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Home Planet

Archive for March 2011

Mozart and the Boy


   The evening’s performance is Mozart and the beautiful old Fox Theater is filled with the sweet sounds of the violin and viola.

    My son is in town for the weekend and has accompanied us to a night at the Symphony. Watching him from a row behind, seated beside his sister, I notice the way he closes his eyes when the music starts, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

    Something behind my ribs, deep in the center of me, aches. I know that look. I’ve seen it before.

    Every mother looks at a grown child and sees the baby he or she was. My son is tall now, his hair is short and dark, his face is angular and shadowed by the stubble of his beard. But in my gaze, superimposed on his adult features, is the image of the sturdy little boy whose head was once covered with soft cottony curls.
    For a moment, the little boy is mine to hold again.

    From the moment each of my children were born, we ended each day in the dark. Rocking in the old chair that had been their great-great grandmother’s, I held them close and sang a series of songs. The order of the lullabies, one sung after another, never varied and I sang them so many years the tunes melded into one melody always accompanied by the soft creaking sound of the old rocking chair.

    Each of my children had their own way of falling asleep. My firstborn fought it every step of the way. I could feel her surrender, finally softening in my arms and dropping into sleep. When I rocked my middle daughter she popped her thumb in her mouth and proceeded to fall asleep almost as soon as I started singing. My youngest, the baby, would lay in my arms silent and still but half-awake, through two loops of the singing before dropping off.
    My son, the only boy in a house of sisters, had his own way. He would curl against me, his head - covered with with those soft curls - would rest against my arm. He would close his eyes and smile, luxuriating in the pleasure of the rhythm and the caress and the music. I would gaze down on his face, as I did with each of them, illuminated by light coming through the bedroom window.

    Rocking those babies, everything - the burdens; the frustrations, the fatigue and the worry I’d carried with me all day - would fade, swept away on songs that mothers had been singing for ages.

    Try as I might, I have not found anything that soothes me as much as soothing my children did. My life, without all the care and worry of parenting small children, should be easier now, But there are days when I would welcome the chance to sit down and hold a warm little body in my arms; a chance to sing and rock and relax.

    I think about that as I steal glances at the man, my boy, who sits in a room filled with the sound of music. And I watch him smile.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

March Flies on Chilly Wings

    The car swooped down on the empty parking spot like a bird of prey, flying the length of one car, then reversing and capturing the open space with one maneuver. The driver’s door opened and a woman stepped out, taking care not to dip her high heels in the oily puddle left from melting snow and the morning’s rain.

    She stepped up onto the curb, snapping open a pocket umbrella against the blustery wind, and peered down at the face of the parking meter.

    March, the lion’s month, played with the woman, pushing back the edge of her umbrella like the brim of a hat, threatening to take it away and toss it down the rain-slick sidewalk, teasing open her raincoat, stinging her stockinged legs with tiny pellets of frozen rain.

    With one hand she dug deeply into her purse, searching for coins, the fee for holding her place, a tax for standing still for exactly one and one half hours. The soft brown leather bulged where she felt for change, pushed out here, then there, in side pockets and deep into the corners where a quarter might hide under pens and pencils, receipts and breath mints.

    One by one, she found what she needed and out came the woman’s hand to feed the meter little bites of time. The last coin slipped out of her fingers and fell to the ground. Dancing a jig of frustration, she shifted her purse, tucking it under the arm that held the umbrella that threatened to escape, and picked up the coin with cold fingers.

    Paid in full, she reached into her pocket and found her keys and aimed the remote at the car. “Stay,” she seemed to be telling the vehicle as she pushed the lock button. The car chirped its reply.
As she turned to walk away, the fickle wind turned as well. Now, instead of teasing, flipping her umbrella and snapping at the hem of her coat, tossing her scarf into her face, it snuck up from behind her, pushing her down the sidewalk blowing her hair into her eyes and tucking her raincoat between her legs as she rounded the corner.

    The car – perched like a bird on a wire, off duty and at rest - waited, engine cooling, wipers idled and lights off. The meter, the master of everything between two white lines painted on asphalt, waited too. Ticking away the seconds until the woman returned.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

History asks one thing: Remember

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  




    The first thing you notice about the Alamo is that it stands right in the center of San Antonio. The small, sand-colored building, surrounded by trees and a lawn of green grass, ringed by tall buildings, sits like an antique, rough-cut stone, in a modern setting.

    Of course, the Alamo was there first. Everything else came along later.

    I visited the Alamo for the first time late in the afternoon two days before the 175th anniversary of the battle that shaped both the legend and the aura of the Alamo, as well as the state of Texas.

    I watched as people walked the grounds, stopping to read the names on the tall memorial. Some were in costume. Members of the Texas Living History Association were there to reenact the event. Horses, tied to lines strung between trees, dozed, lifting one foot and then another. Men strolled around in buckskin and homespun, some in the uniform of Mexican soldiers. The women were in bonnets and calico.

      Finally, I opened the heavy wood doors and stepped inside.  I am always struck by the power of a place with a past. The way inanimate buildings can breathe with life and echo silently with the sound of all they have witnessed.

    In the wide central hall, visitors moved from one display to another, their voices hushed as though they were in a sacred place. The people of Texas would say they were.The air was perfumed with the  cool, dry, mineral smell of stone and time.

    As I stood there, listening to our guide speak of the battle, the deaths and indignities, I noticed a man walk through the door. Tall, lanky, wearing jeans and a wide cowboy hat - the quintessential Texan - he stopped and looked around him.

Then, slowly, he reached up and removed his Stetson and, with his big, rough hand cupped over the crown, held it over his heart.

    I came back for the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the battle. Standing in the crowd, shivering in the dark, I listened to the speakers and felt the concussion from the musket volleys fired at dawn. I wondered if the man who’d stood so respectfully a few days before was there, lost in the crowd.

    History is such a personal thing.  But it is a collective experience, as well. 

I hadn’t expected to be moved by the Alamo. That is their history, after all.  Not mine.  But I was moved. I was deeply moved by words and faces of the people who stood there with me as the sky lightened into a deep violet over the rough stone walls of the old mission.    

I came away with the lesson we so often forget in a world that moves too fast to do much more than hold on to where we are at the moment.

Ultimately, history asks only one thing of us: Remember.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

GU Women’s Basketball: A team of heroes

    Here I am, a grown woman with grown children, a woman who never played softball, who couldn’t get picked for a third-grade dodgeball game (then or now) and who has never even touched a golf club, and for the first time in my life I have a sports hero. Actually, I have a team full of heroes.

    My idol is not a sports super-star. She isn’t on a cereal box and she’s never been chased by paparazzi. She doesn’t throw tantrums on the court.

     I’m old enough to be her mother but I look up to a 20-something college senior. My sports hero is Courtney Vandersloot and the rest of the Gonzaga women’s basketball team.

    Living in Spokane, and I’ve been here more than a decade now, you quickly learn that Gonzaga Men’s basketball is a seen-and-be-seen sport. Season tickets to the men’s games come with bragging rights. They draw a distinct and deliberate line between the haves and have-nots. Exhibition games and silent auction donations bring in big bucks for charity.

    Gonzaga Women’s basketball is another story. Season tickets average around $50 and anyone can purchase them. It doesn’t matter who you know or where you work. And - most importantly - those who can’t pony up that much, or who can’t commit to a season, are not shut out.

    For the cost of a $5 general admission ticket,- children under 12 get in for $3 -  anyone can take a seat at the “kennel” the McCarthy Athletic Center and watch much more than a basketball game. You want to throw big bucks around? Buy the $8 reserved seat. It doesn’t matter what you spend, it’s still the best buy in Spokane because for the price of a ticket you see a truly democratic sporting event.  You see entire families - representing the socioeconomic strata of the region - gathered to watch a game. You see a lot of little girls dancing, waving and holding up signs. People get there early and stick around late to catch a glimpse of the players.

    At the end of the last regular game of the 2010-2011 season, the seniors stepped out to say goodbye to a sold-out crowd. Coach Graves, his voice choked with emotion praised the team. When he came to Courtney Vandersloot he listed her accomplishments and then said, “You may never see another one like her.”

    He’s right. She’s one of a kind.

    As the crowd thinned and the players walked back to the locker rooms, I listened as the two men seated just in front of me talked.

    “You ever go to the men’s games?” one asked the other as they gathered coats and empty popcorn bags.

    “Yeah, sometimes,” he replied. And then he went on. “But, to tell you the truth, I think I’d rather watch the girls play,” he said.  “I think there’s more sportsmanship here.”

    “Yeah, You may be right,” the other man said. “They play their hearts out.”

    They didn’t say anything else but I noticed that each man turned to look at their young daughters who were still dancing, still waving their arms.

    Courtney Vandersloot was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year. She and teammates Katelan Redmon, Kayla Standish and Vandersloot were named to the All-Conference team. Coach Kelly Graves was named West Coast Conference Coach of the Year.

    The man was right. They do play their hearts out each and every game. And they do it with skill and style and grace. That, in my playbook, is the clear definition of a true sports star

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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