Monday, May 30, 2022



              Chapter 8

Sitting in the shade of the Padgett’s patio, Delaney was remembering earlier days....recalling her introduction to what seemed to her at the time a parallel universe, a far-off place called Tanner, Oregon. 

As a youngster she had leafed through the pages of her mother’s high-school annual, the one reminder of her Tanner upbringing that Kathy had taken with her to Los Angeles. The girl recalled the two-page color photo of the Tanner Southside High Homecoming Court, including senior princess, Kathy Padgett. Closing her eyes for a moment she returned to the wonderment that had always accompanied those sketchy visits to her mother’s past. 

Then, in a matter of seconds, her original questions returned in a rush. Why had those small-town teenagers been willing to settle for such an insipid, middle-of-the-road existence? How could growing up in the Tanner of that day have provided even the hint of an adolescent edge, a sense of excitement? Had there been any way at all for a young woman to exert her independence? 

No wonder her mother had left home to find a real life. Who could blame her for that? More to the point, from Delaney’s updated perspective nothing had changed. She had finally seen Tanner....and it was still Tanner. From their first day in town, little more than a week earlier, she had been absolutely certain she could never survive in a Tanner world. Each new morning seemed to confirm those fears. 

The place itself was bad enough. But that was not her only complaint. To make matters worse, her own grandmother had come to hate her. Delaney had sensed that change in their first moments together. The old lady was no longer the smiling, doting grandmother who had visited them in Los Angeles. The new Grandma Nell glared at her constantly, correcting her every move, always expecting more. There was no way to please the lady. 

In sum, everything about Tanner seemed to reinforce the same undeniable truth. She could not live there. There had to be a way out....a way back home, back to her friends and the places she knew. Until she found that way, she would have to rely on her own resourcefulness. 

To begin with, that would call for a walk to the South End Mall....the nearest public-wifi hotspot, the one place she could receive internet signals. However, since Gary had taken her mother’s laptop with him to Portland that morning, any email and Facebook postings would have to wait until the next day. A moment later, still mulling that hopeful possibility, Delaney was sidetracked by a recent, decidedly-ominous development. 

Just two days before she had logged on to the laptop from the Mall, eager to connect with the friends she had left behind. To her dismay, there had been no email messages and no Facebook postings waiting for her. It seemed that no one even knew she was gone, or perhaps they didn’t care. Apparently the kids back home were getting along just fine without her.


Sitting in the shade of the patio, Delaney was processing that deflating attempt to make contact with the real world when the back-yard quiet was shattered by the noisy approach of a power lawnmower coming around the corner of the house. Pushing herself out of the lawn chair, Delaney stepped out to the lawn to see what the racket was about.

“What are you doing here?” she yelled at the approaching young man.

He looked up to see her, shaking his head, motioning that he could not hear her. She yelled again and still he did not respond. Finally, pulling to a stop in front of her, the young man turned off the machine and stood grinning at her unexpected interruption. For a moment it seemed that he was too surprised to speak. 

Delaney may have been just as startled, but in truth she was also a bit intrigued. The youngster was on the short side, though his lean, wiry frame looked good in shorts and a cut-off tee shirt. Most obvious of all was his dark-complected, white-toothed smile. He was good looking, and seemed to know it. The fact that he was obviously Hispanic did not put her off in the least. Many of her Los Angeles friends were Latino. It simply meant she knew how to begin a conversation.

Habla Ingles?” she asked, stepping toward him. “Como se llama?”

A half-laughing frown broke across the young man’s face and his toothy grin returned as he answered, “Matter of fact, my English is pretty good. How’s yours?”

“Wow. I walked into that, didn’t I?”

“That’s okay. If I knew any Spanish we could do that. As it is, I’m pretty sure you’d leave me in the dust.” The youngster paused to give Delaney a rather conspicuous once over. “You’re new around here, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “Yeah. I live in L.A. At least I used to. They tell me I live here now.”

“You don’t sound too excited about that. Are you staying here with the Padgetts?”

“Yeah, They’re my grandparents.”

“They’re good people. I’ve mowed their lawn for a couple years now.”

Leaning back against a patio support post Delaney prepared to ask the question she had found no one else to ask. “So tell me, what do you do for fun around here? This little hick town is totally dead, at least the part I’ve seen. The mall is like a morgue. And there’s no beach, no place to hang out.”

“Maybe that’s because you don’t know where to look.”

“Probably not,” she said, stepping out into the sunshine. “Anyway, if you knew any Spanish at all you’d know that I asked you what your name is. I still haven’t heard that. I’m Delaney, Delaney Padgett. My friends call me Del, and a few other things I won’t mention.”

With a wide smile the boy extended his hand. “I’m Antonio Calle. And my friends never call me Tony. It’s Antonio. I’m glad to meet you, Del. Can I call you that?”

“Yeah, you can.”

Turning back to the mower, Antonio explained over his shoulder. “I’d better get back to work. The old guy gets a little pissed if he thinks I’m goofing off. Anyway, don’t get too down on Tanner. Give it a chance. Maybe it’ll grow on you.”

“You mean like mold?”

“Something like that.”


Nell and I had been together forty-six years, married for forty-three. After that long it seems I ought to have known better. At the very least I should have been prepared for her blunt rejection of my retirement dream.

During the final months of my Cameron assignment we had talked several times about our approaching transition to retirement. But those conversations were couched in vague, feel-good terms. Nothing I remembered from those conversations had raised a red flag. For some reason I assumed that we were more or less on the same page. Obviously I had misread the signs. As it turned out we were not even on the same chapter.

By now I realized that Nell’s objections hurt, a lot. From the beginning I had relied on her support of my sometimes stumbling efforts. So much of the apparent self-confidence I displayed in my role as civic administrator was grounded in her implied endorsement. I had always counted on that, especially during the hard times.

Truth is I could have used her kind of support at a much earlier age. I had muddled through adolescence in a constant state of intimidation, wishing for the easy confidence I saw in my boyhood peers....the ones who made everything look so natural and easy. 

For as long as I could remember I had envied their worldly assurance, how they managed to flourish in ways it seemed I would never master. It had been a hard thing, surviving in a schoolboy world that seemed so intent on exposing me for what I was not.

My own lack of self-esteem would burden me all the way through high school. At an age when bold exploration was in order, I too-often cowered on the sidelines....unwilling to take a chance, afraid to risk what seemed like certain failure. Even now, decades later, that youthful trepidation still generates moments of remembered discomfort. What was it, I ask myself, that made me the timid teenager I had been?

I have read of lives shaped by the presence of a role-modeling mentor, and wondered why I had never attracted such a person in my life....someone who could have helped me visualize an appropriate future for the uncertain young man I was in those days.   

My parents certainly cared. They gave me the best they had. Yet I cannot recall a single time when either of them, father or mother, spoke to me about the value of a life goal....a vision of the person I might become. 

In any case, it was probably not surprising that Nell and I were late in our own parenthood before we finally paused to sort out the signs. Only then, when Kathy was beginning to exert her own adolescent independence, did we begin to understand how we had failed our sole offspring.

 It distressed me then, and still does, to think that we had unwittingly committed the same errors of omission I sometimes blamed on my own parents. By then the most effective antidote I  found for that disappointment was the hopeful possibility that our daughter, like her parents before her, would have the good sense to find her own way toward the future she deserved. 

I loved our daughter with an affection I sometimes found hard to put into words. Instead I had learned to express my caring in my own, often-dysfunctional way. During Kathy’s formative years, whenever she came up short, took the wrong turn, or did not follow through, I was apt to respond by accepting her deficiency as my own failing.

On the other hand, having discounted my success as a parent, I assumed that Kathy’s positive accomplishments, such as they were, had been earned by her own hard work and innate cleverness. 

It was a heavy and lopsided load for a young father to carry....accepting our daughter’s failures as my own, without claiming an offsetting share of her achievements. I suppose I was signaling to myself, and her too, that even though her failings were the inevitable result of faulty parenting she could succeed in spite of our feeble efforts. Small wonder that by the time she shed her Tanner trappings and moved south, my own accumulated guilt had become a not-insignificant burden. 

Now, decades later, I was coming face to face with a new existential irritant. From place to place, job to job, home to home, Nell had always been there....supportive and encouraging. Given that history why had she suddenly become so unyielding, so unexpectedly contrary? Though I might have been guilty of neglecting our daughter from time to time, I had been there for Nell every step of the way.

Our longed-for retirement freedom was at hand. We could live the life that had always been out of reach. I was so sure we agreed about that, until Nell began spelling out her notion of how life after work ought to look.

She wanted us to ‘settle into’ a stable lifestyle that would never again include moving. That was what had made a return to Tanner for my last job so exciting for her. For her it was all about permanence....a place where she would be surrounded by old friends and remembered connections. 

Yet, as I listened to Nell’s impassioned logic I realized that what she looked forward to as permanence sounded to me like  stagnation and boredom.

It was a frustrating thing....her stubborn insistence that a lifetime of stressful employment had not earned me the right to the retirement I dreamed of. Small wonder I fell asleep night after night praying that Nell would come to her senses, that she might see the logic of ‘having a life,’ while we were still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.

Saturday, May 28, 2022



                          Chapter 7

Since her daughter’s return to Tanner more than a week earlier, Nell Padgett had gone about her morning chores without once being interrupted by granddaughter Delaney. The girl was obviously not a morning person. She rarely emerged from the basement until Nell called down the stairwell to say that lunch was ready. All of which explained Nell’s surprise that morning when Delaney slipped into the kitchen just after ten o’clock.

“What’s for breakfast?” the girl asked, casting an eye up and down the long counter.

Nell closed her recipe folder and turned to answer, “If you’d have been here earlier, you’d know that breakfast is pretty much over by eight-thirty or so.”

“And there’s nothing left? You know, a doughnut or pop tart, something like that.”

“I’m afraid this isn’t a ‘doughnut and pop tart’ sort of kitchen,” her grandmother explained, knowing that her tone was bound to irritate. “I could probably find some oatmeal for you to cook up. Or maybe some of your grandpa’s Bran Flakes.”

“Grandma. I’m looking for real food.”

Though she realized a teaching moment might be at hand, Nell was not inclined to deal with the hassle that would involve. Instead, she chose a less-stressful alternative....the ultimate in Grandma offerings. “Then how about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” 

The two of them had not spent much time together in the course of Delaney’s young life. Yet one of the girl’s fondest memories of Grandma Padgett was the morning in her grandparents’ Los Angeles motel room when the two of them made and shared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

“That would be cool.”

The calm quiet that settled over the Padgett kitchen lasted as long as Delaney’s sandwich. Finishing the last bite, she brushed the crumbs from her sweatshirt and got to her feet, starting for the basement. An instant later came her grandmother’s stern reminder.

“Just one minute, young lady. I think you forget something.”

Stopping short, the girl asked over her shoulder, “What’s that?”

“To begin with, I haven’t heard any kind of ‘Thank you’.”

“Oh. Thanks, Grandma.” She was retreating once more when Nell’s command voice stopped her in her tracks.

“You’d best get back here, girl. You’re not through yet.” She was pointing to the breakfast bar. “Is that where your dirty dishes belong?”

There was no sense arguing. Grandma was too hard-headed for that. Carefully avoiding Nell’s icy glare, Delaney made a dramatic production of carrying her plate and glass to the sink. Then, with a scowling ‘Are you satisfied now?’ frown she was again on her way toward the stairs.

“What do you suppose they’re going to do sitting there in the sink?”

Turning back, the girl saw her grandmother nodding toward the dishwasher. With an exasperated sigh she deposited the offending dishes in the dishwasher, finally earning a return to the secluded quiet of the basement apartment.


The aggravating conclusion of her breakfast had been enough to start Delaney’s morning off on the wrong foot. Her mother had taken Nell’s car to town, running last-minute errands in preparation for her afternoon commute to Newport. Gary was in Portland for the day, continuing his job search. Alone in the apartment, Delaney was stretched out on the couch watching MTV music videos when Nell poked her head through the door to ask, “What’s this stack of clothes out here in the hall?”

“They’re dirty. I gathered them up and put them out by the washer. I thought I was helping.”

By then Nell was grinning to herself, recalling their earlier dishwasher episode and hoping to avoid a repeat. “That’s a start,” she nodded. “I’ll grant you that. It might even work that way with California washing machines. But up here in Oregon we’re kind of behind the times. You see, we have to put the clothes in the washer, along with some soap. Then we turn on the machine. It works pretty well that way.”

Before Delaney could give voice to the sarcastic response she was forming, her grandmother explained, “The thing is, we don’t have a maid. There’s no hired help. So if there’s something you need done, you’d better plan on doing it yourself.” Seconds later she disappeared up the stairs.


After her peanut butter and jelly breakfast, Delaney passed on lunch, deciding to steer clear of her grandmother, who was obviously in a bad mood. Instead she moved outside, escaping the early afternoon heat in the shade of the covered patio. 

More to the point, she was seeking relief from old people....their stupid rules and ridiculous attempts to make her believe she belonged there. Leaning back in the lawn chair, she let her churning complaints settle, returning to her mother’s insistent admonition that Grandma and Grandpa were only trying to help.

“Can’t you see, honey?” Kathy had explained. “We showed up here with no warning. They didn’t know we were coming. You can tell they’ve got some issues of their own to sort out. But don’t worry. Things will work out just fine.”

But how could things possibly be “just fine,” Delaney asked herself again. How could her grandparents’ home be her home for even a little while? 

To make matters worse, when Gary took the laptop with him to go job hunting there was not a single computer in the whole house. How primitive was that? And with no internet there was no email, and no Facebook. To make matters worse, there was no longer a cell phone. That bit of necessity had disappeared a month earlier, when Gary’s precious ‘unlimited minutes’ had become more than he could afford.

By itself that deprivation had been hard enough to calls, no Twitter, no texting. But now, with no phone and no internet her sense of isolation was complete. She was absolutely alone, totally out of touch with the civilized world. She might as well have been on another planet.

It was hell to be poor, Delaney reminded herself. In fact, she had known that for a very long time. She had only to recall earlier times when she and her mother were on their own. There had been no cell phones then, or internet either, except when Mom crashed with Allen. 

She cringed a bit at the thought of him....a big hairy guy who always found reasons to touch her. Even at that age she had wondered how her mother could stand being around him, with his rough, grubby hands running all over her.

The girl had learned about such things over the years, how her mother was sometimes ‘friendly’ because there seemed to be no other choice. And along the way Kathy had taught her daughter a thing or two about the male of the to respond when bad things happened, how avoid the ones who turned dangerous when they could not have their way.

Her grandparents could grumble all they wanted about Los Angeles being a terrible place to grow up, but Delaney was not ready to settle for their simplistic appraisal. True, it was a tough and sometimes dangerous place. But it was also where she had gathered the skills to look out for herself, where important lessons had to be learned quickly, because the price of not learning was sometimes very high.

For years ‘home’ had been the seedy side-street neighborhoods just inland from the crowded and equally-seedy Venice beaches. There, when her mother was working full time, Delaney had been on her own most days, hanging out with the friends who made “safety in numbers” something more than an idle saying. 

During the school year classes were often viewed as optional, especially if there were more interesting things to do. From Delaney’s perspective those times of unsupervised independence....hanging out at the beach or skateboard park were the ‘good old days.’ Those experiences had made her who she was.Growing up’ was her preferred description....becoming self-reliant and learning to take care of herself.

Even when her mother decided that adult supervision was required, Delaney was apt to be on her own. More often than not ‘adult supervision’ meant spending a day or two with Angie....a wide-eyed, semi-deranged friend who was likely to be strung out on whatever substance she could lay her hands on.

Then, just two years before, the girl’s fondly-remembered freedom had suffered something of a setback. Gary had entered their lives, bringing with him a shared connection to her mother’s home town. Before his arrival Kathy had seldom mentioned Tanner and the childhood she had spent there. For Delaney it had been little more than home to the Padgett grandparents who came visiting every year or two. 

The transition....from the two of them, mother and a new and different life that included Gary, had taken a while. In time, however, though Delaney would never have admitted as much, her mother’s new friend provided a needed grounding. His calmness in the face of Kathy’s sometimes spur-of-the-moment edginess provided a reassuring sense of stability the girl had seldom known.

All in all it had become a comfortable, if confining time, offering new forms of diversion. There had been weekend drives to the mountains and desert, far beyond the boundaries of Delaney’s narrow universe. The summer before they had spent a whole week traveling the coastal highway to Monterey and back, staying in motels and dining on restaurant meals. 

She had never been so far from home, or seen such rugged, uninhabited wilderness. A time or two she had wondered if that was how Tanner, the place in far-off Oregon her mother and Gary sometimes talked about, would look.

Their time with Gary had provided other hints of family life that Delaney had seen only on television or in old movies. She reveled in sit-down dinners at a nice eatery. Always a fussy eater, she never failed to clean her plate at Olive Garden. 

On her fifteenth birthday they had visited Disneyland, a first for both mother and daughter. That alone had been enough to earn Gary praise as a ‘cool guy.’ Sealing that judgement was the surprising realization that in his two years with her mother, he had never once hit or even threatened her. 

To be sure, there were parts of Delaney’s life that had scarcely changed at all. During the good times Kathy and Gary were working long hours, giving the girl plenty of opportunity for long days at the beach. There had been impromptu parties, with lots of guys and six packs of wine coolers, the beverage of choice. 

Yet in spite of that, life in what she accepted as a normal family had taken on its own appeal. Things were more mellow, less intense. There was an element of stability she had come to appreciate. From her perspective it seemed she had found the best of both worlds.

Then, just three months earlier, that comfortable security began to unravel. The faltering economy had cost Gary his job. In the weeks that followed his self-assured confidence that other opportunities awaited had been overwhelmed by the apparent reality that no one was looking for the skills he had to offer. 

Worst of all was the depressing morning he stood in line to apply for the State’s unemployment benefits. Those dollars had helped, of course. Yet even that was not enough. Six weeks later the upscale apartment was gone and the three of them began a series of ‘drop ins,’ crashing with friends.

Finally, in the course of a single lunchtime conversation over Big Macs, Delaney heard her mother spell out for the first time a startling new vision of how their dilemma might be resolved.... ideas that she and Gary had assembled the night before on a deserted Pacific beach. 

Most surprising of all was Kathy’s straight-forward declaration that the future she envisioned for them would begin with a return to Tanner, Oregon. For half an hour Delaney listened in bemused disbelief as her mother spelled out how they could exchange the frustration of their Los Angeles dream-gone-wrong for a brand-new start.

Yet, as persuasive and passionate as Kathy had been on the beach in the pre-dawn darkness, by the time they had finished their McLunch Gary was making no effort to hide his distaste for her ‘returning to Tanner’ talk. “Giving up,” he called it. He was willing to consider a visit to his Tanner roots, but not her crazy notion of making it their home? 

In the face of Gary’s exaggerated objections, Kathy countered each complaint with a determined forcefulness that surprised her daughter....offering an enticing word picture of a new home in the very place she and Gary had ‘escaped’ from years before. What was it, the girl remembered wondering, that had suddenly made Tanner, Oregon such a desirable place?

Thursday, May 26, 2022



                Chapter 6

It was the next morning when Kathy Padgett, alone in the shaded quiet of the patio outside their basement apartment, revisited her Courthouse Park confrontation with Gary, dwelling particularly on how it had exposed their differing notions of ‘home’....what it meant and where it would be. 

The two of them had first met in what Gary called the ‘wilds of Venice Beach’....a free-spirited community of seeking souls in search of enlightenment and good times, not always in that order. By any measure theirs had been an unlikely pairing....born of the coincidental fact that they came from the same home town. 

At first, however, that bit of trivia had offered no hint of a future together. They had stumbled across that surprising fact one damp Los Angeles afternoon two years earlier when a mutual friend, who had learned of their common Tanner connection, introduced them. From the beginning they had joked about leaving wet and soggy Oregon, only to meet on a rainy day in sunny California.

Yet, though they had come from the same town, they had been raised in very different worlds. Gary was seven years older, a product of the Tanner North End. In his youth, before an ambitious urban-renewal project made the area more respectable, the North End had been a crowded warren of post-war housing tracts....block after block of boxy, unkept rental properties, the nearest thing to a slum Tanner had to offer.

Kathy, on the other hand, had grown up in the thoroughly middle-class environs of South Tanner, where a ‘North End’ address was likely to be looked down on.

To be sure, when they first met the attraction was not immediate. Kathy had been on her own long enough to resist the attention of a good-looking, slightly-unkept older man. She was a thirty-six year old single mother at the time, wise in the ways of the fluid and sometimes intimidating Los Angeles singles scene. 

More than once she had paused to ask herself if they would have made that same connection in the early years of her California odyssey. Would a young and more impressionable Kathy Padgett have been drawn to that Gary Olson....the part-time party boy and full-time techno-nerd he was in those days?

She had arrived in Los Angeles just a year out of Tanner Southside High School, with dreams of a career in fashion design. A brief stint at a too-expensive design school had confirmed she had neither the aptitude nor the talent to survive in that very competitive world. 

Yet those first few California months had opened her small-town eyes in other ways. In the company of her design school classmates, Kathy had been introduced to the social opportunities the big city offered an attractive, unattached young woman. 

Before long she had been caught up in an intoxicating blend of clubs, parties, and the stimulating attention of young men she would never have met in Tanner, Oregon. For months she had been swept along in that exciting, non-stop social scene until, to her surprise, Delaney had made her impending arrival known.

That shocking revelation had been enough to gain Kathy’s full attention, complete with morose visions of her probable shortcomings as a mother. She knew others who had dealt with that intimidating situation, and sometimes wondered how they managed to carry on. 

The most successful expectant mothers she knew were able to rely on the support of the father-to-be. Yet for weeks Kathy had put off telling him, waiting for the ‘right moment,’ hoping that when he knew he would offer the help she was bound to need. Perhaps he could have done that, had he not beat a hasty and permanent retreat the morning after she explained her dilemma.

It had taken time, years in fact, for Kathy to fully integrate the reality of motherhood into her California accept that she was responsible for not only her own future, but her daughter’s too. 

It was that reality which prompted the slow, but steady changes. Month by month well-learned habits and mindsets were reordered and priorities reset. She and Delaney had carried on, relying on their wits and resilience, settling into what worked for them. Along the way there had been other relationships....passing alliances, including one that had turned frightfully abusive. None of them had stood the test of time. 

Meanwhile, Kathy had managed to support the two of them, working at jobs she would never have touched ‘Before Delaney.’ She had been a waitress, a file clerk, just about anything that offered a paycheck. Looking back, she found it hard to imagine that at one particularly-dire moment she had seriously considered applying for an opening as a topless cocktail waitress. Still, they had survived ....and Kathy was proud of that.

By the time Delaney started school, Kathy was ready to revisit her own educational neglect. With a young daughter to feed and care for, she would invest nearly three years in a one year junior-college nursing program. Shortly after graduation she passed the rigorous state exam, thus earning her coveted LPN nursing credentials and a highly-marketable job skill. Against the odds she and Delaney had made it that far. 

In that long process of ‘becoming’ Kathy had learned to accept the absence of a man in her life.... telling herself she preferred it that way. It seemed the safest way to raise Delaney amid the Venice Beach craziness. That rationale had carried the day until two years earlier, when Gary Olson stumbled, or more precisely, tiptoed into her life. 

She found him friendly enough, though he was older and showed no apparent interest in her. In truth, he was the first man she could remember who seemed not to be in a hurry. For weeks she wondered if he was afraid, or perhaps gun shy. 

Their first night together had been the start of a tentative ‘getting to know each other’ phase that lasted nearly four months. By then Kathy had learned to like him, and still Gary was dragging his feet. Finally, after the three of them spent a weekend camping at Yosemite Park, he invited her and Delaney to move into his Torrence apartment.

Looking back, she remembered Gary’s decision as something special. It was a comforting thing.... knowing he had thought it through so carefully. His demonstrated willingness to accept Delaney, who at fourteen was already a handful, had been the clincher. In their time together he had become a stable and important part of her daughter’s world.... the closest thing to ‘family’ the girl had ever known.

Then, after a year and a half together, those cozy notions of home had begun to unravel. The deepening recession had claimed Gary’s job. His determined efforts to find work had come up empty. For weeks Kathy’s paycheck and his unemployment benefits had kept them afloat. But that alone was not enough to sustain what had become their normal lifestyle. By mid-June Gary was forced to give up his apartment. 

In a matter of days they were homeless. That state of affairs might have been acceptable in Kathy’s earlier days as a carefree single. Now, however, ‘homelessness’ was not a fit for the future she had in mind. It would take a new notion of ‘home’ to create what she wanted for her daughter. 

 The girl was sixteen, full of life and promise, and coming of age in the most laissez-faire environment imaginable. Unless Kathy could sell her vision of change, she feared that Delaney Padgett, the ultimate Venice Beach Girl, was on a dead-end trajectory that promised only hurt and disappointment. By the time they fled Los Angeles making a new home for Delaney had become Kathy’s highest priority.

Though his commitment to a return to Tanner was admittedly tepid, Gary had agreed to consider the possibility. In the framework of what Kathy was calling their ‘new family’ it seemed like something he ought to do. 

At first he had assumed she was talking about a brief visit, a chance to see the old sights and perhaps track down an old friend or two. Then, in the course of a long night on the beach, almost before he realized what was happening, she was talking about a permanent move....of making Tanner their home.

The night before, at Courthouse Park, she had forcibly reminded him of her intent, insisting that she meant to create a home for herself and Delaney in Tanner. 

But how, he asked himself, could their new home include him if he had no job, no income at all? No matter where they lived, their future must be built on something more than handouts from her parents.

And what about Delaney, the supposed inheritor of her mother’s good intentions? Could she ever accept Tanner as home? From the beginning she had registered her resistance and showed no signs of relenting. She was a strong-willed young lady, with a life-view forged on the Southern California beaches. Having learned about life in the fast lane, could she settle for the pace of small-town Tanner?

During their final weeks in California Kathy had allowed Tanner, once the scene of her escape, to become her mental image of home and all it represented. Yet to her surprise they had arrived to the sound of her parents’ bitter argument about home and what that meant to them. 

In those surprising  moments it felt like they had stumbled into the second act of a three act play ....with no idea of what had gone on before, or how it would end. While she and Gary worried about finding jobs, her parents were at war over her father’s retirement. Was that her idea of ‘home’?

Tuesday, May 24, 2022


                            Chapter 5

Kathy Padgett remembered Courthouse Park, recently renamed Veteran’s Memorial Park, from her childhood. With what seemed like miles of wide concrete sidewalks winding among oversized shrubs and spreading oak trees, it had served the surrounding neighborhood as a sprawling playground. Even now she recalled those paths, crisscrossing at all angles, as the perfect place for a lively game of bike tag.

It was a big place....two city blocks wide, three or four blocks long. She had read somewhere that the park was originally developed as the centerpiece of an expanded State Capital grounds, which one nineteenth-century city planner had promised, in a moment of unbridled enthusiasm, would cement Tanner’s claim as the ‘Athens of Oregon.’ 

One hundred and twenty years later no one was comparing Tanner to Athens. Yet the park itself remained a central feature of the city’s downtown, stretching from the site of the original courthouse, since replaced at least twice, all the way to the Capital Building....itself a relatively new reincarnation of the original.

Not surprisingly, those childhood images no longer applied. The bulky shrubs she remembered were gone. Everywhere she looked there was less grass and more concrete. In those earlier days the park’s signature landmarks had been the towering statue of a mounted horseman at the State House end of the park, and a massive round fountain in front of the courthouse. 

The horseman, along with several ancient firs, had been toppled years before in a massive windstorm. The fountain remained, though the lifelike concrete Greek goddess who once stood atop the raised center platform, the one that young boys came to gawk at, had been replaced by a modern metal, some said ‘ugly,’ sculpture. Circling the new centerpiece the once stagnant pool was now stirred by bubbling air jets.

That evening, a week to the day since their arrival in Tanner, Kathy and Gary drove downtown, leaving Delaney in the basement apartment to watch an MTV movie. Upstairs the girl’s grandparents were no doubt enjoying the momentary lull in the turmoil that had accompanied their daughter’s return.

Truth be told, Kathy and Gary also needed a bit of peace and opportunity to reflect on their Tanner experiment and how it was playing out. It had been Gary who suggested Courthouse Park as a good place for that. He too remembered the park, though his recollections of the place were somewhat different than Kathy’s. 

By the time he was ten or eleven, racing around the park on his bike....dodging unsuspecting pedestrians and hiding from the intimidating groundskeepers ....Kathy had been a three or four year old toddler, still years away from creating her own Courthouse Park memories. 

On that evening, however, the two of them may have arrived at the park assuming they were on the same page, dealing with circumstances that had become a shared experience. If so, they were probably misreading the signs. 

Gary had spent the last several days trying to put a positive spin on what seemed to him a most unpositive situation. For a week he had been tracking down job leads....first in Tanner, then up and down the valley, all the way to Portland. By the time they set off on their evening stroll across the park his frustration was showing.

“I just don’t see how we’re going to make this work,” he grumbled as he guided Kathy to the concrete ledge that circled the fountain pool. “I’ve tried everything I can think of. Checked out every web site I know. No one is hiring. There are dozens, probably hundreds, of guys like me out there looking. Hell, in Portland it seemed like half of Intel’s work force is out knocking on doors”

“I thought you’d called Marty for some leads,” Kathy answered. “You said he knew some guys up there. And Stan too. He made it sound like he could help you get an interview.”

Gary waited for a passing couple to move on, though from the look of them they were unaware of anyone else’s presence. “When I finally got through to that shop in Beaverton, the one Marty told me to call, both of his contacts had been laid off. There was no way they could help me.”

For an instant his thoughts danced ahead to another, more demeaning recollection. “It’s a real pain, you know, having to do a web search from the mall. The best wifi hot spot they had was right next to the Food Court. It was hard to get anything done with all those people milling around.”

“What else can we do?” Kathy laughed. “My God, the folks don’t even have a computer, let alone an internet connection. I’m just glad we have the laptop, with a wifi card. Without that we’d really be up a creek.”

Her blunt description of their computer dilemma was enough to generate Gary’s next question. “Are you sure you won’t need the laptop at the coast?” 

“I’ll be fine. I asked the agency people about that. It turns out that each nursing station has it’s own computer. In fact, they want me to use theirs, so that everything stays in their system.”

Though he was not prepared to admit as much out loud, Gary had realized from the beginning how vital Kathy’s efforts would be in making their life-changing move a success. 

As a Licensed Practical Nurse, with a long and glowing resume that included highly-responsible nursing-home positions, she had never been without work for long. Just three days after their return to Tanner she had reviewed a pair of promising offers from a local staffing agency and selected a position with a prominent west-coast nursing-home chain. Her first assignment would be at the company’s Newport facility on the Oregon coast, beginning the next week. 

 For the time being she would be living at the coast five days a week, leaving the others to cope as best they could at her parents’ home. Though she was not thrilled about the two-hour weekend commute, or being away from Gary and Delaney all week, the possibility of a future transfer to the company’s Tanner facility was too good to pass up.

“It still feels like we’re dancing all around the real problem,” Gary continued, wondering why it was left to him to address the downside to their hopeful plans. “What if I can’t find any work? I’m giving it my best shot, You know that. But things are pretty damn grim out there. So the question is, when do we decide it’s not going to work, and head back home?”

“This is home. Remember?” 

Before Gary could respond, Kathy had pushed herself off the concrete ledge and started down the sidewalk, striding briskly in the general direction of the State House.

An instant later he was in pursuit, hurrying to catch up. “Honey. Will you wait. Please. What has you so worked up now. What did I say?”

Without stopping she asked over her shoulder, “Don’t you listen to anything I say?” A few steps later she was shouting. “You were there, Gary. We spent half the night talking about this. You do remember that, don’t you?”

“Talking about what? Half of what night? Damn it, Kathy. Will you just stop and tell me why you’re going off like this?”

She stopped so quickly he nearly ran into her. By the time he regained his balance she was planted in the middle of the sidewalk, hands defiantly on her hips. They would have been nose to nose, except that Kathy was only five two, which put her nose about a foot below his.

“You do remember the night on the beach, don’t you?” She was not as loud now, though still firm and deliberate. “Our last weekend in L.A. We spent the whole night going over this....about us and our future. About getting away from there and finding a better place for Delaney. Do you remember any of that?”

Of course he remembered. They had talked.... actually she had talked....from sundown to sunrise. No matter how he had tried to deflect her unpleasant arguments, she would not be put off. In the course of a single night she had taken what began as a two or three week return to Tanner, a pleasant break between jobs, and turned it into a permanent return to what she was selling as the idyllic tranquility of their shared home town.

That night, on the still warm sand, she had been swept along by her own obsessive dream....the vision she had nursed for months, but never revealed until then. Now, standing there on the Courthouse Park sidewalk, as Gary pleaded for her to face the reality of his failed job search, she obviously found the notion of a Tanner homecoming as seductive as ever. 

“You were there that night. Weren’t you?” Kathy asked again. “I thought we agreed that we’d do this, that both of us were ready to make a commitment. That’s what you said then.”

For a second he was afraid she would start crying. Instead, she just shook her head, bit her lip, and plowed ahead. “I should have known better. For you it was all about a long night that ended with us making love on the beach. By then you’d forgotten what we’d talked about. Our future had become an afterthought.”

At once Gary realized that debating his attention span and ‘their future’ was not a winning idea....not when she was in such a sarcastic mood. Nudging Kathy toward an empty park bench, he was hoping to direct their stand off to a more practical level. “How can you be so certain about the future when I don’t even have a job?”

“You know exactly why.” She eased herself down on the bench. “There was more to it than just a job. We talked about other things that night.... important things. Have you forgotten about all that too.”

“I haven’t forgotten anything. I remember every bit of it.” He was too keyed up to consider sitting. Instead, he paced across the sidewalk and back. “But how can we possibly think about getting married if I can’t even bring home a paycheck?”

“Where is it written that the two have to go together? Why does it take one to have the other?”

“They sure as hell went together when I was growing up,” he argued. “The two of them went hand in hand. It was Dad’s job to bring home a paycheck.” 

Damn it. The two of them had grown up in the same small town....surrounded by the same society, wrapped in the same culture. Not for the first time Gary was wondering why they saw things so differently?

“That is so old fashioned,” Kathy countered.

“Look, Kathy. I know you’re a really good nurse. You can always get work and you make good money. I’m proud of you for all that. But to be a husband, and a father to Delaney, when I can’t even earn a would that work?”

Gary had said his piece and could have ended his protest right there. Perhaps he should have. Instead he gave in to a silly urge to have the last word. “Besides, whether we’re married or not, who says we have to live in Tanner? Why can’t we be L.A.?”

That was enough to earn her unfriendly glare. “If you’d been listening at all, you’d know why not. What I said was that we need to be in Tanner, all of us, especially Delaney. Need to....not want to. This needs be her home and ours too. It’s where we belong. I thought we’d already decided that.” 

Her stare was intimidating enough to have him turning away. “Anyway, if that doesn’t work for you, just say so. Because it still works for me.”

It still works for me.” Gary repeated Kathy’s apparently nonnegotiable declaration to himself as they started back to the car. He did not remember hearing such harsh determination that night on the warm California sands, or the implied understanding that with or without him Tanner would be home for her and Delaney.

Sunday, May 22, 2022



              Chapter 4

“And you think the job situation is going to be better in Tanner?” 

My question was aimed at Kathy, though neither she nor Gary chose to respond. So, with another swig of coffee I offered my own take. “I’m afraid you’ll find it just as tough up here. Near as I can see there’s no place to hide.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” I continued. “I’m glad I was able to retire when I did. I’ve read about how hard these times have been on tech companies, like the ones you are contacting. 

"But I can assure you, it’s also been hell on small towns, the kind I worked for. Revenues have dried up. When that happens the City Manager is left with a bunch of tough choices to make, ones that are bound to hurt people. Lots of folks will be mad, and they’ll blame him.

“I still talk to friends in the business. Most of them are scared as hell. Not just for their town, but for their people, the ones they work with. A couple of them are worried about their own jobs. There’s no doubt about it, I got out just in time.”

“I guess that’s how we felt about leaving L.A.,” Kathy replied. “Though I’ll admit, there were other reasons for coming back.”

“Other reasons?” I asked. ”Don’t tell me you’d suddenly developed a sentimental yearning for your old home town.”

Kathy’s laugh sounded a bit embarrassed. Perhaps she could not remember a time when our conversation included such a personal element. We had always been alike in that way, at least in each other’s company, preferring arm’s-length exchanges, sidestepping the more personal and revealing possibilities. 

“I wouldn’t call it a sentimental yearning,” she replied. “It was something more practical than being homesick. 

"Fact is, it was time to get Delaney away from that Southern California craziness. The last couple years had gone from bad to worse. There were too many distractions. I needed to get her to a place where she could get her head on straight and concentrate on school.”

“And you think that will be different up here?" I asked. "Is that it? Believe me, she’ll find every one of those ‘distractions’ right here in little old Tanner. That stuff may start in California, but it doesn’t take long to get here. Seems like it motors right up the interstate to us.

“But you’re right about one thing,” I added. “She is a surly one, that granddaughter of ours. I’m not sure I’ve heard her say a civil word yet. She didn’t offer to help at all after dinner last night. Just headed down stairs without a ‘thank you’ or least until Nell ‘invited’ her back to help in the kitchen. Makes me wonder what happened to that cute little kid we used to see.”

“Yeah. Mom wasn’t too subtle about that, was she?” For a moment Kathy looked to be in a remembering mode “I’d forgotten how blunt she can be.”

“Near as I can tell ‘subtle’ isn’t likely to work on that girl.” I winked at Kathy as I explained, “I suppose she’s got a lot of her mother in her.  Anyway, I’m not sure that living in Tanner is going to change that kind of behavior.”

Kathy seemed to stiffen as she assembled her rationale. There was no apology in her voice as she elaborated. “You have to remember, Dad. She’s grown up in a very rough part of L.A. We lived in the projects for a while, then down at the beach. I was in school during a lot of that time, working long hours, so Delaney was on her own a lot. She had to learn how to take care of herself. That would be enough to make anyone ‘surly.’ 

“That’s the way it was until Del and I moved into Gary’s place in Torrance. You might not call it normal, the way the three of us have lived the last couple of years, but it’s been the closest thing to having a family that Delaney has ever known. She still struggles sometimes, wondering who she can trust, trying to tell what’s real and what’s a con.”

For the next few seconds Kathy again turned quiet, perhaps wondering if she had lost my attention in the course of her explanation. In fact, by then I was ready to move on. It seemed like a good time to address a more practical matter.... perhaps the most practical matter of all.

“So,” I began with no hint of subtly. “How’s the money situation? Are you going to need some help?”

I remembered having been in that uncomfortable space before, feeling the need to ask those hard questions, even when I already knew the answer. I also knew how Kathy hated those unpleasant conversations....the dialogue we were about to have. 

But what else could I do? If she wouldn’t bring it up, I was prepared to use the moment as a springboard for what I wanted her, and Gary, to hear. That’s how it had worked in the past. Apparently it still did.

We had visited that anxious topic more than once in the last twenty years, usually when Kathy was between jobs and out of options. Whatever the problem, a phone call to Dad, embarrassing as that was, along with a brief explanation of her need to ‘borrow’ enough to carry on, had always produced at least a temporary measure of relief. 

I realized, of course, that from her perspective such help came at a uncomfortable few minutes spent listening to the Old Man’s recital of the lessons I hoped she was learning.

“I’m sure you remember, dear,” I began.

About then I saw the frown spreading over her face. Though she had heard my not-so-subtle disclaimer before, Gary had never been part of that discussion. For a moment I was asking myself if I ought to be talking family finances with a near stranger. Yet, Kathy clearly considered the two of them a team. In that case, who was I to argue?

“I was brought up to pay my own way,” I continued, speaking to Kathy for Gary to hear. “You’ve heard me say that a few times. My folks taught us to set a little something aside to see us through the hard times. Lots of us depression kids learned that. It was a good habit to pick up.”

I suppose that if Nell had been at the table, she would have reminded me that being born in 1942 did not make me a ‘depression kid’ but rather a child of ‘depression parents.’ 

“I know, Dad. And that’s exactly what we did. In fact, it was that nest egg that carried us for quite a while. But in the end it took most of that ‘something extra’ to get us here to Tanner. So until we can land a job or two, and get our first paycheck, we could use some help....a place to stay and maybe a little gas money. With any luck I can find something pretty quick, something to let us be on our own again.”

“Just don’t get too cocky, honey.” I was not looking to throw cold water on their hopeful plans, but it was time for a dose of reality. “That may not happen as fast as you think. California’s not the only place where times are tough.”

By then Kathy must have realized that I was deviating from our time-honored ‘fiscal responsibility’ script. I had known from the beginning that would happen. I was not sure how to say what needed saying, but there was no escaping the need to warn her.

“So, here’s the deal.” I pushed my chair away from the table. “You know that Mom and I will do what we can to help. But we’re really hoping you can get it right this time. I can’t promise how many more second chances we can afford to underwrite.” 

I could almost see the wheels turning as Kathy asked herself if she was hearing a threat, or perhaps a warning. “Are we putting you guys in a tough spot?” she asked. Her tone had turned a bit tentative. “We haven’t had this kind of talk since you retired. If this doesn’t work for you, we can find some other way to get by.”

“No you can’t,” I shot back. A part of me wanted to be more reassuring, but it was no time to be dodging the truth of it. “There’s no one out there lending money. Especially not to prime borrowers like you.” 

That was too harsh. I hoped my embarrassed grin was signaling my apology. “Look, no one knows where the hell this economy is going. Everyone’s scared, especially retired folks like your mother and me. We don’t know what to expect, except that whatever it turns out to be, it won’t look like the good old days.”

“Are you two doing okay?” Kathy asked. “It sounds like we’ll be raising hell with your budget. I don’t want to do that. You worked a long time to earn your retirement. I don’t suppose you did all that just to keep your wayward daughter afloat.”

Perhaps it was Kathy’s bluntness that relieved the momentary tension. In truth, I appreciated her concern, but it was time to put things into perspective. Actually, I was almost laughing as I explained, “It’s not as bad as all that, honey. I have my pension, Social Security, and some money in the bank. We’re getting along just fine. 

“If anything is going to screw up my retirement it will be your mother. And it won’t be about money. She’s absolutely dead set against anything that looks like having a life. If she has her way we’ll just sit around here watching each other wither away.”

“Come on. It can’t be as bad as that.”

“Pretty near. From day one of my retirement we’ve been on different pages. It’s like we want totally different things.”

“Come on,” Kathy pleaded. “There must be some kind of common ground, some place in the middle, where you both want the same thing.”

“How the hell will we ever find that when she won’t budge, not even an inch? She’s just so damn stubborn.” I had more to say, but I had already said too much. Why in the world should I be dragging our daughter into that battle?