Memories Out of Season

Memories Out of Season


December 22, 2013




In December 1982, while home visiting from Japan, I greeted my new nephew, Ryan.




In December 2012, I greeted his son.


So quickly the generations slip by! (This is a good thing, evolution getting personal.)

My nephews and niece, and now my grandnephews and grandniece, they re-affirm my faith in the rightness of it all and give me hope for the future.

Witnessing the procession of life, I stand in awe and wonder, grateful to have been part of it.





October 27, 2013

Memories seem to attach themselves to certain places.

When I think back on my years in Australia, I invariably wind up at the farm at Barwon Downs. It was owned by Graeme’s brother and sister-in-law who made it freely available to the rest of the family.

Lying in western Victoria, two hours outside of Melbourne, it had a 100-year old farmhouse set in the middle of 60 hectares, where we spent many weekends—a place of immense solitudes, with equal parts intimacy.


I especially enjoyed the winter months there, when storms would roll across the flat landscape while we were tucked away inside: a fire going, a crock pot of savory something cooking, both of us in our books, listening to the thunder overhead and the rain pinging on the metal roof.



It’s where I did a lot of my early writing on The Legacy of Emily Hargraves and Tales of Tokyo, when they were both still sprawling stories, threatening to go nowhere.










October 23, 2013

Spent Saturday evening at the family property on Lake Merwin with my brother Gary and sister(in-law) Kris .

Soup and salad and then a game of Scrabble as the mountain glowed in the north and the harvest moon rose orange in the northeast.

 Kris trounced us once again in a series of humiliating defeats. To be expected. It’s in her genes.


She comes from a long line of ardent and ruthless Scrabble players who honed their skills over generations.

I had never played cut-throat Scrabble before meeting Kris and her family. They're from the small town of Elgin in eastern Oregon, so like, what else was there for them to do?

And I thought of all the Scrabble games the three of us have played together over some 40+ years…

Rich memories, savory soup, huge harvest moon. Perfect evening.



I am on one of my visits home from Australia. My sister-in-law has left me to watch over the children—hers and the children she cares for. Working on a story, I watch over them from downstairs as they play upstairs.

I don’t really need to be upstairs since my 7-year old niece Renee provides me regular updates on how bad the other children are behaving. Especially Ryan, her younger brother. Ryan is being very bad. I thank Renee and ask her to keep me informed if the situation upstairs deteriorates.

She leaves. I see there a promising career with the NSA.

She’s back within 10 minutes. Apparently, Ryan is achieving new heights of badness.

Renee loves bunny rabbits. Ryan loves to give her drawings of bunny rabbits with daggers stuck in them, bunny rabbits decapitated, bunny rabbits hanging from a noose. Based on everything Renee has told me, it looks like my youngest nephew is going to grow up to be a sociopath.

She hands me his latest drawing. I suggest that maybe it’s not a bunny rabbit being roasted over coals. To me, it looks more like a hippopotamus...with a cotton tail. (Clearly, Ryan is not going to be an artist.)

Renee wants me to punish him—severely—or even better, give him up for adoption before her mother gets home. I explain the complexities involved and that we probably can’t do it within the next 30 minutes. She thinks it’s worth a shot.

But I really want to return to my writing and ask that she not come downstairs again unless there’s blood. If there’s blood, then come and get me.

I can see that I am a disappointment to my niece and have probably lost my Most Favored Uncle status, but God never intended me to be a disciplinarian.

At the time, I was working on The Legacy of Emily Hargraves, and I would use Renee and Ryan’s relationship—less sibling rivalry than a policy of Mutually Assured Destruction—as a model for that between Emily and her younger brother, Earle, a natural born imp who delights in getting at his sister whenever possible.




In the early 80s, I was living and teaching in Tokyo, and on a number of occasions played tennis with Japanese friends. During my first year, they invited me for a “tennis weekend” at a mountain resort.

It was a hot day on clay courts, and at one point I stripped off my T-shirt. While culturally appropriate on any Seattle court in summer, I apparently scandalized all of Niigata Prefecture.


With great embarrassment, my doubles partner whispered that I could not “play nude.”

I quickly apologized and slipped on my shirt, though this embarrassment struck me as very odd since just the night before, we—men and women—had all bathed together in the resort’s large sento, which I’m pretty sure is not culturally appropriate in Seattle, without anyone showing the least embarrassment.

It was my first lesson in understanding the peculiar logic of a different culture, and I later included the experience in Tales of Tokyo.



October 6, 2013

By the time I came to Lower Columbia CAP in 1999 as the new Community Services Director, I had been engaged in the AIDS epidemic for over 12 years. By then, I had lost more than 30 friends, colleagues and clients to AIDS. I needed a change.

Friends expressed their concern for me, joking that I was moving 40 miles and 50 years north of Portland, into the American “heartland” of small towns and small minds.

But I had already accepted that I would be alone.

It didn’t come up until my second week, when I was meeting each of my 80+ staff individually. She came into my office, an older woman looking rather stern, I thought. We had only just started, when she said abruptly, “I heard you worked with the AIDS people.”

The AIDS people. It was the way she said it, like the Sand people, or the Pod people.

“Yes. Yes, I have,” I said. “For a number of years.”

I braced myself to get an earful of what she thought of “those people.”

Her gaze dropped and her voice fell to a whisper. “My son has AIDS.”

I got up and closed the door, came back and sat down. “Would you like to talk about it?”

And as she told me about the family secret and the family shame and the family silence, and of her own terrible isolation, I realized that I had come into the Heartland.





October 5, 2013


Bone tired and world weary, I left work Wednesday evening, frustrated by Congress and politics and pettiness and ego (yes, I realize this is being redundant), and drove home in a daze of dejection and fatigue.

I went up my hill in the failing light and when I got to the top, the world—my world—was a panorama of clouds and setting sun, and in that moment all was set right again.

And I thought, “Thanks, I needed this.”




July 21, 2013


Since 1970, our family has enjoyed this property perched above Lake Merwin. It lies about six miles as the crow flies from my own hillside (I consulted with two crows.)

A special place, retaining the moods, moments and memories of four generations.


















(Thanks to nephew-in-law Nick for his photo capturing one of its moods.)










December 30, 2012

Third grandnephew, on Christmas Day, 2012.

Gary, his grandfather, and I quickly discerned that, in addition to being extremely adorable, Kelvin is also incredibly intelligent--determined by how he yawned, focused his eyes, and burped.