Grandma Ethel standing in her yard
I spent Christmas with Grandma Ethel this year. I know she has been gone for a long time…however I was given some precious artifacts from her life just this Christmas Eve. It means so much to me to have them. Thanks so much Jeanne.
I wrote this story about Grandma Ethel a few years ago…I thought you might like to read it.
Call me a metaphysical person, but on the fringe…knowing there is more to life than work, wine and shopping, but unwilling to discuss my beliefs with anyone, except for a few of my hippie friends in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California. I am a closet meditator, always waiting for everyone to leave the house before quickly catching a 15 to 20 minute session of deep breathing and centering. See what I mean: Quickly meditating, an oxymoron.
I started a wonderful love/hate relationship with Hot Yoga about two years ago. I love how my practice has brought my clavicle out of hiding and helped me lose two of my three chins. I hate the intense heat and contorting my 52 year-old body into such pretzel shapes. I love the quiet and connection with my fellow Yogis, I hate holding postures for what seems like forever. I love the studio and their focus on spiritual growth, it is a safe haven where I can let my inner guru’s hair down out without the sounds of uproarious laughter.
Along with yoga, the studio sponsors meditation, classes, workshops, and services. Chakra Reading/Healings sounded interesting. I knew a bit about chakras, I worked with a woman in the early 70’s who blamed all her misfortunes on one of her seven chakras being blocked. So far in my life, I’ve had two divorces, many abodes, and several means of employment. With all that going one, I figured one of my energy centers has just got to be clogged. So, I decided to give it a whirl!
The 9:00 am appointment seemed early for enlightenment, however my healer, Suzanne, would be fresh and rested; I assumed chakra cleaning to be exhausting work. She opened the door, her calmness and the quietness of the room engulfed me instantly. Inside the tiny room about a dozen candle flames sparkled in the dimness.
After a quick introduction, she asked me to relax face down on the portable massage table; she laid her hands on my shoulders and lower back. I felt so safe and comfortable, nearly paralyzed in an envelope of peace.
“There is someone here for you.” Suzanne whispered as she continued to press circles into my spine. “She is standing at your left shoulder. I’m getting an old fashioned name…Ethel. Do you know an Ethel?”
My body started flopping like a hooked salmon yanked on to a hot fishing dock. Suzanne held her hands firmly to keep the spiritual connection and I am sure to keep the hinges on table legs from snapping. “Yes,” I stammered, “she is my grandma, my dad’s mom. They have both been gone for over 30 years.” I muffled through the face cradle. Suzanne kept pressure on my upper and lower back calmly holding me down. “Ethel is smiling and wants you to know she is always with you.”
After about an hour and lots of swirling motions around and on my body, Suzanne finally rested and said my chakras were now open, the right colors and I needed to quit procrastinating and ask my boss that pressing question (How did she know?). And that every important person in our life has been in our past lives and will continue to be in our future lives, they just take on different roles.
I heard what she said, however my head was still swimming with the presence of my Grandma Ethel. I never forgot my grandma, but I didn’t think too much about her either. After my session I went right home and found a photo of her taken just a few months before she died. She is standing in a red checked housedress in front of a huge Geranium plant with two zucchinis in her hand, her curly silver hair just so and face bright with a big smile. The photo, now framed, hangs over my desk; I introduce her to everyone who visits.
My grandma lived in a big house on the San Francisco Peninsula; we lived close, so we got to visit a lot. She was the kind of grandma that kept a clean coffee can in the garage so we could gather all the lizards and other crawlies we would find in her vegetable or flower gardens. She always said, “Just visit with them for a while and put them back where you found them. They need to go home and make dinner for their families.”
I used to love it when she would call me and run through all her other grandkids names until she came to mine, PattyTommyBobby – LeeAnn all one word. Then a loud “Oh hell, just come over here and give grandma a hug.” To make her laugh, I would call her Mabel, my other grandmother’s name.
Grandma Ethel was a tough, strong woman who outlived both her sons and two husbands. She loved a couple of cold cans of beer with dinner after a few shots of Jim Beam before. In our 22 year relationship, I only saw her cry twice, at my dad’s funeral and the day Lawrence Welk died.
Since that Saturday a few weeks ago, I have thought about my times with grandma and how she taught me so many wonderful life lessons. Lessons I hope I am passing on to my own grandchildren: Be kind, strong, and always thoughtful of others.
I can’t think of a better person to have at my left shoulder as I head out the door,
“Come on Grandma, let’s go.”
On a Tuesday afternoon in late June a professional television production team arrived at my house. There was a producer/director, camera man, the guy that handled the lights, a make up lady, and a professional still photographer.
I had been chosen by the national Public Broadcasting Service group to represent a charity funding campaign. Since, Lonnie my husband and I participate locally in such a campaign, I was going to get a chance to tell the nation about it.
Making a national commercial is really hard work, but it is really exciting. I have done video before and have been on TV newscasts and in a couple of local interest stories pieces; however this was a whole new realm of production for me.
Lonnie and I were video taped and photographed from nearly every angle. We both agreed that it was one of the most exciting 27 hours of our lives.
On June 2, Kevin Smith-Fagan the Vice President for Development, for KVIE, our Sacramento PBS affiliate, left a voicemail that he had nominated me to be a spokesperson for a national planned giving campaign. Although from his voice mail, I didn’t really understand the scope of the whole thing. However, I just flipped I was so excited. June 6th, Jon the producer called me and asked me if I had a few minutes to talk. I said yes, although I was in the middle of a noisy luncheon at the California State Railroad Museum. I found a closet, shut the door and crouched down in the back corner. Being hard of hearing is a bit of an impediment when you are trying to make an impression on a cell phone with really spotty reception. The first thing he asked me, “do you have rubber ducks?” “Ducks?” I repeated and just started laughing…as an introduction for me…Kevin had sent Jon a link to a YouTube video of me and my collection. I didn’t want him to think I was a crazy duck lady…so I played down my collection as a whim.
The link to the video Kevin sent is a telephone interview, so I steered Jon to a couple of places on the web where he could see me on camera. As I explained to Jon, (to paraphrase that silly baseball reference) “KVIE has been berry berry good to me.” I have appeared in their Viewfinder series twice, once with my rubber duck collection and another time explaining what it is like being a woman working on the railroad. I have also done a “My Source” video promoting KVIE and PBS as a great place to learn and grow. So in our short interview I spent about 15 minutes discussing my love of PBS. He said he would get back to me.
Watching PBS has inspired me to be more than a high-school educated railroad clerk. I am a writer, traveler, artist, gourmet cook and much more. That’s what brought me to a place where I could possibly make a difference in obtaining additional funding for the very important cause.
June 12, Jon called again and told me I got the gig (see I am in to the lingo already). In this conversation, I was again crouching…but this time in the ladies room on a Union Pacific passenger train trying to hear above the din of the steel wheels spinning beneath the steel floor on steel rails. He started to explain more about what they would do and film. And we discussed possible places to shoot and he asked if they could use our home. My answer simply was: of course.
When the date for filming was set, I really started to get excited. This is happening. How cool. We exchanged a few emails and Jon said they would arrive at my house at 2pm on June 26 and they did.
Once the Wisconsin based film crew entered our little house; they immediately started scouting locations inside and out. Jon, the producer, told Julia, the makeup magician, to start with make up. It took the wonderfully talented woman about 30 minutes to make me look natural. Peter also arrived; he was representing the national PBS group and brought various still photography cameras.
Along with Jon was Dean the camera man and Rick who handled all the lights and stuff. They came in and started looking around and I was so happy to see them making themselves at home.
Lights, camera, action! We immediately got to work. Blouse and hat chosen, they positioned me in our front yard flower garden holding a water can they found out back. We did shots of me watering the garden, Lonnie “talking” to me while watering and carrying around clippers. Peter was snapping away furiously and kept telling me how nice I looked, how to hold my head, move this way and that. I felt like a hot fashion model.
They filmed and took still photos of me doing my art, in the office writing, cooking, playing with my dogs, and nearly everything.
Right on time, my 2 year-old granddaughter June arrived. She was a bit shy…then I put her in Julia’s magic beauty chair and after a few swipes of the powder brush, June was ready for her close up. She was a trooper and we were able to coax her amid the cameras and big lights to wash a bunch of strawberries. Then we tempted her with Chessie my cat for more close ups. June was so good and as always so very cute. When I suggested her for the piece, I told Jon she was cute. That is a pat thing for grandmother’s to say…after we were done, he told me I was right.
When we originally set up the piece, I was going to be featured doing my hobbies. I was supposed to explain how PBS taught me another side of life…other than working for the railroad. However, I went from being a writer, artist, gourmet cook, and adventurer to June’s grandmother in just 60 seconds. What a wonderful thing to be.
730am sharp the next morning, a knock on the door meant they were here. More still shots in the garden while the guys set up the lights for the interview. All the other filming was done without sound. The interview was total sound and the house needed to be quiet. Wardrobe fussing, more make up, and then it was show time. Jon explained everything and I had a great time answering his questions, while looking into a lens.
The lighting struck; brought into my office and after another wardrobe change, I wrote for a while they filmed from every angle. Every time we filmed they fussed over wrinkles in my blouse and were constantly adjusting my neckline and collar.
There were several blouse changes to match my activities, at one point I was in a purple sweater seated on the couch and Lonnie and I were watching TV. The guys kept fussing about my sweater bunching up and wrinkling here and there. So, Julia, would tug and tuck to make it look right.
So, in one scene, still in the purple sweater, I am poised at my keyboard doing my freelance writing thing. Rick is outside the window holding a light and the camera is set up behind me. “Wrinkles! I see wrinkles.” one of the guys say behind me. Let’s just say, it wasn’t the sweater they were fussing about this time. It was the nearly 58 years of the tangled road map of furrows on my face , some lighting effect brought out every laugh, frown, sun damaged line I ever developed. I was thinking about my writing. It only occurred to me it was my face when another voice weakly said, “Ah, sorry LeeAnn.” “That’s OK guys!” is all I said and smiled…making another wrinkle…and laughed.
Then all of sudden they started packing their gear. I was so sad. I was getting used to this stuff and it was FUN! Closing in on 5pm it was time to bid my adventure adieu. Just as fast as we started…the lights were turned off, cameras were packed away, and it’s a wrap. Bags loaded, quick hugs and the rental car drove away.
The intense spotlight so hot and intense is now gone. And just like a spotlight it only took a second for it to dim. From hot model to dropped like a hot potato. It was an experience like no other. I will never forget it.
Oh yeah, the commercial turned out just great. Check it out.