Guantanamo Bay, but my experience did not include combat, thank God.
After my discharge, I discovered legislation that disqualified 1960s reservists who served 180 or fewer days active duty from receiving VA benefits. This was a strike against six-month reservists, and I harbored resentment about the limitation of opportunity and expressed it to Uncle Eddie a few times.
Embracing a Revelation
Eventually, I found my niche as a broadcaster turned journalist, and regarded my military service as irrelevant history. My military history soon became relevant as I wracked my brain figuring out how to finance a condo purchase. I don’t remember how a flash of brilliance overcame me, but somehow I started counting my days of active duty from October 6 through April 5. That added up to more than 180 days, it was 182.
Oh my God, the commander at Jacksonville Naval Air Station must have mustered me out two days late. I was qualified!
Realtor Tami Cheatley was super-skeptical about VA financing, though, shunning it with a passion, but the Veterans Administration proved it was there for us. It recognized Alice and me as a married couple, and acknowledged my service. Oh yes, the VA did exact their pound of flesh, requiring me to document numerous explanations of every black mark our credit suffered over the last seven years.
We needed to get files from years past, copies of court judgments, visit the IRS, give every possible explanation for any bump in the road we experienced in life. But we did it, and today, on Eclipse Monday, we closed on the sale.
As we celebrate our hard-won victory today, I acknowledge what Uncle Eddie did for by getting me into the Naval Air Reserve. And I dote on his memory. So congratulate us, for today Alice and I became homeowners in a quiet, desirable neighborhood.