Saturday, March 18, 2017

More! More! More.

Crawling and babbling to toddling, then walking, running and dancing, climbing, laughing, and talking. I ask her questions and she answers me. I ask her to do things and she does them...some of the time. She's nearly 19-months-old now.

"Mumma gasses" she says, reaching for my black frames on the bathroom sink.

"DaDA!" she hollers toward the ceiling when she knows her father is upstairs working, to which he replies, "AMELIA!"

"Hup pease" (help please), She says when she wants to get into the storage closet (where all the battery operated toys are kept). Or "Hup pease! HupPEASE! HUP PEASE! When she wants to get into the storage closet several seconds before she realizes that she wants to get into the storage closet.

She pokes me in the eye, saying, "eye...Momma eye", then "no" (nose), "mout" (mouth), and with the most enthusiasm, "Mumma 'AIR!" (hair) with a slap to the top of my head, followed by a firm grasp of my bangs.

She's learning the difference between "Nice" and "Not nice." Sometimes she hurts me: drops things on my head or feet, sits on my stomach and jumps, squeezes my skin or slaps me. Most of the time, it's because she can't yet articulate her feelings (we're working on it), but sometimes, I think, she's just curious to see my reaction.

"Ouch!" I often exclaim because it hurts and her attacks can be startling and strong. "That was not nice, Amelia. Be nice to Mumma."

"Not Nie." She repeats. "Nie Mumma." She might say, petting me.

I watch my friends' baby a few mornings a week. She's tall, slender and sweet with glassy doll blue eyes and a love of throwing things, clearing surfaces and emptying containers. She's 13 months old. When she thinks I'm not looking, she reaches for rocks and licks them or grabs fistfuls of dry dirt from my houseplants. Her name is Sedona. Amelia loves her.... most of the time. And she has discovered that if she wants Sedona to crawl toward her in a game of chase, the best way to get her to do this is to let out several terribly shrill trilling screams. (We're working on a quieter version for the library and larger group gatherings.) When Sedona begins learning to walk, I catch Amelia holding her doll by the head, saying, "Walk baby, walk baby, walk!" Both girls find my homemade tents exceptionally thrilling and stand inside the tablecloth walls, screaming.

Some days, Amelia sneaks up behind Sedona to hug and kiss her ("ooowah!") Other days, she isn't so kind.

"Not nice, Amelia. You have to be nice to baby Sedona."

"Not nie. Nie baby. Nie."

Sedona and her parents, Mark and Amy, come over for supper recently. Amy is very important to us all, but to Amelia, she's the person always at the other end of her imaginary phone calls and at the other end of my real phone calls. Her name is often on the tip of Amelia's tongue. Mark is here a little less often, but she loves him just the same. Tall, goofy, fun, he's always up for spontaneous play and whenever he's here, Amelia is often raising her hands toward him, breathlessly pleading for "more! more! more!" More flying! More spinning! More galloping! The other night Mark and the girls play with this alligator vest we have. Amelia wears the toothy, big-eyed-gator hood, raises her hands toward Mark and lets out a roar. Mark plays along, because Mark always plays along. She roars and he cowers and hollers in a fit of silly fake fright. It's hilarious. Amelia reacts as if she's watching magic. Her eyes go wide then small as she laughs. MORE! Again, she raises her hands and roars. He screams. More! Roar! Scream!

She plays this game with everyone now. First, she finds something to put on: a piece of clothing like an oven mitt, or her plastic polka dot glasses, or her hand-knit chicken hat. Then the hands go up and ROAR! Most people participate and scream, which makes her giggle and roar again.

Today she lounges alone on the couch with Eric Carle's Polar Bear Polar Bear What Do You Hear?, naming nearly every animal. This includes her own inventive ways of pronouncing, "hippopotamus", "boa constrictor", "flamingo" and "peacock." I'm tickled and floored.

I do a short yoga class on my computer, pausing it only twice, while she sits at the table, bluing her teeth with blackberries. When I get her down from her seat (with 10 minutes left of the class), she stands on my mat and crawls between my legs and sits and smiles, grasping her toes, mimicking me. This makes laugh. Later, she's restless at nap time so I bundle her up in gloves, boots, hat and coat and strap her to my back. Then my dog and I climb the hill behind our house and wander through the deep soft snow, while she sleeps at my shoulder and the wind hushes the rumbling hum of the machines on the highway below.

This walk in the woods is how my whole life sometimes feels - like I've wandered away from the road and I'm lost in the thickets and weeds, tangled up in the prettiest wildflowers and dry fallen leaves, wondering why I am wandering and staring up at the tops of trees instead of forward toward the noise of the future. But then I try to tell myself that this quiet path I am building, trampling and dancing upon is not nowhere. It is here - my here with her.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Grampa and the Iranian Revolution

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Dear Grampa Lou,

February 28, 1930, you are born in Sagamore, Massachusetts in the house you grow up in. Where, when you are real small, there is an outhouse attached to the garage and a bathtub in the kitchen by the kerosene stove. Your Italian-American mother makes all of your clothing and darns your socks and mends your slacks. She has a “wringer” washer and hangs the wet laundry outside to dry, even in winter. Your father is from Nova Scotia, Canada. He never has much of an education. Mom says he only completes the sixth grade, but he goes on to become the Supervisor of Maintenance for the entire Bourne Public School system (which means he knows how to fix just about everything). He's also an air-raid warden and a member of the State Guard. World War II is happening throughout your childhood (1939 - 1945). In high school, you and a buddy work an outpost near Sagamore Bridge, reporting by telephone, every passing airplane.

After high school, you enter The Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh to study engineering. Your girlfriend, Nancy (Grandma) goes to college for elementary education, but hates it and soon returns home to work her old job at the Western Union. The following fall, she enters The Massachusetts Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, where she is class president all three years and seen as a very promising future nurse. You, Gramp, have a scholarship for your first year of college, but you need another so you go out for the football team. Not only do you get onto the team, but you also receive a full football scholarship. You love these days, playing college ball, studying engineering and writing daily letters to Nancy.

Grandma Nancy writes:
In June 1951, I went by car with Lou's parents, his sister and brother to Pittsburgh for his graduation. ...On that trip home, Lou and I decided that we wanted to get married. ...I think his parents were stunned but did not say much. He was marrying the minister's daughter! My parents accepted our decision but we knew it would be impossible to have a church wedding. Many years later, my father co-officiated at Steve and Mary's wedding at Buzzards Bay Catholic Church. Times have changed for the better.... My Mom got me a suit and hat and shoes. I took off and, after staying with friends 2 nights, I met Lou and Lennie and Dot at the nurses home on Harrison Ave. We went to the church where a priest I knew would perform the ceremony. ...The four of us went into Boston and had lunch and then took off for Lake Winnipesaukee, we had a little cabin on a hill for a whole whopping weekend honeymoon. Then back to Lynn where we had rented an apartment, I drove into Boston to work and Lou started at GE. When I graduated officially, I got a job in the maternity nursery at Lynn Hospital.
In 1967, pining for Cape Cod, you purchase your own gas turbine consulting firm, Fern, and a couple years later, you move to Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts.

Years later, in 1978, Fern's number one client is Amerada Hess Oil Corp and in October of that year, you take a trip. Then you write about it.

This is a true story that, in the interest of historical accuracy, must be told for the record. There are already several versions that have been told in the same manner as a folk tale...each one embellishes the previous one. Since I am the one who precipitated the whole incident, I am taking it upon myself to set the record straight. (Also, I have to rescue whatever is left of my reputation.) 
My name is Lou Fougere. At the time this story unfolds, I was the President of Fern Engineering, a consulting engineering firm specializing in gas turbine machinery. Our main client (actually, Client #1)  was Amerada Hess Oil Corp.  One of Hess’ ventures was an offshore oil concession and oil stabilization facility on Arzanah Island in the Arabian Gulf. This facility was powered by Ruston gas turbine generators, and that is why Fern Engineering was involved.
You go to Arzanah Island for the initial construction with Mr. Hess himself, along with his Senior VP, Mr. Hank Wright. There is a problem with the buried electrical conduit and you take photographs with your 35mm camera to document. Two Hess airplanes fly staff from America to the island. One plane returns to the U.S with most of the crew, but you stay with Mr. Hess and Mr. Wright to do more work. Before flying home, you tag along for a quick trip to Iran.
Hess had to go to Tehran in order to negotiate an oil purchase with the Shah of Iran.
The Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, has ruled since 1941, inheriting the throne from his father who flees to South Africa in exile.  At the time of Hess's meeting with the Shah in October of 1978, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is dying of cancer and a revolution is erupting in the streets of his country. Martial Law is declared.

On September 8, 1978, approximately one month before you arrive, there are protests and a religious demonstration in Jaleh Square, Tehran. The military tries to stop the rally by blocking the route. The crowd refuses to disperse, moving toward the military. Soldiers open fire on the crowd. Some sources say dozens of unarmed citizens are shot down dead in the street, while other sources say hundreds perish. This day now wears the name, Black Friday in Iran, and is considered the moment of no return in the rising conflict between the Shah and the rebels.

You stay at the Royal Tehran Hilton. On the morning of your arrival, Mr. Hess has a meeting with the Shah. You and Mr. Wright think it might be interesting to go into the city - to see what it's like. So Mr. Hess arranges a big black Cadillac (owned by the Iranian Oil Company) to pick you up.
When the limousine arrived we discovered two disturbing things: (1). The driver couldn’t speak English (and we couldn’t speak Farsi) and (2) a strike had been called in support of Khomeni and the revolution. You may not recall (I will never forget) but in October, 1978, Khomeni was in exile in Paris and a revolution was brewing in Iran prior to the overthrow of the Shah. Being a worldly bunch, with no shortage of self-confidence, what the hell….we decided that we’d take a tour anyhow. Maybe the large department store would be open even if the Souk (the open air market) was shut down.
Ruhollah Khomeni is considered the 1st Supreme Leader of Iran (the highest ranking religious and political leader), but long before he takes this position, he is imprisoned in Iran and then exiled in the 1960s for speaking out against the government's push toward westernization. In exile, Khomeni lives in Iraq for 12 years before Saddam Hussein forces him to leave. Then he goes to live near Paris where he records sermons on tape, which then spread throughout Iran, building support and unrest. When you, Grampa, are there in October of 1978, there is a widespread strike because many Iranians want Khomeni to replace the Shah.

In December…just a couple months after you leave, the army mutinies and in mid-January, the American-supported Shah flees Iran with his family. Khomena is appointed Supreme Leader in February of 1979.

On your ride into Tehran from the hotel, Mr. Wright sits in the front seat. You, along with the jet’s co-pilot and the project manager, Dick Palmer, sit in the back.
Oh yes, being two experienced tourists, Hank and I had our 35mm cameras…his was a Minolta and mine was the same one that I had on Arzanah...With pidgin English, which neither the driver nor we could understand, and a generous dose of sign language, we managed to get the limo headed downtown. ….The Hilton is on a hill above Tehran, and we had a long ride down a beautiful boulevard with flowers in the middle and every ¼ mile or so a good-sized traffic circle...
The closer the Cadillac gets to the center of the city, the more crowded the streets become with people, cars and army vehicles. All the shops are closed, but you get the driver to pull over and let you out so that you can walk a bit and see if the big department store is open. When you discover that it too is closed, you return to the car and motion for the driver to take you back to the hotel.
We had gone only a few blocks when I noticed a small convoy parked along the curb, consisting of several troop carriers (complete with rifle-toting troops), a large water canon resembling a Coke truck with a long pipe (the canon) on the roof, and a jeep with a mounted 50 caliber machine gun just like in the TV show called “Rat Patrol”. Troopers with their rifles at ready (and their fingers on the trigger) stood between the convoy and the slow-moving traffic and the milling crowd. As we approached the convoy, my war-correspondent instincts took over…I pulled out my trusty camera and clicked off several shots that were sure to get me a Pulitzer Prize. The last shot was a picture of a trooper so close that I could only see his hands holding the rifle. At that time, all hell broke loose.
Oh my goodness, Gramp! WHAT are you DOING!?
As I put my camera down, the limo stopped short and I looked up to see the face of the soldier behind the rifle which by this time was pointed at me. His finger was nervously on the trigger (it was twitching) and I swear to God his eyes were bearing through me as if to make way for the bullet that was sure to follow. He looked like he had just come off of a camel. I’ve never been so damn scared in my life. Thank God he had enough savvy to realize that he was way over his head, and he called his sergeant, who arrived within seconds and took up the same position including the rifle pointing at me.
Later you ask Hank Wright what it's like to turn around and see “the business end of a 30 caliber rifle” and he says it's like a “damned howitzer" …. He turns around and quietly sits on his camera. Smart move, Hank.
Meanwhile the limo was completely surrounded with nervous, jabbering troopers pointing their rifles at the big black Cadillac owned by the Iranian Oil Company driven by a man who, by this time, had turned a pasty white….The sergeant, whose eyes looked disturbingly like the soldier’s who had preceded him, realized that he also was over his head, and he summoned his lieutenant. That young man moved the sergeant aside and thrust his head through the open window, stared at my camera and said something like ‘filma, filma’; Dick Palmer mumbled that the lieutenant wanted the film. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that, but, by this time, I had grown ten thumbs. I couldn’t have opened the camera if my life depended on it…which, of course, it really did. Finally, I remembered the combination and popped open the film compartment…only to find the compartment was empty!
Then you remember the new roll in your pocket. You take it out, open the foil and give the lieutenant the new roll of film, before saying with a nervous smile, “heh, heh, no film.”

 This, I think, blew him away. He turned to the rapidly fainting driver, yelled something in Farsi which probably translated to "get to the hell out of here before you get killed", and stepped back out of the car window. 
During this episode, the street ahead of us had cleared of traffic, since no cars could get beyond our limo which had been stopped by the Iranian army. The street behind us however, was at a complete standstill, backing up at least to the Turkish border. The almost comatose driver slapped his foot down on the accelerator, and the big black Cadillac pealed rubber for blocks, putting distance between us and the Iranian army.  
The ride back to the hotel was quiet, each man reflecting on the last 30 minutes and thanking his benevolent God, whomever He may be.
Five years later, in April of 1983, your eldest child, Stevie dies. Steve is an engineer. He's a really smart guy, an incredible, natural musician and usually very laid back - my mom tells me now. In 1983, he's on a ship in Brazil, working as an engineer - apparently, he often goes down to the docks to get work. In the South Atlantic Ocean, he discovers a problem with the ship he's on so he starts running and running, up and down and all around the vessel, trying to fix the damn problem, which must be a tremendously dangerous issue, because in an effort to solve it, he runs until he collapses.

His widow, Mary, writes,

Rach....I've got to set the record straight and correct any faulty memories. Steve was 30 years old when he died. He died in a hospital in Cali, Columbia after being driven overnight in an ambulance through the mountains of Columbia. It might have been heat exhaustion or CO2 poisoning....we'll never know. He left behind 3 babies....Dan 4 years old, Sarah 3 years old and Tom 1 year old....and a very heartbroken wife who was 28 years old. This all happened the last day of April of 1983.
Mom says that when you tell her Stevie is dead, she calls you a liar. The morning you must begin mourning, you go from house to house, telling your children of the death of their brother, father, husband, uncle, son - a tragedy you yourself are still trying to comprehend.

Gram goes to church every morning after Stevie's sudden death, walking miles and miles to and from the church. He leaves three little children at home. He’d be so proud of them now.

There’s this photograph of Stevie. You and all of your children have copies of it in your houses. I love this close up portrait: his strong bare shoulders, shaggy dark hair, a generous happy smile, a big black mustache and squinting eyes behind gold framed glasses.

I hope that when you tell Stevie about your trip to Iran, laughter falls out of both of you, while relief makes you feel lightheaded and giddy. Are you the one who takes this photograph, this portrait? (I don't think I have ever seen you with a camera, so perhaps you abandon photography after you're nearly shot dead for it.) But maybe not, maybe you take this picture with that same 35mm and that's why he's smiling so big, because you've just told him your adventure story.

I love that you always end your notes with God bless you so...God bless YOU, Gramp...and HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

I LOVE you so,