Parenting the Parents: On Being a Sounding Board


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free-vector-man-and-woman-icon-clip-art_116853_Man_And_Woman_Icon_clip_art_hightAugust 1979, thirty-five years ago this month, was the first time I felt I was more of an adult than my parents. After my husband and I graduated from law school and took the bar exam, he had to go on his two weeks’ annual training with the Naval Reserves, and I went to visit my parents.

My parents were typically rational people, and they’d known each other since high school. I thought they didn’t have any secrets from each other. (I’d only been married twenty-one months at the time—I hadn’t yet realized that a few little secrets are good for a marriage.)

During my trip to see my parents that summer, I learned that each of them had a secret they were keeping from the other. A big secret. And they each told their secrets to me.

My mother needed a hysterectomy, but she said, “don’t tell your father.” The surgery would require several weeks of recuperation, and my mother was my younger siblings’ chief chauffeur, as well as doing everything needed to keep the family’s home running smoothly.

My father was considering taking a new job across the state, but he said, “don’t tell your mother.” Any move from the house my parents had occupied for seventeen years would obviously impact the entire family.

In the wisdom of my twenty-three years of age and newlywed status, I knew these were secrets my parents needed to share. “Don’t you think you need to talk?” I told them both, in separate conversations.

Well, my parents did talk not long after I left to return to my home. My mother had the surgery and recovered just fine. My father took the new job, and the family worked out the transition to new home and schools.

And I learned that even responsible adults sometimes need a sounding board.

In the intervening years, I have encountered many more occasions when people I relied on have needed my attention and concern. My mother, as she declined with Alzheimer’s in her last few years. My father as he cared for her and now faces her estate issues. My husband as he dealt with his own disappointments in life. Bosses, who may have wanted to seem omnipotent, but needed to bounce ideas off someone they trusted before making information public.

The trick to being a good sounding board, I discovered, is to listen. I’m told I interrupt my family members too often. But I hope when it counts, I can listen.

I hope also that I can let others come to their own realization of the appropriate next steps. Sometimes they can use a nudge. But most people appreciate the opportunity to develop their next steps in their own time.

I can’t say my husband and I have always been completely open with each other in our thirty-seven years of marriage. We’re both introverted and like to think things through on our own. But I have always remembered those conversations with my parents in August 1979, and tried to be sure I didn’t keep big secrets from my husband.

And he’s usually a pretty good sounding board for me.

When have you served as a sounding board for others? When have you needed a sounding board yourself?

I’m a Guest Blogger Over at Jill Weatherholt’s Blog


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A friend I’ve come to know from blogging, Jill Weatherholt, asked me to be a guest blogger on her blog, and my post was published last Friday.

If the links don’t work, paste the following into your browser:

I told Jill’s readers all about my novels and my blog. I also answered some questions for Jill, like what celebrity I look like and what I don’t understand about the opposite sex. (Doesn’t that make you want to read my answers?)

So head over to Jill’s blog to see what I had to say. And while you’re there, check out Jill’s own posts and those of her other guest bloggers this summer.

Did you find any other blogs on Jill’s site you’d like to follow?



A Picture I Wish I Had: Licorice Ice Cream


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A high-school friend of mine had only one older sister and didn’t understand the pains that younger siblings could be. She seemed to like being around my little sister and brother.

In the summer of 1972, my friend drove over to my house. She decided we should take my younger sister and brother to the Baskin Robbins store for ice cream. My sister was almost eight that summer, and my brother about four-and-a-half.

I protested, but my siblings were all in favor of the idea, and my parents gave permission. Off we went in my friend’s car, whether I was keen on the idea or not.

Baskin Robbins has always touted their thirty-one flavors, and 1972 was no exception.

licorice ice creamMy sister declared that she wanted licorice ice cream.

Our younger brother, who wanted whatever my sister wanted, decided he wanted licorice also.

Licorice ice cream is black—almost as black as the candy twists—and smells and tastes like the candy as well. My siblings liked licorice, so the smell and taste were all right.

But, as an experienced older sister and frequent babysitter, I knew what black could do to clothes and upholstery.

I protested again. To no avail.

“If they want licorice, they can have licorice,” my friend said.

“They’ll get it all over your car,” I argued.

“We’ll stay here till they’re done eating,” she said.

“Where will they sit?” I asked. Baskin Robbins didn’t have any indoor seating.

“They can sit on the hood of my car.”

My younger sister and brother had never been allowed to sit on the hood of a car before. They exuberantly agreed to this plan.

I was outnumbered.

It was a hot summer evening, and the ice cream began to melt immediately. And to drip.

At four-and-a-half, my little brother was not able to manage his drips. His shirt very quickly became covered in black ice cream.

At almost eight, my sister soon was unable to manage her drips as well. Her shirt was covered in black ice cream as well.

Soon the drips spread to their shorts.

The kids got sticky.

My friend laughed.

I went into Baskin Robbins for more napkins, and tried to clean them up.

“Don’t touch anything!” I ordered when we got back in the car.

We got them home and into the bathtub. I don’t think anything was permanently damaged, except for the shirts. And shorts.

The picture I wish I had is of my younger siblings covered in licorice ice cream. While my friend laughed, and I prematurely acted like the strict parent I later became.

What picture do you wish you had?

A Picture I Wish I Had: A Baby and Huckleberries


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Photo ©2008 Julie from Idaho. Permission via the Creative Commons 2.0 License

Photo ©2008 Julie from Idaho. Permission via the Creative Commons 2.0 License

A friend of mine in Washington State recently posted a picture of huckleberries she had picked. Now those of you who don’t live in the West may not even know what huckleberries are. You’ve heard of Huckleberry Finn, but did you ever wonder where the Huckleberry in his name came from?

(Actually, a little research indicates that some huckleberry varieties grow in the East also, but I will take a parochial attitude in this post and tell you that they can’t possibly be as good as western huckleberries.)

Huckleberries look like blueberries, but are smaller. And sweeter, in my opinion. And purple through and through. They are highly sought after by discerning humans and bears.

Huckleberries have not been domesticated, but have been picked in the wild from time immemorial until today. They are rampant in the hills around Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho.

Picture from Mermaids of the Lake; this site has a huckleberry pie recipe also

Picture from Mermaids of the Lake; this site has a huckleberry pie recipe also

One of our favorite activities on summer vacations at Coeur d’Alene was to boat from our cabin to Rockford Bay, where there was a little restaurant that served huckleberry pie. One teenager would waterski from the cabin until we reached the Bay. Then we’d stop, collect the skier, dock the boat, and traipse into the restaurant to order pie.

Some people liked it with ice cream. I typically just savored the sweet berries and flaky crust.

Today, when I visit Washington or Idaho or Montana, I eat huckleberry ice cream or milkshakes . . . or pie, when I can find it. And I try to bring home huckleberry jam or syrup.

When we summered in Idaho, we sometimes picked our own huckleberries, though that was a lot of work.

One summer day, my mother and I and the brother right behind me in age picked huckleberries. My sister was probably picking, too, though she was not quite five at the time, and I don’t remember her contributing many berries.

My baby brother, who was not yet two, was left on a blanket within sight. He was told to stay on the blanket. My recollection is that he mostly complied.

He mostly complied, because he had an incentive to stay on the blanket—the pickers dumped their full bowls of huckleberries into a large container that sat on the blanket beside him.

Baby brother wore a little yellow windbreaker to protect him from the cool mountain air. The jacket was probably a hand-me-down from my sister. I only remember it was yellow, because it didn’t stay yellow.

Baby brother got into the huckleberries stored in the large container on the blanket and ate his fill. Purple huckleberry juice stained the yellow windbreaker beyond repair.

That’s the picture I wish I had—the baby covered in huckleberry juice.

What picture do you wish you had?

Untold Stories From Pictures: A Brother-Sister Relationship


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One of my tasks before my mother’s recent funeral was to put together a slide show of her life. I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that my father and maternal grandfather both took many photographs over the years, so the problem was not finding pictures of my mother. She lived for 81 years, and there were pictures of her from babyhood until her last months.

The problem was that the photographs were in a variety of formats from snapshots to slides to 8mm movies [CORRECTION: 16mm] to digital, and even a newspaper clipping or two. Fortunately, my father had had the slides and movies digitized a couple of years ago.

Even more fortunately, cellphone cameras are so good these days that one can use a digital camera to take a picture of an old snapshot, crop it to remove any extraneous material, and thereby create a digital record of the snapshot . . . or just about anything else.

In fact, the digital image can be cropped to make a much more effective picture than the original. Or with photo editing programs, faces can be highlighted and smudges removed. (One does have to watch that glare doesn’t creep into the image, I found to my dismay.)

Still more fortunately yet, my mother’s mother had kept a photograph album of her children labeled with dates and locations. But she didn’t write the stories behind the pictures.

Here is one of the pictures from my mother’s childhood I found:

1938-2 circa 20140708_084539

My mother and her brother as children

I know this snapshot is of my mother and her brother. I know that it took place in 1938, when my mother was five and her brother seven. I know that they are sitting on the steps in front of their home.

But I have no idea what caused them to look so stubbornly away from each other when the photograph was taken.

My mother talked frequently of how her big brother teased her mercilessly when they were children. Since I was the oldest in our family, I really couldn’t relate to her stories.  I was the one who teased younger siblings as I was growing up.

But here is my mother’s and uncle’s relationship, preserved for posterity, after both of them are gone. I smile at it, and wonder . . . what would it have been like to be the little sister?

What pictures show you stories you would like to hear?

People to People and a Communist Thunderstorm


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PTP logoIn 1971, when I was fifteen, I went on a People to People High School Student Ambassador trip through Europe. At the time, I lived in Eastern Washington State, and knew nothing about the history of People to People.

Since then, however, I have learned that People to People was founded by Dwight Eisenhower, in 1956, the year I was born. It began as a part of the U.S. Information Agency, but in 1961, it was incorporated in Missouri and moved to Kansas City, where I now live.

People to People moved to Kansas City, because J.C. Hall insisted on it. J.C. Hall, founder of Hallmark Cards, where I worked for many years, was instrumental in setting up People to People as a private organization, and Mr. Hall served as an officer of the organization in its early years.

My daughter went on a People to People trip to Australia in the late 1990s.

So I have had many connections through the years to People to People, and I have always thought it was a wonderful organization with an important mission. Its mission is currently described as promoting international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities.

My People to People trip in 1971 was a fantastic experience—my first visit anywhere beyond North America. We had twenty-seven students and three teachers in our group, from various towns in Eastern Washington, and we went to eleven countries in six weeks, starting in England and ending in Austria. On four of our stops we stayed with local families, where we really experienced local food, housing, and culture.

It was a great opportunity for a shy and studious high-school junior to get away from home, be forced to live with strangers, and develop confidence and cultural awareness.

One of the countries we visited was Romania. As I recall, we flew from Istanbul to Bucharest. . . . At least that was the plan.

Photograph from Arbit Speculations

Photograph from Arbit Speculations

Our flight took off after dark. As we flew through the night, we encountered a serious thunderstorm—worse than any I had previously seen in Washington State. By Midwestern standards it was probably pretty typical, but we didn’t have these nasty storms in Eastern Washington, where it seldom rains for more than a few minutes at a time.

The wind buffeted the plane from left to right and back again. We rose and fell more than on any rollercoaster I’ve ever been on (which isn’t many; I hate rollercoasters). Lightning flashed outside the windows multiple times every second—huge bolts darted from cloud to cloud and from air to ground.

I sat in a window seat, gripping my arm rests as tightly as I could, as if that would keep me safe if we crashed.

A Romanian woman and her small child sat beside me. Both were crying, and the mother prayed, crossing herself and hugging her child. So much for atheism behind the Iron Curtain in 1971. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes; I learned that night there are no atheists in thunderstorms either.

After what seemed like interminable hours during which the aircraft crew wrestled the air currents, the pilot came on the intercom and said something. But he didn’t speak in English, so I had no idea what was happening.

Shortly after the pilot’s speech, the airplane landed. But it turned out we didn’t land in Bucharest. We were in some other city in Romania—where, I have no idea.

All the passengers were all ushered off the plane, made to show our passports, and held in the airport. The teachers gathered our group together and tried to figure out where we were and where we were going.

I wondered if my parents would ever learn of my whereabouts if I disappeared into a Communist prison cell.

After an hour or two, we were ushered back on the plane, flown to Bucharest, and continued our trip unscathed.

But that remains the scariest flight I have ever been on.

What’s the worst flight you have ever taken?

Time Is Ticking


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I wrote a few weeks ago about preparing for the bar exam. I revealed in that post that my husband and I both passed, but I didn’t write about the difficulty of the exam itself.

In the summer of 1979, the Missouri Bar held the bar exam for aspiring lawyers in the state capital, Jefferson City, at the Ramada Inn. Candidates from all over the state converged on this town that had about 33,000 residents at the time (not counting politicians).

Most of the bar exam takers stayed at the Ramada, but my husband wanted to be able to get away from the craziness of hyperactive lawyer wannabes pumped on caffeine. So we stayed at the Best Western a few blocks away.

On the first morning of the exam, we drove the short distance to the Ramada Inn and found the huge bank of conference rooms where the test would be conducted. One room was for typists, and the others were for those of us who would write their answers in long hand. (Today, almost everyone takes the exam on laptops, but such devices didn’t exist in 1979.)

The room looked something like this. But no laptops.

The room looked something like this. But no laptops.

Each candidate was assigned a specific seat, two candidates to a table in a room filled with rows of tables. The test-takers were arranged alphabetically. Because my husband and I have the same last name, we were seated next to each other. Thankfully, there was an aisle between us, so we didn’t have to share a table. If we had, I think I would have worried about him as much as about the test questions.

We had stacks of blue books (remember blue books?) in which to write our answers. Everyone aligned their pens and blue books and water bottles, fidgeting and fussing with nervous energy, until time to start the test.

My husband has never worn a watch, while I always wear one set five minutes ahead of the actual time. But for purposes of tracking how long to spend on each question, my husband had with him a small alarm clock, which he set in front of him on the table, along with pens and blue books.

Palpable anxiety filled the room, in sighs and groans and squeaking of chairs.

At the appointed time, the first set of questions was distributed.

We wrote.

And we wrote.

Monitoring the minutes as they passed, to be sure we saved enough time to answer all the questions.

alarm-clock-ringing-6-cf8bumoxAbout two-thirds of the way through that first time block, the alarm on my husband’s clock rang. Loudly.

I looked up in astonishment. It wasn’t time yet, was it? Others in the room groaned, and the tension in the room grew twenty-fold.

Across the aisle from me, my husband fumbled quickly to silence the alarm.

“It was an accident,” he later told me. “I didn’t set the alarm. I swear.”

I didn’t know whether to believe him.

Oh, well. We both passed, so no harm done.

When has the unexpected made you more stressed in life?

Musings On My 250th Post


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wordpress image 2WordPress keeps excellent statistics for bloggers, and so I realized recently that today’s post would be my 250th post. This milestone seemed worthy of comment.

I’ve been blogging for about two-and-a-half years, for most of that time twice per week. I’ve written before about lessons I’ve learned blogging, and I wrote recently about the value of blogging. I won’t repeat what I said in those posts.

I will say, however, that blogging regularly for so long has taught me the difficulty of writing well consistently. I am very proud of some of my posts, but others feel like they were dashed off to fill the space. (And some were.)

Unlike with novels—which take months and years—or short stories—which take days or weeks—my blog posts get no more than a couple of quick rewrites after the initial draft. I need to have a theme for the post and tell the story almost right the first time.

Blogging has taught me to write quickly and to a deadline. I’d learned these lessons at other times in my life, such as when writing briefs as an attorney with a heavy caseload, or when editing employee communications with a fast turn-around time. But on this blog there is no one else to cover for me, to fill in when too many priorities compete for my time.

What I am most proud of is that I have kept to my blogging schedule despite deaths, illnesses, injuries, holidays, and the general frenzy of life.

I set out when I retired from the corporate world to become a writer.

Writers write.

I am writing, therefore I am a writer.

I have kept the commitment to myself to write.

And I appreciate you, as readers, coming back to greet me post after post.

It amazes me how readers find this blog. Some of you are friends, but some of you happened upon the blog after typing some odd query into a search engine.

lbffWordPress provides me with a list of queries that people have used to find my blog. Among the top queries WordPress reports—other than the to-be-expected query “theresa hupp blog”—are “little bunny foo foo origin,” “family pictures”, “banana cream pie history,” and “accidents on the oregon trail.”

Funny what people search for on the Internet, but all of these topics have been the subject of posts I have written. (Well, maybe not the history of banana cream pie, but I have written about making such a pie.)

Here are a few of the oddest queries that have recently led readers to me:

  • “name a tall tree family feud”
  • “tomboy with broken leg”
  • “leg xray copy indian”
  • “can i leave my husband when he is studying for the bar exam”

I can guess which posts these queries picked up, but I don’t really want to be known as a source of wisdom for women wanting to leave their husbands during the bar review process. After all, I stuck by mine . . . and he stuck by me.

Still, writers are grateful for readers, wherever they come from.

What led you to find my blog? Whatever it was, thank you . . . and please come back!

Honor in the Gold Fields in July 1848: Few Reports of Thievery


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Richard B Mason from SF MuseumAs I review my novel about the California Gold Rush with my writing critique partners, they tell me to put more violence and tension into the book. They’d like to see a bloody claim jumping or bushwhacking in every chapter.

A good novel must include a lot of conflict and tension, so I listen to my critique group when they tell me I need more conflict in the book. But I also have to be true to the times.

Despite what we’ve seen in western movies, the truth of the matter was that in 1848, there was little thievery in the gold fields, nor many disputes between the gold seekers and Native Americans.

By July of 1848, six months after John Marshall had discovered the gold at Sutter’s Mill, there were about 4,000 miners in the Sierra Nevada foothills panning for gold. Keep in mind, word of gold fields hadn’t even reached Oregon yet. Nevertheless, 4,000 men had already congregated to seek their fortunes.

In total, the miners were taking about $50,000 worth of gold out of the earth every day. Despite these rich finds—and new lodes were being discovered almost daily—there was honor in the gold fields.

The U.S. Army had taken control of California in 1846 when the U.S. conquered Mexico in the Mexican-American War. General Richard B. Mason, California’s military governor, visited the gold fields in July 1848. His report to the authorities in Washington, D.C., about his trip to the gold fields stated:

I was surprised to learn that crime of any kind was very infrequent and that no thefts or robberies had been committed in the gold district. All live in tents, or bush houses, or in the open air and men have frequently about their persons thousands of dollars’ worth of this gold.

(It might interest Civil War buffs to know that General Mason’s aide was Captain William T. Sherman.)

General Mason and his aides celebrated the Fourth of July with Johann Sutter. Sutter later wrote:

As we wanted to celebrate the 4th of July we invited the Governor and his suite to remain with us, and be accepted. Kyburg gave us a good Diner, every thing was pretty well arranged. . . . It was well done enough for such a new Country and in such an excitement and Confusion.

And so the settlement of the gold fields began—with celebration of the nation’s birthday and with honesty and good will among the miners.

The good will didn’t last, of course. It never does where human beings and riches are in close proximity. In later years of the Gold Rush, disputes over territory and robberies increased. So I did include some of these in my novel.

But I’ll need to find other sources of tension besides fights over gold for the early part of my book.

What impact has wealth or its absence had on people around you?

Sailing Along


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Image from Sailboats To Go

A few years after we moved to Kansas City, my husband bought a sailing canoe. You have probably never seen a sailing canoe—they are rare, for good reason.

A sailing canoe is a regular canoe to which a mast and a keel can be attached. Ours looked something like this picture, though the canoe was yellow and the sail plain white.

But as a sailing vessel, it is a compromise. The keel is not weighted, so the boat sits light on the water, leans easily and is therefore swamped with little notice. The mast makes the boat top-heavy, further increasing the chances of capsizing.

My husband, a lover of both canoeing and sailing, thought our boat was the neatest thing since sliced bread. He had always wanted a canoe and a sail boat, and now he had both.

Shortly after he purchased the canoe, he figured out how to mount the mast and sail. Then the two of us headed for the closest county lake one sweltering summer day in Missouri.

We spread all the pieces out on the beach and finally got the sail on the boat, ready for its maiden voyage.

“You’d better stay here,” my husband told me. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Well, he was right. I’m not an experienced sailor. But I didn’t think it was very nice of him to point it out.

Still, in the interest of marital harmony, I kept my mouth shut, and pushed him out to sea, so he could try it out on his own.

He sailed out into the middle of the lake, tacked a couple of times, and then the boat tipped over.

There my sailor was—a Naval Academy graduate, no less—his vessel upside down, mast dragging into the mud at the bottom of the lake. He dove under the boat, freed the sail and mast so they floated beside his swamped canoe, and wondered what to do next.

After some time, a motor boat came along and towed him back to shore, where I waited patiently, sipping lemonade to combat the heat and humidity of a Missouri summer afternoon.

We packed up the pieces and headed home.

It is a tribute to my good sense that I never told him he didn’t know what he was doing any more than I did. (Until now.)

We took the sailing canoe out on future trips, and managed to keep it upright, though we also swamped it again several times. It was never a good family boat, because only two people could sit in it comfortably. And “comfortably” was a specious description, because you had to sit in the bottom of the boat, which always had a little water in it, making for a damp seat.

Ultimately, when my husband took up rowing and bought a single scull, he sold the sailing canoe. He has swamped the scull also, but that’s another story. And at least the scull is a single, so I don’t have to participate.

What activities have you endured for the sake of a spouse or friend?




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