The great white hope

By Jason R. Cox

Only two reporters – I was one – attended a 2005 press conference hosted by the League of the South.

In a mostly-empty hearing room at the Tennessee State Capitol, they decried a proposed pre-kindergarten program “indoctrinat(ing) children as obedient and subservient slaves to the government.”

The League supported a society dominated by “European Americans” run by an “Anglo-Celtic” elite.


Isham Harris, a former governor of Tennessee.

They held up as a role model Isham G. Harris, the Tennessee governor who steered a reluctant Volunteer State into the Confederacy and later put east Tennessee under military occupation to deter a counterinsurgency by Appalachian Unionists.

Now it was apparent why only two members of the Capitol press corps  – this student journalist and a brand-new AP reporter – bothered to give these bozos the time of day.

It is a sad fact of life that hate groups such as the LOS are still active in the United States, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act and 150 years after Appomattox. While they continue to make noise, they have been mostly operating in the margins of American politics, with few of influence willing to touch them.

Enter Donald J. Trump.

You know about his bizarre attacks on Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals,” his vow to ban Muslims from entering the country, stating that a judge of Latino descent couldn’t possibly fairly adjudicate a lawsuit against him, and his repeated tendency to amplify hate group members and leaders on social media.

White supremacists know no major party politician can dare utter their name without condemnation. That’s why when Trump hesitates to disown support from hate groups – even if he registers his disapproval later (or 16 years ago) – it is acknowledged as complicity. It is tacit permission to act a little bolder and, to hear them say it, “tell it like it is” a little louder.

So much so that Stormfront, a prominent white supremacist website and discussion forum, upgraded its servers to handle the increased traffic from what Politico described as the “Trump bump.” Stormfront founder Don Black (the irony!) said Trump’s chatter has “sparked an insurgency and I don’t think it’s going to go away.” Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard (and former Congressman) David Duke said that Trump has “made it OK” to talk about “incredible concerns of European Americans.”

A leader for a KKK affiliate carries newspapers with a Trump headline into coffee shops and on trains as a conversation starter for the white separatist movement.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, felt emboldened enough at the Republican National Convention to assert that contributions of white people outweighed those of other peoples’ — just another day under Trump, Republican nominee for president of the United States.

(Click on images to view captions.)

The trickle-down effect is already evident. A survey of educators reports increased bullying and harassment of children whose nationality, race or religion is targeted by political candidates:

  • In Tennessee, a Latino child — taunted by classmates that he will be deported and trapped behind a wall — asks every day in fear, “Is the wall here yet?”
  • In Montana, a fifth-grader told a Muslim student that “he was supporting Donald Trump because he was going to kill all of the Muslims.”
  • And in Oregon, a K-3 teacher reports black students are “concerned for their safety because of what they see on TV at Trump rallies.”

In case anyone was doubting, recent events have laid bare hard truths about racism in America. There is a strong case that the GOP has for decades subtly (and not-so-subtly) exploited growing diversity for political gain.

Despite all this, we could at least take comfort in the fact that at the presidential level, openly-expressed racism is like smoking cigarettes:

We haven’t eliminated the habit, but we have pushed it to the edges of social acceptance and made it very costly to indulge.

It was a lot cooler in 1954 than it is today.

jason r cox

Jason R. Cox

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush said on national television that Islam was a religion of peace. Whatever one thinks of his politics, he was responsible enough to understand that words matter.

Meanwhile, Trump seems to take glee in pouring salt in centuries-old wounds. Whether he believes what he says or not is irrelevant. Even if he loses, the damage he has wrought won’t be fixed if he loses in November.

Candidates from Congress to constable, from Oregon to Orlando, now know that naked bigotry can still take you a long way in American politics — perhaps all the way to the White House.

Isham Harris would be proud.


Jason R. Cox is a communications specialist and recovering ex-journalist living in Salem, Oregon, and tweeting at @jasonrcox.

Editor’s note: Jason is the husband of Alana Cox, a daughter of our longtime friends, Tom and Elsa Guiney. He is a great guy and my favorite graduate of Middle Tennessee State University.

Tomorrow: Nike Bentley, Sweet Claire

The hidden script


Parfait Bassale with his wife Karima and their sons, Aushti and Nouri (in daddy’s arms), at the Oregon Coast near Gearhart.

By Parfait Bassalé

What did I know? What do I know?

Throughout my teenage years and early twenties, I thought I would die young. I still can’t pin point where this belief originated from. This could have emanated from a narcissistic desire to be missed by those closest to me. It also could have been the result of a strong desire to live a consequential life which, to me, meant death as the culminating crown. After all, hadn’t Martin Luther King Jr., one of my biggest heroes, once said: “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live”?

Regardless, the outcome was that I lived with passion, conviction and carelessness. Three seemingly lofty and desirable attributes that hid a deeply rooted aversion to adulthood: bills, workplace politics, responsibility, social gatherings and conflicts to name a few. To die young meant an escape; a shortcut to the finish line.

What did I know?


Parfait Bassale is the father of two handsome boys, Nouri (left) and Aushti.

This script I had imagined for my life, was too short sighted and too conventional. It was unoriginal. Rooted in what had already been, it failed to draw from the realm of what could be. Skewed by stories I had heard, it lacked the creativity of the Master storyteller who never tells the same story twice nor repeats the same point identically.

Having lived through various stages and milestones of adulthood — marriage, parenthood, illness, loss, broken dreams, professional career — I am now humbled by life and repent from the arrogance that once birthed the presumption of knowledge.

What did I know?


A restaurant meal in Beirut,  Lebanon, floods the senses and reminds the author that  “I wish to see and experience more of creation: places, foods, cultures, people.”

Ironically, I now want to live long; create memories and witness more. I wish to enjoy my family and make new friendships. I wish to see and experience more of creation: places, foods, cultures, people. And to introduce people to God’s Providence. So many things I would like to do, say, share, sing. But oh wait,

What do I know?
I can only pray that I make it through today.
That I live to see one more day
Through play or words, I sing
That the way isn’t found in yesterday
But rather paved as we step by faith.

That I know…


A Benin-born artist, educator and speaker, Parfait Bassalé is the founder of the Colombe Project, a Peace Education Enterprise that brings engaging empathy workshops to audiences internationally (

Editor’s note: Parfait is one of those people who makes you feel optimistic about the human race. Our paths first crossed when I was at The Oregonian and he was finishing a graduate degree at Portland State. From there, we became next-door neighbors (briefly), friends and fellow parents.

Tomorrow: Jason Cox, The great white hope

My movie star mother

PC joan

Like so many in the Sixties, Joan was a do-it-all housewife during the week. On Saturday nights, she transformed into her real self — a glamorous woman made up for a night on the town.

By Patricia Conover

Most of the time, my mother was what is dismissively called “a housewife,” although in truth, housework was the least of it.

She was the wife of a hard-driving executive who left home before we awoke, and returned after we were asleep. She was the mother of five children. She was a dutiful daughter whose parents lived nearby. My mother’s parents depended on her for doctor visits and beauty parlor appointments and trips to the library.

My mother did everything, from driving the kids to school and fencing practice and ballet lessons, to shopping for and preparing every meal, to picking up prescriptions, to painting the kitchen, to planting the garden, to mowing the lawn.

She usually wore starched white cotton blouses (a habit from her years at Villa Maria Academy, a Catholic boarding school in New York) and khaki trousers, ironed to within an inch of their lives. She seldom wore makeup. She tied her chin-length chestnut hair up in a short ponytail, sometimes with a pen stuck in the elastic band so that she could find it easily when she had to sign a school permission slip or write a grocery list.

We lived in a typical 60’s style colonial in New Jersey, with swings and fruit trees and a backyard that stretched to a running brook with tiny iridescent fish. When we were bored, my brother and I walked to the golf course at the end of our street to sell lemonade to men wearing plaid trousers.

My mother’s life was constrained by children and the house that contained them.  Although she had studied art, and the hall closet was crammed with her paintings of blossoming cherry trees or fields of lavender, she rarely lifted her easel off its hook in the garage, where it was wedged unceremoniously between rusting bicycles and old snow tires.

Like every fairy tale, my mother’s story during those years had a little magic in it, when her world shimmered with the same palette as the paintings in the closet. The magic happened when my mother became someone else entirely. During those few hours she came to life before my eyes, like Cinderella after her fairy godmother arrives.

The glamorous woman my mother became on these occasions seemed to me to be my real mother. I wasn’t crazy about the barefaced, pony-tailed mother. I preferred the movie star mother. It took me years to realize that a woman can have many roles, and that each one has its own dignity, beauty and importance. You don’t have to choose just one.

My mother’s metamorphoses occurred on Saturdays when she dressed for a night out on the town with my father. As I grew up, these formal evenings became more and more rare, as our family expanded and my mother’s responsibilities increased. But when I was very young, she and my father went out fairly regularly, and she established a routine for getting ready.

Now, all those fairy tale nights have coalesced into one memory: It was an anniversary or a birthday, and my parents were going to a Broadway show. I can’t recall what they saw. I only remember what happened in my mother’s bedroom before she went out the door.

In those early years, as my mother prepared, I sat quietly on her white chenille bedspread and watched her “put on her face.”

PC Joan and my brother

Joan holds her first-born child, the author’s brother.

It was the Mad Men era. Mother sipped a dry martini. She was not a big drinker like the characters on the television show, but there was nothing wrong with a martini while preparing one’s face for an evening out. It took the edge off. (To this day I am addicted to Spanish olives.)

My mother had spent most of the afternoon at the hair salon, and her dark mane was perfectly coiffed. Her hair framed her heart-shaped face, a delicate wave brushing against her chin on each side.

I can close my eyes and see her, sitting at her mirrored vanity table, applying her makeup. A child of the forties, the lessons of the great film legends were not lost on her. As a teenager coming of age in Manhattan, she devoured all the beauty magazines. She learned how to accentuate the positive from publicity stills of stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.

Mother always used a new makeup sponge to apply a light coat of foundation. Next came the rose powder blush, which she applied with a thick sable brush. Then, she carefully shaded the hollows beneath her cheekbones with a darker shade of pink.

Mother curled her dark eyelashes and piled on black-as-night mascara. Her eyes, which she described as “hazel,” were actually a mossy green, fringed with a halo of dazzling gold. Her irises looked like tiny dark suns with shining golden rays.

I once told her that she had eyes like a lioness. My father agreed and said that she should, because she was one.

Once, I told her from my perch on the bed that I thought she was using too much mascara. This was later on, after I had begun reading Seventeen magazine, which declared the natural look “in.”

She turned to me and said, “I don’t follow trends. I do what works for me. Don’t forget to do what’s best for you when you’re a grown-up.”

Now, the recommendations my mother gave me in those days seem decidedly metaphorical, but at the time, her advice just seemed like a make-up lesson to remember.

Mascara applied several times, Mother stood and walked into her closet.

She drew her dress carefully out of its sealed hanging black storage bag, which looked a little like a shroud. She slipped the dress over her head and said, “Zip, please.”

I hopped off the bed to zip her up. Mother had several fabulous dresses, most of them several years old, but that didn’t matter. Everything she owned was classic and timeless.

And there was another lesson: A dress doesn’t have to be new or trendy to be sensational.
That goes for dresses and just about everything else, too.

I loved the cocktail dress she chose. It fit snugly at the bodice and flared at the waist. The sleeveless top was black velvet and the skirt was white brocade. Mother took great pride in her twenty-four inch waist.

Smoking a pack of Winstons every day helped her keep her weight down through five pregnancies.

She stepped into black patent leather pumps and checked to be certain that her nylons were perfectly aligned.

Now that she was wearing her dress, my mother did not sit down again. She leaned into the mirror and lined her lips with a thin brush. Then, she filled her lips in with deep bluish-red lipstick. She only had three lipsticks, all Revlon, in shimmering golden tubes, lined up like little toy soldiers on a mirrored tray. She used the same colors, one red, one pink, one coral, year after year.

A lipstick doesn’t have to be new or trendy to be fabulous. I was learning, but I didn’t know it yet.

Lastly, my mother sprayed some Chanel #5 into the air and walked into it. This was so characteristic of her. She didn’t believe that one should spray perfume directly on the skin. Whenever we went shopping at Bonwit Teller or Bloomingdale’s, perky young things rushed toward us, perfume bottles aimed at our necks, chirping, “L’air du temps?” I always said oh yes, please do, but my mother replied firmly,  “No, thank you.” The idea of a stranger spritzing a perfume that was not her particular scent on her was not something that she found remotely appealing.

I looked at the clock on the bureau: 6:00 p.m. Mother opened her little black onyx jewelry box and selected the pearl necklace with the gold daisy clip, an engagement gift from my father. She fastened the necklace quickly. She never pierced her ears, and hated the way clip-on earrings felt, so she never wore earrings.

Mother hurried back into her closet.

I adored this particular part of the preparations, although I knew it as the signal that our evening ritual was about to end.

I waited silently on the bed. This was the end of the show. The curtains were about to close.

In moments, my mother would leave. I would hear the car door shut firmly and the engine start. I would watch out the window as the car backed out of the driveway and snaked up the road.

I fought the urge to wrap my arms around her and beg her to stay home. I was afraid of cars driving through long tunnels or over tall bridges, of sirens, of telephone calls bringing bad news in the middle of the night.

But I did not say a word. I was not averse to tantrums, but even at my tender age, before I understood what it means to be a wife and a mother, I knew instinctively that I should not ruin her moment.

PC patricia

Patricia Conover: Back in the U.S.A.

Soon I would sit calmly in front of the black-and-white television until our babysitter, Jayne, commanded my brothers and sister and me to brush our teeth and climb into our narrow beds.

But not yet.

Now, Mother was standing before me.

“How do I look?”

She was wearing her white mink coat, the one with the tapered sleeves, shawl collar, and deep satin-lined pockets.  It was my favorite, the coat I wore when I pretended that I was Cinderella going to the ball.

“You look like a movie star,” I said.

That was our code for goodbye.

Sometimes, I closed my eyes in anticipation of the last image of my “show.”

Sometimes I imagined a different ending, but it was always the same.

My mother smiled broadly and kissed me ever so lightly on the forehead, on my fringe of bangs.

She couldn’t kiss me on the cheek. That would have smudged her lipstick.


Patricia Conover is a writer, editor and photographer who recently returned to New York after living in Paris for ten years. Patricia has published poetry, short stories, personal essays and hundreds of articles and reviews. She also has taught writing, journalism and new media at EFAP, L’École de communication (the School of Communication) in Paris. Follow her on Twitter: @ParisRhapsody.

Editor’s note: Early in my career at The Oregonian, I met Patricia when she was a young mom who had just moved to Portland from New York. She successfully pitched some story ideas to me and things took off from there. She is a gifted writer whose work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune, among other places.

Tomorrow: Parfait Bassale, The hidden script

No room to breathe

By Maisha Maurant

I knew it was a bad idea. But I did it anyway.

I had to be at the airport the next morning at 4 a.m. I was flying to Maryland for my sister’s 40th birthday celebration.

I was really looking forward to the trip – family and friends hanging out for a long weekend at the National Harbor. Plans included a wine tasting at a Virginia vineyard, a dinner by a private chef and lots of down time for everybody to catch up.

But I knew the road to getting out of town was going to be rough. I had big hurdles to clear at work leading up to my trip.

To manage everything, I took precautions. I found a semiformal dress and my sister’s present a couple weeks in advance. Took the day off before my flight.

Then I negated all of that. Hours before my flight I decided to stop by the office. Even though I was off, I had gone in earlier. I was going back because I left my laptop there and needed “just to wrap up a few things.”

And here lies the problem. When it comes to my work life, I have a big problem setting parameters.

DavidAllenQuoteIt’s not a new issue. For years, my managers, colleagues, mentors, parents, family, friends – even the housekeeping crews – have told me that I need to draw a line between work and home.

I’ve known that they’re right. But I never really did anything about it.

So it’s no surprise that I found myself rushing home from the office to finish packing. I was running late for the airport. I hadn’t slept at all.

I was a mess. I’m the person who is typically at the airport two hours before a flight. At this point, I was pretty sure the plane would leave without me. But I had to try to get there.

Because I was late, I couldn’t park in my normal spot at the airport. So I’m rushing and trying to read the parking signs so I wouldn’t drive in endless loops around the airport. I didn’t have that kind of time.

I find parking and, thankfully, the shuttle for the terminal is pulling up. I take this as a sign from God that this is all going to work out. But I still run. I jump out of the car, grab my purse and my bag and just make the shuttle.

I take a deep breath, think positive thoughts and try sending a telepathic message to the driver to go faster. As soon as the shuttle stops, I jump out first. After a few minutes of speed walking, I experience absolute horror.

I got off at the wrong terminal. I have to wait for another shuttle.

I wasn’t going to make the plane. So I reach into my purse to call my sister. And that’s when I realize that I left my cell phone in the car.

I let loose a string of curses in my head. But I couldn’t be mad at anyone but myself. And I was. (Mad, too, at the shuttle driver who showed up and turned on his “not in service” sign.)

I had sabotaged myself. As I stood there waiting, I ran through the last 24 hours.

I knew I’d do whatever it took to still get to Maryland. But what should have been fun had turned into a sleepless, stressful journey.

This wasn’t the first time that I prioritized my work over my personal life. I’ve canceled dates and skipped social events. I was used to operating this way.

But, finally, it seemed ridiculous. It didn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t have been this way.

maisha maurant

Maisha Maurant: Striving for a better work-life balance.

I’ve been using responsibility and work ethic to cloak an unwillingness to change. I need a life outside of work. And I need to stop creating obstacles to that.

The shuttle eventually came. Rather than go back to the car for my phone, I decided to go on to the terminal and figure out from there how to get on another flight.

Thanks to a shuttle driver with a sense of urgency and TSA Pre✓®, I was able to quickly get through security. I made my flight.

Still, the whole ordeal stuck with me. I can’t say for sure why this particular incident made such an impression on me.

Maybe it was knowing that I would have disappointed my sister. Or maybe I’m finally tired of feeling like I’m always at capacity with little breathing room.

Whatever it was, I’m starting to take steps to better balance work with everything else in my life. I love my work, but I also need to make guilt-free time for the other things I love: traveling, books, concerts and spending time with my family and friends.

Is it going to be easy? Nope. In the past week, I’ve left work when I normally would have stayed. And I still felt torn about it.

But at least I’m working on it.

David Allen quote:


Maisha Maurant manages a team of strategists, writers and designers at a health care insurance company in Michigan. She is also the chief corporate editor. In the past year, she’s been making time to fulfill her bucket list of live performances, which has included Janet Jackson, Sting, Culture Club, Brian McKnight and Boyz II Men.

Editor’s note: When I think of Maisha, the words “sunny” and “sparkly” come to mind. I had the great pleasure of meeting Maisha at a job fair in Detroit when she was a Wayne State University student and I was a wet-behind-the-ears recruiter for The Oregonian. She came to Portland for a summer internship in 1995. We reconnected earlier this year when she returned to attend a national convention here. It’s so gratifying see how a young writer with potential has become a professional editor and manager.

Tomorrow: Patricia Conover, My movie star mother

Ripples of fear haunt kids

tigard-tualatin kids

Students in Oregon and across the nation have shared their fears about what might happen to them or their families after the presidential election.

By Michael Arrieta-Walden

The gaggle of 8-year-olds looked at the photos of the presidential candidates on the bulletin board and flinched.

“I hate Donald Trump,” one boy said.

If Trump is elected, he said, his parents will be sent back to Mexico.

A girl said that if Trump is elected, she would never see her grandparents again.

Another boy walked up and said that Trump hates Mexicans and his whole family will go back to Mexico if Trump is elected.

As I listened, my heart broke.

These are 8-year-olds who should be worrying about who they’ll play with at recess. But they were talking about frightening adult worries.

The conversation was a pointed reminder that hateful comments have far-reaching effects. Like a pebble in a pond, threatening comments about immigrants, Muslims and women hurt far and wide.

You could not escape the sting of those comments in my third-grade classroom this school year. Throughout the year, students shared their fears.

Students nationwide also were frightened.

In a survey of 2,000 teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than two-thirds reported that students – mostly immigrants and Muslims – have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. The survey also found that one-third of the teachers surveyed reported an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment. More than 40 percent are hesitant to teach about the election.

Teachers should not shy away from teaching students about current events with age-appropriate materials. Nor can they or should they build a bubble that protects students from difficult and competing ideas.

But as a society, how has it become acceptable to allow hateful, racist comments to go unchecked? How can we now permit bigoted statements in society, let alone polite society? Where is the deafening defense of immigrants in the face or racist speech?

Donald Trump obviously has the right to spout his hate, but my students should hear even more loudly how those views are rejected by society. My Mexican students should hear that most Mexicans are not criminals. Instead, most are like their own parents: hardworking contributors to society who embrace the values of hard work, family and faith. My Muslim students from Somalia and other countries should hear that the contributions of immigrants like their families are making our country a better place to live.

mike arrieta-walden

Michael Arrieta-Walden: Once a journalist, now a school teacher.

Silence in the face of bigotry breeds harm, all the way from the heat of the campaign trail to the haven of the classroom.

We should instead be shouting in celebration about the potential of students who are new to our country. I see in my students the potential for amazing gifts for our nation.

The girl who expressed her fears shows as much or more grit than any student I’ve ever taught. The boy who fears his family will be sent back to Mexico seizes opportunities to build inventions, which could lead to a life-saving device some day. And the boy who worries his parents will be returned speaks Spanish and English, and already writes persuasively in English; one day he could write a book that changes the world.

We need to nurture these students and their dreams, not frighten them into the shadows.


Michael Arrieta-Walden is a former reporter and editor who left journalism to become an elementary school teacher. He has been grateful to be teaching third and fourth graders and English language learners in the Tigard-Tualatin School District since 2010.

Editor’s note: In my long career in journalism, a few people stand out for the exceptional passion and intelligence– and commitment to society’s disadvantaged — they brought to their work. Mike is one of those. We first worked together in Salem when I was a staff reporter and he was an intern and then years later at The Oregonian, when we were both editors. It heartens me to know he’s sharing his considerable talents in the classroom.

Tomorrow: Maisha Maurant, No room to breathe

Finger printed

ellingson pendant

A one-of-a-kind pendant with the fingerprint of the author’s late mother.

By Tammy Ellingson

Lately I’ve been finding myself saying yes more so than no. Then I panic, because everything is not perfect, but it’s too late because I’ve committed myself. I’ve committed myself so it’s not too late to live.

The panic is not isolated – it covers every area of my life: I don’t have anything to wear and I can’t shop because I should lose weight first — been this weight for 15 plus (pun intended) years. Or, my house isn’t ready; the walls need painting again, the yard is a wreck and has been for years, I need to declutter and reupholster, the living room doesn’t look like the magazine picture… and then I just stop. I take a breath, look around, and give the middle finger to all these excuses.

Something happened at the beginning of this year that slowly changed my mindset and made the initial panic preferable to the ongoing burden of a nagging to-do list with undefined deadlines that keep life at bay. My mother died in January, and I wasn’t there. Because I had this unrelenting to-do list of things that needed to line up just right so we had time to get to see her. Life is busy, and I thought we had more time.

Things didn’t line up, and I didn’t get to see her one last time. All that stuff that needed to line up? Well, it quickly fell to the side because when your mom dies, everything changes and priorities shift quickly.

My mom was an amazing mother. She was real, funny, strong, and impatient at times. She said what she thought, usually at the very moment she thought it, regardless of her audience. Sometimes she didn’t have to say a thing; you could see what she thought on her face. For those who were incapable of getting the hint with the facial expression, she had a gesture that was hard to misinterpret, and she flashed it quite a lot!

She was also extremely loving and welcoming, opening our home to masses of teenagers after football games, and most of the time, I wasn’t the instigator of the gatherings – she was.

Our house was not one of those “always in perfect order” houses, and yet she would invite people anyway, and then we’d get into gear to get ready. She didn’t wait until everything was perfect before opening it up to others. She loved having our house full of her kids’ friends, and many of my friends, and those of my siblings, remember sitting upstairs at the kitchen table chatting with my mom and dad while the party was going on downstairs.

She was easy to talk to, and she cared tremendously about the people who surrounded her and her family. Even when the party was going a little late, and my mom and dad had retired to their bedroom to watch TV, kids would stop by their room on the way out, sit on the edge of their bed and continue to chat. There was absolutely no pretense with my mama; her open heart was available to all who needed it.

ellingson family

The Ellingson clan sits for a selfie while visiting the author’s parents. From left: Son Isaac, husband Steve, Tammy, Grandma Patty and Grandpa Jerry.

Mom was 19 when she had me, and at times during my adolescence, there were times when it seemed like we were growing up together, but she was always there for me in every way possible.

Every morning before I walked to school she recited our mantra: “Straight to school, straight home, don’t talk to any strangers on the way, watch out for cars, and I love you very much.” One time, when I was about nine, I stayed after school to play tether ball with a friend. I must have been there about a half hour when I heard, “Tamara Lynn!” I looked up and saw my mom racing through the open field toward the playground. Oh dear God, I knew I was in trouble. She was terrified something had happened to me.

My mom allowed me freedom within boundaries in order to stay safe, but when I wasn’t where I should be at any given time, she worried. This incident was still fresh in my mind when I was grocery shopping one day and decided to buy a watermelon to surprise her. How I was going to get it, and the rest of the groceries home on my Sting Ray bike, well, I hadn’t exactly thought through. I’m sure the grocery clerks were watching and pondering the same thing.

Suddenly, a woman in a car pulled up in front of me, called my name and told me she knew my mom and she could take me home. Well, I thought for a minute; I looked at the watermelon, the woman, the watermelon, and the woman again and then finally said, “Well, you can take the watermelon!” I figured if the watermelon didn’t make it, no biggie, but if I didn’t, I would be in trouble. The watermelon made it, and as I rounded the corner on my bike, I saw my mom on the porch, talking and laughing with the woman. She was laughing so hard, but hugged me and praised me for doing the right thing. We thoroughly enjoyed that juicy watermelon in celebration.

ellingson women

Sisters Tracy (left) and Tammy show off their Eugene Half Marathon medals while Zena lays a dog kiss on their mother Patty.

From my mom I learned how to love, live, and laugh with my whole heart. I also learned to speak my mind and not dim my light or ideas because it might challenge others. She was fierce when people said bigoted things about anyone, long before political correctness was in vogue. She fought for the underdog and defied those who had a sense of entitlement due to their race, gender or perceived station in life.

This is when her middle finger did some of its best and most defining work – even when she didn’t flash it, you could tell from her posture and expression what she was thinking.

I would be lying if I said I did not inherit the ability to gesture in the same way, although as I’ve gotten older, I have reined myself in due to the unpredictable volatility in our society today. Most times I can visualize my mom standing strong and flashing it for me, telling the world to back off from her baby.

When we visited the funeral home to make arrangements after Mom died, I saw jewelry that could be made with ashes and thought that would be a nice remembrance. But then, my eyes drifted to the display on the right; jewelry made from the fingerprints of your loved one. It was a no-brainer! I had to do it, so I asked my dad, sister and brother if they would be offended if I had them take a print of Mom’s middle finger for the pendant. In that moment where we had been so solemn and sad, we burst out laughing and crying and all agreed that there was no other choice – that was THE finger!

I have my pendant, and now I can surreptitiously gesture whenever I need to by simply rubbing Mom’s fingerprint on my pendant. They couldn’t get a good print from her dominant hand because it was well worn and too arthritic. So, they took a print from her left hand, and I consider it her way of telling me, her left-handed child, to live true to myself and not give a (insert expletive here) what others think.

In this more volatile world, my mom is still protecting me – freedom within boundaries – using her fingerprint as my shield when the world needs to be told to, well, you know.


Tammy Ellingson is a work in progress, and progress is slow at times. She is a teacher, freelance writer, wife, mother of a creative and compassionate 15-year-old son, and soon-to-be host mother to two adventurous 16-year-old exchange students from Denmark and Finland. She is in hot pursuit of bunk beds and a second refrigerator, as well as tips and tricks on feeding three strapping teenage boys! Tammy loves to make people laugh and to make them think; on a good day, she can do both. Bookstores are her places of worship; coffee shops too. She’s also been known to worship at places that serve baked goods, chocolate, Indian food, Mexican food, any good food, beer or wine.

Editor’s note: I met Tammy when I was working in Hillsboro and looking for local residents willing to share their views through a Community Writers program similar to the one I set up at The Oregonian years earlier. Someone recommended Tammy to me and I was delighted when she agreed to come aboard, bringing her signature mix of intelligence and irreverence.

Tomorrow: Michael Arrieta-Walden, Ripples of fear haunt kids 

The downsizing dilemma


For many retirees, there comes a time to consider whether it makes sense to continue putting money into a beloved old house or moving into a newer, smaller place.

By John Killen

During a December when the rain never stopped, I set a personal record.

Most towels washed, dried and laid out along the southwest corner of the basement.

Don’t ask me the exact number. I couldn’t keep track. I just know that I did more loads of towels than ever before. It had to be at least 15 or 20 over a four-day period. Wash, dry, soak up water, repeat.

The 10-plus inches of rain we received in the first half of December 2015 will do that to you if you own a 100-year-old house built on a 100-year-old foundation.

Which got me thinking: Is it finally time to move?

It’s not the first time that thought occurred to me. This house was a great place for Marlie and me to raise three boys and two dogs.

But now, our sons are on their own and we have just half a dog. (One of our sons drops his border collie at our place most work days so she won’t have to stay home alone.)

On one hand, I love our house. We’ve lived in this two-story Craftsman for 28 years — nearly a third of its life — and it’s in a great location with wonderful “walkability,” just off Southeast Hawthorne.

It’s roomy, charming and we have great neighbors. Beyond that are the memory ghosts who wander through the dining room, up the stairs or even around that occasionally damp basement.

Homework at the dining room table; fights over baseball cards; BB-gun pock marks on the side of the garage; basketball in the driveway; rushing out of the driveway to get to soccer matches in the far reaches of Tigard or Gresham; stern words over first traffic tickets; photos taken before proms and graduations; suitcases on the living room floor, packed and eager to go to college for the first time.


John Killen and granddaughter Harlow visit the newsroom two days before Grandpa retired from The Oregonian/OregonLive.

But on the flip side, it’s nearly 3,000 square feet. Charm and covered front porch aside, it’s expensive to heat in the winter, hard to cool in the summer and every two or three years, there’s some major expense: new plumbing one year, new paint another year, a new furnace yet another year.

Since moving here in 1988, we’ve remodeled the kitchen, burned through at least two air conditioners, rebuilt the deck, banished radon, first replaced the garage door windows, then replaced the garage door, and refinished the hardwood floors.

In January, we paid out around $2,500 to have the drainage system — the prime suspect in the case of the leaky basement— repaired. And more recently, we decided to ahead with an earthquake retrofit.

Yikes. Does this make sense?

I know I’m not the only one thinking about this. Demographically, we fall in with the baby boomers. And like many others in this group, Marlie and I recently retired.

So these days, I spend way too much time at my computer, wandering through home-buying web sites or looking at plans for maybe building a new home. Or maybe a condo? And after three decades on the east side, should we consider trying the west side?

It’s maddening. Every time we decide to move, we decide not to move. Or the other way around. Recently, we told our oldest son that we had finally decided to stay in the house and do yet more work: remodel the bigger upstairs bathroom and get to work on clearing out the basement bedroom (the one with the leak) and maybe adding a shower downstairs.

He looked at me with a bit of a quizzical smile on his face.

“I thought you guys had decided to move,” he said as he looked up from my car’s engine, which he was working on. “Oh, yeah. That was last week.”

He’s right, of course. We are totally incapable of making up our minds on this topic.

If we stay, the leak in the basement isn’t the only thing that needs fixing. The “new” deck – now 12 years old — needs refinishing. And then there’s the folding steps that lead to the attic. They really need to be replaced.

But we could avoid all that by moving to a new home.

Then again, maybe that would feel like giving up. It would also mean we’d never get the chance to turn our carriage house garage into an ADU. And we’d have to say goodbye to the neighbors who have often watched over our house when we’re gone or called us when our dogs got loose.

So maybe we should stay. At least for this week.


John Killen is a retired newspaper journalist.  He spent 28 years working for The Oregonian and 40-plus years reporting and editing and making lots of professional decisions, but still can’t decide if it’s time to downsize.  He and his wife Marlie celebrated their 40th anniversary this month.

Editor’s note: John and I joined The Oregonian within a year of each other in the mid-’80s.  He retired a few months ahead of me last year and the staff sendoff was something to see — a roomful of people who spoke to his professionalism and positivity, his loyalty and leadership. I recruited him onto my bowling team for one season last year. He’s back to riding his bike.

Tomorrow: Tammy Ellingson, Finger printed


By Lynn St. Georges

All is impermanent. We know this intuitively, but the knowledge is an abstraction.

Then I moved to the north Oregon coast, where in walking the beach almost daily the concept of impermanence became ground into my entire existence, etched by an infinite number of grains of sand.

The winter storms that arrive with the Pacific winds push fierce waves past the ends of the sand, where the dunes change from year to year. One day there are huge logs tossed on the beaches and the dunes beyond. The next day the logs are moved, or even gone, no recognition of their presence except for digitized images.

LSG log

Here today, gone tomorrow.


My first winter I wondered who would clean the massive piles of tangled logs from the beach, but I quickly saw the ocean and waves that delivered also removed.

After the logs and other debris are returned to the ocean, winds sweep the beaches, small rocks now showing above moving sands. There’s a tidiness to the shores then, felt by stinging sand on ankles and calves.

LSG  shore

The tidy shore.

Visitors to the coast don’t see these changes. Coming a few times a year, there’s a sameness to the shores and the waves, with the primary differences being changes in wave action from winter to summer. The sands and dunes appear the same, unchanging, permanent.

One day in 1969, I was a young teen who arrived home from a horse show to a new family. A car accident that morning took the life of the oldest child, a father’s eyes swollen from tears, hushed voices among too many people. I learned then of impermanence, but I did not understand it yet. I wonder now if people who knew us before that day, and then after, saw us as if they were mere visitors to the coast where things appeared the same. Did they know how many sharp grains of sand blown by fierce winds had etched a new family into place, a family that was no longer the same?

I experienced death young, and the subsequent shattering of an intact family. We live our lives in a generally straight line until an event. A sharp 90-degree turn occurs and we now move down this new, generally straight line. Our lives are marked by events, both happy and sad, profound and simple. Not all result in these abrupt 90-degree turns. Some events are merely easy bends on our paths, but these sharp turns are like etchings, like the ocean beaches following storms. We don’t know what lies ahead; the trail is only visible for a few steps.

LSG path

What lies before us is a mystery.

When I walk on the beach, I go south toward Twin Rocks and then turn north returning home, facing Neahkahnie Mountain. These two geologic points won’t reveal the regular changes seen in sand and dunes, but they, too, are impermanent.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Their forms are etched into my mind. They are here now, solid like my memories of those gone.

Sands shift from water and wind. The grains polish sharp objects into softened edges over time. I found a shell fragment one day, its formerly etched lines smoothed. My fingers rubbed the softness. The memory of the shell is seen in the lines that remain visible under the tumbled surface.

LSG shell fragment

Lines are visible beneath the smoothed surface.

Losses accumulate as we age. Impermanence grows more real. Today there are two brothers gone, a brother-in-law, a mother, a husband. They are real in my mind and my heart, like geologic points on my walk. They reside there, poking at my memories while the sands continue to shift.


LSG Lynn

Lynn St. Georges

Lynn St. Georges lives in Rockaway Beach on the left coast.

Editor’s note: If there were such titles, Lynn would be cheerleader-in-chief for Voices of August. She puts her heart and soul into this annual endeavor, not just writing a deeply personal and poignant piece every year, but offering encouragement and support to every single writer through her thoughtful comments. I met Lynn in 2009 after she had written about her mother’s death in a letter to the editor to The Oregonian. An exchange of emails led to a friendship between us. She later became a member of my Steamin’ Chalupas bowling team.  No doubt she’s already got a rough draft going of her 2017 VOA essay.

Tomorrow: John Killen, The downsizing dilemma


Fate and destiny


Gil Rubio is a musician and a man of deep faith. “Not only did we have a foundation in faith and family, but we also grew up with respect and love for other cultures, customs and peoples,” he says. “Noncompetitive hard work, perseverance and camaraderie were key values for all of us growing up in Seaside, California, as we all struggled in the same manner with the world around us.”

By Gil Rubio

Disney put out a movie in 2015 called “Tomorrowland.” A highly entertaining movie, I found it also to be rather thought-provoking.

Without going into too much detail or plot …

At one point, George Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, asks a young
lady, “If someone was able to tell you the precise moment that you
would die, would you want to know?”

Her response:
… “ Who wouldn’t?”
… “Wait, would knowing mean you can change it?”

Fate and Destiny are not the same thing,
… although they are often confused.

What if we did know?
Would we even believe the prophecy of our time of passing?
Would it change the way we live every moment?
Would we think it is a farce or trick of some sort?
Would we show more concern for ourselves, or others?
Would we consider that someone is just trying to manipulate us?
Would we try to do something “good” before our time is up?
Would we just carry on as usual?
Would the real value of everything suddenly become obvious?
Would we become depressed and give into it?

What if the Whole World knew of its demise?
Would we come together collectively to try to change it?
Would we wait and hope for someone else to “fix” it?
Would we just lay down and wait?
Would we just party till it’s over?
Would we figure out that we all have something to do with it?
Would we even consider that we all “could” do something about it?


With all the trouble in the World at present,
sometimes I wonder if we are indeed near an end of some sort…
The World has always been out of control and violent.
People say that the Koran is full of violence, but so is the Bible!
Man himself has always been the biggest problem.
The sheer number of us, leads to more violence and selfish acts,
and now we are seeing even more of it because of our technology.

The technology has led us to believe only in ourselves and our own opinions and we put it out into the World and some will hold it close to them as absolute truth.

Right now there is some 40-year-old guy sitting in his underwear in
his Mom’s basement in the middle of nowhere who is putting his opinion
on the internet. (It could be me, except I’m fully clothed and I’m 58!)
How many people will accept his opinion as truth?

While there may be truth in what we are seeing on the Internet, how
can we be sure?

Even the Moon Landing all those many years ago could have been faked …
How many times have we seen realistic movies that depict things we
would never have imagined?

What if we are actually being shown all this negative stuff
and we are acting in a negative manner in response to it?

We keep spreading the negative and violent videos and the like,
thinking we are making others aware.
When in reality we are spreading the Evil ourselves.

I think we have lost our Humility and our sight of a Higher Power.
We fail to show our Gratitude and Respect for Life and the World we
have been given.
We certainly aren’t taking care of it or each other!

If these are Dark times,
then we need to light the World around us from within.

Believe in Kindness, Believe in Love, Show Gratitude, Show Humility,
Hope for the Future …

Make goodness happen for the good of all!

Fate and Destiny are not the same thing …

Gil Rubio was born in Monterey, California, and grew up in adjacent Seaside,  possibly the most culturally diverse city on the Central Coast. He is the operations manager at a print shop, teaches 5th grade Catechism, and leads a bilingual choir at the church he grew up in. An accomplished guitarist, he also is the leader of Red Beans & Rice, a blues-inspired, New Orleans-influenced band in its 23rd year with six CD releases to its credit.


Editor’s note: Cousin Gil is the youngest of three children born to my godparents, Salvador and Lupe Rubio. I fondly recall visits to Seaside as a young boy when my sisters and I would hang out with Gil, his brother Ralph (now the mayor of Seaside), and his beautiful sister Mary. His mom is the eldest of nine Flores siblings, including my late mother, and recently celebrated her 93rd birthday.

Tomorrow: Lynn St. Georges, Impermanence


My visit to Heart Mountain


Midori Mori (right) and her father, Aki, smile for one of many selfies taken together this summer.

By Midori Mori

Growing up as an Asian American, Asian culture always surrounded me. In my school, at the grocery store, even in my own room.  But as I got older I started to realize the negativity against my ethnicity, such as in 2nd grade, when a kid in my class made the classic “squinty eyes” and called me a chink (though I didn’t know what that meant at the time). But until I visited Heart Mountain, I never understood the true meaning of racist hatred.

Heart Mountain was a Japanese internment camp in northwest Wyoming. As many people may know, back in World War II all the Japanese Americans on the West Coast were imprisoned in 10 camps where there was no sign of civilization anywhere. And back in this time period the Japanese Americans were put in a rough spot. After all, the very country they descended from bombed an important naval base: Pearl Harbor..

Yet when these citizens proved loyalty to America, no mercy or justice was put in consideration. The very government that they believed in turned their backs on rightful citizens. The Japanese Americans were sent away and they did not complain about it. While camp residents were considered amazing optimists, this left them ignorant to what was really happening. Yes, they physically knew that they had been deceived and taken to a prison but still the Japanese American citizens remained silent. Even after the war ended they shunned the topic and denied that their imprisonment ever happened.

Being of Japanese heritage, people occasionally ask me whether I would’ve done differently. But in truth I can’t say that I would have done so. Compared to what they had to endure I am living in this golden era where Asians are mostly treated well. Sure, there is the occasional lapse, but if I complain about the injustice today it seems sort of selfish. The Japanese Americans didn’t have that luxury of acceptance. At least I have that much to be appreciative of. The living style mentally was tougher. The limited number of Asians probably made some citizens apprehensive since they couldn’t connect with Caucasian people. This made it hard for them to stand up for their rights as Americans when they were imprisoned.

I guess I’m saying that I accept their actions but that doesn’t necessarily mean I would’ve handled it the same way. I probably wouldn’t complain either because while it may be the right thing to do, it does not always make it the most easy thing to do. Except unlike the prisoners of the time I wouldn’t have shunned the topic after the war ended. I feel it’s important to remember an event no matter how painful as long as you don’t become bitter. Becoming bitter will only make you more miserable. Learning from it would accomplish more good in the world.

The main thing I would like readers to take away is something my Judo instructor told me: There are enough fighters in the world. If you truly wish to change the world you must be a peacemaker. This applies to what F.D.R decided to do with the Japanese (putting them in prison camps) and what I feel the Japanese should do about this painful topic. As long as you wish to change the world, remembering the wrongs becomes just as important as remembering the rights.

Related reading:  Aki Mori, American internment in the shadow of Yellowstone


“I am 12 years old and about to enter seventh grade,” Midori says. ” I was born premature, so at first glance I might appear small.  But that has only made me try harder to prove others wrong.  I love judo, politics, and conditioning.”

Editor’s note: Last year, we had a 9-year-old become the first under-18 contributor to Voices of August. With that precedent in mind and a proud father, Aki Mori, serving as middleman, I invited Midori to be part of VOA 2016. So glad to add her perspective.

Tomorrow: Gil Rubio, Fate and destiny