Memories of Minidoka, Heart Mountain

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Worst selfie ever? Possibly. Gathered together on Sept. 24 at Twentysix Cafe, from left: Midori, Ayumi, Aki and Katie Mori, John and Nancy Stephenson; and Alice Suter.

Earlier this year, Oregon joined the nation in marking the 75th anniversary of the executive order, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that led to the forced incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

Here in Portland, Japanese Americans and their allies gathered on the waterfront on Feb. 19 for a Day of Remembrance to honor those who were imprisoned, including 4,000 from Oregon, and to condemn the wartime hysteria that led to the disruption of so many lives of innocent people at internment camps across the United States.

Recently, I was privileged to be part of a multi-generational conversation with friends that brought together a camp internee, the daughter of a camp architect, and a family of four that visited camps in two western states.

Nancy (Komatsubara) Stephenson was 3 years old when she and several family members were sent from their home in Alaska to Camp Minidoka in south-central Idaho. A retired schoolteacher now living in Northeast Portland, she is married to John Stephenson, who was 4 years old when his dad, a Navy sailor, was killed during the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Alice (Hardesty) Suter was 5 years old when her parents took her and her brother on a summer  vacation to Cody, Wyoming. Decades later, she would learn that her dad was one of the architects who designed and supervised construction of barracks at the Heart Mountain internment camp just outside Cody in northwestern Wyoming. Alice, a retired audiologist and freelance writer, is my neighbor, just two doors away on our quiet NE Portland street..

Aki Mori and his young family were headed to Yellowstone last year when he noticed a highway exit sign for Minidoka. He and his wife Katie and their two daughters wound up visiting both Minidoka and Heart Mountain, on opposite sides of the famed national park. Aki is a high school vice principal and lives in Beaverton.

Alone among the group, I have no connection to the camps. But through a series of coincidences this year and last, I learned a lot about the camps through each and every one of the aforementioned friends and neighbors.

It dawned on me that everyone might enjoy meeting each other and sharing their experiences. And so it was that we gathered a week ago at a favorite coffee shop in my neighborhood.

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John, Nancy and Alice all came with stories to tell.

***

In July 2016, Aki and Midori, then 12, both wrote movingly about their experiences visiting the two camps in Idaho and Wyoming. I published their essays on my blog during the annual Voices of August guest blog project.

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In November 2016, my wife Lori and I were among a group of six, including Nancy and John, who went to see a play about the life of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Seattle college student who challenged the wartime curfew targeting Japanese Americans. Afterward, Nancy lent me “Surviving Minidoka,” a beautifully written and illustrated book examining the legacy of Japanese American incarceration, and I wrote a glowing review just before the year ended.

 

Then, early this year, I learned that Alice was working on a magazine article about Heart Mountain that told of the warm welcome she received at a 2016 pilgrimage to the camp’s WW II Interpretive Center, an annual event that encourages visitors to learn more about the so-called “relocation center.”

In the process, I discovered that Alice had also written an article on the Hirabayashi play for Oregon ArtsWatch, about a month before Nancy, John and I had seen it. In researching the piece, Alice had interviewed the playwright, Jeanne Sakata, whose father and grandfather and other relatives were sent to an Arizona camp.

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Ryun Yu was marvelous as Gordon Hirabayashi in the Portland Center Stage production of “Hold These Truths.”

As for myself, I knew broad outlines but few details of this dark chapter in our nation’s history. I knew, for instance, that Portland had served as a processing center for West Coast internees. But I was ashamed to learn that the campus of San Jose State University, my alma mater, also served the same purpose.

I also learned that some internees were sent to Lordsburg, New Mexico, a godforsaken place on the Arizona-N.M. border that I had passed through many times while driving east from Tucson to visit my father and stepmother. Turns out that Nancy’s father was initially sent to Lordsburg as a suspected spy and only later transferred to Minidoka to join his wife and three daughters.

***

Sunday’s conversation, in a sunlit room in a covered patio, could not have gone better.

Everything unfolded organically. People introduced themselves to each other and, with no prompting from me, soon began talking earnestly about their varied experiences. As each person shared a memory or an observation, everyone else listened. No interruptions. No testy exchanges. Just a respectful carving out of space for each person to have their say.

Alice grew up in the Chicago suburbs. She said she didn’t know about her father’s role in designing internee housing until she was in her mid-30s. They never discussed the subject.

Because of her father’s work, Alice said she was nervous about how she would be received by camp survivors and their families at the Heart Mountain pilgrimage. She was pleasantly surprised by how warm and welcoming people were, adding that she is still in contact with friends she made there.

Nancy grew up in Petersburg, a small fishing village near Juneau. When her father was arrested, authorities rounded up Nancy’s mom and her siblings and put them in the local jail because they had nowhere else for them. Imagine spending the night in jail when you’re 3 years old.

Nancy brought along a camp yearbook for us to see, but said she doesn’t have vivid memories of Minidoka. Flipping through the pages of photos and activities, my heart broke a little at the thought of immigrant and U.S.-born adults alike trying to convey a sense of normalcy during their captivity.

Midori asked Nancy if she was angry all these years later.

No, she replied.

“What I am really sad about is that I never talked to my parents at length about what happened,” Nancy said. ” I remember things like playing but not about guards with rifles at the gates or things like that. We were just little kids. We were too young to remember. I don’t feel real anger, just sorrow.”

Aki is from the Midwest. I met him several years ago when he submitted an op-ed piece to The Oregonian’s Sunday Opinion section. I noticed in his bio that he had taught in the same school district in Union City, the working-class suburb where I grew up across the bay from San Francisco.

His wife Katie has a Union City connection, too. When she and her mother and sister immigrated from Taiwan, Katie was a 9th grade ESL student at James Logan High School, the same school that I would have attended had we had not moved to adjoining Fremont. Katie adapted quickly, went on to get a degree in biochemistry and worked for a tech company before becoming a stay-at-home mom.

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The Mori family: From left, Midori, Aki, Ayumi and Katie.

 

Their children exhibited poise, manners and distinctly different personalities during our meet-up.

Midori, 13, is in the 8th grade. The more outgoing of the pair, Midori loves judo, plays the piano, and recently wrote about transitioning from female to male. (“What it means to have Pride.”)

Ayumi, 10, is in the 5th grade. She plays the violin, loves figure skating and, like her sibling, is a precocious writer.

Both said they appreciated the opportunity to learn about life in the internment camps with their parents. Midori, in particular, is interested broadly in World War II.

“I learned about (the camps) through my dad,” Midori said. “The least I can do is respect those who came before us.”

***.

We broke off after 90 minutes, feeling as though we’d just scratched the surface and vowing to meet again. What a wonderful way it was to spend part of an afternoon with such gracious people all around the table, ages 10 to 80-ish.

 

Nancy wrote to thank me for bringing everyone together.

“I know John agrees with me in saying that it was a very enjoyable and heartwarming experience to talk with everyone. It was a privilege to meet such kind, thoughtful and intelligent young people as Midori and Ayumi. They have such a bright future ahead of them.”

Indeed.

 

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New space, new author

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Kate Carroll de Gutes welcomes the crowd to her Sept. 14 book launch at the Fremont Theater.

Last Thursday was one of those nights that captures the essence of what it’s like to live in this city: a melding of books, bites, music and friends, all done without leaving our zip code.

Our friend Molly Holsapple invited Lori and me to join her and others at a book launch featuring local author Kate Carroll de Gutes at the Fremont Theater. And, oh, could we meet beforehand for drinks and a light dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street?

Well, sure.

I hadn’t heard of de Gutes and I didn’t even realize the Fremont Theater existed. Unbeknownst to me, it opened as part of a new building that went up about two years ago at the corner of Northeast Fremont Street and 24th Avenue, about a mile from our home,

Going to this free event would be a good way to get acquainted with both author and venue. Turns out both were eye-openers.

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Kate Carroll de Gutes reads from “The Authenticity Experiment.”

Kate Carroll de Gutes is a Portland writer who was promoting a new book, “The Authenticity Experiment,” a collection of essays that began as a 30-day blogging challenge to be more honest about her life. Her first collection of essays, “Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear,” had won an Oregon Book Award in creative nonfiction and a Literary Lambda Award for memoir/biography.

On Thursday, de Gutes was finishing a three-city tour of Bend, Seattle and Portland with a book reading that felt like we were in someone’s living room.

The Fremont Theater seats about 120 people in an intimate space with a small stage at one end and a bar at the other. The building has a 22-foot-tall ceiling and two levels. Little did I know this place has been hosting live music, theater and other events for some time.

In fact, the evening began with a short set performed by local folk musicians Steve Einhorn and Kate Power, a married couple who are also former owners of Artichoke Music in Southeast Portland. The duo set a warm, welcoming tone with four songs featuring vocals, acoustic guitars and Steve’s ukelele.

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Kate Power and Steve Einhorn performed four songs as a warm-up for the book reading.

de Gutes was charming and relaxed, with a large number of friends in the audience. Hip from head to toe, came out in a bow tie and polka dot shirt, Levi’s and a pair of black Converse. Her essays were beautifully written — concise, compelling, humorous, sad and, above all, authentic — in tackling topics of death, friendship, family and grief. Within a single year, she said, her mother, best friend and editor-mentor all died. Blogging was a way to cope.

“I kept writing because it kept me sane,” she said.

We bought the new book and Kate signed it. Lori’s already read it and pronounced it a winner. I’m still pounding through a 500-pages-plus novel but plan to dive into Kate’s book next.

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Kate Carroll de Gutes signs her new book for a new fan, Lori.

Thanks all around …

— To Molly for introducing us to a new author here in our city.

— To Broadway Books, our neighborhood independent bookstore, for supporting writers like this one and promoting literacy in our city.

— To Kate Carroll de Gutes, for doing what nonfiction writers do best — reveal something of themselves in order to address common themes that bring us together as human beings.

 

Together again. For real.

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Bowling buddies, from left; George, Erin, Brian, Morgan, Beth and Ellie.

We live in an age when friendships and even family relationships are navigated with texts and Facebook posts rather than face-to-face interaction. So it was nice to set the technology aside for a day and spend some face time with a handful of friends I used to see regularly.

I’m talking about the Broken Taco Shells, a collection of four men and three women who used to rotate in and out filling four spots on a coed bowling team. We used to play on Monday nights at Hollywood Bowl, a venue that has since been remade into a hardware store.

Our four-year run as a team ended after a last-place finish in 2014 — not because we felt badly about where we placed, but because we felt we wanted to move on to other things.

We came together two summers ago for a day of bowling and a potluck meal. On Sunday, we reunited again at AMF Pro 300, a Southeast Portland venue that’s destined to become a Target store.

If Lori is the hub, we are the spokes on the wheel.

It’s fun to hang out with people who share a common interest (bowling) and a common connection (my wife). If Lori is the hub, we are the spokes on the wheel. Aside from myself, all but one member of the old team knows her directly or indirectly through her personal training business. The other came to know her as a fellow dog owner at a neighborhood city park.

Ironically, Lori was in Missouri visiting our youngest son and his family on the day we got together to bowl. We also were missing one team member, John, who was out of town for work.

Everyone else was present and accounted for: Erin, Beth, Ellie, Brian, Morgan and myself.

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The Broken Taco Shells, from left: Beth, Ellie, Brian, George, Morgan and Erin.

As you’d expect, everyone was dealing with rusty bowling skills. I hadn’t picked up a ball for six months and the same could be said for nearly everyone else. Morgan, fresh from a European vacation, dazzled everyone — and probably surprised himself — when he rolled a turkey in the 10th frame of the first game.

After two games, we were done. We crossed a busy boulevard and found a private booth at Hopworks Urban Brewery, where we could continue our conversation over beers and bites.

It was a fun way to spend three hours on a lazy weekend. Face time beats Facebook every time.

Guy time with ZZ

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Bob and George enjoy a pre-concert beer on the roof of the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland.

This week brought the opportunity to hang out with with a longtime friend over a couple of beers and then enjoy a ZZ Ward concert at Portland’s Revolution Hall. My buddy Bob Ehlers and I were among a sold-out crowd of 850 who enjoyed a 90-minute set by Ward, described on her website as a “Fedora-rocking, guitar-shredding, harmonica-wielding blues siren.”

Yeah, a little overstated, but there’s definitely some talent there. ZZ plays guitar and keyboards and a damn-good harmonica. She also sings (duh) and writes her own lyrics.

If you don’t know her, ZZ is Zsuzsanna Ward, a Pennsylvania native who grew up in Roseburg, an Oregon timber town, and is now based in Los Angeles. Thursday’s show was part of a national tour to support her just-released second full-length CD called “The Storm.” Already, the CD has risen to No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Albums chart.

ZZ played more than 20 songs, delivering a high-energy performance that had dozens of young people in front of the stage dancing and jumping up like human pogo sticks. She attracted an all-ages crowd, so Bob and I fit in just fine.

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Roseburg’s own ZZ Ward rockin’ the house at Revolution Hall.

ZZ is billed primarily as a blues artist, but her music incorporates hip-hop and, in my mind, makes it really hard to slot her into a single genre.

I’d heard a few songs of hers on Pandora and was intrigued enough to check her out in a live show. ZZ is nowhere near the level of Susan Tedeschi, an accomplished blues guitarist and vocalist, but she’s got potential and I definitely felt I got my money’s worth.

Check her out and see if you agree:

Before the show, Bob and I spent a couple hours at a rooftop bar, enjoying the great view on a perfect summer evening. The concert venue is actually a refurbished high school auditorium housed in the former Washington High School in Southeast Portland’s Buckman neighborhood.

There’s a ground-level brewpub, plus another bar on the second floor, the auditorium on the second and third floors, commercial offices and community meeting rooms scattered throughout the four-story building, and lots of room on the roof to have a drink.

Just as the McMenamin Brothers have turned other schools and absolute buildings into thriving restaurants and brewpubs, so too did a private developer convert this tired old building into something imaginative and vibrant.

The grounds also feature an old athletic field that now serves as a dog park. In fact, this is where my little dog and I were attacked by a couple of unleashed big dogs during a visit here late last year.

On Thursday, a couple of dogs were there with their owners. Seeing them romping around on the grass made me feel a little sad, wishing I could bring Charlotte back for a visit.

On the other hand, I left feeling good about introducing my friend to a new venue and a new artist. Good food, good beer, good conversation, good music. Hard to beat.

Photograph of ZZ Ward by Bob Ehlers.

Wiener wars

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 Cincinnati chili with all the fixings: red beans, cheddar cheese, diced sweet onions and oyster crackers.

It was a weekend for wieners — and I’m not talking about politicians.

Nope, we’re talking tube steaks, cased meats, working-class sausages.

Saturday brought the 8th annual International Hot Dog Competition, a fun-filled celebration of the humble dog that took place at the home of our daughter Simone and her wife Kyndall.

About 17 competitors, including Lori and me, showed up with our own specially crafted toppings to lay on top of seven or eight hot dogs that in turn were cut up into tasting-size morsels so everyone present could have a chance to sample and rate them.

The friendly competition began in Pittsburgh, when Simone and Kyndall were living there for a couple years, and then switched to Portland when the ladies moved back.

It’s a kick. It takes place every year around the Fourth of July in their backyard and features some of the most audaciously creative toppings ever to grace a bun. The hosts provide the wieners and buns (although you’re free to create your own homemade buns) and the entrants provide the rest.

We’re not talking ketchup-mustard-relish, mind you. Not by a long shot.

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The hostesses with the most-eses. Kyndall (left) and Simone, the human hot dogs, welcome their guests and announce the rules of competition.

We’re talking jawdropping creations like the Poutine Dog, made with cheese curds, beer-soaked French fries and brown gravy; the Fidel, a Cubano-style entry made with slow-roasted pork, ham and cheese; and the Cheeseus Take The Wheel, made with eight cheeses, mac-n-cheese and Flaming Hot Cheetos crumbs. Every one of them served on top of a wiener nestled in a bun.

Some entries are deep-fried, some smothered in sauces and gravies, and others prepared with savory vegetables and meats.

With roughly 70 to 80 people in attendance, there were plenty of tasters. Each person voted for his or her three favorites and the top three votegetters were honored with prizes. The highly coveted first-place prize is a bust of Abraham Lincoln containing years-old cologne. It rotates from winner to winner and who knows what kinds of chemical reactions have occurred inside that fragrant flask over the years.

I couldn’t tell you the names or ingredients of the first- and third-place winners, but I do know the second-place entry was fashioned after the Monte Cristo sandwich. This one was called the Monte. Like its namesake, it was prepared with ham, turkey and swiss slices, dipped in an egg/milk mixture and grilled to a golden brown, then topped with powdered sugar and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Lori wowed the crowd with her Brown Betty, a scrumptious combination of carmelized onions, brown sugar and bacon.

I did a Cincinnati chili dog, consisting of a meatless chili, red beans, diced sweet onions, shredded cheddar cheese, and oyster crackers — just as they do it in Ohio.

Though the wienerfest is the big draw, there’s no question that the hours of socializing are what drives the annual event. There’s a totally chill vibe that makes for easy conversation with friends, new and old, and support from the crowd for every contestant. It’s a family-friendly event, with lots of couples, several young children and a few dogs — the furry kind.

Lori and I are the oldest ones there and we’re honored to be invited each year to hang with Simone and Kyndall’s many friends. It’s also nice that our oldest son, Nathan, and his fiance, Sara, are among the regulars.

***

On Sunday, wieners also were at the center of a gathering at our place. We get together every few weeks with some great friends — Irma and Joe, Renee and Ed — for a dinner party. Each couple takes a turn hosting the dinner, and Sunday it was our turn.

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Up on the roof. Back row (L to R): Ed, Renee and Joe; Front row: Lori, Irma and Janet. Too close to camera: George

We had extra hot dogs from Saturday’s bash and I cooked up another pot of Cincinnati chili. If you’ve never had it, just know it’s got cinnamon and chocolate, as well as cumin, cloves, allspice, chili pepper and cayenne pepper, so it’s sweet and savory at the same time.

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From Irma’s kitchen: marionberry and raspberry tarts.

Irma brought her friend Janet. who was visiting from Seattle, and we all enjoyed a tasty meal on our rooftop deck, finished off with raspberry and marionberry tarts a la mode.

It was a weekend with wieners and it was wonderful.

2017 Oregon Book Awards

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George and Jennifer outside the Gerding Theater.

It wasn’t the Oscars and it wasn’t the Grammys. But it was my first time attending an awards event and it was pretty cool.

On Monday night, I joined my friend Jennifer Brennock at the 2017 Oregon Book Awards, held at the Gerding Theater in Northwest Portland.

No red carpet in sight. But in the lobby there was a pop-up book sale going on staffed by the folks from Broadway Books, my neighborhood book store. Also, there were plenty of animated conversations going on among book nerds of all ages, young adults to retirees.

For those of us who love words, it was a night to celebrate seasoned pros, first-time authors and everyone in between who strives to inform and inspire us readers with works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. If you’ve ever written seriously — whether for work or as a hobby — you know the feeling of facing a blank screen and wondering when or how the first words will materialize.

If you’re patient, they will come. Eventually.

Knowing a little something about what that’s like, I felt nothing but admiration for these accomplished writers who faced the blank screen and won the stare-down. These are the diligent, creative folks whose characters, plots, scenes and dialogues — imagined or real — come to life on the page, often after years of research. Such work is impressive and every one of the Oregon Book Award finalists deserved the whistles, whoops and hollers they received.

***

Before the event, I met Jennifer at a coffee-and-wine bar a short walk from the Gerding. We met several years ago when I attended a writing workshop she was leading on Orcas Island. I was impressed by the way she led the class and since then I have been dazzled by her writing.

Read Jennifer’s contribution (“Baby Shower”) to my Voices of August guest blog project.

She’s taught English at the community college level and I’m now teaching communications classes at two universities, so we have that connection, too. Jennifer’s students are blessed to have someone whose writing prompts challenge them to think and feel deeply and whose own intelligence and passion explode off the page.

The awards program, sponsored by Literary Arts, itself was entertaining — probably more so than you’d think given the absence of live music, video clips or other such stuff that you see at the Academy Awards.

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The Portland nonprofit Literary Arts sponsors the Oregon Book Awards.

A California author, Lysley Tenorio, was a charming master of ceremonies, filling the same role as Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres and others have done at the Oscars.

Anis Mojgani, a spoken word artist based in Portland, performed a poem. Téa Johnson, a Grant High School senior, reprised her winning entry in the citywide high school poetry slam competition known as Verselandia.

Read a profile of Téa Johnson in Grant Magazine.

Finalists were announced in eight categories, and the judge for each one read an excerpt from the winner’s book before calling that person to the stage.

Turns out that I had met — ever so briefly — the winner in the first category. Kate Berube took home the award for Children’s Literature for her book “Hannah and Sugar.” Last summer, I took part in a fundraising trivia contest sponsored by a nonprofit that provides books to low-income children. Kate, an author and illustrator, was at that same fundraiser and donated a portion of profits from her sales that night to the same cause.

Even better, Jennifer knew the woman who won the Creative Nonfiction award. That would be Walidah Imarisha, who is currently a lecturer at Stanford but also has taught at Portland State and Oregon State universities. Walidah was honored for “Angels Without Dirty Wings,” a book about life behind prison walls that weaves together the stories of three people — her incarcerated brother and his fellow inmate and herself..

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Reunited: Jennifer Brennock and Walidah Imarisha

Jennifer and Walidah have known each other since graduate school. In the lobby afterwards, the two embraced and Walidah autographed the book I bought on the spot. Gotta make room for it on my always crowded bookshelf.

***

Two quick anecdotes that illustrate what a small world we live in:

Walidah’s companion that evening was a young man who had participated years ago in a summer journalism program for minority high school students that brought him to The Oregonian, my former employer  John Joo, then a student at Beaverton High School, remembered me from the program — probably one of those times when I popped into a room of teenagers wolfing down pizza and soda during a visit to the newsroom and said a few words. What a great memory.

Before leaving, I introduced myself to Cindy Williams Gutiérrez, the only Latina/o among the Oregon Book Award winners. Cindy is a poet who’s worked with Milagro Theater, the bilingual theater group where my wife and I saw a recent production. Her new book, “Words That Burn,” dramatizes the World War II experiences of three men, including Lawson Inada, a Japanese American internee who later taught at Southern Oregon College, where Jennifer met him as an undergraduate student.

Cindy chatted warmly, jotted her email address on a card, and invited me to get in touch. I think I’ll do just that.

All in all, a fun evening spent in the company of someone who loves words as much as I do. Who needs the red carpet anyway?

Season-ending selfie

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Blazermaniacs: Deborah and George during the first half. Smiles went away during second half.

You can stick a fork in the Trail Blazers now. After last night’s gut-wrenching loss to the titanic Golden State Warriors, my favorite basketball team is one loss away from having its season come to an official end.

That should happen Monday night when the Warriors seek to put the finishing touch on a 4-to-0 playoff sweep of the home team.

On Saturday, I went with my friend, Deborah Heath, to see Game 3 of this Round 1 matchup between the Blazers and the Warriors, the defending Western Conference champions.

The Blazers played beautifully in the first half, inspired by the presence of their injured big man, Josuf Nurkic, and brilliant play by their star guards, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Deborah and I wore giddy smiles as the Blazers took a 67-54 halftime lead.

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A fellow fan shows her support of the Blazers’ new center, a 7-footer from Bosnia who’s only 22 years old.

Unfortunately, Golden State is loaded with talent and the visitors came back to steal a clutch 119-113 win that tore the hearts out of the Blazers and their fans. So much for those halftime smiles.

The loss meant that I went winless as a spectactor. Yep, all six games that I attended this season ended in a loss.

LA Clippers. Dallas. Golden State. Boston. Washington. Golden State, again.

What a contrast to last year when every game I saw produced a win and a shower of confetti. I didn’t expect a repeat of last season but even one win — especially last night, when the stakes were higher — would have been nice.

Predictions: No. 1, Golden State is going to win it all this year. And why shouldn’t they with four All-Stars on their team? No. 2, if Nurkic is healthy next season, watch out for the Blazers.

Ohio on my mind

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On the Cincinnati riverfront in May 2016.

The Buckeye State and the Beaver State have so little in common that it’s hard to think of a logical start to this post.

Ohio is a typical Midwestern state stretching from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River, a political swing state with a big industrial base but also a big chunk of poverty-stricken Appalachia. With 12 million people, its population triples that of Oregon.

Oregon has the Pacific Coast, the Cascade Mountains and Crater Lake, and is a reliably blue state, one of just five left where Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses in the legislature. We’re so predictable that neither Trump nor Clinton campaigned here last year, knowing that our few electoral votes would go to Hillary.

So I’m just going to dive in and say that as a longtime Oregonian, it’s odd to realize how much the state of Ohio has intruded on my consciousness during the past year.

The connection took root last spring when I spent some time in Ohio at the tail end of a whirlwind trip whose main purpose was to see four baseball games in three cities in the space of five days. I began in Pittsburgh, then shimmied over to Ohio.

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My rental car and airbnb rental in the Ohio City historic district of Cleveland.

I saw one game in Cleveland and spent the night there, then drove to Cincinnati and did the same there.

Before then, I’d passed through Cleveland twice before in the mid-70s as a college student heading to summer internships in Washington, D.C., and again more recently on a road trip with my daughter to get her settled for graduate school in Pittsburgh. We made time to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Years earlier, Simone and I also got a look at Oberlin College, on the outskirts of Cleveland, as she was considering where to go for undergraduate school. (Thank goodness, she didn’t choose Oberlin.)

In any case, here’s how Ohio has burrowed itself into my mind:

— When I visited in May, the first highway sign that greeted me upon entering the state bore the name of Governor John Kasich. Hey, remember him?

— Arriving early for the baseball game in downtown Cleveland, I was dazzled by Progressive Field, one of the most beautiful stadiums I’ve seen. In the fall, the Indians would return to the World Series and lose a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs.

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Progressive Field is a great venue. It was ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.

— A short walk away is Quicken Loans Arena, bearing larger-than-life images of LeBron James and his teammates. In June, a month after my visit, the Cavaliers would win the NBA Championship in a thrilling Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors. In July, delegates to the Republican National Convention would nominate Trump for president.

— In Cincinnati, I got to attend a Reds game with Anne Saker, my former co-worker at The Oregonian. A native Ohioan, she’s now working as a reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Peter Bhatia, my former boss in Portland, is now the editor at the Enquirer. The newspaper made the news last fall when its editorial board endorsed Clinton for president — the first time in nearly a century that it had backed a Democrat.

 (Click on images to view captions.)

— Before the game, I had lunch with Rachel Lippolis, a regular contributor to this blog over the years. Though we’ve been online friends for several years, this was the first time we’d met in person. Rachel, another native Ohioan, was pregnant then and became a mother in October. For some odd reason, her alma mater, Denison College, is represented among the college and university banners lining one wall of the entrance to the building where I work for an education nonprofit.

— That afternoon, I also explored the Queen City’s riverfront. Looking south into Kentucky, I hadn’t realized the Ohio River had served as the dividing line between the free North and the Southern slave states. It was a powerful, wrenching moment that stays with me still. Part of the reason why is that I spent some time in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, learning more about the region’s history and viewing museum exhibits that included an actual slave pen with shackles chained to the floor. Chilling.

— Back in Oregon, I became a grandparent in late July. Looking for a suitable gift for daughter-in-law Jamie, I stumbled upon a wonderful book and blog titled “Becoming Mother.” I  bought the book and sent off a complimentary email to its author, Sharon Tjaden-Glass.

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Sharon Tjaden-Glass

We became Facebook friends and soon enough, Sharon landed in this space as a guest blogger, writing about life in a swing state and then about the horror of discovering her baby’s due date was Inauguration Day. She lives in Dayton, a place I came nowhere near during my 2016 trip. I don’t imagine we’ll ever meet, but it’s still nice to connect with a millennial who’s a kindred spirit. (Her newborn son delayed his arrival until early February.)

— Two books I read during the latter half of 2016 were set in Ohio. One, by Celeste Ng, is titled “Everything I Never Told You,” and takes place in the late ’70s in the fictional small town of Middlewood. The novel is centered on the tensions within a family made up of a Chinese American father, an Anglo mother and their three reclusive children. The other, by J.D. Vance, is “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir of growing up amidst generational poverty and low educational expectations in Appalachia, first in eastern Kentucky and then in southwest Ohio, in the now-decaying steel town of Middletown.

— A Netflix movie that Lori and I rented was filmed on location in Ohio. “Liberal Arts” stars Josh Radnor as a disillusioned New Yorker who returns to campus at the invitation of a retiring favorite professor. The scenery at Kenyon College is breathtaking, reminiscent of Oregon’s many hues of green. And the movie, also starring Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister to the Olsen twins), is actually pretty good.

— Before the year ended, I met with another former co-worker, Steve Woodward, when I was looking for ideas to incorporate into my college teaching this term. Steve was a guest lecturer in two of my classes last week and, wouldn’t you know it, he too is from Dayton and a graduate of nearby Wright State University. Once a reporter and editor at The Oregonian, Steve is now CEO of his own online news startup and one of the most forward-thinking individuals I know.

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The “Sing the Queen City” 3D Art Sculpture, is the signature piece and part of the ArtWorks urban public art project known as “CincyInk.” (Photography by Brooke Hanna.)

I could go on about my discovery of a little indie band called Over The Rhine, named for a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Or about my newfound love of Cincinnati Chili, a no-beans chili made with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate that’s paired with spaghetti and shredded cheddar cheese. But that might make a person wonder if I’m thinking of moving to Ohio.

No. Way.

2016: What a year

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Dawn on Orcas Island brings a magnificent view of Mount Baker.

Three weeks from today, the nation will inaugurate a new president — not the one I wanted, not the one everyone expected, but the bloviating mess known as Donald J. Trump.

I shudder to think what the next four years will be like under this man who continues to defy every social and political convention while trampling on the bounds of common decency. Especially so after the model of dignity, grace and intelligence that we’ve seen exhibited by Barack Obama and his equally impressive wife, Michelle, a power in her own right.

It’s still beyond belief that a man so ignorant (and proud of it), so misogynistic (and proud of it), so narcissistic (and proud of it) has been elected to the nation’s highest office. Yet there’s no disputing that Trump’s election was the story of the year in 2016.

But I’m not going to dwell on him. I’ve got my own agenda today — and that’s taking a look back at the year that was. For all the sadness we felt seeing so many entertainers and other public figures pass from the scene — David Bowie, Prince, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, Garry Shandling, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al — there was a lot of other stuff going on in the Rede household.

After all, this is the year I traveled a new path, away from the newsroom where I had worked for the past 30 years. This was the year I caught a glimpse of what retirement might be like, only to settle into a new work routine in the fall.

Here’s a quick take:

***

First grandchild: We welcomed a charming little girl into our lives in late July. Little Emalyn May Rede, the daughter of our youngest son, Jordan, and his wife, Jamie, has been nothing but a source of pride and joy.

Lori and I were privileged to be the first ones to see and hold Emalyn, other than her parents, when she was just hours old. In the months since, she’s already transformed from helpless infant to smiling, healthy baby, seemingly delighted to be part of the action.

A new job (actually, two): Just as my severance from The Oregonian/OregonLive was running out in mid-September, along came two opportunities to return to the workforce.

Portland State University hired me to teach in the Department of Communications. I got started with a Media Ethics class that set me on a course I’ve always wanted to explore — that of a classroom teacher.

At the same time, I landed a part-time job as communications coordinator with the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance, an organization that partners with local employers and schools to expand career and technical education opportunities for metro-area high school students.

In January, I will add a third leg to this stool as an adjunct instructor at Washington State University Vancouver. I loved being a journalist, but I also feel fortunate to have these new employment opportunities.

The big noventa: My dad turned 90 years old in March, so all three of us kids and our extended families gathered in a San Diego suburb to celebrate nine decades of good living.

My dad and stepmom drove in from New Mexico. Lori and I flew in from Portland. My younger sister Cathy flew down from Alaska. My older sister Rosemary, with help from her daughter and son-in-law, hosted the party near Oceanside.

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Thanks to a selfie stick, four generations of Redes gather around Dad (in black hat) in honor of his 90th birthday.

Catarino Allala Rede is the only sibling left from a family of seven brothers and two sisters. It was great to see my dad basking in the love and admiration of his children, grandchildren and great-children. For a man who did manual labor all his life and whose formal education stopped at the eighth grade before he went back later in life to get a G.E.D., he’s done pretty damn well.

A baseball road trip: In May, I made a whirlwind trip that allowed me to see four Major League Baseball games in three cities in five days. I flew into Pittsburgh, then drove to Cleveland and on to Cincinnati.

In all, I covered about 400 miles from western Pennsylvania to Ohio, traveling the length of the Buckeye State through gently rolling landscapes. With Lori’s blessing, I stayed in three airbnb rentals and took the opportunity to see new sights, experience unfamiliar places, and visit with new and old friends in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Cool concerts: There were only three this year involving pop artists, but each was satisfying in its own right.

Got to see Jackson Browne at Edgefield in August and he was outstanding. A month earlier, I saw the Dixie Chicks at a Clark County amphitheater just north of Portland and they were exceptional. Their July concert came at a time when I was feeling down, given a spasm of fatal shootings of both civilians and cops in three states.

In November, I saw Liz Longley, a favorite singer-songwriter, for the second time in 18 months, this time in the intimate space of the Alberta Rose Theater.

Excellent books: All that free time I had in the first few months of the year enabled me to dive into the world of literature. Although I slowed down considerably after going back to work, I still managed to plow through 15 books.

They ran the gamut — everything from a young reader books about a transgender youth (“George” by Alex Gino) and a deaf baseball player (“The William Hoy Story” by Nancy Churnin) to a gritty collection of stories about the Motor City (“Detroit” by Charlie LeDuff) to a rape survivor’s memoir (“Lucky” by Alice Sebold) to a sweeping novel about race, culture and class in Nigeria and the United States (“Americanah” by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie.

There was lots more by the likes of John Updike, Steig Larsson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lauren Groff, Celeste Ng, Anne Hillerman and Robert Goodlick. You’ll find a synopsis of each one here: Books & Literature.

PIFF: Early in the year, I joined the ranks of volunteers at the 39th annual Portland International Film Festival. In exchange for helping to greet patrons, take tickets, etc., I got to see six movies for free at three theaters during the month of February.

It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do it again, but not this year. Too much going on with my three part-time jobs to even consider it.

Urban hikes: Another luxury during the first half of the year was exploring my own city with the help of a great guidebook, “Portland Hill Walks” by Laura O. Foster.

I made a routine of selecting a route that took me into mostly unfamiliar neighborhoods, where I learned a lot about the city’s history, geography and demographics. Hard to say which were my favorites, but I do recall the pleasant surprise of discovering Marshall Park in Southwest Portland and getting thoroughly soaked when I hiked through the jewel that is Washington Park.

Island getaways: We made it up to our cabin on Orcas Island three times. Each time is like opening a valve and releasing the stress that comes with living in a city of 632,000 people and an urban area of 2.4 million. Compare that to maybe 2,000 folks total on Orcas.

We’re blessed to have a place where we can hike and kayak, read, play board games, feed the birds and watch old movies — all in a beautiful place that offers Solitude with a capital S.

This year, we enjoyed a parade and community potluck on the Fourth of July weekend and hosted our longtime friends, Bob and Deborah Ehlers. We did our best to make their three-night stay a memorable one, with excursions to Doe Bay, Eagle Lake and Mount Constitution.

Pets: We lost our beloved Otto in July, shortly after our final trip to the island and just a week before Emalyn was born. He was a Jack Russell Terrier, 11 years old, blessed with a sweet disposition, and loved by all who knew him. Otto was especially close to Lori and had earned the status of “The Fourth Child.” Fittingly, he died of an an enlarged heart.

Before Otto died, he schooled little Charlotte, our Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua mix, in the ways of the world. She misses him, for sure, but she has blossomed as the sole focus of our canine attention. Charlotte and I survived a run-in with two pit bulls at a dog park, but she’s healed completely and is becoming more social with other dogs and humans.

Mabel, now the senior pet, continues to rule the roost in her own bedroom, a sweet brown tabby who refuses to come downstairs and interact with Charlotte.

Voices of August: No recap would be complete without mention of my annual guest blog project and post-publication meetup. For six years now, I’ve opened up the blog to a different writer each day during the month of August. It’s a wonderful thing to see — a diverse group of friends, relatives and co-workers from all over the country (and even abroad) each taking a turn writing about an issue or an experience that never fails to entertain, inform or resonate with an online audience.

This year’s VOA gathering was held at a Northeast Portland brewpub not far from our home and drew folks from three states, including my compadre, Al Rodriguez, and his lovely wife (and first-time VOA contributor), Elizabeth Lee.

***

hillary-buttonLike the other 65 million-plus Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, I wish we were inaugurating the nation’s first female president. Instead, I’m left to hope that in 2017 we can endure the worst of what a Trump presidency can bring and begin building a coalition that returns the White House to someone we can put our trust in.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Becca becomes a bride

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The newlyweds: Jeff and Rebecca Olson.

Two weekends ago, Lori and I settled into plastic folding chairs, draped with purple fabric, in a pasture flanked by a 19th century Victorian farmhouse and a row of tall trees shielding us from the late-afternoon sun.

There on the grounds of the Clackamas River Farm, we were gathered with dozens of other guests for the wedding of Rebecca Wilcox and Jeff Olson.

Rebecca is the youngest daughter of our longtime friends, Eric and Sue Wilcox, and known to one and all as Becca. She was born just days after our youngest son, Jordan, and they’ve been friends virtually their entire lives.

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Childhood friends Becca and Jordan.

We’ve seen her grow up along with our own kids, transforming from a chatty, curly-haired little girl to a chatty, beautiful adult. (And I say “chatty” with affection.)

On this particular Saturday, she was beaming. As she should be, surrounded by friends and extended family at a sprawling 45-acre venue about 30 miles southeast of downtown Portland.

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An 1890 farmhouse anchors the scene at Clackamas River Farm near Eagle Creek.

Becca walked in on the arm of her dad, who no doubt felt mixed emotions — a sense of fatherly pride combined with loss of a daughter and the addition of a son-in-law to the Wilcox clan. Her mother, I imagine, probably saw a lot of herself in her daughter, who has followed her into the teaching profession. Both are outgoing and dedicated to family above all.

Scott, the older of two brothers, officiated the ceremony with efficiency and humor. Steve, the younger one, delighted the crowd with a reading from Robert Fulghum’s, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”

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Eric and Sue at the May 2013 wedding of their eldest son.

Lori and I were happy to be there, doubly so when we reminded ourselves that we’ve seen each of the Wilcox children get married. Likewise, Eric and Sue have seen two of our three kids get married. (Who knows if the third will someday go down that path?)

If that isn’t a sign of a great friendship that’s spanned almost 30 years, I don’t know what is.

The wedding and reception went quickly. As night fell and the stars came out, the focus of attention shifted from cake and pies to the dance floor, where guests moved to a playlist curated by our DJ son, Nathan.

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The Rede brothers, Nathan and Jordan.

Weddings, like births, are an occasion for celebrating a new phase of life. They give us a chance to express our fondest wishes for happiness, good health and all that comes with being a couple legally committed to each other.

We felt privileged to be there and delighted for Becca and Jeff and their immediate and extended families.