Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Fabulous Durkee Girls--Part 1


        In future blogs you will see many heavy to happy topics in poem, but you will also see heroes and  villains--my ex.  People  I celebrate in poems as having been inspirational to my life and the outlooks they shared by their life 's testament.

        Little sister, Dorothy, and big sister, Virginia, were like Adam's peanut butter.  You know the one where the oil separates out and you have to stir it up.  That is how I saw them:  Peanut Butter and Oil.  Totally opposite but stir them up and they belonged to each other.  Totally inspirational and yummy to know.  Religious/Episcopalian D and Agnostic/perhaps atheist V.  Oh, but they loved each other.  They both lived to garden.   Dorothy had a dogwood (a natural hybrid of Cornus nuttali and C.florida) she found in her garden named after her.  Virginia had a rhododendron named after her:  'R.Virginia Richards' though she argued it should have been named after her husband, Leverett, who had interviewed  a rhododendron breeder instead of being named after her.  Also, she complained her Rhodi was famous for being the first that scientists isolated the killer fungus###.    Giniadr embraced her e-mail handle and the latest technology as much as little sis hung on to"snail mail" and making wine and quilts for her grandchildren.

                                                      PART I THE  DOROTHY STORY

           I liked to call her Harris because that was the name she took when she married her husband who was one of the people that caught polio after WWII.  Mr. Harris was handicapped from his illness and permanently on crutches like another client of mine Harry Russell.  It is interesting to me that though they both had this disability; they never acted like they needed special treatment from society.  Instead they did not act like society owed them anything and they did not let their impairment stop them from doing anything. Always they would be out working whether it was dead-heading rhodis on a walker or planting their garden on their knees.  Harry R. even played golf on crutches and had his own consulting business for years.  Mr. Harris, was one of the head engineers that built the gorge roads.  His office close to Maryhill was in a converted service station among the Gunkel peach orchards (google: peach beach campground).

            He was a bit of a character and there was a perpetual fog of Camel smoke in their home until the day he died.  He once told me, a garden guru when I was in my twenties, how to start grapes and he gave me some of their cuttings.  He said "Mark them well so that you know the top from the bottom.  Then stick the top into the soil."  I diligently followed his instructions and every one of the cuttings grew.  It was not until 30 years later that the realization that he was making fun of the punk who knew it all. You could even lay them sideways and they would grow.  He had a laugh from the grave and I am much more humble and and now admit I know nothing.  He loved to play with dynamite--it was easier than digging holes for their apples and pear trees.

            You ask, " I thought this was Dorothy's story."   He was sewn into the fabric of Dorothy's life from the day they met.  She was up in a fruit tree when Virginia's then future husband was with his best friend Jay Harris.  I would have loved to hear their exchanges.  "Is it a nut in the tree?"   They read to each other every night with a glass of homemade wine they had made together--heady things like Lewis and Clark's journal.    I called her the "little ole winemaker". She was an inspiration to our now carboy madness.  Her basement was full of carboys with air locks and aged bottles of blackberry (a desert wine that rivaled the best black muskat) or Oregon grape that was dry and so good.  Can you imagine picking 20 pounds of pioneer grapes for a 5 gallon carboy.  She gave us many of her recipes.  Many Friday nights after work were done next door at Harris's. We would sip these and her favorite scotch.

How do you have a crush on someone your grandmothers age?  Easy.  I would watch her from next door going back and forth with her little honda tiller preparing her garden.  Watch her garden rich with compost she made burgeon.  Whose rich?  The spoiled control freak I worked for or the one who loved the earth and shared all she had?  Anyway, I ached to have a help-mate like her. Good things do come true.   Voila, I found my darling, Marieke, a very important footnote in this story.

It was she and her sister, Virginia, who turned us on to Peach Beach.  This was the same place that her husband, Jay, had an office in the old service station down a winding road from Oregon's Stonehedge, which was the headquarters for the building of  highway 14 with all of it's tunnels. ( I assume this was where Jay became fond of dynamite)  The Gunkel orchard in Maryhill,  with peaches and apricots (they had to be Tiltons) and Sam Hill's wonderful Museum of Rodins and history was discovered.  Every year we would make the hegira with Dorothy and Virginia to pay homage to sun-ripened apricots and peaches.

We would all split up and u-pick.  Dorothy, in her nineties would be to the top of an orchard ladder immediately.  Marieke always the worrier would stick close to D. but would finally come over to me and say you catch her if she falls.  After the truck was full and the poundage paid for, we would head to the top of the hill to the Maryhill Winery.  There we would brouse the wines and invariabley pick their fine Sangiovese (Chianti).  Pop the cork and lay out our picnic feast.  D would always bring fried chicken and her homemade dills.  After our repast we would head back the Washington gorge side.  In no time, Dorothy, who had talked all the way up, would be fast asleep.  Then it would be Gin's turn to talk and the miles would roll by the mighty Columbia.

The sadness of how today's culture & wisdom is lost from the elders was not true with Dorothy.  How many people learned from Dorothy.  Wow, my mom took sewing classes from Dorothy at Clark College. Dorothy was one of the few women of her time that went 4 years to college.  She advanced studied in Paris and made all of her and her daughters' own clothes.  I would have loved to have one of the vests she made lined with lamb wool.  All of her grandchildren had a beautiful handmade quilt.  It is interesting that the inspiration she gave to all rubbed off on everyone.  She would have loved to live long enough to see her grandson and wife have this business:  Perfectly natural  Hand made soap made for all, but heavenly for us gardeners.

I worked next door to her garden for 30 + years.  She never ceased to amaze me.  I was honored to be by her bedside when she slipped off of her mortal coil.  She always shared her garden and she is alive in our garden  today.  When we walk down our paths, we say," Hello Harris, you're looking fine today.  Perhaps that is one more lesson she gave:  Share your wealth.  And finally, she was the muse for these poems.

              This poem was written in the Baja soaking in the sunset, sipping on a bottle of Harris’s black berry elixir, and cooking on her # 9 iron skillet--all things she gave us for our trip.


Thank you Harris little old wine maker
We sip to you
Two chairs on the Baja beach
A bottle of  your Marion berry champagne
The waves lapping on the sea of Cortez shore
Quiet--evidence of footsteps left in sand
Now only pelicans and porpoise play not too loud
In the last tie-dyed colors of light
This is vacation and you are with us

And she always will be with us.  DeeDee is the name her sis, Virginia called her.  She was just like the chickadee.  Flitting and singing.

                           Chick-a Dee-Dee

I hear you in the trees
You cannot let me forget your song
I remember when you were
Battleground Plum Princess in the days
When people celebrated
The flowering of the Italian plum orchards
They crowned you in this spring rite
Begging to the brown earth to come alive
Praying to all of the gods
That the dryers would be full come fall

There you were
Witness to the death
Twelve foot wide giants riding to the mills
Only stump platforms for your playhouse
You respected those who lived  on this ground
Long years ago--legends were learned
All for the good of Clark county
Your father’s mountain home will be a park
Where my grandchildren will discover
Wild flowers still grow

Remember a skipping girl
Passing the fruit trees down the lane
Grazing on whatever loaded branches were in season
If you couldn’t reach on tip-toes
You would have to climb
Tom girl still in the tree
When the love of your life
Asked you to come down
“Is this a nut tree?”

All the stories told
Repeated like some Indian legends
We could never be bored
Finishing your stories for you
Friday nights live
A glass of wine from the cellar
The same grape pioneers fermented
Now the bottle is empty
We grieve  for a glass and your smile
You are still alive
As the passing of your lemon cake recipe
And the grafts of your Dorothy dogwood