Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Son-in-law is a Hero

My Son-in-law is a Hero


Heroes surround us. Some heroes are famous. We celebrate their exploits with much fanfare. But often we stand next to a hero, unaware. We don’t always recognize greatness. But I need to share an event with you. My son-in-law, Christopher Robart, who lives in Tulalip/Marysville in Washington , last week saved the life of a little boy.

Chris was in McDonald’s with his daughter, my granddaughter, Toni, now five. Chris prepared to chomp into a Big Mac while Toni explored her toy from the Happy Meal, when he heard a commotion in the play room. A little boy had a piece of food lodged in his throat and could not breathe. The boy’s father was frantic, verging on hysterics, the kind of panic that leads to paralysis.

Chris rushed into the play area and with eye contact alone received permission from the father to take over. He lifted the child, who was about four years old, and applied the Heimlich maneuver, which dislodged the chunk of food. But the boy, limp in Chris’s arms, still did not breathe. Chris lowered the child to the floor and administered CPR.

Meanwhile, a woman came forth to take Toni in hand and reassure her. She let Chris know that she would keep Toni safe. Again, this was spoken with the eyes. Chris heard the kind, perceptive woman assure Toni that her Dad was working and that all would be well. At the same time a store employee called the emergency ambulance crew. Another person took the father in hand and calmed him. Chris said it seemed like everything happened in the same instant.

Chris continued CPR. By the time the ambulance crew arrived, the little boy had begun breathing. The crew took over, administered oxygen and loaded the boy onto a gurney and into the ambulance. With his dad at his side, they rushed the boy to the hospital for a check up.

Once the ambulance crew had taken charge, Chris, still on the floor, rolled over onto his side and sobbed. Toni squirmed away from the woman, squatted next to her father and patted his shoulder, comforting him until he was able to get up. Chris said that it was one of the most emotional experiences of his life.

People in the restaurant surrounded Chris, offered congratulations, shook his hand, and thanked him for stepping forward, for his quick response. He, in turn, thanked the un-named woman who had held Toni and kept her calm.

I’m grateful Chris was there that day in McDonald’s, ordering burgers and watching Toni play. It was an ordinary day. Chris is an ordinary guy. Today a little boy is laughing and playing and being all a four-year old child can be. Chris is a hero.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

March 24, 2011


Friday, March 18, 2011

How I lost my sense of humor

How I lost my sense of humor

My world looked gray. My bank balance hovered near empty. My refrigerator was bare. My various aches and pains would, no doubt, be revealed as a fatal disease. Winter had dug in its claws and was hanging on tenaciously. Flood waters were rising. News was grim. All over the world, the nation, the state, our town and in my house, things were falling apart. I was in a blue funk. I realized my sense of humor was missing. I felt bereft, like I had misplaced my best friend, locked it in a closet and forgotten where I put it.

To my surprise, I felt as though I had contracted a contagious malady, akin to an actual disease, more drastic than losing one’s mind, which in my opinion, is not generally a great loss. This was serious. What if I could not locate my humor? When I lose my sense of humor, people avoid me. I avoid me. Horrors! I knew I must find my humor and find it fast.

Where did I last use my humor? That’s probably where I left it. When I cannot find my car keys, after searching my bag, my pockets, my desk and the kitchen counter, eventually I open the front door and there they hang, in the lock. I did wonder if someone had sneaked in when I wasn’t looking and stolen my humor. But that’s highly unlikely.

I searched my memory. I had last seen my humor on the day I began thinking. Thinking is a dangerous act. Thinking leads me to questions. Here’s what I was thinking: Why did I ever move back to this Ice Encased Country? Why did I leave the lovely green waters of Puget Sound where the winter temperatures are mild and summer days are balmy? I missed the mossy green outdoors. I missed my distant friends and family. I felt imprisoned by winter. I no longer wanted to be where I am. Yes, I had slid into a Deadly Thinking Site. That’s where my humor had vanished. How could I find my way out?

I needed help. I called friends. We met for lunch at Deb’s Diner, right here in town. Delightful company, good food, friendly laughter. Winter, while not departed, began to loosen its grip. Back home, I opened the door to my fridge. I checked my bank balance. There was sufficiency for the needs of the day. My aches and pains retreated.

The next day at a meeting at City Hall I learned that our swimming pool had emptied over the winter. There was evidence the water might be pooled beneath our building. The surrounding sidewalks were buckling and crumbling. Not only that, we learned the State had removed vital funding for a new sewage treatment facility which the State had required us to build. Furthermore bids for much needed energy efficiency updates at City Hall and the City Shop came in way over the amount of grant money we had been awarded. The Milk River is expected to crest in two to three weeks. Homes and property are in peril. None of this is good news. I looked at my colleagues and realized we would pull together for our city. These problems were not mine alone. We would come up with the best solutions possible. Together we would muddle through. I felt good. It made me smile. This is my people. This is my home.

Later, at the Montana Seed Show I met more friends, old and new. I ate breakfast with three men from my high school days. It was as if no years had intervened, with the difference that our conversation today could be honest and intimate. Throughout the weekend I bounced from acquaintance to acquaintance. I had lunch with my cousins. By the end of the Seed Show, after the Saturday night banquet, my feet hurt, I was stuffed, and I was tired but felt fully revitalized. I now know I am where I want to be. My world is beautiful. My sense of humor is back.

At the art show, I bought an abstract painting. If laughter and joy can be painted, the artist captured it in this picture. I placed it above my computer where it will remind me, winter or summer, that my sense of humor is my most valuable possession. I will hang on tight to my humor, no matter what my day brings. You know how to hang on tight to humor? You have to let it go.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

March 17, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring Hopes Eternal

Spring Hopes Eternal

With the exception of one friend, an avid winter sportsman, every person I talk with is desperately seeking, searching, and praying for signs of spring. Such signs are sparse to non-existent. We’ll take any sign—and here’s my list.

1. Increasing hours of sunlight: Personally, I am an enthusiastic hibernator. This is an embarrassing confession. In winter darkness, I want to sleep. In the wee daylight of December, fortified with a good mystery book, I force myself to stay awake until 6:30 or 7:00. The sun and I both sleep in. By March I have added three and a half hours to my day.

2. The flipping of the calendar pages from winter, winter, winter to March, the place holder for spring: This year in northeastern Montana , this unruly month roared in like a lion on the prowl. One hopes we’ll see signs of the lamb but I’m not holding my breath.

3. Seed catalogs: I’m on every mailing list, but prefer to buy locally, mostly petunias and geraniums, which are content to grow without fuss. Yet I indulge myself, lingering over each page, in a greedy feast of floral abundance, air brushed to perfection, sure to die in zone three. .

4. Spring birds: Yesterday, gazing out my south window which frames my poplar trees, I saw a flicker flutter in, settle on a tree, and tap, tap, tap looking for bugs. I got hopeful. Oh, first glorious bird of spring. Then I remembered that I’d seen this same flicker on the coldest day of the year. Thirty seconds in my bird book verified that he is a year-round resident. False alarm. The only birds I have spotted are clothed in the grays and browns of winter. I thought I heard honking geese one day last week and threw my door open to the blowing snow only to discover a neighbor’s truck horn was stuck.

5. Reports from foreign climes: Friends gleefully torment me with their pictures of snowdrops and crocus (last month), budding lilacs and daffodils in bloom (right now), rising temperatures, gentle rainfall and greening of the grass. Bah, humbug.

6. The Montana Seed Show: The Seed Show is one sure sign of approaching spring. We who have hunkered in our houses all winter will gather, shake hands, slap backs, exchange hugs, tell lies, and eat pie. We will scan the exhibits, ogle the quilts and paintings, and generally enjoy one another.

7. Floods, a sign of spring we’d rather not see: Already ice jams against bridge abutments and water trickles beneath the snow-covered frozen soil. The latest update promises floods on the Milk River . Since the valley is wide and perfectly flat, this is not an encouraging report. In addition to the river, Harlem is keeping a close watch on Thirty Mile Creek to the north of the railroad tracks. I’m in the market for hip waders and a row boat, cheap.

8. Taxes: Did I mention taxes?

It’s snowing. County trucks loaded with gravel, blades to the ground, just rumbled down my street. Frozen fog glitters. My cats stand at the door and look longingly. When I slide the door the cats, despite fur-lined skin, test the air with their noses, turn back, run and hide.

9. A walker: Jack, his parka zipped with hood up, just walked by. The street in front of my house is a regular route for walkers. Jack is the first walker I have seen since November. Spring will surely following his footsteps.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My New Saddle Shoes

My New Saddle Shoes


Imelda Marcos I am not. I cannot even imagine a closet with three thousand pairs of shoes. I am my father’s daughter. I buy shoes to last. Today I was lacing up my trusty Sorels, boots I purchased in 1983 in a sporting goods store in Missoula , boots made for slogging through heavy winter snows, when the memory of my old saddle shoes flashed through my mind.

I was in the fifth grade when, for the first time, I began to notice what my classmates were wearing—saddle shoes. Saddle shoes defined style. Saddle shoes were white with a perky black “saddle” over the instep. One after another, my girlfriends got them. I felt as if I were the only girl in school who did not own the coveted black and white saddle shoes.

My father purchased shoes according to the season. Each spring he bought me a new pair of black patent leather Mary Janes, Easter church shoes. I remember one year I got a white pair, but they didn’t make my heart sing like those wonderful black Mary Janes. Then in the last week of August, before school resumed, he bought my school shoes, brown, utilitarian brogans. Tough shoes. Shoes made to last. Spring or fall, Dad bought my shoes a full size too large. I was a growing girl. I would “grow into” them. And grow I did. Half the year my feet slopped about in my shoes; the other six months they pinched my toes. Year after year.

The fall of sixth grade, I screwed up my courage and told my Dad that I wanted saddle shoes, please. When he came home from school shopping, he set the packages on the table. I ripped opened the shoe box. Here were my new saddle shoes. Tears stung my eyes. They were wrong, all wrong. I tried to pretend I was excited. My Dad had wanted to please me. But they were brown and white. Brown? The brown saddle might have been neon, it flashed so insistently in my eyes. I tried them on. They looked monstrous.

My girlfriends’ shoes hugged their feet like gloves, slim and graceful. With those shoes one would dance through life. Their shoes were made of pliable, glove-soft leather elegantly stitched onto the coral rubber sole. A vertical strip of black defined the heel. My shoes rattled on my feet like Clementine’s “herring boxes without topses”. My shoes were carved out of cowhide one quarter inch thick, stitched to a slab of black Goodyear tire. My shoes were made to clump down the lane to herd the milk cows to the barn. Where did Dad find these clunky copies of my coveted shoes? Were they cheaper? They might even have been costlier; obviously they were meant to last. They were the usual size too big. And this was the year I quit growing.

Every night I cleaned and polished my two-toned shoes, carefully keeping within the lines, like coloring a page in a child’s book. When the polish dried I buffed them to a shine. Although I hated them, I took care of them. When they became scuffed or dirty, I imagined I could hear them scream at me, “Ugly, ugly, ugly.” At school, I pulled my feet far beneath my desk, trying to hide what could not be disguised. I deliberately shuffled my feet through the gravel trying to rub holes through the bottoms. I prayed the stitching would unravel. I tried to wear through the toes but my toes came nowhere near reaching the tips of my shoes. It was a year of humiliation.

Summertime finally arrived and with it the hope for new shoes for the next school year. I began hinting that I would like to accompany my father when it came time for school shopping. I wanted to pick out my own shoes, shoes that finally would fit my feet.

“Why, look here,” my father said. “There is room in the toes of these shoes for another year. You have taken such good care of them. I am proud of you.” He took my horrid saddle shoes to the shop in town and had them re-soled.

I wore those shoes to school for three years and never did grow into them. When I got to high school, I switched to tennis shoes for every day wear. I buried those hideous brown and white saddle shoes, still “perfectly good”, in the back of the closet in the attic. Had I not, I’ve no doubt that I would still be wearing them.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

March 3, 2011