Skittery Critters



    Working on my memoirs recently I realized I’ve had more than a passing acquaintance with quite a few cockroaches in my day. Not that we were ever on a first name basis or got really personal, but I’ve known more than my share.

    Considering that cockroaches have been around for 320 million years, able to survive incredible heat and sub-zero  temperatures, radiation, and all known insecticides, we can probably count on them rising in triumph after we mere humans have managed to blow ourselves to Kingdom Come with our nuclear toys.

    Can’t you just see this; one giant cockroach, probably a Madagascar Hissing Roach, close to 6 inches long, atop a smouldering mountain of debris, brandishing tiny flags in all six arms, loudly hissing “Roaches Rule.” Representatives from all 4,600 of his fellow species skitter madly about in their haste to establish a brave new world order.

    My first experience with cockroaches came as a very young, very pregnant, very impoverished Navy wife during World War Two. My husband and I were living with four other couples in a small house in San Diego. (We rented the dining room as our private quarters).

     I awoke late one morning and headed for our shared kitchen to find the other wives in a frenzy of activity. The kitchen had been invaded overnight by huge flying roaches. My big belly and I were led gently but firmly to a chair and told not to move, so I had a front seat for my first lesson in how to handle cockroaches. First you panic – then you start screaming, then you stomp, swat and hammer with any and all available tools.

    I found that San Diego, similar to most of Florida with it’s warm, humid climate, was ideal for cockroaches. Those large flying roaches are known as Palmetto Bugs in Florida, but I’ve got news for Floridians, they’re really cockroaches, just one more of the 40 some types that hang around humans.

     My next experience with roaches was in San Francisco, which has a cooler climate, not that the roaches cared. My husband was still in the Navy, the War was still on, and housing in San Francisco was impossible to find. We were reduced to moving every 4 or 5 days from one sleazy old downtown hotel to another, the time limit having been imposed due to wartime regulations.

    All of these horrible places had a few cockroaches hiding out but we hit the jackpot with one room that was so bad we had to leave all the lights on all the time, just to keep them at bay. I never did unpack my suitcase.

    When we moved to the tropics some years later, by then as civilians, I learned that any previous experience I’d had with cockroaches was just a warm up. Roaches in the tropics are a way of life. Or so I thought until I discovered one of the few things that will actually kill them, Boric Acid Powder!

    With the fervor of a religious convert I took it upon myself to educate all my friends and close neighbors. I’d mix small amounts of boric acid with a  bit of sugar and set little foil cups around in likely spots, being sure to keep them hidden from small children and pets with their endless curiosity.

    There is always some mad fool who will try to tell you roaches are basically harmless. Anything that crawls through sewers is not harmless. However, roaches have been used in some cultures as medication, sometimes fried in garlic for indigestion and sometimes boiled up as a tea for tetanus. I myself, will take my chances with both indigestion and tetanus. A few intrepid souls actually keep the Giant Madagascar Hissing Roaches as pets. There again, if I have a choice I’ll take a nice cuddly boa constrictor.

    I did come across sort of a recipe for an edible (their word, not mine,) – ediblle spread to use on crackers or bread. I’d never have the nerve to try it but I’m happy to share it with anyone who is more daring than I.  Wanting a catchy name, I’m calling it  “Bug Butter”. Read on, if you dare. The “ick” factor gets pretty deep right about here.

    Take about half a pound of cockroaches, simmer them in vinegar and remove the head and entrails. Are they kidding? Do you have any idea how many roaches there are in an ounce, let alone half a pound? And remember, a cockroach can live up to an hour after it’s head has been removed. Next remove the entrails? They’ve got to be kidding! A person could starve to death just picking over the first few ounces.

    If you’ve gotten this far, you’re finally coming to the good part. Saute all those little carcasses in butter, salt, pepper and plenty of garlic, and serve hot or cold on sourdough rounds. Bon Appetit!

    O.K. they’ve got me with the butter, garlic, and sourdough. I’ll just skip the protein. Who wants those tiny little legs in their teeth anyway?

    If we ever get to the point where our civilization finds us lounging around, snacking on “Bug Butter” maybe it will be time for Armageddon. It’ll definitely be time for the Giant Madagascar Hissing Roaches to take over.    






Thirty-Eight Moves, Part V (from my memoir)

After a 12 year sojourn in Panama, my husband Lynn, our two youngest children and I returned to the States late in the summer of 1965. He had saved up 3 months of vacation so we rented a small, furnished house in Mason City, Iowa. Being near our families was a very rewarding experience after so many years away. Kerry enrolled as a junior and Kirk as a freshman in my old high school and Lynn sorted through several job offers. Mimi, our oldest daughter, was in Missouri finishing her B.A. degree.

Lynn settled on a position at Palisades Dam in Swan Valley, Idaho, and we moved at the end of October. There were 24 modest 3 bedroom houses in the government settlement below the dam. We were on the banks of the Snake River, at about 6,000 ft. elevation. This was a drastic change from our years in the tropics and living in Idaho took some huge adjustments.

The scenery was  breathtakingly beautiful, especially after an ice storm, but we had a hard time remembering to put on our shoes, not to mention coats, hats, mufflers, boots and gloves. All amenities, including the high school were 54 miles away in Idaho Falls. The school bus left before dawn and returned after dark, making it impossible for the kids to take part in any extracurricular activities.

Kirk was eager to get out with his new friends and try all the winter sports, although he much preferred warm water sports and his old friends. Kerry never really adapted. She fell on the snow going out the door in the morning, coming in the door at  night, and who knows how many times in between. Neither of them complained but we soon realized we’d made a really bad choice.

Spring finally arrived with snow in the tulips on May 30th. Mimi and her guy, Howard, joined us for their small family wedding on June 1st, a joyous occasion, then they were off to start their new life.

Now that school was out, Lynn transferred to Yakima, Washington, a much more sensible move. We rented a huge old house near downtown. With a full, finished basement and an attic, it was the biggest house we’d ever lived in and we really rattled around in all that space.

I always wanted to be able to walk to a post office and a library, so this was fine with me. Kerry enrolled in a gloomy, dark old high school, not really a fun place for a girl in her senior year, but she coped. She soon found a part time job at the city library which she enjoyed.

Kirk was a sophomore at a new school in the suburbs and worked at various jobs, the worst being one where he had to keep smudge pots going in several hop fields overnight. He’d  arrive home at 7:00 a.m. to shower, eat, and get to school on time. Smudging soon became illegal and everyone breathed easier after that, in both meanings of the words.  We spent a lot of weekends camping in the meadows on Mt. Adams, sleeping among the wildflowers.

We soon bought a new 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in the suburb of Terrace Heights, Lynn enjoyed his job and I went to work in the Bon Marche department store. I also got back to my painting, found a congenial group of fellow artists and before I knew it, I was the president of the Larson Gallery Guild. Mimi and Howard were working at their first jobs in Yreka, California, not too far away.

Those were busy years and they flew by. Before we knew it, Kerry graduated high school, finished a course at a local business college, married a handsome young local lad and moved to Memphis, Tenn. when he joined the Navy. These were the late 1960s, war years again, Viet Nam was on everyone’s mind and the war at home consumed Americans with a never before seen divisiveness.

Our son Kirk joined the army as soon as he turned 18 and was sent to Ft. Lewis, Wash., then South Carolina and back to Ft. Lewis, then on to Vietnam where he served 2 tours of combat duty. We became empty nesters overnight, it seemed, a very lonely feeling.

Lynn dusted off his engineer’s papers and made two trips to Vietnam on a freighter. We sold the house in Yakima and moved to Marin, County, California so he could complete some requirements he needed for his licensing. Once that was finished we loaded both cars, both cats and a whole lot of STUFF and headed back to Oregon and the newly finished John Day Dam on the Columbia River. This being December 22nd, his brother, sister-in-law and a nephew caravanned with us, planning to spend Christmas in Yreka with Mimi and Howard.

We ran head on into a major storm that had me doing a donut in my little red Datsun on the iced-over I5 right out of Redding. Fortunately I had chains and 2 carloads of family to help me. Kirk met us in Yreka, having come down from Washington on a Greyhound bus that had to stop while the passengers helped chain it up.

Christmas Day was festive in spite of the weather, and the next morning Lynn and I continued up the Interstate. We got as far as Portland but were held up for four days as I84 East was closed due to ice storms. When we were finally led through by the Highway Patrol, it looked like a war zone with vehicles of every description in the ditches on both sides all the way out.

We had arranged to rent a small house in Wasco, Oregon, near The Dalles. That little town looked so dismal under cover of ice and snow I could only think how much better it would look by spring. Not so, by then it looked even worse. Eventually we moved into The Dalles, then across the river to the tiny town of Stevenson, Washington, settling into a truly spectacular view site on a bluff overlooking the river. The Columbia River Gorge is noted for its storms and we had our share.

At long, long last Lynn’s retirement become a reality. In January, 1972 we sold most of our belongings, stored a few things and moved into a 19 ft. travel trailer with an International Harvester vehicle to tow it. It didn’t take us long to head straight south, not quite non-stop, but we didn’t waste very much time getting to the Bay Area and warmer weather.

We spent the next few years wandering at will, making certain we took in every one of our beautiful states, including Alaska. We would have gone to Hawaii if possible, although we did eventually get there in the more conventional manner. We spent months visiting most of Canada, every state in Mexico and re-visiting most of Central America.

We joked that we’d finally found our true calling, being tourists. Lynn’s early retirement on a reduced annuity was challenging but we lowered our sights and traveled on. Eventually we found ourselves spending the majority of our time in the lovely old city of Guadalajara, Mexico. We became close with a large circle of friends, most of them American and Canadian ex-pats. Lynn joined the local branch of the American Legion (they had the best parties) and we made ourselves right at home.

Before long we realized we needed a home base and bought three acres and a cabin on the Grand Lake Of The Cherokees in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. It was heavily wooded, mostly oak, and we soon learned to take precautions against more than a few natural enemies.

We never hiked our woods without tucking pant legs into socks and dusting both with sulphur powder to keep the bad bugs out. The tornado hideout, known locally as a scaredy hole, was full of already shed snake skins of the  more dangerous types, and a giant centipede lived under the kitchen stove until our cat nosed him out.

We discovered a great way to spend our time and make a little extra income. We finished remodeling the cabin, then had an offer to sell it at a nice price. It was a case of “Why Not?”  We were still spending most of our time in Guadalajara so we took our ill-gotten gains, found a beautiful acre with another fixer-upper on it in Prescott, Arizona and did the same thing.

We became so fond of the next place we fixed up, in Arroyo Grande, California, that we kept it for 10 years, although we leased it out for 6 of those years and continued our travels.

By now we’d upgraded to a larger travel trailer and vehicle, making the rounds of visiting our children and other family members, then back to Mexico for the winters.

Finally tiring of travel, we bought a mobile home in the High Desert town of Yucca Valley, California. Our son Kirk, his wife Linda and our very first grandchild, the beautiful baby Sarah, all lived there. Kerry had moved from San Diego to Palm Desert nearby, and Mimi and Howard, having done their share of working and living in exotic places, were now in Lucerne Valley. When our strapping grandson Steve was born our family was complete.

We still had our urge to travel, but now we’d just jump in the car and stop over at motels.

Of course nothing is ever simple in life. Before we realized it, our Yucca Valley friends suddenly began to age and either move away or pass on. Kerry moved to Fresno, Mimi and Howard moved to Taft, near Bakersfield, and Kirk, Linda and the kids all packed up and went to Oregon.

Wondering if there was a message for us in all this moving, we joined the crowd and moved to Bakersfield, California. We found it to be a very pleasant little city with a nice old-fashioned appeal and lots of kind “down home” folks. The city was big enough to have all the facilities and amenities one could want.

Our first apartment was comfortable and convenient, but the neighbors were all young working families and we soon found ourselves getting lonesome. We moved into a lovely new garden apartment in a gated community just for seniors. The big old trees and grassy lawns appealed to us after so many years in the desert, and new friends were just outside the door. We made one more move, relocating to a shadier, more private apartment there and finally relaxing.

Sadly, Lynn, by now 86 years old, left me after a brief illness, ending our 65 years of marriage. In one of our last conversations he remarked that he had done most of the things he wanted to do in life, which I looked at as a pretty decent testimonial. I can only hope others might consider themselves as fortunate when they reach the end of their lives.

So here I am, back in Oregon, family nearby with lots of wonderful new friends, keeping as busy as I want to, and looking back on my 38th move as a good way to round out my own long life.

I probably should close with some words of wisdom, if only I had any. All I can say is, keep moving. It’s not necessary to uproot and go across country as often as we did, but stay in motion, one way or another.

The only lesson I ever really learned is that careful packing is highly overrated. Grab and throw, and sort it out when you get there. Who cares if it’s wrinkled, wrinkles come out. You’ll only need half of it anyway.